Nonreaders’ wildlife photos

Instead of wildlife photos today, we’ll have some information and photos of a very rare bird photographed by Filipino eye surgeon whose avocation is birding.  The Trilobite column in the New York Times shows the lovely bird (a “fledgling”, or a bird that’s recently hatched and is able to fly):

On March 11, Dr. Miguel David De Leon — a vitreoretinal surgeon in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines — worked a full morning at the medical center.When he got home, “I was exhausted,” he said.But he pulled it together, lugged his camera an hour uphill and clambered into his bird hide.

Soon his prize appeared: a fledgling South Philippine dwarf kingfisher, about three weeks old. For 10 minutes the rare bird posed on a branch, showing off its pastelcoloring and unusual black bill. “I was so, so thrilled,” said Dr. De Leon, who had chased this shot for over three years. “I felt like my chest would explode.”

The Philippines is filled with birds that can be found only in its forests — at least 255 species are unique to the country. But very little is known about most of them, including the South Philippine dwarf kingfisher. Dr. De Leon’s photograph is the first known to be taken of a fledgling.

. . .the South Philippine dwarf kingfisher is particularly hard to spot. “It perches quietly and darts invisibly from perch to perch,” Dr. Kennedy’s bird guide warns.

And as Dr. De Leon’s group soon found, the fledgling is even sneakier. While birds of other species often stay close to their nests while learning to fly, the young kingfishers rocket away. “Even if we’re watching them closely, they just disappear,” he said.

Click on the screenshot to see the article.

Now remember, this is a photograph of a flying juvenile, not the first photo of the bird ever taken, though some media sites imply otherwise.

It’s a subspecies of the Philippine dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx melanurus mindanensis), but some taxonomists hold that it’s a separate species Ceyx mindanensis.  Because it’s closely related to the other two subspecies, but lives in geographic isolation from them, its status as a separate species is unclear. If you remember anything form this website, remember that two populations that are very similar to each other (but distinguishable through either genetics or appearance or call), but live in different places, have a species status that’s a judgment call. For most biologists, and nearly all evolutionary biologists, the test of species status is whether two forms will be reproductively isolated from each other if they were to meet under natural conditions. If they don’t exchange genes by forming fertile hybrids that can mate with at least one of the two parental forms, they are then separate species.

For these forms we don’t know, so calling this one a different species is, to me, unwarranted. After all, before humans began traveling the world, we had human populations that were morphologically distinguishable (e.g., Australian aboriginals, Inuits, Japanese), which nobody would want to call subspecies of human. (They’re sometimes called “races”, but, as I’ve written before, I have problems with that, too. In fact “race” used to be a biological term, used for both plants and animals, to refer to distinguishable but geographically isolated populations of what was seen as a single variable species.)

But I digress.  Here are two more photos of the fledgling from Miguel de Leon, published in Esquire. (When did they start showing birds instead of cheesecake?)  Isn’t it lovely?

(Attribution for all photos; IMAGE Miguel De Leon)

Spot the cat!

Reader Alastair sent me a “spot the” photo that isn’t that easy. His notes are below.

As a long-time reader of your fine website I’ve enjoyed many spot the. . .  and cat-related posts over the years, so when my friend Katie put this picture up on Instagram I thought I should send it your way. I’d give it a difficulty rating of at least 8. The photographer gives her permission if you’d like to share it with your readers too!

Can you spot the moggy? Answer at 11 a.m. Chicago time.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, April 4, 2020, and it’s both National Cordon Bleu Day (celebrating the dish of thinly pounded chicken filled with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried [I’ve never had one]) and International Carrot Day. Re the carrots, it’s also Vitamin C Day.  Further, it’s Hug a Newsperson Day (right sentiment, wrong year), National Rat Day, and National DIY (do it yourself) Day. Now’s a good day to make that reusable face mask out of an old tee shirt that I highlighted yesterday.

News of the Day: Very bad, as usual. As the pandemic spreads around the world, the death toll in the U.S. has passed 7,000. The CDC recommends that we all wear cloth masks in public, which I’ll do whenever I’m not taking a solitary walk but going “in public”, like to a gas station or a store.  Trump, however, says he won’t take the CDC’s advice. (I notice that during his press conference he also avoids “social distancing”.)  Nine U.S. states still haven’t ordered stay-at-home regulations, including Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota; Wyoming, Utah, South Carolina, and Oklahoma have such orders in only parts of their state. As I recall, all of these states have Republican governors. Anthony Fauci says he can’t comprehend the holdouts, and he’s right.

I also predict that there will be no major league baseball played in the U.S. this year (the season’s now postponed), though some optimists think otherwise. They are almost certainly wrong, as is everyone who thinks this pandemic will be over soon and it will be business as usual by fall. I hope I’m wrong in this prediction, but I don’t think I will be.

Lots of stuff happened on April 4, including:

  • 1147 – Moscow is mentioned for the first time in the historical record, when it is named as a meeting place for two princes.
  • 1581 – Francis Drake is knighted for completing a circumnavigation of the world.
  • 1796 – Georges Cuvier delivers the first paleontological lecture.

Cuvier is known as the Father of Paleontology, and Wikipedia says this about the lecture:

On 4 April 1796 he began to lecture at the École Centrale du Pantheon and, at the opening of the National Institute in April, he read his first paleontological paper, which subsequently was published in 1800 under the title Mémoires sur les espèces d’éléphants vivants et fossiles. In this paper, he analyzed skeletal remains of Indian and African elephants, as well as mammoth fossils, and a fossil skeleton known at that time as the ‘Ohio animal’.

Harrison was in office for exactly one month, taking up the Presidency on March 4.

  • 1949 – Cold War: Twelve nations sign the North Atlantic Treaty creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
  • 1958 – The CND peace symbol is displayed in public for the first time in London.

You must learn where the sign came from:

The symbol is a super-imposition of the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D”, taken to stand for “nuclear disarmament”. This observation was made as early as 5 April 1958 in the Manchester Guardian. In addition to this primary genesis, Holtom additionally cited as inspiration Goya’s Peasant Before the Firing Squad.

Here’s that painting, also called “The Third of May 1808”:

If you can name the top five you’re an expert! Here they are:

  • 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated by James Earl Ray at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • 1969 – Dr. Denton Cooley implants the first temporary artificial heart.
  • 1973 – The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City are officially dedicated.
  • 1975 – Microsoft is founded as a partnership between Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • 1979 – Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan is executed.
  • 1983 – Space Shuttle program: Space Shuttle Challenger makes its maiden voyage into space.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1802 – Dorothea Dix, American nurse and activist (d. 1887)
  • 1895 – Arthur Murray, American dancer and educator (d. 1991)
  • 1928 – Maya Angelou, American memoirist and poet (d. 2014)
  • 1948 – Berry Oakley, American bass player (d. 1972)
  • 1965 – Robert Downey Jr., American actor, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1979 – Heath Ledger, Australian actor (d. 2008)
  • 2012 – Grumpy Cat, American internet celebrity cat (d. 2019)

I never liked Grumpy Cat (real name “Tardar Sauce”) because his “grumpiness” was a developmental defect, probably based on a mutation (she lived only 7 years). But here she is, one last time:

This is the first cat I’ve seen commemorated on Wikipedia’s birthday lists.

Those who experienced mortality on April 4 include:

  • 1617 – John Napier, Scottish mathematician, physicist, and astronomer (b. 1550)
  • 1929 – Karl Benz, German engineer and businessman, founded Mercedes-Benz (b. 1844)
  • 1958 – Johnny Stompanato, American soldier and bodyguard (b. 1925)
  • 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr., American minister and activist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1929)
  • 1983 – Gloria Swanson, American actress (b. 1899)
  • 2013 – Roger Ebert, American journalist, critic, and screenwriter (b. 1942)

Meanwihile in Dobrzyn, today’s Hili dialogue needs an explanation, which Malgorzata has supplied:

There are problems in Polish agriculture that may lead to food shortages. And we have this huge garden with plenty of good soil on which only grass grows. So we found a gardener to dig a vegetable garden in one part of our yard. He will plant for us diverse vegetables, and beans are among them. Hili is full of enthusiasm and thinks that we should discard all flowers and just plant beans.

The dialogue:

Hili: Everything is growing amazingly.
A: Now the spring is real.
Hili: Maybe, instead of flowers we should plant beans?
In Polish:
Hili: Niesłychanie to wszystko rośnie.
Ja: Wiosna w pełni.
Hili: A może zamiast kwiatków zasadzić fasolę?

Also in Dobrzyn, Szaron is baffled by the blinds (note that he’s got the cord in his mouth:

Szaron: How do they do it?

In Polish: Szaron: Jak oni to robią?

And let’s not forget about Kitten Mietek, was photographed (with a caption) by staff Elzbieta. Like his stepbrother Leon, Mietek has taken to the leash!

Caption: Mietek gets to know the world.

In Polish: Mietek poznaje świat.

From Jim:

From Graham (I may have posted this a while back, but can’t recall):

And a gif from Twisted Sifter. Is this Proof of Ceiling Cat?

From The Queen’s continuing series on the pandemic:

I retweeted this tweet I got from Matthew and added some explanation and a link. The second tweet, with a video (sound on!), is the heartwarming one. Fricking Navy!

Tweets from Matthew. Have a look at this uber-weird tree!:

A fun-loving croc:

No comment:

In the word of nature (sans H. sapiens), life goes on. . .

Matthew explains this cartoon from the Times Literary Supplement, “The picture contains images that are synonyms/images/phrases for sex. So – screw, roll in the hay, netflix and chill, sowing wild oats etc etc”. How many can you spot?

Nature is getting ever closer to humans as the humans retreat into their houses.  Here’s an example:



How hamsters stuff their cheeks (and lagniappe)

I was going to do a somewhat complex post on consciousness today, but Duck Farming has been onerous and, as Matthew and I discovered on a Skype call today, we’re both having trouble concentrating during this period. Consciousness shall thus be postponed until tomorrow and instead we’ll have something not mindless but simple and biological.

This informative 4½-minute clip from BBC Earth features not only real-time X-rays of hamsters being bendy in their Habitrails, but also of them stuffing their famous cheek pouches, which in this species go all the way back to the hips! And they can push the stored food out of their pouches with their paws.

Readers with hamsters are welcome to share their experiences.

Lagniappe: This clip, which I found online, purports to be from the 2003 movie The Cat in the Hat, and the video was posted ten years ago. Prescient or what?

h/t: Rick

Ssssh. . . Honey is nesting. And we have a new sign!

As of today, Honey has laid five eggs: one per day. I can see her nest when I peek behind the cover I’ve put up. She’s still laying, of course, and pops out one egg in the morning, after which she and Dorothy, who’s also nesting—but whose nest is hidden behind a locked door—head to the pond for a huge lunch.

I suspect Honey will have laid all her eggs a week from now, and then she’ll sit tight for four weeks. Then. . . .DUCKLINGS! Dorothy is roughly synchronized, I think.

But more on nesting tomorrow. Here’s a sneak peek.

I lift this cover only when she’s on the pond, so I don’t disturb her laying.

And. . . we have a new duck sign! Look at this beauty! Thanks to the people in Facilities Services, especially Katie Peck, Associate Director of Campus Environment.

The National Rifle Association uses the pandemic to promote the sale of guns

I’m just going to drop this here and leave, because it makes me sick. This NYT article shows the National Rifle Association, facing budgetary constraints and increasing calls for more gun controls, fighting to get gun stores classified as “essential services” that must stay open during the pandemic. Why? Because the NRA sees “the government’s coronavirus response as a threat to Second Amendment rights.” But why the threat, then? Because the NRA is fear-mongering: touting apocalyptic scenarios in which people need guns to defend their stuff against their neighbors—or against the government.

And so the organization is suing New York State, which has ordered gun stores closed as “nonessential services.”

Click to read:

An excerpt:

. . . demand for firearms has been surging as lines form at some gun stores during the pandemic, with background checks rising more than 40 percent in March from a year earlier, developments seen as an opportunity by the N.R.A.

“This has brought new people into the gun rights movement,” Mr. Arulanandam said. The surge in sales, he said, would “end up strengthening us.”

The group has been retooling its strategy. Many on the right played down the virus, including at the N.R.A. — Willes Lee, the board’s second vice president, called it an “election ploy.” But the organization itself has focused on the ramifications of the sweeping response in many states, sending out messages to its supporters with headlines like “COVID-19: Threat to Second Amendment” and “Pandemic Exposes Dangers of So-Called ‘Universal’ Background Checks.”

On Wednesday, the N.R.A. tweeted about the sharp rise in gun sales: “what do they expect when they are releasing inmates while closing gun shops during a pandemic.” The group has also circulated a video in which a disabled woman holding an assault weapon issues a warning to people buying extra food: “If you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.”

Yes, this is just what we need: people shooting each other over their stocks of toilet paper.  I would think that the NRA’s self-aggrandizing behavior would turn people off, but look at the growing demand for guns mentioned above.

What a country!

Straight talk about coronavirus, and a chance to ask questions of a primary-care doctor

I don’t intend to fill this site with information or bad news about coronavirus, as you can get that most everywhere, including the New York Times, and most of the detailed stuff is above my pay grade. But I thought the information below was well worth passing along.

Are you tired of hearing the advice to wash your hands and keep social distance, given that you’ve already heard it a gazillion times on Facebook and we already know what to do? Then it’s time to educate yourself further.  My primary care physician, Dr. Alex Lickerman, is the best doctor I’ve ever met, and I’ve known many. He’s not only extremely knowledgeable (he’s young but was head of primary care at the University of Chicago Hospital for seven years, leaving because he didn’t like the strictures of rapid patient turnover), but reads the scientific literature thoroughly and bases his advice on both that and his own experience. He also posts on his two-doctor practice’s website (he calls it a “blog”), ImagineMD, and has been putting up his thoughts and recommendations about Covid-19, updating them as new information becomes available. (You can sign up for a free email subscription.)

The post below, which just came out, is the sixth update in a Covid-19 series that started in February (links to the first five are at the bottom of this post).

Now I know that not everyone will be on board with any doctor’s take (it seems that everyone is an expert on coronavirus!), but do read it and take what you want from it (click on screenshot). I asked Alex if he’d be willing to answer readers’ questions, and he said “Yes. My aim is to stamp out misinformation and spread correct information wherever possible. I’ll answer as I have time.”

So I can’t guarantee that all readers’ questions will be answered or addressed, but if you want to know something, by all means put your query in the comments. But first read the article (click on the screenshot).

Topics covered in the post above include:

  • What are the symptoms and typical course of the disease?
  • How does testing for the virus work and how reliable is it?
  • How is the virus transmitted?
  • Should you wear a mask in public?
  • Can pets carry coronavirus?
  • How do you deal with “coronachondria”—the extreme anxiety associated with people experiencing this pandemic?
  • How do you deal with the possibility of gaining weight now that our normal activities, and much of our exercise, has been curtailed?
  • How long is this pandemic going to last?

After you read it, feel free to leave questions on these topics and others related to coronavirus in the comments.

Finally, the video below is proffered by Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus): Masks may soon be required or recommended for anyone going out in public, at least if you’re to meet other people. I found this video on how to make a dust mask, and given that it’s not easy for non-doctors or non-scientists to buy “regular” masks, this one looks acceptable, and has the advantage of being washable and therefore reusable. I offer this, again, for what it’s worth: I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist. It’s surely not great protection from inhaling aerosolized virus, but will keep you from touching your face (except for your eyes), and it should be a good reminder, when worn, not to do so.


Chicago during the pandemic

This is just fog, but this picture of downtown Chicago, taken from my crib two days ago, makes me think that the fog is a metaphor for the virus plaguing our city—and everywhere else.

The big building is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

Click to enlarge.

Readers’ wildlife videos

Tara Tanaka has been isolating herself in her wildlife blind on her wetland property in Florida, and we are the beneficiaries: she sent two new videos. (Tara’s Vimeo page is here and her Flickr page here.)

Be sure to enlarge these before watching.

I’ll put her descriptions of the videos in indented text.  First we see a lovely wood duck hen, or “woody” as they call them (Aix sponsa), in a video called “They just tuck their wings and fly right through the hole!” (Tara and her husband have erected a number of wood duck nesting boxes, from which the newly-hatched ducklings leap down to the water on the day of hatching.)

I’ve heard this for years – but here is the way that hen Wood Ducks enter a box or cavity – every time.


In this one, a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) eats an individual of Amphiuma (a genus of aquatic salamanders):

The water level in our swamp is dropping very fast, and some wildlife, including fish, tadpoles and amphiumas (a type of salamander) are getting stranded in drying pools. This Red-shouldered Hawk has discovered that if it perches in a cypress tree that overlooks one of these areas, he can find easy meals.

Friday: Hili dialogue

Well, for many of us this isn’t the end of the work week because so many people aren’t working. And it’s useless to say “TGIF”. Nevertheless, it is Friday, April 3, 2020: National Chocolate Mousse Day. It’s also National Walk to Work Day (a no-brainer for me), World Party Day, National Don’t Go to Work Unless It’s Fun Day (how many people are actually going to work?), and, finally, Fish Fingers and Custard Day. What the hell is that?, I wondered. The answer:

Fish Fingers and Custard Day commemorates the introduction of the Eleventh Doctor on the television series Doctor Who, as well as the memorable fish fingers and custard scene from the episode in which he arrives. The episode, which was released on April 3, 2010, is the first from Series 5 of the show, and is titled “The Eleventh Hour.” BBC declared the first Fish Fingers and Custard Day to take place on the second anniversary of the release of the episode. The following year, Birdseye even put the Doctor, who was played by Matt Smith, on their boxes. The day is marked by people eating fish fingers and custard and sharing photos and videos of them doing so.

Okay, so I looked up that “memorable scene,” and here it is.  (I’ve never been able to enjoy Dr. Who, but I know I’m an outlier here.)

News of the Day: Dreadful, as usual. To start your day right, have a look at the interactive coronavirus map that I’ve linked to below.  Over a million people have now been infected, over 1500 people have died in New York City alone, the hard-hit state of New York is going to run out of ventilators in six days, and you better start preparing to wear face masks in public (I assume this is not when you’re out on a solitary walk).  I will have more information on the virus and what you should do later this morning.

Today’s Google Doodle, depicting a group of stay-at-home activities, goes to a list of familiar things we’re supposed to do during the pandemic (e.g., social distance, wash hands, etc.). Click on the screenshot to see:

There’s also an interactive and depressing) world map of the rate of covid infections in different countries. Europe, the U.S., and Iran are in bad shape; Africa and Southeast Asia are as yet not hit so hard, but it’s only a matter of time .

Stuff that happened on this day includes:

  • 1043 – Edward the Confessor is crowned King of England.
  • 1860 – The first successful United States Pony Express run from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, begins.
  • 1882 – American Old West: Robert Ford kills Jesse James.
  • 1888 – The first of eleven unsolved brutal murders of women committed in or near the impoverished Whitechapel district in the East End of London, occurs.

Those were, of course, the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper.

  • 1895 – The trial in the libel case brought by Oscar Wilde begins, eventually resulting in his imprisonment on charges of homosexuality.

Wilde could have fled to France and avoided jail, but stayed in England, and then spent two years in prison, then immediately leaving for France where he spent his last three years, dying a painful death at 46.  I photographed his tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in November of 2018 (below). It has a glass barrier around it to prevent people defacing Jacob Epstein’s Art Deco monument, but now people leave lipstick prints on the glass:

  • 1922 – Joseph Stalin becomes the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  • 1936 – Bruno Richard Hauptmann is executed for the kidnapping and death of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., the baby son of pilot Charles Lindbergh.

It’s still not that clear that Hauptmann actually did the kidnapping, or was otherwise involved.

  • 1955 – The American Civil Liberties Union announces it will defend Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl against obscenity charges.
  • 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. He was assassinated the next day.

I can never resist putting up videos of one of the greatest orators of our time. Here’s the peroration of the “mountaintop” speech; watch all the way to the end when Dan Rather announces King’s assassination.  (You can listen to a longer version, which includes an engrossing bit about a previous attempt to assassinate him, here.)

  • 1973 – Martin Cooper of Motorola makes the first handheld mobile phone call to Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs.
  • 1981 – The Osborne 1, the first successful portable computer, is unveiled at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco.
  • 1996 – Suspected “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski is captured at his Montana cabin in the United States.
  • 2010 – Apple Inc. released the first generation iPad, a tablet computer.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1823 – William M. Tweed, American politician (d. 1878)
  • 1898 – Henry Luce, American publisher, co-founded Time Magazine (d. 1967)
  • 1904 – Sally Rand, American dancer (d. 1979)

Some of you may remember the name of Rand, famous for her “fan dance” in which she revealed parts of her body, which appeared to be nude. In reality, she wore a bodystocking, even though she was arrested for this several times. Here’s a fan dance from 1942.

  • 1922 – Doris Day, American singer and actress (d. 2019)
  • 1926 – Gus Grissom, American colonel, pilot, and astronaut (d. 1967)
  • 1934 – Jane Goodall, English primatologist and anthropologist
  • 1942 – Wayne Newton, American singer
  • 1944 – Tony Orlando, American singer
  • 1945 – Doon Arbus, American author and journalist [JAC: Diane Arbus’s daughter]
  • 1949 – A. C. Grayling, English philosopher and academic
  • 1961 – Eddie Murphy, American actor and comedian
  • 1982 – Cobie Smulders, Canadian actress [JAC: I don’t know from Cobie Smulders but I love the name].

Those who went belly-up on April 3 include:

  • 1882 – Jesse James, American criminal and outlaw (b. 1847)
  • 1897 – Johannes Brahms, German pianist and composer (b. 1833)
  • 1950 – Kurt Weill, German-American composer and pianist (b. 1900)
  • 1990 – Sarah Vaughan, American singer (b. 1924)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is rolling around in the dirt

A: Hili, you will get all dirty.
Hili: Then you will have a chance to brush me.
In Polish:
Ja: Hili, będziesz cała brudna.
Hili: To będziesz mógł mnie wyszczotkować.

And Szaron, the new cat in Dobrzyn, is starting to take after Hili.

Szaron: I’m bursting with hunger!

In Polish: Mnie też głód rozpiera.

A meme from Anna (note that you couldn’t do make this meme with cats):

Anna also sent a photo of her growing kitten Pip (short for “Pippa”), who we’ve encountered before. She was a stray adopted from our website charity Feline Friends London. Pip should be reading rather than napping, but look at that gorgeous fur!

And one from Nicole:

From the misnamed site Life is Better with a Dog:

My retweet of a tweet sent by Simon:

And a cool response. I did not know this!

From Barry. This looks painful!  I wonder what it looks like when a duck does it. (Sound on.)

A tweet from Heather Hastie via Ann German:

Tweets from Matthew. Wild deer have invaded East London!

Crikey, people get paid for the craziest stuff!  Look at this tweet (one of 23) showing “graphs” or figures from a Pepsi rebrand:

A really nice fossil gall from 300 million years ago:

What a fantastic response!