Journal archives for July 2021

July 03, 2021

Personal history behind my malacology and nature study

I was born in 1948. I grew up 12 miles southeast of the center of London, England, in North Kent, where the suburbs ended and the countryside began. Each summer for two weeks my immediate family vacationed in Bideford, North Devon, where my mother was from and where my grandmother, and a vast number of other relatives lived. Devon was where I really got interested in shells, although I also studied all other aspects of nature back in Kent. I collected a lot of shells, but my mother threw away some of my boxes of shells over the years.

When I was 19, I was living in Cambridge, England, and I got married to a PhD student in Organic Chemistry. We both moved to La Jolla in Southern California, where he had been awarded a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Salk Institute. In California I got a lot deeper into shells, and started writing papers about them. My first husband helped me learn more about fossils, and about how to research and write the papers we co-authored. In return I taught him a lot about shells.

After 14 months in California, I went back to Cambridge, England for 5 years, working in the Histology Department of the Physiology Lab of Cambridge University. I got a divorce. I was then invited to move back to the US with an 18th century British historian, who had been given a tenure-track position at Yale University.

After four years at Yale, we moved to Harvard University, where my then spouse had been given a full professorship, the second youngest person ever to attain that. I went to work in the Malacology section of the Louis Agassiz Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. After a couple more years, we split up. I moved briefly to Ithaca, and then to New York City, where I lived at several different addresses downtown.

In 1988, I started a live-in relationship with Ed Subitzky, a cartoonist and humor writers who had a day job in advertising. We soon started vacationing in the Caribbean. For about five years of visits we went to Mustique, Grenadines, and then, after that, we started going to Nevis, Leeward Islands. In the spring of 2000, after Hurricane Lenny had struck in November 1999, I discovered that Nevis had developed a small but very rich shell beach, and because of that I really got into Caribbean seashells in a major way. Over the following years we gradually started staying longer on Nevis, eventually for as long as four weeks on each visit. As well as visiting Nevis's sister island, St. Kitts, whenever I was on Nevis for a public holiday, I was able to take a day trip via at the Sea Hustler ferryboat, either to Montserrat or St. Eustatius, where I would search for shells. And, partly as a result of all that research, in 2015 I was able to take part in a Dutch scientific marine biological expedition to St. Eustatius.

For several years, starting in 1999, I volunteered in the Malacology section of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, and when Malacology unfortunately shut up shop, I started volunteering in Invertebrate Paleontology.

Starting in the summer of 2007, for seven years I did a great deal of work on Wikipedia as "Invertzoo". Jimmy Wales knew me, and referred to me as "the Snail Lady".

In 2014, I shifted the online aspect of my volunteer work over to iNaturalist, and, as time went by, I was delighted to meet and become friends with some really great local naturalists and biologists here in NYC.

On this webpage you can find a complete list of my science-oriented publications; they are mainly malacological, but a few are more generally nature-related including one on moths:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Invertzoo/Publications

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Posted on July 03, 2021 14:48 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 02, 2021

Which birds visit my new NYC bird feeder?

I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the back of a 12-story building on the third floor. A few months ago I bought a small plexiglass bird feeder which has suction cups that hold it onto the outside of your window. I also bought some fairly fancy bird seed.

I installed the feeder close to where I sit at the computer, near the window. At first no birds came at all, I think because the weather was still not warm then, and there were very few birds in the backyard.

Then when the weather warmed up, birds started to come, but our cat would sit nearby and try repeatedly to pounce on them by trying to hurl herself through the glass of the living room window.

But then, sadly, we had to have our cat put down, because she was diagnosed with extreme chronic Kidney Failure. We miss her a lot because we loved her, but the cat being gone has made the birds' life considerably easier.

Since then, I have seen a lot more birds at the feeder. Having to take photos through the window glass and then through the plexiglass (sometimes two layers) does not give crisp image results, but the photos are better than nothing. I sometimes take bird photos morning and evening, but as yet I can't tell which individual birds are "repeats".

Here is a list of the species of birds that I have seen on the feeder so far. I will add others as I (hopefully) see more species:

Mourning Doves -- lots of them, and they sure eat a lot.
House Finches -- lots and lots of them, especially the females, but also the occasional very pretty male.
House Sparrows -- very few so far, surprisingly.
Cardinal -- Three males so far, just amazing when seen close-up. I did not get a photo of the second one. And on July 21st I got a photo of the female cardinal.
American Robin -- three so far, didn't get a photo in the feeder yet, but one on the tree near the feeder.
Black-capped Chickadee -- one so far (July 7th at 3:23 pm).

No Pigeons at at all as yet, and no Blue Jays either.

Our backyard has no garden in it, it's all concrete, but there is a big Ailanthus tree and a bit further east a White Mulberry, which is currently in fruit. The next yard over to the west has a lot of very tall bamboo, and the yards beyond that have several Ailanthus trees and a large-leafed Elm tree, also there is a young Princess Tree.

Posted on July 02, 2021 21:18 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 20 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment