Hank

Posted by Ellen

Blowing on a bird's belly–in this case, a common yellowthroat warbler–can reveal a lot of useful information.

For example: Is she currently setting on a nestful of eggs? If so, then blowing back the feathers around her belly will reveal a patch of  unfeathered skin. This is the brood patch; when mama bird settles down on the nest, her warm belly skin is in direct contact with the eggs, incubating them. Soon after they hatch, her brood patch will disappear.

And while you've got a bird in hand, you might as well spread out the wing feathers, as seen below on a spotted towhee, to learn the bird's age and get an idea of how many miles it's clocked:

More than two million times since 1989, through an ongoing program known as MAPS, scientists and volunteers at thousands of stations across Canada and the U.S. have captured wild birds, identified them by species, blown on their bellies and spread out their feathers and noted dozens of critical characteristics related to age and health, and then fixed tiny numbered bands around skinny little bird ankles and let them fly free.

The bird below is being fitted for its new ankle band:

Very early one morning last July, these birds and more than 50 others were trapped for banding at Morse Wildlife Preserve, near the headwaters of the north fork of Muck Creek, south of Tacoma, Washington. Three of the birds had been banded previously, and another three were banded that morning and then recaptured the same day.

Before dawn, the banding crew set up fine-mesh nets, known as mist nets, in a dozen clearings in the spruce forest and overgrown farmland at the preserve.

Banders checked the nets every fifteen minutes until about noon, and almost always, they found little birds snarled in the mesh. Very young birds may try to squirm their way out, but all the others hang immobile in the net, apparently in shock. We're told that the shock can be fatal, so banders try to un-net the birds gently but quickly; risk is greatest early in the morning, before the day has warmed up, when some birds may require warming under the banders' shirts. But such problems are exceedingly rare, and almost all the birds are released unharmed.

No one is allowed to touch these birds until completing comprehensive training in bird identification, handling, measurements, and other data-gathering, An early lesson involves the proper way to hold a captured bird, such as this common yellowthroat:

Over the years, bird banding for the MAPS program–Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship–has vastly improved our knowledge of bird migration patterns and has begun to focus on the links between bird populations and climate change. Banding teams return to each station every few days throughout the summer breeding season; the Morse preserve has participated in MAPS for almost twenty years.

Some MAPS banding is now high-tech, using miniaturized GPS transmitters that are now so small they can be attached to the legs of birds who weigh as little as 3 ounces, such as robins. Some MAPS stations now collect feathers for DNA sequencing. But the Morse program is old-school; the bands are tiny numbered strips of aluminum, and all the data associated with each band number–species, sex, age, body fat, condition of wing feathers, etc., etc., etc.–is entered by hand into logsheets on clipboards. 

Although a bird in hand is a whole lot easier to identify than one on the wing or in a distant bush, the banding worktable was loaded with books and notebooks full of reference materials. For identification of birdsong, the banders had apps on their phones.

Not all species were bandable; hummingbirds, for example, were logged in and then released unbanded. We were told that teensy little hummingbird bands do exist, but handling them requires special certication. Two hummingbirds were caught that morning at Morse:

This freshly banded junco posed for a picture before flying off to get on with its life:

Posted by Ellen

In the winter of 2004, at the winter carnival in Québec City, eleven-year-old Hank met his doppelganger, the festival's mascot, Le Bonhomme. And Le Bonhomme met a little mascot of his own in smiling Hank.

Posted by Ellen

On Saturday, May 17, Hank got his diploma from the University of Montana College of Forestry. Shown here celebrating with him are his brothers Allen and John and his sister-in-law Bonnie.

That very same day, Hank's cousin Andy Koehler also completed his college studies. Andy's degree, from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, is in music.

Posted by Ellen

Looks like yesterday's g'mornin was one silly mess: wrong boy, and even wrong uncle.

This picture shows the real Hank Stein atop the twisted chimney at Ancient Art near Moab, Utah. Yesterday's picture was of some other somebody.

And the uncle who gave him a sort of shout out on Facebook–"Get down from there this instant!" That was his Uncle Rich. Yesterday's posting attributed those immortal words to some other uncle.

Apologies all around.

Posted by Ellen

This spring-break picture of Hank at the summit of the Stolen Chimney, a corkscrew spire atop the Ancient Art rockwall near Moab, Utah, has already been on Facebook, where it attracted a few comments. The award for Best Comment goes to Hank's Uncle Bob: "Get down from there this instant!"

Posted by Ellen

Big brother is thirty-six and counting. He's got the young'un trained.

Posted by Ellen

. . . that Bart Simpson doll? We have no idea. But the baby in the middle? He turns 21 today.

That would be our youngest baby, Hankystein, shown here with his biggest brother John. All grown up now, a serious, stand-up guy, already taking his hard turn at fixing the world. He says he'll celebrate his 21st tonight by watching a documentary about climate change. Maybe that's really what he'll do. The kids today.

Hank's a serious guy, and you can count on him, but he takes a way goofy tack when things are looking a little too sincere. For example, below, he's nearing the finish line of a 50-km trail run–that's 50 kilometers, as in more than 30 miles, up and over a mountain, a Rocky Mountain. He was running amongst the rocks for eight hours. And there near the end, he sees a photographer, and it appears that he digs deep and summons the energy to . . . well, to jump in the air and mug for the camera.

On this occasion, Hank, we offer advice from a couple of your great-grandmothers, who never quite got to know you but who still pull a lot of strings across generational and other divides. From your great-grandmother Harriet, after whom you are named, we share a warning not to run too much, lest you come down with toe cancer. And from your great-grandma Buddy, we share an all-purpose birthday wish: Wear it in good health.

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Posted by Ellen

Last weekend, Hank, his climbing buddy Pat, and their other climbing buddy, the orange-footed yaller guy, summited Mount Gimli, a 9,000-foot spire of gneiss in the Valhalla Range of southeastern British Columbia.

Posted by Ellen

One variety of redwood tree, the dawn redwood, is deciduous, dropping its needles in the fall. This same variety happens to be the only kind of redwood that will grow in the eastern United States; this example of a dawn redwood appears to be thriving in the Fairmount Park arboretum in Philadelphia.

Dawn redwoods may be the midgets of the redwood family; coast redwoods and giant sequoias in California reach heights greater than 300 feet, while dawn redwoods, though very fast-growing, may not get much taller than 200 feet. Their potential height is not known for certain, however, because the oldest dawn redwoods in America are only about 70 years old now, descended from a single specimen found in China in 1944. In California, coastal redwoods and giant sequoias live for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Dawn redwoods were known to scientists from the fossil record long before the live specimen was found in China; they were assumed to be extinct. Fossilized dawn redwoods dating back to the Eocene, 50 or more million years ago, have been found in many parts of the world, including Greenland and islands in the Arctic Ocean, which had a tropical climate at the time. It is believed that the trees became deciduous in response to the extreme light-dark cycle of their high-latitude habitat; even though winters were not cold, they were very dark, rendering leaves or needles useless.

The young man in the tree, of course, is Hank, who is a college student studying ecology and climate change.