Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going to Walden and the Twin Towers

...Going to Walden is not so easy a

As a greet visit.  It is the slow and difficult

Trick of living, and finding it
where you are.

 Mary Oliver


all about green visits.  I lead Nature
Spirituality trips to our local prairie walk of La Chua trail to see Whooping
Cranes and every spring I head to Central America to work with endangered
parrots.  In these places I fill up, for
they are the Mecca of my heart, the hajj where my self blurs into the masses of
species and experiences.  Indeed it is a
trick to see the glory in urban and devastated areas, for my mind wants to
categorize this vision as not possibly  "right" and not part of the whole. 


the summer of 2001 I visited Manhattan and one evening I lay on a bench looking
up the lighted trunks of those twin towers. 
In that moment a healing took place, for I saw the world of cities, high
economy, and a dearth and death of species as integral to whole.  I came to a sense of fondness for the art of
humanity that creates blights as well as lights upon the night.  


urban forest is me, and it became in a few months a scene of destruction.  Does the tragedy negate the beauty?  If the world contradicts itself, very well, it
does, for it is large, as am I.  I am the
world, and I contain multitudes (a la Walt Whitman, acquaintance of Henry David
Thoreau, resident of Walden).


I am the world, and I am here to gain faith  that I am whole, then I am the ashes of the
Twin Towers, of Treblinka, of sugar cane monoculture killing tropical lands,
and the ashes of quake produced fires in Haiti. 
I am also the phoenix who rises out of the ashes, me, the world, the
universe, here temporarily now as the ashes of old stars.  Would that me, the old, could see the new
that is always there beyond apocalyptic nightmares.


What in you or the world or you do
you reject or resist?  Is there anything
you are running from, and in the business, do not see the beauty and the
tragedy of this moment?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Austral Patagonian Falcon Project

Today's Guest Author:  Miguel D. Saggese, recently back from a conservation trip to Argentina to study Austral Peregrine Falcons.

(to see complete article with pictures:  Download Austral_Patagonian_Falcon_project LoraKim pictures included1


Miguel D. Saggese, DVM, MSc., PhD. College of Veterinary
Medicine - Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, 91767, California

 Agustin I. Quaglia, Fundación de Historia Natural Félix de Azara. Departamento de Ciencias
Naturales y Antropología. CEBBAD – Universidad Maimonides. Ciudad Autónoma de
Buenos Aires.

 Isabel Caballero, Lic. Cs. Biol, Field Museum of Natural History,
Chicago, Illinois, USA

 Dr. David Ellis, PhD., Institute for Raptor Studies, Oracle,
Arizona, USA

 Dr. Wayne Nelson, PhD. Institute for Raptor Studies, Oracle,
Arizona, USA

 This studied is conducted in collaboration with two other ongoing research projects on this species:
1) Evolutionary genetic structure in a widespread avian predator the Peregrine
Falcon (Falco peregrinus) – PI: Dr. Isabel Caballero and 2) Phylopatry,
breeding success and diet of Austral Peregrine falcons in Southern Argentina – Co-PIs:
Drs. David Ellis and Wayne Nelson (Institute for Raptor Studies, Oracle,
Arizona, USA).

 The Austral Peregrine Falcon

 The Austral or Patagonian peregrine
falcon (Falco peregrinus cassini) is
one of the less known subspecies of this falcon worldwide. It is found along the Andes Mountains, Patagonian
steppes and sea coasts of southern South America
. The current conservation
status of this falcon in Argentina is completely unknown and studies about its health
status are lacking. Many species of raptors, including peregrine falcons, are
globally threaten by human persecution, reduction in the availability of prey,
use of pesticides, collisions with power lines and illegal commerce. Recently,
the roles of macro and microparasites and diseases as an additional cause of
demographic changes in some wild raptors populations, including peregrine
falcons, have been recognized (Newton 2002). As for other aspects of the
Austral peregrine falcon biology and ecology, there is a lack of information
about exposure to macro and microparasites and their potential impact on their
populations. Understanding the role that diseases may play in its decline in
the wild may contribute to its management and conservation. Therefore, during
the months of November and December 2009 we planned to conduct field research
on this species and investigate its health status in southern Patagonia,
Argentina. As veterinarians interested in the role of diseases on wildlife
populations, our specific goals were to 1) establish baseline physiological reference
values (hematology, serum biochemistry and plasmatic cholinesterases) of
free-ranging nestlings’ Austral peregrine falcon; 2) investigate the prevalence
of selected avian infectious and parasitic diseases in these birds, and 3)
train argentine veterinarians, biologists and students in biomedical sampling of
birds of prey.


Why investigate the health status of austral peregrine falcons?

 A wide range of macro and
microparasites are known to affect free ranging raptors with variable
consequences, including reduced breeding success and population decline. The prevalence
of bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic pathogens in free-ranging argentine
raptors has been scarcely investigated and no information exists about the
exposure of austral peregrine falcons to common avian pathogens. A occurs with
other species of birds, including other species of raptors, it is possible that
free-ranging austral peregrine falcons may be exposed to a large list of common
avian pathogens. The list includes- but not limited to- bacteria (Chlamydophila psittaci, Salmonella sp, Campylobacter sp, Mycoplasma
., Mycobacterium sp., Pasteurella multocida), viruses (Paramyxovirus 1, Adenovirus, Herpesvirus,
Poxvirus, Influenza virus,
Arboviruses (such as West Nile virus), Fungi (Aspergillus sp.), protozoos (Thricomonas
., Plasmodium sp. ),
ectoparasites and gastrointestinal and respiratory parasites as well.   

 Hematological and clinical biochemistry reference values have
not been reported for austral peregrine falcons. These reference values are
considered useful for monitoring bird’s health status, establish prognosis of
diseases and responses to therapy, assess physiological and pathological
conditions, and evaluate endocrine disruption and immune supression. Pesticide
poisoning (organophosphates, organ chlorines, carbamates and pyrethrins) is
well known for contributing to the death, decreased reproduction and population
declines of several species of birds of prey worldwide. Peregrine falcons
worldwide have been severely affected by the use of organochlorines in the past
century and exposure to these organ chlorines has been previously reported for
austral peregrine falcons by David Ellis in 1986. Peregrine falcons are also particularly susceptible to
the use of organophosphates and strychnine. They are widely used by Patagonian
ranchers as baits to kill foxes, pumas and other carnivores, including birds of

 The field trip

 The field trip begun in
Mid-November when David Ellis and Wayne Nelson, raptor biologists that have
studied peregrine falcons in different parts of the world during more than 30
years, conducted surveys for active eyries (nesting sites) of Austral peregrine
falcons. Many of these nest sites were previously surveyed by David Ellis and
collaborators 25 years ago, but haven’t been revisited since then. The main
goals of this survey were to evaluate nest site fidelity, count the number of
active nests and collect samples for population genetic studies. Furthermore, results
of this survey allowed us to access nestlings of this species and collect biomedical
samples so we can investigate their health status. This constituted a certainly
unique opportunity to investigate the prevalence of exposure to selected macro
and microparasites, heavy metals and pesticides that could have a negative
impact on Austral peregrines. In the first days of December, with Isabel
Caballero, we joined David and Wayne in southern Patagonia to focus on the
biomedical sampling of these birds.

 Our trip took us to remote
locations in the middle of the Patagonian steppes, where not only we saw
austral peregrine falcons but also we were exposed not only to the rigors of
Patagonia (winds can reach 100 miles per hour and temperature can raise up to 120
F!) but also to its beauties. Breathtaking landscapes and amazing wildlife are
common sightings for the traveler or researcher visiting this remote and wild
area of the world. Guanacos, Culpeo foxes, Maras (Patagonian hares), Choiques
(Darwin’s  rheas), Magellanic geese,
Andean Condors and Buzzard Eagles are common inhabitants of the steppe. We were
very lucky by the large number of these and other wildlife species we saw
during our trip. This is an extra benefit that Patagonia gives to the visitors
trying to find its secrets. The white morph of the Austral peregrine falcons is
one of them, no doubt about it. We were lucky enough to investigate several
nesting sites occupied with this little known color morph of this species.  

 What are the white or pallid austral peregrine falcons?

 Austral falcons are the only
subspecies of peregrine falcons worldwide that present a white or pallid color
morph. This color variation was considered a different species for a long time,
since its first description for science in 1920’s. It was originally called
Kleinschmidt’s falcon (Falco kreyemborgii),
until 1980, when David Ellis (USA) and Cesar P. Garat (Argentina) studied the
species in detail and concluded it was just a color morph of the austral
peregrine falcon (Falcon peregrines
). Still, the biology, distribution and conservation status of these
Patagonian white falcons are mostly unknown. We still have so much to learn
about them…

 The future

 The study started last year
(2009) provided the first ever data available on baseline health parameters and
reference values for the austral peregrine falcons in Argentina and South
America. Combined with additional biological data and population status
obtained simultaneously during this study the expected results will allow us to
better assess the health status of these birds and understand the potential
impact that macro and microparasites and heavy metals may have on free-ranging
populations of Austral Peregrine Falcons in southern Argentina. Furthermore, these
results, together with those from the population status, nest site fidelity,
breeding success and genetic studies, will contribute to a better understanding
of the current conservation status and threats of Austral peregrine falcons in
Argentina and will set the grounds for future monitoring of these populations. In
November and December of 2010 the whole team will head down south again to
visit more nesting sites and continue the work we started at the end of 2009.

  All birds underwent a complete
physical examination and blood and other samples were was collected.

 NOTE: Information about the exact locations of the different nests will
not be made publicly available to protect the species form human predation, egg
and nestling collection, and other forms of human impact.


 This project was supported
in part by generous funding provided by The Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center
and Lafeber Company. Special thanks to Dr. LoraKim Joyner for all her support
and encouragement to this project. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sortie for Sora


Sora (photo by Mike Baird) 


Saturday I journeyed with some 15 Unitarian Universalists from our congregation
to walk the La Chua Trail in Payne's Prairie State Park.  This outing was part of our Nature
Spirituality Circle of Life where we gather to support one another in connecting
to life and affirming that all beings belong on this planet. Out of this sense
of belonging we hope to grow our ability to not just welcome the stranger in
our lives, but to work with them in building a be-loving community.

birds and the people were so beautiful! 
We beheld a flock of White Pelicans flying through the blue sky showing
off their white grace that could be seen from across the Prairie.  We witnessed a Great  Blue Heron only a few meters away struggling
to swallow a fair sized gar (fish with very point jaws).  Then there was the Red-shouldered Hawk
pouncing on a snake and snacking in front of us. Far in the distance were two
Whooping Cranes, bring out whoops from the people gathered around.  So blessed was the day that when a group of
young adults stopped to stare at an American Bittern standing guard nearby, I
smiled to hear them struggle to identify it, considering that is was possibly a
baby Great Blue Heron.  Some of the other
birds we say were Osprey, all the usual herons and egrets, Bald-eagles, Yellow
legs, Moorhens, Coots, anhingas, comorants, dowitchers, ducks, hawks of all
kinds, and our beloved Turkey and Black Vultures (to name just a few).

bird that stays in my waking dreams was the Sora.  I can't remember seeing one before. This birds
was awkwardly climbing through the trail side vegetation that was near the
water's edge.  It seemed so wonderful to
see this small rail so close, close enough that I could see that the bird had
an injured left leg and was limping. 

the midst of the beauty, is a deeper truth that is also beauty: where we see
the light of sky and companionship, the wings of death and suffering brush by
our face too, rising, rising, I pray in joy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


American Crow  


Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems

Beacon Press, 1992


...When you look in the eyes of one

you have seen them all.


At the edges of highways

they pick at limp things.

They are anything but refined


Crow is Crow, you say.

What else is there to say?...


...wherever you arrive

they'll be there first,


glossy and rowdy

and indistinguishable.

The deep muscle of the world.


recently read this poem my Mary Oliver, and not too much later this past
Saturday I was at lunch with a bunch of Unitarian Universalists.  The conversation turned to crows, and each
shared what crows mean to them and how much they watch crows. I was amazed
because what I thought was happening in my own life and in academia, appears to
be a cultural phenomenon.  Birds matter
and how they think of us and how we think of them, also matters. The world has
come a long way, and so have I.


I first began showing my spouse how to identify birds he caught me one day
saying, "It's just a crow."  I
realized my speciesist attitude and how far I had wandered from seeing wonder
in the ways life brings beauty to living form. 
Since then I take extra time to look at crows, and at their
behavior.  Perhaps they do pick at limp
things, but my gosh, one day I saw one at my congregation doing it with a stick
being used as a tool!  Last year I read
about a study of crows on a university campus where they found that crows
recognize individual faces and can communicate to other crows if the person is
a threat of which to beware.  There is so
much going on that reflects the deep foundations of this world - in suburban
lawn, in city starling, in rowdy crows, and in our daily risings full of
misgivings and doubts about what this day might mean to us, to those we love,
and to the world.  No matter our
thinking, we are the work of this creation, enclosed in the same muscle sheath
as the persistent crows.


Where do you overlook beauty,
wonder, or unifying complexity in your daily life?