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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