Saturday, November 30, 2019

This week in birds - #380

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





Each morning when I step out the back door of my house, I hear these birds calling all around my neighborhood. It is an Eastern Phoebe, the bird that announces its name with its call. Many spend their winters in this area, but I don't remember there ever being quite as many as this year. A symphony of "phoebes" - not a bad way to start my day.

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This week there was yet another bleak report on the status of the planet in regard to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising in spite of repeated warnings from scientists. China and the United States, the two biggest polluters, further increased their emissions last year.

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There was a horrific tale out of Texas this week, where a woman was killed by feral hogs. This was only the fifth recorded instance of a fatal wild hog attack in the country since 1825. Feral hogs are an increasing environmental problem in many parts of Texas.

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A study of the remains of salvaged bodies of seabirds on the Bering Sea shows how the ecosystem of the sea is being changed in this era of global climate warming.

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Africa's vultures are under attack by humans who do not understand their vital importance to the ecosystem. They are often killed with poisoned bait. Now, South Africa is establishing "safe zones" for the birds to try to protect them. 

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There was another explosion at a chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas this week. It is a plant that has a long history of environmental violations. It had been out of compliance with federal clean air laws for years. So why hasn't it been shut down, you ask? Good question!

*~*~*~*

The fish in the waters around Iceland have long been a staple in the economy of that country. But now the warming waters are causing some species to move away in search of cooler waters, creating a crisis for the economy as well as the diet of Icelanders.

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Image from The New York Times.

This is the plastinated heart of a blue whale that died in Newfoundland in 2014. It is being prepared to go on exhibit. Blue whales, as far as is known, are the largest animals ever to inhabit the planet and they feed on some of the smallest, krill. New research on them shows that when they make their dives, their great hearts can slow to only two beats per minute. This allows them to stay underwater longer. 

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The Sumatran rhinoceros is now extinct in Malaysia. The last animal, a female, has succumbed to cancer. The last male died earlier this year. It is estimated that only about 80 of the animals remain, mostly living in the wild on Sumatra.

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Our great national treasure, our national parks, are in trouble. They suffer from being loved too much (overcrowding), from climate change of course, and from invasive species. But perhaps the greatest threat is that the government does not provide adequate funding to care for them. 

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Did you know that in vitro fertilization for frogs and toads is a thing? Well, it is and it is offering hope to save some endangered species like the Puerto Rico crested toad, seen here.

Puerto Rico crested toad at the Fort Worth zoo. Image from AP.

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The threatened woodland caribou of the boreal forests of North America have declined rapidly in recent decades in western Canada, including in the oil sands areas of Alberta. Conservationists fear that restoring the habitat of the animals will not be enough to save them.

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A seabird called the Short-tailed Shearwater had a mass die-off in the Bering Sea earlier this year. (See above) Now, the birds were two weeks late in arriving at their winter home in southern Australia and they have arrived in greatly reduced numbers from the past.

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Arizona tribes including the Navajo Nation, environmentalists, state and federal agencies, river rafters and others have significant concerns about the proposal to dam a Colorado River tributary in northern Arizona for hydropower. The Navajo Nation owns the land where the dam would be located, and the projects won’t move forward without the tribe’s approval.

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The fires raging in Australia have killed many of their iconic koalas and have ravaged their critical habitat. But fears that the animals are nearing extinction seem overblown, according to scientists.

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There is an Amazonian tree that has leaves the size of a human body. It has now been described and identified as a previously unknown species. 

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And just in time for Thanksgiving, Wisdom, the oldest known Laysan Albatross, has returned to her nest site on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She is at least 69 years old and has hatched more than 35 chicks since she has been known to science. Wisdom - one more thing to be thankful for.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Old Success by Martha Grimes: A review

I had thought that Martha Grimes was finished with her Richard Jury mysteries. Then I ran across a note in one of the book review sections that I read about this book that was published this year. It is the twenty-fifth in a series that has been running since 1981. Since I had read all the previous twenty-four, it seemed incumbent on me to read this one, too.

The thing about Richard Jury and all his posse of fellow characters that readers have come to know over the years is that they never age. When the series started way back in the prehistorical days of the '80s, Jury and his sidekick and best friend Lord Ardry, aka Melrose Plant, were dashing, devastatingly attractive, upper class, 40ish Englishmen. Now, almost forty years later, they still appear to be dashing, devastatingly attractive, upper class, 40ish Englishmen. If only I knew where to find their fountain of youth!

All of Grimes' well-loved characters appear in this tale. It starts when the murdered body of a Frenchwoman is washed up on the wild Cornish coast and Brian Macalvie, divisional commander of the Devon-Cornwall police is called to the scene. Macalvie, who is famous for his implacable pursuit of malevolent perpetrators and never giving up on a case, finds the scene perplexing and calls on his friend, Richard Jury, now apparently a superintendent with New Scotland Yard, for assistance. His call interrupts Jury having a drink with a retired legendary CID detective, Tom Brownell, who had a 100% clearance rate for his cases.

Jury goes to Cornwall to assist Macalvie, but in the days following the discovery of the first body, two more murders occur. The events are widely separated and appear to have no connection and yet superdetective Brownell intuits that there is a connection. And that there may also be a further connection to an earlier supposed suicide - that of Brownell's own daughter.

There are, of course, Grimes' iconic characters of cute and precocious children and animals involved, and, as always, Jury calls on his friend, Melrose Plant, who he deems a children/animal whisperer, to help him out in extracting information from the kids.

Frankly, the plot here grows a bit confused and hard to follow. I suppose it wasn't helped by the fact that I was distracted by preparations for Thanksgiving while I was reading. The book would probably best be read by sitting down with it, concentrating fully, and finishing it in one sitting. That never happens to me.

In addition to the regular characters mentioned here, there are many, many others in this book that mostly play cameo roles, but they serve only to increase the confusion rather than illuminating the plot. So, on the whole, this was not one of the stronger entries in this long-running series, but for her truly avid fans, I'm sure it feels like the gift of a visit from an old friend.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars  
      

Monday, November 25, 2019

To the Land of Long Lost Friends by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

As the year winds down, I have been catching up on some of the series that I have read faithfully over the years. Now it is time to head off to Botswana to visit with the practitioners at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It is no. 1 and the only ladies' detective agency in Botswana.

This is the twentieth entry in this series that has been going since 1998 and I've been reading them for just about that long. This is a mystery series virtually without blood or violence. Instead, the mysteries generally feature a common moral dilemma of the human condition. Dilemmas which allow Precious Ramotswe, the founder and proprietor of the agency a chance to ruminate philosophically and humorously as she considers how to respond to the dilemma. We are always privy to Precious' thoughts throughout the narrative and at one point, she thinks:
"The bad behaviour with which No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was concerned was not really all that bad. They saw selfishness and greed; they saw vanity, and its cousin, insecurity. They did not see major cruelties, nor great frauds and dishonesties."
That about sums up the formula which Alexander McCall Smith has perfected with these books. Almost invariably the books end on a high note with a solution that preserves the dignity of the aggrieved party and the miscreant.

In this instance, Precious unexpectedly encounters an old friend whom she had thought was long dead. It turns out the report of death had been a case of mistaken identity and, in a country where the 24-hour news cycle does not apply, Precious had never received that word. She is delighted to meet with her friend but she soon learns that the friend is very troubled concerning the behavior of her adult daughter. Mother and daughter had long had a close, warm relationship, but suddenly the daughter has grown cold and is avoiding her. She doesn't understand what has happened.

Precious is sympathetic to her friend's problem and even though she doesn't ask for the help of a detective, Precious decides that she will try to get to the bottom of the situation. Her investigation, predictably, leads her into some related problems which may also need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, Charlie, her apprentice detective and lifelong apprentice mechanic at Mr. J.L.B. Makatoni's garage, is having romantic problems. He and his girlfriend, the rather hilariously named Queenie-Queenie, want to get married, but the custom of the bride-price still holds in traditional Botswanan society and Charlie has no money and no cattle. Moreover, Queenie-Queenie comes from quite a wealthy family and he fears he will never be able to amass sufficient funds to meet the price that he imagines would be expected.

These then are the moral dilemmas that are addressed in this gentle "mystery". There's also a sidebar concerning a little girl, orphaned by the death of her mother who was suffering from AIDS but who was killed by an elephant. A solution was found for her, too, and yes, it brought tears to my eyes. 

These books are very well written and are so relaxing to read. They are like a vacation for the mind. You wouldn't want to be on permanent vacation but it is nice to have such a break every now and then.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Poetry Sunday: A Proposal by Carl Dennis

Variety is the spice of life we say. And there is certainly truth in that, but sometimes there may be something to be said for sameness as well. Carl Dennis says it with this poem.

A Proposal
by Carl Dennis
Why don’t we set aside for a day
Our search for variety and have lunch
At the same café where we had lunch yesterday
And order the same avocado and Gouda sandwich
On whole wheat bread, toasted and buttered?
Why don’t we stroll again after lunch
To the river and back? I’ll be glad to interpret
Your wearing the blouse you wore yesterday
As a sign you’re still the person I think you are,
That this is the walk you want to take,
The one you didn’t get your fill of before.
And later, why don’t we hope for a sunset
That duplicates the valiant effort of yesterday:
Enough clouds for the light to play with,
Despite a haze that dims the hues?
Isn’t the insight worth repeating
That the end of the day may show itself
To be just as colorful as the beginning,
That a fine beginning isn’t a veil
That the end is destined to strip away?
The same words, but yesterday
They may have sounded a little tentative,
As if we weren’t sure we were ready
To stand behind them. Now if we choose
To repeat them, it means we are.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

This week in birds - #379

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


As Thanksgiving approaches, our thoughts turn to turkey. Here, two wary Wild Turkeys keep their eyes on me as I take their photograph at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. They will not be gracing anyone's holiday feast!

*~*~*~*

Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has hit the highest annual level in a decade, according to new government data which highlights the impact Brazil's new right-wing president has made on the world’s biggest rainforest. The new numbers show almost 10,000 sq kms were lost from the beginning of this year to August. The "lungs of the planet" are being slowly destroyed.

*~*~*~*

California governor, Gavin Newsom, has placed a moratorium on new permits for potentially dangerous oil drilling techniques, which officials said are linked to illegal spills across the Central Valley of the state. The temporary ban on new permits for steam injection and fracking is one of a number of measures that were announced to increase scrutiny and regulation of oil operations across the state.

*~*~*~*

In a move that greatly disappointed bird lovers and conservationists, New York's governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have created a council that would craft regulations for bird-friendly designs of buildings across the state. New York City has a bill pending in City Council that would address the problem for the city and the Audubon Society is hoping to see that bill become law.

*~*~*~*

A weak wet season in South Florida has water managers worried that there may not be enough fish to feed wading birds as breeding season approaches. The Everglades marshes where Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, and herons like to breed and build their nests are only 40 percent wet at this point, too dry for prey to become abundant enough to support significant population growth among the birds.

*~*~*~*

The Bureau of Land Management has had to suspend fossil fuel leases totaling hundreds of thousands of acres as courts continue to rule against the administration for ignoring climate impact. The BLM voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that the agency hadn't adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law. Meantime, it was announced that the administration will miss its target of holding the first-ever oil drilling lease sale in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this year due to delays in the environmental review process.

*~*~*~*

But, of course, this administration is relentless in its war against the environment. It has now announced a plan that could allow oil drilling on over three-quarters of the nation’s largest piece of unprotected wilderness, the 23-million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which is roughly the size of Indiana.

*~*~*~*

New research indicates that modern birds probably inherited their colorful eggshell patterns from their dinosaur ancestors.

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This incredibly colorful bird is a Gouldian Finch, a very rare bird native to Australia. Scientists have now confirmed the presence of one or more of these birds at a remote waterhole in northern Australia by analysis of environmental DNA. The method identifies traces of genetic material in soil, water, or ice that are deposited by the presence of plants and animals.

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Marine mammals on the Pacific Coast of Alaska have been infected by a virus that was once only seen in animals living in the Atlantic. Seeking an answer to how the virus came to be spread to the Pacific, scientists have found evidence to suggest that the melting ice of the Arctic may be to blame.

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A tiny endangered butterfly, the St. Francis Satyr, has found an unlikely refuge - the world's most populated military installation, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. This is another example of the Endangered Species Act at work.

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Arctic Terns have the longest migration of any seabird, going from their breeding area in the Arctic to their non-breeding area of the Antarctic and then back again. Feathers allow them to make these journeys and a study finds that those feathers change according to the food that the birds have available to eat.

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A decade-long study of migrating bison has come to the conclusion that the herds do not "surf", following the waves of new green grass that shoot up from the ground in spring. Instead, they help to create the waves. They are, in effect, engineering and intensifying the waves of green that other grazers feed on. 

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How did plants conquer the land? A study of two algal species offer clues to the researchers.

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One of the keys to conserving forests as carbon sinks is to conserve the animals that disperse seeds from the trees of the forest.

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A study found that all but one of America's endangered species are facing peril due to the climate change crisis, but the threat has had a patchy response from the federal government. Federal agencies consider just 64% of endangered species to be threatened by the climate crisis and only 18% of listed species have protection plans in place.

*~*~*~*

Interestingly, as flocks of Jackdaws grow, taking on new birds, the flocks become more organized and deliberate in their actions.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: A review

I've sometimes thought that Maine would be a great place to live. Land of four seasons; summers that do not feature 100 degree days with 90% humidity and the threat of devastating hurricanes; autumns that feature brilliant colors; and winters with snow. Sounds ideal. 

But then I think about all those white people who live there. Not that I'm prejudiced against white people; after all, I'm one of them. But I do enjoy living in a place where, on any given day, one might encounter any color and any language available in the human condition. Diversity rules!

Still, Crosby, Maine sounds like an idyllic place and it does have its town character, Olive Kitteridge, to recommend it. Yes, I would love to live next door to Olive. She speaks her mind bluntly. She's irascible and does not suffer fools gladly. Or at all. In short, she is everything I aspire to be.

Olive loves her home town, but she recognizes its lack of color diversity and is delighted that a group of Somali refugees has settled in a neighboring town. One of the stories in the linked tales that feature Olive in Elizabeth Strout's latest book features one of these Somalis.

Strout once again uses the same method of storytelling that worked so well in Olive Kitteridge. She gives us what is essentially a series of short stories highlighting a large number of unrelated characters whose lives are touched in some way by Olive. Some of the early stories focus on Olive and her new husband, Jack Kennison, who those readers familiar with the first book will remember. But some stories only have Olive making a cameo appearance while in others she plays a more prominent role. Each of the stories in its own way reveals some aspect of Olive's life and personality. I personally think it is a brilliant way to write about such a formidable character.

Strout has said that she did not intend to write about Olive again, but the character kept nagging at her, and, in the end, she had to acknowledge that there might be more of the story to tell. 

In this book, we see Olive age and face many changes in her life, most of them unwelcome. She goes from around 70 at the beginning to well into her 80s and has health issues as well as relationship issues to deal with. She's not happy with the world she sees changing around her, and yet she retains her love of Nature and the changing seasons and her tough-love empathy for the people around her. She is a marvelous character and I am so glad that Elizabeth Strout decided to write about her once again.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars  

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Templars' Last Secret by Martin Walker: A review

Time to check in once again on Bruno Courreges and his friends. Bruno is the chief of police in the little town of St. Denis in the Dordogne of France. St. Denis is in the middle of an archaeological treasure trove featuring the famous painted caves and that features heavily in the plot of this book.

It is also in the middle of a region of famed French cuisine and Bruno is an avid practitioner of that cuisine, a talented cook who likes nothing better than entertaining his friends with one of his superb meals. That, as always in this series, is also an important part of the plot. 

But Bruno's day job is as chief of police and as such he is called to the scene of a death in suspicious circumstances. The body of a woman has been found at the base of a cliff. She appears to have been climbing the cliff and to have fallen to her death, but was it an accident or was she pushed? There is evidence that at least one other person was present, but that person is nowhere to be found. And it appears the body was carefully posed after the fall. Murder seems the likely conclusion and so Bruno notifies all the relevant authorities in the chain of command of French policing.

There is no identification on the body and no one claims to know her, so the first task for law enforcement will be to identify her and determine what she was doing in the area. To that end, Bruno takes pictures of her face with his cell phone.

Returning to town, Bruno learns from the mayor that an observer has been sent from Paris to follow him around and do a time and motion study of his police techniques. He is appalled at the prospect, but he soon learns that the young woman, Amélie, is an invaluable asset because of her tech-savviness. (Bruno is a Luddite.) In the end, she is instrumental in helping to crack the case.

We soon learn that the dead woman was an Israeli potentially connected to Arab terrorists and that she had been seen in the area with suspicious companions. Law enforcement goes on high alert fearing the possibility that an attack is planned on one of the monuments of the region.

We also learn that the woman herself was apparently searching for an artifact of the Knights Templar that is rumored to be in the Dordogne, possibly in one of the caves. It is unclear if the artifact really exists.

As Bruno's investigation continues, he's also preparing to be the best man at the wedding of two archaeologist friends who are getting married on the weekend.

But regardless of all this, people still have to eat and Bruno can always find time to cook for them. Martin Walker regales us with mouth-watering descriptions of the food that he cooks, all of it from local sources of course and much from his own garden. These meals are always among the highlights of these books for me. 

Although this series is a work of fiction, many of the archaeological and historical facts presented are quite real and certainly provide a feeling of verisimilitude to the stories. Moreover, there are references to current events in France which gives resonance to the tales. The books are essentially light reading and yet I always learn things about history and about France when I read them. That is a tribute to Martin Walker's talent as a writer.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Reluctance by Robert Frost

I've read a lot of Robert Frost over the years. He's long been a favorite of mine for his expression of feelings about Nature and country things. Having grown up on a farm, I can identify with many of his poems. But in all the time I've been reading him, I don't recall ever coming across this poem until last week. I like it very much, especially that last stanza. The man did have a way with words. 

Reluctance
by Robert Frost
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

This week in birds - #378

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



Migrating Sandhill Cranes converge on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico by the thousands at this time of year to spend the winter there. I photographed this pair during a memorable trip in late October a few years ago. 

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The city of Venice is in a constant battle against the encroachment of the tides, but this week has seen it being hit by the highest tidewaters in over 50 years. The event is expected to cause millions of dollars in damage.

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What's a conservationist to do when faced with the dilemma of one threatened species feeding on another threatened species? That is the case with Caspian Terns that feed on endangered salmonids along the West Coast river systems. The solution has been to try to lure the terns away from areas inhabited by the fish.

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An investigation by the AP has revealed at least 1680 dams across the country that pose a potential risk.

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The Interior Department has disbanded its Invasive Species Advisory Committee which for the past 20 years has coordinated the federal government's efforts at controlling pythons and other invasive species threatening the country's ecosystems. A department spokesman said it is part of a cost-cutting move. Apparently, they don't consider the cost of the damage that invasive species do each year.

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In other news of our current administration's war on the environment, the EPA will limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking. Columnist Paul Krugman has some thoughts on this administration's lax attitude toward pollution and the environmental destruction that it wreaks.

*~*~*~*

A New Zealand poll has named that the endangered Hoiho Penguin as that country's bird of the year. Meanwhile, in their neighboring country of Australia, the bird of the year as determined by a public poll is the Black-throated Finch, also an endangered species. 

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For nearly half a century, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis has meticulously tracked butterfly populations at 10 sites in north-central California. He has single-handedly created the longest-running butterfly monitoring project in North America and learned much about the fluctuation and decline of those populations in the process.

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The Sea of Okhotsk wedged between Siberia and Japan has warmed in some places by as much as 3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, making it one of the fastest-warming spots in the world, according to data from the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth. That is bad news for the fish - and the fishermen and economy - of the area.

*~*~*~*

How can a creature without legs jump? It's a mystery, but some species of snakes manage to do it and scientists want to know how they accomplish that feat.

*~*~*~*

You can't find Passenger Pigeon pie on the menu anywhere these days. That's because humans ate the birds to extinction in the last century. And there are other species that have been so avidly devoured by our ancestors that they disappeared from the face of the planet.

*~*~*~*

Birds are no dummies. They are endlessly adaptable and able to take advantage of circumstances that will benefit them. Take the example of the Rough-legged Hawks. These hawks prefer to nest near Peregrine Falcons to take advantage of the fact that the falcons drive off other predators that might compete for the small rodents that the hawks prefer to eat.

*~*~*~*



This is a silver-backed chevrotain, commonly called a mouse deer. It is the smallest hoofed animal in the world and it had not been seen by scientists for nearly thirty years until this image was captured by a trail camera recently in southern Vietnam. It is thought to be one of the rarest animals in the world.

*~*~*~*

Thousands of migrating Steppe Eagles have been counted at stopover sites northwest of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The area had been suspected to be an important stopover for the birds and that is now confirmed.

*~*~*~*

Cutting the speed of ships would have huge benefits for humans, Nature, and the climate according to a recent report. It would reduce greenhouse gases as well as pollutants that make us sick and it would reduce noise that can harm marine mammals, in addition to potentially reducing collisions with whales. 

*~*~*~*

Autumn is the favorite season of many of us, partly because our favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, comes in the middle of it. But there are many pleasures of this time of year. Margaret Renkl has an appreciation of some of them. 


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - November 2019

Here in Southeast Texas, we were not exempted from the effects of the Arctic front that enveloped much of the country this week. We had two nights of freezing temperatures, unusual for us this early in the season. The freeze put an end to some of the blooms I had intended to include in my post.


Things like my Cape honeysuckle which had bloomed beautifully for a few weeks. But it can't take temperatures below 30 degrees F so the blooms are faded now.  


The bees were very sorry to see it go. So were the hummingbirds. 


The almond verbena was also affected by the freeze. The large shrub was full of these sweet-smelling flowers. 


Fortunately, I had recently added a few plants for winter color. These cyclamen, for example.  


 They are unaffected by freezing temperatures.


 My winter garden wouldn't be complete without the sweet-faced pansies.

 And their smaller-bloomed cousins, the violas.


 The snapdragons add their splash of bright color to the mix.


This salvia is a recent addition as well. It was in a protected area and its blossoms survived the freeze.


The Mandarin oranges were ready for harvest and my helpful daughter picked them for me.


The Meyer lemons, though, were not ripe yet. Citrus fruits don't continue ripening after they are picked so these have to stay on the tree a bit longer. Fortunately, it seems that the temperatures didn't get so low that the fruits were damaged.

There are several clumps of chrysanthemums scattered around the garden.


 They come in various colors - like this pink.


 And this gold one.


These beautyberries also provide a bit of color in the garden. Several of my shrubs have already had their berries picked clean by the birds, but this one is still loaded.


 Autumn sage doesn't mind cold weather.


Blue plumbago does, but some of its blooms have survived. The blooms seem to get bluer as the season advances.


The purple oxalis has continued with its blooming.

In a clear sign of the season, the muscadine grapes are beginning to turn color, as are the leaves of the vine.

Our autumns usually are the briefest of seasons between our long, long summers and our very short winters and they normally don't include very much really cold weather, but the climate is changing and the norms we have come to expect in our weather are changing, too. We had a very light frost on Halloween night this year and a killing frost this week, three weeks earlier than usual. I wonder what our winter will be like.

I hope you are enjoying whatever season prevails where you are and that you and your garden are thriving. Happy Bloom Day!

Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens for this monthly meme.

Throwback Thursday: Confronting Evil

I recently came across this post that I wrote almost ten years ago in December 2009. It blew me away to remember that I once felt like this; to remember that I had utter confidence in the leader of our country to try to do what was right and just, whether or not I agreed with his interpretation of that. Those were simpler, more innocent times.

~~~ 


Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Confronting evil

I'm not a big fan of David Brooks and I admit I don't often read his column in The New York Times, but a couple of days ago, he wrote one which had a title that intrigued me. It was "Obama's Christian Realism."The gist of the column was that President Obama's thought processes are revealed by his speeches and that his public speeches, taken as a whole, have reflected a remarkably consistent philosophy throughout. It is essentially that there is evil in the world which must be confronted, and, as Brooks states it, that "life is a struggle to push back against the evils of the world without succumbing to the passions of the beast lurking inside."

This is what Brooks calls the liberal internationalist approach. It is an approach that demands that we, as a nation, act in concert with others to achieve our aims. From this philosophy grew our backing of NATO and of the United Nations and of many regional alliances around the world. It is an approach to international relations that served this country very well for more than fifty years and was really only abandoned in this century by the Bushies. President Obama now seeks to return us to that more solid ground.

Brooks reminds us that Barack Obama spoke out against the Iraq war in 2002 and he was booed for his efforts. Throughout his political career, regardless of the opposition he has faced, he has steered by the stars of his understanding of what is right and of human nature's core struggle between love and evil. He is a serious and complicated man, a man who is able to hold two opposing ideas in his mind without succumbing to frustration or self-destructiveness.

I don't always agree with this president. I often wish that he would be more forceful in dealing with some of the more infuriatingly self-centered and self-serving politicians who pontificate in the Senate. I wish that he would act more swiftly to right some of the wrongs that have become ingrained in our system of government over the past eight years. But I am resigned to the fact that he will act with all deliberate speed on his own schedule and that he will not engage in the kind of partisan retribution that has marked the worst of our politics in recent years, even if I might want him to, because it is against his nature and he believes it is wrong.

No matter what the outcome may be, it is comforting to have the country in the hands of a "Christian realist" who is able to see not only good and evil in black and white, but all those confusing shades of gray in between.