Archive for April, 2007

BBB.3 – The Log

30 April 2007

Date: April 22nd, 2007

Time: 2:30 PM PDT

Location: A log, in my backyard (again) in Village Homes, west Davis, Yolo County, CA. (N38 33.096, W121 46.953)

Conditions: Bad-light gradually giving way to a steady drizzle and a loose dog marauding through the neighbors yard. Read the rest of this entry »

BBB.2 – The Pond

24 April 2007

Here we go again…

Date: April 21st, 2007

Time: 2:36 PM PDT

Location: West Pond, a storm runoff detention basin in west Davis, Yolo County, CA. (N38 33.246, W121 46.977)

Conditions: Even crappier. Now a steady drizzle and even worse light for photos.

Tools: Canon Powershot SD400, Sibley Guide to Birds, Garmin eTrex handheld GPS unit, Bushnell binos, UFW notepad, one decidedly un-waterproof green Uniball pen.

Protocol: Well, somewhat annoyingly, the pond is surrounded by a chain-link fence. While an hardly impervious barrier, it was sufficient to keep me out, at least in broad daylight with lots of civic-minded citizens jogging and biking past. So I decided to restrict myself to visible/audible vertebrates. I spent ten minutes a piece at each of three observation decks, and another thirty walking around the accessible half of the perimeter with a special eye toward species missed at the decks.


If you hang out at the West Pond observation decks, you’ll eventually hear tales of hundreds of bird species seen at West Pond. The sign pictured above lists 31 of ‘you might see’ (here’s a better view). I saw or heard 21 (only nine of which are even on that sign) in one hour on a drizzly late April afternoon.

And I didn’t see several I had counted on encountering.


Like any good suburban wetland there was everyone’s least favorite waterfowl


Canada Goose and goslings, Branta canadensis.

And nearly as exciting, reams of American Coot,


American Coot, Fulica americana.

These North American staples don’t really need me to pick on them. The Canada goslings above somehow escaped a concerted egg oiling effort by the City of Davis. And what can you say about a bird whose name is synonymous for ‘a crotchety person, usually elderly’, well I suppose it’s more dignified than “Mudhen”.

Of course, there were Mallards too, apparently so unremarkable that I only managed to photograph them accidentally,


Two Drake Mallards, Anas platyrhynchos, square-off against a braying Canada Goose.

Somewhat more exciting on the waterfowl front (I know, I know, Coots are actually rails…) were a pair of Wood duck, who escaped the camera, and a pair of Cinnamon Teal, who might as well have:


A pair of Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera, lower left.


Swallows, both Bank and Barn, were present in droves, wholly undaunted by the bad weather.

flight of the swallow


Female Barn Swallow (probably), Hirundo rustica.

They were predictably difficult to photograph, especially with a pocket-sized digital camera and crappy light. Even when they sat still.

Swallow rest

Bank Swallow (probably), Riparia riparia perched on a snag.

Other passerines included:

Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata, neé Audubon’s Warbler)

American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis)

Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos)

Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica)

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

And two flycatchers, an Empidonax, probably E. traillii or Willow Flycatcher, and a Black Phoebe,

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans.



Someone should probably tell this Phoebe, that according to the sign pictured above, it is a winter resident only.


Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna, (left) and Mourning Dove, Zenaidia macrorua (right).

“Who says we’re not ‘perching birds’ !?”, this pair of non-passerines seem to contest. I was also buzzed by a migrating Selasphorous hummingbird, probably a Rufous.

I saw several Rock Pigeons (neé Doves) (Columba livia), but somehow didn’t think to try to get a photograph.


Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni.

It’s difficult to go anywhere in Davis this time of year and not see a Swainson’s Hawk. There is at least one pair constructing a nest inside the West Pond area. And where ever there are Swainson’ses (not a word, I know)…


American Crow, Corvus brachyrhyncus attacking a Swainson’s Hawk.

…there are bound to be some very angry Crows, putting on their classic Tom & Jerry/Coyote & Roadrunner/Itchy & Scratchy-style show. This post, has much, much more than you ever wanted to know about Swainson’s Hawks, including some marginally better pictures and videos!


The surprising bust was in the shorebird/wader department

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) top left.

Just a few Stilts, and some noisy but distant Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). Quite strangely for this pond, I didn’t see a single heron or egret.


Well, that’s about it. Oh yeah, I heard two amphibians: the ubiquitous and alien Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the native Pacific Treefrog Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla). I was halfway hoping for a Muskrat, or even an Otter but no dice.


I might reblitz the pond later this week under different conditions just for comparison…and better pictures.


Next, BBB.3 – The Log.

BBB.1 – The Hedge.

21 April 2007

April 21st (today) marks the start of National Wildlife Week. As part of the festivities, science blogger Jeremy Bruno and others have set up the Blogger Bioblitz.

The BBB is a collaborative effort by science bloggers and other citizen scientists to conduct quasi-comprehensive biological surveys of varying scale and scope in locations across North America. Participants will log species occurance and abundance across a wide range of taxa and all of the data will be compiled into one massive dataset. This Flickr photogroup will display photographs taken during the Blitzes.

I hope to conduct a series of ‘micro-blitzes’ over the week…here’s numero uno:

Date: April 21st, 2007

Time: 11:00 AM PDT

Location: Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa) bush in the backyard of Sunwise Co-op, in Village Homes, west Davis, Yolo County, CA. (N38 33.092, W121 46.948)

Conditions: Crappy. Poor light, a thick blanket of high clouds and sporadic sprinkles growing to a sustained light shower.

Tools: Canon Powershot SD400 (property of Jessica Oster), Powell and Hogue California Insects,

Protocol: Shoddy and improvised…I wandered outside with the camera, looking for a reasonable target for a first blitz. I noticed a number of insects on and around the Jerusalem Sage bush in our backyard and decided to do a quick photo-blitz of the bush snapping anything I could find. The survey ended when I had maxed-out photo memory, with only small fraction of the individuals on the bush photographed.


Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans

An arachnid too beautiful to pass up, but from a different piece of phyto estate, an adjacent Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).


an inordinate fondness…


Harlequin (or Asian) Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis.

The beetle that almost made micrecos famous.

(Above: Adult Below: Larva)



Seven-spotted Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata.

Convergent Ladybird, Hippodamia convergens.

Props to the local favorite.


Flies? Sure.


Above: Syrphid fly. Below: Calliphorid (blue-bottle?) fly.

Provisional IDs on Flickr, expert opinions appreciated.


Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile.



Not pictured: thrips, honeybees. Worth noting, or not, the fraction of non-native insects on a non-native ornamental shrub.

Coming up…great american birds (mostly) from the west ponds.

Auspicium ex tripudiis, or three ways of looking at some chickens

15 April 2007

People sound stupid when they’re talking to animals, myself included:


Our chickens are surely some of the famousest in all of Sacramento Valley.

POSTSCRIPT [8/: Now that this has become the top Google hit for “Auspicium ex tripudiis” I feel obliged to give a little backgroung info into the practice of chicken watching. Far from being an idle hobby, birdwatching in Ancient Rome was a serious affair one of the principle ways of forecasting the future. Ergo “auspice” from “avi-spex” literally the watching of birds.

Presumably this tradition has its roots in the careful observation of animals (both wild and domestic) by farmers, herders, mariners etc. for clues to changing weather patterns and such. As per their custom, the Romans took these folkloric practices to elaborate and highly regimented extremes and an entire class of fortune-tellers made a living out of the reading of animal signs for politicians and generals.

One of the most enduring augury practices was the use of chickens in preparing for military campaigns. Lacking spy satellites and RADAR, armies actually brought chickens with them into battle. The morning before a skirmish, the chicken specialist, or pullarius (I’m not going to get into all of the etymologies here…), would toss some cake to chickens. If the birds ate so ravenously that bits of food went flying around it was taken as a virtual guarantee of victory. On the other hand, if the birds ate only reluctantly or avoided the food altogether it was seen as a discouraging sign. This novel form of military intelligence was termed Auspicium ex tripudiis, or signs of the three-toed.

One notable tale of chicken reading comes from the First Punic War when Publius Claudius Pulcher lead a fleet against the Carthaginians in 249 BC. Before the battle, Claudius got an unfavorable reading from his chickens but rather than turn back, threw the chickens in the sea and pressed on reportedly snarling “if they aren’t hungry, let them drink” (ut biberent, quando esse nollent). He suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Drepana.  Claudius managed to escape death, but returned to Rome humiliated and was tried for impiety and incompetence. He died soon afterward perhaps by his own hand.

If all of this seems rather odd, remember that in the States we retain a vestigial tradition of theriomancy, letting an Eastern marmot set our seasonal calendar every February.  Then there are those perennial reports of animals predicting earthquakes.  And let’s not forget the recent case of the feline grim reaper.

Superstitions aside, the search for predictive power through careful observation of the natural world is at the heart of modern science.  It’s also a common thread cross-stitched by humanity across the globe and back into the Paleolithic at least.  And while we might well remain suspicious (catch that?) of the ability of domestic junglefowl to provide good military intelligence, well here in States we ride atop a comically tiny horse these days.

I surely don’t really miss the days of “impiety” as an impeachable offense. “Incompetence” on the other hand….

Around the sun with microecos

5 April 2007

Yesterday marks the 365th day of this blog. Perhaps we can indulge just a bit of shameless autometablogging and look back at a few highlights?


The very first post, a belabored treatment of gliding ants, set the bar in many ways, what with the profanity, linkorrhea, frustration with mainstream science reporting, misuse of footnotation1 etc. Most tellingly, I ended that post with a promise (threat?) of a follow-up piece on the origins of insect flight. After a year of blogging I still have yet to make good on that pledge.

For those of you keeping score at home, here are a few other unrealized dreams:

6 of 10 most beautiful birds (more below).

More on phugoid gliding and the origins of vertebrate flight.

A look at the salamanders of California.

Will I ever get around to these pressing matters? Many forces are working against it, but to find out, you’ll just have to keep visiting.


11 months ago, Carel tagged me with the 10 Beautiful Birds meme.  The meme is not a particularly complicated one, it simply codes for a list of 10 ‘most’ beautiful birds.  So far, I’m up to #4.  I do plan on completing the list, entry #5 actually is a five-way tie between five, probably ficticious, candidates.   We’ll see if I can get in before the one year mark rolls around.


I’d like to be able to take credit for ‘glight‘, ‘homiculture‘, ‘mesoamericana‘ or even ‘paramammalian‘ but a simple google search would reveal me a blatant liar in all cases. ‘Cryptophugoid’ and ‘malianarianism‘ appear to be microecos originals…I don’t expect them to pop up in the OED anytime soon…Microecos also frequently breaches the boundaries of fairness and common sense when comes to grammar, punctuation and citation. So sue me2!


In case you were wondering, average readership comes out to about 100 hits per day, lately. Total views comes out to 10, 305 in one year, ranging from 0 to 270 per day. What can I say? It’s a ‘small house’.

That two-seventy spike came within the first few weeks of this blog’s existence, April 22 2006 to be exact, courtesy of some second degree parabloggery by the great-grandaddy of science blogging, PZ Meyers of Pharyngula fame, viz-a-viz the eccentric uncle of science blogging, Coturnix aka Bora Zivkovic.  And the subject of that misleadingly buzz-worthy post?


Insect copulation has far and away generated the most interest and traffic at this blog (additional examples here, here and here. Oh, and here too.)  In fact, you may be suprised to know that I have many other bug sex shots, that I have held off on, perhaps in a futile attempt to avoid stereotyping myself.

Many people apparently stumble on to my blog looking for something rather different and are no doubt wildly disappointed.


No doubt many bloggers are tickled by the search terms that yield hits to their blog.  At one point I was in the top 100 google hits for ‘copulation’ (haven’t checked recently).  Here’s a recent week of searches, notice any themes?

Search Terms for 7 days ending 2007-04-05


Search Views
bee 10
“cuttlefish” 6
biggest fish 5
Tropical Fish Cartoon 3
Cuttlefish 3
soldier beetle mating 3
babirusa pig deer 2
cartoon sex position pics 2
migration cartoon human 2
animated sex 2
Vampire Squid 2
dragonfly sex pictures 2
spider cartoon 2
Tuataras 1
female cannibal 1
cartoon animal male selection 1
erketu 1
bird poo on car 1
wayang figure 1
amphibian fish evolution 1
erotica porn 1
animal mating cartoon 1
emily blake 1
condor sketch 1
female cannibals 1


Search Views
bee 8
male porn 4
gopher snakes 3
vampire squid 3


Search Views
human sex 8
Bee 5
cuttlefish 5
sex cartoon 3
flying bee 2
Anacondas Snakes 2


Search Views
cuttlefish 8
xipe totec 5
human copulation 4
a ladybird female or male 3
famous cartoon sex 3
real animal cell 3
sex cartoon 2
california condor pleistocene 2
marmot reproduction 2
Vampyroteuthis infernalis 2
lithograph bird 2
same sex adoption cartoon 2
mcnugget 2
biggest fish 2
non human sex stories 2
man sex cartoon 2


Search Views
vampire squid 8
human sex 6
human mating 5
sexual cannibalism 4
sex cartoon 3
sex with a animal 3
breaking taboo 2
Xipe 2
peter bruegel 2
sex positions 2
2 point perspective snake 2


Search Views
bee 7
vampire squid 3
carrion beetles 2
humans and dogs sex 2
human Sex 2


Search Views
larva + cartoon 3
mollusc vampire 2
saloon girls 2
mammals camouflage 2
snails 2
bee jeans 2

um, yeah.


 As usual, the writing of this post has gone on waaay too long, and true to form, this bout of navel-gazing is being cut short by the need to work, sleep, eat, walk the dog etc.  I could promise a follow up but….eh.

Thanks for reading this blog 10,000 times, I look forward to 10,000 more!




1 – Well, I guess it could be worse.
2 – Actually, please don’t.


An embarrassment of joints

2 April 2007

Crustacean (Armadillidum) and Arachnid (Uroctonus) cower.

Forget about vertebrates: the salamanders that I could not find in Amador county were heavily outweighed by the arthropods that I did.