Prize-winning North American bird photos


Northern Cardinals reinforcing their pair bond won the Home Tweet Home Judges' Choice award and Eyewitness category. Photo by Kim Caruso

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch eNewsletter, September 2017:

Home Tweet Home Winners

In July we hosted our 4th annual Home Tweet Home photo contest. With great prizes on the line, including Zeiss binoculars and an exclusive artist-signed Eggs of North America print, we received over 630 entries! Narrowing down the winners was hard; luckily more than 1,300 people helped by wading through the contest gallery and voting for their favorites. Without further ado, your winners are:

Young Anna's Hummingbirds by Soo Baus

Anna’s Hummingbirds by Soo Baus: People’s Choice & Cutest Baby category

Northern Cardinals by Kim Caruso: Judges’ Choice & Eyewitness category [see top of blog post]

Northern mockingbird nest by Melanie Furr

Northern Mockingbirds by Melanie Furr: Nests and Eggs category

Young tree swallows fed by parent, by John Olson

Tree Swallows by John Olson: Feeding Time category

The judges also selected 15 Honorable Mentions that stood out as exceptional submissions. See the gallery of honorees here. Thanks to everyone who participated! We appreciate your gorgeous photos, kind comments, and discerning votes.

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Ancient Roman houses and Greek rock partridge


Glassware, 26 August 2017

On 26 August 2017, we went to the Casa Romana exhibition in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands. This photo shows glassware at the exhibition. Like the other photo in this blog post, it is a cell phone photo.

The exhibition is until 17 September. The museum writes about it:

Casa Romana provides a surprising introduction to the rich life of the residents of a fashionable Roman town villa. Visitors can look around the villa’s sumptuous interior, following the Romans’ everyday life from morning rituals to bedroom secrets. Countless objects from the museum collection have been incorporated into the rooms furnished for this exhibition, such as a dinner service, glassware, oil lamps, and portrait busts.

Mix of archaeology and modern design

In Casa Romana we see a blend of ancient archaeology and modern design by Studio Job, Tjep., and the garden architect Piet Oudolf, among others, as well as work by artists including Ruud van Empel, Gerd Rohling, Olivier van Herpt, and Teun van Staveren. There is also plenty to delight devotees of architecture. In total, over eight hundred objects are on display: dinner services, delicate glassware, mosaics, marble portrait busts and architectural fragments, jewellery, a silver table leg, roof tiles, children’s toys, and hundreds of small Roman oil lamps.

Interior of a Roman villa

The exhibition shows a sequence of twelve scenes from the private life of a couple from the highest echelons of Roman society and their family. You can follow their fascinating story in an audio tour, written by Brenda Meuleman, the author of the recent novel Het verraad van Julia (‘Julia’s betrayal’). The interiors that go with each stage of the story fully capture the lavishness of Roman villas, with their colourful frescoes and mosaic floors. They were composed using frescoes, film images, and art based on Roman antiquity.

Objects: a mix of items from the museum’s own collection and loans from elsewhere

Most of the Roman objects come from the National Museum of Antiquities’ own collection. They are joined by loans from numerous designers, artists, and antiquarians, as well as from the Royal Collections (The Hague), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo), and the Allard Pierson Museum (Amsterdam). The guest curators of this exhibition are the archaeologist and independent researcher Dr Gemma Jansen and Professor Eric M. Moormann and Dr Stephan T.A.M. Mols (the latter both of Radboud University, Nijmegen).

As we were in the museum anyway, we had a look at ancient Greek sculpture.

Rock partidge, 26 August 2017

Including this oil flask in the shape of a rock partridge, from Corinth, about 500-480 BCE.

Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, part two


Carnivorous plants, 11 August 2017

As I wrote in the first part of this report, on 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos. The slide the photo of which is on top of this blog post describes carnivorous plants as ‘living flypaper‘.

Carnivorous plants through a microscope, 11 August 2017

In his book on carnivorous plants, Darwin also included pictures of plant details as seen through a microscope.

Sundew leaf, on 11 August 2017

Like this enlarged picture of a sundew leaf.

Drosera leaves, 11 August 2017

In a letter to botanist Hooker, Darwin wrote that sundew (Drosera) ‘leaves are first rate chemists’.

Darwin to Lyell, 11 August 2017

Darwin acknowledged that carnivorous plants should make people question the rigid hierarchical separation between plants and animals, which, as we saw, Linnaeus and others had advocated. In a letter to Charles Lyell, he wrote: ‘By Jove I sometimes think Drosera is a disguised animal!’

Utricularia, 11 August 2017

Darwin studied the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia (bladderwort) as well. In that, his correspondence with United States botanist Mary Lua Adelia Davis Treat (1830-1923) helped.

Mary Treat, 11 August 2017

Venus flytrap

Darwin also studied the Venus fly-trap.

Nepenthes, 11 August 2017

And Nepenthes pitcher plants. Frenchman Étienne de Flacourt had described Nepenthes pitcher plants for the first time in 1658. He thought the pitchers were flowers. Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702), a German Dutch East India Company employee staying on Ambon island corrected that, noting the pitchers were leaves. In fact, carnivorous plants’ flowers are often at a distance from their prey catching leaves, to prevent the plants from eating their own pollinating insects.

Rumphius called Nepenthes in Dutch kannekes kruyd, little jug plants.

Rumphius did not know yet the insectivorous function of the pitchers. He did note that a small crustacean species lived in them, staying alive. This was forgotten: in 1987 two zoologists claimed they had discovered that crustacean’s lifestyle for the first time. In 2004, Rumphius’ earlier description was rediscovered.

In 1874 Hooker, advised to do so by Darwin, did experiments with Nepenthes plants, establishing they were carnivorous; just in time for Darwin’s 1875 Insectivorous plants book.

Sarracenia, 11 August 2017

Darwin did not experiment with Sarracenia pitcher plants, but wrote he suspected they were carnivorous as well.

Sarracenia minor, 11 August 2017

Darwin’s United States correspondent Mary Treat wrote:

From all appearance the terrible Sarracenia was eating its victim alive. And yet, perhaps, I should not say ‘terrible,’ for the plant seems to supply its victims with a Lethe-like draught before devouring them.

The Lethe, in ancient Greek mythology, was a river in the underworld making those who drank from it forget everything.

Evolution, 11 August 2017

Norbert Peeters concluded his lecture with a quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky:

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

Peeters’ last slide was about his own presence on the Internet.

London Grenfell Tower fire killed artist Khadija Saye


This 2 September 2017 video from Britain says about itself:

Khadija Saye: The Artist Who Tragically Died In Grenfell Tower

Khadija Saye tragically lost her life in the Grenfell Tower fire at the age of just 24. In this interview filmed a month beforehand, she talks about her ambitions and her photography exhibition in Venice. The footage is taken from the BBC Arts programme Venice Biennale: Britain’s New Voices.

Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, lecture report


Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

On 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters, on the left of this photo. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, mainly of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos.

Today, Darwin’s best known book is On the Origin of Species. However, Peeters said, during Darwin’s life his best sold book was his 1875 Insectivorous plants.

Before Darwin, people either thought carnivorous plants did not exist; or they looked at them with fascination often mixed with exaggeration of how big carnivorous plants’ prey was.

In 1768, for the first time live Venus flytrap plants were brought from North America to England. In a 1770 book, John Ellis described them. He named the genus Dionaea, a Greek name for the goddess of beauty Aphrodite (Venus in Latin).

Venus fly-trap from Ellis' description

Ellis strongly suspected Venus flytraps were carnivorous. He wrote so to the most famous naturalist of the eighteenth century, Carolus Linnaeus, sending dried specimens with his letter.

However, Linnaeus did not believe that carnivorous plants existed.

Linnaeus, 11 August 2017

In support of that view, Linnaeus quoted the Bible, Genesis 1:30:

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

So, Linnaeus interpreted the Bible as saying that animals eat plants, not the other way round.

In this, Linnaeus was in a tradition, as pictured in this 17th century book, of seeing reality as a hierarchical ladder. God on top, humans below God. On the lower end, stones, etc. Plants one step below animals, forever unable to catch up with them.

Hierarchy, 11 August 2017

Linnaeus made tremendous contributions to systematic biology, still relevant today. However, comparable to earlier naturalists like Scheuchzer, he was still what would now be called a ‘creationist‘. He opposed the idea of evolution, in his own eighteenth century advocated in rudimentary form by Buffon, and later elaborated by Darwin, including as an explanation for the origin of carnivorous plants, as we shall see.

The poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) reacted to the newly discovered Venus flytrap with the lines:

The Lord deliver us!
Think of a vegetable being “carnivorous!”

Venus flytrap, 11 August 2017

Now, from denial to fascination mixed with exaggeration.

Tree eating humans, 11 August 2017

In Victorian England, there were fictional stories, as well as stories claiming to be non fictional, about plants eating people; like a tree in Madagascar supposedly feeding on humans.

Today, we know that the biggest animals eaten by carnivorous plants are mice. And even that size is too much for most of today’s about 680 carnivorous plant species.

This video from the USA says about itself:

20 January 2017

While the carnivorous cravings of most flesh-eating plants are limited to small insects, one exception is the pitcher plant. It can consume anything that fits in its mouth–including a mouse!

However, Peeters said, twentieth century films like The Little Shop of Horrors and The Day of the Triffids continued the nineteenth century stories of carnivorous plants being dangerous to humans.

The little shop of horrors, 11 August 2017

Though about 1800 much was still unknown about carnivorous plants, they fascinated many people. Empress Josephine of France and President Thomas Jefferson of the USA owned Venus flytraps.

Since Darwin’s 1860s-1870s experiments with carnivorous plants, we know much more about the Venus flytrap.

Peeters illustrated that by playing this 2009 BBC video.

The video says about itself:

Life – Venus Flytraps: Jaws of Death – BBC One

Hungry Venus flytraps snap shut on a host of unfortunate flies. But, despite its name, flies aren’t the flytrap’s only meal. As long as its prey is roughly the right size and touches two of its hairs within twenty seconds, the plant will dine on any insect or spider that comes its way. Glands in the lobes then secrete enzymes that break the dinner down into a digestible soup. Ten days later, the trap pops open to reveal nothing but a dried out husk.

Thanks to Darwin and others, we now know more about the European carnivorous plant sundew than centuries ago.

Sundew has liquid droplets on it. Many other plants have dew droplets on them early in the morning. These evaporate as the sunshine gets stronger. In sundew, they don’t evaporate. People thought the sundew droplets were a peculiar kind of dew resistant to warmth; hence the plant’s name ‘sundew’.

Erasmus Darwin, 11 August 2017

In the late eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, said the sundew droplets were not dew. He correctly thought they had to do with insects. He did not know yet they had to do with eating these insects though.

Insectivorous plants, 11 August 2017

Erasmus Darwin’s grandson Charles experimented with carnivorous plants. In 1875, the results of these experiments were published in his Insectivorous plants. Why did plants become carnivorous? Because they grew in soils with few nutrients, Charles Darwin pointed out. They needed other sources of nutrients. In the course of evolution, carnivorous plants developed mechanisms to lure, catch and digest arthropod prey.

Sundew leaf, 11 August 2017

Like this specialized sundew leaf from Darwin’s book.

Carnivorous plants' traps, 11 August 2017

Peeters pointed out there are three kinds of carnivorous plants’ traps. Traps snapping tight, glue traps and pitcher traps.

The sequel of this will come on this blog. So, stay tuned!

‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments. Breeding pigeons, growing orchids and other hands-on work provided evidence for the theory of evolution. By Sid Perkins, 10:00am, August 24, 2017.

Birds, bee, Karl Marx and architecture


Canal, Leiden, 13 August 2017

As this blog reported before, on 13 March 2017 we went to the botanical garden. We walked back along the same canal where we had seen a herring gull couple earlier that day. All photos in this blog post are macro photos.

Coot, 13 August 2017

There were birds now as well: the parent coot we had seen earlier, with its two youngsters, one older than the other one. The parent coot stood on a boat.

Mute swan youngster, 13 August 2017

A group of adult and young mute swans passed.

Karl Marx, 13 August 2017

A bit further, we met Karl Marx. Not the person, but the small boat named after him.

Leiden, 13 August 2017

We went left along another canal.

Doelenpoort, 13 August 2017

We passed the 17th century Doelenpoort gate.

Butterfly-bush, 13 August 2017

Finally, we passed a butterfly-bush with a bee on it.