Name the tree

I posted this picture of the trunk of a tree growing near where I’m staying. Readers demanded to see the leaves before a definitive ID, with one surmising that it might be an aspen. Here’s the trunk:

And here are the leaves  catkins (no leaves yet). Anybody know? I await the correct answer.

New Mexico: Silver City to Santa Fe

It’s sunny and snowing in Santa Fe as I write this morning, but I suppose it happens: after all, the town is nearly 7200 feet above sea level (ca. 2200 m). And it was chilly last night, so I’m glad I brought a fleece.

I arrived yesterday afternoon from Silver City, making a circuit around the area on routes 180 and 12 back to Interstate 25 north to Santa Fe.  The route is below: from Silver City around the Gila National Forest and then heading east, intersecting I-25 at Socorro and heading about 2.5 hours north to Santa Fe:

There are almost no towns and no traffic on this road, so I had a pleasant circuit, including having to watch out for elk (I didn’t see any):

This is the Ceiling Cat RentalMobile parked in the middle of nowhere in the high desert.

Between the towns of Datil and Magdalena sits a weird group of radiotelescopes in the desert: the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (known as the VLA), built between 1973 and 1980. There are 27 of the antennae (scopes) sitting alongside a Y shaped railroad route, which is how they’re moved about. Each arm of the Y is  13 miles (21 km) long. Here’s a view of a few of them north of the road, looking like weird mushrooms sprouting from the desert:

Wikipedia tells us how they’re used:

Each of the massive telescopes is mounted on double parallel railroad tracks, so the radius and density of the array can be transformed to adjust the balance between its angular resolution and its surface brightness sensitivity. Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.

. . . at one point [JAC: see my pic below], [the railroad track] intersects with U.S. Route 60 at a level crossing—and a specially designed lifting locomotive (“Hein’s Trein”), the antennas can be physically relocated to a number of prepared positions, allowing aperture synthesis interferometry with up to 351 independent baselines: in essence, the array acts as a single antenna with a variable diameter. The angular resolution that can be reached is between 0.2 and 0.04 arcseconds.

There are four commonly used configurations, designated A (the largest) through D (the tightest, when all the dishes are within 600 m of the center point). The observatory normally cycles through all the various possible configurations (including several hybrids) every 16 months.

Finally, the article adds “The VLA is present in the 1997 movie Contact, as the location where the alien signal is first detected.”  Here’s a better picture from Wikipedia:

I eventually reached Interstate 25 at the town of Socorro, where friends told me to eat at the New-Mex/Mex restaurant of Sofia’s Kitchen (full name: Sofia’s Kitchen and Burrito Tyme).

I lucked out, as chile relleno, one of my favorite dishes, was on special. It’s Mexican and originated in the city of Puebla, where I went to a meeting just a few months ago. There are of course variations, but they all involve a roasted green pepper stuffed with either meat or cheese (I favor cheese), and then breaded and deep-fried. It’s then covered with either green or red chile sauce and, often, more cheese, like the one below, which was served with refried beans and Spanish rice, with a tortilla on the side. The combination of the breading, sauce, vegetal pepper, and molten cheese is fantastic:

The inside of the breading, showing the cheese-filled pepper:

Santa Fe (population about 84,000) is of course one of the most famous tourist cities of the American Southwest, and rightfully so. It’s lovely and full of local architecture, modeled on the adobe dwellings of the local Native Americans. This is the plaza, first settled by the native Tewa around 900 AD. It’s still the center of town:

Sundry pictures around downtown Santa Fe. A traditional bunch of hanging dried chiles:

These adorned animals must have some connection with local Native American tradition, but I have no idea what they are. The jaguar is particularly resplendent:

Around the plaza; I liked all the blue colors:

I don’t know who this chap is, but I bet his party has something to do with marijuana:

A local tree of some sort (a birch?). The scars on the trunk looked so much like eyes that I thought someone had painted them on:

With all the great local food, it was no surprise to see the “Chicago Dog Express” not only devoid of customers, but closed. Get your Chicago dogs in Chicago!

I spent two pleasant hours in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum near the Plaza. Most of you know of O’Keeffe, one of America’s greatest painters, famed for her colorful landscapes and large paintings of flowers, bones, and other artifacts.

Born in Wisconsin in 1887 (she died at 98), O’Keeffe lived in New York City for many years, marrying the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She discovered the beauty of New Mexico in 1929, and spent several months painting in the state until she moved here permanently after Stieglitz’s death. The Museum harbors what must be the largest collection of her paintings in the world, and also contains lots of photographs of her at her famous Ghost Ranch house, as well as photos taken by Stieglitz, who used her as a subject. Here’s the entrance to the Museum, which, fortunately, was open late on Friday:

Here are some of her paintings that I liked. She began with more conventional art: portraits, still lifes, and so on, but found her true painting “voice” in New Mexico. The first painting is early; the rest are classic O’Keeffe. You’re allowed to photograph the art so long as you don’t use a flash, so excuse the quality of these hand-held photos of paintings:

The paint box frequently used by O’Keeffe:

Here’s a photo of O’Keeffe taken by Stieglitz in 1918, when she was about 30. He often concentrated on her hands, which were quite lovely:

To end this episode, here’s this morning’s breakfast at the famous local joint, the Tecolote Cafe. I had blue-corn batter pancakes filled with toasted pine nuts, topped with ample lashings of butter and syrup. I overordered: one would have been sufficient, but I got the “long stack”: three plate-sized flapjacks. I could eat only half of them.

Here’s the order; I’ve cut into one of the cakes to show the color, but you can see it better in the second photograph.

Lovely blue-ish interior filled with pine nuts. I love those nuts, but they’re expensive and virtually impossible to find.

I’ll go back to this place for breakfast tomorrow before I head north to Taos and the surrounding area.

Caturday felid trifecta (and lagniappe): World’s most photogenic cat; Russian cats passing, Rock-climbing cat

I have to admit that this cat, which is not a fancy breed or anything, may well be the world’s most photogenic cat. Bored Panda explains in its article “This cat is physically unable to have a bad photo taken of him.

Nyankichi, a male tabby from Kagoshima, Japan, and his human have been traveling around the country, taking photos along the way. As the numerous pictures by the owner suggest, Nyankichi is such a photogenic kitty, he should be model on the catwalk.

Here are five of the ten photos of Nyankichi:


How do two Siamese cats pass on a narrow ledge? With care and dexterity!:


From The Dodo, here’s the story of a rescue cat named Denali who, with his new family, has taken to rock climbing:

When Sandra Samman decided to adopt a cat, she knew she wanted one who shared her love for adventure, and could keep up with her fast-paced, outdoorsy lifestyle. When she met Denali, she immediately knew he fit the role — but had no idea just how adventurous he really was, or how much he would love rock climbing with his new family.

Denali and his littermates were rescued from a barn in New Mexico and brought to Foothills Animal Shelter in Colorado. The 2-month-old kitten had only been at the shelter for a few days before his new mom found him, and she immediately knew he was meant to be a member of her family.

A few photos:

Samman became an avid rock climber after a trip through Southeast Asia; she spends a lot of time climbing at the rock climbing gym as well as outdoors. From the very beginning, Denali wanted to be with his mom all the time, going wherever she goes, so she started bringing him to the climbing gym, and was amazed by how much he loved it.

Whenever he comes across a new mountain or crag (climbing area), he immediately begins to climb.

“He does a bit of both, his own climbing and adventuring up cliff faces and trees, then in my pack which he also loves,” Samman said.



Lagniappe: a bonus photo and story from reader Barn Owl:

Attached is a photo of one of the warning signs at my local garden center – there’s a very surly cat on the premises.  [JAC: see below—his name is Spartacus!] I’d like to get a photo of the cat AND the sign, because he’s often lounging on the checkout counter, but when I visited this time he was out supervising his staff while they were watering.  The cat has been on the premises at least 8 years, maybe longer.

From the garden center’s FAQ:

Where is the cat?
If he’s not on the counter, we don’t know. He’s out doing kitty things.

What is the cat’s name?

Can I pet him?
Pet at your own risk! He is grumpy and unpredictable. He WILL BITE or scratch. If he approaches you, he probably will let you pet him. If he’s sleeping on the counter, that’s a different story. Parents, please do not encourage your children to pet him.

h/t: Su, Snowy Owl


Saturday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Good morning! It’s Saturday, with a bit of luck it’s a Saturday with blue skies round your way.

Here’s an eclectic collection of tweets to start your day.


A bird foot of a Syrrhaptes Sandgrouse. Wikipedia says: “The small feet lack a hind toe, and the three front toes are fused together. The upper surface is feathered, and the underneath has a fleshy pad.”

A fearsome adversary.

The post warrior.


Here’s a lovely video of a sugar glider.

Master strategist Hili is trying out a new tactic which may or may not work.

Hili: I have an allergy.
A: To what?
Hili: Just now to everything except cream.

In Polish:

Hili: Mam alergię.
Ja: Na co?
Hili: W tej chwili na wszystko poza śmietanką.

JAC addendum: today’s Google Doodle features Jane Goodall, and if you click on it (click on screenshot first), you’ll see a video and cartoon of her talking about the importance of Earth Day,which is tomorrow.

Hat-tip: Barn Owl, Barry

Tara’s latest video: bobcat catches wood duck hen

Tara Tanaka just sent this video filmed yesterday which is ineffably sad, showing a bobat making off with what appears to be a fully conscious wood duck hen. I know bobcats gotta eat, but a mallard hen? It struck to close to home, and made me tear up a little. As Tara said, it was the hardest thing she ever filmed.

Just after sunrise I was walking past the window and I saw all of the ducks flush from the dike. I stopped to see if I might be able to see what had scared them, when I saw a large animal climbing out of the water onto the dike. I squatted behind my camera, flipped it on, switched to video and pointed it toward the dike. My heart sank as I saw a large Bobcat emerge from between my blind and the Gheenoe with one of our beloved hen Wood Ducks in his jaws. I’ve watched these ducks lead their ducklings out of boxes, protecting and raising them, and this was the hardest thing I’ve ever videoed. That the duck looked fully conscious but frozen with fear made it a thousand times worse. I hope she wasn’t one of the ducks currently incubating eggs. I’ve slowed this down to 50% of original speed.

Tara’s wildlife pages are here:



New Mexico: Day 1

So it’s farewell to the Land of Boiled Peanuts (which I love when sold hot by the roadside, but not canned like these in Piggly Wiggly), and hello to the Land of Green Chile:

And I am with my friends Avis and Bill, who teach biology at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Avis’s mom, the renowned ornithologist/ecologist Fran James (who taught at at Florida State, and is retired but still works) was also visiting. (That’s why Avis is named Avis.)

I spent one night, and Avis prepared make-your own fajitas will grilled chicken and all the fixings. I finally learned how to wrap a flour tortilla properly (result not shown). Important: do not overload the tortilla with fillings or it will squirt out the end:

There are two cats in the house: my old friend Janet, the calico, and a new and very active one-year-old tuxedo cat, Boris. Boris likes to sprawl on his back, which is hilarious. But woe to those who try to pet that belly! (Actually, he’s a very gentle cat.)


Boris (you can tell I’m getting my cat fix):

I will return to Las Cruces for two more days of visiting after six days of perambulation. I planned to leave early today, but Enterprise (a rental car company I’m coming increasingly to despise) didn’t have my car ready, as it was in transit from El Paso, Texas, an hour away. So we all went out to breakfast at Nellie’s Cafe, a great and popular spot in Las Cruces.

Left to right: Avis James, Fran James, and Bill Boecklen

The number 2 combination, recommended by Bill: ground beef taco, refried beans with cheese, Spanish rice, an enchilada with “chile meat” (pork), and a chile relleno filled with cheese. A great breakfast, and I chose the green over red chile (you usually get a choice), as I think the green has more flavor.

Up into the mountains northwest of Las Cruces to the quaint town of Silver City, which wants to be Santa Fe but is not quite as trendy. It’s lovely, and the drive here was gorgeous:

Sadly, in the middle of nowhere, and having driven very carefully, the tire started leaking air. (New cars tell you this.) When it got down to ten pounds I pulled over, called the AAA, and waited an hour and a half for someone to put the toy spare tire on (I didn’t trust the jack).

Then, driving to Silver City on the toy tire, I was informed that Enterprise could give me a swapper, but they had only huge vans, and by “huge” I mean half the size of a school bus. I bailed on that and went to Wal-Mart to buy a new tire. Enterprise said that if the flat is not my fault, they might reimburse me (bastards!). Well, they found three patched punctures in the tire when they replaced it, so it’s on Enterprise for giving me a threadbare tire. I anticipate a fight when I get back to Las Cruces! I lost about four hours of time, but I made it here and am staying at the Murray Hotel, an Art Deco original:

Finally, I have news from my two duck-sitters that all is well with Honey and Frank. I’m told they come at the whistle, and yesterday both of them ate from the grad-student duck-sitter’s hand! Here’s a photo I was sent.

I noticed that Honey’s swain last year was also lacking the dark brown bib of a normal male, which suggests that a). the males were hybrids with domestic white ducks, and b). the male may be the same male we saw last year. Readers with time on their hands may want to go back and compare Sir Francis to last year’s drake.

Friday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Good morning, we’re firmly on track for the weekend now so things are looking up.

Today is somewhat of a grim day in history, it’s  the anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre (1999), the Deepwater Horizon Rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and of course the birth of Hitler in 1889 among an array of other disasters and horrors both natural and man-made.

On the science front, today in 1902 Pierre and Marie Curie refined radium chloride; and in 1862 Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard completed their experiment falsifying the theory of spontaneous generation.

Today on Twitter:

Object Optical illusion (found by no fewer than three people!) Click on the little white arrow if it does not play automatically for you.

Another advertisement featuring cats for no apparent reason.

A crow at the Tower of London.

Things to do to avoid recycling. Or does this count as technically recycling?

Mistakes were made…

Caught in the act

Well-trained human.

Finally, on to Poland where Hili is not having any of it today.

A: I have a great idea.
Hili: Oh, really?
(Photo: Zuza)

In Polish:

Ja: Mam wspaniały pomysł!
Hili: Naprawdę?
(Zdjęcie: Zuza)

Hat-tip Barry, Matthew, vampyricon

Airport water fountains

I needed a drink of water in the Houston (Hobby) airport, and one good thing about America compared to, say, Europe, is that water fountains are nearly always handy in public facilities. Seeking my drink, I found this:

Now usually there are two levels: low to the ground for kids and higher up for adults. If the kid is intermediate sized, they can stoop, as I often do when the Big People’s Fountain is occupied. But here we have five different levels (or maybe four; I didn’t measure the end ones). That means that, unless there are huge crowds vying for water, so that many fountains are needed, this installation costs 2.5 times as much as the standard one.

Is there some purpose for this, or is it an artistic array designed to be attractive? I’ve never seen it before, and while it affords libations for those of diverse heights, including the Altitudinally Challenged, there is such a thing as bending down.

Here’s the timber rattlesnake!

by Matthew Cobb

The answer to James Green’s timber rattlesnake quiz was posted on Twitter by Asia Murphy (@am_anatiala) who studies mammals in Madagascar using camera traps. Here you go:


Teaching Evolution: Charles Lyell: The principles of geology

by Greg Mayer

Our fourth installment of Teaching Evolution is an extract from Principles of Geology, by Charles Lyell. Lyell was an enormously influential scientist, and a leading figure in scientific circles in 19th century Britain. His influence on Darwin was profound: in Janet Browne’s authoritative biography of Darwin, the entry for Lyell in the index of volume one goes on for 28 lines, and for 27 lines in the second volume!

In the first half of the 19th century, the links between biology and geology were much closer that they are now. Both were branches of natural history, and Darwin first made his name as a geologist, before his more biological contributions came to dominate his reputation. Lyell’s Principles were required reading for anyone involved in discussions of organic evolution. The current divorce between the academic disciplines is regrettable.

When I was helping plan a major in ecology, evolution, and conservation a few years ago, a survey of a broad range of the best undergraduate majors across the United States showed that none required any geology (though many required years of chemistry and/or physics). A notable innovation of our new major was that it required foundational work in geology for students in the biological sciences. (The major, unfortunately, was nixed by our dean before it got implemented.)

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) is perhaps the greatest geologist of all time. As the American paleontologist David Raup once remarked, “Lyell is to geology what Darwin is to biology.” Lyell’s signal achievement was to turn geologists to the study of observable physical, chemical, and biological processes, and to make these processes the first choice when seeking explanations for the events of Earth history. His method may be epitomized by the phrase “the present is the key to the past”. Born in Scotland and trained as a lawyer, for most of his life he supported himself and his family by the sales of his books. A close friend of Darwin’s, he helped arrange the first publication of Darwin’s views on natural selection, alongside Wallace’s independent discovery of the same principle. Despite this, Lyell did not accept evolution until several years after the publication of the Origin. Lyell’s masterwork, Principles of Geology (1st ed. 1830-1833), which went through 11 editions in his lifetime, was informed by his wide field experience in Europe and North America. He is buried, like Darwin, in Westminster Abbey.

Lyell, C. 1830-1833. Principles of Geology, Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation. Three volumes. John Murray, London. Vol. 3, Chaps. I, IV.

Study Questions:
1. What does Lyell identify as the chief impediment to the first geologists achieving a sound theory of the Earth’s history?

2. What types of studies have led to progress in geology?

3. How may the relative ages of rocks be determined? What sort of evidence does Lyell consider the most useful in this regard?

4. What does Lyell mean by a “zoological province”? How does he use this concept to help establish chronology?

[The other installments of Teaching Evolution can be found by clicking ‘MOOC’, under “filed under” or “tags”, just below.]