Signs of life: Eagles on Highway

July 30, 2015

One of our local pharmacists travels on vacations, and takes photos.  Pharmacies being what they are, people wait in line with nothing to do but count ticks on the clock.  No one takes a book to the pharmacy to wait.

But the guy, Mark de Zeeuw, has a good sense of customer service.  He got one of those photo frames that had a video display to show photos.  Over time, it morphed to an extra computer screen, and probably an old computer (don’t know for sure).

At the Tom Thumb supermarket in Duncanville, Texas, customers get to see photos of the pharmacist’s travels.  A lover of travel and photography, and a too-frequent customer at the pharmacy, I think I may have seen every photo on that harddrive.  Many of them are very good. He travels to Alaska and across the American west, and he’s got at least one telephoto that works well on wildlife — this I know from watching the photos.  I’ve never discussed it with the guy (who is always busy working on prescriptions, or fighting with insurance companies over the phone; Tom Thumb’s being a large company, there may be other pharmacists on duty at the time).

Okay, I’m shy.  I’ve wanted to ask him for copies of several of the photos to share, one in particular.  It’s a nice shot of the yellow warning/information signs you see at the side of a highway.  With a bright blue sky in back, and obviously a lot of unpopulated territory, it says “Eagles On Highway.”  I broke the shyness enough to learn it was a photo from eastern Utah.

Surely someone else noticed the sign?

Yep! Wonders of Google, Bing and flickr:  Here’s a shot I found at Wanderlust Cafe:

“Eagles on Hwy.” Sign on eastbound Interstate 70, near the Moab turnoff in Utah. Photo by Lou Ann Granger, via Wanderlust Cafe

Out on Interstate 70, the rabbits and occasional ground squirrel, lizard or coyote fall victim to speeding cars in the night.  In the daylight, carrion eaters — including eagles — clean up the road.  Alas, eagles have not been bred to recognize those vehicles, tiny in the distance, rush at them at 70 miles per hour. Worse, it’s a violation of federal law and regulations to kill the eagles (few are ever cited for accidents).

Local authorities put up signs warning drivers of this odd hazard: “Eagles on Highway.” Drivers are supposed to slow down, be wary, and avoid hitting the eagles.

Others grew curious about the signs, too. The Deseret News in Salt Lake City explained back in 1990 that six of the signs were put up, in hopes of reducing kills of immature golden eagles.

They have to rank as the most unusual highway signs anywhere in the state. But preliminary indications are the six “Eagles on Highway” warning signs in central Utah are doing the job.

Not a single golden eagle was struck by a car during the 1989-90 winter season.In the two years previous, 30 golden eagles were killed and another 11 crippled by automobiles on a stretch of I-70 between the Colorado border and the San Rafael Swell.

“We don’t know whether it’s because the mild winter has spread the birds around more or whether it’s because the prairie dog population is down and the birds have moved elsewhere, or what,” said Miles Moretti, regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Resources.

“What we do know is we’ve received a lot of comments from people seeing signs and watching the birds and being aware of the problem. From a public awareness standpoint the program is a success.”

I wonder if we can track down someone in authority with numbers to show the signs are working after 25 years.  And maybe I can get a copy of pharmacist de Zeeuw’s photo here — his is better, I think.

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Catching the Subway, in Zion National Park, Utah

July 25, 2015

US Department of Interior Tweet: Simply stunning: That's the only way we can describe @ZionNPS's Subway. Pic by Tiffany Nguyen #Utah

US Department of Interior Tweet: Simply stunning: That’s the only way we can describe @ZionNPS’s Subway. Pic by Tiffany Nguyen #Utah

Gotta get back there.

James and Michelle made a trek there in 2013.

Subway in Zion Canyon National Park, photo by Michelle Xiang Li, 2013 (some rights reserved)

Subway in Zion Canyon National Park, photo by Michelle Xiang Li, 2013 (some rights reserved)

I wonder if it’s possible to take a dozen photos there without a few that take your breath away.

Rock, water and leaves. Photo from the Subway trip, by Michelle Xiang Li, 2013

Rock, water and leaves. Photo from the Subway trip, by Michelle Xiang Li, 2013


Milky Way at Joshua Tree National Park

July 10, 2015

Milky Way viewed from Joshua Tree National Park, via Department of Interior Twitter feed: There is some spectacular stargazing to be had @JoshuaTreeNP in #California. #MilkyWay

Milky Way viewed from Joshua Tree National Park, via Department of Interior Twitter feed: There is some spectacular stargazing to be had @JoshuaTreeNP in #California. #MilkyWay

The bucket list of places to watch stars just keeps growing.  Interior’s photo from Joshua Tree National Park should make you salivate, too.

Who is the photographer?

When you go, look up Chris Clarke and buy him a drink.

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Wind power ready for its closeup?

June 27, 2015

Climate Progress used this photo in a Tweet touting Denmark’s wind power progress:

Denmark sets world record for wind power production http://thkpr.gs/3608898   (No other photo information in Tweet)

Denmark sets world record for wind power production http://thkpr.gs/3608898 (Photo credit: flickr/Vattenfall)

Awesome photograph, a 21st century version of those photos of men, machines, bridges and other industrial objects admired for their symmetry and sharp shadows from the 1920s and 1930s. I would guess it was captured by an airplane passenger passing over the at-sea windfarms springing up around Europe’s Atlantic Coast, off the coast of Denmark, if Climate Progress editors were careful.

Scientifically, the photo shows what happens when windmills reduce the air pressure downwind of the blades — condensation can suddenly become visible.  Condensation trails from windmills (won’t that vex the hell out of chemtrails tinfoil hatters?).

The photo illustrates what should be good news:

Denmark has been long been a pioneer in wind power, having installed its first turbines in the mid-1970s when oil shocks sent the import-dependent nation on a quest for energy security. Thirty-seven years later, the country has set a new world record for wind production by getting 39.1 percent of its overall electricity from wind in 2014. This puts the Northern European nation well on track to meet its 2020 goal of getting 50 percent of its power from renewables.

The news of Denmark’s feat adds to the national records the U.K. and Germany set for 2014 and further establishes Europe as a leader in the wind power industry. This is especially true when it comes to offshore resources, as countries like Scotland, England, and Denmark build out their offshore wind farms. Wind generated enough electricity to power just over 25 percent of U.K. homes in 2014 — a 15 percent increase from 2013. In December, Germany generated more wind power, 8.9 terawatt-hours, than in any previous month.

A big source of the surge of Denmark’s wind production this year came from the addition of around 100 new offshore wind turbines. In January of 2014, the peninsular country got just over 61 percent of its power from wind. This is more than three times the overall production of 10 years ago, when wind only made up 18.8 percent of the energy supply. The country has a long-term goal of being fossil fuel-free by 2050.

Anti-greens, and rational conservationists, see trouble though. Anti-greens holler that the windmills “kill birds,” as if the coal power plants the windmills displace do less environmental damage.  They will bring this up in every discussion of alternative energy sources, and in every discussion of working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to decrease pollution and damage from climate change.  I suppose they want us to throw up our hands and give up on conservation.  (Industry agents like CFACT have no compunction against giving half-truths on these issues.)

Conservationists, like Chris Clarke, see the dangers.  Bird kills do occur at wind farms, in greater numbers than any conservationist is comfortable with.  Off-shore wind farms could hammer migrating populations of songbirds and other migratory fowl, in addition to the sea-dwelling birds.  Few solid studies on bird damage exist.  We are particularly the dark about the songbirds, who migrate in enormous avian clouds at night.  An article in Nature sums up issues:

Wind turbines kill far fewer birds in general each year than do many other causes linked to humans, including domestic cats and collisions with glass windows. But wind power has a disproportionate effect on certain species that are already struggling for survival, such as the precarious US population of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis).

“The troubling issue with wind development is that we’re seeing a growing number of birds of conservation concern being killed by wind turbines,” says Albert Manville, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Arlington, Virginia.

It is good news that wind power can replace fossil fuels. But industrial-sized enterprises inherently create environmental problems. Our policy makers need to be alert to the issues involved, and create incentives for development of alternative energy sources that will prevent our falling into the rut of industrial development that comes at enormous costs pushed to future generations.

Who is looking out for the birds? Can there be anyone who argues we should give up on climate change because of problems from alternative energy, really?

Chris Clarke tells us the problems, that we need accurate, relevant information, and we don’t have a methodical process to get it:

The issue of eagles being harmed by wind turbines in the U.S. is a huge topic, to put it mildly. And yet a paper documenting two eagle mortalities at a wind turbine facility in the last 20 years is “conceptually novel” enough to merit publication in a prestigious wildlife science journal.

Put it this way: The scientific community has more information on deaths among marine mammals, which spend much of their time in places it’s hard for us to get to, than it does about injuries and deaths to rather conspicuous birds in industrial facilities. Hell, we have better, more solid data on planets outside our solar system than we do on eagle mortalities at wind energy plants in California.

One could ask the rhetorical question “why is that the case,” but it’s almost a waste of time: it’s because wind energy companies would strongly prefer that data never gets released to the public.

And that’s what peer-reviewed journals are, for all their abstruse language and incomprehensible math and absurd paywalls: public information. Once that data gets analyzed and put in context by independent biologists, it becomes available to us all.

[USGS research ecologist Jeffrey] Lovich puts it this way:

Minimizing wildlife mortality at wind farms is a major goal of conservation, although research on how best to do that is in short supply. Compiling and publishing accurate data on mortality of Golden Eagles over time is an important first step in efforts to protect these iconic birds.

And doing so in the clear light of day is crucial if we in the public are ever to make scientifically sound decisions about our energy policy, regardless of whether we put windpower or wildlife first.

Who will provide that information? Who will even ask for it? If we can’t get consensus on whether we should save humanity’s home on Earth, how can we get consensus on asking the questions about how to go about it, and how to learn how to do it?


Milky Way at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P.

June 14, 2015

From the Facebook site of the U.S. Department of Interior: Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado and see some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires in North America. Pictured here is a stunning shot of the #MilkyWay rising above the Black Canyon. Photo courtesy of Greg Owens — at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

From the Facebook site of the U.S. Department of Interior: Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado and see some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires in North America. Pictured here is a stunning shot of the #MilkyWay rising above the Black Canyon. Photo courtesy of Greg Owens — at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Looking at that river, it’s difficult to understand that it’s just half the flow.  Ranchers and farmers bored a tunnel to channel half the water of the river to the Uncompahgre Valley through the 5 mile-long Gunnison Tunnel, completed in 1909.  Many of the overlooks into the incredibly steep canyon reveal only snippets of the ribbon of water that runs the whole length of the canyon.

I like how this photograph captures reflected light off the water, and makes the river appear easier to see than it usually is, especially at night.

Stunning geology, great hikes — you should go.

Especially you should go if you think about the geology that contradicts creationism.  The canyon is loaded with volcanic inserts that deny flood geology and every other geological distortion offered by creationists, maybe better than the Grand Canyon in that regard.

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Milky Way from a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

June 3, 2015

Ready to go camping this summer?

Wilderness Society Tweeted: Starry sky from near Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Bryce Bradford

Wilderness Society Tweeted: Starry sky from near Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Bryce Bradford

Bryce Bradford captured the Milky Way from Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Public lands: St. Anthony Sand Dunes, Idaho

May 28, 2015

St. Anthony Sand Dunes, Idaho -- a part of the undifferentiated lands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Interior. #Sunset photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management - Idaho.

St. Anthony Sand Dunes, Idaho — a part of the undifferentiated lands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Interior. #Sunset photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management – Idaho.

From the Department of Interior Facebook page:

Located far from any ocean, the St. Anthony Sand Dunes appears as a rolling sea of sand on the eastern edge of Idaho’s volcanic Snake River Plain. These vast dunes are the largest in Idaho. They blanket an area approximately 35 miles long and 5 wide, and range from 50 to 500 feet high. These white quartz sand dunes are a unique and popular recreational area for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, hikers and equestrians. The best time to visit is spring through fall; summer temperatures cause sands to reach over 100 degrees. #Sunset photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management – Idaho.

One more stellar example of the great resources held by U.S. citizens for the future, for preservation — and for recreation and awe.

James and Michelle sent photos from their recent foray to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. Kathryn, Kenny, James and I camped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah some years back, at the new Moon, the better to be wholly awestruck at the stars at night.

Michelle and James on top of a dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Michelle and James on top of a dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, 2015

Then there are the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Some dunes in Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.  I can show you smaller collections of dunes on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.

Where else in America do we have marvelous dunes like these?  (I’ve missed some, I’m sure — tell me in comments.) When you start thinking about it, it’s a lot!

Each site well worth the time and trouble to get there.

Take your camera, and your memory-making machine.


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