Category Archives: Urban Ecology

Nothing but Flowers. Happy Earth Day!

In honor of Earth Day, I’m posting one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, “Nothing but Flowers,” as sung by David Byrne at a TED talk in February 2010 (with a string quartet backing him, not my favorite rendition, but interesting). The song was originally released in 1988 on the Talking Heads album “Naked.”

Whenever I listen to this song, part of me rejoices with certain verses, such as “Once there were parking lots, Now its a peaceful oasis,” and “This was a Pizza Hut, Now it’s all covered with daisies,” thinking how delightful it would be if indeed Pizza Huts would disappear under a cloud of daisies. Or if, at least, some of our mistakes of over-development could so easily be erased and parking lots and highways could be rewound to become peaceful oases again.

But other parts of the song make me realize how attached I am to (at least many parts of) this over-built, concrete-lined, socio-cultural, anthropocentric landscape we’ve created. “I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-elevens,” and “We used to microwave, now we just eat nuts and berries.”

Obviously its ironic. And the point being made: “And as things fell apart, Nobody paid much attention,” is one that I’ll try to remember throughout the year- be careful with our earth and precious resources, work to restore any amount of ecological integrity I can, and pay attention, even if only in my own back yard.

Though I’ll be honest, Pizza Huts disappearing under a cloud of daisies? That would be fantastic.

Nothing But Flowers (lyrics):

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it’s nothing but flowers

There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
you got it, you got it

We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
we got it, we got it

There was a shopping mall
Now it’s all covered with flowers
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

Years ago
I was an angry young man
I’d pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it’s nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we’d start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it’s a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
you got it, you got it

We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
you got it, you got it

This was a discount store,
Now it’s turned into a cornfield
you got it, you got it

Don’t leave me stranded here
I can’t get used to this lifestyle

Happy Earth Day!

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Falcon babies!

This week San Francisco happily welcomed four new peregrine falcons into the city. This morning the fourth egg hatched and we have a happy family of six. The parents (Dan and Cher) have been sharing the duties of nesting and providing food for the little ones. Thanks to a “FalconCam” installed by The Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, the live events of hatchings, feedings, and hours upon hours of nesting and brooding are accessible to the public on UCSC Research Group’s website: http://www2.ucsc.edu/scpbrg/nestcamSF.htm.

Video clips are also published on YouTube, and this morning’s video features Papa Dan nesting with the newborns when Mama Cher arrives (around minute 5:40) and proceeds with the feeding:

The peregrines nest on the 33rd floor roof on the PG & E building in downtown San Francisco:

PG&E Building
The San Francisco PG&E building, atop which lies the nest of our falcon family. Photo courtesy KQED Quest, by Sarah Skikne.

The nesting box was provided by the UCSC research group to encourage nesting by local peregrines hunting in the region. The UCSC group was pivotal in the recovery of the western Peregrine Falcon population which had neared extinction due to the downstream effects of DDT on eggshells, causing them to thin and weaken preventing successful brooding. In the 1970s there were just 2 pairs of Peregrines known to exist in California, and apparently no nesting pairs east of the Mississippi. Due to recovery attempts, there are an estimated 250 pairs of nesting Peregrines in California and the populations throughout the U.S. have recovered enough that the species was removed from the Federally endangered list in  1999.

According to expert sources (http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7290.html) the newly hatched chicks or eyases (eyas, singular, for a nestling falcon or hawk) don’t feed for the first 24 hours, as it seems they spend so much energy getting out of the egg shell they spend the first day resting and recovering from that process. Until about 10 days in age the newly hatched chicks require constant brooding as they don’t have enough down to keep themselves warm. After they build up their coat of feathers they require less brooding but more food. Parents Dan and Cher will be spending a lot of time hunting to feed their babies.

After about 5 weeks, the eyases have grown into juveniles with mature plumage and start the process of learning to fly. I’m already a bit nervous for the little ones learning to fly from such great heights, but am excited to be able to watch it all from the FalconCam!

These are magnificent birds that provide our cities with a much needed top-level predator to help keep curtail populations of the Rock Pigeon- the introduced, escaped, and now overly common population of bird filling many of our cities. I must remember to keep my eye on the sky when in downtown SF and hopefully someday will catch a glimpse of one of these beauties in flight.

A San Francisco Peregrine Falcon in flight. Photo courtesy KQED Quest, by Glenn Nevill.