Thursday, March 31, 2016

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: A review

H Is for HawkH Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Helen Macdonald, as she tells it in H Is for Hawk, was an awkward, unlovely, unpopular child. But though her life in the outside world may not have been so auspicious, she had a rich interior life that allowed her to escape from all that. She had an obsession: birds.

She was fascinated by birds in general, but the ones which held the strongest attraction for her were the raptors, the magnificent killing machines of the avian world. She read everything she could find about the birds and about humans working with those magnificent killing machines and training them in the sport of falconry. Her most passionate desire was to be a falconer when she grew up.

Helen, unlike many of us, had parents who did not discourage her obsession. They accepted it as normal and encouraged her in it. Her father, a professional news photographer, took her into the fields and woods to observe birds and to look for raptors. He taught her to focus as through a lens, in order to put herself outside the frame and maintain distance from the subject.

Helen was especially close to her father. He was the much-loved, much-adored center of her life, the person who gave her her grounding in the world. When he collapsed and died unexpectedly on a London street while working, Helen's world also collapsed. She had lost her center and didn't know how to find her way. She was floundering. She retreated to her world of obsession.

She had long worked with hawks in various types of situations, but she had never owned one or trained one on her own. At length, she decides that this is what she must do. She will train a hawk. But not just any hawk - a Goshawk, one of the most high-spirited and difficult to train birds of prey.

She receives her bird, which she names Mabel, and just like that, she has found a new center for her being. The training begins.

As she works with Mabel, she rereads an old book by T.H. White called The Goshawk. It recounts his experience in trying to tame and train a Goshawk. He had no idea what he was doing and his "training" methods were more like torture. Macdonald is appalled by his book but also mesmerized by it and by what it tells her about the man.

She reflects on the man and his life as an outsider, a repressed homosexual, a sadist. She ruminates on the connections between the man's personal life, the influence of World War II, his experience with the Goshawk, and how all of that came together to impact and shape his writing about the tales of King Arthur in The Sword in the Stone. She weaves all of these topics together and they become the prism through which she looks at her own life and her experience of grief, and, in the end, she pulls it all together and begins to make sense of it so that she can get on with that life.

This is a highly praised and much-honored book and, in my opinion, it deserves all of that. It is an amazing, almost unclassifiable book. It is a memoir and yet at times it reads with the urgency of the best fiction. I wouldn't necessarily describe it as a page-turner though. It is slow in parts, but there's nothing wrong with that. It just gives one time for reflection, time to absorb what one is reading.

My only quibble with the book was a certain irritation and impatience with Macdonald herself. She completely gives herself up to grieving. She's able to do that because she is single with no family depending on her. She does have a mother (the widow of her father who died) and a brother and yet she is so self-absorbed with how the death of this man has affected her that she seems to have no understanding or empathy for what it has meant to these other people who loved him. Her grief insulates her and cuts her off from other human relationships. In the depths of mourning, she is as much a loner as T.H. White ever was.

In the end, this is a book about Nature, the human and the avian kind, and about the profound and complex relationships that can develop between two species. I could never be a falconer, because I believe wild birds should be free. In fact, it distresses me to see an animal caged or tied up. But there is no discounting the effect that working with Mabel had on Helen Macdonald. At a time when she was spinning out of control, it helped her to find her way back, get her life back on track. H Is for Hawk. H is also for healing. 



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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Garden blues

Blue is not a common color in my garden. The garden's palette bends more to the red/orange/yellow spectrum. It just gives added importance to the blues that the garden does have.


Blues like Evolvulus Blue Daze, now in bloom.

The plant is an evergreen subshrub that grows in a low spreading mound not more than one foot tall and at this time of year the mound is covered in these dainty flowers.


One of my most reliable blue bloomers is the blue plumbago that continues its flowering throughout the hottest, driest days of summer and into fall. In fact, in this time of mild winters, my plants have not been out of bloom since last spring.

At this time of year, of course, there are a few bluebonnets gracing my Texas garden.

It is, after all, our state flower. This lupine, along with paintbrush, coreopsis, and other native plants make our roadsides look like colorful patchwork quilts in spring. (Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson.)

Salvias (sages) are a proven source of blue that leans toward purple, like this 'Mystic Spires' salvia.

This salvia even has blue in its name. It is 'Black and Blue,' another very dependable source of blue in the garden palette. 

Of course, most dependable of all is the bottle tree. Always blue, always in bloom.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Another summer visitor checks in

The Chimney Swifts are back. Let the summer begin.

I heard their distinctive twittering in flight over my yard on Sunday afternoon. Looking up, I saw three of the little birds barreling around the sky over the yard in their iconic "bat-out-of-hell" flight.

Chimney Swifts could not be mistaken for any other kind of bird - except perhaps another variety of swift like the Vaux, but we don't have those here so identification is easy. It's not just their constant twittering calls; their bodies are unique, looking like a big cigar from tip of beak to tip of tail, with long, slender wings attached. The birds seem to be mostly wing and that is appropriate since they are creatures that live their lives on the wing, eating, drinking, mating, even sleeping in flight. Those scythe-shaped wings cut through the air very efficiently, thus sending the birds on their very fast jaunts from here to there. In Yoda-speak, swiftly they fly; well-named they are.

Those efficient wings are only folded and at rest at night when the birds head into a chimney or other similar vertical structure where they can cling to the sides and spend the night. The bird's feet are as underdeveloped and weak as the wings are super-developed and strong. They are unable to perch like most songbirds, but the feet can lock onto a rough surface like bricks and cling.

These birds always look joyful in their flight and I look forward to their return each spring and their presence here throughout the summer into late September. Not surprisingly, they are on the early side this year. Normally, they return at the same time as the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but, so far, I haven't seen any of the little hummers. Any day now, I'm sure.       

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Closers by Michael Connelly: A review

The Closers (Harry Bosch, #11)The Closers by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I last encountered Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch, he had left the LAPD and was working as a private detective. But after three years away from the force, he misses it and when he learns that certain personnel would no longer be there to torment him and that the new police chief is open to his returning, he decides to go back. The decider is that he will be able to work with his former partner Kizmir Rider in a new unit called Open-Unsolved. These are old murder cases that have grown cold but are not forgotten. Working old cases has always been Harry's strength. He is in his element here.

The first case assigned to Harry and Kiz is a seventeen-year-old murder of a teenage girl who was taken from her home at night and killed. She was at first thought to be a runaway but her body was found a few days later on a mountain behind the family home. The autopsy revealed that she had recently had an abortion, unknown to her family and friends, but no connection between that and her murder was ever found. In fact, no motive was established and no potential perpetrator identified.

The first thing for those reviewing the case to do is to read the "murder book," the book that contains all of the details of the original investigation and the evidence found. There is also one new detail to consider, one bit of information which the original investigators did not have; DNA found on the gun that was identified as the murder weapon. At the time of the murder, DNA forensics were in their infancy. With more sophisticated techniques available, the DNA on the gun has now been matched to a petty criminal who lived in the area at the time of the murder.

Attention focuses on this newly identified suspect and Harry and Kiz try to come up with a plan that might spook him and cause him to reveal what he knows.

Meanwhile, Harry learns that his return to LAPD is not universally cheered. He encounters Irvin Irving, an old nemesis, who lets him know that he has his eye on him and will not hesitate to cause him grief. But Irving, it develops, is on the outs in the department. Since the advent of the new chief and his administration, many corrupt cops have already been eased out or outright fired. It looks like Irving may soon be among them.

(Parenthetically, we've been watching the second season of the Amazon TV series Bosch which is based on Michael Connelly's books. It turns out they are based very loosely. The stories and some of the characters have been changed. One of those changed characters is Irving who Harry winds up working with in the TV series. That would have been unheard of in the books.)

This story was a very tightly constructed and believable police procedural. It is full of realistic details about how the police work. Moreover, it also included discussions of some of the changes in criminal law through the years and the impact that science has had on the ability of police to catch criminals, even the perpetrators of long cold cases. There are references to the changes that have caused certain crimes to be designated as "hate crimes" and treated differently in law. Connelly is very, very good at all of this - packing the information in without detracting from the plot or lessening the suspense that keeps the reader turning those pages.

It's good that Harry's back with LAPD. That's where he belongs. As he told Kiz at one point, after a while of being away from it, he noticed that he was walking crooked and, on reflection, he realized it was because he missed the weight of the gun on his hip. The weight that he had grown accustomed to, that had become a part of him, in more than 30 years on the force. He's back and he has the luxury of working his favorite kinds of cases, the ones that no one else could solve. He and the Open-Unsolved Unit are The Closers because they will finally solve and close those cases. 



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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Today

We've had a lot of perfect spring days over the past week. Temperatures just right, clear blue skies, lots of golden sunshine, gentle breezes. Billy Collins knows about such days and he captures them perfectly in words.

Today


BY BILLY COLLINS
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

~~~

I hope that is just the kind of day you are having. To all my Christian readers, happy Easter. And to everyone else, happy spring (or fall, if you are in the southern hemisphere). Whatever time it is on your personal calendar, I hope your day is perfect!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

This week in birds - #199

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:


A Tri-colored Heron with breeding plumes seeks his lunch among the reeds.
*~*~*~*

Both of the eaglets have now hatched in the Washington, D.C. Bald Eagle nest that is being monitored by thousands via the nestcams. You can watch, too. The cameras are on 24-7. Please note the disclaimer that this is a wild bird nest and sometimes distressing things happen in such nests. But so far, so good with the little eaglets.

*~*~*~*

The transition from living in the sea to walking on land is one of the major stages of evolution. Scientists have long puzzled over exactly how the transition was made. Now, in a cave in Thailand, they have found a fish that may offer some of the answers. It is a blind cave fish that is able to walk on land the way vertebrates do.

*~*~*~*

A new paper argues that catastrophic climate shift may not take centuries if we continue on our present path but may in fact take place within decades.

*~*~*~*

This is interesting. Research has established that the addition of Prozac to the water that they swim in makes bettas (sometimes called Siamese fighting fish) less belligerent and prone to fight. This has implications for the environment because often our medications do eventually wind up in our water systems with unknown cascade effects throughout the ecosystem.   

*~*~*~*

Gulls can be notoriously hard to identify, especially in their winter plumages, but one good tip in learning to distinguish them is to first learn to identify the most common gulls in your area. In many parts of the country, that would be the Ring-billed Gull. Here, it is the Laughing Gull


Laughing Gull in winter.

An "authorized" Laughing Gull in spring. Though their clothes may change from season to season, they may most easily be identified by their loud calls that do sound like raucous laughing.
*~*~*~*

What is going on with Bald Eagles on the East Coast? Four more dead eagles have been found in Delaware about 30 miles from where thirteen eagles were found dead in Maryland last month. Investigations as to the cause and to who may be the perpetrator continue.

*~*~*~*

Here's an article about why dam removal in the West makes sense in spite of the ongoing drought.

*~*~*~*

Birds are known for dispersing seeds of the plants that they love. I have evidence of it all over my yard. But it turns out that migrating birds can disperse those seeds over long distances, thus changing the ranges of particular plants, if the conditions are right. 

*~*~*~*

Six Flags in New Jersey is planning to cut down 70 acres of forest to build a solar farm. Environmentalists are mobilizing to stop those plans.

*~*~*~*

New Zealand has lost another of its endemic species. The Red-billed Gull is no more. This one was not extirpated like about 60 other species that have disappeared on the island since the coming of humans and their hangers-on (rats, dogs, cats, pigs, etc.). No, the Red-billed Gull was a victim of the lumpers - those ornithologists that from time to time change the names of birds or decide that two previously separate species are actually the same. In this case, it was the Red-billed and the Silver Gull. The taxonomists have decided that they are all really Silver Gulls.


Good-bye Red-billed, hello Silver Gull.
*~*~*~*

Researchers trying to study parrots can find the effort very challenging for these are very intelligent birds - sometimes seemingly more clever than those observing them!

*~*~*~*

The National Science Foundation is suspending funding support for biological collections. Since the foundation has been the main source of financial support for these collections, this suspension could have dire effects on the ability of researchers to do their work.

*~*~*~*

An agreement between New Zealand and China will protect stopover sites for endangered shorebirds, particularly two species - the Red Knot and the Bar-tailed Godwit

*~*~*~*

Monarch butterflies could be at risk for extinction within the next two decades unless their numbers increase.

*~*~*~*

Texas has a lot of sun and wind (not all of the wind coming from our blathering politicians) and the state will be adding nearly 12,000 megawatts of wind and solar capacity by the end of 2017. Long a leader in petroleum production, Texas should be well-positioned to become a leader in the production of green energy.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Say hello to my leetle friend!


The American green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) is a common backyard amphibian that is found throughout the central and southeastern United States. They seem to be especially common in my yard. I can hardly turn over a leaf or a rock without encountering one. Indeed, there's even one that joins me on my patio.

My favorite spot to sit on my patio is in a canopied swing where I can view most of my backyard and keep an eye on what is happening there. As it happens, it is the favorite spot of this little guy as well. He's found a perch on the bar that supports the swing - between the metal bar and canvas canopy. It's a warm and well-hidden spot, just the right size for a little green frog. I probably would never have known he was there, but a couple of days ago while I was sitting in my spot, he decided to start "singing". Of course, I got up to see what was making all that noise and there he was! I've seen him there every day since then.   

But the little green frogs might turn up anywhere in the yard these days. For example, sunning on a crinum leaf.

Or even well tucked in between the petals of an amaryllis blossom. This is actually a picture from last spring, but the amaryllises are beginning to bloom, so I'm keeping my eye open for another photo op for Kermit! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante: A review

Those Who Leave and Those Who StayThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Each of us narrates our life as it suits us." - Lila Cerullo in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

This is the third in Elena Ferrante's acclaimed Neapolitan Quartet of novels which chronicle the lifelong friendship of Lila and Elena. In this one, the women have reached their mid-twenties and we follow them to their early thirties. The time is 1969 to the mid-'70s.

I think it would be a huge mistake to try to read any one of these novels as a stand-alone or to read them out of order. Each one builds on the previous book(s) and each is a continuation of that narration of two lives.

Here we find that Lila, having left the comforts or at least the prestige offered by her marriage to the businessman Stefano, is working at a sausage factory and living, along with her young son, with her childhood friend Enzo who is in love with her. They maintain a platonic relationship. 


Lila is overworked and stressed out, struggling to survive financially, emotionally, and intellectually. The brilliant child that she had been had been forced to leave school early and chose marriage as her escape. When that didn't work out, she left the marriage and is now trying to make it on her own. That isn't working so well either.

Elena, of course, has been luckier. She received lots of help and support from teachers and others who believed in her along the way and she was able to complete college and write a novel that proved very successful. It was a novel that shocked many in her old neighborhood with its frank discussion of sexual relationships. 


At the beginning of this book, she is engaged to be married to a brilliant young professor from an upper class family, a man who is her intellectual equal. The book follows their first few years of marriage and the births of their two daughters. As a wife and new mother, Elena, too, is harassed and stressed out by her marital and parental responsibilities, unable to write. She is miserable.

All around the women and their families, Italy and Europe and, indeed, the Western world are exploding in the late '60s and '70s with political and social unrest. Their old neighborhood of Naples is becoming even more violent and childhood friends are involved in the labor movement and the violent clashes between communists and fascists. Some of them lose their lives in the violence.

Meanwhile, Elena is on the sidelines and seeking a way in and a way to write about what is happening. She becomes interested in the feminist movement and, in her own way, pulls Lila along.

In this book, the women's friendship is sorely tested time and again. But at the lowest point in Lila's life, the person she asks for is Elena and when Elena comes and sees the state she is in, she resolves to help her, even though at times she hates her and wishes her dead. 


Through her efforts, Lila and Enzo are able to get better jobs and to improve their condition. But Elena still is suffering a drought in her writing career.

So many events from the girls' childhood and their earlier lives come back to play pivotal points in this story - which is why it is so important to read the books in order. That time that Lila designed a shoe in book one comes back to be talked about and to play a part in book three. The day that Elena and Lila skipped school and walked as far away from the neighborhood as they could - it was Lila who finally wanted to turn back; or when Lila held a knife to a man's throat to protect herself and Elena; all of these prior events are still a part of the narrative.

Ferrante seems to say that it is from such events that may have seemed rather insignificant at the time that the fabric of female friendship is woven. It is not at all a simple or smooth fabric. It is bumpy with every human emotion including such negative ones as fear, rage, and jealousy. But there is also respect and the unbreakable thread of shared experiences that keeps it all together.

These novels are so extraordinary for showing the choices that Elena and Lila are forced to make as they attempt to escape the poverty and violence of their neighborhood. And this particular novel shows how some of those choices that may have seemed right at the time turned out to be serious mistakes. 


Elena, for example, for all of her laudable attempts to help Lila, makes some personal choices here that cast her in a very bad light and that I suspect will prove, in the fourth book, to be a source of regret. But for that we'll have to wait and see, won't we?


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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Still here

By the first of March, it seemed that most of our winter visitor birds had left the area. No more Rufous Hummingbirds. No more American Goldfinches. No more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers or Orange-crowned Warblers. No more Chipping...oh, wait, what is that? 

Over the weekend, I looked up to see a Chipping Sparrow perched on the grape vine in my backyard. It didn't stay there long but flew over to one of my feeders and began to have lunch. Usually when I see one chippie, there are several around, but this time I only saw this one.

Likewise, I thought all the Pine Siskins had absconded, but no! Here's one perched in my redbud tree on Sunday and I later saw four of them at my feeders. I even heard an American Goldfinch in the pine trees next door.

As I thought about it, it seemed likely to me that all of these birds had spent the winter farther south and that I am seeing them now as they head north. I do think that most of the winter birds that spent the season in my yard have already flown north toward their nesting grounds. But obviously there are some stragglers that are still here. I'll enjoy them while they are.

Monday, March 21, 2016

World Poetry Day

It seems that every cause, idea, group, disease, etc., has its own special designated day, week, month, etc., in our modern world. Did you know, for example, that today is National French Bread Day? Also, National Common Courtesy and National Fragrance Day? Indeed it is!

But some things are so important that they get not just a "national" day but a "world" day. And today is one of those, too. It is World Poetry Day.

This is an annual event, celebrated every year on March 21. Why that particular date? Maybe because this is the time of year that brings out the poet in all of us.

To celebrate this special day, here are just a few favorite lines from favorite poems. 


Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver - The Summer Day

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley - Invictus

He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest.
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
W.H. Auden - Funeral Blues

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
W.B. Yeats - The Second Coming

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas - Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
Emily Dickinson - "Hope" Is the Thing With Feathers

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain.
Edna St. Vincent Millay - Time Does Not Bring Relief 

'Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
'Whether they work together or apart.'
Robert Frost - The Tuft of Flowers

to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go
Mary Oliver - In Blackwater Woods

As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
Anne Sexton - Small Wire

We were so wholly one I had not thought
That we could die apart. I had not thought
That I could move,—and you be stiff and still!
That I could speak,—and you perforce be dumb!
I think our heart-strings were, like warp and woof
In some firm fabric, woven in and out;
Your golden filaments in fair design
Across my duller fibre.
Edna St. Vincent Millay - Interim

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth - I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud 

An annoying peasant explains it all

Happy Monday!

Have you had enough of presidential debates? How about a debate between a representative of the 99% and one from the 1% about how government works? In inimitable Monty Python fashion, of course. Enjoy!



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Poetry Sunday: A Prayer in Spring

The first amaryllis blossom of the year welcomes spring to my garden.


A Prayer in Spring

by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil. 

~~~

What a perfect description of a hovering hummingbird:

"The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
  And off a blossom in mid air stands still."

And those "meteors" will be here any day now. Because it's spring!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

This week in birds - #198

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:


The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on their way. They've been seen along the Gulf Coast of Texas and some are probably already in our area, although I haven't seen any in my yard yet. I photographed this one in my backyard on March 20, 2015, so I expect to see them any day now. The adult males are always the first to arrive, followed by adult females and the one-year old birds.

 
*~*~*~*

Residents of our nation's capital have been in a state of eager anticipation this week and it has nothing to do with presidential primaries or Supreme Court justice nominees. It's all about Bald Eagle chicks. A pair of Bald Eagles nesting at the National Arboretum have been followed by nestcam and this week, on Friday, the first of the two eggs hatched while the city watched. There hasn't been this much excitement since the last panda birth at the National Zoo.

*~*~*~*

The news about Monarch butterflies has been very good during the past year. The population of the charismatic butterfly has made a comeback after several years of setbacks, but many other less well-known butterflies are also nearing the brink of extinction. Lest we get complacent about the Monarch, though, a late winter storm hit their wintering grounds in Mexico with snow and ice, killing an estimated 1.5 million of the butterflies. It's not clear how many of them had already left to start their northward migration. I have been seeing Monarchs in my garden this week - whether they are migrants or were hatched here I couldn't say.

*~*~*~*

After months of unrelenting bad publicity about the program, SeaWorld has announced that it will stop breeding orcas in captivity.  

*~*~*~*

Birds that nest in the Arctic have adapted to the extreme cold of the region. What happens to those birds now that the temperatures there are rising? Will they be able to adapt once again to the stresses of climate change?

*~*~*~*

A previously unknown butterfly named the Tanana Arctic has been discovered in Alaska. It is thought that it may be the only kind of butterfly that is endemic to Alaska, meaning that it is found there and nowhere else.


Tanana Arctic butterfly photo courtesy of National Geographic.

*~*~*~*

I think of American Woodcocks as usually being found around rather swampy areas of the South, but here's a migrant that has chosen to hang out in the middle of Manhattan!

*~*~*~*

A mountain lion in Los Angeles recently killed a koala at the zoo there. Zoo officials are taking extra steps to protect their animals from the lion, but they do not want the animal relocated or euthanized. After all, it was only doing what animals in the wild do. To try to relocate it might encroach on other lions' territories and cause more harm than good.

*~*~*~*

There has been an unprecedented seabird die-off in the northern Pacific this winter, apparently attributable to the domino effects of a warming ocean, but recently some 6,000 to 8,000 Common Murres turned up dead at a fresh water lake, Lake Iliamna, in Alaska. Seabird experts are puzzled as to how and why the birds ended up there.

*~*~*~*

The Obama Administration has done a 180 and decided not to allow deepwater drilling along the Southeast Atlantic shores.

*~*~*~*

Common Ravens are mostly common these days in western states, but now a pair of them are nesting in a rather unexpected place - Washington, D.C. Never say "Nevermore!" to these birds.

*~*~*~*

There is a deadly fungus spreading among snakes in the eastern United States, not unlike the fungal diseases that have plagued other members of the reptile and the amphibian families. This has dire implications for the environment since snakes are such an important part of a balanced ecosystem.  

*~*~*~*

There is some evidence that trees may not be as negatively impacted by climate change as has been feared and they may be more effective carbon sinks than had been projected.

*~*~*~*

A study of Little Blue Penguins in the ocean between Australia and New Zealand aims to zero in on the ramifications of climate change on the aquatic life of the area.

*~*~*~*

A previously unknown species of golden frog, scientific name Pristimantis dorado, has been found in the cloud forests of the High Andes in Colombia.


Pristimantis dorado is ready for his close-up!

*~*~*~*

Some of the strongest advocates for our National Wildlife Refuge system are birders. Our National Wildlife Refuges are national treasures, not just for wildlife but for those of us who love wildlife and love visiting them in their natural habitats rather than zoos. We are bird lovers, and we vote!

Friday, March 18, 2016

My favorite sage

Salvia, commonly called sage, is the largest genus of plants in the very large mint family, Lamiaceae. Within the genus, there are nearly a thousand species. They include a wide variety of growth forms such as shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Some even have hallucinogenic properties.

There are salvias that are native to practically every region of the world. One that is native to the rocky soils in Central, West, and South Texas, as well as Mexico, is Salvia greggii, often called autumn sage or cherry sage. I grow many different kinds of salvia in my garden, but I have to admit a particular fondness for Salvia greggii.

These salvias are characterized by small, dull pale green, glandular, aromatic leaves. They are essentially small evergreen shrubs that have a loose, open growth. They normally have red flowers, although, through the work of horticulturists, you can now find them in many different colors, including orange, yellow, fuchsia, salmon, purple, red-violet, burgundy, as well as some with white variegation in the leaves.


This is the typical form of autumn sage with its cherry-colored flowers. 

A close-up of the flowers. Although the plant is known as "autumn sage," in our climate, the plants bloom sporadically throughout the year, but it usually reaches its peak of bloom at this time of year.

Another variety has flowers that start as red and turn white as they age. This particular variety is called 'Hot Lips.'

A close-up of the flowers shows how the plant got its name. Don't they look like red-lipsticked lips?
Salvia greggii can be pruned back hard in late winter and again by about a half in August in order to maintain a tidy shape or it can be allowed to grow and spread or sprawl as it does in Nature. I generally opt for the latter and just do occasional light pruning to keep it from entirely outgrowing its space.

The plants will grow in sun or partial sun. It even stands up to our broiling hot summer sun and it is drought tolerant, requiring little or no supplementary water and virtually no care - the perfect plant for lazy gardeners. And that's why it is my favorite sage.