Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mixed Flocks Appear

Now autumn has begun,mixed bird flocks are roaming many of the woods and backyards of the Mid-Atlantic region.These winter flocks of forest species consist of chickadees,tufted titmice and downy woodpeckers,as well as nuthatches,kinglets and brown creepers.They aren't identical flocks;there may only be a few of those species in a particular flock,depending on local habitat and other factors.
All of these mixed flocks lend a bit of excitement to backyard feeders and woodlots as the leaves begin to change and fall.They band together to help each other find food and keep watch for predators.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Afghan War Update:Marjah Still A Battleground

Although Operation Moshtarak,the move to take back the Marjah region of Afghanistan from Taliban militants,began back in February,the area remains unsettled.This was emphasized on Sunday,when militants launched a three-pronged ambush on U.S. Marines and Afghan forces in Marjah.A vigorous firefight ensued.
At one point,Cobra helicopter gunships were called in for air support.The Cobras pursued militants all the way across the border into Pakistan.The militants fought back with roadside bombs and more ambushes,but were eventually forced to retreat.No U.S. casualties were reported.
In February,Operation Moshtarak was launched by 15,000U.S.,British,Canadian,Danish,Estonian and Afghan troops.Marjah had long been a militant stronghold,a linchpin in the opium trade that funds the enemy.The militants had gone so far as to set up a shadow government there.Retaking Marjah was a formidable challenge;holding it is no less so.As U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke observed,as a general rule in Afghanistan,things go slower than are expected.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Afghan War In Depth:Night Mission's Fiery End

Nine U.S. commandos were killed early Tuesday when their Blackhawk helicopter went down in Zabul Province,Afghanistan.Taliban militants said they shot it down,but the NATO defense alliance said there was no evidence of enemy fire in the area.Helicopter crashes are distressingly common in the dusty,mountainous country.
There is no room for pilot or maintenance crew error in the harsh conditions.
The special operations troops were reportedly on a night mission,which adds to the danger of flight.Another NATO soldier and a civilian were injured in the crash.Four U.S. Navy SEALs were among the dead;the other five were U.S. Army troops.Several SEALs have been killed on previous missions.The worst helicopter crash of the war occurred in 2005,when 16 Americans died.
Located in Southeast Afghanistan,Zabul is notoriously dry and windy,with farming limited to a few irrigated valleys.It is populated by tribes fiercely loyal to the Taliban militants.Zabul borders Pakistan to the south,and Kandahar Province to the west.
NATO and Afghan forces,including U.S. Marines,are trying to flush the militants out of the greater Kandahar area,which is the militant heartland,while intercepting militants at checkpoints that surround the city and conducting raids to capture or kill their leaders.Some success has been reported,such as increasing commerce and movement,building up the Afghan police,clearing the key Argandhab Valley and returning 85% of it to Afghan control.
On the other hand,the militants have been increasing their presence in the north of the country while NATO concentrates on the more populous south.U.S. Marines involved in the southern operations include the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions,sustaining many casualties in Helmand Province,which borders Kandahar Province.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Gray Squirrels Mean

When gray squirrels appeared,I knew the property had become an urban forest.It may have been many decades since this forest wildlife had inhabited this specific tract.Now with trees approaching or at maturity,the squirrels saw a congenial habitat.It had what they need again.The denizens of this place from the time of the vast eastern forests and the passenger pigeon had come back.It would be a lot livelier with them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saudi Bulks Up Defenses

Pending congressional approval,Saudi Arabia may purchase up to 90 billion dollars of U.S. military hardware over a period of years,including F-15 fighter jets,attack helicopters and advanced patrol boats.The big effort is in response to an increasingly formidable Iranian military,as well as instability in neighboring Yemen and Somalia.Iran has been improving the range and accuracy of its ballistic missiles,as well as building up its navy,among other projects.Other Persian Gulf states,such as Kuwait,the United Arab Emirates and Oman are also angling for U.S. equipment.
Israel will buy about 20 of the new F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft,versions of which are currently being produced for,and tested by,the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy.The Israeli government has accepted that Persian Gulf states are arming themselves in light of the Iranian and Islamic militant threats,although Israel is unenthused by the prospect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SLQ-32 Is Electronic Armor

The SLQ-32 has been part of the Navy's shipboard electronic armor for nearly three decades.The system's display console allows crewmembers to detect and classify hostile radar emissions-especially from anti-ship cruise missiles.As well,many of these electronic warfare sets have an integrated jamming capability to divert incoming threats.An upgrade cycle for the system is currently underway-the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program.
The upgrades consist of replacing the signal processor and display console,and integrating them with better control and display software.Specific emitter ID capability is also included in the upgrade.Future upgrades are already being designed and conceptualized,with the goals of providing a new receiver and jamming improvements.
The SLQ-32's contractors are Raytheon,Northrop Grumman,General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.
Raytheon(RTN),Northrop Grumman(NOC),General Dynamics(GD),Lockheed Martin(LMT)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Meteorological Autumn

September 1 marks the beginning of meteorological autumn.Meteorologists reckon seasons by calendar months,rather than astronomical phenomena.Its a way of rounding things off,and may more closely reflect seasonal reality over a broad geographical area.For example,the beginning of September will show substantial seasonal change in the Northern U.S.,though astronomical autumn is some weeks off.
In the Middle Atlantic region,Canada goldenrod has now come into bloom,and many American robins have moved on from their breeding territories.It can still be quite hot,but the plants and wildlife are experiencing change from the noticeably shorter days,if nothing else.Meteorological autumn makes good sense from their perspective.