Showing posts from March, 2016

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: A review

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald My rating: 5 of 5 stars Helen Macdonald, as she tells it in H Is for Hawk , was an awkward, unlovely, unpopular child. But though her life in the outside world may not have been so auspicious, she had a rich interior life that allowed her to escape from all that. She had an obsession: birds. She was fascinated by birds in general, but the ones which held the strongest attraction for her were the raptors, the magnificent killing machines of the avian world. She read everything she could find about the birds and about humans working with those magnificent killing machines and training them in the sport of falconry. Her most passionate desire was to be a falconer when she grew up. Helen, unlike many of us, had parents who did not discourage her obsession. They accepted it as normal and encouraged her in it. Her father, a professional news photographer, took her into the fields and woods to observe birds and to look for raptors. He taught her to focus as

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Garden blues

Blue is not a common color in my garden. The garden's palette bends more to the red/orange/yellow spectrum. It just gives added importance to the blues that the garden does have. Blues like Evolvulus Blue Daze, now in bloom. The plant is an evergreen subshrub that grows in a low spreading mound not more than one foot tall and at this time of year the mound is covered in these dainty flowers. One of my most reliable blue bloomers is the blue plumbago that continues its flowering throughout the hottest, driest days of summer and into fall. In fact, in this time of mild winters, my plants have not been out of bloom since last spring. At this time of year, of course, there are a few bluebonnets gracing my Texas garden. It is, after all, our state flower. This lupine, along with paintbrush, coreopsis, and other native plants make our roadsides look like colorful patchwork quilts in spring. (Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson.) Salvias (sages) are a proven so

Another summer visitor checks in

The Chimney Swifts are back. Let the summer begin. I heard their distinctive twittering in flight over my yard on Sunday afternoon. Looking up, I saw three of the little birds barreling around the sky over the yard in their iconic "bat-out-of-hell" flight. Chimney Swifts could not be mistaken for any other kind of bird - except perhaps another variety of swift like the Vaux , but we don't have those here so identification is easy. It's not just their constant twittering calls; their bodies are unique, looking like a big cigar from tip of beak to tip of tail, with long, slender wings attached. The birds seem to be mostly wing and that is appropriate since they are creatures that live their lives on the wing, eating, drinking, mating, even sleeping in flight. Those scythe-shaped wings cut through the air very efficiently, thus sending the birds on their very fast jaunts from here to there. In Yoda-speak, swiftly they fly; well-named they are. Those efficient wings ar

The Closers by Michael Connelly: A review

The Closers by Michael Connelly My rating: 4 of 5 stars When I last encountered Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch, he had left the LAPD and was working as a private detective. But after three years away from the force, he misses it and when he learns that certain personnel would no longer be there to torment him and that the new police chief is open to his returning, he decides to go back. The decider is that he will be able to work with his former partner Kizmir Rider in a new unit called Open-Unsolved. These are old murder cases that have grown cold but are not forgotten. Working old cases has always been Harry's strength. He is in his element here. The first case assigned to Harry and Kiz is a seventeen-year-old murder of a teenage girl who was taken from her home at night and killed. She was at first thought to be a runaway but her body was found a few days later on a mountain behind the family home. The autopsy revealed that she had recently had an abortion, unknown to her family a

Poetry Sunday: Today

We've had a lot of perfect spring days over the past week. Temperatures just right, clear blue skies, lots of golden sunshine, gentle breezes. Billy Collins knows about such days and he captures them perfectly in words. Today BY  BILLY COLLINS If ever there were a spring day so perfect, so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze that it made you want to throw open all the windows in the house and unlatch the door to the canary's cage, indeed, rip the little door from its jamb, a day when the cool brick paths and the garden bursting with peonies seemed so etched in sunlight that you felt like taking a hammer to the glass paperweight on the living room end table, releasing the inhabitants from their snow-covered cottage so they could walk out, holding hands and squinting into this larger dome of blue and white, well, today is just that kind of day. ~~~ I hope that is just the kind of day you are having. To all my Christian reade

This week in birds - #199

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Tri-colored Heron with breeding plumes seeks his lunch among the reeds. *~*~*~* Both of the eaglets have now hatched in the Washington, D.C. Bald Eagle nest that is being monitored by thousands via the nestcams. You can watch, too . The cameras are on 24-7. Please note the disclaimer that this is a wild bird nest and sometimes distressing things happen in such nests. But so far, so good with the little eaglets. *~*~*~* The transition from living in the sea to walking on land is one of the major stages of evolution. Scientists have long puzzled over exactly how the transition was made. Now, in a cave in Thailand, they have found a fish that may offer some of the answers . It is a blind cave fish that is able to walk on land the way vertebrates do. *~*~*~* A new paper argues that catastrophic climate shift may not take centuries if we continue on our present path but may in fact take place within decades

Say hello to my leetle friend!

The American green tree frog ( Hyla cinerea ) is a common backyard amphibian that is found throughout the central and southeastern United States. They seem to be especially common in my yard. I can hardly turn over a leaf or a rock without encountering one. Indeed, there's even one that joins me on my patio. My favorite spot to sit on my patio is in a canopied swing where I can view most of my backyard and keep an eye on what is happening there. As it happens, it is the favorite spot of this little guy as well. He's found a perch on the bar that supports the swing - between the metal bar and canvas canopy. It's a warm and well-hidden spot, just the right size for a little green frog. I probably would never have known he was there, but a couple of days ago while I was sitting in my spot, he decided to start "singing". Of course, I got up to see what was making all that noise and there he was! I've seen him there every day since then.    But the lit

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante: A review

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante My rating: 4 of 5 stars "Each of us narrates our life as it suits us." - Lila Cerullo in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay This is the third in Elena Ferrante's acclaimed Neapolitan Quartet of novels which chronicle the lifelong friendship of Lila and Elena. In this one, the women have reached their mid-twenties and we follow them to their early thirties. The time is 1969 to the mid-'70s. I think it would be a huge mistake to try to read any one of these novels as a stand-alone or to read them out of order. Each one builds on the previous book(s) and each is a continuation of that narration of two lives. Here we find that Lila, having left the comforts or at least the prestige offered by her marriage to the businessman Stefano, is working at a sausage factory and living, along with her young son, with her childhood friend Enzo who is in love with her. They maintain a platonic relationship.  Lila is overworke

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Still here

By the first of March, it seemed that most of our winter visitor birds had left the area. No more Rufous Hummingbirds . No more American Goldfinches . No more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers or Orange-crowned Warblers . No more Chipping...oh, wait, what is that?  Over the weekend, I looked up to see a Chipping Sparrow perched on the grape vine in my backyard. It didn't stay there long but flew over to one of my feeders and began to have lunch. Usually when I see one chippie, there are several around, but this time I only saw this one. Likewise, I thought all the Pine Siskins had absconded, but no! Here's one perched in my redbud tree on Sunday and I later saw four of them at my feeders. I even heard an American Goldfinch in the pine trees next door. As I thought about it, it seemed likely to me that all of these birds had spent the winter farther south and that I am seeing them now as they head north. I do think that most of the winter birds that spent the season in m

World Poetry Day

It seems that every cause, idea, group, disease, etc., has its own special designated day, week, month, etc., in our modern world. Did you know, for example, that today is National French Bread Day ? Also, National Common Courtesy and National Fragrance Day ? Indeed it is! But some things are so important that they get not just a "national" day but a "world" day. And today is one of those, too. It is World Poetry Day . This is an annual event, celebrated every year on March 21. Why that particular date? Maybe because this is the time of year that brings out the poet in all of us. To celebrate this special day, here are just a few favorite lines from favorite poems.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver - The Summer Day It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. William Ernest Henley - Invictus He was my North, my

An annoying peasant explains it all

Happy Monday! Have you had enough of presidential debates? How about a debate between a representative of the 99% and one from the 1% about how government works? In inimitable Monty Python fashion, of course. Enjoy!

Poetry Sunday: A Prayer in Spring

The first amaryllis blossom of the year welcomes spring to my garden. A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year. Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid air stands still. For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil.  ~~~ What a perfect description of a hovering hummingbird: "The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,   And off a blossom in mid air stands still." And those "meteors" wil

This week in birds - #198

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on their way. They've been seen along the Gulf Coast of Texas and some are probably already in our area, although I haven't seen any in my yard yet. I photographed this one in my backyard on March 20, 2015, so I expect to see them any day now. The adult males are always the first to arrive, followed by adult females and the one-year old birds.   *~*~*~* Residents of our nation's capital have been in a state of eager anticipation this week and it has nothing to do with presidential primaries or Supreme Court justice nominees. It's all about Bald Eagle chicks. A pair of Bald Eagles nesting at the National Arboretum have been followed by nestcam and this week, on Friday, the first of the two eggs hatched while the city watched . There hasn't been this much excitement since the last panda birth at the National Zoo. *~*~*~* The news about Monarch butterflies

My favorite sage

Salvia, commonly called sage, is the largest genus of plants in the very large mint family, Lamiaceae . Within the genus, there are nearly a thousand species. They include a wide variety of growth forms such as shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Some even have hallucinogenic properties. There are salvias that are native to practically every region of the world. One that is native to the rocky soils in Central, West, and South Texas, as well as Mexico, is Salvia greggii , often called autumn sage or cherry sage. I grow many different kinds of salvia in my garden, but I have to admit a particular fondness for Salvia greggii . These salvias are characterized by small, dull pale green, glandular, aromatic leaves. They are essentially small evergreen shrubs that have a loose, open growth. They normally have red flowers, although, through the work of horticulturists, you can now find them in many different colors, including orange, yellow, fuchsia, salmon, purple, red-violet, bu