Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Life with Wildlife in Wild Places

Mexican Spotted Owl.
There is no such thing as a typical day for a wildlife biologist especially for one whose “office” is Grand Canyon National Park. A day’s agenda might find one discouraging a bobcat kitten from “entertaining” hikers along Bright Angel Trail OR studying Mexican Spotted Owls deep in the Canyon OR helping native fish species reach recovery in the waters of the Colorado River OR leading volunteers in conducting a count of the elk population on the South Rim.

In Episode 32, I chat with Grand Canyon wildlife biologist Janice Stroud-Settles about how she entered the field, the challenges she faces each day, and the joys that have been hers through a career that’s kept her in the wild.

Janice with Edwina, a rescued Turkey Vulture
that visited Grand Canyon for the park's
annual Celebrate Wildlife Day.
I met Janice when, while resident for a year in Grand Canyon, I volunteered to monitor the park’s California Condors. Regarded as one of the rarest birds in the world, the California Condor is also the largest land bird in North America with a wingspan of up to 9 ½ feet and a weight of up to 23 pounds. At one point, only 22 of these magnificent creatures remained in the world. Now, through herculean efforts in reintroduction, there are more than 400 and more than 70 of these are flying over southern Utah and northern Arizona.  When they are seen soaring over Grand Canyon, folks delight in their presence and crane to photograph them.

California Condor. Photo by Chris Parish.
Condors that have been captured and released are fitted with numbered patagial (wing-mounted) tags and folks who monitor them do so using hand-held antennae and telemetry receivers that can track the movement of each individual. Through the use of high-powered scopes, the behaviors of the birds can also be observed.

Janice looking up at a Mexican Spotted Owl down
in the Canyon. 
Janice and I so enjoyed our first chat for On the Road, that we decided to record a second show (Episode 33) to center on the California Condor and the Mexican Spotted Owl, another endangered bird that makes it home at Grand Canyon. There are little more than 2,000 of this 16-19 inch tall, under two-pound creature left in the world and it is also the subject of study and recovery efforts.

I hope you'll enjoy listening to these programs and I hope you may be moved through them to advocate for the preservation of wild places and wildlife.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The End of Night?

Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night, 1888.
For nearly a year now, I’ve had the privilege of living and working in Grand Canyon National Park. In late June, I was among some 1,100 attendees participating in one of the four nights of the 24th annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Astronomers from across the country, operating nearly 50 telescopes that were set up behind the Visitors’ Center, invited folks to get a glimpse of the planets in our own solar system as well as nebulae and star clusters sitting millions upon millions of light years distant from us.

The evening took me back to my childhood in Massachusetts where I spent many, many nights out under the stars looking up at a resplendent Milky Way. I am heartbroken to note that, if I were to return to the town of my birth today, it's more than unlikely that I would catch even a fleeting glimpse of that Milky Way. Eight out of ten Americans today won’t ever live where they can see their own galaxy, their own solar system. Two-thirds of Americans and Europeans no longer experience real night—that is, real darkness—and nearly all of us live in areas considered polluted by light.

In Episode 31 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I chat with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, about the disintegration of what is natural into what is artificial. In this critically important book, Bogard opens our eyes to how much we are losing cooped up, as we are, under a perpetual glare.

At one point in the book, Bogard tells of a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York where, he suggests, one can see “real darkness.” There, he notes, fifty million people each year pass by a painting of “a small, dark town, a few yellow-orange gaslights in house windows, under a giant swirling and waving blue-green sky.” In The Starry Night, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, we see our world “before night had been pushed back to the forest and the seas, from back when sleepy towns slept without streetlights.” The Starry Night is “an imagined sky inspired by a real sky much darker than the towns we live in today.”

In a letter from the summer of 1888, Van Gogh described the night sky he saw overhead during a visit to a French beach: “The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a deeper blue than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the very stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more sparkling gemlike than at home—even in Paris: opals you might call them, emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires.”

To most of us today, when we can see stars, most of these appear to be white so the idea that stars come in different colors seems wildly impossible. But, Bogard insists that if one were to “gaze long enough in a place dark enough that stars stand in clear three-dimensional beauty,” one would “spot flashes of red, green, yellow, orange and blue.”

Street Light, Giacomo Balla, 1909.
When Bogard made the visit to MoMA, he was in search of not only The Starry Night but also Giacomo Balla’s Street Light, a painting, dated 1909, that is so little known that the museum doesn’t even keep it on display. While Van Gogh’s painting depicts, what Bogard calls, “old night,” Balla’s is a painting of “night from now on.” Bogard notes: "In both paintings, the moon lives in the upper right corner, and for Van Gogh, the moon is a throbbing yellow presence pulsing with natural light. But for Balla, the moon has become a little biscuit wafer hanging on for dear life, overwhelmed by the electric streetlight. And that, in fact, was Balla’s purpose. “Let’s kill the Moonlight!” was the rallying cry from Balla’s fellow Italian futurist, Filippo Marinetti. These futurists believed in noise and speed and light—human light, modern light, electric light. What use could we now have of something so yesterday as the moon?”

Paul Bogard.
In his book and in Episode 31 of On the Road, we travel with Bogard around the globe to find night where it still lives…showing exactly what we’ve lost, what we have left and what we might hope to regain. We hear how the loss of night is not only a loss of beauty above us. More light at night does not, as some insist, ensure greater safety and security; properly designed light at night does. Exposure to artificial light at night has been cited as a factor in health concerns ranging from poor sleep to cancer. Light pollution is also threatening the health of the world’s ecosystems as everything from reproduction cycles to migration patterns are adversely affected by artificial light at night. But there is hope. Light pollution is one kind of pollution we can readily fix. And, as the jacket cover of the book proclaims: Bogard's "panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left gives us every reason to flip the switch—tonight."

Here's a link to the show ( and a link to a short clip featuring Paul Bogard introducing the book (

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Adventures of Salt, Soap and Lori Rome

Lori with Salt and Soap on the Lower Colorado River
The Adventures of Salt and Soap at Grand Canyon is the true story of two puppies who wandered into the Canyon and maneuvered their way into some great escapades--multiple rim-to-river hikes, a white-water rafting trip, and even a helicopter ride—all while ultimately snuggling their ways into park rangers’ hearts.
Lori Rome with Morri, Salt and Soap
The author of this charming book for children, interpretive ranger Lori Rome, adopted this pair of adventurers after meeting them at the bottom of the Canyon at Phantom Ranch, the historic oasis on the north side of the Colorado River that’s tucked in right next to Bright Angel Creek. She took Salt and Soap in as “lost and found items” but, with Lori, the intrepid duo found a home. And home for all of them is now Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah where they’ve been joined by a third dog (another stray, Mo, whose proper name is Morri, after the Morrison rock formation near where he was found). Morri, who’s a delightful little border collie has just three legs but, Lori insists, he's still the fastest herding dog you'll meet...and a mean frisbee catcher!

In Episode 30, Donna chats with Lori about Salt, Soap and their buddy Morri. Lori gives us entrée to her life as a ranger in parks from Alaska to Florida, shares stories about pets and wildlife in the parks, and details her exciting work with mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

The book is available on Amazon and on the Grand Canyon Association website:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Paw Prints at Owl Cottage

Four kittens. A crumbling English cottage. One touching tale of life in the British countryside.

In Paw Prints at Owl Cottage, the sequel by Denis O’Connor to Paw Prints in the Moonlight, the author tenderly and humorously charts the ups and downs of days shared with feline companions. In his first book, then bachelor Denis detailed his life with his much-loved hybrid Maine Coon cat, Toby Jug.

In the newest release, we come upon Denis more than 20 years after Toby Jug’s passing as the now-married author returns, after some years in the city, to Owl Cottage, his former country home. Here—in West Thirston on the Northumbrian coast—Denis and his wife, Catherine, meet the daily challenges posed by four mischievous little felines whom the couple name Pablo, Carlos, Luis and Max.

Denis O'Connor with Luis
Denis, now a retired psychologist, who takes immense pleasure in applying his skills to the study of animals, and Catherine, an experienced researcher and educator in the field of disruptive and deviant behavior, learn and learn again—over the course of the ensuing years—that a cat can be, not only quite the handful but also the most cherished of friends.

In Episode 29, I chat with beloved best-selling author Denis O’Connor about Toby Jug; Carlos, the out-of-control commando; Luis, the regal and aloof little prince; and Max, the melancholic that eventually lived up to his full name, Maxamillion (the one in a million cat).