Birdchick remembers Dr. Paul Strange.

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On the boards

A very nice piece by April Peavey about the electro-mechanical flip-flapping annunciator boards that have all but disappeared from American train stations. I now know that they can be called Solari boards, after the Italian manufacturer that first introduced them in 1956. Maybe I realized, but have forgotten, that the letters and numbers flap in only one direction, so that the transition from an E to an H, for instance, takes much less time than for an S to an A—and hence the new destination or train name is displayed one letter at a time, as the individual units cycle around. It’s that gradual reveal that I remember, like watching a photograph develop, or like playing the word puzzle from Wheel of Fortune in real time.

Alas, the news peg for this story is that Amtrak is replacing the Solari board in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, where many years ago I would wait for the regional train to New York to take me back to my internship.

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VNPS 2016: Mountain Lake

A busy-busy week (build manager at work, video production class in the evening), so I am just now writing up two successful field trips that were part of Virginia Native Plant Society’s annual get-together. Home base was Blacksburg, and this year’s meeting was hosted by the New River Chapter.

My first surprise, once I arrived and took a look at the geophysical and hydrology maps, is that this part of Virginia, such a long schlep down I-81, is not part of the system that drains to the Atlantic Ocean. Rather, the New River drains north and west to the Ohio, and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. However, it is part of the same Ridge and Valley Province (do you say Valley and Ridge?) as the more nearby Massanutten Mountain and Sideling Hill.

shrubbyOn Saturday, Dave Darnell led a walk on the War Spur Trail in the vicinity of Mountain Lake in Giles County. Much of the lands here are part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Mountain Lake is one of only two natural lakes in the commonwealth; unfortunately, drainage conditions lately have left it rather dry. The trailhead was at about 3700 feet. On the mountain, immature sprouts of American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) are easy to find, their reproductive fates unfortunately sealed by the pathogen Cryphonectria parasitica. This is an acidic, rocky soil; the plant community is probably best described as High-elevation Red Oak Forest in Timothy Spira’s system.

somewhat shinyOn the ground, the evergreen leaves of Galax urceolata are easy to spot. Also abundant were the non-photosynthesizing plants with a complicated lifestyle: Bear Corn (Conopholis americana), Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys), and Indian Pipe (M. uniflora). In the darker patches, individuals of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are undaunted.

thanks for the drinkDave pointed out a bit of Lung Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria); the photo shows the lichen after it was doused with my water bottle and sprang from shriveled, dusty brown to fresh green. Lung lichen is does not tolerate air pollution well, so this is a good species to see.

boggy landscapeIn the afternoon, Dave took us back down the road to the University of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station, a residential research and teaching space for undergrads and graduates. At the edge of this property is a rather extensive spahgnum/spruce bog, where some really big Red Spruce (Picea rubens) can be found, along with thickets of Rhododendron maximum the size of a house.

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Rose River loop

For a birthday walk Leta and I took a very leisurely loop hike along the Rose River and Hogcamp Branch. We also dallied before starting out, so the Fishers Gap parking area was packed and the trail was full of families, couples, dogs, and suchlike.

turningMostly White Wood Aster in bloom, along with various Helianthus and a smattering of phlox. We heard one Common Raven along Skyline Drive. Unexpected mammal sighting was a pair of young Black Bears near the bottom of the Hogcamp Branch section of the trail; we kept our distance.

rocks are for sittingFor this 3.7 mile circuit we took 4:00. No huffing, no puffing, just some practice with the new camera, good company, and a nice walk along the water.

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At the park: 88

We bounced back from the dismal 2015.

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

From my final report to the team:

It seems like every year I get this final report put together later and later. At any rate, this was a much more successful nesting year for our Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers.

Of our 16 boxes that we monitored, we had 16 nests started. That is, one box had a double brood and only one box this year was not used. Of the 16 nests, 13 were (predominantly) Wood Duck, and three Hooded Merganser. (We often have some eggs from the other species in the nest, which messes up the recordkeeping that I submit to the Cornell Lab.) And of the 16, 13 fledged at least some young, one failed, and two I’m just not sure about. The two questionable boxes are #1 and #3, near the tower. When we checked on 8 May, the evidence indicated predation, but when we visited on 22 May, I saw evidence of membranes, indicating that some eggs had hatched.

So, not counting the two questionable boxes, we have a fledge-to-eggs rate of 70% (114/163) for the Woodies and 91% (31/34) for the Hoodies….

Thanks again, everyone, for the hard work, and we’ll see you in February/March! When it should be colder.

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Going beyond

Ed Yong has put together an excellent background piece about the outbreak of Proliferative Kidney Disease that has killed whitefish and threatens trout species. The fish kills led Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to shut down of 183 miles of the Yellowstone River. The coverage elsewhere that I saw simply repeated the FWP statement that a “microscopic parasite” was responsible and left it at that. But Yong did the reading, and used it to describe the peculiar morphology and life cycle of the infectious parasite Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, a jellyfish relative and one of the myxozoans.

Myxozoans have performed a crazy evolutionary double-back:

In this free-swimming form, they look very jellyfish-like, with identifiable tentacles, mouths, and guts. Perhaps the ancestors of myxozoans went through a similar phase in their evolutionary history, when they were already devoted parasites, but still kept some obvious traces of their cnidarian heritage.

As they evolved further down the parasitic path, they lost these ancestral physical features. They did away with many genes too. “They have the smallest known animal genomes,” says [Paulyn] Cartwright [at the University of Kansas], “and they lack some of the genes that we consider hallmarks of animal development.” For example, the all-important Hox genes, which direct the construction of animal bodies… are simply missing in myxozoans.

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Along The Glade

first tripPractice shooting with a new camera. I’m usually down this stretch in winter. It’s much greener today.

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Enroute: 13

more coming downThe controlled destruction of 51 N Street, N.E, continues.

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Baltimore adventure

An afternoon in Baltimore, visiting an old friend, a new friend, and friends through Leta’s G&S qwert.

here comes the GreenwtfTravel by water taxi, light rail, Metro, and MARC. Hey, Metro, lose the cheesy music piped into the underground stations. And why are American ticket vending machines such a U/X train wreck?

fore viewaft viewMy newly-met friend is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, views fore and aft. The wheel is positioned at the channelized mouth of Jones Falls, where it empties into the harbor. Floating trash and debris, man-caused and otherwise, is steered into the maw of the machine by the booms; trash is lifted and deposited into a dumpster. River currents, augmented by solar panels, power the gizmo. The googly eyes? Because Baltimore.

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Dogs as hosts are presenting an obstacle to eradication of Guinea Worm disease, reports Michaeleen Doucleff. There’s a possibility that dogs are being infected by eating frogs. Your parasitology WOTD is paratenic; the frogs would be paratenic hosts, not obligate for the development of the parasite but serving to maintain the life cycle.

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Still don’t get the “Birdhouse in Your Soul” reference

It’s National Lighthouse Day, people! Take a tour of lighthouses on National Wildlife Refuge lands.

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Enroute: 12

crossingAnother visit to our Boston office this past week. I like staying in a little boutique hotel at the Back of the Hill stop on the Green Line, in a spot between Jamaica Plain and Brookline. Alas, breakfast options are spotty in this neighborhood. But I squeezed off a verité shot of two trains meeting at the Brookline Village station. That guy crossing onto the tracks, ignoring the yellow safety zones, won’t get squashed by car #3800; it’s stopped and its doors are already open.

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… there’s a second way to look at this. The violent opposition to the Vietnam War and the particular violence of May 4 [, 1970] also played a major role in ending the draft and thus insulated students and young people generally from many of the issues that had spurred such activism in the 1960s. Waging war today is a matter of finding the right price point at which sufficient numbers of young men and women will be tempted to risk their lives in service to their country. Arguably, too, it’s a matter of fostering economic conditions—underpaid and underemployed youth, hyper-expensive higher education—that make military service an attractive choice. What’s apparent, though, is that American troops have been in combat somewhere in the world almost continually since November 2001 with barely a whimper from the campuses that led the opposition to the Vietnam War.

—Howard Means, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence (2016), p. 220
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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2016: 3

This year’s festival delivered some solid and memorable shows and some disappointments. Such was Chisa Hutchinson’s The Wedding Gift, a play that doesn’t surpass the promise of its premise.

In this fairly transparent parable, Jason Babinsky’s Doug finds himself transported into an alien culture where he is the only fair-skinned humanoid. He is a shimseh, “like a pet, only more useful,” presented to the wife (Margaret Ivey’s Nahlis) of a newly married royal couple. Doug discovers the ways of this new world only gradually, because only two others (including the enjoyable Edward O’Blenis as Translating Attendant) speak any English; great swathes of dialogue are delivered in a language of Hutchinson’s invention. The conlang has the intended effect of disorientation, but it also means that small plot points are confused, and any subtlety of psychology is lost. How exactly is Doug to perform, in the eyes of Nahlis’s new husband Beshrum (Damian Thompson, with an impressive high leg kick)? We’ll never know.

Nevertheless, the play offers the tech teams the opportunity to go a little crazy, from Peggy McKowen’s costumes to Nathan A. Roberts’ and Charles Coes’ soundscapes. Director May Adrales establishes a movement and gestural vocabulary for this strange new planet, and then encourages each actor/character to invent within that framework: a gesture of mourning, expressed at the top of act 2, is both easily understood and unique to each player.

And if the denouement owes something to a certain series of dystopian films from the 1960s and 70s, at least we learn how the post-apocalyptic inhabitants of this world say, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

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Enroute: 11

one more mysterycoming downAt left, a mystery slime mold busting out of the mulch, in my neighborhood on the way to the bus stop. At right, 51 N Street, N.E, being demolished ever so gradually.

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