Sunday, June 29, 2008

Animal Perenting

I had a very good meeting with a friend at Claremont College in the morning and decided to visit the most recent fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, above the town of Sierra Madre. It was in early May and there has been sufficient time for people to get their lives mostly in order. I hoped that the road was open so that I could photograph the grounds and the vegetation. I also wanted to take samples of the grasses that were around the burn area for a painting I have been working on of an area in the mountains that has had several consecutive fires. There have been several studies showing that the deposition of NOx from exhaust from cars contribute to nitrogen loading in near forests. Nitrogen increases the likelihood of invasive grasses which thrive in soils with high amounts of nutrients which contribute to the fires that start and burn so hot at the intersection of forest and urban areas. The USGS has some important studies rarely used by City planners, that urban sprawl causes forest fires. On top of all of that bad news is that the same pollution that causes destruction of forest habitat even from far away cities, the ozone which cars produce is in high enough concentration and fill so much of our world landscape that when people want to get away from it all can't, and may be exposed to higher levels of the lung destroying molecule when they visit the mountains.

Well, with all of that lovely information in my head - hey! I have to live with the Debby-downer brain everyday and it's not easy!!! - I traveled up Santa Anita until it turned into a single lane. When I finally came to edge of the burn I found a turn out where trucks had pushed debris into what was a small turn out.

I was at the beginning of the forest and I parked the car and took out my camera and lenses. There seemed to be trash about my car and plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?
Another vehicle drove up past me as I walked across the single lane road to listen to the cicadas sing and to inspect the partially burned, but still living oak tree.

What I find in burn areas is a lot of destruction of the surface soils from the water used to dowse the fire by the fire fighting crew. It is like a preamble to the coming winter rains which will continue to lubricate the highly disturbed soils and rock from the side of the mountain. Sands and small to very large rocks fill the gullies and undercut road shoulders, which are ready to move down the hill in a landslide all because the fire fight was to save housing. (See above for why we should not build so close to the forest)

I took these two shots and then turned to take a picture of the oak tree. I crossed the road and saw a bunch of different species of grasses all in one area - COOL! I opened the trunk of my car and started to take small clumps of grasses. One clump at eye height was sitting on top near a giant boulder. There seemed to be new deposits of trash about my car and not from the bulldozers....There was plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?

As I was pulling the clumps of grass when I heard a strange gurgling sound... coming right in front of me. I looked down - just a bit (why I did not see it before the sound, escapes me) what looked to me to be a DUCK!!!! It had its head in a defensive posture, trying to hide in the clump of grass I was pulling.

So, what does a good biologist do when faced with an animal in a defensive pose? I pulled on its tail and it gurgled some more... and I took it out and found it was not a duck but a chicken. Why in HELL was a chicken up here!????

I looked her over and found that her nostrils had some black inside probably from rooting around in the burn area. WHY FOR HEAVEN"S SAKE WAS SHE HERE??? She was actually quite a large chicken the size of a DUCK!! and obviously comfortable with a human examining her. She was someones pet! I decided to take her home and call my vet. This bird had a respiratory problem . .... She was dumped by some crappy person probably just before I got there.

Dr. Cauble came the next morning and told me she was an older bird, had some arthritis. She was sick with one of three organisms, two of which we could treat. I had her in quarantine in the garage and fed her and gave her water. She was very dehydrated. She had a good night's sleep in a safe place.... but we decided to put her to sleep and call the health department.

I can't watch the animals go. "Chris, I will be inside the kitchen." Dr, Cauble watched over her. The chicken went peacefully. Dr. Cauble took her body with him and he will tell me what the Department has found. They needed the exact spot and time where I found her.

This was a sweet bird. Perhaps she was past her egg laying days like my Miss Chicken. I could not put my bird out to be eaten by dogs, or coyotes, or raccoons. There is so much trust that my animals have in me to take care of them.

After Dr. Cauble left I got a call from my son's friends. Lisa and Gabe were coming over with Zoe. "Is 3 p.m. okay?" "Sure."

I took care of Zoe for two summers. She is a delightful Abyssinian. Last year, I was having work done on my house and decided to put her in the studio. She thought all the spaces under the easels were great places to hide and my son was making his own place in there, too. FRIENDS and PLACES TO JUMP! ZOE was such a happy curious girl.

On her second day in the studio, breakfast was as usual, she gobbled it all down and then returned to her duties at the windows and under chairs. I had an appointment before lunch and returned early after lunch to find Zoe sitting on the rug not moving. I touched her and found her to be HOT! She was lack-luster. My son looked up the address of the emergency animal hospital.

The hospital staff took x-rays and found her food to still be in her stomach from the morning! And something like a blockage in her bowel!!! Her temperature was quite high and they said I should leave Zoe there for observation. I called after an hour and they said she was getting worse! I told my son to call or email Lisa and Gabe about their kitty.

HOLY MOLY! And on my watch!!!! Zoe was transferred to another hospital where they put her on intravenous fluids. She was going down fast! Lisa and Gabe came back early and picked up little Zoe at the hospital. I was devastated and so were Zoe's parents. I had no idea what happened to her. Zoe continued to go down and Lisa and Gabe spent a lot of money trying to save the little cat.... and called the next day and said that their doctor was considering to put her to sleep.... and asked if I would take her... and, I said I would an try to save the little girl.

Then, Zoe made a miraculous turn around and got better. We were all relieved and spent! I wracked my brains trying to understand what happened.. and so, indulge me in my take on what nearly killed this little cat...

Last year, I had two yellow jacket nests to contend with... one of which was out side the studio. I found the nests, of course, by walking near them and being attacked and stung multiple times. I used the safest methods for ridding them but I think what happened was this....

The studio had a ceiling but the people who were renting my house in the 90's while I was in Ohio, took the ceiling out to expose the rafters. This was a wonderful idea because the building was small and claustrophobic. The bad part was that there are ventilation holes between all the rafters. I suspect that a wasp came in and Zoe found it. Lisa said that Zoe is fascinated by insects and eats them. Cats are very sensitive animals and will develop high fevers quickly. This will also shut down the digestive system which looks like one of several serious conditions. Zoe may have even been stung internally by the wasp and the reaction put her in a tail spin. She was put on strong medication .... some of which may have acted like an antihistamine. This may be what saved Zoe....

Well, Lisa and Gabe are moving and cannot take Zoe with them. They asked if I would look after her and I said, "Yes." Zoe is now a new member of my household.

Meet Zoe.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The story that is becoming an IPISH

What is an 'IPISH' you ask? In Yiddish, it means bad odor and in some Jewish families, it means there is a flood of 'pig stuff' coming....It is clearly a David and Goliath situation....

But for now, focus on this wonderful place and look at the children... enraptured by the teacher and the beautiful surroundings. Where else can children learn of their world like this in Los Angeles? NO WHERE!

Children come to the Whittier Narrows Nature Center to see how Los Angeles looked before all the freeways, and all the cars, and all the buildings. This is the place where children get to see up close what birds do in 'real time' and not on the computer or on the television.

They walk with the Docents and their teachers in silence - the teachers and docents RARELY have to say anything about being quiet because the beauty of the open space opens their eyes instead! Cotton tailed rabbits scurry in the brush and the children squeal in delight! Big red ants burrow in holes in the dirt and there is laughter. Swallows shwoosh overhead catching flying insects and all eyes are at the sky. Then the Docent says, "...listen here..." and they huddle under the tall walnut tree (an offspring of walnut trees which Whittier supplied to the nation).

Just after the children come off their big buses they wait at the front of the Center. A docent waits with the owl on a tether and the children ask, "IS THAT REAL???"

It is expensive these days to rent buses for schools. Most schools are not going on field trips anymore. The Los Angles County Natural History Museum has eighteen wheeled trucks with exhibits inside so the kids can stay in school but still get some experience in hands on science. And, none of the Museum's trucks have living owls!

The Docent asks questions of the children to see how much they know and to adapt their talks to the children's educational levels. Some children of very young age have a lot of knowledge of the plants and animals, but most do not. The Docents are from a variety of backgrounds but their love of Nature and Education bring them together at Whitter Narrows Nature Center. When I was a docent at the Natural History Museum most of my colleagues were at least 30 years my senior. The majority of them retired from teaching, NASA, or other science based careers - they were a wealth of experience and knowledge. We all had special training by the museum from the curators of the different science "-ologies". And at the end of our training, we were expected to write a thesis just like in college, and present our work to each other. It was fun and difficult and we all loved it! We also trailed behind experienced docents to learn what to do and say to which aged group. FANTASTIC!

I have great respect for all docents.

All around the Narrows there are acres of open space where some of the most precious animals raise their young. This female black-chinned humming bird was not too keen having me take her picture as she sat on her nest of eggs.

After a walk on the trail, the children come in to see more animals! Grace Allen has in her hands in this picture, a California kingsnake that used to be everywhere in the basin. My mother used to see them slither in her parent's yard in the Hollywood Hills, but so many people equate snakes as "bad" and most have been extirpated from their natural habitat. The children, once again, cannot believe their eyes! "IS THAT REAL???" How wonderful and exciting to see their excitement!

Ed Barajas, who has been documenting the comings and goings of birds at the Narrows, asked me to follow him with my camera. We walked towards a ditch that is filled from runoff from the streets and choked with willows and walnuts and oaks. Ed makes the sounds, "swishes swishes swishes" looking for the Vireo. We can hear the bird calling back. The bird forages in the thick of the ditch where the water sits and duckweed grows. There is a buzz of small flies about but it is still 'in the cool' of the morning so we were not attacked by mosquitoes.

"...swish swish swish!" Ed calls again.

We walk about the parameter of the ditch. We can see swallows above our heads diving in and out of the taller trees catching insects 'on the fly'! "Did you see him?!!" Ed asks. I keep my camera poised, the long telephoto lens is in automatic focus - just in case. Down in the ditch, we see a gray bird flying about and then landing at the edge of the water with the duckweed. The bird is eating things at the surface of the water! The insects that would be there are mosquito larvae and adults and midges and maybe some water striders.... The bird jumps into frame and then ducks behind the brush! I snap as much as I can.... but I got only the image below for you.... The Federally Listed (Endangered) Least Bell's Vireo is hiding and giving us the eye!

Click for a larger image!

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's always somthing isn't it?

or.... SOME things are just born to fail...

I love museums. I spent my first trip to London as a young adult, scouring the halls of the British Museum. I looked at every mummy, every hand painted scroll, every stuffed mammal and bird I could. Much earlier,as a kid, I spent many hours at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum because the summer 'camp' where I went, dropped us off so that the counselors could do what ever they did during that time (I did not care!). My own children spent time exploring the back rooms and libraries of LACNHM and spent every week at the Page as well. They learned my 'talk' when I was a docent. One time my daughter, after memorizing what I said, found some sightseers from England and took them on a tour of her favorite hall, the dinosaurs, when she was four years old! (She was fantastic!).

The people I know who are scientists and who work at the LACNHM were like me, they loved the museum as kids and all the dusty corners and lovely, knowledgeable older (folks with gray hair) people who worked there. Like me, they could not ask enough questions, could not soak up enough information. It was all there! We learned more there then at school. And, we took that knowledge outside when there was an outside.

The LACNHM had a jewel named Miss Gretchen Sibley, who I met when I took docent training in the late 1980's. Gretchen, in the 1950's, brought together businesses to the museum in a different way then they do now - not just for MONEY but to participate in the education of the high school kids.... like they did in Chicago. The Field Museum created hands on exhibits before anyone named them 'hands on' and they built them out of beautiful wood and glass with money endowed by the big companies of the time. Gretchen taught many of the Ph.D.s that worked at the museum and elsewhere.

But what is that horrible picture above, you ask? That, my friends, is the Los Angeles Children's Museum.

After struggling for seven years to raise enough money for a new facility, the Children's Museum of Los Angeles marked a milestone last fall when workers put the finishing touches on the angular building nestled in the Hansen Dam Recreation Area's easternmost corner.

But the modern structure, surrounded by a chain link fence, still sits empty. Its entryway is choked with weeds. And there's not enough money to pay for ambitious exhibits meant to fill the 57,000-square-foot museum .

Funny how all the lights were on and no one was home! the air conditioner was running full tilt which we are all paying for....

See all those weird tube things at the top of the wall.... I think that is where the air from the air conditioner blows cool air in.... creepy...

The question comes to mind, "Why wasn't this finished? or Why is it closed?"
I took my children to the original Children's Museum downtown. It was in the heart of the City and we even took the train (the old train a year later was removed and only recently replaced with the Gold Line). It was a favorite place for kids of all colors. And it was fun. For some reason the folks who ran it or who funded it or maybe it was someone looking for a Gold Plaque with their name engraved on a building (or street) that decided the museum needed to be BIGGER and MORE EXPENSIVE.

Given the scope of this project, the museum closed its facility at 310 North Main Street on August 27, 2000 to focus its resources on developing expanded mobile community outreach programs, and to work on the design and construction of the two new campuses. The budget for the design and construction of each of the campuses excluding exhibition design, is between $12 and $16 million.

The Children's Museum plans to construct an "urban museum" at the Art Park site. The exact size of this museum has yet to be determined, but is expected to be in excess of 60,000 square feet. The Museum will focus on the urban experience, as well as on the performing arts, graphic arts, film, and television. The Art Park site will include the administrative staff for both campuses.

A major focus of the Hansen Dam site will be the natural environment. The 60,000-square-foot building will have an indoor-outdoor feeling and visitors will be able to move easily between the environments. The building itself will serve as an exhibit of sustainable architecture, encouraging visitors to understand new ways to construct and maintain buildings. The site will also take advantage of the surrounding landscape by including a garden of flora and fauna native to the northeast Valley environment.

I think basically, there was a lot of money in this for a lot of shadow people. I think that there was a lot of people wanting to show how wonderful they were. I think that putting it out in the boonies, though, destroyed it for the children.The trees planted around the area look sick. The grass is dying. It's too expensive to drive a car out to these places. No one wants to go out there. And, even with the beautiful weather today, I saw no children playing in the park.

There is another 'museum' in the works and it's called the Whittier Narrow Discovery Center. The proponents of this project have been told by City biologists that their project does not abide by the Rules Set by the County of Regional Planners, who are responsible for the design of this City (there was a DESIGN???? Were they DRUNK!!???). SEA-TAC members decide whether a design fulfills the ideals and upholds the boundaries of EPA and regional laws to protect the Significant Ecological Areas set by the Technical Advisory Council (SEA-TAC)(many areas have Endangered species and rare ecosystems).

In other words, the County bureaucrats thought the RMC bureaucrats did not have a clue and they want to destroy animals and property of the People. You can learn more about the group that wants to keep the Open Space Open for birds and people....

One boon-doggel after the next...EH!? I also think we ALL need to be leery of anyone or any group who says that what they are about to do WILL BE WORLD CLASS!!!! I am sorry. You have to build it or make it first BEFORE that decision is made... by other people....
Q. Why did the Children's Museum of Los Angeles temporarily close?
A. The old museum, opened in 1979, was never intended to be the permanent home for the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles. As demand began to exceed the available space the Board of Governors began designing a NEW, BIGGER, WORLD-CLASS facility to the people of Los Angeles.

All this world class and the little pools of water behind the "Stay Out" signs on the chain link fence were filled with mosquitoes. CLASSY!!!!

(Update!) Here is another museum in California that is dead. It is the Metropolitan Water District Museum. Funny, these same guys are really excited about the WHITTIER NARROWS DISCOVERY CENTER.... I can't imagine.... their museum goes BUST and the Children's Museum goes BUST and they support (with the other water districts) another museum which will very likely go BUST ..... What is that? The Dead Museum Club?