Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let’s Talk Turkey

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Let’s Talk Turkey

Turkeys Painting by Claude Monet
Perhaps no other bird has been given so much respect and disrespect as the Meleagris gallopavo or wild turkey. Benjamin Franklin called him a “bird of courage” and French impressionist Claude Monet painted him in a landscape in 1876. If someone calls you a “turkey,” it’s not a compliment. Since this famed character will be the center of attention in most of our homes next week, I think he deserves some understanding.

The species was well known to the Native Americans and the Aztecs long before the explorers of the New World discovered them. They were so desired by the Spanish explorers that their king ordered that each ship must bring some of the birds home with return voyages.

Mayans used turkey parts in religious ceremonies praying for rain or asking for healing or a good harvest. Native Americans believed that shamans could turn themselves into turkeys and then prowl around enemy villages without being recognized.
The European settlers replaced the boar and the goose with the turkey for festive meals and thus made it the legendary center of the Thanksgiving feast. The official day for the holiday was set by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, although it had been unofficially celebrated for years.

With a wingspan of about six feet, wild turkeys can fly at 55 miles per hour and run at 25 miles per hour, but their modern domesticated cousins can’t fly at all because they have been bread to weigh twice as much. In the wild, turkeys like to sleep in trees and specifically prefer oak trees. Scientists have found that they have twenty distinct vocalizations which are recognized by other turkeys.

Some people have proclaimed that turkeys are so stupid that they will stare up at rain until they drown. Researcher Tom Savaged studied the phenomenon and discovered that they can have a genetic condition which causes them to cock their heads and look into the sky for 30 seconds or more which may have led to the misunderstanding of the animal’s behavior. They have also been observed to have certain social interactions which indicate intelligence.

Wild turkeys forage for acorns, insects, seeds, roots and wild berries to eat. Early settlers found that the birds liked to live near humans and were friendly and trusting and would walk right up to them and even seemed affectionate. A male can weigh up to 38 pounds and is called a Tom turkey or a gobbler.

Although they have no ears, turkeys still have a keen sense of hearing. Hunters can testify that their peripheral vision is astounding because with a turn of their head, they can see 270 degrees and sense movement a hundred yards away. They have a poor sense of smell but do have an excellent sense of taste.

Like many animals that are raised for food, the domestic turkey is mistreated and misunderstood. I think I’ll be a little more thankful for my bird this year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Force of Nature

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

A Force of Nature

From time to time, we are reminded that we are just a speck of sand in the universe. Last week was certainly one of those times for most of us. A storm named Sandy reacquainted us with the term “force of nature.”

Scientifically speaking there are four observed forces of nature. Gravity is what makes things fall to the ground, electromagnetic force is the attraction and repulsion between electric charges, strong force binds parts of atoms, and weak force is observed in radioactive decay.

There is also another more recently coined use for the phrase. NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, teamed up in April 2012 to launch their “Be a Force of Nature” campaign.

Designed as an initiative to educate all citizens about national disasters and how to prepare for them, the program emphasizes the need to build a weather and disaster ready nation. Three areas of preparedness are required.

The first step involves knowing your risk and what types of hazardous weather might affect where you live and work. The second includes developing a plan for your family, creating an emergency kit, and obtaining a NOAA weather radio or downloading NOAA’s weather app. The third step requires you to become a force of nature yourself by committing to help educate your friends and family, and to communicate with people about impending disaster and set an example.

Emergency preparedness begins long before an event and should become a mindset for every individual. There is no doubt that in our ever changing world the need for individual responsibility in many areas of living is increasing.

Before Hurricane Sandy, the year 2011 held the record for the greatest number of multi-billion dollar weather disasters in our nation’s history. There were 1,000 deaths and 8,000 injuries related to severe weather. Extreme snowfalls, low and high temperatures, drought, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes join to make-up those numbers.

The Weather Ready Nation effort includes expanding the research and discussion about why our nation is experiencing such extreme weather patterns. Updating radar and satellite technologies will enable forecasters to communicate more clearly and enable responders to make wiser decisions.

One significant upgrade is dual polarization radar which will replace the 1988 Doplar radar systems at 160 sites across the country by mid-2013. The system will give better information about heavy rainfall, hail in thunderstorms, and the severity of a tornado.

Trends like high concentrations of population on our coastal areas, infrastructure decline, and population sprawl into rural areas increase the likelihood that weather events will have a more devastating effect because more lives will be touched.

Researchers point to factors like global warming as possible causes of the change in weather patterns that seem to be producing the unusual event of the past decade. Whatever the causes, we can only control our reaction to the events. Check out the NOAA website for more information you can use to become more proactive.
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