Thursday, January 31, 2008

How do Hummingbirds Chirp?

Hummingbird at Howard and South Van Ness

I just read an article on the BBC summarizing a paper that describes how male Anna's Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) chirp. For those not familiar with these birds and their behavior, during mating season (around now if you're in San Francisco), the males fly high up in the air then dive down towards their female, reaching speeds of 50 mph. During this dive, the males produce a distinctive chirp. But how? Turns out the chirp is not a vocalization but is a mechanical sound produced by their tail feathers. Neat! The article has some beautiful photos of these birds and links to some great videos of hummingbirds.

If you want to see an Anna's hummingbird for yourself, now's a good time. They're the only hummingbird that's common in Northern California in the winter, and are comfortable nesting in cities and gardens. The males are incredibly distinctive, with both their head and neck covered in rosy-red feathers. Keep an eye out. They're cool little creatures.

Monday, January 28, 2008

San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival

Celebrate the migration of more than one million shorebirds and hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese, hawks and butterflies through the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
There are more than 70 events from February 1st to the 10th, from guided walks to kids art workshops. The schedule (and all kinds of other information) is here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wild in my kitchen

The boiler was broken at work this week, so I took the opportunity to work at home on Tuesday. And working at home means getting to do fun little projects to break up the computer time.

Tuesday's fun project was making my first batch of sauerkraut in 2008. WooHoo!

This is one of the two heads of cabbage that are now fermenting away on the top of our fridge. (Check the lovely crock in the background. Blair found it for me Christmas. No more big plastic tub for me!) Cabbage and salt go in and then the wild bacteria do their thing to make it into sour goodness. I have to say, I understand bacteria and culturing and all of that business, but fermented food still seem a bit magical to me. I love the idea that eating wild fermented food really is taking the flora of a place into your body. Folks have said since the time of the gold miners that there is something special about the wild bacterial and yeast fauna in San Francisco that makes the sourdough so good, and unlike the sourdough that you get France or Minnesota.

I also have a wild sourdough starter (named Roger), but have had mixed results with the bread from it. I don't know if it's the flour (I use mostly whole wheat), the fluctuating temperatures in our kitchen, my un-honed kneading skills, or something I haven't even thought of, but the bread I've made so far certainly leaves something to be desired. One of my goals this year is to make (more than once, so I know it's not just a fluke) some bread from Roger that I feel good about serving to other people. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Some wild bacteria (and lots of salt) in the salt flats by the San Francisco Airport

For a good, comprehensive book on bacteria I highly recommend Betsey Dexter Dyer's Field Guide to Bacteria. I seriously love this book. Before I had my very own copy I checked it out from library so many times that I maxed out my check-out allowance. Buy one for your bookshelf (or the bookshelf of someone you love who will let you borrow it).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Big Year

Happy 2008!

When I opened my calendar to the new year, I found the words "Be Lucky" written across the top of this month. It's my handwriting, so I must have written it, but I can't for the life of me remember when or why. Did someone say it to me? Did I read it somewhere? I have no idea. Regardless of where it came from I've decided it's a good new year's resolution. I get so caught up sometime in the stuff that's going wrong-I spend most of my working hours thinking about ecological collapse, and living in the city really beats me down sometimes-it's helpful for me to have those moments of psychic shakedown that get me out of myself, out of my head, even just for a moment.

I live in a beautiful place with some amazing creatures in it (humans included). I just need to let myself be surprised by it, to be moved by it, to notice how lucky I am.

On a related note, this month marks the beginning of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Big Year, a campaign to get folks out into the GGNRA to learn about natural habitats in San Francisco.
The Big Year is an educational outreach project disguised as a contest. The challenge? To see if anyone can find (alive, within the boundaries of the GGNRA) all 33 endangered and threatened species that live there. Their website has all of the details if you want to participate. Let me know if you do. I'll keep you posted on my sightings. Be lucky.