Pearson Metropark

I did a little birding and naturalizing in this municipal park, a square of suburban woods and swamp. A few takeways:

driftsWild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) does very well in this sandy soil that was once a lake bed. Great drifts of these flowers line both sides of the trail.

not grayAnother species that’s quite common, but one that’s unseen in the mid-Atlantic, is Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger). One day I’ll get a tack-sharp image of this critter.

not Chestnut OakThat big tree with the blocky bark? It’s not a Chestnut Oak, but good old Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deloides), dominant in habitats like the lake shore. And often growing straight up, just to confuse visitors from the east and west.

I also spotted a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and a couple species of mystery mushrooms.

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Pipe Creek Wildlife Area/Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve

across from the egretsMy final van trip was led by Greg Miller and Drew Weber: we visited two sites in Erie County, with a side trip to a field across the road from the J. H. Routh Packing Co. to check out two Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) doing what they should be: hanging out with cows.

Conditions at Pipe Creek were very drippy, swinging from light drizzle to a steady rain, but we nevertheless had A+ looks at a Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) (named neither for Abraham nor Frederick Charles, but for Audubon’s travel companion Thomas).

The weather cleared by the time we arrived at Sheldon Marsh, and the birding was quite fine here. I picked up my eighth lifer for the trip, Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus).

All told, I had great numbers for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival. My cumulative species count came to 113, give or take the odd Rock Pigeon, and my warbler count was 21. I’ll need to come back for Connecticut and Mourning.

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Oak Openings Preserve Metropark

Spring is a few weeks behind us in D.C.: Spring Beauty is still in full bloom here in northwest Ohio. Ethan Kistler led the walk-drive through this park (which apparently came about because property values crashed when the nearby airport expanded). No matter how the park came to be, it was good for two lifers (Blue-winged Warbler [Vermivora cyanoptera] and Henslow’s Sparrow [Ammodramus henslowii)]) and a second-look bird (Grasshopper Sparrow [A. savannarum]). As well, the park was filled with Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) and Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus).

ruggedIn this board-flat province, the Girdham sand dunes are some of the most rugged topography I’ve seen all week.

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Decoy Marsh and Adam Grimm Prairie

nice spotWe returned to the same wetland complex in Sandusky County that we visited Monday, this time circumambulating the Decoy Marsh restoration project with Ray Stewart and Drew Weber. Drew coached me through my lifer Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii). We got a look at a pair of Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)—it’s easy to focus on the crescent on the face as a field mark, but as I was showing a California birder the Peterson guide for this bird, we both realized (and observed) that the bird does indeed show a sky-blue wing. What a nice walk: full sun on the forest edge rimming the wetland, and enough twists and turns to the path that we could adjust our views of shorebirds and ducks to compensate for the sun.

We heard Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) calling in the distance, and on the drive back to the meeting point, we found a nesting pair on a unnamed pond for an A+ look for the trip.

Man oh man, some of the robins in this part of the country have a brick-red breast; very confusing. And the Song Sparrows sing a different dialect.

trying to help outOn my own in the afternoon, I walked the Adam Grimm Prairie at Ottawa NWR. I did not detect the target bird for this stop (Henslow’s Sparrow [Ammodramus henslowii], which has been reported recently here), but the stop was worth it. After the crush of the Magee Marsh boardwalk, for almost two hours, I had. The. Grassland. To. Myself. At the end of my quiet walk, after working through a different sparrow ID, I was treated to the sight and sound of at least two Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna).

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Magee Marsh: 2

I spent about an hour on the Magee Marsh boardwalk (I took a long time working out a Palm Warbler [Setophaga palmarum] that for once was not bobbing its tail because it was busy preening, not foraging), and then I joined one of the informal walks that are part of the Biggest Week conference registration. Sarah Winnicki co-led a group down the Crane Creek Estuary Trail. I got another, better look and listen of the Warbling Vireos (Vireo gilvus) that are fairly regular here—an A- look, but good enough for a twitch. Even better was the look at a Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) skulking about along one of the dikes.

The winds picked up over the course of the morning—much more blustery than yesterday, but no crazy rainstorms in the afternoon.

furblyNo bird, plant, or habitat pictures, but this myxomycete at the entrance to the trail is quite nice.

stayedThe bridge that carries I-280 over the Maumee in Toledo is rather grand.

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Green Creek

heading for the bayTom Kashmer and Katie Andersen led a canoe trip down the sleepy Green Creek to its mouth at Muddy Creek Bay. This body in turn flows with the Sandusky River into Sandusky Bay. At the start, we found it tricky to manage the boats (I haven’t been in a canoe since I was a kid at summer camp) and see any birds. But soon we were picking up warblers and tanagers and other songbirds that we hadn’t seen yesterday.

The target bird for this trip was Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalis), and it was a slam dunk. We found a good dozen-plus birds, both adults and immatures, in the lowest reaches of Green Creek and over Muddy Creek Bay. But the big pleasant surprise was a quick flyover of three Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator). I’ve probably seen this bird before, but I’ve never been confident of an ID. For that matter, I’d like to have had another look at the three we saw today.

postieI love these old marker posts. This one along U.S. 20 is dated 1842 on its top, so it’s from the time before Lower Sandusky was renamed Fremont. I interpret it as signing 26 miles to Lower Sandusky (to the southeast) and [2]5 miles to Perrysburg (to the northwest). Most of the paint has weathered away. The only problem with my reading is that Lower Sandusky/Fremont is much closer than 26 miles at this point.

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Magee Marsh Wildlife Area

Very birdy.

That’s perhaps the only way to describe Magee Marsh in spring migration. I picked up two lifers, Bay-breasted Warbler (Dendroica castanea) and Tennesssee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina)—perhaps the only two that I will find this trip.

very popularMany eyes and ears make for easy spotting, but the bouncy boardwalk and throngs of birders make birding here a little like trying to get a seat on a Red Line train at 8:30 in the morning.

quieterThe lakefront, on the other side of the huge parking lot from the boardwalk, is much more my style.

I watched Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) picking insects off the ground to carry back to the nest. I saw multiple Yellow Warblers (D. petechia): if the sight of a bright Yellow Warbler doesn’t give you a little jolt of joy, you don’t really like birds. An iridescent Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) foraged in the wet leaf litter (dishwasher downpours of rain yesterday), tossing leaves aside and cocking its gimlet-eyed head like a cop looking for your dope stash.

mascotIn the afternoon, I went to a slide-show workshop by Kenn Kaufman on flycatcher ID. The talk was held at the visitor center of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and who should be there in the lobby to greet me but Puddles the Blue Goose!

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At the park: 77

From my most recent report:

So this past Sunday was a little rough. We have evidence of predation, probably by Raccoon, at 6 boxes, as well as evidence of visits to at least 2 other boxes. Of the 6 predated clutches, 2 were started since our last visit, in April. It’s hard to keep the species bookkeeping straight when you have only broken shells to work with. The predated boxes are in the southern half of those we monitor, from #13 to #61. The door to #67 was partly pulled off; we did a spot repair and M.K. plans to return to make a more permanent fix.

We happened upon Dave Lawlor on the trail, who said that he had recently ordered predator guard cones from Ducks Unlimited. If we can be of assistance installing the cones, please let us know.

On the upside: Kat and Chris found Box #2 in the process of hatching out. We have 4 clutches still in progress. And Paul and I got a look at the Virginia Rail that has been hanging out within the boardwalk loop.

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Man of La Mancha

A strong production of this audience favorite, certainly a standard against which other productions can be judged.

The prison that Cervantes/Don Quixote finds himself suggests, somewhat anachronistically, an abandoned industrial facility, full of echoes; high above the relatively shallow playing space, a catwalk looms, from which a vertiginous stairway can be lowered. There is a substantial flywheel sort of thing: it’s useful as a means to subdue Aldonza during “The Abduction,” and it works well to suggest the windmill at which Don Quixote must tilt, but it otherwise seems to come from another time. A solid door in the floor always closes with an ominous bang.

Anthony Warlow does a fine job as the eponymous Knight of the Woeful Countenance. His reading of the play’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” builds from a quiet, half-spoken verse to a powerful climax. As Sancho Panza, Nehal Joshi is doe-eyed and slightly crazed, a character from a Disney cartoon who has tumbled into the direst of straits. Nice bit with the bench for “I Really Like Him.” The ensemble of muleteers provides much of the percussion that drives the Spanish-inflected score.

Sight lines and sound lines are often not the same. Listening from our row E seats, the amplified sound was occasionally murky, and sometimes those industrial echoes worked against telling the story.

  • Man of La Mancha, written by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, directed by Alan Paul, Shakespeare Theatre Company Sidney Harman Hall, Washington
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At the park: 76

the 2015 teamI got the nest box monitoring team to stand in one place long enough for Rob to take a group photo.

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On the radio: 7 bis

With the launch of NPR’s new embeddable audio player, I can directly link to audio like this: voiceover work I did in 2011 to accompany a profile of Zhou Youguang.

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Lights Rise on Grace

Chad Beckim’s economical three-hander tells the story of an unconventional love triangle among Grace, her husband Large, and the man he meets in prison, Riece. The play weaves together narrative monologue passages with deft ensemble scenes, with blade-sharp transitions between. It’s most enjoyable in an early scene from high school, where painfully shy Grace (the flexible Jeena Yi) first meets, goofy, affable Large (endearing DeLance Minefree).

It’s an actorly work—the players get to show off their chops—but one that’s less than engaging. The piece’s insistent mirrored structure, featuring pairs of completely different scenes played with almost identical dialog, comes off as excessively symmetrical. It touches on themes of race relations and the compromises we make to survive in challenging situations without going very deep.

  • Lights Rise on Grace, by Chad Beckim, directed by Michael John Garcés, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
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Some links: 72

Many conservation-oriented links piling up on my virtual desk, unremarked—so this needs must be a roundup post.

  • Sharman Apt Russell describes her experiences collecting phenology data for Nature’s Notebook.
  • Caren Cooper summarizes the findings in her recent paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management: birders and hunters alike are more likely to engage in conservation-supporting actitivies. Cooper’s “conservation superstars” are birders who are also hunters: these people are even more likely to donate money for conservation and do other things to preserve our legacy.
  • Jason Goldman sings the praises of shade-grown coffee from an unexpected part of the world: Ethiopia, the land where Coffea was first domesticated.
  • And Goldman summarizes a paper by A.M.I. Roberts et al., working with 222 years of phenology data collected by Robert Marsham and his descendants from the family estate in Norfolk, UK. For certain tree species, “winter chilling” turns out to be a more important factor determining leaf out than the warmth of “spring forcing.”
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Bubble pudding

An excellent piece of investigative business reporting in this past Sunday’s Times from Mary Williams Walsh, concerning the creative accounting that many insurance companies have happened upon: “captive reinsurance” is a fancy name for hiding liabilities on a subsidiary’s balance sheet.

She uses the case of Accordia Life and Annuity, which allocated insurance liabilities to six subsidiary companies, capitalizing the subs with egregious mutual exchanges of IOUs. It’s not for nothing that one of the subs is named Tapioca View.

But the paradox of the story is that the state of Iowa (where Accordia is incorporated), which has the express goal of making Des Moines an insurance center, is also a leader in requiring transparency, thereby making it possible for journalists to expose the shaky dealings.

…before you blame Iowa for playing fast and loose with the legacy of [19th-century reformer] Elizur Wright, remember: Most states now allow captive reinsurance. So do the traditional offshore insurance havens like Bermuda. And most keep it secret. But Iowa has decided to stick its neck out and let people look at the deals, knowing full well that they might not like what they see.

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Keep in mind the tiny tots

Alas, Stan Freberg has moved on to a new agency.

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