One Robin in Winter

The robin spends part of each day huddled in a small apple tree.

The wind chills here on the Maine coast have been dipping into the minus double digits. When we spotted a lone robin (a bird we don't often see in early January) with its feathers puffed up, plucking berries off a holly bush just a few feet from our front door, we grew worried. There aren't many visible berries left. Robins don't eat bird seed. Their preferred food (worms, larvae, caterpillars, beetles and other insects) isn't available right now. How would this robin survive the brutally cold days ahead?

We read up on robins and their winter behavior. Those who end up in northern New England at this time of year (having migrated from even farther north, generally) are said to travel in flocks, searching the countryside for berries on trees and shrubs, filling up on that fuel, and then moving on like nomads. According to the Massachusetts Audubon website (which says that it receives hundreds of messages about robin sightings each winter, some of which report hundreds of birds in a flock), "There isn't much one can feed robins in the winter. They are very adept at finding their preferred food and rarely visit feeding stations. During severe weather, robins may eat bread, raisins, and pieces of apples placed on the ground; but it is more likely that squirrels will find these treats first."

That was reassuring, except that this was one robin, on its own, looking vulnerable, and the reading on the thermometer (never mind the wind chill) was zero degrees. I remembered that we had an old apple sitting on the dining table. So I cut up the apple and set out the pieces near that holly bush. Within a few minutes, the robin was on the ground pecking at it.

Hmmmm, we thought. Do we have any raisins in the house? Nope. "What about frozen blueberries," Pamelia said. "And pieces of suet?"

The front-walk feast we set out for the robin.

By the next morning, after a trip to the store, we had added frozen blueberries, dried cranberries and cherries, suet crumbs and dried mealworms to the mix—and the robin started coming to feed three times a day.(Just for the record, we got the mealworms at Agway, not the grocery store.)

A satisfied diner.

My perspective on extreme cold weather and how hard it is on wildlife—especially small birds—was altered several years ago by Bernd Heinrich's book Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival. Here's what Bernd (who checked in the other day and told us that the weather at his cabin in western Maine has been bitterly cold) writes about chickadees and their daily battle to maintain enough body fat and energy to survive when the temperature plummets:


"[C]hickadees are already close to an energy edge at [32 degrees Fahrenheit), far from the lowest temperatures they might encounter during any winter night...[Researcher Susan Chaplain's] chickadees did not have sufficient caloric reserves in fat to make it through a night at [32 degrees F] if they continued to regulate the same body temperature at night as during the day. However, she discovered that...they stretched their fat reserves by lowering their body temperature to [86 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit from] the [107.6 degrees] of normally regulated body temperature....Nevertheless, even with the caloric savings from [self-induced] hypothermia, the chickadees' fat reserves in the morning were insufficient to last them through another day and night, such as could occur during a severe blizzard. To survive such commonly occurring emergencies or temperatures much lower than [32 degrees F] would require them to have a special shelter at night where air temperatures are higher and and convective cooling minimized and considerable energy would be saved."

These mealworms seemed like the perfect protein booster for the robin.

So it's tough out there for songbirds. That's why we try to be conscientious about keeping our feeders filled and, on occasion, sharing our apples, dried fruit and frozen blueberries with avian visitors. We're curious to see how long our robin stays around. Any bird reports to share from your area?

Best Bird Photos of 2012 Just got the latest issue of Audubon, which features the winners of the magazine's annual photography contest. The grand champion was the cover photo below of a Northern flicker, taken by Alice Cahill. If you'd like to see others, check out this link to the Audubon website:


Top 100 Science Strories of the Past Year (Cont.) Having give you numbers 100 through 70, we now continue our countdown of Discover magazine's rankings of the most important events in science in 2012:

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69: The development of a drug that, by repairing a flawed protein, can cure about 4% of patients suffering from cystic fibrosis—that is, those patients whose disease is caused by that one particular protein mutation. Progress is being made on a drug that would help about 50% of people afflicted with cystic fibrosis.

68: The donation of two satellite telescopes to NASA by a U.S. spy organization called the National Reconnaissance Office. Upon receiving the telescopes, NASA discovered that the spy organization is using optics far superior to any ever developed by NASA, including those in the Hubble telescope.

67: Research suggesting that tigers develop stripes because of two proteins that work alternately as "activators" and "inhibitors" and thus stimulate skin cells to create bands of different color fur.

66: A study that calls into question earlier research showing that eating an extremely low-calorie diet prolongs life. The new research, done on rhesus monkeys, compared a low-cal group with a group eating a moderate, healthful diet; both groups lived the same amount of time. It's worth noting, however, that the study found that the low-cal group had a lower rate of cancer and diabetes—and worth reiterating that the low-cal group was being compared to a group that was eating a healthful diet.

65: The discovery of three amazing types of animals: the first native spider family identified in North America since 1890 (the hooked-leg spider, found by cave explorers in Oregon); the world's tiniest frog (Paedophryne amanuensis, the size of a housefly and found by an LSU herpetologist who heard it chirping in a Papua New Guinea forest); and a carnivorous sea sponge (Chondrocladia lyra, spotted 11,000 feet deep in the Pacific off the California coast by scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Center).

The hooked-leg spider.

64:The sighting of the most distant giant cluster of galaxies ever seen, dubbed El Gordo (the Fat One) and located about 7 billion light years away.

63: Encouraging progress in the fight against Alzheimer's disease through techniques such as stem-cell-based computer models and experiments on the workings of a damaging protein called tau.

62: A surge in cyber attacks, including attacks on Iran that appear to have emanated from the United States.

61: The revised assessment of the age of cave art using more advanced techniques. The new methodology revealed that some of the art is much older than previously thought. The illustration of a red disk in El Castillo cave in Spain was found to be 40,800 years old, making it, in Discover's words, "the oldest piece of European art by 5,000 years." The art is so old that there is now a debate over whether it was created by modern humans or by Neanderthals.

60: Improvement in masers, microwave-beam-producing devices that Discover calls "the laser's Cold War relative." Once too bulky to be practical, masers are now more compact and may lead to improvements in GPS systems, radio astronomy and devices used to test blood and the cleanliness of food and air.

Answer to the Last Puzzler No human ever looked at the sky through a telescope before 1608.

Today's Puzzler Louis Braille died 104 years ago this week at age 43. Blinded by an accident while playing with an awl at age four, he went on to invent a system of writing and reading that uses a code made up of six raised dots. What inspired him to invent this code?

a) the pattern of holes made by a woodpecker in a tree on the grounds of his school b) his work sewing buttons on jackets at his school's workshop c) a visit to his school by a soldier who told him of a 12-dot code system used by soldiers to pass instructions to each other at night


Happy 2013—Our Big Bang Year

Bigbang By carefully studying evidence ranging from the composition of asteroids to the microwave radiation emitted from deep space, scientists have traced the history of the universe back 13.7 billion years to a single, massively explosive event called the Big Bang. This year at The Naturalist's Notebook— "A place for everyone who's even a little curious about the last 13.7 billion years (give or take)," as we like to say—we will celebrate our own Big Bang Year.

The 2013 calendar conveniently makes the first full month of the Notebook season (July) a universally appropriate date: '13.7. Despite the foot-and-a-half of snow currently burying our little century-old building in Seal Harbor, we have already begun transforming the three floors of the Notebook into an environment that will embody the last 13.7 billion years. In the months ahead, through the blog, we will take you on a 13.7-billion-year journey through the Big History of Our Life. Each blog will offer a snapshot of a different era in the universe's history, building up to the opening of our 2013 season.

Stay tuned...and here's hoping that your 2013 is a Big Bang year too.

The snowed-in Notebook on New Year's Eve.

Earth from space

Global Update We're happy to report that, according to WordPress, people in 153 countries read The Naturalist's Notebook blog during 2012. That group represents more than three-quarters of the nations on Earth.

Unlucky '13? Nah. The year 2013 may seem hard to size up in advance—there's no U.S. Presidential election, no Olympics, no other globally galvanizing event on the calendar—but we know at least two things: It won't lack for noteworthy anniversaries (April 1: the 65th anniversary of the Big Bang theory first being proposed, by Russian-born American physicist and cosmologist George Gamow and his associates in an article in Physical Review!) and, despite the worries of triskaidekahobics, it won't be cursed by any supernatural force.

In analyzing why people have an irrational fear of the number 13, National Geographic interviewed Donald Dossey, founder of a phobia institute in Asheville, N.C. Here's the story:

"Dossey traces the fear of 13 to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, their heaven," according to Nat Geo. "In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.

" "Balder died and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,' said Dossey. From that moment on, the number 13 has been considered ominous and foreboding."

By the way, mathematicians actually refer to 13 as a "happy number." To determine whether a number is happy, add the square of its digits, then add the square of that number's digits, and continue the process until the result is either 1 (meaning your original number is happy) or a repeating pattern that doesn't include 1 (meaning your original number is, in mathematical terms, unhappy).

Here's why 13 is a happy number: 1 squared (1) plus 3 squared (9) equals 10. Now repeat the process using 10: 1 squared (1) plus 0 squared (0) equals 1. And as you now know, every 1 is happy!

Thirteen also happens to be one of the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 ...and so on, with each number equal to the sum of the previous two numbers). As we've described here before, those very cool numbers correspond to many patterns in nature, including the number of spirals on pine cones and pineapples.

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Top Science Stories of 2012 (Cont.) We continue our countdown of the 100 biggest science stories of the past year, as chosen by the editors of Discover magazine:

79: India's passing the U.S. to become the world's No. 1 source of e-mail spam. "Indian computers distribute a sixth of the roughly 100 billion junk emails sent daily," reports Discover.

78: New telescope images revealing that Uranus, previously though to be what Discover calls "a featureless blue-green ball," in fact has stormy, constantly changing weather and clouds that are 360 degrees below zero. The magazine notes that sunlight on Uranus is only one-900th as strong as sunlight on Earth.

77: The expanded use of commercial "element-analysis" technology to determine the behavior of extinct animals. It showed, for example, that 25-ton diplodocus dinosaurs living 150 million years ago fueled themselves by gobbling leaves off trees and swallowing them whole.

76: The creation of 3-D digital images of large, heavy dinosaur bones by a team at Drexel University in Philadelphia, to enable scientists to more easily explore how the bones fit together and worked.

75:The unearthing in northeast China of three specimens of the first large dinosaur ever found to have sported feathers. Yutyrannus, a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, was nearly 30 feet long and weighed 1.5 tons. The dinosaur couldn't fly; according to Discover, its feathers may have served to keep the animal warm during the relatively cool Early Cretaceous period 125 million years ago.

Here's how a Yutyrannus would have looked next to a human.

74: The discovery of a previously unnoticed, basketball-sized, gel-filled, sensory organ inside the jaws of certain baleen whales. The organ enables the whales to better coordinate their mouth movements when gulping down vast quantities of food (and sea water) when lunge feeding. It may explain why blue and humpback whales have become so large.

73: The first picture ever taken of the shadow cast by a single atom, by physicist Dave Kielpinski of Griffith University in Australia. The image was 450 nanometers across, less than one-100th the width of a human hair.

72: The discovery of a treatment that, at least in test mice, eliminates the distorted proteins that cause Huntington's Disease, a condition that causes neurons in the brain to waste away. It is possible that human trials on an anti-Huntington's treatment could begin within the next five years.

71: Evidence that the heavy use of antibiotics on factory farms may be causing pigs to develop dangerous strains of bacteria that can be spread to humans and are resistant to antibiotics.

70: The composing, by a computer designed in Spain, of a 13-minute contemporary music work so good that the London Philharmonic Orchestra made a recording of it.

A Look at America's Prairies Today I came across a good blog post written by Cathy Bell, who is a ranger at Badlands National Park. Click on the link below to read Cathy's take on the worrisome ecological state of America's prairies and on appreciating the Badlands of South Dakota.

Badlands photo courtesy of the National Park Service

We have our first entrant for our annual Sweet 16 Honey-Tasting Tournament: Turkish mountain honey purchased on behalf of the Notebook by our nephew, Todd (left), and his fiancee, Silvia, on a trip to Istanbul.

Answer to the Last Puzzler Here are the unscrambled words taken from science and nature:

1) selaws = weasel 2) nogar = argon (or organ) 3) ugaain = iguana 4) pelectoes = telescope

Today's Puzzler Complete this sentence:

No human ever looked at the sky through a telescope until: a) 1486 b) 1608 c) 1792 d) 1911

Closing Days of 2012

A roadside stream on Christmas afternoon.Bald eagle and crows in our big oak tree by the sea. A caw-caw-phony of crow calls often warns of the eagle's approach, and the crows sometimes work together to try to drive the eagle away. Natural ice carving of a bird, also from a Dec. 25 walk. An especially low tide (before the snow fell).

We saw this vertical ice-crystal rainbow one morning this week. It's called a Sun dog, and it's created by sunlight hitting fine ice crystals nicknamed diamond dust, which act like prisms. It can happen in very cold weather.

Natural tinsel? The big chill has set in for New Year's week.

Good News for Wildlife—Especially Birds As you may have seen on The Naturalist's Notebook's Facebook page, Canada has established a large new national park in northern Quebec. Noted ornithologists (and Notebook friends) Jeff and Allison Wells describe it in the Boothbay Register:

“The park is far north on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay and is a jaw-dropping six and a half million acres in size. In short, this new Tursujuq National Park is the size of the state of Vermont or three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

The new park is on the eastern side of Hudson Bay, near that half-moon-shaped shoreline.

“That’s room for a lot of birds. Those common redpolls that many of us have been enjoying at our feeders this winter may have come from there. Same with the common mergansers that we saw on the Kennebec last week. And the long-tailed ducks and black scoters in Linekin Bay.

"The list goes on and on. In fact it goes on to include at least 130 birds species, most of which pass through or winter in Maine.

"The new park likely supports millions of birds, the same birds we enjoy in our backyards, fields, forests and shores in migration and winter.

"Tursujuq National Park will be one of the rare parks in the world that also includes virtually the entire drainage of several rivers. One river, called the Nastapoka, supports a population of the small, white Arctic whales called belugas. One of the things we find so interesting about what the park protects is its population of a mysterious and rare form of landlocked, freshwater harbor seals."

Top Science Stories of 2012 (Cont.) We began this countdown in the last blog post. These come from Discover magazine's latest issue:

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89: The introduction by ResearchGate, a powerful social media outlet for scientists (membership: more than two million), of a social-media-driven peer-review process aimed at replacing the traditional, more closed process of reviewing research by experts in scientific journals.

88: The fears of a human pandemic raised by strains of the avian flu that two virologists engineered to spread through ferrets as part of a research project. The strains were ultimately determined not to be fatal to humans, but the debate continues about the dangers of engineered viruses.

87: The discovery that certain bacteria survive particularly harsh conditions on the ocean floor "by going into a kind of suspended animation, perhaps the minimum amount of energy required for survival," writes Discover. The bacteria studied were living in nutrient-starved red clay 100 feet below the bottom of the Pacific. Their metabolic rate was a one-hundred-thousandth that of a typical surface bacteria.

86: A surprising psychological study of children ages 3 to 5 that found that self-control—the willingness to not eat one marshmallow now in order to get two later—reflects a child's experiences in dealing with shortages and deprivation. As Discover summarized the result: "If you can't count on that second marshmallow [ever coming], why wait?"

85: An important study of the thin upper atmosphere (50 to 80 miles above Earth) that revealed new information of the wind currents of the upper jet stream, which in Discover's words, "zip along at more than 300 miles per hour and generate electrical currents that surround the Earth….[That electrical activity] can interfere with signals from satellites and spacecraft."

84: The unearthing in Myanmar (Burma) of a 100-million-year-old spider and wasp encased in tree resin. The presence of a second spider's leg in the amber suggested that the spiders were social animals.

83: A jump in the number and contributions of "citizen scientists"—average people who contribute to our knowledge of the world by doing everything from participating in bird counts to studying the stars with their personal telescopes. Discover notes that "volunteers sifting through open-source genetic dada on their home computers identified more than 200 new gene variants within the most common Y-chromosome type in Europe."

82: The rise in the number of cases of whooping cough in the U.S.. The total of 34,000 cases in the first 10 months compares to a low of about 1,000 back in 1976. The overall picture still is better than it once was: In the 1940s, Discover writes, whooping cough (aka pertussis) killed about 4,000 Americans per year; in 2011, 13 Americans died from the illness.

81: The crash to Earth of a $160 million Russian space probe that was supposed to go to Mars and collect soil samples.

80: New research into the role of genes in common diseases. Writes Discover: "Ten thousand years ago there were just 5 million people on Earth, fewer than live in Singapore today. The population has since soared to 7 billion. This rapid growth has left a mark on the human genome, researchers are finding, drastically increasing the number of very rare mutations in our DNA. That realization casts doubt on the long-standing view that just a few genetic mutations underlie many hereditary diseases. In reality, those diseases are probably caused by a wide variety of extremely rare mutations that vary from one person to the next, complicating efforts to understand and treat them at the genetic level."

From the brain section at this year's Notebook.

Answer to the Last Puzzler Yes, those mallard ducks that hang out in the bay by our house can drink sea water. They have evolved glands that filter out salt (and that grow larger if they are residing on salt water rather than on fresh water).

Today's Puzzler Unscramble these words taken from science and nature:

1) selaws 2) nogar 3) ugaain 4) pelectoes

Woodpeckers, Science Stories and What Minus-41-Degree Air Does to a Bucket of Water

Got a bit windy on the coast of Maine last night—gusts of 65 mph, according to the weather service. We heard a crash, turned on an outside light and found this great old seaside spruce (a bird and squirrel favorite) laying across the lawn and on our deck.

A red-bellied woodpecker has shown up lately at our house, joining the hairy, downy and pileated woodpeckers in the percussion section. He was checking out the downed tree this morning. Supposedly, if you look closely enough, you can see some faint red on the belly of a red-bellied, but whoever named these guys seems to have overlooked some far more obvious choices (red-capped? red-topped? crimson-crowned?).

Just for the record, the name red-headed woodpecker is already taken. Here is an example of one

And, while we are on the subject, here is the bird that claims the name of red-crowned woodpecker (but has a red belly!). This species lives in Central and South America.

O.K., one more redhead. When I was doing research into Slovenia recently, I discovered that it is home to this European green woodpecker. I thought it was a cool-looking bird. The British sometimes refer to these birds as Yaffles or Yappingales because of their loud, laughing call.


Our Russian correspondent Anne passed along a link to the video above. The narration is in Russian, but all you need to know is that the guy is in Siberia, it's winter, he has a bucket of water and the temperature outside is 41 degrees below zero.

The Countdown Begins Tis the season—if you work in the media—to start recapping the year. At Sports Illustrated we've already named our Sportsman of the Year (Lebron James) and our Inspiring Performers of the Year and highlighted our Pictures of the Year. My good friend Bob Sullivan, the editor of Life books, had to finish a book on the year's most notable deaths and get it onto newsstands before December even arrived. (Hence no mention of Larry Hagman or Marvin Miller, among others.)

Discover magazine just came out with its 100 top science stories of 2012. You may have missed a lot of them over the course of the year. Discover ranks them from 1 to 100, which gives science aficionados grist for arguing (Which is a bigger story, Chinese space exploration or self-driving cars?) and gives us a chance to count them down for you. Below is the first batch of 10, starting with Big Story Number 100.

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Biggest Science Story of the Year, Number 100: Spectacular eruptions on the Sun. We're at a peak in the 11-year cycle of solar activity, which makes for amazing photographs, memorable auroras and, sometimes, damaged satellites.

99: A setback in the effort to rid the world of polio The effort has been hugely successful (new cases in 1988: 350,000; new cases in 2011: 650), but decreased funding and/or political conflicts have led to the cancellation of 68 anti-polio campaigns in 33 countries and have been especially damaging in the three countries in which the disease is still endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

98: Increased pressure on the world's supply of liquid freshwater. "A study published in Nature in August showed that annual demand from the world's 783 large regional aquifers is 3.5 times the amount that is replenished," Discover notes, adding that water-wasting agricultural practices need to be examined in the countries that are overtaxing their groundwater supplies the most: India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico and the U.S.

97: The decision by a court in Italy to convict and sentence to six years in prison a half dozen Italian seismic experts and one government official for failing to issue adequate warnings of a 2009 earthquake that killed more than 300. Writes Discover: "Colleagues across the world condemned the decision and worried that holding scientists criminally responsible for predictions will make them less willing to advise on important decisions that affect public safety."

96: The exploration of the deepest section of the ocean floor by movie director and underwater explorer James Cameron and his team using a high-tech submarine. Cameron became, as Discover says, "the first solo traveler to visit Challenger Deep, the bottom of the [Mariana Trench, a geologic "subduction zone" where the Earth's Pacific plate dives under the Philippine plate] at 35,000 feet. "

James Cameron's sub.

95: The first scientific research suggesting that a low-carb diet is, in Discover's words, "the best way to keep burning calories after you shed pounds." That careful phrasing reflects the study's finding that after a subject had lost 10 pounds, he or she burned 300 calories more per day if following a low-carb diet rather than a low-fat diet or a low-glycemic-index diet (eating foods that digest slowly, such as legumes and fruit). However, research also showed that a low-carb diet increases stress hormones, a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

94: The physical achievements of amputees using bionic limbs, including Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius of South Africa and U.S. software engineer Zac Vawter, who climbed 103 flights of stairs to the top of Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) on a bionic leg controlled by his thoughts.

93: The discovery in China of the fossils of pre-historic fleas (some up to an inch long) dating back between 125 million and 165 million years. These formidable fleas, which had serrated mouth parts and lived at least 80 million years before any previously discovered flea species, are believed to have fed on feathered dinosaurs or early mammals.

92: The increased use of 3-D technology in studying and mapping the universe and its components, including the invisible, galaxy-binding stuff called dark matter.

91: The death at age 91 of Ray Bradbury. When the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars two months after the famed science-fiction author's passing, NASA decided to name the arrival spot Bradbury Landing.

90: The deaths of pioneering astronauts Neil Armstrong, at age 82 and Sally Ride, at 61.

More of our Discover countdown in the days ahead...

Swamp Dogs? As you may have read on The Naturalist's Notebook's Facebook page, the New Orleans Hornets pro basketball team has trademarked five potential new team names, all taken from real or legendary animals. The choices are the Pelicans, Bull Sharks, Swamp Dogs, Mosquitoes and Rougarou. That last one is a werewolf-like creature said to prowl the swamps, fields and forest of Louisiana. The odds-on favorite is Pelicans, but I do like Mosquitoes as a metaphor for a team that plays pesky defense.


If (like me) you're unfamiliar with the term Swamp Dogs, the answer is that it's slang for alligators. If you are so inclined, you can even buy a purple, alligator-skin dog collar made by a Louisiana company that goes by the name Swamp Dog.

The New Orleans basketball franchise was originally the Charlotte Hornets before it moved to the Big Easy in 2002. I'd never thought of Charlotte as particularly hornet-infested, but in fact the name Hornets came from Charlotte's fierce resistance to British occupation during the Revolutionary War. Lord Cornwallis called the city "a veritable nest of hornets."

A few years from now, perhaps we'll hear rival NBA teams refer to New Orleans as "a veritable nest of pelicans." Or, even better, "a veritable swamp of Rougarou."

Answer to the Last Puzzler All of these are TRUE: a) Beavers can close their lips while keeping their teeth exposed, enabling them to swim while carrying branches and keeping water out of their mouth. b) Beavers can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes. c) Beavers store fat in their tails.

Today's Puzzler During recent rainstorms, these mallards have flown up into our driveway and used its small ruts as drinking troughs.

The mallards shown in the photo above spend most of their time in the saltwater bay by our house. The question: Can they drink salt water?

Sunlight in the Darkest Month

I used to travel a lot: more than 250 days and 100,000 miles year in my busiest time as a Sports Illustrated writer. As an editor I don't fly off on assignments as much, but somehow since the start of July I've traveled 30,000 miles and been away from home more than half the time. Perhaps it's because, on top of my (and our) Olympic-related trips, Pamelia and I have been meeting with so many people who will be collaborating with us on Naturalist's Notebook projects in 2013, 2014, 2015...well, for a long time, we hope.

The two of us just completed a whirlwind Northeastern loop that took us to meetings with artists, educators, student interns, a natural-history museum preparator, a book agent, a playwright, two of America's best dancers and an oral historian, among others. We stopped at Yale, in New York City, in Concord, N.H., and at one of Connecticut's most forward-thinking high schools. I think it's a good sign that everyone we met with seemed as excited about the Notebook's current and future projects as we are. As we like to say, it was a supernova trip.

We'll tell you more soon about all the projects and collaborators, but since we're showing a lot of solar photos here, I'll mention that one of our 2013 team members is astrophysicist Joe Snider, who's an expert on the Sun, among many other celestial objects. Joe spent almost three decades as a physics professor at Oberlin College in Ohio but now fixes his gaze on the starwatching-friendly skies of the Acadia National Park area. When he stops by the Notebook, he usually has one of his astronomical inventions in hand. He's constantly creating new devices to help people understand the movement of planets and stars and other basics of the cosmos.

Just the other day, while demonstrating his newly invented solar calendar, Joe noted that, while people often connect sunrise and sunset times with a location's latitude (e.g., short winter days in Alaska), a location's longitude also affects the timing. For example, Maine is so far east that it's almost in the Atlantic time zone with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Just this summer, friends told us that when they were hiking on the eastern edge of Mount Desert Island their cell-phone clocks jumped an hour ahead.) Because we're so far east, we currently see the sun rise 43 minutes earlier than people do in Cleveland, which is also in the Eastern time zone.

As we look ahead to a sunny 2013, keep in mind that our favorite star doesn't just shine, but also spins. The Sun rotates on its axis once every 25 days, meaning that the next time it completes the full rotation it started this morning, the new year will have dawned and the days, at least in our half of the world, will be getting longer and brighter, whether you're in Maine or in Cleveland.

Come Visit the Notebook We've decided to open the Notebook for three more days of holiday shopping and discovering: Saturday 12/15, Saturday 12/22 and Sunday 12/23. We'll be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Stop by 16 Main St. in Seal Harbor for some warmth and fun on a cold December day.

Climate Change Many of us were dismayed to read a recent letter to the local newspaper in which the writer bizarrely claimed that most experts now agree that the planet has not been getting warmer. In response, an Orland, Maine, man named Rufus Wanning wrote a reasoned rebuttal that I can't resist quoting, at least in part: "The National Climate Data Center says that 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record. No warming? Tell that to professor Rich Muller of Berkeley, formerly a well-known climate change skeptic. He and his team of a dozen scientists examined temperature data from past decades and centuries to test the claims of global warming scientists. In professor Muller's words: 'The average temperature of the Earth's land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases. "Professor Muller's research was funded by the Koch brothers, oil and gas billionaires well known for their support of climate denial science...They did not get what they expected. "[The original letter writer] goes on to say that CO2 does not cause global warming. Tell that to Paul Mayewski and his team at the Climate Change Institute at [the University of Maine at Orono]. Professor Mayewski has led many expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica to drill for ice cores. Ice cores have annual rings, like trees, and they trap bubbles of air, preserving samples of prehistoric atmospheres. From this data, professor Mayewski and his colleagues have shown that CO2 and temperature have moved in tandem for at least the last 400,000 years."

I keep missing the photo. I try to shoot this male cardinal and his mate camouflaged in the reddish branches of one of our leafless rugosa rose hedges. So instead I'll just show you how he chose to spend part of a recent rainy day, waiting for a gray squirrel to get off our bird feeder.

Answer to the Last Puzzler The element that makes up almost half of the Earth's crust is oxygen. So in a sense you're always walking on air.

Today's Puzzler A trick question (sort of): Which of these statements about beavers is NOT true:


a) Beavers can close their lips while keeping their teeth exposed, enabling them to swim while carrying branches and keeping water out of their mouth. b) Beavers can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes. c) Beavers store fat in their tails. d) All of the above statements are true e) None of the above statements is true

Credit for the above Puzzler goes to ace Maine naturalist Lynn Havsall. If you would like to subscribe to Lynn's ever-fascinating newsletter, just e-mail her at