Saturday, December 31, 2011

30 Days to Success... or a Great Story

What do you aim to do every day, for the next 30 days? 

Lion Grooming

Like so many things, lion grooming looks very easy and relaxed from the cheap seats, same as sword swallowing, but if you intend to try this at home, bring a gallon of iodine as you may need it at the end!

Why the Indians Attacked at Dawn

I continue to engage in free reading thank to my Kindle Fire.

From "A Flintlock in the Rain" by Lionel Atwill in The Best Hunting Stories Ever Told, edited by Jay Cassell, comes this little gem about getting ready for deer hunting with flintlocks in the Adirondack wilderness of New York:
Loading a flintlock at five in the morning by the light of a Coleman lantern is a ticklish feat. It is hard to tell if the powder goes down the barrel or down your boots. The temptation is to stand smack next to the light and see what you are doing, until the thought of the lantern igniting the powderhorn in your hand soaks through your coffee-laced brain. Then you step back even farther and forget if you have tossed a charge down the barrel or not.

"This," says Hatfield, "is why Indians attacked at dawn."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Maxims and Hints for Quite a Lot

I am grooving on my Kindle Fire, reading obscure books for free.

Today's find is in an odd little book entitled Maxims and Hints on Angling, Chess, Shooting, and Other Matters also, Miseries of Fishing by Richard Penn (1784-1863), and published in 1842.

I came across the four maxims below, and thought they applied to quite a lot, but especially to the world of dog training where there are thousands of years of experience, thousands of very excellent trainers alive today, and hundreds of different training techniques, and yet we still have some folks who have yet to bury their first dog, who are quite sure they have all the answers, that there is only one way to do it, and that maybe they themselves invented it all too. 

  • You must not insist upon its being admitted without dispute, that the man who made your gun is the best maker in London. This town is a very large place, and it contains a great many gunmakers. You must also remember that it "stands within the prospect of belief" that there may be other persons who think themselves as competent to select a good gun, and to shoot well with it afterwards as you are.
* * * *
  • In like manner, although you may prefer using one kind of wadding to another, or may perhaps like to wear shoes and gaiters rather than trousers and laced boots, you must not suppose that every man who takes the liberty of forming a different opinion from yours on these subjects is a mere bungler.
* * * *
  • If you are thought to excel in any particular game or sport, do not too often lead to it as a subject of conversation: your superiority, if real, will be duly felt by all your acquaintance, and acknowledged by some of them; and you may be sure that "a word" in your favour from another person will add more to your reputation than "a whole history" from yourself.
* * * *
  • The foundation of good breeding is the absence of selfishness. By acting always on this principle — by showing forbearance and moderation in argument when you feel sure that you are right, and a becoming diffidence when you are in doubt, you will avoid many of the errors which other men are apt to fall into.

Time to Return the Golden Bear to California!

A wandering radio-collared wolf has entered California from Oregon, making it the first wolf to return to that state in 80 or 90 years. No doubt more will come in over the next few years and decades.

All of this is great, but where is the Golden Bear?

The Golden Bear is nothing more than a light-coated regional variant of the Grizzly, and is on the state flag of California, but there are no Grizzlies in California anymore, even though the habitat is still there.

It it too crazy to suggest that instead of shooting Grizzlies in some parts of the U.S., a few be moved to California where they would thrive on nuts, wild pig, deer, and ground squirrels?

Fish on Fridays: Unnatural Selection Edition

From The Oregonian:

Genetic adaptation of hatchery steelhead starts hurting spawning success within just one generation, according to a study of Hood River fish that could lead to pinning down the causes of hatchery domestication.

Classic Darwinian evolution is clearly at work –- and it's working fast, the researchers concluded in their study, published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

...Hood River steelhead that thrived in hatcheries had traits that were "beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild," the study says.

Fish on Fridays: Devil Ray Edition

Devil Rays Tooling the Sky in the Sea of Cortez:


Fish on Fridays: Killer Whale Verus Great White:

Killer Whale Verus Great White:

The Killer Whale grabs and flips the Great White to immobilize it. Yeah, I think this Orca has done this particular trick before!  

What's the Jack Russell connection you ask?  What?  You don't know who the lead singer of Great White is?  Seriously?

Happy Birthday Gideon!

Gideon came to me at a little past two and a half years of age thanks to the kindness of Dawn Weiss at Briar Run Jack Russell Terriers in Missouri.  Gideon is a tough 11-inch body attached to a big head that is always sporting an enormous grin, and he lives for food, balls, and time in the field.  Gideon is Dawn's breeding, but behind him are quite a few Kingsway dogs from Jan DeWinter in Belgium, who seems to produce a steady stream of workers himself. As for Gideon, he is the only intact dog I have and he will remain so, which is all the editorializing I need to make about his value to me as a worker and companion.  So far as I can tell, Gideon has never met a dog or a human he could not convert to his side in five seconds.  Dale Carnegie could take lessons!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CATCH UP not ketchup

A "Heinz 57dog is a mixed breed dog of uncertain ancestry- a mutt.
 The name refers to the "57 varieties" Heinz slogan.

Well, you can tell my sense of humor is still intact.
The Holiday has been wonderful 
and all my focus has been on the kids.
Dearest son has returned to NYC,
but will be passing through here 
late January on his move to LA.
Darling Daughter is enjoying  her local friends
and we are being lazy goats in front 
of the tube, catching a mixed bag of films.
This illness/plague whatever..
knocked my socks off and not in the good way
damn.. :D
I have accomplished little,
gone nowhere and seen no one.
Home is where the heart is..
and where my slipper socks and jammies are.

Carole Sidlow is teaching a  fabulous ribbon class here
on January 7th (2 spots left) and
we will hold it in the converted studio/garage,
so since I cannot access my storage boxes,
Christmas will remain up until after the class.
Makes me a mite uneasy,
 ( my organization gene anxious to get back to work),
so instead I am overhauling my studio and hall closet,
and making a big bloomin' mess while I'm at it.
I decided to move all my paper supplies 
closer to me since that seems to be
 where my hearts desire is lately.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday.
I have been reading you all and keeping up,
and I hope that everyone's New Year 
brings them joy and happiness.

I am still debating my "word" or mantra for next year.
In 2011 the word was Begin
I feel I did that one justice,
so what should 2012 be about?
I am pondering these:

I could use some of all of the above.
I have been inspired all year by 
a lovely young woman Carolynn at
the Anchor and the Bird.
Please visit if you are not familiar 
with her year of good deeds (in process).

Thinking perhaps I could/should 
attempt the same good-deed daily tasks.
I donate 10% of my income each year and it is 
not always easy, but it is easy enough to write checks.

I am thinking I need to give back in other ways, 
where it might not be so easy, 
where I must trod the extra mile, 
 and as I tap this out I may have decided that
this desire should be manifested in my 2012 word.

would encompass the other 
four words under consideration
so yup, GIVE it is.
YAY my first decision of the new Year.
What do you plan to do with your next 365 days?
I plan to grow out my hair since
 I got scalped today. 
only pixies should wear pixie cuts

The summer backyard and chicken update

Things are very slow here. We're doing what we're supposed to do at this time of year. We're enjoying the sunshine in the backyard, watching cricket and relaxing. I hope you're able to do something similar. If you're north of the equator, I hope you're enjoying warm fires and brisk walks. I'll be back writing regularly soon but I thought you'd enjoy seeing what our backyard is like this morning.

Signs of Mammoth in Central Park

This is pretty good little lecture about nature, seen and unseen, in Central Park. 

The bit about the Kentucky Coffeetree is reminiscent of my 2006 post, The Mammoth in the Hedge.

Hog Dogs and Bear Dogs

Chad R. writes from Texas where he is using Jagd Terriers to bust pig from thick brush.  I was struck by how much the picture, above, is reminiscent of another picture, below.

This is Skip, Teddy Roosevelt's bear-busting terrier which he got from John Goff in 1905. Skip died in 1907 and was buried at the White House, but before Roosevelt left in 1908, he had Skip disinterred and buried at Sagamore, the Roosevelt family home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.

I suspect if Teddy were alive today, he would very much love to go pig hunting with a couple of Jagd terriers!

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coffee and Provocation

Chicago Park to Be 10X Larger Than Manhattan:
Chicago and the state of Illinois are going to turn 140,000 acres of under used post-industrial land along Chicago's southern rim into a public recreation hub called the Millennium Reserve.  The state is giving $17 million to the project, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn hopes to add private funding which will create jobs even as it preserves creates nature.

Why Is NIH Giving Cocaine to Quail?
Why is the National Institute of Health giving cocaine to quail?  Why, to study unbridled sex of course!  And, as Scientific American makes clear, it's not a waste of your tax dollars, but sound science.

Larry Craig, Coal Lobbyist:
"Wide Stance" Larry Craig, the Idaho Senator who was last seen soliciting sex in an airport men's room (allegedly), has remained true to his school and is now a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for the coal industry.  As I wrote back in 2007, "If Larry Craig wants to go 'Brokeback Mountain,' I could care less so long as places like Brokeback Mountain (i.e. the wild public lands of the American West) remain unviolated long after he is gone."  But Craig will not go off into that good night.  And why would he?  This is a man who has always been willing to drill any hole for a dollar, and rip, rape and ruin any spot better off left alone.  Larry Craig is now a paid apologist for strip mining and Mountain Top Removal?  Of course he is!

Cheetah the Chimp Dead at Age 80?
Cheetah the chimp of Tarzan fame is dead at age 80.  This is true, except for two things:  the chimp is almost certainly not an "original" Cheetah (though there were many of those) and it is almost certainly not 80 years old. Cheetah frauds are an old game, and there does not appear to be any evidence at all that this animal, named Mike, is as old as claimed or that it was ever used in any film whatsoever.

There's a Good Chance the Java Tiger is Not Extinct:
There's evidence coming from the Meru Betiri National Park in East Java that tigers are still present there. They are installing motion-sensing camera traps to confirm. The last recorded sighting of a Javan Tiger was in 1976, and it was officially declared extinct in 1994.  Finding "extinct" species is not that rare, however, as I note in a previous post.  That said, if Javan Tigers are found, this should but in no way be considered a bright sign of optimism -- more of a small spark, too easily extinguished.

North Carolina Whooping Cranes?
A pair of Whooping Cranes are wintering in western North Carolina.  In every article about these birds it's always noted how rare they are (now about 500 in the world) but it is almost never noted that, even in pre-Columbian times, there were never more than 5,000 Whooping Cranes in the world. The reason: these birds are extremely poor parents.

A Village is Drowned and the Fish Celebrate: 
Not as bad as it sounds.  Very cool art.

Coral Can Be Made to Grow Much Faster:
It seems a metal cage with a very weak electrical current running through it creates enough electrolysis to build up limestone which attaracts everything from corals to oysters which both grow with amazing speed.  This is a small bit of good news in an arena long overdue for good news.

If You Really Want to Get Away From It All:
If you really want to get away from it all, but still want to see a doctor and be able to buy groceries in a small store, the island of Tristan da Cunha is the place for you. However, the only way to get there is on the RMS Saint Helena which arrives once a year in February, so start packing now!

Two Bumblebee Species Are Rediscovered:
A rare species of bumblebee was rediscovered in Scotland after 50 years, and now scientists at the University of California, Riverside have announced they too have rediscovered a rare bumblebee not seen in the United States for 55 years.

Jesus Wept:
A brawl between Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests broke out this morning at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, with the battle being fought with broomsticks. Yes, we have video.   Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes.  Discuss the thelogical, cultural, and geo-political ramifications among yourselves.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Love My New Kindle Fire

My new Kindle Fire is quite the tool! Not only is it a good e-book reader, but it also gets my email, the Internet, plays all my music, is a great place to store and show pictures, and streams video and radio too (I have been watching National Geographic's Amazing Planet at Starbucks, which is about as cool a thing as I have done in the last three months). All this for $200, which I find rather amazing!

Some of this can be done with my Samsung "smart" phone, of course, and the Kindle does not replace that, as the Kindle is not a phone and is dependent on a wireless connection for everything but downloaded books and music and movies and photos, while the phone operates off of high-band radio frequencies (that's what a G3 or G4 connection is really all about).

The phone of course, it not a book reader, nor is it very good at reading stuff on the Internet (not even email). The Kindle allows me to download both recently published books and many free older books as well. For example, on my first morning with the Kindle, I downloaded four free old dog books, as well as some Conan Doyle and some obscure Mark Twain for starts. More free book are available at (2.5 million titles for free), (1.5 million titles), Project Gutenberg,, and Feedbooks and select either Mobi, Text, or Kindle formats for easiest downloads.

Apparently, I can also download audio books too. I will have to try that!

This morning I figured out how to highlight text in a Kindle book, so that I can then rip and strip that text into a blog post. The trick here is to know that Kindle has created a social network which can be accessed at One you log in, it shows you not only all the books you have downloaded, but also all the passages you have highlighted. For example, this is text I read yesterday:

“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outrageous results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

Kindle can read Word, .txt, .jpg, .pdf, .gif, and HTML files as well as .mobi, .prc, and if you email yourself at your Kindle email  address, it will convert files and even unzip and convert Word folders and documents so they are ready to read.

So what is the Kindle not great for?  Well. it's not a full computer with desk, chair, mouse, and key board.  Nothing really replaces that, not even a laptop or notebook in my opinion (and yes I have those too).  For actual writing, I remain a "box box table unit" man, but for researching, reading, and doing the light communications "tasking" that the world demands of us these days, the Kindle is pretty darn great!

Final two bonus bits:  It fits in the front pocket of my Carrhart pants, and it takes the same charger as my cell phone, which is particularly great in the car.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Dinner in the Yellowstone

A red fox in Yellowstone National Park dives for mice it can hear, but not see. It takes quite a few head-first dives to score dinner!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't Stop the Music!

If you do not smile at this, you have a dark soul.

Entertained and Loved

I may still be sick but I am being fed
 wonderful food by dear friends,
thank you Tanya, Ann and Paula
and entertained by these two goofballs.

We did a lovely lunch and some mad dash
 shopping today before I 
was overcome and had to head home again.

Tomorrow begins the swap back and forth
 between their dad's home and mine.
The first years of this were pure torture but I have 
adjusted and adapted and all is well.
The important thing is that they are 
fine with it and I have them this year all
Christmas day.
oh I love them so.....

I plan to get back here once more
 before the big day and I am trying 
so hard to return all emails and visit everyone 
and say a huge thank you for the get well wishes
and if I miss you, please, oh please forgive me,
but right now I have slimy mucus brain.

Predator Fear, Alone, Results in Fewer Birds

Fear of meso-predators, and fear alone, results in fewer successful clutches according to a paper by Liana Zanette entitled "Perceived Predation Risk Reduces the Number of Offspring Songbirds Produce per Year" that appears in the December 8th edition of Science

Friday, December 23, 2011

22,963 Ducks Land in Laurel, Maryland

Duck wings.

National Georgraphic explains all, in a piece entitled: Hunters: For Love of the Land.  A brief squib:

The great irony is that many species might not survive at all were it not for hunters trying to kill them. All the wings provided to Norman Saake and his colleagues throughout the country come from hunters, who fold them into prepaid envelopes, record the date and place of harvest, and mail them in. It is but one example of how the nation’s 12.5 million hunters have become essential partners in wildlife management. They have paid more than 700 million dollars for duck stamps, which have added 5.2 million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System since 1934, when the first stamps were issued. They pay millions of dollars for licenses, tags, and permits each year, which helps finance state game agencies. They contribute more than 250 million dollars annually in excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and other equipment, which largely pays for new public game lands. Hunters in the private sector also play a growing role in conserving wildlife.

Read the whole thing.  Excellent.

Merry Christmas from the Terriers!

Coffee, Birds & the World Bank

American Redstart

It is pathetic, but true, that there are 391 Starbuck's coffee houses within an hour's drive from my house (50 miles). Amazingly, all of them seem to have a line of customers at all hours of the day. Could Americans be any more addicted to $4 coffees?

I told you it was pathetic, and as soon as they serve me my coffee, I promise you I'm going to leave.

As I wait for my coffee, I read the paper. Paul Wolfowitz, the current head of the World Bank and one of the architects of the war in Iraq, looks like he may lose his job for promoting his girlfriend to a World Bank job that pays better than Condoleeza Rice's.

The shocking part is not that there are scoundrels in Washington, or waste and corruption at the World Bank, but that Paul Wolfowitz has a girlfriend. Of course he had to pay her, but it's still amazing. Apparently, the human soul knows no limits to depravity.

Coffee and the World Bank.

There is a connection there, and I recall the linkage as I watch the pigeons rearrange themselves on the telephone wire in front of the Safeway food store across the street.

Legend has it that the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia by a goat herder who found his charges a little too animated after eating beans from a local bush. The coffee plant (and the drink) eventually made its way to Yemen and the Arab world via the Sudanese slaves that were forced to paddle boats across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula.

With alcohol banned, coffee quickly became the "drug of choice" in the Arab world. While an alcohol-besotted Europe struggled in a drunken haze through the Dark Ages, the Arab world became caffeinated and invigorated. Soon after they started the first coffee houses in the world, Arabs began creating grand libraries, universities, new mathematical equations, and amazingly complex architectural designs. Such is the power of coffee.

Coffee houses hit Europe around 1600, and there they had the same effect they had in the Arab world -- a spectacular growth in intellectual clarity and output. From the enlightened coffee houses of London grew the first newspaper divisions (business, style, overseas news, etc.), the first organized scientific associations, and Lloyds of London -- the first international insurance cartel.

Coffee consumption took off like a rocket in Great Britain, and in 1796, when the British took over Sri Lanka (Ceylon) from the Dutch, the new settlers began clearing land for coffee plantations.

By the 1860s, Sri Lanka was the largest coffee producer in the world.

In 1869, however, a lethal fungus known as coffee rust had shown up on the island causing premature defoliation of the coffee plants, and dramatically reducing berry yield.

By 1879, the rust fungus had spread across the island and into Indian plantations as well, with the result being a collapse of coffee production across the region.

Unable to grow coffee in the face of a devastating rust fungus epidemic, Ceylonese and Indian plantation owners began to rip out their coffee plants in order to grow tea.

Within a few decades, tea consumption in the U.K. had surpassed coffee consumption, and it has remained so to this day.

While tea is the national drink of Great Britain, coffee remains the national drink of the United States, where we consume vast quantities of it. In fact, though coffee is the second most internationally traded commodity in the world (after oil), the U.S. consumes one-quarter of the world's coffee beans.

Coffee came to the New World via the French, who introduced it into the Caribbean in the mid 1700s, and the Spanish, who brought coffee plants to Latin America a few decades later.

By the mid 1800s, coffee plantations had been planted in Central and South America, and these coffee plantations were greatly expanded after coffee rust decimated production in Sri Lanka and India.

Coffee plantations in Central and South America were diverse operations that grew, rather naturally, out of the multi-storied small-patch gardening operations that had been successfully employed by the native Indians for several thousand years before Columbus.

These small patch gardens were created by removing large trees with little agricultural value, but leaving those that might yield a nut harvest, good wood, seasonal fruits, or which had the lucky property of fixing nitrogen in the soil.

Under these large forest tree were planted shorter citrus and cacao trees, and between these were planted bananas. Underneath and between the bananas were planted coffee bushes and vegetable crops for local food consumption.

Multi-storied "shade coffee" plantations were miracles of production. When coffee prices fell (as they often did), other crops provided sustenance and cash, ensuring that the local could always eat and pay for things made elsewhere.

Because multiple types of plants were found on shade-grown coffee plots, multiple types of insects and birds were present. The result was not only less overall insect predation on any one crop, but less erosion and slower evaporation as both rain and sunlight filtered through multiple vegetative layers.

Shade-grown coffee plantations were particularly rich in bird life -- especially neo-tropical migrant song birds such as redstarts, Tenessee warblers, Baltimore Orioles, yellow-throated and solitary vireos, wood thrushes, catbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, Nashville Warblers, and oven-birds.

All told, more than 150 bird species are known to winter or live year-round in shade coffee plantations, making them the most bird-intensive agricultural areas in the world.

Shade coffee production thrivedSri Lanka) 100 years earlier was discovered in Brazil and Nicaragua. This discovery caused a panic, not only in the coffee industry, but also among the economic and political elite that run such major banking and development policy shops as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. Agency for International Development..

The fear was that coffee rust would soon sweep through Central and South America. If that happened, not only would the coffee crop be destroyed, but so too would the economic base of entire countries and many millions of people. If that happened, not only would we not have coffee in New York, Paris and Vienna, but billions of dollars of foreign loans would go unpaid.

Something had to be done.

What was done was massive, mechanical, and swift. Under orders from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the large cartels that control much of the world's coffee market, coffee plantations in Central and South America were systematically ripped from the ground and replanted.

The idea here was a simple one: by growing coffee in direct sun, rather than in the shade, coffee plants could made safe from the coffee rust fungus. The prescription for salvation was destruction, and entire mountain sides were plowed clear of their multistory canopies and the detritus burned. In their place was planted dense hedgerows of a dwarf variety of coffee that could withstand direct tropical sunlight.

With the loss of a diversified shade forest cover, bird populations that had once thrived in the rich overstory of coffee plantations plummeted. At the same time, with the absence of trees to provide vegetative nutrients to the soil and hold back erosion, the fertilizer needs of coffee plantations skyrocketed. Mono-cropped sun coffee plantations proved far more susceptible to insect infestations than shade plantations, so insecticide inputs also increased. The open sunny soil between coffee plants proved susceptible to weed infestations, so herbicide use also increased. Finally, though the new coffee plants produced a great number of beans, the plants themselves were not as hardy as the old shade-grown varieties, and an additional expense had to be factored into the equation -- the cost of periodically replanting large numbers of exhausted plants.

Ironically, all of the devastation and destruction was not needed. It turns out that due to the peculiarities of Latin America's climate and the timing of rain, humidity and mountain temperature, coffee leaf rust has not been able to proliferate in either Central or South America.

Adding insult to injury, it turns out that the new dwarf varieties of sun-grown coffee are not less susceptible to coffee leaf rust than the older varieties. When a fungus outbreak does occur, as it sometimes does, it is generally localized and easily treatable with a copper-based fungicide.

Sadly, however, the damage to the once-vibrant shade coffee plantations cannot be rapidly undone. Forests that took decades to grow were razed to the ground in hours, and will now take decades to grow back.

The good news is that some people are re-thinking coffee production in Central and South America, and in time shade-grown coffee may yet make a partial come back.

If so, the folks spearheading the charge will be the aging hippies and eco-freaks that once wore tie-dyed T-shirts and earthshoes. Now older, these folks frequent businesses like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, edit newspapers and magazines, start movements, run foundations, and are otherwise a social force to be reckoned with.

For this set, buying coffee has become a political act. From their perspective, if you are not buying shade-grown, organic, free trade coffee, then you are simply giving the "big wink" to American song bird destruction and the poisoning of the soil, people and economies of Latin America.

They have a point, and it's such a good and strong point that companies like Starbucks are working to change their business practices as a consequence.

Working with Conservation International, Starbucks has created a set of Coffee and Farmer Equity practices (CAFE for short ) to guide the growing and purchase of coffee.

This year, Starbucks is supposed to purchase 60 percent of its coffee from suppliers who successfully implement the CAFE guidelines.

The end of this story is not yet written, but it may yet be good news, albeit good news that remains at least 10 or 15 years off due to slow nature of the turn around, and the slow regrowth of shade coffee plantations.

That said, if consumers continue to demand and purchase shade grown coffee grown in Mexico and Central America, we may yet see a turn around in neotropical songbird decline in the United States.

If so, that would certainly make a $4 coffee worth the price.

                                                 This is a repost from 2007. .

The Missing Birds of Rock Creek Park

This was written in 2003 for a major environmental organization.

The decline of neotropical migrant song birds in the U.S. was first noticed by birders in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, a small federally-protected enclave nestled along a stream bed in Washington, D.C., just 15 miles from Fairfax County.

Breeding Bird Surveys from 1947 through the 1970s, revealed that the yellow-billed cuckoo and yellow-throated vireo -- as well as the northern parula, black-and-white warbler, Kentucky warbler, and hooded warbler -- were disappearing. Six other migrant song birds -- Eastern wood-pewees, Acadian flycatchers, wood thrushes, red-eyed vireos, ovenbirds, and scarlet tanagers -- had declined by more than 50 percent.

What was going on?

Evidence from Overseas

Domestic forest destruction was ruled out, as Rock Creek Park had suffered no substantial encroachment in decades.

An analysis of radar images, done in the early 1980s, however, showed only half as many birds were flying to the U.S. from Mexico's Yucatan as had been migrating just 20 years earlier. Clearly, some part of what was happening to "our" birds was happening overseas. Experts theorized that much of the song bird decline, now being documented across the U.S., was due to forest destruction in Central and South America.

In fact, forest destruction in Central America was proceeding at a very rapid pace, driven in no small part by truly sobering rates of human population growth. In the Peten region of Guatemala, for example, 77% of the original forest cover still existed as recently as 1977. By 1980, however, that number had fallen to 42% and by 1989 just 29 percent of the original forest cover was gone. Scientists now believe as little as 10% of the forest may be left by 2025.

Evidence from the U.S.

By the late 1990s, however, scientists began to realize that forest destruction in Central and South America did not tell all of the story. Analysis of migrant song bird populations at the national level showed that birds loss was not evenly distributed across the U.S.

While most migrant song birds are experiencing clear negative trends east of the Mississippi River, and along the thin coastal strip of the West Coast, neotropical migrants seem to be doing fairly well on large tracts of forested land in the West.

An overlay of neotropical migrant song bird decline and a map of federally protected lands, showed a fascinating pattern: migrant song birds were not in general decline in our national parks, our national forests, or on lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management. Migrant song birds were in general decline in the east and in the Midwest, however, where changing agricultural practices and increasing levels of forest fragmentation seemed to be having a real impact.

Scientists looking for clues to song bird loss in Rock Creek Park began to look at the forested areas immediately surrounding the suburbs of Washington, DC, and what they found was pretty startling. Between 1980 and 1995, Fairfax County saw 69 percent of its forests converted to homes and businesses.

While scientists had been puzzling over bird loss in Rock Creek Park, just 15 miles away, Fairfax County's forests had been vanishing under asphalt at an astonishing rate.

Scientists now recognize that these once-vibrant suburban forests were probably the principal "home" of many of the birds that had once been seen in Rock Creek Park. Rock Creek had merely served as way-station between larger forest blocks that once ringed the Washington, DC area.

As new roads and light rail systems continue to be built in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, more and more forests are falling to farms and more and more farms are falling to freeways and subdivisions.

Once large blocks of unbroken forest are being shattered into increasingly smaller fragments, allowing such meso-predators as crows, jays, raccoons, possums, feral cats and fox to prey on once-secure migrant song bird nests. In addition, increasingly fragmented forests have enabled the brown-headed cow bird to colonize areas they once would have found unattractive.

Cowbirds nest at the edge of forests and feed in farms fields and pastures. Though native to North America, the brown-headed cowbird was once confined to the forest edges of Midwestern prairies where they fed in grasslands grazed by roaming bison. Today, however, because of widespread forest fragmentation, parasitic cowbirds can be found all across the United States.

The brown-headed cowbird is a parasitic nester, which is to say it builds no nests of its own, but instead lays its eggs in the nests of other birds -- most frequently in the open, cup-shaped nests of neotropical migrants. A single cowbird may lay as many as 80 eggs in a breeding season - one or two eggs per songbird nest. Because cowbird chicks hatch earlier, and are much larger than the offspring of migrant songbirds, they are able to out compete songbird chicks for food, and often simply push them out of the nest altogether.

In the end, a single cowbird may prevent 20 to 30 warblers, finches and vireos from raising their young. If the bird species has a short nesting period, it may not be able to hatch out a second brood that year, in which case that species may fall off rapidly in that area over a relatively short period of time.

Yellow-throated Vireo

More Trouble Ahead?

While a great deal of population-driven environmental damage has already occurred in the suburbs of Virginia, more population growth lies ahead. Fairfax County's population continues to grow rapidly, most of it driven by a combination of internal domestic migration (military and government families coming to support a burgeoning government and high-tech corridor) and international migration.

Fairfax County may be a demographic "canary in a coal mine" signaling where the rest of America may be headed in terms of land use patterns and population growth. With U.S. population growing by more than 3 million people a year, and suburban sprawl gobbling up more than 500,000 acres of forest and farmland every year, the pace of habitat fragmentation is likely to increase rapidly in the years ahead.

Under the Census Bureau's middle-series projection, which assumes that current U.S. immigration and fertility levels will stay about the same, the population of the U.S. will increase by 120 million people over the course of the next 50 years. About 63 percent of this future population growth will be due to immigrants and the children of immigrants that have not yet arrived in the U.S. -- the remaining 37 percent of population growth will be driven by demographic momentum as current U.S. residents move to complete their families.

One hundred and twenty million people is a very large population to add to the U.S. over the course of the next 50 years. To put this number into perspective, this is a population equal to the current populations of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined.

In addition to sprawl directly driven by population growth, the U.S. can expect to see increased forest fragmentation due to more and more folks moving farther and farther out into the countryside, abetted by high-speed internet hookups, satellite television, and light rail systems feeding into an ever-expanding network of four, six and eight lane highways.

As Canadian real estate agent Ozzie Jurock noted in an article for The Vancouver Sun (June 30, 2001),

"People throughout North America are on the move. Population growth in smaller towns is exploding. Californians move to Oregon and Arizona, New Yorkers joke at the rain but moved to Washington. The ski resorts and lakes are teeming with 'former' city slickers clutching cash and the hope for the elusive 'better quality of life."

Even as population growth continues apace in the U.S., the population of Central America continues to grow. Over the course of the next 50 years, Central America and Mexico combined are expected to add 90 million people to their populations -- a 65% percent increase in population.

Why the Fairfax Bird Loss Story is Important

Bird population data are such a robust metric of general environmental health that in the United Kingdom they are used as an official indicator of environmental sustainability.

A broad decline in many wild bird populations in the Western Hemisphere may be an indication that a broad decline in environmental quality is occurring across much of the region.

In the case of neotropical song birds, population-driven habitat decline along the entire migration flyway -- including the United States -- has had a serious impact on U.S. song bird numbers. The decline of songbird species in the U.S. is a powerful reminder that population pressures beyond our borders really do "come home to roost" and that reducing the rates of population growth at home, and abroad, is a real and serious "back yard" environmental issue.

Ironically, even as many bird populations are in decline, the number of Americans interested in birds is on the rise. The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment found that over 71 million Americans are recreational birders, up 250 percent from 1982, making birding the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the U.S.

Black and White Warbler

Bird Species Decline in the U.S

In large parts of the U.S., over half of our songbird species are in decline. Scientists say habitat destruction is largely to blame.

Across the United States, more than 250 species of neotropical migratory birds fly south for the winter.

Beginning in the early 1970s, scientists began to notice that many species seemed to be in decline

What was going on?

Scientists have concluded that the decline of neotropical migratory song birds in the United States is closely linked to four issues closely linked to human population growth and habitat destruction:

  • Tropical Forest Destruction
    The population of Latin America and the Caribbean has doubled in the last 35 years, and with it has come unprecedented destruction of tropical rainforests. As populations have exploded, more landless peasants have colonized forest areas and cleared vegetation, with slash-and-burn cycles becoming progressively shorter. At the same time, logging over wide areas and the rapid expansion of commercial farming has accelerated the disappearance of forests and fueled the rapid destruction of once-lush bird habitat. In the Peten region of Guatemala, for example, 77 percent of the land was covered in dense forest in 1960. By 1990, that number had fallen to just 29 percent.

  • Pesticide Use Overseas
    Neotropical migratory birds are being killed by the heavy use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, which are used to boost crop productivity to feed increasing numbers of people in the developing world. In some cases, birds are poisoned outright by chemical application, or by consuming grain and insects that have been sprayed. In other cases, the pesticides accumulate and concentrate within the birds, resulting in deformed chicks or eggshells that are so thin they break before hatching.

  • Suburban Sprawl and Forest Fragmentation
    As the population of the United States has grown from 76 million in 1900 to over 280 million today, cities and suburbs have sprawled outward. Fairfax, Virginia, for example, a suburb of Washington, D.C., saw 69 percent of its forest converted to homes and businesses between 1980 and 1995. As human populations have risen, and forests have fallen, primary predators such as wolves, bobcats, and cougars have been wiped out, while the ecological niche of meso-predators such as feral cats, raccoons, possums and foxes has expanded. The result has been massive predation of Neotropical songbirds, which tend to nest in the open and near the ground rather than in tree cavities or higher up in the forest canopy.

    With forest fragmentation has come an invasion of native and non-native birds that compete with deep-forest species for food and nesting sites. One example is the brown-headed cowbird. Cowbirds were once confined to the forest edges of mid-western prairies where they fed in grasslands grazed by roaming bison. Today, however, because of widespread forest fragmentation, parasitic cowbirds can be found all across the United States. A single cowbird may lay as many as 20 eggs in a breeding season - one or two eggs per songbird nest. Because Neotropical migrants tend to build open cup-shaped nests, and raise only a single brood a year, they are particularly susceptible to cowbird parasitism.

  • Intensive U.S. Farming Practices
    As American farmers make increasingly intensive use of their lands, bird populations suffer. Post-to-post cultivation has wiped out edge-row thickets where many songbirds used to nest, while many farmers now cut hay three times a year where they used to cut just once. The result is that hedgerow and ground-nesting birds like the northern bobwhite, the eastern meadowlark, the vesper sparrow, and the grasshopper sparrow are in rapid decline.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cowbirds, Mesopredators, & Grass Nesting Birds

The National Audubon Society's Christmas bird count is a pretty good organizing tool, but a little weak on science, since it is mostly counting bird-feeder birds that are not in too much danger of loss.

So what birds are in decline in the U.S.? Mostly neo-tropical migrants and grassland-nesting birds. More on neo-tropical migrants tomorrow. For now, let's look at grassland birds.

U.S. populations of Henslow's Sparrow, Cassin's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow exist in numbers only a fraction of what they did in the 1850s when the tall grass prairies had yet to fall under the plow.

Over the course of the last 20 years alone, the Breeding Bird survey has enumerated a very rapid decline in these birds that seems unrelated to loss of land across the U.S. Other grassland birds also seem to be in decline, especially such sparrow-like birds such as the Bobolink, the Dicksissel, and the Western Meadowlark (the state bird of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming).

What is going on? The short answer is industrial agriculture.

As human population numbers have increased in the U.S. and across the world, more and more pressure has been put on America's farm land -- the source of 15% of the world's cereal production.

The good news is that record crops are being produced despite the fact that less and less land is being put under the plow.

The bad news is that this increased production has required more automation, less fence-row cover, and more intensive management of farm habitat than ever before.

A good example of what is going on can be seen by taking a look at America's hayfields. While 40 years ago a hay field might have been harvested once a year, most hayfields are cut three times a year now, thanks to automation. The second and third hay harvests typically occur just as grassland birds are breeding.

The good news is that while we are farming our most productive lands more intensively, we are putting a lot of marginal farm land into a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) started in 1982.

The CRP has worked to take more than 32 million acres of farmland out of production in order to slow top soil loss and exhaustion, and to provide habitat for native plants and animals. CRP lands now total more than 50,000 square miles across the United States, and make up vast stretches of some prairie states.

Unfortunately, despite the extensive acreage put into the CRP program, it has not been enough to reverse the decline of some grassland bird species.

One problem is that much of the land in the CRP program is in relatively small blocks, often bordered by working farms. This "edge" habitat is perfect for deer, fox, raccoon, raptors, pheasant, grouse and turkey, but it is not always conducive to the successful breeding of grassland birds, many of which only do well in very large blocks of prairie devoid of trees.

In fact, because the population of medium-size predators such as fox, raccoon, possum and hawks is high in edge habitat, grassland nest mortality of small grass-nesting birds is often unnaturally high in small-acreage CRP locations.

In addition, the tree cover provided by old farm windbreaks and shelterbelts provides a near-perfect habitat for the brown-headed cowbird.

The brown-headed cowbirds is a brood parasite species which lays its eggs in nests of other birds and leaves them for the host bird to raise.

Because cowbird eggs hatch a few days before those of their hosts, the larger cowbird chick is able to push out the eggs and chicks of the host bird, thereby winning all the food resources for itself.

The destructive capacity of the brown-headed cowbird is hard to overestimate: a single female can destroy the clutches of 20 or more song birds in a single season.

Would I advocate shooting a cowbird? In a minute.

In fact, in some areas the only way to get native bird species back up to acceptable levels is with Larsen Traps designed to catch cowbirds. To learn how to build a cowbird trap (a good project for a boy scout !) click here.

Not All Churches Are Under New Management

Winter Solstice, a tune written for the English bagpipes by David Faulkner.

Blue Jays at the Feeder

Jays got hit hard by West Nile, but are bouncing back.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

uh......merry merry?

the dryer broke
he had to come twice Tuesday
then when it still did not work 
i had to have my vent duct cleaned

the pooches were gross, 
so off to the groomers to be shaved
tanya you won't recognize them
they desperately needed new beds
so martha style on sale 72.00

howie always comes home distressed 
after groomer so he just
threw up not twice, not five times, but 
nine times on my white wool rug

kids will be here in about 90 minutes

hannah will despise their sweaters
that i make them wear one night each
she'll roll her eyes

and I saved the best for last
i am sick
dog sick
look like something the dog AND the cat dragged in
gone through an entire box of kleenex sick
fever sick
baked cookies all morning sick
still in pjs sick
merry merry

i will air kiss them and hug them
 with my face turned away and 
go to bed heavily medicated with 
vicks and cough syrup and rally 
tomorrow to truly make it 
merry merry
i wish you all health
and to be with your families


Barack and Me

 Barack and I shop at the same store for dog stuff.
We're cool like that.

Happy Hanukkah!

Andy Borowitz writes: 
"Hanukkah is the most American holiday because it's a celebration of burning oil that we don't have."