Old Stuff

Now that Google has released my old stuff, I’m moving it over here where hopefully it will be available for me to go back and look at it down the road.  I doubt that it will look any better no matter how long I wait before looking back, but I expect that the onset of insanity is easier to spot in retrospect.  So; a block at a time:

Monday, October 13, 2008

I’ve been meaning to do this for some time

Working about 100 feet up in a building whose walls are largely windows allows me to see some unexpected stuff. A few years back, I was surprised to see some of that year’s big brood of 17-year cicadas trying to fly up and over the building in their quest for trees. A bit odd, given that downtown doesn’t have too many. That was the first time that I realized that the pregnant females must disperse to lay eggs in trees possibly some distance from their hatching site. I wonder how many nymphs die when the trees they hatch from are removed or die before the nymphs can emerge and pupate. I also wonder whether there are ‘preferred’ trees for cicadas – surely there must be. When I was a kid, I can remember seeing massive damage to the twigs of a smallish plum tree in our backyard where females had dug their little slots to lay eggs in. Some of the twigs just broke right off, although maybe they had help from the weight of the females landing to try to fit just one more egg in..

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Changes

Less than 20 years ago, when I moved back down here, Nighthawks were a normal part of the evening, flopping around up over the buildings, making that nasal short-circuit sound. I saw one this spring, migrating through and suddenly realized that it had been years since there were any around here. On the other hand, the real hawks are moving in – we’ve had Sharp-shinned Hawks nesting in the outskirts of the city for years, and a pair of Peregrines downtown, thanks to the re-establishment program. Just a month or so ago I was heading out in the morning and a Red-tail came booming in and snagged a Grackle off a neighbor’s front lawn. I’ve seen that one or a similar one several times around here since then – but I suppose if Red-tails can nest in downtown NYC they can handle most places. Makes me realize, I haven’t seen a kettle of hawks in the fall for over ten years – that used to be a regular part of the fall here, spotting hawk bubbles at work. Peregrines hunting the pigeons here, and Kestrels nesting on the various buildings instead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It’s always now

I used to live in the country. When I was getting interested in snakes I read a book written back in the 50s in which the author described looking for snakes around where he lived. He quoted an old farmer as saying that there were hardly any snakes around like when _he_ was a boy. The author said more or less: ‘Nuts – all you have to do is turn over rocks and logs and there they are!’ Looking back, they were both right. Back then, 4 foot Black Rat Snakes were regular all around, and we could always find Garter Snakes, Hognose Snakes, Copperheads and such when we knew where to look. I think there are a lot fewer snakes around now, though, even though I haven’t lived in the country for 30 years – the reason is simple. When I was first learning to drive, dead snakes at the side of the road were fairly common. I haven’t seen a dead snake on the shoulder up where I used to live in something like 20 years. I bet you can still see them, but it used to be so common as to be not worth comment. Things change gradually, and for most of us it’s always now. Change is invisible and not believable until we’re way past it. Of course, then it’s too late to do anything about it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How do we see what we see?

I watched the final Presidential debate last night and then was looking at some commentary on it this morning. It reminded me of a time when I was just beginning to enjoy birdwatching. I got a field guide and binoculars and started keeping a ‘life list’. It was easy – I just looked over the range maps and figured which birds I was likely to see. After I got the easy ones spotted, I started looking for the less common ones, and one day I decided to go looking for Ruffed Grouse. I memorized what to look for and went out into the cornfields behind my house heading for the woods on the other side. Sure enough, I quickly flushed a large brown bird which rocketed up in an erratic flight for a ways and then dropped back down into the corn stubble. Stubby wings, brown color, long, pointed tail – yup, it was all there. Except that a Ruffed Grouse should be a shorter, darker bird of woodlands with a short, fan-shaped tail. Many years later, when I found a real Ruffed Grouse that had flown into a fork of a tree, got stuck and froze to death, I was able to get a good look a the differences between that and a Ring-necked Pheasant, but back then I was determined to see a Grouse and that was what I saw.

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