Sunday, December 30, 2012

dreaming of ibis

I don't know if this is on par with the Pam Ewing dream that Bobby was dead only to wake up and find him in her shower thus negating everything that happened in Season 8, but here it goes.

Last night I dreamed I was leading a bird walk down the Will Skelton Greenway at the nature center. We hadn't really found anything out of the ordinary until POP! (That's how things happen in dreams, things just pop up.) A white ibis materialized on a grassy hillside.

It appeared to be weak or sick, missing a lot of feathers, so I walked over, picked it up and carried it to UT Veterinary Hospital which was only a few yards away. (That's another thing that happens in dreams: space and time gets compressed to move along the narrative.)

There I learned that the ibis was 30-years-old, in failing health and that I would have to return it to sunny Florida myself. 

What this all means, I'll leave to the dreamologists but perhaps I need to go on a trip with an elderly bird.

I also can add white ibis to my list of birds that appear in my dreams, that's a lifer. 

Happy 2013. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

oh that rosy rump

After the merriment of Christmas: the nog, the peppermint bark, the Scut Farkus Affair, the Grinch, the Peanuts gang singing Hark! the Herald Angels, the audacious sweaters, the smell of evergreen in the house, the flicker of candles, the eight maids a milking, the Dasher, the Dancer, the Donner and Blitzen (or is it Dunder and Blixem?), the dizzying blur that is the first three weeks of December, you then look for the little things to get you through to the New Year and into the cold, gray of January. 

For me? Mine came to my feeder yesterday: a purple finch

I do not get one every winter; I get those ubiquitous house finches, the interlopers, the usurpers, the boorish Hollywood horde knocking at my chamber door. But this one was indeed different. The color softer, more raspberry, the streaks down its flanks were pinkish and the rump—Oh that rosy rump. It really doesn't take that much to ignite a smile, warm the cockles.

Yes, that's enough to chase away the post-Christmas letdown. Although, I do believe I have nog left in the frig. Must savor it though, it's darn hard to find in June.

And, once again, I did not get a leg lamp. What's a fellow have to do?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the rafter that got away

When I was a kid, telephones were heavy, came in one color (black) and were owned by Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company, i.e. Ma Bell. And when they rang, the entire house shook like there was a three alarm fire. The clanging beast was mounted on the wall in the kitchen, so having a private conversation was close to impossible, besides Mom was always cooking collards or some such so it was no place to be. 

Our original phone number in Gatlinburg was 127. Easy to remember. Three digits. Area codes and zip codes and dress codes were still years in the future.

Flash forward. Today, cellular phones are small enough to fit in your pocket, you can buy them practically anywhere and some—believe it or not—actually double as cameras. (I'm not making this up, it's true.) I got one for Christmas and today managed to take my first photograph and e-mail it to myself.

It was a photo of a rafter (flock) of wild turkeys walking down a gravel road, very bucolic, very take-me-home-country-roads-ish, right out of Field & Stream, although you might note that by the time I figured out how to use my oh-so-smart camera, the gobbler hens had strolled away with a chuckle.

And yet, for this Luddite, methinks a modicum of modernization has occurred?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

is reality really real?

Is this downy woodpecker really real? 
Or the figment, as am I, of someone else's imagination?

OK. We survived that Mayan end-of-world thingy—unless their math was wrong and they were actually two days off—only to have our anxieties wake up to this new shocker. 

"What if everything — all of us, the world, the universe — was not real? What if everything we are, know and do was really just someone's computer simulation?" writes science writer Joel N. Shurkin. His recent article in "Inside Science News" reports on a new thread of research by professors at two universities searching for traces of the simulation in cosmic rays. (And/or mismatched birth marks on identical twins.)

If this is even remotely possible, even remotely, why wouldn't a futuristic simulator do a better job of imagining me? Was he/she/it having an off day?

For more of Shurkin's article go to: Is Reality Real?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

pale blue dot

Astronomer, professor, science author
 Carl Edward Sagan died on this date, 
20 December 1996.

When I was a kid,
seeing Sagan on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 
turned me on to the wonders of the cosmos:
all that is, ever was, and ever will be.

In 2007, I visited Sagan's grave on a hillside in Ithaca.

Six years before he died, 
 the Voyager 1 spacecraft
was on a journey that would take it 
out of our solar system.
At Sagan's suggestion
it looked back and took a photograph 
of lonely little Earth 
from 6 billion kilometers away. 
In the photograph, our home planet is so small (0.12 pixels) 
it appears as a barely detectable "pale blue dot."

Here's a remembrance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

FLC book talk tonight

In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

December 18, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Blount Memorial Wellness Center 

220 Associates Blvd. - Alcoa, TN

Stephen Lyn Bales, an Ijams senior naturalist and author, will speak about his latest book Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941

It is the compelling story of Jim Tanner, the only ornithologist to conduct an in-depth study of the largest woodpecker to live in the United States, the legendary ghost bird of the South. Tanner’s fieldwork in the 1930s while a grad student at Cornell University provide a detailed look into the natural history of this species that may or may not be extinct.

Several copies of Ghost Birds have been donated by UT Press to Foothills Land Conservancy and they will be available for sale during the presentation with 100 percent of the proceeds going to FLC. They will make great holiday gifts!

Bales has a second book, called Natural Histories, and has also written for Smithsonian magazine and is a regular contributor to The Tennessee Conservationist magazine. Bales is also a regular speaker at Wilderness Wildlife Week and other venues.

For more info, please call Elise at (865) 681-8326.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

a pine out of season

Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)

Pine warblers, as a rule—and such rules are often amended, bent or pushed over a cliff—spend their winters south of my location: Georgia and the Gulf Coast states. But that may be changing.

My friend, Rikki Hall, recently commented, "I hear pine warblers out of season with growing frequency. They spend a lot more time high in the canopy, so they are harder to notice, but with climate change I think yellow-rumps are losing their claim to being the only wood warbler that overwinters in our area."

So, I've been watching for pine warblers out of season.

I told birding protégé Eliot to pay attention to the pines that tower over their apartment and listen for something that sounds like a chipping sparrow—a rather robust trill with a hint of being forlorn.

Last week, she spotted and then heard one, her first. A lifer.

Canadian author, radio host and musician Alan Watt is credited with coining a popular phrase more than a decade ago to describe the social, economic and political changes in society. But it applies here as well. 

Is this part of the "New Normal?" 

- Photo by Ken Thomas 

Friday, December 14, 2012

sapsucker rescued

Yellow-bellied sapsucker rescued at Ijams.

More more details, go to: sapsucker.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

eye-popping, but why?

I guess it could be said that winter weather has finally arrived in the valley. Damp and rainy, followed by cold—at the moment it's 32º—but as of yet, we've had no snow. 

At this time of the year, I think what I most enjoy are the bright red, puffed up male Northern cardinals. Against a background of brown and gray, it's virtually impossible for them go unnoticed. But why be so daring? Most other colorful male birds molt into much duller winter plumage.

Why be so bold, when only the moon, or is the sun, should shine so bright Petruchio?


Monday, December 10, 2012

I'm nobody. Certainly not!

Happy Birthday, Emily, born on this date, 182 years ago.

 You certainly weren't nobody!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

the (future) king's speech

A third anniversary of note.

"For the grim reality is that our planet has reached a point of crisis and we have only seven years before we lose the levers of control.

As the President of Gabon said at a meeting I hosted last month: 'The door to our future is closing...'

This, I fear, is not an overstatement. For climate change is a risk-multiplier. It has the potential to take all the other critical issues we face as a global community and transform their severity into a cataclysm.
Reducing poverty, increasing food production, combating terrorism and sustaining economic development are all vital priorities, but it is increasingly clear how rapid climate change will make them even more difficult to address...

One final thought ... As our planet's life-support system begins to fail and our very survival as a species is brought into question, remember that our children and grandchildren will ask not what our generation said, but what it did. Let us give an answer, then, of which we can be proud."

Excerpt from a speech delivered by the English king in waiting, Charles, Prince of Wales, the heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen three years ago this week.

Considering the fascination (and loyalty) we Americans still have for the English monarchy, isn't Charles still our king in awaiting? 

Long live the king!

- For the entire speech go to: Prince Charles

Thursday, December 6, 2012

a golden morning


Golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

One of the great joys of working at Ijams is my office window. (Windows are good for the soul no matter where they are, but ones at a nature center are especially soulful."By my Window have I for Scenery," wrote Emily Dickinson.) You never know what might appear in the trees and shrubs planted just outside.

This morning a golden-crowned kinglet fidgeted through the lowest branches of a sweetbay magnolia. (Fidget: to move about restlessly, nervously or impatiently.)

These lively little pixies are only in the valley in the winter. They nest farther north and farther upslope, in the spruce/fir forests at the highest elevations of the Great Smokies not that far from my hometown of Gatlinburg. Thus proving that migration is not always north-to-south, sometimes its high-to-low. AS to whether my bird spent its summer in Quebec or on top of old Smoky, it's hard to say.

Because kinglets are generally higher up the tree, the golden blazes on their noggins are not always easy to see, but this morning's passing was at eye-level.

Wow. What a way to start my day!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

peeping too early

The trouble with being a male spring peeper is that your amorousness is controlled by the outside ambient temperature. If the temperature feels right, you're in the mood. (The same is true for human males except for the temperature part.) So male peepers can feel frisky any time of the year, it has nothing to do with the calendar, it's the thermometer: not too hot, not too cold, ahhhhh just right.   

We're having a lovely mild early December—perhaps yet another sign of climate change—and some male peepers have awaken from their winter torpor and are crooning for a mate. My guess is that the females are not really interested. It IS December after all and freezing weather is surely on its way. I suspect the females are smart enough to wait. 

I have read that male peepers that stir too early, run the risk of burning precious energy reserves and may starve to death when they return to their slumber before true spring arrives.

There's a lesson here somewhere, but I'll let you sort it out. Perhaps a little Johnny Mathis will help.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

strutting his stuff

Northern pintail (Anas acuta)

And speaking of ducks: pintails are beautiful. If I get to come back as a waterfowl, let's hope it's a pintail and not a Muscovy.

What did James & Bobby Purify sing? Something like, "Come on let me see you shake your tail feathers." Watch the below video. Talk about a group of males showing off for the lady. And how noncommittal and disinterested she appears to be.  I assume she'll finally choose the male with the longest tail feathers thus producing a clutch with even longer pintails. A thousand years from now, a pintail's pintails may be a foot long. 

Funny how it all works. "Here we go loop-de-loop. Shake it up baby. Here we go loop-de-lie."

Click: Pintail courtship

- Above photo by J.M. Garg