August 20, 2005 [LINK]
Faith of the Penguins
Jacqueline and I saw the movie March of the Penguins this week, and it more than lived up to the high expectations set by all the favorable reviews. It was a pure delight from beginning to end. (Click on the poster thumbnail image to see the movie's Web site.) The male Emperor penguins have to incubate the eggs (one each) for six weeks in the dead of the Antarctic winter (June-July) while the females return to the sea (70 miles away!) to feed, and then the females have to come back and do likewise while the males go eat. They alternate incubation/guard duty with feeding until late spring (November), when the young penguins are ready to make the trek to the sea. (The distance from their breeding colony site to the edge of the ice shelf is much shorter in the summer.) As long as the egg or hatchling needs to be cared for, neither the male nor the female Emperor penguin has any assurance that their mate will survive the arduous round trip, but they put their own lives at risk just so the next generation can live. Is this behavior nothing more than genetically determined? Perhaps. Nevertheless, there's no room for cynical skepticism, selfish indulgence, or "rugged individualism" in the penguin's world; they either believe in each other or they perish. A genuine "faith-based community"!
President spares swallows
While the President and First Lady are enjoying a relaxing vacation on the ranch in Texas (or trying to, at least), the White House is undergoing some minor home improvement. Having learned that a pair of cliff swallows is nesting atop one of the columns on the south side of the Executive Mansion, Mr. Bush instructed the contractors not to disturb the nest until the young swallows have fledged. Let's hope that this small but very real example of responsible stewardship of nature catches on in the general public.
With the oppressively hot weather we've had this month, I haven't done any serious birding at all. I did happen to see a Pileated woodpecker at Montgomery Hall Park about ten days ago, however, and an Eastern kingbird (normally a rural-dwelling species) appeared in our neighborhood this week. The male Ruby-throated hummingbird still shows up at our feeder several times a day, and has claimed our back yard as his territory, chasing away other hungry hummers. I happened to see a hummingbird chasing a House sparrow last week!
My brother John sent me a great closeup photo of a female American redstart a few days ago. Once again, the exquisite detail of the original photo cannot be appreciated at the low resolution of that small popup image.