Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sit Still

ladybug

Ladybug. Photo by author, 2016.

Sit still, and a groundhog might run along the path where you are sitting.

Watch closely, and the brilliant red of a ladybug might appear.

Tread lightly, and a fly mimicking a wasp might alight on some flowers.

What unique sights have you seen by paying close attention?

flymimic

Fly mimc, waiting on an identification. Photo by author 2016.

BioBlitz’d

If you haven’t been, go to Sandy Hook (part of Gateway National Recreation Area) in New Jersey.

While you can see the fuzzy outline of Manhattan’s skyscraper’s if you look north, you will be too busy doing other far more interesting things to worry about the city.

 

sandyhookbioblitz

Sandy Hook, Gateway National Recreation Area. Photo by author, 2016.

From the bayside with lumbering horseshoe crabs, to the sandy forests filled with birds, to the historic lighthouse, Sandy Hook is filled with places to explore. I’ve been going for years and still feel like I’m just getting acquainted with the park. I can never decide whether to bike or swim or walk or birdwatch or just lay on the beach. So I usually try to combine them and end up awkwardly birdwatching from my bike on the way to the beach.

Sandy Hook just had a BioBlitz, coordinated by American Littoral Society and National Park Service. We meandered through different habitats, trying to catalogue as many bird species as we could find. I am still in awe of the expert, who was able to see a bird on the wing and call out what species it was. Even with the gulls.

We saw roughly 30+ bird species in just a few hours during the afternoon, not even prime birding time. Two of us were typing frantically to upload the sightings to iNaturalist, as there would be a flurry of sightings and then relative quiet. It was a thrilling afternoon of looking closely at a park, counting the ‘ordinary’ birds as well as the showstoppers.

If you can find a BioBlitz near you, go!

If you live near Sandy Hook, go!

A Selection of Quotations by E.O. Wilson

I know I’m late to the party. I plan on making up for years of not reading these works immediately.

Some of the many spot-on quotations from E.O. Wilson’s Diversity of Life (2010):

Extinction:

“[Hawaiian] honeycreepers disappeared as vanished species usually do, not in a dramatic catacylsm but unnoticed” (97)

“The committment must be much deeper–to let no species knowingly die, to take all reasonable action to protect every species and race in perpetuity…Insofar as biodiversity is deemed an irreplaceable public resource, its protection should be bound into legal canon.” (342)

“What is urgently needed is knowledge and a practical ethic based on a time scale longer than we are accustomed to apply.” (312)

“By the time we find out, however, it might be too late. One planet, one experiment.” (182)

Insects

“So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to disappear, humanity could probably not last more than a few months. Most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals would crash into extinction about the same time. Next would go the bulk of the flowering plants and with them the physical structure of most forests and other terrestrial habitats of the world. The land surface would literally rot. As dead vegetation piled up and dried out, closing the channels of the nutrient cycles, other complex forms of vegetation would die off, and with them all but a few remnants of the land vertebrates.” (133)

Valuing Ecosystems

“Each ecosystem has intrinsic value. Just as a country treasures its finite historical episodes, classic books, works of art, and other measures of national greatness, it should learn to treasure its unique and finite ecosystems, resonant to a sense of time and place.” (158)

“Beyond commodity value, economists fall short.” (305)

“If a price can be put on something, that something can be devalued, sold, and discarded.” (348)

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Dead horseshoe crabs. Photo by author, 2016.

It’s Migration Time!

Hello, migration! It’s the most wonderful time of year for a bird watcher.

While I celebrate the appearance of unique birds, seeing my first Scarlet Tanager (female or juvenile male) and first American Redstart, I also know that many of the beautiful fierce migrants won’t make it. Hoping to find a couple of other unique sightings in the next weeks, though even seeing common birds makes me happy. Here’s looking at you, mockingbirds.

Put your cats inside and close your window blinds. At least through October. But preferably the rest of the year, at least for the cats thing.

I posted an old National Geographic map poster of bird migration in my cubicle, and was saddened to find in small italics, the morbid factoid that an estimated 100 million birds die on migration every year due to window collisions.

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Wishing these parents and offspring a safe migration if they are peripatetic birds. Photo by author, New Jersey, 2016.

Also, if you haven’t seen this Audubon post on animal movements anticipated due to climate change, check it out:

Climate Change Migration Map

2 Lucky Creatures, 1 Unlucky Fish

Frog eyes poking above the floats of algae, a hunched green heron on a log, a cardinal hopping in tree branches, all good things to see on a sunset walk.

But it was the great blue heron that delivered the You Won’t Believe What I Just Saw! moment of the night. I am not the most patient of people, but watching the statuesque heron for just 2 minutes yielded a fast strike and a flopping (unlucky) fish in the heron’s spear of a beak. The giant bird flew over to a nearby grassy island, where it dropped the roughly 8 inch fish onto the grass and pierced it a few additional times.

Waiting a few moments, the heron grabbed the fish and dunked it in the water. Was it washing the fish? I have never seen behavior like that.

The heron tried to swallow the fish, but either the fish’s size or the angle was working against the bird. The heron responded, dropping the fish back in the water and vigorously stabbing it again with its beak. Was it practicing hunting skills? Teaching the oversize fish a lesson? Trying to break it into more manageable chunks?

As the drama continued, my arms tired from holding binoculars. I had to take periodic breaks. Definitely a reminder to work out my upper body, in pursuit of more successful birdwatching.

I remember coming upon a great blue heron as an adolescent. I was fishing with my grandfather off a dock in Florida. We caught a catfish, which made the great blue heron very interested in our generosity and sense of obligation to a creature just trying to make it to tomorrow in the Anthropocene. We backed away from the catfish, me trying not to squeal with glee. I was unsure about whether the narrow beak could fit a giant fish without choking, but the heron stoically swallowed the catfish on the first try.

So, I remembered that as I mentally cheered on the heron. Finally, gauzy sunset clouds as a backdrop, the fish went down the hatch.

It was a good day for the heron, and a great evening surprise for me.

Bobcats & Feral Cats, Part 1

Less than a week into moving into my new place, I saw a orange and white cat lunge and emerge with a flopping feathered mass in its mouth. Starlings flocked over to see what the commotion was. While I’m not particularly heart-broken about the loss of a starling–beautiful birds but devastating invaders–I am livid about seeing domestic cats outside.

In this spirit, I finally forced myself to listen to a Reveal podcast. I had to force myself not  because Reveal is a bad podcast, but because the feral cat situation pisses me off and the people who prefer ecological devastation to eliminating the feral cat population piss me off even more.

I will have to see if my opinions are revised after listening to second half of the podcast. For the first half, they focus on bobcat trapping. I didn’t even know that was a thing, being an ignorant East Coaster. The main issue for the trapping is the cruelty of the traps, though I take personal issue with the guise of ‘population control,’ which was summed up by a guy in power stating that they believe there are too many bobcats. No evidence or data to back up the claim that this native predator is overpopulated.

The ethics of sustainable trapping and hunting is a topic I will delve into for future work; for now it will have to suffice that the wildlife trade is largely unsustainable and insanely profitable across the globe.

Current bobcat population estimates are at one million, which is “quite large” in the words of National Geographic.

What would they say about the population of invasive, destructive feral cats then? Ranging from estimates of 60 million to over 80 million, feral cats wreak ecological havoc. This in a world already brimming with windows, roads, drought, and the specter of climate change.