Thursday, December 27, 2007

There is a Legend

I put together this short film to test out my new camera and video editing software. I hope to post more videos in the future.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Guns for Christ

Gentle readers,

For those amongst you who celebrate the christian holiday this season with the exchange of material possessions let me humbly suggest . . . weapons for the whole family. Nothing says, "Christ was born today and died for your sins by being nailed though the wrist and hung until he suffocated under his own weight" like the cool cold feeling of gunmetal! Why even mom can appreciate the good wholesome fun of weapons. Nothing makes her feel safer than knowing there are more guns in her home. Dad keeps one over the fireplace and two in the bedroom, might as well make sure the kids have them too.

The little town on Bethlehem may ring out with the roar of Qassam rockets and the screams of mother's who's children have been killed in the name of religion but your kids will scream with delight as they shoot red white and blue pepsi cans off the white picket fence in the back yard. When they tire of that they can use the new "away in a manger" shooting gallery to test their dead-eye holiday skills. 200 points for knocking the prince of peace right out of the cradle.

If BB guns aren't enough for your little redneck why not consider a .22 like this 5 year old is shooting? Real guns are even more fun and appropriate.

God bless America with a chicken in every pot and a gun in every kids hands.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

space station animation

Showing my dorkyness here. This is an animation of the international space station being put together. I think it is pretty impressive. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger . . . when do they add the space hotel module?

Space tourism is becoming real very quickly and all those tourists are eventually going to want someplace to go. It costs so much to get into space (current tickets are about $300,000) and shelling out that kind of money people are going to want to stay up there for a while. Thar's money to be made in a space hotel I tells ya!


Friday, December 07, 2007

Giant Cow Fever

These photos are about a month late in getting posted but they are from a trip I took with my co-workers Paul, Bekah and Julia. We went to Steven's Point Wisconsin for a conference and on the way back we had to stop at this enormous roadside cow, Chatty Belle. How could we not? She certainly isn't as large as Salem Sue that Bekah and I saw on the way to our dinosaur dig last summer but they do claim she is the worlds largest talking cow. We paid our 25 cents but she refused to speak so I'm still skeptical. Odds are she was made by F.A.S.T sign (that's Fiberglass Animals, Shapes & Trademarks Corp) in Sparta Wisconsin.

Not only did she not speak she could not quench our thirst for milk.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hadrosaur Mummy

This story is finally breaking in the mainstream press. I had the opportunity to visit the site this dinosaur was excavated from when I went on the dino dig this past summer with Marmarth Research Foundation. I'm looking forward to seeing the National Geographic program this week.

This one fossil has the potential to change a lot of what we think we know about dinosaurs.

I guess my toy Hypacrosaurus (a Hadrosaurid dinosaur) pictured above is fairly accurate with those stripes. Of course who knows what color they were. I personally think the teal spots are a bit much.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Camden is born!

My son Camden was born on 11/11/07. Read all about it at Adventures in DNA Mixing.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Republican National Convention Logo

I've been meaning to post this up. Chelsey forwarded this to my attention. This is the logo for the Republican National Convention here in Minnesota. Is it just me or does it look like the elephant is having relations with 2008? At the very least it looks like the republicans are looking forward to crushing 2008 with their out of control elephant just like they have screwed with our civil liberties and crushed our dignity and reputation in the world. I think the logo is perfect except that it lacks a slogan such as "The search for WMD's will continue!" or "Iran 08!"


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Freezer of Excellence

I put my frozen lunch into the freezer at work this morning and I just had to take this photo. This is a shining example of how the kitchen freezer at work should always look. Minimum three gallons of Ice Cream and 20 lbs of shade grown fair trade coffee (700 cups worth). The giant puffball mushroom in the orange bag is optional. We're going to freeze dry it for a fungus class next September. The only thing I would improve is that 2 gallons of the ice cream are sub-par-ice-crystals-on-the-top-bucket-style-abominations whereas they should be quality pints like those in the front row.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fixing annoying "delete to go back" in Firefox

One of the most popular posts here on my blog was where I explained how to get click -hold contextual menus back in Firefox 2.0 Why on earth they thought Mac users would enjoy having to hold the control key whenever they want to see a contextual menu is beyond me.

I love firefox but another hugely annoying feature is that hitting the delete key jumps you backwards though the browser history. Who thought that was a good idea? If you think your cursor is in a text field and it isn't then you're in for a nasty surprise when you hit the delete key to edit your text and you navigate away from your current page. What kind of power user is in such a hurry they can't take the two seconds to hit the back button? Who needs to rapidly speed backwards though their history like that. Even if such users do exist, why the delete key? (that's the Backspace key for you PC users)

There are lots of instructions online about how to disable this feature using the config menu. It is easy and anyone can do it if you can follow directions.

  1. Open a new Firefox tab (apple+T) so you can work in one window and read these direction in the original.
  2. Type "about:config" into the address field of the new window. Hit return and the config page appears.
  3. Enter "browser.b" into the "filter" field at the top.
  4. Click-hold the "Browser.backspace_action" Value column, and choose Modify from the pop-up menu. Type 2 for the new value.
  5. Click OK.
You're done! Annoying problem solved.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

135 Birds and Counting!

While on a visit to the St. Croix Watershed Research Station on Sunday, September 23rd I spied three broad winged hawks in the sky circling in a mini kettle. Someone suggested that with only 3 birds it should be called a pot or perhaps a cup instead of a kettle. har har har. Bird humor.

October 4th we had a naturalists' staff meeting at the nature center and while meeting in the lounge, Paul pointed out a blue headed vireo hopping up and down the bark of a large oak out the window. It must have been feasting on insects hiding in the bark. I had no idea they could hold onto the side of a tree like a nuthatch. Very cool to see.

The morning of October 18th I headed out to the George W. Mead Wildlife Area in Wisconsin as part of a conference we were attending. We expected lots of migrating waterfowl but were disappointed. We did find a pond with lots of American Coots (hundreds?) but the only other birds in the pond were five lesser scaups and a couple of pied billed grebes. We kept searching and found some red winged blackbirds, swamp sparrows, field sparrows and juncos. Just outside the wildlife area we stopped at a small pond and spotted a lonely redhead swimming. Hmm, if you don't know that a redhead is a kind of duck is sounds kind of bad that we watched a redhead swim in a pond though our binoculars! Just after we left the wildlife area I spotted a half dozen or so sandhill cranes in a farm field.

October 19th Paul and I woke up extra early to go on an early morning bird hike with other naturalists. I can't believe I got up that early to look at essentially the same birds I see at work everyday.

We left the conference October 20th and we spotted a ruby crowned kinglet though due to a momentary lapse of reason we could not figure out what kind of warbler it was. Duh, it wasn't a warbler. We kept on hearing kinglets so we should have put two and two together sooner than we did. I did spot a brown creeper as well which is always fun.

On the way home to Minnesota, co-worker Bekah spotted a white bird sitting up in a tree on the side of the road. I pulled over turned around ( something that NEVER happens unless I'm driving with other naturalists) and we were super excited to see that the bird was a Krider's Red-tailed hawk. It looks like an albino but it has the red tail. I'd never seen one so that was very cool. It is still a red-tailed hawk so I'm not counting it on my list.

131 Broad-winged hawk
132 Blue headed vireo
133 Swamp Sparrow
134 Redhead
135 Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cool Dog Window

I think our dog Odin would love one of these. This is a great idea I stumbled upon out there on ye old internete. Now, how to make one? Or, just buy one from pet peek.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cephelopod Fossil

I joked a few posts ago about bringing home a 10 foot long cephelopod fossil. Well, that has yet to happen. I did find a cephalopod fossil though. About a month ago I took some Girl Scouts to Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul to look for Ordovician aged fossils. We found the usual suspects in the usual spots and after the group left I ate a quick lunch and headed back into the park to scope out some other sites. I've never had time to fully explore the site so I was looking forward to seeing if there were some other spots I could take groups. I also did a little more exploring in the stream bed and that's where I found this gem.

The kicker is that this is from a much much larger animal and the rest of it was nowhere to be found. It is either still in a hillside or more likely, broken into dozens of pieces and every piece has been found by a different person. Oh well, such is fossil hunting at this site. It is about as picked over as they come. It is still a really cool piece and I'm excited to have it in my collection.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Teach both sides!

Consider this an addendum to my last post.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where's the Beef?

With all the posts about dinosaurs lately I thought this would be timely.

I recently happened upon one of the major creationist websites and read some of their mind-boggling "science." Creationists rail against evolution and complain that the fossil record is incomplete. They claim there are no transitional forms. They don't claim the transitional forms were not fossilized mind you, they claim they did not exist. The reason they claim they did not exist is that they do not appear in the fossil record and if they had existed they would have appeared.

Real scientists point out that the fossil record is incomplete because the creation of fossils is a sporadic event occurring over a long time period that requires specific conditions. Even given that, there are very few paleontologists and a LOT of ground to cover. Only a tiny fraction of the dinosaurs that are fossilized have been dug up and identified.

Creationists ignore this fact and prefer to believe that the fossil record was created by the great flood. Only animals that existed at the time of the flood could have been killed and buried and fossilized. Since we don't find transitional forms, they didn't exist.

Ahem, herein lies the rub for creationists. There are two huge logical problems with their argument.

First off, if the flood was the singular event that formed fossils and the flood only lasted one year then DUH there aren't any transitional forms because evolution doesn't happen in one year. You can't simultaneously say all the fossils were formed in one year and then claim evolution is false because the "snapshot" of animal life the flood fossilized in one year doesn't' show transitional forms. You can either have fossils being formed over millions of years and then you get to complain about missing transitional forms or you get fossils formed in one year by the great flood but then you can't complain about missing transitional forms. You can't logically have it both ways.

Choose one.

Secondly, Noah took two of each animal onto the ark right? Let's look at a fairly common animal. Deer. If he took two deer onto the ark that leaves, oh, let's say a few billion deer that didn't make it onto the ship. They died in the flood. So did all of the bears, goats, horses, chickens, wolves, kangaroos, squirrels, moose, cows, pigs, etc. that were not the lucky two chosen. The idea creationists but forward is that there are no dinosaurs now because they died in the flood. That is why we find them fossilized.

Hold on here a second.

Dear creationists, if Noah only took two of each animal onto the ark then there were millions of individuals from each species that DID NOT make it onto the ark and would have died in the flood. There are lots of dinosaurs that creationists and young earth believers think died in the flood. Please show me a fossil of a deer, a bear, a goat, a horse, a chicken, a wolf, a kangaroo, a moose, a cow or a pig.

Better yet show me hundreds of millions of them because hundreds of millions would not have made it onto the ark and they would have died right alongside the dinosaurs. They don't show up in the fossil record and you claim that animals that don't show up in the fossil record don't exist. That's weird because I could swear I've seen cows, bears, goats, horses, etc. yet they aren't in the fossil record with the dinosaurs.

You can't have it both ways.

Come to think of it where are the fossils of the millions of people who died in the flood? Why don't we find axes and houses and ox-carts and humans and dogs and sandals and cooking utensils mixed in with dinosaur fossils?

Bah! It isn't worth wasting more time on it. We don't find these things because the world wasn't formed the way some guys with no scientific understanding sitting in a tent thousands of years ago dreamed it was created. If you are a creationist and you read this please explain why when a transitional form can't be found it means the scientists are wrong but it is all hunky dory when creationists can't find a single fossil cow, pig, etc. when there should be millions.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Saprophyte No More . . .

My knowledge is obsolete

The last week of summer camp I discovered some unusual plants in the forest with my campers. I immediately recognized them as saprophites.

Sapro: meaning obtaining nutrients from non-living matter and phyte: meaning plant.

Here's the problem. My knowledge is obsolete. I wanted to identify the exact species and apparently saprophyte is a term no longer used. It was explained to me years ago that a saprophyte is a plant that lacks chlorophyll and thus obtains nutrients from decomposing organic matter. The problem is that now scientists say no plant can do that. What is actually happening is that the plant is engaging in parasitic behavior. It parasitizes a fungi to steal nutrients and it is the fungi that are taking the nutrients from the decaying matter. You may think it is a technicality, the plant is stealing nutrients from fungi rather than taking them from decaying matter, however now scientists say the term saprophyte is technically incorrect and misleading.

They now refer to a plant such as this as a Myco-heterotroph. Great, the kids will really remember that. It isn't a saprophyte kids, it is a myco-heterotroph. I had a hard enough time teaching the word saprophyte to third graders. In reality, they will probably remember the name Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant or Indian Pipe better. I think that's what this is. I've seen it here before but this clump looks different. I think what you see in the photo is an already pollinated flower. The petals have fallen off and it is now standing up straight as opposed to nodding.

Either way, fairly elusive and very cool.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Dinosaur Dig (part 4)

Ah, Thursday and Friday. We're almost at the end of our journey. I'm not posting anything about Friday as it was just our drive home.

After our rain day Wednesday we were itching to get back out in the field on Thursday.

We had a fantastic day. I drank over four liters of water in the field and I was still thirsty. I can see how if you were to run out of water out there it could be bad very quickly. It wasn't even that hot. The week before we arrived they were having temperatures in the 100s.

The arrow on the left shows the view of our van from where we ate lunch Thursday. That white splotch is an 18 foot long 15 passenger van.

Here's the same photo uncropped for comparison. We hiked though this basin and stopped atop this butte for lunch. The spot we're sitting in is relatively flat as they removed a triceratops from this site a few years ago. There were some bone scraps left behind and little pieces of plaster from making a field jacket for the beast. Can you imagine carrying the dinosaur back to where the van is in this photo?

I sometimes read complaints that the fossil record in incomplete. This sometimes comes from those who oppose the theory of evolution. They argue that there has been plenty of time for scientists to find all the fossils they need and transitional forms have not been found.

Have these people ever gone on a dig? The dinosaurs are embedded in hard rock. First you have to find one, then you have to have the time and resources to spend a year or more getting it out of the ground. This often involves taking off layers of stone many feet thick, one exacto blade scrape at a time. Imagine scraping away a whole hillside of hard rock with a dull exacto blade in blazing heat and humidity. Once you finally uncover the dinosaur you have to make a plaster field jacket and then transport it back to a lab (which in some cases means building new roads just to reach the site) It doesn't end there, you have to spend possibly years cleaning and assembling it. Once you see the vastness on an area like this and then realize there are essentially two or three people with a shoestring budget trying to find the treasures that have been battered by erosion and covered over for 65 million years and you begin to see how it may take some time to fill in our gaps in understanding. This is still a very young science and there are many millions of critters still waiting to be dug up.

Thursday was all about microsites. That means we spent a good part of the day sitting on the ground moving painstakingly forward looking for teeth and small limb bones. At the third site of the day I found two dromeosaur teeth but stupidly didn't take a picture. This particular site was still of scientific interest so we couldn't keep anything. It was similar to the teeth pictured here.

In the photo to the left we're heading home for dinner on Thursday. You can click on it (or any photo on the blog) to view a bigger image. The barbed wire fence on the left hand side of the picture marks the border with Montana. I could have spent many more hours in the field I was having so much fun. I inhaled a huge dinner of nachos and encheladas after the hour and thirty minute van trip back to Marmarth. I was very excited to not have hot dish.

I had a great time on the trip and I can't wait to return. I'll have to though. With a baby due soon I won't be able to sneak away for a week to look for dinosaurs next summer. We need to line up some funding as well. In the mean time I'll have to content myself hunting down an relatively complete ordavercian period cephalopod along the banks of the Mississippi or perhaps a complete crinoid. That should keep me busy. Chelsey will be less than thrilled if I do manage to find and bring home a six foot long cephalopod fossil. "Where do you intend to keep that?!"

Well, that's all for now. I'm sure the trip will generate a few more posts.


Friday, September 21, 2007

130 Birdies!

I finally made it to 130 birds. What a milestone. While visiting Chelsey's parents in La Crosse I spotted several tufted titmice (bird 128) in the trees by their home. I figured I would see some there at some point. Every time she calls them in the summer I can hear PETER! PETER! in the background. It was inevitable I would spot one there. There were also female ruby throated hummingbirds kicking through.

On September 10th I attended the Metro Naturalist Training at the Coon Rapids Dam. There were lots of great blue herons and a couple of great egrets. For the record, there were also Canada geese, mallards and a cardinal. The new bird for the list there was a ring billed gull (bird 129). This is sort of a gimme I save for this time of year when the pickins are lean. I probably saw one earlier but I purposefully willed myself not to id birds in the cub foods parking lot.

At Warner Nature Center, where I work, we have weekly trail assignments to force us naturalists to get outside. It seems silly to have to force naturalists outside but you get busy and then feel guilty about going on a hike (which is just as important to our training as anything else.) We need to know what goes on out there if we're going to teach about it.

On my hike today I hiked the new Esker Trail. I spotted bluebirds and goldfinches in the prairie. Once I veered into the woods and hiked along the lake I spotted wood ducks and a flock of white throated sparrows. All in all by the end of my hike I counted over 50 wood ducks. I also saw a green heron and a small group of Myrtle (yellow rumped) warblers. Bird 130 came as a real surprise. A bird landed on a branch right in front of me and I peered through my binoculars. I instantly recognized it. It was an ovenbird. That's bird species 130 for the year. I heard overbirds all summer but was never able to see one. Now that they have stopped calling here one plops down in front of me. Figures. What will be next? I see shorebirds and water fowl in my future as I head to a conference in Wisconsin next month.

128 Tufted Titmouse in La Crosse (Holmen)
129 Ring-billed gull-at metro training
130 Ovenbird

Monday, September 17, 2007

Flying Sharks and Ray Surfing

So my friend Andrea just got back from Japan and while she was there she took a photo of a completely bizarre sign. I cleaned up the image a bit to what you see above. Whatever it means it would make a great T-Shirt. Can anyone read Japanese?


Sunday, September 16, 2007

DInosaur Dig (part 3)

Tuesday night we heard a rumble in the air. No, it wasn't one of the two nightly coal trains that sped through town about 50 feet from my window, it was a storm. This is perhaps a good point to put in a picture of the "roads" we traveled on to get to the sites. These are not roads, they are two-track ranch trails through the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Rain is not a good thing for two tracks as it makes them impassable mud pits.

Even at their best, these two tracks are a crazy ride. The kids said it was more fun than Valleyfair. It was a lot of fun to drive and it felt a lot wilder than it really was. We paused to take this photo on what was a pretty typical slope. From inside the van it felt like this was an extreme 45 degree angle when in reality it was only about 18 degrees. Still, that's not normal.

It doesn't look that bad you say? Okay, okay, you'll have to check out the video. The first rule of two tracks is that each track does not need to be at the same height. This was not for people who get carsick!

Wednesday morning we headed into Montana to the little town of Ekalaka where locals drove by again and again to look at the strangers. I'm glad we could entertain them. Ekalaka is home to the Carter County Museum which has a nice small fossil collection including a large hadrosaur, a copy of the skull of Peck's Rex, and a triceratops skull. There were other nice small paleo items as well.

Being the county museum it also featured historical items. My brother would have appreciated the two headed calf. Now that's history we can all ogle at and appreciate. Here's a picture for you Erik.

We ate lunch at the historic and sacred native site the Medicine Rocks which locals have taken care of for the tribes by carving their names, two feet high, into the soft sacred stone. Way to go Montana. It was pretty disgusting not to mention horribly insulting. It would be a little like carving "Class of 95 RULZ!!!" into the crucified Jesus's chest over the altar in a catholic church. God bless America!

We finished up Wednesday by making some plastic replicas of dinosaur teeth and claws. We were supposed to get in some time in the lab but someone (who will remain nameless) decided even though we paid for the experience they should close up the lab early for the season. In the photo, I am showing kids how to add a little natural grit to their replica t-rex tooth to give it that fresh-out-of-the-ground look. Hopefully they aren't selling theirs on ebay as the real deal. Thanks to Doug for letting us work out of his garage as a temporary lab!

That's all for Wednesday!


Thursday, September 13, 2007

What's Erik Mona doin?

Friends sometimes ask, "What's your brother up to?"

Wonder no more


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Ah the woodchuck. (also known as the groundhog, whistle pig and woodland marmot)

I did this drawing a while back. It is just a little sketch and the photo of it isn't the best. I thought I would share it anyhow. Enjoy.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dinosaur Dig (part 2)

Here's post number 2 about my dinosaur hunting trip. I present, Tuesday.

Tuesday we headed out to the Triceratops site. This was very neat to see, though a bit confusing as the skeleton was not complete. I know what a sacrum and ilium are but I'm guessing the kids didn't. I would include a photo but unless you know what you are looking at it just looks like a shot of the ground.

The previous day, a group had made a plaster field jacket for the triceratops femur so we helped haul that out. It was very heavy. That's me on the back right getting ready to lower it down a small hill. I think the dark blotch on the horizon might be the truck we're carrying it to. The field jacket consists of a 2x4 for support, some foil and a lot of plaster strips.

While waiting to carry out the femur I did a little prospecting and located a rich trail of bone fragments coming down the hillside maybe 100 feet from the triceratops. I called the rest of the group over and we followed the pieces up to the top of the hill where they stopped. We dug a little but didn't find anything. The two experts with us looked at some of the pieces we found and could tell that they were triceratops frill. It was really cool to follow the trail and start looking for more even though we didn't turn up anything. They hadn't found the head of the triceratops they were excavating 100 feet away so perhaps it disassociated when it died and we were finding pieces of the head of the one they were digging up. Who knows.

Here I am doing a little cleaning up on a different piece of frill. You can see the lines from where the blood vessels were. If you think that triceratops were cold blooded then you think the blood vessels were there to help heat up the dinosaurs via passive solar collection. If you think they were warm blooded then the blood vessels may have helped it cool down. I'll leave that debate to the experts.

FYI: The stylish latex gloves are actually to keep paint and chemicals off my hands as we were making plastic casts of dinosaur pieces on the table in the background.

Later that day we climbed to the top of a butte and felt one of the strongest winds I've ever felt in my life. I took this clip of video but it doesn't do the force of the wind justice. You can get a good view of the basin we are about to descend into as I pan across the landscape. This is my first ever video in a blog post. I'll have better ones in the future!

Atop this bluff we collected some of the K-T boundary. This is the geologic boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. This layer of ash comes from the meteorite impact that slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago and almost ended all life on earth. The actual K-T boundary here is very visible, one of the best spots on earth to see it. You can even see yellow ribbons of iridium in the black. Iridium in this concentration generally only comes from meteors.

For reference, check out this satellite photo.

View Larger Map
The marker marks the exact spot we collected the KT boundary. Can you see why they call this the Hell Creek formation? It isn't a real hospitable location. The basin to the south of the butte is where we spent the day hiking and looking for fossils.

We headed down into the basin and scouted out several cool sites. We found many pieces of turtle shell. Most pieces were about the size of a quarter.

The pieces I found are from trionychid turtles such as this one. The complete one in the photo is a replica in the Warner Nature Center collection. For size reference, that is a standard countertop it is sitting on and the fossil takes up the entire depth of the counter. These large turtles are related to the soft shelled turtles that inhabit rivers today. The basic turtle design is evolutionarily very robust and has changed little over time.

At one particularly interesting site after lunch I picked up some broken pieces of fossil that had washed into a small wash coming off a hillside. Since the pieces were found close together (within a five foot stretch) and all appeared similar I put them into their own bag and asked our leader about them. He said they were from a turtle and that I could keep them as they were just broken scrap type pieces. I took them home and to my delight two of the pieces fit together. As I played with them a second piece fell into place and then a third, then a fourth. All in all there were 18 pieces and 9 of them fit together. That's pretty impressive.

What I can tell is that it is a portion of the anterior right plastron of a turtle. I have one piece of carapace as well. You can see the curved up portion where the plastron would have connected to the carapace of the turtle. It seems about twice as thick as the trionychid shell pieces we found so I need to do some digging to get and idea of what species I'm dealing with. My impression is that trionychid turtles did not have such solid plastrons. I'll post pictures at some point.

I had a great time putting all the pieces together. I just wish I had a whole turtle to work with! It was a like a fantastic challenging jigsaw puzzle but in the end, instead of a photo of a basket full of puppies or kittens, you end up with a fossil of an animal that lived 65 million years ago. Pretty damn cool.

We continued on our hike through the basin learning about geology and fossils until our water ran out and we needed to head back. We spotted a badly crumbled hadrosaur femur on the ground and noted it with GPS before turning for home. Maybe another group can look longer at this area next season.

That's all for Tuesday. More to come later!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Laser Magician

I used to be a magician so I enjoy seeing how the art progresses. This one was new to me. I like lasers too so what's not to like. I get how he does this, it isn't anything too overly complex as but he does it so well! Enjoy the video.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dinosaur Dig (Part 1)

Last summer I taught my regular Fossils to Feathers summer camp and fellow Warner naturalist Bekah Dalen brought in some fossils to show me. She said she got them on a dinosaur dig while working at the Children's Museum. Hmm, we thought, why don't we lead a dinosaur dig though Warner?

Here were the two selling points.

1. Digging up dinosaurs
2. Getting paid to do it

Need I say more?

We offered the summer camp this summer and a little over a week ago we took seven kids on a 10 hour van ride to the far nether regions of North Dakota to root around in the famous Hell Creek Formation. (Okay, famous to other geeks, geologists and paleo-types.)

We worked with Marmarth Research Foundation and the week was tons of fun. Fossil wise we found many pieces of trionychid turtles and parts of another species of turtle I need to identify. We found champsosaur bones, a hadrosaur femur, a triceratops femur, a triceratops tooth, a dromeosaur tooth, fossil trees, crocodile teeth, freshwater ray teeth, triceratops frill and more. The pictures tell a good story so let's start there.

We set out on Sunday for the 10 hour ride to Marmarth, ND. The highlight of the trip was of course stopping at the Middle Spunk rest stop in Minnesota (purely because of the name) and stopping to gawk at Salem Sue the world's largest holstein cow statue in New Salem, ND. That's six tons of reinforced fiberglass in the shape of a cow up there on that butte. She's actually the world's largest fiberglass animal. Okay so the picture is awful. Follow the link for up close giant cow bliss.

We arrived in Marmarth just in time for some Tater Tot hotdish. We found this quite hilarious as we were joking with the kids that dinner would be tater tot hotdish and there it was like culinary destiny. Little did we suspect at the time (how foolish) that hotdish would grace our lips at several dinners. The only one that was vile was the chow mein hotdish, the rest were edible. Oh I now wish I had a photo of the tater tot hotdish! There were some folks there from the east coast who were completely perplexed by the hotdish phenomenon. The term casserole was only slightly less alien.

That night we got our room assignments in the Marmarth Bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was built for railway workers back in the old days. As far accommodations for a dinosaur dig this was posh. Most digs involve sleeping in tents so this was nice. There was a phone, showers, private rooms and satellite TV. Weirdly, the kids all wanted to watch shows about serial killers while I preferred spongebob. Go figure.

Monday morning we headed out to a site where kids a few years ago uncovered a hadrosaur femur. There is still probably more of the dino inside the hillside but a LOT of rock would have to be removed to get at it. Maybe someday, but for now there are easier quarry. I found one of my first cool things here. It was a little piece of a trionychid turtle. It was thrilling but little did I know I would be seeing thousands of such parts in the next few days. This site was also home to many many modern rodent bones as a large owl roosted in the area and the ground was littered with bones and owl pellets. Our leader, Doug Hanks, showed us a profile of the rock in the area and taught us how to read the record of what had happened there.

Monday afternoon we headed out to another area to work on a site rich in turtles. It is apparently one of the richest turtle sites in the world. We didn't see any. I used an exacto knife to slowly carve out a one foot square area. In an hour our so I went down about four inches. This is the very unglamourous part of field work. Carefully looking for nothing. The area I worked in was where they had just removed six complete turtles so it was important to keep searching. It was too bad we didn't uncover anything but that's part of the job too.

Dinner Monday was meatloaf hotdish. When I say meatloaf I mean many many pounds of ground beef tossed into a pan, covered in ketchup and baked. I think there may have been a can of "cream of something" soup mixed in. Welcome to flavor country. Why didn't I take any pictures of the food?

That's it for the first installment. I'll post up the rest of the week soon.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Improve Blogger

Here's an excellent script that makes your blogger edit box much bigger. The box used to edit posts in Blogger is way too small but this Greasemonkey script fixes that.

Get Firefox, Install Greasemonkey, Install this script, be happy.

Rinse lather, repeat.


Birds while I Blog

I've got some cool blog posts I am working on but they will take a while to finish up. The big post is about the dinosaur dig I was on two weeks ago. I promise to post something soon. It will have video and clickable satellite photos and be worth the wait.

In the mean time it is time for a simple bird count update. I saw five new species in North Dakota and two new species since I returned home. That means I have broken my personal best record for number of birds spotted in one year. Of course, this is my second year so one would expect that.

I wasn't in North Dakota to bird so all sightings were almost accidental. For example, two of the birds I spotted and identified for sure only when the van we were in stopped to open a cattle gate as we crossed through the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Here's the North Dakota list.

121 Western Meadowlark
122 Lark Bunting
123 Lazuli Bunting
124 Red Breasted Nuthatch
125 Swainson's Hawk

Yesterday while I was locking up the building at work I head a barred owl in the distance. I called to it only to be surprised when an owl answered from les then 100 feet away. These two birds called back and forth until the jays came and chased to owl away. I was surprised how rapid a call the owl in the distance used. I've never head the "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" spit out in three seconds like that.

Today I arrived at work and Paul told me there were Tennessee Warblers in the bog. I grabbed my binoculars and headed down. Sure enough they were dripping off the trees. The warbler migration has begun. I also spotted a beautiful great crested flycatcher and a catbird. The flycatcher was hunting close to the ground as the entire bog was etheiral nad filled with fog this morning.

So, for the numbers game that's:

126 Barred Owl
127 Tennessee Warbler

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Baby Blog

So I can't believe I haven't posted this yet.

If you want to follow my adventures into fatherhood you can read up on my other blog, Adventures in DNA Mixing.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Would you believe birds?

It seems like it has been a long time since I posted about birds. Such is the middle of summer. It gets hard to find new birds for my list. I did finally manage to creep up to 120 birds this week.

On June 20th I added two birds. I added the clay-colored sparrow and a blue-winged warbler. I was one of the few people at work that day and no one had gotten the mail yet so I hiked out to the mailbox. I spotted a blue-winged warbler along the driveway on the way to the mailbox. Rule number one. Always bring binoculars, everywhere.

On the way back I cut through the prairie/savanna restoration and could hear the distinctive call of the clay colored sparrow. Paul had taught it to me earlier in the month and while I had heard it everywhere the actual birds had eluded me. Sitting on top of a big slash pile was a little brown bird. With my binoculars I thought I could tell it was the one singing. I crept closer and sure enough it was the clay-colored sparrow.

The nest week was the first week of summer camp and I lead a trip of kids down the St. Croix river. The first night we heard but didn't see a whip-poor-will. The second night we camped out at Goose Creek and a pair of sandhill cranes flew right over our heads. They landed on the opposite shore to eat. We got a great view. As I remembered, the goose creek campsite is thick with American redstarts and the wood thrushes were singing beautifully from the woods. The second morning (June 29th) I arose early and birded along the quiet shore as mist lifted off the water. I saw another blue-winged warbler but there was another bird hanging out with it. I finally got a good luck and to my delight it was a golden-winged warbler. There was another misc. vireo about that morning. It looked like it was probably a red-eyed vireo but I'm going to hold off on counting it since I didn't get a great look.

Bird 120 was a pleasant surprise. I don't get to add many birds to my list from my treeless suburban back yard. I've done a lot to encourage birds including feeders and a new pond. The improvements have brought in cardinals, robins, house sparrows, chickadees, goldfinches, and chipping sparrows but I kept on saying where the hell are the house wrens! I have two next boxes up that would be suitable but I don't so much as see a single sign of the wrens. Then, just the other day (July 15th)there were two of them hanging out on my back porch and playing around in the mulberry bush. Believe it or not they were the first ones I had seen all year. I really hope they see what a nice place my yard is and decide to stick around.

Woo hoo, 120 birds. I'm going to beat last year.

117 Clay-colored sparrow,
118 Blue winged warbler
119 Golden-winged warbler
120 House Wren


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Something Skinky

While out in the bog with the kids in the photography class I'm teaching we found a skink at the last minute. We didn't have much time before we had to be back to the building but I managed to snap a quick picture of this elusive creature. Most people don't realize that we have lizards in Minnesota and might mistake a skink for a small snake. We actually have three species. We have the five-lined skink, the northern prairie skink and the six-lined racerunner. I am pretty sure this is a northern prairie skink.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Open Letter Calling for Impeachment, Conviction

This is the full text of the letter I just sent to my representative in the House of Representatives, Betty McCollum.

Dear Representative McCollum.

This evening I learned that President Bush commuted the jail sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. In doing so he insults the Congress and circumvents the independence of the judiciary. While he has the right to pardon as President, he must also answer for the actions he chooses to take.

While I have not called for it in the past, I now request as my representative that you draft articles of impeachment for George W. Bush as he is not fit to be President of the United States and has certainly committed "high crimes and misdemeanors". I ask that you do so in a timely manor so that the Senate can vote to convict. I believe you would be able to secure a simple majority of representatives to support this effort.

The President and his staff intentionally misled and defrauded Congress with regard to invading Iraq in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. He also conspired to commit torture of prisoners in violation of the "Federal Torture Act" Title 18 United States Code, Section 113C. He has also openly admitted to ordering the NSA to illegally wiretap American citizens in violation of Title 50 United States Code, Section 1805.

These are all impeachable offenses, in fact, violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 113C is actually punishable by death so it surely qualifies as a "high crime."

Your predecessors in the House impeached President Clinton for far lesser charges and I ask that you do your duty to begin the removal of an unfit, criminal president who flaunts the laws of our country and believes he and his friends are immune from the law.

That's my letter. Where's yours?

Next up, a letter to my Senator asking to convict when the articles of impeachment are sent to the senate.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How can I not be called Cute?

Someone recently tried to convince me that opossums are not cute. In fact, I believe they said they were ugly. Here's a picture I took of an opossum in February of 2004. How can anyone say this isn't a totally adorable animal?


Monday, June 18, 2007

End of an Era

I was really saddened this weekend to hear that Don Herbert passed away. For those not as geeky as me, that's Mr. Wizard. I used to watch Mr. Wizard's World on Nickelodeon as a child and he seemed old then! Don Herbert taught science to so many people and got so many kids excited about science it boggles the mind. I remember so many things I learned from that show. He taught concepts in such fun ways. Here are a few highlights I remember off the top of my head.

I remember he taught how flour mills explode by putting a birthday candle in a paint can, feeding a tube into the side of the can, putting a small pile of flour just inside the hole, lighting the candle and then putting on the lid. When he blew into the tube it filled the air in the can with tiny particles of flour which caused the top of the can to explosively blow off when the candle lit them on fire.

I remember him demonstrating air pressure by filling a large can with hot air and then submerging it in cold water. The change in air pressure as the air inside cooled crushed the can.

I remember him picking up a bolt off the bottom of a fish tank and not getting his hand wet because he dusted the surface of the water with yellow powder (I think from a butterfly's wings.)

I remember him seeing how large a column of water could be sucked up a tube strung up the side of an apartment building(again to demonstrate air pressure.)

I remember him cutting a banana without peeling it.

I remember him showing how to play a record with a foam cup and a straight pin.

I remember him showing how to measure the height of a tree with a pie tin and water. (and algebra)

I remember him drawing the space shuttle on a computer with very early computer graphics.

I remember him teaching about fiber optics by putting a flashlight into a black paint can and punching a hole in the side. The water arched out and acted like fiber optics bending the light from the flashlight onto the spot where the water hit.

I remember him showing air flow from cold to warm with some dry ice, regular ice, a lamp and an aquarium.

I remember him calculating the speed of sound with a starter pistol, a stop watch and a walkie talkie.

I remember him teaching about nerves with pins taped to a meter stick.

I remember him making a come-back can.

I remember him cutting a small piece of paper so that you could walk through it.

I remember him challenging someone to fold a piece of paper in half eight times. ( I can't be done, go ahead and try it.)

I remember him breaking a meter stick by putting a piece of newspaper on top and hitting the end, the air pressure on the paper is so great the stick snaps.

I remember the challenge to blow over a little folded piece of paper.

I remember the turning window optical illusion.

I remember him playing music on the rim of glasses.

I remember him getting an egg or ball or something into a cup by knocking a block out between them with a broom.

I remember him keeping water in an inverted glass with a playing card.

i remember him making a mobius strip.

I remember him lighting steel wool on fire.

I remember him showing how a siren works.

I remember him making secret writing with lemon juice.

I remember him showing how to tell if an egg is raw or hard boiled by spinning it.

I remember him showing how to flip a spoon into a glass.

I remember him teaching about adhesion and cohesion in water by pouring water along a string.

Most of all I remember him as a man who was always willing to teach kids about science and make it fun. He explained it in a way that everyone could understand and he didn't have to resort to fancy computer graphics and the like. He used simple language, simple drawings and everyday objects. It is a lesson that sticks with me to this day and I try to teach like him every chance I get.

When I was in elementary school, a teacher asked me to write about a hero of mine. I didn't have any hero's then and I don't now. I think the concept is silly. I do have role models though that I respect greatly and Don Herbert is one of the greatest of my life. I never gave it much thought but I'm sure he was one of the people responsible for making me the hands-on teacher I am today.

He will be sorely missed but he his influence will never be gone.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

2007 Birds 111-116

I'm slowing adding birds at this point. They are getting harder and harder to find. The trees are thick with leaves and I've spotted many of the common birds already. On Memorial Day I walked around Lake Como with Chelsey and Odin. Near the spit of land that juts out into the lake I heard a warbling call and soon spotted a little bird flitting around in the bushes. the call sounded familiar and as I tried to match it up to a mnemonic it suddenly hit me. "I'll hug you and squish you and squeeze you till you squirt." Who could forget that one! It was a warbling vireo. Not a flashy bird but the call makes up for that. Coincidence?

On Saturday, June 9th I started the day out teaching a fossil hunting class at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul. While I waited for participants in the dirt patch that passes for a parking lot I heard a call and grabbed my small binocs out of the trunk. It was a first year male American redstart. I wish it was a mature male as then it would have been red instead of yellow. I'm going to count this as my first sighting of they year. I saw one from really far away in the bog at work earlier in the season but this was a much better sighting. Later that same day I went out on a hike with Paul over to the farmstead across the road from the nature center to look for birds during a BioBlitz at work. We spotted warbling vireos there too and we could even see that they had been banded.

June 11th, Paul and I ate lunch quickly and then headed out for a quick drive to look for a bobolink where he had spotted one earlier. We didn't see any there but did see a bunch of Eastern meadowlarks. We did finally catch a glimpse of a bobolink and hear the call near the corner of Norell and co rd. 4. That's a rich corner!

June 13th Paul, Julia and I headed out to the bog at Warner for a short hike. We actually wanted to see if there were any northern waterthrushs but we heard something else instead. We soon found a bird up in a tree at the south end that from behind we thought might be a red-eyed vireo. When it turned around though we caught a spectacular view of a yellow-throated vireo. It was simply beautiful.

Later in the day on June 13th we went canoing on Lake Terrapin to train in some staff on procedures and up at the top of the lake we spotted a pair of loons with two babies. Great stuff. The babies were riding on their parents backs. I had heard loons all spring but this was weirdly my first sighting.

Finally, rounding out the list is the simple and beautiful blue-grey gnatcatcher. Today, June 14th, Paul pointed them out at the very beginning of the work day as a bunch of them were hanging out right by the parking area at work.

I listed Fox Sparrow Twice so I started re-numbering down by 1 with this post.

111 Warbling vireo
112 American redstart
113 Bobolink
114 Yellow-throated vireo
115 Common loon
116 Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Friday, June 08, 2007

Are you Cool?

All the cool kids are getting tattoos of me. Isn't it about time you joined in?


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Abandoning Google

I'm pretty much ready to abandon Google at this point. Their search functionality is almost gone as advertisers and spammers are getting better at figuring out how to get higher and higher ranking. Search results are littered with junk sites that have no relevance to your search. They are simply generic sites with your keyword thrown in and then links to junk articles.

Same story over a yahoo. Are there any actual search engines that work out there anymore?


Friday, May 25, 2007

Pewee, Bunting and a Swamp Bandit.

Monday, May 21st I went into the kitchen at work and since the window was open I could hear the Eastern Wood Pewee taunting me. I grabbed some binoculars out of my cubicle and within a few minutes I located him perched at the top of an old oak tree on some bare branches.

Tuesday, May 22nd I heard a loud bird call in the same area as the Pewee. The call was quite loud and vaguely familiar. I saw a small bird flitting around in the top of the large oak tree by the garage. I took some binoculars out of the van and peered upwards. Sure enough, it was the Indigo Bunting! I missed them all last year so I was very excited to add one to my list for 2007.

Friday, May 25th I helped Paul set up mist nets for birds class and then hiked back to the building via the meadow. I trained my binoculars on the piles of box elder we cut to create a bur oak savanna. I saw a small bird right away on a pile far away. I had to get closer to be sure but it was indeed a common yellow throat. I expected to see the "swamp bandit" closer to water. I hiked back to the building noting kildeer in the newly plowed field and pulled three deer ticks off my pants. Good times.

In the afternoon I stopped out as Paul took down nets and the bog was quite quiet. A lone bird flew along the tree tops and when it landed we got a great view of a Great Crested Flycatcher with a beautiful creamy yellow belly.

108 Eastern Wood Pewee
109 Indigo Bunting
110 Common Yellowthroat
111 Great Crested Flycatcher

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Birds and Bugs

I taught a bug class out at Lake Elmo Park reserve today. That was at 1:00 and it went until about 1:45. I didn't actually leave the park until about 3:45 as I did two hours of birding after the program. I really hadn't eaten anything but a lot of milk and half a bag of goldfish crackers so I was really hungry by the time I left.

I drove all over the park looking for birds. I started at the amphitheater where I did my program. I spotted a yellow warbler. The first one of the year in Minnesota but I had seen them in Arizona in March. There were red-winged blackbirds everywhere and some common grackles as well as robins, belted kingfishers and a northern cardinal who landed on both sides of my car to inspect my mirrors. In the water was a great blue heron, Canada geese, mallards and some kind of merganser. I heard a common yellow-throat but couldn't find it. I also spotted a little bird that drove me crazy. I think it may have been a vireo. Who knows. It was grey on the back and a little yellow on the belly with a eye ring but no distinct wing bars. I had the national geographic book with me and the more I use it the less I like it.

From there I headed out of the modern campground but quickly pulled over when a flash of yellow flew past my car. I thought it was another yellow warbler, maybe it was but all I saw was an American goldfinch. I poked around that area a bit and spotted a grey catbird on the ground under some bushes. Tally ho!

I next headed to the swimming beach which was closed but a small wetland between the beach and the playground was full of birds. I tried not to look creepy hanging out near a playground with binoculars. I got some more good views of many yellow warblers and barn swallows before there was a flash of orange. Baltimore Orioles! A male and female were working over a large grapevine. Tally ho! (yes I know I'm a dork for using that term but hey, it was good enough for Peterson.)

I next tried the fishing dock and on the way down I spotted a rose breasted grosbeak. Next stop was the primitive campground. As I hiked in I noticed that I had hit my sandaled feet on a fallen branch earlier and my foot was bleeding badly and about of the bottom of my right foot was covered in blood. Hmm. How did I miss that? A band aid to the rescue and I was back birding for a beautiful view of a field sparrow. Gorgeous in a subtle way.

I pushed off into the woods toward the first campsite and watched an egret in breeding plumage for a while. I could hear an eastern wood pewee taunting from nearby so I tried to investigate. A solid wall of buckthorn blocked my path.

I scanned a large oak in the direction of the pewee in a vain attempt to spot him. No luck but a lump on the branch caught my eye. It was either a whip-or-will or a nighthawk. Arhhh! Which one? I slowly worked my way twenty feet though a buckthorn thicket until I could just make out a white spot on the fank of the bird. Nighthawk for sure.

I poked around near eagle point lake but I was getting tired and a close call with poison ivy while trying again in vain to spot a common yellow throat told me to call it a day and get some food.

Here be the yearly bird list additions:
(I had spotted a rose breasted grosbeak at work a week ago but somehow it never made it on the list so I'm adding it now)

104 Rose Breasted Grosbeak
105 Gray Catbird
106 Baltimore Oriole
107 Common nighthawk

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Birds and Orchids

Today I hiked down to the lake with fellow naturalist Paul Smithson. The day was cool and the birds weren't too active. The fully leafed out trees didn't help either. We did spot a Swainson's Thrush and earlier I had seen a Ruby-throated hummingbird. I spotted the bird at the feeders we put out. I watched from Warner's new cafe seating bird watching area in the new exhibit hall. It was fantastic to chomp down lunch and watch birds. The ready supply of binoculars in slots under the counter was wonderful as well. I had seen a hummer caught in a mist net while bird banding earlier in the week which doesn't count for my list so it was nice to see one that I can count.

On out way back from the lake we discovered that the yellow lady slippers are blooming. The photo at the top of the post is actually from last year as I haven't gotten a chance to photograph them this year yet.

As far as birds go I need to find myself my old nemesis the indigo bunting. I never did see one last year and now I see these great photos over on the birdchick blog. Okay, show yourselves!

Bird Count to Date:
102 Ruby-throated hummingbird
103 Swainson's Thrush

Monday, May 14, 2007

101 birds of 2007

Here we are. Take in a big deep breath. I have passed 100 birds for 2007. I know any serious Birder is thinking right now, "it took you till May to get 100 birds? Slacker." Ya well, I'm new to the whole bird thing and other things like having a sick dog kind of consumes all my time. This sure is a lot earlier than I got 100 birds last year though!

Bird 96 was a brown headed cowbird. Two points to make here. First off, why isn't it called a brown headed bison bird? Second, why does everyone hate this bird? I know people who kill them if they see them. Keep in mind, this isn't an exotic species like a house sparrow. Brown headed cow birds are nest parasitizers. Okay, well redhead ducks parasitize mallard nests. Should we kill the redheads ducks too? The problem is that cow birds are an edge species and humans love creating edge everywhere so we're increasing the cow bird population.

Monday night was the MNA board meeting and we met at Lebanon Hills. The meeting went long and the sun had set by the time we left the building. The fun thing about hanging out with a bunch of naturalists is that everyone is pretty keyed into their surroundings. Within a few steps of leaving the building, one word was on everyone's minds.


We could hear "peents" coming from the foggy netherworld around us. Where was the bird? It seemed to come from all directions. Soon we could hear the chirpy wing beats of the rotund little bird zooming around overhead. As we strained to see it we heard more peenting and realized there were multiple birds out doing the sky dance. I'm going to conservatively say three birds but four is probably safe and I would not be surprised to find more. This is in contrast to my experience out at Warner where I work. When we have woodcocks it tends to be just one. My guess is that in a more rural setting where there is more land, the woodcocks are more likely to back down in response to challenges from other males. There are plenty of other places to go. Closer to the city, the woodcocks are less likely to back down as there are no other suitable sites and thus the makes defend a smaller dancing ground. This is just wild speculation on my part.

We spotted several birds flying overhead and eventually ran into the field in the dark to get a good hiding spot to try to see him on the ground. It was too dark already but one time he did hand very close. We could hear him do his little hiccup inhale before the really loud PEENT!.

On Tuesday May 8th I opened my window at work and heard a familiar call I hadn't heard since last year. What is that? Oh course, the eastern wood pewee. I also heard ovenbirds so I needed to head outside to spot them. I had a few things to check on outside at various times during the day and I took my binoculars which ensured that I never say any birds. I did also hear a wood thrush and a great crested flycatcher.

Thursday, May 10th I finally saw chimney swifts. I had heard them earlier so it was nice to finally spot them. I saw them while eating lunch on the deck at work.

I took Friday, May 11th of from work and I was pretty much homebound taking care of the dog. I did spend some time in the yard and spotted a sole goldfinch on my goldfinch feeder. I put this feeder up in December so it is about time someone found it! Hopefully more will be back. There are also regular house and fox sparrows visiting the yard and chimney swifts flying over the house.

On Saturday I heard my first swamp bandits of the year a.k.a. common yellow throats. As I was with a girl scout troop teaching canoing I couldn't break away to spot the bird. I also heard some sort of vireo and yellow warblers. Ahhh, all this hearing and no seeing make Kirk a grumpy boy.

Sunday, May 13th was Mothers Day and I spotted Barn Swallows in the parking lot of Interlachen Country Club.

Monday May 14th was a wild day. It started off when four of us from work, Me, Julie, Julia and Bekah carpooled. On the overpass from Hwy 36 to 35E northbound some idiot came out of nowhere going way too fast and sideswiped Julie's car. We pulled over, called the police and waited. It took a long time for the hwy patrol to fill out the paperwork and I joked that Julie should have gotten in an accident in better bird habitat. Just after I said that Julia spotted a bird sitting on some long grass in the middle of the cloverleaf interchange. She grabbed her binoculars and sure enough, it was an Eastern kingbird. We all passed the binos around and I realized it was bird number 100 for me for the year. So I guess at least one positive thing came out of a bad situation.

Once at work we set out bird banding. We caught a yellow-bellied flycatcher, a catbird, a ruby-throated hummingbird, a common yellowthroat, and two female American redstarts. We didn't have many nets set and they weren't up long as it was just a training session. I don't count any birds from the nets for my bird count as that seems like cheating. I did, however, see a beautiful scarlet tanager up at the top of the trees behind the building. That's 101 birds. We had to call it early to head home so Julie could go to the doctor to make sure her baby was alright after the accident so we didn't go down to the lake for lunch as planned. I'm sure I would have added a handful more birds. Maybe later in the week. It feels good to be over 100 though!

96 Brown Headed Cowbird
97 American Woodcock
98 Chimney Swift
99 Barn Swallow
100 Eastern Kingbird
101 Scarlet Tanager

Friday, May 11, 2007

Thar She Blows!

This is the best clip of video I've seen in a long time. I'm so happy to have stumbled upon it and so happy to share it with you. Behold the power of nature. Ahh let's hear it for storm surges and under-sized storm sewers.

It is actually two clips put together, I love when the guy starts to run in the second half. I'd run like hell too. Apparently is this MN-DOT footage from a storm in July of 1999. The overpass is 35th street on Hwy 35W.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Phoebe Nest Camera

This is really exciting. Warner Nature Center is part of a birdhouse network program with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and last week we installed a nest camera on an Eastern Phoebe nest. The image above is a live image of the nest. If the phoebe is on it you can see her while if she is away feeding you can see there are five eggs. If you are viewing this later in the summer it may show the young as well. If you viewing this years down the road I have no idea what will show up. The camera uses infrared lights so we can keep track of the nest at night as well.

The image is refreshed every 30 seconds though you'll have to refresh your browser page to see it. The way I have it set up here it just grabs the current picture when you visit the blog.

This camera is unique as we have the only camera in the program that is on a "wild" nest. All the other cameras are in nest boxes.

You can visit the cornell website for captured highlights from the season.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spring Preview

Here's a couple photos to brighten your day. I actually took these photos last May. Our site manager happened upon a fawn while clearing some downed trees. The fawn was wonderfully hidden between two logs just a few feet off our driveway. This fallen tree was cut into sections a few weeks ago and the deer was hiding between two sections. It was a great hiding place. At the bottom of the second photo is a fallen paper birch with sap sucker holes in it. The pattern on the deer's back beautifully resembles the woodpecker's holes. Fawns are usually moved by their mothers to different hiding spots twice a day. This fawn is likely only a few days old. It was only a little bigger than a house cat.


Friday, April 27, 2007

A Lunchtime Word Rant

Please allow me to get my writers geek on for a moment.

Chelsey pointed out to me today that the abomination of a word, disorientate, is in the dictionary. Here's some links.

I assume it is in the OED as well but I don't have a 20 volume copy handy and I don't have an online subscription.

Coming from a line of teachers and writers, I learned some time after finishing Dick and Jane that if Spot is lost he is disoriented not disorientated. Disorientate is a vulgar, pointless word.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says they are synonyms and both valid words but also says that those, "who seek conciseness and dislike polysyllables prefer disorient and argue that disorientate is both ugly and unnecessary."

Well, I have news for the Columbia Guide folks, disorient is polysyllabic too but, yes, disorientate is both ugly and unnecessary.

Look people, irregardless is in the dictionary too and so is ain't. Just because a word is in the dictionary doesn't mean you don't sound like and idiot when you use it.


Thursday, April 26, 2007


I was absolutely stunned yesterday when I heard the news that astronomers have found an earth-like exoplanet. Well, maybe not earth-like but a rocky planet in the habitable zone around a star. An exoplanet is a planet orbiting around a star other than our sun. When I was a kid this was purely the stuff of science fiction. We figured there were other planets but we couldn't prove it. In 1992, astronomers first detected a planet around another star.

Mind you, they didn't see the planet, they merely detected it was there by how it affected the light from the star. This was exciting news. In 1994 astronomers announced that for the first time they had imaged an exoplanet. This really blew my mind because I knew we were talking about relatively small objects that were almost unfathomable distances away.

Not life as we know it Jim
As exciting as these announcements were, the planets they discovered could not possibly contain, in the words of Dr. McCoy, "Life as we know it"." This is because the planets they discovered were what astronomers called "Hot Jupiters" We consider Jupiter to be a giant but these planets were even bigger. They were almost more failed stars than planets. The fact that they were so large is what made them detectable. These are nasty hot places. If they contain life it certainly isn't like anything we know.

All of this leads up to the announcement made recently about a planet orbiting the star Gliese 581 in the constellation Libra. Astronomers could detect it because it is big, about 5 times the size of Earth. This is certainly big but not enormous or even giant. Keep in mind that 1,400 earths can fit inside Jupiter.

The really exciting thing about it models suggest the planet may be made of rock and not of gas which makes it more like home. Also, given the distance from the star, astronomers calculate the surface temperatures could range from 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, sounds a lot like Earth. The news is exciting. I'm not sure how they came up with this number but if it is based purely on the size of the planet and distance from the sun I'm a little skeptical. Look at the Earth and Venus. Fairly similar size, Venus is a little closer to the sun but it also has green house gasses from hell and so the temperature there is way hotter than one would expect merely from the distance it is from the sun. the surface temperature is over 800 degrees Fahrenheit! In theory, if the atmosphere if Venus were more like Earth it might be more hospitable to life.

This comparison of rocky planets is a good thing to consider. We have four rocky worlds in our solar system. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Mercury is way too close to the sun but the other three might within the range for life. So, in our solar system we're looking at a 70% chance that life won't arise on a planet deemed suitable purely on distance. (There's still a possibility of life on some Jovian moons as well)

There's a lot we don't know and we're discovering more each day. It is an exciting time to be alive.

As a final note, this planet is 20 light years away (relatively close in the grand scheme of things) which means if there is intelligent life there they could be picking up our television and radio signals from 1987. Of course, we'd be picking up their signals from 20 years ago as well so unless they don't use broadcasting of any kind there likely isn't any intelligent life there or we would detect signals when we look at the star with radio telescopes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Birding Adventures (91-95)

Thursday, April 19th while coming back from an outreach program I saw a bird fly across county road 4 as I approached the corner of Norell ave. I caught a glimpse of yellow and thought to myself, hmm, Eastern Meadowlark? As I turned onto Norell I slowed down when I saw a bird sitting up on the telephone line. I sat forward in my seat and sure enough, sitting up on the wire with a bright yellow breast and a black neck was an Eastern Meadowlark.

At Warner Nature Center on Saturday the 21st I checked out the feeders before teaching a Plants class for brownie girl scouts and and I spied a couple of white throated sparrows.

Sunday was Earth Day and I worked in the morning deadheading plants and removing winter cover. My friend Awe came over to help. As we stood near the pond, a small bird came in and landed. It was a chipping sparrow. It isn't too often I get to add a new species to the yearly list from by pathetic yard but I guess anything can happen on Earth Day.

Tuesday the 24th I stopped off at Lake McKusick in Stillwater on the way to work as I was working late that day so I had the morning off. I quickly spotted common grackles and hundreds of red winged black birds. I also saw canada geese and 4 or 5 american coots. A man passing by asked me if I had seen the Myrtles. I hadn't. He said they had arrived yesterday. A little looking and sure enough I spotted a yellow rumped (myrtle) warbler.

( I later learned from Paul who lives near McKusick that the myrtle warblers have been there about a week)

91 Eastern Meadowlark
92 White Throated Sparrow
93 Chipping Sparrow
94 Common Grackle
95 Yellow Rumped Warbler (Myrtle)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ecological Discourse and the Nature of Meaning

(Here's some really long musings for Earth Day)

Back around 1998 or so I met weekly with some friends at Lori's Coffeehouse for what we finally came to call the Cultural Inventors Collective. Believe me, these were people who loved ideas and there were several get-togethers discussing why we felt the need to assign ourselves a name. That's a different story.

On a slightly balmy spring evening, we moved outside once Lori's closed. As we sat back on the grass looking up at the moon, I thought back to when I was a child looking up at the stars. As I stared at that same moon that had gotten me though so many nights I began to think about the nature of meaning. The topic was near to heart as one of my friends who was present was grappling with the issue of meaning in her own life. She was having a crisis of meaning.

Her spiritual path was Buddhism and her educational path was Cultural Studies. She told me that Buddhism teaches that meaning inherently exists and because she believed her teachings, it was so. Likewise, Cultural Studies teaches that meaning is not inherent but rather is a product of (or is created by) discourse and because she believed her teachings, it was so.

One of my favorite Zen sayings is:

If we understand,
things are just as they are
If we do not understand,
things are just as they are.

I guess we could have left it at that but we didn't. I felt the need to show that these two ideas are really the same. Discourse does create meaning but it can do so in a way that fundamentally springs forth from the inherent properties that exist in the world. That meaning is there whether a human bothers to ponder it or not.

Meaning According to Cultural Studies
The premise of meaning as defined by cultural studies academics is that discourse about existing texts, or discourse which creates new texts (though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive) create meaning. This is a very general description. To be clearer, discourse creates meaning and a text is the record of that created and possibly shared meaning.

As my friend tried to explain the above to me and as we discussed the nature of meaning it became clear that this was at the very root of her spiritual crisis. The idea of meaning being created exclusively through discourse seemed to contradict her spiritual teachings with regard to the inherent nature of meaning in the universe. The Cultural Studies definition clearly states that meaning is not an inherent property in the universe but rather created and that the specific creative process is discourse.

I’ve gone to the trouble to lay out the cultural studies model because it so closely follows the cultural views of one particular culture, that being our scientifically driven “western” culture. We have an anthropocentric view of the nature of meaning. i.e. meaning is constructed and that construction is by humans. The idea is that we create meaning in the world though our language and since only we use language, we create and are in charge of all the meaning in the world.

Pushing Boundaries

Q. Is meaning created or inherent?

The answer is clear.

A. Yes.

How can it be both? Yes as an answer makes sense from an eco-centric rather than human-centric perspective.

In order to understand the dual nature of meaning we must examine the concept of text. Text is the link between discourse and meaning. It is the result of discourse and it is from texts that meaning is divined (according to cultural studies). Cultural studies views texts in the literal sense of a written document but also words that could be written down in such a form. I submit that discourse can be nonverbal, and can occur without conscious intent to do so.

I’ve now strayed beyond where the traditionalist Cultural Studies students will usually tread but I think most are still along for the ride. My friend begrudgingly came at least this far. It seems logical, though a bit unorthodox, to assume that a nonverbal discourse creates both text and meaning. If this were not the case the game of charades would be utterly unimaginable and mimes would be even less comprehensible than they already are.

This next leap of logic will lose all of the traditionalists who may have indulged in idle curiosity up until this point.

Discourse, both conscious and non-conscious can occur between two or more humans, between humans and non-human animals, between animals (humans included) and "inanimate" objects, and even (take a deep breath) between two inanimate objects. (Though according to my own definition there really is no such thing as an inanimate object since everything constantly interacts, albeit sometimes subtly, with everything else and as such is animate.)

In this context, let us say that an animate world is one in which all things partake in discourse. This discourse creates readable texts and these texts, since they are derived from discourse, form the basis of meaning.

When I walk outside, the world is full of meaning. To say the meaning is inherent is perhaps shy of the target. I am not sure the meaning is so much inherent, more that meaning inherently exists in a general sense since the discourse never stops. See the subtle difference? In the end, the difference may be of little consequence.

When two humans come to a conversation they bring with them the makings of discourse that can, in a general sense, be called properties. It is the interaction of these properties that craft the nature of the text that is created through discourse between the two humans. If we change the properties of the humans then the resulting text is changed. For example, if we change say one person's religion, i.e. beliefs, i.e. properties, then we may see a change in the text as the discourse will be different.

Ah, but physical properties change the discourse and resulting text as well. If I change the sex of one of the people then the discourse will most likely be changed and as a result, we have a different text.

Human to Human Verbal Discourse
Now, if I get into an intellectual fight with a person, I submit to you that this is a discourse and we will create a text as a result. To be very concrete about it let us say the text is an actual transcript of our words. This is the traditional model.

Human to Human Non-Verbal Discourse
Now, if I get into a physical fight with a person, I submit to you that this is a discourse and we will create a text as a result. To be very concrete about it let us say that the resulting "text" is a series of cuts on each other, scuffs on the dirt and maybe, just to be extravagant about it, some shed blood on the ground. This is truly a text as we can come by and “read" it and understand meaning, i.e. some sort of fight took place here. Sure, not mind blowing meaning but Dick and Jane books aren't mind blowing texts either.

Human to Animal Non-Verbal Discourse
Now, if I get into a physical fight with a rabid fox, I submit to you that this is a discourse just a surely as the above example and we will create a text as a result. To be very concrete about it let us say that the resulting "text" is a series of cuts on each other, scuffs on the dirt and maybe, just to be extravagant about it, some shed blood on the ground. The result is a text as surely as it is in the above example.

Animal to Animal Non-Verbal Discourse
If you accept that a human fighting a human creates a text and that we can substitute a fox for one of the humans and still create a text then why not submit a fox for the other human as well? I submit that the same paragraph could read "if a fox got into a physical fight with a fox. . ." (photograph by Robert Weselmann)

Here’s where we go into the realm of the supposedly “inanimate objects” We have thus far established that two animate objects, both bringing properties, can meet and have an interaction which we will call a discourse. It may be a non-verbal discourse but a discourse none the less. This discourse, like all discourses, will create a text, even if that text is a simple as a few marks on the ground. I ask you to consider the following.

"Inanimate" to "Inanimate" Non-verbal Discourse
If wind, in the form of a tornado, has a "fight"or interaction with a landscape, I submit to you that there will be an interaction between the properties of the tornado and the properties of the land. This fits our definition of a discourse. Two physical entities come together, both bringing properties, they interact (discourse) and the result is a text. To be very concrete about it let us say that the resulting "text" is a huge path of destruction. The text on a grand scale simply reads, a tornado came through here.

When humans read this text, they can see the inherent meaning that exists because of that text but also create new meaning based upon it. The text may say this was a very strong tornado, to say that it was an"F5 rating" tornado is to ascribe human meaning and classification on top of existing meaning. The existing meaning was “inherently” there as it was created before we arrived through the natural workings of the dynamic earth.

You could say my argument is, if a tree falls in the woods and no humans are there to see it happen does it still mean something? Of course it does!

A World of Meanings and Texts
In my line of work as a naturalist, everything is a text. There is meaning already existing in those texts. Our discourse of those texts creates further meaning, for sure, but that does not negate the inherent nature of the meaning already there. I hear the meaning in the Phoebe's call, I hear the meaning in the warning call of the chickadee. I see the meaning in cumulonimbus clouds.

Q. Is meaning created or inherent?

The answer is clear.

A. Yes.