The Age of the Avastar

The word “avatar” is rooted in Hindu spiritualism. An avatar is the incarnation of a Hindu deity (as Vishnu) on earth. Avatars are not limited to the human form. Examples of the most common avatars of Vishnu are Matsya, the fish-avatar, Kurma, the tortoise-avatar, Varaha, the boar-avatar, Narasimha, the half man-half lion avatar, and Vamana, the dwarf-avatar. Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu.

The computer industry hijacked the word avatar, much like it made off with mouse, cloud, backbone, hack, and native. Computer avatars began as electronic images that represented computer users. Such avatars are used in playing games, posting to blogs, and sending emails. A digital avatar is a surrogate or substitute for the human that is pecking at the keyboard and manipulating the mouse.

Gender Bating, or the Quick Road to Avistardom

Web debates devolve. Rather than uplifts they are down-drafts. Dénouement is achieved through ad hominum attacks, name calling, and streams of invective. Participants end knowing less than when they began.

A female birder recently invited such a debate by publishing an article on the glass ceiling in birding. She noticed an absence of women in the higher levels of birding such as listing, rare bird committees, etc. She approached the topic in a traditional manner – she counted. She tallied the numbers of women in these positions and came to the conclusion that a glass ceiling does indeed exist.

The Rains of Change

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR, by Ted Lee Eubanks

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

The recent rains have rejuvenated the prairie. We have been without significant rain for over five years. In drought you forget how green this world can be. You only know dry, parched, dusty, and decolored landscapes.

The coastal prairie is particularly wet. Water moves across this flat land as sheet flow. Houston is 50 miles from Galveston; Houston altitude is 49 feet above sea level. In other words, the land rises about 1 foot per mile moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico. This is a perfect landscape for wet prairie.

My Little Plastic Tent

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, 7 Dec 2013, by Ted Lee Eubanks

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, 7 Dec 2013, by Ted Lee Eubanks

A blue norther swept through town last night, plunging temperatures 50 degrees F and sending me and my neighbors into a full-bore, pipe-wrapping panic. We don’t do cold in Austin. We can suffer weeks of 105°F (40°C) in summer without a gripe, but when the temperature drops below 70°F (21°C) there is no end to our bitching. At the first mention of ice (ICE!) any pretense of control is tossed. We are winter wimps.

The Winner

Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge by Ted Lee Eubanks

Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge by Ted Lee Eubanks

Sparrows are an acquired taste (to watch, not to consume). Most birders prefer the pimped out warblers, tanagers, orioles, and their kind. Warblers are gaudy; sparrows are dreary.

Dull sparrows live in dull habitats. They are dull for a reason. A grassland sparrow such as the savannah dresses like grass. Brown, beige, tan, and ocher are a sparrow’s palette. Forget the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of a warbler for a grassland bird. Bright in a forest gets you a mate and a territory; bright in a grassland gets you eaten.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Thanksgiving

All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
Marshall McLuhan

President Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

We, the citizens of the United States of America, officially give thanks for our blessings each year on the fourth Thursday in November. We give thanks for loving families, congenial friends, a world at peace, and for happiness (as in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness”). We gather to celebrate a bountiful harvest and a promising future.

Cat Got Your Tongue?

A recent discussion about a new shorebird conservation strategy for the Caribbean, and the debate about the respective roles of the natural and social sciences in such a “business” strategy, is apropos beyond this argument of the moment. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has contributed its portion of a draconian budget that will be used in negotiations with the Obama administration. The Republican-led committee has made no effort to hide the most significant assaults on conservation and environmental protection programs in the past four decades. Here are a few of the cuts that are being proposed.

Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) Lifetime Achievement Award

SCSCB's Howard Nelson, Holly Robertson, and Lisa Sorenson with Ted Eubanks' Lifetime Achievement Award

SCSCB’s Howard Nelson, Holly Robertson, and Lisa Sorenson with Ted Eubanks’ Lifetime Achievement Award

There are few regular meetings that I am not willing to miss. The biannual SCSCB conference is one that I try to make come hell or high water. Conservationists and educators from around the Caribbean meet every two years to discuss Caribbean birds and what needs to be done to ensure their futures.

Comments from Ted Eubanks on the USFWS Conserving the Future Draft Plans

According to Public Law 105-57, approved October 9, 1997, (111 Stat. 1253),

The Act gives guidance to the Secretary of the Interior for the overall management of the Refuge System. The Act’s main components include: a strong and singular wildlife conservation mission for the Refuge System; a requirement that the Secretary of the Interior maintain the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the Refuge System; a new process for determining compatible uses of refuges; a recognition that wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System; that these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System; and a requirement for preparing comprehensive conservation plans.

The Color Bind

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black is Africa. Not the James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X shade of black, but the Isak Dinesen, Joseph Conrad black. Brown is Mexico. Yellow is China. Red is indigenous. Africa is slaves, Mexico is illegals, China is the “yellow peril,” and the American Indian is “redskin.” For much of its history America had a simple palette: white, colored. White = good. Colored = bad.