Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

New Residents

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Pictured above is our latest house remodel, the addition of a bedroom up against the downspout that runs outside our dining room south wall. And we paid nothing for it, thanks to the efforts of two local finches. In fact, to my astonishment, I’m looking at them right now. Moments after I started the first sentence, one burst out of the nest and swooped down to the ground below our cherry tree. As I finished the sentence, the other landed on the back of one of our outdoor dining chairs (I’m sitting on another and typing on the table) before moving to the cherry tree.

I’m not overly pleased with this addition. I first noticed one of the finches a few weeks ago. It would sit for unusually long periods of time on top of the hedge that borders the patio. I had also noticed some debris at the base of the downspout, but didn’t think much of it. A week later, Joel asked me why I thought the bird was hanging out on the hedge. I remembered that the day before, the debris pile on the patio had looked quite large, and that’s when Joel and I took a closer look and put the pieces together. What we were looking at on the ground was a collapsed nest. Above, wedged between the downspout and the outdoor lighting, was a small amount of nest residue. And the bird we were looking at had some material in his mouth, perhaps eager to continue rebuilding.

My guess was that the bird would give up. Alas, I was wrong. Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures around 70. I sat outside in the late afternoon, maybe 10 feet from the downspout. Emma (our cat) came out too and was sitting nearby when one of the birds landed on the top of the open door that leads from the house to the patio. It’s an odd perch for a bird, who had drawn Emma’s attention as well as mine. Only after 20 seconds did I think to look over to the old nest site, with which the bird was even in elevation, but about six feet away. I beheld a completed nest. Our presence must have distracted the bird on his return to the nest. Emma eventually lost interest and wandered farther out into the yard. The bird flew onto the back of one of the dining chairs, perched there for a while, then disappeared.

Tonight was something of a repeat, with Emma and me coming out to enjoy the lovely evening, interrupting the bird at work. But this time, once Emma moved on, I saw the bird fly into the nest, my first confirmation that the nest was indeed just that. I got my camera, took some photos, and began this post. As I already noted, just as I started typing, the bird flew out of the nest.

I have no idea if the nest holds any eggs yet. If so, they surely haven’t hatched. I don’t hear anything or see any feeding activity. I’m thinking, if there are to be babies, once they move on, so does the nest. I’m willing to leave it for now, but I don’t want a permanent addition.

As for Emma, whose 14th birthday is just a week away, I suspect her hunting days are in the past. She has slowed down a lot in the last year. The birds are presumably at the height of vigilance. I don’t think I need to worry about orphans.

You know, I might be wrong about the lack of feeding activity. One of the birds, the one I’m thinking is the male, just flew into the yard from afar, landed on the chair across from me for a moment — with a little stringy object in his beak — then continued on to the nest. His partner followed three seconds later, landing on the house trim just outside the nest before joining him on the nest. I don’t hear babies, but it sure looks like the couple is in the process of feeding them. Either that or the nest is still under construction.

I’ll keep watching.

Categories: Animals, Birds, House

Mystery Bird

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

A mystery to me anyway. Two months ago to the day a big bird landed high up on the pictured tree, which sits just past the southwest corner of our property in the out-of-bounds area of the 9th fairway. I raced to get our camera and replace the wide-angle lens with the telescopic lens. Fortunately, the bird was patient, allowing me time to take a series of photos, though I didn’t dare get closer and risk scaring him (her?) off.

You can see the bird better in the second photo, below. Can you identify her?

Categories: Animals

Empathy, Compassion, Sympathy, Pity

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment


That’s a mouthful. So here’s a question. How do you use these words? Do you carefully distinguish different shades of meaning? If so, can you express what these shades are, or can you give examples of each that delineate these shades?

Language is an especially powerful tool when we can wield it to separate closely-related concepts. Of course, this only works if the community within which we employ the tool has a shared understanding of the subtle differences at stake and the words that articulate the differences. I always wonder, when I read about wine, if there really is a community that uses the same words to distinguish among the subtle flavors that their trained palates allow them to recognize. My point is, each wine sophisticate may well be noticing a certain set of flavors, and may well employ a rich vocabulary in a consistent way to describe these differences. But are these sophisticates really talking to each other? Do they make the same distinctions and express them with the same words? Beats me. Same goes for colors. Mauve? Ecru? If it weren’t for crosswords, I wouldn’t use these words at all. Vermilion. Ochre. And on and on. So many words. But is there actually a community of users that shares an understanding of how the words match up with actual colors?

Which brings me to the title of this post. These four words can’t mean the same thing. If they did, that would be a wasted opportunity. Better to reserve each one for its own purpose. But do we agree on what these purposes are?

This question arose when I read the review by Andrew Stark in today’s Wall Street Journal of Frans de Waal’s new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. Read more…

Categories: Animals, Books, Language

Fast Break Parrots

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Check out the video above, courtesy of Companion Birds. I learned about it from Avi Zenilman’s post at the New Yorker blog this morning. He in turn gives a hat tip to GrrlScientist, who regard the video as a demonstration of “patience combined with excellent animal training techniques.”

My favorite sequence starts at the 20 second mark. I love how Hannah, the red Eclectus, gets down the court on offense in support of her teammate Gustav. Gustav chooses not to pass, but Hannah’s ready. Great example of movement without the ball.

Categories: Animals, Sports

Tuesday, Service Dog

July 19, 2009 Leave a comment


Having slammed the WSJ in my previous post for the people they choose to put on their op-ed pages, I’ll now give an example of one thing I love about the WSJ: their daily front page feature articles. One such article, a week ago, was about psychiatric-service dogs, focusing on Tuesday, the companion to Iraqi war vet Luis Carlos Montalvan. (See also the accompanying video. It doesn’t explain as much, but you do get to see Tuesday in action.)

One small quote from the article:

Tuesday is with Mr. Montalvan at all hours. Taught to recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent that can indicate an imminent panic attack, Tuesday can keep Mr. Montalvan buffered from crowds or deliver a calming nuzzle. Other dogs, typically golden retrievers, Labradors or Labrador retriever blends, are trained to wake masters from debilitating nightmares and to help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

“Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic,” said Mr. Montalvan, 36 years old, a retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg, and it’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.'”

Categories: Animals, Newspapers

Giraffe Teleology

July 16, 2009 Leave a comment


A five-day-old baby giraffe was introduced to the public yesterday at The Safari in Ramat Gan, Israel. (The Safari, as the website explains, is the combination of an African animal park and the former Tel Aviv Zoo. It “is the largest animal collection in the Middle East and is unique in the world, because of the large herds of mixed species of African animals that roam the spacious African Park.”) There’s a good slide show of the giraffe here.

Some of the photos impressed upon me the point that the baby was born at just the right height to reach under her mother Denisa and get milk. How about that! It’s enough to make you believe in intelligent design. Then again, I suppose giraffe mothers could have been designed to lie on their sides while nursing, allowing for shorter babies.

(HT: The Daily Dish)

Categories: Animals


June 9, 2009 5 comments


Archimedes the ship, not Archimedes the great Greek mathematician and scientist of 2200 years ago. Not that I knew of Archimedes the ship until Gail and I stumbled upon it two evenings ago. We decided to take a walk after dinner, and headed northwards out of our neighborhood into the Arboretum, crossing over the footbridge onto Foster Island and then continuing northwards, through the pedestrian tunnel under Highway 520, and on to the northernmost point of the island, where it oversees Lake Washington to the east, Laurelhurst to the northeast, Union Bay to the north, the University of Washington athletic facilities to the northwest, and the Montlake Cut due west. Just as we were approaching that northernmost point, to our astonishment, the prow of a giant blue ship broke into our field of vision past a stand of trees. What was so striking and unexpected was how high off the water the prow was. And then more and more of the ship appeared, like it would never end, akin to the appearance of the Star Destroyer in Star Wars.

When the stern finally went past, we could see that the ship was indeed Archimedes, based out of Hamilton, Ontario. I speculated, naturally, that maybe its owner was heading across Lake Washington to drop in on Bill Gates. Or farther south on the lake to see Paul Allen.

Only yesterday morning did I think to look the ship up on google. I was led to a site — — that seems to be set up to track the comings and goings of all the large private yachts in the world. People write in when they see a ship, saying where it is, and then you can track its movements. At the site for Archimedes, I learend that it is 219 feet (67 m) long, built just last year by Feadship, with architect De Voogt and stylist John Munford. Here are some of the places where it’s been:

October: Long Island
December: Fort Lauderdale
January: St. Thomas
March: Costa Rica, then San Diego
April: San Francisco
May: Redwood City
May 13: spotted coming through the Ballard Locks to Union Bay in Seattle
June 7: we saw it
June 8: Seattle, then Lopez Island
June 9 (today): San Juan Island

Reading through the entries at the site, one finds lots of rumors about its ownership. When it was seen on Long Island, Jim Simons (mathematician and financier, Renaissance Technologies hedge fund) was mentioned. Then Johnny Depp, Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, Paul Allen. I suppose none of this can be taken too seriously.

Archimedes isn’t the only large object we spotted. After seeing it go by, we sat down on a bench, and a minute later Gail noticed an eagle sitting calmly about 100 feet up in a tree that was about 50 yards away from us. Foster Island has had a nesting pair of eagles for years, so the presence of an eagle there isn’t a surprise. Ten days ago or so I was sitting out in the backyard when an eagle flew by overhead, not too far above, and seconds later a second one followed in the same path. Still, catching sight of the eagle just sitting there, sharing our view, was a surprise. I wonder what the Eagle thought of Archimedes.

Categories: Animals, Big Ships, Math