5.18.2024

The Buffoon that is Tucker Carlson

"There's no evidence that evo ... in fact, I think we've given up on the idea of evolution, the theory of evolution articulated by Darwin is, like kind of not true ... the idea that, you know, all life emerged from a single cell organism and over time and there would be a fossil record of that and there's not."

― Tucker Carlson

No, we haven't.

About a month ago, entertainer Tucker Carlson stated the above on Joe Rogan's podcast questioning the validity of the theory of evolution, specifically targeting the concept that all life emerged from a single-celled organism and the evidence that supports this theory. Carlson's comments reflect a broader debate that has persisted for years, particularly among those who reject robust scientific theories, and not just biological evolution. 

The theory of evolution, first articulated by Charles Darwin, has indeed undergone significant refinement since its inception. Darwin proposed natural selection as the mechanism by which species evolve over time, and this foundational idea remains central to evolutionary biology. However, it's important to note that Darwin's work did not address the origin of life, known as abiogenesis, but rather how species evolve once life has begun. Modern science has expanded upon Darwin’s work with advancements in genetics, molecular biology, and paleontology. These refinements, which enhance and build upon Darwin's original theory, have provided robust evidence that supports and extends the understanding of evolution. Importantly, these refinements are not replacements but rather complementary advancements that provide a deeper and more detailed picture of evolutionary processes.

One of the key components of evolutionary theory is the concept of common ancestry, which posits that all life on Earth shares a common origin. This idea is strongly supported by genetic evidence, which reveals remarkable similarities in DNA across different species. DNA sequencing has uncovered a genetic blueprint that links all living organisms, demonstrating the interconnectedness of life. Such genetic evidence provides compelling support for the theory of common ancestry, even beyond the fossil record. Additionally, the integration of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian natural selection, known as the Modern Synthesis, has offered a comprehensive framework for understanding how genetic variation and evolutionary forces shape populations over time.

While Carlson contends that the fossil record does not adequately support the theory of evolution, this perspective overlooks the extensive fossil evidence that has been discovered. The fossil record, although incomplete, contains numerous examples of transitional fossils that illustrate the gradual changes in species over millions of years. These fossils document the evolutionary history of life on Earth, showcasing clear stages of development from simple to more complex organisms. Radiometric dating techniques have allowed scientists to accurately date these fossils and provide a timeline for evolutionary events. Despite gaps due to the rarity of fossilization, the existing record robustly supports the theory of evolution.

What Tucker Carlson is promoting is the flawed theological argument known as "The God of the Gaps" theory, a perspective where gaps in scientific knowledge are taken as evidence or proof of God's existence. Historically, many natural phenomena were attributed to divine intervention before scientific explanations were developed. For example, lightning and disease were once commonly ascribed to the actions of gods or supernatural forces. This argument is often criticized because it relies on current ignorance rather than positive evidence for divine intervention. As science advances and fills in these gaps, the space for this argument shrinks, making it a form of argument from ignorance, which asserts that a lack of evidence for one explanation is evidence for another. That just doesn't work, my friends.

From a scientific perspective, invoking "God of the gaps" is an unproductive approach because it discourages further investigation and understanding of natural phenomena. In essence, the argument attributes unknown phenomena to divine action, but it's problematic both scientifically and theologically as our understanding of the natural world continues to grow.

So, while Tucker Carlson's skepticism about evolution reflects ongoing debates, the scientific consensus strongly supports evolutionary theory. The refinements in genetics, molecular biology, paleontology, and evolutionary developmental biology have strengthened Darwin's original ideas, providing a richer and more detailed understanding of the mechanisms driving evolution. These advancements highlight the robustness and adaptability of the theory of evolution, underscoring its foundational role in modern biology. 

It would be my guess that most readers of this blog don't follow Joe Rogan or pay much attention to Tucker Carlson these days, but if you do, you might want to further your understanding of science (especially evolution) from experts and not from morons. I recommend reading anything by the late Stephen Jay Gould, Sean B. Carroll, E.O. Wilson, Jerry Coyne, and even the controversial Richard Dawkins. 

5.16.2024

BTBW!

"Treasure hunts make much better stories when there’s treasure at the end."

― Eric Berlin
The spring hunt for Setophaga caerulescens ended this morning! Sue, Dottie, and I were planning on birding the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor, but Sue was running a little late. After walking a very quiet south corridor trail, we crossed Century Avenue to bird the north trail. We decided to wait at a bench for Sue to catch up, when all of a sudden we heard beer, beer! Dottie said, "That was a Black-throated Blue, wasn't it?" Then it sang its full song and we went into search mode. 

No Merlin, no eBird, no electronic assistance of any kind ― birding the way it ought to be done, and the way we got to see the bird was a lot of fun. 

On the map below, we were walking north from Century Avenue and stopped near (1) to wait for Sue. This is also where we heard the BTBW first sing, just east of where we were sitting on the bench. The warbler sang a half dozen times or so, but we could tell it was moving further east. We simultaneously got the idea to loop up and around to take a secondary trail to see if we could meet up with the bird. When we got to that spot, we could still hear it singing; it was now to our west (2) and not moving as much. As luck would have it, there was a narrow deer path (red dots) that took us right to the bird, giving us great views. But guess who didn't have his camera with? Arriving just a few minutes later, Sue also got good looks at the stunning warbler.
Naturally, I added another mark for the 16th to my Spring BTBW calendar ...
Thinking on this find, I must admit, I take great pleasure in criticizing the Merlin app, although I'm thankful I don't rely on it myself. The idea of an app dictating where I can find bird species makes me cringe; I'm a firm believer in the traditional, pure form of birding. Just recently, someone reported a rare bird sighting with the comment "Picked it up on Merlin and saw with binoculars." This kind of report is concerning to me. Even if the sighting is legitimate, the lack of effort and detail in the report is astonishing. It's the kind of lazy reporting that would never pass muster with a records committee.

I'll take an old-fashioned treasure hunt any day over relying on an app. There's something special about the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of finding a bird through skill and patience, rather than a digital guide. For me, birding is about the experience of being in Nature, honing my observation skills, and connecting with the environment around me. Using apps like Merlin might make the process more efficient, but it takes away from the essence of the adventure. I prefer the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that comes with discovering a bird on my own, without the aid of technology. It's about the journey, not just the destination.

Anyway, my 2024 observed parulidae species (so far) are:

Vermivora cyanoptera
Vermivora chrysoptera
Vermivora chrysoptera x cyanoptera
Leiothlypis peregrina
Leiothlypis celata
Leiothlypis ruficapilla
Setophaga americana
Setophaga petechia
Setophaga pensylvanica
Setophaga magnolia
Setophaga tigrina
Setophaga caerulescens
Setophaga coronata
Setophaga virens
Setophaga fusca
Setophaga dominica
Setophaga pinus
Setophaga palmarum
Setophaga castanea
Setophaga striata
Setophaga cerulea
Mniotilta varia
Setophaga ruticilla
Protonotaria citrea
Seiurus aurocapilla
Parkesia noveboracensis
Parkesia motacilla
Geothlypis formosa
Geothlypis trichas
Cardellina pusilla
Cardellina canadensis

BTBW Painting by Susan J. Ulschmid 

5.14.2024

Green returns to Spring Green!

"Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces."

― Virginia Woolf
Mornings during May are generally spent birding the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor for new arrivals, but this migration has been somewhat disappointing ― more birds heard than seen. The order of returning migrants has been a jumbled mess, and it seems like a lot of birds may have taken advantage of favorable winds early on. There are L. peregrina everywhere, and for me they generally signal the beginning of the tailend of warbler migration. However, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you're well aware of my numerous other outdoor interests, and spring presents the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with them. And in that sense, Spring Green Preserve is a longtime favorite and it's one of Wisconsin's best State Natural Areas for observing interesting flora and fauna. It's also one of the few places I know of where Chondestes grammacus can be found in impressive numbers.
A positive aspect of prairie birding is at least you can see them even when there's an early spring in terms of foliage. As I previously mentioned, the earlier than normal leaf-out has rendered woodland birding way more challenging than usual this spring. 
Spring Green's prairie always has interesting wildflowers, like the presently bloomed Blue-eyed Grass and Bird's Foot Violets, the latter being the host plant for Regal Fritillary. 
Ah! Praise natural variation!
The wooded trail section is filled with Wild Geraniums ...
And Starry False Solomon's Seal.
It's also a great spot for Six-spotted Tiger Beetles ...
My favorite location to photograph this species is still the long rock wall at Pope Farm Conservancy, but so far this spring I haven't found any there yet. I need to be super careful photographing them along Spring Gree's forest trail, as it's loaded with Poison Ivy on both sides. I've already had one really bad PI reaction this spring and I don't need another.
Going for the coveted front-angle view ...
Other tiger beetles present at Spring Green were Big Sand, Festive, and still a few Oblique-lined. In contrast to a lackluster birding season, tiger beetling has been exceptionally good. I'm already at 8 of Wisconsin's 16 species, but I doubt I'll go up north for Cow Path and Long-lipped this year.
Ye monstrous Big Sand!
And a couple of Festives ...
Note the maculation differences between these two Festive Tiger Beetles. The one above also has a greener thorax compared to the one below.
There were decent numbers of American Copper and Harvester Butterflies along the trail ...
This individual spent some time on my hand. Sweat contains salt, so when people are sweaty, especially on a hot day, butterflies may land on bare skin to feed on the salt. The sweat provides them with essential minerals that they can't get from flower nectar alone. Additionally, the moisture from sweat can be appealing to butterflies, especially in dry environments like Spring Green Preserve's sand prairie.
I really messed up the focus on this Juvenal's Duskywing Erynnis juvenalis, but it was the only photograph I was able to get before it flew off. This butterfly is named after the Roman poet Juvenal, as its name "juvenalis" means "youthful" in Latin, likely referring to the butterfly's spring flight period.
Juvenal, whose full name was Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, was a Roman poet who lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. He is best known for his satirical works, particularly his "Satires," which criticize and satirize various aspects of Roman society, including politics, morals, and social life. Juvenal's satires are known for their sharp wit, vivid language, and harsh criticism of the corruption and decadence of his time. He often targeted the wealthy and powerful, as well as societal vices such as greed, vanity, and hypocrisy. There is no direct evidence to suggest that Juvenal owned slaves, as his works do not mention his personal life in detail. However, slavery was a common institution in ancient Rome, and it was not uncommon for people of Juvenal's social class (he was likely of equestrian rank, a class below the senatorial elite) to own slaves. Given the social norms of the time, it is possible that Juvenal may have owned slaves, but there is no definitive evidence either way. As with birds, though, it is likely the case that eventually all common names of critters will be changed to descriptive ones, thus losing any historical link or context unless you know binomial Latin names.
The current water level of the Wisconsin River is high, yet I was delighted to discover several Hairy-necked Tiger Beetles at Sauk and Arena. The large sandbars at Arena are almost completely under water now, but there's still plenty of shoreline habitat for these swift predaceous insects. 
Note the front maculation's "G" shape, often used for identification. 
Compared to the above photograph, you can see how sunlight renders a warmer brown tone.
Here you can see the Hairy-necked's long mandibles, which are distinctive compared to other tiger beetles. Fortunately, most tiger beetle species have descriptive names, but many also have hairy necks along the thorax and front abdomen. If it were up to me, I would change this beetle's descriptive common name to Long Sickle-mandibled Annoyingly-fast Tiger Beetle.
During the spring, my passion for nature photography takes me on numerous excursions, resulting in a wealth of captivating photographs. However, translating these experiences into engaging blog posts presents a significant challenge. The process of curating content, selecting the most compelling photos, and crafting narratives that do justice to the beauty and significance of each excursion requires considerable time and effort. Despite this challenge, the opportunity to share my love for nature and photography with others makes the endeavor incredibly rewarding.

A Very Brief Birding Update:
Though this spring's warbler migration is about the worst I've experienced in almost 40 years of birding, I'm just shy of 30 parulidae species for spring. It's mostly what I regard as A-level warbler species remaining and it's perfectly fine if I don't see or hear them this year. The the canopy is filling in quickly, but I know they're up there from their cheerful spring songs. My annual trip to Wyalusing State Park will fill in some of the missing birds. Alas, birding is a blend of triumphs and surprises, where we cherish the birds we find and humbly accept those that elude us.
All images © 2024 Mike McDowell

5.11.2024

Northern Lights!

"The sight filled the northern sky; the immensity of it was scarcely conceivable. As if from Heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled. Pale green and rose-pink, and as transparent as the most fragile fabric, and at the bottom edge a profound and fiery crimson like the fires of Hell, they swung and shimmered loosely with more grace than the most skillful dancer."

― Philip Pullman
This was the most impressive display of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) I've seen in a couple of decades ― at times the entire sky was filled with shimmering lights. Just as they seemed to fade, another storm would materialize within seconds. This went on for a few hours!

The Space Weather Prediction Center stated at least 5 Coronal Mass Ejections were directed toward earth, but I wasn't planning on staying up due to several false alarms over the years. I just happened to wake up around 2:00 AM and could see them from my patio. I got dressed, grabbed my camera and tripod, and headed to Pheasant Branch to capture these images. 
All images © 2024 Mike McDowell

5.10.2024

20 and 80!

"Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book."

― Bill Watterson
But not if you have good rain gear! A soggy 3-hour hike rendered 20 warbler species yesterday at the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor and 80 total aves. It was the first day of my May birding vacation. I'm about to head out the door to a sunnier day, but the temperatures are starting in the mid-forties. Winds were out of the northeast, so expectations are somewhat low for new arrivals. Still, if even half the birds from yesterday are still there, it'll still be a fun excursion with better light. 
Branta canadensis
Aix sponsa
Anas platyrhynchos
Lophodytes cucullatus
Meleagris gallopavo
Zenaida macroura
Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Chaetura pelagica
Antigone canadensis
Charadrius vociferus
Ardea herodias
Cathartes aura
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Buteo jamaicensis
Megaceryle alcyon
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Melanerpes carolinus
Picoides pubescens
Picoides villosus
Colaptes auratus
Sayornis phoebe
Myiarchus crinitus
Vireo flavifrons
Vireo solitarius
Vireo gilvus
Vireo olivaceus
Cyanocitta cristata
Corvus brachyrhynchos
Poecile atricapillus
Baeolophus bicolor
Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Hirundo rustica
Sitta carolinensis
Polioptila caerulea
Troglodytes aedon
Troglodytes troglodytes
Sturnus vulgaris
Dumetella carolinensis
Catharus ustulatus
Hylocichla mustelina
Turdus migratorius
Bombycilla cedrorum
Passer domesticus
Haemorhous mexicanus
Spinus tristis
Spizella passerina
Zonotrichia leucophrys
Zonotrichia albicollis
Melospiza melodia
Melospiza georgiana
Icterus spurius
Icterus galbula
Agelaius phoeniceus
Molothrus ater
Quiscalus quiscula
Seiurus aurocapilla
Parkesia noveboracensis
Vermivora chrysoptera
Vermivora cyanoptera
Mniotilta varia
Oreothlypis celata
Leiothlypis peregrina
Setophaga petechia
Setophaga ruticilla
Setophaga americana
Setophaga parula
Setophaga magnolia
Setophaga castanea
Setophaga fusca
Setophaga coronata
Setophaga virens
Cardellina canadensis
Cardellina pusilla
Piranga olivacea
Pheucticus ludovicianus
Passerina cyanea
Cardinalis cardinalis
Guiraca caerulea
All images © 2024 Mike McDowell

5.08.2024

When: BTBW @ PBC

These are all my spring BTBW sightings at the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor over the past 30 years.

All images © 2024 Mike McDowell

5.07.2024

GAS Update!

"Is this not the collector's exquisite pleasure, that his desire should know no bounds, should reach out into the infinite, should never know full possession which disappoints by its very completeness. O what joy to be able to postpone the fulfillment of desire to infinity!"

― Georges Rodenbach

"This is true of all collecting. It extinguishes the moral instinct — the object finally possesses the possessor."

― John Fowles
Yes, so why have one when you can have two for twice the price?
Actually, they're a little different. Both guitars are part of Fender's 70th Anniversary collection and these are both '54 Stratocasters. On the left is the new Vintage II, and my previously purchased Custom Shop model on the right. Differences are subtle. I like the fact that the Vintage II has a 3-way switch, which is what the first Stratocasters had prior to the change 5-way. Though not easy to see from the photos, the Vintage II also has more rounded headstock edges. There was a split in 1954 — the first run had the rounded edges, but partway through the year they sharpened them a bit. Atheistically, I prefer the 2-tone wide sunburst on the Custom Shop model's finish. Having setup both guitars, I can't really tell if there's a difference in tone between them — both are very Straty sounding.
Fender's Robin Trower Artist Signature Stratocaster is available in Midnight Wine, Arctic White, and Black. I picked up this Satin Lake Placid Blue US-made Strat body to give it a new look. Trower actually has one in this color except it's gloss instead of satin. I really like the way the pearloid fret dots match the body color.
This is a super-sweet guitar that's ideal for capturing Trower's bluesy sound, known for his emotive bends and warm, rich overdrive.
And then this happened ...
Dirty Lemon Glow's body was infested with borer beetles! Back in early April I noticed the first hole and repaired it, but then two more showed up. That's when I knew it was an insect issue. Thankfully, Warmoth is covering a replacement under warranty, but I've requested the wood be changed to Black Korina instead of the original Swamp Ash. It's going be awhile before it's finished. So, DLG's Seymour Duncan pickups were stored, along with its neck and other hardware. Prior to the above Trower refresh, I bought a black Stratocaster replacement body. Since I didn't use it for that, over the weekend I decided to assemble this Black Stratocaster from DLG's components. The neck is an American Vintage II  1957 "V" and all the chrome hardware is Fender. It's super bad-ass, so I've decided to do something different with the replacement Warmoth body once I get it back.
All images © 2024 Mike McDowell