Olympic bike riders owe a debt of gratitude to the spotted nutcracker.
That up-to-15-inch-long corvid cousin of the crow, raven and blue jay pecks open the cones on Siberian pines, scattering the seeds and propagating the trees whose wood makes the world's fastest cycling tracks.
You'll see the product of the nutcracker's work at this summer's London Olympics, where cyclists in the striking new velodrome will race laps on a 250-meter banked-turn oval made of thin strips of Siberian pine. When I toured the velodrome last fall with other members of the world press, London Olympic officials told us that 54 kilometers (33.5 miles) of pine strips and 350,000 nails went into the track, which was built by the world's foremost expert at such things, former Australian cyclist Ron Webb. The turns are banked so steeply—42 degrees—that an average person would seemingly have trouble pedaling around them fast enough to keep from falling. But during the Games, with 6,000 fans screaming (the Brits have a great track-cycling team, which will duel the Aussies for gold in a majority of events) the velodrome will be rockin' and riders will be flyin'. The London track is expected to be the fastest Olympic cycling layout ever built.
The velodrome is perhaps the most beautiful venue built for the London Olympics. It has unfortunately been nicknamed the Pringle because its swooping roof has the same shape as one of those manufactured chips (or "crisps," as the British call them). As part of the Olympic effort to be environmentally responsible, the roof was designed to minimize material use and optimize the heating and cooling of the building. The walls of the velodrome are sided with western red cedar—sustainably sourced, of course.
I'd love to see a spotted nutcracker someday, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to returning to London this summer to cover the Olympics and see how the Siberian pine holds up.
Live Streaming Video of a Hibernating Bear
The video link below comes from the Wildlife Research Foundation, which is connected to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It was sent to us by Ted, one of our correspondents here in the Pine Tree State. The camera is hidden in the den of Lugnut, a black bear that lives in northern Maine with her two cubs. Not a lot of action at the moment, but it's still interesting to peek inside. http://www.wildliferesearchfoundation.org
Giving Back to Nature
Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue came out today and (as I previously mentioned on Facebook), the magazine is using the opportunity to raise money for The Nature Conservancy. After all, we can't photograph models on the beach without protecting oceans and beaches. Here's a link: http://www.foliomag.com/2012/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-partners-gilt-benefit-nature-conservancy
Cats-and-Birds Follow Up
A few days ago a friend posted this cartoon, which was too good not to share:
Out in the Snow
We received only a few inches the other day, just enough to decorate the coast and give us the chance to study animal tracks.
Happy 448th Birthday, Galileo
By night the Glass Of Galileo ... observes Imagin'd Land and Regions in the Moon. —John Milton, Paradise Lost
Answers to Last Puzzler
1) The unscrambled words:
a) rnew = wren
b) quimsoot = mosquito
c) vigytar = gravity
2) The photo above showed the Mataiva Atoll in the South Pacific as seen from the International Space Station. Atolls form over the course of tens of millions of years when a ring of coral reef grows around an island and then the island sinks, creating a lagoon.
We tend to take it for granted, but the International Space Station, built by the U.S., Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada, has been circling the Earth more than 15 times a day for more than a decade. It orbits at an altitude of only about 200 to 250 miles, so if you're in the right place at the right time you can see it with the naked eye. The right time tends to be before dawn or at dusk, when the sky is getting dark and the Sun is reflecting off the Space Station, making it look brighter in the sky than Jupiter or Mars. Below is a map of the station's path and a link to more information about when and where to look for it: http://www.pbs.org/spacestation/seedo/locator.htm
1) Here are a few more words from nature, science and art to unscramble:
2) The U.S. Secretary of the Interior oversees, among other entities, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Who is the current Interior Secretary?
a) Gale Ann Norton
b) Ken Salazar
c) Arne Duncan
d) Kathleen Sebelius