Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Isabelle Joanne

My new niece came into the world at around 3 PM on Saturday December 27, 2008. She weighed 10 lb 4 oz (Yowza! I feel sorry for my SIL). The best part: she arrived a bit early, and just early enough that Uncle Doug got to visit her before returning to Chicago this evening. Yay!!


Friday, December 26, 2008

Skywatch - Singing Beach

Singing Beach, Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA December 23, 2008

The big beach in my home town is called Singing Beach. It's named because the sand squeaks when you walk on it. Tuesday was such a beautiful day that Leon and I decided on a stroll on the beach. With all the storms we have had this week, the beach at low tide is one of the few places where you can walk without trudging through the snow. I got some nice pictures for Skywatch.

Seaside icicles on Eaglehead Rock

Looking east towards Gloucester
Kettle Island is visible to the right

Looking east down the length of Singing Beach
This close to the solstice, it's almost sunset at 3 PM.

See all of Skywatch here.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pure Florida

So not. Our rental car is from Florida, and I thought that FC and Thingfish might appreciate the irony. It's been snowing much of the day here on Cape Ann. We had no place we needed to go and nothing much that we needed to do. It was quite enjoyable.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas in New England

White Beach

Given how bad the weather was in Boston today, I'm really surprised that we made it into town with so little difficulty. We took off on time and got to Boston a bit early. We had to circle a while witing for the runway to be plowed and the airport reopened, then had to wait on the ground a bit for a gate to become available. Total delay time: abot an hour.

Things were so pretty when we got out of the city. It's like Christmas from my childhood.

Salt Marsh, Manchester-by-the-Sea

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Being of Good Cheer (Assisted)

It snowed today. We got about 4". Unfortunately, due to the economy and budget cutbacks, snow removal and salting have been drastically reduced everywhere. Perhaps it's a pay to play situation and the crooked and shameless scoundrel governor is getting payback after noticing that I didn't make a contribution to his last campaign. I left work at 2:00 to avoid the worst of the storm and ended up getting home at 7:00. During the entire FIVE HOURS that it took me to get home in a MEASLY FOUR INCHES of snow, I saw exactly ONE SNOWPLOW. If this sort of thing continues, I have two words for every pol in the state of Illinois who is even considering re-election: Michael Bilandic.

Imperial Tidbits
L-R: Tomatillo Salsa, Apple Ginger Marmalade, Raspberry Jam. Black and Blueberry Jam

In a case of great timing, something was waiting for me when I got home- a package from Mark and Rodger. It contained a variety of imperial tidbits- jams, salsa and the like. Mark and Rodger are excellent cooks and master canners. I'm especially looiking forward to trying the apple-ginger marmelade. I felt better instantly. Thanks Mark and Rodger!

Entertaining with Insects

Underneath all the canned goodies was another surprise- a book about how to entertain with insects. In this case, 'how to entertain' means how to cook with insects and then serve them to your hapless guests. I can't wait to try the honeybee souflée.

Another surefire method of coping with an afternoon like today's: purple ice cream.

Black Raspberry Ice Cream

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A Change in the Weather

Last night when I went to bed it was 48°F out. This morning I woke to 8°F with a stiff wind (wind chill -12°F). During the transition that dropped the temperature by 40° in 7 1/2 hours we had sleet and freezing rain. When I left for work, I had to chisel my car out of a fairly thick layer of ice (all at 8 degrees). I leave for Key West in six weeks and five days.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sagittarian Encore

The weather was unpleasant today. Raw winds and sleety rain (now all rain) have made outside activities unappealing today. That's OK, because today was time to whip up a batch of the world's purplest ice cream.

And roast a mole inspired turkey.

Because it's time once again to celebrate the party for Sagittarians and their friends. I'm about to go don my purple shirt, pull the homemade caraway Gouda and homemade Camembert cheeses out of the fridge and head on over to Rebecca's for an evening of fun and frivolity.

(Aside: If you have never tried the mole-inspired turkey, it's worth a go. It's very easy and the gravy is to die for).

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


Growing up on the coast of Massachusetts, I really enjoyed the natural world. I spent a lot of my childhood mucking in tide pools, chasing butterflies, and gardening with native woodland wildflowers. It was a childhood that did a lot to prepare me for my adult life as a biologist and conservationist. I've lived in Illinois over half of my life now, and it is here that these interests have blossomed into my career and resulted in a lot of interaction with the local conservation community. Although my biological family still lives in Massachusetts and I return frequently, I've never had any contact with the environmental community in the Northeast. That may be changing.

Last August, Leon and I spent a few days with my dad. It was the first time in a while that I'd been back home in the summer. The first time since I'd developed my recent obsession with tiger beetles. While visiting a preserve in my old home town, I happened upon a Massachusetts endemic subspecies of the red-bellied tiger beetle, Cicindela rufiventris hentzii. I got some nice photos, blogged about it, and posted the photos to BugGuide.net.

Yesterday I got an unexpected email from an invertebrate zoologizt from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The email read, in part:
I was perusing BugGuide, and was a bit surprized to find your photo of Cicindela rufiventris hentzii from Agassiz Rock. I was even more surprised when I checked the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program database and realized that this is a new locality record for this critter, which is listed as a Threatened species in Massachusetts.
Wow. And I wasn't even trying to find it. Some further email exchange revealed that there is one extant location in the extreme south of Essex County, an old (1891) record from Gloucester, and my recent find. That's it for Essex County. The habitat that I found it is, however, is one that is very familiar to me from my childhood. I can think of at least half a dozen other locations that could be home to the critter. I'm pretty sure that I know where the Gloucester specimen came from. I'm pretty sure that it's an intact site, so the population may persist. How cool would it be to relocate it after 118 years?

I'm going to be home next June, which is within the flight time for this beetle. The invertebrate zoologist has expressed an interest in having me show him the site where I found it, and scoping out some nearby possibilities. My lack of interaction with the Massachusetts conservation community appears to be ending.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Am I an Endangered Species?

From a great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas H. Benton makes the observation:
The business culture that dominates today's museums has no room for the eccentricities of introverted curators
Yikes, I'm doomed! My favorite part:
Public-relations specialists "attempted to bring out the scruffy old scientists from their hidden redoubts. Their elbow patches were confiscated. Corporate culture had arrived."
They can have my elbow patches when the pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

Hat tip: Steve


Monday, December 08, 2008

O Christmas Cheese

Thanks to my friend Gary, I may have finally gotten a reliable source of raw milk for cheese making. Even better, the milk that's available from this source is from Gurnsey cows. This milk has a much higher butterfat content than the Holstein milk that's more familiar. Las week I got a couple of gallons. On Saturday, I made some Camembert with it.

I noticed two things about the cheese. The curds are much firmer and set up quickly. I may have to reduce the amount of rennet that I use with this milk. The drained curds were much yellower for this milk than they were for my previous efforts at Camembert. Compare an earlier batch.

I think that the color difference is a reflection of the increased butterfat content. I'm really looking forward to trying this one. Unfortunately, it won't be ready until February.

We also put up the Christmas tree this weekend. Sunday afternoon Leon and I braved the cold to go pick out our tree. In the evening, friends joined us for tree trimming and pizza.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Red Sky at Morning

Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois
12/3/08 - 6 AM

More Skywatch here.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Six Things Meme

Way back last week, Bug Girl tagged me with a meme.

The rules are:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. In college I took up figure skating. I can still do an inside eagle and a waltz jump.

2. The first time I ever saw the Pacific Ocean was in Lima, Peru

3. I have Hitchhiker's Thumb.

4. My first time was when I was 21.

5. I hate raw tomatoes.

6. The worst year of my life: Age 13. But maybe age 18. The best: Age 40. Though life since 40 has continued to be pretty sweet.

I don't tag people on memes. I also break chain letters.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Anza Borrego

Anza-Borrego is where I first loved the desert. It's a huge state park- bigger than many entire counties here in Illinois- east of San Diego and south of Palm Springs in the rain shadow of the Coast Range. It's one of the vast and empty places of the American West that I have come to love in the last two decades of my life. Leon and I visited on the Friday of our recent California trip.

It's been a while since I've visited. Two years ago, on our last trip, Leon and I had become sick. Our feelings of malaise increased during the drive down, and we opted to go back to the resort rather than go for a hike. Fortunately we fared much better today.

The trail into Plum Canyon begins as a Jeep road

We chose to hike in Plum Canyon, so named because of the many desert apricots (Prunus fremontii) that grow in the wash. It was a perfect day for a hike, sunny and warm but not hot. There are few flowers in bloom at this time of the year, but the vegetation is still fascinating. Anza-Borrego has some of the most beautiful, garden-like cactus patched that I've ever seen.

Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

Barrel Cactus

For the first time on this vacation, we were seeing a bit more insect life on this hike.

Grasshopper nymph on a desert apricot branch

Leda Hairstreak (Ministrymon leda) - winter form

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The Great Purple Hairstreak was, unfortunately, uncooperative for photography. It didn't fly away, but it was very active climbing over the flowers it was nectaring on. It kept moving out of focus, or out of view. It's a species that I see fairly frequently in these mountains. The larval food plant, mistletoe, is abundant as a parasite of the various desert shrubs and trees that grow here.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron sp.)

Why it's fun to hike in the desert

Plum canyon winds up the mountains, narrowing as it goes. As we hike, I'm reminded of the profound silence of this desert. We hear no human sounds and few birds. You can hear the wing beats of the numerous crows flying overhead, the breeze in your ears, and little else. It's a moment of sublime peace.

Looking back down Plum Canyon Wash
The blue spiky plants are agaves (Agave deserti)

The hike ends at the ridge line with a beautiful view of Earthquake Valley and the village of Shelter Valley. We lingered to enjoy the view and the breeze before the descent and evening.

The view into Earthquake Valley

Anza-Borrego Memories

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