The Clueless Gardener

"fanaticus sine potestas"

Monday, May 28, 2007

Parrot Tulips in London

Since I have no current photos of flowers, here's my sinkful of parrot tulips from the Columbia Road flower market in London's East End, 2005. They were the most gorgeous things I'd ever seen, and this is after I'd elbowed my way around the Chelsea Flower Show. An armful was ten pounds. The hotel didn't have a vase big enough!
Posted by Picasa

Roger Tory Peterson vs. David Sibley

I can't help it; I just prefer Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds." And I have my reasons. But everybody on the Central Park birdwalks, including the leader, uses David Sibley's "The Sibley Guide to Birds," which burst on the scene in 2000 with great fanfare. What's wrong with me?! But since I have remained, over two decades, still the most rank of amateurs at spotting birds, maybe this is understandable. Let me explain.
Roger Tory Peterson, whose books were the gold standard in amateur birding for longer than half a century, is responsible for revolutionizing the identification of birds in the field, making it possible for non-ornithologists to spot field marks to distinguish one bird from similar ones. My greatest help, invented by Peterson, are the arrows on each picture that point to specific characteristics in appearance of each bird that help the observer in his task of answering that commonest of questions, "What was that bird that just flew away?" Each bird painting has several such essential clues to help dolts like me find their way around a passerine. Plus, Peterson was an accomplished wildlife painter, and his bird paintings are vivid, simple, and easy to pore over for identification clues. They're beautiful just to browse over the night before a birdwalk, to catch up on what warbler is which, something that mostly stumps me in the wilds of Central Park.
My old copy of Peterson's has all my notations on sightings from 1987 on, so it is like a memory book as well as a reference guide. Here's my marginilia for Prothonotary Warbler: "Seen by others, NOT ME, CP, '00". With this notation I can remember, and still feel, that awful frustration as a dozen other observers on the Central Park birdwalk ooooohed and aaaaahed upon spotting the bird, and me, the idiot, not finding and not finding it. Happily, immediately next to this notation, is the triumphal scribble, "2005! CP! 4-18-05! YEAH!" and I can enjoy that specific thrill of seeing my first Prothonotary anew.
And then there's the nostalgia for birds long gone. There is a painting of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in my old Peterson's, with the melancholy message, "very close to extinction, if indeed, it still exists." Below the copy, I have written "in Cuba, NY Times," and I remember an article ["in early 80's" my note says] that so excited me, that the Ivory-Billed had been seen. And now, very recently, of course, there's been a big hoopla and celebration that the Ivory-Billed has been spotted in Arkansas, by members of an expedition from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This ecstatic news was widely reported, and made me feel so very very happy at the time. A bird called back from extinction is that most rare of events that can inspire so much hope in the soul! And, my next notation next to the Ivory-Billed listing here in my Peterson's is "Announced found in AK, 2005!!" to mark that wondrous news. I remember talking to anyone who would listen, marvelling, marvelling.
Now, here comes the new guy on the block, David Sibley. Roger Tory Peterson, the King, is dead, and Sibley now reigns over bird-spottingdom. My next notation by Ivory-Billed, in my battered Peterson's, is "Sibley says 'no' 2006." Clunk. And it did get lots of notice, the announcement that the premier bird expert of the present day, Mr. Sibley, very much doubts that there have been legitimate sightings of Ivory-Billeds. That in his opinion the observers' passion and excitement and adrenoline caused them to mistake Pileated Woodpeckers for the long-gone "Lord God Bird." No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.
Shall I quibble some more? Sibley's renderings of the birds aren't beautiful. Sure, they are completely useful; they show the birds to enable identification, but they are less dimensional, less colorful, and there are no arrows for dunderheaded birders like me. The Sibley guide includes lots of very useful information that I need to learn, I know. And Sibley is more of a scientist than an agog bird observer, which is a quality certainly to be admired. And I have his book and I do try to use it to study my warblers. But there's no poetry. And no hope for spotting a beautiful phantom--the Ivory-Billed isn't even listed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Posted by Picasa

two pictures from the back yard...
Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Wow" Followed by "Sigh"

Had my garden stuff stoop sale last rid of some pots, baskets, magazines, books, planters, labels, soaker name it. I was crestfallen that most of the customers didn't really want to talk gardening--is that the NY-City in all of us? One young guy was eager to start his little back yard lawn behind his brownstone--cute! [I didn't lecture him on the idea that his yard should be more bird-friendly--might have lost the sale...] It was hard to see my gorgeous old English gardening magazines, many years and years old, go, but they went to good homes, I trust. Perhaps to live on in decoupage projects. I had no camera battery or this would be a photo report...alas.
Also finally made it to Central Park for bird walking...I [and 30 others] walked behind the most amazing birder/leader, who knows simply everything about birds, and can identify them with her eyes shut as well as open. The walk lasted nearly 5 hours! My personal highlights: black-headed blue warbler, scarlet tanager, cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, Nashville warbler, the ever-adorable common yellowthroat, northern parula, chestnut-sided warbler, blue-headed vireo, a robin on nest. Disappointment: everybody saw the Canada warbler but me! Wish: I would someday like to see a Belted Kingfisher near the park's Turtle Pond. Looking up on a couple of NYC Birding sites, I'm reading that apparently the migration season turnout has been very sparse compared to years past. Are bird numbers rapidly diminishing, like the disappearing honeybees? Like the frogs? Of course I always go for the Apocolyptic Explanation. I get such a thrill seeing these beautiful birds right smack in the middle of New York City, but then I get on the subway and go home and get very sad at the ravages to the realm of birds and nature in general, due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, etc, wrought by human activity. First, it's "Wow!" then followed by, "Sigh."