Bird Understander, by Craig Arnold


Of many reasons I love you here is one


the way you write me from the gate at the airport

so I can tell you everything will be alright


so you can tell me there is a bird

trapped in the terminal all the people

ignoring it because they do not know

what do with it except to leave it alone

until it scares itself to death


it makes you terribly terribly sad


You wish you could take the bird outside

and set it free or (failing that)

call a bird-understander

to come help the bird


All you can do is notice the bird

and feel for the bird and write

to tell me how language feels

impossibly useless


but you are wrong


You are a bird-understander

better than I could ever be

who make so many noises

and call them song


These are your own words

your way of noticing

and saying plainly

of not turning away

from hurt


you have offered them

to me I am only

giving them back


if only I could show you

how very useless

they are not

– Craig Arnold

Sweat bees, syrphid flies, drought, and humidity

All in a summer’s field work! This field season has been very rough because of epic drought coupled with record heat and humidity, which led to plagues of sweat bees (especially the tiny subgenus Dialictus) and hordes of syrphid flies of nightmare proportions, all of which adore sweaty, sweaty field biologists. I’ve never been particularly fond of the Lasioglossum sweat bees, because they are nearly impossible to identify to species in many cases, but this summer has definitely not engendered any great love in me for them.

Lasioglossum sweat bee
This is actually a male, and males can’t sting, but STILL

The worst thing about the sweat bees is that they want something you have, but then they sting you if you move the wrong way or your clothing brushes up against them, or you don’t know they are there and bend your elbow or knee. I’ve been stung countless times…some days I’m covered by more than 20 bees in any given moment. Their stings are not particularly painful, but it’s like electroshock therapy…it teaches you to be hyper paranoid about the way you move at all times. Which is just a high stress way to do field work.

Syrphid fly, Toxomerus politus
Small awful syrphid fly (Toxomerus politus)

And don’t get me started on those dang syrphids. I’ve always felt kind of neutral toward them…there is some evidence that they act as pollinators, but they’re not nearly as handsome as bees, and the “rat tailed maggots” of Eristalis tenax (a common invasive species in North America) can cause myiasis (which I will leave it to you to google). The species Toxomerus politus feeds on corn pollen and has become a plague at my research plots (which border on agricultural fields, mostly corn). I’ve killed as many as six in a single swat, and they cover me and the field vehicle in a moving, twitching, licking carpet.

They’re harmless, but in great numbers, they’re kind of horrifying, you know? One day, I was out in the field for hours and they were so bad I almost lost it. They were crawling inside my glasses, all over my arms and legs, in my nose and ears…and I couldn’t swat myself constantly because I needed my hands to tie tiny little pollen bags around flowerheads to prevent my invasive species from dispersing its seeds. Ugh!

Anyway, my field experiment is coming down next week, and as much as I’ve hated the sweat bee and syrphid fly plagues of this summer, I’ll be sad to see it end. Still, I think when people say they are “so jealous” that I get to work outside, they’re not aware of what it is like to be covered in crawling, stinging and licking insects when it’s over 100F (38C) and 95% humidity!


This is a cleptoparasitic bee in the genus Triepeolus…I found her sitting on a pollen bag early one morning. It was a cool, wet morning, and I think she was just trying to dry off. But she was posed so beautifully…
These bees have white “appressed” hairs rather than pigments in their cuticle.
I think they are beautiful bees, even though their purpose is a little sinister.

(More) Simple bee, bird, and flower drawings

My post on simple bee and flower drawings is one of my most visited (and the images are the most downloaded), so here are some more line drawings! I actually drew these for a figure for a grant, but you are welcome to download and use them if you like.


Honeysuckle (Lonicera)


Bumblebee (Bombus)




Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)


Serviceberry (Amelanchier)


White throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)


Enter a caption (Bombycilla cedorum)


Grey catbird (Dumatella carolinensis)


Robin (Turdus migratorius)


Long horned bee (Melissodes)


Small sweat bee (Lasioglossum)


Honeybee (Apis mellifera)






Links to share

Colors in nature!

Why do sunflowers turn with the sun?

I’ve always thought this about fax machines:

Yes! Let’s make observing insects fun for everyone! Why not?🙂

Mound building spiders?! Yes, please:

Yay kakapos!

How caddisflies build their cases:

Sparkly butt spiders! (again no blue pigment, just structural coloration)

Luna moths use sound waves to camouflage themselves!


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