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.”
Posted in Agriculture, Biodiversity and Species Preservation, Birds and Birding, Citizen Science, Habitat Conservation
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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.

Posted in Economics and Business
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Keep in mind the tiny tots

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

Posted in In Memoriam
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At the park: 75

From my most recent report of the nest box team’s activities:

Lots of activity in the past two weeks! We have nests in 8 of the 16 boxes we are monitoring. We have often observed mixed clutches of Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser, but [we] found something new in box #60: two birds flushed from the box, one of each species. The box has a combined clutch of 14 eggs.

We expect box #67 to be hatched out by May. Box #6 did not show any change between the 29th and the 5th, so it’s possible that this nest has been abandoned. Continuing my run of dropping hardware into the wetland, box #7 needs a new quick link closure: I have some spares and I will take care of this next time.

I have new GPS coordinates for all the boxes, and I will be distributing that info.

We have several pictures of duck and merg eggs side by side for comparison, and I will get something distributed shortly.

thanks for the perchTree Swallows say thank you to box #84 for being such nice spot to perch up on. A Brown-headed Cowbird could be heard in the parking lot on the 29th. An Osprey was fishing in the main pond on the 5th.

* * *

That’s all for us for April. Our May work day will be the first Sunday, 3 May.

Posted in In the Field
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Flem Snopes

…a thick squat soft man of no establishable age between twenty and thirty, with a broad still face containing a tight seam of mouth stained slightly at the corners with tobacco, and eyes the color of stagnant water, and projecting from among the other features in startling and sudden paradox, a tiny predatory nose like the beak of a small hawk. It was as though the original nose had been left off by the original designer or craftsman and the unfinished job taken over by someone of a radically different school or perhaps by some viciously maniacal humorist or perhaps by one who had had only time to clap into the center of the face a frantic and desperate warning.

—William Faulkner, The Hamlet, Book One: Flem, Chapter Three, 1.
Posted in Quotable
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Early Throwback Thursday

Bob Neidt takes a quick photo tour of retro motel properties in northern Virginia.

Posted in Local News and Views
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The Pigeoning

Frank works in a shabby office, with nothing but his own OCD and a rather talkative office safety manual for company. The expression on his face usually registers somewhere between bemusement and mild alarm. Frank is also a bunraku puppet and the protagonist of this 60-minute piece—a charming, often goofy, at times phantasmagorically frightening tale of one man’s obsession with common city pigeons and the secret messages they carry to us.

Writer/director Robin Frohardt always lets us know what Frank is thinking, which is rather a challenge because Frank is wordless (we do hear some expressively heavy sighs from him); a lot of the information about Frank’s emotional and cognitive states is the responsibility of composer Freddi Price. Doubling on laptop, Price’s sound effects are clean and crisp, and sometimes not quite what they seem.

There’s a lot of good straightforward puppetry here: a formidable trash monster, a hilarious set of venetian blinds with a mind of its own. Frohardt is not afraid to go a little meta, as well, as when Frank himself turns feckless puppeteer. But the core of this piece is Frank’s endearing personality (although I don’t think I’d want to share a break room with him), sometimes revealed by something as simple as the squeak of a highlighting pen.

  • The Pigeoning, created and directed by Robin Frohardt, composed by Freddi Price, Artisphere Dome Theatre, Arlington, Va.

This was my first (and very likely last) opportunity to visit Artisphere’s friendly Dome Theatre (the ceiling of which was used very creatively to register an underwater effect). Alas, the multivenue county-funded facility is slated to be closed later this year.

Posted in Reviews, Theater
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Rare precision

Mark Memmott, interviewed by Scott Simon, takes the time to parse out the meanings of the word “suicide,” and explores when the word is (and is not) appropriately applied to someone who takes other lives along with his or her own. Memmott wants to inform, not inflame.

But I should note that the phrase suicide bomber can be problematic, and I want to be very careful with what I say next. I am not suggesting anything about what happened aboard the Germanwings jet, but, especially when information is scant, it’s important to remember that what seems obvious may not be. For instance, there is evidence that some of those who have been called suicide bombers have been forced to or tricked into carrying explosives into buildings and crowds. Should they be called suicide bombers? I don’t think so. I don’t think most people would. And I know I’m a nag on this topic. It’s usually best to avoid labels, and the phrase suicide bomber is a label. Unless you’re sure those labels apply, stick to the facts, be precise with your words, choose them carefully.

Posted in Radio and TV, Words Words Words
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First of 528

Metro has announced that the first train made up of 7000-series cars will be in passenger service on 14 April, on the Blue Line.


Posted in Transit in D.C.
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At the park: 74

Excerpts from my most recent report from the monitoring team:

Nature is taking its course: we have Hooded Merganser eggs in four boxes (including the newly-replaced #84) and one Wood Duck egg laid in box #2.

mossyNot much green visible yet [but this log nursing bryophytes looks cheery]. The team spotted the Red-necked Grebe [Podiceps grisegena] on the 15th and 22nd. An Osprey [Pandion haliaetus] was fishing over the main wetland on the 22nd. Kat and Chris, working the inflow to the wetland, have a lot more success snagging trash than we do in the outflow.

Posted in In the Field
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It’s a beautiful day

Happy birthday to Fred Rogers.

The Writer’s Almanac

Posted in Happy Birthday, Radio and TV
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Fish fingers

Kelly Preheim, via Laura Erickson, photographs fish frozen into South Dakota lake ice. The eagles say thank you.

Posted in Birds and Birding
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At the park: 73

From my report from the nest box monitoring team for 8 March:

The team detected depressions in the 3 of the boxes, but (again a surprise) we have not counted any eggs yet.

Maintenance items: I discussed with Dave Lawlor on a separate thread the value of replacing box #84. The glued-on doorknobs for new boxes #1 and #3 have both come off; we’re going to screw in hooks next week. Most importantly, the pole for box #13 is cracked, but the PVC sleeve is intact. Box #13 is on the left of the boardwalk, the same side as the new monitoring equipment, along the old drainage canal, just off the patch of land before you get to the observation tower.

Birds observed: Black Duck, Bald Eagle, Tree Swallow (perched on the entrance of one of our boxes), Red-winged Blackbird (males singing). Also quite noticeable are the branches down from the big Willow Oak where the Heron Trail splits off.

Posted in In the Field
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50 feet to the inch

Glen Creason takes us through the map collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.


Posted in NOC
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At the park: 72

Before checking boxes yesterday, I gave a short presentation to P. J. Dunn’s birding class about the nest box monitoring program at Huntley Meadows Park.

Oh, dear, I just realized that I never mentioned the bluebird boxes.

Posted in In the Field
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