Saturday, December 20, 2008

drawn to it

Photography is great. If you follow my blog you know that I take a lot of pictures. Always have.

But, if you truly want to SEE something, you have to draw it. This forces you to slow down and really look.

Recently I watched a belted kingfisher preen itself and I realized how much fun it would be to sketch one.

Slate blue and medium-sized, belted kingfishers have rather large heads and amazing blunt, often disheveled, crests reminiscent of the punk rock, spiked Mohawk hairstyles of the 1980s. I could use the word comical but that distracts from the overall regal dignity of the species.

Ever vigilant, they are generally seen perched over creeks and rivers, watching for slow moving fish near the surface. If a meal is spotted, they'll plunge headfirst into the water to snatch it. They are also rather noisy: their call a raucous rattle akin to a hoarse, maniacal burst of laugher. You generally hear them as they dart from perch to perch, laughing all the way, as if they have just played a practical joke and cannot contain their zeal for their devilment.

Parent kingfishers nest in tunnels they burrow into the sides of riverbanks. Both parents burrow, they take turns incubating the clutch and both feed the young.

They are also an example of reverse sexual dimorphism: the female is more brightly colored than the male. Why? No one knows for sure. And the kingfishers are being rather reticent on the topic.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

winter pond

It’s always disheartening when a truly wonderful book drops from the bookstore’s shelves. Such is the case with Diana Kappel-Smith’s “Wintering.” Originally published in 1984, and now out of print (the three worst words to any author’s ear) this book is a charmer, a collection of beautifully scribed ponderings centered on the winter landscape of her rural Vermont.

Written with the wide-eyed innocent eye of a curious naturalist and backed up with the real science of a trained biologist, the author uses winter as a backdrop but the musings are larger. Is it even possible for us to truly understand the interwoven workings of the natural world? Is it truly knowable? Are we always doomed to be slack-jawed wonderers?

“I have seen a friend of mine, a brilliant doctor of freshwater biology, stand wide-eyed and immobilized in front of her blackboard, chalk clutched in her hand, intricate graphs and formulae forgotten, because she has said ‘…but every pond is different from every other pond!’ and has just heard herself, with a kind of panic, admit that she knows nothing—nothing beyond the most bland generalities—about a subject on which she has spent half her life,” writes Kappel-Smith.

This book is a delight. Now that winter is here, “Wintering” is a perfect nature book to curl up with on the sofa. Look for it!

According to the counter at the left, this is my 200th posting. Wow!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

-From the poem "Sometimes" written in 1990 by Sheenagh Pugh, British poet who lives in Cardiff, Wales.

Karen, thanks for sharing this with me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

missed opportunity

So what’s the dang deal? We go to bed thinking, perhaps even hoping, for a little snow to brighten the woodlands. After all, 'tis the season. Parts of Mississippi got eight inches of the frozen confection yesterday. Heck, it even snowed in New Orleans for only the fourth time since Teddy Roosevelt roamed the White House hallways.

So, why not us? Why was the Tennessee Valley left out? We ARE farther north. Compared to the Big Easy, we’re practically in the Arctic Circle.

I recently read that the Weather Channel has had to lay off a few people including on-air meteorologists. Does this mean they are losing a bit of the control over the weather they have had for two decades? Goodness, I hate to imagine what’s next!

Early this morning, Spring Creek near my home did manage to produce its own fog bank, albeit a mini, short-lived one. The photograph I took is very reminiscent of the painting by William Bliss Baker I waxed poetically about on November 25.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

creepers return

Somehow you know winter is here when you see your first brown creeper creeping along the trunk of a tree. Creep. Creep. Creep. The only North American member of the treecreeper family "Certhiidae," the smallish brown birds hop along, looking for things like spider eggs to eat that are wedged down in the bark. (So much for the mother spider that went to the trouble of hiding them there.)

I spotted my first treecreeper of the season working its way up the side of an oak near my mailbox. Spider eggs beware!

Curious little birds. (Also see my February 26 posting.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

book signing

Discover Life in America (DLIA) is sponsoring a book signing Wednesday evening, December 3 at 7 P.M. at the Hard Rock Café in Gatlinburg. The event is a fund-raiser for DLIA, a nonprofit that’s working with the National Park Service to conduct the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI), a project that seeks to inventory the estimated 100,000 species of living organisms in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I will be signing copies of my book “Natural Histories.” Other writers at the signing will be Charles Maynard, author of “Waterfalls of the Smokies" and Ron Lance, author of “Woody Plants of the Southeastern United States: A Winter Guide.”

Books will be available for purchase and signing.