Thursday, August 7, 2008

Retuning by following instinct

August 6th, 2008: City air, the constant drone of traffic, sirens, and the tiredness of it all is bewildering. It’s time to go. I tie my boots stepping on slate stairs and have a flashback of tying up my boots on my dorm stairs in college many years ago. I had the same feeling. One can only take so much of the distractions and pollution. At times it builds to a tipping a point and the need for nature retuning is undeniable.

It comes from denying instinct for far too long. It is something felt deep within. To deny our nature to experience nature degrades ones soul.

Within an instant I’m on the Greenway path on my bicycle. I have my binoculars, camera, three liter camel-pack, and journal. I cruise the Tennessee River and feel the wind against my face. Usually, I take my time observing each nook of the well-known route. Scanning for birds and absorbing details. Not this time, it’s still too close to the city. I peddle on, only listening to each singing bird and making only mental notes. No pictures, no entries in my journal. Feeling the city slip away, the air seems kinder, and life forms avail themselves even as I pass rapidly. Flying grass hoppers hover, skinks dart for cover; birds sing and rustle in brush.

Finally, I can breathe as within minutes I’m in wooded sections. I peddle on to field thick and waving in the breeze. No more city birds. Field sparrows, towhees, cuckoos, buntings, red-winged blackbirds and other sing in a constant stream of connections to one another and connections to all listeners.

Among the most perceptible connections of humans to nature is birdsong. It’s a rather conspicuous expression which is felt.

Step into the woods and listen to the birds sing. Enjoy the sounds so pure and timeless. Contemplate birdsong. It is a wonderment that can be humbling, inspiring, and pleasing. It is humbling because we’re reminded of our place and space in time. It is a moment of pleasure when the blinders are lifted. We see the forest through the trees, the big picture, and with this resolved focus we are inspired to put it to use.

We may instinctively gain a sense of a singing bird’s disposition, just by the manner in which it sings. It need not be a forces cerebral experience. It can be passively sensed. A bird can be angry, excited, distressed, alarmed, languid, or in any other state imaginable.

At times, understanding the mechanisms can be more cerebral. These emotions are the behavioral expressions directly resultant from chemical physiological processes. Yet, it is satisfying, satiating just to feel it. The birds react to stimulus and feel and express it. This expression is in itself a completion of cycle as a stimulus we then feel and react to in turn.

Within the physiology of this complex biotic realm there is perceptual bridge connecting the thing we call nature with our human nature. It is instinct that is at the root of which we abstractly form the existential constructs of philosophy, reason, and science.

I reach a steep bank trailing to a cool deep stream and spring. No one has been there for months, the trail is unbroken. I slip through the briars and Ivy with little effort and pause at the stream bank. Common yellow-throats chant, fish sip food-stuff from the surface film, insects hum and fly everywhere, a cardinal flits through a setting sunlight patch. No sign of man. The only depressed plants here are flattened not by man’s foot, but by beaver slides and heron posts.

Here I feel the peace I longed for. My mind is cleared of all the clutter. I’m reminded of where I belong, where I must go and what I must do. Clarity of thought that was missing is regained… by following instinct, reconnecting with nature reconnecting with what defines self.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A brief return to the mountains

A brief return to the mountains

16:00 hrs on 17 July 08: Base camp was in good condition. It had weathered yet another field season. Many days and nights were spent at camp. It was disassembled and loaded in my truck within 45 minutes.

The tent had to be emptied and cleaned. Tarp cords were unfastened from the posts and surrounding trees. I pulled the tarps off and swept them clean of dozens of spiders and periodic cicada exoskeletons. Also losing there home were the three large crickets that perched each night on my screen window.

Between the tarps was a mouse nest. The mice family evidently successfully saw the young leave the cozy home. No sign was evident of the wriggling babies seen in silhouette from inside the tent a month prior.

After removing recycling, a bag of rubbish, and miscellaneous camp items from the tent, the stakes were pulled and it was put up. Moving the tent from its ground area of three months revealed a matted depression of leaves that hadn’t seen the light all summer. The floor area was randomly dotted with the exit holes of periodic cicadas.

All that remains at camp is what was there before. Only stones stand at the tarp posts and around the fire pit. A few small stones also remained around ferns and saplings that were endangered of being trampled.

Not a tree or brush in the camp had been felled for any purpose or by accident. It was a truly low impact field camp.

The evening lighting was phenomenal. It’s a scene frozen in mind. The light our eyes perceive can never be captured on film, but the lighting was optimal for photography.

As I write this on the mountain side above camp a pileated woodpecker is scaling up a tree only 30 meters away. This evening’s singing birds include; peewees, nut hatches, wood thrushes, ovenbirds, cardinals, scarlet tanagers, hooded warblers, black-and-white warblers, wrens, vireos, and blue-jays. The birds that are being vocal are not singing much if at all. They are mostly calling and more active in the sunlight of the northwest slope. By far the dominates sounds are those of the buzzing, humming and whining hordes of insects.

Elk tracks were abundant. A pair of dung beetles rolled a ball of elk droppings as a flat millipede crawled by for a photograph. An ovenbird, a swallowtail, and a few flowers provided good portraits as well.

Moving south and up the ridge’s slope light beamed through gaps and lit the way with striking patches of green. It wasn’t the dull green of spring. The foliage was bright. This was the setting for the final evening on the mountain. It was indeterminable whether the natural soundings or mixed emotions where the backdrop.

Both seemed to be in unison. I was in mid-thought on a tangent. I think it was something about anthropomorphism. Then the unexpected happened. A cerulean sang at 20:57hrs. It sang only a song or two and was silent for a while than sang twice more. The canopy of hickory and oak was full of other species as well. None of them where singing much. First year birds were darting about more actively than the adults. Among them were first years fattening up for migration in another month.

The mountain was at peace and so was I after a tranquil close to another field season.

The sun set quickly and I walked down from the mountain through the darkness. It was a brief return… a brief season. Time flies. It’s as fleeting as migrating songbirds.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cerulean hunting with an expert and mentor

July 17th, 2008 again: … Days pass quickly during the short breeding season of “the jewels of the jungle” and two weeks passed by filled with new field experiences.

Then it happened. In May of 2006, I met a great teacher.

Every now and then, you meet someone extraordinary that helps to humble you, inspire you, and teach you.

This happened to me with the arrival on the scene of Mark Blazis. When he rolled into the driveway at the field house, I met his keen eyes and said to myself, “yes… this is a serious and noble person.”

Before long, my wife and I were having dinner with him east of Knoxville after passing on a spontaneous helicopter ride (due to poor visibility). He has led a remarkable life and continues to share his knowledge by guiding people in Africa, Amazonia, and the Galapagos.

All of his many adventures, told and untold experiences he has kept true to the humanities and is humble servant to art of teaching. Nature is his classroom and the knowledge he conveys has more depth than can be gleaned at one sitting.

It’s not just knowledge; however, that makes him such a remarkable person. It’s beyond something that can be “pigeon-holed.”

Mark exudes a professional demeanor, permeated with endless enthusiasm for learning, and is driven to encourage goodness, if not excellence in others.

I was just getting to know him when we set out on Royal Blue plot three with our mist net, decoys, and playback to band ceruleans. I had seen a male and female displaying nest-site selection behaviors we call “sit-spins” on an Oak branch near a couple basswoods. Within a day Tiffany Beachy had found them nest building. This seemed like a logical territory to attempt banding.

Mark, Faustino, Joe, and I made our way down the steep slope with gear in tow.

“Look’, I said. “A barred-owl!”

The crepuscular symbol perched low near a spring seep to our south at 35 meters. I raised and lowered my binoculars, then glanced back at Mark.

The symbolism was obvious and spiritual.

Mark proceeded to show us how to set nets in order to target band canopy dwelling ceruleans.

Other birds are easier to band. Ornithologists have invented many ways to capture birds for banding purposes. Each species requires a different tact.

For instance; hawks can be lured to bow-nets or snares with bait either from migration routes on hilltops or from hunting perches, many songbirds can be caught with or without playing back their songs through well placed speakers, and wild turkeys can be rocket-netted over corn piles.

The strategy with ceruleans requires luring a bird that lives high in the trees to nets in the understory. Net placement requires anticipation of the birds’ actions, perfect net tension and proper decoy placement. Subtle details in these factors as well as with playback manipulation are additive with general good placement on a territory.

Mark drove the re-bar into the ground himself. He showed us how to fine-tune the nets and then the operation was on. We sat as the playback speakers sent a false claim to cerulean above.

It was an ancient game for man. Waiting for our quarry, we were as still as the stone and logs upon which we sat.

Senses heightened with our eyes set like steel traps for any movement were fixed on the net. Our ears were locked into the agitated scolding from the defensive and territorial male cerulean.

In an instant, he was in the net and our anticipation was released with a flood of excitement. Our good feelings translated into big smiles, high-fives, and handshakes.

As for the cerulean, ensnared by his natural drive to fight any perceived threat to his territory, he dangled in the web of nylon in no way able to understand the predicament or see a way through it. I imagine it felt only anger as it showed little fear.

Our Master bander, Mark, placed the bands, a white color band and an aluminum federal band. We decided to name this cerulean “Spanglish.” I placed him cautiously in Faustino's hands and Faustino opened his palm. There the bird waited before taking flight. I snapped one of the best photos I've ever taken before he flew. Spanglish returned to Royal Blue after migrating to South America.

During the previous days, I had marked waypoints in my GPS of all the ceruleans I had encountered. With this as our guide we set up several more times. In all, we banded six ceruleans during the day. It is a one-day record that still stands even after two more field seasons.

Thank you Mark!

Note: Mark Blazis was given a distinguished honor for teaching by the esteemed Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Mark was fortunate to also have been been a friend of the late Mr. Peterson.


July 17th, 2008: … The end of April flew by as I made fast friends with my Mexican colleagues, Jorge and Faustino, from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Neither of them spoke much English, yet I worked hard to bridge the language barrier with species identification assistance. Latin names are rooted much more closely to their native tongue and were of great use.

We developed a “Sign-Spanglish” communication method. It had been years since my formal Spanish training and a couple years since I visited a Spanish speaking country. My last ventures in Spanish were in Spain and the language there compared to Latin America is similar to the comparison of the Queen’s English and North American English.

I would mock extracting an earthworm from the ground and say “Gusano” as I gestured eating it “…eating… warbler..” and then point to the direction of the worm-eating warbler singing and foraging among dangling clumps of dead leaves. They would repeat, “….verm…wheating…varvler…”

And so it went.

Other species were more humorous to act out in charades. For instance, one can only imagine the laughter involved with the combined excitement of them seeing there “new especies” like the “Rose tetas grosbeak.”

It seemed important that they experience as much life as possible in this new and foreign land, so as I learned new species, they learned many and we examined each bird, rock, plant, fungus and earth feature together.

Everything seemed new and that which had been seen before was seen in a new light through their bright Mexican eyes. Faustino had particularly keen eyesight for birds. Though truly a mammal person at heart, he had grown accustomed to seeing birds before hearing them, since the birds sing less frequently in their native Central America habitats.

As a side note, cerulean’s and many of their neotropical counterparts spend the majority of their lives in migration and on wintering grounds. For the population we study, only about four months are spent on breeding grounds.

This is why habitat loss on their migration and wintering grounds is so threatening.

I would be remiss not to mention the comradeship that can be fostered in field research. When people full of enthusiasm and a desire to share learning in a natural setting combine efforts, wonderful experiences happen.

One of Faustino’s only English phrases was, “It’s my life!” I’m not sure were he acquired this statement. Perhaps it was hearing Bonjovi’s song.

It matters not.

It just seemed fitting as we would spontaneously sprint through the woods down a steep a steep slope at the end of the day with Faustino yelling like a Mayan Indian, “…Yes! Ethan… it’s my life!” Or with other moments of fun, discovery, and conversations about the beach or “walley vall (volleyball).”

“Its my life!”

In the late afternoon, we returned from the mountains to the small nearby town of Jacksboro and neighboring Cove Lake State Park. Cove Lake is a birding Mecca and the trails great to explore. Volleyball courts, however, and not birds were our mainstay at the park. Two crews of bird technicians and my wife played a great deal of volleyball at Cove Lake. Our wonderful boss, Tiffany Beachy, would sometimes play with us, too.

It is crucial to have a positive attitude, altruistic qualities, enthusiasm, and an ability to constantly treat people well in order to have a successful field season. A successful season is marked by satisfaction and accumulation of the best data possible.

We shared many new “especies” sightings, volleyball matches, and barbecued meals and I’ll remember them well until the end of my life.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The beginnings

At this time: The cerulean population we have studied for the past few years has now finished all nesting efforts. They have struggled through storms, predation, intra- and conspecific competition. Now the “egg chips” fall where they may. Those that were successful in fledging are actively foraging in the canopy. The young birds are already learning songs and building up energy with the adult population in preparation for migration.

As the warblers work to meet the challenge of enduring a long migration, I sift through the folders of imagery and audio files that I’ve acquired while observing them during their breeding seasons from 2006-2008. I’ve camped beneath the canopies and lived in the heavenly woodland paradise shared by these birds for many nights and days.

Along with the accumulated data there is an evolution and transcendence I hope to convey. Like the thick humus of the forest floor producing nutrient rich soil, these natural experiences feed my spirit in the truest fashion. Nature is my classroom and my church providing lessons which are relearned and relived through the modern medium of digital audio files and the pages of my journal. With these tools I hope to share with others the many adventures found during cerulean summers.

The media collection is large and in order to find any meaning in it or crack and codes in cerulean communication, it must be organized. This collection, also backed up on CD, is reviewed on a sluggish computer through Google Inc.’s “Picasa 2.7” media software (Fig 1). Each audio file is further cataloged according to content in a Microsoft access database (Fig 2) with detailed time, location and various other attributes. While cataloging, field journal notes and correlated GPS logs are reviewed. Each file is a step back in time to specific instances that are relived and contemplated.

It seems daunting. Over six thousand files stare at me on the screen. It’s seemingly a dichotomy of a pleasurable challenge.

Where do I start?

Where else?

The beginnings…

I left New York in mid-April after visiting friends of my wife and I that we met while attending SUNY Cobleskill. The Giardenelli’s family is full of love for friends, and nature. As Amy and headed to Tennessee, they moved much further and setup Otorongo ecotourism lodge in Peru ( In the same computer folder with pictures of these good people, my first photos during the cerulean study are found.

The very first image in my album captured in Royal Blue, was taken on 27 April 06. It is of a strikingly colored invertebrate crawling through its leaf litter habitat. This flat millipede (Cherokia Georgiana) was a new species of millipede to me, but became a common sight (Fig 3). When picked up they emit a cyanide chemical, which smells like almonds. This toxic defense is a form of communication that has served the ancient bug species well through the millennia.

The next photograph is of a Northern slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) (Fig 4). Their name is appropriate coinage albeit this example is not so northern. “Herp” people as they are casually called, moisten their hands before examining these delicate creatures. In so doing, moisture is not stolen from the air-breathing skin of amphibians. Even with wet hands, slimy salamanders produce a sticky glutinous substance that is almost resinous and binds fingers with the adhesiveness of honey. When this is experienced once, it’s best to leave this species in place. The slimy is just one of many representing twelve families of salamander in the southeast. This region in general and especially in the nearby Great Smokey Mountains, houses the greatest diversity of salamanders on earth.

The first bird photos reveal the typical of spring setting in the Cumberland Mountains with the trees just budding and the early, newly arrived neotropical migrants seem weary as the scavenge the denuded branches for insects. A scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) looks inquisitively from upper branches (Fig 5). A black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens), normally a canopy dweller, skulks along the ground for the odd crawling morsels (Fig 6).

The first audio file containing cerulean song was taken on May 9th, 2006 at 08:10hrs (Fig. 7). I had borrowed my wife’s camera and decided to test the video function. After all, I could at least attempt to capture the setting with more than a just a silent two-dimensional image. The result is panning footage of a typical spring scene with dense morning fog on a Cumberland Mountain east slope. Ambient light reveals a scene of lush green flora and the rising sun is beginning to break through the misty curtain. Birdsong is a constant surrounding sound of life that irrupts with intensity that dominates the mountains as they have each spring since the late Miocene or Early Pliocene Periods (Lovette and Bermingham 1999).

At the time of this first recording, I had know idea that the songs I was hearing would draw me into the vast, complex, and fascinating field of avian acoustic communication. Without the foresight afforded by hindsight, it took another year for me to begin taking detailed notes on individually color-banded birds with GPS coordinates. It was simply a pleasure to be witness to this life force. Now that I have recorded songs for two more years, it is not only a simply and instinctual pleasure, but has become deeper. Experiencing nature and birdsong in particular has become a consuming endeavor.

It is not just the birdsongs. Many photographs were taken during recording days. They serve to show much of the flora and fauna that is connected to the birds in the dynamic ecological web. The 600 million year-old rocks that were once part of the sea now anchors rich soils with an enormous mycorrhizal structure entwined with roots of plants. These ancient growths house invertebrates, harbor mammals, and reach through the thick misty morning air above the terrestrial domain to form song perches for the birds.

As I listen to this first audio file I long to open it in Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s (CLO) Raven software, but I know song analysis will be best done after compiling all the other recordings to which I’ll compare it. I still need to organize the audio and photographic collection.

So I digress.

My first photographs while studying ceruleans where not just of birds; they were of invertebrates, amphibians, plants, and rocks. Like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and countless other naturalists, I wanted to record all biotic and abiotic “cogs in the wheel.” I review and relish those from 27 April 06. Once organized its on to the next folder 28 April 08….


LOVETTE, I.J. & BERMINGHAM, E. 1999. Explosive speciation in new world

Dendroica warblers. The Royal Society. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sprintime on the Cumberland Ridges in NE Tennessee

Late Morning and the CERWCREW team-members; Than, Emily, Evan, and myself begin the ascent up the mountain in the trusty ford. As the trees roll by my mind travels back to all the wonderful experiences in these mountains during the summers of 2006-07. We pause to listen to a few black-throated green warblers, pileated woodpeckers, and American redstarts along the windy roads. The temperatures have plummeted to temperatures nearly as low as mid-April last year, When we finally disembarked on plot 1, the temperature change was fully felt. We soon parted ways as we all had our respective valuable work to do. My teammates had to do some transect marking and orientation, while I needed to get a handle on what birds were in the plots. So, on I trekked over Monarch mine, up 200 m to 3,000 ft at Huckaby Knob. There, at Huckaby Knob.... I paused, giving thanks for being there.. I took a picture of a flower at the high point and sat to snack on trail mix as I soaked in the views and the surroundings. I pileated woodpecker wailed in the distance as I pondered whether or not it was using the large snag cavity directly above me. As I began my northern ridge-top descent towards the next plot I heard small peeps. Nuthatches were chipping about with Black-throated green warblers nearby. "Pik..... pik... PIK...," came intermittent calls from a hairy woodpecker. This small mixed-genera assemblage was gathered there for shelter. The wide east to west saddles are harbors for birds along narrow mountain ridges. I marked waypoints and took photos along this ridge.One particularly pleasing sight was a fine black morel. Winds were gusting strongly. Small hail bounced off of my numb face and settled in my beard. It felt like winter and I felt alive. Plot 2 stretched far downslope to my west, but I pressed on. In order to find ceruleans or other first arrivals, one must cover some ground. It was cold, gusty, and hailing. There was little chance of finding a cerulean. I never heard or saw one on this hike. They could have been there and just weren't vocal or they simply haven't arrived. Vernal Pool I came into view before reaching Flint Gap. It was the lowest I have ever seen it, but large amphibian egg globs were numerous. The spring which drained from the pool held a mountain dusky that was too fast for me to photograph, but I caught a few shots of small crayfish. "Are there any undiscovered species in these mountains?", I pondered.... Maybe a crayfish expert will help me with this one. I angled up plot 3 past another vernal pool and found the southwest corner. It was calm along an east slope, far different from the storm-blasted tops. I marked some key boundaries of the plot and enjoyed the views along the way. I thought about "Kroodsma", "Charlie", and other ceruleans we had banded and observed in nests in the now leafless trees around me. Ah..haa... another first of the year for me... bear corn. Just after the bear corn that was feasting on oak roots, the intensively harvest plot 3 treat appeared. On the horizon above it all lay the infamous Rock. There are many rocks on the plots, but this rock, the rock, is somehow special. I remember watching many ceruleans battle, forage, sing, and preen from this rock. I stood on the rock looking down, through the forest, down the valley, and up to the next horizon. I was recalling one experience with a 2006 crew member. Brad Alexander and I were haveing lunch on the rock. Brad has good bird skills and those of you who bird frequently know how enjoyable it is to be in the field with a colleague who knows birds and how to spot them. "Brad... cerulean." Brad followed my line of sight and coolly turned his head to see the bird. All he said was "Hello beautiful." Within in seconds we were down from the rock and searching for the female. Brad lost her and then I'd find her. Only to lose her again. Then, Brad found the nest. We were jubilant and a simple, solid handshake said it all. Lost in a good memory, I was awoken by my colleagues. They needed a couple pointers for finding the transect markers and I obliged. Onto plot 4, "Good Medicine" via the ridges for about a mile. I had just reached plot 4 and was into some chipping birds and the phone rang again. Another daydream was ended, but springtime had just begun and snapped a photo of a red-eft newt and a bloodroot on my way down from Good Medicine.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cerulean Summer

19 May 07. I love the east, with its lush deciduous forests, diversity of flora, and moist ground. I feel a sense of belonging where hills with steep slopes are filled with an evening song of wood thrushes, peewees, ceruleans, and ovenbirds. It is cooler this evening. The air is still, making the detection of bird movements easier, especially those of 10 gram canopy dwellers. The birds may be actively singing, but not a great deal of locomotion is occurring. A male cerulean has just made a slow ascent up a west slope to enter into dialogue of some sort with another male overlooking an east slope. (Near RBP4 3H (GPS129) 6m) The sun is nearly set as I head north along the ridge of a mountain. All the while I’m listening to ceruleans as sing and bounce up and down the east slope. I found one of my research colleague’s ovenbird nests. She thoughtfully placed flagging around it. The sun has set over the mountains to my west, yet the ceruleans sing on. A male is singing only a few meters east of a nest. I found this nest early in the field season, during build stage. Once, I had feared abandonment of depredation. Abandonment because of a log-skidder dragging logs 15m from the nest all week. I try to draw as little alert attention as possible while observing a nest even though I tread far more lightly than a log-skidder.. If any alert behavior by a cerulean is directed at me, I back off, making movements and noise no greater than that of a natural animal, such as a white-tailed deer. If the presence of deer or elk were enough to cause abandonment, then the cerulean warbler would have been gone long before now.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Jackson Critique Assignment

We were assigned to critique and answer specific questions about one of my favorite papers. Here is what I wrote... Pre-Summary: This perspective piece is in and of itself a summary. A subjective collective of historic through present (2006) anecdotes bound by depth in knowledge, but topical in scope. Skepticism immerges through words presented in tone and strident spirit of the pragmatic which belies the resultant irony when this work is subjected to the same measure. Without evidence we have theory and the wonders of learning through the evaluation of hypothesis and exploration of scientific dimensions is heightened by the uniqueness of topic and the range of social, political, and environmental concerns. Science is comparatively simple with hordes of datum to digest, but couple anecdotal accounts with the later range of concerns and an intoxicating brew is created with tall parties who consume remaining changed for better or worse. I have read this paper at least four times since receiving it in the spring of 2006. I have also read Tim Gallagher’s book and both have changed my perspective and refined my value system. I have learned to draw strict lines between scientific theory using anecdotal evidence and that with real data. Treading a mountain with few footholds of evidence is indeed a slippery slope. I would risk my integrity and fail my own values by declaring comfort in attempts to ascend to the truth. In light of this, science is a transcendent business and hypotheses are requisite despite their intangible nature. This paper adds some insight to the complexity of the topic, but lacks the structure of a true scientific paper. In so much as a lack of organization and conclusion it does a disservice to the reader. Summarizing as the title implies “Hope and the interfaces of science…” would be a painstaking process of categorizing bits from each paragraph. Why is this paper so disorganized? Perhaps it is art? But where is the beauty? Alas a subject worth the analysis of Charles Hartshorne. Perhaps he could place it near a selected birdsong on his diagram of what beauty is? Seriously, I’ll hereafter summarize each part, not withstanding the lack of source review to the full extent such critique deserves. This paper is all discussion and in all fairness would only be treated as such. But who’s playing fair with this one?

First Section: A small window of historical context is opened, but here Jackson justifies his own attempts and attests to his own stance while framing the issue with undertones obviously paralleling the current political landscape in the U.S.

Second Section: Timing of circumstances and evidence affecting announcement. This section ranges in topic with the introduction of political interfaces and an attempt to apply a scientific view with a quantified deduction of evidence. Considerable effort is maintained through the end to debunk and draw evidence for further scrutiny.

Third Section: The null hypothesis is expounded upon with a numerical quasi scientific listing of supporting statements to provide rationale. The null hypothesis is limited in this instance to eastern Arkansas only. The level of difficulty in locating Ivory-billed woodpeckers is assessed in vague metaphorical terms.

Fourth Section: Small contingents of sightings are addressed along with the outcomes of searches related to them. Jackson then mulls over the consequential ethics perspective by questioning the value of the means and then ends. The ends often result in what is seemingly disappointment, but results of conservation gains, science gains, and political unity are downplayed by suggestions of them being outweighed by eroded support due to disappointment.

Fifth Section: Modern mediums of information exchange and the exponential surges in political arenas of public and government action are discussed. Science is seen as only a catalyst assisting the reaction. This reaction of permeating the bureaucratic maze, a conduit for action which has a snowballing effect down a precipitous slope, propelled by the inertia and not by the flakes that formed first.

Sixth Section: The evaluation of the misused term “recovery” serves as a medium to further illustrate specific cause and effects within the realm of politics and the subsequent allocation of funds. Jackson suggests alternative areas and spending practices.

Seventh Section: Previous specifics of funding issues provide a brief shine to the crossed sabers held by either side. Finally here Jackson assails using scientific methodology as he alludes to it being on the side of skepticism. This first lunge seeks to pierce the reasoning of those announcing the sightings. He further weakens the opposing argument with debunking anecdotes and cross examination of the evidence in question.

Eighth Section: After the clash of sabers Jackson has a moment of clarity in what seems like a regretful tone. With unbiased zeal only hinting at support for the decision to act, he acknowledges the ends may not haven so bad.

Ninth Section: Integrity through the scientific process is addressed with the exacting, precise analysis of human perceptions and the moment of critical review, where the truth and evidence of it are again pulled apart. Much is assumed here with out contextual cues beyond those stacked in his arguments favor. Then the turning point at the abstract digression to longevity, as if this point of a longer life is pivotal to the following paragraphs eluding to hope. Ironically, he uses the “unknown” to fuel the fires that he previously admonished. As the value system previously providing his arguments framework is abandoned he floats in a vacuum with only questions. Then he moves to answer with his instinct and gut, reveals his heart of hearts, and that driving spark which moves us all in science.

Tenth Section: Hope is key as the air of disillusionment is heavy. Political boundaries are breeched, social and economic woes are transcended by refocusing on environmental works under the broader good ends in the light of biodiversity and the search for truth.

Eleventh Section: Mentioning the customary thanks with additional gratitude for truth in art of J. Zickefoose (see reviewers remarks on manuscript revision).

Strengths and Weaknesses and Merit: A subjective paper makes for a difficult evaluation of equally subjective terms of “merit.” Allocations of funds rest in a crucial area of the intersection of social, economic, ad environmental spheres. This is the frontline in our battle for the environment. There is strength in his argument for accountability there. He also has great knowledge of historical accounts, which he uses to debunk the claims of sightings. Yet the nature of the contention limits Jackson to arguments that hold no greater weight than those of the opposition by virtue of his own suppositions and reasoning. Likewise, his insinuations that various null hypotheses weaken the hypothesis have merit, but are marginalized by the broader accepted scientific methodology. What cannot be proven otherwise must be perceived as possible truth. Yes the truth is out there, but it is usually revealed in time and to the delight and sometimes embarrassment of the seekers. Jackson and Gallagher could be Lamarkian in retrospect, but they have the courage to move towards adversity and the sense that their actions should not be delayed by fear of ridicule, even when their hearts and reputations are at stake.

Me the Reviewer: I would not find the manuscript acceptable in so much that its format is loosely structured and is in conflict while the sometimes acceptable context and content that could indeed be more comprehensible. If the author chose to organize the topic by arenas posed in its title or by well established structure of philosophy it would synthesize the disordered parts, provide a more advanced framework, and become encouraging of unbiased thoughts, albeit through a less guarded stance. As a reviewer, I’d find myself in the same crux a Jackson and Gallagher. I’d be facing a decision, weighing the good of publishing versus keeping things from publications. I would have scrutinized many of the citations on a contextual basis, but left little change in regards to the most well cited political statements. My greatest critique would be in the spirit with which the paper was written. It is obvious that more could have been written frankly without watering down the true intent or refuting the work of others in a nearly callus way unorthodox in science. It is the spirit with all intent and purposes that the subjects of ethics, scientific methodology, and theory are addressed, despite the convolution of scientific method applications and political undertows of the sea of words. Its common thread is the spirit and the hearts of the men involved. Why should we doubt, react, or editorialize their decisions based on Spirit? We need to insure that the good is seen in there work! It is easy, as we have seen, to be the skeptical, the omniscient critic. In the end, beyond our perceptions of morality, it is they who will be impacted by the truth and consequences and the onus until then will weigh heavily on their hearts.

Post Summary: It would be at the risk of doing a disservice to the art and politics in science to perform much editorial tinkering. As much as we may dislike politics and the effects of opinions, they exist and it is important that we acknowledge this suffering discomfort by shedding naïveté. It is also difficult to edit the editorialized when the piece is an opinion. The authors are respected ornithologists and having excelled through the process of becoming so, they both deserve respect from each other and the reviewers. Both authors have carefully considered their words and stances. Actions of such thinkers often seem at conflict with our reasoning, but we shouldn’t shun what we don’t completely understand, nor assume it at conflict based on gut feelings from gleanings of happenstance. These men, though students at heart, are my teachers and the result of their actions may or may not honor their intentions, but I will continue to trust in their integrity. They have the courage of their convictions and we have the benefit of consciousness to perceive their words through the processes of our individual human constructs. Finally, I would ad editorial critique to the acknowledgement of the artist J. Zickefoose’s work on the cover. Jackson attests to truth in depiction having never seen an Ivory-billed himself. Nancy Tanner explains the wooden sound of flattened wings hitting the air with neck straight like a “pintail?” duck. This eyewitness account seems in stark contrast to the Zickenfoose wing depiction and should be noted. Whether this is paralleled irony to Jackson’s writings or simply an anecdotal inaccuracy remains a question…

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I started at 11:51 at FRWMA. Temps were about 50 F. I followed an American kestrel about for awhile and stumbled upon some raptor killed remains of a small bird. See photo. Note: All black primaries and secondaries with more (unseen in photos) iridescence on coverts. Later I found larger remains of a black bird, more likely a crow. Followed a large flock of EAME, as well. Interesting calls. The standard machine-gun call used in common alarm was noted, but single syllable, and long distance flight call was heard, too. They seem to have a sentry posted as geese do. "Striking yellow breast and belly feathers blaze in the afternoon light Like large shiny shields with crests of the "V" In a sea of green glimpses of the crawling flock show brown and streaked foragers Readying for migration I must rest them Then try to get close again." Their song carries in the wind, making them easy to follow by ear. Even on the windiest of days. That helps the birder. Where there are grasslands, there are winds. I assume that the Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) has the same vocal adaptations as the grassland bird that follows it according to the 7th addition (1998) of the AOU's checklist of NA birds and the 42nd supplement (2000). In that its song is particularly well-suited to carry in winds. Eastern males have a repertoire of (50-100) songs (Sibley 200).
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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spring notes and arboreal inscriptions

Yet another great couple hours on the greenway. Temperatures increased greatly and it felt like mid-spring in New York. Most of the usual species were exhibiting increased activity. Three Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were counted before reaching the south side of the river. The small band of coots (Fulica americanus) were well upstream from their usual posts, enjoying the increased production of morsels generated by all the rains. The Tennessee River has swollen to the highest levels I have seen and the turbidity has elevated, causing what some refer to as a chocolate milkshake color. A few miles in I was rattled by a loud song bird. For a moment I thought it was something new. Then it dawned on me. I have heard the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) singing all winter, but the change in weather and day length has begun to affect their song. Instead of the weak, seemingly pathetic song I've grown used to, the birds have started to break into full song. Now the jumbled notes babbled through the winter are slung together with an energetic purity to be further mastered through the breeding season. Here in Tennessee and through northern Florida we have other winter visiting sparrows, such as the White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). Their warbled, "oh... sam peabody peabody..." seems comedic in the winter. They, like their cousins in the Melospiza genus have begun to regain their pipes. A second song brought me to a halt another two miles up the path. Carolina chick-a-dees (Poecile carolinensis) have made the switch, too. (Click here to view it) At least some have. I made a good recording of a pair. Upon playing the first song back to them, one became very territorial and started a row with a neighboring chick-a-dee. I recorded there argument, too. (Click here to see part of that). They seemed to have one particular snag with a nest cavity which was the source of there current contentions. Onward, I trekked... no sign of the usual Belted kingfisher or blue-birds just yet, but just as I entered Ijams a bird flushed from a meter away. I know what the usual birds sound like as they flush from nearby. This was heavier sounding than most of the sparrow-like foragers, did not call, and flew from the base of tree. I stopped on a dime. First I looked at the tree the bird had flown from. Glistening in the sun was a perfect line of freshly chiseled holes. The tell-tale signature arborealily scribed with the efficient precision serves as not only an identifier to us, but a feeder to other kingdoms as well. I figured a few photographs from close range would be appropriate and would also create a little anger in the sapsucker. I predicted a prompt investigation by the sapsucker into my fussing with the well-holes. This would give me a good chance for a good photo or two of the bird itself. So, I snapped a few photos, taking full advantage of excellent lighting. I deliberately overexposed a shot to illustrate the exact depth through the cambium the drill holes reached. I stepped back several meters and sure enough, the sapsucker returned for a portrait. Note to self: a yellow-bellied sapsucker will raise it’s tail upward and sideways. At that point it can project it’s feces a few meters from the tree. This bird is a great defecator.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I began biking to get into shape, respect the environment, and save money. This Schwinn Le Tour II was my Grandfathers. I used it first while finishing my undergraduate program. My advisor saw me trekking on campus one day with a plant press in tow. He said, "You look like Don Kroodsma." We had a good laugh. Last summer we bought my mountain bike. A beautiful green and beige Schwinn Mesa. It was a plot-hopper on the research sites in the mountains and my reliable transport to work and birding. Recently it was stolen. The scum-bags took not only a bike I had really loved, but they took my pannier with GPS, Datalog book, Sibley's guide, military issued rain pants, and my trusty leatherman. If you see my stuff, let me know. I'll skin the theives alive. Now I have this old schwinn and it gets me to the same places, with the exception of off trail use. Nothing allows greater access to quality Knoxville birding like a bycicle. One can travel anywhere, quickly. From Sutherland Ave to Forks in the River WMA there are countless birding spots. What a great way to stay in shape. Peddling an old bike with out the lower gearing of modern 21-speeds is more strenuous, but as long as you keep the rpm's up, It's a quality workout. I carry a 3 litre camelpack for unlimmed hydration, a snack or two, bird guides, a camera, binoculars, GPS and weather gear. Most notably, I carry a pocket-sized, Hemingway style notebook to talley daily bird lists and keep notes. I wrote a piece on biking the greenway.... Zooming down the greenway on my mountain bike is a pleasure. All too often it’s a matter of getting from point A to point B under time constraints. Still, the adrenaline surge heightens my senses and I’m keen to observe everything I can. Reflecting back on my earliest lessons in observation I recall my dad reiterating and old Native American proverb, “never move more quickly than your eyes and ears can perceive.” Since my youth amid northern Appalachian plateaus, I’ve practiced this mantra. After years of research in the woods and hiking I thought I was in tune. This Spring I learned even more. I took a colleague from the Bronx to the birding wonderland of Cove Lake (35 min north of Knoxville on I-75). Rich immediately paused at the beginning of the trail to observe one of the many birds to be found there. He crouched down and peered through the underbrush at length, just as he had down on countless forays to Central Park. I wouldn’t call it patience; he wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. It was simple pleasure ad enjoyment without the modern habit of moving forward constantly. Rich could have more sightings and observe more behaviors of birds in a few square meters than most people see in a 45 minute hike. Of course, I already knew this was possible; I’ve spent countless hours motionless in the field in the past. Why didn’t I practice this method of taking in nature more often? Why don’t we all? Back on the greenway zooming along, I know what I’m missing with my haste. I hear each mockingbird, chic-a-dee, cardinal, duck, wren and others. I listen to each one linear succession and recognize how they sound in comparison to others. In passing, I note sometimes note whether they have a mate or territorial rival nearby. Mockingbirds constantly defend territories and female wrens sometimes duet with a chatter overrunning the males’ phrases. Weaving around startled gray squirrels, I peddle from birdsong to birdsong with the fall leaves flowing in a blurred river of green and yellow beneath my tires. Herons in elegant plumage pose statuesque with a patience and poise I envy. Turtles slip to the depths from submerged logs, rabbits cruise the thickets and patches of insects brush my face. Finally, I reach point B just off the greenway. Urban noise ensues; I become part of the normal and constant movement of my fellow humans, but my heart is with the birds and their world beyond our sense of time. We all have something to learn from Rich and the herons. Will we act on it? If not, what good is knowing?
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