Monday, April 29, 2013

Natural history bits

Over the weekend, Ben and I went to the annual Houston Gem & Mineral Show (it was both our 2nd time going).  Mostly, it's to go and gape at the really amazing specimens offered, some that are spectacular enough to be in museums.  Obviously, such specimens cost 1000's, if not tens of thousands, of dollars, so if we do buy anything, it's small and cheap.  But it's still worth it to just go and look - how often will you get to see and touch 1-meter long prisms of selenite, huge blobs of malachite that look like broccoli and grapes, perfect smoky quartz crystals intergrown in amazonite?  It's a fun experience.  And because we went on the last day, some vendors were offering their specimens for 50% off.  We managed to snag a beautiful trilobite, a Mrakbina specimen from Morocco:

We put the new trilobite with Ben's rock collection, which, not surprisingly, is heavily dominated by biological and sedimentary things (except that beautiful piece of obsidian on the right).

Speaking of fossils, we managed to make one of our own (and continue to make it every time the cabinet door containing the coffee is opened and closed).  Here's a cockroach that got smashed and somehow ended up pretty well-preserved:

Here are some random biological bits I've picked up on various trips, now sitting on a shelf above my desk:

From the top left - a cowrie shell I found in Papua New Guinea, a box on top of a jar of random shells, a septarian nodule from the Atacama Desert, two limpet shells from the Chile coast, a nautilus (lamely, from a gift shop in Galveston, TX), a mermaid's purse from Long Island, and a snail shell filled with sand and bored through by another organism (also from Long Island).

And to finish off the weekend, we celebrated a bunch of recent nice things:  Ben's NSF DDIG getting funded, Ben getting the Vaughn Fellowship from Rice, me accepting the post-doc at Brown starting in January.  For that, we splurged on a ~$15 bottle of wine which we only splurged on because it had an ammonite on the label!  (And it wasn't too bad of a wine either).

Sunday, April 28, 2013


One of the best things about living down here in Houston is the proximity one has to amazing and diverse ecosystems (coastal wetlands, prairie, semi-tropical scrub forest, among others), and thus really cool animal and bird life.  Also, Houston is along a major bird migration route.  So things get pretty awesome here during the late spring.  With the perfect combination of winds, there can be some spectacular fallouts of warblers and other passerines.

Last weekend we headed out to High Island, which is on the Bolivar Peninsula down on the Texas Gulf Coast:

American avocets in full breeding plumage
I think these are stilt sandpipers (?) but not sure...
Eastern kingbird
Summer tanager

A glimpse of an indigo bunting, in the sun for a moment

It's really special when warblers like this one (prothonotary warbler, one of my favorites!) fly right in front of your face for just long enough to get over the shock and take a picture that actually turns out decent!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A slow, cool Spring

It's been a couple months since my last post.  Many big, good things have happened:  I experienced my first real job interviews (both for academic positions), I accepted an post-doc offer (now I just need to defend my PhD by December), BEN AND I GOT ENGAGED (in my opinion, the best thing that's happened!).

Lots of small, good things have happened too.  More tangible everyday things, like finally sitting down after all the excitement and starting to write my third paper (almost 50% done with a rough and highly imperfect first draft), getting exciting new data from collaborators, and even the seemingly mundane process of re-reading a paper for the --> nth time and learning something new from it.  And in between, Ben and I have been enjoying the long, cool spring Houston has been blessed with this year.  After several weeks of anomalously hot weather (daytime temperatures in the mid 80s) in January, the temperature didn't continue to steadily ramp up to the usual high 80s - low 90s I've grown accustomed to in late April.  Instead we've had a serious of pretty cold cold fronts that blew in temperatures (even in the 40s), alternating with warmer days.  It's been kind of nice actually.  At heart I'm a northern soul and the cold invigorates me.

Some cool things seen and photographed since March:

Savannah sparrows in a yucca plant at Brazoria NWR.

Got really close to a pileated woodpecker at Bear Creek Park:

The equestrian trail was beautifully overgrown and devoid of horses or people.

A hooded warbler came really close to us, but as usual, only fleetingly.

Wild garlic bursting forth.