Chance meeting

As part of our privy expedition of the other day we came upon this structure. Convinced, from the vantage of the trail, that it was an out-house I got off the bike to photograph it. Now I am not so sure. If it is a privy it’s at least a two-seater. Even if it is only a storage shed it certainly showed some nice color and texture. I first cropped the image so that it showed only the details of the weathered door to the left, then I thought that the textures set against those of the trees and distant hills gave the overall composition more interest. Desaturating the background served to set the structure apart from the rest of the scene. We had a nice time on the bike and rode the out-n-back from Ross Run to Rattlesnake Rock. On both the outbound and inbound legs we were treated to a view of a solitary Bald Eagle. I know, from discussions with friends, that this magnificent bird can be quite common in other parts of the country. In Pennsylvania, however, glimpses of our national symbol are quite rare indeed.


Did you know that by 1963 it was estimated that only 487 nesting pairs of this iconic bird were known to exist in the 48 contiguous states? Did you also know that it was the pesticide DDT which nearly drove this bird to the brink of extinction? DDT was first produced in 1872 and was used with great success to control both Malaria and Typhus during WWII. It wasn’t until the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring that the public became aware of the potential for DDT to act as an environmental toxin. DDT is dangerous because it cannot be metabolized and is therefore subject to a phenomenon we call bioaccumulation. You may remember that organisms within ecosystem may be classified as either primary producers (the plants), primary consumers (herbivores), secondary consumers (carnivorous organisms which consume the herbivores), tertiary consumers, or top carnivores. Even if DDT exists in very small quantities it will be taken up by plants. Because primary consumers ingest large amounts of plant material they will take in lots of DDT which cannot be broken down – and it accumulates in their tissues. Because secondary consumers ingest large numbers of primary consumers they consequently take in lots of DDT which cannot be broken down – and it accumulates in even higher concentrations in their tissues. And so on. By the time we get to the top of the trophic pyramid the amount of DDT may be many thousands of times more plentiful in the tissues of a top carnivore than it is in the tissues of the plants at the bottom of the trophic pyramid. It turns out that in such high concentrations DDT influenced the calcium metabolism of many birds of prey such that they produced thin-shelled eggs which failed when set upon. Thanks to some terrific scientific sleuthing this became widely known and DDT was banned in the states in 1972. Birds of prey are now mostly recovered from this insult. Will we ever learn? No, I do not think so.

16 thoughts on “Chance meeting

  1. Love the photo! DDT almost totally did in the osprey also! The eagles gather about an hour’s drive north of us at Reelfoot Lake during the winter. I’ve always meant to go. This may be the winter to do it!

  2. You definitely have an eye for texture, design and color. You also have a way with words. Nice shot!

  3. I was fortunate to grow up in the northwest corner of PA near nesting bald eagles in the local state gamelands. We frequently see them by their nest and also along nearby roads and in pastures. I always feel privileged when I see them and keep binoculars in my car just in case. A few of the most memorable sightings I’ve had were 1) on my parents’ road on an overhanging branch – we parked directly below and took pictures through the moonroof; 2) seeing one catch and eat a fish; and 3) just this semester I took my class to a field site on a steep slope by Raystown Lake. As we turned to look at the vista from the ridge top before leaving, a bald eagle circled low in the sky above us. Majestic really is the correct adjective. I think the disastrous effects of DDT and the recovery of bald eagles are more symbolic of our country than if the pesticide hadn’t been used. As a nation, we tend to take action without consideration for potential consequences (particularly of the environmental variety), make a mess, and then scrabble to fix it in time. If only all of our messes could be resolved so well as the eagle recovery!

    • Hi Renee. Thanks for commenting and for relating your up-close-and-personal eagle experiences. You are very lucky. In nearly 20 years here Joanna and I have seen a Bald Eagle perhaps a dozen times – certainly no more. They really are something. Yeah .. the DDT-thing is pretty sad .. score one for science! Dave

  4. Desaturating the background was a very artful way to set off the two-seater. I still find it hard to believe that you are able to track down all these weathered structures that have such great texture and color! I learned something too, about the bald eagle and DDT. What a treat that you got to see one! 🙂

    • Yeah … we don’t see them often but when we do it’s very exciting – they’re really beautiful animals – an entirely appropriate national symbol. They tend to fly along the river valley corridors – looking for fish. Sarah, our good friend who now lives in Seattle, used to work as a Fisheries Inspector out of Alaska. She reported that there were so many Bald Eagles out there that they were a nuisance! Joanna says that I should have explained why I didn’t take a picture of the thing – it was too far away (on the other side of the creek) – and I don’t own a long (telephoto) lens for the Nikon! Maybe for my birthday! D

      • On the very morning of the day you posted this I was sitting with Audrey at the breakfast table and something in the sky caught my eye – two beautiful bald eagles soaring across the sky! Even though they may have been commonplace in fishing villages in AK they still are a heart-stopper. I jumped out of my chair and picked Audrey up and pressed our faces to the window and we watched them for the whole 10 seconds they were in our line of sight. This was a few hours before I read your post!

        • You do know that my subscription to the Psychic Friends Network has been paid-in-full for nearly a decade now! As a matter of fact I am a Gold Club Member. I simply knew. Oh yes … and, by the way, Audrey will grow up to be smart, good looking, and very, very happy.

  5. 😦 Isn’t it tragic? But the good news is they are coming back. There are quite a few nesting pairs in Vermont now. Especially near the lakes. And the same for the Peregrine Falcons. Beautiful photo, by the way. I bet it’s a two-seater. What a great bike ride!

    • Joanna remembers the Ospreys being very rare over Cape Cod when she was a kid. Now they’re back as nesting pairs. The sad thing is that although DDT has been banned from agricultural use, it is still used (on a gobal scale, though not in the the US) for the management of significant parasite vectors. Thanks for taking the time to respond today. D

  6. You would be appalled at the pesticide use in Latin America. Anyone can buy pesticides in Costa Rica and Ecuador … 2,4,D is applied to pastures by workers with backpack sprayers and sometimes a motorized blower .. they walk back and forth spraying large areas, and of course the drift is everywhere. Thank you for a great post – it’s written clearly and is easily understood. Lisa/z

    • Thanks for the extended comment Lisa. You mentioned 2,4,D … you may be interested to know that this is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring plant hormone – auxin. This hormone stimulates plant growth. So – they spray this stuff and the plants are stimulated to grow way too quickly … they deplete their nutrient reserves and die. So far so good – nothing too bad! The difficulty comes when improperly manufactured preparations of the herbicide are contaminated with dioxins – and then there’s a REAL problem! You may remember Agent Orange? It was one of these 2,4,D preparations which contained dioxins. Bad news. Thanks much for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry we both couldn’t have been more positive! D

  7. I grew up in the upper Mississippi Valley, where Bald Eagles went from rare to common place. I now live in an area that is known for its eagles. That is the most amazing thing, to me. But in this time when our law makers deny and even publicly denounce science, I fear we are doomed to suffer greater tragedies. I love the photo, the way you treated it is very effective.

    • Thanks Gary for taking the time to comment. I never set eyes on a Bald Eagle until I moved to PA from IN from NY from MA. We have a friend who worked as a Fisheries Inspector off Alaska – she reported that there were so many Bald Eagles out there so as to be a nuisance! I can’t imagine. The eagles out here tend to follow along the river corridors. They really are beautiful and an entirely appropriate national symbol. As far as your comment regarding science and society – yup, I’m going to have to agree – absolutely and entirely. The difficulty comes when scientific opinion flies in the face of what people (selfishly) want … like MORE and MORE and MORE STUFF. When we finally (if ever) learn to balance our needs, wants, and desires against what is good for the Earth – we’ll all be better off. But getting that lesson across is a difficult, if not impossible, job. Let’s both agree to be more positive … tomorrow! D

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