Lunar New Year lion dancers in Boston’s Chinatown

One of Boston's annual traditions is the lion dance parade in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood to celebrate Lunar New Year. This year, the lion dancers looked especially great under heavy snowfall.

Boston’s mayoral race for the New York Times

For the New York Times, I spent a couple of days on the campaign trail with the 4 major candidates in Boston’s mayoral election last fall, all of whom were women. Coverage culminated with Mayor-elect Michell Wu’s celebration at the end of a long day traveling between voting locations on election day. 

Mayor-elect Michelle Wu's celebration party

The campaign

Election day - voting and catching up with candidate Annissa Essaibi George

Xenobots – living robots made from frog cells, for Bloomberg Businessweek

For Bloomberg Businessweek, I spent an afternoon in the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University with scientists Sam Kriegman and Douglas Blackiston, who developed Xenobots, micro-scale “living robots” made from frog embryo stem cells.Kriegman designed the artificial intelligence system that created the structure for the xenobots and Blackiston is responsible for building them. As Blackiston put it, “Sam tests [the robots and other experimental setups] in the virtual world, and then I test it in the real world.” The machines are capable of autonomously performing simple tasks including navigating mazes and gathering small particles together.

A big thanks to Jane and Dietmar at Bloomberg for the assignment!

Sean O’Brien is elected General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, for the Wall Street Journal

Sean O’Brien was recently elected General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, seen here during a monthly meeting of the Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, where he has served as president in recent years. This was the first meeting of the Local since the election results were announced. Union members in attendance, some who had come in from out of state, were happy and congratulatory. O’Brien won the election over previous president James P. Hoffa-endorsed candidate Steve Vairma. O’Brien ran with Fred Zuckerman, who is President of the Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Local 25 represents approximately 12,000 members in the greater Boston area and the entire International union represents approximately 1.2 million members.

Thanks to Alex for calling me for the assignment for the Wall Street Journal!

Endangered bog turtle monitoring with The Nature Conservancy

The bog turtle, a 4-inch turtle native to the northeastern and mountainous mid-Atlantic, is critically endangered. They live in mountainous wetlands, a rapidly disappearing biome in the US. Scientists from The Nature Conservancy have been monitoring this site in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts for the past 30 years, a study vital to understanding how climate change and ecological degradation can affect turtle and other species populations. This is the largest of two known populations in Massachusetts; scientists estimate that there are 30 turtles living in this small area. Populations are also found in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania; and there is a similar turtle in southern states in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, which is also considered federally threatened. While the Bronx Zoo has managed to successfully breed the turtles in captivity, bog turtle colonies in the wild have declined by 80% in the last 30 years.

Scientists use radio telemetry to monitor the turtles in their habitat, keeping track of nesting areas and how far the turtles wander throughout the habitat. A small antenna is temporarily glued to shells of a portion of the population (currently 10 turtles in this habitat) and then scientists use a handheld antenna and radio to find them, each turtle linked to a specific frequency, usually buried deep in the mud. They take weight and shell measurements and also monitor the population for signs of disease.

The scientists say that the number of bog turtles in an area can indicate the general health of an ecosystem. Once an invasive plant was removed from the northern section of this habitat, the turtles started nesting there again. “When you have a good healthy robust bog turtle population,” Angela Sirois-Pitel (at right, weighing a wild bog turtle), a Nature Conservancy Stewardship Manager who has been working with these turtles for the past 16 years, says, “you’ll have a population of rare vegetation too. There are over 26 state-threatened and -endangered species here.”

Julia Vineyard (below, holding antenna) is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has been studying the turtles as part of a cooperative internship with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Conservation’s Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. She says that she’s really gotten to know the turtle population. “We come out every single week. You know where they are. [Turtle number] 81 is always over there,” she says, gesturing to some wet mud under a thick cover of grass and other plants.

Sirois-Pitel says that several threats have impacted bog turtles here and elsewhere in the country including changes to habitat hydrology, vegetation availability, and the way that road and housing development have fragmented and removed their habitat. Nevertheless, she says that she’s noticed that their range is increasing at this site in Massachusetts. “Within the past few years we’ve found they’re using more areas than we thought. The fact that they’re spreading is hopeful.”

Rodeo clown at the Adirondack Stampede for NPR

For NPR, I profiled rodeo clown Rob Gann at the Adirondack Stampede in Glens Falls, New York, with reporter Brian Mann. Having grown up around rodeos it was familiar territory, and a lot of fun. Gann is no longer a bull-fighter, meaning that his clowning takes place as far away from the bulls and broncos as possible, generally filling space between rides and events; his act is very dependent on the jokes he tells, as well, which made it difficult to translate some of his comedy to a visual medium. A big thanks to Rob, the folks at the Adirondack Stampede, and Virginia at NPR, who wanted me to use the harsh-flash style I use in my presidential politics coverage for this story.