This fall, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project will be sponsoring the Amphibians of the S.F. Bay Survey Techniques Workshop, November 21-22, 2014 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover the life history, ecology, conservation, identification features, range and distribution, habitat requirements, and behavior of frogs, toads, and salamanders of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Saturday field trip at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Sonoma Mountain will provide hands-on experience in survey techniques for the sixteen target species.
Dave and Jeff, whom I’ve known for years, are experienced herpetologists who have logged inestimable hours in the field between them studying these and other threatened and endangered species. Their knowledge is priceless, but the workshop worth every penny.
A few more western pond turtle articles have trickled in this year. Even though I’ve updated the western pond turtle literature page (where the bulk of the western pond turtle literature published has been meticulously indexed and posted for public consumption), they’re still worth mentioning here as well. If you know of any I’ve overlooked, please let me know…
Alvarez, Jeff. A., Kelly A. Davidson, and Sarah M. Foster. 2014. Actinemys marmorata (Western Pond Turtle). Nest predation. Herpetological Review 45:307–308. [LINK]
Bondi, Cheryl A., and Sharyn B. Marks. 2013. Differences in Flow Regime Influence the Seasonal Migrations, Body Size, and Body Condition of Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) That Inhabit Perennial and Intermittent Riverine Sites in Northern California. Copeia 1:142–153.
Spinks, Phillip Q., Robert C. Thomson, and H. Bradley Shaffer. 2014. The Advantages of Going Large: Genome-wide SNPs Clarify the Complex Population History and Systematics of the Threatened Western Pond Turtle. Molecular Ecology 23(9): 2228-2241.
Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, by Peter Stark, Harper Collins Publishers (www.harpercollins.com), 2014, 384 pages, $27.99
In 1810, less than five years after the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s westward push to the Pacific Coast, entrepreneur and visionary John Jacob Astor approached Thomas Jefferson with a proposition – to establish a trading emporium along the then-unexplored Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, and there build an empire. Recognizing in the fur trade America’s untapped tradable wealth, Astor conceived “the largest commercial enterprise the world has ever known,” a scheme bold enough to make a Bond villain blush: to (a) import blankets, pots, and beads from London and New York and convey them to the Pacific Coast, where he would (b) exchange the goods for furs from the coastal and inland Indians along established trading posts, so that he could then (c) resell the furs in Canton China and purchase porcelain, tea, and silk, which he would lastly (d) resell at markets in New York and London at an unimaginable markup. All Astor needed was to secure an overland route across the North American continent and seed a colony from which his empire would flourish.
To see his vision through, Astor – a pauper-cum-millionaire made in the fur trade and real estate for whom money was no object – assembled two parties. His Overland Party, led by the thoughtful Wilson Price Hunt, was to cross the Rockies and establish an interior network of trading posts. His Seagoing Party, lead by the mercurial US Naval Captain Jonathan Thorn, was to transport supplies and tradable goods around Cape Horn to join with the Overland Party at the Columbia River. There, along the (more-or-less) unexplored horizon of the Pacific Ocean, the two companies would meet up and break ground for Astor’s great empire. That, at least, was the plan.
What played out next across the North American continent as both parties forged westward reads like a Quentin Tarantino screenplay. Fighting off starvation, abandonment, theft, betrayal, inclement weather, scurvy, insanity, paranoia, cannibalism, scalping, vengeful (and friendly) Indians, and the looming threat of war – oh, and death, plenty of death, the two parties struggled against towering waves, unforgiving mountains, and bone-chilling drafts of sea and snow. And those that made it found themselves no better off, stranded in Astoria and removed from the world, wondering whether reinforcements would arrive before their enemies. Replete with tales of derring-do and self-sacrifice, and those more shameful, including a vindictive ship captain leaping into a longboat to beat the daylights out of a sailor with a handful of sugarcane stalks for arriving after the ship’s departure, there is no shortage of white-knuckle moments.
In the years to follow, the paths Astor’s men forged across the Rockies would seed the United State’s westward expansion along the Oregon Trail. But for so great an achievement, Astoria’s history has been inexplicably eclipsed somewhere between the period of Native American occupation and the California Gold Rush. But not so in Astoria. From cover to cover, the labored birth of Astoria is woven together seamlessly and entertainingly by Peter Stark, whose craft as a storyteller makes Astoria a delight to read. Astor, Hunt, and Thorn leap from the pages in fairytale fashion, becoming larger than life as Stark dusts off a chapter of history much forgotten today. Well researched and well told, Astoria intermingles a nostalgia for our once-unexplored continent with an awe inspiring respect for the unforgiving lands and the men and women that braved them.
Aviary Wonders Inc., Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, by Kate Samworth, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (http://www.hmhco.com), 2014, 32 pages, $17.99
In Kate Samworth’s debut children’s book, the world has stumbled into a dark future fantasy where deforestation has brought birds to the edge of extinction, and Aviary Wonders Inc. visionary Alfred Wallis (surely no relation to Alfred Russel Wallace) has mass-manufactured a solution – a build-a-bird catalogue (and instruction manual). In the spirit of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs from the days of old, Aviary Wonders Inc. encourages nostalgic nature lovers of the future to create their own birds from hand-crafted parts lovingly shaped and detailed by world-class artisans around the globe. From feathers fletched in 100% Indian silk to hand-tooled Italian leather legs, this spring catalogue is a veritable bird buffet of ready-to-assemble parts.
Told tongue in cheek through dark, exotic copy reminiscent of the J. Peterman Company, Samworth marshals the absurd to drive home how irreplaceable birds are. But in doing so, the dark comedy hits a little too close to home. Rightfully so, the screw-on legs, the gaudy-tacky feathers, the Celtic scrollwork-tooled beaks, and the buckle-and-strap crest and beak harnesses are all too alien to make peace with. Children who aren’t bedazzled by the playful presentation and silly premise may instead find it simply alienating (naked birds without beaks and feet). Hopefully, parents will take advantage of any discomfort and channel it into conversations about extinction and conservation, the hidden message in this post-cataclysmic catalogue.