|Volume 19, Issue 10||October 21, 2017|
In this Issue:
Love Those Limpkins!
What's your favorite animal? For some people, it's probably a beloved pet, such as a dog, cat, parrot or horse. But what if you aren't into a single "personal" preference? Maybe the individual animal is not the focus, but the species. I have a friend who has a small collection of artworks featuring roadrunners, while another is particularly keen on seeing that same bird out in the wild, to the point that we joke about it being the ultimate goal of every birding expedition around Austin. The armadillo is unique and peculiar enough to be rather high on the list of special beasts. As a kid, I found turtles to be curiously captivating. Television and movies have played a big role in popularizing certain animals. How about Bambi, meerkats, clownfish and insurance-promoting geckos?
After moving to Ocala, Florida, in 1992, my mother, Evelyn, fell in love with limpkins. A good number of people don't even know what that is, but with such a quirky name, it just HAS to be special. The sole member of the family Aramidae, the limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is a rather large wading bird that ranges from the West Indies to Argentina. In the U.S., it lives only in Florida, where it can be found in freshwater habitats that support its favorite food: the Florida apple snail.
The limpkin looks something like a big brown ibis with white spots. Its eyes are soulfully large and its beak curves gracefully downward to function as the perfect snail-extraction tool. Both Evelyn and I have our limpkin encounters on the Silver River, a crystal waterway in Ocala that supports multiple nesting pairs of the birds. While the animal itself is sleek, elegant and classy looking, its voice is not. The repeated screechy, strident, Banshee-like screams are evocative of a primordial jungle and certainly add an air of authenticity to the area that was used as the original setting for the first Tarzan movies.
Because the limpkin is only found where its escargot diet lives, populations are fairly localized. If the snails vanish, so does the bird. This actually happened at Wakulla Springs, near Tallahassee. Like other large springs found in the state, Wakulla once boasted clear waters, Florida apple snails and, of course, limpkins. One of the state park tour boats was even named after the iconic avian resident. Now, though, the water is often not clear, invasive larger species of apple snails have outcompeted the natives, and limpkins have disappeared. Nobody really knows how all these factors are interconnected, but the current state of affairs is obvious, as well as a bit sad.
During the past 25 years, Ev has often kayaked on the Silver River, watching the alligators, birds and monkeys (another leftover from those old Tarzan film days). She knows where the limpkins nest and where they like to hunt snails. She watches them, photographs them, and sometimes even talks to them. One of her limpkin images graces the front of the Silver Springs State Park t-shirts sold in the ranger station as well as the logo for the Friends organization. As a volunteer at the park, Evelyn often participates in special events, where she helps to promote ecological awareness and educate the public about the wildlife found around the springs and river. Some time ago, she decided to make a limpkin costume, and spent the next two years designing and executing her idea. Through much trial and error, she figured out everything from the big eyes (plastic spoons) to the unique plumage (shaggy brown fake fur fabric with white turkey feather spots). Carrying a cluster of apple snail shells strung on a cord, the Big Bird-like limpkin character debuted during the Critter Trail 5K held at the state park in November, 2016. The walking cane is not an authentic limpkin accessory, but it was necessary for Evelyn, who donned the outfit, to maintain stability under the towering, long-billed model.
I was recently in Florida for a visit and my mom and I spent a day kayaking on the Silver River. The wildlife live up to expectations, with photo-op sightings of monkeys, reptiles, and many kinds of birds. While a mother alligator with babies sunning themselves on a log, a snake curled up on the shore, and families of moorhens trotting on the floating vegetation were all memorable, the best encounter was with a limpkin. I spotted the bird perched on the shoreline cypress knees and paddled closer to take pictures. As I drifted in the current, my boat came to rest against a log about five feet away. I had to take care not to bump the animal with my paddle! Instead of the expected flight and alarm calls, this individual just stood there and watched me. In less than a minute, it seemed bored and started to preen. As I steadied my boat in the current, it then stepped down to the water and started looking for snails. Evelyn was a fair distance away, but saw the reason I'd stopped. In our subsequent conversation, she pointed out that the limpkin was so indifferent to my presence because I was wearing a white hat much like hers, as well as using her blue kayak that the birds have come to recognize. Traveling to distant locations to view wildlife is always fun, but sometimes the best episodes occur in familiar territory where we know the local fauna and, better yet, the fauna knows us!
Our photo for this issue was taken by Andy during his and Deana's (plus two of their grandkids') visit in Waco, TX. Shown in her apartment is Julia, Andy's mom, on her 95th birthday anniversary, October 16, 2017.
|(The Terra Tabloid is a venue for the discussion of issues pertaining to the past, present, and future of our planet and human interaction with it.)|
Besides humans wanting to head for Mars or build a colony on the Moon, pursuits perhaps a bit far-fetched in view of problems we still have on Earth, there is now in the works an intriguing plan to build the world's largest radio telescope, so big it will require multiple countries and at least a couple continents to pull it off. Called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), this project is set to commence next year and due to be completed in 2030. This single vast array would be a synchronized signal area involving hundreds or thousands of antennae in South Africa and Australia.
Artist's conception - part of proposed SKA telescope (SKA Telescope.org)
The hope is that such a large, sensitive, efficient collector of astronomical info will be able to shed light on numerous current puzzles of astronomy and physics, such as about relativity, black holes, the origin of the universe, galaxies, dark matter, and dark energy. Perhaps some of the secrets revealed will help scientists achieve what has been long sought but till now elusive, a theory of everything, that finally unites the laws of the very small (quantum mechanics forces) realms and the laws of the very large (gravity forces) space-time realm which we experience here and observe in outer space.
For those eager to see the conclusion of the ambitious SKA project, it will fortunately not be necessary to wait another 11-12 years before its fruits begin to be available. The first substantial phase of development should be providing data by 2020. Already, the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) has been in use and providing valuable new information, such as about mysterious and peculiar radio signals that only occur intermittently and with so far no understood origin.
Due to the enormous costs and complexities involved, the SKA is scheduled to be made operational in two primary parts. The second will be able to take into account new scientific, engineering, computing, data filtering, and even geopolitical realities prevailing closer to the final completion date. Just as was true for the ill-fated TX CERN-like project, which never got the funding for completion, there is no guarantee that SKA will become a reality. If it does not, the solutions to a variety of enigmas of astrophysics may have to wait for yet a few more generations.
There is so much misinformation and paranoia about the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) that it almost doesn't seem worth the effort to spell out a few facts about this spider. Most people simply want to know if the animal they found is a recluse. Any spider found living in an orb web, having a body length longer than 1/2 inch, marked with spots, stripes or bands on its body or legs, or possessing spines on the legs, is NOT a recluse. The "violin" shape is sort of a poor description of the marking on the cephalothorax, as it looks more to me like a broom than a fiddle. It is also an unreliable character as many markings on a variety of spiders can be mistaken for this one. The brown recluse has only six eyes (not eight) and they are arranged in three pairs. It is highly unlikely that a brown recluse will be found outside its natural range.
Many wounds/bites for which a cause cannot be determined are attributed to the brown recluse because doctors often don't want to admit what they don't know. Without the offending spider and a knowledgeable identification, it's very hard to diagnose a bite accurately. The fangs of this spider are so small that they cannot penetrate clothing.
Central Texas is within the range of the recluse, but they are not often seen. The best places to look are under loose bark on dead trees. I've also found them in warehouse-type buildings or sheds, amidst stacked wood, and under rocks. They sometimes show up in garages and hidden corners of houses, such as behind boxes or paintings hanging on a wall. The spiders remain in retreats during the day and emerge at night to hunt prey, such as cockroaches, beetles, and bugs.
A recent article, "Stock Market Retreats and Recoveries," by Sam Stovall, October, 2017, in AAII Journal, the monthly publication of the American Association of Individual Investors, points out that since the end of World War II there have been 89 U.S. S&P 500 Index stock market dips of 5% or greater, roughly one every 10 months, each averaging 7% or more. While some might view this as reason to find investing in equities too risky, Mr. Stovall sees great and frequent opportunities. Imagine, if every several months one's employer would put an extra 7% into employees' 401k accounts, how this might increase people's financial independence over the course of a career. That, substantially, could be the result if investors were willing to hold off on new investing till these dips are underway, then buy additional shares after the average market drop level of 7% has occurred. Instead, what typically happens is that investors give way to their fears, jumping out of stocks when they start heading down and not buying back in till share prices are well on their way back up, in effect selling low and buying high. No wonder the average individual investor gets returns significantly worse than those of the market.
Mr. Stovall offers us a better way. He notes that more than 85% of the time dips of 5% or more are followed by rapid gains, getting prices back to breakeven or above in a mere four months or less. Pick some preferable assets, ones likely to have lower risk and higher prospects than the market as a whole. Hold them indefinitely, what Warren Buffett likes to call "forever." An example of such winning securities might be Buffett's own company shares, BRK/A or BRK/B. Then, every time the stock market falls 7% or more, buy extra shares of these favored assets. Each set of purchases assures getting desirable fractions of superior businesses at bargain prices. If we go shopping at a supermarket and see our favorite loaves of bread on sale, $1.86 today instead of the regular $2.00, are we going to pass on that part of our shopping lists because it now costs less than expected? Of course not. I for one would promptly drop the favorite bread into my basket, pleased to have saved 7%. In the stock market, such savings mean that for the same amount of money I can buy more of my most loved stocks' shares. Mr. Stovall is not big on market timing, the attempt to buy or sell based on what we think the market is going to do. Such behavior based on forecasting seldom works. He points out, however, that investors can look as if they are fabulous at timing the market by simply purchasing once the market has already reduced the prices of selected stocks for us by at least 7%.
There are a couple or three ways we could make this historical market volatility work for us. Though for various reasons it is not particularly recommended, short-term investors could buy "swing-trade" stocks on the 7%+ dips, then sell once the market has raised share prices back up above breakeven, maybe with gains, for instance, of 8, 10, 15% or beyond each time there is a new dip and surge cycle.
Alternatively, we could do as Mr. Stovall specifically suggests and buy shares of exchange traded funds (ETFs) for the equal-weighted S&P 500 Index or the S&P SmallCap 600 Index when their respective indexes have fallen 7% or more. Left untouched through the years, the accumulated extra shares will offer us a nice premium in added value compared with having bought instead at the average costs for these ETFs. What is more, they tend to recover more quickly than the more popular Cap-Weighted S&P 500 Index. Available ETFs for this purpose are: Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (RSP) and Vanguard S&P Small-Cap 600 ETF (VIOO).
A final strategy for discussion here is my favored method, buying shares of excellent companies with good long-term prospects, when they are down along with the rest of the market, then holding them awhile for very nice long-term gains. Which companies would be better to use for this technique of course may vary over time. Some will improve while others might decline in their growth potentials. Yet with a little research it ought to be possible at each market dip of 7% or greater to select ones that look good for at least the next few years. At the table above are three of my own choices in case of a market drop of 7% or more in the next few months. As it has been more than 10 months since the last dip of at least 7%, we are in a sense overdue for another one. It may thus be high time to select one's assets to buy when the next such opportunity presents itself.
Happy bargain hunting and buying over the months and years ahead!
Halloween isn't much of a useful holiday (school is still in session, businesses don't close, and it's not a big family gathering sort of event), but the imagery is too tempting to resist. Having the chance to feature creepily fun animals, colors and paranormal themes is a nice annual treat (or trick). Sage advice: If you do venture out for a bit of wicked merriment on the night of Oct. 31, please be careful. Parading around on our roads in the dark, disguised as a stealth pedestrian, invisible bicyclist, or surreptitious skate boarder, is rather suicidal.
|For others who may have chanced upon this site, larvalbug bytes is a monthly family-and-investment newsletter, put out by an old codger and sweet thing, with sometimes a little help as well from our engaging pooch, Peri. We invite readers' comments by and would also be happy to readers when new issues are published. Articles and stories from back issues are available in our archives.|
Copyright © 2017 by LARVALBUG
"Peri Meets Predator" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.
"Peri Meets Predator" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.