Archive for the 'Celebration' Category

Iowa City Darwin Day 2017

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

The stellar presenters at the Iowa City Darwin Day 2017 were a privilege to hear at the 10th annual event to celebrate Charles Darwin’s 209th birthday yesterday afternoon and this morning. We went to both sessions. The Iowa City event was a belated birthday celebration. Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 – the same day as Abraham Lincoln.

One of the species of Darwin’s finches (above) from Santa Cruz Island is in tribute of hearing Peter and Rosemary Grant of Princeton University speak about their 40 plus year adventure studying the Darwin’s finches on Isla Daphne Major of the northern side of Santa Cruz. Though it has been several years since they camped on Isla Daphne Major, they continue to study the DNA sequences from the blood samples they collected over many years of fieldwork. The sequencing is done by a group in Sweden with whom they collaborate.

We are not certain of which species the female above is but we think she is one of the ground finches. We made a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2012. She was bouncing up to get the seeds at the center top of the photo. Her beak looks large and strong enough to tackle much larger seeds. The beaks of the various finch species on the Galapagos Islands have evolved to eat seeds of varying sizes and/or to eat nectar and pollen as well as seeds.

Richard Wrangham of Harvard University spoke on the genetic changes the domestication of animals reveals and how bonobos and humans may have self-domesticated themselves. Today he addressed the theory that control of fire and cooking of food may have influenced a primate on its way to becoming homo sapien.

Mary Kosloski of the University of Iowa does work with modern and fossil snails and crabs. She discussed how a super predator crab, whose right claw can exert 19,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, changed a snail from having a right-handed shell to a left-handed one. It was not by exerting pressure on the shell but that the rare left-handed snails lived to reproduce (if they found a left-handed mate) because the crab could not extract the snail with its right claw.

Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University spoke about gender identity and expression yesterday. The interaction of nature and nurture may determine how genes are expressed. Today her talk about diversity and its contribution to science so that people do not become scientifically ignorant. She, like many scientists, is very concerned because there seems to be a deliberate social and political effort to keep people and legislatures from having the information they need to make rational decisions about human and earth welfare.

As we have the same worries, we were heartened that this was spoken in the context of a celebration of one of the most important and productive minds in science. Should he come back today to see what is now possible, if people are not willfully ignorant, Mr. Darwin would be amazed and vindicated.

2017 Bald Eagle Watch & Expo

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Saturday, February 4, 2017 is the Bald Eagle Watch & Expo at the Coralville Dam and nearby North Central Junior High School in North Liberty, IA.  The viewing are is at Tailwater West below the dam. There will be spotting scopes at the viewing area and people to help visitors.

At the junior high school there will a number of exhibits. At 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., the film Listen to the Eagle will be shown. At 11:30 a.m. we will present Soaring to New Heights: Bald Eagles in Iowa & Elsewhere about the come back of eagles after the ravages of DDT. We also have a short presentation on other hawks and eagles. At 1:30 the Iowa Raptor Project will present about owls.

We hope to meet you on Saturday.

John James Audubon’s Birthday

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Today is the 231st birthday of John James Audubon, born in 1785. To celebrate it we thought we would do a post about one of his favorite birds – the Wild Turkey. It was Plate 1 in his epic work “Birds of America.” The Audubon Society has the text about each bird and copies of the paintings on this web site. The Wild Turkey page is found here.

In the information accompanying the Ruffed Grouse page from Birds of America, Audubon said  ”You are now presented, kind reader, with a species of Grouse, which, in my humble opinion, far surpasses as an article of food every other land-bird which we have in the United States, except the Wild Turkey, when in good condition.” He loved hunting and eating birds. Danny Heitman in a 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal recounted Roger Tory Peterson’s comment that Audubon ate many of the birds he painted, even owls and juncos.

The photograph (above) was made just as the sun was going down, turning the gobblers into burnished copper statues with a green and blue patina. This is the “Magic” or “Golden Hour” (just before sunset and just after sunrise) so admired by many photographers.  These two were among a group of gobblers displaying along a creek near a road. Our vehicle was our blind/hide. When they walked out  into the evening light, they seemed to reflect it back to the world. It was as if nature, in all its glory, just walked out of the woods.

Wild Turkeys were diminished in the last century but have revived through careful management and now are in all states but Alaska. They often live in and near woodlands where oaks, beech and hickory provide mast (nuts) that make up a substantial part of their diet. Wild Turkeys also eat leaf buds, a variety of seeds, ferns, other plants and some small animals.

So many of us will, continue to quote Audubon when he said: “During all these years there existed within me a tendency to follow Nature in her walks.” Happy Birthday, Mr. Audubon.


Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Doves or pigeons, especially white ones, have been symbols of many positive concepts since ancient times. Peace, love, success after battle (peace), nurture, hope and grace being common ideas. Though members of the same taxonomic order Columbiformes and Columbidae family, people have often named the larger ones ‘pigeon’ and the smaller ones ‘dove’.

The ancient white doves that made their way into early myths, stories and religions were mutant specimens that occurred naturally from time to time or had been bred by humans. When people domesticated the Rock Dove (Columba livia, the common urban pigeon now found throughout the world), perhaps more than 5,000 years ago, they took advantage of these mutations and created by selection the many species of domesticated pigeons raised by fanciers to this day. Archeologists and art historians find evidence of human attachment to pigeons in ancient art, so it is no surprise that the birds symbolize positive feelings in many cultures.

People took their domesticated species when settling new lands. In a city flock of pigeons, there may be many color variations beyond the typical gray with two black wing bars and white cere  above its beak of the Rock Dove. White doves are rare in the wild or in cities. Most domesticated species do not fare well in the wild. Today pale or white doves are likely to be racing pigeons that were developed for color, homing ability and speed, or Ringed Turtle-Doves, another introduced species selected for increased whiteness.

In actuality, most seed eating doves and pigeons, like the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) above, are soft shades and tints of warm, subtle, muted colors – grays and browns with iridescent accents. Fruit eating doves are likely to be a bit more colorful, especially with interesting markings. There are over 300 wild species of this order distributed throughout the world, except Antarctica, so it seems they are a fine symbol for peace and harmony. These gentle birds often have soft musical voices though some sing different songs. Their pretty faces and quiet demeanors suggest peace and tranquility.

We think that the dove is also a reminder of the threats that many species face. The extinct Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was also in the order Columbiformes, though it was one of two members of the extinct family Raphidae. Pigeons and doves are probably the closest living relatives to the Dodo. Some pigeon species, like the Passenger Pigeon, have become extinct in modern times. At least one of the 308 species is extinct in the wild and over one third of the remaining species are endangered, threatened or near threatened.

This White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) , with its perpetually bemused and surprised expression, would be in for a real surprise if and when people declared peace on earth for all creatures – great and small.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful new year.

Solstice Light

Monday, December 21st, 2015

For all of known history, people in the northern hemisphere have had winter festivals around the time when daylight stops diminishing and begins to lengthen each day. The Winter Solstice has been the point where, though winter persists for many months, there is the promise of spring. Light is returning. The festival season seems to have been and continues to be close to the Winter Solstice in many cultures.

Light is a significant reason for these celebrations – sometimes as a symbol and sometimes as a reason. When humans learned to manage fire, they were well on their way to capturing light while keeping the dark and, sometimes, dangers at bay. Light entered religion and relationships.

The word photography was coined from Greek root words to mean drawing with light. As color photography developed, sometimes it came to mean painting with light. With advent of digital photography, images are now captured as in capturing light. We think of the act of photographing as managing light. Sometimes it as difficult as managing fire. Shadows and highlights and mid-tones occur in an image by the amount of light that is reflected from the subject(s).

The oil lamp sitting in a darkened set with its flame and several small  lights to pull its shape out of the dark is drawn, painted and captured all at the same time.  We enjoy its light and graceful shape while looking forward to the lengthening days ahead.

World Penguin Day

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

There are 17 species of penguins in the world. Some are more famous than others. All are important to the earth’s ecosystem. We have photographed only 7 species in their native habitats – in or along the ocean.

To celebrate World Penguin Day, we looked back through some of our files from the Falkland Islands. The one above reminded us of articles we have seen about colonies of Magellanic Penguins along coastal South America suffering because parents have to swim further and further to find food for their youngsters. There are several juveniles in the foreground group. The birds in the background are mostly Gentoo Penguins – probably our favorite species of those we have seen.

Of course, the cutest baby we have seen is this King Penguin juvenile. The colony nursery was a little way from the beach where some vegetation provided a nice area for nests.

It is an obviously well fed and cared for baby. Notice how the parent is sitting back on its heels. We saw some on eggs where the eggs were slightly elevated by the adults feet. The eggs and new hatchlings were tucked up in what looked like pouches.

There are many “canaries in the coal mine” in the environment. Penguins are among those alerting humans to the reduction in krill, squid, fish and other foods caused by climate change, over-fishing and pollution in the seas. We hope that future celebrations of World Penguin Day are just for fun and not a reminder of what is happening to our planet.