Thursday, January 5, 2012

Notes Dec 6, 2012

1. Dry Dry Dry! We normally have 6 inches of rain by now (our “rain year” begins in July) but we only have a little more than an inch and a half by Jan 6 (and none in sight). When I dig in the garden it is as dry as our normally arid summer conditions. ( I am adding water to my garden! ) We are told, “its OK – because we had such a rainy year last year that the reservoirs still have enough water to easily take us through a dry year…

Two seagulls I saw on Alcatraz Island

When I walk the dogs, lakes in Quarry Park are several feet below their level last year…Now its possible to walk out to an island that I have never before seen exposed. Even our beautiful "green hills" are still the color of August dry grass…And to make it even more bizarre, this strange January season, the temperatures go up to the upper 60's in the day time and no lower than 40 at night… normally January is our coldest month with frequent heavy freezes. Rain dance anyone? I think La Nina is laughing up her sleeve.

Wild turkeys were once native here, then killed off, now reintroduced... they are doing well!

2. I have been alternating days - walking the dogs and bike riding - Today I biked my 10 miles along the Alameda Creek trail - Beautiful balmy day! I tend to ride or walk in natural areas and am always on the lookout for animal and plant activity. Today I encountered an unusually fine gray heron – standing about 3 feet tall – Their brains are so small and so far from their feet I wonder about their ability to communicate with their own bodies.

Grey Heron in Alameda Creek

But recent studies show that we have way underestimated the cognitive abilities of birds. Some birds like my heron friend do may specialize in only a few activities: food acquisition, recognizing and escaping dangers, mating rituals, and graceful coordination of walking and flying…(and they are probabily capable of much more). Some birds – common pigeons, geese, and crows, for examples, have a vast ability to communicate far more than we imagined… Pigeons have been shown to have math skills equal to some of the simple primates. Bird intelligence is an area largely open to research – we simply don’t know enough about bird cognitive powers to know their capabilities. But for now I am content to enjoy the birds I encounter – this time of year I can usually count on a occasional visit from a passing Flicker, I see banded Kingfishers pretty regularily, Mockingbirds are quiet this time of year biding their time until later in the spring when they sing their hearts out!

Gray Pelicans ( the ocean variety) in Monterey Bay

Hummingbirds winter here – always choosing to rest on the topmost twig of a small tree, the plaintive cry of the White Crown Sparrow if one of my favorite calls- Listen here:

There are also Great White Egrets and common Egrets seen frequently… I always enjoy the Cormorants out diving for fish then spreading their wings to dry… This time of year I almost daily see Red Tail Hawks lurking on telephone poles or in trees..,The White Kites (hawk family) flap their wings and appear to hang motionless in the sky until they spot a mouse, then they swoop down to make a kill.

My buddy the Scrub Jay - it seems fearless and flies quite close to me

So many bird varieties - the Kildeers, Doves, Grebes, a multitude of ducks and of course the perennial Canadian geese. There are great flocks of foraging English sparrows, Whole trees filled with racous Crows - Listen (note at the end is just a brief portion of a bother way that Crows "vocalize")


.and the "Undertaker" in the group -the Turkey vulture is generally not very far off... If I'm out all by myself I sometimes try imitating the calls of some birds- (and sometimes get them to answer). This activity is very embarrassing to Judy if she is our walking with me. Sometimes you just have to act a little foolish.

Crested Titmouse Flock - see their crests?

3. PRIMARY ELECTIONS!: Between you and me I think that our election process takes way too long - Too much of the time that elected officials are in office they have to concentrate on the process of getting reelected. The process is so costly that excellent candidates who are not well connected don't have a chance or competing. Perhaps there should be one day set aside for ll states to hold primary elections for parties to select their candidates, then a reasonable election season for the candidates to get their message out... then the election...

White Pelican (most common is freshwater lakes) _ Quarry Park

It would open up the process, allow the candidates to spend more time governing, and probabily be every bit as effective. Historically in the US we have had much more direct systems - but there is a lot of money to be made by stretching the process out... I just know that by the time we get to next November I will be thoroughly saturated by the process... It has too much the feel of a TV reality show...

Banded Kingfisher - seen on Alameda Creek trail

4. Habeus Corpus: One of the foundations of our legal system is the "Writ of Habeus Corpus" - which says that it is the burden of the legal agency ( police, etc.) to show before a court of law why a prisoner must be held in custody. If the legal agency can not prove to the satisfaction of the court a lawful reason why the person should be held, then they must be rereleased. This court appearance must take place in a "timely manner". The new National Defense Authorization Act" signed into law a week ago seems to place this basic right of all Americans in jeopardy.

Paraphrased From the Huffington Post: The "National Defense Authorization Act" states how the military is to be funded, but it also included a number of controversial provisions on arresting and holding suspected terrorists.

Turkey Vulture

Obama agreed to the law after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military's hands and gave it to the president. Congress also clarified that civilian law enforcement agencies -- such as the FBI -- would still have authority to investigate terrorism and added a provision that asserts nothing in the detention measures changes current law regarding U.S. citizens. In other words US Citizens can now be held indefinitely without normal court appearances. "President Obama's action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Juvenile seagulls

"The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no time or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield," Romero added. "The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress or internationally.”

Of course " the unwritten plan" is to use this law sparingly - not for normal legal interactions but for extraordinary terrorist situations. We all support the protection of our homeland from dangerous elements - but in our history, we have endured many wars and many dangerous opponents - we have never in our history felt it necessary to remove the basic right of Habeus Corpus.

Turkey vulture - warming its wings in the sun on a cold morning -Alameda Creek trail

The potential to imprison indefinitely without court appearance is setting a dangerous patten into law. Right now it is this current president who has the power to decide who should be held in this manner - but who knows what presidents we will have in the future and how they will choose to enforce the law?

To say that we law abiding people have nothing to fear if we dont do anything wrong misses the point - We have always been a people with the guarantees of our constitution to protect us - it appears that we have just lost part of that protection.