Saturday, December 29, 2018

Frugality & Conservation

As we know, not everyone is an environmentalist; just look at the damage that Trump and his legions are unleashing on natural ecosystems.  Yet, many who deny global warming or turn a blind eye to industrial pollution help to combat climate change and habitat destruction in other ways.

Humans who are frugal by nature have less impact on the environment.  By limiting their energy use and personal consumption, they are playing an important role in protecting our planet.  They may not openly support environmental regulations or donate to conservation organizations but they may be doing more to limit human impact than many citizens who are vocal conservationists.  Too often, we humans march or write checks to demonstrate our environmentalism while ignoring the effects of our own consumerism.

Perhaps we should be putting more emphasis on personal behavior than on the policies of close-minded politicians.  On the other hand, we can and should do both.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Brief December Spring

A potent winter storm, currently centered over northwest Missouri, is dropping heavy snow across the Northern and Central Plains.  Ahead of its cold front, spring-like weather has invaded central Missouri, courtesy of strong southeasterly winds that have brought mild, humid Gulf of Mexico air into the Heartland.

Heavy rains fell last night, leaving shallow pools across the regional farmlands, and the southerly flow has continued today, pushing afternoon highs into the lower sixties (F).  Our late December spring will be short-lived, however, as the cold front sweeps through the area this evening.  While we are expected to escape the snow, highs will remain in the thirties for much of the week.

Usually, the jet stream settles into a "zonal flow" by winter, preventing wide swings in the temperature range across Temperate Latitudes.  As our climate warms, however, a less stable jet stream appears likely and bouts of spring in winter will surely become more common.  What effects that will have on Temperate ecosystems remains to be seen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Those Birdless Days

On this sunny, mild day in central Missouri, a friend and I visited three birding hotspots this morning; our total species count was seven.  This afternoon, my wife and I revisited one of those sites, adding another four species to the day's count.

Like medicine and meteorology, birding is an inexact human endeavor and expectations are not always met; the word "usually" is often employed.  The reason for such "birdless days" is not always evident; as veteran birders know, they can occur during any season of the year and under all weather conditions.  Perhaps atmospheric pressure has something to do with it!

On the other hand, one of the joys of birding is not knowing what to expect on any given day.  Patience, while certainly important, is not always rewarded.  Besides, birds and other wild creatures are not in the business of entertaining humans; we can only hope to observe their activity and our schedules do not always mesh.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Bobcat at Dawn

The Columbia Audubon Sanctuary is an excellent destination for wildlife viewing throughout the year.  On winter mornings, visitors are likely to see white-tailed deer, barred and great horned owls, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers and a large variety of songbirds.  This morning, just before dawn, I encountered a bobcat, which ducked into a wooded gully as I approached.

Recognized by their long legs and bobbed tail, these predators are found in forests, open woodlands, swamps and deserts across North America, from Southern Canada to Mexico; long common in the Ozarks of Missouri, they have been spreading northward and eastward in recent decades.  Bobcats feed primarily on small mammals and game birds and are most active at dawn and dusk; they often maintain several dens within their territory.

Solitary for most of the year, bobcats mate in mid-late winter and kittens are usually born in late April or May.  Weaned within a couple of months, they learn to hunt throughout the summer and then disperse by autumn, establishing their own territories.  Increasingly, those hunting grounds overlap with human communities but, like coyotes, bobcats have learned to adapt to urban environments and are more common and widespread than one might suspect.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Cold Moon at Dusk

Road trips are not always as interesting as we might hope, especially when they cross familiar terrain.  Returning to Missouri today, the journey across the Great Plains was far from exciting, despite the sunny, pleasant weather.

The dry winter landscape, relatively devoid of wildlife (except for numerous rough-legged hawks in Western Kansas) was not exactly scenic; indeed, only the rust-colored grasslands of the Flint Hills qualified for that designation.  However, as I crawled through Kansas City during rush hour, the full December moon rose in the twilight of dusk. 

Known as the Cold Moon, for obvious reasons, it is often especially bright as it gleams through the dry winter air.  More than a beautiful natural nightlight, the moon reminds us of Earth's violent birth and early history, when our lone satellite was ripped away from the molten planet during its collision with a smaller planetoid (some 4.6 billion years ago).  Pummeled and cratered by debris for millions of years, the moon gradually established its orbit but has since been drifting away.  As brilliant as it was today, the moon was much larger and brighter in appearance when dinosaurs roamed the planet and when our first primate ancestors explored Earth's ancient forests.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Winter Birding

Novice birders generally prefer the warmer months, when they can hike about in shorts, a T-shirt and a floppy sun hat, searching for colorful summer residents and visitors.  Of course, some choose a more sedate approach, observing birds from the comfort of their deck.

While veteran birders are not immune to such practices, we are familiar with the benefits of winter birding, when a large variety of seasonal residents arrive from more northern climes.  In addition to this influx, raptors, songbirds and woodpeckers are easier to locate in the barren trees and all species tend to be more active, driven by the need for calories during this challenging season.  We also know that winter is the best time to observe vagrants (that wander in from their usual ranges) or irruptive species, forced southward by a shortage of food across their northern homeland.  Finally, those birders who live near mountains enjoy the arrival of species that practice vertical migration, descending to more hospitable elevations during the winter months.

Winter birding, whether conducted from a picture window or out in a snowy wilderness can be more productive than many birders realize.  We humans may not be designed for winter weather but our avian neighbors and visitors are well equipped to thrive during nature's culling season. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Greenery of Winter

As we approach the winter solstice, much of the Temperate Zone landscape appears to be lifeless.  Brown, dry grasslands, barren deciduous trees and leafless thickets dominate the scene while the refuse of the growing season blows across our fields and lawns.  Fortunately, an exception is provided by the conifers, the evergreen trees and shrubs that adorn our parks, suburbs, farmlands and forests.

Here on our Littleton farm, we have a mix of conifers, including junipers, pinon pines, Austrian pines and a few spruce trees.  Providing greenery during the winter months, they also attract a wide variety of birds that utilize their shelter and feast on their berries and nuts.  Among these residents and visitors are red-breasted nuthatches, bushtits, cedar and Bohemian waxwings, pine siskins and other more common species.  The presence of these conifers also increases our chance to see mountain birds that may descend to lower elevations in winter; these include northern goshawks, Steller's jays, mountain chickadees, red crossbills, Cassin's finches and, in some years, evening grosbeaks.

The use of conifers for Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands, stems from the rituals of ancient man, who considered them signs of perpetual life and used them to fuel winter solstice bonfires to coax back the life-giving sun.  Even today, when we understand the solar cycle, the greenery of conifers offers hope through the dark, frigid months of winter.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Staying in Touch

My wife recently mentioned that we get less than a third of the Holiday cards that we once received and that at least half of them are from family members.  Of course, we also send out far fewer Holiday greetings than we did when we were younger.  Over the years, family responsibilities, career-related duties, relocations and, unfortunately, deaths, whittle away the number of friends with whom we stay in touch.  On the other hand, as we age, we come to appreciate the vital role that those friends played in our lives and we yearn to reconnect.

Partly for that reason, I decided to try the world's largest social media network earlier this year, giving myself six months to assess the benefit; I deleted my account within four months.  What I found was that most of the "friends" that I accumulated on that network would be best described as "past acquaintances" from high school, college and my various work locations over the years.  Most of my past good friends either don't use social media or use it primarily for family communication.  Needless to say, my social experiment was less than rewarding and it has become clear that a more personalized effort is in order.

I must admit that my children's generation is much better at staying in touch with close friends.  While this is partly due to their facility with social media, it also seems to reflect a commitment to remain close, including annual gatherings, reunions at weddings, etc. (to a degree that has not occurred in our generation).  Hopefully, that commitment will persist as they age and they will reap the benefits of close friendships when they may need them most.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Cackling Geese

On my walk along the South Platte this morning, I encountered a large flock of cackling geese, resting on the river.  Prior to 2004, these "small Canada geese" were considered to be subspecies of their larger cousins.  They are now classified as a separate species though they, themselves, are represented by several subspecies.

After nesting on the Arctic tundra of Northwest Canada and Alaska, cackling geese winter in the Pacific Coast States or in the south-central U.S.; their numbers seem to be increasing along the Colorado Front Range, both during migrations and throughout the winter.  When mingling with Canada geese, cackling geese are relatively easy to identify due to their smaller size, stubby bill, shorter neck and, in some subspecies, a white collar at the base of their neck.  They also have a higher-pitched call than Canada geese and, in my experience, tend to be calmer and quieter when resting on lakes or rivers.

Cackling geese are perhaps easiest to identify when flying at a distance.  While their coloration matches that of Canadas, their small size makes them look more like ducks than geese.  Should the flock approach your location, their higher-pitched calls confirm the identification.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When Idols Dismiss Truth

While perusing the New York Times this morning, I came across a report that Stephen Curry, an NBA Superstar and surely an idol for millions of children and adults across the globe, stated on a podcast that he doubts humans landed on the moon.  Far from an expert on space exploration, Curry should have checked the facts before making a statement that might influence his admirers.

Celebrities have the opportunity to do a great deal of good during their lives, especially by calling attention to the plight of poorly educated and underserved communities; I suspect that Mr. Curry has already donated a significant amount of time and money to such causes.  But to make rash statements that undermine historical and scientific facts is both dangerous and irresponsible.

America is already challenged by a President who dismisses truth and ridicules those who attempt to counter his lies about climate change, the judicial system, our free press and a host of other issues vital to our Democracy.  We certainly don't need others, especially well-known celebrities, to exacerbate attacks on truth; one can only begin to imagine the number of history and science teachers who will be called upon to negate Stephen Curry's offhand remarks. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

December on the Great Plains

Leaving Columbia, Missouri, at dawn, I headed west and soon dipped through a dense ice-fog that filled the Missouri River Valley.  Throughout western Missouri, frost-backed cattle grazed in icy fields while stoic red-tailed hawks patrolled the highway from barren trees and phone poles.

In eastern Kansas, an atmospheric inversion had put a lid on the Kansas River basin, producing hazy air and keeping the effluent of factories and power plants within a few hundred feet of the ground; the inversion broke down west of Junction City and bright sunshine lit my course for the rest of the trip.  Throughout central Kansas, where snowbanks lined the highway, numerous flocks of crows, meadowlarks, longspurs and Canada geese moved about the farmlands; the highlight in this region was a large flock of snow geese that funneled down to a crop field, east of Hays.

Farther west, on the High Plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado, bright sunshine, dry air and a steady southwest wind warmed the temperature into the low fifties (F).  Raptors were abundant across this flat landscape, including rough-legged hawks, prairie falcons, northern harriers, American kestrels and some red-tails.  As I approached Denver, the Front Range was backlit by a spectacular sunset, producing a silhouette of mountains from the Pike's Peak massif to the Wyoming border and a scenic end to my December journey across the Great Plains.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Short-ear Strike-out

Since short-eared owls have been spotted at Bradford Farm over the past week and since I return to Colorado tomorrow, I thought one last visit was in order.  Unfortunately, most of the observations have occurred near dusk and my early morning effort was, once again, unsuccessful.  On the positive side, there is a decent chance that I will see them out West.

Short-eared owls breed across Canada, Alaska and the northwest quadrant of the Lower 48, favoring open country where they fly close to the ground, hunting for rodents and birds.  Come fall, these raptors head for prairies, wetlands and coastal dune fields across most of the country and may be found in small groups where prey is abundant.  Unlike most owls, short-ears are often active during the day, especially just after dawn or just before dusk.

My interest in finding these predators is partly based on nostalgia.  I discovered my first short-eared owl along the southeast coast of North Carolina, in 1976, when my birding "career" had just begun.  Flapping above the dunes at Wrightsville Beach, that winter visitor was one of a few species that truly ignited my enthusiasm for birding.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Eagle Bluffs' other Birds

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, on the Missouri River floodplain, is best known for its water birds (waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, pelicans, etc.) and its raptors (especially, of course, its bald eagles).  As a result, many visitors focus on the fields and wetlands, ignoring the woodlands unless it happens to be the spring warbler season.

On this sunny but cold morning, the pools were frozen, occupied by only a dozen trumpeter swans and a modest number of mallards and gadwalls.  And while the raptors were represented by a lone bald eagle, four red-tailed hawks and a red-shouldered hawk, there was not much activity on the icy fields.  I thus turned my attention to the riparian woodlands that line some pools and the Missouri River; this decision was rewarded with the sighting of about 20 species, including a pileated woodpecker, a fox sparrow and two red-breasted nuthatches (the first I have ever encountered at Eagle Bluffs).

While not as spectacular as the favored quarry, these woodpeckers and woodland songbirds account for a significant percentage of the annual sightings at Eagle Bluffs (currently 246 species on eBird) and each is just as important to the floodplain ecosystem as their more glamorous cousins.  Today, I gave them some justified attention.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Midwest Winter

So far, this Midwest winter is true to form.  Cloudy, cold, damp weather has dominated my month in Central Missouri and is forecast to persist until I return to Colorado next weekend.  Caught between Canadian cold fronts and warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, this region is known for its unpleasant winters.

The humid air and a dearth of sunshine make the cold air feel colder and a low, gray overcast makes it look colder than the thermometer might indicate.  The large shade trees, so colorful in October, are now barren and their brown, soggy leaves clog our gutters and downspouts.  Snow, often mixed with rain, provides the natural beauty of this season, at least until its gray, slushy piles line our streets and parking lots.

While we may be unable to avoid the Midwest winter weather, we can escape to the woods and wetlands, where our wild neighbors and seasonal visitors are unfazed by the conditions.  After all, their survival depends on that attitude and, fortunately for us, their cheerfulness and optimism is contagious.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Heaven makes the News

This morning, while watching a news report on the death of President George H.W. Bush, I was appalled when the anchor concluded her remarks with the statement that the former President is now in heaven with Barbara (his late wife) and their daughter, who died at the age of three.

Just as there must be a separation of Church and State in the Government, there must also be a separation of faith and fact in the news media.  While it is certainly acceptable for news organizations to report on the activities of and crimes within religious groups, they should not take sides when it comes to mysticism.  Their job is to investigate information and to report truth, not to express personal beliefs that may have no basis in fact.

Mysticism corrupts human society, injecting intolerance, placing limits on scientific research and raising doubts about science-based data.  While religious faith is a personal right, it should not be preached from the newsroom.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Migrant Black Scoters

Black scoters have been turning up in both of my primary eBird areas (Arapahoe County, Colorado, and Boone County, Missouri) in recent weeks.  These sea ducks breed along Arctic Coasts and on tundra lakes of Alaska and Northern Canada, wintering along both coasts of North America as well as the Gulf Coast.

While they occasionally turn up on reservoirs and lakes of the interior, they are not as common away from the coasts as their white-winged cousins.  Black scoters are usually encountered in flocks, bobbing in the water of coastal bays and diving for mollusks, crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates.  When observed on lakes of the interior, they tend to be alone or in small groups; most move on to coastal areas for the winter but some stay on inland lakes if adequate food is available and the waters remain open.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to observe this year's visitors to Colorado and Missouri but I have often seen wintering black scoters off Longboat Key, Florida, where we own a condo.  Wherever they are found, one cannot help but admire these hardy migrants from the far North.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Kings of Bradford Farm

Bradford Farm, an agricultural research center operated by the University of Missouri, stretches across open country east of Columbia.  On this cold, cloudy morning, a friend and I drove along its graveled roadways, hoping to see longspurs or uncommon grassland sparrows.  Instead, we encountered a host of raptors, the kings of this farmland refuge.

We were initially greeted by a rough-legged hawk, hovering above the snow-laden fields; this heavy-bodied buteo, down from Northern Canada, is an uncommon but regular winter visitor in central Missouri.  Later on, a pair of northern harriers crossed our path, flying low over the crop stubble in search of rodents and unwary songbirds.  A red-shouldered hawk patiently hunted from the limb of a large tree and two American kestrels observed our approach from above; one of these small falcons was feasting on a field mouse that dangled from his talons.

Oblivious of the frigid weather, these hunters enjoy an advantage during the colder months, their prey forced to forage in barren, icy fields.  Red-tailed hawks and kestrels are generally the most common raptors at Bradford Farm but bald eagles are regular visitors and short-eared owls may be observed here in winter.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Flashback Post XI

After all the negative things that I have said about President Trump, I thought I should contribute to his fear-mongering when it comes to immigrants.  I have thus provided a link to a worrisome post from July of 2007.

See: Armored Immigrants

Monday, November 26, 2018

After the Blizzard

We in Columbia, Missouri, were on the south side of a potent winter storm that raced across the northern Midwest last evening.  Though we only received about three inches of snow, the high winds plastered everything outdoors with snow and ice.  So what to do on the morning after?  Head down to Eagle Bluffs, of course, to see what the storm blew in.

Nearly alone on the floodplain, I drove slowly through the wintry landscape, stopping at favored viewing points along the way; since most of the refuge is still closed for the duck hunters, I completed my route in less than an hour.  A squadron of trumpeter swans arrived from the north, as did wavering v's of snow geese and greater white-fronted geese.  Large flocks of mallards, gadwall and coot dominated the scene, joined by smaller groups of green-winged teal and a few northern shovelers.  While I expected to encounter a large number of raptors on this cold, cloudy morning, a pair of bald eagles and a lone kestrel were the only avian hunters.  Perhaps the highlight of my visit was a large, restless convention of horned larks, fluttering about an ice-crusted field.

Our sudden blast of winter is expected to abate over the next few days and we'll return to more "seasonal" conditions.  The residents of Eagle Bluffs will likely appreciate a milder respite but they are equipped to deal with any challenges that nature throws their way; they need only worry about natural predators and the threats imposed by human society.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Mute Swan Problem

As my wife and I walked around Philips Lake in southeast Columbia this morning, a pair of adult mute swans flew overhead.  Graceful and quiet as they cruised above the lake, they were a beautiful sight to behold; one would not imagine that those swans are a potential menace.

As I discussed in my post from September of 2016, Mute Swans in the U.S., these large birds are native to Eurasia and were first introduced to North America in the late 1800s.  Since that time, they have colonized the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Coasts as well as the Great Lakes Region.  Looking at their range map on eBird, one finds that mute swans now inhabit or visit portions of all of the Lower 48 States.  Unfortunately, they are aggressive birds, known to attack native waterfowl species, and are voracious consumers of aquatic vegetation, threatening the health of both coastal and interior wetlands.

Wildlife managers along the Eastern Seaboard attempted to establish a hunting season to control their population but that effort was blocked by swan-loving citizens.  While efforts to eliminate invasive plants rarely catch the attention of the general public, the killing of swans, long associated with wilderness, royalty and fairytales is another matter; the fact that they may impact the welfare of our native trumpeter and tundra swans seems to carry little weight.  Such are the consequences of careless introduction programs, a human habit that continues today.

Friday, November 23, 2018

November Rain

November rain, like that of March, is generally cold and unpleasant.  And, unlike the pop-up showers and thunderstorms of the warmer months, it is usually a long-lasting affair.  After all, it most often develops along a cold front, where dense, chilly air noses beneath a warmer, humid air mass.

Unlike rain that occurs in March, the November precipitation falls on ground that has not yet frozen, allowing the water to percolate into the soil and diminishing the risk of runoff flooding that so often muddies the landscape in late winter and early spring.

Today's precipitation in Missouri was typical November rain, developing by mid morning and not letting up until late afternoon.  The temperature hovered in the forties (F) for most of the day and a low, gray overcast precluded any sunshine.  It proved to be good weather for watching college basketball but I'll take December snow over November rain any day. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Beaver Moon

November's full moon, currently brightening the night sky, is commonly known as the "Beaver Moon," a designation attributed to the Algonquin Tribe and now imbedded in American folklore.  The name reflects the fact that beaver are especially active at this time of year, repairing their dams and lodges and storing food for the winter months.  The latter usually consists of small deciduous trees and limbs that are placed underwater for sustenance while ice coats the stream or pond.

My wife and I, frequent visitors to Philips Lake in southeast Columbia, have recently noted extensive beaver damage to small trees along the 40-acre lake.  Once a farm pond, the lake is stocked with fish by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the surrounding land was dedicated as the A. Perry Philips Park in 2011.  This is the first year that we have noticed the beaver damage and have been surprised that these large rodents made their way up from the nearby Gans Creek Valley.

If left alone, the beavers will soon have destroyed most of the small trees and shrubs along the lake and one wonders whether Park managers will extirpate the squatters; such is often the dilemma faced by those charged will balancing human recreation and natural ecosystems.  I'm guessing the beaver will be relocated (or worse).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Wildfires and Global Warming

The tragic wildfires in California are, in large part, related to an ongoing drought but there has been some speculation that they are a consequence of global warming.  While stagnant weather patterns have set the stage for wildfires throughout the history of our planet, their current relationship to climate change is less clear.  On the other hand, one can reasonably speculate that a warmer climate will make dry areas drier and wet areas wetter; after all, latitude, geography and ocean currents will not change (at least in the foreseeable course of human history).

As with hurricanes, the incidence of wildfires may not be directly affected by global warming but their severity will surely be augmented.  Those who live in fire-prone areas (e.g. semiarid forests), like those who live on barrier islands or in coastal lowlands, must accept the fact that the risk of disaster will continue to rise as the climate warms.  Economically, that risk will place a stress on society as a whole; insurance rates cannot be indefinitely raised for everyone in order to cover those in high risk areas.  As a result, private insurance companies will likely refuse to offer "fire insurance" in wildfire prone regions just as they have eliminated flood insurance coverage across most of the country.

In effect, global warming will begin to dictate where human habitation is both sustainable and affordable.  Urbanization, already a trend in human society, will likely accelerate and high risk natural ecosystems will be handed back to Mother Nature; of course, the survivability of wildlife in those ecosystems will be tested as well. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Snows over the Floodplain

Ah the sight of snow geese in the morning!  Arriving at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area just before dawn, I encountered a large, restless flock in one of the fields; having spent the night at the refuge, they seemed anxious to continue their journey and, within ten minutes of my arrival, they exploded into the air, circling overhead before heading down the Missouri River Valley.

During my ninety minute visit, I was fortunate to see eight more flocks of snow geese, coming in from the north and east and passing above the floodplain refuge as they angled southward.  In all, I estimate that I saw at least 2400 of the hardy and vocal travelers on this cool, cloudy morning in central Missouri.

While I also encountered a good number of raptors (including two bald eagles) and a fair diversity of waterfowl (including ten canvasbacks), I had come to see snow geese and my effort was rewarded beyond expectations.  The stirring spectacle of migrant snow geese is always the highlight of my natural year.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Avian Party Crasher

On this cloudy, cool afternoon in Columbia, Missouri, a mix of songbirds and woodpeckers descended on our backyard, partly drawn by fresh seed in the feeding area.  Such feeding groups are common during the colder months, making their foraging efforts more efficient and reducing the risk of predation (more eyes improve the level of alertness); the latter benefit was especially important today.

As I watched from the comfort of our family room, the visitors scattered into the nearby shrubs and trees when a Cooper's hawk swooped in for a late lunch.  Fortunately for the songbirds, the powerful accipiter missed his target but the avian party was over.

Though we live near the center of Columbia, just west of the University of Missouri, our neighborhood lies between two wooded stream valleys, favored habitat for both Cooper's hawks and barred owls.  We thus get more than our fair share of raptor sightings and the local songbirds are surely aware of that fact.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Companions on the Trail

Veteran naturalists, despite decades in the field, often encounter species or animal behavior that they had not observed in the past.  Indeed, it is this expectation that keeps us interested and attentive, drawing us into natural ecosystems throughout the year.

This morning, while I was birding at the Columbia Audubon Sanctuary, I heard a noise behind me; turning to look, I discovered six young white-tailed deer, standing at attention.  As I continued to make my way across a sunny hillside, the deer followed at a safe distance, stopping to browse when I stopped to scan the landscape with my binoculars.  This pattern continued for a quarter mile or so before they seemed to lose interest and wandered into an adjacent meadow.

I suspect they were recently abandoned by their newly pregnant mothers and banded together for comfort.  No doubt, I was a mere curiosity and, having spent their short lives in a nature sanctuary, free of hunters, they had no reason to fear an aging human.  As for me, it was a humbling and emotional experience to be joined by these gentle creatures; too often despised for causing road accidents or damaging suburban foliage, deer are a "problem" because we humans killed off their natural predators and destroyed most of their natural habitat.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Deep Freeze at Eagle Bluffs

The landscape of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area was especially beautiful this morning; crystal-clear air, bright sunshine and snow-crusted foliage produced spectacular scenery.  On the other hand, the temperature was in the mid teens (F), causing steam to rise from the open pools and injecting patchy fog from the adjacent Missouri River.

Waterfowl, mostly mallards, congregated on what open water remained and large flocks of ducks wheeled above the frozen landscape.  Ten trumpeter swans lounged on an ice covered pool, oblivious of the winter chill, and a single flock of snow geese passed overhead, on their way to less frigid climes.  Several bald eagles and two red-tailed hawks patrolled the floodplain, where massive flocks of red-winged blackbirds scoured the icy fields.

It was nature at its best, combining scenic beauty, the challenges of winter and the fortitude of wildlife.  Watching the activity from the comfort of my heated pickup, I was forced to acknowledge the relative vulnerability of modern man. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Eagle Bluffs Lite

From November through January, most of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is closed to the public for duck hunting season.  Only the northernmost section of this fabulous refuge is accessible; nevertheless, birders may still encounter a good variety of species.

On this cold, snowy morning, I ventured down to that floodplain preserve and was rewarded with a couple new sightings for the season: fourteen trumpeter swans and at least fifty snow geese.  Raptors were limited to a Cooper's hawk and a red-tailed hawk and a host of other sightings brought the species total to sixteen, rather meager for this well-known birding mecca.  The weather and my limited time frame were significant factors and I'm sure my species list would have doubled if I had another hour to explore the accessible region.

Except for a two-hour window in mid afternoon, birders must wait until February to more fully explore Eagle Bluffs once again.  While I have no personal objection to duck hunting (assuming the meat is consumed), I have long wondered whether hunting and birding could not safely coexist across this large refuge (e.g. by narrowing the hunting zones and/or reducing the hunting hours).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Birding Urban Parks

While most naturalists and veteran birders head for conservation areas, nature preserves and wildlife refuges to observe and photograph wildlife, urban parks have a great deal to offer.  Providing a natural escape from human "development," these urban oases are generally planted with a wide variety of native wildflowers, shrubs and plants, attracting a diverse assembly of wildlife.

Indeed, in my experience, the more extensive the nature sanctuary the more dispersed the wild creatures and the more difficult they are to find.  Urban parks, on the other hand, tend to concentrate wildlife, offering food and shelter that is not readily available in the surrounding concrete jungle.

This morning, my grandson and I walked through Stephens Lake Park on the east side of Columbia.  Though its hike-bike path is less than two miles long, we observed twenty bird species, including a yellow-bellied sapsucker (a lifer for my grandson).  Urban parks may not offer the solitude and tranquility of wilderness or large nature preserves but the local birds certainly appreciate their offerings!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Boredom on Country Roads

Most adult humans enjoy both the scenery and the serenity of a country drive, especially during the sunny, colorful months of autumn.  Unfortunately, preteens are not always as enamored with the experience.

Since my oldest grandson (a novice birder) is visiting this weekend, I took him on a drive through the farmlands east and south of Columbia.  While the temperature hovered near freezing, bright sunshine illuminated the landscape and an interesting variety of livestock and wildlife were encountered on our journey; raptors were especially common, including numerous kestrels and four red-shouldered hawks.  And though we failed to observe migrant snow geese, waterfowl occupied most of the lakes and farm ponds.

It was one of those days when I could have driven about for the entire afternoon, allowing the chilly air to waft through my pickup and soaking in the peaceful scenery.  But my companion was bored within an hour, asking what I planned to do next; a brief stop for snacks offered some consolation but we were home soon thereafter.  The joy of nature exploration, like that of most human endeavors, is acquired through repetition and I am pleased to offer that experience to my grandkids, however brief the dose.  Over time, I hope it becomes a vital part of their lives, as it has for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Our Soulless President

Whether you lean toward a liberal or conservative philosophy, it would seem impossible not to be disgusted by the behavior of our President.  Self-indulgent, he belittles anyone who does not openly adore him.  Women, immigrants, minorities, the press and political "enemies" are his favorite targets.

Having just lost the House of Representatives to the Democrats, Trump held a news conference to wallow in his victory and to chastise those Republicans who shunned his support and then lost their election.  When faced with tragic shootings across our nation, he bemoans the fact that they distract the press from his personal accomplishments.  Taking note of a parade of desperate refugees, far from our border, he sends in the military with instructions to shoot anyone who throws rocks.  Having learned that Saudi officials killed and dismembered a journalist, he readily accepts their denial of complicity.

Trump the narcissist is incapable of empathy. He cannot "feel the pain" of those who suffer since he, himself, has lived a life of luxury.  Soon after ending yesterday's news conference, he announced the forced resignation of his Attorney General, just the latest effort to shield himself from public scrutiny.  It's time for Democrats and Republicans alike to dislodge this soulless President and to restore dignity and compassion to the most powerful office on Earth.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Back to Snow Geese Country

While a fair number of snow geese migrate south along the Colorado Front Range, heading for wintering areas in New Mexico, their numbers pale in comparison to those that travel through the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys; these migrants head for the lower Mississippi Valley and western Gulf Coast, where they spend the winter on crop fields and in wetlands.

Returning to Missouri for a few weeks, we spent the night in Abilene, Kansas, and resumed our journey this morning, guided by a Cheshire moon and bright Venus in the predawn sky.  Once the sun rose, I began to watch for flocks of snow geese though it's a bit early yet for those hardy migrants; unfortunately, I only saw their large Canadian cousins and a host of raptors as we crossed Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri.

No doubt, I'll observe plenty of snow geese (and greater white-fronted geese as well) before returning to Colorado.  After all, I'll be hanging out in the heart of snow geese country!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Chaos at the Refuge

On this cloudy, cold morning, ducks were abundant at South Platte Park.  Northern shovelers, gadwalls and American wigeon dominated the scene, joined by smaller flocks of mallards, hooded mergansers, buffleheads and American coot; a few northern pintails, redheads, green-winged teal and pied-billed grebes were also observed.

The serenity of these flocks was suddenly disrupted by a pair of bald eagles, one adult and one immature, that circled above the lakes, sending clouds of ducks into the air.  Despite their reaction, most of the waterfowl need not fear the eagles, which tend to focus on old, sick or injured birds that are slow to respond or cannot keep up with their cohorts.

While our National Birds are powerful raptors, especially adept at snaring fish from the surface, they also steal fish from ospreys or gulls and often congregate along salmon runs to feed on dying fish in the shallows.  At other times they may be found far from water, feasting on the carcasses of deer or elk that were killed by predators or succumbed to harsh winter weather.  

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Wounded Hunter

As I walked along the South Platte River on this bright but chilly morning, I spotted a coyote on the opposite bank, nosing his way through the thickets.  It soon became apparent that he had injured one of his back legs and could not bear weight on that limb.

While we are entering the season when predators generally have an advantage (leafless foliage, dry grass and active prey), I wondered if this wounded hunter will make it through the winter.  No doubt, it will be harder for him to chase down rabbits and other agile prey.

Then again, coyotes are intelligent and highly adaptable creatures, adept at surviving in remote wilderness as well as in rural and urban environments.  Known to take advantage of human garbage and dog food, they also feed on carrion, berries and domesticated animals in addition to a host of wild birds and mammals.  My bet is that he'll manage just fine. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Winter Tries Again

Just over two weeks ago, the first snowstorm and the first hard freeze of the season descended on the Colorado Front Range, putting an end to autumn for 48 hours.  Though many of the colorful leaves were taken down by the wind and snow, the temperature rapidly rebounded, the snow melted and we have enjoyed summer-like warmth ever since.  Of course, the longer nights produce chilly mornings but afternoon highs have been in the mid 60s to mid 70s (F).

Yesterday, another cold front pushed southward across Colorado, bringing a raw day with intermittent showers.  Overnight, that rain changed to snow and it continues this morning, with minimal accumulation; by this afternoon, the sun will return and the snow will disappear.  Mild conditions are expected for the next week, though temperatures will be more autumn-like.

Once again, winter will retreat northward but it will continue making incursions into the Heartland.  While its grip will likely solidify across the Midwest and Northeast by December, those of us along the Front Range will enjoy mild (if not warm) interludes, thanks to the intense sunshine, dry air and downsloping "chinook" winds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Table Mountain, South Africa

Watching a film set in Cape Town, South Africa, today, I wondered about the geology of Table Mountain, which looms above the city.  As is often the case, the natural history of that famous massif is complex.

About 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian Period, a rift valley developed in the southern portion of a continental plate that included today's Continents of South America, Antarctica and Africa.  Initially flooded by a shallow sea, the rift accumulated sediments over the next 100 million years.  Throughout the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic Eras, this region was folded, lifted and eroded by tectonic forces as Earth's Continents merged into Pangea and then rifted apart.

Among the sedimentary rocks that formed within the ancient rift valley was a thick layer of hard quartzite sandstone; resistant to erosion, this Table Mountain Sandstone now outcrops as the steep cliffs of Table Mountain and the Cape Fold Ranges of western South Africa.  Of note, the western end of this sandstone formation is now found in Argentina, separated from its South African segment as the Atlantic Ocean opened, some 150 million years ago.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

First Goldeneye, Last Osprey?

On this cool, sunny morning along the Colorado Front Range, I visited South Platte Park.  There I encountered a good variety of waterfowl, including the first common goldeneye of the season; the attractive male was fishing by himself on the clear waters of Eaglewatch Lake.  I was also fortunate to observe a lone osprey, perhaps the last one I will see at the Park this year.

Common goldeneyes breed across Alaska and Canada and winter primarily in coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian Maritimes, New England and the mid Atlantic Region.  Though less common, others winter on lakes across most of the U.S. and at least a few dozen spend the colder months at South Platte Park, feasting on a wide variety of aquatic creatures, from invertebrates to crustaceans and small fish.

Ospreys, on the other hand, are summer residents here and a pair have been nesting at the Park in recent years.  More common along the North American coasts, in the Pacific Northwest and in the Great Lakes Region, these "fish hawks" head for southern shores during the colder months and I suspect that this morning's visitor was on his way.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Therapeutic Nature of Writing

Those who write, especially those who compose fiction, essays or poetry, know that it is a difficult task; indeed, finding the right words or selecting content that is both interesting and inspiring can be frustrating.  However, I have found that writing is a therapeutic process, forcing the author to confront their own experience, beliefs and biases.

Telling a story or persuading readers is more than an intellectual endeavor, it is an emotional one.  While all humans, consciously or subconsciously, attempt to bury life events that were especially painful, embarrassing or emotionally-charged, writers must actually draw on such experiences to make their content "real" for those who consume it.  Though their work may not be autobiographical, it is always infused with their own thoughts, emotions, convictions and insecurities.

Writers certainly understand these points and most would admit that the writing process is essential to their sense of well-being.  Many psychologists and psychiatrists use writing as a form of therapy and non-writers might want to personally investigate the therapeutic benefits of this human endeavor; it is, after all, a low risk and potentially enjoyable form of self-discovery.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Autumn Crier

A great horned owl was hooting outside our bedroom window last night, the first calls I have heard this season.  Like a town crier with an important message, he seemed to be warning the locals that, despite our current mild weather, winter is on the doorstep.

Of course, this vocal fellow was merely responding to his own hormones, unleashed by the waning period of daylight; the long, chilly nights are good for hunting and his mating season is fast approaching.  At this point, in mid autumn, he is just announcing his presence and his target is not the human ear.

No doubt, his hooting (and that of his eventual mate) will increase in the coming months.  Unfazed by frigid nights and heavy snow, he will relish the dark, quiet season of nature's year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Nature of Regret

When I hear someone say that they have no regrets in their life, I tend to be skeptical.  After all, regret, whether major or minor, is part of human nature, a product of our large, complex brains.  Prone to ruminate, we often regret past decisions, actions or comments, whether justified or not.

This tendency to live in our past often makes us less happy in the present.  Judging ourself through the prism of hindsight, we are not always fair-minded, having buried the context in which past choices were made; neither do we always acknowledge the benefits that arose from those actions.  It's one thing to regret having made an insensitive remark and quite another to regret major life decisions.

Unfortunately, we are not always honest or reasonable when we review our past; whether we admit it or not, we all harbor regrets.  The real issue, it seems to me, is whether we let those regrets impact our current happiness and relationships.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Leaf Armies

Here on our Littleton, Colorado, farm, I do not bother raking the leaves.  While we have a large number of deciduous trees and shrubs, I'm inclined to let nature handle their autumn debris.  Besides, it can be entertaining, watching the leaf armies race across our driveway and "lawns."

In this semiarid climate, the leaves rarely get bogged down by precipitation; they may be stabilized by a snowfall for a day or two but the intense Colorado sun rapidly frees them to rustle across the landscape once again.  Eventually, the armies settle down beneath the shrub lines and wood borders, providing fertilizer for next spring's growth.

It's a win-win situation.  Entertainment and no work for me and natural nutrients for our trees and shrubs.  The mounded leaves also offer winter protection for many invertebrates, at least until they are discovered by the birds, mice, raccoons and skunks that visit the farm.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Tourism and our National Parks

Anyone who has visited our National Parks in recent years has certainly noticed a dramatic increase in the tourist population.  The massive crowds detract from the serenity and, more importantly, have a significant impact on the natural ecology.  As a result, some Parks have begun to limit access and others will surely be forced to do the same.

Some might argue that tax-paying citizens own these natural preserves and that any limits placed on access is inappropriate if not un-Constitutional.  Of course, other citizens resent the protection of Federal lands altogether, favoring access for grazing, mining, drilling and "development."  In the end, we Americans will have to decide what should be protected for the benefit of future generations and for the welfare of our planet and its ecosystems.

Those seeking natural retreats without the tourist throngs should consider visiting our National Wildlife Refuges.  Relatively unknown to the general public and often devoid of the "comfort facilities" that most tourists seek, they offer some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet.  Some of the more popular refuges can get a bit congested during peak viewing seasons but it's nothing like the urbanization of our National Parks.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Colorado's Indian Summers

Following a snowstorm and a hard freeze, we are back in the warm, sunny days and crisp, cool nights of mid autumn, the classic "Indian Summer" that outdoor enthusiasts relish; here along the Front Range, we expect highs in the upper 60s and 70s (F) over the next few days.  Now that most pesky insects have been killed, hiking, birding and other outdoor activities are especially pleasant.

Defined as the warm period following the first hard freeze, Indian Summer sets the stage for at least six months of similar weather patterns along the Front Range urban corridor.  This undulating cycle of mild sunny days following a brief period of cold and snow tends to occur from October to early May; in essence, we experience a continuous series of Indian Summers.

Unlike most regions of the country, the Colorado Front Range climate is not characterized by four distinct seasons.  Rather, we have summer and winter, battling for dominance for much of the year; while plant life cycles, the changing angle of solar radiation, astronomical events, mammalian ruts and bird migrations offer some justification for identifying spring and fall in Colorado, the weather itself is usually summer-like or winter-like.  Indeed, layered clothing is a must for outdoor adventure here since we often experience both summer and winter in the same day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mountain Bluebirds off to the Desert

Mountain bluebirds, among the most attractive songbirds in North America, breed throughout the Intermountain West, from Northern Canada to Northern Arizona and New Mexico.  During those warmer months, they favor open areas with scattered trees and may be observed on meadows of the foothills and mountains, in pinyon-juniper woodlands or on the alpine tundra near timberline.

Come fall, they descend to lower elevations, heading for the Desert Southwest or the Southern High Plains.  On their journey, they often travel in large flocks, adding color to the drying autumn landscape of the Colorado Piedmont and the volcanic terrain to our south.

Following the first major snowstorm of the season, flocks of mountain bluebirds have been spotted all across Metro Denver and I was fortunate to observe ten of those beautiful migrants at South Platte Park.  By March, when snowstorms still lash the Front Range, they will return, fueling what little spring fever may arise during that fickle season here in Colorado. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

First Snowstorm of the Season

As predicted, a potent cold front dropped southward through the Rockies and Northern Plains last night.  Following yesterday's warm, sunny weather, snow developed overnight and continues along the Front Range this morning; up to six inches of accumulation is expected.

While our spring, upslope storms are usually triggered by Pacific storms that move eastward along the Colorado-New Mexico line, autumn and winter snowstorms most often result from cold fronts that plunge down from Canada.  Driven by cold high pressure, clockwise winds along the leading edge of this dome sweep moisture in from the Great Plains, producing the snowstorms.  As the dome moves eastward or southward, the Front Range upslope breaks down, the snow subsides and clear, cold high pressure grips the region.  Eventually, on the backside of the dome, southerly winds sweep warmer air across the Front Range urban corridor and mild conditions persist until the next cold front arrives.

Such undulating weather is common here throughout the colder months, as warm, sunny periods alternate with snowstorms.  It is an invigorating climate and those who live here welcome the snow; after all, it is primarily responsible for keeping our semiarid environment from becoming a desert.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Natural Solutions to Climate Change

While our President and his Administration reject the evidence and ramifications of global warming, we must do what we can to protect our home planet for future generations and for all life that shares Earth's ecosystems.

Though we are all aware of efforts to wean mankind from fossil fuel, it is also important to understand that nature can play a major role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.  For an overview of this concept and how you might participate, visit the websites of Nature4Climate and The Forgotten Solution, sponsored in part by The Nature Conservancy.

Of course, we can also make a difference by reducing our personal energy consumption, by planting trees, by supporting conservation groups and, most importantly, by voting Trump and other climate change deniers out of office.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Other Autumn Warbler

Birders who reside across central latitudes of the U.S. are never surprised to see yellow-rumped warblers in October; indeed, these hardy insectivores even stay for the winter in some parts of the Midwest.  But there is another warbler that is also slow to head for southern climes and may still be encountered in mid autumn: the orange-crowned warbler.

Breeding in open woodlands or in the deciduous understory of coniferous forest, orange-crowned warblers summer across Alaska and Canada and southward through the Western mountain ranges.  Come fall, they head for coastal areas of California and the Southeast or farther south to Mexico and the Caribbean.  En route they generally appear alone, scouring shrubs, thickets and the lower branches of trees for a wide variety of insects; like many insectivores, they occasionally visit suet feeders and may consume berries if their insect prey is scarce.

A lone orange-crowned warbler has been visiting our Littleton farm the past few days, feeding with chickadees and yellow-rumped warblers.  I doubt he'll stay much longer but, unlike most warblers that are well south of the freeze line by now, our visitor has already shrugged off several frigid nights and a few periods of snow.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Harriman Lake Park

Harriman Lake is a 67 acre water storage reservoir in southwest Metro Denver, fed by an irrigation canal; a 1.7 mile graveled trail leads around the lake and past several wetland areas, offering broad views of the open water and of the Front Range foothills to the west.  Access to the Park is via a parking lot on the north side of Kipling Parkway, a short distance south of West Quincy Ave.

Though modest in size, Harriman Lake is a magnet for resident and migrant waterfowl and is one of the region's best locations for viewing and photographing those species.  Last week, as a cold front loomed to the northwest, my wife and I visited this Park; on our walk around the lake we saw an excellent variety of waterfowl, including the first American coot, ruddy ducks and redheads that I had observed this season.  A lone American white pelican lounged on the shore, double-crested cormorants fished on the lake and pied-billed grebes dove with the coot in the marshy shallows.

While naturalists and birders usually prefer more secluded nature preserves, far from the trappings of human civilization, wild creatures are often content to utilize less pristine habitat; as long as they feel safe and their preferred food is abundant, they will stick around.  Harriman Lake, just southwest of a busy intersection, offers an excellent example; it certainly appeals to waterfowl.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Surge Coast

The entire Gulf Coast of Florida, from the Keys to Pensacola, is especially vulnerable to storm surge as hurricanes and tropical storms come ashore.  Counterclockwise winds push water toward the coast on the "right" side of storm's eye, forcing it across the low country and up the coastal rivers.

This process is accentuated along the Florida Gulf Coast due to the topography of the Gulf itself.  A broad shallow area, representing the west portion of the Florida Platform, parallels the State's Gulf Coast; as ocean water is swept in by the storm, it cannot displace downward and builds to destructive depths across the barrier islands and coastal lowlands, leveling structures and flooding the landscape.

Hurricane Michael, now a Category 4 storm, is poised to come ashore near Panama City this morning.  Storm surge is expected to reach 13 feet or more in some parts of the Great Bend before the hurricane and its remnants cut a swath of destruction across the eastern Panhandle, south Georgia and the Carolinas.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tropical Kingbird in Colorado

Several days ago, a tropical kingbird was sighted in southwest Metro Denver, just west of South Platte Reservoir.  As one might expect, it has since attracted birders from throughout the region and I made my pilgrimage yesterday afternoon (after all, the location is just a few miles south of our Littleton farm).

Though the weather was far from tropical (cloudy, cold and misty), the large, attractive flycatcher was gleaning insects from the side of a building, stopping to rest on a barbed wire fence.  Joined by a Say's phoebe and a small flock of house finches, the rare vagrant seemed unfazed by the raw, autumn weather.

Permanent residents of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and extreme South Texas, tropical kingbirds also breed in southeastern Arizona.  While most birds withdraw toward the Tropics in winter, some have long traveled northward along the Pacific Coast; most stop in California but some have been sighted in the Pacific Northwest, as far north as southeast Alaska.  Other vagrants have turned up in valleys of the Intermountain West, along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and even in the Great Lakes region.  Most of the far-flung vagrants have been encountered during the spring or fall; controversy remains as to whether some of the sightings (especially those in the East) were of Couch's Kingbird.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Hermit visits the Farm

Yesterday, while wandering through our Littleton farm, I noticed movement behind a row of shrubs.  Standing my ground, I waited several minutes before the stranger emerged and, though he remained in the shadows, I knew at once that he was a hermit thrush.

Summer residents across Canada and southward through the mountains of North America, this hardy thrush is slow to migrate southward or to the coasts, feeding on berries once the insects disappear.  Like his cousins, he prefers to feed on or near the ground, running into the cover of shrubs or thickets if disturbed.

While most hermit thrushes end up wintering across the southern U.S. or along the coasts, some linger in colder regions if adequate food is available.  Yesterday's visitor was the first I have seen on our farm and, if we have another mild winter, he may just stay for the season.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Snowbirds Drift In

On this cloudy and chilly afternoon, the first dark-eyed juncos of the season appeared on our Littleton, Colorado, farm.  They were members of the Oregon subspecies and had arrived just in time.

Commonly known as snowbirds, juncos are small, hardy songbirds that summer up in Canada or in the mountain ranges of North America.  Fond of cool weather, they winter primarily across the northern half of the U.S. and often arrive with the first snows of autumn.  The latter fact is especially true here in Metro Denver and, within the next few weeks, our farm will host dozens of these winter residents.  Gray-headed juncos descend from the Front Range and the slate-colored and Oregon subspecies arrive from more northern latitudes; on occasion, white-winged juncos also visit from the Black Hills region of western South Dakota.

All four subspecies are classified as dark-eyed juncos and are often observed in suburbs and along country roads, their white outer tail feathers obvious as they scatter toward cover.  I am pleased to have them back on our farm and I appreciate the weather warning that they bring....snow flurries are expected tonight or tomorrow. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cormorant Exodus

Yesterday morning, beneath a clear blue sky and enveloped in cool autumn air, I visited South Platte Park.  A steady, southeast wind kept many of the songbirds under cover and the waterfowl numbers remained well below par for early October.  Fortunately, a massive parade of double-crested cormorants made the visit especially memorable.

Beginning about 8 AM, small flocks of cormorants appeared overhead, flying southward through the South Platte Valley.  They were followed by a steady line of cohorts, numbering 87 birds in all.  I can only assume that these "fish crows" are beginning their exodus to southern lakes or the Gulf Coast, perhaps stopping by Chatfield Reservoir for a day or two of fishing before moving on.

Their exodus is surely triggered by the waning sunlight hours but they might also sense a change in the atmospheric pressure as a cold front gradually approaches from the northwest.  We expect cooler, rainy weather in the coming days and possible snow showers by early next week.  While that would not threaten the welfare of these hardy fishermen, their lives are governed by instinct and they "know" it's time to travel south.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Great Black Wasps

Yesterday afternoon, while sitting outdoors, my wife and I noticed a large black wasp that was scurrying across the driveway.  It soon became evident that it was dragging a dead or paralyzed cricket toward a mulched area next to the pavement.

This was a great black wasp, found across North America, from southeastern Canada to Mexico; it is a resident of all of the Lower 48 States except Washington and Oregon.  Females dig a hole in the soil in which they lay a single, fertilized egg; they then capture a grasshopper, cricket or katydid, paralyze it and place it in the nest cavity, repeating the process multiple times throughout the warmer months.  Once the egg hatches, the larval grub feeds on the hapless victim until it is mature enough to pupate.  Adults emerge from the pupae and spend much of the summer feasting on nectar; in the process, they pollinate a variety of flowers.

Of course, most of this life cycle is unnoticed by humans.  Gardeners may encounter great black wasps as they move among flower beds but yesterday's encounter was pure luck on our part.  Unaggressive, these wasps rarely sting humans (unless threatened) and play an important role in controlling grasshopper and cricket populations.  Their means of feeding larvae may seem cruel but nature's web of life is not always pretty to behold.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Milkweed Bugs

Walking through South Platte Park the other day, I looked ahead and saw bright red masses on the side of the trail.  Initially thought to be some type of fungus or slime mold, I found that they were large clusters of small bugs.....milkweed bug nymphs to be exact.

Found throughout North America, from southern Canada to Mexico, these true bugs feed exclusively on milkweed plants.  Eggs are repeatedly laid on the plants by the adult female; during her month of adulthood, she will lay thousands of eggs.  Upon hatching, the nymphs molt five times before reaching the adult stage; each nymph phase is about 6 days in length.  While the elongated adults have a striking black and orange pattern on their dorsal surface, the younger nymphs are bright orange-red.  Both adults and nymphs may cluster where milkweed seed pods are abundant and their bright coloration warns potential predators that they are toxic (due to compounds ingested from milkweed sap).

Unlike most insects, milkweed bugs overwinter as adults; those that mature in northern latitudes must migrate to southern climes or find a protected site in which to wait our the season.  Considering the date, most of the nymphs that I encountered will likely not reach the adult stage before cold autumn weather envelops the Front Range. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Forty Degree Swing

Autumn is the season when those of us along the Colorado Front Range often experience a 40 degree (F) temperature swing in the course of a day, awakening to a temperature in the upper thirties and basking in warmth near 80 degrees by mid afternoon.  Such broad temperature ranges are common in arid and semiarid regions across the globe, especially those that lie at relatively high elevation in the Temperate Zone.

By October, the longer nights, high elevation and dry air augment heat radiation, permitting overnight temperatures to fall near freezing.  During the day, intense sunshine, dry (dense) air and, on some days, a downsloping wind push afternoon highs into the seventies or eighties.

Of course, potent cold fronts or a persistent upslope flow may disrupt this cycle, as is forecast to develop later this week.  By early next week, daytime highs may be within 10 degrees of the overnight low and the first snow showers of the season are expected to dust the urban corridor. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Truth and Politics

Almost every human endeavor relies on truth (at least as defined by the latest scientific evidence) in order to offer products and services that are safe, reliable and competitive.  A few careers (fiction writing comes to mind) may be independent of truth while some, especially those that peddle mysticism (e.g. organized religion), are threatened by science-based truth.

Politicians, on the other hand, maintain a fuzzy relationship with truth.  Focused on the demands of their constituents and on their own re-election, they pick and choose what truths they publicly believe.  Those who represent regions with coal, gas and oil production play down evidence of global warming while those who hail from agricultural areas are loathe to acknowledge the environmental pollution that results from farming and ranching activity; many other examples could be offered.

Worse yet, some politicians seem willing to lie or to dismiss the truth in order to further their political or personal agenda.  Our President offers an extreme example and the ongoing efforts to elect Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court reveal that Conservatives (including Evangelicals) are willing to overlook false testimony in order to achieve their ultimate goals.  Of course, truth will eventually prevail but damage (perhaps irreversible) to our government, to our environment and to our society may occur beforehand.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Mystery Tsunami in Indonesia

Yesterday, following two earthquakes (the second a magnitude 7.5 quake) and a series of aftershocks off the west coast of Sulawesi Island, a tsunami struck Palu, at the end of a long, narrow bay.  Both the Island and the adjacent Makasser Strait lie squarely on a southern extension of the Eurasian Plate, which encompasses all of Indonesia.

Destructive tsunami's are generally triggered by Subduction Earthquakes, where one tectonic plate dips beneath another; such a subduction zone stretches along the outer border of Indonesia, where the Australian and Philippine Plates are subducting beneath the Eurasian Plate.  Yesterday's series of quakes and aftershocks are thought to have developed along a transverse fault, where two microplates (of the Eurasian Plate) are scraping past one another; such faults do not generally produce vertical lift of the overlying sea, the tectonic process that usually generates tsunamis.

Geologists suspect that some vertical movement of one of the microplates may have occurred and that the topography of the narrow bay likely amplified the wave that was produced.  Regardless of the geologic explanation, the tsunami struck Palu and killed at least 384 residents and visitors.

Update:  As of 10-3-18, more than 1400 bodies have been recovered and the death toll is expected to rise.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

Praise for Christine Ford

On behalf of all Americans who care about women's rights and equal justice, I want to commend Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for her courage.  Despite her personal fear and anxiety and the threats made to her family, she was willing to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to accuse Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault during their high school years.  Her testimony was calm, credible and, in my opinion, 100% convincing.

On his part, Judge Kavanaugh delivered an emotional opening statement but then resorted to dismissive, confrontational and disrespectful behavior when questioned by Senate Democrats.  Repeatedly reminding the Senators and the TV audience of his professional accomplishments and his regular church attendance, the judge surely pleased Trump and his conservative base but likely failed to convince most Independents and Democrats of his innocence.  An innocent individual would not ridicule those entrusted with assessing his fitness for the Supreme Court, he would not answer simple questions with rambling soliloquies and he would welcome an independent investigation to clear his name.

America needs more patriots like Christine Ford and fewer pompous, entitled white males like Kavanaugh; she certainly earned my gratitude and admiration, regardless of the Senate vote.  No doubt, the many women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment share my sentiments.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Pink Egrets at Dusk

Last evening, I went out at dusk to explore our Littleton farm.  Most of the bird sightings were of mallards, great blue herons and ring-billed gulls, heading toward their nightly quarters to our northwest.

A squadron of small bats strafed the farm and our colony of cottontails emerged for a leisurely night of nibbling.  Off toward a corner of the property, a noisy flock of magpies had gathered in a tree, apparently heckling a hawk or owl.  Above it all, jets drifted toward DIA and the clouds took on the changing hues of sunset.  Not to be outdone by Earthly events, Jupiter gleamed from the southwest while Saturn sparkled in the southern sky.

The highlight of my evening stroll proved to be a flock of pink egrets, fourteen in number, flapping toward a roost somewhere north of the farm; of course, they were snowy egrets, painted by the last rays of the setting sun.  Apparently unfazed by the cooler weather, they will spend at least another day along the Front Range before heading south.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Looking for Migrants

On this chilly, autumn morning, with a full moon balanced on the foothills to our west, I went down to South Platte Park, hoping to encounter fall migrants.  The early morning chill had brought out the songbirds, flitting and twittering among the shrubs and trees, but all was relatively quiet on the lakes and river.

During my one hour visit, I did observe two flocks of blue-winged teal, passing overhead, a handful of pied-billed grebes and a pair of Wilson's warblers, down from the mountains.  That was the extent of the autumn migration, a tide that has not yet gained momentum.  I did see plenty of permanent and some summer residents, including an osprey, a great horned owl, gray catbirds, double-crested cormorants and wood ducks, but the migrants have been slow to appear.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant walk around Eaglewatch Lake.  I got my exercise, enjoyed the fresh, cool air and appreciated the company of the resident wildlife.  The migrants will turn up soon enough.

Addendum:  My ongoing search for migrants was rewarded early this afternoon, when a flock of 5 sandhill cranes circled southward above our Littleton farm.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Earwigs in the Apples

On this bright, warm, autumn morning, our youngest grandson visited our Littleton Farm.  Searching for an activity that might entertain him, my wife suggested picking some of our green apples and making cinnamon apple sauce.

He, of course, enjoyed the collection process and sampled quite a few of the apples before they were processed.  Since we do not use pesticides on the farm, a good number showed signs of insect damage and earwigs emerged from a few of the cavities.  Represented by about 2000 species across the globe, these elongated, flattened insects are easily identified by the pincers at the end of their abdomen.  Females lay their eggs in protected crevices by mid autumn and, in some species, overwinter with them to offer protection; after hatching in late winter, the juveniles undergo at least four molts before they mature to adults.  Throughout these stages, they feed on a wide variety of plant and animal matter, including flowers, vegetation, fruit, other insects and carrion; since they are primarily nocturnal, earwigs are seldom encountered unless found within crops or in basements.  They, in turn, are preyed upon by a diverse group of insectivores, including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Despite the earwig damage, most of the apple crop remained edible and the applesauce was enjoyed by all.  Though he is not yet two years old, I'm sure our grandson gained some insight into food production, watching it go from tree to stove to mouth!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Autumn Chill in the Valley

While the afternoons are still summer-like along the Colorado Front Range, the mornings now bring an autumn chill due to the longer nights.  Down on the South Platte River just after dawn, that chill was especially intense and, in response, the wild residents were noisy and active.

Canada geese, mallards, magpies and cedar waxwings were especially conspicuous and migrant ducks were beginning to arrive from the north; this morning's visitors included blue-winged teal, American wigeon and gadwalls.  A few summer residents still remain and a lone snowy egret, huddled on driftwood in the shallows, seemed to be contemplating his escape to warmer climes.  Normally nocturnal, a beaver was active in the post-dawn chill, inspecting his dam before winter arrives.

We humans, like the wildlife, are also invigorated by the chilly air and the riverside path was filled with walkers, bikers and joggers.  After all, the fall equinox arrives this weekend (September 22) and the glorious month of October, which usually brings the first snow showers to the urban corridor, is just around the bend. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Flooding and Federal Policy

As we witness the tragic flooding from Hurricane Florence along the Southeast Coast, we are reminded of the devastation in Houston caused by Hurricane Harvey and the repeated spring flooding along some American Rivers (the Red River of the Northern Plains comes immediately to mind).

Having decided that flood insurance is a money losing proposition, private insurance companies have backed away from such coverage, donating that option to the Federal Government.  As is often the case, the U.S. Government accepted the challenge and is now billions of dollars in the red (even before the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence).

One wonders whether Federal dollars would be better spent buying up properties on floodplains and barrier islands and assisting with local engineering efforts rather than encouraging insurance holders to rebuild in those flood-prone areas.  After all, global warming is threatening coastal communities as sea levels rise and will likely intensify the power of tropical storms and hurricanes.  We cannot expect leadership from the current Administration but both the financial and climate realities will eventually force the Federal Government to take a more intelligent approach to this recurrent and worsening problem.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Love Songs

We often speak of "Love Songs" as one category of music.  But when you think about it, almost all pop, rock and country songs could be categorized as such; even the great majority of instrumental music (including jazz and classical) has been inspired by that emotion.  Exceptions seem to be limited to secular holiday tunes and commercial jingles.

Most of our popular music is devoted to the joy of love, the pursuit of love, the complications of love or the loss of love.  That love may involve another person, a pet, a place (including nature), an activity or a mystical being, among less common subjects.

It is no wonder that the most complex and intense human emotion has spawned so much creativity.  After all, nothing is more important in our lives.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Florence lashes the Southeast Coast

Florence, now downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane, has grown into a broad storm with hurricane or tropical storm force winds stretching across 400 miles.  The outer bands have come ashore in eastern North Carolina this morning, igniting tornadic thunderstorms and producing heavy, wind-swept rain.

Due to "blocking highs" to its north and northwest, Hurricane Florence is expected to stall near the Coast and then drift southwestward along the southeastern coast of North Carolina and the northeastern coast of South Carolina, perhaps as far south as Charleston.  North of the storm's eyewall, which currently has sustained winds of 105 mph, onshore winds will produce a storm surge of 10 feet or more, as well as inland flooding from up to 2 feet or more of rain.

Due to its slow forward motion (toward the coast and then down the coast), the high winds, storm surge and heavy rain will persist for a long period of time (perhaps 48 hours), increasing the risk of flooding and damage to trees, power lines and structures.  Of course, the Hurricane Stuntmen will be there to bring us the action.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Treating Dementia

This afternoon, I attended a conference on the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.  Several crucial points were made, including the importance of an accurate diagnosis (only 65% of cases are actually due to Alzheimer's Disease).  Furthermore, a variety of treatable conditions may cause dementia-like symptoms (alcohol abuse, depression, certain vitamin deficiencies, sleep disorders, toxins, hypothyroidism and hyperparathyroidism, among others) and, for these, curative measures are available.

Advances in genomics and biomarker technology may assist with early diagnosis, and a healthy life style (a Mediterranean diet, regular aerobic exercise and tobacco avoidance) may diminish the incidence and progression of Alzheimer's Disease.  While certain medications may modify the severity and course of dementia, curative treatments are not available at this point (though ongoing research studies offer hope).

What was not discussed at this conference (and a subject generally avoided by physicians at this stage of human enlightenment) is the option of assisted suicide for end-stage dementia patients.  This group of diseases, which rob individuals of their mind and their dignity, place a great deal of stress on caretakers and a tremendous financial burden on families and on society as a whole.  Should a dementia patient, while still capable of making decisions, request this intervention at a given point in their disease progression, I, for one, strongly support their right to die with dignity.

See: Thoughts on Assisted Suicide 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Late Summer Heat Wave

Following two weeks of relatively mild temperatures and intermittent rain, the next (and hopefully last) heat wave is building along the Colorado Front Range.  Once again, it is the product of a high pressure ridge, expanding northward from the Desert Southwest.  For the next week or so, afternoon highs are expected to reach the lower to mid 90s F, well above average for September.

Fortunately, the recent rains have revived the vegetation and the longer nights, combined with our high elevation and thin, dry air, have allowed overnight temperatures to drop into the fifties.  In addition, rising hot air often ignites thunderstorms above the Front Range peaks, which then drift eastward to provide spotty relief from the heat.

Our risk of these heat waves will continue until the jet stream becomes less stable in mid autumn, undulating across the country and dislodging warm atmospheric ridges with cool atmospheric troughs.  Snow usually dusts the higher peaks by late September and upslope snowstorms generally coat the urban corridor by mid October. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fall without Football

Watching college football is among my earliest memories, gathered around the black and white with my father and uncles, enjoying both the snacks and their beer-fueled banter.  Throughout high school and college, that pattern continued as I joined friends on Saturday afternoons to watch the games and indulge in our favorite beverages.

My wife and I have also honored that tradition over the years, enjoying the pageantry and the legendary announcers (Jackson, Lundquist et al.) as much as the games themselves; however, other than her devotion to the Wisconsin Badgers, we have not been avid fans of any given teams.  Long disturbed by serious injuries suffered in the name of school pride and big money, we have lost our enthusiasm for college football as the evidence of sports-related CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) has become impossible to ignore.

Despite the enjoyment that college football has provided over the years, we can no longer lend our support by attending games or watching them on television.  This will be our first fall without football.

See also:  Modern Gladiators and Brain Trauma Season

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Delusion of Simplicity

Nothing of consequence in life is simple.  Surely, no one would argue that love or personal relationships are uncomplicated.  And who would suggest that parenting is simple or that their career has been devoid of complications?  To imply that there are simple solutions to our social ills or to the threats that we impose on natural ecosystems is exceedingly naive.

Indeed, life itself is highly complex, having evolved into a vast array of species over the past 3.6 billion years.  Despite our technologic advancements, we still do not fully understand the countless biochemical processes that support life and are far from eliminating the many diseases that threaten its existence.

Those who offer simple solutions to the problems that confront individuals, human society or our environment are delusional, seemingly unaware that all interventions have potential side effects and unforeseen consequences; most of these individuals are poorly educated and prone toward mysticism.  Our Universe, our planet, our civilization, our relationships, our bodies and our natural environment are far more complex and interconnected than most humans appreciate; there is nothing simple about them.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Published Word

Published writing, whether in the form of literature, a news article, an essay, a blog post or an email, must be owned by the author.  After all, it will be a permanent record of that person's ideas, experience, convictions and philosophy.

Those in the business of writing (authors, journalists, bloggers, etc.) come to understand this fact and personally read and re-read their material before it is published.  Subsequent to that publication, their writing (and its implications regarding the author) will often be questioned or criticized and may become fodder for lawsuits or various forms of social persecution.  In that respect, the willingness to produce published content (whether fictional or not) requires a certain degree of courage.

Unfortunately, those who publish via email, text or tweet, do not often understand the permanence and potential consequences of their comments.  Then there are those who publish anonymously, refusing to accept personal responsibility for the content of their pronouncement.  Both of these scenarios are especially disturbing for those of us who respect the published word.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Atlantic Comes Alive

After a slow start to the Atlantic Hurricane Season, a chain of tropical storms, hurricanes and tropical waves has developed in the past few days.  Of course, September is generally the peak month of the annual Hurricane Season (which runs from June to early November) and current atmospheric and oceanic conditions are favoring storm development.

Just yesterday, Tropical Storm Gordon made landfall along the Mississippi Coast and its flooding rains continue to fall near Pensacola and Mobile; in the coming days, that tropical system will inject copious moisture into the Midwest which will interact with a cold front to produce flooding from Arkansas to the Great Lakes.  Next in line is Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 3 storm in the Central Atlantic; its future course remains uncertain but it could potentially affect the entire East Coast of the U.S.  Behind Florence are three tropical waves, emerging from the West Coast of Africa every few days; since wind shear has currently diminished over the Atlantic and sea temperatures are in the upper 80s (F) off the Southeast Coast, the stage is set for potential landfalling hurricanes.

While the incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes will vary with a host of atmospheric and oceanic patterns, our warming climate will surely add fuel to systems that do develop.  Storms in the Eastern Pacific have dominated the headlines in recent months but the Atlantic has now come alive!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Visiting Coastal Colorado

After my recent travel to beaches and coastal wetlands of the Southeastern U.S., I thought I would visit Coastal Colorado today, a term I have previously applied to the lakes, gravel pits, sloughs and canals across the South Platte Valley of northeastern Colorado.

Unlike the Southeastern wetlands, those of the South Platte Valley are not characterized by lush, verdant vegetation.  Rather, in this semiarid climate, trees (mostly plains cottonwoods) are found only along the river, its primary tributaries or irrigation canals.  Since this summer has been especially hot and dry, the natural grasslands have browned, adorned only by clumps of prairie sunflowers and rabbitbrush.  Though I saw hundreds (if not thousands) of American white pelicans (especially at Barr Lake State Park), most avian species were limited in number; among these were Swainson's hawks, American kestrels, western grebes, cattle egrets, Franklin's gulls, American avocets and shorebirds that were too distant to identify.

I have been visiting this region in late summer for more than thirty years, enjoying the mosaic of shortgrass prairie, cropfields and ranchlands that surround the river, lakes and wetlands.  In recent years, however, fracking wells and oil storage tanks have begun to dominate the scene in some areas and one wonders what impact they will have on the quality of the water and the welfare of the aquatic ecosystems.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

River Otter at Eagle Bluffs

On this pleasant morning in central Missouri, a friend and I headed down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, on the Missouri River floodplain.  Bird sightings were far from spectacular though a large number of great egrets and great blue herons were encountered.  The highlight of this morning's visit was the sighting of a river otter, feeding in a channel at the south end of the refuge.

Nearly extirpated from Missouri in the early 20th Century, river otters have made a dramatic comeback due to a reintroduction program that began in the 1980s.  Now found in rivers, large creeks and lakes throughout the State, these large mustelids feast primarily on fish, crayfish and amphibians; the young are born in late winter and family groups may be found throughout the year.

Since river otters are primarily nocturnal, they are not regularly observed by the general public and are more abundant than most of us might suspect.  This morning's sighting was thus a special and unexpected treat; though I have encountered many mink and muskrats at Eagle Bluffs, this was my "first otter" after hundreds of visits to that fabulous refuge.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Liberal Press

President Trump, like many other conservative politicians, often ridicules "the liberal media."  Of course, our narcissist-in-chief also refers to their reporting as "fake news" and openly suggests that they are the "enemy of the people."

While I despise almost everything that Trump does or says, I must agree that professional journalists tend to be liberal.  After all, they are well-educated, worldly individuals, students of history and well-informed on social issues.  Journalists are generally open-minded and tolerant, strongly devoted to free speech and human rights; more than most citizens, they are repeatedly exposed to the inequities in human society and understand the vital role that a free press plays in addressing those problems.

Unlike zealous politicians, who see the world in black and white, journalists appreciate the many shades of gray and work to uncover the truth, wherever their search might lead.  Truth, in turn, is the enemy of zealots and they fear (and thus denigrate) those who bring it to light.  Fortunately, the harsh rhetoric and threats that come from Trump and his admirers will not prevail in this country.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Spectacle at Dusk

On this cool, breezy evening in Columbia, Missouri, I went out to the back deck for a bird count.  After spending an hour in the lounge chair, I had seen a fair variety of birds, all common summer residents in our area.

As dusk progressed, I was about to go inside when a flock of common nighthawks appeared in the darkening sky; numbering 32, they were drifting to the SSE.  To my delight, this initial flock was followed by two more, all heading the same direction; the total count for all three flocks was 84.

Though large flocks of migrating nighthawks are not unusual in late August and early September, this evening's spectacle, unexpected and almost missed, was especially inspiring as the silent travelers passed overhead.  They are on their way to South America, always leaving well ahead of the autumn chill; unlike some insectivores (e.g. chimney swifts), which stick around until mid October, nighthawks do not risk any depletion of their prey (flying insects).  Feeding on the wing as they migrate, they will not return to the Heartland until early May.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flashback Post X

Two days after visiting the Columbia Audubon Sanctuary, where (among other habitats) I crossed a restored prairie, I am experiencing an outbreak of chigger "bites."  Though I stayed on the trails, my preventive efforts were otherwise minimal, having ignored my own advice from June of 2016.

See:  Chigger Season

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Morning of Pewees

Back in central Missouri, I visited the Columbia Audubon Sanctuary this morning.  Though we are in the midst of another heat wave, it was relatively mild and breezy just after dawn but harassment by horse flies hastened my walk through the refuge.

While I encountered a fair variety of species, including pileated woodpeckers and a barred owl, eastern wood pewees dominated the scene, moving about in small groups and calling from every parcel of forest.  The most common and widespread flycatcher in the eastern U.S., these birds generally arrive in May and depart for South America by early October.  Throughout the warmer months, they are most often seen alone, perched near the tip of a dead limb from which they make repeated sorties to snare flying insects; they may also glean prey (insects or spiders) from the foliage.

Upon arriving in spring and just before leaving in the fall, eastern wood species, like many other birds, may congregate in favored locations where food is plentiful.  The cause for their abundance this morning is uncertain but their cheerful calls and "bug-control" services are always welcome.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Threat of Provincialism

President Trump's election was, in large part, the result of his promise to enact policies that focus purely on the welfare of Americans.  Many of those who supported his populist message were looking out for their own welfare, placing it above the welfare of humans in general.

Such provincialism is especially strong in rural areas and small towns, where residents tend to be like-minded and where a distrust of the Federal Government is especially strong.  Though many rely on subsidies (e.g. farm supports) and turn to the Federal Government when natural disasters destroy their homes or threaten their livelihoods, they abhor the liberal politics of urban centers.

Were this provincialism limited to regional politics, it might be amusing.  But the welfare of our species and the health of our environment depend upon cooperation throughout our country and across the globe.  We cannot effectively deal with climate change, pandemics, poverty, environmental pollution and human rights by focusing solely on our local community and personal welfare.  Provincialism is selfish, close-minded and, in the long run, self-destructive.