After more than three decades on the brink of extinction, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) — the largest and most threatened wild bird species in the United States — is making a modest recovery, thanks to intensive captive breeding and medical intervention. But troubling data reported this week suggest that unless hunters change their practices, the condor will require extensive support in perpetuity if it is to survive in the wild. [Read more…]
I’ve been following with interest the rapid expansion of wind energy and its impact on wildlife. Excited that I had a chance to delve into the issue for Nature magazine. Here’s how it starts:
Marc Bechard turned a worried eye skywards as he walked among the limestone hills at the southern tip of Spain. It was October 2008, and thousands of griffon vultures — along with other vulnerable raptors — were winging towards the Strait of Gibraltar and beyond to Africa. But first they had to navigate some treacherous airspace. The landscape on either side of the strait bristles with wind turbines up to 170 metres high, armed with blades that slice the air at 270 kilometres per hour. [Read more…]
I once helped draw blood from a wild falcon, its lithe wings gently lashed, its head covered to calm it. Biologists have been taking such tests for more than thirty years, tracking toxins in the predatory birds as they make landfall after spending months in Central and South America, where chemicals such as DDT and PCB aren’t banned like they are in the United States, since the 1970s. A month earlier I’d heard Charles Henny, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist with a focus on toxicology, say that by 2004 there was almost no detectable DDT in these falcons, whose populations had crashed due to DDT but then recovered. But there was something new on his radar. “There’s other stuff that’s replaced it,” he said. “My concern right now is the flame retardants.”
I have fallen in love with many a friend after seeing their bookshelves. Forget the eyes. The books that line the shelves of our homes, or lean in precarious piles on the floor, or crowd out our bedsides, are the windows to one’s soul. We see familiars we have at home, titles we’ve always meant to explore. We discover, always, something new. We see how they organize. Or don’t. We see the merging of a couple’s disparate and/or overlapping tastes and interests. I fantasize about a trip that took a lifetime, just visiting friends around the world and spending all my time reading their books. I fantasize boundless free time at home, to even get through my own. [Read more…]
It can be the tiniest of things that one loves about a place far from home. These aren’t my finely manicured nails (obviously), but here’s a decent photo of the chaat called golgappa (pani puri) that I had at a friend’ parents’ house. The little puris were crisp, containing the pani liquid of mango and tamarind we poured on top of the potato and chick pea filling. One bite, maybe two, some dribbling down the wrists, every taste on the tongue fired off.
Here’s a recipe that looks like it might could work, but i fear this just wouldn’t taste the same in Cape Cod.
I arrive in Amsterdam as the sun breaks over the horizon, and the airport is familiar. I was just here. I came through on my way to…where? Abu Dhabi? Nairobi? The travel blurs, and I forget to keep seeing, too comfortable in the movement. The woman’s cries as soon as I settle on flight KLM flight 871 to Delhi awaken me. She is keening, repeating a phrase over and over in a language I don’t recognize. Louder, repetitive, insistent, urgent. I’m hurting or Let me go or Leave me alone. All heads turn towards her voice, rising somewhere from the last center rows of the plane as passengers place their bags overhead, unfurl cheap fleece blankets. But there is no woman—or is it a child?—to be seen. Just five large men, one in an orange vest, another with a shiny metal badge affixed to his hip, one with a shaved head, all staring inward to where this invisible but beckoning creature must be. They don’t speak to her, or gesture as though to restrain her or help her. They just watch, silent, patient. All the rest of the passengers look at each other for some guidance. Is she hurt? Why aren’t they helping? What is going on? Is it a child? The flight attendant near us explains. [Read more…]
It took two hours and thirteen minutes to travel the 13 miles from the Barnstable bus stand to Sagamore Bridge, the definitive point between “on Cape” and “off.” I took a front seat, looking over the bus driver’s shoulder at the road ahead, as we pulled onto Route 6, flying for those first few miles. Then, a long line of brake lights lit up like a Christmas strand. The Sagamore Bridge, where peregrine falcons considered nesting amidst its metalwork last year, is under construction. The pair was spotted only once this year before they fled, surely, from the noise and construction, the men hoisted into the heavens by cranes and lifts, bringing blowtorches and making human thunder. Bridges have always fascinated me, the engineering feat of building such structures that can stand for decades of dedicated use, letting us leap over water, canyons and gullies. [Read more…]
Just out, my cover story in Saudi Aramco World magazine.
Some stories have no beginnings. But sitting around a fire in a spacious landscape with radiant stars overhead, next to a man with a gyrfalcon on his fist, I get a sense of a beginning. The bird is exquisite, otherworldly, glowing in the light of the fire. When I am offered the chance to hold it, I do not say no. We slip the thickly padded, finely embroidered cuff from his hand to mine. I stroke the bird’s feathers with the backs of my fingers. Its weight is, somehow, just right: light enough not to be a burden, heavy enough to convey the substance of what rests on my wrist.
I am in the desert of the Ramah Wildlife Refuge outside Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, close to the border of Oman. In the darkness of the dunes are foxes and owls and, if the conservation efforts are working, hares and houbara bustards. It is the first day of the International Falconry Festival, a gathering that will bring hundreds of people from dozens of nations to this sandy spot to celebrate the world’s growing recognition of their artful sport—indeed, their obsession.
Late in 2010, at a meeting in Nairobi, UNESCO announced that it would inscribe falconry onto the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). The room, filled with expectant falconers, broke out in cheers so long and loud that a recess had to be called. Abu Dhabi had spearheaded the effort that led to this announcement, submitting the application on behalf of 11 other disparate nations: the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Belgium, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Mongolia and Korea. It was the largest and most internationally diverse application UNESCO ICH had ever received.
Read the rest here…
The wind was blowing crazy out here on the Cape on Friday. On Saturday morning, IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) started getting calls. The Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team kicked into full gear, calling on volunteers and New England Aquarium staff to help with the rescue of common dolphins that were being found from Eastham to Brewster. About 30 dolphins were found altogether, ten dead, making it one of the largest dolphin strandings known on the Cape. IFAW and volunteers loaded some of the rescues into trucks and brought them to Scusset Beach for release, seeking calm and deep waters where both dolphins and human helpers could successfully get the cetaceans back into the water. [Read more…]
In graduate school I studied under religion writer Jeff Sharlet. It was through him that I learned how every story is a story of faith. The debate around climate change—is it happening, how bad is it, if it is happening what’s causing it, what should we do about it?—really comes down to a question of belief.
This summer, Andrew Hoffman had a piece in the Christian Science Monitor that addressed this fundamental notion of worldviews and cultural beliefs underlying the divide between climate skeptics and believers. He wrote, “For skeptics, climate change is inextricably tied to a belief that climate science and policy are a covert way for liberal environmentalists and the government to diminish citizens’ personal freedom.” For the skeptics, the science is merely a guise for a liberal anti-capitalist agenda.
But does the public agree?