Against the backdrop of Fall foliage

 

This autumn has been exceedingly pleasant despite the heated rhetoric on both sides that may lead to the winter of our discontent!  I’ve tried to capitalize on this Indian Summer and take in the beauty of the natural landscape.  As the leaves begin to transform and display their rich hues before falling off, the season offers excellent opportunities to photograph the dazzling colors of the foliage and the birds that get ready to migrate to warm weather.  Trying to spot tiny birds such as warblers high up in the branches can be quite challenging but when you do, it is indeed a fulfilling moment.  The Palm Warbler and the White-breasted Nuthatch below were photographed at the Celery Bog in West Lafayette, while the rest were taken at the Audubon Sanctuary in Bent of the River, Southbury, CT.

Palm Warbler ? Fall Plumagae

Palm Warbler

White breasted Nuthatch2

White Breasted Nuthatch

Yellow rumped warbler in CT

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow rumped warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Ruby crowned Kinglet?

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

Iridescent Starlings

You might have seen a flock of birds swoop down over a corn field or a meadow and then quickly change patterns and fly chaotically in a zigzag motion.  In fact this peculiar behavior by these birds has been the subject of fascination not just for birdwatchers but for scientists as well, who call it ‘murmuration’.   If you are interested in learning more about scale-free behavioral correlations and how flocks of birds respond rapidly to perturbations, then click here

The European Starling was introduced into North America towards the end of the 19th century.  However within a short time the starlings not only adapted to their new habitat but their population grew exponentially.  About the size of a robin, these black birds have unmistakable spots on their bodies especially during Fall/Winter and have iridescent greenish blue hues.  I happened to notice a flock of Starlings that had taken a break from their acrobatics and were resting on a tree branch.  Here are some pictures taken with Canon T2i, 100-400 mm lens, f/5.6, 1/1000 s, ISO 200 at the Celery Bog in West Lafayette.

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling side adn front pose

 

European starling eyes closed

 

Summer Reading

With summer behind us, here’s a short list of some noteworthy reads that I caught up with…….

A gripping account of expeditions along the Silk Road in Central Asia in the early 19th century to look for lost Buddhist treasures is narrated fascinatingly by Morgan & Walters.   Funded by the British Raj, an avid explorer and archaeologist, Aurel Stein sets off into the harsh deserts with a motley crew and a spirited dog called Dash.  The treasures that he is seeking are ancient Buddhist texts believed to be preserved in caves along the Silk Road and to rescue them from obscurity!   But even in his wildest imaginations, Stein could not have dreamt of what he would eventually stumble upon in the caves of the Taklamakan desert -the Diamond Sutra – which the Buddha is said to have preached to his disciples in Sarnath.   And it is absolutely fascinating to note that this is the first ever printed book in the history of mankind, circa 868 AD, a full five centuries before Guttenberg invented the printing press.   Journeys on the Silk Road is a captivating travelogue filled with adventures, history, politics.

US

 

Simon Winchester narrates a riveting account of how people from different walks of life and with different bent of mind came together to build the United States of America.  In order to do that he draws a leaf from ancient cultures that classify the world into five different elements, earth, fire, water, wood and metal.  Simon is a powerful storyteller and weaves seamlessly Thomas Jefferson’s visions, Lewis and Clark’s expeditions, the development of roads, canals, railroads, telegraph and communication networks that helped shape the US. Simon adds a nice personal touch with his own accounts of travel to several historic sites.  While this is not an encyclopedia of American History, it does a fine job of keeping the reader engaged at all times with interesting tidbits and is sure to enthrall history buffs.

 

happier 1

 

Despite a successful career as anchor of ABC’s Nightline, Dan Harris experienced bouts of mindlessness that resulted in a panic attack during a live recording.  After experimenting with self help books, medications and New Age Gurus, he discovered a simple means of meditation from Buddhist teachers.  A complete skeptic at first, Dan describes his journey in a no-holds barred approach as to how simple breathing techniques helped him refocus his thoughts time and again.  His lucid writing drives home the point that while there may be no nirvana in the near future, he is definitely ten percent happier with his life.

 

In this era of information overload, how does one differentiate signal from noise and make sense of it all, or simply put, separate the wheat from the chaff, as you are constantly bombarded with facts from newspapers, television, internet, e-mail, text, Twitter & Facebook.  If you have misplaced your keys or reading glasses, or have a hard time recalling passwords in this day and age of multitasking, leading to shorter attention spans, then this book is for you.   Dan Levitin, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience says that our minds evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and does not store memories in a neat compartmentalized fashion, in the same way that you would organize a filing cabinet.   Filled with humorous anecdotes this book looks at how our brain thinks and how leaders adapt to changes and come ahead of the endless chatter that fill our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying in V-formation

You have probably seen a flock of geese or other birds flying in a V-formation and wondered why they do so.   Scientists at the Royal Veterinary College, UK have cracked this mystery based on hours of data logging from small transmitters fitted on bald ibises, a critically endangered species.

Source: Getty

It turns out that the wind behind the lead bird and off to its side is pushed upward which is used to its advantage by another bird that follows the lead bird closely.   Thus every bird that follows behind another one is getting a free lift every so often resulting in a pattern.  This allows them to conserve energy during long flights which the birds undertake.

This remarkable work has been published in Nature and more about it can be read here .