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The Threats to the Insects

A special feature in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a series of articles on the global decline of insects in the Anthropocene. “Nature is under siege,” begins the introduction to the gathered paper of a symposium sponsored by the Entomological Society of America in November, 2019.

The threats, short-handed as people, are: global warming, climate disruption (heat, storm intensification, fire, drought) introduced species, insecticides, pollution, urbanization, agriculture intensification, deforestation, nitrification (fertilizers).

People obviously have to be part of the solution, and, unusually for a science journal the final article is an explanation of 8 simple actions people can do:

Create habitat:

Convert lawns into diverse natural habitats
Grow native plants
Reduce pesticide and herbicide (or, at home, stop it!)
Limit use of external lighting
Lessen soap runoff from washing vehicles & building exteriors reduce use of driveway sealants & de-icing salts

Increase awareness and appreciation of insects:

Counter negative perceptions of insects
Become an educator, ambassador, and advocate for insect conservation
Get involved in local politics, support science, and vote
For these purposes, spiders are “insects” and subject of much irrational fear.

Raptor Wednesday

Three days of pair-bonding for the American Kestrels. No copulation seen; it’s a bit early for that.
One morning a Cooper’s Hawk chased them from this chimney pot. I was alerted because of the kestrel screaming.

The big orange boat is one the Staten Island Ferry fleet.



Here’s a year-long time-line of Trump’s incitement of his fascist base, leading up to the putsch attempt. A year seems hardly enough for a man who began his presidential campaign with a racist onslaught and quickly took up the America First Nazi-lovers label; signaled his approval of the murderers in Charlottesville; and ordered his Department of Justice to downplay white supremacist terrorism.


There is no silence in Brooklyn. Human noise is constant. Even late at night the nearby highway is a drone of grey noise, and the D train screeches as it rounds the corner. And that’s the quietest time of all. Inside Green-Wood, things are notably improved, buffered, dampened. Even there, though, the sounds of near constant maintenance during weekdays are a given.

But still, you can actually hear the world in there. There are the bird calls and songs, of course. Blue Jays, sure, are screeching banshees, but think also of the little ones like White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Black-capped Chickadees. They do make a racket with their constant chatter. I’ve heard sounds this winter from Chickadees that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard before. Consider too the Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch foraging and talking amongst themselves. Seven squirrels squabbling in a couple of side-by-side trees, their vocalizations and their scrambling claws on bark combining into a big loop-de-loop whoop: who needs a troop of monkeys? Then there’s the telegraphy of woodpeckers tapping out their meals. They’ll also call, churping and chipping — blade on a whetstone on a cold day?
And, in this case, the broken branch of a big tuliptree, caught up there by the fork and twisting in the wind. The squeaking of wood on wood at the impromptu joint, that too, you can hear.
An Ent’s ear?

In Praise of Geography

Tim and Máiréad Robinson earned a living by making maps. Both passed away in the early wave of COVID last spring. They were in their 80s, but god-damn the eugenicist scum who blithely write off “underlying conditions” as an excuse. (This crowd of filth, the base of a GOP lately heard bleating about how divisive calls for impeachment are, is of the kind that deny that there were victims at Sandy Hook, to the extent of harrying parents of the children killed.)

Tim Robinson wrote books about the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemarra, what he called the “ABCs” of western Ireland. His subject was the “web of placelore,” the cultural encrustation of human habitation of the land, which he teased out by walking, for years, over the terrain.

I’ve read Stones of Aran, in which he details his walk around the edge of Arainn, the biggest of the Aran Islands (volume 1, Pilgrimage), and then through the interior (volume 2, Labyrinth). So good. I’m reading the first volume of his Connemara trilogy, Listening to the Wind, now. It’s better.

There’s a chapter in this latter book about remains that encapsulates Robinson’s method. On foot, he explores the depths of human presence in the land, from the pre-historic to what’s remembered by the old fisherman to what he himself sees, hears, smells, all the while paying particular attention to the names on the land: Irish, anglicized Irish, and English. (“Irish placenames dry out when anglicized, like twigs snapped off a tree.”)

The chapter, “The Boneyard,” discuses the prevalence of burial sites for unbaptized babies, not allowed on “consecrated” ground because of the cruelty of the Church; the local use of dog welks to make purple dye (albeit on a smaller scale than with the famed murex of Tyrian purple); the prevalence of tiny forams in the oceans, where they’re major players in the carbon cycle, and on the beaches when they die; and the site of a labyrinth made by a “land artist” in 1971, which the artist did not want pin-pointed on the Robinsons’ map. Robinson points out that the stones, like these other bones, hardly belong to the artist now.

In college, I majored in geography, which of course means “earth writing.” It is good to get back to a master of it.

NYRB Classics published the two-volume Stones of Aran here in the U.S.
Milkweed Editions has published Listening to the Wind, the first volume of the Connemarra trilogy. I’m not clear on whether they’ll do the other two volumes.
Penguin UK has the complete trilogy.

“Individually, none of the names I have mentioned is of much intrinsic interest. But if we think of all the place names that humanity has applied to the surface of this planet as constituting a single vast fingerprint, can we neglect even its most minute particularities in trying to identify ourselves?”

Odds And Bobs

It’s Lichen month at the NYC Ecoflora Challenge on iNaturalist.
Not a lichen. A dried-out old mushroom.
A fresh, glistening young mushroom.
Another new-to-me oak gall wasp: Callirhytis clavula in a white oak.
Chickadee landing on practically every old Phylloxera aphid gall on this shagbark hickory.

As an arboretum, Green-Wood is stuffed with trees, meaning you never know what you may run across.
For instance, Texas red oak, Quercus texana. Native range is Mississippi bottomlands down the Gulf Coast to Texas. A devil of a nomenclature/taxonomy puzzle: “Q. texana as currently described is synonymous with and formerly known as Q. nuttallii, Q. nuttallii var. cachensis, Q. rubra var. texana, Q. shumardii var. microcarpa and Q. shumardii var. texana. Unfortunately, nomenclature and common names for this tree have become considerably confused over time.” The memorial sign in Green-Wood gives it the common name of Nuttall’s Oak. Googling “Texas red oak” will also bring up Q. buckleyi. And so forth.
Oaks! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Case in point: the tree was hosting this Horned Oak Gall Wasp, something I’ve only found on pin oaks (Q. palustris) otherwise.


Turkish hazel.
Swamp white oak.
Silver birch.

Adding these to the Caucasian fir on my list of species tapped into by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Here’s one more, but I haven’t figured out what kind of tree this is. None of the above.

Republicans who are shocked, shocked, that their words and deeds have consequences were fine when the same Nazis — and I mean this literally, as known Nazis joined the attempted GOP putsch in Congress — invaded the Michigan State Capitol last year.

And, of course, all these fuckers stuck with Trump after Charlottesville.

Something Something

More explorations underneath trees, looking up this time.
This Douglas fir is gnarly with what I suppose are cankers. They’re leaking sap. Used to the resiny stickiness of pines, I note that this sap was quite dry.
Anyone know the cause?

When you lift the klan hood off a Republican, you find a brownshirt.

Raptor Wednesday

I have been seeing, and hearing about other people seeing, members of the the Red-shouldered League all fall. This is unprecedented. Usually, Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) pass over during migration periods. I’ve never seen them consistently here in Brooklyn through the fall and now winter.
This youngster was perched on Monday in Green-Wood. (Does this strike you as a bit Accipiter-y? It does me, but note the shortness of the tail.)
The red chest and red shoulders comes with age. But this one shows a touch of the underwing, and the stripes on the tail.
The distinctive “windows” near the primary (fingertip) feathers can be see in these images of a youngster from early in December.
A few days before that, this adult shows off the red shoulders and the strong white-stripe effect of the tail.

On December 18, I saw a trio of them from the apartment.

BREAKING: Raptor News — A pair of American Kestrels were seen yesterday on the solar building. They spent about twenty minutes together. The female was heard later in the morning, vocally announcing her presence, and they again perched near each other on the roof pipes up there. So it begins? The fourth year of local breeding?


I didn’t get outside on New Year’s Day, but on Sunday I got to poke about a bit.
Underneath a large piece of bark, deeply curled so its underside was not touching the ground, I found a whole universe of delights.

Isopods, a spider, a centipede, two kinds of beetles, everything small and active, near impossible to photograph well.
There was this winged thing, too. Someone on iNaturalist suggests aphid; I don’t know. Look also at the creatures below this winged one: slender springtails, it seems. There were quite a few of these. A few can be spotted in the other images as well.


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