May 18, 2010


White bird in an orange tree.

This albino House Sparrow has been in and around the yard since May 12. In the photos her eyes look black — after looking at her through binoculars I'd say those eyes are very dark red. I think she's quite beautiful.

She does stand out, though. I hope some predator doesn't finish her off before she's had a chance to enjoy a bit of the world, if House Sparrows can be said to do such a thing.

Rose Red on the left, Snow White on the right, with sparrow and finch kids in between. Click for big.


Plumage variations: Albinism or Leucism?

Leucistic birds, from Stokes Birding Blog

White albino swallow sets twitchers a-flutter

Albinism in birds

May 9, 2010

Love your mother

Snowy Plover, by Jim Urbach for Audubon. [Click for big, and get the screensaver here.] In its report Gulf Oil Spill Pictures: Ten Animals at Risk, National Geographic writes that the Snowy Plover "has been identified by the National Audubon Society as one of the species most vulnerable to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Snowy plovers risk not only direct contact with the oil but might also be poisoned by eating small invertebrates and oysters tainted with oil."

Updates on the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico:
Workers on Oil Rig Recall a Terrible Night of Blasts

BP suffers setback in attempts to stem Gulf of Mexico oil flow. “I wouldn’t say it has failed yet,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said at a news conference in Robert, La. “What we attempted to do last night hasn’t worked.”

Learning to Love the Sea, Then Torn From It. The Gulf oil spill "has stalled, and possibly ruined, the livelihoods of thousands."

Regulator Deferred to Oil Industry on Rig Safety

Gulf Coast Fishermen Fear That They Will Be Left With 'Crippled Industry'

Sabotage! Conspiracy! And Other Ways to Spin the Oil Spill. I laugh to keep from crying.

Happy Mother's Day!

"The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is seen from a helicopter." Photo by Rick Loomis for the Los Angeles Times.

May 8, 2010

International Migratory Bird Day

Above: Cerulean Warbler, Rufous Hummingbird, American Redstart. Below left: Wood Duck, American Oystercatcher, Puffin, Whooping Crane. All by Robert Petty for EFTA's Bird Day 2010.

Truth be told: every day is bird day here in Southern California. OK, every day is [or should be] bird day everywhere, but especially here. From the mountains to the sea [as a SoCal news icon used to say each evening] there are beautiful local birds and cool migratory birds everywhere you look.

International Migratory Bird Day "highlights and celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean," and to quote from the essay Coming together to protect birds, "IMBD is not only a day to foster appreciation for wild birds and to celebrate and support migratory bird conservation; it is also is a call to action." We celebrate Bird Day [every day] by working toward:
• Protecting and managing green space.

• Landscaping with native plants in backyards and parks.

• Adopting architecture and lighting systems that reduce collisions.

• Making our communities hospitable to breeding, wintering and migrating birds that seek safe places to spend time and find food.

"Birds can save the world," writes Dr. John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell:
[B]irds represent our most accessible and sensitive indicator of environmental health and ecological change. Today, thanks especially to the Internet, individual citizens have unprecedented opportunities to provide real data that answer important questions about bird populations at continental scales. Humans literally are beginning to serve as worldwide biosphere sensors. The question is, do we also have the will to self-correct? Birds present us with numerous motivations to do so, and an excellent barometer for measuring our successes and failures.
The real data Dr. Fitzpatrick is talking about can be viewed and explored at eBird, which is quite possibly the coolest data-gathering program of all time [and I'm not just saying that because I'm one of this year's top 100 eBirders in my county. Though I am]. To see just one example of eBird's citizen scientists at work, check out the eBird Gulf Coast Oil Spill Bird Tracker. The gadget displays recent sightings of ten focal species — data provided by a dedicated army of eBirders, citizen scientists providing "a real-time snapshot of the region’s birdlife, helping conservationists and researchers understand where, when, and how many of each species are currently occurring on local beaches and wetlands."

Wild birds embody the wonder and beauty of nature, its mystery and its miracles. The challenges wild birds face are challenges that sooner or later will confront us all. We owe it to ourselves, if not to the life of the skies, to celebrate Bird Day as if our future depended on it — because odds are, it does.

George Divoky's Planet. "This is a story about global warming and a scientist named George Divoky, who studies a colony of Arctic seabirds on a remote barrier island off the northern coast of Alaska. I mention all this at the start because a reader might like to come to the point, and what could be more urgent than the very health and durability of this planet we call Earth? However, before George can pursue his inquiry into worldwide climate change; before he can puzzle out the connections between a bunch of penguinesque birds on a flat, snow-covered, icebound island and the escalating threat of droughts, floods and rising global temperatures, he must first mount a defense -- his only defense in this frozen, godforsaken place -- against the possibility of being consumed, down to the last toenail, by a polar bear while he sleeps. He must first build a fence." A hands-down, must-read classic, even more important now than when it was first published back in 2002.

Media helicopters force Gulf birds to abandon nests. Holy crap, news people.

The know-how and materials already exist. We need to do the right thing

Efforts under way to douse nighttime lights on downtown Cleveland skyscrapers, saving millions of migrating songbirds

H/T to Mike McDowell for the JSOnline link.

Family portraits

Click on the images to embiggen.

These photos are quite wonderful. From China Hush:
This is a “Family Portrait” of China’s 56 ethnic groups. Chen Haiwen, a photographer, recently lead a team of 14 photographers to create a book entitled, “Harmonious China: A Sketch of China’s 56 Ethnicities.” The team spent one year traveling all over China to complete the project. They ended up taking over 5.7 million photographs.

Visit this site to see the large versions. H/T: Nag on the Lake.

News Flash

Click for big.

Climate change is [hello, Congress] still real. California's essential water/politics blogger Emily Green reported this week that 255 of the country’s leading scientists, including 11 Nobel laureates, are doing what they can to get the message across:
(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Lead Letter Published in Science magazine, May 7, 2010
From 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences

In related news, California has some of the greediest and most dangerous initiative-pushers on earth. Rule by initiative is the first two or three thousand reasons my poor state is in such bad shape these days.

Image above: Carbon Dioxide Concentration [screen grab] from NASA's Global Climate Change website.

What I want:

Leitfaden project, by designers Monika Jakubek and Anna Müller.

And on the left, why I want it. Awesome Paintbox Quilt by the most excellent blogger [and author] at Oh, Fransson!, where you can also find instructions and much more cool stuff for quilters.

H/T: Pratt// Liam Jeff Rubio.

May 6, 2010

Sick pervs

A while ago Brent asked what I would think of a new and improved law to ban "crush videos." For the record, few things horrify me as much as the sight of brutal creeps killing pets that are screaming in fear and pain:

So I'm all for criminalizing videos, because what this nation really needs is more excuses for jackbooted thugs to break into homes in the middle of the night, and more reasons for goons in body armor to shoot your dogs and place you under arrest.


The seven year old child in that video will hear his dogs screaming for the rest of his life. Oh, and check this out: after the cops broke the door down, terrorized the family, shot the house up and killed one of the family dogs [the other was shot but survived — you gotta love when grown men wearing enough body armor to stop a f*ing tank have to shoot a corgi], the parents were charged with child endangerment. I repeat, the PARENTS. were charged with child endangerment. On account of a bag of dope, for crissakes. Yay War on [some] Drugs! I feel so much safer. Shit.

"If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch." [Thurgood Marshall]

Here's how things are right now. We have entire websites devoted to the corruption and brutality and militarization of the police. Reporting on pets killed by cops is a growth industry. And in spite of all this, our legislators, in their boundless, staggering idiocy, want to give MORE power to the state to invade homes and arrest people.

And this will help animals? How, exactly?

I would bet money that cops on raids kill more dogs in a month, in the U.S., than there are people selling crush videos online. Want to reduce animal cruelty? Then don't give cops even more power to invade homes, arrest people and kill pets.

Fun fact: downloading the video above could totally have led to your arrest and imprisonment under the animal-cruelty video law [pdf] ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Edited to add: fallout.

Radley Balko [Essential reading. "There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime."]

"This is what evil looks like" [from Obsidian Wings, with a terrific comment thread]

And this, on another police development: "[The] whole thing appears, rightly or wrongly, to be law enforcement doing the bidding of a private company."

May 2, 2010

May Day at Big Morongo

That's snow-capped San Gorgonio at 11,503 feet in the background. Big Morongo is a desert oasis: "The Morongo Fault, running through the canyon, causes water from melting snow on the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains to form Big Morongo Creek. The creek intermittently rises to the surface for just three miles, between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, before it disappears underground again. The water percolates into the sandy soil as it crosses the Morongo Basin, but as it enters Big Morongo Canyon, it encounters "fault gouge" (pulverized rock), which forces it above ground, creating a unique desert wetland with a series of perennial springs. " [Source]

It's wonderful to visit a birding hot spot like Big Morongo — as they say, the worst day birding there is better than the best day working. I kid. Love my job, folks! Back when California schools had more money, I'd take students on field trips to Big Morongo and we'd hike all over. Mesquite Trail, Canyon Trail, Yucca Ridge Trail... You can imagine how quiet the bus was on the way home. Good times.

Saturday's field trip was short on students, but included some terrific birders and some monster camera lenses.

Then there was me. Red-tailed Hawk nest by your blogger:

And the same nest photographed a few days earlier, by a dude with much better gear and a good eye.

Summer Tanager, by yours truly:

Summer Tanager [misidentified] by the same fine photographer who snapped the Red-tail pre-fledglings. You get the idea.

The Vermilion Flycatcher is probably the best-known bird at Big Morongo, and I wouldn't dream of subjecting you to my Vermilion photos. Check these out instead. [Big Morongo birds in the third link.]

Here's what American White Pelicans look like when they're riding thermals and assuming different shapes. [They made a Pointer!] They were very, very high. Our field trip leader shot them with his monster lens and enlarged the photo on his computer at home and counted them: 963. Props to Doug, who tore his eyes from the steep trail and saw them first:

We also checked out a Long-eared Owl nest in a big cottonwood just outside the Preserve. There were four impossibly huge, downy chicks perched in the branches near the nest, and one dead vole hanging from a twig. Mom was glaring down at us, so we tiptoed off, but I got a photo:

Here's my list for the day, around and inside the Preserve:

Gambel's Quail
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Long-eared Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Dusky Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Western Bluebird
American Robin
Summer Tanager
Western Tanager
Hooded Oriole
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow

American White Pelican
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Bell's Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Common Raven
Oak Titmouse
Bewick's Wren
Orange-crowned Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
California Towhee
Black-headed Grosbeak
House Finch


Also: complete solidarity with my brothers and sisters who marched for immigration reform on May 1. As long as our nation keeps waving giant neon Help Wanted signs at our southern border, there will be poor, desperate people willing to risk everything to come here. All the ass-hattery in Arizona won't change that. What will help is the reform of antiquated laws that are "unwieldy, cumbersome, and excessively complex," "obtuse, and, at times, unintelligible." [Related: "What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?" from Reason.]

"a commentary on our own culpability"

canary 2, 2008, by Kate McDowell.

Artist Kate McDowell's statement about her work begins:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. – C.S. Lewis.

In my work this romantic ideal of union with the natural world conflicts with our contemporary impact on the environment. These pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors including climate change, toxic pollution, and gm crops. They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones.
You can view Kate McDowell's portfolio here. Her work, as she says, is "a painstaking record of endangered natural forms and a commentary on our own culpability."

Cuckoo. [In case it's needed, here is some context.]

Urgency increases as oil spill grows
How oil affects birds
Birds, Sharks, Whales, Sea Turtles, and Other Wildlife Threatened By Oil Slick Nearing Coast -- with information on "some of the birds and other wildlife experts are most concerned about."