11 Years, 11 Months & 11 Days Later

Mermaid (now in Escazu, Costa Rica), handcrafted by Rock Bottom from driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica

June 15, 2011 was the day we first posted on this platform, and while we have evolved since then we have remained constant and consistent in a few ways. In the daily search for something worth sharing, photos of birds from around the world have been the most constant–as in, every day since the first photo was shared by this old friend who got us started on that daily routine. Thank you, Vijaykumar, for a healthy habit-formation.

Consistent have been the shared convictions that environmental conservation, no matter how bleak the news, is worth our effort.

Maroon shaman mask with third eye for healing power (now in Ithaca, NY USA), handcrafted by Rock Bottom from driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Plenty more constantly interesting sub-topics like books and libraries, seemingly unrelated to the environment, have been the focus of daily posts; but they are related. As is artisan production, riffed upon many times in these pages, especially now that it is the focus of our day jobs.

So today, heading toward the twelve year mark posting here, a nod to an artisan named Rock Bottom. He carves driftwood in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

There is an effort in that part of Jamaica to revive and strengthen traditional crafts, and the work of Rock Bottom is a model for what we can hope to see more of. My hope is that the amazing engine of economic activity that Jamaica’s tourism sector represents will valorize his work and the work of others akin to his.

About The Food Waste Known As Diversion

Photograph by Grant Cornett

As still life compositions go, the photo to the right is classic in style and weirdly perfect for the essay it accompanies.  Helen Rosner frequently writes about food, including a review that convinced me to watch The Bear, and this is the best of her work that I have read:

The Promises of the Home “Composting” Machine

A new crop of techy appliances wants to help fight the food-waste crisis. How virtuous should we feel using them?

In the course of a week, my kitchen produces a shocking quantity of what we might think of as edible trash: apple peels, garlic nubs, a bit of gristle from a steak, Dorito dust, tea bags, the iron-hard heel of a loaf of bread that’s been sitting out overnight. The meat scraps I feed to my dog. The bones and vegetable scraps I store in the freezer in gallon-size ziplock bags and periodically bung into a pot and simmer into stock. But even then, once the stock is made, and the chicken bones or onion ends are leached of all their flavor, I’m left again with edible trash—only now it’s soggy. And then there are the times when the strawberries aren’t sealed right and become fuzzy with mold, or the delivery sandwich turns out to be gross, or the refrigerator’s compressor breaks and somehow we don’t notice, or I’m just exhausted and overwhelmed and want everything gone. Continue reading

Auchan 2000 & Authentica 2023

The Auchan hypermarche in Cergy is at the location of the red balloon in the image above. It is a short walk from the ESSEC campus (lower center of map). Click to go to the map on Auchan’s website

On each of the occasions I have read articles about Annie Ernaux I have been reminded of the first of my five years teaching at ESSEC. During the 2000-2003 academic years I lived on campus for extended periods away from home and family in Costa Rica. My grocery shopping was at the same Auchan elegantly dissected by the woman who last year won the Nobel Prize in Literature.  During my fourth year teaching there I was completing work on a project in Montenegro that made it more convenient for our family to be based in Paris for 12 months. This turned out to be one of the most culturally enriching experiences our family ever had together. And relevant to life now.

Adrienne Raphel’s article in The Paris Review begins with her own “big retail” experience, and at first read it connects dots between our Paris time and our retail life now. For the last 4+ years we have been waking up each day looking for novel ways to succeed without following the “pile it high and watch it fly” model. So, if that resonates with you for any reason, read on:


“The Dead Silence of Goods”: Annie Ernaux and the Superstore

The first and only time I went to the Walmart in Iowa City was surreal. When I was in high school, my parents’ business-oriented small press had published a book called The Case Against Walmart that called for a national consumer boycott of the company; the author denounced everything from the superstore’s destruction of environmentally protected lands to its sweatshop labor to its knockoff merchandise. So by the time I made a pilgrimage out to the superstore at age twenty-one, I hadn’t stepped in a Walmart for nearly a decade, and it had acquired this transgressive power—the very act of crossing the threshold was as shameful as it was thrilling…

At Long Last, Lamprey Love

A bald eagle carries a sea lamprey snatched from the Connecticut River in Windsor, Vermont. MARY HOLLAND / NATURALLY CURIOUS

Nine years ago lamprey was referenced in a book review; then a couple years later, in a story about dam removal; and again a year later; and more recently with a book review and another dam removal story; today, a story about giving this creature its due:


Long Reviled as ‘Ugly,’ Sea Lampreys Finally Get Some Respect

The sucker-mouthed marine lamprey has been dismissed as grotesque and a threat to sport fish. But fisheries managers in New England and the Pacific Northwest are recognizing the ecological importance of lampreys in their native waters and are stepping up efforts to help them recover.

Native Americans catch lamprey, eel-like fish, at Willamette Falls, a 40-foot waterfall south of Portland, Ore., Friday, June 12, 2015. An ancient fish that’s a source of food for tribes in the Pacific Northwest, lampreys have been in drastic decline in recent decades. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

“Thousands of sea lamprey are passed upstream [on the Connecticut River] each year. This is a predator that wiped out the Great Lakes lake-trout fishery. [Lampreys] literally suck the life out of their host fish, namely small-scale fish such as trout and salmon. The fish ladders ought to be used to diminish the lamprey.” So editorialized the Lawrence (Massachusetts) Eagle-Tribune on December 15, 2002.

If that’s true, why this spring is Trout Unlimited — the nation’s leading advocate for trout and salmon — assisting the Town of Wilton, Connecticut and an environmental group called “Save the [Long Island] Sound” in a project that will restore 10 miles of sea lamprey spawning habitat on the Norwalk River? Continue reading

Plenty To Question About Milk’s Status

We began featuring food-related stories by employees and interns, plus occasional visiting friends, during our first couple of years living in India. More recently, taste of place considerations first explored in India became for our Authentica shops in Costa Rica a key differentiator.

So my eye is drawn to food writing that overlaps with ethnicity considerations, and Mayukh Sen’s review of Spoiled brings out that book’s relevance to our pages:

A Fresh History of Lactose Intolerance

In “Spoiled,” the culinary historian Anne Mendelson takes aim at the American fallacy of fresh milk as a wonder food.

Six decades ago, Pedro Cuatrecasas, a fledgling resident at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was studying the lives of impoverished residents of Baltimore when he noticed an unsettling trend. In interviews, a number of his Black patients would confess that they found milk repellent. Continue reading

Pesticide Practicalities

The Asahi Shimbun, via Getty Images

Our thanks, as always, to Margaret Renkl:

Long Live the Fireflies (and the Wildflowers and Mosquitoes, Too)

NASHVILLE — The day we moved into this house, 28 years ago next month, a thunderstorm knocked out the power late in the day. My husband was returning the rental van. Our 3-year-old was safely tucked into his old bed in his new room. As night began to fall in the silent house, I sat down on the sofa to cry. Continue reading

Taste Of Place & Tofu Love

David Huang

We occasionally post about food, notably during stretches where it intersects with our work. Also when someone brings to our attention something fresh in a fun way. Case in point:

America Doesn’t Know Tofu

China has spent millennia exploring the culinary possibilities of soybean curds. The West has barely scratched the surface.

Guiyang didn’t have many restaurants, per se. The metropolis was more of a city-wide night market. Even in the pre-COVID days, streets like Qingyun Road were only half-filled with cars, to leave room for tents and tables that stretched to the horizon, and for smoke and steam that rose into the clouds. Continue reading

Keeping It Honest In Costa Rica

The Nairi Awari Indigenous community in Limón, Costa Rica. EZEQUIEL BECERRA / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We are proud of the country we call home, and where our work us based. But even as I celebrate it from time to time, I never mistake it for perfect. There is always more work to be done. Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always, for the details we need to know:

Lauded as Green Model, Costa Rica Faces Unrest in Its Forests

Indigenous park ranger Osvaldo Martinez tours the Nairi Awari indigenous community in Limon, Costa Rica on November 9, 2021. – The indigenous people of this community are payed for caring for the environment, as part of a program awarded by the British royalty. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP) (Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images)

Costa Rica has won international acclaim for its initiatives to restore its forests. But those successes are now jeopardized by conflicts over the government’s failure to return traditional lands to the Indigenous people who are regarded as the best forest stewards.

Costa Rica has a green halo. In recent decades, the small Central American nation has transformed itself from a notorious hotspot for deforestation into a beacon of reforestation that is the envy of the world. Many of its more than 12,000 species of plants, 1,200 butterflies, 800 birds, and 650 mammals, reptiles, and amphibians have gone from bust to boom, and eco-tourists are savoring the spectacle. Continue reading

Caterpillars, Among Other Insects, More Appreciated

Some scientists warn of an insect apocalypse. The flying-insect community has been “decimated,” a research paper said. Illustration by Jochen Gerner

Insects were among the first regular features in these pages, thanks to Milo’s camera and personal interest. There were more when Seth worked in Costa Rica, followed by plenty of articles and editorials of various types, as well as my own discoveries while working outside. Looking back over those, I notice that caterpillars were featured only once, in a post on integrated pest management. So the following is a welcome addition to the mix:

The Little-Known World of Caterpillars

An entomologist races to find them before they disappear.

The Devils River, in southwestern Texas, runs, mirage-like, along the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, through some of the most barren countryside in the United States. Access to the river is limited; unless you’re in a kayak, the only way to travel upstream is along a skein of rutted dirt roads. It was on one of these roads that, a few years ago, David Wagner noticed a shrub that seemed to him peculiarly filled with promise. Continue reading

Carbon Credits Save Lives

Virunga national park is a Unesco world heritage site, recognised for its wildlife and diverse habitats. Photograph: DEA/S Vannini/De Agostini/Getty Images

This concept for combining two forms of credits may serve as an example for other countries tempted by oil and gas discoveries:

US firm to bid to turn DRC oil permits in Virunga park into conservation projects

Exclusive: company plans to sell carbon and biodiversity credits in endangered gorilla habitat and Congo basin rainforest as alternative to drilling for fossil fuels

A family of gorillas in Virunga national park, DRC. The oil and gas concessions up for auction include areas of critically endangered gorillas habitat. Photograph: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

A New York investment firm is to launch a $400m (£334m) bid for oil concessions in the Congo basin rainforest and Virunga national park with plans to turn them into conservation projects, the Guardian can reveal. Continue reading

Guyana & Petroleum

Recent view of Kaiteur Falls from a small plane

Yesterday’s link to the story about Greenland‘s approach to carefully harnessing the economic power of tourism made me think today about a recent visit to Guyana that Amie and I made. What I knew of Greenland before reading that article was limited, but it included the newsworthy commitment they made, which I acknowledge having found inspirational. But I am a layperson on what such commitments actually mean. Continue reading

Stories from the Field: The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujurat

6 months after the Kaziranga trip, I started reading about the birds of India. I was very surprised to learn that we had more than 1,200 species across the country. I ventured out a bit, driving around Bannerghatta National Park and Hesarghatta Lake. Photographing birds isn’t as easy as one would think. They are flighty and fickle. I captured several images of “bird-less” perches and returned home with “bird-less” memory cards as well.

I was 56 years old and time was not on my side. I began to list out important birding areas in the country. This way, I could focus on numbers- my goal being to reach 500 birds before my health deteriorated. I chose birding locations that were easily accessible by car. Gujarat and Uttarakhand had large bird counts and winters were ideal for birding.

I decided to travel to the Great Rann of Kutch during November 2012. I didn’t want any delay seeing and photographing birds. I needed the right gear and I purchased a Canon 1D mark14 with a 500 mm f4 lens. A friend of mine drove me to Kutch, making it an easier trip for me. We chose a Homestay run by a famous conservationist and bird guide, Sri. Jugal Tiwari. All the rooms were named for beautiful local birds, which was very inspiring. I chose the Grey Hypocolius room just because the name sounded exotic. Most special was the fact that each room had books by the bedside,
mine had two about the world-famous birder, Phoebe Snetsinger.

Phoebe had seen and documented the unbelievable count of 8,400 birds around the
world.  She held a record at that point in time, for having seen the maximum number of birds in the world. There are approximately 10,500 bird species across the globe. It was difficult to imagine that such a huge number of species of birds even existed!

Continue reading

Western Water & First User Advantage

The Southwest’s protracted drought has put a strain on an already arid environment. Photograph by Wild Horizon via Getty

Our thanks to Rachel Monroe:

How Native Americans Will Shape the Future of Water in the West

Tribal nations hold the rights to significant portions of the Colorado River. In the increasing drought, some are showing the way to sustainability.

As a child, Stephen Lewis heard stories about a river that, for the most part, no longer flowed. “How I grew up was that it was a theft, that it was stolen from us,” he told me late last year. “There was what we used to call the Mighty Gila River, and now it was just pretty much dry. There was no water.” Continue reading

Stories from the Field: Kazaranga National Park, Assam

My childhood friend Sathya thrust his 1D Mark4 camera and 300 mm f4 camera lens in my hand and asked me to step out and spend more time outside my apartment. He was a medical professional. It was July 2012, and his idea was to fill me with quality air and to wrap more sun on my skin. He wanted me to travel more often and photograph birds.  It was 6 months after a week long trip at Kaziranga National Park, which had been my first taste of wildlife. I can still smell the freshness of it all.
Kaziranga is magical.

We stayed at the Wild Grass Lodge amidst the intimidating presence of huge lenses and heavy gear.
The dining hall was filled with Masai Mara and other jungle lores.
I was drawn into my fellow travel mates’ conversations on birds and elephant behaviour.
Animal psychology was a nonexistent subject for me till then. I always marveled at the life of plants & trees. The reasons and roles of their existence and their beauty.
During this trip, I was introduced into the role of fauna into the sustenance of forests and their mutual social struggles; Their mastery of leveraging each others resources, framed by unwritten cooperative laws. Their companionship in fighting extinction. Survival makes strange bedfellows among flora and fauna – from the megafauna to the smallest ant and flying insect.

Continue reading

Stories from the Field: Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh







I now realize that when I posted about my experience at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, I had gotten ahead of myself, because the germ of that visit began at Namdapha National Park.  Namdapha…the name flirts and rolls around to fill your mouth, just as trekking there fills your senses.

I first met with Shashank Dalvi in March 2015 when he had organised a trek to Namdapha. After my initial foray into Kutch, I traveled every month of the year and covered the Central Himalayas extensively. I badly wanted to photograph the colourful birds of the North East and grow my list to 1000 birds of India. I had covered most parts of India by the time I was ready to travel to Namdapha.

I was seeking solitude and needed to take life at an easy pace during 2015. All the travel around the rest of India was done at a frenetic pace. Namdapha was that perfect place to bird at a gentle pace and that solitude came from the serene and silent forest. A perfect place to be lost inside a forest that totally separates you from rest of the world.

I had heard from every corner about Shashank Dalvi and especially about his work in Doyang, Nagaland. He and his team had put a stop to the annual culling of Amur Falcon’s in Nagaland, especially in Doyang.

We had heard rumors of large-scale bird hunting around the Doyang Reservoir in Nagaland some time ago. In September 2012, Bano Haralu, Ramki Sreenivasan, Rokohebi Kuotsu and I decided to investigate. What we saw shocked us – a massacre of thousands of Amur Falcons. Roko and I spent the next couple of days filming the slaughter and interacting with the hunters to understand the extent and nature of the hunt. It remains the most difficult and emotionally harrowing experience of my career.

Since then, I always wanted to bird alongside this man and learn his skill and patience. When you are in love with all creatures around you and understand their roles and impact on universal relationships you become patient in your role towards contributing toward their conservation.

I became a bit more patient. 7 days in Namdapha and surroundings gave ample time to listen about snakes, and behaviour of many mammals. 

Namdapha is declared a Project Tiger Reserve. It is also known as the land of four big cats. The only place on earth to host them all in one forest. This is also the place for rare mammal like the Takin, Musk Deer and the veryrare Slow Loris. The fragrant Agarwood is also found here. With an area of 2000 square kilometers, Namdapha is the largest virgin forests of India. Continue reading

Stories from the Field: Eaglenest, Arunachal Pradesh

With Gaurav Kataria

When Gaurav Kataria, a birder and tour operator, invited me to go along with him to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary during March of 2015, I had loads of apprehension about the weather, terrain and the proximity to medical assistance. Earlier, before my trip to Namdhapha it was Gaurav who counseled me on similar fears and he egged me on: Namdhapha, a lowland rainforest with “empty forest syndrome” calls out to only a handful who are fortunate to appreciate it, continuing that having managed that, Eaglenest would be a cakewalk for me. In the presence of intense birders, tough itineraries become a joyous holiday. Eaglenest and Bompu camp were no exception. As the jeep, loaded with breakfast and lunch, followed us at intervals, I never felt the need to hop onto it. We would walk with our gear on the shoulders for 6 to 8 hours each invigorating day.

The virgin forests of Mandala, Eaglenest and the trek between Bompu Camp to Haathi Naala and Lower Kellong threw up surprises at each bend. The change in habitat and seeing different flocks or individuals after every 500 meters is a photographer/birder’s delight.

We had Phurpa Arteju as our guide. This kid was a big surprise. He could identify dozen birds in a mixed flock by their calls alone.
Trekking with him we heard and saw 220 species and photographed around 75 species.

The moment you cross into Arunachal Pradesh the change in air quality and visuals is palpable. Cross Balukpong and the festival begins. We were welcomed by the Rufous woodpecker amongst the bamboos and 500 meters later we were wondering which bird to focus on. My jaw just dropped looking at the activity of the hunting flocks.

Mandala is a constant surprise and the birds were quite comfortable in our presence. At Eaglenest, the Bugun gave us the slip. 6 trips later, it showed up as the “Year Bird” in 2018.  That time my companions and I had to leave the pair of Bugun Liochicla after watching it to our hearts content.

Bompu Camp is a visual delight. The stay and food are both excellent.
It was here I met Marmot Snetsinger, daughter of Phoebe Snetsinger, my idol, the record holder for seeing the highest number of birds. That meeting was more precious than the sighting of the rare Chestnut Breasted Partridge. The moment Marmot slung Phoebe’s binoculars around my neck, patted my back and asked me to go watch birds was the most magical moment in my bird photography life.

Continue reading

It’s Not About the Birds…

Maguri Beel, Assam – photo credit: Gururaj Moorching

The title of this post are the opening words to photographer Gururaj Moorching’s  website, where he expresses his love of India, and passion for the nature and culture within her boarders.

Gururaj and I have never met – not even when I lived in India – but we’ve known each other for over 6 years through his photographs.  Coincidentally, almost exactly 4 years ago I wrote about his Birding “Big Year” on this site, acknowledging that through his  photos we’ve been chronicling and sharing his adventures with our readers.

This current post is an introduction to a “Stories from the Field” series that will more directly share his birding experiences.

Stay tuned!