Frank Landis' Blog


What genius looks like in a hummingbird
October 29, 2011, 7:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I’ve got a small hummingbird feeder on the back balcony, next to the room where I’ve turned into my office.

Young Anna’s hummingbirds (and the occasional adult) use it regularly, draining it every few days. There’s usually one that sits on the tomato trellis and guards it, but they trade the role around every few weeks.

When the feeder gets low and I have the door open, one hummingbird flies in about two meters, hovers loudly until it has my attention, then turns around and flies back out, ostentatiously dipping its beak once in the empty feeder before it leaves the area.

I know my cue: I clean the feeder, put more sugar water in, and put it back out, and a happy hummingbird comes by in a few minutes to suck down on the fresh sugar. I’ve done this five times now in the last few weeks.

Obviously, cats know how to point at things, but it’s interesting to see the same behavior in something whose body is smaller than the cat’s brain. It doesn’t take much of a brain to be smart, does it?

So far as I can tell, only one bird has figured out how to tell me to change the feeder. It will be fun to see if any of the others learn the trick.

Is this social genius, or problem-solving genius? Or both?

Compare this with the dumb hummingbird, who got trapped in the same room a couple of months ago. He flew in through the open door, and I found him sometime later buzzing around the white ceiling. Did he think it was the sky? He buzzed around, poor little beak touching the ceiling, unwilling to drop even a foot down and go out the door. I lured him out by raising the feeder up to where he could see it, near the wide open door. Once he started drinking from it, I slowly lowered through the door. Once he was outside, he immediately flew away. I don’t know why he didn’t fly back out the door, or why he saw a white ceiling as a blue sky, but he panicked and got stuck.

There you have it. There are smart hummingbirds, and there are dumb hummingbirds. Natural variation on the back balcony.

I’m not sure how to photograph the smart one doing his thing. That’s the next puzzle.



And now for something completely different…
October 6, 2011, 11:48 am
Filed under: California Native Plants, Science Fiction, writing | Tags: , ,

Oddly enough, I’ve been meaning to put this up for over a week. Originally, I was going to wait until I had the book ready for sale, but you know, reality has it’s own agenda. All of a sudden, a bunch of things suddenly erupted onto my schedule like post-rain mushrooms. Given that Smashwords takes a bit of time to publish things, I thought I’d put the teaser up now.

It’s my second book, and this one is in the spirit of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol. The title is The Ghosts of Deep Time, and the book contains a novel and a short story.

From the back cover:

“A consultant finds a fossilized pack in the desert, then finds himself back in the Miocene with a criminal gang.

A game warden busts a group of trespassing druids in a wildlife sanctuary. They vanish in a green flash and he loses his job, only to be recruited for something much bigger.

This is the big secret: time travel is easy. There are over four billion years in Earth’s past. The deeper one goes in time, the more alien the Earth is. Still, people have settled most of Earth’s history. Of course they live without a trace, for that is the law of deep time. To do otherwise could create paradoxes, bifurcating histories, even time wars and mass extinctions.

Where there is law, there is also crime. When crimes span millions of years, law enforcement takes a special kind of officer. An ex-game warden can be the perfect recruit. At the right time.”

Here’s a sample. Enjoy! The Smashwords version will be available in a couple of weeks, and a paper version will be available through Lulu late next week. I’ll add links as things progress. A couple of you may have seen this already. If so, feel free to comment on it.



Rare Plants Surveys 2: State Parks and Batiquitos
October 6, 2011, 11:41 am
Filed under: California Native Plants | Tags: , ,

This spring, the CNPSSD rare plant survey committee surveyed dune plants on beaches up and down the coast. I’ve been putting our work together in reports that were sent to the agencies, and I’m posting them here as I finish them.

Here are the last two, from State Parks and Batiquitos Lagoon.

State Parks Rare Plant Survey Report

and

Batiquitos Rare Plant Survey



Rare Plant Survey Reports 1: Fiesta Island and Silver Strand Elementary
August 16, 2011, 6:49 pm
Filed under: California Native Plants, Real Science, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

This spring, the CNPSSD rare plant survey committee surveyed dune plants on beaches up and down the coast. I’ve been putting our work together in reports that were sent to the agencies, and I’m posting them here as I finish them.

Here are the first two, from Fiesta Island and from Silver Strand Elementary.

Silver Strand Elementary Rare Plant Survey Report

Fiesta Island Rare Plant Survey Report



Seed Ball, one year later
August 2, 2011, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Fun in August!

Last August and September, the CNPSSD email list hosted a long discussion about seed “bombs,” or rather seed balls. At the September meeting, a man came forward to provide his seed balls free to CNPSSD as a demo. They reportedly contained the seeds of ten native plant species.

I have a dish on my patio where I grow native annuals, so I dropped the seed ball in that dish. My first experiences with it are chronicled in a previous blog entry. Now it’s eleven months later, and I decided to end the project.

As can be seen in the pictures below, there are two species now growing in that dish: some sort of italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) and sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima). The ball also grew a California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) in the spring, and it flowered and died.

Seed ball finale. The left picture is the dish, the right picture shows the remnants of the seed ball with the plants growing out of it. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Today I took the pictures, ended the experiment by ripping out the weeds, roots and all (they’d rooted through the pot), and planted a Dudleya pulverulenta that needed a new location.

This experiment has a couple of important learning points: one is that seed source is critical. Even if the seed ball maker used what he thought were nothing but California native plants, the evidence unequivocally says there were weed seeds in that ball. The second is that only two plants will grow from a ball at a time (the poppy came up and died before the grass grew). If there were 100 seeds in that ball, then 97% failed.

For do-it-yourself seedball makers: Do realize that you can spread weeds with seed balls. If you insist on making seed balls for a project, ideally you should collect your own seed, assuming you can identify the plants correctly. A second choice is to buy pure seed from a reputable dealer. Good dealers will tell you how much weed seed is in their mix. That number is rarely zero, despite everyone’s best efforts.

If you buy a packet of “wildflower seed,” for your seed ball mix, you have to realize that “WILDFLOWER” is an industry term for a certain group of annual plants, some of which are weeds in California. You actually have to look at the species list to see what is in the packet, and to make sure they are all California natives. If reading such a list perturbs you, don’t use wildflower seed packets.

It is ALWAYS possible for weed seed to get mixed in, simply by accident. If you’re not planning on weeding a site after you seed ball it, my advice is not to throw seed balls. We have enough weeds in this county already, and we don’t need people spreading more.



Rare Dune Plant Briefing
March 8, 2011, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Not my usual briefing, but I figure this is a way to send the document to people who want to use it.

Let me know if there are any issues with this pdf.

Rare Plant Briefing–Rough Draft



Native Plant Art Contest!
February 3, 2011, 3:45 pm
Filed under: California Native Plants, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Native Plant Week is the April 17 to 23, and San Diego County has more native plants than any other county in the U.S. To celebrate native plants, CNPSSD is holding a Native Plant Art Contest. Attendees at the March 15th General Meeting will select the winning image, and the chapter will use the image on our website and in other formats during plant week, and we will distribute it to the media and other non-profits to promote and celebrate native plants.

Calling all artists! You can enter one or more times, and the winner will receive a prize: a one-year individual membership in CNPS or cash equivalent ($45). The contest is open to everyone.

Both photos and artwork are welcome, but the image must meet four criteria, under the judgment of the volunteers running the contest. The criteria are:

1. A California native plant that is native to San Diego or Imperial County must be the dominant feature in the image. Native means that it has grown wild in San Diego or Imperial County since 1491. Dominant feature means that the native plant is noticeably larger than any other feature of the image. Non-native plants are not acceptable. The San Diego Native Plant Atlas is a good reference (www.sdplantatlas.org)

2. The plant must be identified in the application, and it must be recognizable. An orange lollipop is not a California poppy.

3. The image must not contain the title of the piece, the artist’s name, a copyright or other watermark, or other problematic material.

4. The image must look good under multiple formats. The image will be used in a variety of media, and four versions of the image must be submitted to demonstrate its versatility.

Images must be submitted online to franklandis@cnpssd.org by February 26, 2011. The email application must include:

1. Applicant’s name, address, phone, and email address

2. The title of the piece, and the name (common and/or scientific) of the plant represented in the image.

3. Four versions of the image, either in jpg or pdf, attached to the email, the biggest no more than 3 megabytes in size: a) an 8.5” x 11” color image; b) an 8.5” x 11” grayscale copy of the image; c) a 1”wide color image, and d) a 1” wide grayscale image. If the image is naturally grayscale, only images b and d must be submitted. These must all be versions of the same image: simply resize the image and change color to grayscale to make the different versions. Do not crop or recolor the image.

4. A statement saying: A) that the artist(s) owns copyright to the image, B) that they are the creator of the image, and if the work is derived from another copyrighted artwork, they either own the original artwork or had permission to create the image submitted. C) That they will allow CNPSSD to use the image without cost or issue until January 1, 2012, and D) that they take responsibility for any issues of ownership, and they release CNPS and CNPSSD from all legal responsibility in regard to issues arising over questions of ownership of the images submitted.

CNPSSD will screen all submissions to determine whether they are complete and meet our criteria. If the submission passes, we will contact the artist and ask them to submit a physical copy for the March 15th contest. We will ask the contest winner to grant CNPSSD sole use of the image until January 1, 2012 without charge, and free use of the image thereafter.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.