Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson

Summary from Amazon:
"In this eloquent plea for compassion and respect for all species, journalist and gardener Nancy Lawson describes why and how to welcome wildlife to our backyards. Through engaging anecdotes and inspired advice, profiles of home gardeners throughout the country, and interviews with scientists and horticulturalists, Lawson applies the broader lessons of ecology to our own outdoor spaces. 

Detailed chapters address planting for wildlife by choosing native species; providing habitats that shelter baby animals, as well as birds, bees, and butterflies; creating safe zones in the garden; cohabiting with creatures often regarded as pests; letting nature be your garden designer; and encouraging natural processes and evolution in the garden. The Humane Gardener fills a unique niche in describing simple principles for both attracting wildlife and peacefully resolving conflicts with all the creatures that share our world."

Library Journal: "This gorgeously written, well-argued title will help backyard gardeners see all creatures, from insects to elk, as visitors to be welcomed rather than pests to be removed. Highly recommended for gardeners at all levels in all regions."

Nancy Lawson's Website:

Radio Interview with Nancy Lawson

***Bucks County Audubon Society Event: We will be hosting Nancy Lawson, who will be conducting a demonstration at our Organic and Pollinator Gardens, discussing her new book, The Humane Gardener and also be doing a Book Signing from 10:00 to 12:00 on September 23 at our Visitor Center at Honey Hollow Environmental Center located on 2877 Creamery Road in Solebury near Peddler's Village. ***

Current Citizen Science Programs at Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow:

Useful native plant and helping pollinator sites:
>Native Plant Database for PA:

>Bowman's Hill"

>Xerces Society:

> Pollinator Partnership:

Quotes from the book:
"As I wage a halfhearted battle with barberry and other invaders that ended up here through no fault of their own, I often wish I could hold an international plant exchange with gardeners overseas, together reversing the sins of our horticultural past in whatever small way we can."

"What systemic insecticides are doing is they're breaking up 146 million years of coevolution."

"Your yard is part of a larger environment. And it's not like deer are coming into your living room and eating your couch. They're just trying to make a living."

Discussion Questions:
1.     What did you find surprising or intriguing in this book?

2.     The author talks about how nature can creep into your garden or yard, if you let it. What wonderful unexpected things have you found?

3.     Have you had the opportunity to make changes in your yard or gardens to make spaces for critters, including pollinators, snakes, etc., to add native plants, to provide a water source, to reduce pesticide use, turn lights off at night, etc.? If yes, what have you done and what have you observed?

4.     What suggestions in this book do you hope to incorporate into your own yard/gardens?

5.     What are some of your favorite native plants?

6.     What kind of problems, i.e. invasives, pests, etc. do you have in your yard/garden and hope to solve, after reading this book?

7.     Are you familiar with or have you participated in any of the 150+ Citizen Science programs, like Monarch Watch, Bumble Bee Watch, Audubon Christmas Bird Count, ebird, etc. and if yes, which ones?

8.     After reading Chapter 5, “ A Harvest for All: Share the Bounty through Peaceful Coexistence”, where the author writes, “Evolution toward a more humane ethic is not just a moral imperative but also the only practical solution in an increasing crowded world. “, what are your reactions to her ideas regarding treating humanely animals, such as deer, groundhogs, skunk, opossums, raccoons, etc.? Have you had any personal experiences with any of these animals?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

Summary from Amazon:
"On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution, two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have spent twenty years proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory. For among the finches of Daphne Major, natural selection is neither rare nor slow: it is taking place by the hour, and we can watch.

In this dramatic story of groundbreaking scientific research, Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin's finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself. The Beak of the Finch is an elegantly written and compelling masterpiece of theory and explication in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould."

New York Times: "In Darwin's Footsteps":

Kirkus Review:

(2014) The Origin of Species: The Beak of the Finch: 
(2017) NY Times: Feather Fancy:

Pulitzer Prize Winner for 1995 in General Nonfiction

Author, Jonathan Weiner's, website

2016 Article about Rosemary and Peter Grant: 
"The Legendary Biologists Who Clocked Evolution's Astonishing Speed": 

Discussion Questions (by John, who will be leading the discussion):
1. Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection, and origin of species were based on interpretations of observations. How is this different from normal scientific process? What is the role of experimentation for proving and supporting theories?
2. What were the Grants’ and their collaborators critical contributions for demonstrating these phenomena? Why did they focus on Galapagos finch species? How were beak sizes and shapes used as critical determinants of divergences and speciation?
3. What role did weather and climate shifts play in their observations of selection? Similarly, what were the accompanying changes in vegetation effect selection?
4. How did the interplay of bees and nectar drinking finches demonstrate that different species can exert selective pressure on each other, not only intra-species effects?
5. What are the characteristics of a species?
6. How may species’ boundaries be tested and sometimes stretched?
7. What are the differences in natural selection versus sexual selection and how do they combine to produce diversity and speciation?
8. How did the African guppies studies conducted by Endler support the Grants’ conclusion?
9. How did the fruit fly studies contribute to understanding selection and formation of species?

10. In the 20 years since this book was published, genetic sequencing of DNA has become a very powerful tool for biologists, enabled by complete DNA analysis of individual organisms. How might this type of analysis affect our understanding of natural selection and the studies conducted in this book?
11. The book includes numerous, diverse examples separate from the finches of the Galapagos of selection pressures leading to divergence including for bacteria (antiobiotic resistance), insects (pesticide resistance), moths (color change), elephants (loss of tusks).  How do these phenomena extend and mostly reinforce the observations of the Grants?
12. The subject of evolution is still difficult and controversial for many people.  Why do people for the most part appear to understand and accept the observations of selective pressure and divergence, such as those described in this book, yet reject evolution?

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Pine Barrens by John McPhee

Summary from Amazon:
"Most people think of New Jersey as a suburban-industrial corridor that runs between New York and Philadelphia. Yet in the low center of the state is a near wilderness, larger than most national parks, which has been known since the seventeenth century as the Pine Barrens.

The term refers to the predominant trees in the vast forests that cover the area and to the quality of the soils below, which are too sandy and acid to be good for farming. On all sides, however, developments of one kind or another have gradually moved in, so that now the central and integral forest is reduced to about a thousand square miles. Although New Jersey has the heaviest population density of any state, huge segments of the Pine Barrens remain uninhabited. The few people who dwell in the region, the "Pineys," are little known and often misunderstood. Here McPhee uses his uncanny skills as a journalist to explore the history of the region and describe the people―and their distinctive folklore―who call it home."

Article from the New York Times

Article in The New Yorker about McPhee:

A Pine Barrens Site

Pine Lands Alliance Site

National Park Service Site

A 2015 article regarding the Pine Barrens:

An Analysis by a Master Naturalist:

Recent Bus Tour Description in 2016 of the Pine Barrens:

This is the tour site mentioned above for the Pine Barrens

Philly Magazine: 13 Things you might not know about the Pine Barrens:

Discussion Questions: (John Shiver will be leading the discussion, using his questions below.)

1.     Have you ever visited the Pine Barrens?  What were your impressions? Do you know any one from that area?

2.     Fact versus Fiction. What were your favorite tall tales of the Pine Barrens?  What did you think of Fred Brown’s memories versus other sources, e.g. Mexican plane crash, the Jersey Devil?

3.     How did the Pine Barrens unique geology lead to its relative isolation, despite its proximity to NYC and Philly? What are some of the unusual features of the Pine Barrens such as soil, water, minerals, plants, fruits, trees, fires?

4.     How did these resources contribute to its history of industry and occupation?

5.     How balanced and fair is the longstanding outsider perception of ‘Pineys”? Where did these perceptions come from?

6.     What are your thoughts about the contradictions around life in the PB, i.e. poaching, fox hunting, moonshining, land ownership, willing to do hard work but not holding a steady job, etc.

7.     What are some of the Pine Barrens gifts to our times?

8.     How did McPhee’s book contribute to preserving the Pine Barrens? How different is it today from 50 years ago?