Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Coral Vine

Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) is a native of Mexico that is widely cultivated in Texas gardens and throughout the Gulf South. It has striking, lacy pink or, in some cases, white or dark rose flowers. The vine that I grow in my yard is the traditional pink.

One of its several common names is "heavenly vine" and it certainly is that as far as bees are concerned. Honeybees, in particular, love the flowers and you can find them working those blossoms from early morning until late afternoon.  

This is a very vigorous vine that must have support from a sturdy trellis, fence, or even a tree. It has pretty, light green, heart-shaped leaves. It is not evergreen and the top growth of the plant will be killed by the first hard frost of the year, but well-established plants will come back from the roots in the spring.

Coral vines are easy to grow as long as they have good drainage and at least partial sun exposure. They are drought tolerant, thriving through a long, dry summer, but they only begin their major bloom display once the rains of late summer and early fall come.

These vines are easily propagated from seed, or large plants can be divided.

Coral vine is a valuable plant for Gulf South gardens, especially gardeners, like me, who like to do everything possible to encourage pollinators. The plant is a magnet for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and even migrating hummingbirds. And it provides beauty for the human psyche. A winner on both counts.    

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Exercise your right to read!

September 27 through October 3 is Banned Books Week, a yearly event sponsored by the American Library Association to call attention to the still ongoing effort in some quarters to censor our reading material.

These days, it seems that the main push to ban books comes through school libraries, usually middle school libraries. Parents and/or teachers express concerns about allowing children access to certain ideas. Usually, these are ideas with which the adults disagree but there is really no evidence that they would damage young minds.

A major objection to books in recent years, for example, are those which depict gay marriage or other non-traditional family situations. There are also sometimes objections to having women characters who are strong and independent and pursue "unfeminine" professions.

This is a list of the ten most challenged books during the past year and the reasons for their being challenged:
  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, anti-family, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence, depiction of bullying. 
  2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions.
  3. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell: Homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, homosexuality, unsuited for age group, "promotes the homosexual agenda."
  4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, "contains controversial issues."
  5. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  6. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
  7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Offensive language, violence, and unsuited for age group.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Homosexuality, sexuality explicit, offensive language, "date rape and masturbation," drugs/alcohol/smoking.
  9. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit.
  10. Drama by Raina Telgemeier: Sexually explicit.
These books join an honor roll of books from our history that have actually been banned when first published, including The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Ulysses, Beloved, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Lolita, just to name a few.

So, exercise your right to read this week, maybe by reading one of these "banned" books. Most importantly, don't ever let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't read or enjoy reading.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Of Blood Moons and Great Horned Owls

Well, the supermoon lunar eclipse/"Blood Moon" was a magnificent sight  for those who were actually able to see it, as you may be able to gather from the time lapse video above. At my house, it was a total bust. We had had light rain throughout the day and the cloud cover was just too dense to be able to view the eclipse.

But as the eclipse unfolded unseen above our heads, we did have a bit of excitement in our backyard. Some seldom-seen or heard visitors came calling.

Great Horned Owls! There were two of the birds, one in the old magnolia tree and another in a crape myrtle. They carried on a lengthy conversation with each other before my presence on the patio startled them, I think, and they flew over to the large pine trees in our neighbor's yard and continued hooting there.

For some reason, it always surprises me that we are host to Great Horned Owls. I expect Barred Owls, the quintessential owl of southern swamps because the habitat here seems very friendly to them, but, actually, I more often hear the Great Horned Owls at night so perhaps I need to modify my expectations.

When I say that I more often hear them at night, I don't mean to imply that they are frequently heard. In fact, it has been several months since I last heard them, but, obviously, they must be around all the time.

Great Horned Owls are probably the most ubiquitous of North American owls. They live in nearly all habitats of the continent except for the very far north around the Arctic Circle. They are large, aggressive, powerful owls that have earned their nickname of "tiger owl." Their favorite prey is mammals such as rabbits, opossums, rats, mice, squirrels, and skunks. They are even known to take on porcupines, sometimes with fatal consequences for both predator and prey. They also take some snakes, frogs, and birds, including other predators like hawks and owls.

They hunt mostly at night, sometimes at dusk. They watch from a high perch somewhere until they are able to identify prey and then swoop down on silent wings to capture it.  

These big birds are generally permanent residents where they live, although some of them may wander long distances in fall and winter, often in a more southerly direction, looking for prey. It's likely that the two I heard last night are local birds and perhaps I will hear them again sometime soon. Or many months from now. Most likely I will hear them many times before the next Blood Moon comes around in 2033. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Poetry Sunday: Advice to a Prophet

The nation's news media outlets have been full of Pope Francis this past week as he made his first visit to our country. I am very sympathetic to his message of caring for the Earth and caring for each other, though I'm not sure his words will move the deniers and haters to change any of their positions of denying and hating. Still, they couldn't hurt and it was certainly refreshing to hear such sentiments stated by an important religious leader.

As I searched for a poem that would express my own feelings about what the Pope was saying, I came across this one by Richard Wilbur. It seemed to fit the purpose perfectly!  

Advice to a Prophet

By Richard Wilbur

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,   
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,   
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,   
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   
A stone look on the stone’s face?

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive   
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,   
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip   
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without   
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?   
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean   
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose   
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding   
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing   
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

This week in birds - #175

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

Fall migration means that the Whooping Cranes will soon be making their way back to Aransas on the Texas Gulf Coast for the winter. They travel in family groups of a mated pair and typically one chick from this year. Rarely, a pair will raise two chicks to accompany them on the long journey. How many birds will there be this year? Will the population top 300?


The news of all kinds this week was dominated by the travels of Pope Francis. In his public utterances, he again pointed to human damage to the environment as something which humans have a moral imperative to control and reverse.  Specifically, he called for urgent action on climate change.


Millions of songbirds fly at night during spring and fall migration. If you go outside and tune your ears and eyes to the sky, especially on moonlit nights, you may be able to observe them passing overhead.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made its long-awaited announcement on the Greater Sage-Grouse this week. They decided that it would not be listed as an endangered species. The decision had a mixed reception from conservation groups, some praising it and some saying it would be a death knell for the bird. 


In other ESA news, the USFWS is considering adding four new species to the list: the wood turtle, the northern bog lemming, the rusty-patched bumblebee, and the regal fritillary butterfly.


Noah Stryker is having a very Big Year, indeed. On day 259 of the year, he surpassed the previous world record for the number of bird species seen in one year. A pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths brought his total to 4,342 for the year, with three months still to go. For a birder who counts herself lucky to see 300 species in a year, that is just an amazing total. It takes a special kind of fanaticism and a lot of money, plus a lack of responsibilities to hold you back, to even think of pursuing such a goal.   


Bird lovers sometimes worry that their backyard feeder may affect changes in backyard bird populations which could potentially be detrimental. While there is really no confirmation of that fear, a study in the UK has shown that backyard feeders there are encouraging Blackcaps to stay in Britain during the winter.


Blue-footed Boobies nest on the ground and their eggs, as laid, are unmarked blue which quickly turn white so they tend to stand out, making them vulnerable to predators, but the clever birds have a way of disguising them. They dirty the eggs as they rotate and jostle them with their feet so that within a couple of weeks they are indistinguishable from the ground around them.


Some of the western wildfires that have occurred this year have been so intense that the forests are not regenerating as they normally would. The fires may be creating new landscapes.


The reports that you send to eBird will soon have the capability of having sight and sound as a part of them. In cooperation with the Macauley Library, the site is adding a feature that will allow reporters to add pictures and sounds to their lists of birds.


Conservationists are making an effort to reintroduce the Northern Bald Ibis to Spain. As a part of that project, four captive-bred chicks will soon be released in the wild there.


A first draft of the "tree of life" for the roughly 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes—from platypuses to puffballs—has been released. A collaborative effort among eleven institutions, the tree depicts the relationships among living things as they diverged from one another over time, tracing back to the beginning of life on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago.


Geolocators are now being used to track the beautiful Prothonotary Warbler in its migrations to study where it goes and where it stops over during its trips.


Bumblebees in the Colorado Rockies have developed shorter tongues over the past forty years, as they adapt to the changing climate and the changing characteristics of the flowers that they visit.  


Grasshopper Sparrows are among the most endangered of the world's bird species. Seven little sparrow chicks in Florida are getting an assist by being hand-reared to be released into the wild with hopes of boosting the population.


In the latest round in a 15-year legal battle to keep the California Spotted Owl safe from U.S. Forest Service logging policies, federal wildlife authorities have agreed to reconsider an earlier decision to deny the timid raptor protection under the Endangered Species Act.


Don't forget about the supermoon lunar eclipse/"Blood Moon" that occurs Sunday night. It's going to be a sight to behold - assuming the cloud cover allows it - and I promise it won't be the end of the world.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare: A review

A Midsummer Night's DreamA Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my goals for my summer reading was to reread the complete works of Shakespeare. Well, the summer has flown by and the only progress I made toward my goal was to read a few of the sonnets. Now that fall has arrived, I decided to finally make a serious start on the project.

What better place to start than perhaps my favorite of the comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream? I have fond memories of a PBS production of the play when I was growing up.  It made a lasting impression on me and helped to give me at least a glimmer of appreciation for good literature. The twists and turns of the romance between the star-crossed lovers, Lysander and Hermia, were funny and sometimes poignant. The interference in human lives by the king of the fairies, Oberon, the bumbling of his servant, Puck, and, finally, the act of Oberon that puts everything right again make up the core of the plot.

"The course of true love never did run smooth," says Lysander in act 1. That was never more true than in this play, but, in fact, it could be said of all Shakespeare's comedies, as well as some of the tragedies. It's a favorite device of his to cause misunderstandings between lovers and would-be lovers which then become the running theme of the play that is finally resolved in the final act. And so it is with A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The scene is Athens. Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. But Demetrius also loves Hermia and Hemia's father favors him as a husband for his daughter. Helena, Hermia's best friend, loves Demetrius but he won't give her a second look.

Lysander and Hermia plan to run away together. They meet in a wood outside Athens, but instead of running away, they fall asleep. Helena, hoping to curry favor with Demetrius, tells him about the plot and he goes to the same wood seeking the lovers, but there he, too, falls asleep.

On (mangled) instructions from Oberon, Puck goes to the wood and sprinkles the eyelids of the sleepers with a potion which causes both Demetrius and Lysander to wake up in love with Helena and hating Hermia. Both Helena and Hermia are very confused. Demetrius and Lysander are ready to fight over Helena.

Oh, what hilarity ensues! Finally, Oberon intervenes once again, sets everything right, and Lysander remembers that he loves Hermia, and, suddenly, Demetrius finds that he loves Helena. They all live happily ever after, each with the one he/she loves. The end.

This, of course, is the selfsame plot we have seen reenacted in virtually every romantic comedy since Shakespeare. In plays and on the screen or in literature, it is always the same and we know how it is going to end, but we love it anyway.          

It is not a fluke that Shakespeare is called the greatest writer in English. For one thing, we can hardly get through a day without quoting him. For another, he prefigured practically every plot of every book and short story that came after him and his sonnets are truly timeless. In fact, his writing seems fresh to me still, almost five hundred years later.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz: A review

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As all the reading universe knows, Swedish author Stieg Larsson died before his three books featuring "The Girl" were published and so he never knew what blockbusters the books became. Sad.

Sad, too, were the fans of those books who realized that there would never be another one, but soon the clamor began to find an author to carry on the series. Larsson's brother and father, who, under Swedish law, controlled his estate rather than his domestic partner of many years whom he never married, at length decided to pursue the possibility of continuing the series. They chose another Swedish journalist, David Lagercrantz, to carry it on. Thus, now, more than ten years after Larsson's death, his creation, Lisbeth Salander, lives again in The Girl in the Spider's Web.

But readers dreaming of encountering an exact replica of Larsson's Salander in this book will probably be disappointed with it. Lagercrantz is a very different writer and, frankly, I found some of his prose a bit turgid and overwrought. Moreover, his device of ending every chapter on a cliffhanger began to irritate me a bit after a while. Nevertheless, overall, it was a good reading experience, and, after a bit of a slow start, he certainly kept me turning those pages.

The plot, as usual with these books, is rather complicated, but, of course, the main element of it is the world of hackers - the good hackers vs. the bad hackers. The good hackers, naturally, are the group with which Salander is associated. Though they get off on invading the privacy of corporations and government agencies (including the NSA) right around the world, they do not do it with evil intent. They are interested in righting wrongs and correcting injustices.

On the other side of the equation is a group known as the Spiders and these guys are pure evil. Surprisingly, Lisbeth's twin sister, Camilla, is a part of the Spiders, so we not only have good vs. evil but also twin vs. twin. This does not become apparent, however, until fairly late in the book.

The tale begins with a Swedish professor who had divorced his wife and left his son in her care to take a job with a Silicon Valley tech firm. There, he worked on a project involving self-learning artificial intelligence. But at a certain point, he becomes concerned about his son, who is autistic and mute, and he abandons his job in California and returns to Sweden. He goes to his ex-wife's home and tells her he wants to take custody of their son. She gives him up without an argument.

The professor tries without much luck to connect with his eight-year-old son. He then receives a warning that his life may be in danger and that bad guys may try to steal his research on AI. Alarmed, he contacts journalist Mikael Blomkvist, thinking that if he goes public with some of his research, there will be no reason to attack him. As Blomkvist arrives at the man's apartment to meet with him, a dark figure comes rushing out, and he finds the professor shot to death and his terrified son in shock.

The plot really takes off at this point. Things had not been going well for Bloomkvist and his friends at Millenium magazine, but suddenly he finds himself sitting on top of a huge story that could possibly put him back on top and reverse the fortunes of the magazine. He needs the help of a hacker to get the information he needs for his story, so who's he gonna call? Lisbeth Salander, of course!

My favorite parts of the book were when Lagercrantz was writing about Salander and about the autistic child, August. He seemed to have a real feeling for them. I thought the Bloomkvist parts were less successful, but then I've never been a big Bloomkvist fan. I could never understand why all those beautiful women wanted to tear their clothes off and throw themselves at him whenever they see him.

It turns out that August is a savant whose special abilities are in the world of mathematics and drawing. He is able to draw scenes that he has glimpsed for only a moment, right down to their smallest detail. Bad news for the guy who killed his father while August watched in terror. And bad news for August when the bad guys realize this.

But never mind! Lisbeth Salander is on the job. She connects with August because he reminds her of herself, and it turns out that they do have a lot in common. Salander is one of the good guys whose numerous tattoos and piercings cover a heart of gold and she will protect August come hell or Spiders.

All in all, this was a worthy successor to Larsson. I wonder if there will be more?

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It's over

Yogi Berra
1925 - 2015

Hall of Fame catcher and Hall of Fame human being.
Philosopher who saw clearly that maybe the fork in the road didn't matter; what mattered was that you make a choice and stick with it.
A player who embodied the joy of the game.
An icon of my childhood and one of the reasons I am a baseball fan.

Yogi Berra played all nine innings.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Mason bees

Mason bees of the genus Osmia are a type of native bee that is very common throughout most of the United States. They are typically a bit smaller than a honeybee and are solitary like most native bees. There are about 140 species of mason bees in North America, many of them, including the ones I see in my yard, have a metallic blue color. The males do not have a stinger and the females only sting if trapped or squeezed. 

In the wild, these bees lay their eggs in small natural cavities, plugging the holes with a bit of mud, thus their name, mason bees. They are also quite happy to nest in human-provided habitats.

This is a typical kind of mason bee habitat which I had had hanging in a tree in my backyard for several years. Eventually, time and the weather had their way with the structure and it became so dilapidated that, last spring, I decided it was time to junk it. I took it down and set it on my potting table, intending to dispose of it later. And promptly forgot about it.

Recently, I was clearing off and rearranging things on my potting table and I came across the bee habitat again. It had been hidden from human eyes behind pots and other paraphernalia, but the bees had still managed to find it. They were not at all deterred by its condition. They continued to use the tubes as sites to lay their eggs. 

There were about twenty-five of the tubes that were in use or had been in use as nesting places and the bees were continuing to visit the site. Soon, more of these tubes will be plugged with mud by the masons.

Mason bees of all kinds are important pollinators, especially for fruit trees. Some gardeners hang their bee habitats in their fruit trees to encourage the bees. But I can testify that even the habitat gets lost behind pots on a potting bench, the clever little bees will still find it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Religions Are What People Make Them"

I just watched Pope Francis' arrival in Washington on television. It seemed like a thoroughly joyous occasion. 

Pope Francis is very easy to like. He seems like a truly humble and down-to-earth man, one who carries his dogma lightly and who truly tries to embody the teachings of Jesus in his actions toward others. He has put a much kinder and gentler face on Catholicism, even as much of the antiquated belief system of the Church - no women priests and little involvement of women in the running of the church; celibacy for priests, making it impossible for them ever to fully understand the day-to-day lives and concerns of most of their parishioners; antipathy to modern contraception methods and no tolerance for abortions, to name only a few issues - remains unchanged. Nevertheless, Francis has made his Church a more open and accepting place, and displaying that attitude has made him one of the most admired people in the world.

So, now, here he is in our country where we are currently witnessing the Republican candidates for the presidency of what they would have be a theocracy slugging it out with their inchoate blustering about "religious liberty" and their professed belief in archaic verses from the Old Testament regarding the treatment of women and of homosexuals; and, furthermore, their belief that these verses should take precedence over the laws and the Constitution of this country. As usual, these self-described Christians are cherrypicking the religious teachings they prefer and ignoring all that crazy stuff about loving your neighbor, housing the homeless, taking care of the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. Jesus didn't really mean that!

Pope Francis, however, tells us that Jesus did mean that stuff, and that is why many Republicans, including some who are Catholic, hate this Pope. He makes them look like the small-minded, selfish, greedy, unforgiving zealots that they are. One has to wonder if, when the Pope speaks to a joint session of the Congress on Thursday, one of our elite elected representatives might not stand up, interrupting his speech, and yelling "You lie!" Frankly, I wouldn't put it past them.  

All of which brings me to a post that Paul Krugman wrote on his blog today. The post was entitled "Religions Are What People Make Them."  Truer words were probably never written. 

Human beings make of their religions what they want them to be. Their religions are created in their images. A hateful, intolerant person will have a hateful, intolerant religion. An open-minded, loving person will have an open-minded, loving religion.

Krugman references the golden age of Islam and its medieval flourishing of learning in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy, as well as other fields of knowledge. That religion has, in many places, devolved into something quite different these days, fed by an economic decline and an inward turn toward fundamentalism. Much the same could be said about Christianity. 

As Krugman writes, "It's ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue or unique sin for any one set of beliefs." All religions were created by human beings and are a reflection of those who created and who practice them. And in that sense, all religions are equal.   

Monday, September 21, 2015

The unacknowledged war

Perhaps we need to reexamine our definition of what constitutes war. Deaths from gun-related violence in this country from 1989 through the end of last year outnumber all the U.S. military deaths from wars that this country has been involved in since its founding. Does that not sound as if we are engaged in a war within the borders of this country? Moreover, this is a war that is waged in large part against unarmed women and children. 

I wonder if there is anything that could be done to stop this war.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Poetry Sunday: End of Summer

We are at the changing of the seasons. Summer is ending; autumn arrives in three days' time. Ready or not, here it comes. And life moves on.

End of Summer

by Stanley Kunitz
An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.


The "iron door of the north" hasn't poured any "cruel winds" or snows our way just yet, but of migrating birds we have plenty. 

And so summer passes and a new season begins. Welcome, autumn!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This week in birds - #174

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

A Green Heron stands on a lily pad at Brazos Bend State Park. These handsome little herons are among the most common members of their family to be seen in this area, but it is always a treat to find one.

It's becoming monotonous. Every month we get the report that last month was the hottest on record, and that trend continued in August. Separately, global oceans and global land temperatures for 2015 have been the highest recorded for any year in the period of January through August.


Some of the birds that were painted by John James Audubon do not seem to have modern equivalents. Was the great Nature artist inaccurate in his depictions? Audubon magazine online explores the possibilities.


In the early years of this century, there were two Monk Parakeets living in my neighborhood and making life more interesting for birders here. After about three years, they disappeared, perhaps food for predators or maybe they just moved on. But these interesting birds have colonized much of the country and are becoming fairly common in many areas, including Brooklyn, where a blogger writes about why the birds battle each other


It has long been postulated that male birds with the brightest colors are advertising that they have the best genes for passing on to the next generation, making them more desirable as mates. But studies confirm that that is not always the case.


Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual low point. This year's shrinkage makes it the fourth lowest for ice coverage since space-based observations began in 1978.


It isn't often these days that we have good news to report about the Sage Grouse, but, in California, it seems that the grouse is doing relatively well and is maintaining genetic diversity, at least for now. 


The effort to save the giant panda, the iconic animal of China, is having a ripple effect in the ecosystem there. It is also helping many other imperiled animals.


The Sierra snowpack, from which the state of California derives much of its water, is now at a 500-year low. This is very bad news for the already parched state.


Common Loon pairs tend to remain faithful to their nest site year after year, even if they encounter heavy predation on the chicks at that site. Perhaps that is the definition of loon-acy?


On August 5, three million gallons of water laced with cadmium, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals poured out of the defunct Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado. The toxic water entered the Animas River, which flows through the tourist city of Durango, and attracted national attention as it turned the Animas’s usually blue waters yellow and orange. Sadly, this is not such an unusual occurrence. Mining operations and petroleum products companies are well known for raping the land and leaving it hopelessly polluted, a mess for the EPA to try clean up with the limited funds and authority our congress will appropriate. Why should the government have to do this? Why should these companies not have to clean up their own messes? Maybe we should ask some of the presidential candidates that question.


Discarded plastic waste in the ocean is becoming a major environmental concern. It is having a serious detrimental effect on the nesting and raising of chicks for many seabirds, especially the albatrosses of Midway Island.


The idea of a "missing link" is a persistent one in evolution theory, but it is really a myth and it promotes incorrect thinking about just how evolution works.


Oriental Honey Buzzards feed primarily on honey and bee or wasp larvae. How do they find their prey? They use two senses - sight and smell. The use of smell is unusual in birds, but these buzzards do it very well.


Burrowing Owls, those tiny and very cute owls that make their homes throughout much of the rural area of the West are now colonizing cities in Argentina


Nature photography is a difficult enterprise at best. In my case, generally, just as I frame my shot and get ready to press the button on the camera, the bird/butterfly/lizard/frog moves, and the moment is lost, resulting in much cursing and stamping of feet. But many, particularly professionals whose livelihood depends on that shot, will go to great lengths to get it, even staging the shot or imperiling the subject of the picture in order to photograph it. It is more important than ever that all Nature photographers adhere to a code of ethics, even if it means losing the shot.


Around the backyard:

There have been a number of migrants through the yard this week. In addition to the beautiful little Wilson's Warbler that I showed you a couple of days ago, there have been many hummingbirds, mostly female Ruby-throats it seems. We still get the occasional male and there are probably some Black-chinned Hummers scattered among the crowd, but overwhelmingly this week's visitors have been female Ruby-throats. I do have several Rufous Hummingbirds as well, and, so far, they seem to be staying rather than moving on.

In addition, it's been a good week for Eastern Kingbirds. I've seen several passing through, but, unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a usable picture. However, here's one that I took of an individual at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge during a spring migration. 

Eastern Kingbird

Friday, September 18, 2015

Say it ain't so, National Geographic

The headline said "National Geographic gives Fox control of media assets in $725 million deal." I stared at it unbelievingly. National Geographic, the iconic publication of my childhood, in partnership with Fox News? Oh, the sacrilege!

The first two paragraphs of the story underneath the headline told the sad story:

Ever since it was launched from the temple-like headquarters of the National Geographic Society in Washington in 1888, National Geographic magazine has illuminated the world’s hidden places and revealed its natural wonders.
On Wednesday, the iconic ­yellow-bordered magazine, beset by financial issues, entered its own uncharted territory. In an effort to stave off further decline, the magazine was effectively sold by its nonprofit parent organization to a for-profit venture whose principal shareholder is one of Rupert Murdoch’s global media companies.

And there you have it. "Financial issues" in this age of declining journalism has caused the National Geographic Society to essential sell its soul to what some would describe as the devil, Rupert Murdoch.

Of course, the story goes on to give the obligatory quotes from James Murdoch, Fox's chief executive, about how no changes are planned at this time. No interference in editorial policy. Now, why should we doubt that?

Ruben Bolling at the Daily Kos website has a vision of National Geographic's future. 

Oh, please, National Geographic, say it isn't so!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Moche Warrior by Lyn Hamilton: A review

The Moche Warrior (Lara McClintoch Archeological Mystery, #3)The Moche Warrior by Lyn Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, I think I have given this series a fair trial, but I'm finding it very hard to take the main character seriously or to care about what happens to her. She comes across as a person without normal intelligence and reasoning ability, with more than a dash of petty vengefulness. The stories are about subjects that interest me, but Lara McClintoch as a character is totally off-putting.

McClintoch is half-owner of an antiques shop in Toronto. In addition to being an antiques shop owner, she seems to have a second career as a globe-trotting solver of murder mysteries. Well, doesn't every antiques shop owner?

In The Moche Warrior Lara's nose is severely put out of joint when her ex-husband opens a brand new antique shop just across the street from hers. She's sure that he's doing it just to spite her and she determines that she will have her revenge.

At an auction, when she sees that the ex REALLY wants a particular box, she bids against him and wins the box, even though she has to use her personal credit card to pay for it. She takes the box home, thinking that it is nothing special. It appears to contain reproductions of Moche ceramics, but then someone tries breaking into her shop and part of the contents of the box - a supposedly reproduction Moche vase and a peanut-shaped bead - go missing.

But that is only the beginning. Soon, someone tries to burn down the shop and among the ruins is the body of a man who had been at the auction bidding on some of the same items as Lara. The police suspect Lara and/or her assistant and friend Alex, who was present when the blaze started and who had received a blow to the head which has erased his memory of the events.

Lara belatedly comes to the conclusion that the Moche "reproductions" in her box were actually priceless artifacts from archaeological digs. It is illegal to take such artifacts out of Peru. Has she stumbled into the middle of a art smuggling operation?

Instead of cooperating with the police - even her friend, the Royal Canadian Mountie Rob that we met in the last book  - Lara decides to investigate all on her own, because ... of course she does.

Her investigations lead her to New York where she stumbles over another dead body of an antiques dealer. Then she decides she has to go to the source of the mystery and she heads off to Peru, by way of Mexico. She stops in Mexico City to ask for the help of her former lover, a Mexican archaeologist and freedom fighter turned politician. He helps her establish a new identity and sends her to Peru with a letter of introduction to an archaeologist working in the area from which the mysterious artifacts originated.

Arriving in Peru, she is taken on as a part of the archaeological dig team. Soon, there are more dead bodies and more mysteries and Lara is blundering around in the dark looking for clues. It's all very cloak and daggerish. Moreover, it seems that whenever there is a decision to be made, Lara makes the wrong one, and yet somehow, piece by piece, she begins putting together the puzzle and solving the mystery of the Moche artifacts.

The most interesting parts of the book for me were the discussions of Moche culture and some of the aspects of the archaeological dig that rang true. But the character of Lara is just a wet blanket for me. Her case is not helped in the least by the fact that she doesn't understand the proper use of object pronouns. She uses the first person singular pronoun as an object (as in, "She delivered the artifact to Ramon and I.") which just sets my teeth on edge! Why do writers persist in this incorrect usage and why do their editors not correct them?

So, putting aside my dislike of Lara, how shall I rate this book? I do like the story and the archaeological details and the writer's concept for this series, but I find the characters to be such unbelievable cardboard critters that I really think that this will probably serve as the end of my experience in reading the Lara McClintoch Archaeological Mysteries.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Wilson's Warbler

The fall migration of songbirds continues. I find that one of the most popular stops for these birds as they pass through my backyard is the little fountain that gurgles and splashes there. I think it is the sound of the moving water that attracts them and they often drop in to take a bath or to have a sip of water.

No one seems to enjoy the water more than warblers. Since we installed the fountain a few years ago, I've often observed warblers of several kinds making stops here on their way south in the fall or north in the spring. I usually see Wilson's Warblers passing through during both migration seasons, so I wasn't really surprised to see one drop down from the trees to investigate the fountain this morning.


Wilson's Warblers are tiny, very active birds. This one was constantly in motion as he took the grand tour of the fountain, frequently stopping to take a sip and sometimes splashing in the water. Unfortunately, his "baths" were so quick that I wasn't able to get a picture of him splashing. He stayed for several minutes before he moved on.

These warblers nest in the far north, along the upper Pacific Coast and far into Canada. In migration, they apparently follow the Gulf Coast rather than flying over water. They spend their winters in Mexico. They are fairly adaptable in their choice of wintering grounds and they seem to be holding their own in today's challenging environment. Their population numbers remain stable and that makes me happy. I hope to see more of these little birds as the migration season winds down.   

Monday, September 14, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2015

Autumn seems to have come a bit early to my Southeast Texas garden this year. According to the calendar, it doesn't arrive until next week, but if you ignore that clue and just concentrate on the weather, you would swear it has been here these last few days. We have had glorious, sun-filled days with temperatures in the 80s F. It has been wonderful! 

More wonderful still, some of my plants are putting on a late flush of bloom just in time for Bloom Day. 

Pineapple sage has been a dependable bloomer all summer long.

More members of the sage family - autumn sage in front and the purple in back is 'Mystic Spires' salvia.

A few of the oxblood lilies are still blooming.

The inland sea oats are blooming, also, although you would hardly know it unless you gave them a second look. Those "blooms" will become a bit more colorful and noticeable as autumn advances.

Crossvine puts on its big display in the spring, of course, but, like many spring-blooming vines, it also gives us a few flowers in late summer/early fall.

The abelia blooms throughout the summer

Purslane continues to add color to its back porch planter.

The jatropha is beginning to bloom, too. Those long, narrow leaves are lemongrass which lives next to it. 

Bi-colored 4 o'clocks.

And fuchsia 4 o'clocks.

A few of the milk and wine lilies continue to send out the occasional blossoms.

Orange cosmos.

The cypress vine is loving the cooler weather.

The old pink crape myrtle continues to bloom.

As does the watermelon-colored crape, seen here against an autumn-blue sky.  

Butterfly ginger smells heavenly.

Yellow lantana.

Purple trailing lantana. The white berries on the plant in back are beautyberries. 


Marigolds, of course. Gotta have marigolds.

The coral vine is just beginning to bloom. In another week, it should be full of these pink flowers and the bees will be ecstatic. 

It's called red milkweed, although it looks more orange to me.

And yellow milkweed. Monarchs seem to prefer the orange (red) - maybe because it better matches their wing color.

Blue plumbago.

Hamelia patens, also called hummingbird bush.

Yellow cestrum, a butterfly and hummingbird favorite. 

Pink oleander.

One of the last blooms of the year for 'Pride of Barbados.'

And the last rose of summer this year may well be a 'Molineux' because this plant is putting on a show for me just now.

How is your garden doing here at the almost changing of the seasons? I look forward to seeing what you have in bloom and I thank you for visiting my garden this month. Also, as always, thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting us. 

Happy Bloom Day!