Friday, December 29, 2017

The Politics of Ignorance

As his first year as President draws to a close, Donald Trump is once again ridiculing the science of climate change and peppering his tweets with a series of lies.  While embellishing his own achievements and belittling his predecessors, Trump relies on the ignorance of his base to sustain what little approval he receives.

Fomenting distrust of the Judicial Branch, blaming immigrants for crime and terrorism, linking job loss to globalization, questioning the loyalty of his own Cabinet members and obliterating a host of environmental regulations, Trump feeds a steady stream of propaganda to his uneducated legions.  As a result, he has squandered the reputation of this nation and diminished our influence across the globe.

Whether the President and his campaign officials colluded with Russia or not, his disdain for American democracy, his attacks on our free press, his distrust of science and his willingness to threaten the welfare of our environment are reason enough to warrant impeachment.  We cannot condone his lies, his bullying and his ignorance.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Honoring Brutality

This morning, my wife and I visited the De Soto National Memorial Park, northwest of Bradenton, Florida, at the mouth of the Manatee River.  It is one of several sites along the Gulf Coast where the Spanish Conquistador, Hernando de Soto, was thought to have come ashore as he and his party explored Florida and the Southeast in the mid 1500s.

While our visit was prompted by river views and the Park's trail network, trail signage and the Memorial's Interpretive Center reminded us of the negative aspects of Spanish exploration in the New World.  Though one might focus on the courage and tenacity of the Conquistadors, we must also acknowledge the brutality that occurred as they plundered Native American civilizations and forcefully instilled their Catholic faith.

Earlier this year, following the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, many American cities began to remove the statues of Confederate war heroes, concluding that their historic and artistic value did not outweigh the cause for which those men fought.  It seems to me that the actions of Spanish Conquistadors were at least as atrocious and that they do not deserve public memorials to honor their conquests.  Museums, which (hopefully) offer a complete picture of their historical "adventures," are better suited to define their role in history.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Leffis Key Preserve

At the extreme southeast end of Anna Marie Island, Leffis Key juts eastward into Sarasota Bay.  Centered on a reclaimed spoil pile that rises 26 feet above the bay, the Leffis Key Preserve protects and continues to restore natural habitats of this small island and is accessed by a fine network of sandy trails and boardwalks.

The boardwalks wind through coastal mangroves and over tidal creeks, leading out to decks at the edge of the bay.  From these view points, the visitor can observe a wide variety of gulls, terns, pelicans, cormorants, waders and bay ducks.  The most unique feature of the preserve is the spoil pile itself, now covered with upland trees and shrubs; trails lead to the summit, which offers broad views of Leffis Key, Sarasota Bay and adjacent landscapes.  Local birders know that it is one of the better regional sites to observe resident and migrant songbirds.

Among the songbirds observed today were common ground doves, blue-gray gnatcatchers, northern cardinals, northern mockingbirds and palm, yellow-rumped and black and white warblers.  Sightings on and along the bay included red-breasted mergansers, brown and American white pelicans, ospreys, little blue herons and snowy egrets, among other species.  Visitors are advised that dogs are not permitted in the refuge.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Perico Preserve

Perico Island guards the north end of Sarasota Bay, east of Anna Marie Island; it is separated from the mainland by Perico Bayou.  Perico Preserve, stretching across 176 acres of the island, has been established to reclaim natural habitat that was destroyed by agricultural, residential and industrial development.  Mangroves, tidal creeks, saltwater bayous, freshwater ponds, coastal scrublands and upland woods of slash pine, live oak and cabbage palm characterize the preserve.

While restoration of this Manatee County refuge is still underway, Perico Preserve is open to the public and is accessed by 1.5 miles of sandy trails; scenic wooden bridges ford the tidal streams and take visitors out to the edge of Perico Bayou.  Birders will find a large diversity of coastal species and, this morning, we observed 22 of them; highlights included American white pelicans, wood storks, little blue herons, roseate spoonbills and common gallinules.

The entrance to Perico Preserve is on the north side of Route 64 (Manatee Avenue), a short distance east of the drawbridge.  Dogs (other than those used for assistance) are not permitted in this recovering sanctuary.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Celebrating the Birth

On this Christian Holy Day, celebrating the birth of Jesus, I thought it appropriate to celebrate the birth of life itself.  While religious scripture suggests that Jesus was born 2000 years ago, scientific data reveals that life first evolved 3.6 billion years ago, some 10 billion years after the birth of the Universe.

Today, devout Christians, many convinced that the Earth is but 4000 years old, will flock to their churches and engage in rituals that date back to the birth of their faith.  That faith, central to their lives, fosters the belief that they are chosen among men, a mindset that has fueled intolerance, discrimination and hatred throughout the centuries.  Like all religions and despite its humble beginnings, Christianity has long been a divisive force in human society and, by extension, a threat to the welfare of our planet.

As for myself, I will visit the sea on this Christmas morning, the cradle of all life on Earth.  It took more than 3 billion years for life to escape her realm but her health remains vital to all plants and animals (humans included) that inhabit this planet.  Indeed, our welfare is tied to the health of all natural ecosystems; part of nature, we must dedicate ourselves to protecting her and resist the mysticism that arose with the dawn of our species. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Terra Ceia Preserve State Park

The Terra Ceia Preserve State Park is a 2000 acre refuge along the south shore of Tampa Bay, in Manatee County.  A mosaic of mangrove swamps, freshwater wetlands, open meadows and upland woods of slash pine, cabbage palm and live oak, the preserve was established to restore natural habitat in an area once used for agriculture; though it is a State Park, there are no "amenities" at this point and parking is very limited.

The refuge is accessed by a network of graveled roads and sandy foot trails.  This morning, my wife and I encountered 21 bird species as we hiked through the preserve; turkey vultures, great egrets, American robins and palm warblers were most numerous while highlights included anhingas, wood storks, ospreys and noisy common gallinules.  Alligators inhabit the refuge but were not observed this morning.

Well off the beaten path, this Park is reached from Route 19, just south of I-275.  Drive east on Terra Ceia Road and proceed about 0.5 mile to Hightower Road.  Turn left, passing under I-275 and then continue westward to the parking area and gated entrance.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Crinum Lily in Bloom

Walking through the Joan Durante Park on Longboat Key this morning, my wife and I came across a crinum lily in bloom.  Also know as giant spider lilies or swamp lilies, these large plants are native to the subtropics of Southeast Asia but have since become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe.

Up to six feet tall and represented by almost 200 species worldwide, crinum lilies are perennial, evergreen bulb plants that favor swamps or riparian woodlands; they propagate by suckering (producing large clumps) or by seed.  The natural species have 2-6 fragrant white flowers which curve and merge to yield a globular flower head; in tropical and subtropical habitats, flowering occurs throughout the year.

Though we have explored the Joan Durante Park on many occasions (and in all seasons) over the years, this was our first encounter with a crinum lily in bloom; it would have been hard to miss the large flower cluster or its pleasant fragrance.  Just another reminder that timing plays a major role when we experience natural ecosystems.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Mystery Flycatcher

Yesterday, while walking along the boat canal at our condo complex, I spotted a flycatcher at the top of a small tree.  It lacked eye-rings, had white wing bars, had a white chest with dusky sides and had a faint yellow wash on its abdomen.  My initial impression was that the bird was a willow flycatcher which, by December, should be in Central or South America; in fact, this flycatcher is not even a regular migrant in South Florida, tending to move southward through Mexico.

Indeed, the only flycatchers that winter on Longboat Key are eastern phoebes, great crested flycatchers, western kingbirds and scissor-tailed flycatchers.  My report to eBird was thus appropriately questioned and I promised to search for the bird again and, if possible, obtain a photo of the mystery flycatcher.  Alas, today's efforts were in vain though I did observe the bird from a distance; I will continue my quest over the next week.

Such are the joys, challenges and frustrations of birding.  Expected species are often not found while rare visitors turn up out of the blue.  The ranges in the field guides can be misleading and migrant birds may be found far from their usual routes.  "Hunting" for these wayward travelers fuels the enthusiasm of veteran birders.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Low Tide on Longboat Key

By mid morning, the subtropical sun had baked away a dense, overnight fog and a low tide produced extensive shallows along the edge of Sarasota Bay.  American white pelicans floated through the thinning mist while a wide variety of waders (herons and egrets) stalked the expanding mudflats.

Fish, dominated by mullets, were now confined to the deeper waters, attracting a bottle-nosed dolphin that cruised up and down our boat channel.  Brown pelicans, royal terns and ospreys also took advantage of the concentrated prey, diving to snare a mid-morning meal; they were joined by double-crested cormorants and red-breasted mergansers that dove for fish from the surface.

Over on the beach, nervous flocks of sanderlings raced ahead of the incoming waves, laughing gulls lounged in the morning sun and sandwich terns dropped like rocks into the restless Gulf, always emerging with a small fish.  Though I scanned the horizon for northern gannets, they did not appear on this warm, December morning but I expect to see them before our visit ends.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Highway Birding: Day Two

When we left Chattanooga this morning (see yesterday's post), it was still dark and a steady rain was falling.  The first light of dawn brightened the clouds as we drove through Dalton, Georgia, but the rain continued until we reached Atlanta.  Other than a few crows, I had not observed any birds to that point on this soggy morning.

South of Atlanta, the clouds began to break up and massive flocks of vultures (both turkey and black) soared overhead.  Farther south, in southern Georgia, I encountered flocks of tree swallows on the power lines and saw a few anhingas and great egrets in roadside wetlands.  Soon after we crossed into Florida, a peregrine falcon swooped over the highway but vultures, crows and rock pigeons continued to dominate the sightings.

Approaching Tampa, the avian diversity increased significantly, including white ibis, wood storks, cattle egrets, laughing gulls, cormorants and ospreys.  Indeed, of the 32 species that I encountered between Columbia, Missouri, and Longboat Key, more than a third were observed in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.  While I certainly anticipated that the final count would be much higher, the periods of rain took a toll and birding at 70 mph offered its own challenges.  Nevertheless, birding on the road made the journey more interesting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Birding on the Road

As we left Columbia, Missouri, this morning, on our way to Longboat Key, Florida, I decided to count the number of bird species that I observed along the highways; after all, one needs something to make a long drive through familiar terrain more interesting.  Cloudy weather, with intermittent fog and drizzle, didn't help nor did a massive traffic jam in Nashville, Tennessee; the latter assured that the remaining portion of today's journey (ending in Chattanooga) would occur in darkness.

As one might expect, open-country species accounted for most of the observations; these included Canada geese, American crows, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, ring-billed gulls and turkey vultures, among others.  Two bald eagles were observed (in eastern Missouri and western Illinois) and two flocks of American white pelicans were unexpectedly encountered; these tardy migrants were on Rend Lake, in southern Illinois, and on Lake Barkley, in northwestern Kentucky.

After a night in Chattanooga, we should complete our trip to Longboat Key by tomorrow evening (weather and traffic permitting).  Hopefully, bird sightings will increase as we travel through more southern latitudes and I will include the total species count (for the entire journey) on my next post.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Ladybird in December

On this mild, sunny afternoon in central Missouri, I was reading on our back deck when a ladybird beetle landed on my arm.  This beloved beetle, typically associated with warm summer days, usually overwinters in large congregations, choosing protected sites in barns, sheds, loose bark or brush piles.  However, during periods of warm winter weather, they may become active and I was pleased to encounter one today.

Appreciated for both their cute, colorful body and their taste for harmful insects, ladybirds (often called ladybugs) are always a welcome sight but today's visitor brought an unsettling message as well.  These days, it's hard to discover dandelions or ladybirds in December without acknowledging that our climate is warming.

While periods of mild winter weather have been occurring for decades, usually the result of atypical weather patterns and unrelated to climate change, we have now become increasingly aware of global warming and of our role in its development.  It is thus difficult to enjoy the presence of a ladybird beetle, a week before Christmas, without thinking of the ecological effects that our species has wrought. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Clark's Hill in Missouri

As they travelled westward along the Missouri River, the Lewis & Clark expedition would often climb to promontories to survey the surrounding territory (see Up River with Lewis & Clark and subsequent posts).  One of these overlooks was a ridge near the confluence of the Missouri and Osage Rivers, east of Jefferson City; now known as Clark's Hill, it is protected within the Clark's Hill/Norton State Historic Site.

On this chilly but sunny morning, my wife and I visited the site, taking Route J north from U.S. 50.  A half-mile trail climbs from the parking lot and then leads eastward atop the ridge, undulating toward the overlook.  Broad views of the Missouri River Valley unfold to the north and, as one nears the overlook, the Osage River Valley appears to the south.

Educational plaques are spaced along the trail, offering historical information and pointing out the handiwork of the Woodland Mound Builders, a civilization that colonized the region some 2000 years ago.  Combining nature exploration, spectacular vistas and human history, Clark's Hill proved to be a rewarding destination. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Inspired by a Wren

On this cold, bleak winter morning, there wasn't much to cheer about as I wandered the trails of the Columbia Audubon Sanctuary, in central Missouri.  Low, gray clouds stretched above the brown landscape which was broken only by the white bark of sycamores and green clumps of eastern redcedar.

The usual winter residents were encountered, dominated by chickadees, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches and house finches.  A red-tailed hawk shrieked in the distance, a noisy flock of crows called from a wooded hillside and a lone eastern towhee scratched for his meal beneath the dry leaf litter.

About to head home, my attention was drawn to a patch of thickets, where a tiny bird moved among the tangles; it was a winter wren, down from Canada to spend the colder months in balmy Missouri.  Despite its small size, this hardy and energetic bird survives the winter by scouring dense vegetation and rotting logs for spiders, insects and other invertebrates, supplementing that diet with berries.  On such a raw morning, it was inspiring to watch that diminutive visitor, free to fly off to the Tropics but content to endure a cold, damp winter here in the Heartland.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Trump, Mars & Earth

President Trump, foresighted as he is, has expressed his desire to place men on Mars and hopes to complete that mission before the end of his term (which may come sooner than he expects).  This from a man who ridicules science on a regular basis and has yet to appoint leadership at NASA.

While we may support the space program, most of us would prefer that Trump concentrate on the health of our own planet rather than denying global warming and scuttling environmental regulations that protect our natural ecosystems.  We hope that our great-grandchildren are able to live on Earth, not under domes on Mars.

But Trump prefers declarations that fit within tweets.  He sees no need to consider the funding or scientific aspects of the mission and knows that his adoring legions will admire his bold proposal.  On to Mars!  To hell with Planet Earth!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

At the Museum

On this beautiful Sunday morning, I took my ten year old grandson to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, one of the best natural history museums in the country.  There we explored exhibits on space exploration, gems and minerals, Egyptian mummies, dinosaurs and the evolution of life in addition to viewing the museum's famous dioramas.

Fortunately, my grandson was very interested in the exhibits and we took our time, stretching the visit over several hours.  As often happens, I took notice of the other patrons as well, many of whom raced through the museum, seemingly interested solely in the beauty of the gemstones or the size of the dinosaur skeletons.  While the museum does an excellent job of explaining its exhibits and placing them in the context of Earth's history, I doubt that most visitors get the big picture; I even imagine that a sizable percentage enjoy the museum's collection while retaining a biblical perspective.

How else to explain the popularity of natural history museums within a religious population.  To mix scientific data and mysticism requires that one either gloss over the information presented or create their own narrative.  As creationist museums spring up across the Bible Belt, the role of science-based institutions becomes ever more important, especially when an anti-science President controls the education pursestrings.  See also Juno & the Ark and Greater Cincinnati's New Museum

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Science of Fasting

Searching through Amazon Prime yesterday afternoon, I came across a documentary entitled The Science of Fasting.  Initially released in Europe, in 2011, it presents the findings of scientists from Russia, Germany, France and the United States.

Long thought to "cleanse the body," fasting may offer significant benefits for those with a variety of chronic diseases, including the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease and cancer.  Directed at the general public, the documentary explains the body's physiologic response to food deprivation and points out that these adaptations have developed in concert with the evolution of our species; indeed, for most of our history, food was not always readily available.  Animal studies have suggested that fasting may re-prime normal cells, improving their function, while placing a significant stress on abnormal cells (e.g. cancerous or inflamed cells); indeed, at the University of Southern California, fasting mice demonstrated better tolerance of chemotherapy that did their cohorts.

Like "Knives over Forks (see A Plant-Based Diet)," this documentary correlates eating habits with our risk of disease; both films offer persuasive evidence but individuals are advised to discuss these dietary measures with their health care provider before stopping medications or significantly altering their diet.  Good nutrition is vital to both the prevention and management of disease and fasting (even for brief periods) may be ill-advised in some cases.  Nevertheless, I recommend viewing both documentaries and considering the points that are made; the fact that most humans in "developed countries" overeat is undeniable.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Southeastern Snow

The potent cold front that rattled windows along the Colorado Front Range five days ago, now stretches across the Southeastern Coast., from Mexico to Virginia.  While most of the Great Plains and Midwest were sparred any significant snow from this system, such has not been the case in the Southeast.

As the cold, dry air clashed with warm, humid air along the Gulf of Mexico, significant snow was produced, including 7 inches in Corpus Christi, Texas, where measurable snow had not fallen in 13 years.  Houston received 3/4 of an inch but many areas of the Southeast, from Mississippi to Virginia, may receive close to a foot of snow; most of the snowfall will be confined to the Piedmont and Southern Appalachians while the Coastal Plain, south of Virginia, is being doused with cold rain.

By tomorrow, remnants of the system will move into the Mid-Atlantic States and New England before heading out to sea.  Here in Colorado, where snow has been limited to date, we're hoping the next storm lingers in our region; who could have imagined that, by December 8, Corpus Christi would receive more snow than Denver?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Power and Accountability

As the sex abuse scandal continues to unfold across American society, we are again forced to acknowledge the uneven enforcement of laws in this country.  While hundreds (if not thousands) of middle and lower income perpetrators languish in jails and prisons for similar offenses, men in positions of power often escape accountability, at least until the statute of limitations has passed.

Even among the elite, punishment has been uneven.  Though a number of politicians, executives and media celebrities have lost their jobs (and their careers), a Senate candidate from Alabama, accused of similar (if not worse) behavior, is favored to win his contest.  Then we have President Trump, the target of sexual harassment charges from twenty women, who went on to win election (but not the popular vote) and now feels free to disrupt our country's International, immigration and environmental policies with a series of executive orders.

America, the land of the free, has long possessed a legal system tainted by discrimination and subject to the effects of political and financial power.  Until every citizen is equally accountable for their actions, we are no more free than the dictatorships that we despise.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cold but no Snow

Two nights ago, strong winds awoke me about 3 am; as expected, these were winds behind a potent cold front that had dropped across the Colorado Front Range.  Though it was supposed to bring snow as well, the storm system was centered too far north and dawn brought cold air but clear, sunny skies.

As it turned out, the snow and high winds were most intense across the Northern Plains, where blizzard conditions developed.  Our strong winds, coming from the north, abated by yesterday afternoon as the storm quickly moved off to the east.  Had the central low been farther south, we might have received upsloping northeast winds and the snow that they usually bring.

While the cold air is expected to linger for a couple more days, the intense Colorado sun has pushed afternoon highs into the forties and low fifties (F); on the other hand, overnight lows have dropped into the mid twenties.  Down at South Platte Park this morning, ice had begun to form along some of the shallow ponds but the number and variety of waterfowl remained impressive.  Northern shovelers were most abundant, spooked into a massive aerial flock as an immature bald eagle soared overhead.  Winter has arrived in the Valley!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Super Cold Moon

A brilliant full moon is rising in the east this evening.  By tradition, the December full moon is called the Cold Moon (or the Long Nights Moon) since winter is beginning and the winter solstice occurs in this month.

This year, the Cold Moon is also a Super Moon; the latter term refers to full moons that occur when the moon is closest to the Earth and thus appear larger than usual.  Since the moon's orbit around our planet is oval in shape, its distance from Earth varies through the year; super moons are about 16,000 miles closer than the average distance.  Tonight's Super Moon is the only one to have occurred in 2017 but the next full moon, in January, 2018, will also be a super moon.

Regardless of its monthly title and distance from the Earth, full moons are always beautiful, especially on clear nights.  Perhaps their glory peaks in winter, when moon shadows stretch across snowy landscapes; our chance for such an event may be as soon as tomorrow night since snow is forecast by morning along the Colorado Front Range.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Night Flight

Last evening, I accepted my son's invitation to take a flight over Metro Denver.  Despite the fact that he is in the midst of a neurosurgical residency, he has found the time to get his pilot's license, something I intended to do but never did.

It was a clear, cold evening as we took off from Centennial Airport and climbed westward above the city.  Always enamored with "geography from above," I was delighted by the sea of lights that spread out beneath us and was able to identify all of the major roads and neighborhoods; we passed over our Littleton farm and headed up to the northwest suburbs before circling back to the airport.

As an environmentalist, I couldn't help but acknowledge the massive amount of energy that we use to light our cities and was somewhat reassured by the dark "green belts" that lace Metro Denver; the beauty of human landscapes, however pleasing to the eye, comes with a price.  My thanks to Zach for an exciting experience!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vanishing Lakes

An article in the New York Times this week highlighted the gradual disappearance of the Great Salt Lake.  While one might suspect global warming is the cause, the article points out that the diversion of inflow for irrigation and other human activities is the primary culprit.

No doubt, climate change has long played a role in both the formation and disappearance of lakes.  During the cold, wet climate of the Pleistocene, massive lakes covered most of the Great Basin (see Lake Bonneville and Lake Lahontan) while glaciers scoured out lake basins across the northern half of North America (the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes offer prime examples).  As the climate warmed during the Holocene (now augmented by human activity), the Great Basin lakes shriveled in size, waxing and waning in response to the mountain snowpack and human consumption; how future global warming will affect the snowpack remains uncertain but the pressure of a burgeoning human population will clearly be a problem.

Lakes have long been transient features of Earth's landscape, forming in the wake of floods, landslides, glacial erosion, volcanism and tectonic rifting.  Their disappearance may result from diminished inflow, increased evaporation, catastrophic drainage (e.g. from earthquakes) or the gradual deposition of sediments that fill in their basin; the later is a common problem in man-made lakes and reservoirs where dredging is eventually required.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Eruption of Mount Agung

Mount Agung, 9944 feet, is in western Bali.  One of 78 active volcanoes in Indonesia, its last major eruption occurred in 1963 but another is expected within the next few weeks.  Earthquakes developed on and near the volcano back in September and the release of smoke and ash has been intermittent throughout October and November.

The volcanic islands along the western and southern edge of Indonesia have formed as the Indo-Australian Plate has been subducting beneath a southeastern extension of the Eurasian Plate.  As it is forced downward, toward the Earth's mantle, the leading edge of the subducting plate melts and plumes of magma push up through the crust of the overriding plate.  Initially producing a volcanic island arc, the ongoing subduction and volcanism has culminated in the large islands that we observe today (Sumatra, Java, Bali and others to their east).

Another major eruption of Mount Agung will likely produce widespread devastation but will not come close to the effects of Mount Toba's eruption, on Sumatra.  That supervolcanic eruption, which occurred 74,000 years ago, temporarily cooled the Earth's climate and had a major impact on the human population of our planet; indeed, a significant percentage of early humans had left Africa and colonized the southern rim of Asia by that time (see The Toba Winter).

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Holiday Skunk

Yesterday afternoon, as our family gathered for a Thanksgiving meal, a striped skunk was observed, ambling across our farm.  Festivities were placed on hold as everyone watched the solitary creature, not often seen on a sunny afternoon.

Indeed, striped skunks are primarily nocturnal, though they may be encountered at dawn or dusk.  Omnivorous, they feast on insects, small mammals, eggs, seeds and fruit.  During the colder months, they utilize abandoned dens or dig one for themselves; there they wait out periods of severe weather but often emerge to forage during warm interludes.  Rarely killed by fox or coyotes, skunks may fall prey to great-horned owls, hawks, golden eagles or, of course, automobiles.

Striped skunks breed in late winter or early spring.  During that time, the male may gather a small harem and defends his territory.  Litters generally range from four to eight pups and the newborns are weaned within two months; the family breaks up by late summer and the young disperse to establish territories of their own.  Striped skunks range across most of North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Visitors

On this morning's survey of our Littleton farm, I encountered a large flock of bushtits, roaming among the junipers and pinon pines.  These small, energetic birds are often observed in sizable flocks but their presence is erratic.

Twittering as they scour mixed woodlands, they feast on insects and their larvae, providing a valuable service for homeowners and foresters alike.  Despite their small stature, bushtits are hardy creatures and can be observed along the Front Range during all seasons; some years, they nest on our property, constructing a "sock nest" from a variety of natural and man-made materials.

I am always grateful when they visit the farm and can't help but be inspired by their energy and cheerfulness.  Just another gift to acknowledge on this Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Counting Ducks

On this cold, sunny morning, I took part in the first winter waterfowl count of the season at South Platte Park.  Organized by personnel at Carson Nature Center, the counts occur monthly through the colder months, documenting the number and variety of waterfowl that winter at the refuge.

While the highlight of this weekend is a massive flock of common mergansers on Cooley Lake (estimates were over 900 at one point), our group was assigned several of the "Middle Lakes" which are on my routine eBird survey route at South Platte Park.  American wigeon were most abundant, followed by northern shovelers and gadwall.  Other species included Canada geese, mallards, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, American coot, ring-billed ducks, green-winged teal, two northern pintail and a lone pied-billed grebe.  Of course, a couple of hours in the field offers the opportunity to observe other species as well and we were fortunate to observe an immature bald eagle as it flapped across the refuge, no doubt looking for a potential meal of duck. 

Replicated throughout the country and across the globe, bird counts are conducted primarily by volunteers and are important in assessing the health and distribution of avian populations.  Such data fuels the protection of natural habitat, documents the effects of human activity and, in the case of waterfowl, helps to establish hunting regulations and restrictions.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Art of Listening

Effective communication is vital to human relationships and the art of listening is its key component.  While we admire those who can express their ideas in efficient or creative ways, communication is a two-way street and an attentive listener is equally important.

Too often, we humans equate communication with debate.  But debate is all about winning an argument and the debater listens just enough to formulate his or her counterattack.  Waiting to pounce on their opponent, the debater only gleans the highlights of the points that are made.

Unfortunately, most humans are more comfortable being the speaker than the listener.  Intimately connected to their own ideas, beliefs and experience, they easily become disinterested (if not bored) with the stories or reasoned arguments of others.  The art of listening is the ability to stay engaged, focusing on what is being said (without prejudgment) and willing to fully consider the views of the speaker.  If we all adopted that art, human communication would be greatly improved and the spectrum of intellectual logjams, such as the one that stymies the U.S. Congress, would be cleared from the paths of personal growth and human progress.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Summer Day in November

An atmospheric ridge over the Western U.S., combined with downsloping, southwesterly winds east of the Front Range, has brought summer-like conditions to Metro Denver in the middle of November; our afternoon high today was 74 degrees F.

Anyone who has not spent much time in this region likely imagines Denver to be a cold and snowy place; after all, it is the gateway to many ski areas.  But, while it may snow here from September through early June, we enjoy a relatively mild, sunny climate.  Warm weather interludes, like today's, occur throughout the colder months and are often followed by brief periods of rain or snow.

Indeed, the weather of the Front Range urban corridor is all about wind direction.  As storm systems approach from the west, we often receive downsloping, southwesterly winds ahead of the cold front; as the air is forced down from the Continental Divide to the Piedmont, it compresses, dries out and heats up, producing the summer-like conditions.  But once the storm moves east of the Divide and onto the High Plains, we usually receive upsloping, northeasterly winds; as the air is forced to rise by the regional topography, it cools down and it's moisture condenses as rain or snow.  In fact, rain and chilly air are forecast to arrive by tomorrow afternoon. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Goose Season

Returning to Colorado a few days ago, I noticed a significant increase in the Canada goose population since I left town in late October.  While the arrival of wintering geese has been late in recent years, the current flocks are right on schedule, apparently chased southward by potent cold fronts and snowstorms up north.

Of course, many suburbanites, park managers and golfers are not thrilled by the influx of our messy Canadian neighbors but some of us enjoy watching their large, noisy flocks as they move above the urban corridor.  Typically arriving in early November, the wintering geese occupy the region until early spring when they begin their journey to breeding grounds across Canada and the Northern Plains (see Front Range Geese).

The arrival of wintering Canada geese is of interest to birders for another reason.  Though they account for the great majority of geese along the Front Range, other species often get caught up in their autumn migration.  Just yesterday, I observed a snow goose in one of the flocks and a variable number of greater white-fronted geese join the Canadas each year.  Cackling geese, nearly identical in appearance but smaller in size and smaller billed, often mingle with the Canada geese; once thought to be a subspecies, they are now recognized as a separate species that breeds farther north and west than their larger cousins.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Males & Sexual Abuse

The recent spate of sexual abuse revelations involving men (politicians, pundits, broadcasters and entertainers, among others) offers clear evidence that we humans are part of the animal kingdom and that our large brains do not always protect us from ingrained animal behavior.

Throughout the animal kingdom, from invertebrates to mammals, the primary role of the male is to impregnate as many females as possible.  This often involves combat with other males (which may prove fatal), coercive behavior toward females and, in some cases, the instinct to kill the offspring of other males.  In almost all species, the male engages in sexual dominance, which may include the gathering of harems, and he plays a minimal role in nurturing and raising the young.

Early humans, like our hominid ancestors, most likely practiced polygamy.  As our civilization advanced, laws were established to protect families, women and children, though the nature of these laws (and their enforcement) varies widely among human cultures.  Unfortunately, the male sexual drive, influenced by parenting, personal experience and psychological factors, often overrides these social constraints (especially when those individuals occupy positions of power) and sexual abuse repeatedly occurs.  While knowledge of our natural history should not serve to condone such behavior, acknowledging male traits and tendencies is the first step in dealing with this issue.  Appropriate law enforcement, counseling and zero tolerance must then follow.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Iran-Iraq Earthquake

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border region yesterday; the initial death toll is over 450 individuals and is almost sure to rise.  The quake occurred in an active tectonic zone where the Arabian Plate is colliding with the Eurasian Plate.

About 40 million years ago, the Red Sea began to open, rifting the Arabian Plate from the African Plate; this rift continues southward as the East African Rift that will eventually split the Continent.  Twenty million years later, during the Miocene Period, the Gulf of Aden began to open as well and the combined forces of these active rifts zones are pushing the Arabian Plate to the NNE; its collision with the Eurasian Plate has been crumpling up the mountain ranges of Iran and Turkey, a process that continues today.

While the tectonic drift of continents is too slow for humans to observe during our brief life spans, the sudden release of pressure along fault lines, resulting in earthquakes, attests to the massive forces involved in this process.  Having sculpted the surface of our planet long before our species evolved, we must now live with the consequences of plate tectonics (See also The Eurasian Mountain Arc).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Swans at Phillips Lake

On this damp, cloudy and chilly morning, my wife and I decided to take a walk around Perry Phillips Lake, in south Columbia.  After all, from now through the end of January, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is occupied by duck hunters and Phillips Lake is one local alternative for those hoping to observe migrant waterfowl.

To our surprise, two swans turned up as we circled the lake, gliding across the calm waters.  Initially assuming they were trumpeter swans that are increasingly common in the Heartland (see Midwest Trumpeters), I zeroed in with my binoculars.  I noticed that they had pinkish bills with black tips, indicating a juvenile status, and could not find a yellow spot at the base of their bills, present in most (but not all) adult tundra swans.  On the other hand, their necks extended straight up from their chests without the curve typical of trumpeter swans.  They also seemed a bit slim for trumpeters, especially when they flew away at the end of our visit, and leg bands were not observed as they passed overhead (most reintroduced trumpeters are banded).  Unfortunately, the visitors remained silent and thus could not be identified by their calls.

Distinguishing juvenile trumpeters from juvenile tundra swans is a bit of a challenge for most birders, especially when a direct, simultaneous comparison cannot be made in the field.  While tundra swans are far more numerous in North America, most migrate to coastal estuaries and relatively few are encountered in the Heartland; then again, a fair number turn up along the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys.  By contrast, trumpeter reintroduction programs have become widespread across the Upper Midwest and this largest species of American waterfowl is increasingly common in the Heartland.  I'm leaning toward the decision that this morning's visitors were juvenile tundra swans but, either way, it was a pleasure to see them.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Irruption of Crossbills

Over the past few weeks, red crossbills have been reported across Metro Denver and here in central Missouri; no doubt, these irruptive migrants have been spotted in many other areas of the U.S. as well.  Residents of Southern Canada, New England, the Great Lakes region and the Western Mountains, red crossbills occasionally appear at lower elevations or in more southern latitudes.

Irruptive species, while usually non-migratory, expand their territory when food (seeds, berries or prey) becomes scarce in their homeland; the scarcity may be do to normal fluctuations in prey populations, severe weather, insect blight, wildfire or, perhaps, climate change.  Red crossbills are among the more common irruptive migrants and have been known to nest outside their usual breeding range if they encounter sites with a large supply of pine cones; indeed, this species may nest during any season of the year.

On the other hand, irruptive species tend to be restless, moving about the landscape in search of food.  Here one day and gone the next, they are often a source of frustration for hopeful birdwatchers, as a friend and I found out yesterday.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thomas Hill Reservoir

Located about ten miles southwest of Macon, Missouri, Thomas Hill Reservoir was formed by damming the Middle Fork of the Little Chariton River.  The 4950 acre lake and the surrounding Conservation Area are on property owned by the Associated Electric Cooperative, which built the reservoir to providing cooling water for its power plant.

For those who live in the region, Thomas Hill Reservoir is best known for its excellent fishery and birders flock to the lake to observe resident and migrant bald eagles, gulls, terns and waterfowl.  Today, accompanied by a friend and fellow birder, I had the opportunity to view several sections of the reservoir; there we observed two large rafts of lesser scaup, joined by smaller flocks of buffleheads, coot, hooded mergansers, redheads and northern shovelers.  A large number of Bonaparte's gulls wheeled above or settled on the choppy waters and small groups of pied-billed grebes foraged in the shallows.  Other sightings included two bald eagles, a red-shouldered hawk, a northern harrier, great blue herons, ring-billed gulls, double-crested cormorants, killdeer, Wilson's snipe, mallards and a lone northern pintail.

A unique feature of Thomas Hill Reservoir is a warm channel near the power plant that remains open through the winter months.  This unnatural hot-tub concentrates wintering waterfowl and is always a good place to look for rare vagrants that might wander into north-central Missouri.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Ruckus of Robins

On this raw November morning, a large congregation of American robins had taken over part of the Columbia Audubon Sanctuary.  Concentrated along the creek, the massive flock created both a visual and an auditory spectacle.

Flying between the stream and the surrounding trees, the robins attracted many other species, including a large flock of cedar waxwings.  The sudden appearance of a barred owl only added to the frenzy, drawing in a blue jay posse that soon dislodged the raptor with their raucous calls.  Other attendees included a yellow-rumped warbler and a ruby-crowned kinglet among more common avian residents.

Non-birders associate American residents with their well-trimmed lawns where these common thrushes hop about, stalking earthworms.  But during the winter months, when the surface soil hardens and the worms move to deeper layers, robins gather in large flocks that wander about, feasting on berries or scouring the soggy soil of wooded marshlands.  This morning's chilly, damp weather surely intensified their activity.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Since the rain had stopped and sunshine returned to northeastern Ohio, my wife and I headed over to Cuyahoga Valley National Park this morning.  Formerly a National Recreation Area, established in 1974, the preserve became a National Park in 2000; the refuge stretches along 22 miles of "the Crooked River" Valley, between Akron and Cleveland.

Entering via westbound 303, west of Hudson, we first stopped at the Happy Days parking area and hiked southward and upward to the magnificent Ledges, outcrops of Pennsylvanian Sharon Conglomerate that offer broad views of the Cuyahoga Valley.  Heading north along the River, we then stopped at the Boston Mills Visitor Center before heading over to Brandywine Falls near the east edge of the Park where a wooden stairway offers spectacular views of the cascade.  After a lunch in Brecksville Station, we continued northward along the Cuyahoga and then climbed eastward through the scenic gorge of Tinkers Creek, where overlooks, scenic waterfalls and picnic areas are connected by a hike-bike trail.

The Buckeye Trail cuts through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Towpath Trail follows the Ohio & Erie Canal that parallels the river from Cleveland to Akron; constructed in 1827, the canal was abandoned as railroads offered more efficient freight transportation in the 1860s.  In addition to the scenic topography, interesting geology and historical features of the Park, stands of Canadian hemlock (remnants of the Pleistocene) mix with the hardwood forest, offering a rich diversity of habitat for resident wildlife.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Kent State Wetlands

Obtained from the Frank family in 1967, Stark Pond has since become the centerpiece of an Environmental Education Center at Kent State University, characterized by riparian woodlands, cattail marshes and spring fed ponds.  The 200 acre refuge, accessed by a paved hike-bike trail, stretches along the southeast edge of the campus.

Today, I used that trail to explore the wetland.  Despite the cool, cloudy weather, I encountered an excellent variety of birds, including wood ducks, gadwall, pied-billed grebes and a host of songbirds; among the latter were white-throated and song sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays.  American robins were especially common in the riparian woodlands, feasting on berries, insects and earthworms.

The highlight of my visit was a red-shouldered hawk, surveying the scene from a dead tree.  Often associated with marshlands, this buteo typically hunts from a perch, looking for small mammals, snakes and a variety of amphibians.  Huddled in the chilly air, he was clearly the king of this wetland.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Autumn at Sandy Lake

We have returned to my wife's family cottage on Sandy Lake in northeastern Ohio.  Autumn colors are peaking though a gray overcast and intermittent showers have cast a pall on the annual display.

Hiking around the lake this afternoon, I encountered the usual mix of permanent and winter residents, including mallards, great blue herons, belted kingfishers, red-bellied woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees and dark-eyed juncos.  A tardy double-crested cormorant was fishing on the choppy waters and blue jays were especially numerous and conspicuous in the lakeside woodlands.  Ospreys, common here during the warmer months, have apparently departed for warmer climes and bald eagles, present throughout the year, did not make an appearance on this mild, cloudy day.  The highlight of my walk was a lone golden-crowned kinglet, foraging in thickets along the inlet canal.

We'll spend a few days here before returning to Missouri and I hope to visit other birding hotspots before we leave town.  More on those excursions in the coming days.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Return to Eagle Bluffs

After a three month hiatus, I returned to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning.  Arriving just before dawn, I first encountered large, restless flocks of red-winged blackbirds and a lone flock of common grackles.

Mallards were abundant on the flooded fields, ponds and central channel, joined by a fair number of American coot, nine pied-billed grebes, a small group of northern shovelers and a single northern pintail.  Two bald eagles, a pair of northern harriers and a red-tailed hawk patrolled the Missouri floodplain refuge, great blue herons stalked the shallows and two belted kingfishers noisily hunted along the channel.  Killdeer, the only shorebirds encountered this morning, foraged on the mudflats while song, savannah and white-crowned sparrows were common along the roadways, joined by eastern bluebirds and American goldfinches.

Unfortunately, the southern half of Eagle Bluffs has already been closed to the public (to provide refuge for wintering waterfowl) and most of the northern half will soon be reserved for those humans who hope to kill them.  Such is the nature of modern Conservation Areas. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Merlin Weather

As the clouds thickened, the north wind intensified and light snow fell in the frigid afternoon air, a merlin appeared on our farm yesterday.  These small, dark falcons breed across Alaska, Canada and the Northern Rockies and their appearance each fall often coincides with the first bout of winter weather.

During the colder months, merlins are fairly common across the Western U.S. and in coastal areas of the Southeast; there they favor open country with nearby trees where they feast on songbirds and shorebirds.  Often hunting from a perch, these small but powerful raptors chase prey as they scatter into the air, snaring a victim in flight.

Yesterday's visitor had perched in a leafless locust tree overlooking our front "lawn" and a small pasture.  Unfortunately, his presence drew the attention of black-billed magpies that harassed him with their raucous squawks and the falcon soon disappeared into the gray, snowy sky.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Front Range Nosedive

Yesterday afternoon, the high temperature in Metro Denver reached 86 degrees F, far too warm for late October.  When such extreme weather events occur, they often presage a coming change and our summer-like heat was no exception.

Mild conditions persisted this morning and the temperature at dawn was 63 degrees.  However, a light north breeze was evident and, by 11AM, the temperature had fallen to 51 degrees under partly cloudy skies.  An hour later, the wind kicked up and clouds moved in; by 1PM, it was 42 degrees.  Throughout the afternoon, the gray overcast thickened and the temperature continued to fall; by 5PM, it was 35 degrees and light snow flurries danced in the north wind.  We expect an overnight low of 26 degrees F, a drop of 60 degrees over 36 hours.

The culprit for our temperature nosedive is an atmospheric trough, dropping across the Great Plains.  Blizzard conditions have developed in North Dakota and Minnesota is experiencing its first significant snow accumulation of the year.  Since we are on the west edge of the trough and since we are not receiving classic northeasterly upslope winds, our snowfall is expected to be minimal and temperatures along the Colorado Front Range should rebound quickly in the coming days.  Indeed, we expect a high near seventy on Sunday.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Power of Love Denied

Except for those who marry their high school sweetheart and live happily-ever-after, most humans experience love affairs that, for whatever reason, do not work out.  Though we go on to marry or live with someone else, that unrequited love haunts our life.

Unlike the love that leads to marriage, its intensity is never tainted by the stress and challenges that come with balancing our careers and family life.  Rather, it is forever associated with our youth, when we were free and blissfully unaware of the emotional turmoil that lay ahead.  Embellished over the years, the failed relationship resurfaces in our memories, fueling nostalgia and causing us to question the choices that we made.

Of course, had that youthful romance led to marriage, someone else would now represent the love we were denied; it is the nature of the human condition.  Indeed, deep down, we may know that the past relationship would not have lasted but love is immune to intellectual reasoning.  The pain of love denied is a powerful and unrelenting emotion.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Defense of Millennials

Millennials, loosely defined as those humans born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, get a bad rap, usually related to a tendency to focus on their personal needs.  While they have been referred to as the "Me Generation," I seem to recall similar sentiments directed at my generation, the Baby Boomers, many of whom opposed the Vietnam War and thus shunned military service.

As a social liberal and environmentalist, I admire Millennials for a number of reasons.  They seem to be less focused on personal consumption, preferring to live in urban condos or apartments,  to use mass transit and to forego high-priced clothing, upscale restaurants and automobiles.  Socially conscious, they are avid volunteers, oppose racism, defend the rights of the LGBT community and generally loathe Trump's anti-global policies.  Finally, Millennials have demonstrated less susceptibility to mysticism (i.e. religion), the major threat to science, environmentalism and human enlightenment across our planet.

Growing up in the digital age and confronted with the economic challenges created by the Great Recession, Millennials have a unique perspective on both the problems facing humanity and on the potential opportunities that technology offers in dealing with them.  Youth will always remain a beacon of hope for our species and I have faith in Millennials; they know how to co-exist!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Autumn Roars Back

After a week of summer-like weather in Metro Denver, a potent cold front dipped across the Front Range overnight, raking the trees and rattling the windows.  The winds brought in clear, crisp Canadian air and our afternoon high will be twenty degrees (F) cooler than it was yesterday.

High pressure behind the front has settled over the upper limits of the Great Basin and will produce Santa Ana winds across Southern California in the coming days.  Meanwhile, the cold front continues to march eastward and will clash with warm, humid air flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico; this collision will ignite a band of strong thunderstorms across the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest.

Our dose of autumn will be brief and summer warmth will return tomorrow, persisting for several days before snow arrives late in the week.  One sign of our gradual transition to winter has been the annual return of a Harlan's hawk to our Littleton farm; after breeding in Alaska and Western Canada, this dark subspecies of the red-tailed hawk winters across the Southern Plains, from Colorado to West Texas (see Welcome Back Harly!).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Invasion of Blackbirds

Yesterday afternoon, at about 3:45 PM, the vanguard arrived on our Littleton farm.  Twelve common grackles gathered beneath the feeders, feasting on fallen seed.

Over the next hour, their activity and calls attracted other blackbirds that were passing through the area and a full invasion was underway.  Peak numbers reached about 70 grackles, 50 red-winged blackbirds and six black-billed magpies.  The noise was deafening as the skittish birds intermittently scattered into nearby trees and then returned to the feeding area; some began to spread into the adjacent fields while others clamored for spots along or within the bird bath.  Meanwhile, a few mourning doves, oblivious of the frenzy around them, waddled among the blackbirds, searching for overlooked seed.

Suburban homeowners, farmers and many birders are not terribly fond of blackbirds, whether they be European starlings, common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds or other less common, regional species.  But these noisy and aggressive birds consume uncountable weed seeds, grubs and insect pests in addition to the grain and bird seed that they scavenge.  Nevertheless, when they invade our property in large, noisy flocks, it can be difficult to appreciate their role in nature.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Morning Spectacle

Sometimes, taking out the garbage before dawn can be a rewarding experience.  This morning, a Cheshire Moon smiled in the eastern sky, just above the bright beacon of Venus.

To the SSW, Orion gleamed through the crisp, crystal-clear air and Sirius, the brightest star from Earth, trailed to its east.  The cluster of the Pleiades was high in the western sky, while the zig-zag of Cassiopeia cut through the darkness to the northwest and the well-known Big Dipper hung to the southeast.  As if to add an exclamation point, a meteor streaked across the southern sky.

One is both inspired and humbled by the night sky which reminds us that, contrary to long-held beliefs, our planet is but a speck in the massive Universe.  The Constellations, which change with the seasons, now confirm that we are approaching the cusp of winter; indeed, the appearance of Orion coincides with the cool, crisp air of autumn and the Hunter will dominate the southern sky through the frigid nights ahead.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

California's Firestorm

Last winter, when heavy snows fell across the Sierra Nevada and soaking rains caused flooding in the lowlands, one might have concluded that California's multi-year drought had finally come to an end.  Indeed, the drought-severity map improved significantly and concerns about the water supply for cities and agriculture were temporarily ignored.  Then came the dry season.

New vegetation growth, fueled by the copious winter precipitation, brought greenery to the semi-arid landscape.  As summer progressed, however, the relentless sun and dry air took a toll on this plant fuel and, combined with an abundant supply of dry timber from years of drought and fire suppression, the stage was set for an October inferno.  Low humidity, typical in early autumn, and strong offshore winds, triggered by high pressure over the Great Basin, have also been major factors in both the intensity and speed of the deadly wildfires.

Those who live in semi-arid regions (including the Colorado Front Range) know that periods of heavy precipitation are but temporary reprieves for a landscape that has long been shaped and renewed by wildfire.  The dry air and abundant sunshine offer an attractive setting for an outdoors lifestyle but come with a risk that is currently all-too-evident in the wine country of Northern California.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Waterfowl Migration Picks Up

Down at South Platte Park this morning, the diversity of waterfowl had significantly increased.  While the number of mallards and Canada geese was below normal, American widgeon remained the most abundant species, followed by gadwalls, American coot and pied-billed grebes.

Making their first appearance were a dozen or so green-winged teal, a pair of ruddy ducks and a lone northern pintail; among the common winter ducks yet to arrive are buffleheads, common goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks and scaup (both lesser and greater).  Though common mergansers are permanent residents here and a few hooded mergansers have been encountered in recent weeks, they were not observed today.

As our climate warms, the autumn waterfowl migration will likely occur later in the year (as I have noted in recent years); unlike songbirds, which migrate in response to the daylight cycle, waterfowl move south in concert with the availability of open water and food.  Perhaps our recent cold front, which brought snow to the Front Range, is responsible for this first wave of migrants but, since warm weather has returned to the West, we may have to wait a while for their cohorts.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Faith & Comfort

Religious persons rely on their faith for comfort during personal or family tragedies; even some agnostics "find religion" when faced with a fatal illness or life-threatening injury.  Some of us, however, not enamored with mysticism, prefer to rely on science, human resilience and human kindness for that comfort rather than on the intervention of a vindictive and mysterious god.

Though many admire the emotional support that believers receive from their faith, they must also acknowledge that religion fosters intolerance, discrimination and self-righteousness among the faithful, leading to social injustice, the degradation of human rights and, too often, war.  Their personal comfort cannot be divorced from the unnecessary suffering that religious faith has long spawned across the globe.

No religion is benign.  Each instills mystical beliefs, usually ingrained in childhood, that taint the believer's view of science and thereby threaten the welfare of our civilization and our planet.  Comfort can be achieved with truth and kindness; it need not rely on the promises of ancient mysticism. (See also The Church of Kindness). 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bugling in the Sky

Yesterday afternoon, during my daily exploration of our farm, I heard the distant bugling of sandhill cranes.  Scouring the clear blue sky, I eventually located the flock, containing about sixty birds.  Unfortunately, the high-flying migrants had already moved off to the south and their rattling bugles rapidly faded.

While Rocky Mountain sandhill cranes (which breed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) migrate through the San Luis Valley and winter in New Mexico, this morning's flock was likely composed of lesser sandhill cranes, which breed across Siberia, Alaska and Canada and winter in eastern New Mexico, West Texas and Mexico (see Wintering Cranes).

Whatever their destination, I appreciated their journey above our Littleton farm.  Indeed, while I have encountered numerous migrant cranes on the Great Plains (see Cranes over Kansas), this was the first flock I have seen (and heard) so close to the Front Range.  I'll be sure to listen for others in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unfriendly People

As one who hikes frequently, I often encounter other individuals along the trail; many have their dog, some are talking into their cell phone and a few, like me, are paying attention to the landscape, fauna and flora.  Most of these persons are friendly, smiling, nodding or offering a brief greeting in response to my own comment.

However, a small but significant percentage of those encountered (usually males) offer no sign that they are aware of my presence and do not respond to my greeting; some stare at me but neither speak nor smile, seeming to express that they resent my presence.  Of course, some of these unfriendly people are socially awkward due to extreme shyness, autism or other psycho-social malady but I suspect most are just plain anti-social people.

It is the later group that worries me.  What percentage of mankind has no interest in or civility toward persons they do not know?  One doubts that they are capable of kindness and one suspects that they would never come to the aid of a stranger in distress.  One hopes that these anti-social traits are recognized by family and friends who will encourage the individual to seek counseling before their apparent disdain for strangers leads to violence.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

An Upslope Sea

As I flew into Denver this morning, a sea of whitecaps stretched above Northeastern Colorado, lapping against the high wall of the Front Range to the west; lit from above by bright sunshine and a dome of brilliant blue sky, the white sea hid the High Plains below.  On our final descent, we entered its dense mist, flying through a milk-white atmosphere for almost twenty minutes before dipping below its undersurface a hundred feet above the ground; there we encountered heavy, wet snow and a wintry landscape.

On the heels of a sunny, warm weekend, a cold front dipped across Northeastern Colorado last night.  Behind that front, cold, Canadian air swept Great Plains moisture toward the Front Range; as that moist air was forced to rise by the landscape, it was chilled below its dew point and several inches of snow fell along the urban corridor.

While many Front Range residents are familiar with upslope snowstorms, which are especially common in March and April, relatively few get to witness their dynamics from above, whether from the high peaks of the Front Range or from an aircraft.  Indeed, the opportunity to fly greatly expands both our appreciation of landscapes and our understanding of the weather systems that mold them.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Autumn of the Painted Ladies

Painted ladies, the most widely dispersed butterflies on our planet, have been abundant along the Front Range urban corridor this fall.  According to regional lepidopterists, their numbers peaked in mid September but they are still numerous on our Littleton farm and, two days ago, local radar picked up a massive flight of these migrants.

Summering across central latitudes of the Americas, Africa and Eurasia, painted ladies often lay their eggs on thistles and are thus also known as thistle butterflies.  Their caterpillars feed on those plants while the adults feast on nectar from a wide variety of cultivars and wildflowers; among the latter are sunflowers, asters and rabbitbrush that bloom during their late summer and early fall migration.

Those funneling south along the base of the Front Range are headed for the Desert Southwest where they'll spend the winter.  Their abundance this year reflects a very successful breeding season, a product of good weather conditions and an abundance of the plants on which the painted ladies and their larvae feed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A White-Crowned Visitor

This morning, a lone white-crowned sparrow stopped by our farm, foraging beneath the feeders with a number of permanent residents.  After nesting near timberline across the Front Range, these hardy songbirds move to lower elevations for the winter, preferring open fields and grasslands with nearby shrubs and thickets.  Some spend the winter on the Colorado Piedmont but most head for the Southern Plains.

Unlike many sparrows, white-crowns are omnivorous, consuming seeds, insects and berries.  Usually encountered in flocks during the colder months, they scour clearings, escaping to thickets or hedgerows if threatened by predators.  Abandoned farmlands offer ideal habitat for these sparrows and they are often observed along fence lines on country roads.

Today's visitor was surely the first of many to drop by our farm in the coming months but their numbers along the Front Range urban corridor usually peak in early May as migrants await snowmelt in their lofty breeding grounds.  Those not heading for the high terrain of the Western Mountains will continue northward to nest on the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Voting with our Wallets

Following the greatest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, appropriate gun laws will likely fail to be enacted once again, thanks to the powerful lobby of the NRA and the lack of courage in the U.S. Congress.  This does not mean that sane Americans cannot take action.

Money talks in the U.S. and policies change if companies, States and cities are placed under economic pressure by those who oppose liberal gun laws.  We can boycott stores that sell semi-automatic rifles and the ammunition that they require.  We can shift vacation plans to regions of the country (or globe) that impose reasonable gun control.  We can make sure that we are not actively or passively investing in companies that produce these deadly weapons and we can actively support politicians who have the fortitude to oppose the gun lobby.

Of course, voting for courageous statesmen is important in the long run but voting with our wallets is something we can do each and every day.  As deadly shootings continue to plague our cities (there are more gun deaths in America each day than occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday), there is no time to waste.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Leaving Nature Alone

A couple of days ago, I took my ten year-old grandson on a birding walk at South Platte Park.  It was a beautiful, early autumn morning and we were fortunate to observe a large variety of species; among the highlights were an osprey, a large flock of American wigeon, hooded mergansers, a snowy egret and a great horned owl.

Crossing a stream, we encountered a butterfly that had become trapped in the water.  Responding to his empathetic instincts, my grandson pulled it from the creek and placed the insect on a rock to dry, thereby saving its life.  That proved to be a teaching moment and we discussed the positive and negative effects of rescuing wild creatures.

While I admired his compassion, I did point out the ramifications of interfering with nature's web of life.  As a naturalist, I am committed to limiting my impact on natural ecosystems, including resisting the impulse to rescue wild animals that succumb to or are threatened by natural forces.  Unless the creature's plight directly results from human activities or structures (e.g. turtles on highways), I am inclined to let nature take its course.  This may seem to be a cruel approach but the more we interfere with nature the more problems we tend to create.  In my opinion, we humans should focus on protecting natural habitat and minimizing our impact on both the health and the function of natural ecosystems.  The less we get involved the better. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pinnacle of the Year

It's October, the pinnacle of nature's year across central latitudes of North America.  Of course, this is my personal opinion but I suspect that many if not most naturalists would agree.

October days tend to be mild, sunny and dry while the star-filled nights are usually clear and crisp.  Many of our summer songbirds have yet to leave while winter species begin to arrive.  Out on our lakes and wetlands, the autumn tide of migrant waterfowl picks up steam and, in our woodlands and forests, the fall rut is underway for large herbivores.  The colorful foliage of the month, contrasting with a bright blue sky, invites everyone to explore the great outdoors where a fabulous diversity of wildlife is preparing for the winter months.

No doubt, many humans prefer spring, when nature recovers from winter, flowers adorn the landscape and the warm days of summer lie ahead.  But I'll take October, a choice that has persisted since childhood and seems even more appropriate as I've entered the autumn of my life.  Winter may loom on the horizon but its threat makes the pleasant days of October even more inviting.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Changing Face of Earth

Since forming from molten stardust some 4.6 billion years ago, the face of our planet has been constantly changing.  The earliest Continents had no resemblance to those we find today and have changed their size, shape and position as they have been rifted apart and sutured together by the opening and closing of oceans.  Of course, that process continues today but is too gradual to be noticed during our short life spans; hints of that relentless activity are offered by observable rift zones and the earthquakes that result from the collision, lateral scraping or subduction of Earth's tectonic plates.

Today's surface geography has only settled into place over the last 50 million years or so, a very brief period in Earth's natural history.  While volcanic islands continue to appear and Continental shorelines expanded and contracted throughout the Pleistocene (2 million to 10 thousand years ago), humans did not have the technology to adequately map and view our planet's surface until the last few centuries.

Indeed, the coming generations will be the first in human history to directly observe the changing face of Earth as our climate warms, sea levels rise and coastal geography changes dramatically.  Hopefully, that reality will ignite a more fervent commitment to minimize human impact on both the atmosphere and the natural ecosystems of our home planet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Mountain Visitor

Anyone who has traveled through the mountains of Western North America has likely encountered Steller's jays.  Represented by several subspecies, these conspicuous birds are adorned with a black head and crest, contrasting with the blue plumage of their body and wings.  Their loud, raucous calls often bring attention to their presence.

Along the Colorado Front Range, Steller's jays are common residents of subalpine forests across the mountains and of the ponderosa pine-Douglas fir woodlands of the upper foothills.  While they are occasionally observed along the base of the foothills, these noisy omnivores seldom venture onto the adjacent Piedmont except when heavy winter snows blanket the higher terrain.

Yesterday, a lone Steller's jay appeared on our Littleton farm, feeding with a group of blue jays; he was the first to turn up here during the non-winter months.  Perhaps the first mountain snows of the season forced him down or maybe he's just an adventurous individual.  Whatever the cause for his visit, he was more than welcome, reminding me that attentive naturalists are often rewarded with unexpected sightings. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Out of the Gloom

After several days of a low, gray overcast, chilly air and intermittent showers, the clouds have pulled away from the Front Range this morning, revealing the first thick blanket of snow across the higher peaks.  Down here on the Piedmont, the sunshine and mild temperatures were inviting after the gloomy period and the precipitation had softened the landscape.

Surveying the farm this morning, I encountered the usual mix of avian residents but also came across a rock wren, foraging on one of the woodpiles; he was the first I have seen on the property since we purchased it in 1990.  Of course, his presence only added to the joy that the pleasant weather had brought.

The atmospheric trough that produced our cool, rainy conditions is pushing eastward across the Great Plains and warmer, drier air will soon move in from the Southwest.  On the backside of the trough, those air masses will clash and thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow afternoon.  By the weekend, however, we expect sunny skies and highs in the seventies (F). 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Leadership by Bullhorn

Donald Trump has little respect for anyone but himself.  Wallowing in his pool of self importance, he sends out tweets deriding his staff, fellow Republicans, foreign leaders, civil rights advocates and, this week, professional athletes.  Still campaigning in regions of the country that adore his in-your-face style, Trump attacks critics and opponents with zeal, shunning the decorum expected of American Presidents.

This leadership by bullhorn is both divisive and ineffective, as evidenced by his near total lack of achievements to date.  Limited to signing executive orders, Trump remains at the mercy of the Legislative and Judicial Branches which, hopefully, will keep this bombastic narcissist from destroying America's image across the globe.  Why the Republican leadership has not been more vocal in criticizing this wayward President is almost as disturbing as Trump's behavior itself.

Of course, The Donald could care less what the rest of us think.  He is all about himself and speaks only to his poorly educated, provincially-minded, racist base.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Chill Alarm

The first chilly weather of late summer or early autumn certainly catches the attention of humans and wildlife alike.  After months of hot weather, it is a welcome reprieve for both but it is of more significance to our wild neighbors.

Though animal behavior is most closely tied to the daylight cycle, the cool weather is an instinctive alarm that the harsh months of winter lie ahead and that harvesting is now especially important.  That may mean putting on a layer of fat for hibernation, fueling up for migration or storing food in dens or natural cavities for the lean months.  In response to this seasonal alarm, wildlife species become more active and conspicuous, delighting many humans who are also invigorated by the chill.

Last night, our low temperature dropped into the mid forties (F), kicking on the furnace for the first time since April; the first prolonged run of chilly weather is expected to arrive by this weekend.  This morning, I toured the farm, taking in the cool fresh air and watching our resident birds and mammals as they began their initial preparations for winter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hurricanes send a Message

After enduring widespread destruction from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, North Americans and residents of the Caribbean now face Hurricane Maria, churning toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  Just upgraded to a category 5 storm, Maria has become the third major hurricane to threaten the region within the past month.

While much of our focus has centered on evacuation and recovery, the elephant in the room is global warming which may not increase the frequency of hurricanes but will surely augment their intensity.  Tropical storms and hurricanes are heat machines, fueled by warm ocean waters and the hot, humid air into which they move.  Global warming will increase all three factors as sea temperatures rise and a warming atmosphere retains more water vapor.

Unfortunately, while many industrialists and politicians appreciate the technology that predicts the path and intensity of hurricanes, they reject the science of climate change.  Few cities are planning for a warmer climate and politicians continue to fight over funding for infrastructure.  The message sent by these powerful storms should resonate across the globe; few if any regions of the planet will be immune to the effects of a warming climate. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Apache Jumping Spiders

Sitting on a railroad tie along one of our flower beds, I looked down to see a small group of jumping spiders in the dry, weedy grass.  Yellow-orange patches on their cephalothorax and abdomen indicated that they were female Apache jumping spiders, a species common across central latitudes of the U.S.

Like all jumping spiders, they have excellent vision, provided by four pair of eyes (including a large, dominant pair).  Foraging in the bright sunshine, they search for a wide variety of small insects and will return to their den if clouds role in.  Unlike many spiders, jumping spiders do not spin webs but do use silk to create a nest for their young or a cozy retreat for themselves; the nest is typically placed in a protected crevice among rocks or logs.  The life span of these small, active arachnids is generally about one year; Apache jumping spiders overwinter in their immature stage.

It is always interesting to come across small creatures that, if not for sheer luck, might otherwise go unnoticed.  Some landscapes, such as our weedy, dry "lawns", would not seem attractive to many species of wildlife; but, if we stop and look, we are often surprised to discover an amazing diversity of fascinating creatures.  Backyard safaris are often rewarding.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Borrowing Genes

All life forms on this planet, from fruit flies to humans, borrow genes that determine their physical and behavioral traits.  Having received half of their genome from each parent via sexual reproduction (or all of it in lower forms that are asexual), the genes are a blueprint for our structure and the biochemical processes that sustain life.  Many human genes date back to ancestral primates, having persisted through natural selection during 60 million years of evolution.

Unfortunately, some genes are harmful or corrupted, producing disease or failing to block disease processes; most of these bad genes were inherited while some mutated from good genes during our lives.  We have long used medication and surgery to deal with the effects of this "malware" in our chromosomes and are just now beginning to use gene therapy to correct the defects in our genome.

In the course of our lives, we may pass along some of our genes to biologic children, including some that may threaten their health.  As the saying goes, "we cannot choose our parents" and we are subject to any deleterious genes that we inherit.  Finally, upon our death, a sizable fragment of our genome persists in our biologic children; the rest is removed from the genome of our species, never to be returned.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Engaging North Korea

Despite the saber-rattling and bombastic threats from the two narcissistic leaders, neither North Korea nor the United States has anything to gain from a military confrontation.  Though some war hawks in Congress are pushing for a tough stance, diplomatic engagement is the best answer in the long run.

It may be difficult to demonstrate respect for a dictator who brain washes and oppresses his citizens but we cannot encourage change by isolating and ridiculing Kim Jong Un.  Efforts to bring North Korea into the world economy will produce opportunities to shine light on the inequities that exist in that country and better introduce its population to the freedoms enjoyed in Western Society.

If Kim Jong Un is granted a more significant role on the world stage and if other major players initiate diplomatic relations with North Korea, we should be able to avoid military conflict and eventually bring that country into the international community.  Warfare, on the other hand, will lead to the death of thousands (if not millions) of innocent civilians.  See also War and Speech.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Second Coming of Man

Earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago, some 9 billion years after the Big Bang.  Life would appear on our planet a billion years later but would not emerge from the sea until 440 million years ago.  Primates evolved about 60 million years ago and the first hominins appeared about 5 million years ago; finally, modern man graced the scene about 150,000 years ago.

While our species had a limited effect on natural ecosystems for most of our history, we began to significantly pollute the planet over the last few centuries.  Fouling the air, water and soil, we have also altered the climate through our widespread use of fossil fuels.  There is a reasonable probability that Earth may become uninhabitable within a few more centuries unless we make major strides in the areas of population control and pollution curtailment.  Of course, supervolcanic eruptions, asteroid strikes and nuclear war could also play a role in our extinction.

Many humans envision that we will escape to other planets or other solar systems before our species is annihilated.  More likely, it seems to me, we will fall victim to our lack of stewardship, perhaps aggravated by natural catastrophe, and, in our absence, nature will heal herself.  Hundreds of millions of years later, assuming the sun has not yet begun to die, we may re-evolve from "lower species" that managed to survive the turmoil on Earth.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Irma's Fury becomes Personal

As I write this post, Hurricane Irma is still meandering WNW along the northern coast of Cuba.  The most recent computer models suggest that it will soon turn north, slamming the Florida Keys, hugging the west coast of Florida and sparing Metro Miami.  In concert, celebrity reporters and weathermen are racing across the peninsula to be close to the action.

Anyone who has read this blog, even on a casual basis, likely knows that my wife and I own a condo on Longboat Key, off Sarasota.  It now appears that it will incur significant damage but we are fortunate that we have other homes and that none of our family members are currently using that property.  Since purchasing the condo, in 2003, we and our relatives have repeatedly enjoyed Longboat Key with nothing more serious than chilly weather to taint our vacations.

Of course, we always knew that the purchase was a risk and have never believed that public funds should be used to bail out those who choose to occupy barrier islands, river floodplains, volcanic slopes or other high risk zones.  Nature is not cruel but neither is she sentimental; if we do not respect her power or acknowledge the processes that culminated in her beautiful landscapes, we cannot complain when we suffer the consequences.  And when it comes to hurricanes, human-induced global warming will likely make them more frequent and more powerful.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Mexico's Subduction Quake

While the attention of most North Americans has been focused on Hurricane Irma, about to unleash her fury on Florida, a strong earthquake struck off the Pacific Coast of southern Mexico yesterday.  The magnitude 8.2 quake occurred along a subduction zone, where the Cocos Plate (a remnant of the massive Farallon Plate) is dipping beneath the North American Plate; unfortunately, at least 58 persons were killed by the earthquake.

In such subduction zones, the edge of the over-riding plate is pulled down by friction with the subducting plate.  Eventually, this edge rebounds upward, displacing a massive amount of seawater and often triggering a tsunami.  Fortunately, in this case, the latter did not develop.

As the North and South American Plates continue to drift westward in concert with the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, subduction of the Farallon remnants (the Juan de Fuca, Cocos and Nazca Plates, north to south) will continue, igniting volcanic ranges (the Cascades, Mexican volcanoes, Central American volcanoes and the Andes) as they melt and triggering earthquakes offshore that spread across the mainland.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Record-Setting Hurricane

Hurricane Irma, churning its way toward Florida, has pulverized a few Caribbean islands along the way.  Since it formed, in the tropical Atlantic, this storm has maintained a symmetrical structure and has not encountered obstacles to its development (wind shear, dry air, cold water or mountain ranges).  As a result, the massive hurricane achieved category 5 status and has retained that strength for more than twice as long as any Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.

Expected to pummel the Turks and Caicos today, the storm's center remained north of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and will likely miss Cuba as Irma continues to track to the WNW.  The Bahamas will soon feel its leading edge and a hurricane warning has now been posted for Southeast Florida and the Florida Keys.

An atmospheric trough to the north, combined with a large dome of high pressure over the mid Atlantic, will eventually steer Irma northward.  When and where it makes that turn will make all the difference to residents of Florida, southern Georgia and the Carolinas.  We should know within 48 hours. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Pumpkin Moon

Over the last few days, as the waxing moon approached its full stage, our lone natural satellite has taken on an orange hue here in Metro Denver.  Looking like a giant pumpkin, it has hovered over the Eastern Plains in early evening and loomed above the Front Range peaks at sunrise.

The cause for its beautiful yet mysterious appearance is simple.  The moonlight is shining through a smoky haze that has settled across the Colorado Piedmont.  Extensive wildfires in Idaho and Montana are the source of the smoke, which moved southward within an atmospheric trough.  While the latter brought welcome, cooler air to the urban corridor, the smoke has greatly diminished the visibility and has produced a significant health risk for those with pulmonary disease.

While the wildfires continue to burn, winds are expected to shift back to the southwest in the coming days, bringing heat back to the Front Range but clearing out the smoke.  Of course, our pumpkin moon will then lose its colorful tinge.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Scrub Jay visits the Farm

Woodhouse's scrub jays are common, permanent residents of the Mountain West, from Nevada to Mexico.  Here along the Colorado Front Range, they are primarily found on the shrublands of the lower foothills and, until yesterday, I had not observed one on our Littleton farm.

While reading at the edge of our driveway, I was startled by the jay as he wandered out from the shrub-lined "lawn," picking at the asphalt in search of food.  After a minute or so, he flew off to our grove of pinyon pines and then headed south.

Like most jays, scrub jays are noisy, aggressive and omnivorous birds; unlike some species, they are usually found alone or in pairs.  They lack the distinctive crest of blue jays (a common permanent resident on the farm) and Steller's jays (an occasional winter visitor here).  Perhaps, like red-breasted nuthatches and lesser goldfinches, they'll become new, year-round residents on our property.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Laborers in America

American laborers generally come from the lower and middle classes; their income is but a small fraction of those in the upper class.  Many laborers have more than one job and few can afford to have their spouse stay home with the kids.  They don't belong to fitness clubs and rarely eat out.

Laborers work at country clubs and resorts but cannot afford to use those facilities.  Some work at professional sports stadiums but could never afford to attend the games.  Laborers avoid toll lanes and reserved parking lots.  They often use mass transit and, while they may load your plane or cruise ship, they could not afford the journey.

Many laborers are guest workers.  They pick our crops, repair our highways, cut our lawns and build our homes.  They take on jobs that more affluent Americans would never consider.  And when they're done, we send them back.  Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September Heat

By September, the longer nights bring chilly mornings to the Front Range cities and, in most years, afternoon highs drop into the 70s F.  In fact, the first snow of the season often dusts the urban corridor before September ends.  This year, however, summer heat is slow to abate.

A ridge of high pressure, the same that blocked Harvey from moving inland, remains in place over the American West.  Deflecting Pacific fronts across the Northern States and blocking the Southwest Monsoon that usually brings rain in August and September, this atmospheric dome is prolonging the summer season and putting the cool, crisp days of autumn on hold.

For those of us who relish the invigoration that autumn brings, this static pattern is less than welcome and may portend a seasonal change that global warming will bring.  Until the jet stream dips across our region, we'll have to rely on migrant songbirds to provide reassurance that the seasons are changing; as in recent years, the waterfowl will likely be in no hurry to come south.  We can only hope that chilly air will arrive in time to spark the glorious colors of October.