Osprey Monitoring

Osprey in Flight

Every week, from April through August, volunteers in Rhode Island head forth to check on Osprey nests. The monitoring program, overseen by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI), is a model for efforts in other states. The monitoring of Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in RI began in 1977 by the RI Department of Environmental Management, and was taken over by ASRI in 2010. With one exception, data on Osprey nesting has been collected every year by citizen volunteers. Osprey numbers have increased annually, once the use of DDT was outlawed. The pesticide DDT accumulated in the food chain, causing major problems for birds like Osprey and Bald Eagles (among other species). DDT caused the shells of eggs to be thin, so thin that the weight of adult birds crushed them as the adults tried to incubate the eggs. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring highlighted these impacts, as well as the harmful effects of other pesticides, helping to jump start the modern environmental movement. Once DDT was outlawed in the United States, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and other species began to return in numbers and to locations they had previously enjoyed. Monitoring and reintroduction programs began. I am responsible for monitoring four nests this year, three in Hopkinton, RI, and one in West Greenwich, RI. Three of the four are active, meaning they are occupied and the adult birds appear to be incubating eggs or attending to young. In all cases it is not possible to see into the nests, so I have to judge from the adults’ behavior.

Osprey have several popular names: fish hawk, fish eagle, river hawk, and even sea hawk. As these names suggest, they eat fish exclusively, but are neither eagles nor hawks. Rather, Osprey are the sole species in their biological family. They are a holarctic species, meaning they are found throughout the northern continents of the world. Osprey occur on every continent except Antarctica, although they do not breed in South America, heading south in winter months from their nesting territories in North America. Osprey always fly with their wings crooked in an “M” shape and have a dark patch on their “elbows”, actually the equivalent of their wrists. They have scales on their toes that help them grasp fish, which they capture by diving. Unlike eagles and hawks, Osprey can rotate one toe backwards, better enabling them to hold their prey with two toes forward, two backward.

Looking for the King

King Eider – #3

Recently I went looking for the king–the King Eider, that is. King Eiders are an Arctic species, usually seen only in Alaska in the United States. Very rarely they will wander to the shores of New England in the winter, however. Over 25 years ago one was seen in Rhode Island waters, off the shores of Sachuest Point National Wildlife refuge. That was the first one I had ever seen until this winter, when a male King Eider started floating along the Cape Cod Canal with a bunch of Common Eiders.

King Eider with Common Eiders

Common Eiders are slightly larger than the King, but not as colorful, lovely though they be. The eiders were in a large raft hanging around Herring Run, where it flows into the canal, just south of Bourne, Massachusetts, on the west side of the canal. It was easy to get close to them, as they seemed not to mind people sitting on the rocks beside the water. The Common Eiders were showing some dominance and pair bonding behavior, as males chased one another and lifted up in display of their breasts. Young males were also among the group, the first year males having more dark areas in their plumage than the second year males. Also among the eiders were some Red-breasted Mergansers.

Common Eiders

Male Common Eider – #2

Enjoy these pictures of the King and his cohort.

Fun on a Snowy Day

Thursday in Rhode Island was a very snowy day, with over a foot of snow arriving at my house. I have always wanted to try to photograph snowflakes, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to try. Got out my 105mm macro lens, put it on my Nikon D500 crop sensor camera, stacked on all the extension tubes I could find, and even added two close up filters to the front of the lens. After all, snowflakes are really tiny little things. Well, I discovered that I will need lots and lots of practice with that rig, since the depth of field is practically nonexistent. Will try again another time.

As I was standing in the sunroom, which is not insulated, I noticed that globules of snow had formed on the door. I stripped down the rig to just the macro lens, and illuminated the globules from an angle with a strong LED flashlight. That yielded a couple of interesting photos, which I share with you here. Enjoy.


Women’s Rally In Rhode Island

Crowd Pano #1

January 21, 2017 marked the gathering of more than two million people in over 670 sites in the US and 63 countries around the world. Here in Rhode Island I joined an estimated 7,000 men, women and children in front of the Rhode Island State House, gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, DC. The crowd here, as estimated by Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements, Jr., was larger than any he could recall seeing on the state house lawn.

State House Setting

People were there to make their voices heard in support of women’s rights, men’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Earth’s protection, immigrant rights, union rights, and the many other causes and concerns that are potentially threatened by the presidency of Donald Trump.  The Donald himself was present, in mock form. Shanna Wells, the event organizer, introduced a variety of speakers and performers, intermixed with chants of “Rise Up!”

Governor Gina Raimondo spoke, as did her husband, Rhode Island’s First Gentlemen, Andy Moffitt. They were accompanied by their daughter. The Governor urged vigilance and pledged support for protection of civil rights in Rhode Island, a state that has welcomed immigrants for decades. People of all ages were there, women and men, too. Banners declaring “No Limits for Women” were joined by the rainbow banner of the LGBTQ community. People’s concern is illustrated by changes made to the White House web site at noon on inauguration day, January 20. Purged from the site were all references to civil rights, LGBT rights, and climate change. In addition, Trump signed an action requesting delay in the Justice Department’s case against Texas for its deliberately racist voter registration law. What will our country be like for this little guy?

Very Young Protester

The Extraordinary Rendition Band

Entertainment included Actress Rose Weaver and The Extraordinary Rendition Band, which led the enthusiastic crowd in singing “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants!” Signs with various messages were everywhere. At one point people were asked to turn to their neighbor and declare they were not working alone, but together. All in all, the event was positive and without any violence. One protester chanting “Trump is my president” was quietly led away. I have a feeling this will not be the last such gathering during the next four years.

Rise Up Chant


Sunday, January 15, 2017 on NBCs “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) if he would be attending the inauguration this coming Friday, January 20.  The civil rights hero and moral voice of the Congress responded that he would not.  Asked why, Congressman Lewis replied that he did not consider the President Elect to be a legitimate President.  He explained that the Russian influences and intrusions in the recent election cycle were the basis for his assertion.  Not surprisingly, Donald Trump spit out a tweet denigrating Mr. Lewis, and a flurry of reactions from all directions continues.

So, who’s correct?  Is Donald Trump going to start out as an illegitimate President?

Last evening I enjoyed a delightful dinner and conversation with some friends.  The topic of Rep. Lewis’s remark and Mr. Trump’s pending inauguration came up.  One friend worried that the institutions that define America and hold us together may become severely eroded over the next four years.  Let’s start there, with our institutions.

Over my teaching career I frequently used this example to illustrate the strength of our American institutions, since for most students these events were history.  In the 1972 presidential election Richard Nixon was elected President and Spiro Agnew Vice President.  The election, however, was the occasion of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s impeachment seemed all but inevitable once that scandal broke into clear view.  Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency under a cloud of corruption.  This presented a Constitutional crisis, for the Founding Fathers, despite their many wise moves, had not provided for replacing the Vice President.  Were Nixon to be removed from office by impeachment, Agnew’s resignation would leave the nation leaderless.

The Constitution provides that, should the President be impeached or die, the Vice President shall take over that office.  But what if there is no Vice President?  A Constitutional amendment, in this case the 25th, was needed to provide a process for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President.  The process is that the President nominates someone, who must then be approved by a majority in both the House of Representative and the Senate.  Amending the Constitution, however, is a hugely larger task.  It requires a 2/3 majority vote in each house of Congress, followed by ratification by 3/4 of the states.  I can’t imagine how anything, however grave the content, could pass such a process today.  Yet, the 25th Amendment was approved and ratified, and Sen. Gerald Ford (R-MI) soon became Vice President.  That cleared the way for President Nixon to resign, thus avoiding removal by the impeachment process.  Gerald Ford subsequently became President.  He ran for re-election in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter.  Gerald Ford is the only person to serve as US President without ever being elected to that office or to the Vice Presidency.

I detail this example to illustrate the strength of the institutions enshrined in our Constitutional system.  These institutions hold us together as Americans and define, in part, the world view that unites us as a nation of laws.  The Nixon-Ford transition was a proud moment in American history, from an institutional point of view if not from a moral one.  We had another institutional electoral crisis with the 2000 presidential election, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in George W. Bush becoming President.  Neither a Constitutional Amendment nor a decision by the Supreme Court were necessary in 2016, even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, the most ever by a President Elect.  Our Constitutionally enshrined electoral process played out as designated, and Donald J. Trump will assume office at noon on January 20.  From an institutional perspective, he will be the legitimate President of the United States.

Is John Lewis, a revered leader of our country who literally put his life on the line to secure voting rights for all citizens, wrong?  Is he questioning the very institutional structures for which he nearly died?  The reason he gave is Russian influence in this election cycle.  I have some hesitation in simply accepting this justification, for the reality of Russian hacking, while indisputable and intended to have influence, has not been proven to have determined the outcome.  Thus, Americans went to the polls and cast their votes as they saw fit; their votes were counted; the Electors voted as they saw fit; and the results of the Electoral College were accepted by the Congress.  Donald Trump was duly elected according to our legal processes, despite the highly troubling and disturbing intrusion by Russia.

I do not intend to question the integrity of John Lewis, nor even, basically, to disagree with him.  I simply wish to present a different reason for the same conclusion.  Institutions are important, as exemplified above.  They provide identity, continuity, and unity, especially important in a country that prides itself on welcoming diversity among its people.  Yet, in and of themselves, institutions are merely granite columns, rituals, and sheaves of paper.  Their vitality and efficacy derive from the character and actions of the individuals who inhabit them.  The legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, therefore, depends on the character and actions of Donald Trump himself.  Let’s examine what he has said and done before concluding this discussion of legitimacy.

Mr. Trump responds with tweets to any criticism, real or perceived, and attacks the character and integrity of his critics, thus deflecting or distracting from the criticism.  He exhibits no capacity for self-examination.  For example, his spokespersons justified his Twitter denigration of John Lewis by saying “He [Lewis] started it.”  Really?  That’s the response of a pre-adolescent (with due apologies to pre-adolescents).  He mocked a disabled reporter and bragged about groping women.  The list of crude and rude words and behaviors is extensive and wearisome.  Nevertheless, however distasteful, this behavior is not sufficient to delegitimize his presidency.  The question is not resolved yet.

What do draw into question the legitimacy of his holding the highest office in the land are the policies he says he will implement.  He says that, should Russia cooperate in fighting terrorism, he will likely lift the sanctions on Russia, making no distinction between those recently imposed for hacking or those imposed for invading and taking hold of Crimea.  So far, Russia’s fight against terrorism–in Syria, at least–has resulted in massive bombing of civilians, including women and children, to secure the presidency of Assad, hardly an assault on terrorism.  Trump denigrates John Lewis, but has yet to utter a single critical word about Vladimir Putin.  In turn, Putin today denounced the Obama administration for trying to delegitimize the impending Trump presidency.  It seems the Russian president knows just how to stroke the narcissistic inclinations of the soon-to-be American president, and Trump does not seem to recognize how he is being manipulated, whether by Putin alone or Putin with the help of some people close to Trump.  This Putin-Trump relationship raises serious concerns for undue influence in our government by a foreign power.  This poses a direct threat to the very governmental institutions that assure our security.  The danger may lie less with Russia’s intrusion on the election than with Putin’s influence on Trump.  I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of the former; rather, I want to emphasize the peril presented by Putin’s proximity to the President Elect.  The independence of the Presidency from undue outside influence is foundational to our national security.

Another institution fundamental to American democracy is a free press.  Mr. Trump, throughout the campaign and after, dismisses and undercuts the press.  He calls them liars and, in some instances, refuses them access to rallies or to the microphone, as at his recent press conference.  Probing questions are either deflected or dismissed outright.  Reince Priebus, a senior advisor to Trump, recently said there are plans to move the White House Press Corps out of the White House.  The reporters whose day-to-day job it is to monitor and inquire into the activities of the White House so that the public can hold their elected officials to account may be removed from the very venue that enables them to do their job directly and responsibly.  This is a significant threat to our democracy and ought not to stand.  The press, on the other hand, has even greater responsibility to persist in deep, investigative reporting, and to recognize when they themselves are being trolled by tweets.

More might be said, and may be as time goes on, but these two examples are serious enough to illustrate the threat that a Donald Trump presidency poses to the very institutions that define and secure our nation in a dangerous world.  A morally bankrupt man is about to assume the power to destroy the very institutions that constitute this country.  Donald Trump, while legitimately elected, is truly an illegitimate President.