Let’s Visit The Center Of The Earth

Hearth_5.aiWhat do you know about the Earth’s core? Probably nothing.

Don’t feel bad. Most people know little about what’s going on deep under our feet. There’s a new study published in Nature which says our core is rotating at a different speed than the rest of Earth. It’s variable. Sometimes a little faster, sometimes slower.

Like I said, most of us know nothing about the center of the Earth.

It’s hot there. Really hot.

From phys.org: The Earth’s core consists mainly of a sphere of liquid iron at temperatures above 4000 degrees and pressures of more than 1.3 million atmospheres.

I’ll do the math. That’s around 7,200&#176 Fahrenheit. Have I mentioned it’s hot!

The very center of the core is so hot and under so much pressure the iron turns solid again. Of course this is all theory. We’ve never explored the Earth’s core even though it’s closer than Hawaii, about 4,000 miles straight down.

Earth’s my subject because there’s been lots of talk lately about sending men to the Moon and Mars. Why don’t we explore the Earth instead?

We wouldn’t send men to Earth’s core, but we should find ways of tapping this incredible and practically limitless supply of heat and energy. I have heard how difficult it would be, requiring engineering skill and techniques far beyond anything we possess today.

Could it be more difficult than sending men to Mars?

How Much Money Can A Smart Electric Grid Save?

Mr. DELUREY: Something that most people are surprised to hear is that 10 to 20 percent of the overall electricity costs in the U.S. come from the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

I had “All Things Considered” on the car radio this evening as I made a quick trip to Hamden. The distinctly piped Robert Siegel was interviewing Dan Delurey, president of the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition. They are an organization which promotes “Smart Grid” technology for power companies.

I know what he’s selling so the interview was pedestrian until this exchange.

Mr. DELUREY: Something that most people are surprised to hear is that 10 to 20 percent of the overall electricity costs in the U.S. come from the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

SIEGEL: I want you to repeat that number because it’s astonishing. The top 100 hours of the year for demand of electricity account for 10 to 20 percent…

Mr. DELUREY: That’s correct.

SIEGEL: …of the cost of providing electricity.

Mr. DELUREY: That’s correct.

And, of course, that’s the real weakness of a public utility. You have to build for peak demand even if average demand is much, much lower and large portions of your capacity will be unused most of the time.

If there’s 10-20% of low hanging fruit savings I’d probably participate… if I shared the savings. Some companies aren’t good at sharing. We’ll see.

I’ve been talking a lot about alternate power generation recently. People bring it up in conversation all the time. BP has gotten us all pissed at oil. Oil needs some tough love.

I’m suspicious of solar power and wind energy. Neither is dependable enough nor are the solar cells and windmills efficient enough. On top of that it’s tough to store excess electricity to use when the wind isn’t blowing or the Sun’s not shining.

I favor wind/wave action. I’m no engineer, but the slow progress here has got to be a consequence of the difficulty… not that getting oil in the Gulf is so easy!

The advantage of turbines spun by currents or generators driven by wave action is they’re very dependable. The motion to power them is quite plentiful and free.

You would think building offshore removes most of the NIMBY problems. It doesn’t. Otherwise green residents are up in arms against the wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Still, it’s got to be easier than building on land.

Imagine tapping into the Gulf Stream or the ocean swells a few miles out. These are inexhaustible sources of power and they add no pollution.

Until that day 10-20% savings by letting someone else control my thermostat seems worth considering.

The Thirty Foot Asteroid That Headed Toward Earth Unnoticed!

No one saw this bad boy coming. Not NASA. Not the Air Force. Surprise! It was the size of a small house and we had no warning at all.

bolide3.jpgSpace is a dirty place. There’s all sorts of interstellar junk flying around at breakneck speed. In our solar system Jupiter, the largest planet with the strongest gravity, gets hit most often.

Still, in terms relative to the age of our planet, the Earth gets hit all the time. Just the random dust and specks burning out in the upper reaches of our atmosphere add a few hundred million pounds of additional mass to Earth every day!

Sometimes the incoming rocks are large.

We don’t see much evidence because water and weather gradually heal our wounds. The pock marked surface of the atmosphere free Moon gives a more realistic impression of what really happens.

I mention this because a reasonably significant rock came pretty close to hitting the Earth a few weeks ago. I’m only hearing about it now–and I’m usually pretty up on these things.

Here’s NASA’s dispassionate reporting:

On October 8, 2009 about 03:00 Greenwich time, an atmospheric fireball blast was observed and recorded over an island region of Indonesia. The blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of a small asteroid about 10 meters in diameter that, due to atmospheric pressure, detonated in the atmosphere with an energy of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 100,000 pounds of TNT explosives).

The Jakarta Globe said the explosion was loud enough that, “Locals at first thought it was an earthquake and ran out of their homes in panic.”

Well, yeah. A hundred thousand pounds of TNT would make quite a rumble.

No one saw this bad boy coming. Not NASA. Not the Air Force. Surprise! It was the size of a small house and we had no warning at all.

What little we do know of this incident comes because we monitor atmospheric noise while searching for nuclear tests. Again, it’s a surprise to me, but there is a network of “infrasound stations” associated with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and they pinned it down.

In writing about this incident NASA scientists mention “an average impact velocity for NEAs of 20.3 km/s.” In other words, near Earth asteroids hit the Earth’s atmosphere at around 45,000 mph! That’s New York to Los Angeles in under four minutes!

Bottom line, those scary movies where asteroids plunge to Earth causing death and destruction… maybe they’re more science and less fiction than we think.

Economics And Oil

As I write this, a little after 2:00 AM, I am concerned… no, I’m petrified the U.S. financial markets will follow the rest of the world and plummet at today’s opening.

The global economy is totally interconnected. International markets fell Monday, while our stock exchange was closed. They’re falling again right now. The Dow could be down multiple hundreds of points right at the opening.

A full fledged crash is certainly possible, though I’d rather not think about it.

That’s really not what I wanted to write about, but since this will be about the international economy and oil, I thought I should acknowledge what’s going on.

Yesterday, I saw a story (in many places) about Israel’s commitment to build an electric car. Here in the states a fully electric vehicle will be out from GM in just a few years. These are fully electric cars, not hybrids.

It makes a lot of sense, because at $100 a barrel, alternative fuels become competitive with oil. Except, $100 a barrel is a totally artificial price.

Yes, there’s some supply and demand at work, but oil’s price is steered by a cartel. They control the supply to control the demand to control the price.

OPEC is not a monolith. The oil producing nations aren’t exactly in lock step. They’re close enough.

That being said, the actual cost to produce a barrel of oil is a lot less than the selling price. What it costs differs by location, but here’s what the Energy Information Administration, a US government agency, says.

In 2006, average production costs (or “lifting” costs, the cost to bring a barrel of oil to the surface) ranged from about $4 per barrel (excluding taxes) in Africa to about $8.30 per barrel in Canada; the average for the U.S. was $6.83/barrel (an increase of 23% over the $5.56/barrel cost in 2005). Besides the direct costs associated with removing the oil from the ground, substantial costs are incurred to explore for and develop oil fields (called “finding” costs), and these also vary substantially by region. Averaged over 2004, 2005 and 2006, finding costs ranged from about $5.26/barrel in the Middle East1 to $63.71/barrel for U.S. offshore.

Forget the $63.71 figure, because it represents a small portion of what’s being produced. By and large, most of the world’s oil is found and removed at $10-$20 per barrel. Obviously, the oil exporting nations are getting rich and their selling price has little to do with their actual cost.

However, in the face of competition from alternative energy (think electric cars) they can and will reevaluate their price, settling for less in the short run to guarantee a continuing market for their products.

Oil exporters don’t want coal, solar, nuclear, or whatever else can be thought up, to kill their business. That leaves us with tough decisions.

Do we want energy independence and, if so, at what cost?

My feeling is, we need to be independent and must be willing to make short term economic sacrifices to establish an energy beachhead. In the long term, an economically weakened OPEC, which can no longer run roughshod over energy prices, is in our best interest.

It won’t be easy. At some point, whether through consumer persistence or governmental subsidy, we’re going to have to endure short term pain in order to free ourselves. OPEC will do their best to temp us by cutting their prices. And, as has always been the case, more oil will be found to quench the world’s growing thirst.

Will we continue to look to alternatives if oil returns to a ‘reasonable’ price? There’s certainly lots of fudge factor in what they’re getting now.

I hope we can resist their temptation.

Sydney In Repose

Sydney the beagle lying down next to StefanieI went to search out Sydney for her daily beauty shot. I found her, but not in any of her normal spots.

Sydney was upstairs, behind closed doors, in Steffie’s playroom. They were both laying on the floor.

Sydney was on her mattress. Steffie was on the floor. Who is smarter?

Here’s the difference between Sydney and Ivy. Ivy would have been attentively watching TV with Steffie. Sydney, on the other hand, turned tail.

Since she arrived, Sydney has not barked. Not once. Maybe she’s capable, or possibly she knows it would expend too much energy?

This is not to say Sydney has been quiet. Yesterday, while napping in the family room, Sydney spent 15 minutes making a soft, low, deep murmuring sound – like a sea lion.

Helaine says Sydney snores&#185 too. I’ve yet to hear that.

Dogs don’t need a practical use to be an important part of a family. It is difficult to believe anyone could start a fight, or a war, with a dog like Sydney curled up next to them. She is a calming influence, even though she does nothing!

I’m not ready for the full time responsibility that comes with a dog. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say having Sydney here has been good in every possible way.

&#185 – Helaine also says I snore. Obviously, that’s a figment of her imagination, as I would never snore.

Who Is Controlling The Weather?

Here’s a comment that was left earlier to another entry. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten something like this, and we all get these forwarded to us, I might as well add my two cents.

On an unrelated (weather subject), I heard reference to this site, on the George Norney (Coast to Coast AM radio program). The person being interviewed, Richard Hoagland, contended that “someone” is trying to minimize the potential impact of hurricane Wilma. The link shows, to a non weather guy, a unique bright red band of storms. Hoagland contends that is evidence that “someone” is artificially trying to sap the energy of Wilma, before it might become a cat 5!

Geoff –Any comments?

This kind of electronic noise often appears on imagery. Part of my ‘real’ job is to look for this stuff and not show it, because it’s misleading.

Here’s what the website that hosts these images says:

The individual images that are used as input into this product sometimes contain bad data in the form of missing scanlines or anamalously high or low values that often stretch in an arc across the image. When these areas are incorporated into the MIMIC product they form artifacts that fade in and out, and appear to move with the storm center. However, they have no physical meaning and hopefully they will not obstruct your interpretation of the imagery.

Before you listen to anyone who says we can control the weather, understand the power of these storms. When a hurricane stretches over hundreds of miles and reaches up vertically through the atmosphere, that’s a lot mass being dragged around.

Clouds look pretty and seem weightless to us on the ground, but they are real physical objects with real mass. There is nothing we have… probably nothing we can conceive of at the moment, that has the power to affect something this immense.

There will always be people with off center ideas who are willing to exploit the unknown by assigning meanings to meaningless observations. In other words, they’re full of crap.

New Haven Advocate Best Of

I was very pleased to hear I’d won the New Haven Advocate’s Best Of Readers’ Poll. Though I usually pick up the Advocate when I get coffee at Roberto’s, I missed the voting issue so I didn’t even have a chance to stuff the ballot box.

That this is a vote by viewers makes it all the more gratifying.

There are some interesting, nearly dubious, honors bestowed. Some categories are split so many ways that you’d better get something. And, I totally understand that the Advocate does this as an advertising booster (look in the print issue and see all the back slapping ads). It’s still nice.

Christopher Arnott, who I’ve known for years, wrote my little blurb – and now I’m blushing.

Tonight is the ‘get your award’ dinner, and I’ll be going. I’ll bring my camera.

Best Local TV Personality

Geoff Fox, WTNH Channel 8

Geoff Fox stops by the Advocate offices in the early afternoon. The energy of the 9-to-5ers in the room is starting to lag, but Fox is wide-eyed, funny, fresh, loud-voiced, glad-handed–the life of the party.

He woke up about an hour earlier. His workday’s just begun.

“Basically I live my life in Hawaiian time. I wake up at noon, and I don’t get home until midnight. I’m used to people calling me and waking me up. I liked it when I had a friend living in Singapore; he’s the only one who’d call me when I was at the right time.”

Geoff Fox has weathered that rough-and-tumble schedule for over 20 years as a weatherman, and he’s been a broadcast professional since 1969. And despite cleaning up annually as Advocate readers’ choice for Best Local TV Personality, he’s still improving his job prospects, studying meteorology for the past three years.

Geoff Fox New Haven Advcoate photo

One thing that makes Geoff Fox so engaging in person is his quick wit, and it’s a skill he’s able to use on the air. “I get to do stand-up. I get to ad-lib. I’m the only one who works without a script.” Some of his best exchanges are with the Channel 8 directors and cameramen; he’s like a comedian who delights in cracking up the house band. “For me, it has a lot to do with growing up watching George Burns, Soupy Sales and Sandy Becker,” TV comics who loved to break the fourth wall and display the nuts and bolts of the TV set.

Offscreen, he engages with viewers via his weblog, for which he’s already penned over 1,100 entries. A self-admitted tech geek, Fox has built a few computers himself, and he has connected another of his passions–poker–to the net by playing an online game through a casino in Costa Rica, almost tripling his initial investment.

It’s a life well lived, on air at 5, 6 & 11 p.m. (plus 10 p.m. on Channel 8’s sister station, WTXX) and “on” constantly from noon until his wee-hours bedtime.

On the same page: Yale wins the Best Local Four-Year College category. Who woulda thunk it?

Blogger’s note: The writeup says I’m on WTXX, but our 10:00 PM news is on WCTX, channel 9 on most cable systems.

My Trashy Story

Every week, on Friday, our trash goes to the curb. Every other week it’s supposed to be accompanied by recycling. It doesn’t work that way in our household.

Whether it’s our distance from the curb or the amount of recycled newspapers we have (we subscribe to both the New Haven Register or New York Times) or maybe all the boxes we get because of online shopping, going to the curb bi-weekly doesn’t work. So all of this recyclable material piles up in the garage. A few times a year we stuff it into the SUV and I drive it to the transfer station.

Transfer station, what a lovely phrase. It’s so much more genteel than town dump.

I drove up to the transfer station this morning only to find the new policy – no newspapers. I had an SUV full of recyclables, and of course, the supermarket bags of newspapers were on top!

I unloaded the 20 or so bags of newspapers to get to the cardboard and other material underneath. At this point the transfer station folks took pity on me and found a place… a transfer station loophole if you will… that allowed me to drop the papers off. From now on it’s newspapers to the street, I suppose.

I want to be a good citizen, but it is increasingly difficult to follow the rules. In fact, it would be much easier to hide the newspapers and cardboard and bottles with our weekly trash. I’m sure a lot of people do just that. It also always strikes me as a little ironic that the two most talked about recycled products are made from sand (glass) or grow on trees (paper).

I know this is supposed to be good for the environment, and I’m for that. But, is it really? Is this just a feel good exercise with no payoff… or negative payoff?

From “Recycling Is Garbage” – New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996:

Every time a sanitation department crew picks up a load of bottles and cans from the curb, New York City loses money. The recycling program consumes resources. It requires extra administrators and a continual public relations campaign explaining what to do with dozens of different products — recycle milk jugs but not milk cartons, index cards but not construction paper. (Most New Yorkers still don’t know the rules.) It requires enforcement agents to inspect garbage and issue tickets. Most of all, it requires extra collection crews and trucks. Collecting a ton of recyclable items is three times more expensive than collecting a ton of garbage because the crews pick up less material at each stop. For every ton of glass, plastic and metal that the truck delivers to a private recycler, the city currently spends $200 more than it would spend to bury the material in a landfill.

I don’t know what to think. I want to do what’s right, but I am really not sure. Until I know otherwise, I will follow the rules.

In the meantime, part of our recycling life at home will have to change. Newspapers to the curb. I can hardly wait for the first really big rain on a Thursday night.

Continue reading “My Trashy Story”

Where Do I Go To Get A Life?

As I begin to type this, it is 2:26 AM. I am sitting in front of the computer, as I have for the past few hours. Earlier, I was playing poker. Now I am just killing time, waiting for the 00z run of the gfdl to come in so I can see the latest on Hurricane Frances&#185.

This run should be somewhat telling, because there are signs the track of the storm might be changing… or at least the forecast signs are changing. Some earlier models tonight, models that aren’t especially good with hurricanes, brought Frances farther up the coast before landfall.

It’s in.

Yes, the guidance points further up the coast for landfall – maybe the border between the Carolinas.

My friend Bob, who I’ve been talking to much of the night on Instant Messenger, pointed out what a nightmare this could be for FEMA. With landfall anywhere along the East Coast, hundreds of miles and millions of people will need to be warned. Hopefully the track will become more well defined with time.

Hurricane forecasting is incredibly imprecise. These are tiny storms compared to the typical low and high pressure systems we track. And they spend much of their lives in an area with little in the way of steering currents.

Still, for me, they are fascinating to watch as they develop.

They are beautiful to see on satellite images (Frances is still too far from land to be seen on radar). The laws of physics define their shape. Though nothing but clouds and water vapor, they are real objects with mass and momentum. When you stop and think of it, the energy necessary to move that much ‘stuff’ around that quickly is immense.

By the time I get up the computers will have crunched the numbers again with another imprecise solution. I will be drawn to it like a moth to flame.

&#185 – Weather wouldn’t make sense unless everything was synchronized. You’d like all readings to be taken at the same time. Of course, there are better than two dozen different time zones! So, to keep everyone on the same page, we use Universal Coordinated Time and abbreviate it “Z”. 00Z is midnight Universal Coordinated Time, or 8:00 PM EDT, on the preceding day.

Gfdl refers to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, where this model was born.

The UCONN Parade

It hasn’t always been this way. College basketball hasn’t always been an obsession in Connecticut. When I arrived in 1984 UCONN was an also ran, even in regional action.

That all changed as the university hired Jim Calhoun for the men, and then later Geno Auriemma to coach the women. And, UCONN made a commitment to big time athletics.

I’m not sure, as a taxpayer and father of a soon to be college aged student, whether that would be my first priority… but I haven’t been asked. As it turns out UCONN is now a national powerhouse (even football has started to come around with a 9-2 season this past year) and I’m glad to be a fan.

In March, at the NCAA tournaments, UCONN won both the men’s and women’s national championships. This is an unheard of feat. It took a lot of luck and even more skill.

With that in mind, the City of Hartford decided to throw a parade to celebrate the victory. My TV station then made a commitment to provide live coverage (as did the CBS and NBC stations). It is something we’ve done before when one team or the other won.

My memories of parade coverage are mostly made up of awful weather and equipment failures. Somehow, by chance, unseasonably awful days are always picked. Bob Picozzi reminded me yesterday how one parade was held in some late season snow. I just remember number fingers and toes and trying to hide in the state capitol as long as was humanly possible before darting out to my position on the street.

Equipment problems are another story. A television program is mounted using hundreds of separate pieces of equipment. They could be as small as microphone connectors or as large as an entire satellite truck. In the field, many of these disparate pieces become choke points. If it breaks, nothing passes farther downstream.

In our last parade attempt everything that could fail, did. That was followed by unforeseen failures that had to do with ‘how’ we were doing things, as opposed to ‘what’ we used to do them.

For example, “live” TV never really is anymore. The delay can be a few frames (there are 29.97 frames per second in TV) up to a few seconds. This is not a censorship plot, but the outcome of using digital equipment. As signals pass through and are manipulated digitally, there is a small lag while the math is being done.

In the studio, that’s not a problem – we have it figured out. In the field, that means getting audio to reporters’ earpieces from multiple locations is a nightmare. Is there a delay? How much? And, can you send the reporter every bit of audio EXCEPT his very own voice (which would be delayed and confuse him, much as the echo at a baseball stadium can confuse the people singing the National Anthem).

As you can see, I didn’t drive to Hartford with fond anticipation.

Then, add to that my insecurity over the weather forecast. All week it had called for warm temperatures on Sunday. By Friday it had also become likely that there would be enough instability to produce a scattered shower or two across the state (and, as it turns out, there was a Severe Thunderstorm watch for Litchfield County – just northwest of Hartford). Most places would stay dry, but with Hartford’s parade track record, I couldn’t rule out a shower.

Everything worked out perfectly.

I got to the Legislative Office Building parking garage at 10:50 AM and immediately found a ground floor space, near the exit. I walked then labyrinth of ramps and corridors from the LOB to the Capitol. I walked outside, in the sunshine, and found our main satellite truck. There was no panic. There were no angry words. With hours to go, all the wiring and testing had been done, and it all worked. I had a bottle of water and ate the meat and cheese from a sandwich (it’s the diet).

Our coverage started at 1:30 PM. Just before 1:00, I headed out to our position, behind the Capitol building, near where the floats, bands and teams would start their journey and separated from their happy fans by orange plastic fencing (which would later come down to allow the crowds the opportunity to fill the area in from of the podium built for the ceremony).

Our 1:00 PM run through, where everyone got to see if they could communicate with everyone else, also worked well. I was working with Joe Sferrazza, a photographer who had started at Channel 8 a few months after me. Michelle Clarke from our assignment desk and Brian Albon, usually a director, were field producers.

We began our coverage. Eric Dobratz, producing the show, let me know he wanted me to use our mobility to find people to speak to. No problem. There was a truck a few hundred feet away, not yet moving, with Senators Lieberman and Dodd. I pointed to Joe and walked to the truck. There was a loading gate on the back, so I jumped up and then stood on the rear of the truck.

The senators moved to the back, and in a few seconds we were on the air, live. And then, the truck started to move! I had a wireless microphone and wireless earpiece, so it wasn’t a huge problem. Senator Dodd, sensing my lack of athleticism, threw his arm around my shoulder to help brace me… and the interview continued.

I am told that on TV, the interview looked great. It was live and spontaneous and obvious to all that I was perched on a moving truck. It was also obvious that that was more than I had bargained for. That made the shot even better.

It was at that moment where I set the tone for Joe, Michelle and Brian as to what we’d be doing. They bought in 100%. We would not be boring nor pedestrian.

From there we interviewed Miss Connecticut while I stood on the running board of her car… while in motion, riding the rear of the car carrying Meghan Pattyson and Bob Picozzi from CPTV, and on top a huge flatbed truck talking to a steel drum player – while he and his steel band played… and the truck rolled.

After the parade had passed and the fans streamed up the lawn, I concentrated on speaking with people. By this time, I was spent. All my energy was gone. The effects of a few hours of sleep were catching up with me.

The team, coaches and a few pols spoke from a stage attached to the Capitol’s steps. Thankfully, they were brief.

This parade’s coverage turned out totally different than the last time. It was as if we were two different stations. I like this outcome better. And, I was very glad to eat a little and get into bed.

It Could Ruin Your Day

It’s been pretty well established that an asteroid or comet, plunging into the area around the Yucatan Peninsula, was the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs. The ash and dust thrown up by this unfathomable event blotted out enough of the Sun’s energy to change our climate. The dinosaurs and much of the rest of Earth’s living creatures couldn’t evolve fast enough to survive.

In the 4.5 billion years of the Earth’s history, that’s not a terribly unusual event. Unfortunately, it was unusual to the dinosaurs and it would be jarring to us. Our time frame is very different than the Earth’s

I mention this because it’s amazing how close we come from time to time… today, for instance.

Monday, NASA scientists working on NEAT (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking) discovered a ‘small’ asteroid, which they named 2004FH. At 60-125 feet in diameter, it is tiny compared to the dinosaur’s nemesis. It’s still pretty darned big.

The 1908 Tunguska explosion, which leveled 750+ square miles of forest in Siberia, came from an asteroid not much larger!

NEAT is actually supposed to look for larger asteroids which might threaten the Earth (not that there’s anything we could do). 2004FH snuck in, despite its size, because of its proximity.

Tonight (March 18th at 5:08 PM EST) this asteroid will pass within 26,500 miles of Earth. Let’s try it another way. Scientists reference distances like this in AU, astronomical units, representing the average distance between Earth and Sun. 2004FH will be only .0003AU away!

If the distance to the Sun was one mile, this asteroid would be 1.5 feet away.

NASA says there’s no cause for alarm. It will pass safely by. Asteroids do all the time, though they’re seldom noticed before hand. This one won’t even be visible in North America.

Here’s how you’ll know if this bad boy really is trouble. If there’s no blog entry tomorrow – 2004FH was a little closer than anticipated..

The Amazing Egrets of Boynton Beach

Egrets are not deep sleepers. From time to time one will move or adjust his position. That motion will affect other nearby birds, and before long a section of the tree’s population will have their wings up for stability or even take a very brief flight. A sound sleeper would soon be in the lake.

This place–the condo complex my parents live in is built on swampland. They’re not alone. Much of South Florida’s inhabited land was once the province of birds, game and gators.

In many cases, civilization has killed the wildlife off or forced it to move away. In other cases, people and animals live together in harmony. That’s what this entry is all about: cohabitation between the species.

My folks moved in nine years ago. Back then they noticed an amazing tree. By day, it was bare… in fact, much of it looked dead with no leaves or hint of green. In the twilight of early evening it came alive as egrets flew in and landed. Overnight the birds slept on the tree.

As far as I can tell, what we have here is called a rookery.

rook-er-y ( P ) Pronunciation Key (rk-r)
n. pl. rook-er-ies
A breeding place of gregarious birds, as of herons, penguins, etc.

The tree sits at the edge of a small, man made lake. This part of Palm Beach County is crawling with little lakes, dredged to afford water views and raise housing prices for the developers. This lake, maybe more of a pond, isn’t special in any way I can see… but it is to egrets. They chose it for their home.

It’s not out in the wild nor removed from civilization. The tree is about as close as it can be to the clubhouse for this complex of 600 units. There is foot and car traffic every day. The egrets don’t care.

They fill this tree 365 days a year and every morning they all fly away to do whatever it is egrets do. They return, flying in groups of 5 to 10, swooping down and heading upwind before finding their branch just before sunset. It’s tough to believe that the landing patterns at LAX or JFK are any more precise or coordinated.

They sleep in close proximity. Egrets are not deep sleepers. From time to time one will move or adjust his position. That motion will affect other nearby birds, and before long a section of the tree’s population will have their wings up for stability or even take a very brief flight. A sound sleeper would soon be in the lake.

In the quiet of the evening looking across the lake at the motionless birds you sometimes hear a staccato sound. It’s bird poop, hitting the water.

Last year, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a contest. Count the birds and win a prize. A photo was taken, setting the benchmark, and everyone took a guess. There are a little more than 300 birds in the tree. My mom’s guess was closest. She won a stuffed bird (a toy stuffed bird – not something that had visited a taxidermist).

Earlier today, when I went to take my daylight ’empty nest’ photo, a few people sat on a bench, looking out at the lake. This evening, getting the return shot, there were more people and what looked like twin toddlers. I’m sure their grandparents were more excited than they were and that some day they’ll be quizzed to see if they remember the tree with all the birds.

When I returned tonight I had the birds to myself. It is an amazing sight.

From the distance, the tree looks like it’s lit by small incandescent bulbs. It’s only as you get closer that you begin to see the individual birds. Even then, they don’t really look like birds. Their heads and beaks are tucked down in their feathers, probably to preserve heat and energy in the cool of the evening. For the most part it’s a still life.

I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will anywhere else. Not that they had anything to do with it, but the birds are a matter of pride for the condo dwellers.

Nearly every place has something special and out of the ordinary that only the locals know about. If only I knew the right questions to ask.