Thursday, December 01, 2022

Book Review - Galápagos: A Natural History - Princeton University Press


     I received two books on Galápagos from Princeton University Press at the same time, the Tui De Roy bird guide reviewed in my last post, and this comprehensive tome on the entire natural history of the island archipelago.
     Both are outstanding.
     John Kricher and Kevin Loughlin have a depth of experience and knowledge of Galápagos that is hard to beat. The book is written in an easily readable style, yet does not lack in scholarship for all that. It is even whimsical at times. Who could fail to appreciate the delicious image of a Marine Iguana expelling salt as being attired with "a kind of cephalic margarita-like decoration"?
     Throughout its almost 500 pages the book delivers all that you could possibly wish to know, with suggestions for further reading when a more in-depth investigation is warranted.
     In fact, it covers not only the natural history of the "Enchanted Isles" but its human history too, most of which has not been benevolent, with some species driven to extinction by anthropogenic rapaciousness.         Kricher came up with the wonderful notion of titling each chapter with a quote from Charles Darwin, the single personage most indeliby associated with Galápagos. The first chapter introduces us to Darwin's well-known comment that "Nothing could be less inviting." The barren lava fields and arid islands lacking in vegetation did nothing to incite his affection.
     But each island is unique in terms of its vegetation and vertebrate (and other) species, and the magic lies behind the first impression.
     Early buccaneers had found the archipelago a rich source of protein and the populations of giant tortoises were depleted in short order. The very confiding nature of Galápagos animals was their downfall, never having been exposed to human slaughter, greed and wanton indifference to other species. They have not lost this appealing characteristic, a source of delight for visitors; fortunately they are now protected and contemporary tourists seek to respect and enjoy wildlife, not to exploit it.
          Kricher covers the evolutionary forces that have shaped the wildlife of Galápagos, and devotes 29 pages to the birds known as Darwin's Finches and their central role in the understanding of ancestry and divergence, with due recognition to the seminal research of Peter and Rosemary Grant on Daphne Major. 
     The seas around Galápagos are critical to the survival of species such as Flightless Cormorant, Galápagos Penguin, Marine Iguana and others, yet even in this remote area of the vast ocean, plastic pollution is a huge concern. "Dimethyl sulphide, and related chemicals are detectable by seabirds and are used as signals that food is available." Plastic wastes emit the same odour and birds are tricked into devouring plastic. The Waved Albatross "is considered critically endangered because of the increased risk from fishing boats, oceanic trash and potential climate change bringing more frequent severe El Niño events." 
     I am enjoined by potential copyright infringement from reproducing pictures in the book, but page 368 depicts shocking images of small islands of floating plastic bottles tossed overboard from boats illegally fishing in the waters aound the archipelago. Laws are only as good as the ability and the will to enforce them.
     The book concludes with an island-by-island tour so that a visitor knows what to expect, and how to maximize the experience of a lifetime. If you are a birder, for example, make sure that your tour includes Genovesa.

     It is with some sadness that I find ever more frequently of late that books are inadequately edited and typographical mistakes and factual errors are more common that they should be. Is the function of an editor less rigorous than it used to be? I don't know.

P. 141 In the first paragraph the noun "breath" is used twice when the verb "breathe" should have been.

P. 217 The genus Phoebrastria is not italicized as it should be. The specific epithet irrorata is correct.

P. 220 "Seabirds such as albatross have long and narrow w is the most critical for producing lift." Given the context of the discussion I know what is meant but the sentence is both confusing and incomplete.

P. 243 The author refers to impressive shorebird journeys as "long migratory perambulations." Perambulation means to go for a walk. Perhaps peregrination is the word that should have been used. The same incorrect use of perambulation is found on page 248.

P. 268 On the fifth line from the bottom Setophaga aestiva is not italicized whereas in the same paragraph further down it is. The scientific name for Mangrove Warbler is shown as Setophaga pechia; it should be Setophaga petechia.

     There is another egregious error too, but unfortunately I omitted to note the page number. I can't remember whether it concerns style or facts, and it would be unchivalrous of me to re-read the whole book merely to find it.

     Despite sloppy editing, this is a wonderful book, well conceived and brimming with information. There is a good deal of concern that visits to Galápagos should be restricted and possibly curtailed entirely. I have mixed feelings about this; people will only love what they know, and we need international advocacy for these unique islands. Science should always triumph over politics and a strong corps of advocates may be all that stands between unrestricted fishing, increased population and other ills associated with  burgeoning humanity and its excesses.
    If you are fortunate enough to enjoy a visit to this mythical place take this book with you. It will tell you all that you need to know.

Galápagos: A Natural History Second Edition
John C. Kricher and Kevin Loughlin
US$39.95 - ISBN: 9780691217246 
496 pages - 5.875 x 8.25 inches (14.69 x 20.63 cm)
665 colour illustrations and seven black-and-white illustrations - 4 maps
Publication date: 29 November, 2022    

Monday, November 28, 2022

Book Review - A Pocket Guide to Birds of Galápagos - Princeton University Press

      When I think of these legendary islands my mind turns to the luminaries associated with them. Uppermost in my thoughts is a young divinity student named Charles Darwin whose visit changed the course of history. David Lack was surely one of the most important ornithologists of the twentieth century and he was greatly influenced by his discoveries there. And how could one not marvel at the incredible work done by Peter and Rosemary Grant? Graciously, the Grants have provided the foreword to the book.
     The fourth name that leaps into my consciousness is Tui De Roy, associated with Galápagos all her life, passionate about them, and arguably the person who knows them in greater detail than anyone else alive today. Who better to produce this field guide to their birds?
     A pocket guide, often, is a pared down version of a standard field guide, smaller and with less information and frequently featuring only the species most likely to be encountered. As the name implies, it is designed to slip easily into a pocket. For Galápagos it is possible to fit in all of the resident birds and some of the principal migrants into this format. Not only that, but informative text is provided about the islands, their geographic setting, physical character and the underpinnings of the endemism of species, and the role of Galápagos as a laboratory of evolutionary study.
     Each species receives a full treatment, with the keys necessary to identify it, and notes on its status and natural history. Tui De Roy's award-winning photographs accompany each species account, adding allure and gob-smacking illustrations. 
     Whose heart does not skip a beat when studying Darwin's finches? A special chart explains their distribution at a glance, followed by an examination of their origin and evolution and the impact of natural selection and adaptive radiation. Concise, accurate, beautifully presented - and all in a guide that slips easily into a pocket.
     This is a first rate publication from front cover to back and is destined to become the default bird guide for the visitor to these enchanted isles. 
     No one will leave home without it!

A Pocket Guide to Birds of Galápagos - Princeton University Press
Tui De Roy
Paperback - US$17.95 - ISBN: 9780691233635
136 pages - 4.75 x 6.25 inches (11.875 x 15.625 cm)
616 colour photographs - 33 maps
Publication date: 29 November, 2022     

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Eastern Chipmunk - Grande Allée - The Grand River - The Backyard

 Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

     This is the third (and last) of the squirrels that live in our area.

     Eastern Chipmunk is a great favourite with everyone, especially children, who seem drawn to this little rodent with its pin-striped charm. The fact that it will feed from your hand almost without hesitation does nothing to diminish its appeal.

     Its small size and relatively low weight mean that it can evade most devices designed to restrict squirrel access to bird feeders, and it dines with impunity. 

     When they are on a mission to build up winter storage they make trip after trip to their den, cheeks bulging, and seeds set out for the birds can be depleted in short order.
     But who can resist their charm? They climb up onto the chairs while we are relaxing on the patio and it is hard not to succumb to the notion that they enjoy human companionship.

     Chipmunks are solitary, or sometimes live together in small family groups. 
     They are mostly vegetarian, but do not eschew June Bugs, earthworms, grasshoppers and even frogs. Given the chance to raid a bird's nest, eggs form a tasty treat. Gardeners are not always enamoured of chipmunks for whom bulbs and corms are a welcome addition to their diet.
      The list of predators is long and constant vigilance is required to survive. Foxes, coyotes, weasels, raccoons, skunks, and birds of prey all include chipmunks in their diet. In urban areas domestic cats are a constant threat. Often well-fed tabbies will simply decapitate the chipmunks and leave their headless carcases scattered around. Cat owners take note!

     I can hardly wait till spring when we will see them again. 

22 November, 2022
Grande Allée and the Grand River, Cambridge, ON

     I have pointed out to those who should care that the sign is incorrect, but it looks like that is how it is going to stay.

     Even a Grade One pupil would be appalled, but correct French Grammar is obviously unimportant to some.
     The trail meandered on from the road.

     A vagrant Harris's Sparrow (Zontrichia querula) had been reported at this location, so we decided to start our regular Tuesday walk there.
     The bird had been seen at 07h:30 but it did not show itself while we were there.
     Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) were plentiful, however, resplendent in their cerulean beauty.

     We were delighted to see a couple of exceptionally handsome Red Fox Sparrows (Passerella iliaca), always a great sighting.

Grand River, Cambridge, ON

     Having spent about an hour and half searching for the Harris's Sparrow and enjoying the Fox Sparrows, we decided to go down to the Grand River to check on the waterfowl.
     Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) were indeed exactly that - common. Here are a couple of males.....

     ..... and a female.

     We were reminded that a Mallard (Anas paltyrynchos) is an exceedingly handsome bird.

     Years ago, I used to run into an expatriate Brit quite frequently, who had a broad Birmingham accent and always referred to Mallard drakes as "stunners." Stunners indeed. 
     There was a small flock of Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) - the local ladies club perhaps since they were all females.

     Far down the river we could see a pair of Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) but only the male is visible in the picture below, along with Common Mergansers and an American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus).

     Bruce Spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) is a common moth in November, its appearance seeming to coincide with the first snow.

     An American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) was its usual argumentative self.

     Mostly keeping company with the Buffleheads a single female Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) dove repeatedly, as did all the other diving ducks present.

     One must assume that the biomass of freshwater mussels, crayfish and other items sought by these ducks is substantial.
     Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), sated perhaps, seemed content to loaf together.

     A rock always provides a good perch.

     A herring gull was not to be outdone.

     Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) seemed to be enjoying a collective snooze.

Grande Allée, Cambridge, ON

     We decided to return to Grande Allée (less than ten minutes away) to see whether the Harris's Sparrow had appeared again, but no such luck. A small gathering of expectant birders waited patiently.
     Several Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) came to feed.

     They were joined by that most delicate of our native sparrows, American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea).

     And to bid us farewell another Fox Sparrow joined the fray.

Fountain Street Bridge, Cambridge, ON

     A pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephala) have bred successfully at this location, and one of the pair (presumably) was perched adjacent to the nest.

     Not a bad way to end the morning!

23 November 2022
Our backyard, Waterloo, ON

     For a while our backyard resembled Central Station at the rush hour!
     We have found that suet blocks impregnated with capsicum are effective at keeping the squirrels from gorging on it, but are equally enticing for the birds as untreated suet.
     A Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) returned several times and chiseled away.

     A Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) found it no less appealing.

     I have mentioned in previous posts that American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is no longer uncommon in the winter and this individual was efficiently gleaning seeds spilled from the feeders above.

     House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a species whose population has plummeted and often several weeks pass when we don't see them in our yard.

     A Blue Jay is always a welcome visitor.

     "If you've got it, flaunt it," this Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) seems to be saying. 

 A male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) vies with the cardinal for attention. 

 If I were to speculate on which species is the most frequent visitor to the backyard this year it would be Dark-eyed Junco.

     A male Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) came to partake in the feast.

     Such an interesting display of its underwing as it left.

     Mere moments later a female took its place.

     And these are only the species we captured on camera. There were more! 
     We'll have to see what we can bring you next time.

Monday, November 21, 2022

COP 27 - American Red Squirrel - Snow - Birds

 ".....the signs tell us that the dying birds are the canaries in the coal mine; there's poison in the air, and we'll be next."
Graeme Gibson

COP 27 Climate Conference, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

General tenor of  discussions - Blah, blah, blah.
Deal reached on emissions reduction? - No.
(The inclusion of the powerful lobby of the fossil fuel industry was akin to having invited bank robbers into the vault).
Promises made - many.
Will they be kept? - very unlikely.
The clock continues to tick and we now have eight billion people to place demands on the earth's resources. 
We are doomed!

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

     Truly, a very appealing little squirrel. Its generic name is interesting, meaning "the steward who sits in the shadow of his tail", the specific epithet is self-explanatory.

     This feisty little creature is about half the size of a grey squirrel, yet never backs down from a quarrel and seems always to come out on top in the event of a conflict. It is an enduring myth that the red squirrel castrates its larger cousin, but in reality actual conflict rarely occurs.
     It scolds everyone and everything that intrudes on its domain and if it has concluded that your backyard is within its territory will hector you noisily and incessantly as soon as you take a seat on the patio.
     With patience you can coax a grey squirrel into eating from your hand, but I have never succeeded with a red squirrel. I am quite sure they would rather starve than make such a concession to humans!

     Clinton Merriam said of the American Red Squirrel, "His inquisitiveness, audacity, inordinate assurance, and exasperating insolence, together with his insatiable love of mischief and shameless disregard of all the ordinary customs and civilities of life, would lead one to believe that he was little entitled to respect."
     Despite this, we are very fond of this little creature and cherish its spunky nature. It's always a pleasure to see it skitter through a patch of autumn leaves; in reality one of the rewards of being a naturalist.
     It is a regular guest in our yard (in fact it probably thinks of us as intruders).
     On the birch.....

     ..... down in the periwinkle

     .....sitting on the back of a chair

     ..... or just going for a stroll.

     American Red Squirrels moult twice a year, wearing two distinct coats, the only constants being the prominent white eye ring and tawny tail.
     Their diet is comprised almost exclusively of seeds and nuts. They are incredibly efficient at gathering and storing food, and much of their time is devoted to this activity.
     In areas where the two co-exist the principal enemy of the red squirrel is the Pine Marten (Martes americana) whose agility enables it to pursue the squirrel through the tree tops. A range of hawks capture their share of squirrels. Owls will not pass up the opportunity to add a squirrel to their diet, but since most owls are nocturnal they are not a serious threat.
     We are fortunate to share our world with this little rodent whose endearing personality is undeniable, like a grumpy old uncle - you know he's grumpy but you love him anyway.


     Our whole region has had considerable snow recently, although nowhere near the levels endured in the Buffalo, NY, USA area, a mere hour and a half's drive from here. There, parts of the city and its suburbs have been virtually entombed.

     It's hard to believe that just over a week ago we were sitting outside having afternoon tea on the deck. Mea culpa, I neglected to bring the chairs in, or even fold them up, but it does serve to show you how much snow we received. 
     I could tell Miriam that I left them out for this very purpose, but her eyes would roll so far back in her head she might be permanently disabled. 

Our Backyard, Waterloo, ON

    We did attempt a foray out into the countryside but the snow was drifting in areas where trees failed to form a windbreak, so we abandoned our quest and returned home.
     The following pictures are from the backyard, with not much commentary needed from me.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) - from the file

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) - from the file

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) - from the file

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

     The main impact of the snowstorm is over and we drove to New Hamburg to meet friends for lunch today without any driving difficulties, so we'll be out and about tomorrow to see what we can bring you next time.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.