Category Archives: Nature

What is Noise?

I know you’ve been dying to know.
The City of Tallahassee is trying to come up with an anti-noise ordinance. The real reason is that they have erected an amphitheater next to an old, very nice residential area. Dear Old, Very Nice Residential Area People: this will not help you, because that amphitheater has been designated a Special Entertainment Area and will essentially be exempt from the imaginary noise ordinance. So sorry.
But other noises are not protected. Think, driving down the street, the car next to you is blasting some genre of music which makes the whole car vibrate, while the driver bounces up and down so that the whole car bounces. Car dancing. And your windows are rattling too. Is that noise?
Here, for your edification, is the definition of noise: “Any erratic, intermittent, or statistically random sound which causes a disturbance”. Statistically random? What the hell does that mean?
Next question: What is a noise disturbance? “Any sound which disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensibilities and exceeds the sound limit level set forth in this division”. Division? What division? Apparently the sound limit level has something to do with decibels. But how many? For how long? Reasonable people? Normal sensibilities? Give me a break.
This ordinance is doomed.
Noise is like pornography. You know it when you see (hear) it.
The best protection against noise is being deaf. Or wearing earplugs.
But let me say that I’m opposed to noise, whatever it is. When I used to live in New Orleans, there was a bar across the street from me called Dot’s Peppermint Lounge. It was fine when they kept the doors closed, but in summer, they were so packed with people and had such a weak air conditioning system they would open the doors. then I would start calling the police. Eventually I just started calling Dot’s in person saying, close the doors or I’ll call the police. We developed a friendly relationship.
In that case though, I lived just outside the French Quarter, where there is a mixture of residential and commercial everywhere. I could have moved. Not easily, but I could have. So I get that.
By contrast, I now live in an area where despite our best efforts, they built a Walmart. Before that happened, I could sit in my back yard and commune with bats. I love bats, because they eat mosquitoes, but I also love them just because they’re bats. The noise from the construction of Walmart drove them away, and they’ve never returned.
I’m not all empty talk and whining . I participated last week in a meeting between my County Commissioner, the County Administrator, and the head of Planning, and some fellow environmentalist type people. Planning Guy and I got into a little bit of a snit. But when I talked about the bats, he took notes. When I said, this is a wildlife corridor you can’t disrupt, he took notes. When I said, if you disrupt the environmental protections in this area, then you will shoot yourself in the foot. Nobody will want to live on a dead lake. When I said, development has always been allowed here, and whatever future development you envision here, it should enhance the lake, not detract from it. He took notes.
Go me. Go Bats. And go Planning Guy.

Fakename’s Animal Planet: Ducks

Last evening, I watched a program on “Nature” about ducks.  I’m sorry to say that I knew very little about these most common of birds.  Common in the sense of widespread, but not in appearance or behavior.  My favorite duck of all time is the Wood Duck.  Here is a male:

Here are a male and female together:

I am happy to report that I once saw a little family of Wood Ducks at Wakulla Springs in Florida.  Wakulla Springs is 14 miles south of Tallahassee.  They give boat tours down a small section of the Wakulla river and there is an amazing concentration of wildlife in this short section.  So on one of these trips, I spotted a male Wood Duck leading his ducklings to the water.  And if you looked hard enough, back in the dimness of the vegetation near the water’s edge, you could just spot the perfectly camoflaged female, remaining perfectly still.

One of the amazing facts about Wood Ducks is that they nest in trees.  The day after the ducklings are hatched, the mother flies out of the tree and the ducklings follow…even though they can’t really fly.  They are more or less in free fall until they hit the ground or the water.  The ducklings have been known to fall as far as 290 feet without injury.

After watching the program, my second favorite duck is the Eider:

These ducks live in the Artic.  Eiderdown (taken from the breast of the female Eider) is still used as filling for clothing and bedding, although it has largely been supplanted by feathers from other birds or by synthetic materials.  The good news is that you don’t have to kill the duck to pluck the feathers.  (Although I seriously doubt they will be happy with the process.)

The most amazing thing about Eiders is that they can fly up to 70 miles per hour in the air.  I say “in the air”, because they also fly under water.  In their natural habitats, Eiders dive to the sea floor to pick crabs and mollusks.  They only have about a minute before they run out of air.  So they pick the food from the sea floor and rise to the surface to eat it.  The program Nature showed incredible footage of Eiders flying underwater.  You cannot call what they do “swimming”.  Swimming is what they do on the surface.

After watching this program, I decided to do a little research on duck hunting in Florida.  I was hoping that my beloved Wood Ducks were protected.  No such luck.  In fact, from what I can tell, there are no protected species of ducks in Florida.  And unlike deer, there is no prohibition against killing females (although that prohibition is occasionally lifted in the case of deer).  This makes sense, since the female isn’t needed to feed the ducklings.

All male ducks perform very fascinating mating dances, while the females sit back and watch, and judge, and eventually choose. The program followed one unfortunate male duck who was rejected every time.  You can only imagine what was going through this duck’s head.  (“Why doesn’t anyone want me?  What am I doing wrong?”)  Finally he’s successful (“At last, my love has come along…”).

For some reason that wasn’t explained, there are normally more males than females, and male ducks will fight one another.  That was remarkable footage too…a duck fight.  It’s actually pretty brutal.  In one scene, there were a large number of male ducks fighting one another.  It was like a chain reaction.  Once a pair began to fight, so did everyone else.  It looked like a barroom brawl.  There was a shocking ending to this.

The mating dance is usually this peaceful process, but after this fight, one of the males grabbed a nearby female and engaged in what the narrator delicately called “forcible copulation”.  The narrator says that ducks are one of the only species which does this.  The moral to this story is that if you’re a female duck and a fight breaks out, don’t stick around to watch.

Backyard Oasis

I took this photo last Saturday while standing under the protective canopy outside the door, because I was so struck by the beauty of the scene.  It was absolutely pouring rain, which obscures the forest behind the trees you can see clearly.

Looks like a park, doesn’t it?

I live a half-mile north of the Interstate (I-10) and the city limits, and about two blocks from the major north-south highway (U.S. 27) through Tallahassee.  So how, you might ask, is such an urban forest of 11 acres allowed to stand?  That’s a long story.

But every day that I come home from work, I take U.S. 27 to a tiny street called Ray Road (one block long) into my neigborhood and the first thing I see when I turn onto that street is a wall of trees straight ahead.  A side view of the forest.  And no matter how stressful my day has been, I am instantly calmed down.  There is no medication that would work better, and anyhow, medication wears off.  The forest never does.

I then take another tiny street (Laris Drive), a two-block street, for one block and then I turn onto my own tiny street, which is an amazingly long four blocks.  And there I am, home to the oasis in the middle of an urban environment.  My neighborhood is basically a dead end neighborhood, though it is not a cul-de-sac.  There are four ways in and out, but you can only go so far.  You can go in from the west (U.S. 27) but you can’t go far east, for it dead ends.  You can only go in and out from the direction you came in.  It’s pretty funny.  We humans think when we’re lost, that if we keep going, we’ll come to somewhere else.  The last thing we think of is turning around and going back the way we came.

Because of its isolation, I’ve learned that many long-time residents of the area don’t even know my neighborhood exists.  Those who do, know you can’t get anywhere from here.    So it’s like a secret garden.  There is almost no traffic or noise.

Just to the left of center in the picture, you will see my tiny picnic table, which will comfortably accomodate two people, and in a pinch, four.  But mostly it’s just me–reading and thinking.  I have most of my best National Geographic moments here, all of which are not welcome.  Especially when insects are involved. I searched forever online for this table, because my primary requirement was that it have separate benches.  You can’t imagine how difficult that was to find.  I finally found, and ordered, this one from British Columbia.  I dread the day when it fails, because wood does not last forever.  Last year a carpenter bee drilled a hole in the end of the table and made it her home.  That was…Not Fun.  So natural weathering is not all there is to worry about.

Last week I had two National Geographic moments.  I went out and heard some kind of bird calling that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like somebody was strangling a baby duck.  Then, there was another.  Because the trees are so tall, I usually can’t see the birds, I can only hear them.  I finally decided they were baby hawks, practicing talking to each other.

The final NGM was, a kerfuffle developed almost right in front of me.  In the summer, I have a profusion of shrubs and vines that the Cardinals love to nest in.  The kerfuffle was a fight between a squirrel and a female Cardinal.  The only thing I could think of was that the squirrel was after the Cardinal’s eggs.  But squirrels eat bird eggs? (Yes.)  And wait again…I thought birds only had baby birds in the spring.  (No.  Cardinals have 3-4 broods per year.)  It turns out I was accidentally right.

But what a sight that was.  Initially there was a lot of rustling of leaves and squawks of various kinds, but it was all hidden from view.  Eventually the squirrel retreated, though not far, to a small branch right above the shrub, where he or she chattered quite aggressively.  Then the Cardinal emerged and hovered in the air, madly flapping her wings in his face and screaming.  She won.  The squirrel retreated further up the tree and gave up.  You go, Girl!

I guess it isn’t exactly like seeing a black rhino in the wild, or swimming with dolphins, but I long ago developed the ability to take great pleasure in small things.

One day I will have to give this up, because I simply won’t be able to afford it any more.  I hope that’s a long time coming.  In the meantime, I intend to etch it in my memory and wring every possible moment of joy from it that I can.