Sirocco the kakapo is missing

The big news in New Zealand is that Sirocco, the most famous kakapo (Strigops habroptilus, the world’s only flightless parrot, a bird endemic to this country) has gone missing; or rather, his radio band slipped off his leg. But no worries—this has happened before. It’s his 20th birthday, though, and if they don’t find him he’ll miss his party!

Sirocco is famous for being the star of one of the best YouTube animal videos: “Shagged by a rare parrot,” in which Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Carwardine visited New Zealand to see kakapos, and Sirocco came out of the forest to indulge in a little hanky-panky with Carwardine’s head.  Ten to one you’ve seen this video before, but it’s worth revisiting (it’s from the BBC Two “Last chance to see” series about vanishing animals).

These adorable parrots are almost all confined to an island to protect them from predators; here’s another picture of Sirocco. Isn’t he cute??

h/t: Robert N.

Dan Dennett profiled in The New Yorker

It’s early in the morning in Queenstown, and I have a 7.5-hour bus ride to Fox Glacier ahead of me. All I can do this morning is direct your attention to a (free) New Yorker profile on Dan Dennett and his views on the mind, “Dan Dennett’s Science of the Soul.” I haven’t read it, but several readers brought it to my attention. His new book (which I have in Chicago but haven’t read either) is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: the Evolution of Minds; if you’ve read it, weigh in below.

Do note the use of the word “soul” in the tile; I would never have characterized Dan’s work as involving the “science of the soul.” But such is The New Yorker.


h/t: Nicole Reggia, John B.


Monday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Good morning, welcome to another week!

Today is World Sparrow Day and the Great American Meatout (tofu for you today!) and ahem, Extraterrestrial Abduction Day although even the Believers are skeptical as to whether it is celebration-worthy or not. It is also the Spring Equinox in the Northern hemisphere.

Oh, and if you are looking for meatless recipes today, you can do no better than check out the large back-catalogue of Smitten Kitchen.

Today is the birthday of movie director Spike Lee (1957), Roman poet Ovid (43BC) and Lee “Scratch” Perry (1936), Jamaican singer, songwriter, and a formative character in promoting reggae and dub music.

In Poland Hili is being mindful of the changing seasons and has temporarily switched out her editor-in-chief hat for her orchard inspector one.

A: What do you think?
Hili: Another two weeks and it will be time for the first spraying.

In Polish:

Ja: I jak?
Hili: Jeszcze ze dwa tygodnie i pora na pierwszy oprysk.

Feathers aren’t scary, Mr Spielberg?

by Matthew Cobb

In fact, it’s a Brahma Chicken, but it’s still pretty scary!

Early spring hawks

by Greg Mayer

A correspondent in Racine, Wisconsin, shares the following photos of a pair of hawks that have been perching on his fence. I say ‘pair’ with some hesitation, because although both have been in his yard, I cannot sex them, and their co-occurrence could be a coincidence. I suspect it is a pair, though, because this species has not infrequently bred in neighboring yards over the years.

I think they are adult Cooper’s Hawks (Accipter cooperii)– note the horizontal bars on the breast (with small stripes between bars). They might be a male and female, which are similar, except that females are bigger. The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is very similar in plumage, but smaller, and the fence boards visible in the photos are 6 inches across, so I think the birds are nearer in size to a crow, which is Cooper-sized. Also, the head is a bit large looking, and the nape seems lighter than the crown. I know that many readers are more experienced North American birders than I, so feel free to weigh in with comments on identity and sex of the birds.

The last picture, of the same bird as immediately above, requires a bit of a biological digression for context. All animals produce nitrogenous wastes, and need some way to get rid of them. Among vertebrates, some fish can just get rid of the waste as ammonia, since they’re in so much water they can use large quantities of it to dilute the toxic ammonia. Mammals convert the waste to urea, a non-toxic, soluble substance, and literally piss it away. Jerry favored us with a picture of a New Zealand cow carefully raising its tail, so as to avoid soiling itself while doing so. Birds, like their reptile ancestors, largely turn their nitrogenous waste in to uric acid, which is non-soluble (and thus non-toxic). They thus eliminate not via a liquid urine, but via a slurry with just enough water to carry the uric acid solids along. Since birds (and reptiles) have only a single opening, from the cloaca, for both nitrogenous waste and the left overs of digestion to exit the body, the uric acid slurry and feces exit the body simultaneously, giving bird droppings their characteristic black and white splatter.

If relieving itself in mid air (from whence many a car windshield has been struck– as they say in Brooklyn, “the duity buid”), a bird need not be concerned with soiling itself. However, when perched, the bird could soil its tail and hinder parts, and thus, like the cow, raises its tail to noticeable heights, and ejects a stream of the uric slurry and feces mixture. It also seems to be looking back between its legs, to see where things are going.

A bad squirrel; and Gus lagniappe

Reader Chris sent us this amusing anecdote of domestic food thieving.

The dominant squirrel got impatient and gnawed his way into the feeder:

So I got out the tinsnips and an old tin can:

I see I’m not much of a tinsmith as yet, but I guess I am an example of an animal learning tool usage because of another animal….

Score: Human 1 Squirrel 0 (so far).

And a bonus Gus photo. Someone knows how to live life for comfort.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Good morning!

Today in 1962 Bob Dylan released his eponymous first album. In 1982 the Falklands was invaded by Argentina precipitating the Falklands War. Today is also the birthday of actress Glenn CloseGüyük Khan, third Khan of Mongol (in the 1200s) and in 2000 this day marked the death of Joanne Weaver, right-fielder in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the early 1950s.

To kick off the morning, here’s Bob Dylan playing around live in concert with Like a Rolling Stone.


In Poland Hili is redefining words to suit herself. It’s a good trick providing you can get others to go along with it.

A: Why are you so puffed-up?
Hili: I’m not puffed-up. I’m dignified.

In Polish:

Ja: Czemu jesteś taka napuszona?
Hili: Nie napuszona, tylko dostojna

Chuck Berry died

I was surprised he made it to this age, but Chuck Berry died today in Missouri—at 90. I haven’t time to write a long obituary, but of course he was one of the pioneers of rock and roll, one of the earliest black rock stars, and this was one of the songs that made him famous. Written in 1958 and rising to #2 on the U.S. charts, “Johnny B. Goode” is instantly recogizable from the opening guitar riff, which, as you’ll read below, wasn’t really original.  The song was covered by, among others, both Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.

And some background from Wikipedia:

Written by Berry in 1955, the song is about an illiterate “country boy” from the New Orleans area, who plays a guitar “just like ringing a bell,” and who might one day have his “name in lights.” Berry has acknowledged that the song is partly autobiographical and that the original lyrics referred to Johnny as a “colored boy”, but he changed it to “country boy” to ensure radio play. As well as suggesting that the guitar player is good, the title hints at autobiographic elements, because Berry was born at 2520 Goode Avenue, in St. Louis. The song was initially inspired by Johnnie Johnson, the regular piano player in Berry’s band,  but developed into a song mainly about Berry himself. Johnson played on many other recordings by Berry, but Lafayette Leake played the piano on this song.

The opening guitar riff of “Johnny B. Goode” is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening single-note solo on Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” (1946), played by guitarist Carl Hogan. Neither the guitar intro nor the solo are played at once. Berry played the introductory parts together with the rhythm guitar and later overdubbed the solo runs.

h/t: Ivan

Alert for Kiwis: latest travel schedule

Professor Ceiling Cat is headed to Milford Sound on Monday, then to Fox Glacier on Tuesday for an overnight, then to Greymouth on Wednesday for about two days to see the keas at Arthur’s Pass.

From Greymouth I’ll find my way up to Nelson, probably arriving there on the 24th or 25th of March. I’ll probably stay in Nelson a few days to unwind, and would be glad to meet readers.

If you’re in the Nelson area and were interested in getting together, please email me with contact details. I have a cellphone but can’t figure out how to activate it, so if you want to contact me, please use email. But I can use Skype to make outgoing phone calls, so if you want to send your number, please send the whole thing as if I were calling from the U.S.



Can I use Venus Fly Traps to get rid of garden pests?

by Matthew Cobb

Betteridge’s law of headlines strikes again.