Jun 24 2012

Baby bird rescue!


At the DayJob, there’s a warehouse. With very high ceiling.

And big garage doors, which spend a lot of time open.

Our local swallows think this is excellent. Fly in, fly out. A little refuge when it rains. And hey, if you get locked in at night, no prob, they’ll let you out in the morning.

Oh, and this year: build a nest.

Result: a bunch of warehouse guys crowded around a cardboard box containing two baby swallows which fell from some ungodly height up in the rafters down to the cement floor. Babies peeping very loudly and doing the gape-mouthed FEED ME thing. And no way to get them back up there.

Clueless guy: “Don’t touch them, whatever you do don’t touch them! The mother will kill them if she smells you on them!

Me (sidling in to look): “Um, no. Most birds have almost no sense of smell…”

CG: “No, that’s what they always tell you, never touch a baby bird…”

Me: “Yeah — commonly held misconception. Vultures — great sense of smell, vultures. ‘Cause, you know, they eat rotten meat. But, most other birds– no real sense of smell.”

(Everyone now looking at me.)

Me: “‘s true.”

(Everyone looks in the box.)

Me: “I… kinda know a lot about birds…”

(They look at me again.)

Me: “We… actually raised some orphaned birds when I was a kid…”

(Look in the box. Look at me.)

Five minutes later: the box has magically become mine.

And there I was, at my desk, repeatedly dropping globs of milk-soaked bread down the gullets of two semi-naked baby birds with one hand, while using the other to search the internet for local bird rescue people or foundations. Because, when we raised baby birds, my mother was a stay-at-home mom, and did most of the feedings. If I brought those birds home, they’d starve while I was at work.

I was not having much luck, as apparently every foundation that took baby birds was located hours and hours away, on opposite corners of the state…

Fortunately, co-worker Shelley thought to use the old-fashioned phone instead of the newfangled internet, and called her vet’s office, asking if they knew of any place that takes baby birds.

And they did! And it was in my town! And I could get there and back over lunch!

The wonderful Roseanne at the Yalesville Veterinary Hospital is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and had some other bird babies about the same age. I filled out the form, passed over the peepers still peeping, and donated all the cash in my wallet (about 17 bucks), to help with food. They were stunned when I gave them money. Apparently, most people don’t do that.

So, all is well, as I was able to assure all concerned parties back at the warehouse.

But it made me kind of nostalgic.

Of the three baby birds we had when I was a kid, one survived to adulthood. Stanley the Starling loved my mom, and long after he was grown, she could walk out the door and call “Stanley? Stanley? Where is he?” and he’d come fluttering down from the trees to perch on her finger. She’d tickle his neck and stroke the feathers on his breast, and tell him how beautiful he was.

And one day, predictably, he did not come, and we never saw him again. But Mom said that was all right. Because, he was a bird. He flew away, because that’s what birds are supposed to do.

It all came back with the smell of that bread-and-milk concoction; and the very weird sensation of a bird trying to suction down your entire finger as you slide the food into a mouth bigger than the rest of the bird’s head; and the sound, as the non-stop peep turns into a peeping gurgle when the birdie swallows. Still peeping, you know, just in case you forgot he was there.

They are so very single-minded. And when they grow up, they get to fly.

Jun 16 2012



Hey, remember this?

And remember last year, when this happened?

Well, guess what?

Yup. Did it again. Totally missed the World Science Festival.

In my defense, I expected it to be in June, so when June rolled around, I said, Hey, what about that science festival? Made with the Google, and discovered that it started on May 30th, which was, may I point out, in the actual month of May.

Well. I found out on June 2nd, and naturally all tickets for the events of the weekend were sold out long ago. I thought of just hopping the train down to NYC for the free street-fair portion of the festival, but alas. Rain and rain.

So, I signed up for the email newsletter so I’ll be among the first to get the low-down on next year’s science festival. But you know, I had the blues and I really could have used a good dose of cool science right then.

Hey, luckily the transit of Venus was the following Tuesday!

Sabine and I headed out to the wonderful Van Vleck Observatory at nearby Weselyan University, where they were hosting a viewing of the transit.

If it wasn’t cloudy.

Which it was.

But they did stream a webcast from the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea on a big screen in one of the classrooms.

And the observatory is worth a visit for its own sake.

As in: this is the room I want to live the rest of my life in:

Big windows, lots of flat surfaces to work on, and finally, enough shelves.

Plenty of room, plenty of light, and astronomy everywhere.

Convenient seating for 12.

Sabine found the secret switch that back-lit all the old astronomical photographic plates on display.

Halley's, Mars and Saturn -- actual old glass photgraphic plates

(I urge you to click to embiggen each.)

I always wanted one of these:

Constellations on the globe depicted in reverse. Because we're apparently outside the sky. You really should click this.

While we were wandering the room, waiting for the transit to begin, and sighing longingly (well, I was, anyway), the Wesleyan librarian of antiquities came by and started laying out amazing antique astronomical books.

And hey, look! People started showing up. Because the transit was approaching.

One of the undertakings being the observation of a transit of Venus.

The pattern of transits of Venus works out as two within a decade of each other, and then no more for a century or so. Last one was 2004; next one will be 2117. Personally, I plan to watch it…

Because the clouds kept us from viewing it directly this year.

But as promised: live big-screen streaming over the Internet, with explanations by Wesleyan astronomers.

Here’s William Herbst:

Not depicted: about 50 people in the room, and more stuck in the hallway, peering in though the doors.

Given that we couldn’t view it through the actual (carefully filtered) telescopes on hand, it was quite inspiring to watch the event with a crowd of total strangers. I know that I like this sort of thing, but that’s just me, right? I know I’m weird.

Apparently, so are a lot of other people. People who share my longing for wonder, beauty, and science.

Even the one who, discussing the transit with Sabine, asked, “So… where is this in relation to our universe?”

Yes, even her. Because SHE WAS THERE. It meant something. She had no children with her (as some people did), so she was not furthering anyone’s education but her own.

A telescope, once invented, can be used by anyone.

This was just exactly what I needed.

Given that I missed the World Science Festival.

Again. Three years running, now.

Next year for sure!

Mr. Joseph Van Vleck.