Daily Archives: December 15, 2012

In Search of the Elusive Pittas: The Jewel Hunter

The Jewel Hunter by Chris Goodie is the story, generally chronological, of one man’s quest to observe, in nature, every known species of a rare and typically elusive bird: the Pittas. Oh, and all in one year. For a birder, this is the rough equivalent of buying some impossible to pay for sports car as a symptom of midlife crisis. It required being bitten by leeches and scared by snakes.

The Pittidae is a family of songbirds distributed in the Old World, mainly in Asia and Australia, but with a few species in Africa.

They tend to live in rain forests or at least, denser woodlands and scrub country or swamps or places like that. These are the habitats of legends because so many humans see them as “impenetrable” (having lived in one such habitat for some time I can tell you that they only seem that way!). Nonetheless, there is a rule about animals in rain forests. It is very easy to find them. As long as before you set out to do so, you know exactly where they are in advance, and how to get there. This is the sort of thing that makes Gooddie’s adventure book a bit of a nail biter.

This book is funny, entertaining, engaging, and if you are a true bird watcher or now, you’ll enjoy it.

I’ve often recommended that the true birder read well done and authoritative studies or compendia treating bird families (or some other taxonomic group). I would count The Jewel Hunter as an example of that even thought it is written as an entertaining adventure story (that could be made into a movie). By the time you’re done with it you’ll know all about this family of birds and a lot of other stuff. There are plenty of maps, color photographs, data, and so on.

Donna reviews it here as well.

Guns Ownership and Control: Newtown is one more last straw in a series of many

I have been writing about this topic for years. Lately, I have been ignoring it. Last few massacres, I didn’t say or do anything. I think Gabby Gifford’s shooting was a last straw for me; I became too disgusted with our situation and I became too disheartened with the number of people who require that we Americans remain an utterly unique society in that we shoot each other at record rates. Somehow, it seems, that makes us good. Others claim that because there are problems in the world with higher body counts, this problem of guns in the US should not be addressed at all. That is utterly stupid, of course. If a person’s leg was being chewed on by a dog, and that person also happen to have cancer, would we require that the person not complain about the dog? Same logic.

Anyway, I will write something about Newtown. The timing strikes a bit close to home for me, as someone not affected at all, in ways that are true for many others. I’ve got kids in school or going soon enough. My daughter lost a classmate a number of months ago to gun violence, and my wife lost a student this week in the same way; A few years ago, a few blocks away a gun nut killed a teenager in what was essentially an ambush, and a few weeks ago, another gun nut a couple of towns over executed two teenagers in a similar situation. (The former was lauded as a hero, the latter will go on trial for murder.)

But even that amounts to nothing compared to what many people face every day. We are a heavily armed society and we resort to guns too easily.

At this point, I just wanted to point out two sets of prior blog posts on gun ownership and related issues, one here and one on the X Blog:

Scienceblogs posts on firearms

X Blog posts on firearms

My opinion about guns has not changed, but my preferred strategy to deal with the problem has. That’s been coming for a while. Newtown is just one more last straw in a series of many.