Monday, June 27, 2022

The Benevolent Conservatives

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade and a number of States have promptly outlawed abortion, Conservatives are weighing in with their sincere plans to provide for mothers, infants and children in need.  Their efforts, they believe, will counter any negative effects of the abortion restrictions.

Of course, these are the same politicians who have long opposed the expansion of Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, offering free childcare and funding school meals for impoverished children.  Are they now willing to test our reliance on such "socialistic" measures?  Of course not.

Having appeased the religious right, they will go back to their policy of fiscal restraint.  Many poor and young mothers will suffer, infants will die and an increasing number of children will go hungry.  Quality medical care will be in short supply and the financial stress on low-income families will dramatically increase.  What will the Conservatives offer then?  Probably advice on budgeting and the encouragement to take on more work as necessary.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

A Summer Chill

Overnight, a cold front dropped southward along the Colorado Front Range, temporarily disrupting our hot, sunny summer.  A dense gray overcast shrouds the urban corridor and a light, cool mist coats the heat-stressed vegetation.

Except for those who might have planned a family picnic or outdoor wedding, this summer chill is a welcome reprieve, expected to persist for the next two days.  Our high temperature should peak in the upper 60s F and afternoon thunderstorms might produce significant precipitation.

The refreshing chill and temporary cloudiness are, themselves, products of the local elevation and topography; behind the cold front, an "upslope flow" develops, cooling the air, lowering its dew point and ringing out its moisture.  In this semiarid ecosystem, such cool, rainy interludes are vital to both the welfare of native plants and animals and to the emotional comfort of human residents. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Doctors as Patients

Having practiced medicine for over 40 years, I retired almost 10 years ago (seems like yesterday).  I was fortunate to remain healthy throughout my career but, in recent years, have become a patient, witnessing medical care from the other side of the fence.

While physicians preach preventive health care, they are not always shining examples themselves; indeed, the old adage is "Do as I say, not as I do."  Prior to the 1970s (and perhaps a bit later) many doctors still smoked in their offices and few engaged in regular exercise, blaming long hours of work, day and night.  As patients, we have the advantage of understanding our illness, including its evaluation, treatment and prognosis and, in general, that makes most of us more compliant (though at times opinionated) patients.  We also (justified or not) tend to receive more attention and respect from other healthcare workers.

On the other hand, we more clearly appreciate the skill and professionalism of the various physicians, nurses, technicians and clerks who are involved in our management.  Perhaps harboring some negative feelings from our time in practice, we now witness the challenges, complaints and sheer volume of interactions that they must face in the course of a day.  In my case, they have always been friendly, kind and more than capable.  Perhaps it would be helpful if all physicians experienced some personal medical care early in our careers. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Return to a Ravaged Farm

It was good to escape the Midwestern heat wave and return to the relatively cool, dry air of the Colorado Front Range.  Intermittent snow and rain during the spring has spawned a healthy amount of greenery on our Littleton farm but strong storms, associated with high winds, damaged a large number of trees.

Combined with the prolonged drought of last summer and fall, the storms left our property looking like a war zone with some dead shrubs and trees and numerous large limbs scattered about the pastures and "lawns."  It will take some time to cut them up and haul them to the brush piles but such exercise is easier to take in the drier, cooler air.

On the other hand, most of our native trees and shrubs, including locusts, mulberries and chokecherries have come through nature's wrath in good shape, able to tolerate the drought and strong winds that regularly occur in this region.  Planting such species (or allowing them spread naturally) reduces demand on our dwindling water supply, retains natural beauty on the farm and insures that our wild residents will have plenty of food under all weather conditions. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

A Scene from Jurassic Park

Birding in the Lower Bonne Femme Valley this morning, I caught sight of a wild turkey flock, moving in unison as they foraged across a fallow field,  It reminded me of a scene from the blockbuster film, Jurassic Park.

Contrary to a popular assumption, dinosaurs were not reptiles though they lived in concert with some giant reptilian species.  In fact, dinosaurs were warm-blooded creatures that gave rise to ancestral birds back in the mid-late Jurassic Period.  It is thus no wonder that some modern birds harbor anatomic features and demonstrate behavior that remind us of the dinosaurs we have seen in films.

Having brought up Jurassic Park, I would be remiss not to mention that the film should have been titled Cretaceous Park.  Most of the dinosaurs that were "brought back" at the featured facility lived during the Cretaceous Period (145 to 65 MYA), the last period of the Mesozoic Era.  The Jurassic Period (200-145 MYA) preceded it but was also part of the dinosaur era. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tern, Tern, Tern

To everything there is a season and summer is not the best time to observe terns at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.  A few migrants may still be passing through (especially black terns) and least terns are occasionally spotted along the Missouri River.

This morning, however, a friend and I caught a glimpse of two terns at a distance; unfortunately, they disappeared before we reached their location.  Based on their white plumage, shape and flight behavior, there is no doubt that they were terns but their species could not be determined.

For experienced birders such as ourselves, this was no time to laugh and we refrained from embracing.  Then again, there were plenty of other byrds to be seen and that was our purpose, under heaven. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Yellowstone Flooding

Yellowstone National Park is currently closed to visitors due to severe flooding along all of the Park's streams, especially the Yellowstone River.  Rapid snow melt (due to a recent heat wave) combined with torrential rain from thunderstorms are responsible for the devastation.

Of course, such events have occurred over the centuries, molding the landscape that we observe today, but these disastrous floods are likely to increase as the climate warms.  Indeed, there is little doubt that the current deluge is a reflection of our changing climate, however reluctant many Americans are to accept that fact. 

While private property has been destroyed beyond the Park and many visitors will be forced to change their vacation plans, wild residents of Yellowstone have also surely been affected.  The young and the old, too frail to escape the floodwaters, have likely succumbed.  "The Circle of Life," some might suggest, but a circle distorted by human activity.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Choosing Money over Morality

As most sports fans know by now, a group of PGA members have left that organization (after raking in millions of dollars) to join the LIV tour, sponsored by Saudi Arabia.  After all, the competition will be less and the payouts will be much higher, courtesy of the Saudi Government.

One may debate the decision of the PGA to exclude these players from their tournaments but it is much harder to justify the players' willingness to receive cash from a Government that openly suppresses human rights.  Women, critical journalists and LGBT individuals need not apply or attend.

It will be unfortunate if the LIV tour enjoys support from fans, viewers, broadcasters or corporate sponsors during its swing through the U.S.  If Americans buy into this attempt to rescue the image of Saudi Arabia, North Korea may be next in line.    

Sunday, June 12, 2022

1883: The Series

1883, a series now streaming on Paramount, is the story of the Dutton family, European immigrants and their guides, crossing the Great Plains from Fort Worth, Texas, to Oregon.  The fictional Dutton family members are the ancestors of the family in Yellowstone, another popular series.

While I have had little interest in Yellowstone, a modern drama set in Montana, the 1883 series was both educational and interesting, relating the many challenges that faced wagon train travelers in the late 19th Century.  While some of the geography was inaccurate (especially near the Rockies), the depiction of the Plains landscape, including its weather, fauna and flora, was inviting to watch.  Native Americans received favorable treatment in the series while most of the white inhabitants of towns, trading posts and forts reflected the worst traits of the Wild West.

My enthusiasm for the series was derived primarily from its approach to nature, God, perseverance and death.  On the stark yet beautiful Plains, one's faith in God or Nature is repeatedly challenged.  I strongly recommend the series for both its historical and philosophical lessons.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Me and the Metaverse

Anyone who pays even fleeting attention to the modern tech world has heard about the Metaverse.  Nevertheless, though it is the new focus of Facebook (now known as Meta Platforms), no one seems capable of describing the Metaverse in any detail.  As a non-techie, I imagine it to be a digital universe in which humans participate via their cyber images.

Now in my seventies, I will likely miss out on the Metaverse but I am not the least bit disappointed.  Not keen on social media or computer games,  I am far more interested in the real Universe, however poorly we understand its history and ongoing evolution.  While the laws of physics will control the Metaverse as well, I am more fascinated by their role in the physical Universe, including their interaction with chemical and biologic processes.

No doubt, modern technology has been vital to our understanding of the physical Universe but I doubt the Metaverse will contribute to that knowledge.  I'll never know for sure but I'm glad I lived during an era when scientists focused on reality, not virtual reality.  

See also:  Give Me Reality

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Pelican Shift?

American white pelicans have long been considered a western species (though small permanent populations exist in Florida and coastal Texas) since they breed on lakes of the Great Basin and Northern Plains.  Over the past decade, however, their summer population seems to be spreading eastward,

Here in central Missouri, these large, majestic birds are common migrants, generally moving through in October and February-March; the spring migrants are especially abundant.  Non-breeding birds range widely during the summer months and small flocks frequently visit Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain.  This morning, 22 were present, the most I have ever encountered during the warmer months.

One wonders if the American white pelican population is shifting eastward or if eastern counts are rising due to an expanding population and range.  As climate change dries up lakes in the West, it is easy to imagine that they will increasingly summer and breed in the Great Lakes region.  Time will tell. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A Skink in the Compost Bin

When taking watermelon rinds out to the compost bin last evening, I opened the lid to find a five-lined skink (also known as a blue-tailed skink) scurrying across the vegetative debris.  A dedicated insectivore, he was surely taking advantage of the fact that numerous insects and spiders are drawn to the bin's rotting contents.

In a way, we are facilitating his hunting activity, just as bird feeding concentrates prey for a number of falcons, hawks and other predators.  Are we thereby creating an imbalance in our backyard ecosystem or does the value of a compost bin outweigh the impact on our resident invertebrates?  Should I screen in the compost to keep out predators?

This argument is partly in jest but also reminds us that most human activity, however well-intentioned, has an impact on natural ecosystems.  Our species broke from those ecosystems once we developed the means to avoid being prey ourselves.  For now, with all due respect to the spiders and insects, I will not evict the skink from our compost bin.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Lone Coot

On this cloudy but balmy morning in central Missouri, I made a brief visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.  There I encountered the usual mix of summer wildlife but also found a single American coot.

During migrations, especially in April and October, thousands of coot descend on this Missouri River refuge; during those events, one must estimate their numbers and birders rarely, if ever, focus on single individuals.  To come across the lone coot was thus a bit of a surprise and I stopped to watch as it foraged in a shallow marsh, diving intermittently but mostly just floating along the edge of the duck weed.

In many ways, this experience reflected how many of us interact with fellow humans.  I had initially labeled this post "The Lonesome Coot" but then considered the fact that it may not be lonely at all; perhaps, like many humans, it relishes solitude.  After all, many of us are not enamored with human crowds, finding that individuals are far more interesting.  Massive avian flocks and human throngs may produce memorable spectacles but personal interactions are usually more rewarding.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Long Branch Lake

Completed in 1980, Long Branch Lake is a 2430 acre reservoir at the junction of Long Branch Creek and the East Fork of the Little Chariton River, just west of Macon, Missouri.  Long Branch State Park borders the southern portion of the Lake and covers the Bee Trace Peninsula that stretches between the feeder streams; other shorelines and the backwater zone are protected within State Conservation Areas.

A popular destination for hunting, fishing and camping, the Lake and its surroundings are also excellent for wildlife watching and uncrowded hiking.  Indeed, on this sunny, mild morning, my wife and I found that human activity was almost exclusively limited to the marina and campground areas.  Though a limited trail network connects those sites, 7.5 miles of trails wind through the Bee Trace Peninsula and several backroads lead to isolated beaches along the reservoir.

The natural habitat is a mix of grassland, bottomland woods and upland oak-hickory forest.  Among our sightings today were two immature bald eagles, great blue herons, northern bobwhites, red-headed woodpeckers, brown thrashers and eastern phoebes (not to mention dozens of turkey vultures).  Just an hour's drive north of Columbia, the lake and its adjacent ecosystems proved to be a rewarding day trip.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

White Clover

White clover (often called Dutch clover) is a Eurasian species that has become widely naturalized in North America.  Our clover "crop" seems especially abundant this year, in part due to the fact that we do not use herbicides or pesticides on our lawn.

A perennial, white clover forms extensive root systems which may remain viable for 100 years or more.  Beyond its role in adorning lawns (and providing material for clover chains), this wildflower attracts a wide variety of bees and butterflies and is consumed by most mammalian herbivores (especially cottontails).  Humans also partake of the stems, leaves and flowers, using them in salads and soups or as garnishes for a variety of foods.

Sitting on our front porch this afternoon, I watched honeybees as they foraged across the floral carpet.  Unlike some suburbanites, we are pleased to have a healthy clover crop. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Birding after the Rain

Last night, a cold front crawled across Missouri, igniting thunderstorms and producing heavy rain.  As the front moved off to the southeast, the rain stopped by mid morning and I knew it was a good time for birding; I chose one of my favored birding haunts along the Missouri River.

Veteran birders know that heavy rain and strong winds are the two weather conditions that force many birds into sheltered areas, thereby keeping them out of sight.  Once the rain stops, however, birding can be especially productive as clouds of insects attract swifts, swallows and other aerial insectivores, as many birds appear on roadways, attracted by worms, larvae and seeds flushed from the soil or foliage, and as many songsters announce their survival, singing from a variety of natural and man-made perches.

On my field trip this morning, I encountered only 21 species along the 3-mile route but most were numerous and conspicuous.  Highlights included a pair of bald eagles, a blue grosbeak, two lark sparrows and a couple of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  They should all enjoy a few mild, dry days before the next front arrives.

Monday, May 30, 2022

White-rumped Sandpipers

 On my visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, it was clear that the floodplain refuge has entered its summer mode.  Of the 34 bird species that I encountered, only one was not a permanent or summer resident; the exception was a flock of white-rumped sandpipers.

After breeding on the Arctic tundra of North America, these long-distance migrants head for southern South America and adjacent islands, traveling primarily over the Atlantic Ocean.  Come spring, they head northward over land, funneling through the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley.  Due to the length of their journey, they are late spring migrants in the U.S., generally passing through in late May or early June.

This morning's flock was composed of 12 individuals, foraging on a mudflat along the central channel.  Difficult to distinguish from other smallish sandpipers when on the ground, their white rump and terminal black tail band are exposed in flight and, fortunately, they complied this morning.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Monitored Life

In this Age of Technology, we are offered a wide variety of wearables and gadgets that are designed to keep us healthy.  While some are clearly valuable (automated blood pressure cuffs and glucose monitoring pods for diabetics are examples), one wonders at what point health data awareness leads to compulsion and anxiety.

Perhaps I am an exception but I seem to know when I have engaged in too little or too much exercise and when I have consumed too much junk food.  Neither do I need a high tech bed to know if I got a good night's sleep.  Not a fan of number games, I do not monitor my steps or count my calories.  While the monitoring tools may make some individuals more aware of their behavior, they are generally purchased by those who least need that assistance (i.e. those who already adhere to a healthy lifestyle).

Finally, to my knowledge, there are no wearables that monitor your time away from your television, your time listening to music, your periods of solitude or your time immersed in natural ecosystems.  In my experience, those are among the most healthy practices that one can undertake.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Exploitation of Misery

Another mass shooting in the U.S. and the national media has rushed to the scene to provide all the details of the tragedy.  Of course, we all want to know what happened, why it might have occurred and, once again, what warning signs were missed or ignored.

What we don't need to see or hear is the emotional turmoil endured by victims, survivors, parents, grandparents and staff.  We need not ask a third grader to recount the horror of the event.  But the national media knows that many Americans are captivated by tear-jerking accounts and extended viewership brings in the ad dollars.  Imagine having the media descend on the untimely death of one of your family members; would that be comforting?

If the news organizations want to make a difference, they should descend on Congress, demanding comments from those who could prevent many of these tragic events.  Unfortunately, most Americans have little interest in policy discussions.

See also: Voyeurs of Tragedy