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29 December 2022

Platypus, by Ann Moyal

The platypus is extraordinary, and this is a book about how we came to know that. Written by a historian of Australian science, Platypus is subtitled, “The extraordinary story of how a curious creature baffled the world.”  Moyal recounts the first specimens being sent back to the intellectual centers of western Europe (London and Paris, principally) from Australia, the subsequent suspicions that it was a hoax of taxidermy, and then …


15 December 2022

Beasts Before Us, by Elsa Panciroli

So many books have been written about dinosaurs, but this one looks at a deeper history of another important group: our own. Beasts Before Us is “the untold story of mammal origins and evolution.” The Cenozoic is often dubbed “the age of mammals,” but the story of our hairy, milk-guzzling brethren goes much deeper into geologic time. There have sort of been two ages of “mammals,” author paleontologist Elsa Panciroli …


10 July 2020

Friday fold: Candigliano River, Italy

Reader Michael Hiteshaw spotted some amazing folds this week while watching Kayak Session TV on YouTube. Though there’s a dramatic arc of “saving” a deer, both Michael and I felt our eyes drawn to the canyon walls where there are gorgeous folds in several sizes and shapes, with an emphasis on chevron folds:  The video description on YouTube reads: Fabulous action by whitewater kayaker Fabrizio “Gass” Capizzo who saved …


10 May 2018

Last Stand, by Michael Punke

A reader of this blog recently recommended Michael Punke’s Last Stand. I thoroughly enjoyed his novel The Revenant, and so last week I started the audiobook version of the nonfictional Last Stand (2007). Last Stand is subtitled “George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.” Prior to reading it, I knew little of Grinnell, save that he was a conservationist, and that he …


28 November 2016

Scenes from the Wildlife Camera

Here’s a look at some of the wild critters that have been visiting my yard this year: The video’s organized in alphabetical order, so it starts with bears, and ends with a walking stick insect. See how many you can identify! Plus, here’s a compilation of 125 still photos of black bears from June of 2015:


3 October 2016

A virtual field trip to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland

Rathlin Island lies north of mainland Northern Ireland, a few miles offshore. I spent three lovely days there this past summer, investigating the geology and appreciating the wildlife (puffins and other sea birds, and seals). The geology is pretty straightforward: Paleogene basalt overlying Cretaceous “chalk” (really not so chalky here – technically, it’s the Ulster White Limestone). Here’s a suite of interactive imagery that you can use to explore Rathlin’s …


1 September 2016

Archean microbial mats in the news and in GigaPan

The news yesterday of 3.7 Ga stromatolites in Greenland prompts a closer look at 3.22 Ga microbially-induced sedimentary structures in the Barberton Greenstone Belt’s Moodies group sandstones.


15 August 2016

The Paps of Jura, with a nice example of orographic effect (plus a seal)

The isle of Jura in Scotland is where George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s just across a narrow channel from the eastern side of Islay, where I spent four lovely days geologizing this summer. Looking across the gap, you can see a cluster of prominent mountains on Jura. These are the “Paps” of Jura, and they are held up by quartzite. I took these photos when driving home after an afternoon …


20 April 2016

Who ate the woodpecker?

Occasionally, our big windows get in the way of birds. The latest casualty was a hairy woodpecker, Leuconotopicus villosus. While it’s sad that our home being where it is caused the end of this bird’s life, its body was an opportunity to teach my son something about wildlife and ecology. We have a motion-sensitive wildlife camera trained on our compost pile, and so I put the woodpecker’s body there in …


1 March 2016

How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro

I just finished an interesting book with a provocative title. How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro, is a readable, sober assessment of de-extinction, the idea of bringing back extinct species through a variety of techniques. She defines very clearly at the outset that the purpose of de-extinction is ecological – to restore critical / desired organism/organism or organism/abiotic environment interactions in ecosystems. It is, in other words, a …


5 July 2012

Floe Lake hike

Last summer, my wife and I spent some time in the Canadian Rockies. One of the things we did was to take a three-day backpacking trip to Floe Lake, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. We picked a rough couple of days for hiking – We got a lot of Canadian Rockies precipitation out there: we got rained on, hailed on, and snowed on during those three days. Here’s our …