Saturday, December 22, 2007

We Bid You Goodnight

The Grateful Dead Band, sometimes mistaken by the media of the late 20th century brought a lot of joy to lots of people and continue to do so. One of the many mysteries of life is why music makes one happy or sad, and how we remember music so well. Maybe it has something to do with Psalms 98.

The band known as the Grateful Dead may distance some from listening to them or at worst, all to common, causes a false judgment based only by their name.

The name of the band has been attributed to an old legend found here.

Here is a quite pleasant song performed by the Grateful Dead in concert in 1989.

The lyrics can be found here.

Music is a form of magic that can heal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My 2005 Ivory-billed Woodpecker Search

Illustrated is an image of three Ivory-billed Woodpeckers which also shows some stripped bark on a tree trunk. The bark was stripped by the Ivory-bills in a search for food, beetles and larvae.

Shown is a male with the distinctive red head and nape while the female Ivory-billed has a completely black head and nape. The third woodpecker is somewhat hidden behind the tree truck.
This is an excellent image courtesy of the book Birds of America by John James Audubon The watercolor image was also painted in 1826 by John James Audubon who was very creative in his many illustrations of the avian world.

Throughout the mid 20th century it was thought that the Ivory-bill had become extinct due to the diminishing habitat in which it survived in, and searches were made by individuals and groups in attempts to rediscover this woodpecker. Among many of these renowned Ivory-billed searchers was Arthur A. Allen who also captured black & white photos of the bird in the 1930s, and James T. Tanner.
In 1942 a Research Report for the Audubon Society was authored by James T. Tanner for the society. This report was eventually published by Dover in 1966 and again republished in 2003 by Dover as The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. ISBN 0-486-42837-0 (pbk).

Jump forward to 2004 and a reported Ivory-bill Woodpecker sighting near the White River in Arkansas. A new path of rediscovery and verification of a living bird was undertaken in Arkansas. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology lead much of this effort. Tim Gallagher published The Grail Bird Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 2005. ISBN 0-618-45693-7.

Jumping forward to November 2005 I undertook my own humble search for this woodpecker. My search consisted of only one day in the area near Brinkley, Arkansas - and as I had never visited the area my motive was also to see the environment and do other birdwatching. As a long time birdwatcher I knew it would be a rich area for observing winter birds.

I studied the maps before the trip and the first stop was in Brinkley at a shop that was made popular by the current Ivory-billed craze. The shopkeeper was very friendly and told me about the areas of interest. The shop also, of course, sold lots of Ivory-bill related items. Among the items were several lovely paintings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

The bridge pictured below is in the Bayou de View area. Noting that the materials looked new I had wondered if it wasn't the very bridge in Bayou de View that had been burned, one of the many stories heard during that time frame.

Well I never did see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker nor did I hear it's distinctive "kent" call but I had a great time seeing the area, and the thought that I "might" see one caused the adrenaline to be active. I observed many other winter birds, saw the White River, Cyprus Trees, other wildlife and took away many photographs.

Should I visit the area again for birdwatching, I will think about renting a canoe with a local guide. Some of the local terrain is very swampy and to see the area at it's fullest, water travel would help a lot or downright be required for local areas.

Does the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker exist here in Arkansas in 2007?

The evidence is sparse and it would take some real faith to believe that it does. It is a wide and somewhat wild region that is hard to explore, and there are video and audio observation monitors set up which have not recorded the very best evidence.

Yet...tree bark continues to be found that is freshly peeled back much like the Ivory-Billed is known for, unlike other birds. Local folks continue to speak of the 'Lord Bird' and maybe just as important it is accurately described both visually and audibly the local residents.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Hummingbirds are unlike any other family of birds.

The smallest of birds that weigh from 0.1 to 0.3 ounces. These beautiful birds are often seen at hummingbird feeders and natural plants that provide a quick energy source.
In the eastern US, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is by far the most common. The migration of these little creatures created by God is a testament of beauty and survival.

The vast majority of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, however, apparently cross the Gulf of Mexico in nonstop flights each spring and fall. Such long-distance flights are possible because these birds can increase their fat reserves and double their weight in as little as seven to ten days before migrating.

Just as astonishing is the estimation that on any given day during spring or fall migration an estimated 50 million birds are flying across the Gulf of Mexico.

Quotes from The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior.
David Allen Sibley
First Edition 2001

A Petrified Bow Tip In Wyoming

Near the petrified forest close to Buffalo, Wyoming, another mysterious early artifact related to human history can be found for anyone to see. Nearby, a beautiful landscape of red earth and dusky green vegetation can be visited with no crowd or people present on most days.

A mystery from Buffalo, Wyoming.

In the Jim Gatchell Museum in Buffalo Wyoming lies another mysterious artifact, one of many to be found in the small museums of America. Photographs were not allowed in this museum so I respected that and there is no photo of this artifact to be found here.

The museum, as most museums go, has a lot more of the recent historical artifacts and information content-wise. That makes sense though as the recorded history of the western settlement of America was well documented. One of the more fascinating stories I learned here was the story of the Johnson County War that took place in this locale. As far as our modern movies represent history, a very good movie of this incident in history is represented by the movie of the name Johnson County War.

The Jim Gatchell museum houses much of the story and many artifacts that have been saved and preserved from the Johnson County War. It is a very interesting story from the western settlement era. After taking in the first floor of the museum one descends the staircase to the basement. Along that path in a shadow box the leather whip made by Tom Horn is displayed.

In the basement of the museum in a glass case amongst many other objects I spotted an object with a label that said something to the effect of "From Ripley's Believe It Or Not". As I remember it, the description detailed the object as being found some 100 or so miles west of the museum.
It was described and appeared to be the the tip of a bow (as in a bow and arrow) but it was petrified...petrified.
To my eyes it certainly looked just as it was described. It had the notch and was tapered and curved exactly as a tip of a bow would be imagined to be. I would estimate it from memory to have been 3 to 4 inches in length.

There are theories about the Biblical flood and differing aspects of petrified wood. I won't delve into those ideas here. Were this artifact to be as represented and is not an astronomical odds shaped petrified broken branch, one has to wonder either about history in terms of the ages of man, or the accounts and accuracy of...well...what the process of petrified wood is.

If the former is to be considered, one needs to then consider the odds of the same type of weapon, a bow and arrow, and what the odds are that it was apparently re-invented in the same fashion some millions of years later are.

To the southeast of Buffalo there is to be found a smaller attraction by the name of The Petrified Forest. Not exactly the same as the Arizona attraction, yet the same in terms of what it actually is. It is almost a perfect western landscape where one can almost imagine the dinosaurs wandering about.

The red earth tips, earth, and the western vegetation mostly hide the smaller evidence of an ages old forest. It is however, a beautiful area to visit and not smothered by any commercialism, advertisements or people.
In a smaller note of mention, the area of Gillette, Wyoming to the southeast is an area rich in oil and at least once to my knowledge was a boomtown of the same. In the west it seems that oil, oil shale and ancient life go together geographically.

Just another mystery this petrified bow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beautiful Mimbres Pottery Art

In Deming New Mexico is a wonderful museum that houses a large collection of Mimbres Pottery. The Luna Mimbres Museum, as all museums that I have visited, house the local flavor and history of the area. This museum has hundreds of example of absolutely beautiful Mimbres Pottery.
The Mimbres Indians are thought to have lived about 1,000 years ago in what is now the southwestern part of New Mexico. A large part of what has been discovered archaeological wise is the pottery which is fascinating. Images of life, insects, birds, reptiles, humans, life from every species is represented on the mostly black and white or brown and white bowl shaped pottery. A large and maybe equal part of the collection are also simple as well as complex geometric patterns which are very often found to have a symmetrical pattern.
The image below shows another common them of a circular image traveling the circumference of the bowl.

I found that the life that is portrayed on the pottery to be most interesting. The Mimbres buried their dead in a sitting upright position with a bowl on top of their head. The bowl was made to have a hole in the top so that a swallow would be able to capture the dead ones' spirit, fly away and carry that spirit into heaven. This is the reason given that most bowls have a hole in the center.

In an image that appears to be a quail. Most likely what is now called a Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii). Callipepla meaning beautiful robe or beautifully adorned, and Gambel's for William Gambel, an early southwestern explorer and birdwatcher for whom the bird is named. Again note the hole in the middle of the image.

This final image at first glance appears to show a human and a kangaroo. A kangaroo or a kangaroo-like creature in the American Southwest? It does seem most curious.
Note the absence of a center hole and the somewhat rarity of an intact piece of Mimbres Pottery.

An excellent reference book with many illustrations/photos of Mimbres Pottery:
The Mimbres, Art and Archaeology - J.Walter Fewkes
ISBN 0-936755-10-5