Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Magnificent Flying Machines

Robotic technology has been a job killer in recent years, and a recent article suggests that our species may not be the only one put out of work. It reports on Japanese researchers who managed to pollinate lilies using small drones decked out in horsehair covered with a sticky gel that carries the pollen. Operating the $100 drone requires “a certain amount of practice with remote control”. The inventors concede that pollinating drones are not expected to replace bees altogether, only to help them.

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

A number of articles tell of a different sort of aerial approach already at work in the grape fields of our Pacific coast. Falconers train their raptors to protect the Dionysian fruit from wild birds. For those concerned about animal welfare--- and I most certainly count myself among their ranks--- the falcons are trained to intimidate, not injure, and the falcons themselves are required to be captive-bred, not captured from the wild. As for efficiency, one falconer advises that “for projects larger than 1,000 acres, you’ll probably have to add a second falcon.”

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I think I may have benefitted from a natural version of this approach. The woods adjoining my land are well populated by hawks, and though their noisy cries are not the most appealing, their aerial patrols keep the squirrels and smaller birds wary of the relatively open areas. Often as not, the birds and the bushy-tailed rats seem to pass up my fruit. Unfortunately there aren’t any fowl nasty enough to discourage the ring-tailed forest demons from their nighttime raids.

Between drones and trained falcons, my regular readers will easily guess which of the two I’m more enthusiastic about. I’m the first to admit that I’ve benefitted greatly from clever man-made tools both old and new--- indeed like many of us, I likely would not have lived as long nor nearly as comfortable a life without them. But how much better it is, in the long run, when we can use what nature provides, and just steer her natural course a bit to our benefit.

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