One of my favorite pictures
Linda and sister Carolyn
As many of you know, in my pathetic search for new ways to waste time I have begun to attempt birding. I have most of the equipment – good binoculars, a professional grade (viz, Brad Schram) spotting scope, and Sibley in book form as well as in the form of apps on my iPad and smart phone. So, last Sunday I went south to the Skagit Flats, to study water birds. There was a bald eagle flying around, and a great blue heron fluttering from one bush to the next. There were also shore birds in great profusion. Therein lay my frustration.
Two kinds of birds were duck-like. I think one was the American Widgeon and the other a Gadwall, although I would give long odds that I am wrong. The others were “peeps” (small sandpiper-like birds). Here the old reliable phrase “damned if I know” becomes appropriate.
One of these peeps was present in a great flock. They were feeding in a shallow stretch of water, only an inch or two over a muddy bottom. They had spotted backs, and were very small. They behaved in a fascinating way – feeding for a while, then suddenly, simultaneously, taking off, swooping in perfect formation for a few seconds, then landing somewhere else and resuming feeding. The precision with which they performed these complicated maneuvers – never running into one another nor breaking formation – made you wonder who was in control. You remember an old sci fi movie involving the Borg (“we are the Borg – resistance is futile”). These birds behaved like the Borg; as if they were all controlled by a distant computer. What were they? Damned if I know.
There also were about a half-dozen of another, larger peep. It was spotted, top and bottom, and had a small head. I should have noticed the color of the legs and beaks, but I didn’t. They roamed around, occasionally pulling goodies from the mud substrate. They didn’t fly at all while I was watching. Confidently I referred to Sibley on my tablet, and quickly determined that my bird was a – Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminate)! Then I read the fine print. It appears that this bird is a “rare visitor from Asia”, although it is “seen annually in small numbers”. Well, maybe it was a Western Sandpiper. But, of course – damned if I know.
I will keep trying.
But – Oh wait! – this blog is about cancer, not birds. Well, I found an article describing the improvement in cancer survival rates over the last 20 or so years. Remember, five-year survival rates (used in this study) are far different from overall mortality rates, as discussed in a recent blog:
Much back-patting is evident in this article. The cancers studied were colon, breast, prostate, pancreas and ovary. The sampled population numberred about 1 million. The method used was to compare the survival statistics for people in the 50-64 age range during the period 1990-1994 with the same population in the years 2005 to 2009. All but one of these cancer groups experienced significant improvement over time. The one that didn’t was – can you guess? – ovarian cancer.
I’m not a Greek statistician, but I will venture to say that this is mainly bullshit. The five-year survival rates for most of these cancers have improved primarily because of earlier diagnosis. Improved treatment may have helped, but I would guess it is not the most significant contributor. As I have become painfully aware over the past three years (and, I hope, passed on to you), there has been no improvement in early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. So, no big surprise that ovarian survival didn’t improve significantly.
I would like to see the mortality statistics for this same study group but, of course, that requires us to wait until all the subjects die.
Here is the article. It is short, interesting, and easy to read.