Friday, May 31, 2019

This week in birds - #354

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

Summer Tanager image from All About Birds website.

That other redbird, the Summer Tanager, is here. Can summer be far behind? Three weeks behind according to the calendar, but, with our recent temperatures topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit every day, it seems that summer, like the tanager, is already well and truly here.  


In one of the more gruesome consequences of the heating up of the planet, the bodies of some climbers who died on Mount Everest but whose remains were never recovered are now being revealed by the melting snow and ice. Many of the bodies are quite well preserved. Finding dead bodies has become a new normal for those who attempt the climb.


We are all too sadly familiar with the phenomenon of climate change deniers, those who make the claim that all those climate scientists are in cahoots and are seeking to scam us while they rake in the big bucks from those who are paying them to do it. Well, in the wake of the report that up to a million species are now in critical danger of extinction, get used to hearing from the "extinction deniers," people who are out to obfuscate and debase scientists and conservationists trying to preserve endangered species. Actually, in many cases, climate change deniers and extinction deniers are the same people. 


The Black Rail, like all of the rail family, is a secretive little bird that is seldom seen and is not well known. But we do know that it is threatened by loss of habitat due to development, pollution, and global warming which is causing the seas to rise and envelope the saltmarshes along our southern coast where the bird lives. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to list the bird as threatened by the end of this year which could provide additional protection and give the bird a better chance of long-term survival.


The Gulf Coast oyster population has been hit hard during the last decade by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, overfishing, hurricanes, flooding, and drought, but along the Texas coast, an effort is underway to build artificial reefs to aid in oyster repopulation. The reefs are constructed of rocks and/or oyster shells dumped into the bays, providing new habitat for the critters.


One of the more remarkable examples in recent years of Nature's ability to regenerate is the story of Chernobyl. Since humans have abandoned the area, it has been taken over by wildlife, including some rare and endangered animals. It has recovered to the extent that there are now eco-tours being offered in the area. 


Although extinction of species is proceeding at an alarming rate, we don't often hear of the extinction of individual species as the event happens because scientists are cautious about declaring a species extinct. Thus, it may seem to us that extinctions and the threat to biodiversity are not as serious as they actually are.  

Black-throated Finch image courtesy of The Guardian.

In Australia, the Queensland government has signed off on a management plan for the endangered Black-throated Finch, but some conservationists complain that the plan is more of a gift to a company which plans to mine coal in the area and that it could put the bird at increased risk of extinction. 


Farmers in the Midwest have been hit by a devastating series of extreme weather events which are leaving some of them facing total crop loss this year.  


The striped maple is a slow-growing species that thrives at medium to high elevations along the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Nova Scotia. It possesses the rare ability among plants to switch sexes. It may be female one year, male the next, and then switch back to female. 


The southeastern United States has just endured one of the hottest Mays on record. And that would seem to be only the beginning as summer isn't even here yet. There is general agreement among climatologists that a contributing factor to the extreme heat is global climate change, but, as they swelter, the residents of the Southeast continue to reside in a hotbed of denialism


Fortunately, there are at least some states in the country which are attempting to face up to the challenges created by climate change. One of those is Connecticut, where the House of Representatives has just passed a bill mandating the teaching of human-induced climate change in the public schools of the state.  


Right whales in the North Atlantic have had a precipitous decline in their population in recent years and, even though there have been some births of calves this year, the population still stands at only 411. Scientists say the main thing contributing to the decline is the warming of the ocean which has reduced the whales' main food supply.


Saltmarsh Sparrows are another species that is being pushed toward extinction by rising sea levels. It is declining rapidly and needs protection but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed a decision on its status until 2023. Ecologists fear that may be too late for the bird.


States that share the water of the Colorado River just finalized a big agreement on that sharing last month. The next phase of negotiations may be more contentious as they try to plan for the future of the river.


The U.S. Department of Energy is attempting to rebrand fossil fuels as "molecules of freedom." No, I'm not making this up. In their newspeak, natural gas will now be known as "freedom gas." Somewhere, the shade of George Orwell must be shaking his head in disgust and disbelief. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Any Other Name by Craig Johnson: A review

Is it ever summer in Wyoming? Or spring? Or fall? It always seems to be winter in these Craig Johnson novels. Winter with a blizzard blowing and ground fog creeping up making for whiteout conditions. And into such disorienting conditions that would stupefy and overwhelm any ordinary human being, Walt Longmire must venture in order to pursue some really, really bad guy who must be brought to justice. Not only will he pursue but he will do so in spite of the fact that he has been shot and/or beaten and may be barely lucid, but he is led on by the spectral voice of his long-dead friend Virgil White Buffalo or by the otherworldly songs and drums of the ancient Cheyenne residents of the area. Such hallucinatory events play a big part in the Longmire psyche.

Indeed, the plots of these Longmire mysteries have become pretty predictable. After all, if you've got a winning formula, why change it?

We start out with Walt investigating some murder. In this instance, it's not even a death in his county and may not even be murder, but his old friend and mentor, Lucian Connally, inveigles him into probing into the facts surrounding a death in an adjoining county that was ruled a suicide. The widow doesn't believe it and the widow is an old "friend" of Lucian's.

The victim was an investigator for the sheriff's department assigned to looking into cold cases or unsolved cases. Walt's investigation reveals that the man was looking into the disappearances of three women in the area and it looks like the disappearances could be related. It seems that there could be a serial killer, or at least a serial kidnapper, in the area. But, for some unknown reason, the investigator had checked into a local motel, locked the door, and then shot himself twice in the head. The first was a glancing blow but the second was a killing shot. 

Walt can't find anything to disprove suicide but he wonders why this man with a spotless reputation for integrity would have taken his own life. It turns out to be a very complicated tale that Walt must solve while working against the clock. 

That clock is quickly running down to the time his first grandchild is supposed to arrive in Philadelphia and his daughter, Cady, insists that he be there. He's got a plane to catch, but can he catch the bad guys first?

Meantime, his "undersheriff" Victoria Moretti - he always calls her his undersheriff, although she seems to prefer to be on top - shows up at the motel where Walt is staying and jumps his bones. They have hot, rumply sex, which is never actually described but only alluded to. (This, too, is a standard feature of these plots.) And then Vic assists him in his investigation.

In the end, we return to the situation as I've described in the first paragraph. There. I've given you the plot outlines of Craig Johnson's books, so now you don't have to read them. But if you don't, you'll miss out on a lot of sardonic wit and sparkling dialog between the characters who inhabit and assist the Absaroka Sheriff's Department, as well as vivid descriptions of the Wyoming landscape. That unique humor that often makes me laugh out loud is the main reason why I keep reading this series.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Fatal Pursuit by Martin Walker: A review

Let's face it, the mysteries in these Bruno, Chief of Police, "mysteries" are strictly secondary. The books are really a travelog of the Dordogne section of France, all about the laid-back country lifestyle and especially the food. 

After all, this Chief of Police is a gourmet cook who delights in preparing food for his friends and neighbors using the vegetables from his garden, fungi from the woods, and the products of the animals, mainly chickens and geese, that he and his neighbors raise. And of course the wine! Ah, the wine, at least two different kinds served at every meal and always at the ready to be served for any occasion. If Martin Walker is to be believed, the champagne flows freely in the little Dordogne community of St. Denis.

Food and wine and friends as always play big parts in the plot of Fatal Pursuit, but the main action is a car rally race. The race and a classic car parade are the main events of St. Denis' annual fĂȘte. The cars have attracted a large number of tourists to the area and the race has attracted super-rich car fanciers with big egos and vintage cars. It has also brought attention to the tale of a famous car, a Bugatti Type 57C, that disappeared in France during World War II. Supposedly one of the most beautiful cars ever made, it was one of only four that were produced and if it could be found and restored, it would be worth millions. It's enough to drive some of those seeking it over the edge with greed.

But back to the race. At the last minute, Bruno is dragooned into being the navigator for one of the drivers when her navigator reports he is ill and unable to do it. Thus we get to ride along on his - literally - hair-raising adventure.

Soon, though, Bruno's attention is drawn elsewhere when a local scholar turns up dead, maybe of natural causes, maybe not. Bruno has his suspicions and asks for an autopsy. The scholar had been researching some unknown topic, but all of his findings seem to have disappeared. Hm, I wonder if it could have had anything to do with classic cars...

This all gets very complicated when there appears to be a money laundering for terrorism operation going on and related to the exorbitantly expensive classic cars and possibly to the death of the scholar. Bruno's former lover, Isabelle, now working for the European Union's justice division, comes to town to be in charge of the terrorist-related investigation. Meantime, of course, Bruno has a new lover whom he's just met and who finds the body of the second suspicious death victim. In fact, there is no doubt about this one; he was murdered.

How will Bruno resolve it all, plus all the little community side issues that he's dealing with and still keep everyone happy and eager to attend his next gourmet meal? Never fear. He will do it while his Basset Hound Balzac charms everyone in sight.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Decoration Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When I was a child growing up, the holiday that we observe on Monday was called Decoration Day. It was a day to wear a poppy and to take flowers and/or flags to decorate the graves of loved ones who had fallen in wars. The name of the holiday was officially changed to Memorial Day in 1967 and the law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

Decoration Day was established three years after the end of our Civil War as a day to honor the war dead and to decorate their graves. At the time that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived, in the late nineteenth century, the holiday was still commonly called Decoration Day. He wrote this poem in commemoration of it. 

Decoration Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
  On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
  Nor sentry's shot alarms! 

Ye have slept on the ground before,
  And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
  Or the drum's redoubling beat. 

But in this camp of Death
  No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
  No wound that bleeds and aches. 

All is repose and peace,
  Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
  It is the Truce of God! 

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
  The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
  Your rest from danger free. 

Your silent tents of green
  We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
  The memory shall be ours. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

This week in birds - #353

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

The Common Nighthawks are back in town. Actually, they've probably been here for a while but this is the first week when I've heard them calling as they circle around my backyard late in the afternoon searching for flying insects.


Several of the states with shorelines are well aware that the seas are rising and they are making plans to try to deal with that fact. Louisiana is one of them. The state's plan looks at ways to ease the transition as people begin to move farther inland to escape the higher sea levels and to help communities close to the sea be more resilient and able to withstand the changing environment.


Another consequence of climate change that gardeners are very familiar with is the fact that plant hardiness zones are changing. As the climate warms, tropical plants can be found in gardens farther and farther north as the zones change. When we first moved here 30 years ago, my garden was in hardiness zone 8. Now, we are in zone 9a. Plants that were mostly absent in our early years here - citrus trees, for example - are now very common.  


We are not used to seeing positive news from Florida's Everglades these days but here is one such story: In 2019, the numbers of nests of wading birds, such as White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, and Wood Storks, are the highest they've been since the 1940s. A sign of hope.


A study of the feral cats on New Zealand's Ponui Island revealed that the felines ate mostly rodents but did also kill many birds.


And here's yet another effect of climate change that you probably haven't thought of. I know I hadn't. Earthworms. The wrigglers are moving north just like so many other species as those regions heat up and become amenable to them. The earthworms that we know are actually an invasive species from Europe. Native North American earthworms died out 10,000 years ago during the ice age. But now the invaders are burrowing their way into new earth and, as they do, they are releasing the stored carbon in the forests into the atmosphere. Just one more hit for climate scientists to worry about.  


A major key to the biodiversity of coral reefs are tiny fish known as cryptobenthics (literally "hidden bottom-dwellers") that are a major source of food for the other critters that live there. They fuel the food webs that allow reef inhabitants to flourish in otherwise nutrient-scarce waters. 


Trichlorofluoromethane is a globally banned chemical that damages Earth's ozone layer. Recently there has been a mysterious spike in the chemical that has now been traced to East China. This underscores the need for enforcement of international environmental agreements and is a reminder that China's intensifying environmental challenges have global consequences.


California's Salton Sea waterline continues to recede and, in the process, the water is becoming more saline. As a result, many of the iconic birds like pelicans and cormorants that have congregated there in the past are deserting the area.


Native plants are extremely resilient and generally will recover on their own and recolonize areas where invasive plants are removed. 


Scientists reported this week that they have discovered the oldest known fossils of fungi. The billion-year-old fungi would have evolved before plants and that discovery may reshape our understanding of how life first arrived on land.


The last Crested Ibis in the wild in Korea was seen in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula in 1979. A captive breeding program has been underway to try to save the species and recently forty captive-bred birds were released back into the wild southeast of Seoul. 


Flooding along the Mississippi River has revived a plan to have a pumping system in place that could destroy wetlands and devastate a bird-rich environment. In 2008, the EPA blocked the project, but, of course, we now have a very different EPA and they are reconsidering the plan.


There has been a unique find announced from the world of Iron Age archaeology. A 2,300-year-old shield made of tree bark was discovered in Leicestershire, the only one of its kind ever found in Europe.


Did you know that May 20 was World Bee Day? No? Well, neither did I, but, astoundingly, neither did Bug Eric! He celebrates just a little late. 


And finally, here's some news that might make a lot of workers happy: A thinktank has proposed that one tool to fight against climate change would be to institute shorter work weeks. Sounds like a winning idea to me!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell: A review

I am frequently flabbergasted when I consider all the excellent literature that is being produced at this time in human history. And so many of the wonderful novels that keep attracting my attention are the first novels of the authors. Where do all these accomplished writers spring from?

Well, in the case of Namwali Serpell, they spring from Zambia, at least originally. She and her family moved to the United States when she was only nine years old, so she actually grew up here, and she now teaches literature at the University of California, Berkeley. But she retains her Zambian roots and ethos. At some point, she decided to move on from teaching the art of literature to practicing it. The result is nothing short of dazzling.

The Old Drift is set mostly in Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa. It starts with a brief retelling of the story of how Stanley meets Livingstone along the Zambezi River. The river and the great falls which white people named Victoria Falls play a large part in the novel. The Old Drift refers to a spot on the river near the falls where much of the action takes place.

And the action begins around the start of the twentieth century with a plan to construct a dam on the Zambezi. It's a white man's plan that includes little or no regard for the black people who live there and whose lives will be disrupted by the dam. Thus, the seeds are sown for generations of resentment and conflict.

The various chapters of the book tell the stories of different characters and at first, these characters hardly seem connected. The book reads almost like a series of short stories. But, gradually, one begins to see how the characters are actually connected, sometimes by chance encounters and sometimes by very intimate contact. In fact, this book tells the story of more than a hundred years and four generations in three connected families - black, white, brown, and intermixed - and we see the actions and choices of one generation affecting those that follow. 

The focal points in the stories that Serpell tells are women and some of the stories themselves employ magical realism in the telling. There is a hirsute woman, thick hair covering most of her body and growing several feet a day. There is a woman who literally cannot stop crying, whose tears create virtual rivers. There is a blind tennis player. 

But though some of her characters border on the fantastical, they are never one-dimensional. They are fully formed and fleshed out. Even the despicable characters, including some racists, are not defined only by their unlovable traits; they are real people.

All of the women - the daughters, mothers, and grandmothers - of these stories are real women and they are all struggling in a society that does not make things easy for them. But most of them are survivors and they find a way to overcome the stumbling blocks placed in their way.

This is not to say that men do not also play their part in the novel. It is men who build that dam. As the dread Virus sweeps through Zambia in the '80s and '90s and into the twenty-first century, creating thousands of orphans, it is medical men who search desperately for a way to stop it. And as the novel veers into science fiction as it continues into the near future of the early 2020s, it is men who engineer bug-size microdrones and wearable technology of digital bead-like chips which, when inserted into the hands of wearers, turn those hands into virtual smartphones.

Mosquitoes also play their part in the story. In fact, part of the narration in each chapter is conducted by a swarm of mosquitoes. We see humans through their eyes. From the point of view of creatures that were there before us and who will likely be there when we are gone, humans look pretty pretentious. It is a rather comedic stroke of narrative brilliance. 

This really is an extraordinary, and very long at almost 600 pages, book. It is in no way an easy read, but it is worth the effort. I would fully expect to see it included in the buzz for the various literary awards this year.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars  

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Poetry Sunday: The Birds of America by Billy Collins

Over the years, as I have consulted my various field guides to try to identify some new bird, I have pondered what the life of a birder would be without those wonderful guides. What a debt we owe to those artist/conservationists who were able to bring those lifelike illustrations - and in many of the more recent guides, pictures - to us so that even if we don't hold the bird, either dead or alive, in our hands, we can key in on specific field marks and know the name of the bird that we are viewing. 

And I think particularly of John J. Audubon and his passion for the birds of America and his determination to capture them in his art so that others could see them as he did. Billy Collins thinks about that, too.  

The Birds of America

by Billy Collins

Early this morning
in a rumpled bed,
listening to birdsong
through the propped-open windows,

I saw on the ceiling
the figure of John J. Audubon
kneeling before
the pliant body of an expired duck.

I could see its slender, limp neck, 
rich chestnut crown,
and soft grey throat,
and bright red bill,

even the strange pink legs.
And when I closed my eyes again
I could hear him whisper 
in his hybrid Creole accent

I have taken your life
so that some night a man
might open a book
and run his hand over your feathers,

so that he could come close enough
to study your pale brown flecks,
your white chin patch,
and the electric green of your neck,

so that he might approach
without frightening you into the sky,
and wonder how strange
to the earth he has become,

so that he might see by his lamp light
the glistening in your eye
then take to the air
and fly alongside you.

Friday, May 17, 2019

This week in birds - #352

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

Yellow-billed Cuckoo image courtesy of

I heard my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo call of the year this week. It's always a welcome sound that I remember well from my childhood. Where I grew up in Northeast Mississippi, these birds were called "Rain Crows." There was a myth that their calls predicted rain. Of course, the birds called every day or whenever they felt like it and they had nothing to do with rain. The bird that I heard would have been a little late with his prediction. We've had very heavy rains over the last couple of weeks but this week is dry so far.


A Texas investor and retired naval officer made a dive in a submarine into the Mariana Trench, nearly 36,000 feet deep, and discovered...litter! The litter appeared to be pieces of plastic. This was the deepest dive ever into that deepest place on Earth. He went 52 feet deeper than the previous deepest descent that took place in 1960.  


A recent study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology confirmed that Chicago is the deadliest big city in the country for birds. The city is square in the middle of the central flyway which millions of birds travel in migration and it is full of the glass skyscrapers that confuse the birds and cause them to fly straight into the buildings, killing themselves.


Climate change is having an effect on the grizzly bears of Yellowstone. The changing climate has caused the devastation of some of the bears' preferred food sources and now they are having to travel farther afield to find sufficient food. This brings them in more contact with humans and their death rate is rising because of it.


Methane is a major heat-trapping gas that contributes significantly to the greenhouse gases that are turning Earth into a hothouse. Scientists are concerned that the rate of methane in the atmosphere has been rising dramatically in recent years and they are studying possible causes of the effect.


Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico's "monkey island." Now scientists are studying the surviving primates on the island to try and learn more about psychological responses to traumatizing events.


The Hawaiian Crow, or Alala, is critically endangered. The birds have not nested in the wild for decades, but a captive breeding program has produced chicks which have been raised and returned to the wild. Now, two of those captive-raised birds have formed a pair and are nesting! This is a tangible sign that the Alala Project might be succeeding in its attempt to save the species.


Organic farming which eschews the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides is particularly friendly to birds, especially those, like swallows, that depend upon insects as their primary source of food.


Beginning in 2017, the political appointees by the current administration to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have ordered the delisting or downlisting of 30 vulnerable species from the Endangered Species List every year. They provide no scientific basis for such action.


The inspector general of the EPA recommended on Thursday that the agency recover $124,000 from former director Scott Pruitt for his "excessive" travel expenses. However, the agency is refusing to take the action because the expenses had been "approved."  


How warm was it in your town last weekend? Well, over that weekend, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit at the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia. At the same time, the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 415 parts per million for the first time in human history. We can't say that Nature hasn't tried repeatedly to warn us of the disaster that looms. 


Feral parrots that have escaped from captivity or, in some cases, been deliberately released into the wild, have survived and thrived in many parts of the country. They have reproduced and formed successful colonies in many cities. Among the most successful species in doing this is the Monk Parakeet.

Monk Parakeet image courtesy of AP.

Monk Parakeets can now be found in almost every section of the country.


Climate Watch is a citizen science project of the National Audubon Society to collect information about how North American birds are responding to climate change. Anyone can participate in the project. Visit the Audubon website for information if you are interested.


This is so depressing. On a remote island group in the Indian Ocean, scientists found, and counted, 414 million pieces of plastic. The islands have almost no population and it is clear that most if not all of this plastic washed ashore from the ocean.


In Indonesia, timber certification is supposed to mean that the timber was logged and obtained legally, but, in fact, the system is corrupt and certification is no guarantee of legality. Forests are being razed with little attempt at policing. 


The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is one of the most endangered bird species in the world, but conservationists continue to fight the good fight to save the bird. A captive breeding program is producing birds to return to the wild. On Monday, May 6, the first three captive-bred sparrows were released into their wild, dry prairie habitat. A cause for rejoicing.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Throwback Thursday

These days it seems that American women are living in a permanent "Throwback Thursday." The men who are in power in this country seem determined to return us all to the days of women as chattel, with no control over our own bodies or lives. 

What we really need is a heartbeat law for women: If a woman has a heartbeat, she shall be in control of her body and her life decisions!

HT to Jen Sorensen who sums up the danger succinctly.

Elections matter, people!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2019

Late April and May have been a hectic time for me and not in a good way since it involved health problems for both my husband and myself. His was definitely the more serious of the two since he had heart bypass surgery on April 29. He's at home and well into his convalescence and I have learned a new respect for nurses!

Unfortunately, my function as a nurse has not left much time for gardening and my garden shows it. In short, it's a mess and that mess hasn't been helped by the near monsoon rains we've had recently. But even amid the neglect and the mess, many of my tough old plants just keep on blooming. Here is some of what I found on a walk through the garden today.

If it is May, there must be magnolias, of course. This is the month when their beauty makes us forgive them their untidiness throughout the year.

 My hydrangeas are just beginning to bloom.

Likewise, the oleanders. Many oleanders around town are in full and glorious bloom already, but mine are literally late bloomers.

These are some of my reblooming chrysanthemums. They bloom in the spring and again in the fall.

I have them in several colors, including this rust.

And also this red one which is not quite in full bloom yet.

You might think this is white plumbago, but, in fact, it is blue. The color is almost impossible to capture in bright sunlight.

The Philippine lilies have bloomed gloriously but this is the only one left and it is a bit worse for wear from all the rain. They are beautiful while they last.

Blue salvia.

 Turk's cap.

The 4 o'clocks are in bloom late in the day as their name suggests.

 The yarrow just keeps on going month after month after...

 And so do these little violas. They don't seem to realize their season is past.

This is a wildflower with the weird name of purple-head sneezeweed. I have a few of the plants scattered around the garden. I like wildflowers and so do the native pollinators.

This is another wild plant that has introduced itself into my garden. It is elderberry, the fruit of which is much loved by birds. It grows behind my garden shed.


 Yellow cestrum.

 Salvia greggii - aka autumn sage.

 This is Duranta erecta - golden dewberry plant.

This is the only variety of daylily that I have in bloom so far. Its proper name is long forgotten.

 The groundcover wedelia.

Mrs. Lui's cannas. I don't know their real name but I call them that because my neighbor, Mrs. Lui, was the one who gave me my start of them long ago.

 This is 'Wendy's Wish' salvia. It has been a real winner in my garden.

 Justicia 'Orange Flame.'

'Peggy Martin' rose just keeps on blooming her heart out for the fifth consecutive month now.

 This is the 'Caldwell Pink' antique rose.

 And this is 'Julia Child.'

 'Belinda's Dream.'

But the real star of the rose garden this month has been 'Lady of Shalott' which has been covered in these large cushy blooms for weeks now.

I'm glad you decided to drop by my garden this month and I hope to visit yours in turn. I'll also be visiting the garden of our host Carol of May Dreams Gardens. She always has plenty to show us.

Happy Bloom Day!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Such Singing in the Wild Branches by Mary Oliver

The birds' spring migration continues and one never quite knows when one steps outside each day just whose voice she will hear. But no matter who is singing, these song-filled days can create magical moments for the listener, moments that stay with us and comfort us when our souls need comforting. Once heard, such songs are not forgotten. Or as Mary Oliver puts it: 

"It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there, you're there forever."
Such Singing in the Wild Branches
by Mary Oliver

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that's when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them
were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last
For more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

This week in birds - #351

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

A Willet explores the rocks by Galveston Bay keeping an eye out for tasty tidbits.


The big news of the week in the environment was the landmark report issued by the United Nations with the input of scientists at universities around the world. The report warned that up to one million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction and that the losses are directly linked to human activity. Moreover, these coming extinctions have dire implications for our own species. There can be little doubt the planet is in the middle of the sixth great extinction in its history. The question is, will the last victim of that extinction be humans?


Not everyone in power in this country is ignoring the problems outlined in the United Nations report. Although the federal government in its present incarnation refuses to act or to even acknowledge that there is a problem, many states and cities are working hard to create policies that will address the problems and assist their survival. The real Green New Deal may have its birth in these governments.


Nature never ceases to amaze and never wastes anything. It turns out that penguin poop is the essential ingredient for biodiversity in Antarctica. The nitrogen in the animal waste provides nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable in the cold, dry weather of the region, and lichens, mosses, microscopic animals, and small creatures depend on it and make up the foundation of Antarctica's biodiversity.


When saltwater inundates coastal forests as sea levels rise, it kills salt-sensitive trees that live there, but as always in Nature, there are winners and losers. The salt-sensitive trees and birds that depend on them will be losers but they will be replaced by salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses which shifts vegetation closer to the ground making the habitat more attractive for birds that prefer the understory rather than the canopy.


Cranes seem to be particularly vulnerable to collision with power lines and since crane populations are decreasing around the world, anything that contributes to their decline is a concern. New research has shown that mounting UV lights on the utility wire poles so that the lights shine on the lines at night can decrease crane collisions with the wires by up to 98%. 


Brown bears have been absent from Portugal for more than a century, but now, one has been confirmed by wildlife experts to be in the northeast of the country, having apparently wandered over from a population living in the western Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain.


This is an image of the Aldabra Rail, a flightless bird of which the last surviving colony lives on Aldabra Island in the Indian Ocean. A previous flightless rail had lived on the island tens of thousands of years ago but had gone extinct. This rail colonized the island and over time evolved to become flightless.


Scientists have found bald cypress trees in a North Carolina swamp that are more than 2,000 years old. One of them is at least 2624 years old. The continued existence of these ancient entities is threatened by climate change.


St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, has been hosting a special guest since Hurricane Michael blew through there last year.

And here he, or she is. It is Pinky the Flamingo. This is an American (or Caribbean) Flamingo, a species which once roamed the Everglades, 400 miles from St. Marks, but was killed off by hunters by early 1900. The hurricane landed Pinky in a bird paradise at St. Marks after most likely picking him or her up on the Yucatan Peninsula. S/he seems perfectly happy in this new home and shows no inclination to leave.


Four years after the removal of the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River in California, steelhead trout are once again making their way up the river to spawn.


"Dakota Birder" has solved one of life's mysteries. This one involves the almost never seen crown of the Orange-crowned Warbler.


Japanese knotweed is a pernicious invasive threat that is almost impossible to kill. It has colonized Europe and has now gotten its tentacles into the North American continent.


The movements of flocks of birds in flight can appear to be ruled by one mind. In fact, the movements are coordinated as each bird in the flock responds to its neighbors and all follow identical rules. An exception to this rule is Jackdaws which mate for life and which fly with their mates in flocks even if it disrupts the flock's movements.


A previously unknown to science species of pit viper has been discovered in India. The snake was discovered during a survey of the biodiversity of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. 


"The Prairie Ecologist" explains the uses and goals of prescribed fires on the prairie. The prairies evolved with naturally occurring fires as one of the factors in their growth. The prescribed fires are an attempt to safely reconstruct that evolutionary tool.