Thursday, June 16, 2022

Phew!

5 books to blog, I'll do them in reverse order, starting with the "Phew!".

The "Phew!" was my completion of "The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice", by Catherynne Valente, 2007, 512 pages, 148k words. This is Book 2 of The Orphan's Tales. I blogged Book 1 here; I found its tales within tales (nesting 4 deep) confusing, but in the end I think I liked it OK. This 2nd book, not so much. I just wound up being really confused and wanting it to be over. When I was done, I was like "what happened to that character? Or that one?". I almost gave up a few x. I persisted, but at the end, definitely "Phew!"

The 1st book had a bit of an Arabian Nights feel to it, this 1, hardly at all. ?!?!?

I think the author should provide a tree diagram of the chapters/stories & the characters therein! ;-P


Before that I read another cheap ($1.99) 2-novel reissue of some classic sci-fi, this time Roger Zelazny. "Isle of the Dead, Eye of Cat", 402 pages, 109k words.

"Eye of Cat" was originally published in 1982. It follows the Zelazny formula of "Lord of Light" (Indian religion/mythology) and "Creatures of Light and Darkness" (Egyptian religion/mythology) of borrowing memes from religion/mythology. This time it is Navajo religion/mythology, seemingly studied very lovingly and in depth. The protagonist winds up being a really old guy, the last living human who still has a true Native American mindset. It is a good adventure.

"Isle of the Dead" was originally published in 1969. Another really old guy, who is also the galaxy's 67th richest person. He is also the only human trained in world-building by the alien race whose speciality this is. We again have borrowed religious/mythological memes, this time from the religion/mythology of the world-building alien race.

LOL, in the 2nd book, our ultra-rich, really old guy goes on a tirade against the service industry due to their wanting to be tipped. I guess Roger had just come into some book $$$ & was starting to think like a conservative ... Social commentary in SF in general ages very poorly more often than not.


Before those, a totally pleasant surprise! A 5 star rating! Recommended by Cory Doctorow, in his incredibly informative blog "Pluralistic".

"An Absolutely Remarkable Thing", by Hank Green, 2018, 376 pages, 102k words. Book 1 of "The Carls". A totally charming tale of 1st contact. Totally up on social media, online fame, etc. Great characters, great plotting. If you haven't read it, please do so now! ;->

Of course I forged straight ahead into the 2nd book, "A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor", 2020, 542 pages, 142k words. A pleasant read, but not as charming as the 1st book. Plus the plot got a lot more "duh duh DUH!!!", more ominous & stressful. I guess there was some stress in the 1st book, but it was overwhelmed by the joy & optimism of discovery.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Music In, 2022, Batch 1

Not too too many albums to get caught up on. I'll do maybe the 1st 1/2 for now.
  • The New Pornographers, "In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights", 2019, 11 tracks. This is the 7th NP album I have. It is yet another collection of catchy pop songs. NP is very reliable, 4 stars. Here's the 1st track, "You'll Need A Backseat Driver". Note the album title in the 4th line of the lyrics.

  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Barn", 2021, 10 tracks. A nice effort, these guys are definitely keeping on keeping on. 4 stars. Here's "Canerican", which definitely seemed to get stuck in my head - totally vintage Young?

  • My Morning Jacket, eponymous, 2021, 11 tracks. Louisville's finest delivers again. What a great guitar band! 4 stars. Here's a great guitar song, "In Color".

  • Cleo Sol, "Mother", 2021, 12 tracks, bandcamp. Very nice, chill piano & vocals. I guess R&B rather than Alternative Rock. Out of London, her 2nd album. Born Cleopatra Zvezdana Nikolic, mother Serbian-Spanish, father Jamaican, both musicians.
    The melting pot that is London is producing some great musician mixes. Makes me think of Lianne La Havas, Greek dad, Jamaican mom - or visa versa?
    4 stars. Here's the 1st track, "Don't Let Me Fall".

  • Bright Moments, "Fracture", 2022, 9 tracks. Bright Moments is 1 of the bands of Lexington and Dunbar HS fav son Kelly Pratt. This is a good effort. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track, "Lonely Child".

  • katie dey, "forever music", 2022, 10 tracks, bandcamp. dey certainly is prolific lately. I have 1 album/year of hers since 2019 for a total of 4 albums. Her vocals are definitely ... quirky?!?!? A good listen nonetheless. 4 stars. Here's the title track:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, "Georgia Blue", 2021, 13 tracks, bandcamp. A Georgia-themed album, with guest artists??? Ahh, explained on the album notes on bandcamp: a labor of love, conceived after the 2020 elections, dedicated to turning Georgia blue (democratic). Proceeds to: So, totally a worthy cause. But, I didn't need a cover of "Midnight Train to Georgia" in my collection at this point. 3 stars.

  • Various artists, "French Disco Boogie Sounds Vol.3 (1977-1987 - selected by Charles Maurice)", 2018, 13 tracks, bandcamp. I really enjoyed Vol.4 - every time a song from it came on and I was up, I would start dancing. More dancing please! 4 stars. LOL, here's something different: a 41 second prerelease teaser for the album.
    Note, if you are offended by the suggestive album cover, I apologize.

  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong", "Ella and Louis Again", 1957, 19 tracks. 4 stars. Apparently a double album. I didn't like it as much as their 1st duo album, which makes sense. The 1st album had the best songs, these are their 2nd-best songs. I am all about the songs. Already in the Jaz Dumoz songbook are:
    • let's do it (let's fall in love) [red flagged]
    • i won't dance
    • love is here to stay
    Added to the list to be worked up:
    • autumn in new york
    • gee, baby, ain't i good to you?
    • i've got my love to keep me warm
    • i get a kick out of you
    Here's the 2nd of those:

  • Willie "The Lion" Smith & His Cubs, 1958, 24 tracks. Nice, per Wikipedia his full name was William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholf Smith.
    Hmmm, this album does not show up in the Wikipedia discography. The earliest album they have listed is 1957, somehow I thought this album was 1958. The tracks are all from 1935-1937. I've written about how my college friend Delbert Lionel Hilgartner III turned me on to Fats Waller > 50 yrs ago. He also was a fan of Willie "The Lion", so it seems odd that I'm just now getting around to checking him out.
    4 stars. Here's the album cover:

    Here's "Echos of Spring". Not a lot of choices on YouTube.

  • Delta Sleep, "Spring Island", 2021, 12 tracks, bandcamp. Brits, out of Canterbury, Kent. Great guitar rock. 4 stars. Listen to this song. 2 guitar parts playing seperately, together, in harmony, not in harmony. Really well done. "The Detail".

11 down, n to go ...

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Long Short Long

I saw there was a new novel out by Gregory Benford about a institute on the far-side of the moon that studies SETI messages, some of which are downloads of powerful AIs. I loved Benford's earlier stuff - I read "Great Sky River" (1987) several times. So I thought I'd check his latest out: "Shadows of Eternity", 2021, 472 pages, 128k words.

But this was done with a bit of trepidation. Benford was born in Jan, 1941, making him 81 now. Older sci-fi authors seem to become a bit sex-obsessed - "Dirty Old Man Syndrome". Plus Benford was born & raised in & around Mobile, AL. Plus the book had a cover blurb by Jack McDevitt - another old white southerner - whose novels I used to enjoy but whom I wrote off after his latest novel - holy crap, that was over 5 years ago??? Really??? [Re old white southerner: Hello pot? Kettle here ...]

But all in all, not too bad. Some interesting concepts re galactic civilizations. The protagonist is a genius woman researcher at the SETI Library, and the early action is driven by her discoveries. She has several sexual relationships over the course of the novel, but not too much drooling going on. I would say my biggest bone to pick with the novel was that plot-wise it kind of changes course and wanders for the last 1/2-1/3 of the book. Still, not a bad read.

I was then in a mood for short stories, not sure why. So I read:

  • "The Wandering Earth", by Cixin Liu, 2021, 468 pages, 127k words. [Very close in size to the prior novel???]. This was engaging book of 10 stories. Liu totally goes for it - no concept too big! Awesome upon awesome! They are making his 3 Body Problem books into a movie or series.
  • "Drive", by James S.A. Corey, 2022, 31 pages, 8k words. "An Expanse Short Story". I kept thinking I had read this before, but when I was pulling the link from Kobo, I saw a review talking about that this had been an episode in the TV series. So that was where I'd heard this story before. Quick & easy read, nothing special.
  • "Looking for Jake", by China Miéville, 2005, 314 pages, 85k words, 14 stories. Most of these I would characterize as horror or slipstream. Miéville has some really creative ideas and writes really well.
  • "Icelandic Folk Tales", by Hjörleifur Helgi Stefánsson, 2020, 189 pages, 51k words, 25 stories. Illustrated by Tord Sandström Fahlström. LOL, these stories seem to me to be real folk tales - like the kind told by everybody's grandpa who loves to pull legs, or by one's crazy uncle who is somehow believable. A lot of references to places in Iceland, and tourist attractions to visit, e.g., the church wall with a fallen section that can't be rebuilt because it was cursed by a troll. It might make an interesting travel guide?!?!? Note, I created a new "Folk Tales" collection in my Kobo eBook app and added these there as well as to Fantasy.
While mentally preparing to write this post, I went on and started reading "Eyes of the Void", by Adrian Tchaikovsky, 2022, 586 pages, 159k words. Book 2 of "The Final Architecture" trilogy. Book 1 was "Shards of Earth", blogged here. Tchaikovsky is really cranking out enjoyable, high-quality space opera. My current fav I think.

All caught up. I think this weekend it will be Music In.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Do You or Someone You Know Suffer From MAH?

[Why did I not publish this in May 2020 when I wrote it? Was I actually going to try to get the MAH Foundation started? No recollection. I'll go on & publish now, worry about whom to send it to later.

Last Update 2020-05-05]

MAH, or Malignant Amygdala Hyperplasia

Landmark study in 2011:

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(11)00289-2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3092984/

Another study in late 2017

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0248-5

Psychological study:

2012

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2011.0268#aff-1

my comment: could also reference hyperthyroidism.

So, perhaps we look at this result as telling us that Conservatism is a side effect of MAH - Malignant Amygdala Hyperplasia? Perhaps it is treatable by drugs, similar to the one I take for BPH? Or perhaps research by someplace like 23andMe could identify a genetic component? Maybe we could finally start building the bright, shiny future we all deserve if we can finally get rid of Conservatism and its friends, Patriarchy and Feudalism.

I'm going to contact a few of my very rich friends and propose the creation of the MAH Foundation, to promote research into this disorder and into finding a cure for it. Perhaps the scourge of MAH can be wiped out in our lifetimes!

So tempting to call it MAD - Malignant Amygdala Disorder - but I believe MAH is the more correct terminology.

Actually, I think that Malignant => Cancerous. So maybe it's Benign Amygdala Hyperplasia, or BAH. But IMO, it is a cancer on our society. My more technical medical allies will have to make that call. How hard will it be to get this into ICD-10?

Articles discussing:

2010:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1342239/Brain-study-reveals-right-wing-conservatives-larger-primitive-amygdala.html

https://www.salon.com/2010/12/29/conservative_brains/

2011:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-beast/201104/conservatives-big-fear-brain-study-finds

https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/your-brain-on-politics-the-cognitive-neuroscience-of-liberals-and-conservatives

2016:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201612/fear-and-anxiety-drive-conservatives-political-attitudes

https://www.salon.com/2016/06/06/study_liberals_and_conservatives_have_different_brain_structures_partner/

2017

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/4/9/1651771/-Neurology-Conservative-Amygdala-Fake-News-Liberal-Anterior-Cingulate-Cortex-Rational-Analysis

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/11/22/at-yale-we-conducted-an-experiment-to-turn-conservatives-into-liberals-the-results-say-a-lot-about-our-political-divisions/

2018

https://qz.com/1238929/your-political-views-are-influenced-by-the-size-of-your-brains-amygdala/

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/3/7/1747135/-What-makes-a-conservative-may-be-Fear-Itself

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

IslandWalk Birds, 2021-2022 Season

As threatened promised, here is my 1st attempt at an Annual IslandWalk State of the Birds Report.

My wife & I purchased our IW residence on Charlton Way, 110 yards up the west bank of Lake #1, in the spring of 2009. We spent only 2-3 weeks/year in IW until around 2016(?), when I decided to start wintering down here. I absolutely love it in IslandWalk, BTW!!!

Due to Covid, I was mostly in IW from Dec 2019 to mid-Sep 2020.

This past season, I got to IW in early December, 2021, and went back north May 2, 2022. I was also in Kentucky March 14-21. We did not take our February caribbean vacation due to COVID.

The data set is 22 lists, 11 walking the X route, 11 walking the X2 route (shown here). These routes are 5.2 to 5.7 miles - truncated now in the NW corner, due to construction.

I manually entered these in this spreadsheet - it took around 20 minutes, & meanwhile gave me a good review of the data. I will be reporting, if relevant, i.e., a reasonable amt of data, the following 4 datapoints:

  1. days seen; 22 means I saw (or heard) the bird every day I counted X or X2;
  2. total birds counted;
  3. average;
  4. max.
For birds seldom seen, I will list 1st sighting, latest sighting, & total sightings, or some such.

I will anecdotally compare this year's #s to my recollection of prior years. I think I was collecting X & X2 in the 2020-2021 season. I'll think about doing that after I see how this 1st report works out.

Here's the link to the IslandWalk hotspot at eBird.org.

Additionally, each bird name listed below is linked to its IslandWalk activity page in eBird.org. So click on the name, you will get a picture & all the data eBird has on that bird in IslandWalk.

Swimmers

I guess all are dabbling "ducks"? "Dabbling" === "stick your bill down in the water & swish it around & eat what you get from that".
  • mottled duck: days 22; tot 813; avg 37; max 66. 4 clutches of ducklings, 4, 7, 7, 10 maybe. 1 clutch was originally 10; 2 days later 7; 5 days later 3 ducklings. What is eating these? Turtles?
    2 sightings of a male mallard, also seen a couple of yrs ago. mallard & mottled ducks interbreed.
  • muscovy duck: days 21; total 310; avg 15; max 34. I saw ~2 clutches of ducklings in March/April. 15 ducklings total?
    Muscovy #s are 40% of mottled #s. For years, very similar #s, so I'm thinking muscovy duck #s down by ~2/3.
  • common gallinule: days 19; tot 72; avg 4; max 11. 1 single duckling + 1 clutch of 6. 1st counted by me in IW 4/2020. They seem to be becoming more common. Smaller than a chicken, bright orange bill duck-shaped but < 1" wide, black w white tailfeathers. They don't like people, if you walk towards them they will rapidly retreat and issue a comical, nasal "hoot, hoot, hoot" call. Note, prior to 2011, these were called moorhens.

Divers

  • pie-billed grebe: days 17; tot 59; avg 3.5; max 10. These were here when I got here, and were gone by mid-April. Such a cute little diving bird. Count'em quick! They don't have webbed feet, they have long toes ribbed w keratin, each of which looks like the michelin rubber man! You never see these because they almost never get out of the water. I got to see Grebe Feet 1x, when I spooked 1 as I was going over the Island Pond bridge, & it dove & swam away underwater.
    Mating season was apparently early March. Their beak colors were much brighter - they stood out more.
  • hooded merganser: days 6; tot 22; avg 3.7; max 9. They were here when I got here, gone by mid January. I got to see some nice courtship displays, females dancing as well as the males.
  • lesser scaup: days 4; tot 52; avg 13; max 16. These were here from mid February through early March. Easy to spot for their herringbone silver backs.
  • ring-necked duck: my recollection is that these normally show up in a mixed flock with the scaup. 0 this season. Last counted in IW by me 2021-03-04: 6.
  • double-crested cormorant: days 21; tot 166; avg 8; max 25. ?!?!? from maybe a 2-3 average from previous memory, a cormonant surge?!?!? On the 25 day count, 1 group of 11, 2 groups of 6. Note, this season, I saw a few times a cormorant spread its wings while sitting on the lake bank, similar to its anhinga cousin.
  • anhinga: days 21; tot 104; avg 5; max 12. I would guess 2-3x the 2-3 avg of previous years.
  • brown pelican: days 13; tot 34; avg 1.8; max 4. Normally they dive from 15-20' up straight down. I had 1 who dove from 5-6' up at a 30 deg angle, & still had good success. Someone suggested that that could be because it changed its strategy due to the lakes being so shallow now.
  • belted kingfisher: days 11; tot 14; avg 1.3; max 2. 1 evening on Lake #1 there was a group of 3 flying towards the NW. 1 day I saw 1 make 6 consecutive strikes in a row. They seem to dive at a 30 deg angle from 5-6' up. I did not see or hear (they have a distinctive chitter) a kingfisher after March 6. Pete Laviola counted 1 April 2.

Waders

  • great egret: days 22; tot 106; avg 5; max 9. I'm guessing numbers ~2x any previous years. Note there is some observation bias since you can spot a great egret ~200 yards up the lake. Orange/yellow beak (brighter => male), black legs, black feet.
  • great blue heron: days 13; tot 20; avg 1.5; max 2.
  • snowy egret: days 19; tot 68; avg 3.6; max 9. With the tricolored heron, in most years the most reliable wader. Surprisingly sparse mid-March - mid-April. Black beak, black legs, yellow feet. This year saw up to 3 adolescents - grey & black splotches in their feathers, lavender feet. The adolescent white ibis also have the grey & black splotches.
  • cattle egret: I counted 1 in IW on 2020-12-24. Biking 6-7 yrs ago on Oil Well Rd past Ave Maria, I saw lots of these, hanging out w cattle (go figure). Orange beak, orange legs, orange feet, orange highlights in the plumiage. Having seen so many immature snowy egrets this year, it's possible that that is what this was.
  • tricolored heron: days 21; tot 86; avg 4.1; max 9.
  • little blue heron: days 18; tot 32; avg 1.8; max 4. After years of being mostly absent - 0-2 sightings/year - suddenly showing up almost all the time. Nice!
  • green heron: 1 sighting, of 3-4 total, 1st counted in IW 2/2017 by Eric Thom. The other herons & egrets strike like a hammer, with their neck extended. The green heron coils its neck, & strikes out from its head held against its body - more like the jaw from Aliens.
  • wood stork: days 2; tot 2; avg 1; max 1. I think there has been at least 1 wood stork in IW the complete time of my residence. 2 yrs ago, 1 was feeding on the other side of Lake #1, & I got the binoculars on it for visiting friends. OMG, fearsome, stomp, stab, shake around, repeat. That downward-curving bill is 9" long, 5" x 3" at the base, a fearsome weapon.
  • white ibis: days 22; tot 227; avg 10.3; max 27. They work the streets as well as the lakes. My daughter Alexis the MLA sez she attended a presentation in which evidence was presented showing that the street ibis are diverging from the lake ibis.
  • glossy ibis: days 12; tot 40; avg 3.3; max 23. My 1st count of the dataset, 23 glossy ibis?!?!? Maybe migrating. After that, back to the fraction of white ibis counts.
  • limpkin: I've seen 1 of these in IW maybe a total of 4-5x. I saw 1 this season 2022-04-04 (walking Carlyles) near the Martinique walking path.
    Hah! Linking the eBird page in, I've had 17 total counts: 3 in 2016 starting June 6, 1 in 2018, 12 in 2020. This is why I have an exocortex.

Beach Birds

  • killdeer: days 1; tot 1; avg 1.0; max 1 - Jan 28. Total sightings over the years, 4-5. I also see these in Lexington. Most recently counted in IW by Pete Laviola 2022-04-02.
  • black skimmer: 1 counted by Pete Laviola 2021-12-26.
Over my entire time in IW, I've seen a total of 3-4 gull-like birds. I don't know gull-like birds at all.

Raptors

  • osprey: days 13; tot 14; avg 1; max 2. When I 1st got down, there was a huge osprey hanging around Lake #1 for several days. See the following on bald eagles.
  • bald eagle: days 3; tot 3; avg 1; max 1. 2x, 1x over Lake #19 & 1x over Lake #1, a bald eagle attacked & drove off an osprey. Territorial, I guess.
  • cooper's hawk: days 2; tot 2; avg 1; max 1. Surprised to see this. Don't remember it.
  • red-shouldered hawk: the prevalent local hawk. All-time I've counted maybe a total of 2-3. Last counted in IW 4/2020 by barry mantell.
  • broad-winged hawk: 1 counted 2021-11-22 by George Eschenbach.
  • swallow-tailed kite: I saw my 1st ever in IW March 10, in the air over the north end of Lake #1. No, just checked, I saw my 1st ever in IW 2017-06-01 - I would have been here then putting the hurricane shutters up. I also counted 1 in 2020. I used to see a lot of them biking out Oil Well Rd before and after Ave Maria.
  • loggerhead shrike: days 19; tot 67; avg 3.5; max 12. The smallest raptor. Shrike #s seem to keep trending up. In 2020 we had a shrike pair nesting in the live oak behind our cage produce a young shrike. We had a pair again this year, and I think they had 2 young'uns.
    I love this bird. They are not afraid of humans, you can walk up to within 2-3' of them. I always tell them "hello! hello!". Training shrike to talk, FTW! LOL!
  • black vulture: days 7; tot 60; avg 8.6; max 20. Absolutely 1 of my least fav birds. Vulture v0.5. Smaller & much weaker flier than turkey vultures, much more flapping. Can't smell death from 5 miles away like turkey vultures. Will kill small animals including pets if not much roadkill lately.
  • turkey vulture: days 15; tot 32; avg 2.1; max 8. In general, it is kind of pointless to count these. Depending on the amount of dead stuff, like when we had a fish kill a few years ago, for that I counted 150 vultures, & estimated actual # present more like 250. They cleaned up 100s of dead fish in 3-4 days - as our most excellent Lakes Committee forecast.
    These guys are such stong fliers, it is a pleasure to watch them ride the thermals.

Corvids

  • fish crow: days 20; tot 380; avg 19.0; max 58. These are hard to count. They move around a lot, and once the "caw" goes out, 40-50 can converge in minutes at most.
    I have seen american crows at Shark Valley Everglades National Park, but never in IW. The bird books say that the more nasal "caw" of the fish crow is the only differing characteristic.
  • blue jay: days 22; tot 206; avg 9.4; max 23. Pretty normal.

Perching Birds (Passerines)

  • mourning dove: days 22; tot 138; avg 6.3; max 16. Ubiquitous across the US.
  • eurasian collared dove: days 18; tot 38; avg 2.1; max 4. Considered an invasive species, these larger doves have a 3 note call as opposed to the 5 note call of the mourning dove. They also have a fan-shaped tail rather than a pointed tail as the mourning dove has. Their #s don't appear to be increasing; they are outnumbered 3-4 to 1 by the mourning doves.
  • common ground dove: 1st counted by Eric Thom 2017-02-20. I saw 1 on the SW shore of Lake #17 last season; most recently counted by Pete Laviola 2021-05-30.
  • common grackle: days 22; tot 690; avg 31.4; max 94. IW's most ubiquitous perching bird.
  • boat-tailed grackle: days 14; tot 32; avg 2.3; max 8. These seem to be getting more common. They are more reliably distinguished from their common cousin by their call rather than their larger size. They call "shoop, shoop, shoop, shoop, (shoop)" or sing long, sweet notes - never any of the scratchy squacks of the common grackle. Their females are more brown than black. I had tentatively concluded that they like to forage at the lakes' edge much more than the common grackle, but I'm not sure about that.
  • red-winged blackbird: on my last walk of the season, April 30, I saw 2 of these towards the S end of Lake #2, my 1st time ever in IW. Also heard their distinctive call. Birdbook says they are everywhere in the US. Pete Laviola 1st counted 1 on 2021-06-05.
  • european starling: days 2; tot 12; avg 6.0; max 10. I have seen large numbers of starlings around northern Collier County - they love the utility lines at the corner of Vanderbilt Beach Rd & US 41 - but don't see them often in IW. They sometimes are in a mixed flock with the fish crows and/or grackles.
  • northern mockingbird: days 22; tot 398; avg 18.1; max 46. the 2nd most ubiquitous passerine in IW. Throughout mating season, which I would say starts late February, these guys are singing their hearts out. I would frequently count 2-3/block.
  • brown thrasher: days 4; tot 6; avg 1.5; max 2. Cousins of the mockingbird, they sing multiple songs like the mockingbird, but usually repeat each song 2-3x. They also seem to stay closer to the ground than mockingbirds. I used to see these only in the SW corner of IW, I saw a pair this year in the NE corner near Tobago.
  • northern cardinal: days 9; tot 10; avg 1.1; max 2. In the past, I had only seen these in the NE corner. This season also saw them on the south and west sides.
  • red-bellied woodpecker: days 22, tot 142, avg 6.5, max 11. IW's ubiquitous woodpecker. Very easy to recognize its calls.
  • pileated woodpecker: days 1, tot 1, avg 1.0, max 1. I also saw a couple on the wing this season, and other birders have counted them as well. I see some every year. The biggest woodpecker.
  • downy woodpecker: I counted 6x, 7 birds, in 2020. Most recent count by George Eschenbach 2021-01-11. The smallest woodpecker.
  • northern flicker: counted these 10x or so summer of 2020, 0 this season. Last counted by Pete Laviola 2022-03-19.
  • palm warbler: 18 days; tot 159; avg 8.8; max 21. If it waves its tail up and down frequently, it's a palm warbler. They are gone by early April.
  • black-and-white warbler: in January of 2021, we were walking up to the pool and near the Charlton-Freeport bridge my youngest daughter spotted this bird. I thought at 1st a downy woodpecker, but no, markings different, more zebra-like. I had my iPad with me and came up with the tentative ID from searching using the iBirdPro app. On the way home, at the spot we sighted it, I played its song from the app, and it answered! I love living in the future.
    I did not see 1 this season, George Eschenbach counted 1 Jan 6.
  • yellow-throated warbler: I have never seen 1, George Eschenbach counted 2 Jan 6.
  • prairie warbler: I have never seen 1, George Eschenbach counted 1 Jan 6.
  • blue-gray gnatcatcher: I believe I have counted these in IW in past years - checked, 5 counts, 7 birds Jan 2020 - Jan 2021. George Eschenbach counted 1 Jan 7.
    I 1st saw these at Lakes Park in Ft. Myers. I played their song in the iBirdPro app and we had 10 or so come to check it out.
  • chuck-will's-widow: April 6 I was sitting in the lanai at around 9pm. I heard a melodic 5 note bird song being repeated. I fired up the Merlin bird ID app and it immediately ID'ed it, FTW! What fun!
    It is the largest nightjar in North America, a cousin of the whip-poor-will. It is really odd looking, a turret head with no neck - I doubt I will ever get to see 1, as it is nocturnal.
Thanks to the other birders who also entered data for IW. I hope they don't mind my using their names, which are visible on the ebird.org site.

Until next year, I guess! I would anticipate cloning this report, removing all the commentary, and adding new commentary (probably a whole lot less, as this was catching up to forever ago) as appropriate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Le Guin Binge

I recently read and posted about an Ursula K. Le Guin "... short story from Earthsea". I described it as "A dark tale of adultery, betrayal, and revenge." But, it was "from Earthsea" only in setting - no characters from the earlier novels - a little disappointing.

So I was very pleasantly surprised when I read "book 6 of the Earthsea Cycle", "The Other Wind", 2001, 260 pages, 70k words. This book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2002. All the characters from the original Earthsea books, including the oldest dragon. It was an excellent read.

Le Guin so often includes dreams in her work. I liked this passage:

The last night of the sea voyage was calm, warm, starless. Dolphin moved with a long, easy rocking over the smooth swells southward. It was easy to sleep, and the people slept, and sleeping dreamed.
It was followed by the dreams of all the major characters, including some we hadn't heard from in a while.

I enjoyed that book so much that I decided on a Le Guin binge.

Next up, "Changing Planes", 2002, 238 pages, 64k words. A short story collection based on a bad pun. Someone discovers that when you are in an airport and are between planes or changing planes, you can change planes of reality! The stories are set in various alternate planes of reality, with varied, odd cultures. Fun, quick reads, nice!

That left me with a series of 3 YA novels, "Annals of the Western Shore", which I expected to be, mmm, Hunger Games maybe. Nope. The stories are set on a new and different world, and are dark and adult in tone.

The 1st was "Gifts", 2004, 214 pages, 58k words. Marginally existing upland clans all have a different superpower, which they obsess over keeping via careful breeding. Feudal with a vengeance - this clearly seems like a bad bargain to me. How will our young heir handle his power, which is to undo things - i.e., to turn a person into a bag of bones, among other things?

The 2nd book is "Voices", 2006, 267 pages, 72k words. The action occurs 10-15 years later and moves south to an enlightened city known for its libraries, which is overrun by a desert people who believe the written word is sacrilegious - oops. The major characters from the 1st book show up 1/2-way through as supporting characters, nice.

The 3rd book is "Powers", 2007, 412 pages, 112k words. It says this won the Nebula Award for Best Novel; I'm surprised it took me this long to find it. More time passes, and now we move south to constantly warring city states. The main characters are mostly slaves. Writing about slavery seems fraught with peril to me. We have another new young protagonist, and our major characters from the 1st 2 books show up.

I enjoyed all 3 of these. The only thing I will say is that when the main story arc ends, that's it. You turn a page and its "About the Author". I like it more like "The Return of the King", where after Sauron is defeated you have the wedding, the Cleansing of the Shire, the voyage to the western lands. After all the suspense and tension of a good novel, I like to bask in the afterglow of a successful conclusion a little. UKL seems to be more, "OK, we're done, we're outta here!" ;->

Well I just got another Le Guin short story collection: "The Unreal and the Real", 2012, 873 pages, 237k words! This one I will leave for later.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Birdwatching in IslandWalk

I started counting birds in IslandWalk in January, 2016. Last week I entered my 200th complete checklist of birds counted in IslandWalk to ebird.org, the world headquarters of birdwatching. It is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Here's the IslandWalk hotspot page from ebird.org:
https://ebird.org/hotspot/L4138659
There have been 91 species of birds observed from IslandWalk.

A couple of years ago I changed my counting methodology, and I wanted to document why and how.

IslandWalk is a gated community in northern Collier County, Floriday. It is at the northeast corner of Vanderbilt Beach Road and Logan Boulevard, around 7 miles from the Gulf, ~9 miles as the crow flies from downtown Naples, and ~3 miles south of the Collier-Lee county line. It has a perimeter of 4.4 miles, so I'm guessing its area is ~1 square mile. Construction began in 1999 and I'm guessing lasted 4 years - each quadrant was a separate phase, starting from the southwest and going clockwise. 1800 doors, it is a huge community.

IslandWalk has a wonderful system of lakes (retention ponds): 30 lakes, 170 acres of water. The lakes mean that in addition to passerine (perching) birds, you can also observe swimmers, divers, and waders.

IslandWalk also has a wonderful system of trails and bridges for walking and observing.

There are actually 3 lake systems: southwest, southeast, and north. The 3 roads that go from the perimeter to town center (IslandWalk Blvd, Guadeloupe, and Whidbey) all go over fake bridges. The 27 real bridges in IslandWalk are all pedestrian; they also define the watery boundaries between lakes.

There are no bridges that support motor traffic - I'm sure this was a large cost savings. So if you're kayaking from Lake #1, you have to portage across Gaudeloupe to get to the north lakes, or across IslandWalk Boulevard to get the southeast lakes.

Here's IslandWalk from Google Earth. The lakes are numbered, and our house at 5836 Charlton Way, on the west bank of Lake #1, is shown by the yellow asterisk (*).

All the water from the entire 2 mile square bounded by Vanderbilt Beach Road, Collier Boulevard, Immokalee Road, and Logan Boulevard drains to the west through the IslandWalk lake system. This image from our most excellent Lakes Committee shows the water inflow and outflow locations, as well as the lake and bridge numbers.

I started counting birds after there were some statements to the effect that there were not near the number of birds frequenting our lakes as in the past. I had the thought that'd it would be a lot easier to guess at trends if we had some data, so I started counting birds whenever I walked in IslandWalk. When I am here (lately Dec 1 - May 1) I walk Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, 3-8 miles.

A couple of years ago I decided that counting every time I walked was not the best way to get a consistent data set. I decided to count only on 2 walks, both of which walk the 4 diagonals of IslandWalk. 1 adds the east and west sides, the other adds the south and north sides.

The 1st I imaginatively named "X" (the bowtie or the butterfly would be a bit more catchy ;->). It is 5.41 miles. Here's what it looks like (from my iPhone walking app):

The 2nd I named ... "X2" (or the hourglass). It is 5.47 miles. Here it is:

Both of these walks go by all the lakes on one end/side, and go by ~1/3 of the lakes from both ends. I think these are about good as can be done to systemically cover all of IslandWalk.

I've only gone into this data once to try and draw a conclusion about our bird population. That was a couple of years ago when there was concern about the muscovy ducks. The data from 2016 to 2020 showed a slight decrease in muscovy duck numbers, and a slight increase in mottled duck (our brown mallard-like dabbling duck) numbers.

With regard to the question that got me started counting birds - do we have fewer birds than in the past? - my gut level would be that yes, there are fewer birds. We purchased our house in IslandWalk in spring 2009, so I have an additional 7 seasons of bird observations before I started counting. I would posit 2 possible reasons for a decrease:

  1. There are so many new developments, many of which have water features like (but nowhere near as nice as) IslandWalk. So there is more competition for the bird population.
  2. The Climate Crisis is changing migration patterns and times. Additionally, it was widely reported a few years ago that since 1970 we have lost 1/3 of the birds in North America.
I should probably take a stab at the data again. I need to revisit how to pull the data, and how to select for just X and X2 in the spreadsheet they provide. If nothing else I can edit it manually.

I'm definitely going to do the 1st of an annual blog post: "Birding in IslandWalk, 2021-2022 Season".

If anyone else wants to be a bird-counting citizen scientist, I recommend the X and X2 walks for counting. That will give us the most consistent data set. I put the name of the walk (X or X2) in the Comments section of the eBird form.