Apr
07
2010

NatureEd Podcast Series

Nature EdCast

Nature EdCast

I just came across a new podcast series from the folks at Nature Education (a new division of Nature Publishing group) called Nature EdCast.  This is a series of 10-minute podcast interviews with various scientists and educators – the interviews primarily focus on science teaching and learning – doing something new or thinking about science in unusual or different ways.  For example, there’s one with David Shenk on intelligence; one with Felice Frankel on visual communication; and one featuring Malcolm Campbell talking about Synthetic Biology. There are six interviews up on the site now, and, apparently, there will a a new one every month.

You can subscribe to the series (RSS feed), stream the podcasts right there on the site, or read the transcript. Definitely worth checking out.

Apr
05
2010

My House Hawk

image001

This is interesting.  We ID birds 200 feet in the air, with backlight conditions, moving in circles and we are incredibly confident in our calls.  Here is a bird, sitting in a small leafless tree in my front yard, “captured”, enlarged and cropped, and we have three or for pretty good birders not quite sure of it’s kind.  Of course John Audubon would know what it “was”.  I say was because he would have shot it, stuffed it and mounted it before he painted it and named it.  Chucky D would probably not know this bird since its range does not include any areas visited by him,  but he would be the first to bring up VARIATIONS.  I recently enjoyed reading the new Dawkins book–The Greatest Show On Earth, and he talks of rabbitness. That is, we all try to explain what the ideal rabbit looks like, but we know deep in our biological souls that there is no perfect rabbit! There is a spectrum of rabbitness. Of course we can look at a hawk and suggest that it is a Coopers Hawk or a Red Shouldered Hawk or a Sharpy, or ……..     We know there is no perfect Cooper or Sharpy that portrays all the characteristics of the Coopers Hawk species. There is Coopers Hawkness or Sharpyness that lies somewhere on a spectrum of characteristics and we deem the bird a Coopers ( or Red Shouldered, or what have you!) So how do the great birders always “get it right?”   First, they don’t always get it right, and second, they use more than just field marks and colors.  They combine marks and colors and patterns and maybe most importantly–behaviors.  That is what my picture is missing–behaviors.   The success of good bird identification is not simply knowing what a bird looks like, it is also knowing what it is doing, how it is behaving.  Maybe the pinnacle of bird spotting is on the top of Hawk Mountain in East Central Pennsylvania.  During the Fall migration hundreds of hawks of various species can be seen.  Think about Darwin’s variations with this scene–  50 or 60 Cooper’s Hawks or over 1600 Broad-winged Hawks that were spotted last September 17th.  Which one was the perfect Broadwing?   How did the spotters know all 1600 were really Broadwinged Hawks?  It is what Barbara McClintock called  ”a feeling for the organism.”  On this same day a total of  1646 hawks of various species passed by Hawk Mountain.  A total of 8 different species of raptors were recorded.  The total for the whole 2009 migration season was  15,592 birds, 21 identified species and 1 in the category “other”.  (I wonder what “other” was.  Is this the only bird they could not identify???)   As I looked over this data I thought about Dawkin’s species problem, the perfect Red Tail, or Cooper, or Bald Eagle.  I also pictured the bell-shaped curves that Darwin’s variation concept predicted.  In fact, I even pictured bell-shaped curves soaring past the North Lookout of Hawk Mountain.  Hawk Curve.001Well, not really, but now that I wrote about it I cannot get the image out of my mind!!   So there it is.  One hawk, one picture, a waterfall of thoughts.

DSC_2272 - Version 2

The young Red-Shouldered returned a few months later and brought along a partner

.  Now I watch them both as they pick off a series of moles and chipmunks that wander along the forest edge in my backyard.

What a lesson in evolution I have unleashed because a young hawk decided to take a rest at 10437 Misty Ridge Drive!!

Apr
04
2010

Springtime Trouting

MyPictureSo there I was –  standing in the middle of a small riffle just upstream of the confluence of Big Creek and the Grand River in Eastern Lake County, Ohio.  I was in the Grand, but I could see the waters of Big Creek joining the Grand river watershed just over my right shoulder.  The water was clear enough to see the river bottom AND the Steelhead Trout that were just starting their downstream run back to Lake Erie after spending the Fall and Winter upstream.  Northern Ohio was having a very unusual  March heatwave. A week after a quick snowfall, the temperatures were pushing almost 85 degrees (F).  The last days of March in Northern Ohio are often mild (the proverbial lamb,) but mild around here in March is usually in the 60’s, not the 80’s.  El Nino weather patterns make strange shifts in lots of measurements.  Some places get extreme rain, some higher temperatures and data shows a change in the patterns of tornados and hurricanes too.  Here we were rewarded with a short lived summer.  The rivers that flow into Lake Erie alternated between too low to be fished and too high and muddy to be fished this past year.  Of course, the dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool, fishermen’s fly casters go out no matter what the river looks like.  I am as much an observer of fish as I am a catcher of fish.  I do enjoy the activity of fly fishing.  My gearCasting to a particular pool.  Avoiding this log or that shrub.  It may be as much about my fishing skills, but fish watching is pretty entertaining too.  That is what I was doing while standing in the middle of the Grand River last week—fish watching.  I was trying to catch a steelhead or two, but studying them was pretty good too.

I found a nice deep part of the river just beside the shallow riffle where I was standing.  The shale that makes up most of the river bottom in the Grand creates shelves and ledges in the river’s structure.  Some of the shelves or ledges create waterfalls, some create deep pools.  The pools provide sanctuary for the big fish as they make their way up or down stream.  Often, a large three or four-year old trout will be resting or logging in these pools.  Sometime more than one can be seen.  That is what I was watching (and casting to,) on this wonderfully warm weekday afternoon.  There were a few other fisherfolk around, but not many.  Most seemed to be fish-watching too.  steelheadTroutSteelhead trout on their spawning run (both up stream and down,) are not really interested in eating.  Eating is what they have been doing all summer in the lake.  Occasionally they will attack a floating bug or nymph (as much from habit as from hunger,)  and that is what a Steelhead trout catcher is hoping for.  The particular large fish I was watching did not seem to want to attack anything other that other trout that happened by.  I nymphed, I egged, I streamered, but mostly I watched.  But that was ok.  What a scene I was watching.  The  fish I was “playing” with was probably a 3 year old (maybe 2 years since the size of a fish under water is a bit difficult to accurately estimate due to the tendency of water to magnify,) 24 inches or so and wonderful to observe.  As smaller fish entered the pool the “resident” cleared them out.  A short rest seemed to be fine, but only a short one.  If a smaller trout stayed too long, it was scooted away.  If too many smaller fish entered the pool, even a short stay was not allowed.  I was casting to the rest stop, but mostly I was watching the residents.  Occasionally I would hear a noisy splash behind me.  Not a big splash, but kind of a  splatter.  In fact, a series of splatters.  As I turned to see the cause of the noise I saw a younger fish making its way down the riffle.  Sometimes they start down a shallow section of the river instead of staying in the deeper runs.  When this happens they need to “skitter” along the gravel and rocky riffle areas.  This creates a splashing noise and is great to watch.  Of course, if I was really just trying to get fish I could simply net the skittering fish, but I was here to watch and appreciate as much as I was to catch fish.  And appreciate I did!  I have been watching the tremendous new television series on the discovery Channel.  This series called LIFE, is wonderful.  But I was IN this “Life” episode, so I just watched.  When I view the Discovery version of “LIFE” I am amazed. The photography is remarkable even if the narrator’s explanations leave a little to be desired (in the US version, Opera Winfrey is the narrator.)  I have found a few too many explanations of wonderful design as the reason for a particular animal’s shape, color, structure or success to be comfortable.  I’m not sure how Sir David Attenborough narrates, but I’m sure the BBC version discusses the evolutionary processes a bit more accurately.  But here I stand in the middle of  a river, watching my own episode of LIFE.  That’s what this essay is all about.  We all need to watch the episodes of LIFE all around us.  Whether the tapping of a pileated woodpecker, or the hunting of a red shouldered hawk, the hunting practice of Fitzroy (my cat,) or fledging of a house wren, LIFE is all around us.  Paying attention to the world around us is actually the theme of my Australian friend’s entire blog.  It is called “Paying Ready Attention” and can be found at http://payingreadyattention.blogspot.com.  This blog is deserving of a good long look, or rather many looks since Stewart adds to this site quite frequently and every entry is worth reading.

That is what I was doing last Thursday.  I was standing in the middle of a riffle, up-stream of  the confluence of Big Creek and the Grand River “paying ready attention.”  I’ll be back.  I will search out this pool.  I may ‘tease’ the resident for a short while.  I may try a nymph, or a streamer, maybe an egg pattern.   He  (or she) many not even be there, but I will certainly be paying ready attention to the LIFE around me.