Hole in the Clouds
Feb 6, 2017
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:
Morse Wildlife Preserve
(Image credits: Fuji T)
Feb 8, 2017
One of the first professional assignments undertaken by Gordon Parks was a 1942 photo essay featuring Mrs. Ella Watson, a "government charwoman" who cleaned federal office buildings at night, after the clerks went home, and supported her family, including an adopted daughter and three grandchildren, on her annual salary of $1,080.
Parks's other photos of Mrs. Watson and her family, along with explanatory captions, can be viewed online, via the Library of Congress Farm Security Administration archive.
District of Columbia
(Image credit: Gordon Parks via Shorpy)
Feb 9, 2017
In 1986, the stairwell in this parking garage that connected the rooftop parking deck with the shopping streets alongside the garage was permanently locked. The problem, according to the St. Helens Reporter, the local newspaper, was "continued vandalism and anti-social behaviour."
Twenty years later, in 2006, the new staircase shown above was opened, spiraling around a polished steel "millennium needle" standing 20 meters high. The Reporter called it a "pole." The project, according to the Reporter, added an expensive "feature" of questionable value to the downtown area.
Downtown St. Helens, in the north of England east of Liverpool, hadn't had much in the way of expensive features for many years. A bustling mining and manufacturing center in the nineteenth century, it was rusting away of late, with only one factory remaining and a population of about 100,000. The whole region was depressed.
Google "St. Helens needle" and you come up with lots of stories about drug use and street crime, including one about a four-year-old child who had to go to the hospital after stepping on a hypodermic needle on her way home from the park.
Nevertheless, St. Helens city fathers put money into sprucing up the central shopping district, and some gentrification did in fact ensue. Several high-end restaurants moved into empty storefronts near the train station.
And eventually, there was pressure to reconnect the old parking garage more conveniently to the new "George Street Quarter." The needle was the result.
Like any good needle, it has a hole–many piercings, in fact, for lighting up near the point. But a real needle has its hole near the blunt end. This one is what it is.
For whatever it's worth, we note that this is actually the second Good Morning post about parking garages and European urban renewal. It happened in Skopje. And now in St. Helens.
(Image credit: Photogenics)
Feb 10, 2017
The post in the foreground marks the border between the Canadian province of Manitoba and the state of North Dakota; the farm fields in the background are in North Dakota. Last weekend, 22 refugees, mostly from Somalia, walked for miles through these fields in below-zero cold and waist-deep snow, attempting to escape the United States and find freedom in Canada.
In 2016, more than 400 refugees crossed the border here, in hopes of being granted asylum in Canada. Thousands more attempted the crossing elsewhere along the northern edge of the United States.
A common story behind this journey involves fleeing a war zone or other hellish homescape and eventually making it into the U.S., usually by way of Mexico. The refugees plead for asylum and are taken into custody; they are imprisoned for a year or more, during which time contact with their families back home is extremely limited. In fact, communication with the outside world is so limited that they find it impossible to properly prepare their asylum paperwork.
Eventually, they may be released under restrictive orders, pending an asylum decision. Their petitions are judged inadequate, their claims rejected, and they are ordered to report for deportation back to Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, or whatever land they had fled.
Instead, they head north. Canada and the U.S. have had a treaty since 2004 called the Safe Third Country Agreement, which basically says that refugees just get one shot at filing for asylum, either in Canada or the U.S., whichever they come to first. But the refugees argue that the U.S. isn't really a safe haven and keeps refugees locked up and unable to obtain documentation needed for their claims; Canada, they say, has a fairer system.
As long as the treaty is in effect, Canadian border agents have to turn over would-be asylum-seekers from the U.S. to U.S. agents. So the refugees can't enter Canada by road. They walk through woods or fields, or in some cases swim, across the border in between offical crossing points, and then they turn themselves in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The police call in organizations to help find housing and other support for the border-crossers. Immigrants from their homelands are contacted, to help with employment and translation. Advocate groups help with the asylum paperwork. Border towns, such as Emerson, Manitoba, the settlement closest to the fields shown here, are sometimes called on to provide emergency food and shelter.
On Christmas Eve, two men facing deportation back to Ghana, where one of them said he would be killed because he was a homosexual, paid a cab driver $400 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to drive them to the border. The driver let them out near this field in a snowstorm, with wind chill far below zero.
For seven hours, they struggled through snowdrifts to cross the field. Only one of them had a hat; neither had gloves. When they finally crossed the border and came to a road, they spent three hours trying to flag down a passing vehicle. Finally, a truck driver stopped for them and called 911.
Both men are still in the hospital in Winnipeg, where they face amputations from severe frostbite. One has been told he will lose all his fingers and at least one toe. Still, they say, their situation is far better than it would be back in Ghana.
This refugee railroad, headed north to freedom, predates the election of Donald Trump. But there is now much greater interest in sneaking into Canada even by asylum-seekers who have not yet had their claims rejected; they fear that even if somehow they can manage to stay in the U.S., their families will never be allowed to join them.
There is also increased interest among Canadians in ending the Safe Third Country Agreement, in light of recent evidence that the U.S. can no longer be considered a safe destination for many refugees.
journey to freedom
(Image credit: CBC News Manitoba)
Feb 11, 2017
These papier-maché troll masks on display in Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum were created by Norwegian-born Seattleite August Hansen Werner (1893–1980).
Although troll-themed masks were common articles of Norwegian folk art, these were different. Werner was a professional musician, an instructor at the University of Washington, and longtime conductor of the Norwegian Male Chorus of Seattle. He was also a painter and sculptor, and it is believed that he made these masks for operatic performances.
August Hansen Werner
Nordic Heritage Museum
(Image credit: the phone)
Feb 12, 2017
A sample of lint from the trap in our clothes dryer yielded this strand of something: a hair, maybe, or some kind of fiber that is fixing to fail.
We examined the lint with a scanning electron microscope, which magnified it about 927 times by shooting electrons at it and noting how they bounced back. If we'd had a regular old optical microscope, we might have been able to reach this same level of magnification, though we'd be approaching the upper limits of that technology.
Electron microscopes can detect details hundreds of times smaller than optical scopes because electrons travel in more or less straight paths while visible light undulates in waves. The downside is that electrons can't see in color and can't travel much beneath the surface of things, no matter how transparent or translucent that surface might be.
All in all, however, if lint is what you're wanting to look at, then a scanning electron microscope might be just the tool for the job.
With its help, we calculated the width of this strand of whatever it is at about 20 microns–about one fiftieth of a millimeter. The hairs on our heads are usually more like 50 microns in diameter, so this probably isn't that.
This strand of whatever it is has obviously been through the wringer, even though our current washing machine doesn't have a wringer. The strand has been stressed, and were it not for a couple of microns of badly fraying inner strength at its core, it would have snapped completely.
Which does lead to speculation that what we're looking at here is My Last Nerve. . . .
But there are some other possibilities. Such as dog hair: dog hairs average about 25 microns in diameter, more or less in the same ballpark as this strand. Dog hairs often show a scaly pattern on their outer cuticles that looks kinda like the faint pattern we can sorta make out on what's left of the outer surface of this thing. And of course, finding a dog hair in the lint trap at our house, or pretty much anywhere else in our house, isn't completely freakish.
But really: could a dog hair get this mangled and shredded just from normal laundry processes? We want to beg off from a definitive answer; although we've worn many different hats over the years, we have never, ever presented ourselves as expert in the forensic analysis of dog hairs.
We've not yet, however, run out of options. Couldn't this thing be a fabric fiber from some item of clothing?
That electron microscope sure did come in handy.
North Seattle College
scanning electron miscroscope
(Image credit: North Seattle College Nanotechnology Lab)
Feb 13, 2017
Late in the afternoon on a sunny winter day, if you go up to the corner and look downhill through the erector-set maze of the North Seattle Electrical Substation, you can catch a glimpse of the big volcano 90 miles away.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Feb 14, 2017
The harsh, moody climate and mysterious, treeless landscapes that define the western Nordic islands–Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands–are swept up somehow and transformed by imagination into a fashion sensibility, the focus of the Third Nordic Fashion Biennale.
Curators Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer–American and Austrian by birth, Stockholm-based photographers by choice–have produced an exhibition, book, and film they call The Weather Diaries, which explore fashion as a wind-blown wonder.
The Weather Diaries
(Image credits: Cooper & Gorfter)
Feb 15, 2017
My grandparents Rose and Charlie–my father's parents–posed for this picture on their wedding day in Baltimore in 1905. They were Jewish immigrants from villages just down the road from one another in Lithuania, who had made their way to America as teenagers.
For their wedding attire, Rose wore a shirtwaist she had sewn herself. Charlie wore a celluloid collar that according to my father was stiff enough to shore up a house. And like many men in 1905, he wore an elaborate mustache. Unlike most men, however, Charlie kept that mustache all his life, and by the 1950s, when I got to know my grandparents, I thought he was the only man on earth who had a mustache.
Charlie never had a job in his life; he thought it would be stupid to work for a boss in a free country. So he started out in Baltimore working for himself, as a peddlar with a sack on his back; eventually, he got a horse and wagon, and then he and Rose went into business together, as equal partners, in a soda water store in a Jewish and Italian neighborhood near the Shot Tower, Baltimore's old cannon-ball works. My father recounted his mother's description of the business:
I used to make the soda; I had to work a hand pump to pump the gas into the water. Then we would serve the seltzer, supply a table and chairs, pay the rent and the light bill, and then I had to wash the glass. For that, I took in exactly one cent. When I did that a hundred times, when I washed a hundred glasses, I took in a dollar.
They learned to speak English, though not really to read or write it, but they spoke Yiddish at home and in the neighborhood. All their lives in America, they got their news from the Daily Forward, a Socialist Yiddish-language newspaper published in New York. They were not Socialists, however; my grandmother's politics were rooted entirely in neighborhood organizations, primarily women's clubs and loan circles, through which poor immigrants helped take care of each other; my grandfather, as a small businessman, understood government basically as a mob at City Hall extorting protection money in the form of taxes. For example, long after he had traded in his horse and wagon for a Chevrolet delivery van, he continued to pay his horse tax every year; he figured he was down in somebody's books for that amount.
They had five children who all grew up in Baltimore and lived there or nearby as adults. Then came sixteen grandchildren, who scattered across the country, from Maine to California. And then dozens of great-grandchildren.
This picture is the oldest family document we have; we have nothing from the old country, no names or stories or objects, with the possible exception of one battered copper pot. I remember thinking to myself when I was growing up that my family just didn't go back very far in time, just didn't have a history at all; in other families, there were ancestors back in the olden days, but the most ancient people I was related to were still alive, still in Baltimore, where that side of my family history seemed to have sprung to life.
Now, however, this is a really old photo, from a wedding more than a century ago. Rose and Charlie are gone, as are all five of their children, my father's generation. We in the cousins' generation are getting on in years now, and most of us don't keep in close touch with one another. But it's undeniable that the family goes way, way back before us.
And there's yet another generation now, Rose and Charlie's great-great grandchildren. Crazy, isn't it, how that keeps happening.
Rose and Charles Horowitz
Feb 16, 2017
The photographer called it "Sand and Sky," and that's kinda what it looks like, even though it's really just a close-up shot of rust and stuff.
The whole world would probably look like this if it were all put together with Phillips head screws.
(Image credit: bnudd)
Feb 17, 2017
Looking up at the mirrored ceiling and down through the window to see Chicagoland and Lake Michigan spreading northward from the restaurant atop the John Hancock Center.
John Hancock Center
(Image credit: etchesktch)
Feb 18, 2017
Below the clouds below these peaks, as seen from Bear Mountain, it was pouring down rain in Sitka, Alaska.
(Image credit: Eric Matthes)
Feb 19, 2017
A wood stork grabs brunch in a marsh near Tampa, Florida.
February is breeding season for America's only native stork species; it is also dry season in the storks' Florida habitat, which means that ponds have become shallower and smaller, concentrating the fish population for easy pickings when these long-legged fish-eaters go out wading.
For what it's worth, wood storks are bald-headed, like certain other all-American birds, e.g., turkeys and vultures.
(Image credit: Betty Cracker, via Balloon-Juice.com)
Feb 20, 2017
On the morning of May 13, 2016, NASA's Landsat 8 satellite collected thermal, infrared, and visible-light data from high above the city of Shangqiu, home to more than 1.5 million people in the midst of the wheat, cotton, corn and sesame fields of the North China Plain.
Shangqiu is a transportation hub, located at the junction of China's major north-south and east-west railroads. Also, the largest frozen-food processing company in China is headquartered there.
The lush agricultural land surrounding the city shows up as deep green in this image because Landsat's sensors are particularly sensitive to the vigorous plant growth characteristic of freshly planted fields in mid-spring.
The small brownish blotches in the farmland are agricultural villages. Almost 6 million people live in villages in the Shangqiu hinterland.
North China Plain
(Image credit: NASA Landsat 8)
Feb 21, 2017
With shopping bags, at the new town hall building in the Palaio Faliro district of Athens.
(Image credit: Dimitris Polydoropoulos)
Feb 22, 2017
Another very old family picture: Sister Bertha is my mother's mother, my Grandma Buddy. Baby Robert is my Uncle Bob, my mother's much older brother, born in 1919.
Like all my other grandparents, Buddy was an immigrant, brought to the United States from Russia as a small child, five years old, around the turn of the twentieth century. Her father had been a coppersmith in Russia, but I have heard two very different stories about what exactly that meant: either he fixed people's pots and pans, or he assembled a copper-tubed, um, still and made vodka to sell to soldiers in the czar's army.
Whatever, he fled Russia in a hurry after a pogrom that had led to the death of one of his children. The family had twin baby boys at the time, and as was the custom, one of the twins was sent to live with a wet nurse nearby. When the pogrom struck, the wet nurse, who was not Jewish, apparently was forced to turn over the Jewish baby in her charge, and the family had reason to believe that he was killed.
Leaving his wife and children behind, my great-grandfather left immediately for America, where he got work on the railroad, an unusual career path for an immigrant Jew. When he sent for his wife and children a few years later, they settled in a small railroad town in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. My great-grandfather became a train engineer, I'm told–but how? Isn't that the sort of job where you'd have to speak and read and write English? The family was given a pass to ride the railroad wherever they wanted to go for free; one time, they rode all the way to Portland, Oregon, where they visited a relative. Who?
When the older children in the family were approaching marriageable age, the family moved to New York City, in hopes of finding Jewish spouses. Buddy went to work in a five and dime store in Brooklyn, where she met my grandfather–but that's a story for another morning.
Feb 23, 2017
The fishing boat Point Reyes ran aground umpteen years ago in Tomales Bay, about an hour north of San Francisco. She lists and rusts against the mud and weeds near the edge of the bay, conveniently located in back of a grocery store in the town of Inverness.
(Image credit: esmall)
Feb 24, 2017
This 22-foot-high stone wall still stands after more than 800 years, even though it was built entirely without mortar.
It is part of the Great Enclosure, which surrounded the section of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe that was believed to house the royal family and court from the 13th century up until the city was abandoned, probably in the mid-15th century.
(Image credit: Nilesh Trivedi)
Feb 25, 2017
Paddleboard yoga, all adrift in Aruba. We're told it ain't easy.
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliff via Stuck in Customs)
Feb 26, 2017
Joe and his friend Beau pose for a picture last spring in Beau's new food truck, Local Roots, which plies the streets of Tuscaloosa serving an international menu that features locally grown foods.
(Image credit: the phone)
Feb 27, 2017
Andy "Brunso" Paves and Michel "Jean Claude Van Damsel" Anais, married since 2015, have parlayed professional sports into advanced degrees and non-sports professions.
Andy's professional MMA cage-fighting record is 5–1, with two of his wins by submission. He recently completed his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Washington and is currently interning in Honolulu.
Skating for Seattle's Sugar Skulls roller derby team, Michel won all-star acclaim on the banked track and earned her MSW at the University of Washington.
mixed martial arts
Jean Claude Van Damsel