Friday, June 24, 2011

Help Name the Baby Crows

Update: There is now just one baby crow remaining out of the three, and he has been named Ned. I learned from watching the PBS video, A Murder of Crows, that the attrition rate of baby crows is very high, probably typical of most birds. In their study, only one out of the original eight youngsters made it to the end of the study, which was only a few months long. Anyway, we're enjoying watching and listening to Ned.

Original Story:
As you know, Bertram and Corvina have three youngsters now. To write stories about them, I need to know what their names are. Lucy, a young friend and fellow crow watcher, has kindly provided six ideas. Please help narrow these choices down by picking your three favorites in the poll on the upper-right part of this page.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Kids on the Block

Last week I spent a day digging out the rockery in front of our house, all the while serenaded by the loud squawks of one or more of Bertram and Corvina's babies. Yes, the long-awaited time had finally arrived, heralded by lots and lots of noise.

Once baby crows get big enough, they leave the nest and start walking around on the tree branches, flapping their wings to strengthen them. Looking down from a height and not yet being able to fly must make them feel very insecure, and they let the world hear about it in a manner impossible to ignore. If you're not sure what a young crow sounds like, just imagine an exceptionally loud and obnoxious "crying" babydoll.  
WHAAya. WHAAya. WHAAya. WHAAya. WHAAya. WHAAya. (Repeat indefinitely)

One of Bertram and Corvina's kids.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Listen to Orca Whales Live!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we love our Orca whales so much that scientists have installed microphones to listen to their sounds, just like moms and dads listen to baby monitors. The microphones are called hydrophones because they work under water. There's a whole network of these hydrophones in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, and anyone can listen to them online. In fact, you're encouraged to listen and help monitor the whales' calls to help scientists identify which pod is making them.

Orcas Live! on the Hydrophone Network
Scientists, along with the rest of us living in this region, are worried because the Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are stressed, and some of them here are dying prematurely for no apparent reason, so their population is dwindling. One theory is that ship and boat motor noises, among other things, are stressing them out, so scientists are listening to help figure out what's going on.

You can see the locations of the hydrophones and listen to them on the Orcasound Hydrophone Network site. It has a map with markers showing the locations of the hydrophones. You can click on a marker to hear any sounds being made at that location. (You may need to install some software first. The page has information about what you need.) You can also listen to recordings to learn about the unique sounds the different whale pods make, and explore lots of other interesting stuff. A different site has links to web cams recording live video of different locations. Check it out!

Also be sure to visit the Killer Whale Tales web site, which has lots of information about the endangered Orcas in our area. For children, download this free booklet from Killer Whale Tales that explains all about Orcas and has fun activities: Orca Booklet for Children. (They say the booklet's for children, but I'm sure enjoying it!) For more information about the research being done on the effects of man-made noise on the Orcas, see this article.

If you're interested in ways that you can help Orcas, see Rain Gardening for Orcas.

And read this story about the birthday party for a 100-year-old Orca.

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Listen to Orca whales live on the Hydrophone Network.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Always on the Lookout for Photo-ops

Like me, you photographers and painters out there are probably always on the lookout for scenes to make good pictures from. Check out some that I've found on the "My Photos" page. I've been adding new albums to that page all morning since I discovered a good batch-processing tool to make it easier.

One of my favorite places is Nelson, Nevada. It has a population of about two, I believe. Wait, let me check that out .... Oh excuse me, it's 369. They must have all been napping the day I was there. Gold was discovered there in 1859, but there doesn't appear to be any gold left, as there are no prospectors running around, and the equipment is all so decrepit you couldn't use it anyway.

But it has photographer's gold. Lots of it. Check it out. I can't wait to go back there!

Nelson, Nevada

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Nelson, Nevada is a photographer's goldmine.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

World Environment Day

I just learned from a blogger in Indonesia that June 5 was World Environment Day. I didn't know there was such a thing, did you? I sure won't want to miss it next year when people all around the world focus on the environment.

A United Nations Environment Program, WED is an "annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. WED activities take place all year round but climax on 5 June every year, involving everyone from everywhere."

Awfully cool. Thanks, Multibrand!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Crows Are Getting Some Bad Press

Oh dear, oh dear, Kiro just ran a thing about how aggressive crows are, and people are making comments that the crows should be shot. Right now, crows like Bertram and Corvina are protecting their nests, and if you act like you're after their babies, they'll dive bomb you. Or at least that's what I hear. I think that staying away from crows nests is probably prudent this time of year. Other than that, shooting them? I don't think so.

Anyway, here's a link to the piece:

Please don't let it inspire you to go out and hurt a crow.

As a reward for not hurting crows, here's a fun video showing a crow fashioning a tool to get something out of a jar.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Last Great Ladybug Eviction

It's spring, and the weather's warming up a little bit in Seattle, reminding me of how I used to evict the ladybugs from the farmhouse at the end of each winter. It also brings to mind the story of the last great ladybug eviction.

Docile, aphid-loving, innocent little ladybug

To tell this story, I first need to make a confession. My little farm on the Key Peninsula was really a plant nursery. I just call it a "farm" so people won't confuse it with a nursery for children, my being a woman and all. But, to clear up the record, the farm had greenhouses full of plants and fields full of rhododendrons and azaleas that were being grown for market, so it was in fact a nursery.

Anyway, to control the aphid population and keep the rhodie leaves from getting all chewed up, the previous owner had imported boxes of ladybugs from California and released them on the property. Lady bugs love to eat aphids the way I love to eat chocolate.

If you know anything about the winter weather here versus in California, though, you'll realize that in spite of plentiful aphids, those ladybugs were in no way happy about the change in their fortunes. Feeling sorry for the poor cold ladybugs, I'd allow them to over-winter in the farmhouse, as the previous owner had also done, judging by the fact that the house had never been caulked. When the weather cooled each fall, thousands would find their way in through the many cracks and crevices of the 100-year-old structure and nestle in the corners between the ceilings and walls. Because they slept through the long winter months, they were no bother at all. In fact, I could ignore the cobwebs guilt-free all winter. After all, I couldn't disturb our house guests, could I?

Quietly sleeping, peaceful little ladybugs
When the weather warmed up in spring, and the ladybugs began stirring in their corners, I'd open up all the windows and begin shooing them out. It might take me several sessions, but finally they'd all be outdoors again, happily eating aphids.

The year Liz started high school, though, the ladybugs' fortunes took another turn for the worse. Brian had decided to switch things around and stay with me during the school week and his dad on the weekends, so now both kids had a 25-minute commute to school down a winding two-lane highway. With all their school activities requiring lots of back and forth trips, this just wouldn't do. I decided to rent out the farmhouse and move into town, close to the school.

After meticulously screening 10,000 people to find the perfect couple to live in the farmhouse, I picked Simone and Dave. They were so excited about living out in the country in such a beautiful setting, that I fell in love with them. As time went on, though, I realized that while Simone was enamored with the idea of country life, (it went with her country decor) the reality of it didn't quite meet her expectations.

If you've ever lived in the country, you know that doing this takes a considerable amount of self-reliance. At first you may try to get service people to drive out from town, but eventually you realize it's fruitless and learn how to fix things yourself. Or else you just live with them being broken, a perfectly viable alternative in many cases. Going to the store can take a good part of a day, so you plan ahead, and make sure to bring a complete list. And you don't go very often. Also, there are lots and lots of natural things out in the country that country folks just learn to live with. Like dirt. And insects.

Simone and Dave never really warmed up to any of this. For one thing, they were used to having their landlord fix things -- apparently promptly -- so I got called about every little thing that malfunctioned. Which was okay. I understood that I was on the hook for this stuff. I just wished they would learn to do one or two things themselves to save me the many long drives out to the farm. But at least they weren't trashing the place, as I'd tell myself during yet another emergency run down to the farm.

Here's a typical conversation:

Ring ring. "Hello."
"Hi Megan! This is Simone."
"Hi Simone, what's up?"
"Dishwasher's broken. Please come over and fix it right away."
"What's wrong with it?"
"I don't know, it just won't start."
"Have you tried some different things to get it working?"
"No. You need to come over right now and fix it."
"Tomorrow? How about tomorrow?"
"No, now!"
"Why not tomorrow?"
"Because the dishes are piled up and need to be washed."
"How about hand-washing them for today?"
"No! I can't do that. It would break my nails."
"OK. I'll be there in an hour."

Simone had a strict "No Sinks" policy.

One day I left work early, in plenty of time to get to Liz's evening band concert. When I got home, I made the mistake of checking my voice mail.

"Megan!! This is Simone! Are you going to get an exterminator?!!!!" Click. Dial tone.

Uh oh.

"Hi Simone, I got your message. What's up?!"
"What about the ladybugs?"
"They're IN THE HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!"
"They're swarming everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Okay. That's okay, they do that every fall. They settle down in the corners and sleep through the winter."
"What's the problem?"
"They're buzzing me. And they're biting Dave. Get an exterminator RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!"
(What's this about biting? How weird! Since then, though, I've heard other people say they've been bitten.)
"No exterminator! Those ladybugs have a job to do. They eat the aphids. And they need a warm place to stay in the winter."
Sobbing sounds.
"All right. I'll come over and get them out of there for you."

I left Liz a note to bum a ride to her band concert, picked up a case of caulk at the hardware store, and headed down to the farm. With tears in my eyes and a heavy heart, I scooped up every ladybug I could find and put them all outdoors. They'd be spending a long cold winter in the barn. Then I caulked every crevice they could possibly sneak back in through. Finally, covered with caulk and feeling a combination of guilt and sadness, I set out for Liz's concert.

I was only 30 minutes late, and the auditorium was dark, which was a good thing because my attire and state of grooming weren't exactly perfect. The chorus was still singing, and the band hadn't come on yet, so at least I didn't have to bear the guilt of missing Liz's performance on top of everything else.

After the concert I planned to sneak out before anyone actually saw me, realizing that Liz might be mortified by my appearance. But my latest attempt to avoid embarrassing my daughter came to the usual ill-fated end. In this case, heading for the back door, I was corned by some of the band parents wanting to chit chat, which forced me to explain my appearance. My story was met with laughter, and more laughter, and then some more. There was so much laughter, in fact, that I ended up laughing too, even though I wasn't sure why. I thought to myself, "If this story makes people so very happy, then I want to write it down some day, although I'm not certain why those people were so happy about the poor little ladybugs." But laughter is nearly always a good thing, and I try not to question where it comes from too much.

Me explaining things to the band parents

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I evicted those cute, docile, helpful little ladybugs for good.

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