Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Halloween - the scariest night of the year. Unless you count November 8.

And here is my younger daughter in her Halloween costume - a voter. Because, really, what could be scarier than a woman voting?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Haunted Houses

Haunted houses are always a popular attraction around this time of year. Tomorrow we'll be celebrating Halloween and then All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, the Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos - when we remember the dead and are visited by their spirits.

Houses reflect the spirits of those who have lived there and died there. As Longfellow says, "All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses." But they are harmless phantoms, inoffensive ghosts, this world of spirits around us.

Spare a thought for that vital breath of the spirit-world as we enter this time of celebration and remembrance.

Haunted Houses

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands'
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o'er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night, -

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O'er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss. 

Marigolds, a traditional offering for the dead on Dia de los Muertos.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

This week in birds - #229

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

Pied-billed Grebe


In a decision that was literally unbelievable and seemingly indefensible, a federal jury in Oregon found seven terrorists, who occupied and did inestimable damage to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for forty-one days early this year, not guilty on all charges. The verdict sparked outrage in the county where the refuge is located and in supporters of the national wildlife refuge and national park system around the country, a group in which I count myself. So, no one is to be held accountable for the damage done to our public lands or for threatening and intimidating federal employees in the performance of their duties. The reaction of many, again including myself, to the verdict was summed up in this cartoon from The Buffalo News:


In another trial, this one in Beaumont, Texas, a man was fined $25,815, sentenced to five years probation and 200 hours of community service, and forbidden from owning any firearms or hunting or fishing anywhere in the United States during the term of his probation because he shot two endangered Whooping Cranes in January of this year.   


The World Wildlife Fund has reported that total wildlife populations worldwide have plunged by almost 60 percent since 1970. This includes mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, and the decrease is almost entirely directly attributable to human activity.


Swifts are birds that live their lives on the wing. A new study reveals just how much time they spend in the air. It found that Common Swifts spend ten months of the year airborne.


In August 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned plans to give protection to wolverines under the Endangered Species Act. The action went against the recommendations of the Service's own scientists. But now the giant weasel is getting another chance at protection. The action is a result of a suit by environmental groups requesting that protection be given. 


There has been a big irruption of Siberian Accentors into Europe this season. The little birds are appearing in places where they have never been seen before, driving birders mad with joy!


The EU and 24 countries have signed a long-awaited landmark agreement to protect the world's largest marine park, located in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. The park will encompass 1.5 million square kilometers.


Using geolocation technology to track them on their 10,000 kilometer migration, researchers have determined that many areas of importance to the Great Reed Warbler and other songbirds are not given any protection.


Only a decade ago, crows and ravens were very rarely seen in and around New York City, but now these cosmopolitan and sociable birds are making a comeback in the area.


The amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled in the last 250 years. And why is that? The byproducts of the production of fossil fuels account for some, but, perhaps surprisingly, the greater amount of the increase seems to be due to agricultural practices. The cloud of gas is emanating primarily from the activities of microbes in wetlands, rice paddies, and the stomachs of ruminants.  


A parrot fossil dating from 16 to 18 million years ago has been found in the Baikal region of Siberia. It is the first time a parrot fossil has been found in Asia and indicates that the birds may have been more widespread in Eurasia than previously thought. 


And speaking of parrots, a new population of Night Parrots, a bird that was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2013, has been found in Queensland, Australia. Finding this population of the elusive bird leads scientists to speculate that they may be more widespread than previously thought.


And next door, in New Zealand, scientists are pioneering genetic research that could help protect many endangered species around the world. They are working with an endangered bird called the Kaki (a kind of stilt) to increase genetic diversity and give the bird a better chance at survival. 


John James Audubon never saw a Bachman Warbler alive and it seems that none of us ever will either. The elusive bird of canebrakes was probably never numerous, but the last potential sighting of one was in 2001. Apparently, it is no more; it is an ex-warbler.


The removal of old and unused dams is a good thing. It is allowing fish to return to traditional breeding areas, making for healthier populations and increasing overall biodiversity.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I voted!

Early voting started in Texas last Monday and every day so far has been a record-breaker. People are turning out in yuuuuge numbers to vote! Amazing.

We waited until today to go cast our votes, thinking the crowds might have thinned out. They hadn't. We still had to wait in line for a bit, but it wasn't too long. And it was a really good feeling to see all of those people engaged in the governance of the country and the state, making the effort to turn out and vote. It was a crowd I was happy to be a part of.

What do these record numbers of people casting ballots mean? Well, we'll find out on November 8, but at least it is very promising, I think, that so many people are choosing to make their choices known. I found it interesting, also, that the early voters on the first couple of days of voting were 54% women. I haven't seen the stats since then, but if that trend continues, it could be significant.

Does your state have early voting? Have you voted yet? If not, why not? Exercise your constitutional right. And if you don't choose to, then you don't get to complain about the result for the next four years!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

False equivalence explained

One of the most annoying things about this presidential campaign, or politics in general in this country, is the false equivalence between the two sides that the media has invented, and that has become an ingrained part of our national consciousness and vocabulary. How often have you heard, "Both sides do it!"?

But, in fact, both sides don't do it, and pretending that two things are equal doesn't make it true. Facts are still facts, even in 2016.

Jen Sorensen's four-panel cartoon skewers the utter ridiculousness of the concept.

Two. More. Weeks.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin: A review

Several months ago, I read and enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea Cycle." It seemed to be about time to move on to the second one, and after re-reading my review of that first book to refresh my memory, I did just that.

But the start of The Tombs of Atuan and the first several chapters were a disappointment. Reading about the young girl, Tenar, who is taken from her family at the age of five, in a process that is very reminiscent of the Buddhist search to discover the new Dalai Lama when the old one dies, is really tough going. There are no familiar characters here and there is really no satisfactory (to me) explanation of just what these Nameless Ones whom Tenar is destined to serve are and why we should care about them or her.

Tenar is transformed into Arha, the High Priestess who serves the Nameless Ones of the Tombs of Atuan. Serving them involves spending an awful lot of time underground in the dark. Light is forbidden and Tenar/Arha must learn to find her way around by touch. Why? Because that's just the way things are, I guess. The whole thing just made me feel claustrophobic.

It's all doom and gloom and there is no life in the darkness underground and no explanation of what it is that these Nameless Ones - the malevolent spirits of the place - represent other than the jealous guarding of the treasure that exists there. Where did the treasure come from? That was never really made clear to me, but for a thief to try to steal it means death.

By the time Arha has been in her position for several years and has forgotten her birth family, she has already had occasion to sentence three such thieves to death by starvation, but when she discovers yet another "thief" in her sacred Labyrinth, something makes her hesitate.  

And a good thing, too! It turns out this "thief" is the young wizard from A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged, aka Sparrowhawk.  He has come to find the lost half of the sacred ring of Erreth-Akbe, which is a part of that aforementioned treasure and which, when reforged by Ged's magic, will help to ensure peace in Earthsea. 

But first he has to retrieve it out of the darkness of the Labyrinth and Arha with it. He must convince her to leave the darkness and venture into beautiful, bright, and kindly light of Earthsea's day.
You must make a choice. Either you must leave me, lock the door, go up to your altars and give me to your masters; then go to the Princess Kossil and make your peace with her - and that is the end of the story - or, you must unlock the door, and go out of it, with me. Leave the tombs, leave Atuan, and come with me oversea. And that is the beginning of the story.  
Can you guess which one she chooses? Here's a hint: This isn't the end of the story.

The action picks up considerably after the reintroduction of Sparrowhawk/Ged and the narrative is saved. Seen through his eyes and as a contrast to him, the reader learns more empathy for Tenar/Arha and wishes her well as she ventures into a world of light.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Definitely

Browsing the Poetry Foundation's online magazine last week, I came across this poem. It is by a poet that I was not familiar with and I'd never read the poem.

A little research turned up the fact that she is an American poet from Missouri and she is 70 years old. She is an honored poet and has previously won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

I was entranced by her poem, although I can't really explain why. I'm not even sure that I know what it means, but something about the cadence of the words, their energy and subtle imagery caught my imagination. 

So, what do you think the poem means? 


by Mary Jo Bang

What is desire
But the hardwire argument given
To the mind's unstoppable mouth.

Inside the braincase, it's I
Want that fills every blank. And then the hand
Reaches for the pleasure

The plastic snake offers. Someone says, Yes,
It will all be fine in some future soon.
Definitely. I've conjured a body

In the chair before me. Be yourself, I tell it.
Here memory makes you
Unchangeable: that shirt, those summer pants.

That beautiful face.
That tragic beautiful mind.
That mind's ravenous mouth

That told you, This isn't poison
At all but just what the machine needs. And then,
The mouth closes on its hunger.

The heart stops.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

This week in birds - #228

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

A Red-tailed Hawk rests on a post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.


There is enough data accumulated to declare that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. This will be the third consecutive year to claim that title. 2014 was the hottest until displaced by 2015 and now that year has been displaced by 2016. But never fear! The New York Times has got your back. They've done investigative reporting and have now listed the nine cities where you can move to escape the effects of global warming.


Remember Pedals, the New Jersey black bear that walked on two legs? His front legs had apparently been partially amputated or else he was born with a congenital defect. I told you about him here in installment #220 of "This week in birds." Well, New Jersey recently had its first sanctioned bow and arrow bear hunt in decades and Pedals was killed by one of the hunters, sparking a considerable amount of outrage among his fans. The hunt itself sparked a good bit of outrage in New Jersey and those who opposed it hope that a new governor will see fit to put an end to it.


The current population of endangered California Condors are all descended from just 14 individuals; thus, genetic diversity is very low. But a new study provides evidence that, before the species' population crash in the 20th century, they were much more numerous and had much greater genetic diversity.  


There seems to be little doubt among biologists that Earth is, in fact, in the midst of its sixth great extinction event. Often overlooked in the reporting of that event are the invertebrates and the role that they play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. 


Prince Charles of England has lent his voice and his influence to a number of environmental projects over the years and one of those has borne gratifying results. He backed a project to kill rats that were devastating nesting birds on two of the Isles of Scilly. The success of the venture is evidenced by the fact that this year the population on the islands of the rare Manx Shearwater rose to 73 nesting pairs, the highest in living memory and almost triple what it was just three years ago.


The problems that plastic waste cause our planet, especially in the seas, has been well-documented, but do you know whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution? Well, The New York Times has a quiz that you can take to find out. Warning: The result may make you feel bad about yourself.


As I've reported here before, Africa's vultures are being hunted and poisoned into extinction and this is a very big problem for the environment because these birds are a front line defense against the spread of disease. Conservation groups are working to try to save the birds. Some of their efforts are documented in a photography exhibit, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, that opened at the Natural History Museum in London this week.


Commercial fishing is destroying key nutrients of coral reefs. The most effective way to protect the reefs is to prevent overfishing.


Shorebirds frequently have funny looking bills that are adapted to take advantage of a particular food source. One of the weirdest is named for the shape of its bill, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It is listed as critically endangered worldwide but scientists have been in doubt as to its actual population size. Finally, researchers have been able to make an estimate of that population size based on available data.  

Photo by Pavel S. Tomkovich.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper


Migratory restlessness in songbirds is difficult to assess, but with the use of radio telemetry, scientists are better able to measure it. A study of the European Blackbird revealed that, rather than gradually increasing restlessness, they switched abruptly to the nocturnal pattern of activity - most songbirds migrate at night - when they were ready to start migration. 


Krill is a tiny pink crustacean that is the lifeblood of the Antarctic ecosystem. They are the main source of food for a number of Antarctic species, including some of the largest animals on Earth. Researchers are studying the tiny animals, seeking to learn more about them in order to better protect them and ensure the health of the ecosystem of which they are such an important part.


"Extinction Countdown" documents the slow-motion extinction of the Mangrove Finch of the Galapagos Islands as a result of a combination of problems that include the depredations of invasive rats and parasitic flies.


The Fulvous Whistling-Duck, a close relative of the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck which may be the most numerous year-round duck in our area, is expanding its range. It has been seen all over the lower 48 states and is becoming much more common along the Gulf Coast. Where it will finally end up is anybody's guess.  


Long-distance travel is like a walk in the park for the Bar-tailed Godwit, a bird that can and does fly as much as 7,000 miles nonstop on migration.

Photo by Eric Hosking/Corbis

Bar-tailed Godwit


A pioneering research project in Puerto Rico is testing how tropical forests in the Amazon, the Congo, and elsewhere will react to the rising temperatures created by global climate change. This will be the world's first attempt to try to find out how such forests will react to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air, warmer temperatures, and changes in precipitation.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday rant

You know what pisses me off about the 2016 presidential campaign? A lot of things, actually. But there is one thing in particular that I feel the need to rant about today.

Throughout the campaign, I've heard and read journalists considered (at least by themselves) to be knowledgable about such things describe the election as a choice between "the lesser of two evils." Thus do they normalize a completely unqualified and clueless candidate the likes of which this country has never before seen and - please God! - never will see again.

Not only do they normalize him, they set this man who is the worst that America has to offer, a man who personifies misogyny, racism, privilege, and anti-intellectualism, on the same level with a candidate who is intelligent and qualified, perhaps the most qualified candidate who has ever sought the office, at least in my lifetime. This is a woman who has spent her entire adult life working to make the world more just, equal, and caring for people who have been marginalized by society, and she is opposed by a narcissist whose entire life has been spent in a bubble of privilege where his only goal has been to accumulate more personal wealth. He is a person totally lacking in empathy who has whined, mocked, belittled, bemoaned, and chided his way through the campaign and has never taken responsibility for anything.

THESE TWO CANDIDATES ARE NOT EQUALS! The media do a grave disservice to the country when they pretend that they are. 

They will tell us, of course, that they are just trying to be fair and to give equivalent coverage to each party's candidates. But when one of those candidates is incapable of telling the truth, it is the duty of journalism to point that out. For more than a year, while a demagogue bellowed and blustered and ran roughshod over the other candidates of his party and appealed to the worst of the deplorable base of that party, the media just went along for the ride and the ratings and pretended that this was just another normal campaign. Only very recently have a few media outlets begun to fact-check him and call him out on his lies. 

However one might choose to accurately describe this campaign, it is most definitely not a choice between the lesser of two evils. There is only one evil here and let us hope that he will soon be tossed into the dustbin of history where he belongs and that our long national nightmare will be over. 

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In the Woods by Tana French: A review

How is it that I have never read Tana French? Time to remedy that oversight.

I recently read in The New York Times online a review of French's latest book, The Trespasser. It sounded fascinating and I wanted to read it right away, but then I digested the fact that this is the fifth book in a series and my reader OCD kicked in. Of course, I could not start a series at the end. I am constitutionally unable to do so. One has to start at the beginning. And that's how I came to pick up the first entry in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods.

This book won all kinds of literary awards when it was first published in 2007 and, from my perspective having now finished reading it, all the awards were well-deserved. It is a marvelously well-written book that tells a powerful story through the actions and relationships of interesting if imperfect characters.

The story is told in first person voice by Detective Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad. He introduces himself to us by saying that he is a seeker after truth and that he lies. It's a description that it is important to keep in mind throughout.

Ryan is hiding a dark secret. Twenty years before, when he was known as Adam Ryan, he was at the center of a mystery involving three children who disappeared one summer evening in woods in a Dublin suburb. Ryan was later found, his body pressed tightly against a tree with his nails dug into the bark. His shoes were full of blood and he was in a near catatonic state. He could not remember what had happened. The two other children were never found and the mystery never solved. Ryan still maintains that he cannot remember what happened and he keeps the secret of his past from his associates and superiors on the Murder Squad. All except his partner and best friend, Detective Cassie Maddox.

Now, a 12-year-old girl's murdered body has been found in those same woods and Ryan and Maddox are assigned to the case. The new murder once again raises questions about what happened in that long-ago case. Could there really be two child murderers in this small town or are the cases somehow related? How and why? These are some of the questions that Maddox and Ryan have to answer.

The girl's body was found in an area where an archaeological dig is taking place in advance of a new roadway being built through the site. Some locals are protesting against the building of the proposed roadway there and it turns out the murdered girl is the daughter of the leader of the protest against the roadway. The detectives must consider the possibility that the murder may be a warning to the protesters.

Weeks go by and the diligence of the Murder Squad has yielded no results. Everyone's nerves are frayed to the breaking point. French does a chilling job of conveying the strain, particularly the strain on the relationship between Ryan and Maddox that heretofore had been rock solid.

When the break finally comes, it is due to an insight by Ryan and yet it seems that he can't see the forest for the trees. (Ach! Please forgive the woods pun! I couldn't resist.) The truth turns out to be even more horrible than anyone - except Maddox who suspected all along - could have imagined.

French's plotting and exposition of this crime fiction/psychological thriller is just brilliant. Her writing shows the skilled hand of someone who one would swear was a much more experienced writer, and yet this is her first book. She set the bar very high for herself. I intend to investigate whether she has lived up to that standard in her succeeding books.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The joy of reading long books

Do you like to read lengthy novels, tomes that could double as a doorstop? Do you have the patience? Or do you prefer brief, pithy works that just get on with it and don't tease you along for four hundred pages before delivering a (sometimes unsatisfactory) conclusion? 

There's something to be said for both and I am on record as enjoying both the long and the short of it, when it comes to novels. I stand by that. The book I most recently finished, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, was a brief, polished gem, as most if not all of his books are. The one I'm reading now, In the Woods by Tana French, is more than twice its length, but just as polished in its own way. Every word counts.

And that, in a nutshell (pardon the reference), is what I like in books: Every word needs to count. There should be no extraneous, superfluous meandering. Meandering is fine, but the writer needs to have an end in mind and know where she's taking us.

I was led to consider this by reading a recent interview with librarian and author Nancy Pearl in which she extolled the joys of the long book.  She speaks of getting lost in a big book that gives you a long vacation from your own life. I would add that it gives the reader a chance to "live" another different life through the characters that exist on the page. One can become so entranced by such a book that we don't want it to end. That is a good thing. (Of course, carried to extremes it can become a pathology.)

Pearl also addresses the question of series of books and whether reading a series counts as reading one long book. I would tend to say yes because the story continues and the characters continue to act within those tales, but Pearl makes the distinction between certain series such as Sue Grafton's mysteries which have separate, individual arcs, and something like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series which she says simply add up to one long (very, very, very long!) book.  She says it is easier to get sucked into a series because each entry feels bite-sized, and I can assuredly attest to that since I've been sucked in so many of them and continue to be sucked into more all the time.

But I do wonder if one of the reasons that series - with their bite-sized books - are so popular today is that we have somewhat lost our ability to concentrate on the long form of work, but we still crave losing ourselves in those extended stories that go on and on. There are so many distractions in our modern lives that I think it is possible that the longer works don't get the attention that they should.

I well remember my teenage summers when I would totally lose myself in some big book and "live" there all summer. Two that stand out in my mind are War and Peace and Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. I read and reread those books until I practically wore them out and had long passages memorized. Do teenagers do that today? Well, none among my acquaintance anyway. Is that a good or bad thing? I've no idea.

It was interesting to read that Pearl admits to not being able to make herself read some long books. She mentions Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and I totally understand that. I read the first section, Swann's Way, but have never been able to make myself go on. For the reasons, you can refer back to my third paragraph about "extraneous, superfluous meandering." One can consume only so many madeleines before wanting to throw up.

And does Pearl ever give up on a book? She has a rule for that. She calls it the "Rule of 50."
If you're 50 years old or younger, give every book about 50 pages before you decide to give it up. if you're over 50, which is when time gets shorter, subtract your age from 100 and the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. If you're 100 years old or older, you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers of doing so.

So far, I'm not able to follow that rule. I finish every book that I start. Maybe by the time I'm 100, though, I'll feel comfortable judging a book by its cover. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Poetry Sunday: An October Garden

Yesterday we observed the monthly Bloom Day meme. Let's follow that with a poem about the garden in autumn.

Christina Georgina Rossetti wrote of a garden that is on the wane as the last rosebud uncloses to autumn's "languid sun and rain." Even that last rose, "least and last of all," is still a rose and still smells sweet.

My garden, too, has begun its slow decline into what passes for winter here. In colder areas, the decline is swifter, more sudden. But it is the natural progression of things and we welcome it because the garden and the gardener need their rest.

An October Garden

by Christina Georgina Rossetti

In my Autumn garden I was fain
To mourn among my scattered roses;
Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn's languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!
Which has not felt the sweet constraint of June, 
Nor heard the nightingale in June.

Broad-faced asters by my garden walk,
You are but coarse compared with roses:
More choice, more dear that rosebud which uncloses
Faint-scented, pinched, upon its stalk,
That least and last which cold winds balk;
A rose it is though least and last of all,
A rose to me though at the fall.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2016

What's blooming in my zone 9a garden on this October Bloom Day? Here's a sample.

Convolvulus 'Blue Daze' has been in bloom all summer and now well into the fall.

 'Molineux,' a David Austin rose, is at its best in the fall.

Red cypress vine, an old-fashioned plant that is a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.

This purple porterweed is being visited by a Long-tailed Skipper butterfly.

Bronze Esperanza is still in bloom.

As is its yellow cousin, popularly known as "yellowbells." If you are guessing that this plant is a member of the very large pea family, you are correct. The family resemblance is right there.

'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendrum.

Tithonia, aka Mexican sunflowers, are visited almost constantly throughout the day by butterflies like this Gulf Fritillary.

The blooms of the almond verbena are not particularly showy but their heavenly scent permeates the part of the garden where the plant lives, especially in the late afternoon.

Well, they aren't blooms but the fruits of the ornamental peppers are colorful.

Duranta erecta, golden dewdrops, continues to bloom.

'Lucifer' canna blooms bring a bit of fire to their spot in the garden.

Butterfly ginger, more blooms that perfume the garden with a wonderful scent.

Cephalanthus occidentalis, aka buttonbush, a native plant much loved by butterflies.

Cape honeysuckle offers its orange blossoms to migrating hummingbirds.

'Black and blue' salvia is a favorite of mine.

And I do love the weird little blossoms of the shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeeana.

Firespike is an autumn bloomer that is coming along a bit late this year. So far, it only has buds. Its long-lasting flowers should still be with us on November's Bloom Day.

The Justicia 'Orange Flame,' though, has been in bloom all summer and continues to send out its "flames."

The blooms of Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, are triggered by rainfall, and it doesn't take much. Earlier this week, we got a brief shower of a few hundredths of an inch. Next day the shrub was covered in these flowers.

My old species canna continues to send out blooms regularly.

The purple beautyberries await the attention of the mockingbirds and robins that love them.

 Pink coral vine graces this garden fence with its blooms.

A few cosmos blooms continue to brighten their corner of the garden.

But on the muscadine vines, the grapes are beginning to turn color, confirming that autumn really has arrived and many of this month's blooming plants will soon be ready for a rest.

Don't forget to visit our host, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, to see the list of other bloggers participating in this Bloom Day and thank you for taking the time to visit my garden.

Happy Bloom Day!

This week in birds - #227

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

Glossy Ibis


One of the many depressing facts about the presidential and vice-presidential debates this year has been that there has literally not been one single question about the biggest challenge facing our planet, the challenge that could ultimately make the place uninhabitable for human life. That, of course, is climate change. Meantime, in September, carbon dioxide passed the symbolic 400 parts per million, never to return below it in our lifetime, according to scientists. This is a reminder that day by day we are moving further from the climate humans have known and thrived in and closer to a more unstable future.


A new study provides even more evidence that the current harsh drought in California may be only a glimmer of what is to come. Warming temperatures and uncertain rainfall mean that if more isn't done to combat climate change, megadroughts lasting thirty-five years could blight western states. 


A new type of car ornament, perhaps?

This Florida Bald Eagle, nicknamed Matthew by his rescuers, somehow became trapped in this car's grille. Almost miraculously, they were able to extract him without major injury. He was taken to a wildlife sanctuary to recover from his ordeal and is said to be feisty and his wings are working. He will soon be returned to the wild.


More good news for the endangered California Condor. This year the first chick has hatched and fledged in the wild in California's Pinnacles National Park since the 19th century. Hope is kindled.


Nuthatches are surely some of the cutest little birds around. BirdWatchingDaily offers a photo gallery of North American species in that family. I'm happy to say that I have seen all of them in the wild!


Arachnids do not have ears, but a recent study has shown that jumping spiders are able to "hear" sound vibrations made by their predators and prey. Apparently, that vaunted special "spidey sense" does exist.


There has recently been a wave of tiny birds from Asia called Siberian Accentors appearing at various places in Europe, including the first known British sighting in the Shetland Islands. Birders, or twitchers as they are called there, are euphoric!


Florida Scrub-Jays often exist in very small and scattered populations but conservationists have found that these groups are very important to maintaining diversity and to the continued survival of the species. 


According to NOAA records, last month was the ninth warmest September across the contiguous 48 continental United States. This is based on records that go back to the 19th century.


The Alaskan bumblebee has not been extensively studied, but scientists are currently attempting to rectify that. They believe that these bees may hold clues to the effects of climate change on bees everywhere.


The first fossilized voice box (syrinx) of a prehistoric bird has been discovered by a paleontologist in the Antarctic. The bird was a 66-million-year-old waterfowl called Vegavis iaai and its intact syrinx indicates to scientists that it probably honked or quacked much like modern waterfowl. 


There is substantial evidence that one in eight species of seabirds and songbirds worldwide are now in danger of extinction. And here in North America, one in five of our land bird species need urgent action to stem population declines.


Lesser Prairie Chicken, a bird once abundant on the Southern Plains, now numbers about 29,000. 

The voluntary Rangewide Plan for saving the Lesser Prairie Chicken was hailed by its proponents as ushering in a new era in private land conservation, but many conservationists feared that it was putting the bird on the fast track to extinction. They have submitted a petition to the USFWS to relist the bird as endangered.


A rare beetle from Florida was given protection under the Endangered Species Act last week, but, unfortunately, two other species, one from Arizona and one from Kentucky, went extinct while waiting to be listed


On a more positive note, White-tailed Eagles, or Sea Eagles, became extinct in Scotland in the early 1900s, but they have made an extraordinary comeback recently. A new study claims that their numbers could double within the next ten years