11 October 07
Alert To Campus Pigeons
One of my colleagues this afternoon came in the office and said he had just seen a female peregrine falcon flying overhead south of Wickson Hall where I work. He had never seen a peregrine before on campus. He later checked with Marcel upstairs who confirmed that the perry has been around campus for several weeks, and frequently roosts on top of one of the water towers on the south side of campus.
5 October 07
Well, folks, on the recommendation of two readers I’ve immersed myself in War and Peace. I may be a while and blogging may be sporadic.
Rana tagged me for this one a while ago, sorry to delay. To tell the truth I haven’t been very inspired by it. But here’s a go.
An interesting animal I had
Not so many interesting animals. The usual budgie, dog, cat, hamster, guinea-pig. But Numenius and I do name all kinds of critters that live near us (many of these names are on our ketubah, forming two domes over our marriage vows). I suppose the most interesting was a pair of hooded orioles that nested in a banana tree in the cabin we lived in above Santa Barbara. We called them Horace and Sally.
An interesting animal I ate
A goose. Not just any goose, a goose that had been force-fed and whose liver had been engorged to the point of bursting and was then served as a delicacy on New Year’s Eve in Paris. For the nth time, the collected French guests deplored this barbarity and then tucked in with gusto. I became a vegetarian that night.
An interesting animal in the Museum
Oh, without question, the Labrador ducks at the Museum of Natural History in New York. They have over half the specimens known to exist anywhere.
An interesting thing I did with or to an animal
I buried a sparrow. Alive. I was four. It still haunts me. I became a birder that day.
An interesting animal in its natural habitat
The male wild boar that surprised me as I was crouching behind a bush in the shadow of a moorish castle in Spain. “Natural habitat” is stretching it a bit, but then it often is. There are lots of animals I could insert here but this one was especially memorable…
Next up? Anyone who’d like to be…
25 September 07
I was out in the garden this morning, noting that the pocket gophers have now developed a taste for green beans (in addition to tomatoes, garlic, okra, any kind of squash, etc.) and wondering how best to deal with this next year when I heard the unmistakable croak of a raven.
We’ve lived in this house since 1999; this is the first raven recorded as a “yard” bird…
19 September 07
Walter “el jefe” wandered into my office this afternoon and alerted me to Tracking of Pacific Predators which is a very sophisticated effort to bring tracking data to the public.
12 September 07
By now it has been widely reported that Alex, the gifted African Grey parrot from whom we learned so much about avian cognition and communication, died suddenly a week ago at the age of 31. He was the friend and research subject of comparative psychologist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who started working with him in 1977. Using a novel technique that emphasized social aspects of learning, Pepperberg was able to teach him categorization, shapes, colors, small numbers, the names of 50 different objects and express all this in English speech. One of my deep beliefs is that there is a great deal going on in the thoughts and feelings of our vertebrate friends; Alex was a fine teacher to all of us in that regard.
25 August 07
Introducing Bird by Bird
Approaching 700 birds seen in the ABA area (North America including Canada and Alaska, excluding Hawaii) has me at a crossroads. It’s expensive and environmentally irresponsible to gad about the country adding birds to my list. (I have neither unlimited time nor unlimited funds for this kind of activity, and at this point the price per bird goes way up.)
Some birders at this point in their list settle into county listing, or state listing (easier if you live in a small state). Others start photographing birds, building their list back up with a photo of each species they had previously seen. (Some keep on going, chasing 750 and even 775; I will never be one of them.)
Me, I’m going to start sketching. A bird a day. Bird by bird, like Annie Lamott says.
Sketching birds makes you look at the bird hard. If you look hard enough, it makes the bird part of your psyche. This takes your head to a different place, one that is unfettered by obligations. I’m not particularly good, but I hope to get better. You do it enough, it gets easier. You see more.
Today’s bird is a white-faced ibis, sketched at the Yolo Bypass. It was getting hot. There were birders around because a glossy ibis — an eastern vagrant — had been reported that morning. I found myself smiling that I was content to study the white-faced ibises rather than worry that I couldn’t see the glossy. This is my introduction to a new quest: not a new bird, each time, but a sketch. The bird in front of me, not the one that got away…
I hope to produce one of these for my new blog, Bird by Bird every day, though they won’t always be new birds. We are seeing a lot of the turkeys from our kitchen window, for example. But my efforts are now shifting away from chasing to recording…
16 August 07
So I’m creeping up on 700 North American birds on my list. It stands at 696, to be precise, the last one being the Philadelphia vireo near Rangeley in Maine.
I’m heading off tomorrow with some friends to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada to look for the Himalayan snowcock. No, it doesn’t really belong there. But according to American Birding Association rules, it’s countable. The black rosy-finch that hangs around up there ought to be more satisfying…. Numenius is sensibly staying put. See you when I get back.
5 July 07
The gals were working on some black-crowned night-heron babies whose nest had failed. It was hot today — 105 degrees — and the babies got samples taken in the air conditioning. They’re going back this evening.
29 June 07
Back from Monterey
I now know what organs are most affected in Japanese quail by Napthalene (kidneys); that until very recently the Norwegian response to oiled wildlife was to shoot it; that shade cloth makes a better covering for bird-drying pens than either sheets or blankets if you want to have better air flow (which you do, because it cuts down the incidence of lethal fungi like aspergillus in birds that are being rehabilitated); that bat rays will suck on your fingers if you try to feed them shrimp; that the application and subsequent magnetic removal of iron powder to oiled feathers removes more oil than detergent washing alone.
I also now know the best spot in the world for breakfast if you want it in the company of a horned puffin, three sea-otters, and a constant stream of pelagic cormorants…
14 June 07
What I did today
The Effects of Oil on Wildlife conference is coming up soon! I was working on the program today. I’ve also been doing some work on cetacean necropsy protocols and have been looking for reference material on where the heart is in relation to the scapula in the California gray whale.
Marine animals are fun to draw because they are so often monochrome, even starkly black and white.
Oh. Speaking of monochrome: today was also the graduate commencement ceremony. I helped out for oh, about an hour or two, then wandered home instead of sweating it out till ten. It was chaotic, hot, and fun.