Saturday, September 29, 2012

tragic story

This one surprised me. I delayed reading it for two years. My mistake.

Macaws seemed so alien to me, so Jungle Jim, so Circus Boy, somehow it just didn't resonate. I see nothing like them flitting around my East Tennessee home. I've known people that had parrots as pets, so they were more like cocker spaniels to me than true wild birds.

Again, my mistake.

Author Tony Juniper not only introduced me to the world of wild parrots but to the milieu of endangered bird collecting by the uber-wealthy. Men who long to possess something rare and almost unobtainable. A Spix’s macaw stolen from the wilds of Brazil sold for thousands that is once it was smuggled out of its homeland. Of course, it’s all very black market and illegal.

Now the species only exist in cages and aviaries hidden around the world.

Spix’s Macaw is a real page-turner about the world’s “rarest” bird and in some circles, the world's most valuable. 

Thanks, Paul for recommending this fascinating book.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

redtail release

Two red-tailed hawks, rehabilitated by the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, were released at the nature center yesterday.

Go to: hawks for complete story. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

back in the world

Red-eyed and woozy, I start back to work, albeit slowly with some trepidation.

If you find yourself near the nature center, stop by and say "Hello. Glad to see that your heart is still beating." 

Now that the weather is cooling, the local box turtles will be looking for winter hidey-holes, under leaves and logs. For them it's time to find a safe place to spend the cold weather months, out of the way locations to pass the holidays: Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine's Day, Bathtub Party Day (December 5).

The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)—oh, what a lyrical Latin name—pictured above lives near my friend Wayne's house. The red eye indicates it's probably a male. Females generally have brown or yellow eyes. Reproduction season is over, the knowing smile indicates awareness of the long winter's nap ahead and satisfaction that his genetic material has been sown yet again.

We hold onto such memories long after the afterglow fades. 

- Photo by Wayne Mallinger.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

it's a birdfeeder!

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Still at home recuperating, watching the world from my deck.

Call me crazy. Say I’m lost in left field. Say some checkers have fallen off my board, the par has gone from my cheesi but American pokeweed makes a wonderful addition to your backyard landscaping.

Yes, I know most people think of it as a weed and yank it up in the spring or cook its tender young leaves before they develop their mid-life toxicity—and yes, most parts of the plant are toxic to humans so if you have young children I'd avoid it—but this time of the year it’s decked out in autumnal splendor: yellow leaves, bright magenta stems and, if that weren’t enough, burgundy berries the color of red wine festoon off the plant like holiday decorations.

Nurtured and loved, it can grow to a height of ten feet and simply become a stunningly beautiful plant.

Plus, birds love the berries. Love. Love. Love. The other day I watched a normally secretive gray catbird, present itself and eat as many berries as it could gobble down. The merlot-colored fruits are also eaten by cardinals, thrashers and mockingbirds.

So, if you get my drift, don’t think of it as a weed; it’s a colorful birdfeeder!

Gray catbird

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the widow-maker

Hello all. Many thanks for your well wishes, cards, emails, food. 

All goes as well as can be expected. It's been one month.

Actually, I was leading a very LEISURELY "My First Canoe Trip" outing at Ijams on Mead's Quarry Lake when I started having the initial symptoms of what is known as a widow-maker heart attack, blockage of the left anterior coronary artery.  That was Saturday, August 18.

Most people, even those apparently very healthy like joggers, tennis players, can just drop dead. A few have enough warning signs to get to the hospital in time. Luckily for me, I did.

Ijams coworkers, Peg Beute and Kara Remington, came quickly to my rescue at the lake and got me to the ER at UT. 

There is said to be no "foolproof" test for diagnosing a widow-maker blockage. You have to go in with a tiny camera and look around.

My cardiologist that weekend, Dr. Raj Baljepally, actually had a catheter ready to insert into my chest to locate the source of my trouble when the artery finally closed down. There is roughly only a five-minute window to relieve the arterial blockage. If this shut down is not corrected within this window, death is nearly certain, so he was in the right place at the right time and was able to get my artery reopened promptly, put in a stent, and I'm good to go for another 100,000 miles and, hopefully write three or four more books. 

Call it a miracle. They expect a slow but complete recovery. And apparently no long term damage to my heart, so it's not broken like it was in the fifth grade by heartthrob Debbie.

I know this is more detail than you need, but heck, it makes such a good story, and one I can walk away from.

Monday, September 17, 2012

what's in a name?

Europe's common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Still at home recuperating, living vicariously through others.

Marie poised a comment/question to my last post: "I wonder about the redstart's actual name...I see no red on this bird."

Yep. There in lies the bugaboo. American redstarts have no red; the males have orange markings, the females yellow. Our bird got its name because someone a long time ago in a galaxy we call home, thought they looked and acted like redstarts found in Europe. Redstart is apparently a corruption of the Old German word rothstert which means "red tail."

At the time folks thought the Old World redstarts were thrushes and the New World redstarts were warblers. Now, the European redstarts are considered to be flycatchers and the American versions are still called warblers but they really are not related to Old World warblers, so it's all kind of a mishmash of good intentions and faulty nomenclature.

"What's in a name?" sighed Shakespeare's Juliet. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

redstarts passing

Female redstart

Still at home recuperating, living vicariously through others.

American redstarts are passing through the Tennessee Valley on their way south to their winter home in the tropics. (Oh, to be so lucky.) Or at least the females are. I saw one flitting through the trees near the back deck (my recupertorium) yesterday. I spoke to Eliot late last night, she had seen females as well. She also spotted her first black-and-white warbler—a lifer for the young talented birder—and a blue wing near her driveway. 

Redstarts have a curious way of flashing their tails, revealing bright tail feathers: yellow on the females and orange on the males, plus markings at the armpits, well wingpits, but you get my drift.

In the tropics they're known as Christmas birds because of the festiveness they bring to the holiday, or as "latrine birds" because of their propensity of hanging around outhouses searching for the insects attracted to the malodorous locations. 

The former sobriquet is a little more appealing than the latter, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ugly duckling?

"Den grimme ælling," the 1843 Danish story by Hans Christian Andersen about the ugly duckling that matures to be a beautiful swan, comes to mind.

Still at home recuperating, living life vicariously through others who get to be out and about.

My friend Gretchen Kirkland sent me this:

"Saw this caterpillar August 17 in the Smokies on Noland Divide Trail. Thought you might enjoy a view from the wild country. Glad you got to the widow maker in time. You'll be a new man, ready to run the hills of East Tennessee."

Gretchen knew it was the caterpillar of a Pandora sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus).

The beautiful swan

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dorothy's hummers

"When we see or experience 
any natural phenomenon, 
when we see a flower, a butterfly, a tree, 
[a hummingbird feeding], when we feel 
the evening breeze flow over us or wade in a stream 
of clear water, our natural response is immediate, 
intuitive, transforming, ecstatic. 
Everywhere we find ourselves invaded 
by the world of the sacred."

- Thomas Berry, Roman Catholic priest and cultural historian

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are passing through the Tennessee Valley on their way to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. They'll cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight proving that miracles can be small. (In this case, weighing only three grams.)

I've had several stop by my Rocky Top home, but nothing like my on-line friend Dorothy Pepper. Go to: feeding time. And make sure you watch the video!

- Top photo by Wayne Mallinger

Friday, September 7, 2012

in remembrance of Greenleaf

Yes, give fools their gold and knaves their power!

For the rest of us, we'll settle for a little Whittier. With a middle name like Greenleaf, you have to know his heart was in the right place. Considered one of the American Fireside Poets—along with Longfellow, Bryant, Lowell and Holmes—John Greenleaf Whittier died on this date, 120 years ago today: 7 September 1892.

Highly regarded during his time and many years thereafter, Whittier was a Quaker and a passionate advocate of the abolition of slavery. 

- Photo composition sent to me by my friend Wayne Mallinger. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

bravo Couzens!

Being on something of a forced vacation—and by the time the bills are all in, it'll cost about the same as a trip to Paris. (Bonjour, où est Musee d'Orsay?)—has given me time to dive into my stack of unread books I keep by the bed. 

My friend Kimberly calls them "little bundles of hope" because you hope someday you have the time to read them.

Brisa actually brought the first one to me in the hospital. And the Atlas of Rare Birds is a gem!

Author Dominic Couzens has searched the world over to find 50 rare birds: species in decline, species near extinction and species perhaps, but maybe not, already gone. Beautiful birds, plain birds, well-hidden birds and even one Eurasian duck so "ugly" and uncharismatic that the females of the species seem to prefer mating with males of another species. (The introduced American ruddy duck.)  Talk about a hard luck story.

What makes this book so compelling, so heart-warming and so heart-breaking are the individual stories of each species. Their uniqueness to the world and their unique struggle to stay in it. Most, but not all, live in tiny, remote locations: islands, mountain sides, isolated lakes, etc. Or are so finicky, they can only live in a single, hard to find habitat type. i.e. the 200-year-old trees needed by the Pacific northwest's Northern spotted owl.

Eurasian white-headed duck
In the pages of the "Atlas of Rare Birds" you'll meet such species as the ultramarine lorikeet, Bali myna, marvellous spatuletail, po'ouli, Spix's macaw, Udzungwa forest partridge, long-whiskered owl, noisy scrub-bird, Montserrat oriole and the before mentioned white-headed duck, plus the hundreds of people worldwide racing to save them from extinction. Each is a precious thing. (Full disclosure: The last chapter is about the American ivory-billed woodpecker which I myself have written a book about.)

Atlas of Rare Birds is fascinating. Well-written and researched. And YOU simply do not have to have a heart attack to take the time to read it. So do so.

Bravo, author Couzens!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the ultimate good

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence. 

- By poet Wallace Stevens

Post heart attack, I've been resting copiously 
as if my life depends on it, perhaps it does, swaddled 
in old brown comforter the color of dark chocolate, 
imagining as Stevens 
the world, the ultimate good.

Why else should I still be here? When 
by all rights, I should gone.
But to contemplate the ultimate good.