field notes:

12.21.2002

I'm on Christmas vacation in southern California...little time for getting out into nature, and little time for reflection. But I'm inspired to share this from the imagination of Loren Eiseley:

It began as such things always begin -- in the ooze of unnoticed swamps, in the darkness of eclipsed moons. It began with a strangled gasping for air.
The pond was a place of reek and corruption, of fetid smells and of oxygen-starved fish breathing through laboring gills. At times the slowly contracting circle of the water left little windrows of minnows who skittered desperately to escape the sun, but who died, nevertheless, in the fat, warm mud. It was a place of low life. In it the human brain began.
There were strange snouts in those waters, strange barbels nuzzling the bottom ooze, and there was time -- three hundred million years of it -- but mostly, I think, it was the ooze. By day the temperature in the world outside the pond rose to a frightful intensity; at night the sun went down in smoking red. Dust storms marched in incessant progression across a wilderness whose plants were the plants of long ago. Leafless and weird and stiff they lingered by the water, while over vast areas of grassless uplands the winds blew until red stones took on the polish of reflecting mirrors. There was nothing to hold the land in place. Winds howled, dust clouds rolled, and brief erratic torrents choked with silt ran down to the sea. It was a time of dizzying contrasts, a time of change.
On the oily surface of the pond, from time to time a snout thrust upward, took in air with a queer grunting inspiration, and swirled back to the bottom. The pond was doomed, the water was foul, and the oxygen almost gone, but the creature would not die. It could breathe air direct through a little accessory lung, and it could walk. In all that weird and lifeless landscape, it was the only thing that could. It walked rarely and under protest, but that was not surprising. The creature was a fish.
In the passage of days the pond became a puddle, but the Snout survived. There was dew one dark night and a coolness in the empty stream bed. When the sun rose next morning the pond was an empty place of cracked mud, but the Snout did not lie there. He had gone. Down stream there were other ponds. He breathed air for a few hours and hobbled slowly along on the stumps of heavy fins.
It was an uncanny business if there had been anyone there to see. It was a journey best not observed in daylight, it was something that needed swamps and shadows and the touch of the night dew. It was a monstrous penetration of a forbidden element, and the Snout kept his face from the light. It was just as well, though the face should not be mocked. In three hundred million years it would be our own.


Loren Eisely
from The Immense Journey
An imaginative naturalist explores the mysteries of man and nature
posted by Lisa Thompson on 9:57 AM link | comments []

12.17.2002

This weekend the West Marin bird count took place within a whopper of a storm. I was part of a team that covered an area from the Environmental Education Center, down the Coast Trail to Limantour, across the beach to Coast Camp and back to the Center. On most winter days on this piece of earth there are so many birds -- endless birds. But in the middle of a storm that brought 10 inches of rain to our county in one day, a storm that saw 78 mph winds, the birds were scarce. I'm sure they were around, but huddled somewhere hanging on to a branch, a shrub or a piece of dirt for dear life. So the ensuing list isn't even a list of birds we saw -- many of them were birds we heard.

pitiful, really:





audubon's warbler

townsend's warbler

robin

crow

phoebe

gold-crowned sparrow

song sparrow

fox sparrow

white-crowned sparrow

northern flicker

red-tail hawk

turkey vulture

downy woodpecker

harrier

hutton's vireo

ruby-crowned kinglet

chestnut-backed chickadee

raven

scrub jay

wren tit

kestrel

sharp-shinned hawk

california quail

meadowlark

ruddy duck

pie-billed grebe

canvas back

coot

brown pelican

2

1

2

2

2

11

4

2

1

1

5

2

2

1

1

4

10

1

1

3

1

2

1

3

3

1

3

2

6



We had results like this count-wide: low species count and a really low bird count. Not a great showing for one of the richest birding spots in the world. Oh well, we did have fun. After all, a bird count is a great excuse to dress up in your rain gear and tramp around in a storm, looking into bushes and saying "phush, phush, phush" or clapping your hands and hoping to hear a sora rail.

We never got to bird the beach at all. As we neared the eastern side of the dunes the sand was pelting us in the face with hurricane force winds. We simply couldn't walk any further without masks and goggles. Birding is serious business, and birders are pretty geeky, but that's going a bit far.

The storm was epic and shut us down early. We were of course at the furthest point from our cars when the heaviest rain began and by the time we got back we were completely wet. We never made it back out after heading to a local house for lunch.

The bird count dinner was held at the Dance Palace, our local community center. We ate by flashlight, enjoying the wine, the tally, and the great stories of downed power lines, falling trees, few birds and intrepid bird lovers.

Just another day in paradise: west marin.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 4:38 PM link | comments []

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