Saturday, October 29, 2011

Birding Babylon

There's a saying, "wherever you go, there you are."  More to the point, wherever you go, you'll find nature.  I'm always amazed at the tenacity of nature, a weed growing up through the cracked pavement of an industrial landscape, the bee that pollinates the weed flower, the spider hiding in the weed that captures the bee, the wasp that stings the spider and takes it back to its nest to lay an egg to feed its hatching larva.  There you are.  And so it is, in present-day Iraq, that nature perseveres among the explosions and death.  Amid that chaos, Sergeant Jonathan Trouern-Trend kept online journal of his birding and nature observations.  The highlights of these blog posts are assembled in this small book.  Hope springs eternal like the weed that grows up through the crack.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall: On the Beach

It's fall and the Heerman's gulls again make their contrarian fall migration northward from Baja California to our local beaches and elsewhere along the northern Pacific coastline.  Other gulls are here, too, but my identification skills with the other gull species are not so good, especially with the juvenile phases and subtle seasonal variations.  The American widgeons are here and later in the winter we'll see other ducks, the red-breasted mergansers and the goldeneyes, common and Barrows.
I encountered several beached lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), the largest known species of jellyfish.  Jellyfish usually die off this time of year as their food supply of plankton dwindles.
Harbor seals are the most abundant marine mammal in Puget Sound.  Harbor seal pups can be found on the beach in the late summer and fall, resting as mother forages.  People may come across a seal pup on the beach and think it is abandoned but it is not.  The pups must not be disturbed.  Seal Sitters is a volunteer group dedicated to the protection of marine mammals in the urban environment along Puget Sound.  I came across a Seal Pup last year but this year I came across one that was unfortunately dead.  Seal pup mortality is relatively high as I understand.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall: From the Woods to the Mailbox

We live on the edge of a 120-acre forest of western hemlock, western cedar, and Douglas fir with bigleaf maple and red alder nearing the end of their lifespan.  In another 700 feet as the crow flies is the shore of Puget Sound.  And so we are blessed with a variety of wild plants and animals from rain forest to suburban garden to the shoreline of an inland sea.

Even among the giant trees I'm never at a loss of amazement at the small things.  Walking out to the mailbox I notice a lifeless garter snake on the driveway that was run over by any one of us three neighbors who share this driveway.  I'm not a snake expert but guessing he's a Northwestern Garter Snake (Thamnophis ordinoides), one of several species and subspecies of garter snakes native here.  Its lifeless opaque eyes no longer glisten as transparent windows to his snake spirit.
As I was photographing the snake, along came a beetle, a snail-killer carabid (Scaphinotus angusticollis), attracted no doubt by the scent of the dead snake.  These beetles are pretty common around here and are the good guys that eat snails and slugs.  The beetle's forebody is uniquely shaped to get inside a snail's shell.  Note that the beetle harbors a group of mites seen as the orangish little creatures on the beetle's thorax.
Another common animal is the seldom seen shrew-mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii).  They forage for worms and other terrestrial invertebrates in the shallow soil and leaf letter.  I found this one dead at the edge of the forest.
Fall is also mushroom time, these found growing in our back lawn area, perhaps Mycena sp.
There weren't as may cross spiders this fall as last year, maybe our early November last year freeze reduced their numbers.  It was a cold La Nina last year and this year looks to be a similar La Nina.  We'll see.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Back in the Stone Age when I was in college in the late 1970s, I had an introductory computer class where we did goofy little programming assignments using BASIC and working on terminals connected to the college's big Digital PDP-11.  One of my professor's had just purchased a TRS-80, one of the original desktop computers.  I had no clue then how much computers would become literally a household appliance.  After graduating from college I went to work for a huge aerospace company as a manufacturing engineer.  I wrote production planning on a terminal connected to some mainframe elsewhere in the building.  Our group had a secretary who would type letters for us on an IBM Selectric typewriter.  After four years of flirting with the girls on the soldering line, I was beginning to realize that I wasn't really cutout to work in a giant corporation.  But I was liking too much the engineer salary to make a move.   Fortunately, the company made a decision for me and laid me off.  After a few weeks of job searching, interviewing with dreadful manufacturing facilities and sad looking people, I landed a job with an environmental consulting company.  I walked in for the interview and knew right then and there that that was where I wanted to be.  The people were happy and energetic.  The office was quaintly located in the original Sierra Madre city hall and every desk was equipped with a McIntosh 512.  In short time, I was writing reports and drawing plans, all on that little box.  For the next five years, it was nothing but McIntosh's, graduating from the 512 to the SE and later purchasing a McIntosh LC for home use.  It had a color monitor, which was the coolest thing since the Vega-matic.  Somewhere in the early 1990s the company transitioned over to PCs with Windows and that was it.  Pretty soon it was all Windows all the time.

Rest in peace Steve Jobs.  You made some awesome products and brought Apple back to glory with fantastic new products.  History will view you right up there with Leonardo da Vinci as a genius visionary.