Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks



 Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: swifts and a falcon, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Kindly post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.     

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Swifts...and a falcon

It's September and in Portland, Oregon, that means time for birds to plummet from the sky into a chimney. And not just any bird or any chimney. The Chapman Elementary School chimney attracts the largest known number of migrating Vaux's swifts in the world.

For three weeks this month, thousands of Vaux's and hundreds of humans gather each night at the school. The people find a place to sit and watch the aerial show; the birds show up around dusk to swirl around and around before abruptly pouring themselves like a reverse spill of pepper into their container. Wanna see? Here's a video taken in 2009.

The birds are on their annual migration to Central America and Venezuela. They used to hang out in old hollowed-out trees, but those are in short supply these days, so the birds make do with chimneys along the western edge of North America.  

When I was at Chapman recently, a peregrine falcon also made an appearance, looking for a quick takeout meal. The falcon swooped into the midst of the birds, but the swifts rallied and mobbed it, chasing it off into the distance--to the enthusiastic applause of the watching crowd. The swifts returned and went back to swirling around the chimney--when, out of nowhere, the falcon appeared again, tucked its wings tight and zoomed into their midst. It nailed a swift and made off with it--ignoring the collective gasp from the appalled humans below. 

I understand that sometimes when a peregrine or Cooper's hawk shows up, the crowd boos. Ya gotta love Portland.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote


I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.  
~John Muir

Friday, September 21, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limerick


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: safety on the high seas, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:  

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Kindly post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Safety on the High Seas...Greenpeace Days

During crew meetings aboard the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, Captain Peter Willcox might suddenly say, "Patty, you're in the head and a fire breaks out in the mess. Where's the nearest fire extinguisher?" 

"Uh, uh, it's um..." I might answer.

"Too slow. You're dead," he might would definitely reply.

Turns out there was an extinguisher right outside the doorway to the head. Funny how I still remember that, though decades have passed since Peter announced my untimely demise.

His point was, there was no one to save us out there in the middle of the ocean, except ourselves. So he drilled us, and drilled us again. In addition to fire drills (the extinguisher-location trivia game and the unrolling and setting up the fire hoses) there were person-overboard drills, and abandon ship drills.

The person-overboard drills were especially chilling. We used a large fluorescent orange float, meant to represent a person's head, although it was at least three times bigger, and, well, fluorescent orange. One of the mates would throw the thing overboard, and if you were the first to see it go, you'd holler "Man overboard!" and then become a human compass.


Hey, it might be better keep both feet
on the deck, Patty.
Never taking your eye off the rapidly shrinking orange "head," you'd stand perpendicular/sideways to it, both arms outstretched: one forward, pointing at the now teeny tiny head and the other arm pointing back, helping to amplify the direction (imagine one arm pointing north and the other pointing south). The mate would take a reading, the captain would turn the ship, and you would think to yourself "Holy ****, I can't even see that enormous, fluorescent-orange head anymore."

Nothing like watching that thing disappear into the bountiful blue behind the ship to convince you to watch your step on deck. 

We had abandon ship drills as well, meeting on the upper deck where the lifeboats were stored. My strongest memory of those drills was Peter telling us not to decide for ourselves when to abandon the ship. We were to stay aboard until he judged the time to leave; wait for his order to launch the lifeboats. It was an interesting demand to make of a bunch of unruly, hard-headed, strong-willed Greenpeacers, who might anticipate making their own decisions when it came to a life or death matter. 

But Peter knew that ship better than we ever would. And I would've stayed aboard until the waves lapped at my knees, if Captain Peter Willcox told me to.


(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Nature Quote


 World Heritage rainforest of Daintree National Park, Australia
Photo by
Peter Nijenhuis on Flickr
Ecstasy is identity with all existence. 
~ from The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekend Haiku and Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: sharp-shinned hawks, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sharp-shinned hawk

Not a juvenile--this is the size of the adult
 sharp-shinned hawk.
The first sharp-shinned hawk I saw was at a raptor rehabilitation center, recuperating from a broken wing. Intrigued by this little hawk, about the size of a jay, I looked it up in a bird book when I got home and learned that the "sharpie" is the smallest of the accipiters--hawks that feed mostly on other birds. Its habitat is woodlands where, although not often seen, it is especially common at the edge of clearings.

The second sharp-shinned I saw apparently hadn't read the same book, because it was sitting in a tree near my backyard bird feeder. The smaller birds had obviously noticed it before I had. Not a single well-fed junco or plump house finch was anywhere to be seen.

But a week or so later, there was an explosion of feathers outside the kitchen window as the sharpie nailed a pine siskin that was flying toward the feeder. The hawk began regularly returning to pick off my fatted songbirds, and I consulted other bird books. 

One said that sharpies sometimes hunt at a number of neighborhood feeders, patrolling them like trap lines. This tendency to kill other birds earned the hawk the description of "murderous little villain" in Birds of America, published in 1936. It was "relentless," and "a little demon" that attacked in a "blind fury." The book explained that there were good birds and bad birds and that the sharp-shinned, along with its fellow accipiters the Cooper's hawk and the goshawk, "deserve destruction."

Some people today might still agree with Birds of America. It can be tough to see coddled songbirds turned into fast food for a marauding hawk. But I found my backyard sharpie so interesting I couldn't begrudge it the occasional junco.

Have you ever seen a sharpie? Ever had one patrol your feeder? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote


The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
~ Rachel Carson

Friday, September 7, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: nudibrachs (sea slugs), or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Please post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nudibranchs

"Opalescent nudibranch," PNW's most common nudibranch
photo by Minette Layne 
Oh, who doesn't love nudibranchs? I'd have to guess only people who haven't yet heard of these little sea creatures. 

Nudibranchs (pronounced "nudie-branks") are also called sea slugs--a name that doesn't do them justice. These little beasties are usually about 1" to 4" long, and you can find them in tidepools, eelgrass beds, mudflats, estuaries, and other shallow water near shore.

photo by Minette Layne
They come in many colors--like lemon yellow, orange-red, rosy pink--and have wildly fanciful shapes. Sensory tentacles called rhinophores at the front or back of the animal can be conical, feathery plumes or spires. They might have a circular tuft of gills at the back end, or be entirely covered with projections called cerata.

Those cerata have a several functions, including defense. When they eat anemones, nudibranches aren't harmed by their stinging cells. They just gobble up those nemoatocysts along with the rest of the animal; the stinging cells are then sorted inside the nudibranch's body and migrate into the cerata. The sea slug thus becomes armed with the weapons of its prey.

photo by Minette Layne

photo by Minette Layne

Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites (each individual has both male and female sex organs). Some species are male when young and become female as they grow older. but most species are both genders simultaneously. 

When two nudibranchs mate, each usually gives and receives sperm. Later, each will lay eggs in coils or rippling curtainlike masses, depending on the species.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, over 170 species of nudibranchs have been described. And luckily for us, a photographer named Minette Layne has captures several of them in photos, and generously shares the images via Creative Commons license on Flickr. 

How about you? Have you made acquaintance with nudibranchs? (And doncha just love them?)  

photo by Minette Layne
photo by Minette Layne

photo by Minette Layne