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A Trip to Italy Brings Good Times, But Many Concerns About Birds

Last April, during spring break, with a group of teachers,
students and adults affiliated with South River High School, I went to Italy.
This wasn’t a school sponsored trip, but we all went together and visited quite
a few spots – some that are on the beaten path and others not so much.

The Itinerary

We started and ended the trip in Rome. In between, there were overnight stays in Alberobello and Meta (near Sorrento), with visits to Castel del Monte, Polignano di Mare, Locorotondo, Matera, Grotte di Castellana, Sorrento and Capri . While I had lived in bella Napoli back in my Navy days, there were quite a few places on this trip I hadn’t seen before and I’m glad I did, plus the time with my daughter was unforgettable. We had a great time.  And now that you’ve seen the itinerary, you can tell  we moved around a lot and we did this by bus. I sat in the front seat of the bus, right behind the driver – this gave me a great vantage point. Between the long bus rides and the visits to so many places, I saw a problem and in my opinion, it’s one more people need to know about.  

Where Are The Birds?

As you might know, I like birds and I look for them wherever I am. But, where were the songbirds in Italy? There were so few in all the places we  visited and during the ride from one spot to another, it was alarming. I saw some pigeons, crows, common blackbirds and gulls in Rome. I saw some gulls in Capri. I saw lesser kestrels in Matera that had just arrived on their migration from Africa. Also in Matera were swifts and swallows.

Some photos of birds –

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Common blackbird seen in Roman Forum.
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A very spunky hooded crow seen at the Coliseum.
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Gull seen in Capri.
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Fisherman and friend in the Gulf of Naples.

Other than those, I can’t name one other songbird observed. The problem, which admittedly, I was completely unaware of, had been well documented by others. And as I grew more and more concerned over the lack of birds, I turned to the internet for answers. It’s disheartening. In an article from National Geographic, published in May of this year, “ According to research by Birdlife International, a global partnership of bird conservation groups, more than five million birds are hunted illegally in Italy every year—by far the most in Europe. Many are killed immediately and eaten in traditional dishes. Others, especially songbirds, are kept alive and smuggled abroad, where they’re sold as pets or as bait birds for further trapping activities, as on the nearby Mediterranean island of Malta and its tiny neighbor, Gozo.” There are more articles, many more. In one called, “The Massacre of European Songbirds,” published in Newsweek in 2015, it states, “Resting on one knee, the hunter poses for the camera, his kill laid out in rows of 20 before him – birds ordered neatly into their respective species. The rarest are placed at the sides; red breasted geese, shelducks and a single sandpiper flanking dozens of coots, teals and white fronted geese. After the camera shutter snaps, the birds are quickly packed into plastic sacks. Before the end of the day, they will be skinned, drawn, packed and frozen in preparation to be smuggled overland to Italy. Within 48 hours, many will have been sold on the black market to Italian restaurants who will offer them up as traditional Italian fare.”

In addition to hunting songbirds, there’s another big problem – machinery used for harvesting olives. In this article, which appeared May 22, 2019 issue of Olive Oil Times, titled, “Millions of Birds Killed by Nighttime Harvesting in Mediterranean,” is this lede – “The songbirds, many of which migrate from northern and central Europe to winter in North Africa, frequently stop in southern Spain, France, Portugal and Italy, to rest while they are traveling and are sucked out of the trees at night by super-intensive harvesting machines.”

In the United States, in my neighborhood for instance, I can’t drive a block without seeing birds – lots of them. Is it possible I was completely oblivious to this problem in Italy when I was stationed there in the late 1980s? Or is it that birds seen 30 years ago no longer are being seen? Either way, the absence of birds in Italy is alarming and it was a wake up call for me. There are organizations that are trying to help. As some might be aware, I’ve written quite a lot about the bald eagle poisonings in Maryland.  Because birds have wings, they move from place to place – bald eagles and songbirds included. A problem in one area for birds is a problem in many areas – as in the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Organizations Helping Birds in Italy / Europe

Some organizations working on these issues:

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter.

Bird Life International

Carabinieri (Italian Military Police)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

If you click on this, you’ll find an article I referenced previously that has a lot of information about what is being done to help. Do read it.

Why so long?

It’s now late July and my travel to Italy was in April. Why such a long delay in writing this? I love Italy, the Italian people, language, culture and, of course, the food. I’ve always considered it my home away from home and a place where I experienced so much. The moment I first reported to the Italy for the Navy I knew it’d be a lifelong love affair and it has been that.  It’s not easy to reconcile that something so bad is happening in a place I love so much. I guess it’s similar to the poisoning of bald eagles in Maryland, right? So, there it is. Italy has a problem. And perhaps it should be considered a problem that goes beyond Italy. Because birds fly.  

Gull above St. Peter’s Basilica

Note

You’ll be seeing Matera on the big screen soon and it’s my guess people will want to know more about it. In the near future, I’ll be sharing another post just about Matera. You can subscribe to this blog (see below in comment area) – you’ll get notifications when new posts go up. Ciao, for now.




A Place In Davidsonville and Why It’s So Important

The ability to communicate is important to all of us. To our military and government personnel, communication is key to the defense of the United States (and beyond). Communications stations and transmitting facilities around the world provide the ability to send and receive messages, sometimes classified, sometimes not, sometimes mundane, sometimes not.

I recently wrote about the 100th anniversary of the Navy’s transmitter facility in Annapolis and while that site isn’t used any longer for communications, I was reminded of another local site that is still being used. Some might not even be aware of its existence.

All the information shared here is public –  it was all released to the public and is all unclassified.

First, about Davidsonville – it’s a community in central Anne Arundel County, bordering Prince George’s County.  There’s still a lot of farmland in Davidsonville and it has retained its semi-rural character.

Second, what’s a transmitter site? This is where messages/communications that began somewhere else are then transmitted to their intended recipients all over the world. The equipment located on active transmitting sites does require human supervision/intervention to make repairs and/or replacement as needed.

The 980- acre Davidsonville Transmitter Site is a U.S. Air Force property, located approximately 30 miles away from Joint Base Andrews(JBA). JBA is home to the 89th Airlift Wing, which provides global Special Air Mission airlift, logistics, aerial port and communications for the president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant commanders and other senior military and elected leaders as tasked by the White House, Air Force chief of staff and Air Mobility Command. The 89th Airlift Wing maintains 24/7 alert, operating the Executive Airlift Training Center and Government Network Operation Center. In other words, the Davidsonville Transmitting Site is of global importance.

Map from a June 1985 report prepared for the United States Air Force by Engineering-Science for the purpose of aiding in the Air Force Installation Restoration Program

Map from a June 1985 report prepared for the United States Air Force by Engineering-Science for the purpose of aiding in the Air Force Installation Restoration Program

Because of its mission and the equipment located there, it’s not often the Davidsonville Transmitter Site receives attention. And it’s extremely rare to see photos of the site.  There have been a couple of times over the years when Air Force personnel did write stories about it – with accompanying photos. Again, this information was released to the public.

In an article called, “D-Ville Dragons roar on at Andrews off-site,” published on September 11, 2009, Capt. Christian Hodge of the 316th Wing Public Affairs wrote,

Leaders from the 316th Wing, 89th Airlift Wing, and the Air Force District of Washington recently travelled roughly 30 miles north of Andrews to visit the 89th Communications Squadron’s Davidsonville Transmitter Site and meet some of the men and women that work there – the “D-ville Dragons.”

Colonel John Long, 316th Mission Support Group commander, Col. Robert Mulheran, 89th Airlift Support Group commander, and Col. Brian Bellacicco, AFDW’s director of logistics, installations and mission support, toured the site, received a mission brief and discussed the future of the historic, yet still vital,
facility.

“The antennas and personnel who maintain them are critical to Air Mobility Command as they support nearly all global airlift operations” said Colonel Mulheran. “By maintaining the site and its equipment the men and women of the Davidsonville Transmitter site enable communications reach-back capability for all AMC gray-tail aircraft, very important person special air mission, or VIPSAM, aircraft, White House Communications Agency, Department of State and U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM.”

Other missions supported at the Davidsonville site include: the TOP 5 – President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff; command and control for mobility Air Forces; global humanitarian and North Atlantic Treaty Organization support; Air Force Space Command launch and recovery operations; dissemination of emergency action messages; 1st Helicopter Squadron and secure high frequency e-mail to the Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System fleet.

“The men and women of the Davidsonville Transmitter site day in and day out do a phenomenal job,” said Colonel Mulheran. “The site personnel repeatedly earn the admiration of senior Wing leadership for their professionalism that goes above and beyond their daily mission.”

This professionalism clearly shows in the day-to-day maintenance of the installation. All three colonels were impressed by the overall condition of more than 50-year-old facility.

“While old, the all who visit Davidsonville Site immediately see the pride the site’s personnel take in maintaining the facility,” said Colonel Mulheran. “It is essential that the Davidsonville site present a first class physical impression to match the top notch work done by its personnel.”

The facility was established in 1953 and sits on 980 acres of beautiful woods and grassland of the Maryland countryside. It is made up of four work centers: satellite and wideband maintenance, HF global radio maintenance, antenna maintenance and power production.

The 40 personnel assigned are charged with a 24/7 operation and security of the facility. This includes maintenance of all communications and support equipment located at the Davidsonville Transmitter site, and also the Brandywine Receiver site.

The Brandywine site is an unmanned communications facility contained on 1640 acres, housing high frequency SCOPE command receivers. It is remotely monitored by Davidsonville personnel.

“A typical day at Davidsonville involves physical fitness training, repairing communication outages, and site and grounds maintenance,” said Senior Master Sgt. Walter Cox, 89 CS flight superintendent. “Personnel take a great deal of pride in being assigned to those workcenters and being a D-ville Dragon.”

Sergeant Cox said his very first Air Force assignment was at Brandywine, some 25 years ago, when it was still manned. He also said in contrast to the sophisticated equipment and complex mission of the Davidsonville Transmitter site, how they gained their moniker the “Dragons” is rather uncomplicated.

“Many years ago someone came up with the name because they knew how to draw a dragon, and it sounded good – the D-ville Dragons,” said Sergeant Cox.

Colonel John Long, 316 MSG Commander, Colonel Robert Mulheran, 89 ASG Commander and Colonel Brian Bellacicco, AFDW A4/7 Commander, visited the Air Forces’ Davidsonville communication site Wednesday September 2, 2009. Base leadership was given a tour of the site that is run and maintained by members of 844th Com and 316th CES. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Melissa V. Rodrigues)

In an article called, “Airman’s initiatives increase realism, enhance SERE training, ” published on September 18, 2013,  Senior Airman Lindsey A. Porter of the  11th Wing Public Affairs wrote,

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — Darting through woods and sprinting across open fields, Aircrew from the 89th Airlift Wing found themselves making every effort to avoid being seen by patrolling enemy aircraft. Although they knew this was a simulated evasion mission, these SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Refresher Course students understood the importance of this training.

Their instructor, Staff Sgt. Mathew Fistler, 89th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist, has driven home the idea that what they learn in this scenario could one day save their lives. For this reason, it was Fistler who employed the Army UH-72 Lakota Helicopters from neighboring Ft. Belvoir, Va., to act as this scene’s mock enemy aircraft and enlisted them to seek out his evading students.

“All aircrew with a high risk of isolation must attend a 19-day SERE training course called S-V80-A at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State,” Fistler said. “Then, once at their permanent duty station, HRI Airmen complete a SERE Refresher Course once every three years at their unit. Certain objectives must be met to become SERE re-qualified. A base can hold refresher training in a number of ways, as long as objectives are met.”

Normally composed of various PowerPoint presentations and equipment briefs, most refresher course students on Andrews end their training without being chased by aircraft. However, realizing the importance of his mission, and the mission of those he teaches, Fistler recruited the help of augmentees as well as Army aircraft to act as opposing forces during this portion of training. The idea being, the more realistic the training, the more his students would remember it in an emergency situation.

“This was my third refresher class and it was by far the closest to my original training back at Fairchild,” said Air National Guard Bureau strategic analyst and refresher course student, Maj. Christian Cornette. “At this point looking back, we had clear instructions of what to expect during the course, but my guess is that the class under-estimated the training; I know I did. The entire event, from our van simulating getting hijacked to the helo extraction, made this training environment quite realistic.”

“The bottom line is that Staff Sgt. Fistler is constantly looking for ways to improve training and make it more interesting than just reading PowerPoint slides in a classroom,” said Maj. Andy Freeman, 89th OSS chief of wing intelligence. “Fistler’s initiative for increased realism helps drive home the teaching points that if you do these things, the ‘bad guys’ looking for you won’t find you.”

Noting his unique role as a SERE specialist on Andrews, Fistler remarked that helping protect the lives of those he trains is his main motivation for adding realism to his curriculum. If his students remember his training, he says, they in turn can save someone else’s life.

“At Andrews, we’re responsible for providing SERE training to 89th AW aircrew, as well as aircrew from units throughout the National Capital Region,” Fistler said. “Essentially, the aircrew we teach are responsible for making sure anyone can survive in case of emergency. These aircrew need to be able to keep not just themselves, but also civilians, distinguished visitors, and possibly even the President alive in any given survival situation. It’s a huge responsibility to make sure they are well-trained; it’s a job that we don’t take lightly.”

Furthermore, Fistler finds extra motivation for adding realism to his scenarios in his student’s reactions.

“My favorite part of being a SERE specialist is being able to see a noticeable change in my students,” Fistler said. “For some, SERE training is like their kryptonite. If I have a student for a few training days in a row, however, usually I’ll see a change in their attitude, receptiveness and knowledge level for personnel recovery procedures.”

By constantly coming up with new-and-improved training ideas, Fistler hopes to improve Andrews’ SERE refresher training even more in the near future. Currently, he is looking for ways to incorporate the 11th Security Forces Squadron’s K-9 units into tracking his ‘evading’ students.

Whatever the means, Fistler intends to lead memorable enough training that if the need ever arises, his students remember how to survive, evade, resist or escape any life-threatening situation.

“Fistler’s goal is to make sure every person he teaches, regardless of rank or branch of service, gets the information they need in order to handle worst-case scenarios,” Freeman said. “He puts forth the same 150 percent effort regardless of the student. His impact is felt far beyond the 89th AW and Joint Base Andrews. Like the old adage that says, ‘the more you sweat (and get chased by real people, dogs, and helicopters) in training, the less you bleed (or get captured) in war.'”

Airmen from Joint Base Andrews are held at gunpoint during a training exercise at Davidsonville Communications Site, Md., Aug. 21, 2013. The exercise was designed to teach survival techniques in the event of an aircraft mishap or aircrew capture. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin O’Shea)

An Airman from Joint Base Andrews hijacks a vehicle during a training exercise at Davidsonville Communications Site, Md., Aug. 21, 2013. The exercise was designed to teach survival techniques in the event of an aircraft mishap or aircrew capture. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin O’Shea)

Senior Airman Yuriy Dubrov, left, and Staff Sgt. Jesse McCarley, set up a radio communication site during a combat survival training exercise at Davidsonville Communications Site, Md., Aug. 21, 2013. The daylong exercise was designed to teach survival skills in the event of an aircraft mishap. Dubrov is a radio frequency technician with the 89th Communications Squadron. McCarley is the aircrew continuation training noncommissioned officer in charge with the 113th Operations Support Flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin O’Shea)

Staff Sgt. Jesse McCarley, searches for pilots from Joint Base Andrews during a training exercise at Davidsonville Communications Site, Md., Aug. 21, 2013. The exercise was designed to teach survival techniques in the event of an aircraft mishap. McCarley is the aircrew continuation training noncommissioned officer in charge with the 113th Operations Support Flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin O’Shea)

Next time you’re driving through Davidsonville, don’t judge a book by its cover. It is peaceful and semi-rural, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Were you stationed at the Davidsonville Transmitter Site and do you have unclassified memories you’d like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below.

 

 




The Holy Grail of the Bird World – a Snowy Owl Story

Imagine a bird rarely seen out of the Arctic. A big, beautiful, white bird with golden eyes. It’s a photogenic bird for sure, providing the perfect contrast against the backdrop of all landscapes. Even in the snow, those eyes stick out. They tell a story. But this is a story we don’t fully understand. There is little research on these birds because of their extremely distant homes.  The homes where they were born and where they will parent their young. There is uncertainty on why, where and when these birds choose to travel. How long will they stay? Are they young? Male? Female? What do they eat or what don’t they eat? Is their propensity for visiting beaches and airports really because those places look like the tundra? Why are they flying south from the Arctic lately when this didn’t previously happen? Is it possible this did happen in our very distant past? Will this be every year now?  Does human presence bother snowy owls or are they as intrigued by us as we are of them? All of these mostly unanswered questions give rise to the magical and mysterious aura of this bird. To me, the snowy is the holy grail of the bird world.

Since the first, big (recorded and in modern times) snowy owl irruption in the winter of 2013/14, I’ve tried to see as many snowy owls as I can within a ‘reasonable’ distance. I haven’t decided yet what ‘reasonable’ means –  it’s also subject to daily change. I haven’t traveled to New Jersey or New York from Maryland for snowy owls. Yet. But very close and there was that family vacation in Montreal with the hope of um, uh, well, harfang des neiges.  I’m fairly sure my family kind of knew that. As it happened, there were only two snowy owls in Montreal (that I knew of) while we visited – one in captivity (that I did see) and one on private property, at the home of, wait for it – Celine Dion (that I didn’t see).  If I had Celine’s phone number, I more than likely would have called her. And that, more than likely, would have been a weird conversation.

I’ve seen seven snowy owls in the wild.  Am I the only one that goes, uh, a little out of my way, to see snowy owls?  Not by a long shot. I’ve met so many wonderful, really cool, not-at-all-crazy people, just like me, who hop in the car at the first mention of the possibility of a snowy owl sighting. Most recently, I went to Delaware to see a snowy owl that was seen consistently in the same spot for multiple days. This was a sure thing. As I’m driving down the long road to the beach, I noticed several cars driving in the opposite direction – they were leaving. No one leaves if a snowy is present. Certainly not at 10 am. It was a bad sign. But the thing with birds is they have wings and can leave on a whim, without any notice to humans. This one apparently did. I’ve also seen a few of these birds that were so far off you wouldn’t even know it was bird with just the naked eye. Why do we do this? I can only speak for me and it might be a surprising answer.

My Snowy Owl Story 

In April of 2012, because of a diagnosis of breast cancer and a family history with the disease, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I was on the operating table for over 12 hours, had a lot of complications and was left in pain. Lots of pain. Permanent nerve damage. I’m not going to bore you with the details – if you’re interested, I’ve written a lot about it.  While I was at home recovering, I started seeing and hearing things – stay with me here. Yes, yes, of course, I was on a lot of drugs – prescription drugs. I did, at first, think that the prescription pain medicine was making me hallucinate because why else would there be enormous things flying around my backyard. Every day, I’d see this. Every day, I just went back to sleep thinking the drug-induced fog would go away. And then one day, I started hearing things. It was a weird, high pitched sound coming from my front yard. Great – I’m falling apart physically and now mentally too. For the first time since surgery, I picked up my camera and went outside. And what I discovered were two of the cutest and I mean ridiculously cute, baby barred owls perched on a tree in my driveway – not the least bit scared of humans.  The fact that these juvenile barred owls didn’t have a problem perching close to humans seemed to bother mom and dad barred owl quite a bit and that’s who I was seeing fly around the backyard. This lasted until the derecho – I didn’t see those juveniles again. As for the adults, they’ve been a constant since 2012. They’ve had at least one other brood. And I fell in love with birds of prey.  As time went by, I noticed something happening – the pain that I continue to have from nerve damage, which no medication has helped,  being out in nature actually does do something.  I can’t walk far or fast, but when I can focus on something through my lens, I don’t focus on me or my chest pain. Yes, the pain is still there, but if there’s an owl or an eagle or maybe a polar bear, that is so much  cooler, so much more majestic and so much better to focus on. That’s my story – owls appeared at exactly the right moment in my life. Snowy owls came along shortly thereafter.  It was love at first sight.

Comradery

What happens when we, humans,  do gather to see these birds? Comradery happens. We’re often standing out in the cold, for long periods of time and we’re all there for the same reason – a big, beautiful, mysterious bird. We talk, we share stories, we learn about the places we’re visiting, other birds in the area and about one another. I met an incredibly cool woman recently – in her full-time life, she’s a flight paramedic. Her office is a helicopter. We both love dogs – we talked about those too. There was another woman who just got back from Churchill, Canada – photographing polar bears. That’s my dream trip. Her photos are amazing. Then there was the guy in Delaware who had me laughing about the one that got away, the one we didn’t see and by the way, we both traveled from Annapolis. As we were walking back to our cars, he summed up the predicament we were in – as soon as we leave, he said, the snowy owl would appear, likely in a top hat, cane, and with a penguin next to him.  Yep, this is birder and photographer humor. You never want to miss that perfect shot. Thus far (24 hours later), the snowy owl hasn’t returned to that spot. I do maintain though, a day spent looking for a snowy owl that isn’t seen, is still a good day. I met some other wonderful people during the 2013/14 irruption – a few I’m truly glad to have as friends.

Protocol

As for the protocol, we do need to give snowy owls their distance. They’ve traveled a long way and they need to eat and drink – we shouldn’t force them into flight or scare away that which they’re hunting for. With this current irruption and the last one, quite a few snowy owls have been treated for dehydration. Forcing snowy owls to exert more energy by getting too close is just bad all around. As for respecting the environment, dunes shouldn’t get trampled and private property needs to remain private, unless and only if the property owner has given permission for people to visit.  As for keeping snowy owl locations secret, I’m not a fan. By doing that, I tend to think you’re going to stop good people from seeing an  incredible bird, who wouldn’t have the chance otherwise. This is huge teaching moment for not just us, but kids, teachers, future bird enthusiasts and future conservationists.

Your Snowy Story

Now that you’ve heard my story, I really would like to know yours. Are you in love with snowy owls? Why? How far have you traveled to see one?

 




Add These to Your Eastern Shore / Maryland To-Do List

You know those moments when you were planning on doing one thing, but then …

There we were, husband, kid and I, driving down the road, heading to St. Michaels when we passed the sign for the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.  I said, “we haven’t done that for a while.” Husband responded with, “turn around – let’s do it.”

A beautiful drive led us to the ferry dock in Bellevue.  A sign stated the ferry leaves every 20 minutes and since we didn’t see it, we parked and walked around the small marina, home to mostly workboats. There was also an adjacent beach, which would be a great place for young kids to play.

The ferry service began operating in 1683.  Yes, 1683.  Do you know of any privately-owned business which started in 1683 that’s still around today?  For this reason, the Oxford-Bellevue ferry is thought to be the oldest operating, privately-owned ferry service in this country.  The Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry in Connecticut started service in 1655, making it the oldest ferry service in the U.S. in continuous operation – it is run by the state of Connecticut.

20 minutes after we arrived, we saw the ferry heading towards us.  It took only a few minutes for the other cars to disembark and for mine to load.  Yes, for our crossing – we were the only ones on it.  The crossing over the Tred Avon River takes 10 minutes.  $12 includes the car and the driver and it’s $1 for each additional person.  Do yourself a favor and take a ride on the ferry sometime, especially if you’ve never done it before – it’s part of Maryland’s history.

One other tip for you and also in this same area of the Eastern Shore – when I was asked what I wanted to do on Mother’s Day, or more specifically where I wanted to eat, I said Scossa.

In my humble opinion,  I’d say it’s one of Maryland’s best restaurants – definitely in my top three.  The people of Talbot County are probably going to be upset with me for letting this secret out of the hat, but so be it.

Located in downtown Easton, just across from the courthouse, Scossa offers indoor and outside seating – we always sit outside.

What makes Scossa so good is Giancarlo Tondin, who has a pretty remarkable history in the restaurant world that goes well beyond Maryland.  Read about that here –  http://www.scossarestaurant.com/story/

That was my Mother’s Day and thank you to my family for a great day.  I hope yours was wonderful too.

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If you’re going to have a sidecar, you have to have a sidekick.

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A Hubble Insider Reflects on 25 Years and Going Strong

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.  The observatory has been described as the “Machine of the Century.”  Shortly after launch in 1990, we determined that the primary mirror had a flaw (spherical aberration).  Eventually the flaw was fixed with some very clever engineering.  Since the repair, the observatory has worked far beyond most people’s expectations.  Having worked on Hubble for 21 years I wanted to give you some insight into why this mission has been so successful and is special to me.  I think the world knows about the thousands of discoveries and valuable data this spacecraft has collected over many years.  One can hardly pick up an astronomy book without seeing some reference to Hubble.  It is hard to grasp the impact this mission has made on mankind’s search and exploration of the universe.

What always impressed me the most about working on this mission was the unwavering dedication of the scientists, engineers and support staff — the people!  Many people have dedicated their entire careers to this mission.  At times we worked around the clock and many days without sleep, determined to keep the spacecraft collecting data.  Servicing missions to upgrade the science instruments were stressful and required long hours.  People gave up their Christmas dinners and family time in preparation of Space Shuttle Servicing missions, yet no one ever complained.  Hubble seemed to be more than a machine to the men and women that worked to support her.  So when you see the pretty pictures the Hubble has taken please think of the thousands of dedicated workers that supported her all these years.  I am extremely proud to have been part of this mission.

Lastly some of the technology developed for the Hubble has been put to good use here on earth.  Many are not aware of the sensor technology, developed specially for Hubble, which is now used for the early detection of breast cancer.  This technology has helped to save thousands of lives.  Other technology that is now used in devices such as our smart phones are all offshoots of American’s Space program.  So yes, I too love seeing the pretty photos that Hubble makes, but I am more proud of the team spirit, dedication and engineering ingenuity that such programs bring out in people.   Exploration of the universe is alive and kicking in America’s Space Program.  Let’s all wish the “Hub” a happy anniversary.  Here’s hoping for many more years of discoveries.

Dave Lychenheim

 

About the Author

For 21 years Dave Lychenheim helped to explore the universe by supporting the Hubble Space Telescope while working for Lockheed Martin.  Today Mr. Lychenheim continues his exploration of the planet, just a bit more down to earth.  Mr. Lychenheim’s most recent exploits include several photographic safaris to South Africa.  Seeing the wildlife in its natural habitat has had a profound impact on him as a photographer.   Today Mr. Lychenheim has become an activist working towards better protections for the American Bald Eagle and other wildlife.  Please give his Conowingo Bald Eagles Facebook page a like – https://www.facebook.com/ConowingoBaldEagles?fref=ts

Photo of the Hubble Space Telescope credit to NASA