Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentines Day: Science and Flowers

"Solitude" winner of 1993 Americana rose competition

Scientists report that women and men who receive flowers smile more, talk more and stand closer together than when given a gift of fruit, pens, or candles. And, the more flowers they get, the more smiles. “Our hypothesis,” said a Rutgers researcher, “is that flowers are exploiting an emotional niche "they induce positive emotions so we take care of them. In that sense they're like dogs. They are the pets of the plant world.” 

Here is a flower for you that won’t wilt or fade.

Happy Valentines Day!
Wild roses

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Raccoon Nation -- Our mischievious friends

Woodland Animals -Raccoons

Tonight the PBS shows "Raccoon Nation" a story of the evolution of raccoons. The idea is that they are getting smarter and adapting to the environment-- Thanks to us.
We see them every day and yet know little about them.
Meanwhile see our gallery of the raccons

Watch the slide show for some interesting raccoon photos or click on them and go to the gallery. Then see the summary article in NYT or Canadian broadcasting.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In praise of barnswallows- a view of parenting

Its March 1983 outside Columbia Missouri on north Highway 63

Barn swallow mother perches on rim of nest
In a cold barn the photographer sits in the dark
practicing quiet trying to stay warm and explore good ways to unobtrusively light the spidery scratchy place so that she can see something... anything ...
some action besides the top of a black head high up in a nest on the barn rafter.

This action or change occurs in brief surprises in-between very long periods of no action For some days she has watched from a loft across and above her head as the nest was recycled Cleaned and lined with new mud and some of mother birds own indigo feathers. Then eggs were laid, one each day and, glory be! None of the awful predators came.

Each day the watcher/waiter/photographer climbs into her place and two females sit in a cold barn
one on eggs and the other in hay with a camera
Again and again-- like a fighter jet she swoops in carrying food

watching, dreaming, and incubating the one on the nest has come to accept / tolerate the the other
Barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, have thrived with the human race.  They once lived in caves but now there are barns and porches all increasing in number

Mother carries food to the noisy nestlings
One morning there is shell on the barn floor and weak squeaking above she climbs and watches breathless from her loft the nestlings grow in their demands, exponentially
The mother becomes a flying carrier service
catering to growing mouths.
They are a chorus, parsons or judges, always above her, looking down, looking demonic and ridiculous
Soon they are nearly her size and their wide open mouths are endless.  The photographer is reminded of parenting. Her own children wouldn't like the affinity she feels with this tiny  straining bird.

Barn swallows wait on a barbed wire fence for the evening bugs
The birdlings grow beyond the nest, bursting its limits.  Always one will take off first.  Maybe it hates crowds, maybe it is not quite "right" and has fallen or been pushed,  maybe it is restless or impatient, or simply believes flying can't be that hard.  One will always fledge, 'trying his wings' on the long drop, but may not be ready to fly.
Those around barn swallows have come to expect at least one babe will fall or fail flying each year and not just once.  With luck these people have learned and have and the means to re-place them in the nest or protect them from the cats (check out Baby barn swallow stories)
Barnswallow feeds fledge
Soon they all fledge and for the next two weeks parenting is on the wing.

Later, it is one of those summer evenings when the tree frogs are a choir, the air is a bit cooler, the grass is up, and after dinner we wait for the lightening bugs. The barn swallows and bats wait for the mosquitoes to lift off the fields.

I am reminded of a comment my aunt Mary Bumgarner made when my son was new born. In an amused but knowing voice she said, "The thing about parenting is that it is so daily."

For a lovely set of references about the barn swallow including short essays by people that have lived around them I highly recommend this site: excellent summary facts about barnswallows

Stay tuned we will create a gallery of Barn swallows.


Love the faces: more barnswallows

            Moments--in Between the  eating --               
They seem sated and look both earnest and ridiculous
Barn swallows -- Notes from the Photographer
Wednesday June 20, 1984 (Blue book page 102)

I put the blind in the barn loft about 10 am & the birds started coming in right away.
What a good idea! There are at least 3 nests. The nest I watched had 5 babes and they were huge. I had more fun watching them than any birds yet. They followed bugs and wasps and flies with their eyes – watched the horses – called their parents – stood on nest edge and whirred their wings.

Two babes fledged – flew to a beam, sat awhile, and then back to the nest.  The parents usually feed fast, on the wing.

The parents occasionally give a special chirp and all babes become statues in whatever position they are in – like the game “statues” except they usually shrink down in size. A fun experience. I was 6 feet 8 inches in the hay loft and used 60 power zoom.

Note from the editor: Barn swallows are beloved by many in blogland. If you want to read more or see more of the pictures see the previous stories -- More barn swallows.