Monday, March 30, 2020

Ten-cent crabs and hermit crabs

We observed two different types of crabs on the beach at Grand Isle, in close proximity but living very different lifestyles. The "ten-cent crabs", so designated because they were about the span of a dime, survive through a combination of speed, camouflage, and burrowing. (The crab is at five o'clock relative to the dime in each of these photos.)

[Some of the burrows, with crab tracks leading to piles of jettisoned sand, were quite aesthetically pleasing.]

The hermit crabs, of course, take their protection from their borrowed shells (mostly whelks and periwinkles) and from the tidal pool in which they lived. Speed is decidedly not their forté.

[Hermit crab in situ, carrying a whelk shell.]

[Hermit crabs in periwinkle shells (the more common housing here), held by Jessica and Heather.]

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Barrier island kestrels

We spotted this kestrel hunting amidst the mostly empty houses of off-season Grand Isle, Louisiana. She eyed us warily for a moment and then got back to the business of scanning the ground below.

With far better taste in real estate was this one, who eschewed the town side of Grand Isle for the beach at the state park.

We watched her hover-hunting in the breeze off the Gulf almost the whole time we were there. This is just what she does, every day. This is her domain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The battle

Alligators aren't the only predators cruising Bayou Lacombe. When I first spotted this pied-billed grebe (I confused the girls by calling out "peanut butter grebe!", an old nickname from my Audubon days), I thought it was trying to swallow a fish. The challenge was actually more difficult: a blue crab bigger than the poor bird's head.

But the grebe persevered, and, spinning this way and that in its exertions, managed over the course of several minutes to subdue and swallow its unwieldy prize. Jessa documented the fracas with her camera.

[Almost done...]

[There! One self-satisfied grebe.]

Later, we enjoyed some soft-shelled crabs ourselves, on po-boys. The grebe may have been an inspiration, but then again how much encouragement do we really need?

[Swimming off in triumph.]

Sunday, March 22, 2020

American alligator

We weren't specifically looking for alligators on our most recent trip, any more than we were looking for any wildlife, but we sure did find them. Jessa's sister Heather was the first to see this smallish one on the lower reaches of Bayou Lacombe, close to where it flows into Lake Pontchartrain.

Heather also spotted this one on the way to Grand Isle, having determined that it was neither a trash bag nor a blown-out tyre (gator equivalents of the notorious "insulator hawk").

But the largest alligator we saw was our "house gator", a magnificent specimen who liked to bask most mornings next to the canal under the balcony of our rented flat in Slidell.

Heed the signs.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Blogging in the time of SARS-2

I started this blog with a question, "what am I going here?", and the question still stands twelve years later. To be honest, I've never had a single clear conception of who my audience is or what my blog's purpose should be, and my approach to writing it has no doubt shifted over time. But I'm still here twelve years on, long after many of the blogs that have interested me and inspired me have gone dormant, and so there must be some purpose after all.

In large part I write for myself. Whatever else this blog may be, it is in part a repository for photographs and other memories. It probably ends up being, to a certain extent, a record of whatever has held my attention at the time, but it should not be read too literally in that sense: while there is much of my personal life in Flyover Country, it is by no means a complete record, and obviously there are facets of my life, sometimes large facets, that are not reflected here.

I sometimes think that my true external audience may be "posterity", in the form of Ellie and any other children I may one day have, inshallah, with Jessa; in my cousins and hers; in our nieces and nephews. And I wonder on occasion what they will make of the gaps in the fossil record alluded to above.

Here we are, for example, four years into what may be considered "the Trump era", and not a word to this point—I know, I just checked—on the shitshow of cynicism, corruption, and incompetence that is the Trump Administration. For the record, I don't subscribe to the theory that Trump is America's Hitler; I see him as America's Mussolini, and hope he may someday meet a similar end. (We have plenty of filling stations...) My explanation for this otherwise puzzling omission is that some things are simply too big, too complex, too fast-moving, and/or too depressing to deal with in this particular forum.

Likewise with the current pandemic, designated "COVID-19", caused by a novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. This is decidedly on-topic for this blog; see previous posts "Stellaluna and Wilbur will kill us all: a review of Contagion" and "Spillover reviewed". [Note also my description of "SARS as a lucky escape, an epidemic that could have been so much worse than it was (and one that may yet get another bite at the apple)."] But, until now, I've avoided the topic as too big, too complex, too fast-moving, too depressing. Particularly depressing is the schizophrenic societal response to the virus, as people simultaneously over- and under-react to the new circumstances.

Today, as Jessa and I helped Ellie move from her dormitory to an off-campus flat, I saw a whiteboard message left by another departing student:


What, indeed.

While the pandemic is an undeniably real-life topic, I'm happy to say that there are other topics that also represent real life, and I hope that readers—my friends, blog neighbours, and even "posterity"—will not mind if Flyover Country focuses for the time being on some of those. New photographs, new memories...perhaps, if I'm lucky, an insight here or there.

We're recently returned from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, so expect more soon. Thanks for reading, whoever you are, and be well.