Ecology camp

This month, I’m overseeing ecology camps for three different age groups: Nature Camp for gr. 2-5, Ecojustice Camp for gr. 2-5, and Ecojustice Camp for gr. 6-8. The middle school camp is this week; Nature Camp and camp for gr. 2-5 are next week.

To give you a flavor of what we’re doing, below are a few photos from the first two days of the middle school camp. (We have media release forms from all campers and staff.)


Above: One camper’s field notes on arthropods. Yesterday, arthropod expert Jack Owicki visited and gave an overview of arthropods. Then we checked some insect pitfall traps we had set, checked bushes and plants for arthropods, and looked at spider webs.



Above: Some of the campers built a teepee yesterday. This is not a traditional teepee as built by the native peoples of the Great Plains. We used structural bamboo borrowed from Darrel DeBoer, an architect specializing in natural materials. Bamboo has good structural properties, and can be grown sustainably.



Above: Nancy Neff, an expert on native plants, came yesterday and gave us a guided tour of the native plant gardens on campus. She explained some of the adaptations native plants have to grow in our climate.



Above: Today we visited the Zeise place, up in the redwood forest near the Skyline to the Sea Trail. As you can see, some of the trails were pretty steep (and this was not the steepest trail we hiked!).



Above: Every camper got about 20 minutes of alone time in the redwoods.



Above: Talking together about the experience of being alone in the woods. Notice that some of us are wearing jackets. It was windy and cool today, and when we sat in the shade it got pretty chilly.

Grumpy old white guys

I feel qualified to speak about grumpy old white men, because (depending on how you define “old”) I qualify as a grumpy old white man myself.

Now, I’m a big fan of being grumpy. There’s plenty to be grumpy about: endless wars, people out of work, terrorists, the list goes on and on. I say: if you’re not grumpy, you’re not paying attention. But as a grumpy old white man, if I want anyone to take my grumpiness seriously, there are some things I should not do.

If I start sounding angry, then even though I may be right my grumpiness loses much of its persuasive force. This is Donald Trump’s problem. When he says we should cut military adventures overseas and do something to protect U.S. jobs, I think he gets it right. But when he goes on one of his angry tirades, all I can think is: “Another grumpy old white guy who bores you to tears telling you everything he’s angry about.”

And if I refuse to acknowledge it when someone gets the best of me, then I lose the high moral ground that grumpiness requires to be effective. (This holds true even when I happen to be right, and others wrongly disagree with me.) This is Bernie Sander’s problem. When he says we need to further reform the health care system and we shouldn’t trust Wall Street, I think he gets it right. But when he refuses to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the Democratic nomination, all I can think is: “Another grumpy old white guy who won’t admit he’s been beaten by a woman.”

Pfeh. All I can say is that these two guys are making the rest of us grumpy old white men look bad; which is too bad, because grumpiness combined with persuasive force, that takes a high moral ground, has the potential to be an enormous force for good.

Mud puddling

Butterflies, so goes the common wisdom, like flowers, so if you want to attract them you plant flowers that they will like. But butterfly enthusiasts point out that some butterflies prefer “mud puddling”: they are attracted to mud puddles, and like to hang out there.

Carol and I went for a walk in Purisima Creek Redwoods preserve. In places the trail was still damp and even muddy, and in one such place, on a boundary between chaparral and Douglas fir forest, I saw an Echo Blue fluttering along. The trail wasn’t exactly muddy, but I guess it was damp enough, for the insect would light every now and then, put its wings up, and bask.


When I got too close, it unfolded its wings, revealing its attractive bright blue upper surfaces, and flew quickly away, staying close to the trail. I never once saw it go near a flower; so simple observation happened to disprove a stereotype generated by common wisdom. On the other hand, sometimes common wisdom is right. A little further down the trail, a Variable Checkerspot was energetically seeking out flowers.

Variable Checkerspot

Cliff Swallow nest

I went out the Baylands Nature Preserve to check on the Cliff Swallow nesting colony. There are now at least thirty completed nests, most of which appeared to be active (that is, I either saw birds flying into or out of them, or I saw a bird poking its head out the entrance). Many of the nests are built right next to other nests, which may cut down on the amount of construction the birds have to do since they can utilize existing walls (thus saving energy).


Most of the nests are under a large overhang that faces roughly south, which means they get little or no sun during the day (because the overhand shades them). One nest has been built on a west-facing wall; even though there is plenty of room for more nests nearby, no other birds have built nests there, though it looks like some birds started placing mud there. I can only speculate why no other birds built nests there: too much sun late in the day heats up the nest? the mud dries too quickly in the afternoon sun? there is no fence around that wall as there is along the other wall to keep curious humans at a distance? In any case, the nest on that west-facing wall is active, and a Cliff Swallow poked its head out as I came close.


Some swallows are still building nests, which means the nesting season is going to extend for at least another couple weeks. Yet for the past two years (at least) Cliff Swallows have not built nests in this location.