Morton Salt, Campbells, and Flamingos in the Bahamas.

Recently, while in Chicago I happened to see the iconic Morton Salt sign. It’s so huge you can’t miss it. While it’s called a sign, in actuality it’s a roof on the old Morton Salt factory on Elston Avenue. As a child, this sign always reminded me of the Morton Salt Girl and the drawing of her carrying around an umbrella in the rain. I confess, I always wondered what she had to do with salt. If you look closely, you’ll realize she also carried a container of Morton salt that spilled behind her. The marketing slogan was When It Rains, It Pours. It must have been effective, as the company kept her as their mascot and updated her through the years. I even remember her as an animated character on TV!

Animated characters are something I’ve delved into, starting with my character Curtis Curly-tail. However, this time my thoughts drifted not to curly-tail lizards, but the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas. 

A Salty National Park

For those not aware, I collaborate with the Bahamas National Trust in several of my books. I’ve also given multiple presentations on the benefits of using children’s books in science education. Then there’s the National Trust’s biannual Natural History Conference, which brings college students and teachers together with scientists working in the Bahamas. I especially enjoy checking in with the scientists to make certain my stories contain the most current information.

The Bahamas consists of more than 700 islands, and I try to visit a few more on each trip. My goal is to visit all the inhabited islands and some of the uninhabited ones. One year, after the National History Conference, I jumped at the opportunity for a field trip to the island of Great Inagua. Why was I so excited to go there? Salt. You see, the major industry on Great Inagua is the collection of salt for Morton Salt!

With a dry climate, Great Inagua is perfect for salt production. Operations began in the late 1930s and continue to this day. Believe it or not, the island’s 300,000 acres produce about a million pounds of salt each year! Nature plays an important part in producing this salt. Energy for the drying is provided by the sun and wind. An algal mat in the reservoirs removes impurities. Brine shrimp eat the algae, which keeps the water clean. More importantly, the brine shrimp serve as food for Caribbean flamingos. The Morton Salt facility shares Great Inagua with the Inagua National Park. Established in 1965, the park is the site of the largest breeding colony of West Indian Flamingos, Phoenicopterus ruber, in the world. Once near extinction, the population of The Bahamas’ national bird is now growing.   

Sandy mounds with power poles and large piles of salt in the background.
Morton Salt facilities on Great Inagua
Flat field of white sale with a barely visible tree line in the distance.
Great Inagua Salt Fields

Along Came the Campbells

On this fascinating trip, I was joined by a gentleman named David George Campbell. When introduced to him by a mutual friend, Sandra Buckner, I was sure I’d remember his name, as I knew a George Campbell when I lived on Sanibel Island, Florida. George was a naturalist and a great inspiration to me. When I worked at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, George was also there. He kept an eye on our activities and the activities of others in his quest to protect the island’s special ecosystem, and I felt honored to know him. He wrote The Nature of Things on Sanibel. I treasure my copy and suspect he would be saddened by the damage later generations did to the island we both loved.

When mentioning George Campbell to David, I was astounded to learn that George was his father! It was intriguing to learn how intertwined our lives were. David grew up on Eleuthera Island, the location of the Leon Levy Preserve. Meanwhile, I wrote Grow Home, Little Seeds specifically for the preserve. To my delight, David shared that he attended Kalamazoo College. I lived in Kalamazoo while working for the Upjohn Company. In addition, in the seventies, David served as the Executive Director of The Bahamas National Trust. He worked on the conservation of the unique ecosystems in The Bahamas, the same ones I write about in my books. David wrote The Ephemeral Islands, the first natural history of the archipelago to be published since the 1800s. It seems that the islands inspired both of us to write.

It’s a Small World after all

They say it’s a small world and that everyone has only six degrees of separation from each other. The connections between David, George, me, a small island in the Bahamas, and that Morton Salt sign seem to add credence to these ideas. Despite these very diverse places and situations, they are all interconnected in my life.

Sharing the Morning Routine

As I watched the birds on the beach at sunrise on a recent trip, I noticed their actions reminded me of my own morning routine. Perhaps yours is similar.

Sandpiper in waterDo you start with a wash?  This sandpiper decided not to dip under the water for its wash. No, instead he or she was sucking up the saltwater and squirting it directly at the area of the wings that needed cleaning.

Then a friend joined in the morning washing.

Sometimes, the desired spot is a little hard to reach.

Two sandpipers in ocean

I’m not certain about the species of this sandpiper but believe it may be the Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus).

blue heron with oyster

Then do you grab a bit of breakfast before you fly off? Do you fix something at home or grab something on the go?

Yum, that clam was good.

But I think I want a bit more. I wonder what might be in the refrigerator, pantry or beneath the surface?

I thank this Little Blue Heron, Egretta caerulea, for allowing me to watch as he or she ate breakfast. I do like watching animals enjoy their food.

blue heron in florida

People think we’re so different from animals in the wild, but we aren’t, really.  We all have our morning routines.

Book Note: My book publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, publishes workbooks of activity sheets to supplement my children’s science books that are written in fun rhymes or adventure tales, such as The Dragon of Nani Cave. This one, Flannel Boards and Standup Animals, is full of Caribbean island animals to make for educational purposes or just for fun. Pick up a copy for the kids today and enjoy some hands-on family time!

cover of a workbook to make flannel board animals

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#shorebirds

#littleblueheron

#dowitcher

#shorebirdswashing

#shorebirdseating

 

An Unusual Visitor Stopped By

The Sonoran Desert is home to many species of hummingbirds. The first things I installed in my yard when I moved in were hummingbird feeders.  Whenever a hummer would stop for a drink, I’d pull out my bird book to identify it. I’ve had quite a few species stop by over the years.  Some were local residents, and some were passing through on their annual migrations. I even had an albino individual who frequented my yard for a couple of years.

Usually, I have no trouble identifying my feathered visitors, since they were all present in my Birds of the Southwest book. I find they often cooperate by sitting on a branch so I can examine them.  I’ve been honored to host Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costas, Rufous, Calliope and Lucifer Hummingbirds.

photo of blue hummingbirdRecently, when a hummer visited my yard, as usual, I went out for a look. However, I didn’t recognize this individual. I looked in the book, but I couldn’t find her. That seems to be a problem with identifying birds – lots of photos of the males, but not enough of the females.

I contacted a friend whose son is an expert on hummingbirds. He thought it looked like a female Blue-throated hummingbird or Blue-throated Mountaingem. Blue-throateds are unusual in Tucson, but they are known to be in the area. Maybe the drought brought her to my yard. She stayed a few days.

Whatever her reasons for visiting, she is welcome anytime.

This hummer posed very nicely for me, but not all hummingbirds are that accommodating. I recommend my humorous tale, How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird, about a bumbling visitor trying to photograph a hummer. Though the desert seems to conspire against him, it’s more that he doesn’t understand the environment he is in. So, the book also contains a lot of information about the animals, plants and minerals of the Sonoran Desert. Your kids will get a kick out of his ‘accidents.’ If they’d like to learn about the desert in a funny way, pick up a copy for them today. 

book cover about how NOT to photograph a hummingbird

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#bluethroatedhummingbird

#bluethroatedmountaingem

#hummingbird

#sonorandeserthummingbird

Who Was Observing Whom?

I was exercising my young horse when he suddenly turned away from me to look at something outside the ring. I discovered my horse enjoys birdwatching as much as I do.

photo of roadrunnerHowever, as horse and human watched this Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, pass by, I noticed that it seemed to be studying us as much as we were studying it. I have to say “it” because male and female roadrunners look alike.

photo of roadrunner bird

I wondered what the roadie thought of the two mammals watching it. Obviously, it didn’t feel threatened, moving ever closer, stopping frequently to examine us. After a few minutes of mutual observation, Exuma and I got back to work, and the roadrunner said as it continued on its way: “Places to go and prey to catch. Sorry, I can’t stay.” Perhaps we will all meet again.

photo of roadrunner running away

I was delighted to find out that my boy liked watching wildlife as much as I do. This bodes well for our future trail rides.

Book Note: In the midst of writing fun science books about reptiles, I veered off to write one about the predator I often see in my yard, the Greater Roadrunner. The result was the colorful and fact-filled book written in rhyme, Don’t Make Me Fly! Young and old alike seem to love the rhyming stanzas all about this Southern Arizona iconic bird. Pick up your copy today!

Infographic about book Don't Make Me Fly

You might also be interested in summer-fun workbooks full of activities about Roadrunners that are available from Lyric Power Publishing LLC. The covers below show what is included in each workbook, My Book About the Greater Roadrunner, one for grades K-2 and one for grades 2-4. 

Book cover about the Greater Roadrunner GR K-2book cover about greater roadrunner GR 2-4

#elaineapowers  #lyricpowerpub  #roadrunners

Birds Do It, But Wow!

In the Spring, avian hearts turn to thoughts of love, or at least, to mating. Songs have been written about it. Cole Porter croons, “Birds do it, bees do it.” But have you ever thought about how birds “do it?”

Recently, I realized that a couple of white-winged doves, Zenaida asiatica, were getting together on the branch of a Palo Verde tree in my backyard. Watching the male trying to balance on the back of the female, who was receptive to the idea at least, in the gusty wind on a moving branch, got me thinking about the effort it takes for birds to mate.

It’s amazing that birds are able to perpetuate their species at all.

Mating takes place by the matching up of the cloacas. Keep in mind, the cloacas are located under the tails. So, along with the balancing act, they have to move their tails out of the way! Those tail feathers are stiff and can’t be bent. Just imagine having to maneuver the tails of a peacock or resplendent quetzal! Those tails are huge! Sure, they got the attention of the female, but just where do you put them during the cloacal matching? You can see why I’m impressed at the success rate of these interactions!

I knew a woman who wrote her Master’s degree thesis on aquatic birds’ ability to mate underwater! Wouldn’t the reproductive liquids be in danger of being diluted or washed away? The birds did fly, so it’s not like they couldn’t mate above water.

I encourage you to remember the effort it took for the ordinary birds flying about outside to be born and to congratulate them.

Book Note: I have written three fun-science books about birds. The book descriptions are here—perhaps you can find one for your child or grandchild.

infographic about three fun science books about birdsLooking to supplement your child’s education in a fun way? Check out all my books here—there’s something for everyone, from preschoolers to chapter books to adults, like my book, Queen of the Night, the Night-blooming Cereus, an Amazon #1 book in Children’s Botany.

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category

Having Fun With The Mysterious Massachusetts Potatoes

With all the bad news today, unusual stories bring us a lot of entertainment, probably more than they should. They also provide opportunities for puns, as you will read in this tale about the baked potatoes found at the Wayland Free Public Library in Massachusetts.

The first cooked russet potato appeared on a Monday with a second arriving on the following Thursday. The library humorously suggested that the potatoes were part of a rare potato-migration. They are asking people to keep their eyes peeled for whoever left them. Perhaps the russets were rustled?

The library has been having great fun with the potato mystery. Books about cooking potatoes have become very popular. So far, the culprit has not been identified and no more potatoes have shown up—but Mr. Potato Head is looking for his friends.

You can still follow this developing story at the Wayland Library page.

Photo above is courtesy of the Wayland Free Public Library.

Book Note: I do enjoy funny stories, which is why I wrote How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird, after watching a man at the Tucson Botanical Gardens race around, trying to capture a photo of a hummingbird that seemed to be taunting him. In my story, he is injured by Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, but remains undaunted in his efforts. Of course, I also include a glossary of the plants and animals in the story because science education is what I’m all about. I just love to make it fun for all the budding scientists out there!

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona. Includes glossary.

Nature is the Best Holiday Decorator

I usually travel during the December holidays, so I don’t do much holiday decorating. A garland and a lighted ball is sufficient for me. This year, due to the pandemic, I’m staying home and I’ve been trying to decide if and how I’ll decorate. I don’t really need decorations to feel the holiday spirit.
photo of golden pomegranate treeThis morning, I found the holiday colors I was looking for. I don’t need an evergreen tree in my house – I have a golden tree in my yard. This pomegranate tree comes complete with its own red fruit ornaments.
And instead of a star, I’ll top my tree with a hummingbird.

hummingbird in tree
Nature is the best decorator.

Book Note: How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird is a humorous tale about the dangers of trying to photograph a hummingbird. I was fortunate that this particular hummingbird cooperated with my photography efforts.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

November 20th is National Absurdity Day

On November 20th, absurdity is celebrated by being whacky, for example. It strikes me as absurd that on November 19th, we celebrate carbonated beverages with caffeine day. One day later we can expand and include other absurdities.

Some might think it is absurd to write a book. Some days, writers think so, too! Or go to Caribbean islands and spend all your time chasing large lizards that are not happy to be part of a scientific study. I often visit islands with gorgeous beaches and never actually get in the ocean – now that is absurd!

Absurdity and ridiculousness keep life interesting. What is absurd? The illogical, unreasonable, the crazy, zany and the nonsensical. November 20th is the day to accept life’s absurdities and perhaps create some of your own. Have some fun with it. Let your absurd side run free . . . if only for a day!

Book Note: An absurd moment did hit one day when I was thinking about a recent visitor to Arizona and a story began to unfold in my mind. The scientist in me included Sonoran Desert flora and fauna in the story (with a glossary, no less!), but the comedian in me caused the story’s impolite visitor to stumble from one desert danger to the next, while trying to photograph a hummingbird. Even though I write mystery novels in addition to my FUN children’s science books, I did not kill off the visitor. But the number of his injuries might give him pause when thinking about returning, right?

For a good (and educational) laugh, check out How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. Your kids will enjoy the absurdities; you could even read it to your little ones–it is illustrated.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit. Maybe a permanent one,.” the visitor said. Whatever could he mean?  A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.           For All Ages Reading Level Age 8+ 26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Pomegranate Crop or Was It Really Lost?

I love pomegranates.  I have fond childhood memories of my family sitting around the table, each of us carefully peeling the tough husk off and eating the luscious seeds one at a time.  We were careful to wear clothing that could be stained with the permanently dyeing juice.

Brought to the Sonoran Desert by Spanish settlers, these trees do well in this dry climate. I have planted a few in my yard, so I can enjoy pomegranates throughout the winter.  I usually only consume half the fruit crop, leaving the rest for the birds and other pomegranate-eating animals.

This summer, the monsoons have failed to develop as usual and I’ve only had half an inch of rain fall in my yard, as opposed to the usual four inches by now. The pomegranate fruit stalled in their growth and have been bursting open before the seeds have ripened. They’re still sweet in flavor.

But don’t worry, the pomegranates are being consumed by the locals.

Here, you’ll see a bird hopping in and out of  the opening.

Pomegranate with bird      pomegranate and bird

Even though I’m disappointed that I won’t get many, if any, pomegranates this year, I am glad that the locals can enjoy them.

  Nothing goes to waste!

 

Pomegranate drawing by Nicky Girly on Pixabay.

I’m Curtis Curly-tail and Have I Got a Roadrunner Video for You! (Meep-Meep)

“Hello to all! I’m Curtis Curly-tail and I am here to tell you about my latest YouTube video,  which focuses on Roadrunners in Southern Arizona. Did you know when these large birds leave tracks behind, you can’t tell what direction they came from or where they went? I wish I could do that! And roadrunners are really, really fast. That makes me a little afraid of them, too. They do love their lizard snacks!

We lizards are pretty fast, ourselves. So far, so good.

Come on over to my YouTube channel, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks, and watch my latest video about the Southwest’s iconic bird: the Roadrunner. I give lots of interesting details about this unusual bird that stays mostly on the ground.

And then, take a look at Elaine A. Powers book called Don’t Make Me Fly! The book tells all about this bird sacred to Native American peoples because of its courage and speed. The book is written in fun rhymes and vividly illustrated. Don’t Make Me Fly! is available at Amazon.com.

Thanks for stopping by to ‘catch a tail–I mean, tale!’ here at Elaine A. Powers’ author website. We both appreciate you very much! See you over at You Tube!

illustration of a desert roadrunner
Strong. Fast and Courageous, Roadrunner Doesn’t Need To Fly

“What’s a Nurse Tree?” you ask.

In the heat of the Sonoran Desert, many cacti use the shade of trees to help them survive. They also help in the cold winters. These are nurse trees.

Underneath a mesquite in my yard, I found this thriving Graham’s Nipple or Arizona Fishhook Cactus. The scientific name is Mammillaria grahamii. I wouldn’t have noticed it if not for the bright colors of the flowers.  The term fishhook refers to the one-three large spines in each spine grouping that are hooked and reddish to brown in color. This species are named after Colonel James Duncan Graham (1799-1851), who took part in a U.S.-Mexico border survey.

Arizona Fishhook Cactus under a mesquite ‘nurse tree’ in my yard

Indigenous people have eaten the fruit and pulp of this plant as food, as well using it as a medicine to treat earaches. I’m enjoying it for its natural beauty.

Even though I didn’t include this species in my fun science book that comes with a glossary of Sonoran Desert plants and animals, you can read about other desert treasures and have a good laugh in How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit. Maybe a permanent one.”
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him. Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

Sharing the Shores with the Sanderlings

To help with our staying-at-home, many nature organizations have been showing photos and videos of interesting plants and animals. The American Bird Conservancy featured Sanderlings, Calidris alba, in one of these offerings.

Some of my fondest memories include Sanderlings that I watched and strolled among on Bunche Beach and Sanibel Island in Florida. My parents would often call them baby sandpipers, thinking they were the chicks of the taller Semipalmated Sandpipers, also present on the beaches. They never quite believed me when I said the Sanderlings were full-grown.

One of my favorite restorative activities is walking along the beach. The Sanderlings run along the edge of the waves, poking their long thin bills into the sand. If I keep a slow pace, they continue their work, sometimes darting ahead a few steps, sometimes dashing up farther on to the dry sand. When my presence is too intrusive, the entire group or flock takes off with rapidly fluttering colorful wings, cheeping noisily.

I was surprised to discover that Sanderlings breed in the high Arctic tundra, quite different from the Florida Gulf Coast. They’re members of the Scolopacidae family, which includes the more famous Red Knots and Long-billed Curlews. It also includes those Semipalmated Sandpipers.

I’m glad ABC chose to feature Sanderlings, one of my favorite birds. I look forward to being able to travel to join them on the beach again.

Note: A favorite bird of mine back home is the Roadrunner. To learn all about these special runners, check out my rhyming book, Don’t Make Me Fly!

illustration of a desert roadrunner
Strong. Fast and Courageous, Roadrunner Doesn’t Need To Fly

There’s Cuckoo Birds Everywhere! By Curtis Curly-tail

My friend Elaine lives in the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona in the US, while I live on Warderick Wells Cay in the Bahamas. Even though we’re over two thousand miles apart, we share a family of birds. I like to have an occasional adventure and when I was visiting the Leon Levy Preserve on Eleuthera recently, I saw a magnificent bird, the Great-Lizard Cuckoo, in a tree. PHEW! I usually see these birds on the ground running. When you’re a lizard, seeing a running cuckoo can be terrifying!  They eat lizards, you know.

Watching the cuckoo run, I realized I had seen something similar in a video my friend Elaine sent me. In the Sonoran Desert and many other places, there’s a bird that runs just like my Great-Lizard Cuckoo.  That’s because the Roadrunner is a member of the Cuckoo family.

photo of Greater Roadrunner in the Sonoran Desert
Photo by Elaine Powers
illustration of a desert roadrunner
Strong. Fast and Courageous, Roadrunner Doesn’t Need To Fly

Cuckoos are found on all the continents except Antarctica and they’re all magnificent. I’m so glad my friend and I can both enjoy these wonderful birds. If you want to learn more about Elaine’s Roadrunner, check out her book Don’t Make Me Fly! It’s all about the roadrunner and it’s lots of fun because it’s written in rhyme.