As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in the classic tune from Carousel, June is bustin' out all over. Our own schedule is bustin' at the seams, as we try to keep track of all the birds and bugs and blooms, and continue to set up a building's worth of colorful and creative new installations at The Naturalist's Notebook in time for our June 25 season opening, and as I immerse myself in SI's extensive London Olympic preparations. It seems hard to believe, but within 30 days we will be making the flip turn into the second half of the year (as Michael Phelps might put it).
Since one of our interactive displays at the Notebook this summer will involve a highly inventive chicken, maybe I should describe the rapidly passing year this way: We've almost half-filled the 2012 egg carton with completed months. With that in mind, here are a full dozen welcome-to-June notes:
1) This is a great time to see caterpillars. Many have already metamorphosed into butterflies here in Maine; we're seeing swallowtails in particular. The roadside forest tent caterpillar we saw is destined to become a somewhat destructive (and, to my eye, less beautiful) moth, but Pamelia and I still enjoyed watching it cling to (and gnaw on?) a blade of grass. A bit of sixth-month creepy-crawly trivia: Caterpillars have six tiny eyes (able to sense light but not recognize shapes) on each side of their head.
2) In Case You've Never Heard June Is Bustin' Out All Over (click below) I'm hardly a Broadway expert, but if you need a boost to your day this certainly is an upbeat number. Oscar Hammerstein, by the way, also collaborated on the musicals Wildflower, Green Grow the Lilacs, The New Moon and Very Warm For May. America's favorite naturalist-librettist?
3) The Acadia Birding Festival As I write this, groups of avian-watchers are on trails and boats in and around Mount Desert Island enjoying one of the year's best events here in Maine. I hope to be with them tomorrow.
4) How to Watch a Hawk Like a Hawk. Right now Cornell's world-renowned ornithology lab has a camera trained on a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks. They're perched on a light pole above athletic fields at the university's campus, in Ithaca, New York. Click on this short behind-the-scenes video below to see the hawks and hear how the lab set up the camera.
5) A Storm Discovery Flash. Crack! GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!
Flash. Crack! GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!
Flash. Crack! GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!
Pamelia and I learned during a nighttime thunderstorm this week that our resident wild turkeys, perched in the trees around our house, don't like lightning. At all.
6) New York Bathers
7) Mummified Dogs I'm eager to receive our copies of Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death, by Bernd Heinrich, the great naturalist and scientist whose artwork and writings we're highlighting this summer. (He's tentatively set for Notebook-organized events—some held at the Notebook, some elsewhere in the area—on August 20 and 21.) The book has just come off the presses, and I've interviewed Bernd about it and many other topics in a lengthy Q-and-A we'll be posting on the blog soon.
It's interesting to look at how we humans handle death, not just of fellow homo sapiens but of other animals. Mythology has long been a driving force. In millennia past, bodies of several species were mummified in the belief that this would create harmony between a departed spirit and its corporeal host. Archaeologists in Egypt have found millions of mummified dogs and jackals. Sad to say, most of these animals were apparently killed as pups and mummified as part of a ritual tribute to Anubis, the Egyptians' jackal-headed god of the dead. We live in a strange world.
A few days ago Notebook contributor visited the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, and sent back a photo of mummified dogs on display as part of an Egyptian exhibition. "They're beautifully painted and carefully protected by the elaborate folds of fabric you see on human mummies from the Fayum period," she reports. It's hard to make out the painting, but here is the picture:
8) Six for the Sixth Month • Insects have six legs. • Beehive chambers have six sides. • So do cubes. • Six is the atomic number (number of protons or electrons) of carbon, an element found in all forms of life. • Snow crystals have six corners. • Any person on Earth is supposedly six degrees of separation (through friends who have friends who have friends) from any other person on Earth.
9) Maine's Changing Climate Pamelia and I went to another Science Cafe talk sponsored by the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and heard from Kirk Allen Maasch of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute. I hope to write more about this talk soon, but among other highlights was Kirk's explanation of how and why climate change has become more noticeable in our state in the last three decades. Maine happens to be the northernmost range for many species and the southernmost range for others, so what happens here will affect—and is already affecting—numerous plants and animals. Maine is projected to become not just warmer but also wetter in the years ahead, with more rain and less snow.
10) Our First Roadside Iris of the Year
11) Inspiration and Tragedy You may have read about the death of Marina Keegan in a car accident this past week shortly after her graduation from Yale. Near the end of her college career, Keegan, a gifted writer and fresh voice who was to have begun work this month as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker magazine, wrote a essay about being part of a college community. It's a lovely piece of writing about the bonds and camaraderie that make shared experiences so important to us as a species. It's called "The Opposite of Loneliness." Click here to read it: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/may/27/keegan-opposite-loneliness/?cross-campus
12) ANSWER TO THE LAST PUZZLER As some of you correctly responded, the bird in that Maine photo was a blue-headed vireo. Don't know if you saw the comment, but a trio of blog readers invented names for some fictional blue birds they'd like to see: an ultramarine flycatcher, a cobalt sapsucker and a Prussian-faced booby. Any other suggestions?
Here's a short video of a blue-headed vireo nesting in Massachusetts:
What kind of nestlings are shown in the photo above, which was taken this week in Maine?
a) herring gulls
c) blue jays