Birds, touching Mars, more climate change
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: November 7, 2012
As this is written, the elections are several days off. By the time it will be published, we should all know the results. If the people who come closest to espousing the conclusions and philosophies I do should lose, I shall fear for my country.
For selfish reasons, for sure: It’s difficult to develop a column idea involving the yet unknown. A column loosely based upon natural history and allied subjects isn’t what an overwhelming majority of readers are looking for today, when the future path of America was at stake literally just yesterday.
Let us then discuss what is a bird.
What characterizes a bird is feathers. Birds are vertebrate animals, birds have wings and bills, birds build nests and lay eggs, but feathers are unique to birds.
Birds are warm-blooded and have four-chambered hearts. Birds don’t have teeth. Birds have an air sac that fills spaces in the body cavity, and bids have pneumatized bones. Birds are fertilized internally and lay hard-shelled eggs incubated externally. (I’ve used “The Birdwatcher’s Companion” as reference.)
Birds evolved from reptiles, and today there are around 10,000 species known, breeding on every continent and adapted to live on land, water, ice and even the air.
The poet says, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Lesser talent states that the thing with feathers is a bird.
On Mars, meanwhile, Curiosity rover is methodically working its way toward Mount Sharp in Gale Crater. Curiosity is still on a maiden voyage or, more precisely, a pioneering mission equipped with instruments whose operations and performance must be learned and confirmed back on Earth.
Less than a month ago (both Mars and Earth days), Curiosity touched a Mars rock named “Jake Matijevic” after a NASA scientist. Jake the rock was analyzed by two instruments on the rover and was found to be of a more varied composition than expected, resembling rocks on Earth that are well-known types of igneous, volcanic rock produced in Earth’s mantle under the crust at elevated pressure. In this instance, feldspar, a rock occurring in the Tetons and well known to climbers and geologists and interested observers.
The ChemCan (chemistry and camera) instrument analyzed 14 points on Jake’s football-size rock. It found different mineral grains within the rock, all or most suggesting the mineral feldspar.
Curiosity’s mission has already found pretty convincing evidence of water that once ran vigorously across Mars. First-of-a-kind images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. From the images, the speed and length of a stream now dry can be estimated: about 3 feet per second with a depth somewhere from about ankle to hip deep. Rounded rocks, gravel, are clearly visible in images Curiosity produced, ranging in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball.
The search for environmental conditions favorable for microbial life on Mars is clearly under way.
The October surprise, for me, was that “climate change” was actually mentioned in the waning days of the 2012 election contest for president. Oh, not by either candidate for president, but at last, at long last, in the media.
It took another 100-year super storm in the Northeast.
It’d be nice to think certain politicians will give up denying and acting as front guys for certain industries and if scientists who are climatologists and atmospheric scientists would give novel concepts and hypotheses consideration. Progress comes from fresh approaches.
Locals will remember that Peter Ward has been working on his own to understand global warming, has lectured in various venues in Jackson and elsewhere and is submitting his paper for peer review. Peter just may redirect current thinking about climate change.
Field Notes: As the huge Hurricane Sandy was hitting 17 eastern states, our weather was primarily Indian summer-like. Weather versus climate.
Chip Marvin lives up Game Creek and reports having first-ever visits from a Stellar’s jay and a gray jay. One could speculate that since Chip lives close to the recent Horsethief Canyon Fire, these birds are looking for new winter quarters. And I do. One would expect to notice other out-of-range wandering birds and animals as winter advances in the Hole.
A lone Bonaparte’s gull was spotted on Thursday in South Park. Mourning doves made a one-day migratory excursion through the Hole. Hummers are gone.
The renamed Jackson Bird and Nature Club will meet at 6:30 p.m. in Jackson Town Hall on Sunday, Nov. 11. The new name better reflects the varied interests of its members. Celebrating with us will be Dr. Chuck Trost, emeritus professor of ornithology at Idaho State University. He will speak on “Birds of the Indian Subcontinent.” Nature sightings, discussion, socializing and refreshments. Free and open to all. Remember the new time: 6:30 p.m.
© Bert Raynes 2012
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.