Flight of the Kite

A snippet of local birdlife: The young Mississippi Kites are on the wing now and starting to hunt for themselves over the neighborhood. The parents are provisioning some, also; so there is a lot of spectacular kite activity overhead!

Last night my twins and I witnessed a moment that would have made a great study for Carel

A huge, near-black afternoon thunderhead loomed to our east, covering half the sky above a line of oaks behind our house. To the west, clear skies and a setting sun lit up the trees almost from beneath, making a wonderful contrast in color with bright greens and yellows against dark clouds.

A young kite (full-feathered and faintly striped) came right then over the treetops and flushed a katydid from the crown of an oak. The insect glowed green against that dark backdrop and seemed big as a Luna moth. Its solid and membrane wings were distinct in motion, even though the katydid must have been 70 feet up and climbing. The young kite gave chase, caught it once but fumbled and entered into the most improbable ringing flight you can imagine.

But with that giant neon insect pumping way out in the open, you had to guess another kite would see it, and sure enough an adult male (steely gray and glinting in the sun) stooped in at a crazy angle, top speed, and snatched the katy without slowing. It was absolute perfection, and made so much more clear and surreal by the sunset and storm.

And of course, no camera handy.

More Dogs at the Beach

Thought I would share some pictures taken Monday night. It’s been a while since I pictured Sadie and you can see how much she has grown. She was at 46 pounds at her last official weigh-in.
As I have said before, there is just so much for dogs at the beach. Surf lines to chase and run away from. Sea birds to chase. Pungent kelp and seaweed to smell. Dead birds, fish and sea animals – we saw a decomposed cormorant and a dead spiny lobster. I imagine one of the circles of Dog Heaven must be a beach.

Sadie found this yummy rotten sea lion carcass and was ready to dive right in. It took a number of very stern calls of SADIE!! to convince her it wasn’t a good idea and to bring her back to Connie’s side. And Matt worries about skunks.

We live in that unique stretch of the California coast that runs east-west instead of north-south. That explains the sun’s position in this obligatory sunset.


One of the signs of late Spring and Summer here in Southern California are the blue blooms of jacarandas, an exotic tree that is a commonly planted ornamental.

The trees are native to southern Africa and South America and are apparently a common ornamental planting in Australia, just as they are here. The two pictures above were both taken on State Street, our main street downtown. You can tell from the sign in the second pic that the trees are in front of a women’s shoe store named “Shooz.” I shake my head whenever I walk by.
These two jacarandas are in Paseo Nuevo, also downtown. That’s a pink bougainvillea trellised in front of a store on the right side.

Visually, I can never take jacarandas for granted, because as person raised in the Southeast, my brain seems to think that a large tree with blue blossoms is just wrong. I mean there shouldn’t be any blue-flowering plant that’s bigger than an iris or maybe a hydrangea, should there?

Scientists to Rebuild Neanderthal Genome

The New York Times has this interesting piece on plans to reconstruct the Neanderthal genome using DNA extracted from bones discovered in Croatia. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany and 454 Life Sciences in the US will collaborate on the work. The study of Neanderthal DNA has been stalled by many difficulties, but better understanding of ancient DNA and enhanced technology in the form of a new DNA sequencing machine developed by 454 Life Sciences seems to be providing the means to a breakthrough.

The author of this article, Nicholas Wade, has recently written a book on DNA research and what it can tell us about human evolution entitled Before the Dawn. I picked up a copy last week and find it fascinating. The pace of research in this area is breathtaking, and anyone interested in the subject should read this book.

As Wade points out in this article, reconstruction of Neanderthal DNA sequences could tell us many things about them and us:

“Recovery of the Neanderthal genome, in whole or in part, would be invaluable for reconstructing many events in human prehistory and evolution. It would help address such questions as whether Neanderthals and humans interbred, whether the archaic humans had an articulate form of language, how the Neanderthal brain was constructed, if they had light or dark skins, and the total size of the Neanderthal population.”

RTWT to get the detail on the difficulties of extracting and processing Neanderthal DNA. Wade ends his article with this eye-popper:

“If the Neanderthal genome were fully recovered, it might in principle be possible to bring the species back from extinction by inserting the Neanderthal genome into a human egg and having volunteers bear Neanderthal infants. There would, however, be great technical and ethical barriers to any such venture.”

What do you think?

Terrierman and The Mammoth in the Hedge

I wanted to recommend this wonderful post by Terrierman that he put up last week while our blog was on its mysterious outage. The title alone is wonderful and it is a meditation on how humans need to take a long term view (10,000 years at least) of our species and our planet. In a serious, yet entertaining and original way he ties together mammoths, the World Series, Paul Ehrlich, the Osage Orange, sports betting, Julian Simon, the Boston Red Sox, Clovis points, The Whole Earth Catalog, the Honey Locust, Freeman Dyson, Ted Danson, Thomas Malthus, and the World Cup.

To use a phrase I first heard from Libby Bodio, I think we can safely say that Patrick Burns has a “bouncing brain.” In the very best sense of the term!

Rina and The Skunk: A Budding Romance

OK, this is getting stranger but is true. From a note to Steve and other friends regarding recent chance meetings in the woods:

“Rina and I have met the skunk again two nights in a row. Last night Rina’s attitude seemed to shift (from predatory interest to….what? Something more benign…?) when I made it clear this thing was not to be chased and eaten. Sure enough, tonight she seemed willing to work another angle: I saw her moving up ahead and then suddenly prance and trot around the corner with her ears up. I thought maybe it was another dog walker, or a kid, so I started trotting too—not too worried. “I found her and the skunk literally touching noses in the grass. The skunk’s tail was down and hers was up—both seeming friendly and curious. And I know what you’re thinking: Yikes. I thought for sure I was about to have my week ruined. But when I called Rina, both she and the skunk looked up, rather innocently. The little stinky mink turned then, brushed itself provocatively against Rina’s leg and ambled back into the bush. Rina came trotting back with a silly grin on her face.”

Giant Yellowjacket Nests

… in Alabama.

I mean, GIANT. One fills a’55 Chevy– see photo– and consists of possibly a hundred thousand individuals and several queens.

“Without a cold winter to kill them this year, the yellow jackets continued feeding in January and February — and layering their nests made of paper, not wax. They typically are built in shallow underground cavities.

“Yellow jackets, often confused with bees, may visit flowers for sugar, but unlike bees, yellow jackets are carnivorous, eating insects, carrion and picnic food, according to scientists.

“They were able to find food to colony through the winter,” [entomologist Charles] Ray said in a telephone interview”.

Vespid wasps are interesting but scare me– I have some sensitivity, and once nearly died of anaphylactic shock from an attack (several stings) by a relative. It is a VERY aggressive family. I hope the phenomenon does not spread, but I have a feeling it will….

Dangerous Book For Boys

This book sounds like grand fun, although some disagree.

“The sort of fun promoted has also raised eyebrows. In a society that is preoccupied with safety, The Dangerous Book promotes activities in which boys are likely to get scuffed. This is a book for tree-climbers who occasionally pause to decipher enemy code or erupt into wood-wielding pirate fights.

The story asks: “Why would the Iggulden brothers imperil children?”

And answers:

“Clearly they do not think the rough-and-tumble of boyhood constitutes a health hazard. Perhaps they agree with parents who view over-protectiveness to be a greater danger, who wish to stir the imagination and muscles of their children instead.

“But the brothers wish to achieve more than this. In a world where children are isolated behind computer screens and iPods, they wish to establish a niche for old-fashioned childhood”.

And I suspect I know a few girls here and there who might enjoy it too…