Wireless Menu Icons

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Sometimes when trying several wireless networks before finding one that works, I connect to one that gives me an icon like this in my menu bar:

classic Mac in a gray piece of pie in the Finder’s menu bar at the top right of screen

Basically it looks like a small classic Mac in a gray piece of pie. Does anyone know what this means? All I’ve figured out is that the connection usually (always?) doesn’t work.

#410 Mandarin Duck

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Peking Duck is everywhere in this town, but live ducks are much harder to find. Beijing sadly does not have a large semi-native park like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, or Manhattan’s Central Park. Instead they have a number of smaller palaces and temples surrounded by carefully planned and manicured gardens. This just doesn’t make for very good habitat, or even migratory stopover points.

After leaving Sicha Hai on Friday, I stumbled into Behai Park. It looked pleasant so I paid the 10 yuan admission and entered. Unfortunately from a birding perspective this proved to be another collection of old temples and other buildings. There were few birds except for the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Some of the temples were quite impressive, but the only real garden area was closed.

After exploring the temples on the east side of the lake, I bought a ticket to cross to the west side and the Jade Islet. At this point I had pretty much given up on finding any more birds today, and had capped my binoculars. However, while I was standing in line waiting for the boat, two small ducks flew by heading South very quickly. I tried to get my bins uncapped fast, but only got a very quick look at them. My general impression was “Wood Duck”.

Wood Ducks are a North American species that doesn’t live here in China, but they do have a close relative over here: the Mandarin Duck. Unfortunately I couldn’t really be sure from such a quick look at flying birds. I almost got out of line to see if maybe they’d landed somewhere south of us, but by this point I’s already waited fifteen minutes and the boat was finally coming. Sine I hadn’t seen them land, I decided to just go on across the lake.

On the Jade Islet, I climbed up to the White Dagoba, and back down through some caves. I’m not sure I was supposed to exit the caves where I did, but no one stopped me. (I really didn’t feel like climbing all the way back up.) I walked over to the bridge connecting the Islet to the mainland, and there I spotted the first ducks I’d seen swimming anywhere in the central lakes. This time I had my binoculars ready, and put them on the birds almost immediately. There they were: unmistakable Mandarin Ducks.

Male and female Mandarin Duck
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Beijing Day 4

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Sunday it rained all day non-stop. I explored the subways and tried to get to the Natural History Museum, but the street I was planning to walk down was closed, and trying to take an alternate route I got lost in some Hutongs southwest of Tian’anmen Square. (The government is busy knocking down hutongs all over the city, and other perceived eyesores before the Olympics. Entire neighborhoods are being leveled left and right. Usually they don’t bother to exclude people from the destruction site, but for some reason this particular one was fenced off.) I eventually found my way back, but not a lot was accomplished today.

For lunch I stopped at a tourist joint near Tian’anmen square because I figured they’d have an English menu. (They did.) I don’t worry too much about eating at Tourist restaurants here because they’re mostly aimed at Chinese tourists, and are still weird and different enough. I have yet to see a burger or fries on any menu anywhere. First course was some nice fish soup (I thought I ordered beefball soup, but ‘m flexible) followed by the largest bowl of carp with Udon noodles I’ve ever seen. This could have fed a village. I was embarrassed when it showed up on the table. I hadn’t meant to order two courses, but I must have misunderstood the waitress when she brought the menu back to me and showed me some extra pages. I have got to learn enough Chinese to at least order competently by pointing at a menu. Pricewise though the whole experience cost just 70 Yuan, about $10. By local standards, that’s a princely sum for a meal for one.

I’m getting a little tired of playing tourist. I usually like to mix tourist activities with actual work, or a conference, or some non-tourist reason to be in a city. However, this time it’s Beth who’s at the conference, and I’m just spending the days exploring the city. This would be easier if the conference hotel was a little more centrally located. Beijing’s a huge city and walking around it in the rain just isn’t all that much fun.
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#409 in the Forbidden City

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I was repeatedly warned that there were no birds in Beijing. The city was too polluted, and the Chinese had killed them all 50 years ago anyway. I suspected that was false, and I was right. Friday morning we’d barely started acting like tourists when I spotted my first life bird of the trip: Common Swift (Apus apus) flittering over the Forbidden City:

Common Swift flying over Chinese Building

In fact, I saw several of them, and then dozens. They’re quite loud, very fast, rather large compared to our Chimney Swifts, and completely regardless of people. I’ve continued to see them everywhere since then even at Tian’anmen Square in the rain today. I suspect there are thousands, maybe more, in the city.
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#407 and 408 at the Base of the Santa Ana Mountains

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I spent some time looking for Black-headed Grosbeak last May in San Francisco without success. Who knows? Maybe I even saw it but didn’t recognize it. I certainly didn’t recognize life bird #407 in Santiago Oaks two weeks ago on a Sea & Sage trip led by Linette Lina. However I did at least recognize that i twas something weird when I saw it. My first reaction as Oriole. My second was Robin. My third was Bluebird, and all this within the space of a couple of seconds. That should have clued me in that I had something new. Fortunately Linette recognized it as soon as I pointed it out as a Black-headed Grosbeak.

Migration hadn’t quite fully kicked off yet, but we had a more than respectable showing with over 30 species:
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Why Doesn’t John Updike have a Nobel Prize Yet?

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Can someone explain to me why John Updike doesn’t have the Nobel Prize yet? I just got around to reading Bech: A Book, and was once again transfixed by Updike’s command of the English language. There may well be authors in other languages who deserve the Nobel in Literature more than he does, but I can’t think of one still alive and writing in English.

The man’s pushing 80. He may not have that many years left. Can’t we get him one before it’s too late? Surely if Nobels can go to Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison, there’s room for an Updike?