I’ve long been a fan of the bird-banding program offered by the Arboretum at Penn State. (I’ve written about it here, here, and here.) Under the direction of volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71, who has both a state and federal license to do this sort of thing, students put up “mist nets” to catch wild birds, then fit each bird with a tiny metal ID band. They record data on the bird’s weight, age, sex, etc., and then set it free.
Nick sends the data to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, Md., where scientists can use the information to monitor the health and migration patterns of bird populations.
I like the research aspect of bird-banding, of course, but I also like how it offers Penn State wildlife science students—and anyone else who’s interested in stopping by—a chance to learn about birds in a very up-close way. It’s also a great chance to photograph the birds. This morning I took a macro lens along, to try some close-up portraits, and I thought I’d share a few of the images I got. Above is a female cardinal, and below is a more extreme close-up of the same image:
The group this morning also banded several white-throated sparrows, a handsome bird that, around here, shows up in the fall and stays until spring. Here’s one:
And here’s a tufted titmouse. Note the leg band he’s just acquired:
There are two more banding sessions remaining in the fall season; you can see more information about them here.
Tina Hay, editor
Today I went to a lunchtime lecture at Schlow Library downtown, to hear Penn State geoscientist Eliza Richardson talk about earthquakes. No special reason, really, except that we just finished the November/December issue of the magazine, so suddenly I have a little more time for such things. Lectures like these are a good way for us to scout possible stories for the magazine. And, besides, I know pretty much nothing about earthquakes.
In an hour’s time, I learned a lot. Here’s a sampling:
—Scientists would love to be able to predict earthquakes: when they’ll strike, where they’ll strike, and how big they’ll be. Richardson calls it the “holy grail” in her field.
—”The biggest earthquakes aren’t always the worst,” Richardson says. She showed three lists—the 10 biggest earthquakes in history, the 10 deadliest, and the 10 costliest—and pointed out that only two earthquakes appear on all three lists. (Those were the 2004 quake and tsunami near Sumatra and the 2011 quake and tsunami off the Japanese coast.)
—The so-called “World Series Earthquake” of 1989 in San Francisco was not quite as strong as the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti—the San Francisco quake was a magnitude 7.0, vs. 7.2 in Haiti—yet only 68 people died in San Francisco, vs. 159,000 in Haiti. “That’s all about infrastructure,” Richardson says: San Francisco has many buildings that are seismically retrofitted, while Haiti, an impoverished country, does not.
—Earthquakes happen along fault lines where two tectonic plates bump into each other, and “stress overcomes friction” along that fault line. “If the plate boundaries could all be lubricated with the scientific equivalent of WD-40, earthquakes would never happen,” Richardson says.
—Earthquakes happen far more often than people realize. Her title slide included a USGS-generated world map very similar to this one…
…which shows all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater just in the past 30 days.
You can click on the map to see it bigger. Obviously the fault lines along the West Coast of the Americas are pretty impressive, along with poor Italy, which is practically obliterated by all the dots.
—Speaking of Italy: Scientists often are hesitant (“cagey,” Richardson called it) about saying they’re working on earthquake prediction. She cited the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy as one reason: The city had been experiencing tremors for months, so a special meeting of seismologists was convened, and many people interpreted the scientists’ comments at that meeting as suggesting there was nothing to fear. A week later, a magnitude-6.3 quake hit the city, and more than 300 people died. Five scientists ended up standing trial for manslaughter—and were convicted. A higher court eventually overturned the convictions, but the events surely had a chilling effect on seismologists worldwide.
(You can read an interesting account of the L’Aquila quake and subsequent criminal trial at Smithsonianmag.com.)
—While seismologists can’t yet predict earthquakes, there’s been a lot of progress in the field in the past 10 years. Scientists are starting to pay more attention to silent earthquakes called “slow slip earthquakes,” which can be measured by GPS devices. These slow slips may turn out to be harbingers of a larger, far more damaging quake.
—There’s a fairly prominent fault line in the U.S. midwest, called the New Madrid (pronounced MAD rid) Fault, which in 1811 and 1812 spawned the largest earthquakes in U.S. history. If they happened today, says Richardson, they would level Memphis and several other cities. They reportedly shook the White House, hundreds of miles away, and caused church bells to ring in Boston.
(You can read more about the New Madrid earthquakes here.)
OK, there’s lots more, but I’ve probably babbled enough. Suffice it to say I think Richardson’s research is really interesting and would make for a great story in the magazine sometime.
The lecture was sponsored by Schlow Library as part of its Research Unplugged series; the fall schedule continues through Nov. 10.
Tina Hay, editor
Shortly after we shipped the Sept./Oct. issue off to the printer, I took off for a two-week vacation, in the form of a photography workshop in Peru. Most of the time on the trip was spent in the Amazonian rainforest—the Tambopata National Reserve, where we photographed macaws, toucans, frogs, and other critters. But for the last three days, we were based in Cusco, and on one of those three days we made the trip to Machu Picchu.
We went to the famed Incan site the easy way: We took a train from Cusco to the town of Aguascalientes, then rode a bus up the mountain to the site. There was definitely a bit of uphill walking after the bus dropped us off, and the altitude (about 8,000 feet) had me huffing and puffing. But it was nothing compared to the trek the die-hards make on the Inca Trail, a roughly four-day, 26-mile hike with elevations of more than 13,000 feet in some places. We saw a lot of the trekkers in Aguascalientes, and some of them were in our train car back to Cusco.
On that ride back, one of the other photographers on the trip asked me if I had seen the guy with the Penn State sweatpants on. I had not! So I immediately took a walk up the train car, found the guy, and asked him the obvious yet dumb question: “Did you go to Penn State?” The answer: He had, and so had his travel partner in the seat next to him.
So, meet Michael Stegura ’13 Eng (left) Paul Ferrera ’13 Bus:
(You can’t see it here, but Ferrera was the one in the Penn State sweatpants.)
The pair, who have known each other since they were kids in the Lehigh Valley, were on their way back to Cusco after completing the four-day hike to Machu Picchu. I asked them how they were feeling, and they said, “Tired.” But to me, they looked great for a couple of guys who had just finished one of the top treks in the world.
Tina Hay, editor
I’ve long been fascinated by birds—from the cardinals and chickadees that frequent my backyard feeders to the toucans and hummingbirds I’ve seen on trips to Costa Rica. On a visit to Orlando, Fla., some years back to speak at a magazine conference, I skipped Disney World and instead spent my free time at Discovery Cove, because it has a very cool aviary.
But I hadn’t been to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh in many years. And when I found out that a Penn Stater, Cheryl Columbus Tracy ’86, is executive director of the aviary, I decided it was time for a road trip.
A few weeks ago I drove to Pittsburgh and got a tour of the place from Cheryl. Wow, has she made an impact there—she’s overseen a major expansion in the past seven years, adding new exhibits, new space for the penguin colony, a FliteZone and a Sky Deck for special shows with live birds, and other features.
In the new Grasslands exhibit, I got to see birds I never knew existed: owl finches, Gouldian finches, paradise whydahs, and red bishops, to name a few. Elsewhere I saw one of the aviary’s four Andean condors, part of a breeding program to help restore populations of the endangered bird. I met a beautiful hyacinth macaw named Benito and a couple of strange-looking birds called rhinoceros hornbills.
A highlight was the chance to see one of the aviary’s newest and most beloved residents: Valentino, the baby two-toed sloth. Valentino came to the aviary last winter to serve as an ambassador for sloths, birds, and other creatures whose rainforest habitat is shrinking—and, oh man, is he cute. (Click on the photo at left to see a bigger version and gaze into his dreamy eyes.)
I also got to hang out for a while with some of the Penn Staters at the aviary:
—Mike Faix ’05, an education trainer, who teaches the birds to perform in the aviary’s shows.
—Tammy Carradine Frech ’85, who’s in charge of volunteers and interns.
—Teri Danehy Grendzinski ’93, supervisor of animal collections. She’s been at the aviary for 23 years, pretty much ever since she graduated.
—Michael Leonard ’04, who does IT for a local law firm and volunteers at the aviary.
—Jessie Baird Lehosky ’06, events manager. She handles weddings and other events that take place at the aviary.
—Jenny Walsh ’06, assistant manager of behavioral management and education.
I shot the short video clip below with Tammy Frech, who’s holding a scarlet macaw named Red. As you’ll see, Red can speak on command—when he’s not busy eating a treat.
You can read more about my aviary visit in the September/October issue of the magazine, and you can see a handful of additional photos from the aviary visit on my Flickr page.
Tina Hay, editor
When I heard the news this week that Ben Strohecker ’50, the founder of Harbor Sweets in Salem, Mass., had died, I immediately thought about what a delightful man he was—how much the employees at his candy company loved him, how gracious he was when we profiled him nearly 20 years ago, how he turned to writing books for children later in life. Ben also was a life member of the Alumni Association and a regular reader of The Penn Stater, and over the years, when we’d do something in the magazine that especially pleased him, he’d send us a box of chocolates out of the blue.
Ben’s death also made me think immediately of Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g, our former associate editor, whom we had sent to Massachusetts to report and write that profile of Ben back in 1997. I knew he had made an impact on her. So I asked Vicki if she’d be willing to write a short remembrance of him. An hour later, she sent me this:
In my career so far, there is only one article I’ve written that I wish I could go back and re-write, and that is the profile I wrote for The Penn Stater in 1997 of Benneville Strohecker. Before I even flew to Marblehead, Mass., to interview Ben, as he was known, I’d decided what his story was: a Reading, Pa., kid heads to Penn State, gets a degree in arts and letters, and then founds a chocolate factory, Harbor Sweets, in New England, because what else could one do with a name like “Benneville Strohecker.” Only one other name might be better suited … Willy Wonka. Am I right?
I was right about Ben, who passed away at the age of 88 on April 19. He was born to make chocolate, a sweet man with a sweet calling who made sweet things happen. For years, he sent me a box of Sweet Sloops during the holidays because I must have eaten 32 of those hand-made almond buttercrunch toffees while I was interviewing him. And he remembered that. Because that’s who he was. And that made for a perfect story.
But the thing that made Ben Strohecker an extraordinary man was not his Wonka-ness, as I discovered while we ate lobster rolls for lunch at his sailing club on my last day in Marblehead. He told me there about how, at 70 years old, he had changed, how he used to be racist, how he used to be sexist, how he used to be homophobic and then, thanks in part to his wife, Martha, opening his eyes, he realized, simply, that he was wrong. In fact, he had become an activist for AIDS awareness. I remember sitting there, looking at his kind face, hearing the humbleness in his voice, and feeling inspired: If this guy can change, can’t anyone?
But I didn’t write that story. I wrote the Willy Wonka one. Years and years later, I called Ben to tell him how sorry I was that I missed the opportunity to tell the real story about him, the one he deserved. And he laughed, then told me he’d retired and was painting and was writing children’s books. Because, well, of course he was. Then, a few days later, I went to my mailbox and found inside a box of Sweet Sloops. —VG
Tina Hay, editor
Rod Nordland ’72 has seen a lot in his journalism career, and been exposed to plenty of danger: He’s spent more than three decades abroad, primarily covering conflict—in places like Iraq, Chechnya, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. In fact, he’s wearing a bulletproof vest in our March/April 2005 cover photo (left); at the time we profiled him, he was working for Newsweek as its bureau chief in Baghdad.
Nordland, now a New York Times correspondent, traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this week—and quickly wound up in the hospital, a victim of poison gas. But it was not at all the kind you might think. In an online article, Nordland recounts, with a good bit of humor, the situation at his hotel that led to his hospitalization. It’s a good read, and an enjoyable counterpart to the much more sobering tales of war that he also tells so well.
Tina Hay, editor