Saturday, December 31, 2011

30 Days to Success... or a Great Story

What do you aim to do every day, for the next 30 days? 

Lion Grooming

Like so many things, lion grooming looks very easy and relaxed from the cheap seats, same as sword swallowing, but if you intend to try this at home, bring a gallon of iodine as you may need it at the end!

Why the Indians Attacked at Dawn

I continue to engage in free reading thank to my Kindle Fire.

From "A Flintlock in the Rain" by Lionel Atwill in The Best Hunting Stories Ever Told, edited by Jay Cassell, comes this little gem about getting ready for deer hunting with flintlocks in the Adirondack wilderness of New York:
Loading a flintlock at five in the morning by the light of a Coleman lantern is a ticklish feat. It is hard to tell if the powder goes down the barrel or down your boots. The temptation is to stand smack next to the light and see what you are doing, until the thought of the lantern igniting the powderhorn in your hand soaks through your coffee-laced brain. Then you step back even farther and forget if you have tossed a charge down the barrel or not.

"This," says Hatfield, "is why Indians attacked at dawn."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Maxims and Hints for Quite a Lot

I am grooving on my Kindle Fire, reading obscure books for free.

Today's find is in an odd little book entitled Maxims and Hints on Angling, Chess, Shooting, and Other Matters also, Miseries of Fishing by Richard Penn (1784-1863), and published in 1842.

I came across the four maxims below, and thought they applied to quite a lot, but especially to the world of dog training where there are thousands of years of experience, thousands of very excellent trainers alive today, and hundreds of different training techniques, and yet we still have some folks who have yet to bury their first dog, who are quite sure they have all the answers, that there is only one way to do it, and that maybe they themselves invented it all too. 

  • You must not insist upon its being admitted without dispute, that the man who made your gun is the best maker in London. This town is a very large place, and it contains a great many gunmakers. You must also remember that it "stands within the prospect of belief" that there may be other persons who think themselves as competent to select a good gun, and to shoot well with it afterwards as you are.
* * * *
  • In like manner, although you may prefer using one kind of wadding to another, or may perhaps like to wear shoes and gaiters rather than trousers and laced boots, you must not suppose that every man who takes the liberty of forming a different opinion from yours on these subjects is a mere bungler.
* * * *
  • If you are thought to excel in any particular game or sport, do not too often lead to it as a subject of conversation: your superiority, if real, will be duly felt by all your acquaintance, and acknowledged by some of them; and you may be sure that "a word" in your favour from another person will add more to your reputation than "a whole history" from yourself.
* * * *
  • The foundation of good breeding is the absence of selfishness. By acting always on this principle — by showing forbearance and moderation in argument when you feel sure that you are right, and a becoming diffidence when you are in doubt, you will avoid many of the errors which other men are apt to fall into.

Time to Return the Golden Bear to California!

A wandering radio-collared wolf has entered California from Oregon, making it the first wolf to return to that state in 80 or 90 years. No doubt more will come in over the next few years and decades.

All of this is great, but where is the Golden Bear?

The Golden Bear is nothing more than a light-coated regional variant of the Grizzly, and is on the state flag of California, but there are no Grizzlies in California anymore, even though the habitat is still there.

It it too crazy to suggest that instead of shooting Grizzlies in some parts of the U.S., a few be moved to California where they would thrive on nuts, wild pig, deer, and ground squirrels?

Fish on Fridays: Unnatural Selection Edition

From The Oregonian:

Genetic adaptation of hatchery steelhead starts hurting spawning success within just one generation, according to a study of Hood River fish that could lead to pinning down the causes of hatchery domestication.

Classic Darwinian evolution is clearly at work –- and it's working fast, the researchers concluded in their study, published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

...Hood River steelhead that thrived in hatcheries had traits that were "beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild," the study says.

Fish on Fridays: Devil Ray Edition

Devil Rays Tooling the Sky in the Sea of Cortez:


Fish on Fridays: Killer Whale Verus Great White:

Killer Whale Verus Great White:

The Killer Whale grabs and flips the Great White to immobilize it. Yeah, I think this Orca has done this particular trick before!  

What's the Jack Russell connection you ask?  What?  You don't know who the lead singer of Great White is?  Seriously?

Happy Birthday Gideon!

Gideon came to me at a little past two and a half years of age thanks to the kindness of Dawn Weiss at Briar Run Jack Russell Terriers in Missouri.  Gideon is a tough 11-inch body attached to a big head that is always sporting an enormous grin, and he lives for food, balls, and time in the field.  Gideon is Dawn's breeding, but behind him are quite a few Kingsway dogs from Jan DeWinter in Belgium, who seems to produce a steady stream of workers himself. As for Gideon, he is the only intact dog I have and he will remain so, which is all the editorializing I need to make about his value to me as a worker and companion.  So far as I can tell, Gideon has never met a dog or a human he could not convert to his side in five seconds.  Dale Carnegie could take lessons!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Signs of Mammoth in Central Park

This is pretty good little lecture about nature, seen and unseen, in Central Park. 

The bit about the Kentucky Coffeetree is reminiscent of my 2006 post, The Mammoth in the Hedge.

Hog Dogs and Bear Dogs

Chad R. writes from Texas where he is using Jagd Terriers to bust pig from thick brush.  I was struck by how much the picture, above, is reminiscent of another picture, below.

This is Skip, Teddy Roosevelt's bear-busting terrier which he got from John Goff in 1905. Skip died in 1907 and was buried at the White House, but before Roosevelt left in 1908, he had Skip disinterred and buried at Sagamore, the Roosevelt family home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.

I suspect if Teddy were alive today, he would very much love to go pig hunting with a couple of Jagd terriers!

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coffee and Provocation

Chicago Park to Be 10X Larger Than Manhattan:
Chicago and the state of Illinois are going to turn 140,000 acres of under used post-industrial land along Chicago's southern rim into a public recreation hub called the Millennium Reserve.  The state is giving $17 million to the project, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn hopes to add private funding which will create jobs even as it preserves creates nature.

Why Is NIH Giving Cocaine to Quail?
Why is the National Institute of Health giving cocaine to quail?  Why, to study unbridled sex of course!  And, as Scientific American makes clear, it's not a waste of your tax dollars, but sound science.

Larry Craig, Coal Lobbyist:
"Wide Stance" Larry Craig, the Idaho Senator who was last seen soliciting sex in an airport men's room (allegedly), has remained true to his school and is now a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for the coal industry.  As I wrote back in 2007, "If Larry Craig wants to go 'Brokeback Mountain,' I could care less so long as places like Brokeback Mountain (i.e. the wild public lands of the American West) remain unviolated long after he is gone."  But Craig will not go off into that good night.  And why would he?  This is a man who has always been willing to drill any hole for a dollar, and rip, rape and ruin any spot better off left alone.  Larry Craig is now a paid apologist for strip mining and Mountain Top Removal?  Of course he is!

Cheetah the Chimp Dead at Age 80?
Cheetah the chimp of Tarzan fame is dead at age 80.  This is true, except for two things:  the chimp is almost certainly not an "original" Cheetah (though there were many of those) and it is almost certainly not 80 years old. Cheetah frauds are an old game, and there does not appear to be any evidence at all that this animal, named Mike, is as old as claimed or that it was ever used in any film whatsoever.

There's a Good Chance the Java Tiger is Not Extinct:
There's evidence coming from the Meru Betiri National Park in East Java that tigers are still present there. They are installing motion-sensing camera traps to confirm. The last recorded sighting of a Javan Tiger was in 1976, and it was officially declared extinct in 1994.  Finding "extinct" species is not that rare, however, as I note in a previous post.  That said, if Javan Tigers are found, this should but in no way be considered a bright sign of optimism -- more of a small spark, too easily extinguished.

North Carolina Whooping Cranes?
A pair of Whooping Cranes are wintering in western North Carolina.  In every article about these birds it's always noted how rare they are (now about 500 in the world) but it is almost never noted that, even in pre-Columbian times, there were never more than 5,000 Whooping Cranes in the world. The reason: these birds are extremely poor parents.

A Village is Drowned and the Fish Celebrate: 
Not as bad as it sounds.  Very cool art.

Coral Can Be Made to Grow Much Faster:
It seems a metal cage with a very weak electrical current running through it creates enough electrolysis to build up limestone which attaracts everything from corals to oysters which both grow with amazing speed.  This is a small bit of good news in an arena long overdue for good news.

If You Really Want to Get Away From It All:
If you really want to get away from it all, but still want to see a doctor and be able to buy groceries in a small store, the island of Tristan da Cunha is the place for you. However, the only way to get there is on the RMS Saint Helena which arrives once a year in February, so start packing now!

Two Bumblebee Species Are Rediscovered:
A rare species of bumblebee was rediscovered in Scotland after 50 years, and now scientists at the University of California, Riverside have announced they too have rediscovered a rare bumblebee not seen in the United States for 55 years.

Jesus Wept:
A brawl between Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests broke out this morning at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, with the battle being fought with broomsticks. Yes, we have video.   Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes.  Discuss the thelogical, cultural, and geo-political ramifications among yourselves.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Love My New Kindle Fire

My new Kindle Fire is quite the tool! Not only is it a good e-book reader, but it also gets my email, the Internet, plays all my music, is a great place to store and show pictures, and streams video and radio too (I have been watching National Geographic's Amazing Planet at Starbucks, which is about as cool a thing as I have done in the last three months). All this for $200, which I find rather amazing!

Some of this can be done with my Samsung "smart" phone, of course, and the Kindle does not replace that, as the Kindle is not a phone and is dependent on a wireless connection for everything but downloaded books and music and movies and photos, while the phone operates off of high-band radio frequencies (that's what a G3 or G4 connection is really all about).

The phone of course, it not a book reader, nor is it very good at reading stuff on the Internet (not even email). The Kindle allows me to download both recently published books and many free older books as well. For example, on my first morning with the Kindle, I downloaded four free old dog books, as well as some Conan Doyle and some obscure Mark Twain for starts. More free book are available at (2.5 million titles for free), (1.5 million titles), Project Gutenberg,, and Feedbooks and select either Mobi, Text, or Kindle formats for easiest downloads.

Apparently, I can also download audio books too. I will have to try that!

This morning I figured out how to highlight text in a Kindle book, so that I can then rip and strip that text into a blog post. The trick here is to know that Kindle has created a social network which can be accessed at One you log in, it shows you not only all the books you have downloaded, but also all the passages you have highlighted. For example, this is text I read yesterday:

“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outrageous results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

Kindle can read Word, .txt, .jpg, .pdf, .gif, and HTML files as well as .mobi, .prc, and if you email yourself at your Kindle email  address, it will convert files and even unzip and convert Word folders and documents so they are ready to read.

So what is the Kindle not great for?  Well. it's not a full computer with desk, chair, mouse, and key board.  Nothing really replaces that, not even a laptop or notebook in my opinion (and yes I have those too).  For actual writing, I remain a "box box table unit" man, but for researching, reading, and doing the light communications "tasking" that the world demands of us these days, the Kindle is pretty darn great!

Final two bonus bits:  It fits in the front pocket of my Carrhart pants, and it takes the same charger as my cell phone, which is particularly great in the car.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't Stop the Music!

If you do not smile at this, you have a dark soul.

Predator Fear, Alone, Results in Fewer Birds

Fear of meso-predators, and fear alone, results in fewer successful clutches according to a paper by Liana Zanette entitled "Perceived Predation Risk Reduces the Number of Offspring Songbirds Produce per Year" that appears in the December 8th edition of Science

Friday, December 23, 2011

22,963 Ducks Land in Laurel, Maryland

Duck wings.

National Georgraphic explains all, in a piece entitled: Hunters: For Love of the Land.  A brief squib:

The great irony is that many species might not survive at all were it not for hunters trying to kill them. All the wings provided to Norman Saake and his colleagues throughout the country come from hunters, who fold them into prepaid envelopes, record the date and place of harvest, and mail them in. It is but one example of how the nation’s 12.5 million hunters have become essential partners in wildlife management. They have paid more than 700 million dollars for duck stamps, which have added 5.2 million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System since 1934, when the first stamps were issued. They pay millions of dollars for licenses, tags, and permits each year, which helps finance state game agencies. They contribute more than 250 million dollars annually in excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and other equipment, which largely pays for new public game lands. Hunters in the private sector also play a growing role in conserving wildlife.

Read the whole thing.  Excellent.

Merry Christmas from the Terriers!

The Missing Birds of Rock Creek Park

This was written in 2003 for a major environmental organization.

The decline of neotropical migrant song birds in the U.S. was first noticed by birders in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, a small federally-protected enclave nestled along a stream bed in Washington, D.C., just 15 miles from Fairfax County.

Breeding Bird Surveys from 1947 through the 1970s, revealed that the yellow-billed cuckoo and yellow-throated vireo -- as well as the northern parula, black-and-white warbler, Kentucky warbler, and hooded warbler -- were disappearing. Six other migrant song birds -- Eastern wood-pewees, Acadian flycatchers, wood thrushes, red-eyed vireos, ovenbirds, and scarlet tanagers -- had declined by more than 50 percent.

What was going on?

Evidence from Overseas

Domestic forest destruction was ruled out, as Rock Creek Park had suffered no substantial encroachment in decades.

An analysis of radar images, done in the early 1980s, however, showed only half as many birds were flying to the U.S. from Mexico's Yucatan as had been migrating just 20 years earlier. Clearly, some part of what was happening to "our" birds was happening overseas. Experts theorized that much of the song bird decline, now being documented across the U.S., was due to forest destruction in Central and South America.

In fact, forest destruction in Central America was proceeding at a very rapid pace, driven in no small part by truly sobering rates of human population growth. In the Peten region of Guatemala, for example, 77% of the original forest cover still existed as recently as 1977. By 1980, however, that number had fallen to 42% and by 1989 just 29 percent of the original forest cover was gone. Scientists now believe as little as 10% of the forest may be left by 2025.

Evidence from the U.S.

By the late 1990s, however, scientists began to realize that forest destruction in Central and South America did not tell all of the story. Analysis of migrant song bird populations at the national level showed that birds loss was not evenly distributed across the U.S.

While most migrant song birds are experiencing clear negative trends east of the Mississippi River, and along the thin coastal strip of the West Coast, neotropical migrants seem to be doing fairly well on large tracts of forested land in the West.

An overlay of neotropical migrant song bird decline and a map of federally protected lands, showed a fascinating pattern: migrant song birds were not in general decline in our national parks, our national forests, or on lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management. Migrant song birds were in general decline in the east and in the Midwest, however, where changing agricultural practices and increasing levels of forest fragmentation seemed to be having a real impact.

Scientists looking for clues to song bird loss in Rock Creek Park began to look at the forested areas immediately surrounding the suburbs of Washington, DC, and what they found was pretty startling. Between 1980 and 1995, Fairfax County saw 69 percent of its forests converted to homes and businesses.

While scientists had been puzzling over bird loss in Rock Creek Park, just 15 miles away, Fairfax County's forests had been vanishing under asphalt at an astonishing rate.

Scientists now recognize that these once-vibrant suburban forests were probably the principal "home" of many of the birds that had once been seen in Rock Creek Park. Rock Creek had merely served as way-station between larger forest blocks that once ringed the Washington, DC area.

As new roads and light rail systems continue to be built in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, more and more forests are falling to farms and more and more farms are falling to freeways and subdivisions.

Once large blocks of unbroken forest are being shattered into increasingly smaller fragments, allowing such meso-predators as crows, jays, raccoons, possums, feral cats and fox to prey on once-secure migrant song bird nests. In addition, increasingly fragmented forests have enabled the brown-headed cow bird to colonize areas they once would have found unattractive.

Cowbirds nest at the edge of forests and feed in farms fields and pastures. Though native to North America, the brown-headed cowbird was once confined to the forest edges of Midwestern prairies where they fed in grasslands grazed by roaming bison. Today, however, because of widespread forest fragmentation, parasitic cowbirds can be found all across the United States.

The brown-headed cowbird is a parasitic nester, which is to say it builds no nests of its own, but instead lays its eggs in the nests of other birds -- most frequently in the open, cup-shaped nests of neotropical migrants. A single cowbird may lay as many as 80 eggs in a breeding season - one or two eggs per songbird nest. Because cowbird chicks hatch earlier, and are much larger than the offspring of migrant songbirds, they are able to out compete songbird chicks for food, and often simply push them out of the nest altogether.

In the end, a single cowbird may prevent 20 to 30 warblers, finches and vireos from raising their young. If the bird species has a short nesting period, it may not be able to hatch out a second brood that year, in which case that species may fall off rapidly in that area over a relatively short period of time.

Yellow-throated Vireo

More Trouble Ahead?

While a great deal of population-driven environmental damage has already occurred in the suburbs of Virginia, more population growth lies ahead. Fairfax County's population continues to grow rapidly, most of it driven by a combination of internal domestic migration (military and government families coming to support a burgeoning government and high-tech corridor) and international migration.

Fairfax County may be a demographic "canary in a coal mine" signaling where the rest of America may be headed in terms of land use patterns and population growth. With U.S. population growing by more than 3 million people a year, and suburban sprawl gobbling up more than 500,000 acres of forest and farmland every year, the pace of habitat fragmentation is likely to increase rapidly in the years ahead.

Under the Census Bureau's middle-series projection, which assumes that current U.S. immigration and fertility levels will stay about the same, the population of the U.S. will increase by 120 million people over the course of the next 50 years. About 63 percent of this future population growth will be due to immigrants and the children of immigrants that have not yet arrived in the U.S. -- the remaining 37 percent of population growth will be driven by demographic momentum as current U.S. residents move to complete their families.

One hundred and twenty million people is a very large population to add to the U.S. over the course of the next 50 years. To put this number into perspective, this is a population equal to the current populations of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined.

In addition to sprawl directly driven by population growth, the U.S. can expect to see increased forest fragmentation due to more and more folks moving farther and farther out into the countryside, abetted by high-speed internet hookups, satellite television, and light rail systems feeding into an ever-expanding network of four, six and eight lane highways.

As Canadian real estate agent Ozzie Jurock noted in an article for The Vancouver Sun (June 30, 2001),

"People throughout North America are on the move. Population growth in smaller towns is exploding. Californians move to Oregon and Arizona, New Yorkers joke at the rain but moved to Washington. The ski resorts and lakes are teeming with 'former' city slickers clutching cash and the hope for the elusive 'better quality of life."

Even as population growth continues apace in the U.S., the population of Central America continues to grow. Over the course of the next 50 years, Central America and Mexico combined are expected to add 90 million people to their populations -- a 65% percent increase in population.

Why the Fairfax Bird Loss Story is Important

Bird population data are such a robust metric of general environmental health that in the United Kingdom they are used as an official indicator of environmental sustainability.

A broad decline in many wild bird populations in the Western Hemisphere may be an indication that a broad decline in environmental quality is occurring across much of the region.

In the case of neotropical song birds, population-driven habitat decline along the entire migration flyway -- including the United States -- has had a serious impact on U.S. song bird numbers. The decline of songbird species in the U.S. is a powerful reminder that population pressures beyond our borders really do "come home to roost" and that reducing the rates of population growth at home, and abroad, is a real and serious "back yard" environmental issue.

Ironically, even as many bird populations are in decline, the number of Americans interested in birds is on the rise. The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment found that over 71 million Americans are recreational birders, up 250 percent from 1982, making birding the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the U.S.

Black and White Warbler

Bird Species Decline in the U.S

In large parts of the U.S., over half of our songbird species are in decline. Scientists say habitat destruction is largely to blame.

Across the United States, more than 250 species of neotropical migratory birds fly south for the winter.

Beginning in the early 1970s, scientists began to notice that many species seemed to be in decline

What was going on?

Scientists have concluded that the decline of neotropical migratory song birds in the United States is closely linked to four issues closely linked to human population growth and habitat destruction:

  • Tropical Forest Destruction
    The population of Latin America and the Caribbean has doubled in the last 35 years, and with it has come unprecedented destruction of tropical rainforests. As populations have exploded, more landless peasants have colonized forest areas and cleared vegetation, with slash-and-burn cycles becoming progressively shorter. At the same time, logging over wide areas and the rapid expansion of commercial farming has accelerated the disappearance of forests and fueled the rapid destruction of once-lush bird habitat. In the Peten region of Guatemala, for example, 77 percent of the land was covered in dense forest in 1960. By 1990, that number had fallen to just 29 percent.

  • Pesticide Use Overseas
    Neotropical migratory birds are being killed by the heavy use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, which are used to boost crop productivity to feed increasing numbers of people in the developing world. In some cases, birds are poisoned outright by chemical application, or by consuming grain and insects that have been sprayed. In other cases, the pesticides accumulate and concentrate within the birds, resulting in deformed chicks or eggshells that are so thin they break before hatching.

  • Suburban Sprawl and Forest Fragmentation
    As the population of the United States has grown from 76 million in 1900 to over 280 million today, cities and suburbs have sprawled outward. Fairfax, Virginia, for example, a suburb of Washington, D.C., saw 69 percent of its forest converted to homes and businesses between 1980 and 1995. As human populations have risen, and forests have fallen, primary predators such as wolves, bobcats, and cougars have been wiped out, while the ecological niche of meso-predators such as feral cats, raccoons, possums and foxes has expanded. The result has been massive predation of Neotropical songbirds, which tend to nest in the open and near the ground rather than in tree cavities or higher up in the forest canopy.

    With forest fragmentation has come an invasion of native and non-native birds that compete with deep-forest species for food and nesting sites. One example is the brown-headed cowbird. Cowbirds were once confined to the forest edges of mid-western prairies where they fed in grasslands grazed by roaming bison. Today, however, because of widespread forest fragmentation, parasitic cowbirds can be found all across the United States. A single cowbird may lay as many as 20 eggs in a breeding season - one or two eggs per songbird nest. Because Neotropical migrants tend to build open cup-shaped nests, and raise only a single brood a year, they are particularly susceptible to cowbird parasitism.

  • Intensive U.S. Farming Practices
    As American farmers make increasingly intensive use of their lands, bird populations suffer. Post-to-post cultivation has wiped out edge-row thickets where many songbirds used to nest, while many farmers now cut hay three times a year where they used to cut just once. The result is that hedgerow and ground-nesting birds like the northern bobwhite, the eastern meadowlark, the vesper sparrow, and the grasshopper sparrow are in rapid decline.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cowbirds, Mesopredators, & Grass Nesting Birds

The National Audubon Society's Christmas bird count is a pretty good organizing tool, but a little weak on science, since it is mostly counting bird-feeder birds that are not in too much danger of loss.

So what birds are in decline in the U.S.? Mostly neo-tropical migrants and grassland-nesting birds. More on neo-tropical migrants tomorrow. For now, let's look at grassland birds.

U.S. populations of Henslow's Sparrow, Cassin's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow exist in numbers only a fraction of what they did in the 1850s when the tall grass prairies had yet to fall under the plow.

Over the course of the last 20 years alone, the Breeding Bird survey has enumerated a very rapid decline in these birds that seems unrelated to loss of land across the U.S. Other grassland birds also seem to be in decline, especially such sparrow-like birds such as the Bobolink, the Dicksissel, and the Western Meadowlark (the state bird of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming).

What is going on? The short answer is industrial agriculture.

As human population numbers have increased in the U.S. and across the world, more and more pressure has been put on America's farm land -- the source of 15% of the world's cereal production.

The good news is that record crops are being produced despite the fact that less and less land is being put under the plow.

The bad news is that this increased production has required more automation, less fence-row cover, and more intensive management of farm habitat than ever before.

A good example of what is going on can be seen by taking a look at America's hayfields. While 40 years ago a hay field might have been harvested once a year, most hayfields are cut three times a year now, thanks to automation. The second and third hay harvests typically occur just as grassland birds are breeding.

The good news is that while we are farming our most productive lands more intensively, we are putting a lot of marginal farm land into a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) started in 1982.

The CRP has worked to take more than 32 million acres of farmland out of production in order to slow top soil loss and exhaustion, and to provide habitat for native plants and animals. CRP lands now total more than 50,000 square miles across the United States, and make up vast stretches of some prairie states.

Unfortunately, despite the extensive acreage put into the CRP program, it has not been enough to reverse the decline of some grassland bird species.

One problem is that much of the land in the CRP program is in relatively small blocks, often bordered by working farms. This "edge" habitat is perfect for deer, fox, raccoon, raptors, pheasant, grouse and turkey, but it is not always conducive to the successful breeding of grassland birds, many of which only do well in very large blocks of prairie devoid of trees.

In fact, because the population of medium-size predators such as fox, raccoon, possum and hawks is high in edge habitat, grassland nest mortality of small grass-nesting birds is often unnaturally high in small-acreage CRP locations.

In addition, the tree cover provided by old farm windbreaks and shelterbelts provides a near-perfect habitat for the brown-headed cowbird.

The brown-headed cowbirds is a brood parasite species which lays its eggs in nests of other birds and leaves them for the host bird to raise.

Because cowbird eggs hatch a few days before those of their hosts, the larger cowbird chick is able to push out the eggs and chicks of the host bird, thereby winning all the food resources for itself.

The destructive capacity of the brown-headed cowbird is hard to overestimate: a single female can destroy the clutches of 20 or more song birds in a single season.

Would I advocate shooting a cowbird? In a minute.

In fact, in some areas the only way to get native bird species back up to acceptable levels is with Larsen Traps designed to catch cowbirds. To learn how to build a cowbird trap (a good project for a boy scout !) click here.

Not All Churches Are Under New Management

Winter Solstice, a tune written for the English bagpipes by David Faulkner.

Blue Jays at the Feeder

Jays got hit hard by West Nile, but are bouncing back.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Barack and Me

 Barack and I shop at the same store for dog stuff.
We're cool like that.

Happy Hanukkah!

Andy Borowitz writes: 
"Hanukkah is the most American holiday because it's a celebration of burning oil that we don't have."

Oog, In the Cave, With a Mammoth Bone?

Heather Houlahan forwards the latest link from the deep thinkers at PlosOne who want us to know that Phylogenetic Distinctiveness of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian Village Dog Y Chromosomes Illuminates Dog Origins.

Of course.  I have always said so. 

But I wonder....

Is this the paper that says dogs are from Asia, replacing the one that said they were from the Middle East, which replaces the one that says they were from Europe, which replaced the one that said they came from Africa?

Or is this the paper that says dogs are 200 years old, 10,000 years old, 30,000 years old, or 120,000 years old? 

I am STILL waiting to find out why ANY of it matters, but I have not yet gotten to the end of the book, so please don't tell me it was Oog, in the cave, with a mammoth bone.  I like the mystery of it all!

The Tintin Movie Opens Today


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Horse Story, A Santa Story, a Dog Story

Sarah B. sends this excellent video, noting that "War Horse is a huge is also a FICTION...try explaining that to the legions of fans!"

Yes.  So much of what we believe is fiction and much of it of recent vintage too. 

For example, did you know that the image of Santa Claus, as we know him today, was created by American Thomas Nast who was hired to draw a picture for Harper’s Weekly of Santa bringing gifts to Union troops fighting the Civil War, and that Santa was partly drawn to resemble Uncle Sam

Santa's red suit showed up in 1931 and is "Coca Cola red" because it is the product of a Coca Cola ad drawn by Haddon Sundblom, with the fat laughing Santa we now have in our minds modeled on a real-life retired Coca-Cola salesman by the name of Lou Prentice.

And is it any different today?  How much longer before someone writes a book about The Kill Devil Terrier of the Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk Dog?


I Normally Don't Give a Flying...

I normally don't give a Flying F*uck, but this season I'm going to change the errors of my ways.

And you can too!  Order one from Amazon!   Remote controlled. 

Perfect for the political season ahead.  You can change the word too, I suspect, which will be Job One at my house.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the Zoo in North Korea

With a side note about God and government, and using George Orwell's novel, 1984 as a five year plan and political guide.

Christmas Bird Count Illuminates an Old Fable

The National Audubon Society is in the midst of its annual "Christmas Bird Count," which is mostly an unscientific "bird feeder" bird count done when those birds which are at greatest risk of decline (i.e. neo-tropical migrants including most grassland birds) are actually down south in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

In short, this is the wrong time of year to count birds that are truly at risk!

That said, the 111-years worth of data collected by the "Christmas Bird Count" does have some use, if for no other reason than to prove that one of the biggest fables about Bald Eagles and Osprey is more than a small lie.

What's the story? Simple: that Bald Eagles and Osprey were pushed to the edge of extinction by DDT.

Not quite true. 

In fact, Bald Eagles and Osprey were pushed to the edge of extinction by bullets and leghold traps long before DDT showed up on the scene. See this previous post for more information about that.

This is NOT to say that the ban on DDT was not good for birds, only that the notion that Bald Eagles and Osprey were specifically driven off the map by DDT is simply not true, and obscures an important story about the value of the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Coffee and Provocation

The Humane Society for Shelter Pets:
As I have noted in the past, when you respond to a Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) fundraising letter, 70 cents out of every dollar goes to fund more direct mail, and almost none of your donations (less than 1%) goes to shelter animals. What happens to the remaining money? The remaining money goes into stock portfolios and to fund attacks on farming and agriculture. Now, the agricultural world is fighting back with a simple idea that will only benefit dogs and cats. Two weeks ago they launched The Humane Society for Shelter Pets with full-page ads in four major newspapers and a website. The ads show a sad-eyed dog and ask people to help by donating to local shelters, NOT the Humane Society of the U.S.   Of course Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS is up in arms about any campaign that would actually help shelter dogs and cats and expose the Big Lie his organization is built upon. Wayne Pacelle is upset? Excellent! Let's make him even more upset. Please let the world know through Facebook and G+ that donations to HSUS do NOT help shelter animals and that if folks want to give to a local shelter this holiday season (please do!) all they have to do is click here to find a worthy recipient for charity donations.

Socks Filled With Meat:
No, we are not talking about Congress. Apparently, socks filled with meat are one way to get good camera trap pictures of fishers, a type of large weasel.

Killing Badgers by the Thousands in the U.K.:
After banning the hunting of badgers with terriers and shovel, the geniuses who manage wildlife in the U.K. have discovered they are neck-deep in badgers (there are now more badgers than fox) and that the animals have a role in spreading TB to cattle.  What to do?  They have trapped and shot thousands of badgers, but that it not efficient enough, and neither is trapping and inoculation, so now they are setting out carcasses to draw in badger and they are gut-shooting them from a distance.  The idea of licensed terrier work and managed hunts seems to be more than the British can wrap their brains around.

This "Robot Nation" Stuff is Nonsense.
I asked Siri and she says this Robot Nation stuff is nonsense and I have to stop listening to Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory.  

Consumer Reports on Retractable String Leashes:
Consumer Reports says the obvious, which is that the damn things are a menace to society.

University of Montana Hot Tub Party:
This picture should be in the college catalogue.  In fact, it should be the cover.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Flying Spaghetti Monster:
Virginia, where the American Revolution was started, has decided that if you are going to allow mythical stuff to be put up on the courthouse steps, the Flying Spaghetti Monster should be seen, along with Jedis (may the Force be with you), and a skeleton Santa Claus mounted on a cross. 

A Nice Hook:
The movie is entitled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  A fish out of water story I am guessing.

Everyone Hates Newt Gingrich?
Apparently all the Republicans who used to work with him "hate him like like they hate a bowl of cream of tapeworm soup".

One Nation Under Cash:
80 percent of the money sloshing around in America's SuperPAC warchests comes from just 58 donors.  

Transgendered Sea Anemone are Denounced by Clergy:
A coalition of Baptist clergymen are speaking against the Telia felina, a transgendered sea anemone they are decrying as “base and depraved.”  “This filthy anemone, which exhibits both male and female characteristics, is turning our oceans’ intertidal zones into dens of sin and perversion,” said Rev. William Chester, spokesman for the Save Our Seas Coalition, a Huntsville-based activist group dedicated to “the preservation of aquatic decency and morality.” “For God knows how long, this twisted sea creature has been running rampant in our oceans, spreading its unnatural, bisexual lifestyle. And it’s high time somebody took a stand.”  >> Read the rest here from the Onion.
God Depends on You, But Science Does Not:
In the beginning, Man created God in his own image.  Or, as Penn Jillette puts in his book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales"There is no god and that's the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again."

Coffee is Pure Awesome:
Here's a little video that tells you why.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

David Attenborough :: What a Wonderful World

THIS IS ALL THERE IS... and it's enough.

Happy Birthday "Blog"

On Dec. 17, 1997, Jorn Barger became the first person to use the term "weblog" to describe his collection of links logged from the internet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Did Dog Shelters Become Slaughter Houses?

 From the December 2011 edition of Dogs Today.  Illustration by Kevin Brockbank.

Why do we call places that kill dogs ‘shelters’ or ‘rescues’?

Like so many things, the answer goes back to the Victorian era.

The goal back then was to eradicate rabies, and the most obvious place to start was to round up all the stray dogs and kill them as quickly as possible.

Pet dog owners were instructed to always have their dogs muzzled, and to never have them off leash, which meant any dog found un-muzzled or off-leash was fair game for the dog catcher.

In the U.K. and in the U.S., dog catchers and dog pounds were subsidized by taxpayer funds, and budgets were always thin. Pound operators were told to keep overhead costs low or risk cutting salaries, and the simplest way to do that was to rush dogs to their death, thereby lowering food and staff costs.

And so, within a week of being caught, most stray dogs were summarily shot, gassed, clubbed, or drowned in wire cages shoved off the dock.


The good news is that rabies was eradicated from the U.K. by 1903. The bad news is that by then dog pounds were institutions with budgets, employees, real estate, and a fully developed ethos. Animal welfare had become a social cause and a business, and while improved treatment of horses and cattle was a concern, it was the plight of dogs and cats that really opened up the purses.

Of course one had to treat the issue gingerly! One could not be raising money to help subsidize a canine slaughterhouse, and so a new term was coined – a ‘shelter’ or “rescue’. Let people guess what actually happened there!

It should be said that from the beginning the ‘humane movement’ and the Kennel Club had a detente.

The Kennel Club did not decry the movement for pocketing taxpayer money for killing hundreds of thousands of healthy dogs, while the humane movement did not criticize the Kennel Club for encouraging the breeding of pedigree puppies. Both groups recognized that they were trying to milk the same group of upwardly mobile middle class and high-value donors, and both found it convenient to pitch their messages along class lines. Better people had pedigree dogs, while loose mutts and cross-breeds were the unfortunate canine flotsam cast up by the actions of the ignorant and the lower class.

In fundraising appeals, the humane movement always suggested that more money could ‘save’ a dog or a cat down at the ‘shelter” or ‘rescue,’ but the mechanics of such an operation were always vague, and for a very good reason; only a small percentage of money was ever spent on dog and cat welfare. Instead, the large humane organizations became almost pure legislative and political organizations. Stray dogs and cats? That was the job of the City pound, and never mind if that job involved endless killing.

If a consumer actually wanted to get a dog from the pound, of course, he or she had to cross the railroad tracks, pass by the town dump, and go down a dirt road or trash-strewn street to a nondescript building. There they would find a double row of cages filled with barking dogs. Each of these dogs had only a few hours or a few days to live before they were to be shot, gassed, drowned, or injected. If you wanted a particular dog, it was best to take it with you now!

Of course, the average person looking to get a pet for their child never considered subjecting them to the horror of such an experience. Instead most picked up an all breed book, flipped through the glossy pictures and romantic canine descriptions, and then thumbed through the local newspaper and dog magazine advertisements to find a breeder. Then, on a Saturday afternoon, the family headed off to a house or farm where cash was exchanged for a wiggling eight-week old package of fur.

What about the dogs at the pound, which had now been rebranded as a ‘shelter’? Out of sight and out of mind, they were dead and on the land fill.


The good news is things are changing.

In the last decade or so, the world of dog shelters has changed, and it is still changing.

To start, people have come to understand that the big direct mail organizations do very little at the local level to help shelter dogs and cats. If you are interested in helping those animals, stay clear of the national organizations and give to a local shelter where you have some chance of knowing where the money actually goes.

Second, the shelters themselves have come to realize that they need to be in the ‘sales” business. To that end they are creating more “store front” rescues and shelters which are less depressing and more attractive to young families with children.

Third, the social cues we now give each other about pedigree dogs and about cross-breeds have changed. While pedigree dogs were once seen as a sign of an upscale and informed consumer, the message going out now is that pedigree dogs are more likely to be expensive, inbred health messes, and ownership of such dogs is more likely a sign of pretension than sophistication.

Fourth, more and more people are spaying and neutering their dogs, and fewer unaltered dogs are running around at large. As a consequence, the number of unplanned litters has dropped remarkably in the last 20 years.

Fifth, the Internet has made it easy for shelters and rescues to post pictures and descriptions of available dogs online, where people are free to look through them without the terrifying emotional pressure of going to a shelter and choosing one among a hundred to save.

All of this is terrific news, and a true sea-change in the world of dogs.


The bad news is that while things are generally looking up for shelters dogs, that is not true for ‘Staffordshire Bull Terrier types,’ -- what we in America call ‘Pit Bulls’.

More Pit Bulls are killed in U.S. shelters every year than ALL dogs registered by the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club combined.

But it's not just an American story is it?

Last year less the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home put down more than 800 "Staffordshire Bull Terrier types".

That's more dead dogs of a single type at one shelter than the total number of Neopolitan Mastiffs, Pekingese, Chinese Cresteds, Portuguese Water Dogs, or Boston Terriers registered by the Kennel Club that same year.

And why are so many "Staffordshire Bull Terrier types" put down?

Simple: Because no one wants them.

And yet these dogs are still being bred by people who say they love them, and they are still being acquired by people who say they want them.

What happens next, however, is all too predictable: about half of these dogs end up on death row because they prove to be too much for their owners.

What is the dog writing community, saying about all this?

Not much.

The silence is pretty deafening.

And why is that?

Mostly it’s because folks who talk about “the Staffie problem” end up being aggressively bullied whenever they raise the issue.

"Blame the deed not the breed" the apologists for death wail.

But they don't mean the deed of actually breeding these dogs for cash, do they?

No, that's a sacred cow.

Talk about a ban on advertising these dogs for sale, and suddenly there is no concern at all about the dogs.

Now it's all about property rights. Now it’s all about business.

The dead dogs?

They offer up no solutions for them.

In the world of Staffies, at least, it’s capitalism that is being defended, not the dogs.

That Magic Moment With Dogs


I Was Right . . . Once

I just sent an email to one of my most conservative friends:

I am predicting a Ron Paul win in Iowa with Romney in #2 and Gingrich a close third (which will kill him going into NH).

My friend reminds me that right now it's all:

.. upsies downies. Just remember that Dewey beat Truman and that was the final election.


That said, I looked back on my post to this blog at about this same point before the last Iowa caucus.

Back then Hillary Clinton was the "inevitable" Democrat candidate, and Rudy Giuliani was tops on the GOP side of the ticket.

Hillary, of course, was finally choked out of the race, and Giuliani crashed and burned in a fire ball, winning only one electoral vote.

And what I did I say?   I predicted.

I think if Obama can rip through the gossamer-thin film of "inevitability" surrounding Hillary Clinton, he will be President.  Giuliani is simply not presidential timber; he's too mercurial and too provincial (even more provincial than George W. Bush).

Which is not to say Barack OBama is going to have a cake walk. He's going to be Swift-boated by the folks at Fox and by the whispering campaigns of right-wing emailers who will pass on what they think are clever nigger jokes laced with suggestions that the Senator from Illinois is really a Muslim fanatic in drag.

There's only one problem with that attack plan: Barack Obama. The more you see of this guy, the more you realize how incredibly solid he is. As time goes on, more and more people are going to pay attention, and the folks making the sniping comments about race and name are going to look smaller and smaller until at last they both reveal and embarrass themselves at the same time.

As for Rudy Giuliani, he has the opposite problem; the more people see of him, the less impressed they are going to be.

So, do I think the current crop of GOP nominees can beat Obama?

No.  Not a chance unless they catch him in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. 

And not only do I think this is not going to happen, but I predict a third party candidate, Michael Bloomberg, will join the presidential race shortly after Iowa, and further wither Republican chances.

Don't get me wrong:  the GOP has fielded the finest collection of dwarves and midgets ever to suit up for the NBA, but if you want to play ball at the NATIONAL level, you have to do much better. Much, much better.

But, as my friend suggests, we shall see.

I could be wrong!  (But I doubt it).

LL Bean, the Dog, Adopted by LL Bean Employee

From KARE11 TV in Minneapolis comes this little feel-good story:

A dog named L.L. Bean will soon be united with the clothing company of the same name after a TV report in Eau Claire, Wis., featured the dog in an adoption segment.

The day after the dog, a three-year-old, 80-pound coon hound, was showcased on WQOW-TV during a "Pet of the Day" segment, an employee from L.L. Bean's corporate office in Maine contacted the Dunn County Humane Society to inquire about the dog's availability.

According to the Dunn County Humane Society's website, the shelter had not been able to find a place for L.L. Bean the dog for more than a year. That is, until L.L. Bean the company called.

An employee at L.L. Bean's headquarters shared the dog's story with other employees. Four adoption applications were submitted to the Dunn County Humane Society for L.L. Bean.

Pam Burt of Windham, Maine, is a customer service representative at L.L. Bean and in early January, she will be the proud new owner of the hunting dog. She was selected after a phone interview with the shelter.

"I fell in love with L.L. Bean as soon as I read the story and saw his picture," Burt told WQOW. "My family can't wait to get him."

The dog will leave western Wisconsin for Maine in early January.

Employees at L.L. Bean's Maine offices collected more than $800 to pay for the dog's transportation from Menomonie to Burt's home in Maine.