Siberia, Russia In Summer
Brrr! Blizzards remind us of Siberia, leaving our predisposed notion of what freezer-frigid places are like and the two words, blizzard and Siberia, cuddled up well together.
It is hard to conceptualize Siberia with almost the opposite but in Asian Russia summer is more likely a chemistry of humidity from downpours, the thermometer entertaining over thirty Celsius, and the occasional temporary flooding everywhere. What would be the agenda in Ulan Ude, Siberia, the first major pit-stop northwest into Russia from Mongolia, on such a day? Never mind the mandatory umbrella and puddle jumping. Permeating the air is the smell of ageing architecture saturated with moisture overload and fireplaces burning to take away the dampness, setting the stage for an architectural tour. So don the best cover you have (not from the cold but from the wet) and enter the world of century old crumbling facades, reflections and water-intensified colours. You will remain primarily unnoticed, meandering the back streets capturing moments in time, all of the locals are just trying to keep dry.
Swainson’s (Hawks) Southern Sojourn
It is time to head south. You can feel it in the air.
If you were a Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainson) you would be flexing your wings a little more than just for the jaunt around the prairie parklands every day seeking out grasshoppers and crickets, supplemented by ground squirrels and snakes during nesting season. These latter delectable delights are brought back to the nestlings for a special treat thus tying hawk nest selection to the availability of small mammals. You would have spent the spring and summer hunting primarily from a perch. You were the feathered one on the fence posts keeping watch over a territorial patch, waiting to pounce on, or swoop for, that sizeable but succulent dragonfly specimen. Sometimes you can be confused with another well-known buteo (that’s the entire group of broad-winged hawks) competing for similar nesting habitat, the Red-Tailed Hawk. They tend to wait for their prey on higher locations, Red-Tails prefer telephone poles more likely than fence posts.
Swainson’s Hawks are the longest migrants of any North American raptor (about 22,000 km over two months) and the ones keeping watch over the north American prairies will be heading out for the pampas of Argentina until the last leaves in October. Each clear day with a wind in the right direction of travel these birds gain altitude soaring in circles on a rising thermal. They can be seen in groups and by the time they reach the Isthmus of Panamá everyone reacquaints for a hawk party. Not really, but you get the picture, concentrations of Swainson’s Hawks making their way through the narrowest of passageways on to South America.
The final chapter to this story was almost written in the 1970’s when scientists realized the sharp population decline in these magnificent birds was directly related to use of the insecticide DDT by Argentine farmers. Luckily, thanks to better agricultural practices today, we can enjoy their presence in the fall migrating skies.
Hong Kong Kids
Parks disquieted, swings standing limp, sandboxes devoid of cheer, pools left reflecting. It is the first week of September and northern hemisphere children head back to school.
Gone are the blithe days of summer when mindless games were played at the park, making new friends, evading parents. With endless summer drawing nigh, disinclined children, and a few excited ones, face the studious educative cycle sprinkled with intermittent play.
Around the world children and water magnetize, and in Hong Kong, the familiar combination can be found at Kowloon Park, central Tsim Sha Shui, whether or not school is in. Although the park boasts a swimming pool it is the undisturbed pools that beg interruption, where children make up their own games releasing the naivety and wonder that make adults jealous.
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