Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"You can stand under my um-ba-rella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh!" - Thoughts on _Winter World_

Right now, beavers are headed into their dens for a perceived night that will last for weeks and weeks. Snapping turtles are settling down in the bottom of the lake, and there they will sleep without taking a breath of fresh air for up to five months. All the Monarch butterflies from the entire east coast of the United States are dormant in a single mountain forest that is *just* the right temperature for their liking. Some animals have slowed their bodies down to a point where they are barely alive, while others are preparing to brisk about in life, day and night, at temperatures that would make a human cry.

Among these animals is the tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet, a hummingbird-sized snow-fairy of the Arctic woods. Your Field Guide probably spends a grand total of one paragraph on Kinglets. I'd only seen them in the wild once or twice, and thought they were cute. I did not know that they were also incredibly bad-ass.

That is the way of all winter creatures, and their stories are told in Bernd Heinrich's Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival. It's a terrific book and I am struggling to finish it on this, it's date due back to the library. I don't want to get too off-topic, but I don't know what happened to me. I feel like I devoured long nonfiction books in high school and now it's like I lost the patience for them. I haven't got the slightest idea why this is so; I love learning and Heinrich's books always leave me astonished at the biological wonders I did not know.

Bernd even throws his hat into the long-running argument over how birds evolved flight feathers. Body feathers are a remarkable insulation -- when they are dry. Getting them wet would be lethal. Wing feathers, therefore, may have initially appeared as built-in umbrellas.

As for the Kinglet, this theory is pretty sound. Bernd illustrates the book with his own sensitive pencil illustrations, and one such illustration (page 112) is of a Kinglet underneath all the feathers. Turns out body feathers add even more perceived bulk than I ever suspected. That the plucked songbird looks astonishingly like an old drawing of a small theropod does not go unnoticed by the author.

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Oh, hey, the Golden Globe Award nominations are out and... huh.

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Festive Thing of the Day!

Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is this year's Jolly Christmas Song That Won't Leave Me Alone. And I will admit that I was among those who thought it was stupid and annoying... until I saw the video for it.

The video is trippy as hell and at least ten kinds of distinctively late 1970's music video awesome:



Best parts include the giant constellation-God-thing that sprinkles Dust all over Paul's piano, the choir in space, giant flying disco balls, a giant irradiated horse in the sky, Paul and friends watching... themselves on TV, two glowing figures in space who seem just about to make out but don't, and that huge exploding gift at the end. Holy Christmas.

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Sketch of the Day!

I am not even going to make an attempt to top that:

12.9.10 Sketchbook Page

3 comments:

Albertonykus said...

The umbrella hypothesis sounds interesting, but taking into account that the first feathers to become pennaceous appear to have been the wing and tail feathers (which were probably not as involved in insulation), I don't think it may have been that much of an important factor. Maybe it had a hand in the body feathers becoming pennaceous in ornithothoracines, however, especially combined with the miniaturization that group went through.

Trish said...

Yeah, I shared his theory because it was kind of different, but I don't know if I buy it.

David Orr said...

Kinglets = awesome to the max. Adorable and on my birding wish list for certain. I've never read Heinrich, but I think I need to!

Macca Xmas song = I somehow NEVER HEARD THIS until like five or six years ago, and now its everywhere. I went from total bafflement to mild annoyance to embracing it with all of my shriveled, gray heart. I had the same reaction to the video as you. Classic!