Friday, June 19, 2015

The Fibula Fib

A few days ago, Dave Grohl, the singer and guitar player for the mega-band Foo Fighters, took a spill off the stage during a concert.  Falling into the security zone that separates the crowd from the band, his leg broke. Specifically, it was his fibula.  He later had the EMT hold his temporarily bandaged leg so he could finish the show.  A cast and six screws were added later.  The image below is the x-ray of Grohl's leg that he released on Twitter.

Interestingly, he knew right away he broke his leg. In fact, with his image projected on the concert's jumbo screen, he admitted to a stadium packed with thousands of fans that he "...really broke..." his leg.  

He knew immediately.  

So, lets go back in time. Specifically, the evening of April 15, 1865.  There was a show.  A shot.  A slump.  A jump.  An actor limping across the stage to his get away horse.

But did it really happen that way?

No one can dispute the fact that John Wilkes Booth, in a most cowardly fashion, plowed a lead ball into the back of Abraham Lincoln's noggin.  After all, Booth admitted it and thought it was the coolest thing he had ever done.  As we have all heard since childhood, he  broke his leg jumping from the Presidential Suite to the stage below in the middle of Our American Cousin.  We all know he broke his leg. After all, Dr. Sam Mudd tended to it a few days later.  

But did he break it jumping onto the stage after the fatal shot?  Are we sure?

In a word, no.

When all else fails, consult two things: witnesses and science.

Booth is not necessarily a reliable witness. As an actor, he had a flair for stories.  Yes, he was there but he apparently lied about the event.  His own journal entries have him yelling "Sic Semper Tyrannus!" before he shot Lincoln.  That's odd. In a packed theater, no one heard him scream that before he pulled the trigger.  Maybe he was like Brian Williams and blurred the line between confused facts and flat-out bull-puckies.

Booth went on to claim that he broke his leg jumping to the stage, but this is where it gets interesting....

In the grand tradition of murder investigations, there are witnesses that have to be interviewed.  As fate would have it, we still have the testimonies of folks who where there that night.  13 of them make references to Booth "running", "rushing" or "rapidly running" across the stage.  No one makes a reference to pain or a hobbled gait.  No one.

Just for a moment, go back to Grohl.  A scary drop and snap goes the fibula. He immediately knew what occurred. Oh sure, you can talk about Booth's adrenaline or whatnot, but once that fibula goes, the vast majority of people are going to know it. 

If I still don't have your attention, now get this....

Booth's path from the Ford's Theatre to his bullet-through-the-neck death in Maryland is not a mystery.  There were several stops and he met and spoke with several people along the way (not just the aforementioned Dr. Mudd).  There is a distinct lineage of witnesses that state he was in no distress only to be followed by a line of witnesses who say he was an achy son-of-a-bitch.  

John Wilkes Booth

Silas Cobb might be the fulcrum, if you will.  He was the guard on the bridge  to Maryland who conversed with Booth after the assassination.   (Cut the guy some slack here - he did not know Booth had just killed Lincoln as the info had not yet reached him but he knew Booth was the famous actor.) There is NO reference to Booth being in pain. Cobb, however, makes a reference in his testimony that Booth's horse was "restive". That is fancy horse speak for "crotchety pain in the ass."

All witnesses AFTER the bridge report that when they saw Booth he was in pain.  It was noted by John Lloyd at the Surratt Tavern (where he did not dismount - hard to do with a broken leg, huh?) and it was noted by David Herrold, one of Booth's co-conspirators.  

In fact, according to Lloyd, Herrold, and Mudd, Booth told them that he busted his ankle when his finicky horse dumped him.


There you have it.  Booth told at least THREE people that the horse threw him.

Plus, the barn attendants on the Mudd farm stated that Booth's horse had injuries consistent with a fall.  

So where does the science get into this?  The break itself.

After Booth's fatal shooting in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, an autopsy was done.  The break in his leg was examined.  It is what pathologists call a transverse break.  It snapped like pencil cleanly across the shaft of the bone.

When a individual falls from a height and lands on their feet only to have a long bone break, the break is what is called oblique.  The force downward on the bone snaps it on the diagonal.  The two broken ends are pointed as opposed to the two blunt ends one would find on a transverse break.  

As science has shown repeatedly over the years, the transverse break in John Wilkes Booth's leg is not consistent with a fall from a height and landing on one's feet - it is consistent with a horse falling and rolling on top of the leg as the foot is trapped in the stirrup.  The forces are lateral across the bone, not vertical.  

This brings us back to Dave Grohl. His break is from lateral pressure. It's a transverse fracture.  I know this because I spent three years in Harvard Medical School read alot.  Does this mean he did not fall off a stage? No. 52,000 people saw it happen.   It simply means that I believe he did not land on his feet.  Somehow, someway, in the acrobatics of his fall, there was a lateral force on his leg strong enough to break it.  Had he landed straight down on his feet and broken his leg, the fracture should have been oblique.  Given the force and pointed nature of such a break, a compound fracture of the tibia and/or the fibula was easily possible.  (I recall a story growing up of a fellow falling from a ladder.  The broken leg came out of his knee.  You would expect that, I suspect, with an oblique fracture caused fall from a height.)  

Any way you cut it, transverse or oblique or whatever, Grohl is a very lucky man. Realistically, he could have died had he struck his head.

Booth? Well, he wasn't so lucky.  I'm not sure how much luck one should expect when they assassinate a President. 

I am, however, pretty damned sure of this - Booth's broken fibula following his erratic stage jump is more than likely a fib....

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

One Good Tern Deserves Another

A few nights ago, I managed to sneak out for some time on my own. Nat had other plans so I had time for one of two things: clean the garage or grab my camera and head out for an evening photo shoot. Without sounding harsh, who gives a s*** about a garage, right?

For about two years, I have had thoughts of heading back to Elizabeth Park for an evening Common Tern photo shoot.  The evening portion is key as the setting sun would be at my back. With the colony only a few hundred yards away, they patrol the river in more or less predictable patterns, including the occasional jaunt over the Elizabeth Park Marina where yours truly was  waiting.    

While the flights were certainly there, the numbers were not. If I was a guessing guy, I would say the colony is not doing well this season. I would have expected more fly-bys from more birds. Well, it wasn't to be.  Traffic was, as they say, light. In hindsight, I should have taken my evening photo shoot about a month ago when more birds were around!

Nevertheless, I managed what I think are fair shots.  In fact, in order to keep up with the silly tidbit that is the title of this blog post, I could argue they're good.  Trust me. They are not better than "good" but they'll do.....

Monday, June 8, 2015

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks

May 20th was just one of those days.

Natalie and I had just finished another outstanding dinner.  With dishes still needing attention but with no motivation to actually do anything about it, I opted to check my emails. 

While I don't recall the exact words, the flow of a particular email was something like this: the previously reported Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were still on the pond.  

A few thoughts crashed through my head. What Black-bellied Whistling Ducks? What report?  What pond?

Well, it turns out that the ducks were on a retention pond only 5.5 from the house. I believe the official address would be Brownstown Township, but for all intents and purposes, it was southern Taylor if that helps you understand where they were.

Looking at this range map, it should be easy for you to understand our excitement....

Yes, folks, that's right. Those ducks had NO business being anywhere near Michigan. 

Natalie and I prioritized our evening.  It was easy to leave the dishes and rocket the 5 miles to Taylor.....

...where we saw nothing. 

Yup. Nothing.  Not a duck to be had.  Other birders were on sight so we continued to poke around and look at other ponds in the area. Nothing.  With our heads hung in defeat, we headed out for the loooonng drive home.  (Not really.  5 miles? Come on....)

As you might expect, it is well worth it to check the pond again.  Sure enough, the following day, reports were coming in of the 14 ducks back on the pond. Immediately after work, Natalie and I shot back there. Don was waiting. So were the ducks.  

In case you're curious, no, I did not get crazy and paint those bills with PhotoShop. That is the natural color.  All in all, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are hardly difficult to identify.  Bizarre combinations of black, brown, and gray combined with that pink schnoz make for an easy ID.  The fact that they will nest in a hole in tree and stand around on tree branches perfectly explains their name - they don't call 'em tree ducks for nothing!

So where does this put me? Were they life birds? No. I had seen them in Texas multiple times and once in Arizona.  (They were new for Nat, but I am not sure where they stand on her list.)  But lets look at it more locally.  In my life time, my Wayne County List now stands at 284 birds.  My Michigan List now stands at 352.   

You might be wondering about that 284. Is 300 possible?  You bet. Will it be easy? Oh, hell no.  Bird lists are something like bowling averages - the higher the number, the harder it gets to push it higher.  

We'll see where it goes.....

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wings and Springs

Getaways can be nice.  Sure, some couples board their private plane and head off to the lands of the rich and famous. Natalie and I are neither rich nor famous but we still enjoy a getaway now and then.  Instead of a jet or yacht, the more or less trusty Chevy Cruze does nicely.

While we have had the opportunity to sneak out for a few days a time, this past weekend limited us to only two days.  So where can you go in two days?  Paris? London? Instanbul?

How about Oscoda.

Well, okay, no. We didn't leave the comfort of home for a small town next to an abandoned Air Force base on the Michigan shore of Lake Huron.  It was more about needing a base of operations for a brief birding adventure.

One of the leading locations in Michigan during the month of May (a fantastic month for birding) is an innocent little spit of land sticking out in the lake - Tawas Point State Park.  With a drive-time exceeding three hours, an out-and-back day of birding seemed a bit long. We thought local lodging would be a better tactic (and more fun!).

While the birding at Tawas Point was certainly enjoyable, we had no intention of spending two days there.  The place is just not that big and the subtle but stiff winds from the north acted like a blocker to the northbound birds.  Realizing we were just minutes away from one of the rarest birds in the world, we opted to head inland.

The Kirtland's Warbler is just so odd.  With such picky nesting requirements (including Jack Pine trees between 5 and 16 feet tall), the bird's population is, as you would expect, small.  Critically endangered, in fact.  The 2011 survey turned up over 2000 singing males (a far cry, believe it or not, from the 167 birds in the 1987 survey).  Vast tracts of land are cut, burned adn replanted ensure that this bird will always have Jack Pines at the appropriate height.

While we did heard the birds at sunset (and saw a few the following morning), it was not the memorable moment of the evening.  

As we stood on the edges of burned fields and scattered trees (somewhat reminding me of the African plains at sunset), the sounds of multiple trucks roaring the distance gathered our attention.  There is really no other way to describe it.  But we knew it couldn't be trucks, as the roads were sandy and trucks don't fly.  After a few minutes, it was discovered that we were hearing (and soon seeing) the courtship flight of the Common NighthawkSure, I had seen this behavior before, but it was one bird a few years ago and it just didn't click as to what we were seeing,er....hearing...

No, they are not hawks.  They are Goatsuckers. No, they don't suck goats either (though folks used to believe that!).  In short, they eat bugs.  Tremendous amounts, in fact.

During the spring courtship, the males, normally flying high and calling, suddenly fold their wings. Like a stone, they drop.  With only feet to spare, they open their wings and pull out of the dive. The force of the air rushing over their wings and through the flight feathers creates the most peculiar roaring sound.  Check out the video here.   

Astonished, Natalie and I more or less forgot about the world's rarest warbler and enjoyed the nighthawk show.  Our guess would be at least 10 birds in the area. Some we simply never saw, but we could certainly hear them - a solid testament to the distances this odd sound could carry.

Heading west from Oscoda, the River Road National Scenic Byway is another must.  As one heads out of town, its hard to imagine the area as the original forests that once grew there; everything now is second-growth.   

Before you shake your head at the "horror" of it all, understand those original woods basically built the country, right?  That old building that I am looking to preserve and/or re-use could have timbers that came from this region.  

So, lets think about those lumbermen. Hard, deadly work.  Low pay.  Crappy food.  Wouldn't it be nice to have decent water running through your camp?  

Not far outside of Oscoda, a vertical descent of almost 200 feet along the south shore of the Au Sable River takes you to the Iargo Springs.  (Keep in mind that is an "I", not a "L". Its a font thing.  It's pronounced "eye-ARE-go".)

Stories from centuries past have the Native Americans of the region assembling here. As Europeans moved in to the region, they used it, as well.  The lumberman certainly used it, but with the decline in the lumbering trade, it more or less turned over to a tourist stop...

...and for good reason.

I'll be honest. I was impressed.  Lets face it - places like this are often over-sold in an attempt to make a less than appealing feature neat. How many times have people gone somewhere with grand visions in their head only to be tremendously disappointed?  It won't happen here.  With boardwalks and viewing platforms, one can  easily traverse the springs assuming you can managed the 250+ steps heading down (and, of course, back up again!). 

Certainly, the springs aren't big.  Logs built by the CCC provide little waterfalls not much bigger than three feet (Niagara Falls, they are not!) , but the feel is impressive as these little seeps are scattered across the area.  The weather was pleasant but we can easily imagine the area being much cooler on a hot day given the temps of the frigid water.

The trip was quite fun overall.  I haven't run the totals yet.  The oddest bird was the Northern Mockingbird at Tawas Point (only about 200 miles from where he should be!).  We had a few average beers at Wiltse's Brew Pub and Family Restaurant. Hikes here. Hikes there.  It was hard to believe we crammed it into just a two day period.

But for the sure, the take away for us both will be the roaring wings and seeping springs. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Passerine Pics

For those of you who have no idea how birding works, spring migration is generally the event most folks look forward to.  With thousands millions of song birds (scientifically known as Passerines) winging their way north in their fancy breeding colors, folks like Natalie and I hit the woods and fields looking for that next bird.  

For me, as of late, I have been enjoying photography. If you have been visiting this blog as of late, you already know this, right?  

So, I thought I would share some pics from recent days outside. 

This dashing fellow is the American Redstart.  After flying in from northern South America, they are looking to establish territories like all the other migrants.   These guys, however, do it with a twist. They are known to have two females in two different territories.  You could think of as a dude with two wives (neither of whom who knew the other existed) living on two different sides of a small town.  Oh, what would the neighbors think.... 

The Red-eyed Vireo really does have red eyes. They just don't show up well in this photo.  In any case, their claim to fame is their non-stop singing.  One fellow in the 1950's recorded a Red-eyed Vireo singing his short song over 22,000 times in a 14-hour period.  My head hurts just thinking about it...

Fortunately for photographers, the Black-throated Green Warbler has the nice habit of feeding low in the trees. This matches their tendency to nest low, as well.

Tree Swallows have to be one of the most eye-catching birds out there.  If you catch of glimpse of them in sunlight, the structure of the feather reflects light not unlike that rainbow sheen coming from the oil drop on your driveway.  When the light goes away, so does the color.  Amazing. 

With today being the 18th of May, there is a solid 10 days of migration left. In fact, there is a few more as some birds are still moving through the region in the opening days of June. Unfortunately, the trees will be leafed out.  

We'll do the best we can. Maybe I'll have a few more pics to share in a few days....