The Superb Owl

One night every year, sometime in mid-February, the Superb Owl flies across North America.

The general populace spends that night huddled around TV screens, waiting for the conclusion of the annual gladiatorial competition to determine the fate of two cities. One will be spared, the other will be tomorrow’s owl pellet.

But those whom the owl has truly blessed are given a calm evening without crowds at the restaurants and supermarkets.

Hoot, I say! Hoot! Hoot!

Sunday’s forecast calls for rain, so when I was about to leave to run errands this afternoon, I decided I should take Sweet Potato with me and head up Black Hills Park in Boyds. That way, even if she can’t run around the yard tomorrow, at least she’d at least have been able to spend a few hours outdoors this weekend.

We usually follow the path around the park’s main loop, that’s good for three miles and, depending on how much time she spends sniffing, is generally something we can complete in about an hour.

About a third of the way through the walk, I heard a sort of “whooping” sound, so loud that I thought it might be a human trying to imitate a bird call. About 15 seconds later, I heard a similar call in the distance. The calls repeated periodically and realizing it might just be the first time I’ve ever heard an owl in the wild, I quickly recorded the video below. There’s really not much to see in the video, but you can hear the hooting.

Looking toward the apparent source of the sound, I spotted “something” in a tree. Maybe a bird, maybe a squirrel’s nest. I cranked the phone’s digital zoom to the max (I really need to carry something with better optical zoom on these trips) and took a photo of what I’m told is a barred owl.

Very pixelated owl photo

I made one more attempt at recording audio and if you carefully watch the middle-right section of the video, you can see the owl flying off, presumably to find the other owl.

Smiling Happy Trees

A friend recently shared a meme claiming that someone in Oregon had planted a combination of trees in a pine forest laid out so that every fall some of the trees change colors would create a smiley face.

My friend wondered if this might be real (a fair question in today’s world) and the answer appears to be that yes, it is indeed real. (Yay!)

It seems the David Hampton in question is the owner of Hampton Lumber and this is something he and his timberland manager came up with in 2011. If all goes well, this should be visible every fall for another 30 to 50 years.

So yay for a company showing a sense of humor in their efforts to be sustainable.

Lunar Watermelons

My friend Anna recently asked the somewhat random question:

How many watermelons would it take to equal the volume of the moon?

As a fan of Randal Munroe’s “What If?” articles, I felt compelled to take a shot at answering this question.

According to, there are over 1,200 varieties of watermelon grown in 96 countries. That’s a lot of variation; in order to make this simple, we’re going to use a single variety of watermelon as representative of the entire group. To be more scientifically robust, it would be better to gather information on a larger number of watermelon varieties and calculate an average from there.

I look forward to receiving a grant in order to refine this research accordingly.

According to gardening site Harvest to Table, the “Bush Charleston Gray” watermelon is a popular choice for home gardens, so we’ll use that as our “standard” watermelon if for no other reason than it was first on the page. (See previous comments about needing a wider sample, I look forward to funding.)

Continuing to cite random sources in order to look scholarly, the Everwilde Farms page for Charleston Gray Watermelon seeds says this variety can grow up 24″ long and 10″ wide, or about 60 centimeters by 25 centimeters.

The volume of a cylinder is calculated by the formula

V = π x radius2 x length

That tells us the volume of our “standard watermelon” is approximately 117,750 cubic centimeters, or 0.11775 cubic meters. (A watermelon isn’t a perfect cylinder, but at the scale we’re talking about, this is pretty much a wash.)

According to NASA (because who else are you gonna trust for space stuff?), the volume of Earth’s moon is 10^10 cubic kilometers, or 10^19 cubic meters.

So, one moon at 10^19 cubic meters, divided by one watermelon at .011775 cubic meters is roughly 84,925,690,000,000,000,000 watermelons to equal the volume of of one moon.

I suggest you try not to eat it all at once.

(Watermelon image via flickr user Marco Verch/wuestenigel, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Dog Mountain Road Trip – Day Eight (June 6, 2022)

Last day before I go back to work. (Though based on phone calls and texts, some of my co-workers apparently missed the memo and expected me back today. Whoops!)

Today, Sweet Potato and I decided to explore a new (to us) trail – the section of the Greenway Trail running from Watkins Mill Road to Brink Road through the Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. And so, Sweet Potato jumped into the back seat of the car, curled up in “the potato bin” (a box with several blankets and a small dog bed for cushioning) and off we went.

We started at the Watkins Mill end and took our time, making the 2.8 mile round trip in about 90 minutes.

We may not have set any speed records, but it was a lovely day and we enjoyed ourselves. Near the end of our walk, Sweet Potato found herself a nice place to roll around in the dust (one of her favorite things to do) and enjoyed the scents.

And that’s it for this series of daily hikes. Tomorrow it’s back to work. Sweet Potato however would like to share one final thought.

I has to waits for weekend? But that’s like…. forever!

– Sweet Potato
We has to wait? Can’t we just go tomorrow when nobody’s looking?

Dog Mountain Road Trip – Day Seven (June 5, 2022)

Technically, the road trip ended when we got home yesterday, but hey, we’re on a roll. Plus, there are more photos of Sweet Potato; who could possibly object to that? Today’s hike was about four miles on the loop around Blackhills Regional Park in Boyds.

One of our regular stops when hiking this route is just to the South of the visitor center parking lot. Where the trail goes into the woods, there’s a post with a bracket on it where where you rest your phone (or even a camera) and take a photo of the scene in front of you. There’s a sign on the post with an email address to send the photo to.

This is part of a “Citizen Science” project. In 2016, there was a fire at this location (probably caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette). By submitting a photo, you’re helping to document the forest’s recovery. The photo below shows how the site looks today, but there’s also a “time lapse” available online, made up of photos other people have donated over the past three years.

Site of the 2016 wildfire in Blackhills Regional Park as it appears today.

Sweet Potato has been taking canine agility classes at day care; today provided an opportunity to demonstrate her skillz in a non-traditional setting, using some of the fixtures present at the park. She was quite happy to oblige with a couple quick photo ops.

Finally, a quick public service reminder — if your car has more than one “cup holder”, it’s OK to put your beverage in one of them. But remember, the other so-called “cup holder” is for dog treats.

Dog Mountain Road Trip – Day Six (June 4, 2022)

The trail suggestion for last night had been to visit the Lehigh Gorge State Park, but I didn’t spot the signs for the access points until we were headed back to the hotel after a short hike in the Hickory Point park.

Today’s plan was to meet Phil and Evon for lunch and then head back to Maryland. We had a few hours to spare in the morning, so after checking out of the hotel, we headed back to the Lehigh Gorge. A first attraction there was the Lehigh Tannery historic site. According to the signs in the area, the area was heavily deforested in order to obtain tree bark for use in the tanning process. Naturalist John Audubon lamented that this could eventually leave the entire area devoid of trees. Several years after Audubon’s visit, a fire spread among the felled trees and destroyed the tannery.

After looking around the tannery site for twenty minutes or so, the realization came that the actual trailhead might be on the other side of the bridge. (There weren’t a lot of signs about trails, more about not launching boats from this location.)

Sure enough, the actual Delaware and Lehigh trail was on the other side of the river!

Around 11:30, Sweet Potato and I got back in the car and headed off to meet up with Phil and Evon. It was a pleasant lunch and a fun time catching up with friends I usually only see once or twice a year at conventions.

Lunch was at a local park, providing Sweet Potato a chance to get out and stretch her legs for a bit. Afterward, we went for a stroll around the park and spotted Mother and Father Goose swimming with this year’s goslings.

Afterward, it was time to part ways and Sweet Potato and I at last headed to Maryland, arriving home around 6:30. When we pulled up in front of the house, Sweet Potato immediately recognized her surroundings and made a beeline (dogline?) for the front door and, once inside, immediately ran upstairs to find her Mama.

After dinner, Sweet Potato availed herself of the opportunity to engage in one of her favorite activities and burrowed into the sofa for the first time in nearly a week.

Dog Mountain Road Trip – Day Five (June 3, 2022)

Today was a rest day. Or really, a driving day. According to Google Maps, it would have taken more than nine hours of driving to get home from Vermont. And that’s before you add in breaks for meals, gas, and rest stops. Oh, and traffic.

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley looked to be about two-thirds of the way home, so I dropped a line to my friend Phil to see if he was free for lunch on Saturday. He is, so I made a reservation for a hotel in that area with the plan to arrive late afternoon and then Sweet Potato and I would go for a hike somewhere in the area.

Remember that “nine hours” to get to Maryland? Google Maps was being quite optimistic (Connecticut will be a nice state once they finish building it). It took nine hours to get to the Lehigh Valley. Sweet Potato was so patient with the car ride – hopping back into her “nest” after every rest stop – that I felt I owed it to her to find a place to go for a walk that wasn’t just a hotel parking lot.

So, based on a suggestion from the desk clerk (three good suggestions at three different hotels), we spent the last half-hour of daylight on a trail in the Hickory Run State Park.