Tag Archives: nature writing

“Ecology of Center City, Philadelphia” by Kenneth D. Frank

Yes, this is the same Ken Frank I wrote about on December 6.

Ken Frank is a hugely talented and enthusiastic amateur naturalist. He refers to his field of study as “the history of natural history”. Having lived in Center City, Philadelphia for 40 years, in retirement (from his career as a physician) he writes about the LIFE in the neighborhood he knows so well.

“If this book has a unifying theme, it is the many ways people have shaped communities of plants and animals that inhabit downtown, the ways these communities have defied human control and survived in spite of, or because of dense urban development…. The ecology of Center City has been dynamic and resilient – qualities I expect will endure.”

Ken Frank notices everything! Who ever heard of the bridge spider? It’s attracted to artificial light, and Frank identifies Walnut Street as a favored habitat. They build beautiful and intricate webs.

Frank documents the “pee line” on trees, where the presence or absence of dog pee determines the identity and color of lichens.

There’s a whole chapter on fireflies, and a page on morning glories. Frank claims to have found 26 species of plants growing on the paved “islands” in the middle of South Broad Street.

The photographs in this book are delightful.

“Ecology of Center City, Philadelphia” makes a great coffee table book, but it is extensively indexed and documented, hence useful to scientists and teachers in their work.

Ken Frank plans to post this masterpiece on line. What a great find it will be for curious future investigators! The publisher is Fitler Square Press.

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“The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady” by Edith Holden.

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. 176 pages, plus species lists.

This book is a gem! It is a full color facsimile reproduction, notable for both artistry and scientific accuracy. Edith Holden was known in her lifetime as an illustrator of children’s books. Decades after she died in 1920, a relative showed her “diary” for the year 1906 (which was intended as a teaching tool) to a publisher, who released it in 1977. The book is a combination of field observations (she walked many miles!), the author’s favorite poems and sayings, and beautiful, detailed paintings of insects, birds and flowers.

A second book of Holden’s field notes (The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady) was published in 1984.

I took a careful look at Holden’s entries for the month of May. The month begins with a detailed painting of a chaffinch’s nest with eggs, surrounded by hawthorn blossoms and wild hyacinths.

One of the mottoes listed is “Change not a clout till May be out”. I think this means “keep your winter cloak handy”. Good advice! On May 16, Holden reports cold north wind, thunder and HAIL. She went out none-the-less, and found a thrush’s egg that had been blown to the ground.

Holden includes poems by Wordsworth, Spenser, ap Gwillym and Ingelow among her May entries. There are numerous paintings.

This lovely book would make a fine gift for any nature lover, or a treat for when you want to savor poetry and art at the same time.

“Bringing Nature Home – How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens” by Douglas Tallamy

This is a review not just of this book but also of a lecture by the author presented on January 27, 2014. It wasn’t the first time I had the pleasure of hearing Douglas Tallamy speak.

To those frightened by what’s happening to our planet and discouraged about the limited impact an individual can have, Tallamy offers practical advice and hope in an important arena, the preservation of wildlife through careful landscaping decisions. Many of us own a yard , and even a small patch of ground can provide host plants that attract butterflies and moths. These lay eggs which hatch into caterpillars that are a vital food supply for breeding songbirds.

Interesting questions came up after Tallamy had showed his gorgeous slides of butterflies and birds.

How far will insects travel to get to a desirable host plant? Pretty far! Tallamy cited an enclosed (urban?) courtyard only 15 by 15 feet that developed healthy insect populations a few years after native plants were established. He has found a few surprises in his own back yard in Delaware, which is one of his primary sites for scientific study.

Is it helpful to feed birds? Yes, but feeding should be restricted to winter unless you can keep everything very clean. Summer feeding can, unfortunately, spread disease.

Tallamy issued some stern warnings. Sadly, the monarch butterfly population “is crashing”. People need to know “how close to the edge we are” in terms of species extinctions of insects and birds.

BUT landscaping with native species can make a BIG difference! Bring on the Virginia creeper and plant oak trees and wild cherries. Reduce your lawn and plant flowers, shrubs and trees. It will look beautiful and be less work.

I’ve moved towards the encouragement of native species in my yard. I carefully protect holly trees and whack out autumn olive. I planted birch trees last year.

One more thing – Bringing Nature Home contains beautiful photographs. They make lovely browsing for any idle moment.