Friday, December 29, 2006


I did the Buffalo River Christmas Bird Count (Lawrenceburg) yesterday, with Damien Simbeck in a nice territory around Laurel Hill Lake, Laurel Hill WMA, and some open farm lands. Nothing especially rare, probably the best find was a lingering House Wren. We had a total of 63 species, with I think 75 for the count as a whole. Respectable totals for a small count (6 parties) far inland with very little water.

At one point while we were sorting through sparrows and looking for the source of the Eurasian Collared Dove calls we were hearing, we glanced back over at the cows behind us and noticed a wet, wobbly calf. On closer inspection, we discovered that he still had pink, dripping umbilical cord dangling from his belly, and momma was in the midst of passing the afterbirth. Apparently we had been so wrapped up in the birds we failed to notice a cow giving birth right behind us! I had vaguely noticed a pickup leaving that farm a short while before. This left us wondering why the farmer had been leaving his laboring cow, rather than tending to her. I got even more perplexed when I noticed a hugely pregnant cow right next to the calf and new momma who was down in the ground. I'm not a cattleman, but I do seem to remember that a full-term pregnant cow on the ground is bad, and that during calving season the cows aren't generally left unattended for very long. Maybe the farmer had been heading out to get some help for his down cow? We'll never know.

Earlier in the day we saw one of the more inexplicable sights I can recall from my years in the woods. Damien spotted it first: an antlerless deer in the woods wearing a custom-fitted blaze orange vest, and about a dozen yards away, a man in full camo with a rifle who was not wearing orange! The deer was walking around, it was not one of those fancy computerized animatronic decoys used to catch poachers. What on earth was that about? Was it a pet deer? Was it a doe in rut being used to bait bucks? And if he was worried about his deer getting shot, why wasn't he worried about getting shot himself?? And why was all this happening within plain sight of a public road? More things we will probably never know.

Damien hinted that I'll likely inherit this CBC area as my own next year, and he will move to another territory than needs more coverage. So, now that I have BBS routes and a CBC territory of my own, have attended a TOS meeting, and have started actually paying attention to my Tennessee list, I guess my transplantation is complete and I am now an official Tennessee Birder, not just an unrooted immigrant.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Night sounds

Well I was just about to post about the seasonal pleasure of once again having Woodcock display flights over the house and orchard in the early winter twilight... when the Songdog Tabernacle Choir launched into a "wall-of-sound" rendition of the "Howl-eluja Chorus" practically right outside of my window! I do love hearing the coyotes (in spite of the chicken losses), but when they suddenly burst forth like that in fortissimo and 8-part harmony at point blank range it can be more than a little startling!

On the nature of science and society

"Certain recent discoveries that depart from common and popular opinions have been noisily denied and impuned, obliging me to hide in silence every new idea of mine until I have more than proved it." -- Galileo Galilei

Sunday, December 17, 2006

GIS at home

I recently searched around for opensource/freeware GIS programs that can be downloaded and run on a home computer. I was looking for real GIS that allows creation and editing of new data layers, not just GIS viewers that let you examine data that other people have already created. I finally secured a package called Quantum GIS, which installed and runs pretty well. Its analysis and editing capabilities are less than I would ideally like, however. I can create new vector layers but I have limited ability to edit them after they have been created (e.g. adding new attributes, altering polygons, etc.). It also doesn't have much analytical capabilty, and only modestly versatile symbology controls.

I tried to download and install full-fledged GRASS without success, though it's not clear to me why it failed. Does anyone out there have successful experience at installing and using GRASS or another desktop-scale freeware/shareware open source GIS package that has full editing and analysis capabilities? I would vastly prefer one that runs under Mac OS X (with x windows if necessary) rather than in windows. Ever since i got my Mac about a year ago I have grown less and less inclined to use Windoze, especially anything that requires installing and troubleshooting any new software (it's those antibodies that windows machines develop that reject new applications like bad organ transplants). I do have a fully equipped laptop with XP on it, if necessary.

Given that we only have 28K dialup internet access here, any of the interfaces that rely on remote internet data files (e.g. Google Earth) are essentially useless for me. I need something that uses files stored locally. I can download huge files on a one-time basis, but I can't use any application that requires continuous communication with the mothership and its data servers. {This means our homestead will remain blissfully free of Second Life!}

Suggestions/pointers welcome!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Evolutionary Blues...

A little music performance video from YouTube:

Chris Smither, "Origin of Species"

Blues with an evolutionary biology and scriptural theme... you hear some interesting things on XM.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Most amusing...

I see our favorite woodpecker-doubting Thomas, that self-described Ivory-bill Skeptic from Minnesota, has decided to take on global warming and prove that it too is nothing but money-grubbing unscientific media-driven hysteria. This will nicely complement his earlier (and since deleted) efforts to prove that Iraqi WMDs really did exist (no joking, he really did this).

What I find most interesting in all this is that his fan base rises so quickly to point out the logical flaws, misleading and misrepresented data, and highly selective quoting of experts that he uses to prop up his falacious WMD and global warming arguments. Yet, these same people don't snap to the fact that he uses the same strategies in his anti-IBWO "skeptical" arguments. To me it has become rather evident that his primary motivations are his anti-conservationist (especially government funded conservation), anti-government (except for the military), pro-corporate politics, not a quest for actual scientific truth.

Oh, for the record, before I left Academia I was an ecosystem ecologist, and I was very skeptical of the reality of global warming for many years. I was convinced of this reality however in the 1990s as the temperature trends became harder to ignore, and the data from the 2000s so far are damn near indisputable. I also agree, though, that "global climate change" long ago became one of the buzz-phrases that you plugged into your proposals to try to hook into trendy funding, along with such terms as "biodiversity" and "sustainability," But the fact that these terms became "hot words" in proposal writing doesn't mean they are not also legitimate scientific concerns.

One of the things I started saying in the 1980s was that "We'll know global warming is real when we start getting hurricanes in the South Atlantic." There had never been a hurricane recorded in the Atlantic basin south of the equator. Until, that is, 2004, when a hurricane made landfall in Brazil.

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