Keep flying…

September 22, 2007 at 10:17 pm | In authenticity, just_so, nature | 2 Comments

It’s busy around here, which is why posting to the blog is sparse (to put it kindly).

But the other day — really in passing, the way a bird might fly past the window, and the window is your life as you’re standing there and living it, except I was moving and the window was holding still, so I’m kinda wondering about what my life is up to if it’s not the window, and …oh, well never mind! — anyway, the other day I heard about a bird called the godwit (what’s in a name, you ask? …sometimes everything, perhaps?), a female godwit named (as it were) E7, which was electronically tagged and proven to have flown from New Zealand to Alaska, where it almost certainly hatched out some young during its 5 week “lay-over,” after which it took wing and flew non-stop, from Alaska, all the way back to New Zealand.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this just floors me. Brings me right down to earth. Clips my wings, in a manner of speaking.

We’re talking about a bird — read: relatively tiny creature — capable on its return trip of flying 11,500 km …non-stop. As in: without a single touch-down anywhere, without stopping for food or water, without skipping a single (wing)beat… For eight days straight. For eight days, this bird didn’t stop. It puts a whole new spin on the old “she eats like a bird” comment…

Here are quotes from a couple of articles on E7’s migration:

“The Bar-tailed Godwit is one example among hundreds of migratory bird species which undertake awe-inspiring journeys every year,” said Dr Vicky Jones, BirdLife’s Global Flyways Officer. “Migrant birds rely on chains of traditional stop-over sites at which they can re-fuel and rest before embarking on the next leg of their journey.”

What’s interesting is that this particular godwit didn’t use any stop-overs, so perhaps this one is an exceptional athlete. Whatever, it underscores the need for countries to cooperate, to make sure that stop-over sites are available and not degraded beyond use. Whether non-stop or with lay-overs, migration is amazing.

On the way from New Zealand to Alaska to breed, E7 did use a lay-over, but not on the return from Alaska to New Zealand:

Ecologist Phil Battley, of Massey University, told the New Zealand Herald the bird, known only as E7, first flew 10,200 km to the Yalu Jiang Nature reserve in China’s Yellow Sea where she spent five weeks refuelling before flying another 7,300 km to breeding grounds in Alaska.

He said she spent two months at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where she was almost certainly breeding, leaving about mid-July before going to mudflats on the edge of the Yukon Delta where she refuelled again, ‘getting nice and fat’ until the end of August.

Battley said her southward flight from Alaska to New Zealand was thought to be the longest non-stop migration of any bird.

‘She had the option to fly down to the Alaskan peninsula and take off from about 500 km further south but she didn’t do that,’ he said. ‘This indicates the long journey is not such a problem to her.’

E7 did all this without eating or drinking anything during the actual migration:

“We were pretty impressed when she did 10,200km on the way north,” says Massey University ecologist Phil Battley. “And the fact that she can now do 11,500km… it’s just so far up from what we used to believe 10 years ago when we were thinking a five or 6,000km flight was extremely long. Here we’ve doubled it,” adds the New Zealand coordinator of what is an international study.

For researchers, tracking the second leg of E7’s journey was a bonus – her implanted satellite tag kept working well past its expected cut-off date.

“If you’re trying to confirm how far birds fly and whether they are making stop-offs, it’s only now with the technology being small enough, you can do this remotely. Otherwise we’d still be using educated guess work,” Dr Battley says.

And that means the researchers now know that the godwits really are the champions of avian migration. Unlike seabirds, which feed and rest on their long journeys or swifts which feed in flight, the godwits make their long journeys without feeding or drinking.

It’s still a real mystery how E7’s young — and the young of all the other godwits who came to breed in Alaska this past summer — will manage to find their way to New Zealand once they’ve matured. Yes, like salmon, these comparatively tiny beings have to cross incredible distances to fulfil biological destiny, as it were, and like salmon, they do it without “parental” or “adult” supervision or guidance. So what is it that shows them the way? Electro-magnetic fields in the earth? Navigation by astral maps? Some homing signal you or I can’t hear, but they can?

This New Zealand newspaper editorial asks the question, too, and sums up by concluding that maybe the tiny godwit — by not yet revealing all its secrets — can take our hubris down a notch, too:

The study of that admirable bird is essential. First, because it is endangered. Over millennia the rich mudflats of predator-free New Zealand has offered an abundant sanctuary. Human habitation, with its cats, dogs and stoats, has taken its toll. We need to understand the bird to ensure it survives.

Second, if we unravel the secret that not only sends and guides the godwit back and forth but also sustains it on its epic flight, it may be to our own benefit: We may have much more to learn from the birds than flight technology.

And last, the study of the godwit gives wing to the imagination. The contemplation of the unknown or unknowable (part of us may wish the bird’s magic is never revealed) is a necessary antidote to earthbound life. That we are able to be confounded, humbled and inspired by a tiny bird that can do so much that we can’t, is worth appreciating for itself.

It’s kind of interesting to think that getting shifted from the centre of things by a small critter (a bird), we deconstruct hubris and reconstruct imagination. Just a bit, just enough for a slight leap into some perfectly working creature’s flightpath…

PS: On a related note, an article by the always terrific Jonah Lehrer, Eggheads: How bird brains are shaking up science, in the Boston Globe.

On a roll…!

September 12, 2007 at 12:32 pm | In architecture, cities, FOCUS_Magazine, victoria | Comments Off on On a roll…!

One more article is up on my Articles published in FOCUS Magazine, Victoria, Canada page, in continuing the project mentioned here and here. This one was easy to convert since there weren’t any illustrations to add (and size). The magazine version has a couple of illustrations, but I chose to publish only my text here. The article, which I called A Soft-core View of Victoria, was published as Biophilic design: taking love to the street — click through to read. It was published in FOCUS Magazine in July 2007 (but isn’t online there — it’s only available as a PDF here).

Risque title, n’est-ce pas? This will probably generate a few weird referer stats…

(Update, 12/17/08: I changed the link for the August article to direct readers to Scribd, which is where all my articles are uploaded to now.)

August is up!

September 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm | In cities, FOCUS_Magazine, victoria | Comments Off on August is up!

Another update on my Articles published in FOCUS Magazine page, which means that the August article is now online, too: Biophilic design: taking love to the street, with a “before” and conceptual “after” photo illustration by Robert Randall (local artist and chair of the Downtown Residents Association).

Two down, 10 or so to go… later!

(Update, 12/17/08: I changed the link for the August article to direct readers to Scribd, which is where all my articles are uploaded to now.)

My FOCUS Magazine articles, online at last (eventually…)!

September 12, 2007 at 10:42 am | In architecture, cities, FOCUS_Magazine, victoria | 1 Comment

For too long I’ve left my intention to post my monthly FOCUS Magazine articles on the backburner, but this morning I at least took a first step toward figuring out the best way to get them online.

What I’ll be doing is converting my Word file submissions (which were published) into PDFs (and adding an illustration or two, if readily available — my articles typically are illustrated in some way, but those illustrations aren’t available to me without more time-consuming scanning, so I’ll just substitute something appropriate where available; if nothing is available, then I’ll just convert the text to PDF).  I tried some weeks ago to scan the magazine pages, to see if I could upload these as PDFs, but found that the quality / legibility took a nosedive. For that reason, creating a PDF based on the plain text is my best bet.

[Edit: I eventually figured out how to get the quality & size of PDFs, created from scanned pages of the magazine.)

Ok, so far only September is up — in the coming days, I’ll be working backwards to last year when I started, and forward to next month once October rolls around.

I’ll also post notices to the articles here, as they become available. First up is September’s Of ducks and decorated sheds, which you can read by clicking the link.

(Update, 12/17/08: I changed the links for the September article to direct readers to Scribd, which is where all my articles are uploaded to now.)

Deadlines — mirages for control freaks prior to hitting the caravansarai

September 9, 2007 at 9:38 pm | In housekeeping, just_so, scenes_victoria | Comments Off on Deadlines — mirages for control freaks prior to hitting the caravansarai

I guess I’m happy — in that slightly dazed, exhausted kind of way. I missed my usual deadline for my FOCUS Magazine article, juggled half a dozen balls while writing when my hands were free, and now finished at last. But the article turned out to be about something I hadn’t expected to write about, which somewhat accounts for the deadline extension, and I’m now pretty certain I can’t leave it where it is, and that what I wrote is really just Part One of what has to be a two-part series. I have no idea if the editor will agree, and so I’m not really sure if I’m actually done.

Does this make sense?

On another note: I have a hot new garden! It isn’t finished yet — that’s another deadline that came & went without being met — but it’s so gorgeous already, I can hardly believe it. Our miserably overcast, sometimes rainy summer was a blessing in disguise as it prevented my old garden from dying of drought (drought being the typical pattern here in summer), and now summer seems to be returning in some late guise, ready to drench my new garden with sun.

If I ever get a laptop again, I can take it to that new garden and make my personal caravansarai right there.

Pyjamahadeen — my word of the day

September 4, 2007 at 9:56 pm | In innovation | 5 Comments

If you read nothing else today (in the next 20 minutes, anyway), at least read Warren Kinsella’s on-target, surgically-precise commentary on blogging, The Rise of the Pyjamahadeen, in the September 2007 issue of The Literary Review of Canada.

Warren Kinsella gets it — which is why he can create an entire article out of the condition of speechlessness.

Yup, bloggers ball the pants off anyone, ’cause we can roll our own.

More on Black Press scandal

September 3, 2007 at 9:22 pm | In black_press, free_press, newspapers, times_colonist, victoria | Comments Off on More on Black Press scandal

On August 21 I wrote about the scandal brewing at Black Press here in Victoria, which I learned about through — and which was otherwise consistently covered only by — local political writer and blogger Sean Holman. The whole story was otherwise largely ignored. (On Aug.28, I added an update to the original entry, again adding more information from Holman’s updates.)

The story appears to be fading slowly from view, which I find pretty appalling. There is one other update, again from Sean Holman, who on August 29 wrote his last (to date) entry on the topic: Black on Black.

Go read it for yourself — it’s lengthy and complex, and shows that when corporations put out fires, it’s not necessarily a fine art, but rather something conjured by sheer “because I say so” power.

It’s also depressing to see that comments have apparently dried up around this topic. It’s as if the reporters and some staff cared, initially, but the reading public is dumb, oblivious, and anaesthetized. Or jaded, which may be the same thing.

And as predicted by many, Monday Magazine, despite its pretence of being critical and anti-corporatist, has been breathtakingly silent on the issue. Why? Ever-so-alternative <kof> Monday is owned by Black Press, and I guess staff at Monday know which side of the ass their cheek is buttered on.

Also read Holman’s entry and see that the other thing that’s alive and well is the corporate art of playing “po’ me,” as in: claiming that the big ol’ daily newspaper (the Times-Colonist) has it easy because people pay to read it, so therefore the “free” community newspapers have to put themselves in bondage to their masters, the advertisers, upon whom they rely for revenue.

Oh, give me a break already. If that’s your business model, I suppose it explains why you don’t have to care about the quality or integrity or timeliness of your editorial content.

Besides, I believe the Times-Colonist already scooped Black Press on how to bend over for advertisers, in the process eschewing quality editorial content: who can forget the Vivian Smith affair?

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