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02/28/2007

Goodbye to Marco

As I start this column on Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM, the sun
is shining brightly. However, there’s a thick low-lying fog and I
can’t see the building across the street! Just another interesting
Marco Island morning. This is my last column from Marco
before heading back to the wintry mix in New Jersey. Garrison
Keillor, on his Minnesota-based radio show Prairie Home
Companion, often remarks to the effect that cold wintry weather
fosters true character – but who needs it? The weather here this
past week or so brightened up considerably and I’ve been
walking the beach without a sweatshirt. Also familiar things
absent for most of the month have finally showed up.

Dolphins, for example. My first sighting was during one of my
early morning walks on the beach. The pleasure of watching a
school of them out in the Gulf was heightened by the response of
a little girl who also spotted them. She was laughing and
jumping up and down in sheer delight at her first sighting of the
creatures. Later, while we were lunching on grouper at a
dockside table in Snook Inn, several dolphins appeared, adding
spice to a very pleasant meal. But my most enjoyable dolphin
encounter came later when I was walking on the beach and found
three or four of them in shallow water very close to the shore.
One dolphin was only 10 to 15 feet from me and I was afraid that
it would beach itself. I did not relish the prospect of being forced
either to ignore such an event or to try to push the mammal back
in the water. Fortunately, the dolphin surfaced, looked me in the
eye and quickly took off out to deeper water.

Longtime readers may remember that over the years I’ve
fantasized about a single lone heron standing in the shallow
water at the shoreline. I first saw this heron standing there
looking out at the setting of a full moon and my fantasy was that
it was appreciating the beauty of the scene as much as I was.
With possibly one exception, I’ve never seen more than one
heron in any of my beach walks. This year I’ve seen that lone
heron twice. The first time it spotted me it flew away. However,
the second time it must have recognized me and we both stood
communing with each other for a full minute before I moved on.
Of course, my other fantasy is that it was the same heron from
past years.

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to a big band concert in a park
here on Marco. The band was very good and, according to the
paper, one of its members played with the Glenn Miller
orchestra. But for me another familiar Marco resident stole the
show, drawing gasps from the audience as it flew by. I believe it
was the same Muscovy duck, a large bird with a bright red head,
that I’ve mentioned at least two or three times in past years. This
very impressive bird sometimes roosts in the eaves of the open-
air pavilion that houses the concerts. In past years it sat up there,
seemingly enjoying the music, but this year it just flew past and
settled in a nearby tree to take in the sounds of Miller, Ellington,
Dorsey and the like.

This is the first year I have not seen a single dead fish on the
beach. Any red tide must be negligible or nonexistent. Either
that or there aren’t any fish. We did see a notice in one
restaurant that, “because of the poor quality of the grouper” this
year, they are substituting tilapia for grouper on the menu. I
thought it was my aging taste buds that led me to conclude the
grouper we had wasn’t as tasty as in years past. You may have
seen news reports about customers of some supermarkets and
restaurants not getting the fish they thought they were getting.
Wild salmon replaced with farmed salmon, for example. Surely,
that isn’t the case here?

All this water related stuff is of course of most concern to coastal
residents but a recent report the Naples Daily News dealt with
water, actually lack of it, in other worlds. We’ve discussed on a
number of occasions the detection of planets outside our own
solar system, a major triumph of modern astronomy. The
newspaper article reported the work of astronomers studying the
composition of the atmospheres of two of these planets many
trillions of miles from Earth. It boggles my mind that they can
isolate a planet they can’t see and come up with what’s in its
atmosphere.

The researchers were surprised that they couldn’t find any
evidence of water. The atmospheres of these planets did have
silicon and oxygen, however. Hey, with the silicon there, can the
silicon chip and the computer be far behind? Seriously, with
hydrogen and oxygen being so plentiful in our solar system, it is
a surprise that at least a trace of water was not found around
these so-called extrasolar planets. You can be sure that there will
be many such studies on other extrasolar planets until and if the
holy grail of an Earth-like planet shows up.

I had planned to write about another article in a recent Naples
Daily News but find that Brian Trumbore picked up on the
subject of the article in last week’s Week in Review column.
Iowa State researcher Jill Pruetz and colleagues were in Senegal
studying a bunch of chimpanzees when Pruetz found a chimp
using a spear to hunt a small primate called a bushbaby. Pruetz
and her team observed over 20 cases of a chimp spearing an
unfortunate bushbaby.

The chimp takes a branch, strips off the leaves and chews the end
down to a point, making a true spear. The chimp then stabs a
bushbaby, pulls out the spear and proceeds to eat the unfortunate
critter. In past columns we’ve talked about birds and various
animals using tools, even fashioning tools to get at food –a crow
bending a wire to form a hook comes to mind. We humans think
we were pretty advanced to have come up with the spear in our
much earlier days. Could it have been that some of our primate
cousins were using spears at the same time? If chimps don’t go
extinct in the future, could they advance to the bow and arrow?

Now to work packing for our departure from Marco. I made a
vow this year that I would not collect a single shell. However,
I’m a sucker for a shell known as an olive, a smooth more or less
cylindrical shell with a pointed end and a porcelain-like surface
that shines as though it has been polished. I only saw two olives
on the beach, one a perfect 2-inch long specimen I couldn’t
resist. New Jersey, here we come.

Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

02/28/2007

Goodbye to Marco

As I start this column on Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM, the sun
is shining brightly. However, there’s a thick low-lying fog and I
can’t see the building across the street! Just another interesting
Marco Island morning. This is my last column from Marco
before heading back to the wintry mix in New Jersey. Garrison
Keillor, on his Minnesota-based radio show Prairie Home
Companion, often remarks to the effect that cold wintry weather
fosters true character – but who needs it? The weather here this
past week or so brightened up considerably and I’ve been
walking the beach without a sweatshirt. Also familiar things
absent for most of the month have finally showed up.

Dolphins, for example. My first sighting was during one of my
early morning walks on the beach. The pleasure of watching a
school of them out in the Gulf was heightened by the response of
a little girl who also spotted them. She was laughing and
jumping up and down in sheer delight at her first sighting of the
creatures. Later, while we were lunching on grouper at a
dockside table in Snook Inn, several dolphins appeared, adding
spice to a very pleasant meal. But my most enjoyable dolphin
encounter came later when I was walking on the beach and found
three or four of them in shallow water very close to the shore.
One dolphin was only 10 to 15 feet from me and I was afraid that
it would beach itself. I did not relish the prospect of being forced
either to ignore such an event or to try to push the mammal back
in the water. Fortunately, the dolphin surfaced, looked me in the
eye and quickly took off out to deeper water.

Longtime readers may remember that over the years I’ve
fantasized about a single lone heron standing in the shallow
water at the shoreline. I first saw this heron standing there
looking out at the setting of a full moon and my fantasy was that
it was appreciating the beauty of the scene as much as I was.
With possibly one exception, I’ve never seen more than one
heron in any of my beach walks. This year I’ve seen that lone
heron twice. The first time it spotted me it flew away. However,
the second time it must have recognized me and we both stood
communing with each other for a full minute before I moved on.
Of course, my other fantasy is that it was the same heron from
past years.

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to a big band concert in a park
here on Marco. The band was very good and, according to the
paper, one of its members played with the Glenn Miller
orchestra. But for me another familiar Marco resident stole the
show, drawing gasps from the audience as it flew by. I believe it
was the same Muscovy duck, a large bird with a bright red head,
that I’ve mentioned at least two or three times in past years. This
very impressive bird sometimes roosts in the eaves of the open-
air pavilion that houses the concerts. In past years it sat up there,
seemingly enjoying the music, but this year it just flew past and
settled in a nearby tree to take in the sounds of Miller, Ellington,
Dorsey and the like.

This is the first year I have not seen a single dead fish on the
beach. Any red tide must be negligible or nonexistent. Either
that or there aren’t any fish. We did see a notice in one
restaurant that, “because of the poor quality of the grouper” this
year, they are substituting tilapia for grouper on the menu. I
thought it was my aging taste buds that led me to conclude the
grouper we had wasn’t as tasty as in years past. You may have
seen news reports about customers of some supermarkets and
restaurants not getting the fish they thought they were getting.
Wild salmon replaced with farmed salmon, for example. Surely,
that isn’t the case here?

All this water related stuff is of course of most concern to coastal
residents but a recent report the Naples Daily News dealt with
water, actually lack of it, in other worlds. We’ve discussed on a
number of occasions the detection of planets outside our own
solar system, a major triumph of modern astronomy. The
newspaper article reported the work of astronomers studying the
composition of the atmospheres of two of these planets many
trillions of miles from Earth. It boggles my mind that they can
isolate a planet they can’t see and come up with what’s in its
atmosphere.

The researchers were surprised that they couldn’t find any
evidence of water. The atmospheres of these planets did have
silicon and oxygen, however. Hey, with the silicon there, can the
silicon chip and the computer be far behind? Seriously, with
hydrogen and oxygen being so plentiful in our solar system, it is
a surprise that at least a trace of water was not found around
these so-called extrasolar planets. You can be sure that there will
be many such studies on other extrasolar planets until and if the
holy grail of an Earth-like planet shows up.

I had planned to write about another article in a recent Naples
Daily News but find that Brian Trumbore picked up on the
subject of the article in last week’s Week in Review column.
Iowa State researcher Jill Pruetz and colleagues were in Senegal
studying a bunch of chimpanzees when Pruetz found a chimp
using a spear to hunt a small primate called a bushbaby. Pruetz
and her team observed over 20 cases of a chimp spearing an
unfortunate bushbaby.

The chimp takes a branch, strips off the leaves and chews the end
down to a point, making a true spear. The chimp then stabs a
bushbaby, pulls out the spear and proceeds to eat the unfortunate
critter. In past columns we’ve talked about birds and various
animals using tools, even fashioning tools to get at food –a crow
bending a wire to form a hook comes to mind. We humans think
we were pretty advanced to have come up with the spear in our
much earlier days. Could it have been that some of our primate
cousins were using spears at the same time? If chimps don’t go
extinct in the future, could they advance to the bow and arrow?

Now to work packing for our departure from Marco. I made a
vow this year that I would not collect a single shell. However,
I’m a sucker for a shell known as an olive, a smooth more or less
cylindrical shell with a pointed end and a porcelain-like surface
that shines as though it has been polished. I only saw two olives
on the beach, one a perfect 2-inch long specimen I couldn’t
resist. New Jersey, here we come.

Allen F. Bortrum