Walking Rocks?

Query: When I was in Death Valley earlier this year, I saw some enormous 750-pound rocks that appear to travel across the desert on their own. I remembered your article about rock tortoises, and wondered if that’s what these rocks could be?

Corn of Plenty (Part 4 of 4): A Field Guide by Dr. Midas Welby

Corns of the Air: Air-corns utilize their horns for jousting, playing tic-tac-toe, and spearing food in mid-flight. Air-corns often lurk undetected in trees, wood piles, and rain gutters. When bored, they use their horns to ring the doorbells of unsuspecting humans. When the door begins to open, the air-corn flies away.


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Going On Hiatus

December 6, 2014: I am loving college, but I have to admit, I’m overwhelmed.

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Pine Cone Feeders

A Present For Imaginaries: When winter comes, I get concerned about providing extra shelter from the elements for Imaginaries. Recently, I read about people who build wildlife brush shelters out of branches and plants in their yards, and thought this was a great idea.

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When Will I See An Imaginary?

Query: I’ve heard a treesqueak, and seen some jackalope scat, and my little sister says she could smell reindeer on the roof on Christmas Eve. But I’ve never seen an actual Imaginary. I’m getting impatient. When am I going to see one?

Answer: Imaginaries are rare and elusive, and do an excellent job of hiding from humans. I understand how much you would like to see one. But as with any other rare species, encountering an Imaginary face-to-face is a special event. As any good field biologist could also tell us, being able to read the signs or hear the presence of an Imaginary can be even more valuable than a direct encounter.

Consider the elusive Cebu hawk owl (Ninox rumseyi) of the Phillipines, which was identified as a distinct species only this past year. Scientists rediscovered the Cebu hawk owl in 1998 after a gap of 110 years since its last sighting, and only one has been seen in recent times.

How is it that scientists know that this is a distinct new species without seeing more of the birds? Unlike songbirds and parrots, which can learn and reproduce new songs and calls, owls can only produce species-specific calls, which are programmed into their DNA and are used to attract their mates. Therefore, within the owl population, a distinct bird-call is a good indicator of a distinct species.

The call of the Cebu hawk owl is unique, and doesn’t sound like the calls of the other owl species of Cebu. In the 15 years since the Cebu hawk owl was rediscovered, researchers recorded hours and hours of owl-calls, and have not only distinguished the call of the Cebu hawk owl from that of other owls in the same area, but have also heard pair-bonded couples of Cebu hawk owls singing duets with each other. From the number of pair-duets recorded, researchers have worked out that the entire population of owls on Cebu may number no more than 192 pairs. Perhaps that’s not very many, but that’s still more than the singular owl that they saw.

We know you want to see an Imaginary, but the story of the Cebu hawk owl tells us that it’s not only the Imaginaries who can be hard to find. Consider how much the researchers were able to learn about the Cebu hawk owl just from its call. If we apply that lesson to our own efforts, we may be able to expand our knowledge of the Imaginary world in ways we have not even dreamed of yet.


Copyright © 2012, 2013, 2014 by Penelope Stowell. All rights reserved. This website is a work of fiction and does not depict any actual persons, creatures, places or events.