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Science and lunch, for the birds

June 15, 2007

Science isn’t all big research programs and laboratories full of equipment.  Sometimes, it’s just observation – just a guy sitting on a pier with a camera.  As Richard Feynman said in his memoir, What do you care what other people think?,

“See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush. But in Italian it’s a chutto lapittida. In Portuguese it’s a bom da peide. In Chinese, it’s a chung-long-tah, and in Japanese it’s a katano tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. Now, let’s look at the bird and what it’s doing.”

I have run across a lot of interesting bird lore this week:

  • Cajun is watching a really big bird, and some humans too in a just-plain-interesting view of the waterfront on While I was at lunch.  (And while you’re there, you might enjoy his combination of technical acumen and high-voltage storytelling: Ouch!)

  • You may have wondered what a “Hummer nest” looks like, here is a series.  (Tiny hovering birds that drink nectar from flowers, not giant SUV’s that drive up gas prices) Be sure to page through the development stages – these are amazing photos. (from A Normal Backyard, who has some telephoto shots of a black and white downey woodpecker.
  • Some raptors are being delisted from the Endangered Species roster.  But they’re probably not out of danger of extinction – the delisting is for other reasons.
  • Blog Around The Clock reviews an ecosystem modeling article that doesn’t look so good for our feathered friends: Birds are in trouble.  Short version: as local ecosystems become more fragmented, bird life cycles are interrupted.
  • And a Mother Jones report on the result: Common birds are disappearing.

In other news…

  • Given the stakes on global warming, real data on the Earth’s albedo should be at a premium.  Since the satellite would just about settle the climate question for everyone, you’d think the government would be in a hurry to launch it, but they’re not.  It is suspicious that when other governments said; “We’ll pay to launch it” our government said; “No thanks.”  Maybe it’s because we’re too busy spending all our space money on idiot stunt projects and the white elephant (space station) in the sky.
  • Since the satellite is going nowhere, wouldn’t it be nice if a rationale for action could be found that didn’t depend on whether you believe in global warming or not? Check out the thought-provoking video, Global warming risks made simple
  • In other satellite news, Bob Park notes:
    The Associated Press this week quoted a letter from the chief of NOAA to a Florida Congressman warning that although the aging QuikScat satellite could fail at any moment, replacement plans have been pushed back to 2016. Loss of QuikScat would seriously degrade predictions of the intensity and path of hurricanes. It was launched in 1999 with a design life of two to three years.

  • In science education news, Don at LCA has a clip and a link to one of the last interviews with “Mr. Wizard” Don Herbert, who passed away recently.  I hope every generation has someone who cares enough to get in front of a camera and present science in an interesting way for kids.  I miss the show 3,2,1 Contact with its wonderful spoof on Dragnet

While I was writing this, Webs05 came up on his awesome new mountain bike.  He will surely review it on his blog.  I’ll update this post with a link when he does.  If he doesn’t kill himself on it first ;-)   (MrsDoF is uncomfortable with that jest… she suggests; “If he doesn’t break his typing arm on it first”)  I am unfamiliar with the concept of a “typing arm” but the point is well-taken.  Don’t kill yourself, Webs.

  1. June 15, 2007 at 20:57 | #1

    Mrs. WeeDram and I spent some time in the backyard tonight, surrounded by herbs, peppers and heirloom tomatoes of many varieties…. and noticed that on neighbour Chris’ side of the fence a hummingbird was lovin’ up the coral bells to beat the band.  Surfeited, it perched itself on the top of the fence for a few minutes.  We’d never seen that before.  Then it was off to another bouquet of coral bells, then off into somewhere.  Lord,it was a beautiful evening.

  2. June 15, 2007 at 22:32 | #2

    Cool links.  Someday I hope to have a nice lens to take some photos of birds nests like that.  I really like the setup my parents have, a decent size garden, a wood overhang thingy, and all kinds of birds.

    And you can tell Mrs. DOF I didn’t break an arm, a leg, a head… well I am alive and well.  The bike rocks too!  It’s fun to ride a bike and not spend the whole time trying to dodge all cracks and bumps.

  3. Ted
    June 17, 2007 at 09:23 | #3

    “See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush. But in Italian it’s a chutto lapittida. In Portuguese it’s a bom da peide. In Chinese, it’s a chung-long-tah, and in Japanese it’s a katano tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. Now, let’s look at the bird and what it’s doing.”

    I seem to recall that Feynman’s dad said that to him during one of those father-son moments of walking in the woods.

    Happy father’s day to all fathers out there.

    Yes, children everywhere are a disappointment; that’s life in the existential world.

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