Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Odd Behavior

A mysterious birdie goes swimming and diving for foodstuffs in the McKenzie River valley’s Clear Lake, Oregon. This isn’t going to seem like particularly odd behavior for a water bird, but it is if it’s what we think this UFD is. I won’t say much so as not to give anything away. You can judge yourselves from the pictures and video.

Image shows a dark gray water bird swimming with its wings slightly raised. It has a rather short, thin beak, so we know it's not a duck.


It was just a wee silhouette on the shadier side of the lake at first, and we watched it do the typical water birdy things without knowing what it might be, other than it definitely wasn’t a duck.

Image shows the dark silhouette of the water bird. It has jumped up on a log that crosses the lake there, and it walking about amongst the vegetation growing on the old wood.


Now we could see its shape a bit better, but keep in mind, it was pretty far off and we didn’t have the same zoomed-in view this photo has.

The water bird, still in silhouette, has a foot up and is plucking a bit of something from it.


It seems to be plucking a bit of plant from between its toes, there.

The water bird is now walking along the log.


In the above photo, we can now clearly see it hasn’t got webbed feet, but looks to have distinct, narrow little toeses. Rather odd for a paddling bird, innit? Yet when you watch the video, you’ll see it swimming and diving like a pro.

The bird is perched on one end of the log, looking in to the gap where the log has rotted away and water is flowing.


Finally, it’s moved to a sunnier area, and we can see it’s a charcoal gray, not black. Not the most colorful bird ever, but if it’s what Lockwood and I think it is, this is a pretty exciting sighting.

The bird is leaning over the side of the log, getting ready to pluck something from the water.


You can see the feet pretty well in this shot, and it definitely looks like there’s no webbing.

I don’t really have an excuse for including this next photo. I just think it’s cute.

The bird seems to be scratching its chest with its beak.


And here you can see some faint markings on the wings, like little white stripes, possibly, but very subtle.

The water bird is in partial profile and looks like it's gazing toward the camera.


I know what this little delight looks like, and when you watch the video, it’s behavior may have you exclaiming, “Is that a -?!” much like Lockwood did. Truth is, I dunno. So it’s down to you, my darlings. Watch its feeding behavior in the video, check out the photos, and decide if it’s acting just a smidge out of character for what it is, or if we mistook it for something else that’s acting perfectly normal.


Camcorder Advice, Por Favor?

One of the things B and I want to do is start recording videos in the field. I can show you a lot through photos and short snippets of video, but there’s so much magnificent geology around here, and some of it really deserves more of a documentary-type treatment. I’d like to take you on a virtual walk, explaining what we’re seeing. And, major bonus, when we go geogallivanting with Lockwood, you’d be able to experience his expertise like we do. Lockwood is one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to Pacific Northwest geology, and Oregon geology in particular. I’d like to capture those field trips for posterity, so that everyone has a chance to soak up his knowledge. We get visiting geologists, too, and it would be outstanding to capture their visits on video.

Problem is, I’m a luddite when it comes to video equipment. I’ll have to hope at least one of you knows their stuff. Halp?

I need something light and portable, easy to operate, and preferably cheapish, since I haven’t got a huge amount of money to spend. I also need to know what equipment I’ll need to capture decent audio in the field.

If you could point me towards tutorials for creating watchable videos on the cheap, that would be outstanding. Thankee kindly!

Image shows a cat leaping to one side. Caption says, "Invisible movie explosion"

The Wit and Wisdom of Ed Brayton, Guru Edition

I will probably never stop loving this bit of dry wit aimed at people who just cannot come to grips with reality. Ed Brayton on the death of a guru, my darlings.

The richest guru in India died of a heart attack in January. Doctors have declared him dead. But his followers insist that he isn’t dead, he’s just in an incredibly deep state of meditation. So deep that he has no heartbeat or brain activity and has to be kept in a freezer.

Image shows an orange and white cat standing with its front paws clenched in front of its face and its mouth gaping. Caption says, "It's alive!!!! Alive, I tell you!!!!"

Sometimes, all you can do is point and laugh without laughing. Thank you, people who invented deadpan humor.

Avec le Chat

Owning a Samsung Galaxy S3 tablet with a camera has given me many more opportunities for photographing my cat. Considering she is elderly, I photograph her a lot. If you follow me on G+, you already know I post a huge number of photos of her there, and people seem to enjoy them, so I’m encouraged to continue.

I know that when she goes, I’ll be looking back at them, probably blubbering a lot and showing them to anyone I can collar for a few seconds. This, especially, is one that I’ll cherish, and stuff in people’s faces to show that, whilst ye wee beastie was a homicidal fiend, she was also my sweet little girl.

Image shows our heads. I'm grinning at Misha, who's looking back at me.

Moi with Misha. That pillow she’s on is right beside me, and it’s where she loves to be. At least until I start taking silly photos of us.

She gets very put out with me and my photography, sometimes, but she’ll usually tolerate it for a few minutes before she gets annoyed or bored or decides to ruin the shot by not doing the desperately-cute thing she was doing only seconds before. This time, she patiently let me use her as a cushion while I took several shots, then decided I was too much of an annoying freak and left. Not for long, of course. Her old bones love that pillow too much to abandon it for long. And she’ll come back, settle in, and purr so loudly I can sometimes hear her over the fan. Occasionally, she’ll snore, and it’s the cutest damned thing in the universe.

I adore that silly felid.

She’s finally starting to accept B as an occasional member of the household, as well as dispenser of treats and attention. I’m hoping we’ll have some adorable kitty cuddle photos with them this winter.

Guess Who’s an Ordained Minister!

Yes, indeedy. You’re looking at Minister Dana Hunter now:

Image shows me wearing a sifter (which I use as a pasta strainer, which is holy headgear), holding my Letter of Good Standing from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Minister Dana Hunter, at your service.

I’m delighted. My ordination certificate should be here in a couple of weeks, and I’ll have a proper photo with me wearing the holy pirate garments for ya.

I’ve loved the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for some time now. Gotta respect a bunch who stand up against Intelligent Design and creationist nonsense, and challenge Christian hegemony with humor and panache. So when I needed to become an ordained minister in something (so as to make our schist holy), and I discovered it was quite easy to become ordained as a Pastafarian, I didn’t hesitate. (Procrastinated, yes. I do that.)

Becoming an ordained minister means I could also look in to things like officiating at weddings, should any of you wish to have me do that. I’d be honored to do the honors, as long as your state will recognize my authoritay.

And yes, I’m still an atheist. Of course I chose a church that will respect my philosophical stance!

New at Rosetta Stones: A Very Sweet Rip-Up Clast and a Happy Stone

Look, I’m regaining my ability to think geology! Woo-hoo! I’ve given ye a very happy stone within a turbidite sequence, plus my wonderful rip-up clast, which I love dearly. I was so excited to find this thing!

Here’s a view of it you won’t see at Rosetta Stones:

Image shows a hunk of light-gray sandstone with an oval of dark gray mudstone within it. The hammer is lying on the guard rail post beside it.

Mah rip-up clast, with rock hammer for scale.


Fundamentals of Fungi: Fly Agaric Spectacular

This fall has been very, very kind to fungi. It’s been warmer on average most days this last October, but also good and damp. I’ve seen lots of very nice shrooms during our walks, but the fly agaric seems really enthusiastic. I don’t remember seeing ones this big in the past.

Image shows a round red fly agaric cap, with a few pale ones beginning to push through the dead oak leaves. My black-sneakered foot is in the photo for scale.

Look at the size of these things!

For reference, my feet are kinda huge. I wear a women’s size 10. Dat one big shroom.

Image shows a side view of the same fly agaric mushroom. There's a Blistex tube leaning against it, and a baby fly agaric shroom beside it.

Big shroom plus bebbe shroom.

The Blistex® tube is just under 2¾ inches. Ja. Big shroom.

Most fly agaric seem to come in red round there, but there are a few blondies. Here’s a little blonde baby shroom:

Image shows a small fly agaric mushroom with a couple of holes chewed into the cap and stem.

Young blonde fly agaric.

Those little holes something’s eaten into them makes me think of gnome homes. These are the best mushrooms for gnomic living. I think this is the formosa variation, which seem rather common around here.

Here’s a pretty awesome grown-up specimen of the classic variety, which looks like a jaunty tilted sombrero or sedge hat.

Image shows a red-orange fly agaric whose flaring conical cap is tilted on its stem. The Blistex tube is leaning against the stem for scale.

A jaunty shroom.

When you look at it from above, it kinda looks like a big pizza.

View of previous shroom from above. The peak isn't visible. There's a slash in the cap, looking like something either damaged it or that it split as it was growing.

Big shroom cap.

They’re really adorable when they’re little. They’re sorta like golfballs on thick tees, pushing up through the ground and leaf litter.

Image shows a very young shroom. The white warts are very close together, with just narrow streaks of red filling in where they're pulling apart.

Wee baby red fly agaric.

If I’m understanding the article on fly agaric correctly, these little white warts are remnants of something called a “universal veil,” which the fetal shroom is wrapped up in before it bursts out and morphs into a mushroom.

Image is a cropped version of the previous, focusing on the warts. They look sort of like little popcorn polygons, with a white fibrous fuzz clinging to the red parts around their edges.

Closeup of the warts, for your detail-viewing pleasure.

Don’t ask me why I find all these textures fascinating. I just do.

One of them had been pulled out of the ground, so I was able to have a close-up look.

Image shows me holding a fly agaric by the stem. The cap is a sphere; it hasn't opened up yet.

Cut off in the prime of its youth. Sigh.

This is what it might have become, had it not been so very rudely removed from the ground, and as long as the lawn mowers don’t come through soon.

Image shows two maturing fly agaric. They're still rounded, not having opened all the way yet.

Yes, they look like lollipops. No, you shouldn’t lick them.

And here’s a lovely little family.

Image shows one fully opened fly agaric to the right, with many others in various phases of growth in the center and left of the photo.

A sweet family of fly agaric.

Further down the way, someone else had decided to pull up a few shrooms, which gives us a great chance to see the gills.

Image shows a fully-opened fly agaric shroom lying on its cap, showing the underside with its lovely white gills. Beside it is a younger, not-opened fly agaric, showing the rounded bottom of the stem that would have been underground.

Looks like it was staged for curious folk like us, don’t it just?

I’m kind of a horrible scientist, because I can’t bear to rip them up like this. I’ve seen other people stop by to enjoy them, and don’t want to ruin their fun. Unlike the people who destroyed these. But even though a few are pulled up every year, a lot stay standing, which means that the people around here are actually considerate about their wanton destruction. Odd, that.

That’ll probably be about it for fly agaric this year. Weren’t they magnificent?

Dalek Family Robinson

Ordinarily, I roll my eyes at those “I have a spouse anna baby anna dog and and and LOOKIT MY FAMILY DAMN IT!” decals. Fair warning to friends: if you come over to show those off, be ready for my patented Southern charm-school “thaaat’s niiice” response. But I promise to squeal like an overly-excited geek if you drive over with something like this:

Image shows a set of Daleks standing for a dad, mom, and three kids. Females have a little pink bow atop their armor. K-9 stands for their dog.

Meet the Daleks

I don’t know this family, but I love them. I might even babysit their children, as long as there’s classic Doctor Who involved.

Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide II: Castle Lake Viewpoint

Brace yourselves. Look, I know Stop 1 wound you up. You just got done with a reasonably delicious lunch, you’ve caught a glimpse of the volcano and loved it, and now you’re all about getting up close and personal with Mount St. Helens. But you need to take a deep breath and have a bit of Zen. What you’re about to see might tip you over the edge, and from this viewpoint, it’s kind of a long way down.

Stop 2. Castle Lake Viewpoint

So very much to see here. This overlook gives you an outstanding overview of the results of the May 18th, 1980 eruption, and some of the recovery since.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint. You will definitely want to click to embiggen this.

First, the destruction: the first thing that will strike anyone who’s traveled the western side of the Cascades is the distinct lack of forest. Granted, a few trees are sprouting up like a teenager’s attempt at a first beard, but there’s an overall absence of treeness. It turns out that volcanic eruptions, especially lateral blasts, are not kind to trees. If you look to your right at the near ridge, you’ll see the remains of some of the former forest. For details on what happened to it, see the posts here, here and here.

Panning left, you’ll notice a little sapphire gem of a lake set in a bowl-shaped valley. This is Castle Lake, and it just turned 33 last May. The gargantuan landslide triggered by an earthquake at 8:32 am on May 18th poured into the North Fork Toutle River valley as a massive debris avalanche. Over the course of ten minutes, that churning mass of ice, rock, dirt, and everything in its path roared 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) down-valley, filling it to an average depth of 150 feet (46 meters); in the most piled-up parts, it reached up to 600 feet (183 meters). Marginal levees from the avalanche piled up along the valley walls and choked off tributary valleys. Castle Lake backed up behind one such levee. Lakes like that can be dangerous: their debris dams could fail catastrophically, sending a flood roaring down the North Fork Toutle River valley toward populated areas downstream. In an attempt to prevent Castle Lake from breaching its levee, the US Army Corps of Engineers dug an outlet that keeps the water at a safe level, and drilled wells into the debris avalanche deposit to watch for changes that could alert them if the dam could become unstable.

Continue panning left. In the center of the valley, you’ll see the North Fork Toutle River threading its way through the bumpy terrain of the debris avalanche. Those of you who know your river geomorphology will be able to pick out some of the terrace the river’s left as it’s meandered across the valley and cut down through the deposit. Nice of it to show us all the lovely layers! In some places, you can see not only the interior of the debris avalanche, but also lahar and fluvial (river) deposits.The north bank of the river is rather prone to landslides in many places; between a high water table and the movement of groundwater through the avalanche deposit, it’s very easy for that bank to collapse.

Looking upriver, contemplate this: as of 8:42 am on cataclysm day, the upper North Fork Toutle River didn’t exist. It had been entombed beneath .67 cubic miles (2.79 km³) of collapsed volcano. Imagine an entire river being decapitated in the space of ten minutes!

At first, after the debris avalanche came to rest, all the valley contained was the lumpy surface of the landslide. But it didn’t take long for the river to begin rebuilding itself. The first section of its new channel was cut when ice melting in the debris avalanche formed the North Fork lahar that same afternoon. Phreatic (steam) explosions caused by the blazing-hot chunks of cryptodome heating the buried streams and river until they flashed to steam left a line of depressions, most 16-330 feet (5-100m) in diameter and 3-66 feet (1-20m) deep. Other hollows formed by the settling and subsidence of the debris.

This being the Pacific Northwest, it didn’t take long for many of those depressions to fill up with water. And when they were full to the brim, water spilled over and carved another section of channel. All through summer and into the fall, the channel grew from this fill-n-spill, plus some volumes of water released from larger lakes, including Castle Lake, by concerned engineers. Flowing water began behaving like a stream, widening its nascent channel, abandoning some portions in order to carve new. And then Carbonate Lake, born on May 18th, overtopped and breached its debris dam on November 7th, releasing a huge surge of water that sliced through a string of depressions. Almost two miles (3 km) later, a through-flowing channel had finally been completed. The upper North Fork Toutle River was reborn.

Not all depressions hooked up to become the river. Ponds still dot the debris avalanche. You can see a little blue gem of one gleaming just to the left of the river, there.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

When you lift your eyes from the valley, you’ll notice the scene is dominated by Mount St. Helens. And you might expect me to discuss all of the exciting features left by the lateral blast, like that ginormous breach. And what’s up with that rather smooth ramp emerging therefrom? Why, if the the volcano isn’t currently erupting, is the snow on it so ashy? Patience, my dear geoadventurers! We shall come to that shortly. But first, let’s pay an up-close visit to one of the lakes born on May 18th.


Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide I: Hoffstadt or Bust

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide III: Coldwater Lake

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Evarts, Russell C and Ashley, Roger P. (1992): Preliminary Geologic Map of the Elk Mountain Quadrangle, Cowlitz County, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 92-362.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.

Simon, Andrew (1999): Channel and Drainage-Basin Response of the Toutle River System in the Aftermath of the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 96-633.

Dear Atheist Leaders: If You Sound As Sexist As William Lane Craig, Ur Doin It Rong

Adam Lee at Daylight Atheism has read William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith column so we don’t have to. In the process, he found something that sounds almost exactly like some of our supposed leaders. Craig is responding to a woman who’s concerned about the sexist stereotyping Craig had been spewing. See who this response of his reminds you of:

First, Craig says in response, he’s noticed that the audiences for his lectures are nearly all men:

First is my observation that apologetics seems to have far more interest for men than for women. That observation is based upon an enormous amount of experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and in classroom teaching… It became very evident to me not only that the audiences which came to these events were largely male but that in event after event only the men stood up to ask a question.

And why should apologetics classes appeal predominantly to men? To explain this, Craig dusts off the old saw, “women don’t do thinky“:

Second is my hypothesis that this disparity is to be explained by the fact that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to respond more to relational approaches.

You know, I’m torn. On the one hand, that sounded very much like Michael “A Lot of Women Have Accused Me of Sexual Assault and/or Rape” Shermer, who said “it’s more of a guy thing” when confronted with the dearth of women in atheism. But it’s also got a strong whiff of Sam “I’m Not a Sexist – My Wife and Editor (whom I pay) Love Me!” Harris, who babbled about an “estrogen vibe” when confronted with same.

Image shows a shocked-looking cat. Caption says, "I can't believe you said that"

I’m sure there are plenty of atheist bigshots who’ve mumbled similar around the feet in their mouths, so do feel free to quote them in the comments.

Adam brings up the same point that struck me the very instant I read Craig’s words and correlated them with what our ol’ atheist “thought leaders” have said.

It’s striking how much Craig, a staunch Christian apologist, sounds like some of our male atheist “leaders”. They, too, have fielded questions about the gender imbalance in their audiences; and they, too, have often responded with clueless, patronizing, armchair answers about how they’re just too unimpeachably rational to appeal to women – that is, when they’re not snarling about “social justice warriors”, or pining for the good old days before political correctness when men could grope women with no repercussions.

Here’s a novel suggestion for both atheists and Christians: if you want to know why women aren’t showing up at your classes or your lectures, try asking some women. Don’t just assume, with no evidence, that there are inherent biological reasons for it, or that women are instinctively repelled by logic and reason. Of course, I don’t expect Craig to heed this advice, from me or from anyone else – his lamentations over the increasing influence of women shows that he’s thoroughly absorbed the sexism intrinsic to fundamentalist Christianity. The only question is whether we in the atheist community aspire to be better than him.

And really, let’s be brutally honest, here: if you can’t manage to be a better human being than William Lane “Genocide is Peachy As Long As God Tells You to Murder Everybody” Craig, you’ve got absolutely no fucking business whatsoever leading a movement of any kind. Ever. Step down and enjoy some obscurity until you can manage to treat women and minorities with more respect than that jackass, at the very least.

Image shows a tortoiseshell kitten with its paw pointing off-camera. Caption says, "OUT."