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review 2017-12-18 22:15
Among Penguins / Noah Strycker
Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica - Noah Strycker

The year he graduated from college, 22-year-old Noah Strycker was dropped by helicopter in a remote Antarctic field camp with two bird scientists and a three months’ supply of frozen food. His subjects: more than a quarter million penguins.

Compact, industrious, and approachable, the Adélie Penguins who call Antarctica home visit their breeding grounds each Antarctic summer to nest and rear their young before returning to sea. Because of long-term studies, scientists may know more about how these penguins will adjust to climate change than about any other creature in the world.

Bird scientists like Noah are less well known. Like the intrepid early explorers of Antarctica, modern scientists drawn to the frozen continent face an utterly inhospitable landscape, one that inspires, isolates, and punishes.

 

  If you have enjoyed Ron Naveen’s Waiting to Fly or Gavin Francis’ Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, you will likely also enjoy this book. In many ways, Among Penguins is like an update of Naveen’s work, documenting just how far research in Antarctica has come in 20 years. I also found the book somewhat reminiscent of Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder.

Like Kaufman, Strycker is a young man obsessed with birds. Unlike Kaufman, he chooses to find research positions to facilitate his quest for a larger, more exotic life list (a list of all the species of birds that one has seen during one’s life, for those who are not members of the birding cult). Although Strycker isn’t sleeping in ditches or hitch-hiking his way to his next birding destination, he does still endure some hardships during his Antarctic sojourn—his tent is destroyed in hurricane force winds, his boots (when outfitted with crampons) wound his ankles, he is unable to shower for 3 months. Nevertheless, he seems a cheerful and willing researcher, completely under the spell of the penguin.

There is a fair bit of interesting penguin info in this slim volume and some insights into the research process, but there is also an awful lot about Noah Stryker! If you are looking for penguin facts and statistics, this may not be the best reference for you. However, if you are interested in the lives of researchers in far flung parts of the planet, it will scratch that itch.

Stryker’s tale also convinces me that biological field work is not for me! In my life, roughing it is a cheap motel and my knees long ago betrayed me, making me far too unstable on my feet for the type of terrain that he takes in stride. However, I can admire and enjoy his hard work and tenacity.

On the main point, I agree fully with the author: there is absolutely nothing like watching a wild penguin go about its business! I have spent many happy hours doing just that and hope to still clock a few more before I’m physically forced to give up such pursuits.

 

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text 2017-09-15 02:38
Utah birds

Husband has started to sort out some of our vacation photos. They're mostly scenic views, but he also took a few birding pic too. These were all taken at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, about 50 miles north of Salt Lake City. I've never seen so many ducks in my life. 

 

Top left: Western grebe

Top right: American avocet

Bottom left: American kestrel

Bottom right: White pelican

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photo 2017-04-17 00:34
White-throated sparrow

One of today's visitors to the garden. 

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review 2017-01-10 15:57
The Genius of Birds / Jennifer Ackerman
The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman

In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research— the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states—Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent.

 

The insult “bird brain” has always bothered me—how exactly is this insulting? I suppose if the only birds you are familiar with are domestic chickens and turkeys, you might think it’s appropriate, but if you’ve ever studied wild birds, you’ll know that it’s completely off the mark. Detailed observation of the domestic fowl might change your mind, too.

Think of the hummingbird—with a brain smaller than a pea, it manages to migrate long distances and maintain detailed mental maps of nectar sources in its territory, knowing when each flower will be refilled with sweet goodness and ready to be drained again! Or think about the Gray Jay, with its multitudinous stored foodstuffs, to be recovered before they have spoiled. Even the lowly pigeon can do amazing things—witness the homing pigeons, used successfully by people to communicate over great distances.

This book, while enjoyable, it not a scientific tome. Much of it consists of anecdotal evidence, which seems self-evident, but hasn’t necessarily been peer reviewed. If you are searching for a definite science textbook on bird intelligence, this book may leave you frustrated, but if you are a bird enthusiast you will enjoy gaining a new appreciation for our feathered neighbours.

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photo 2016-11-01 01:53
Golden-crowned kinglet

Just had to share my husband's picture of this kinglet with a serious attitude. 

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