Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Website down

Oh, my gosh. The company where I keep my website allowed my registration of to lapse, and now my website is utterly inaccessible there. If you want to go there for any reason, you'll have to go to, but all the internal links should work from there. Keep your fingers crossed that no one has snapped it up or I'm pretty much screwed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wow--Laura's Media Week

Okay--last time I posted about the New York Times. Yesterday I was quoted in the Duluth News Tribune about an Eastern Kingbird nesting on someone's boat. And today I found out from an email and this story in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram that a radio program that I was the only guest on won the first place award in the conservation-environment category for best radio program from the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Laura in the New York Times

Oh, my--I made today's New York Times! And what about? Goose poop.

One of the weird quirks of my life right now is that I keep getting interviewed by the press about all kinds of issues. Martha Stewart Living called me a few weeks ago about hummingbird feeders. USA Today called me about binoculars. I’m often interviewed by the Duluth News-Tribune, so last week’s call about kingbirds nesting in a Park Point Yacht Club boat wasn’t unexpected. But it WAS unexpected to get a call from the New York Times the same day, about goose poop. Their questions editor had been asked whether some kids should worry about geese pooping as they flew over them.

Goose poop is, of course, a hot topic in some circles, whether Fox News is exaggerating about the quantity of it, or whether it’s being blamed for botulism outbreaks at public beaches. I’ve been searching but have been unable to find well-documented primary sources quantifying goose output—putting together what I can find, a large, well-fed goose can produce somewhere between a half a pound and four pounds a day, but at least half of that is nothing more than the indigestible cell walls of grass—slippery but innocuous. Goose guts do, indeed, harbor E. coli, but so do our guts and those of dogs and cats. And the guts of us meat-eaters are far more laden with harmful bacteria than those of vegetarian geese.

Geese usually poop upon takeoff, and they usually take off in the direction away from people, so we’re not likely to be pooped upon by geese making short, local flights. On long journeys, geese of course must occasionally poop in flight, but their forward momentum and altitude pretty much guarantee that it will have atomized before reaching us. I have long kept a list of birds in the wild that have pooped on me. My list includes Pileated Woodpecker and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but nary a goose, and it’s not like I haven’t spent a lot of time in goose habitat where I’ve been rather a sitting duck, so to speak.

Of course when any animal population gets out of kilter, it’s going to cause problems, for humans and for other wildlife. Geese are wonderful birds, but we subsidize them whenever we cut down natural vegetation and put in lawns. A lawn that reaches all the way to the water’s edge on river or lakefront property is like holding out a huge welcome sign for them. Geese are among the very few birds that can digest grasses, and manicured lawns provide them with both food and safety so they can maximize reproduction and minimize mortality. Unless and until we start maintaining longer, more natural vegetation around our homes and parks, geese will continue to increase and multiply until a natural scourge reduces their numbers.  People often disdain the wildlife that adapts to us without considering that the wildlife that remains genuinely wild, dependent upon genuinely wild habitat, is doomed unless we work hard to protect that habitat. As our population continues to grow, and as more and more Americans flee cities and urbanize or suburbanize more and more natural habitat, there are fewer and fewer places for genuinely wild animals and plants to live. If we are truly committed to preserving wildlife, either for its own sake or because the Old Testament God was so very clear to Noah that he must save every species, we should be providing natural habitats even within our settled areas. That would not only help many creatures that need our help but be a natural way of controlling the goose population. Goose poop isn’t a genuine problem, but their overpopulation, and OUR overpopulation, is.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I'm a Mac AND a PC

Today marks a major life change—I got a new Mac laptop. I named him Ernest, and will be naming the iPod Touch that’s coming tomorrow Zippy. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine after I climb the steep learning curve and adapt to such a dramatic change. But I refuse to stop preferring the adorable, erudite, and creative John Hodgman over the cool and with it, but smug and has-yet-to-prove-his-brilliance Justin Long.

Much as I prefer Hodgman to Long, I don’t think either computer system is measurably better than the other—they’re just like English and French, with proponents of each thinking theirs is superior. The designers I work with at the Lab use Macs, and there’s a certain amount of garbling when I save an InDesign file on a PC and they open it on a Mac, so we need to be on the same system. Going back and forth is rather like writing something in English and leaving it to Babelfish to translate it to French—there will be subtleties that don’t come through. But that goes both ways, and in no way, shape, or form indicates that either language is superior.

It’s interesting that as I switch, Mac owners, like techno-evangelists, are congratulating me and telling me how much I’ll love it—how EASY Macs are, how STABLE, and how they NEVER CRASH. To hear them talk, Macs are the Mary Poppins of computers—practically perfect in every way. But then I go to the Mac threads on my beloved TableTalk where the term “crashed” appears in quite a few posts, where the posts themselves are incomprehensible, and I find out how difficult it seems to be to upgrade operating systems (and Macs have changed their operating systems a LOT during the lifetimes of Windows XP and Vista—right now they seem to be on OS 10.5.4, and there’s a huge amount of hype on the Mac website about Snow Leopard, a whole new system coming out next year), and I start seeing all the complaints about running this program or that one on a Mac platform. And I can’t help but think, “Wait just a doggone minute—why do so many Mac owners use Boot Camp or buy special software so they can run Windows on their machines while PC owners would never want, much less need, to run a Mac operating system on their computer?” And “how can you say the computer is stable when it can’t run the software you bought the computer to run? I mean, hello? One doesn’t buy a computer to run a platform—one buys it to run software.” Hmmm. Makes a girl think.

My Gateway desktop, bought in 2003 with Windows XP, has never once crashed, and is still a wonderful, reliable machine that has fully lived up to its name, “Dreammachine.” My Dell laptop, bought in 2005 with Windows XP, has just as good a track record (Her name is “Scout”). It will be instructive at this late date in my lifespan to try out this whole new thing. I’ll let you know how it goes. But I’m keeping Dreammachine and Scout nearby, even as I keep reminding myself that in real life, John Hodgman uses a Mac.