Birds and pirates

Michael Raffety

2-22-2016

My cousin in Ketchikan, Alaska, sprinkles bread crumbs on her deck rail in the morning to feed the “poor starving” Steller’s jays. She has some of the fattest jays I have ever seen. There is also a red squirrel that shows up for the bread crumbs, but he keeps his back to a post so nothing sneaks up behind him.

What the squirrel is worried about is he can’t fly away when a hawk shows up.

In fact, a sharp shinned hawk regularly alights upon my cousin’s deck rail, hoping to snag a jay or a squirrel. Not just one hawk, either, My cousin’s husband and I were amazed to see a pair of sharp shinned hawks perched on their deck rail.

Their deck is about one story up from ground level. It’s a long series of switchback stairs to their living room, which they positioned at that level so they would have a view of Tongass Narrows.

Around our house a little west of Placerville the Steller’s jays look pretty healthy. Earlier this winter there were two dozen hopping around in advance of a coming storm. Now there are fewer than half a dozen. Just enough to squawk at me when I walk by, to warn every other animal of my approach. They seem to squawk more than the California jays.

The Steller’s jays seem pretty healthy. They hop around on the rocks looking for bugs. They also check out the ground.

The birds that really check out the ground –- other than annoying turkeys -– are spotted towhees that will rustle around in the leaves looking for bugs hiding under leaves.

The most fearless bird is Hutton’s vireo. I had a pile of brush I had cut from a dead oak in my side yard. I was picking up pieces to chop up and put in my green waste can when I noticed this little bird walking around under the small pile of branches totally oblivious to me.

The most aggravating birds besides acorn woodpeckers who occasionally hammer on our eves (we stuccoed our house to deprive them of the challenge of filling our attic with acorns), the most aggravating birds are red-shafted flickers. They like to roost in our eaves, add their own peck marks and poop on our front steps, back porch and decks. I go out in the early evening before dark and chase them off. I think I have them trained now not to show up. Other than their roosting high, they seem to be a ground dwelling bird. Whenever I drive off there is a small flock on the other side of our gate that fly off from near the roadside.

. . .

Recently I read “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” by Brian Killmeade and Don Yaeger. It was a quick read but very enlightening. The subtitle was “The Forgotten War That Changed American History.”

The warships that Jefferson commissioned first as secretary of state, then as president and followed by President James Madison are iconic names, many of which I recognize as names of aircraft carriers that were in service when I was in the Navy in the 1960s – Constellation, Intrepid, Essex, Enterprise, the Hornet and Bon Homme Richard. The nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington was launched in 1986. The Philadelphia was a WWII cruiser and later a Los Angeles Class attack submarine.

I was on the aircraft carrier Saratoga for a Mediterranean cruise. When we returned to Mayport, Fla., we were replaced by the Enterprise. The New York was a battleship that saw action in WWI and WWII; the latest ship to carry that name is an amphibious transport dock that carries up to 700 Marines. There is no modern version of the USS Constitution. The three-masted heavy frigate is on display in Charleston Navy yard in Massachusettes. After the Barbary pirate wars it performed heroic duty in the War of 1812. The John Adams was a ballistic submarine that has since been decommissioned. The Nautilus was the first nuclear powered submarine.

The most interesting part of the Barbary pirates war was the role of the Marines.

William Eaten was formerly one of the naval officers captured by Tripoli pirates. He later became an ambassador and then an Army captain. Declaring himself a general, he led a mercenary Arab army along with a marine lieutenant and a dozen Marines from Alexandria, Egypt, to Derne, Libya, with the brother of the bashaw of Tripoli, whom Eaton was going to depose and replace with his brother, who would release all the American enslaved prisoners. With three American naval frigates bombarding the fort Gen. Eaton and his forces captured the fort in 2.5 hours after a 52-day march.

And this is where the Marines’ song comes from: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli …” The key is “the shores.” The Marines didn’t actually invade Tripoli itself, though that was Eaton’s plan. Instead he got undercut by an ambassador, the John Kerry of his time.

The new pirates are the Iranians. The U.S. Navy Riverine Command Boats they captured cost $2.8 million each. U.S. built and Swedish designed, they have a top speed of 49 mph. The have an infrared sensor system, thermal imaging, a laser rangefinder, and long-range radar. According to a column by William Hamilton, J.D., Ph.D. provided to me by a retired Naval officer, “Apparently, one of the RCB’s had a propulsion problem and radioed U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain for assistance. Congressman Louis Gohmert (R) of Texas claims the Obama White House intervened, asked the Iranian Navy to provide assistance, and ordered the U.S. 5th Fleet to stand down.“

The nuclear aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman is currently on station in the Straight of Hormuz. The Truman quote associated with the carrier is “Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.”

I don’t believe Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s statement that the heavily armed boats wandered off course into Iranian territory. Congress should investigate this piracy, first interviewing the boat crews and key officers from the Fifth Fleet, then interview those national security hacks in the White House, including Valerie Jarrett.

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