Crazy for Mexican Crazy Lace!

Already, now I’m in deep. Since we started rockhounding and polishing this summer, It’s all been focused on self-collected material. Nearly all of that has been done on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in western South Dakota. Now, for the first time…I (gasp!) actually PAID for a box of rocks. Sure, it wasn’t much…$4 a pound, for 5 pounds of rocks. But I’ve crossed a line now, where it’s now fair game to pay hard-earned cash for rocks.  It started when I was on a rockhounding website, and I saw someone who had just gotten a bunch of “Mexican Crazy Lace” agates to tumble polish. It’s a kind of banded chalcedony, found (surprisingly!) in Mexico, in the state of Chihuahua.  Such gorgeous, gorgeous material that tumble polishes very well…I had to have it! Here are some of the raw, un-tumbled pieces that came in my first ever purchase of a box of rocks. Check back in about, oh, 2-3 months, and I should have these polished up!

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace Mexican Crazy Lace Mexican Crazy Lace Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Mexican Crazy Lace

Common Redpolls are Back

It was a over a month ago when I saw three Common Redpolls feeding at our thistle/niger feeder.  It was only the 3rd winter (in 24 here) that we’ve had Redpolls in our yard, and given it happened so early, in early November, I was hoping for continuous visits by Redpolls all winter long. That certainly would make a dreary South Dakota winter a little brighter, but alas, I only saw them for a couple of hours that day, and then they disappeared.

Until now.  I looked out the kitchen window, and there 15 feet in front of me in a paper birch, were about 20 Common Redpolls.  Finches seem to love the catkins on our paper birch, as I’ve seen American Goldfinches, House Finches, Pine Siskins, and now Common Redpolls feeding on them. Interestingly they were only interested in the catkins, and ignored the big finch feeder just 20 feet away.  It’s been a great winter for winter finches, as while the Redpolls were feeding on catkins, there were about 8 Pine Siskins mixed in with Goldfinches on the thistle feeder. Hopefully they don’t disappear again…would be nice to have them around this winter.  Some photos:

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

Snowy Owl!!!

It’s supposed to be a banner year for Snowy Owls in the lower 48 states. Sightings are happening…everywhere…and I also got a quick look at one in late November when driving in the central part of South Dakota on I-90. I’ve been taking gravel roads to work more often than usual, just on the off chance I might come across one, but I never really expected to! But that’s just what happened on the way home from work today.

About 5 minutes from work, in northern Minnehaha County, I saw him sitting on a telephone pole.  Pretty unmistakable, so I immediately knew what it was when I saw the splotch of white from a distance.  There was a time when I had my camera with me EVERYWHERE, but unfortunately I now rarely ever have it with me when I go to work. I’m very content to just sit and watch a gorgeous bird like this, but I was also itching to get a photo! I drove home, picked up my son, dropped him off at home, grabbed my camera, and headed back to the location where I’d seen him. By the time I had returned, an hour had elapsed since I last saw him, but he was still sitting on the same perch!  Wonderful treat for the day.

Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus

Snow Owl enjoying the late evening light on top of a telephone pole. What I find so cool about Snowy Owls…they’re so tame! You can tell most have never had the “pleasure” of having a run-in with human beings, and most are quite approachable. This guy sat in the same place for well over an hour, even WITH the JACKASS who felt the need to blast his horn for 10 seconds while he blasted past me and flipped me off (for daring to be pulled off on the shoulder of the road, I guess?).

“She had a dream” – A Christmas story

There once was a beautiful princess, born in a tiny village in a place far, far away, called “Nebraska”.  The princess was loved by all, and had a wonderful childhood. As she grew, the villagers asked what she wanted when she grew up. “I have a dream…I want to marry a prince, and live every day as if it were a celebration!!“.  The princess was particularly fond of Christmas, and grew up surrounded by lights, glitter, and merriment. “As long as you live in our castle, sweet Princess, you’ll always have the brightest and best Christmases!”, declared King Roger.

The princess at her wedding

The princess at her wedding to Prince Humbug

But the Princess knew she couldn’t stay in the castle forever. She left for a life far, far away, 3 LONG miles from the castle where she grew up.  It was there that she met a Prince, and fell in love. Prince “Humbug” was young, dashing, and captured the heart of the princess. They were married on a fine spring May Day, and left for a new adventure in Big City, half a continent away.

Prince Humbug wasn’t rich.  Prince Humbug couldn’t afford to give his princess a castle.  For two years they lived in squalor.  At Christmas, there were no vast expanses of shiny lights.  There was no glitter. Missing their friends and family and merriment, Prince Humbug and the Princess left for the Great Frozen North, and moved into their first castle.

The castle was small and humble, but they were happy.  At Christmas, the Princess dreamed of her Christmases growing up, and asked Prince Humbug if she could have lights, glitter, and merriment as when she was a child. But as the years passed, Prince Humbug was inflicted with a terrible case of the Grumbly Grumpies.  Prince Humbug scoffed when the Princess asked for a castle lit up with lights and glitter.  “There are more important things to worry about,” groused the Prince.

Years passed, with the Prince and Princess having a perfect young son, and eventually they moved into a larger castle. “This is the castle of my dreams!”, said the Princess.  “If only we could decorate it like the castle from my childhood!”.  Prince Humbug couldn’t resist a bat of an eye from the Princess, and for a few years, despite the Grumbly Grumpies, he grudgingly obliged the Princess. At Christmas, the exterior of the castle was often lit with colorful lights and glitter, and the Prince tried to provide the merriment the Princess had as a young girl. But as he got older, Prince Humbug fell deeper under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies.  When Christmas time came and the Princess asked if the castle could be decorated with lights and glitter, the Prince said “BAH!!!  Humbug!  Why spend hours putting up silly lights that will just have to be taken down again when the Holidays are over?!”  Even a bat of the beautiful Princess” eyes couldn’t sway the Grumbly Grumpy  heart of the Prince.

Dark times fell on the land. Evil Orange Overlord took control of the land, and the people were afraid. Up was down, down was up, news was fake, science wasn’t real, and deception and hatred became commonplace. As the darkness spread, Prince Humbug’s heart became ever blacker. The Princess did everything she could for their son the recreate the glorious Christmases of old, and despite the Grumbly Grumpy Prince, they were happy. But the Princess was afraid she would never again have the lights, glitter, and merriment from her youth.

As Christmas approached, Prince Humbug still was under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies. “Christmas lights??!? BAH!! HUMBUG!!” he shrieked.    “It’s silly!!”, he thought. “It’s a lot of work!”, he thought.  But deep within Prince Humbug’s black heart were two shining stars, the stars of his love for the Princess and their beautiful young son. He knew what he had to do.  He now knew that the lights, glitter, and merriment may not have mattered to him, but they WOULD make the Princess and their son just a little bit happier. And in a dark world, Prince Humbug decided to do anything he could to make things a little brighter.

The Prince traded some of his gold for some colorful Magic Glitter Twinkles.  While the Princess and their son were away, the Prince placed the Magic Glitter Twinkles about the face of the castle.  After all the wonderful years married to the Princess, he knew exactly what she would like. Straight!! Orderly!! Without a hint of sloppiness!  The Prince carefully arranged the Magic Glitter Twinkles, placing each Glitter Twinkle in a cradle of its own to make sure they were straight.  He then awaited the arrival of the Princess.

The Princess’ face lit up when she arrived back at the castle. “My Grumbly, Grumpy Prince, what have you done?! I had never dreamed of again seeing the lights, glitter, and merriment of my childhood!”.  The Princess and their son was happy.  “They are so straight!  They are so perfect!”, exclaimed the Princess. The Prince knew he couldn’t recreate the exquisite displays from the Princess’ youth, but upon seeing the Princesses’ happy face…he now realized he didn’t HAVE to.  The Princess didn’t need the World’s Best Glittery Display.  She just wanted a hint of the dreamy Christmases she had as a girl.

And by obliging his beautiful, beloved Princess, Prince Humbug realized that perhaps the world wasn’t QUITE as dark as he had believed.

Castle Lights

It wasn’t the biggest castle in the world. It wasn’t the brightest and most glittery Christmas display. But it was all the Princess needed, and she was happy.

New Polished Batch – Best Yet!

There are two moments in polishing stones that are akin to Christmas morning for a kid.  One is after the first rough polish. It’s at that stage where you get some wonderful hidden surprises, where the rough polishing has removed outer material and exposed some beautiful patterns underneath (happens a lot with bubblegum agates, for example).  The second big moment is taking a batch out of the final polish. It’s a long process to polish rocks!  I’ve learned patience, and it’s usually a two-month process to go from rough material, to a beautiful, shiny final product.  Here are photos of the latest batch…my best yet, without question!  A wonderful mix of agates, quartz, petrified wood, and jaspers.   And the best aspect of this batch…EVERY piece was self-collected, on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands here in South Dakota.

Polished agates and Stones - South Dakota Rockhound

An overview of the final batch. In this batch, I included a wide variety of stones, including many different agates, petrified wood, quartz, and jaspers. The one thing they all have in common…they all came out WONDERFULLY shiny!

Polished Fairburn Agate

A surprise! This is one of those agates where there’s a surprise underneath a weathered outer layer. I suspected there might be something special underneath the heavily weathered exterior of this piece. There certainly is…the beautiful, fine banding of a Fairburn agate.

Bubblegum Agates - Polished

Typical bubblegum agates. Once polished, most seem to show the reddish and cream colors of the agates shown here. Once the little eyed nodules wear down in the polishing process, you can get some truly gorgeous colors. Best of all, bubblegums take a VERY good polish and shine.

Petrified Wood - Polished

This is the most common form of petrified wood that I’ve found on the Grasslands. You do have to be careful polishing, as sometimes the wood pattern is only on the exterior of the piece and may wear away if you polish too much. If you’re careful though, you can get a beautifully polished piece such as this.

Polished Bubblegum Agate

This is small piece, the diameter of a penny. But HOLY COW do some polished bubblegum agates look wonderful when polished. In this case, the entire outside of the bubblegum was black when I first put it in the polisher. Many times that black wears completely off, often leaving the typical red and cream colors of bubblegums found here. On this one, I stopped the rough polish while it still had some black “eyes”. Gorgeous little piece.

Polished Gray Quartz "Egg"

There are pieces of quartz on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of many different colors. This smoky gray piece polished up beautifully, particularly after I left it in the rough-polish stage for many weeks to get the “egg” shape.

Polished Red Congomerate / Jasper

I don’t know what to call this piece, but it’s freakin’ gorgeous! It’s pretty much one-of-a-kind for pieces I’ve found on the grasslands.

Heavily banded agate - Polished

Most of the prairie and bubblegum agates you find have some form of banding. Many have some very fine bands. But this piece has more “layers” of thin banding than most pieces, and it has some incredibly beautiful colors as well. It’s got an unusual shape, and I was tempted to keep it in the rough polish phase for several more weeks to get a more rounded shape. Given how beautiful it is, however, I didn’t want to take a chance it might break apart, so did the final polishing on this unusual shape.

Polished Quartz Variety - South Dakota

Some of the polished quartz pieces from this batch. Clear, White, and pinkish tones are the colors you find the most, but there are others as well. ALL polish up beautifully.

Polished South Dakota Agate - (Fairburn?)

Another agate where the pattern underneath really wasn’t revealed until after many weeks of polishing. It’s not as obvious as the Fairburn above, but there are some hints of a Fairburn-type pattern.

Polished mossy agate - South Dakota

I know there’s a kind of agate called “mossy agate”. I’m not sure that’s what this is, but it’s such an unusual piece. The pattern itself is quite unusual for agates I’ve found, but so is the mossy, orangish patterns that fill in the gaps between the white blobs. Cool one-of-a-kind piece in my collection.

Polished Prairie Agate - South Dakota

From an unusual piece above, to a pretty common piece. While creamy and white banded prairie agates are the most common color form I seem to find, I also often find ones like this, with blackish bands in a creamy matrix.

Colorful Petrified Wood - South Dakota

The grayish petrified wood near the top of this post is easy to find, but you do also sometimes find more colorful pieces. This one has some wonderful reddish tones, as well as a bluish streak on the back side.

Polished South Dakota Agate

I kept putting this pieces back through the rough-tumbling phase, trying to wear a bit more off of this side to try to reveal more of the different colors. But alas, it kept getting smaller and smaller, but with the same color pattern.

Polished South Dakota Bubblegum Agate

Another great little bubblegum agate. Some of these pieces end up showing many little eyes once polished, but many also often show some gorgeous banding underneath.

Petrified Wood - South Dakota

Some of the petrified wood in this batch, showing the variety of forms you can find on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

Polished South Dakota Conglomerate / Prairie Agate

I’m not sure what you call this…a prairie agate, or some kind of conglomerate. Prairie agates here seem to often be banded, but some too do look like a mish-mash of fragments that have been found together. The conglomerate-looking ones really can have some cool patterns once polished.

Polished South Dakota Conglomerate / Prairie Agate

Speaking of funky conglomerate-like stones…this one has some very fine patterns that are pretty unusual compared to other pieces I’ve found.

Polished Quartz - South Dakota

The biggest piece in this batch, an almost tennis-ball-sized chunk of quartz with an cool brownish-orange tone intermixed throughout.

Polished bubblegum agate with "eyes"

Sometimes bubblegum agates turn out like this when polished, with just the “eyes” remaining.

Small polished prairie agate

Size doesn’t matter! Even the small little pieces have some gorgeous patterns once you photograph them in macro mode.

Polished Red Splotch Agate

I call this “red splotch agate”. Given I’m still new at this and have no idea of what to really call it.

Polished Red Prairie Agate

Some of the prairie agates have reddish tones, but this one has more red throughout than most that I find.

Reddish polished quartz

Another of the reddish quartz pieces.

Polished South Dakota Quartz

And…one last one, another polished piece of quartz.

One more trip – Rocks and Birds

It was a beautiful weekend in much of South Dakota, so much so that the lure of one last rockhounding trip was too much for me to pass up.  With projected highs near 60, and just as importantly on the windswept plains of South Dakota, a lack of a wind, it seemed like the perfect day to roam around the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. An added treat of birding the western part of the state at this time of year…all of the winter raptors that are arriving!

I started out rockhounding, and could tell it was going to be a great day.  I tried a little bit different spot, and immediately found it wasn’t as “picked over” as my typical spot near Kadoka.  Right away I was finding many bubblegum agates, some beautiful rose quartz, some amber-colored honey agates, prairie agates, and some big chunks of petrified wood. I also found several coral and shell fossils, including one cute little bubblegum agate with a crisp imprint of a shell on the back side.  The highlight…after only 10 minutes, I found a gorgeous Fairburn agate with an unusual, rosy-colored quartz center.  That piece alone would have made the trip worth it.

While I spent most of the day rockhounding, I also kept my eyes open for the arriving winter raptors. Rough-legged Hawks, as always, were in abundance in parts of the Grasslands. Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, a prairie falcon, and plenty of Red-tailed Hawks rounded out a day that finished with the spotting of a gorgeous, pure white, unbarred Snowy Owl on the drive back home. A great “last blast” out on the Grasslands, before the really cold South Dakota winter hits.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

A gorgeous Fairburn agate as I found it on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. On average this year, I’d say I find one Fairburn for about every 15 hours of looking, so it’s always a wonderful treat. This one was so unusual, in terms of that grogeous rosy center surrounding by the fortification banding.

South Dakota Agates, Jaspers, Petrified Wood, Quartz

The material I brought back. You can collect on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, but 1) only for private collections (no selling of material), and 2) can collect up to 25 pounds of material in a day. Given I usually only keep the smaller pieces (most are 2″ or less), that’s not a problem! But on this day, there were some BIG pieces of petrified wood I was tempted to bring home! If I had done so though, a couple of them would have used up my 25-lb allotment! Hence sticking with my “usual” agates and other material.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display – Complete!!

The age-old question has been answered!  The question (primarily from my wife)…”What are you going to do with all of those rocks?” Minor detail, something I hadn’t thought about much since my son and I started rockhounding this summer!  But given the growing collection in the basement, it was time to figure out how to display some of our goodies.

It’s been a labor of love, but it’s now complete!  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve refinished the printer’s trays I got on eBay, and installed them on the wall of my office.  Given how new we are at this, we still don’t have a huge number of pieces that have made it all the way through the tumbling and polishing process, but we certainly have PLENTY of combined raw and polished material to fill the 178 individual compartments in the two printer’s trays!  I think they look fantastic, and certainly add some wonderful character to my home office!  Here are some photos:

South Dakota Rockhounding DIsplay

The finished printer’s trays, sanded and refinished on the wider cross pieces, but simply cleaned up and left as-is for the individual compartments themselves. I used a brown enamel paint on the wide pieces, but simply sanded off the old paint and expose the metal faceplate on each drawer. The most satisfying aspect of the collection shown here? Every single piece was hand-collected by my son and I, all from right here in South Dakota!

South Dakota Rockhounding Display

An oblique view, one that shows the bare metal I left on both original drawers.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display - Agates!

For each of the two printer’s trays, I cleaned up the original drawer pull, and repurposed them as labels. The right side is rightly labeled “South Dakota Agates”, as every piece on this side are prairie, Fairburn, bubblegum, or other agates, all collected from the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display - Jaspers, Petrified Wood, Quartz, etc.

The original drawer pull and label on the left piece. This side is more of a “mish-mash” of material, with a lot of petrified wood, quartz, chalcedony, jaspers, and other pieces. Again, all collected from right here in South Dakota!

Prairie and Fairburn Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

One of the six major compartments across the two trays. This one is devoted to prairie agates, and the handful of Fairburn agates we have so far.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota Rockhound

We haven’t found many Fairburns as of yet, but the one on the right here is the favorite of ANY piece we’ve found so far.

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

One of the six compartments devoted to bubblegum agates. Some are tumbled and polished, most here have not been polished yet. I like the look of the little bubblegums though, and probably won’t polish most of these. The “eyes” of the bubblegum agates give them a great look then when you do polish.

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

A closer view of some of the “raw”, untumbled bubblegum agates. You can see why they are well named! They do often look like chewed up pieces of bubblegum.

Petrified Wood - South Dakota Rockhound

The 2nd most common find for us on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands – petrified wood. These are all petrified wood pieces. Most you find are the grayish or tan color, but there are also some other beautiful colors and patterns you can find. Most of these have not been tumble polished.

Chalcedony and Chert - South Dakota Rockhound

It’s not just agates and petrified wood on the Grasslands! There are other forms of chalcedony, and a huge variety of other rocks as well. I’ve been told those on the right (particularly the bottom right) are chert, in a limestone matrix.

Miscellaneous Prairie Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

A closer look at some miscellaneous (prairie) agates. There’s quite the variety of colors and patterns that you can find.  All here are polished, except the one in the upper right.

Misc. Jasper and Quartz - South Dakota Rockhound

A few miscellaneous jasper, quartz, and agate.

Large agates, chalcedony, etc. - South Dakota Rockhound

The only downside to the use of the printer’s trays…some of the compartments are relatively big, but the depth is quite shallow. Bigger pieces thus won’t work. I haven’t quite decided how I want to display them, but for now I have a table directly underneath the display, and I’ve started to put out a few big pieces. These are some big chalcedony pieces, prairie agates, and petrified wood.

Printer’s trays – For rock/mineral collection

It’s been about 5 months since my son and I started rockhounding, and polishing some of our finds in a tumbler. It’s rather shocking how much material you can find on the South Dakota grasslands in just 5 months! I’ve got several large trays and buckets worth of agates, jaspers, petrified wood, fossils, and other goodies. Now the number one question I get from our other household member…”What are you going to do with all of those”?

It’s a DAMNED good question!  I’ve already taken over our utility room (the room downstairs with the furnace and water heater).  A big wire shelving system is chock full of rocks and supplies, and two tumblers have been going non-stop for the last 4 months. It’s such a long process to polish, that we don’t have a massive number of “final” pieces, but it’s a growing amount.  Nearly all right now are either sitting on a shelf at work, or are sitting unseen in a tray in the utility room. Lately I’ve been looking at ways to display them.

I came across some images on Pinterest for displaying collections, including a guy who used “printer’s trays” to display his cork collections. I had never heard of a printer’s tray.  They are large wooden trays with many small compartments, used by letterpress printers to hold the tools of their trade.  Not knowing where the heck you could possible get such a thing, I looked on eBay and was surprised to see many available.  One person was selling several quite cheap (only $22 each!), so bought a pair and thought I’d see what I can do with them.

They look wonderful! They’re old and have an antique look to them, but are in really excellent shape. I’m not quite sure how I’ll use them yet, in terms of whether I try to do some kind of refinishing on them, or leave them more as is.  Stay tuned…within the next few weeks I hope to get a nice display set upon the walls of my home office!

Printer's Trays

The two printer’s trays I bought on eBay. Not what they are designed for, but they are truly wonderful for displays of small knick-knacks! For me, that means agates and other geologic goodies. They even came with the original grass drawer pulls! Once I decide whether I want to do something to the finish, I plan on hanging them vertically (kind of similar to this) in my home office.

Unexpected surprise at the feeders – Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll - Acanthis flammea

From the big Redpoll invasion of 2013, a Common Redpoll sitting on a sunflower head in our yard. This week on Halloween, we had our first Common Redpolls since 2013.

We’re at a part of the season that isn’t a lot of fun for a birder in South Dakota. As the calendar flips from October to November, we’re fully entrenched in the “dry season” for birding, where both bird diversity and bird numbers are far lower than in the warmer months. Most of the smaller water bodies in the area are starting to freeze over, and while there are still some waterfowl and gulls hanging around the open water in the bigger lakes, it won’t be long before they too depart for the winter. Nearly all of the insectivorous birds too have long left the state, leaving us with our typical winter mix of species.

Dark-eyed Juncos are now found scattered throughout my yard.  A welcome addition to an otherwise dreary winter in the yard, but…when the Juncos are around it’s a sign that winter is starting to arrive. In addition to my House Sparrow hoards, I’m also getting an occasional surprise sparrow species, such as the Harris’s and Lincoln’s Sparrows that have periodically showed up in the yard. I am now getting regular visits from three woodpecker species (Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied), another nice presence during the winter months. But overall the species that dominates my yard right now are American Goldfinches.

My wife bought me a huge, tall thistle (niger) feeder many years ago, and it’s always been a star attraction in my yard. The goldfinches will use it all season long, disappearing occasionally for a few weeks at a time, only to come back in full force and stay for long periods of time. Lately, as the weather has gotten colder, the finch feeder has been standing room only, with every available perch often full during the day. The goldfinches may not be in the brilliant yellow summer plumage, but the activity and quiet chatter is nice to have around.

Hoary Redpoll - Acanthis hornemanni

A Hoary Redpoll, a pale, beautiful, wonderful surprise later in that winter of 2013. The two that hung around my yard for several weeks are still the only two Hoary Redpolls I’ve seen in South Dakota.

On Halloween this past week, I was working at home when I came downstairs to grab some lunch.  As I was letting the dogs out into the back yard, I couldn’t help but notice some oddballs in the American Goldfinch hoard that scattered when seeing the dogs. Most of the flock landed in my very large River Birch at the back of the yard, and at first I thought the oddballs were just House Finches.  But after the dogs finished their business and came back in, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a handful of Common Redpolls scattered in with the Goldfinches that were returning to the feeder.

We’ve been in South Dakota for 24 years. In those 24 winters, there have only been 3 occasions where I’ve had Redpolls in the yard. One of those occasions was a “one-night stand”, where a few were at the feeders briefly and then disappeared. But from January through March of 2013, my yard was inundated with Redpolls, to the point that Redpolls actually outnumbered the ubiquitous Goldfinches most days.  It was a snowy and long winter (they all seemingly are), but having the Redpolls around made it seem a little less gloomy.

Much to my surprise, the Common Redpolls weren’t even the best surprise that winter. One morning my young son looked out at the feeders and said “what’s the white one?”  He saw a bird among the Common Redpolls at the finch feeder that was obviously different. I went over and looked out, and was rather shocked to see this wonderful, pale Hoary Redpoll mixed in with the Common Redpolls. A life bird, all from the comfort of my cozy sunroom window!

We had one, and then two, Hoary Redpolls stay around the yard for several weeks before disappearing, along with the rest of the Common Redpolls. We haven’t had Redpolls in the yard since, until this Halloween day! I’ve got a glimpse of one Redpoll in the days since, as my finch feeder has returned to being dominated by goldfinches, but I’m hoping the Redpolls are still around, and plan on staying around for the winter. It would bring a VERY welcome splash of color and diversity to our limited suite of winter birds in South Dakota.

Scientists are Assholes

I’m a scientist. I’ve been in my field for over 25 years, employed at the same place for the vast majority of that time. I’ve got a many peer-reviewed journal publications, and have been around science and science publishing long enough to realize that…

Scientists are assholes.

Scientists have egos. I think for any successful venture, including scientific research, you HAVE to have a healthy ego, a confidence in your own capabilities, and a confidence in what  you’re doing. But underlying the “confident” form of ego is the seedy underbelly of scientists acting like assholes.

The New York Times posted a wonderful piece that focuses on social psychology, but the same general storyline could have played out in any of the sciences. In short, a young scientist published an article in 2010 that summarized one piece of her research. That led to notoriety, and even a 2012 TED talk that become one of the most widely viewed talks ever. After basking in the glow of the work for a short time, other researchers began to question her methodology, and question her results. Even worse, it got personal, with scientists and science bloggers taking the young woman to task, making unfounded and hurtful accusations. In short, the young woman DARED to experience success…which triggered a backlash from other scientists, a group of human beings that love NOTHING more than to tear each other down.

Scientists are assholes. At least there’s a segment of the profession that act in this manner. Many of them have built careers not on perfecting their own new, original research path, but instead by tearing apart the work of others. Even in my own field, there are scientists who I am only aware of because of their published “bakeoffs”, assessing the collective work of OTHER scientists, and meticulously picking through the work to find (perceived) flaws.

Given my cynical nature, it’s not like being an asshole is restricted to the field of science. So why devote a blog post to trashing my own profession? To make a point about climate change science. Climate change skeptics are nearly ALL politicians…talking heads…pundits…but very rarely, actual scientists. Even the majority of “scientists” who do attempt to discredit climate science are not climate scientists themselves.  Most often they are from another field. The pool of real climate scientists that are skeptical that 1) the climate is warming, and 2) mankind is at fault is TINY.

Scientists are assholes. And yet among scientists, climate change discord is remarkably absent. In a profession where ego and competitiveness are sometimes out of control, I can think of no better evidence of the sound scientific basis behind anthropogenic climate change. IF there were any speck of credible evidence that the climate isn’t warming, or that mankind’s activities aren’t the primary cause, stories such as the one provided by the New York Times would be rampant. Scientists would be eagerly ripping apart each other’s work, trying to discredit not only the research, but the researcher him/herself.

 

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