The divine grace of a Wayne Suffield photograph

Brolga by Wayne Suffield

Amongst bird photographers in the state of Victoria, Australia, Ararat-based Wayne Suffield shines out. So many enthusiasts with cameras or smartphones take bird shots these days! Amongst them is a category at the apex, folks who end up commissioned by National Geographic and making a decent living out of their craft. I don’t know if Wayne earns money from his devotion to photography but amongst the community of birders in a very large and active Facebook group, Victorian Birders, his creative works are of luminous quality. If you’re after beauty in nature, check out his photographs, including joining Victorian Birders.

Amongst Wayne’s regular “subjects” are some Brolgas in his local area. I have an impression, probably incorrect, that it’s the same returning pair (as usual, I have more research to do). I’d written a few times to Wayne about my fascination with the fifteen Crane species, our own Brolga being a logical investigative target, and a number of months back I asked him if I could pay closer attention to any of his photographs, including featuring one in this fledgling blog. Wayne graciously granted me permission to take on board one of his photographs and what you see featured today (I haven’t resized his photograph at all but have added my own background to image size requirements) is one stunning work of art.

This glorious image has been at hand for a long time but only today, buried in my cafe amidst redrafting work, did I step aside to examine it with full attention. What did I find? Wayne has caught a mighty Brolga striding effortlessly, huge wings fanned up, every white-grey feather seemingly visible, into flight mode. That outstretched neck, the sinuous horizontal line between tail and fearsome bill, its red neck brace, the ancient eye … it takes my breath away. Thank you so much, Wayne.

Credit: Wayne Suffield. On the runway at Warrayatkin Swamp. July 30, 2019. At Greenhill Lake Reserve Camping Area. Find Wayne on various sites, the easiest method perhaps being to search for @wayne.suffield on Facebook.

Mann sanity on RCP8.5 & what’s needed

Michael Mann analysis

I took a rather shallow look at the heavily nuanced “what about RCP8.5” debate a couple of days ago, based on a Chris Mooney article. Not until I read a wonderfully coherent analysis from Michael Mann on his website did it become clear why I felt dissatisfied. Attacks on RCP8.5 aren’t just attacks on a particular scenario. They open a window for politicking, for cavilling from the required urgency.

As Mann puts it, this latest kinda-optimistic burst “doesn’t account for non-linearities and, most importantly of all, doesn’t include so-called ‘carbon cycle feedbacks’, that is to say, the feedback mechanism by which global warming can actually release more CO2 (or e.g. methane), adding further to the warming. Indeed, this deficiency applies to all studies that are based on specifying CO2 concentrations rather than emissions, and it applies to the current commentary by Hausfather & Peters.”

Putting it more bluntly:

There is some good news here. The numbers show that escalating efforts around the world to decarbonize our economy are starting to pay dividends. We’re starting to bend that emissions curve downward. But we need to reduce emissions by a factor of two over the next decade and bring them down to zero in a matter of a few decades if we are to avert catastrophic climate change impacts. We have to get off fossil fuels far more quickly than we’re on track to do under current policies. This latest commentary doesn’t change that at all.

Anthropocene amplification

Amplification

Chris Mooney of the Washington Post is one of our wisest journalists. A terrific tweet thread yesterday contrasts recent news and opinions from opposite ends of the pessimism spectrum. On the one hand, one of the most worrying scenarios in the recent IPCC work, known as RCP8.5, might be too pessimistic. The endless stream of ideological and scientific positioning around RCP8.5 can be boring but it’s also important, so this debate makes for fascinating purview. Against what might be labelled “good news” (it isn’t really, just one scenario that needs tweaking for future projections), scientists have dug over half a kilometer through one of Antarctica’s biggest glaciers and found that the glacier might be melting from underneath.

Quite how the ice up north and south responds to Earth’s increasing temperatures is of crucial importance to predicting the future. We know how worrying the concept of amplification is. For example, we can see that a degree of warming has burnt huge swathes of Australia to the ground, releasing even more carbon, amplifying the temperature hikes even more. If ice melting (be it on sea or on glaciers or on rock) amplifies warming or further melting, we could be in trouble.

In other words, as Mooney points out: “So in sum: The plausibility of RCP8.5 as an energy scenario for this century has been seriously challenged. But the potential severity of climate change really has not.”

International

Crane

Another arrow-swift para of prose from “This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook,” this time from Gail Bradbrook, one of the Extinction Rebellion founders:

Our challenge now is to look beyond our island nation and see with fresh eyes the rest of our family, spread across the world. To open our hearts. When we are able to fully feel the losses among us, then we will be able to do what these times truly require from us. All the children are our children. We can protect those closest to us only when we remember our love for those furthest away. This is an international rebellion, aligned with all peoples living with struggles to protect life on Earth. This is sacred

Remember, the job of Extinction Rebellion is to get global emissions to zero by 2025. That includes the emissions of China, Russia, and Turkmenistan. International is the only way forward, utopian though it may sound.

Friday existential blues (Davos?)

Greta Thunberg at Davos

Observing the sly deflections of world leaders and Australia’s leaders (both political parties), and in particular the orchestrated muck campaigns against those urging for climate action (let’s start with the obvious: close coal plants and dig it up no more) that must occur, today I got the blues. You know the blues, don’t you? Of course there are many kinds of downers one can sink into, but these blues are the unwanted existential anxieties one imagined one had built a carapace against. A sudden loss of heart.

So I sought heart by watching Greta Thunberg’s 4:44 Davos speech. Her concluding words? “Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.” I do, I do, I do.

Odd bedfellows

Boots and plants

Staring down at my hiking boots. Thoughts whirling, always unsure of myself these days. In “This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook,” Rowan Williams, ex-archbishop of Canterbury, writes:

Change the narrative, and who knows what is possible? Accept the diseased imagination of the culture we have created and the death count begins now. Anger, love and joy may sound like odd bedfellows, but these are the seeds of a future that will offer life – not success, but life.

Those odd-bedfellow emotions seem to reside in me. Permanently. Conjoined.

Hero: Ed Hawkins

Ed Hawkins tweet

A climate scientist at the University of Reading, Ed Hawkins is an IPCC AR6 Lead Author. He tweeted a couple of days ago:

Months of work by 15 authors with 56 contributing authors, writing 60,000 words (+ 885 references) = 1 finished draft of a single @IPCC_CH Assessment Report chapter. Now over to the hundreds of reviewers. Then we start to edit it all over again…

It stirs my blood to hear about such work. The concerted IPCC work over decades must surely dwarf the feted Manhattan Project in terms of scientific firepower and global criticality. As always, heroes labour hard, extremely hard.

Where are the 15 Crane species?

Location maps of Brolga and Sarus Crane

How lucky can a neophyte be? I had expected to have to dig through books, new and old, and websites, and to then master map making to come up with simple motivational location maps. Maps impel. Maps document. Maps communicate.

Well, it turns out that the International Crane Foundation, in putting together its astonishing Crane Conservation Strategy, released less than three months ago, also commissioned fifteen maps that suit my purposes exactly. You can find the maps here.

From the composite image above, I note that only the Brolga is Australia-specific. A larger, wide-ranging population can be found in northern and northeastern Australia. A small, locally endangered population (listed as threatened by both Victorian and NSW authorities) lives in pockets in the bottom south of NSW (and into Victoria’s north) and in Victoria’s west (into South Australia, also, apparently). By contrast, the Sarus Crane’s only Australian range is the Gulf of Carpentaria up to “the tip” (Cape York). A distinct population mostly lives in India/Pakistan.

So … 2020 is the year to head west from Melbourne in April to attempt to see flocking or breeding Brolgas. In June we’ll do an exciting road trip up the red centre to Darwin and then in July make our way east, with some chance of seeing breeding Sarus Crane couples on the way, ending up in the Atherton Tablelands, where a sizable Sarus Crane cohort flocks together in the dry season.

James Bradley reflects on Australia in a 1° world

Yesterday’s keynote Guardian article “Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal” is a vivid exploration of what James Bradley calls the “new normal” arising from the bushfires (which, of course, are ongoing and will continue to be so for the best part of the next three months). His journey is the existential and emotional journey we all need to undertake in wrestling with the Anthropocene, the galloping emergence of a new geologic era, the only such juncture point we’ll ever face. You’ll note that I use the word “wrestle.” You don’t “master” the Anthropocene. The scale of the coming changes is too great. Your mind and heart lurch in loops similar to Bradley’s “terror, hope, anger, and kindness.”

Bradley is one of Australia’s finest authors and and this article is compulsory reading. Honest, nuanced, and wise. “We should be angry, of course. Incandescently angry. Because where we are is not an accident. … Faced with this reality we can sink into depression and despair. Or we can go further, admit the old world has gone, and begin to fight to make things better. … if we are to find a way forward we will need kindness as well as anger, empathy as well as rage, humility as well as righteousness.” I believe Extinction Rebellion hears this message. United, we non-violently disrupt our failing political order. One of our most potent messages, a greeting really, is “with love and rage,” exactly what Bradley seeks.

Lev saw some Cranes

Eurasian Crane by Lev Parikian

British orchestral conductor Lev Parikian penned one of 2018’s outstanding books. “Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? 200 birds, 12 months, 1 lapsed birdwatcher” entranced me. A few months ago, I wrote to him about my project of bearing witness to the fifteen Crane species. England wiped out the Eurasian Crane (or Common Crane) from its territory, but now has a tiny, reintroduced population, and I asked Lev if it was one of the bird species he saw, among his end tally of 200, during the quest covered by his book.

Sure enough, he did spot the Eurasian Crane, two birds, at the RSPB Slimbridge reserve, and has graciously let me show his photos above. His shots exhibit the stunning beauty of these elegant grey birds graced with black and red and white on their heads, showing a vivid wingtip black in flight.

I’m sure that you will feel as enriched as I am when viewing Lev’s action photos. If you’re a birder, buy his book for a treat of a read. If you’re not yet a birder, his book might well tip you over the edge!