Monday, June 14, 2010

Garden of Eden

People hunger for nature. This is shown in a hilarious yet thought-provoking study undertaken by two Russian artists, Komar and Melamid, who polled people in various countries all over the world to find out what type of painting they would most like to hang on their walls. They set about constructing schematic paintings based on these polls. In their book "Painting by Numbers, a Scientific Guide to Art" page after page shows groups of people in bucolic scenes with lakes, blue mountains, trees, and animals. Their Garden of Eden. Two examples:

America's Most Wanted

Iceland's Most Wanted

But I am being sidetracked.  I wanted to talk about a SVAS guided walk with Marlboro College biologist Bob Engel a couple of days ago on the beautiful trails of Hogback Mountain, a defunct ski resort which closed in 1989 and  has gradually been reverting back to wilderness.

Overgrown Ski Trail

The air was filled with bird songs, but we only caught brief glimpses of the  warblers darting through the dense foliage as they gleaned small critters from the leaves and bark.  Species included  Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler... .  I was able to record a couple of songs:

Black-throated Blue Warbler song and Spectrogram:

And here, the Ovenbird's emphatic "Teacher Teacher Teacher" song

I confess, this walk showed me up as a complete newbie in bird song identification. There is so much to learn! I am finding out  my ears are not very good at picking up the warblers' high-pitched buzzy sounds.

Bob Engel is a gifted guide and teacher with a vast fund of knowledge. During our walk he commented on the polygynous nature of male Red-winged Blackbirds, on why scat deposited prominently on a rock, was probably left there by a Gray Fox, and on many other subjects prompted by what we encountered. He pointed out a small, rather drab looking plant which upon a closer look turned out to be a Horsetail (Exquisetum), one of the most ancient plants going back to the age of dinosaurs and  predating the appearance of grasses as ground cover and understory plant. It has a world-wide distribution. I remember playing with a plant like that as a child, pulling sections apart and sliding them back together.

He pointed out the most invasive species in the Northeast, the Japanese Knotweed,  which was forming a dense thicket at the edge of a field, sending out satellite colonies far into the field by deep rhizomes. Because of its extensive root system herbicides are required for eradication.

We looked at a meadow made more beautiful by dainty yellow Buttercup intermingling with the grasses. But Buttercup, it turns out, is poisonous to livestock. Once it takes posssession of a meadow the grass can no longer be used for hay. Of course Bobolinks, threatened by habitat loss, building their nests in high grass, benefit from fields being left uncut.  

Vermont is beautiful any time of the year, but it is truly glorious in June.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Those audio clips are very cool! I've only ever seen Black-throated Blue Warblers in migration, so I've never heard one sing; thanks for sharing!

  3. I actually started this post with a reference to an article in eScience reporting on a study that spending time in nature makes people feel more alive...Somehow this got omitted from the post.

  4. nice pictures! yesterday when you posted, i couldn't view your new entry!

  5. Great stuff. I love the image of the Overgrown Ski Trail. I have been thinking about writing a post on getting depth in a green background and this is a great example of how to get it right. Well done!!

  6. Thanks, Felicia.

    Thanks, JoAnne. You must have logged in when I was still doing some editing.

    Thanks, Harold. A misty day and a little Topaz 4 Adjust magic....

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I love the bird song clips. Listening to sounds associated with discussion about the bird helps me tremendously to improve my bird ID skills. Mine also fall short in the woods where there are lots of warblers. What are you using for equipment to record? I've wanted to record some myself, like baby eagles, to put on my site. Any thoughts on this would be much appreciated. I really love your web site. RRR

  9. Thanks, Robin. I use the Olympus LS10 recorder with built-microphone. It's small enough to fit into your pocket. I had tried a Sony Minidisc before with an ext. mic, but found it too cumbersome. I found this one by searching the Yahoo Naturerecordists group. It does an amazing job! I use the free audio editor Audacity to clean up the recording. The beta version has an excellent noise removal tool to get rid of background noise such as caused by traffic. Good luck with recording baby eaglets!

  10. Robin, if I can be of further help, contact me by email.


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