Friday, July 13, 2007

Afternoon Delight

We have quite a few wild raspberry (Black Raspberry, if we identified it right) bushes on Prospect Hill, and we reap the rewards as often as we can. In an earlier post I gave my rudimentary lesson about botany, and these plants expand on that.

Black RaspberriesBlack raspberries growing wild in our yard,
and a chance to use the "supermacro" camera setting.

As the above photo shows, some of the berries are dark, plump, and inviting, while the others are red, scrawny, and not very appetizing. Still other berries in the same cluster are past ripe, starting to rot on the vine. Obviously, not all of the berries are ready for eating at the same time, which is odd, since the flowers emerged all at the same time.

Turns out, this is a very clever strategy the plant uses to keep seed dispersers coming back and collecting more seed to disperse. It attracts pollinators (butterflies, bees) all at once by flashing out all of the flowers at once: it's best to get a lot of pollinators mingling all at once so there is a lot of mixing of genetic material.

SpiderA spider sets up to trap any unsuspecting, but adequately sized, pollinators
visiting the raspberry flowers. And another chance to use "supermacro."

But the fruits develop at different rates, providing a resource for frugivores (fruit eaters) for a longer period of time. This gives a wide variety of animals time to come and gorge, then disperse the seeds in new places at different times. Chances are, some of those seeds will find a suitable place to grow next season. Brilliant!

Of course, while all of that intricacy isn't lost on us, we still like the simpler things in life: even a partially-filled bowl goes a long way when topping ice cream, stirred into yogurt, or eaten right off the vine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Falling Apart, Coming Together

A story in this morning's local newspaper caught my eye. Although it was about birds, what grabbed me wasn't so much the headline,
Ducklings orphaned; public's help sought

© Ray Finger / Star-Gazette
This brood of duckling hides Monday in the manmade
pond behind the carousel at Eldridge Park.

What really caught my attention was the subtitle, which explained how the ducklings were orphaned.
Mother duck was killed by boys at Eldridge Park.

The article, which you can find here, reads:

Dr. Bob Lyon, an Elmira dentist and founder of the Eldridge Park Carousel Preservation Society, said an eyewitness saw several teenage boys throwing rocks at the mother duck. After learning about the incident Saturday, he went to check it out, he said.

"Sure enough, it was obviously blunt-force trauma from stones that killed this mother," he said. "It wasn't an animal attack, so all the pieces fit together."
The person who witnessed the incident does not know who the boys are, Lyon said. The witness saw the stones being thrown and the flapping of the duck's wings. When the witness got closer, the duck took her last breath and died, he said.

I'm not naive, I know kids do pretty heinous things. In fact, when I was in elementary school I watched a friend shoot his BB gun at the birds visiting a neighbor's feeder. That day he only took one shot. After I asked what the f*ck he was doing he started laughing and started shooting at me. We didn't hang out much after that.

What I've never understood is why. What satisfaction can be gained by stoning a domesticated animal in an urban park? It's clearly not the same as legitimate hunting. Although I don't partake in it, I do understand why people hunt. I have great respect for the hunters I know, they are among the best stewards of the environment I've witnessed, they are much more in touch with the web of life that surrounds us than most anyone else. They are humane and respectful.

But when it comes to this type of senseless slaughter, I really hope they are able to track down the culprits and that they are penalized appropriately. I don't have much faith that will happen, given the way society at large doesn't seem to put much value on things that have intrinsic, non-monetary value. At this point, says the article, the police aren't involved at all.

The coming together of community members to try and care for the ducklings, however, brings hope:

Some concerned carousel patrons gave money to the person running the Merry-Go-Eatery to buy buns to feed to the baby ducks, she said. Later, she and her daughter bought some cracked corn and mixed it with dog kibble that softened in the water for them to eat, she said.
"They liked the cracked corn a lot," Amy Uy said. "At least that's a little more substantial than bread."
People who heard through the grapevine about what had happened have been going over to throw cereal and other food items at the ducklings trying to get them to eat, Amy Uy said.

"So far, they're doing pretty good, but we were just worried, as other people are, that whoever did this would come back and hurt the babies," she said. "They're so adorable, and there's nothing there to protect them."

I find hope in that there are a good number of people wanting to help, and that number is greater than those who would fatally attack a domesticated animal. I hope the boys brag about it within earshot of someone who cares enough to turn them in. And I hope these self-appointed caretakers of the ducklings provide a more substantial feed than bread.

I really hope to have some positive updates on this story as it continues.


According to an Elmira Police Department press release, the animal control division of the department is beginning a full investigation into the matter.

Full article on the Star-Gazette web site.
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