Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fungus Among Us - Amphibians and the Global Chytrid Fungus Crisis

Why are frog, toad and salamander populations declining worldwide? What is the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis fungus and why is it a threat to local amphibian populations?

7:30 PM Thursday, February 2
I'll be presenting:

Fungus Among Us:
Amphibians and the Global Chytrid Fungus Crisis

Around the amphibians are facing unprecedented rates of extinction and one of the reasons is a fungus. Southern Californians move through a variety of wildlife habitats and areas. You can play an important role in protecting endangered amphibians by being aware of the chytrid fungus. I'll debunk the myths and misconceptions about chytrid fungus and provide specific suggestions on how we can all help save the frogs, toads and salamanders that are facing threats from this fungus throughout Southern California.

I'll be speaking at the monthly meeting of the Del Air Rockhounds at:
Northridge United Methodist Church 
9650 Reseda Blvd, Northridge, CA 91324 
Guests Are Always Welcome At Their Meetings & Events

Monday, January 30, 2012

Go Outside Today

I write about the natural world because it is the source of my sanity. We all have our frustrations, whether with work, family or just our interactions with other humans. Take 10 minutes outside today - walk, weed or just sit and watch. Let yourself be part of something bigger than your immediate life.

Lost and Found

among chirps and flashes of white tail feathers
among flashing black eyes and yellow beaks silhouetted in the sun

between faint gurgle of fountain and flutter of delicate bathers
between chatter of kinglets and purr of goldfinches

beneath red-tailed hawk and circling turkey vultures headed north
beneath dark raven duo frolicking on a playground of blue

beside a whirl of magenta-dipped male house finches and
beside the quiet reserve of a wren slipping in to pluck a worm

among quiet life, calmly focused on this moment of this day
I find patience and peace
and lose anger and frustration

Keri Dearborn, January 30, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Look At the "Wonderful World"

At long last it is raining. But it does mean that going out into the world today is more difficult.

If rain or snow, work or obligations have you trapped indoors today, take a beautiful walk out into the wonderful world with David Attenborough and the photographers of BBC One.

Follow the link to the short video: http://www.wimp.com/wonderfulworld/

It will make you think again about what is beautiful and valuable.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Spielberg’s version of "War Horse" Fails

I found tears rolling down my cheek during this movie, not because of the sentimentality forced into its every minute by director Steven Spielberg, but because Spielberg misses the point of Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse.

Yes, both stories thematically demonstrate how war victimizes innocents, human and animal. But the original book is Joey’s story–the horse’s point of view. Here, Spielberg uses the horse as a prop passed between owners like the musical instrument in The Red Violin.  He leans heavily on classic film images to the point of making them cliché–the goose that acts out the mother’s desires as in director William Wyler’s 1956 anti-war movie Friendly Persuasion and the picturesque angles of the family farm straight out of John Ford’s classic How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man.

Without the horses, Spielberg is saying nothing new. Ironically, the great director doesn’t seem to truly understand that.  In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg admits:

“The horses were amazing. Joey had a sense of what was happening in the scene. Joey added things, as the cameras were rolling, that none of us ever asked for, that brought a performance to [the audience] that we didn’t expect when we made the movie.”

Yet, he has specifically chosen not to credit the equine actors that provide the film with its greatest depth. Even the humans that worked with the horses are relegated to “Other Crew” at the end of the credits. Spielberg is mirroring the militaries of the Great War, he is using these animals for his benefit and not distinguishing them for their participation. Is he afraid that knowing these are equine performers will destroy the “movie magic”? Movie goers aren’t fools, we won’t be crushed to know that the part of Joey was filled by 14 different horses or that the big black horse Topthorn was portrayed by a company of four.

These horses aren’t just four-legged extensions of the humans in the story and they didn’t just happen to be brought in as farm-stock extras. Each horse was specifically cast and trained, and one of the equine actors did portray Joey more often than others. According to the movie’s horse master Bobby Lovgren, a horse named Finder was instrumental in many of those scenes that made movie-goers turn misty eyed. Lovgren worked with this horse and purchased it after its participation in the film Seabiscuit. (for more on the horses in the movie )

So what’s happened here that the caterers are credited and the horses aren’t? Roy Rogers’ credited Trigger? How many of the horses that participated in the film were sold off like used props as the war horses were at the end of WWI?

And here is my biggest problem with Spielberg’s attempt at this story. Morpurgo’s tale is about the unrecognized innocents that were forced to participate in human conflict. Spielberg uses the horses as symbols of human innocents, not as actual representatives of the other living creatures that are drawn into human-created catastrophe.  Scholars estimate that 8.5 million soldiers died on all sides during World War I. When Morpurgo researched his book, the Imperial War Museum supplied the number of an estimated 8 million horses that died in the war as well.

Why didn’t that appear on the screen at the end of this movie?

In London’s Hyde Park a memorial for Animals in War was dedicated in 2004. Bronze statues of a horse, a dog and two mules make their way through a wall depicting animals of all species from elephants to glow worms that were drawn into human wars in the 20th century. And here are the words that speak so much and were left out of this film...

“...They had no choice.”

One of the first such memorials appeared in France following WWI near the location of the Battle of the Somme. Here a memorial was placed on a wall in the town of Couin for the horses and mules, dogs, carrier pigeons and canaries that gave their lives.

“To the innumerable God’s humble who suffered and perished in the last wars. With love, faith, and loyalty, they endured much and died for us. May all remember them with gratitude and in the future commemorate their suffering and death by showing kindness to living animals.”

This is the take away mime that is desperately needed from this film. Not for people to cry and say how sad it was then, but to honor the sacrifice of these creatures with compassionate actions now. More animals are misused in this country today than ever before, from illicit fighting to throw away pets. But that is not where Spielberg went. He chose instead to focus back to the people. But if you can not show compassion and sympathy for the horse, then eventually there will be some human who is “less human” than you are, someone “more animal” than you and therefore who’s life is worth less than yours.

Memorials for animals in war and compassion for their sacrifice are appearing in many other countries around the world.  Spielberg’s film War Horse could have moved people toward that thought in the U.S. as well, instead he chose to turn his movie toward a father and son both damaged by war and able to come to a silent understanding. Enough of the silent understanding! It’s time for loud voices speaking out for the value of all living creatures and the necessity of a healthy planet for us all to live on.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Do Birds Mourn?

Do birds mourn? Do other species have complex family relationships that we don't recognize because we don't take time to observe? Yesterday at dusk, a band-tailed pigeon sat at the feeder trying to eat. It struggled to move the food from it's crop (a kind of holding pouch in the throat) down into its stomach. It's feathers were slightly fluffed up, a definite sign in warm weather that a bird is not feeling its best.

I had seen this bird the day before. Band-tailed pigeons are the largest birds that come to my feeder. They stand about 10 inches tall and are heavy bodied like the imported rock pigeons you might see in a parking lot. But the band-tailed pigeon is a native Californian and historically flocks of them thrived on acorns in our oak woodlands. Diminished numbers of old-growth oaks have meant fewer of these beautiful gray birds with iridescent green at the back of their neck and a whitish band across the tail. For the past seven years these birds have been regulars at my feeder. They first appeared in 2004, but by 2005 we were seeing them year-round.

On Saturday, I noticed that this band-tail came to the yard alone, (unusual because they typically are in family groups), and it seemed punch-drunk, unstable, like it had just survived a predator attack - most likely from a Cooper's hawk. A few of its feathers were askew. It sat quietly perched in a tree trying to compose itself. Later it was gone.

The Cooper's hawks have been hunting our neighborhood intensely for about a month and the band-tailed pigeons have actually become weekly visitors rather than daily. When they come they eat, drink and move on. They don't dally.

Last night when I watched the injured band-tail trying to swallow, my hope that it had survived the massive impact that a hawk attack can deliver began to dwindle. I've seen this before, a bird that escapes a predator attack may suffer internal injuries that are fatal. Cooper's hawk attacks band-tailed pigeon.

As night fell the injured band-tailed pigeon bedded down about five feet off the ground in a small lavatera shrub, unusual for a bird that typically roosts overnight in a large tree 40 feet or higher.

Sometime in the early morning the band-tailed pigeon died. I found its quiet body at the base of the bush. As I gently picked it up and grabbed a shovel to bury it on the hillside, I realized I was being watched. Four adult band-tailed pigeon perched in the large pine tree next door. Were they waiting for their injured family member to emerge from its evening roost? Had they spent the night here, watching over their injured companion?

I held the silent gray form up for them to see before I buried it in the earth. Eight eyes followed my movements. They remained silently perched. I refilled the feeders, but they did not come down to eat.  They do not appear to be here for food. Do they understand that this bird has died? Do they mourn the loss of a family member? I have seen one band-tail risk its life to alert another of a predator. What really goes on in their family relationships?

Too often we paint ourselves as emotionally superior to other species and point out that humans have complex communications and relationships. But I have seen crows solicit help from ravens to drive off an owl - Mobbing an Owl. I've seen an Allen's hummingbird mother become distraught over a destroyed nest - Rescuing Hummingbird. I've watched a female Allen's hummingbird fend off another female trying to steal her nest and documented the soap opera interrelationships of a group of nesting females - Allen's Hummingbirds.

I don't know if the band-tailed pigeons are mourning the loss of one of their own this morning, but they are here for a reason. And the more I watch the creatures around me the more I am amazed and humbled by them.