At the park: 122

Another Sunday’s report:

Nests continue to develop. Box #68 added 7 eggs, just as if the hen was reading the calendar. My notes say that we have 4 eggs in #7 and 4 eggs in #77 — I will double check. And the 14 eggs in #6 are now incubating. It’s a little difficult to get a good count for this box.

We screwed together boxes #7 and #77. We also tried to adjust box #84, but in the process, the pole snapped off. It had rusted at the former waterline. So we did what we could, but the box is now low to the ground and a little wobbly.

K and C will leave some hardware cloth in the shed so that we can patch the duckling ladder in box #68.

I was responding to a query from a Friend of Little Hunting Creek: that group is looking to install some nest boxes, and I was sharing some of our experiences. And I realized that I didn’t have a previous blog post to direct them to on the subject of raccoon-resistant box closures. In fact, I couldn’t remember the name of one of the pieces of hardware that we use. So let’s rectify that missing information.

hook-and-eyeIn some cases, a hook-and-eye on a spring has been sufficient.

hasp and quick linkFor the more tenacious critters, we’ve gone to a hasp closed with a quick link. Links come in various sizes, so make sure you have one to fit the hasp. The link looks something like a carabiner, but it doesn’t squeeze open. Rather, you have to twist the hexagonal part. After a few years in the elements, you will need to give the link a bit of lubricating oil.

At the park: 121

Water levels are very high in the main wetland and down Barnyard Run. Where there was once a discernible channel is now just flat water. From my e-mail report to the team and staff:

Our merganser friends continue get the jump on us: we have 14 eggs in box #7 and one egg in box #68.

Small problems: the roof is loose on #77, and the back of #7 is held on with a latch. I’ll bring a power screwdriver and we’ll see whether we can tack them back together.

Larger problems: the soil around box #4 has washed away, so we can’t access the box effectively. Stilts, maybe? New box #84 (thank you box makers!) has a roof opening, but because of the way it’s mounted, we can’t access the box interior.

Bonus observations: multiple Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus), including a pair being mobbed by American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in the main wetland and a juvenile seen at close range, feeding on perhaps an Eastern Ratsnake.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2022

I didn’t go out until the weather cleared and warmed up. I visited my usual patch along the Glade, plus I visited a new-to-me patch in Great Falls called Lexington Estates Park. This park is in my Christmas Count sector, but we did not visit it in 2021. There are no amenities, not even any signs, just a bit of shoulder to park on. Part of the property is mapped as a school site. A single unmarked trail more or less connecting two cul-de-sacs running along some bottomland; a small impounded pound that turned up two Mallard pairs, a Wood Duck pair, and an Eastern Phoebe. The space is big enough to support Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated Woodpecker, so that’s good. On the downside, the biggest individuals of Leatherleaf Mahonia (Berberis bealei) that I’ve ever seen. Combining the two sites, I had a nice species count of 27, for 2:35 of birding time.


An excellent piece by Nick Roll on a different example of intercropping: “Farmers in Senegal learn to respect a scruffy shrub that gets no respect.” In this case, it’s Guiera senegalensis, in the Combretaceae (white myrtle) family. In a reversal of shade-grown coffee’s pattern, target crops (like millet) grow above the shrub, which brings up water into the millet’s root zone. Research indicates that Piliostigma reticulatum, a legume found in wetter parts of the Sahel, can also pull off this hydraulic redistribution trick.

This is the kind of digital-only (no audio) work that I wish we did more of. Not every bit of journalism needs to be in a podcast.

Endgame: 1

Noreen Malone captures the mood of the moment:

The act of working has been stripped bare. You don’t have little outfits to put on, and lunches to go to, and coffee breaks to linger over and clients to schmooze. The office is where it shouldn’t be — at home, in our intimate spaces — and all that’s left now is the job itself, naked and alone. And a lot of people don’t like what they see.

And even closer to home:

It wasn’t just the bad sexually harassing bosses who were fired but the toxic ones, too, and soon enough we began to question the whole way power in the office worked. What started out as a hopeful moment turned depressing fast. Power structures were interrogated but rarely dismantled, a middle ground that left everyone feeling pretty bad about the ways of the world. It became harder to trust anyone who was your boss and harder to imagine wanting to become one. Covid was an accelerant, but the match was already lit.

Upcoming: 57

WATCH assignments are out for the calendar year, and after a run of 2002-2019, I do not have a year’s worth of shows to judge. I am sitting out until the COVID-19 situation calms down, if it ever does. Hard same from two of my other judges, and my fourth has departed the metro for Albany. Fortunately, through the grapevine I’ve been able to recruit four judges for Silver Spring Stage. I remain ambivalent about all this: the last thing we should be doing is sitting in a box with a bunch of strangers projecting. Anyway, among other shows, my team will be seeing A Little Night Music (Sondheim/Wheeler) and Prelude to a Kiss (Lucas).


What Will Art Look Like in the Metaverse?, by Dean Kissick.

In late-19th and early-20th century Paris, Rousseau and his contemporaries (Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, etc.) were busy inventing bohemian modernity, creating new ways of living and of seeing the world. In our century, that visionary role appears to have passed from the artists to the engineers, to Zuckerberg and his ilk. Who else tries to invent new universes? Who dares spin grand utopian fantasies? Artists don’t anymore. It’s Silicon Valley’s Promethean founders who try — and routinely fall short.

My year in hikes and field trips, 2021

5 downI earned my next pin for Virginia’s Trail Quest project, so there’s that.

We did get in a full season of nest box monitoring at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Va.

For another year, the Mason and Bailey Club did not meet, alas. I scouted Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington County, Va.; Turkey Run Park, Fairfax County, Va.; Carderock, C&O Canal National Historic Park, Montgomery County, Md.; the Boundary Bridge area of Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. Maybe next year we can do Boundary Bridge, and I really want to show off Huntley Meadows.

I followed the phenology of a patch of Aralia spinosa near my house, down by the Ridge Heights Pool; we liberated a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) from an overgrowth of non-native invasives at Idylwood Park; and all of us chased cicadas.

The year in review, 2021

Some months are a little skimpy this year, for the expected reasons. The first sentence (more or less) of the first post for the last twelve months:

  • 2 January: Staying close to home, I walked over to Reston’s Walker Nature Center, past the high school and the mini-mall with the Domino’s and 7-Eleven.
  • 15 February: Waiting out the ice storm until Monday, I got some time to walk the Glade today, just before the rain came back.
  • 7 March: We have resumed nest box monitoring at Huntley Meadows Park (following precautions and adhering to protocol, of course).
  • 6 April: Sean Wyer unpacks a word that has always puzzled me: naff.
  • 1 May: Box #68 hatched out — Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus).
  • 3 June: I’m Washingtonian-famous, for the month at least, recommending Mucca Pazza’s Tiny Desk Concert.
  • 5 July: After my annual scuffling with the Google chart API, I can post the summary graph of nesting activity for 2021.
  • 1 August: この ちかくに コンビニが あります。
  • 6 September: Labor Day means a hike in Shenandoah National Park.
  • 5 October: Best use of inset text, Snark Division.
  • 6 November: Phase 2 has hit the “substantially complete” milestone.
  • 5 December: Oh, dear.

The year in review:

My year in contributions, 2021

There are a few hours left in the giving year.

(Who will win the dubious prize of last begging e-mail of the year? Judges are monitoring my inbox hourly.)

What organizations are worthy of support? Consider this list as some recommendations from me.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2021. Limited travel and in-person work this year, so my out-of-pocket expenses continue to be down.