Hummingbirds: A near-constant whirl of motion and wonder

Hummingbirds are among nature’s most fascinating creatures.

While hovering, their wings beat up to times 80 times a second, and they have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1,260 beats per minute.

Even at rest, their breathing rate is that of about 250 breaths per minute.

Hummingbirds, of which there are approximately 340 species, have amazing dexterity, demonstrating the ability to stop instantly while in flight, hover and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control.

If you’ve ever held a hummingbird, you know they are small and extremely light, about three inches in length and weighing at most three-quarters of a pound.

The ruby-throated hummingbird, seen in the above video, is found in the eastern United States, Mexico and Caribbean.

The adult male has a patch of iridescent red on its throat bordered above with velvety black. Both sexes have beautiful emerald-green backs and white undersides.

On average, hummingbirds are on par with helicopter in terms of power required to lift their weight, according to findings published last in the Royal Society journal Interface.

One hummingbird species – the Anna’s hummingbird – was more than 20 percent efficient than a helicopter, researchers discovered.

100-carat white diamond brings $22.1 million at auction

100 carat diamond

Someone – perhaps interested in making a very good impression on their significant other – snapped up a flawless 100.2-carat diamond Tuesday for $22.1 million.

The gem, mined by De Beers in South Africa, sold in just three minutes of bidding at Sotheby’s auction house in New York.

The perfect classic emerald-cut D color diamond, about the size of a walnut, was mined by De Beers in southern Africa within the past 10 years. It weighed more than 200 carats before it was cut and polished, a process that took more than a year.

Both the seller and buyer wished to remain anonymous, with the winning bid coming in by phone.

Just six perfect diamonds weighing more than 100 carats have been auctioned in the past 25 years, according to Sotheby’s.

The diamond was described as “the definition of perfection” by the head of Sotheby’s jewelery department in New York.

“The color is whiter than white, it is free of any internal imperfections and so transparent that I can only compare it to a pool of icy water,” Gary Schuler said before the sale.

Two years ago, a flawless pink diamond known as the Pink Star set a world record price for a gemstone at auction when it sold for $83 million in Geneva, according to the BBC.

(Top: Photo of 100.2-carat diamond auctioned by Sotheby’s Tuesday for $22.1 million.)

Missing Fabergé Eggs: Gone forever, or waiting to be found?

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Fabergé Eggs represent both the opulence and extravagance of the Romanov Dynasty.

Over the course of a little more than three decades, famed goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé crafted some 50 imperial Fabergé Eggs; each an enchanting piece of art so posh that it cost as much as 40 times what the average Russian earned in a year.

They would come to symbolize the wealth, power and self-indulgence that led in part to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and ensuing assassination of the Russian royal family.

Today, 43 of the famed eggs are spread around the world in museums and private collections.

Seven, though, remain uncounted for. The lucky individual who comes across one of the missing gems will find themselves with a prize worth tens of millions of dollars.

If that seems like a pipe dream, consider that last year an American scrap-metal dealer bought what he thought was a tacky gold ornament at a “bric-a-brac” stall.

The dealer, who requested anonymity, planned to melt the piece down but Googled its markings first. He discovered it was the Third Imperial Easter Egg, made in 1887 and worth an astonishing $30 million. The egg was later sold to an anonymous buyer.

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Last Union officer killed in Civil War shot by 14-year-old boy

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The purported last Union officer killed in the War Between the States was a product of Harvard, shot down by a 14-year-old member of the Confederate home guard more than a week after Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

Edward Lewis Stevens, Harvard Class of 1863, had enlisted as a private in the 44th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment on Sept. 12, 1862. The Brighton, Mass., native was 20 years old when he joined up.

He was later commissioned an officer in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African-American units and the subject of the 1989 film Glory.

Stevens was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 54th in April 1864, nearly a year after the regiment had attempted to take Fort Wagner near Charleston, SC, where Col. Robert Gould Shaw and 280 other members of the unit were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action.

Stevens was promoted to 1st lieutenant in December 1864 and as the war would down, the 54th and other Federal troops found themselves back in South Carolina.

The 54th Massachusetts arrived in South Carolina on April 1, 1865, landing at Georgetown, between Charleston and Wilmington, NC, from Savannah, Ga.

The unit was one of six infantry regiments operating under Maj. Gen. Edward E. Potter, with the 54th contributing 700 officers and enlisted men to Potter’s 2,700-man force.

By April 18, 1865, Potter was in Camden, a medium-sized affluent community a little more than 100 miles northeast of Georgetown. That morning, Potter left Camden and headed south. They had traveled 10 miles on the Stateburg Road and encountered no opposition until they reached a fortified Confederate position at Boykin’s Mill.

Boykin’s Mill was little more than a grist mill, church and small collection of homes, but its defense were enhanced by the presence of a millpond, along with streams and a swamp.

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Treasure trove sunk by U-boat recovered in South Atlantic

city of cairo

A British salvage team recently recovered $50 million in silver coins that had rested nearly 17,000 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean for more than 70 years, victims of a World War II U-boat attack.

The SS City of Cairo was carrying 100 tons of silver coins from Bombay to England when it was torpedoed 480 miles south of St. Helena, about 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janeiro, by German submarine U-68.

The silver rupees, which belonged to the British Treasury, had been called in by London to help fund the war effort, according to the BBC.

The recovery marks the deepest salvage operation in history.

The City of Cairo was cruising in the remote South Atlantic on Nov. 6, 1942, when the steamship’s tall plume of smoke was spotted by U-68. Captain Karl-Friedrich Merten ordered a single torpedo fired at the vessel, then waited 20 minutes for the 311 passengers and crew to take to the lifeboats before firing a second torpedo.

Merten famously directed them to the nearest land and said: “Goodnight. Sorry for sinking you,” according to the BBC.

While just six of 311 people aboard the City of Cairo died in the sinking, it would be three weeks before any of the six lifeboats would be located, with the last lifeboat at sea for 51 days before being found. During that time 104 of the 305 survivors died.

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Manassas: Erecting monuments to the dead 150 years ago

Manassas monument a

Among the more curious aspects of the Manassas National Battlefield Park is the presence of one of the first monuments erected in recognition of men who died during the War Between the States.

Located just behind the Henry House is a 20-foot-tall obelisk, topped by a granite block and a 200-pound artillery shell. The block obelisk sits on three levels of granite which extend out and feature three smaller granite blocks at each corner, all topped by 200-pound artillery shells (see above).

On one face of the marker written in decidedly simplistic lettering are the words “In Memory of the Patriots who fell at Bull Run July 21, 1861”.

Designed by 2nd Lt. James McCallum of the 16th Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery, and built by men from the 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, the monument was dedicated on June 11, 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, a month after Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia and two weeks before the last significant Southern force, under Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, laid down its arms.

On the same day, Federal forces erected a second monument nearby to Union soldiers who fell during the Battle of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run), fought Aug. 28-30, 1862.

Several thousand Union soldiers were on hand for the unveiling of the monuments in June 1865, including Maj. Gen. Henry W. Benham, Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, Maj. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, Brig. Gen. John F. Farnsworth, Brig. Gen. William Gamble, Brig. Gen. John P. Slough and Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox.

While the monuments were erected before the war was officially over, they weren’t the first to be raised on the Manassas battlefield.

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When fates and florists conspire to skewer good intentions

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What follows are a few of the impractical skills that I’ve honed over the years: making my children laugh during church services; catching snakes, turtles and a variety of other very bitey wildlife; and, to a lesser degree, committing myriad marital gaffes.

In the latter case, I’m fortunate to have a wife who is not only loving but also very forgiving.

Like a benevolent pontiff lovingly passing out absolution to the masses in St. Peter’s Square, she has forgiven me many transgressions over the past few years, including:

  • Bringing a large rat snake into the house while she was away working one weekend afternoon;
  • Letting a box turtle roam free in the house for several hours while she was working on another weekend afternoon. (She has a fear not only of snakes but of all reptiles);
  • Getting my car stuck in a giant mud hole – twice – while out in the country and requiring it to be pulled out by a wrecker at no small charge;
  • Losing my driver’s license in New England while we were on a recent vacation up north, forcing her to not only handle much of the driving from that point forward but also having to deal with a unionized Department of Motor Vehicles employee in Rhode Island who proceeded to display every stereotype connected with the rude, disinterested veteran DMV employee; and
  • Committing countless foolish acts too inane or embarrassing to specify through being forgetful, oblivious and/or an all-around general oaf.

Suffice it to say, Mrs. Cotton Boll has received many a flower bouquet over the years from yours truly.

Last week arose yet again another of those instances when it came time for me to try to make amends. But, given the gravity of my latest faux pas, I thought my actions warranted a delivery from florist instead of store-bought flowers. And because we live in the so-called information age I turned to the Internet.

While there’s no question the Internet can do some wonderful things, such as putting an amazing amount of knowledge at our fingertips, I’ve found that it’s been staggeringly proficient at creating chaos, as well.

Let’s just say that my attempt to smooth things over with the Missus by relying on technology has ended up causing an inordinate amount of grief, nearly all of it mine, which is now stretching into its fifth day.

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