April 19, 2021

While I was on the way to work on Sunday, I passed a convoy of trucks out on maneuvers for the National Guard. This is not unusual as Fort Chaffee is a Regional training site for the guard and they are seen driving the local roads as part of their training.  This gives them the opportunity to practice formation driving.  They must figure it is safer to drive the four-lane highways that abound in our area rather than fighting traffic on the smaller two-lane roads, although they drive these as well.  I see bus drivers doing the same thing during the summer when they hire a new crop of drivers for the coming fall.  You need to practice and get a feel for how the trucks or busses handle before you put troops or students in them in real situations.  You need to get a feel for the technology.

For several years we lived close to Fort Riley which was the home for the US 7th Cavalry Division (yes, Armstrong Custer’s division), and the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One).  The 1st Infantry became the most recognized US Army formation of World War II, and was deployed in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  As the technology changed both Divisions advanced beyond “horse soldiers” and “foot soldiers”.  Brigades and Divisions attached to the 1st Infantry Division have grown to include combat teams, aviation teams, weather, supply, artillery, and military police, to name a few.  Technology has made it critical to ensure you control all aspects of your operation.

I was in High School during the Vietnam War and the 1st Infantry Division Artillery (DIVARTY) would occasionally hold PR and recruiting displays in our college town to gain public support for the military.  I went to one of these showcases and was amazed by the technology that went into military firepower.  I spoke with a soldier in charge of operating a 105-mm mobile canon and he invited me to take a tour of the interior.  As I looked at the compartment, I asked the soldier how it worked.  He told me, “Command calls and provides the firing coordinates.  I dial them up on the digital displays and then push the fire button.”  The canon is accurate for up to 7.5 miles (11,500meters).  From his response it was clear he did not know how to find a target on his own.  The technology did all the work for him.

Thoughts:  When I first heard the man’s explanation of how the firing system worked, I was appalled.  How could you be in charge of such an expensive and lethal piece of equipment and not understand how to make it work?  Later I attended a computer repair class to understand how my computer worked.  While I did learn how to test and replace components, my greatest take away was this.  “If your computer freezes, shut it down, wait ten seconds for the processor to fully clear, and turn it back on.  If it now works, do not worry about what made it stop.”  That did not seem far from the explanation I was given by the soldier.  While technology provides wonderful advantages, there are few who understand the intricacies of how it works.  This can make some fearful they may cause an error, so they do nothing.  The same is true in life.  As we navigate the intricacies of social interaction and anti-racism, we can become fearful that we may error and then choose to do nothing.  We need to realize we have the option of turning the system off (sincere apology) and resetting.  If we do not try, we will never achieve.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 17, 2021

As I walked onto the fishing pier on Monday, I noticed three 12” bass scurry out of the shallows and into deeper water.  I remember thinking this was going to be a great day.  I have fished this lake several times and never really had much luck.  This time I was lucky enough to claim the fishing pier and knew my luck would change.  I threw out my taunt line for catfish and rigged my bobber with worms for the bass.  I fished for a while and never got a bite, but that was when I started noticing the Crested Duck I spoke of yesterday.  It was hanging with two Canada geese which I thought was odd.  While he seemed to keep between them and the bridge, he paid no attention to the mallards nearby.

When I looked up mallards online, I found the wild mallard (Anas platyrhynchos mallard) is a dabbling (sifts mud) duck that breeds throughout the temperate and subtropical Americas, Eurasia, and North Africa, and has been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Falkland Islands, and South Africa.  The male birds (drakes) have a glossy green head and are grey on their wings and belly, while the females (hens or ducks) have mainly brown-speckled plumage.  Both sexes have an area of white-bordered black or iridescent blue feathers called a speculum on their wings, but especially the males.  Mallards live in wetlands, eat water plants and small animals, and are social animals preferring to congregate in groups or flocks of varying sizes.  The species is the main ancestor of most breeds of domestic ducks. 

When I turned around and tossed my bobber back toward the weeds, I quickly caught 5 small bluegills.  Then I got a flash of movement from under the bridge.  Apparently, the male Crested was helping guard the nest of a female.  This was a similar sized duck but looked nothing like the male.  It did not have a crest and was almost totally black, except for a small strip of white on her chest.  She was partially hidden under the base of the pier and I almost never saw her.  I remember thinking how odd that two such different birds would decide to pair.  Then I realized this was another mallard.  The Mallard is a very adaptable species, being able to live and even thrive in urban areas.  The non-migratory mallard ducks interbreed with indigenous wild ducks of closely related species causing genetic pollution by producing fertile offspring.  In short, they are taking over both domestic and wild ducks.

Thoughts:  After learning how domestic ducks are primarily descendants of the mallard a lot of things from my day fishing began to make sense.  All the ducks I saw were forms of Mallards, although their colors differed dramatically (but not the Canadas).  They were all white, all brown, all black, and varieties of combinations.  I also learned that complete hybridization of species of wild duck gene pools could result in the extinction of many indigenous waterfowl.  The wild mallard has evolved to form both domestic and wild species and naturally create mixed populations.  Like the mallard, we are constantly changing.  We just need to make sure we change in the right direction.  We need to celebrate diversity rather than seek to wipe it out.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 16, 2021

While fishing at the lake on Monday I came across and odd duck I had never seen before.  It had a brown body, white neck, and green head.  What set it apart was the tuft of brown feathers sticking up on top of its head.  When I tried to find the duck online, I came across an article in the British online tabloid, “Mirror” that mentioned another duck with similar head feathers.  This was from 2015 as the race for presidential candidates was in full swing.  The article likened the duck to the hairstyle of one of the presidential candidates.  They claimed, “the male mallard’s unusual ‘hairpiece’ makes him look the spitting image of the 69-year-old Republican candidate.”  The Mirror went on to claim the ducks tuft was caused by a genetic mutation that was the result of cross breading.  While that may be an interesting correlation it did not identify my duck.

I continued my search and finally came across what is called a crested duck.  The crested duck or South American crested duck (Lophonetta specularioides) is a species native to South America, belonging to the monotypic genus Lophonetta.   There are two subspecies: L. specularioides alticola (Andean crested duck) and L. specularioides specularioides (Patagonian crested duck).  The Patagonian crested duck is also called the southern crested duck and its range lies in the Falklands, Chile, and Argentina.  Again, interesting but I did not think this duck was an immigrant from South America.

I remembered my encounter with the domesticated Muscovy duck and began to wonder if this might be another form of domestic duck.  I found there was a domestic species of crested duck.  All domestic ducks (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus) have the same species name, and apart from the Muscovy are all a sub species of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).  Individual domestic breeds are not individual species and do not each have their own scientific name.  Paintings as old as 2000 years have depicted images of a bird, resembling a crested duck with an assortment of feathers on top of its skull.  In the United States the breed was described by D.J. Browne in 1853.  The crest is a result of genetic mutation, where the duck is born with a gap in its skull that is filled with a growth of fatty tissue.  The feathers then sprout in a different way to the normal smooth feathers seen on a duck’s head.  By sticking straight up, they form the crested tuft on top of the head.

Thoughts:  When I showed the photo of the crested duck to Melissa, she immediately asked if the duck had a mouse on its head.  When I looked, I had to admit that it did look to be the case, even though I knew it was not.  I did have to wonder how a genetic mutation caused by interbreeding has resulted in what now is considered a domestic breed of duck.  When I think about the corona virus, we are seeing a genetic mutation that is not only viable but continuing to mutate into different variants.  Seeing microscopic pictures of the virus, it does look like it is crested.  Since the vaccines are recognizing and attacking the proteins on the outside of the virus rather than the virus itself, it seems to work across all the variants.  That gives me hope moving forward, even as people increasingly ignore the CDC guidelines.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 15, 2021

I decided it was time to get mulch on another of my front flower beds.  I had purchased the mulch and began the process last week, but them became distracted (read tired) and never got back to finishing the job.  The western half of the front bed had flourished with roses when Melissa’s mom took care of them.  She had been unable to do much the last years of her life and no one had cared for them until we arrived three years ago.  They were overgrown and in bad shape and last fall Mellissa asked me to tear them out so she could replace them (with succulents?).  Now the bed had only one cluster of peonies (Paeonia obovata) and an unknown cluster of ground cover.  It took me well over an hour to weed the bed (which was why it was not done yet) and distribute the four bags of mulch on the area.  This should keep down future weeds until Melissa decides what to plant.

After carefully weeding around the ground cover and laying down the mulch I began to wonder about what it was.  When I asked Melissa, she could not remember their name but did confirmed my fear that this was an invasive species and she considered it a weed.  My identification app did not find them, but I did finally locate the species online.  Sherardia is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae.  The genus contains only one species, the Sherardia arvensis or (blue) field madder. 

Field madder is naturally distributed throughout Europe and North Africa, and into western and Central Asia.  It has been introduced into other temperate regions, including North America, and probably came as an agricultural introduction.  I cleared the weed and laid more mulch.

I have found that I am able to identify plant species when I want to.  Part of my training as an archeologist was in basic plant identification to determine the ecosystem where human occupation was found.  Not being in that context, my mind is often elsewhere, and I do not pay attention.  I was helping my brother one day as he mowed one of his rental lawns and I was weed eating.  I was weeding along the drive and my brother came rushing over madly waving his arms.  The weed bed I was taking out was the small shoots of flowers the resident had just planted.  My brother explained that he had done the same thing a month ago and the man had come out in tears.  Now I had weeded the second set of flowers.  I figured this time he would be even madder.

Thoughts:  Field madder was recorded in the Oxford Physic Garden in 1658, although it is not a species deliberately planted.  It is likely it was included because it was part of the local flora.  In the seventeenth century field madder was a frequent agricultural weed.  Its roots could be used as an inferior source of the red dye, madder, which is how it got its common name.  Changes in agricultural practices since the 1950’s are associated with the decline of the species, except obviously in my flower beds.  I have found it interesting to note the Oxford Dictionary definition of “weed” is “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.”  The second definition referred to “a contemptibly feeble person.”  Neither definition addresses the worth of the plant/person in another context, just that it was not wanted in its present one.  The news makes it clear there are those who consider whole groups of people to fill the second definition as a weed.  We need to stop classifying and start identifying the worth inherent in individuals.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 14, 2021

I was sent a feed by Andrew Dawson of Runner’s World about a young man who was running for his High School Cross Country team.  While that is not unusual, the fact that he was the only person on his team was.  This winter, the Yerington High School (Nevada) cross country team had five meets.  The sole runner on the team, Kutoven (pronounced COO-tuh-ven) Stevens, won all five meets, including the 2021 NIAA Northern 2A/1A Region Championships on April 3rd.  He covered the 5K distance in 18:04, beating the second-place runner by 37 seconds.  The 17-year-old junior had teammates for his first two cross country seasons, but this year the others either found new interests or moved away.  Out of the roughly 400 students in the school, he was the only one who wanted to run.

Cross country running is a sport where teams and individuals run on open-air courses over natural terrain such as dirt or grass.  The course is typically 2.5 to 7.5 miles (4–12 kilometers) long.  The course takes runners through the natural countryside, including woodlands, open areas, hills, flat ground, and sometimes a gravel road.  It is both an individual and a team sport.  Runners are judged on individual times and the teams by a points-scoring method.  Cross country events are held for both men and women of all ages and usually takes place during autumn and winter.  Inclement weather is seen as just another obstacle for running.  I have two nephews who enjoyed the sport in High School.

The lowest possible team score in a Cross-Country meet is 15 (1st through 5th).  The 6th and 7th place runners on the team act as pushers to raise the places of people behind them that are the top 5 for another team.  Since Yerington did not field a whole team, the school never won a meet even though Stevens took individual honors in them all.  Stevens pleaded his case to the school to be able to run as a one-person team, and Yerington supported him, asking the school board for special accommodations.  They agreed to let him run if his parents drove him to meets.  Various members of the school staff volunteered to sign him in at meets.  In addition to running, Stevens maintained a 4.0 GPA, was the junior class president, and worked nine-hour shifts four times a week at a local supermarket.  He always made time for his daily workouts.

Thoughts:  Stevens lives on a reservation in Yerington as a member of the Yerington Paiute.  Stevens said while running he often reflected on where he was and who he was running for and focused on the Yerington Paiute.  He understands his community has been oppressed and has seen Indigenous people wiped out over the last hundreds of years.  This is one of the motivations for why he runs.  Excelling at anything requires natural ability, but the real key is motivation.  As Thomas Edison said, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”  That is true for running, and it is true for overcoming the systemic injustice in our country.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 13, 2021

As I was leaving the park yesterday an ice cream truck drove in and slowly went past the playground.   I was surprised because this was not one of the usual trucks I see in my neighborhood.  This looked more like a food truck, although it did have pictures of kids playing and ice cream treats painted on the sides.  My neighborhood trucks are smaller and usually sell the treats out of the side door.  Another difference is they are accompanied by music, which this truck did not have.  The music meant you heard the truck coming from a distance and are given the anticipation of trying to figure out which street the truck is on.  Then you can be ready when the truck slowly moves down your street.  Anticipation is half the fun.

The origins of ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century BCE.  Early references include the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 CE), who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined it with fruit toppings.  King Tang (618-97 CE) of Shang, China had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions and making Ice cream treats was likely brought from China back to Europe.  Over time, recipes for ices, sherbets, and milk ices evolved and were served in the fashionable Italian and French royal courts.  After the dessert was imported to the US, it was served by notables such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Dolly Madison (not the cupcake) served it in 1812 while she was First Lady of the US.   Sundaes are the occasional treat Melissa and I grab late night from the Sonic.

When I went online one of the sites that jumped out was the high calorie nature of many of these treats.  While there are low-cal options and sorbets, some go in the opposite direction.  The Oreo Layered Sundae at Baskin Robbins is crammed with fat-packed bits and pieces.  On top of Oreo cookies, there is hot fudge, marshmallows, and whipped cream.  The sundae tops out at 1,330 calories, or over half the amount most people need in a day, and that does not mention the 146 grams of sugar it contains.  On the other end of the spectrum, a small scoop (1/2 cup) of Cookies ‘n Cream ice cream has 160 calories.  My immediate thought was who only eats a half cup of ice cream?  As I read through the site the author asked the same question.

Thoughts:  I was near a turnaround in the park and when the truck got to me it circled and headed back toward the playground.  This time the children were ready, and the truck was soon surrounded by children and adults.   Even though it was the dinner hour, everyone thought it was a good idea to get a treat.  When I attended college in Berkeley there was an ice cream shop about a half mile from the campus.  Whenever the Alums came into town, we would all walk down to Fenton’s for ice cream.   I recall the Jumbo Special they served was another huge sundae.  I contained 15 scoops of different kinds of ice cream.  It was a treat shared by the group.   When we decide it is time for a treat, we also make a choice.  We can choose to eat the 1,330 calories or the 160 calories.  We choose to eat 15 scoops or the ½ cup.  We choose to wear a mask and social distance, or we deny the virus even exists.  It is your choice.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 12, 2021

Melissa began feeling better last weekend, so she decided it was time to transfer some of her succulents from the back porch to outside.  We had already taken the plastic off most of the windows converting our greenhouse back into a screened porch.  The real problem was the small plants that were inside the house.  Now that they are coming out of dormancy, they need the fresh air and partial sun to propagate and thrive.  At the same time, they are still too small to risk being outside on their own in the front of the house.  That meant the larger established plants needed to be moved to the front porch to make room for the small plants on the screened porch.  Moving the larger plants has opened a lot of room for the small plants which need more attention.  Raising plants seems to always give you something to do.

When I was in college, I had a side job working as a delivery person for a furniture and appliance store.  This worked well because they allowed me to have flexible hours around my classes.  We delivered free to customers as far as 75 miles away, which meant most of my time was spent driving outside.  We would deliver the furniture and place it where it was wanted, and the appliances always needed to be set up.  That meant attaching the cords, leveling the units, and often figuring out how to get the large appliance through the small doors and narrow stairways of older homes.  Even in bad weather, it was better to be outside than stuck in the store.  

While I did help move some of Melissa’s larger pots, most of the work of transferring the succulents outside was done by Melissa.  One of the problems with watching someone else work is that it makes you feel like you should do something as well.  While I had purchased vegetable plants and potting soil to add to my containers, they had not gotten further than the kitchen counter.  After finishing the Royals game (they lost) I got up and I began the process of rebuilding the containers with extra soil and fertilizer.  I was reluctant to put the plants outside because of the cold weather forecast, but finally did move some of them.  I knew it was better for them to be outside than drying up on my counter.  Unlike succulents, vegetables take water.

Thoughts:  The part I did not like about my delivery job was when there were no deliveries to make.  That meant I would sit inside the store and do nothing.  That not only bothered me, but also my bosses.  They would decide since they were not selling and I was not busy, this was the perfect time to move furniture.  I understood how getting the bestselling pieces in the right place for viewing was important, but I also knew this was mostly busy work.  I was always happy when a customer came and needed a delivery.  It meant I was going outside.  Being outside also seems to be a good thing when trying to keep the virus spread under control.  It reduces the concentration of the germs and allows them to blow away in the wind.  Spring break again showed this year that there are limits.  Florida was forced to shut down many of its beaches and curfew bars.  Even outside it is hard to social distance when you are on the beach with 10,000 of your closest buddies.  It is not a surprise that the current rising cases are coming from a refusal to not party or wear a mask.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 10, 2021

Several weeks ago, I mentioned the competition between the Mockingbird and Cardinal over the Snowball Bush in our front yard.  The Cardinal seems to have given up but now there is new competition.  I have noticed a medium sized brown bird flitting in the bush or along the ground nearby as I come into the driveway.   It took a while to finally get a photo of the Mockingbird and the same is true with this elusive bird.  I would drive in and he would take off, or I would reach for my camera and he was gone.  Today I saw him near the bush and happened to have my phone in my pocket.  I snapped him from inside the house as he rummaged for insects on the ground.

The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is a bird in the family Mimidae, which includes the New World catbirds and mockingbirds.  The Brown Thrasher is abundant throughout the eastern and central United States and southern and central Canada, and it is the only thrasher to live primarily east of the Rockies and central Texas.  The bird is relatively larger than other thrashers.  It has brown upper parts with a white under part with dark streaks and is often confused with the smaller wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), among other species.  When I took the picture, I told Melissa I had finally gotten my elusive thrush.  Instead, I got my thrasher.

When I found the bird online the site said that like Mockingbirds, Thrashers are prolific songbirds.  While the mockingbirds sing around 20 different songs (mocked from other species), the Brown Thrasher is noted for having over 1000 song types.  This is the largest song repertoire of any birds.  The bird is an omnivore, with a diet ranging from insects to fruits and nuts.  The usual nesting areas are shrubs or small trees.  Another characteristic the thrasher shares with the mockingbird is they are both highly territorial.  While they are generally inconspicuous and elusive, they will attack, especially when defending their nests.  These attacks have been seen on animals as large as humans.  I am not sure whether it is better to be divebombed by a mockingbird or a thrasher.

Thoughts:  The Audubon site indicates thrashers are common to Arkansas and are permanent residents in the south but are mostly migratory in the north.  They are generally an eastern bird, except for a few strays from fall to spring when the weather is cooler.  The Audubon site adds another feature at the bottom of each bird description page on how climate change might affect the bird’s range.  An average increase of 3C will result in a loss of 87% of the thrashers current range, while it will gain an additional 36% of range in Canada.  Basically, the elusive bird will become nonexistent in most of America as it moves north.  Scientists tell us most of the greenhouse gasses come from two sources, automobile engines (CO2 or carbon dioxide) and corporate farming (CH4 or methane).  Methane is also being released as the frozen tundra of the Arctic thaws.  We know how to fix the problem; we just need to act.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 09, 2021

When I was reading my paper this morning a male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) flew onto one of my feeders.  While I had taken an earlier photo of a female Goldfinch, this was the first male I have seen at my feeders.  The males have a bright yellow body while the females are a duller yellow brown, and both have white stripes on black wings.  I quickly found my camera and stealthily came back to the bay window.  The bird flew off as I approached but landed in a nearby tree.  I refocused my lens and clicked the photo.  Nothing.  I tried again and remembered the last time I had this problem was when I had removed the photo card.  I went back to the office to get the card from my computer but by the time I returned the Finch was gone.  No finch photo for me today.

I had taken my flash card out of the camera and put it in my computer because I was trying to identify a pair of birds I found last week.  They were large duck like birds but had a goose like knob on top of the bill.  The male had a black body with splashes of white and the female was the color of a female mallard.  They both had white heads and necks, with distinctive reddish-orange eye patches.  I had never seen anything like them.  I have been going through my bird identification sources since I photographed them but had been unable to identify what they were.  I began to think they were some sort of hybrid.

With the disappointment of not being able to photograph the male Goldfinch I decided to try and identify this illusive bird once more.  I searched through my books, checked my online identifiers, and finally found something that was similar (but not like) the birds I had seen.  Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moschata) are large, heavy-bodied ducks with long necks that can make them look like small geese.  They have a long bill that slopes smoothly up to the forehead.  Males are larger than females, and individuals of the domesticated subspecies (Cairina moschata domestica) are often larger than the wild subspecies (Cairina moschata sylvestris).  When I heard some varieties were domesticated, I checked for images of domesticated Muscovy.  That is where I found images of my ducks.

Thoughts:  Muscovy ducks make good pets because of their peaceful temperament and because they are relatively silent.  The domesticated Muscovy duck is the only domestic duck species not bred from mallard stock, and several Indigenous tribes had domesticated the Muscovy by the time of Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas.  They are often raised for their meat, and the taste is often compared to that of expensive ham (appropriately, I saw them around Easter).  Muscovy’s seem to be one of the few things that do not taste like chicken.  While the wild Muscovy are found in Southern Florida and the Rio Grande River Valley in Texas, the domesticated variety stretch throughout the Americas.  Domestication of wild species is one of the ways humans have found to expand their populations.  That is true for both domesticated animal and plant species.  Humans have found that domestication often alters appearance but can also alter the viability of the species.  Most grains grown today are Hybrids, which mean they are sterile and cannot reproduce without human intervention.  While they outproduce wild varieties, they are genetically more vulnerable.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 08, 2021

When I was making dinner last night, Melissa called and asked me to come look at our front screen door.   I had noticed earlier in the afternoon that the screen seemed to have black specks all over it.  We have a cold front coming in and it brought along 10 to 15 mile per hour winds.  Since it was windy (for Arkansas) and having just mowed the grass, I though that must be what was all over the screen.   When I checked on Melissa’s request, I found the specks were about 50 small flies that had spread across the entire screen.  I have never seen anything like this before and could not imagine what caused them to gather.  I thought of getting the fly swatter but figured they would just come inside if I opened the door.  I left them alone.

When I looked online, I found these were probably either “grass” or “cluster” flies (Pollenia rudis).  The typical cluster fly is about 7 mm long and can be recognized by distinct lines or stripes behind the head, short golden-colored hairs on the thorax, and irregular light and dark gray areas on the abdomen (I did not get that close to look).  Cluster flies are typically slow-moving and are completely harmless to human health.  They are instead strictly parasitic on earthworms.  The females lay their eggs near earthworm burrows, and the larvae then feed on the worms.  Cluster flies seek refuge in cold weather and find their way into attic spaces and similar areas indoors.  They often emerge on warm days, and cluster at windows (hence the name).

While the article spoke of the flies coming into the house through the attic or small cracks in the house, ours were instead clustered on the outside of the house, although I do not know where they wintered.  Since the flies “cluster,” they can become a nuisance when they gather in the attic during the winter or when the warm weather brings them outside in March or April.  While there are a variety of chemicals to control them, the best way is by mechanical exclusion.  Since they are hibernating when they are in the house, and sluggish even when they are not, the site suggested you might use a mini vacuum to catch them.  Seriously, this is something you just cannot make up.

Thoughts:  I found it interesting that every site I found online about cluster flies concerned how to get rid of them.  While a few did contain information about the flies themselves, every one of them recommended ways to eliminate the flies.  This was more interesting as the sites all confirmed they were not a threat to humans.  They just slowly go about their business of propagating and laying eggs in my yard.  If I were a worm, I might be worried, but since I am human, there is no reason to be concerned.  Other types of flies are not only a pest but also carry disease and some even bite, but not cluster flies.  We have lumped these flies in with all the others because they look similar and gather in large groups.  We tend to do this with people as well.  Rather than getting to know them as individuals we group them together and discount them all.  We need to recognize the value of individuals rather than discredit perceived traits of groups.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.