30 October 2009

sapsucker, meet "c-trail"

We met at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in February of 2006. I'd jumped at the chance to kill time in the Rio Grande Valley while waiting for my transcripts to get sorted out (they never did), so I was a bird walk/canoe trip minion at Matt's weekend haunt.

In January of 2006, a wayward Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) turned up at SANWR's "Pintail Lakes" near "C-trail." The winter range in Texas is pretty much the El Paso area, so the bird was quite unexpected. It wasn't until the 5th or 6th of February that I was able to hit the trails and see it, so Matt and I can place our meeting sometime shortly after that, but before Feb 25th, when it was last reported (thanks to Mary Gustafson for the sleuthing!)

Here's a link to a decent refuge map. On the map, you can see that the rightmost highlighted trail is "C-trail" and to the right of the "Pintail Lakes" label is an uncolored circle... that circle is the body of water along which the Red-naped Sapsucker was being seen. It, of course, was on the east side of the pond and the viewers were stuck on the path on the west side, just to the north of the official "C-trail" route.

Ever since early 2008 I've been looking through boxes in Houston, unsuccessfully, for a photo of the bird that brought us together. Jim, one of the refuge volunteers, had printed out a photo for me and autographed it upon request. It only resurfaced about a week into October when I dug up a box that had a lot of paperwork from college and it was tucked in with a few other photos from friends (one of whom is now my regional e-bird editor! *waves at Chris*)

...there it is. The "wayward sapsucker" that collided these lives. I should dig up a photo of the birders who went to Nick's wedding, since that was the group that caused the second bumping-into and ultimately led to exchange of phone numbers. There might even be a photo of a certain Green Violet-ear or soggy Heidi from Colorado Bend State Park to add to the mix.

For now, however, The Wayward Sapsucker portrait should suffice.


Matt has gotten me distracted by bugguide.net on occasion - here's a snippet of what can happen when people contribute to citizen science.

When we were in Kerrville at the end of September, we found and photographed a large, green caterpillar on the house where we stayed. Unable to come up with an ID on our own, Matt submitted the image to bugguide, where some helpful folks narrowed the ID.

Drab Prominent Moth (Misogada unicolor) caterpillar

...check out the link above - it has fake antennae/eye stalks on its rear end! Pretty snazzy, eh? So if a bird/bug aims for what it thinks is the head, it's only a bit off the rump that goes missing. Kind of like the hairstreak butterflies and swallowtails as well - better to lose a showy wing extension than your head! If the critter is thought to be a slug, with the fake eye stalks, it's still doing pretty well... but a green slug mimic? Pretty crazy.

Here's an adult Drab Prominent Moth from bugguide:

Another of Matt's previous caterpillars, a Hemileuca is also in the bugguide archives, but it is a far fancier creature and looks like quite the formidable opponent!

It's interesting to see how the internet is making ID a rapid, paperless process. Photos and human opinions are now outweighing wordy descriptions and otherwise scarce (as well as incomplete) resources. Yet we still have so far to go.

"There's A Hair In My Dirt"

Oh, Gary. Yesterday's mail included There's A Hair In My Dirt! A Worm's Story by Gary Larson. It came via Paperbackswap.com, which rocks my little world.

This is an absolute gem that must be read without a beverage, lest it be laughed out the nose. Laughing any beverage out of one's nose can be remarkably painful. Here's the wiki summary:
There's a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm's Story is a short illustrated story of a worm who feels his life is insignificant. The main plot is told by the young worm's father and follows a beautiful maiden named Harriet, who takes a stroll across a woodland trail encountering different aspects of the natural world. She admires it, but knows little about the land around her, and that eventually leads to her downfall.

...so, yes, go forth and procure a copy to read the best bedtime story ever!

24 October 2009

how to get rid of grackles

How do I get rid of grackles?
How does a city get rid of grackles?

Is it legal to shoot grackles?
Not in the United States, unless you are approved for depredation permits.

Wait, what's the actual underlying question here?
Why are grackles even a problem to begin with?

Abilene, Waco, Houston, Austin, this post is for you. Cities with "too many grackles" in general - this post is for you.

Back on Oct. 9, this column by Gary Clark showed up in the Houston Chronicle. Yesterday's HouChron gem of blog wisdom was more of a cry for help. Tis a response, of course, to yesterday's snippet of "Trained falcon fails to rid downtown Houston of grackles." Ya think? There is no miracle cure, folks.

Shall we look at what makes grackles a problem?
Power line roosts (along streets, near parking lots)
Parking lot trees (leading to car-poop)

Basically, human-induced perching options along human infrastructures leads to human inconvenience (health threat potential as well as aesthetic nuisance) about human personal transportation options. Wait, wait. Mass transit doesn't sit around all day getting pooped on. Carpool and only one person's car gets pooped on. Cut back on the number of power lines and you cut down the available perching space. Those little trees in the parking lots? Pretty feeble human attempts to appease the sun baked parking lot curse.

The overlying theme? Humans. You can blame Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) for a lot of things, but it ultimately all boils down to homo sapiens. Take the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), for example. You wipe out the bison, you fence in the prairies, you disrupt a pattern of natural rhythms... and then suddenly Brown-headed Cowbirds become an overwhelming pressure on certain other songbirds - a pressure that didn't exist when their overall patterns mirrored the bison.

Right, so we were discussing the grackles. Grackles will follow in the footsteps of humans as long as we keep creating awesome habitat for them. Only when we modify our surroundings will it impact them. Older neighborhoods in Houston that are packed with huge oaks and diversely landscaped properties don't have the grackle problem. Yet a block away, the strip malls are laden with epic proportions of feathered scapegoats. Think about it. Plan for a different impact. "Open" urban plan designs that call for mowed grass or parking lots with scarce vegetation may not be the answer for everything. Nature had a pretty nice landscape worked out before we went and urbanized it - grackles had a nice niche in the world as well, before we vilified them.

Now, go forth and admire the super adaptable creatures who have exploited human-made loopholes. After all, we're an awful lot like them.

23 October 2009

importance of the cartoon

We're quite aware that satire plays an important role in media. When it highlights human impact and causes us to think about our role in the environment, and at a very basic level, it borders on genius.

Melissa Packer correctly assumed that this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon would make my day. It is sheer brilliance. It is also something that looks like it fell right off of the VHEMT (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement) website.

Matt commented that trophy bucks aren't the entire population, the doe population should be well represented as well. Easier to shoot a lot of deer than to reintroduce cougars, wolves, coyotes, etc. right?

Back to the impact of cartoons.
One of the most influential cartoons of my youth was also a Calvin and Hobbes bit: it involves a dead bird, of course. Calvin's outlook is inquisitive and very insightful when it comes to human behavior and impacts and overall sense of the world. Somehow grown ups just don't get it. We've not learned.

Edit: the Calvin & Hobbes image link for the dead bird isn't working anymore, so until I can find a new link, here's the text from wiki -

Calvin: Look, a dead bird!
Hobbes: It must've hit a window.
Calvin: Isn't it beautiful? It's so delicate. Sighhh... once it's too late, you appreciate what a miracle life is. You realize that nature is ruthless and our existence is very fragile, temporary, and precious. But to go on with your daily affairs, you can't really think about that...which is probably why everyone takes the world for granted and why we act so thoughtlessly. It's very confusing. I suppose it will all make sense when we grow up.
Hobbes: No doubt.

So the irony of it all is that we go around shooting deer in the name of keeping their populations healthy, while our own population staggers under problems related to indulgence (greed as much as food). We discount the worth of our light-boned masters of flight and pass over dead birds with a blind eye and cling to status quo.

On the bright side, we can chuckle at other forms of demise instead (all from NOTFUNNY Cartoons):
gullible sheep

There are far too many awesome cartoons out there (NOTFUNNY is the English equivalent of NICHTLUSTIG, for all of you German speakers), but few have quite the significance of the first two shared. That said, Gary Larson's "The Far Side" has the lifeblood of ornithology, entomology, herpetology and sociology coursing through its panels. Now there's even a set of books, beyond "There's a Hair in my Dirt" (all of the aforementioned publications are on our wish list).

How do cartoons impact you? Any favorites? How have they changed who you are or how you see the world?

22 October 2009

Revisiting Old Photos and Writings: Entry 2, Sooty Tern

**I worked and lived on a 30-acre islet within the French Frigate Shoals Atoll, ~700 nautical miles NW of O'ahu. Thirty acres...
I lived with open ocean, pelagic species of seabirds. They did not live with me; again, I with them. With so much life, breeding colonies of noddies, frigatebirds, terns, boobies, etc., there is always a Balance; death. On the greater whole of the Balance, death is easily understood. However, for single individuals; particularly the one's you have come to know, It is unfair in Its fairness.

Within my routine on the islet, after work I would usually go to workout in an old, small warehouse. Individual birds amongst the several thousands are noticed to be where they usually are at a particular time of day. You begin to know them.

There was one juvenile Sooty Tern I came to know. It's standing spot was one I could see while exercising in the warehouse. I was there in the fall and winter months, so most of the Sooty Terns had left. Tern I. was named after these guys because there are ten's of thousands or more that breed in the summer on this emergent 30 acres of coral rock. Every foot of real estate is occupied by Sooty Terns. When I arrived there where still several adults, loud, bold, and unafraid..

Over time there where fewer and fewer; but still, this juvi was standing in the same place it always stood. peep-peep-peep-peep-peep'ing at any adult fly over. I would see it every day, same place. It never moved, only pivoting....then it only stood. Over time it's peep'ing quieted and slowed down. Then any vocalization stopped. No longer pivoting, it simply stood facing the wind as all life does on the 30-acres. Then, on some particular day, I had noticed it wasn't even facing the wind. Just standing. Finally, taking far longer than I had expected (the kid really seemed as if it had something it wanted to live for...something in it's present life.. some..Thing), it no longer stood.

When you get to know thousands of birds every moment of every day; you then certainly get to know particular individuals. This was a moving example of such an individual. One afternoon I just had to get something out of my head, out of my heart. On paper..**

wait until


I am a Sooty Tern.

This spring and summer there were

Over sixty-thousand of us on the island.

It’s like that every year, the elders tell us.

So many adults flying like a tern should;

Fast, free, you should see us!

You should see us when we are able to fly!

I can’t wait when I grow up and can fly.

Fly like a Sooty Tern!

I, with all my adult and young tern friends

took up every space of this island.

They even named the island after us.

Tern Island.

For Sooty Terns, that’s what I am.

I can’t wait until I can fly!

When summer grew late, lots of my terns began to leave.

That’s okay. I’m told that’s when some of us

begin to leave.

Lots of the young have left the nest and can fly

so they begin to go out to sea.

Lots of young have left the nest like I have.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

Some young terns are later to hatch than others.

We are still attended by our adults.

They fly out and back, bringing us food.

Fish and squid.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

There are many of us Sooties around,

even into late summer.

I remember being so excited when my close friend learned to fly.

He urged me to come with him.

It wasn’t my time. I’m still on the ground.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

It’s October now.

All my friends are gone.

I told them I would meet them when I could.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I hear an adult once in awhile.

What am I supposed to do?

Nobody hears me.

All my adults have been gone for awhile.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I don’t hear many chirp-chirp-chirp’s

from young Sooties anymore.

I don’t chirp because I can’t anymore.

My adults, and my voice, have left me.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I really came up looking good.

All my chick down is gone.

All my feathers have grown in,

even though juvenile colors and pattern.

I should be able to fly pretty soon.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

When I was just a downy chick

I was told of my good fortune.

Other creatures jealously thought

how lucky to have been born a bird.

Other birds spoke of our good luck.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I can still only stand and walk.

Wobbly now, the former.

Barely, on some days, the latter.

I am so lonely.

So hungry.

I can’t wait until I can fly.



Cruel to be born of this world, see its potential

and not be able to live it.

Even worse than cruel, to have been born a bird.

Not just a bird, a tern, a tern of the open ocean.

I can’t even move anymore.

Certainly not off this patch of dirt.



Why then?


Would have rather been born a moth.

A moth only lives a couple of weeks.

BUT he flies, and lives a full moth life on this earth.

I am so hungry I’ve forgotten.

So tired I’ve forgotten.

So lonely I’ve forgotten.

The only wonder I now have is if I’ll finish out the week, oh, and what happens next.

I hope it’s something. This time was too cruel and unfair.


Why am I here!!?

Could it be for the one who

is currently writing about me?


I can’t wait…


I …


f l y

-Matthew W. York, 7 Oct 2007, Tern I., FFS Atoll, NW Island Chain, HI

**By the way, it is alright for biologist to turn into poet, into non-scientific writer, into many things, verdad? No one is truly "one" thing. At least nobody only has potential to "be" one thing. We are complex, thinking beings. We should then allow ourselves to be so. We are not, and have never been, of an "ONLY "with" or ONLY "against"'-type mind, imaginative, and thinking-capacity species.**

20 October 2009

Revisiting old Photos & Writing : Entry 1 : northern pacific Albatross

No Name


They surf the waves
if a human on a surfboard
rides the incredible swell
just touching the water
Albatross rides
just not touching
needing no board

The Ocean's elders
They were not made for the open Ocean.
the open Ocean was made for them.
how can it not be so?

one only need witness the glide
and only once

everything else out here is a bird
a respectful occupation
Albatross, though,
Albatross is an even higher level

one only need witness the glide
and only once

a mediator?
to whom from whom
a messenger?
to what from what

It may be none, any, or all these things,
may be more

It's basic..
It is a bearer
of one thesis

a reminder
a teacher

what ever It may be,
it is clear
it says with no words at all...

Stop acting like it

one only need witness the glide
and only once

call me what you will


-©M. W. York 10.28.07, French Frigate Shoals Atoll, NW Island Chain, HI

17 October 2009

blatant promotion

The Moth and Me #7 is now up!

13 October 2009

A couple of links...

I happened across this story today:

Mile long trail of Manatee poop forces beach closure

Seems fair.
Karma Police...

This next article offers some amazing photos to chew on:

The 15 most toxic places to live

05 October 2009

Birds of Britain

While I relish my last day of unemployment, let me share a gem of wisdom from the Look Around You series. Birds of Britain is not characteristic of their other films, but it is certainly no less amusing. I encourage watching all of their films at least once for the sake of it, and Birds of Britain on a regular basis, just because it's that awesome.

There's so much puzzling hilarity that you almost wish that a "backskipper" weren't strictly British fiction. Put down your beverages and enjoy!

01 October 2009

October already?

Time flies. I had even drafted a few posts that didn't make the final cut... so now I'll just leave a quick note about just how important bats are. In the last two years, I picked up more than my fair share of dead bats under wind turbines - never a Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens), because they're not in the area - but here's an awesome link for Endangered Ugly Things that highlights sensitive cave creatures and their ecosystems.

Here's one of my sad little friends, a Hoary Bat:

Your discussion questions for the Endangered Ugly Things article:
* Why does a bat-poop eating* blind cave fish matter to you?
* Perhaps, why does it NOT matter to you?
* Have we become so species-centric that our insulated bubbles that keep the rest of the world out have become the only things we care for?
* Why have nature in the back yard when you can see better footage of it on cable shows?

The fish don't directly eat bat poop, but for our purposes, it's a compelling question. Also, think about the species-specific feather mites and lice that endangered or extinct birds have... or had. They're gone, too.

EDIT: This post has been getting a ton of hits lately with no comments, many hits from the UK - is there a wind farm being planned or something? Surely the tags of "poop" and "wind farm" aren't responsible for all of the traffic! Let me know if there's anything relevant that I need to address!

Also food for thought: if mold was never investigated for penicillin, where would we be today? Hence, it's in our best interest to not wipe out species... we just never know, do we?