Monday, May 26, 2014

Apple #673: Mallard Ducklings

I hope you all had a lovely Memorial Day weekend.  I just participated in a mallard duckling rescue.

Mallard duckling. The fuzziness of these things is unreal.
(Photo from Postcards from Sussex)

I was walking around the park near my house when I heard all sorts of peeping.  It was getting near twilight, and I caught sight of a little bird in the grass that I thought at first was a sparrow.  But it was moving differently than that, sort of side to side, and then I realized it was a mallard duckling.  A little fuzzy thing, no adult ducks in sight, and it was walking around fast as its tiny little legs could carry it, peeping away like mad, clearly trying to find its parents.

Then it motored its little legs under a parked car.  Which turned out to have a person sitting in it.  She saw me looking under her car, so I told her a baby duckling had just run underneath it.  The woman immediately froze, even though she wasn't driving, didn't even have her car turned on.  She was asking me, "Is it still under there?  Is it still there?"  Every time the little duckling caught sight of me, it would run back under the car and hide next to one of the wheels.

Duckling on the water, where the little one I found probably would prefer to be.  Again, with the fuzziness.  It might be the fuzziness that makes people immediately protective of them.
(Photo by HAZY at RSPB)

Finally, it ran out the other side of the car away from me, across the parking lot, and toward the street.  I pointed out to the woman that the duckling was out from under her car, then followed the duckling to try to keep it from running out into the street.

I kept trying to get on the other side of it, to drive it back away from the street and in the direction of the duck pond.  I don't know if that's where it's parents were, but that's probably where the duckling would stand the best chance of finding them.  But the duckling kept running away from me, still peeping like crazy the entire time.

It ran into the grass, and then along came two dogs followed by their owner.  The dogs were very interested in the fact that I was walking slowly through the grass--clearly stalking something--and it was very hard to see by this time, so I don't think they knew the duckling was there.  The man asked the dogs, "What are you so curious about?"  I told him, "There's a little duckling here.  I'm trying to get it to go to the pond."

Immediately the man understood.  He got on the opposite side of the duckling and tried to close off the duck's exit to catch it.  One of his dogs went forward to get involved, but he pushed the dog out of the way.  The duckling was getting tired, but was still peeping like fire alarm.  The man got his hands on the duck but it wriggled out and ran toward me.  I bent down to scoop it up, and I almost had it.  The duckling was in my hands for not even half a second before it slipped out of my hands and kept running.

Another try, and the man got the duckling in both his hands, the duckling poking its little head out as far as it could to try to get free.  We thanked each other, and he went off toward the pond, carrying the duckling up next to his face, his dogs following, and I went on my way.

You know how you've always imagined that duckling down must feel completely soft?  Well, you've imagined absolutely right.
(Photo from Gower Bird Hospital, sourced from Barbelith)

I've already done a Daily Apple about Mallard Ducks, but I thought I would find out a few things about just the ducklings.

  • A mother duck will not abandon her young if a human touches them.  However, if you come upon a duck family, it's best to keep your distance so you don't scare off the mother.  The ducklings can easily get separated from each other, which may have been what happened in this instance.
  • Usually about 9-13 ducklings, or chicks, are born in one nest.  
  • Predators, accidents, bad weather, and getting separated from the mother usually reduces the number of ducklings that survive by at least half.

This mother duck hatched 14 ducklings.  Eight weeks later, her family was down to 6.
(Photo from Words4It)

  • Ducklings are born with their eyes open.  Ducks have excellent color vision.
  • Ducklings can leave the nest within hours of hatching.  They have a full layer of down to keep them warm, so once they're hatched they do not need to return to the nest to keep warm.  
  • So it is possible for ducklings to survive without their mother, but they stand a much better chance of getting enough food and taking care of themselves if they stay with her for the first 5 weeks or so.

A whole lotta ducklings = a whole lotta fuzziness.
(Photo from

  • They are also born able to swim, but they lack the oil gland called the "preen gland" that produces the oil necessary to waterproof their feathers.  The mother will collect oil from her preen gland and spread it over their down.
  • (By the way, when you see adults ducks standing on the shore going over their feathers with their beaks, they are spreading the waterproofing oil over their feathers, as well as removing any bugs or unfriendlies that might be in there.)

This isn't exactly learning to fly.  It's more like, You can jump and you'll be all right.

  • Ducklings eat mainly seeds and bugs or the larvae of bugs, as well as seaweed and other plants that grow in the water.
  • Ducklings learn to fly at 5-8 weeks old, some say.  Others say the flight lessons don't start until 10-12 weeks.
  • Ducklings look about the same, regardless of sex, for quite a while.  As they leave the fuzzy downiness of ducklinghood, their feathers become the camouflaged brown similar to an adult female's.  It's not until around 14-16 weeks that the males' feathers change and turn into the shiny gray and green.

These ducklings are in the process of trading their fuzzy down for feathers.
(Photo by Derek Stoner at The Nature of Delaware)

Mallard ducklings, about 8 weeks old.  I'd call these teen-agers, or young ducks.  You know, like young bloods.
(Photo from Words4It)

  • One last fact: ducks are never completely asleep.  They often sleep with one eye open, especially if they are on the outer edge of a group and must keep watch.

Animal Corner, Ducks
Metzer Farms, Mallard Ducks
Mallard Ducks as Pets
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mallard
National Geographic's Mallard Ducks
Lakeside Nature Center, Critter Corner--Mallard

Monday, May 19, 2014

Apple #672: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

As you may be aware, I've gone on many travels in the past month or so.  Naturally, I encountered many things that made my Apple Lady brain ask many questions. I want to share some of those things with you. But first, I must tell you a story.  And then I will give you some Daily Apple facts.

Betty Boop as Little Red Riding Hood. This is relevant, I promise.
(Screen shot sourced from Pinterest)

On one of my travels, I happened to be in a small town in Michigan, the fair state of my birth.  I am not from that small town (I am not naming names so as to protect the, well, maybe not-so-innocent).  After I finished my a long day of work there, I went exploring.

I found a wonderful restaurant downtown, a pub that served British and Indian food.  Delicious, well-prepared, yet not that expensive.  The wine was tasty, the service was decent, the dessert delicious.  This was on a Wednesday night.  The next night, I tried someplace else and was disappointed.  Friday night, I thought, heck, I liked that first place so much, I'll go back.  Friday, the same place was a completely different scene.

What had been a quiet pub with few occupants toward the end of its night, on Friday, it was a bit of a local hot spot.  A roving guitarist was playing hit songs, and there was a gang of rather soused locals sitting at the top end of the bar.  One of them, a man who looked something like Brian Cox from a couple decades ago, was going back to his seat as I was walking in.

Brian Cox. The man in question looked something like him, hair a bit more lush, face a bit younger and also redder with drink.
(Photo from

I'll call our man Mr. Not Cox.

He was obviously having a good time, snapping his fingers along to the roving guitar man's song, which I think was "Yellow Submarine."  I ducked and paused in the doorway, waiting for Mr. Not Cox to pass.  He saw me, smiled, and stopped right in my path.  There wasn't much room to get past him so I was waiting for him to take a step to the side, but he held out his hand for me to go by, laughed, and said, "You're so shy."  It was not about shyness, but I did not want to discuss it.

I went to my table, ordered my food, and watched the Tigers game on TV.  Roving Guitar Man came by, dropped a piece of paper inside a plastic protective sleeve, and told me sotto voce (though his face mike picked it up so that anyone paying attention could hear) to see if there was anything I wanted to hear.  He roved on, playing someone else's earlier request.

This is Usher, but I'm showing you this for the face mic.  Mr. Roving Guitar was wearing one like this, and he also had his guitar wirelessly amped, so wherever he went in the restaurant, everyone could hear him.
(Photo from

Names of songs were printed, in alphabetical order, in two columns down the 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.  The list of songs continued on the back.  They included fairly standard 60s & 70s rock songs -- Beatles tunes, some Neil Diamond numbers, Gordon Lightfoot, some Johnny Cash, "A Horse With No Name," you get the picture.  Kind of impressive, that he was essentially saying, "I can play any one of these 150 songs. You name it, I play it."

But he was playing them all in the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky, hey-everybody-let's-all-have-fun kind of style.  When he roved back to my table a few songs later, I asked him to play Elvis Costello's "Alison," just to see if he could put any kind of real feeling into one of his renditions.

Nope.  He played this song with the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky style.

I thought that request might be my only shot, but it took a while for my food to arrive, and other people at tables were finishing up and leaving, so Mr. Roving Guitar had fewer people to ask what they wanted to hear.  He came back around to me and asked for another request.

I'd noticed "Little Red Riding Hood" from Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and thought about asking for that one.  But I decided I'd rather choose something that maybe the whole room could get into.  The soused locals at the bar were getting a little more vocal, singing along to "Cheeseburger in Paradise," so I thought a more sing-along item would go down better.  So I asked Mr. Roving Guitar for "Ring of Fire."

When Mr. Roving Guitar kicked off the song with its unmistakable, "Love, is a burning thing," while still standing near my table, Mr. Not Cox at the bar turned around with excitement and shouted across to me at my table, "Yes! I almost picked this song!  I LOVE this song!  I almost picked it! What a coincidence!"

I nodded with what I hoped was a neutrally pleasant expression and went back to my dinner.

Mr. Roving Guitar clearly knew the soused locals at the bar because he asked a few of them by name what songs they would like to hear.  They asked for all sorts of items from the list--I can't remember now what they all were--and I was half-listening to the music, half-watching the Tigers game.  After a while, I looked over toward the bar to see what the soused locals might pick next when, uh-oh, here comes Mr. Not Cox sliding off his barstool and coming over to my table.

Standing in front of me, he said in a somewhat deprecating fashion, "Our eyes met at some point tonight, I'm not sure when" (I thought, was it when you shouted at me across the bar, or was it that awkward moment when I first walked in and you thought you were being a gentleman but you were really not? But I kept that neutrally pleasant smile on my face and said nothing), "and I thought I'd just come over and say hello, and maybe I could join you for a drink."

I said something completely non-committal in return, like, "Hello," since that was the minimum that was asked of me.  I really did not want Mr. Soused Not Cox to sit down at my table because, in my experience, guys in his condition are not really interested in anything meaningful, they just want to blather on about themselves and say stupid things, and they're hoping to get some physical thing or other out of the deal.  So I tried to let him know, No dice, without having to come out and say it.

Then he says, "I can see you're reluctant.  I didn't mean anything by it.  I just thought, hey, our eyes met at some point, maybe we could have a friendly conversation.  But if you don't want to, hey, that's life."  He shrugs as if to say, no big deal, you want to be a jerk, that's up to you, it's got nothing to do with me.

So I thought I could either tell him to beat it and feel like a jerk, or I could say, No, it's fine, sit down.  So I said, "No, it's fine, sit down."

Instead of taking the chair right next to where he was standing, he went around the table and sat in the one against the wall.  I don't know why he did that, but I thought it was kind of odd.  Maybe so he could still see his fellow soused locals at the bar?  Maybe it was so he could see the bartender and simply wave and call to her, "Could I have another Pinot Grigio?  I don't need two, I'll just take one."

Pinot Grigio.  He didn't need two, just one.
(Photo from Chatham Imports)

So he started talking.  He had retired in November, he loves music, really loves it, loves what this guy plays, loves my purse, how it's blue and all, and he has a place up on Lake Superior where he likes to spend as much time as possible in the summer, but now that he's retired, he can go up there so much more often, and it's beautiful, really beautiful. 

I'm sure it is beautiful.  I like the Great Lakes, myself.  But this was all said with a soused, show-off manner, and I was nodding, half-smiling, all the time thinking, as soon as I've finished my half-glass of wine, I'm out of here.

Then, here comes Mr. Roving Guitar again, playing his latest request, "Little Red Riding Hood."

He's roved over to my table where Mr. Not Cox is still talking, trying to talk over the music, but Mr. Roving Guitar gets louder.  Now, if you don't know the song, you really need to click the button and listen to it.

Because, lo and behold, when Mr. Roving Guitar gets to this verse, the song changes key and gets serious:

What big eyes you have,
The kind of eyes that drive wolves mad.
So just to see that you don't get chased
I think I ought to walk with you for a ways.

and Mr. Roving Guitar, who until now was all boom-chick, play everything exactly the same way, GETS DOWN ON ONE KNEE IN FRONT OF ME AS HE IS PLAYING and is singing to me and in essence telling me, with great, exaggerated but no less sincere seriousness, that the guy sitting at my table is the Big Bad Wolf.

I start laughing because though I do not need him to tell me this, he is absolutely right, and I am impressed at his chutzpah in doing this right in front of the soused locals who surely know him the same as they know Mr. Not Cox.

The thing is, I'm not sure Mr. Not Cox understood what was happening.  He was chuckling away merrily, as if his mark was not being explicitly warned against him.

And then, as the song is going on and Mr. Roving Guitar continues to sing so clearly in my direction he might as well be speaking entire paragraphs to me, my face turns red.  Flaming, super-hot, and I am sure, beet red.

"You're blushing!" Mr. Not Cox announces, pointing.

How very astute.  There's nothing like being pointed at to make a blushing person stop blushing.  Right. 

I said, "Yes, I know," and tried to make myself stop by taking a sip of wine.  Mr. Roving Guitar got up off his knee and went roving around the rest of the bar, finishing his song.

Well, I sat and listened to Mr. Not Cox talk for a little while longer, until I had finished my wine and paid up, and then I took my leave.  I looked around for Mr. Roving Guitar so I could wave in his direction and let him see I was leaving by myself, no wolf with me.  But Mr. Roving Guitar had finished his set and was talking to a woman he knew at the bar.  So I tipped my mental cap to him and left.

And now I will tell you a few things about Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, in a publicity still for a 1965 terrible re-make called When the Boys Meet the Girls
(Photo from Robert Kruse's page on Sam the Sham etc.)

  • You may know them by their more famous song, Wooly Bully.
  • Sam the Sham's real name is Domingo Samudio.  Some sources spell it Zamudio, except people shortened his last name and called him Sam.
  • Sam was born in Dallas, Texas, and that's where his group hails from.
    • He was in the Navy in Panama, and then he was a carny for a couple of years, after dropping out of U Texas-Arlington, and before forming the band that would become the Pharaohs.
    • They dressed up and called themselves Pharaohs after Yul Brynner's costumes in The Ten Commandments (1956).
      •  "Old Ramses, the King of Egypt, looked pretty cool," Sam said once in an interview, "so we decided to become The Pharaohs." 
    Sam and the Pharaohs, 1965
    (Photo from Wikipedia)

    • He called himself "the Sham" because, as he said, "what I was doing, fronting the band and cutting up was called 'shamming.'"
    • The band went through a lot of iterations.  The first group recorded an album which didn't sell at all, so they broke up.  Then another group of people formed the band, they wrote "Wooly Bully" (which is about a monster with two big horns and a wooly jaw), which became all kinds of popular.
    • The band changed some more, they recorded lots of songs about nursery rhymes, including "Little Red Riding Hood," and they took the show on the road.
    • For a while, they were backed by a group of three female backup singers who called themselves The Shamettes.
      • "When I was a kid, about 10 years old or so," Mr. Not Cox told me, "Sam the Sham and the Shamettes came to the fair and my dad took me to see them.  Now, we're from a small town and we're not dumb, there's just a lot you don't see.  And I had never seen anything like the Shamettes."
      • "Why, what were they wearing?" I asked, thinking maybe they had on spangly suits like Las Vegas dancing girls.
      • "I can't remember, I was only ten, but I do remember I had never seen anything like that." And he gestured with both hands in front of him, signifying, breasts.

    Sam and the Shamettes.  They look pretty tame to me.  But maybe this was a relaxed moment, not on stage in all their Shamette glamor.  Or maybe what looks tame to adult-me seemed like a really big deal to a small-town 10 year-old boy.
    (Posted on Reddit)

    • Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' fame started to fade as musical tastes changed in the late 60s and early 70s.  Sam tried to remake himself and recorded a blues album in 1971.  It won a Grammy --  for Best Album Liner Notes. 

    How's that for a travel Apple?

    Monday, May 5, 2014

    Apple #671: Why are Barns Red?

    I went on a trip last weekend, and I learned many things on that trip that I'd like to share with you. But I also have many pictures to go through and make them look better for public viewing. So while I get that stuff together, I'll tell you something I learned from another trip I took a week or two before.

    So I was in the car with my parents, and we were taking a back-roads way to get somewhere.  My dad said, "Look for the big red barn."  That was his landmark at the corner where we were supposed to turn.  I thought, why are barns red, anyway?

    Thus a Daily Apple is born.

    Even this dog is wondering, I wonder why that barn is red.
    (Photo from Bedlam Farm)

    • When the States were first being colonized and Europeans were building barns here, they didn't paint them at all.

    Present-day unpainted barn in Ontario.
    (Photo from East Gwillimbury CameraGirl)

    • People back in Europe painted their barns, but paint was really expensive and the early settlers didn't have that kind of money.  So they made do without paint.
    • The problem with the unpainted barn was that it was susceptible to mold and sun damage and other forms of decay.  So you'd have to replace parts of the barn every so often, which could also get expensive.
    • After a few decades of trial and error, people discovered that one particular mixture was good at protecting the wood from some of the decay.  Ingredients:
      • milk--a very common base in what was paint in those days
      • lime--the mineral, not the fruit, used as whitewash
      • linseed oil--a plant-based oil, good at repelling termites and other wood-eating bugs.  It is naturally orange-ish tan and it stains wood that color too.
    • But while the linseed oil was good at stopping bugs, it wasn't very good at stopping the mold.  Soon farmers discovered that mold really does not like rust.  So they started adding rust to their barn-painting mixture.  Rust, a.k.a. ferrous oxide or iron oxide, is also orange-ish in color, so that stained the wood an even darker color, something in between orange and dark red.
      • Irony note (hey, that's a pun!): back then, people were adding rust to the paint to keep the mold away.  Today, people put paint on metal to keep the rust away. 

    Someone in Leelanau, Michigan has a sense of humor.
    (Photo from Ohio Barns)

    • Then the Industrial Revolution happened, and toward the end of the 19th century, paint got a lot cheaper.  The cheapest color of paint was red.  Why? Because the ingredient that turns paint red is rust, and rust is some dirt-cheap and prevalent stuff.  So the rust made the red paint cheap.
    • When people tell this story about the red barns, the don't say that the red paint also contained rust, though it probably did, at least at first.  People say that farmers bought the red paint because it was cheap. 
    • The result was, a whole lot of people started painting their barns red.*  Eventually, barns eventually seemed to us non-farmers like they just plain ought to be red.

    Red barn in Oklahoma
    (Photo from Photos from [the Middle of] Oklahoma)

    • I can't find anything that says for certain whether red paint today contains rust.  I suspect it does not.  I suspect the red is made using some other even less expensive materials.  Which in turn means that the red paint would not actually protect the wood from mold.  So probably the wood is treated in some other method, and then painted red for cosmetic reasons.
    • *Not everybody painted their barns red.  In some places, whitewash was still the cheapest coating, so a lot of barns in those areas were kept white.  White is still the preferred color for dairy barns in some parts of the country, especially in Pennsylvania. But now that preference probably has less to do with cost and more to do with people's associations with white and milk and cleanliness.

    Whitewash barn, location unknown
    (Photo from

    • *In tobacco-growing states like Kentucky and North Carolina, barns are often painted black.  This is because black absorbs and retains more heat, which helps to cure the tobacco that's stored in the barns.

    Black barn with tobacco leaves hanging from the ceiling, being cured. This is in Harrison County, Kentucky.
    (Photo from Prune Picker)

    The red paint also makes a really nice contrast against green grass. So people like to paint red barns. I mean, they like to paint pictures of red barns. Like this:

    Red barn painting by William Erwin
    (Prints available from fineartamerica)