Present Monstrous Manuscript

23 07 2008

Here is an excerpt from what I am presently working on, in case of interest.


I miss my quail

23 07 2008

This is the fire that broke out in my old field site Monday midday. Not by chance, this field site is also adjacent to my parent’s house so my mother, who arrived home to find a fire fighter hanging out with the dog, Satchel in the yard, a friend counting the bunnies in bunny-magic-land to make sure they were all present (despite not knowing the precise number—I don’t either it is 6 or 7—sorry mom!) and an enormous number of messages on her answering machine, was able to report on its progress to me. The fire was quickly controlled and extinguished, despite it being fast moving through an area ripe for a blaze (+50 years since the last fire).

I think about my birds, or more precisely, the descendants of my birds (since my banded pajaros certainly are all dead by now), almost daily. OK, so I am neurotic. When I visit, I always make sure I at least get a glimpse of them—and force the children to look at them and get excited (which they do for a moment and then run off to something more compelling to them. I’ve actually noticed this phenomenon with other birds, which I want to sit and watch and I honestly cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t want to sit for hours wondering what the hell those chickadees are talking about…)

So, the first thing I thought about, after my mom told me the house was not threatened, were my birds. Surely some of them died. And surely many of them were frightened as only a bird trapped in a fire can be. I wondered what fire retardant does to the animals below, and what effect it has on the environment long term. These are things I don’t really want to worry about, to be totally honest.

I also, just to confuse the matter, think about the fact that ultimately, the fire will probably be good for the quail—the fresh green up creating a bountiful food supply in a region where the thick chaparal prevents new growth. This is the whole relationship between the individual being and the group or species I always find so problematic–it is the place where animal rights and conservation often diverge (e.g. euthanize the goats to save the island’s biodiversity). I feel both impulses strongly–both dueling inside me.

Anyway. My plan was/(is?) to start banding my birds again next month, when I am in San Diego with the kids. They are old enough for me to be gone most of the day in the field (though not old enough to really help yet) and I want to re-establish my data collection with these birds. I am still struggling with my (animal rights?) concern about the effect of banding and trapping–I tell myself it better be a damn good bunch of information I get from any creature I mess with–and this of course makes me feel anxious.

And now this fire. I am scared of what I’ll find down there. I’ve already witnessed destruction on the site–two roads blasted through during my dissertation research, nests trampled during revegetation attempts. Although those times, I knew the site so well I could see the ghosts of the plants and the nests of animals long after they had been bulldozed. Now, I do not know the site as well, do not have any banded birds, so perhaps I won’t be so sad.

I do know that yesterday my mom saw a small bobcat by the house–and I am glad the bobcat is still around, hope that it is not the only one (the construction made me worried that the bobcat that often visited my traps would not be around for long)–but it is clearly unsettled by the fire. And I suspect my birds will be as well, and I wonder if I will even be able to find them in the short week I’ll have to try.

A plague upon your houses

12 07 2008

West Nile virus, avian flu, birds have mites and I’d better wash my hands. A flock of birds brought the plague upon them. Disease spreaders—bringers of decay filled miasmas. Carrion feeders, birds of prey. Dead only dead. Crow dead like alive—disease spreader,

Mourning, in mourning—avian mourning.

grahas, grainis, yoginis, yaksinis, apsaras

bird headed women, falcon, vulture, parrot, owls, kites, vultures, geese, ducks.

be careful
aren’t you nervous,
working with birds?

shit and blood, feathers and parasitic flies…it all comes out in the wash

doesn’t it?

Seizers, skanda-seizers, graha

All those flocks of ravening bird goddesses, all those valkyries, dechrire, erinnyes, maenads—witches, witches witches.

You poor little bird, you poor little one legged bird, choking bird, begging for a piece of my food for my crumb. Poor little warber, little finch, little starling, little crow.


Science and Music

6 07 2008

A series of essays in Nature looking at the relationship between science and music–granted, primarily from the science point of view. To download click: science_of_music.


5 07 2008

Do we need to talk about birds? Of course.

This crow was part of a long-term study of American Crows conducted by Kevin McGowan in the Ithaca, New York, area. It succumbed to West Nile virus in 2003, when it was 13 years old.

This crow was part of a long-term study of American Crows conducted by Kevin McGowan in the Ithaca, New York, area. It succumbed to West Nile virus in 2003, when it was 13 years old.

What about crows—we Americans are laden with European fearfulness. “Oh a crow, I hate crows” (Oh a crow I love love love them.)

—the crow, raven rook black birds that gather in huge groups sometimes, in murders, carrion eaters, load and croaking.

West Nile loves these birds. And probably not because they carry it to other creatures. It kills them too quickly to make them good carrier candidates. In Ithaca a huge proportion of birds died. How does their social behavior change? (Sick female on a wire—the male fed her all day, she could not feed herself). At least the last I heard, rather than dispersing to new open territories as would be expected based on strict cost benefit analysis survivors group with nonkin—as though the pull of social interaction outweighs the riches of a new large territory.

Crows, with their big heads, their tool usage. Here is something new: caveman, Cheney. Wearing a Cheny or a caveman mask to trap crows, researchers found that anyone wearing the mask after the trapping would be mobbed and harassed up to and beyond a year after the trapping (Marzluff et al. see (Alaska Science Forum).

Birds have long memories.

Two crows on a branch dwarfed by enormous pieces of plastic tied in place and billowing around them–white to their black.

Could have seen it coming?

2 07 2008

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

Sinclair Lewis