Category Archives: abiotic

Back home and catching my breath

It’s been a month since I posted anything here, the last post being the book tour schedule. I think I had this naive idea that I’d post intermittently while I was away on tour, talking about how the events were going, but in reality I just didn’t have the time. Between driving to the events, setting up for the events, and doing the events, I didn’t have a whole lot of time left over for internetting, and what I did have tended to be taken up with things like plotting out driving directions to my next event.

I’ve been home a few days now, and have been using the time to get caught up on everything I wasn’t doing while I was gone – pressing things like preparing the gardens, slightly less-immediate stuff like starting to catch up on email (which I’m perpetually hopelessly behind on). This weekend I’m away again, but I hope to post a bit about the tour early next week. Stay tuned!

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Seabrooke’s Bookshelf – The Bluebird Effect and Moth Catcher

First, another update on the moth guide. Many bookstores and retailers have already received and put out their copies of the guide, so the book is officially NOW AVAILABLE! I’ve also heard that Barnes & Noble has started shipping online orders; not sure about Amazon. I believe some retailers outside of the northeast won’t be selling the book till April 17, but presumably Barnes & Noble will still ship there now. One way or another, though, you should be able to get your hands on a copy quickly, if you want one!

For those who have ordered a signed copy from me, I’m afraid I’m still operating on an April 17 release-date schedule – not anticipating bookstores to get or put out their copies early. I will be trying to get the books out as soon as I can, but please expect it to still be another couple of weeks. Sorry about that!

Now on to a couple of other titles recently added to my bookshelves…

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The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose

I received this book the same day I got my first copy of the moth guide, about a month ago. At the time it was an advance copy, before the book was available in bookstores. It’s been released since then, so you should be able to find it now.

I’ve been a follower of Julie’s blog for about five years now, having found it shortly before starting my own (hers was, in fact, one of the blogs that inspired mine). Not long after I discovered her blog, and without realizing I was already a fan of hers, my mom gave me a copy of her first book, Letters from Eden, for Christmas. I read that book in just a couple of days, immediately after Christmas. I’ve been looking forward to Julie’s new book pretty much since finishing that last one. It’s been a labour of love for her, the work spanning nearly as long as it took us to do the moth guide. But for all of Julie’s fans, it’s been worth the wait. The book was recently selected as Book of the Week on Oprah.com, and it’s easy to see why.

The Bluebird Effect is a collection of essays on the many different birds that have touched Julie’s life over her years as a birder and rehabilitator, starting with a male bluebird her husband saves from a local Sharp-shinned Hawk one day, and who thanks her by returning year after year to nest in the boxes in their yard. The title is drawn from the idea of the butterfly effect, applied to this bluebird; both in terms of the bluebird’s own effect on his local world through the young he raised, and his effect on Julie as she watched him and got to know him.

The narrative is easy to read, picking you up and pulling you in with that same poetic quality that fills Julie’s blog. But of course, what makes the book so unique are the hundreds of watercolour paintings and pencil sketches that fill the pages, illustrating her stories. She’s got a distinct style to her artwork, managing to capture the essence of a bird in just a few quick strokes of the pencil or brush, a skill I’ve long admired.

The stories recount the close encounters of the avian kind that Julie’s been lucky enough to experience in her years of working with birds, and it’s impossible not to come away from them without an understanding of the reason she gives up her time (sometimes lots of it!) to helping these individuals. I think this excerpt from a chapter on a Red-tailed Hawk sums it up well:

[O]pening the door into his life, if only for a little peek, brought home to me that almost everything in nature is so much more awe-inspiring than it first appears. … I thought about those who would question whether one middle-aged redtail was worth all the fossil fuel and frozen mice, man-hours, phone minutes, medical expertise, and X-ray film expended on his behalf. I’d argue that he was worth all that and more. Though it would not matter to him, in the Ohio countryside beneath his outstretched wings, he’d left a handful of human hearts, connected in joy.

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Moth Catcher by Michael M. Collins

I was contacted by Michael Collins a while ago asking if I’d be interested in a copy of his book. Never one to turn down a free book (and this one had the promise of moths!) I said sure, I’d love to see it. It arrived not long after, and I had a quick flip through then set it on my shelf. I’ve been on a fiction binge lately and haven’t been in the mood for non-fiction (Julie’s book being the exception). Finally, earlier this week I finished up my most recently library novel and, not really being grabbed by any of the other titles waiting for me on my shelf, I decided to give this a go, since I’d promised Michael I’d review it. I’ll be completely honest: I was planning to read the first 40-50 pages or so, enough to get a feel for the book so I could post something here, and I could maybe come back to it at a later date.

Well, I finished it in three days. Admittedly, it’s not a long book at just over 160 pages, and small pages at that. But that’s unfairly dismissive of the writing, which was very engaging. I had been expecting the book to be mostly about the capture and rearing of silkmoths, which was sort of how it had been described to me (not to mention what the title infers). But it’s not really about that at all, though that’s sometimes touched on; it’s more about hybridization of species in nature, with moths playing the research subjects, and showing how the author’s early interests helped influence his choice of species and location for his work.

The book falls into three sections. Chapters 1-3 are all a sort of personal chronicle of his boyhood (including a recipe for his neighbour and friend’s mint sauce), and then his experiences hiking the canyons and mountain passes of the book’s subtitle. This was definitely my favourite section of the book, taking me back to my three weeks spent on an ecology field course in the deserts of Arizona and California one year, and to my summer doing bird surveys in the Sierra Nevada mountains around Lake Tahoe. Even without this personal experience, though, the pictures Michael draws of these regions should bring you right there with him.

In chapters 4-6 Michael starts to focus more on his graduate research looking at hybridization in the mountain passes where two closely related silkmoth species from either side of the mountains come together. These are also fascinating as he talks about collecting species and looking at the different mechanisms he discovered that maintain the two species as separate. And finally, in chapters 7-8 he discusses the science of hybridization in a broader sense, drawing on his own work and that of one of the inspirations for his graduate studies, Walter Sweadner. While still interesting, I did feel the book started to bog down a bit through these sections as the narrative gets more scientific and less personal, and found myself skimming the text in spots.

Still, I found the book to be a light, easy read, and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to learn more about silkmoths, the southwest, or species hybridization.

A quick note re: the moth guide

Currently Amazon lists a Kindle edition of the PFG to Moths as being available for pre-order with release on April 17. I inquired with our editor about this, and there will be no Kindle/ebook edition released anytime soon. The field guide format is trickier and more involved to convert to ebook than a standard narrative/text, and the tools to do a good job of it are fairly new. The way the information is stored in the computers is apparently a little confusing and results in Amazon putting this sales link up (I gather this has been a problem for a while and the publisher has been looking at changing the computer system to try to address it).

There may well be an ebook version in the future, but it won’t be available on April 17. So if you’ve pre-ordered a copy, you’ll need to cancel and order the print copy instead. Sorry about that, everyone!

Cats / tracks

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I’ve been waiting for a really nice, sunny, mild day to head out with my cordless drill to clean out our nestboxes, and the weather conditions were perfect for it this afternoon. I took photos and will follow up on that on probably Wednesday.

While I was out there, though, I saw a number of other critters enjoying the sunshine like I was. I spotted a few fuzzy caterpillars, mostly Woolly Bears like the above. They emerge so early, I don’t actually know if they spend any time eating before they pupate. There wouldn’t be a whole lot to eat yet. Although, I did spend some time raking out our garden, and the first shoots of daffodils and croci are coming up, as is the rhubarb. And quite a number of plants stay evergreen under the snow. So maybe there would be enough.

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On the way back to the house I came across this guy, who I initially mistook from a distance to be another Woolly Bear, but who turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar. I still get inordinately pleased whenever I discover one of these guys, even though they’re not uncommon here. We didn’t have them where I grew up (or if we did, I never noticed them); it wasn’t till I moved east that I started seeing them. So I still get that thrill of somethingcool! when I find one.

As I was walking back from the last nestbox I noticed a robin off some distance away in the forest, making a lot of noise in the leaf litter. I’d brought my binoculars with me (something I don’t always do, since I do most of my birding by ear these days and it’s one less thing to carry around) so I was able to watch him closely. After a moment or two he picked something up, dark and thick and C-shaped, carried it a short distance, then plunked it down in the leaf litter. I’m fairly certain it was a dark fuzzy caterpillar like one of the two above. I think he might have been trying to de-bristle it prior to eating it.

track1

I made a brief detour out to the rail trail and walked down to the creek, and discovered these tracks out there. What first caught my eye was the size of them. Certainly much bigger than any deer I’d seen around here. They’re cloven like deer and domesticated ungulates (except horses/donkeys), but there was really only one animal I thought could make something that large, at least that I would reasonably expect might be found walking down the rail trail. Which is a moose, of course.

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Having seen a moose in our back fields last fall, this wasn’t quite the stretch that I might have otherwise thought it. It’s possible he’s hung around the area, in one of the swamps nearby, keeping out of sight. I took a few photos and double-checked my tracks guide when I got back. They seem to be potentially confusable with domestic cows, with the main distinguishing feature being the front of the track – the hooves are pointed in moose, but rounded in cows.

You can’t see it as well in the first photo, but you can tell in the second that the front of the tracks are pointed. It was pretty clear in person, too, that the paired hooves were long and tapering at the front. They were relatively fresh… I didn’t notice them on my way out, only on my way back, though that’s not to say that they weren’t there and I just missed them on the way out. I tried following them to see where they went, but they seem to curve out from the fenceline and then back into the fenceline. I can only presume he jumped the fence, then got spooked after walking only a short distance down the trail and jumped back. And yes, moose, like all deer, can jump:

Who Knew? - Moose Jumping a Fence Photo by Bruce Barrett (nordicshutter) on Flickr; CC-licensed (the only such photo I found of a moose jumping, though there are others that are not CC)

Happy Holidays!

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Wishing you good company, good cheer, good food and good hiking. :)

Book tour update

Just a quick post to provide an update on the book tour! I’ve got a number of dates set now, and some others that look likely. Here’s the schedule of set and probable dates and locations:

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Red dates are confirmed or probable; I’m trying to set up something for teal dates; brown date is the New River Birding and Nature Festival (paid event); navy date is my day off to visit a couple friends in the area. :) A few of these are subject to final confirmation and may change; I’ll post the definitive schedule in a few weeks once I know.

April 29 – Detroit, MI area

April 30 – Columbus, OH area (The Nature Conservancy Ohio)

May 1 – Wheeling, WV (Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort)

May 2-5 – New River Birding and Nature Festival, WV (closed/paid event)

May 5 – if anyone is interested in an event in eastern KY, western VA or southwestern WV, let me know; it may be possible to arrange an event on May 5

May 6 – Richmond, VA area

May 7 – Davis, WV (Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge)

May 8 – Millersburg, PA (Ned Smith Center for Nature & Art)

May 9 – Hockessin, DE (Ashland Nature Center; Delaware Nature Society)

May 10 – East Brunswick, NJ (Playhouse 22, Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission)

No event on May 11.

May 12 – Athol, MA (Athol Bird and Nature Club)

May 13 – Ithaca, NY

Sunday Snapshots: First snow

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These are actually from a week and a half ago, and were taken by Dan on his morning walk. I think I’ve documented the first snow of the last few years; it seemed a shame to miss this year, since it was such a spectacular arrival. There was nothing when darkness fell the night before, but at least three inches of the white stuff by the time dawn arrived.

Unrelated: the book tour is filling up fast. Thanks to everyone who’s either contacted me or passed on the info to groups in your area! I’m still open to potential dates in southern Michigan, Virginia and/or Delaware if you live in these areas or know a possible nature center or organization that might be interested in hosting an event.

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