Great Backyard Bird Count 2012

rip and rapRepair work has begun on reach 6 of the Glade, to fix 2010’s restoration work that was undone by the flood of September 2011. There’s some heavy gear scattered about. Nevertheless, 17 species of our mid-Atlantic winter suburbans were represented on my mid-day count. Mostly cloudy, but with the sun overhead, viewing conditions seemed to be both too dark and too glaring. No real surprises on the bird list, though the briefly heard starling was a little unusual for this patch.

cruel to be kindI was taken aback by the stumps of half a dozen large trees that were sacrificed, but perhaps the undercut stream bank that you can see here is the explanation. Stream restoration is a little like sausage-making.

looking for some friends to make a thickethanging outA little farther upstream, near the footbridge, a Smooth Alder (Alnus serrulata) was proudly displaying its male catkins.

At the park: 46

some assembly requiredM.K., Steve, and I got a head start on nesting season by installing two new boxes along Barnyard Run near its outlet into the main wetland. Steve, whom I haven’t worked with before, turns out to be a dab hand at steering the runabout ATV (which we used to carry our gear) down the trails and across the brush and Smilax.

field modifiableFrom a ladder, I worked the tubular, double-handled mallet (we all call it “the pounder,” but there must be a more precise name for it) in order to seat the support pole in the mud. I stayed up there while Steve redrilled one of the mounting holes in the back of the box.

still kind of bleakready to goIt’s still plenty wintry at the park, as a passing snow shower reminded us. But the new boxes are nice and dry, and ready for this year’s ducks. About ten days ago, M.K. watched a group of about 20 Hooded Mergansers going through pair formation behaviors.

On deck: 9

and one not picturedWell, I knew that Kent Minichiello’s Conservation Philosophy class would have a lot of reading, but I’m not sure that I planned for quite this much. This is the reading list, including my two book report books, but missing Santos’ prohibitively priced Managing Planet Earth (loaner copies will circulate) and various offprints.

My presentation on the Cooper is in two weeks. Too bad I don’t have a long commute to carve out reading time for me.

Leesylvania State Park

I was flipping through Barbara Noe’s guidebook of easy hikes around the D.C. metro and I realized that I had never visited Leesylvania State Park before.

This compact park, a one-hour drive from home, lies on a nose of land jutting into the Potomac and bisected by a CSX railway line (the RF&P subdivision). I took the walk highlighted in Noe’s book, which follows the Lee’s Woods Trail, a two-mile loop across the headland of Freestone Point.

the view from MarylandThe point is composed of sandstone, a building material so easily quarried by previous-century settlers that, so the local lore goes, it’s as if someone had posted a sign that read “free stone.”

crossing the lineThe commonwealth-state boundary runs close to the Virginia shore here, so the fishing pier just downriver is technically in Maryland. The river breeze out of the south was quite fresh, so I did not linger long on the pier.

The trail requires only grippy, sturdy sneakers: some gravel road, a little climbing, and a little mud. Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) can be found on the ridgetops. There are ample opportunities for river overlooks. The big natural attraction along this stretch of the river, of course, is Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and I spotted birds three times. At least twice I heard an odd whickering vocalization that could only have come from the eagles, sort of a “whee-whee-kir-kir-kir.”

2012 MCTFA

Silver Spring Stage presented the first act of Brian Friel’s Lovers, subtitled Winners, as well as Audrey Cefaly’s original work Stuck at the 2012 Maryland one-act festival, under the auspices of MCTFA.

ready for tech-inThe festival was held at the home of The Newtowne Players, the Three Notch Theatre in Lexington Park. It’s an interesting repurposed space, formerly a public library, in service as a theater for only the past half dozen years. There’s no enclosed tech booth, so you’re really better off calling the show from the deck (unless you want everyone to hear that a cue is coming up). I’ll know better next time. The playing space is a two-sided thrust with audience seating in a nice arc around it.

Over the course of Saturday, we had to contend with noise for the nearby naval air station only once. Jet flyers screaming overhead, scaring the terrapins, as my late navigator friend Jim might say.

The adjudicators were quite generous to the Stage, tapping both shows (along with two others) to move on to the combined festival for and new and published works to be held in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in April.

Funniest light cue ever: Montgomery Playhouse’s Pillow Talk.

Takeaways: 4

making connectionsSome snaps from my recent trip to Sacramento and suburbs to move my mother into her new place. Mom wasn’t fazed by using my mobile to leave a message for her friend Priscilla.

making breakfastDoing what she loves doing (and is dang good at), my aunt Takeko (my mother’s brother’s widow), cutting melon for breakfast. At the end of the week, I used Taki’s guest room as an operations base. She’s camera-shy, like me.

mission accomplishedThis was the end state to which Rita and I worked for six days: an empty apartment, carpets vacuumed but hardly blot-free.

sic transitIn the neighborhood, the old Tower Records store on Watt will reopen as a thrift store next month. The Gottschalks down the block is also empty. But the staff at the Starbucks just north of here are the friendliest I’ve ever found.

Maryland wetlands

Our second and final field trip for class took us to southern Maryland to two wetlands, one salt and one fresh.

First stop was at a saltmarsh on St. George Island in St. Mary’s County. As Gary demonstrated by digging a sample, there’s no true mineral soil layer here, just an O horizon in two layers of decomposition, the upper oxygenated and the lower a bluish anoxic layer (up to 5 feet thick). As many of us found to our pain, one’s usual instincts for walking through a marsh don’t apply here. Lesson learned: if you see water, don’t step there, even if you’re wearing wellies.

saltmarshThe island is squeezed between the Potomac River to the southwest and the St. Mary’s River to the northeast. The view of this drainage inlet is from the St. Mary’s side of the island. The mats of vegetation are Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) and Smooth Cordgrass (S. alterniflora).

A few Osprey were in attendance. At our staging area at Piney Point, I picked up my lifer Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) in a group of about four, in various stages of plumage transition.

kneesiesWe then crossed over the Maryland peninsula to Calvert County and the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, site of the only stand of Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay and the northernmost limit of this species’ natural range. This is a beautiful little preserve of only 100 acres.


The street name signs in Fairfax City constitute the most egregious mess of colors and styles in the metropolitan area.

generic black and whiteThe smaller intersections are marked with generic black on white signs, with or without block numbers. These simple, functional signs are similar to those used in Arlington County.

plain blueconventional overheadUp on the busier thoroughfares, the signs switch to white on blue. Most use a readable but pedestrian all-caps sans serif. Overhead signs use “Freeway Gothic” in mixed case.

blue and green There is a pinched condensed font that suggests credits on a movie poster. (Unfortunately, an example or two of this developer-friendly sign can be found in Reston, too.) The contrast with the white on green is particularly ugly.

olde timeyold and newIntersections in the old town center use signs with a scrolled border and a decorated serif, but recent traffic re-engineering is replacing these with the ordinary overheads.

one-off This example, missing the street type and the block numbers, appears to be a one-off. Notice the brackets for the crossing sign for University Drive, which is missing.

blue and white You can even find a few examples of this jaunty mixed-case sans serif, shown here with an afterthought black and white locator.

nouveau riche This blue-bronze sign for a new subdivision of starter McMansions is especially galling.

too muchpileupBut the worst specimens accrue to the recent dual-designation within the city of U.S. Route 50, which follows Arlington Boulevard, Lee Highway, and Main Street, as “Fairfax Boulevard.” This led to the creation of these red-white-and-blue decorative contraptions. Notice the oops-addition of a sign for Blake Lane, which was extended to this intersection about 20 years ago.

retrofitMinor intersections were fitted with smaller versions of the ungainly, squareish Fairfax Boulevard signs.

Related: My pedantic nuthatch posts from ’05 and ’06 on street name signs in Reston, Fairfax County, Lake Barcroft, Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda, and the District.

Some snaps

1959 Chevrolet ImpalaI moved the Mac that has the scanner attached to another place in the house, one more convenient, less underfoot. So of course to test it after relocation I did some scanning. My ostensible purpose was finding a new buddy icon. And that turned into a more general wading through all the family albums. This snap was taken in front of a duplex my grandfather owned and rented out to my mom for a year or two. It must have been after my mother’s fender bender, because you can see the crimp in the Chevrolet logo. I don’t think this image of me looks anything like other pictures of me at the time. Except for the extra cookies I’m carrying around.

cousinsThe two girls in back are my uncle’s first two daughters, Rita and Terri. Rita’s now a journalist in Sacramento, and I think Terri still lives in Germany. That’s my grandparents’ rancher in the background. We’re “sledding” in the open field/backyard of McMakens’ place. I don’t know why we didn’t go someplace with some vertical. The field (maybe an acre?) used to be empty, just some trees in the back, with a gravel drive along the edge. Then McMaken’s Scottish terrier died, and he buried Charlie in the field, with a big marker you could read through the picture window in my grandparents’ living room. I think my grandmother grew roses on that trellis that you can see between the shrubs. I remember learning that word as a kid. Trellis.

parentsMost of the photos in the albums are in pretty shabby shape, and I am not the Photoshop monkey that I used to be, so you’re seeing all the scratches and specks. Especially this overexposed image of my mother and father in Sacramento in about 1952. This must have been before they were married. Maybe it’s because they’re both smiling so broadly.

Williams family reunionI guess I wasn’t at this reunion—according to my notes, I would have been in graduate school by then—but I attended my share of them. The Williams family always met in Fountain Park (somewhat exotic for me, being on the other side of town from where I lived) and rented out the picnic room. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Helen and Wilson (see the image on Flickr for the callouts) were my maternal grandmother’s parents. To me, they were just generalized old relatives from the country. What I particularly like about this picture is that everyone is looking in a different direction. No retakes in 1978.

Easter suitAbout all that I remember of this place on Spring Street is that we had a neighbor named Myers. But in the local dialect, it sounded to me more like “Mars.” Must have been cool to have one of Ray Walston’s compadres living next door. I don’t remember that rabbit, and I certainly don’t remember that suit.

It Happened in 1956

  • Frederick Reines and Clyde L. Cowan, Jr., of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory discover the first evidence of the neutrino in a chamber 12 m under the Savannah River nuclear reactor (called, in the August 1956 Scientific American article that reported the story, an “atomic pile”). The ghostly particle, electrically neutral, was thought at the time of its discovery to have no mass as well, which explained why it hardly interacted with its surroundings and was so difficult to detect. Reines shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
  • 11 February: Ed Norton teaches Ralph Kramden how to dance the Hucklebuck in the “Young at Heart” episode of The Honeymooners.
  • 2 August: Albert Woolson, of Companies C&D, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery, born 11 February 1847 in Watertown, N.Y. and the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, passes away.
  • Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer meets Donald Byrne in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York. Their game, won by Fischer playing black, is called by many annotators the “Game of the Century.”
  • 19 April: A nuptial mass celebrates the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III. Kelly exchanges her film career for life as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.
  • 15 December: The phrase “Elvis has left the building” is first uttered. Elvis Presley’s hits that year include “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender.”
  • IBM Almaden4 September: The IBM RAMAC 305 is introduced, the first commercial computer to use magnetic disk storage, and one of IBM’s last systems to use vacuum tubes. The RAMAC systems (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) used the IBM 350 disk subsystem, which stored 5 million 7-bit characters on 50 disks 24 inches in diameter and mounted vertically in a refrigerator-sized cabinet. (IBM Almaden, originally uploaded by jurvetson)
  • More passings: crusty journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken; A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books; baseball Hall of Famer Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (a/k/a Connie Mack); Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois; Alben Barkley, vice president for Harry Truman; virtuosic bebop trumpeter Clifford Brown; and, in one deadly week in August, painter Jackson Pollack, actor Bela Lugosi, and playwright Bertolt Brecht.
  • 15 October: the first blasts begin construction of the dam across Glen Canyon on the Colorado River, the controversial Bureau of Reclamation project that ultimately formed Lake Powell.
  • Grace Metalious publishes the potboiler Peyton Place; Allen Ginsberg releases a “Howl.”
  • 23 October: Tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hungary, seeking an end to Soviet domination. Russian tanks roll into the country in November, crushing the uprising.
  • 30 September: The Dodgers win their last pennant in Brooklyn, one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves. World Series champions the year before, this year the Dodgers lose to the Yankees (again) and Don Larsen’s perfect game.
  • 2 August: The first construction contracts are let under the new legislation enabling the 42,000-mile interstate highway system. Meanwhile, in Edina, in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Victor Gruen opens Southdale, the archetype of the indoor shopping mall.
  • 13 November: the Supreme Court upholds a ruling declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional, effectively ending the boycott that was begun in Montgomery, Ala. the year before when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
  • 3 January: Alan Schneider directs Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida in the first United States production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
  • 6 August: Chris Schenkel wraps “Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena,” the last program broadcast on the DuMont Television Network, America’s first fourth TV network. So long, Captain Video.
  • 26 July: After a collision in the fog off Nantucket the previous evening, the ocean liner Andrea Doria slips beneath the waves. Fortunately, improved communications and rapid response avert major loss of life.
  • John Ford releases the noir Western The Searchers, inspiring living room movie theorists for years to come.
  • The first group of “Hiroshima Maidens,” survivors of the 1945 bombing, return to Japan from New York. The Maidens, disfigured with keloid scars from burns sustained in the attack, underwent plastic surgery treatments at Mt. Sinai Hospital. A contemporary CBC broadcast fills in some of the details of the story. In 1999, survivor Miyoko Matsubara reflected on her experiences.
  • 13 August: Doris and Don Gorsline welcome their brand-new son David into the world.