Thursday, June 07, 2012

(photo by Jeff Thomsen)
This isn't about herps, but I'll use it as a platform to mock birders (affectionately, of course, some of my best friends...). I was at City Hall covering a peregrine falcon nestling banding event for my Grid Urban Naturalist column, and the broom guy was late. Adult peregrines understandably defend their nest from big humans abducting their babies, and the broom guy's job is protect the biologist using what else but a perfectly ordinary broom (note that the goal is to block, not swing). I was there with City Hall employees and several birders, but in the dragging moments that I waited after they asked, "do we have any volunteers for the broom?" none of these people, who were supposedly so psyched to be that close to one of the coolest birds in the sky (combine endangered status with fierce beauty and the fastest flying on the planet - topping 200 mph in an attack dive). This so perfectly fits the herper's sterotype of birders: content to observe quietly from behind binoculars, but unwilling to sweat much, get their hands dirty, or generally physically interact with their quarry. So, I, the only herper in the room, ended up as the broom guy, and I had what was and is likely to forever be the most exciting bird experience of my life.

Monday, June 04, 2012

I think I've mentioned before that I enjoy making my own liqueurs. That might sound a little more fancy than it is; basically you soak the flavoring agent of your choice (cranberries, chocolate, lavender...) in the hard liquor of your choice and add as much sugar as you'd like, maybe some water too. Last year I tried out some of the cherries from ornamental cherry trees in a base of gin and a little cinnamon. The fruit aren't exactly yummy on their own - generally strong cherry taste with a fiercely bitter/tannic aftertaste - but make a great sweet/bitter drink (and would probably make great jam too) in the spirit of sloe berries that make sloe gin. This year I'm trying out a more neutral base...

But I digress. Magnolia and I wandered West Philly picking a couple quarts of really small cherries (takes a long time), and in the process we saw some critters.

We strolled (get it? she was in the stroller!) by the ponds along Belmont Avenue in Fairmount Park, where we saw a jillion bull frogs (Lithobates catesbeiana) and a mystery turtle that I assume is a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta).

Then we cruised by where Jen has been working on the way home, where she has been working on a garden along with the patients. My eyes of course wandered to snakey-looking cover objects. Dig the pile of black roofing material at the base of the wall.

And now dig one of the brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) under it!