Frank Landis' Blog


What genius looks like in a hummingbird
October 29, 2011, 7:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I’ve got a small hummingbird feeder on the back balcony, next to the room where I’ve turned into my office.

Young Anna’s hummingbirds (and the occasional adult) use it regularly, draining it every few days. There’s usually one that sits on the tomato trellis and guards it, but they trade the role around every few weeks.

When the feeder gets low and I have the door open, one hummingbird flies in about two meters, hovers loudly until it has my attention, then turns around and flies back out, ostentatiously dipping its beak once in the empty feeder before it leaves the area.

I know my cue: I clean the feeder, put more sugar water in, and put it back out, and a happy hummingbird comes by in a few minutes to suck down on the fresh sugar. I’ve done this five times now in the last few weeks.

Obviously, cats know how to point at things, but it’s interesting to see the same behavior in something whose body is smaller than the cat’s brain. It doesn’t take much of a brain to be smart, does it?

So far as I can tell, only one bird has figured out how to tell me to change the feeder. It will be fun to see if any of the others learn the trick.

Is this social genius, or problem-solving genius? Or both?

Compare this with the dumb hummingbird, who got trapped in the same room a couple of months ago. He flew in through the open door, and I found him sometime later buzzing around the white ceiling. Did he think it was the sky? He buzzed around, poor little beak touching the ceiling, unwilling to drop even a foot down and go out the door. I lured him out by raising the feeder up to where he could see it, near the wide open door. Once he started drinking from it, I slowly lowered through the door. Once he was outside, he immediately flew away. I don’t know why he didn’t fly back out the door, or why he saw a white ceiling as a blue sky, but he panicked and got stuck.

There you have it. There are smart hummingbirds, and there are dumb hummingbirds. Natural variation on the back balcony.

I’m not sure how to photograph the smart one doing his thing. That’s the next puzzle.



And now for something completely different…
October 6, 2011, 11:48 am
Filed under: California Native Plants, Science Fiction, writing | Tags: , ,

Oddly enough, I’ve been meaning to put this up for over a week. Originally, I was going to wait until I had the book ready for sale, but you know, reality has it’s own agenda. All of a sudden, a bunch of things suddenly erupted onto my schedule like post-rain mushrooms. Given that Smashwords takes a bit of time to publish things, I thought I’d put the teaser up now.

It’s my second book, and this one is in the spirit of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol. The title is The Ghosts of Deep Time, and the book contains a novel and a short story.

From the back cover:

“A consultant finds a fossilized pack in the desert, then finds himself back in the Miocene with a criminal gang.

A game warden busts a group of trespassing druids in a wildlife sanctuary. They vanish in a green flash and he loses his job, only to be recruited for something much bigger.

This is the big secret: time travel is easy. There are over four billion years in Earth’s past. The deeper one goes in time, the more alien the Earth is. Still, people have settled most of Earth’s history. Of course they live without a trace, for that is the law of deep time. To do otherwise could create paradoxes, bifurcating histories, even time wars and mass extinctions.

Where there is law, there is also crime. When crimes span millions of years, law enforcement takes a special kind of officer. An ex-game warden can be the perfect recruit. At the right time.”

Here’s a sample. Enjoy! The Smashwords version will be available in a couple of weeks, and a paper version will be available through Lulu late next week. I’ll add links as things progress. A couple of you may have seen this already. If so, feel free to comment on it.



Rare Plants Surveys 2: State Parks and Batiquitos
October 6, 2011, 11:41 am
Filed under: California Native Plants | Tags: , ,

This spring, the CNPSSD rare plant survey committee surveyed dune plants on beaches up and down the coast. I’ve been putting our work together in reports that were sent to the agencies, and I’m posting them here as I finish them.

Here are the last two, from State Parks and Batiquitos Lagoon.

State Parks Rare Plant Survey Report

and

Batiquitos Rare Plant Survey