Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cooper's Hawk in our Patio

The Cooper's Hawk visited again. Here it is on the posts that supported our old diving board:

Pipevine Swallowtail

I haven't done any photography since spring. But when I went outside a couple of days ago, this Swallowtail was feeding from our Mexican Bird of Paradise. I ran inside and grabbed my camera. Got this "point and shoot" - no time to focus - just before it flew away. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This is a post I wrote for the Whorled Leaves blog.

I was fascinated by an article, Loyal to Its Roots, published on June 10 in the online version of the New York Times, concerning the social life of plants. It begins:
From its diminutive lavender flowers to its straggly windblown stalks, there is nothing about the beach weed known as the Great Lakes sea rocket [shown in photo at left] to suggest that it might be any sort of a botanical wonder. Yet scientists have found evidence that the sea rocket is able to do something that no other plant has ever been shown to do. The sea rocket, researchers report, can distinguish between plants that are related to it and those that are not. And not only does this plant recognize its kin, but it also gives them preferential treatment. If the sea rocket detects unrelated plants growing in the ground with it, the plant aggressively sprouts nutrient-grabbing roots. But if it detects family, it politely restrains itself. The finding is a surprise, even a bit of a shock, in part because most animals have not even been shown to have the ability to recognize relatives, despite the huge advantages in doing so. If an individual can identify kin, it can help them, an evolutionarily sensible act because relatives share some genes. The same discriminating organism could likewise ramp up nasty behavior against unrelated individuals with which it is most sensible to be in claws- or perhaps thorns-bared competition.
The research was carried out by Susan A. Dudley, an evolutionary plant ecologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and a graduate student, Amanda L. File. Dr. Dudley said: "I'm just amazed at what we've found. ... Plants have a secret social life." Since publishing this research last August, Dr. Dudley has since found evidence of three other species that can also recognize their relatives.

The article continues by relating how some plants can sense potentially competing neighboring plants through subtle changes of light or by the chemicals released into soil and air, and how they take advantage of this.

The article ends by talking about the ongoing debate among plant scientists of "which of the abilities and attributes that scientists have long considered the real of just animals, like sensing, learning and memory, can sensibly be transferred to plants?" and discusses the controversy surrounding a new group, the Society of Plant Neurobiology.
The online article includes a video of a seedling of the parasitic weed, dodder (Cuscuta pentagona), seeking out its victim (a tomato plant).
The photo of the Sea Rocket flower is taken from the New York Times article. For more photos and information about the Great Lakes Sea Rocket, see Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Fred - Cinco de Mayo; Fred - on Mars

Meet Fred. Fred is a shimmering aluminum buffalo with golden wings. He sits on the roof of Copper Country Antiques on East Speedway in Tucson, Arizona, the street that Life magazine once called the "Ugliest Street in America." Owner Gaillard originally planned to turn the buffalo into a barbecue pit. But he got too attached and couldn't bring himself to cut Fred up. So, he welded on the golden wings and stuck Fred on the roof instead.
I didn't get a chance to photograph Fred when he was painted pink with red hearts for Valentine's Day. But I did stop by when he was celebrating Cinco de Mayo (5th of May), a Mexican holiday that commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. (The date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.)
On May 25th, NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm. Fred, of course, is particularly proud of the University of Arizona team* working on the Phoenix Mars mission

I'll try to follow Fred's adventures as he pays tribute to significant events throughout the year. Stay tuned!

*Principal investigator of the Phoenix project is Pete Smith, a professor at the University of Arizona's Lunary and Planetary Laboratory. The University of Arizona team designed and built many of the components of the mission. In addition, the UA team will host the Phoenix Mission's Science Operations Center (SOC) in its Tucson facility. From the SOC, the Phoenix science and engineering teams will command the lander once it is safely landed on Mars, and also, receive data as it is transmitted directly to Earth. A payload interoperability test bed (PIT) will be located with the SOC to verify an optimal integration of Phoenix's complex scientific instruments. Working together, the SOC and PIT will ensure a seamless scientific and engineering process—from science goal to instrument commands to down-linked and analyzed data.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Coyote in the yard

This afternoon, I looked out and saw a coyote sunbathing outside the play yard. It's quite a handsome one - not like the scrawny ones I've seen on my morning walks. It must be getting some good meals down in our valley. 

I took this fuzzy photo through the window.

Later, when I went outside, it loped off. 

Friday, June 06, 2008

Visitor at the Back Door

This Mourning Dove came right up to the back door. I took its photo through the window.