At the park: 66

Reports from the nest box team for the past two Sundays:

red washWe have evidence of roosting in 7 of the boxes, but at this point we have nests in only 2. Box #3 is incubating, so we can skip checking that one next week. With Steve’s help, we replaced box #6 this afternoon.

Notable birds for 9 March: Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, American Coot

We found a dead Barred Owl along Barnyard Run; we conveyed the specimen to park staff.

Notable birds for 16 March: Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow (afternoon)

Water gauge readings: 1.86 (9 March), 1.50 (16 March)

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Mae Keane, most likely the last surviving “radium girl,” a victim of occupational radiation poisoning at her workplace with the Waterbury Clock Company, has passed away.

After a few months, she [left the company]. It was the summer of 1924. She was 18. Within two decades she had lost all her teeth.

Posted in Economics and Business, In Memoriam
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Mother Courage and Her Children

Kathleen Turner is the headliner in this fine presentation of Brecht’s fable with music, but what is going on all around her in the Fichandler that’s just as interesting. Force of nature that she is, she can’t pull this show all by herself, even if her Mother Courage does try to pull that cart by herself. (In this production, that iconic closing image seems to get short shrift.)

David Hare’s crisp translation skates the line between jaded and glib; his “War is like love: it finds a way” crackles. The snappy music, by the multi-talented James Sugg, is outstanding: making no virtuosic demands, it tells the story, plain and simple, relying on accordion, low brass, and “found instruments” like a musical saw, and performed completely by the cast without added musicians.

This is a show that isn’t afraid to let the wires show. While generally cleaving to a design consistent with the play’s seventeenth-century setting, modern safety equipment for dangerous stunts is in full view, vocalists are (modestly) miked, a tuba player who needs a little help has his music on a stand, and the rubber wheels on that cart would not be out of place on a moon rover.

The musical centerpiece of the first act is “Each Night in May,” a violent tango (designed by David Leong) for Meg Gillentine as Yvette; Jack Willis’s salty, torch-bearing Cook stops the show in the second half with “Solomon’s Song (You’re Better Without).”

  • Mother Courage and Her Children, by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Hare, directed by Molly Smith, composer and music supervision by James Sugg, movement by David Leong, Arena Stage Fichandler Stage, Washington
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A centennial

Happy 100th to the homely, historic Hotel Harrington. These days I pass by the edifice on my walk from the subway.

Posted in Happy Birthday, Local News and Views
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At the park: 65

Nesting season for Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser has started at Huntley Meadows Park. From my report to the team and staff for Sunday:

As we have come to expect, the birds are out there nesting before us! We have three Hooded Merganser eggs in box #3, and one in box #67. We did fresh chips in the 16 boxes. Box #6 is in need of a repair to its door/hinges….

Water gauge: 1.74 (are we still monitoring that gauge)?

Birds of interest: Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Scaup sp., Red-headed Woodpecker

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I am not worthy

For the past 24 months, Matt Johnson has logged the car number for every Metro ride he’s taken.

Since I started logging car numbers, I’ve ridden 74.1% of the WMATA rail fleet. I’ve ridden 91.3% of the 6000 series cars, 82% of the 4000 series, 78.7% of the 3000 series, 74.5% of the 5000 series, 69.7% of the 2000 series, and 56.1% of the 1000 series.

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The phone is about the same size as a cigarette pack. It’s no surprise to me that the traditional cigarette lighter in many cars has turned into the space we use to recharge our phones. They are kin. The phone, like the cigarette, lets the texter/former smoker drop out of any social interaction for a second to get a break and make a little love to the beautiful object. We need something, people. We can’t live propless.

—Aimee Bender, “Wordkeepers”
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Theresa Rebeck’s waspish comedy is a nerdish treat for the New Yorker set. Four desperately young, aspiring writers hire industry veteran Leonard for a series of private coaching lessons in the art of fiction. Leonard (here played by Marty Lodge [and we are so glad to see him again on Round House's stage], in full command of the rainbow of timbres that he can summon from his baritone) offers his students equal measures of tough-love criticism (more accurately, verbal abuse), access to insider connections, hard-nosed advice (“[fellow] writers are as civilized as feral cats”), and ridiculous ramblings about his various Hemingwayesque adventures. Martin (Alexander Strain sporting eyewear from Jonathan Franzen’s optician) is both the most talented and the most self-censoring of the four, each of them unique in the bundle of self-delusions they carry around.

We forgive the exigencies of theater that call for someone to assess a short story after skimming four or five paragraphs; to spend more time than this would derail the play’s momentum. If the work doesn’t achieve greatness, it does accomplish what it sets out to do, and it’s “good, even,” in Leonard’s hyperjudgmental words.

  • Seminar, by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Jerry Whiddon, Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md.
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We Are Proud to Present…

While there’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate in this post-modern piece, a play about the making of a play about a particular genocide in specific and enormous inhumanity in general, it overstays its welcome. Actors improvise props with found objects (snapping a letter-box shut to simulate a gunshot is especially effective); improvise scenes and break character to argue the authenticity of a theatrical moment; find the humor in an admittedly glum topic; and like good Brechtians, chant the preposterously long, tautological complete name of the work, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Afrika, from the German Südwestafrika, between the Years 1884-1915.

It’s in the play’s constant second-guessing of its genuineness, its refusal of its own rights and abilities to portray, that it falters. A young black man, who has never been to Africa, challenges any white person’s legitimacy to present something other than he is not. And he is contradicted in a powerful turn by Peter Howard, a middle-aged white actor, as a wizened black African woman, crossing race and gender lines at a stroke.

When the work’s closing sequence finally arrives, a harrowing scene of violence in all its universality, we’ve already been distanced from this skilled ensemble of six by too many presentational gimmicks. It’s like a Lum and Abner play-acting bit that spins out of control.

This is not meant to dismiss the calamity that befell the Herero (perhaps more accurately known as the Ovaherero), who were nearly decimated by their German colonial rulers, years before Armenians died, decades before Hutu and Tutsi slaughtered one another in Rwanda.

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s work is most effective when it is quiet and specific: a simple, lethal scene with one herdsman, one border guard, one imaginary fence, and one pantomime gun.

  • We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Afrika, from the German Südwestafrika, between the Years 1884-1915, by Jackie Sibblies Drury, directed by John Michael Garcés, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
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Look for the label

Amanda Rodewald, director of the Conservation Science program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gives a 10-minute preso on bird-friendly coffee, in a video introduced by Gustave Axelson.

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Not unexpected

A likely upside to this winter’s unpleasant cold snaps: Thomas Kuhar of Virginia Tech reports that 95% of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have been unable to survive the icy temperatures. Kevin Ambrose has the report.


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Great Backyard Bird Count 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count 2014Much of the snow has melted and packed down, but much remains. The blacktop trail and stream are clear, but much of Lake Audubon is iced over. Hence my most numerous bird was not the $100 Jeopardy! answer, Canada Goose, but rather Red-winged Blackbird. I had reached the footbridge and was ready to turn around when one of the rather reliable Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) of these woods made an appearance.

Best bird of the day was a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) watering in a puddle of meltwater. A respectable 22+ species count. Bonus mammal: a Red Fox trotting across the frozen surface of the lake.

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Some links: 69

Another post to clear out the inbox:

  • Steven Portugal et al. equipped 14 Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita) with miniaturized GPS units to study the energetics and aerodynamics of flying in V formation. As the leader summarizes, each bird does indeed time its wingbeats to maximize the drafting effect of following another bird–abstract and heatmaps on the article page.

  • W. R. Grace & Co. has emerged from bankruptcy protection, as Catherine Ho reports.

    I interned for Grace in its New York headquarters in the late 1970s, and then somehow convinced someone at one of its newly-acquired retail businesses, Bermans, the Leather Experts to hire me full-time. (I lasted a year, and the lit out for Washington.) Bermans is long gone, merged into Wilsons and later Georgetown Leather Design, then gradually declining into liquidation in 2008. Back in the 1970s, Grace described its organization as a three-legged stool—specialty chemicals, energy, and consumer retail and restaurants. The energy game was no kinder to the portfolio than brands like Channel home centers and Houlihan’s restaurants. And, as Ho reports, personal-injury lawsuits stemming from asbestos contamination of the company’s vermiculite products sent the company into bankruptcy court.

    My workplace, the soaring building on 42nd Street (with a plaza that extended close enough to Sixth Avenue to give it an Avenue of the Americas address) still stands, but what’s left of the chemicals-only firm is now headquartered in Columbia, Maryland.

  • Brian Hayes uses a rhododendron shrub as a thermometer and wonders at the curled leaves’ apparent piecewise linear response to ambient temperature. Is the curling response a means to curtailing water loss, or a way to minimize UV damage to this understory shrub? Erik Tallak Nilsen likes the latter explanation.

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The BPP, again

Sam Droege and Jessica Zelt talk to Dan Rodricks of WYPR about Wells Cooke and the Bird Phenology Project and inferences about climate change to be drawn from its 90-year data set.

Posted in Birds and Birding, Citizen Science, Climate Change
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A milestone: 5

Congratulations to the Bird Phenology Project and its volunteer digital transcribers. Over the weekend, the project’s one-millionth migration record was transcribed to digital format. An observation of a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) (AOU code 721a) by Vernon Bailey in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico Territory in September, 1904 was the card that did it.

(Bailey was the husband of Florence Merriam Bailey, in whom I am currently interested.)

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