Nancy Rowe, landscape guardian

If you spray the cypresses in the Rice University Quad for mealy bugs, all the little baby house finches nesting in them will die. If you don’t spray them, they will be buggy and brown at graduation, held right in that same quad. What will the donors think? Nancy Rowe had the solution. Spray them with something gentle, in this case a garlic solution. It worked, and we got to see the house finches fledge, and the Italian cypresses stayed green for graduation.

That was back in 1996, and one of the students watching the finches for the class I taught, a lab in animal behavior, is now a professor at University of Georgia. Vanessa Ezenwa discovered there was a chick from the previous year hanging around with its presumed parents at the nest in the quad. We couldn’t find any report of that in the literature, but why else would a yearling be around an adult pair? It was something new and maybe it helped inspire Vanessa to a career in biology. I’m glad she didn’t have to find her chicks dead on the ground.

One of the joys of being back in Houston, at Rice University is seeing people who make a difference, year in, year out, over the decades. I can think of no better example of that than Nancy Rowe. Her title is something like grounds specialist. I would give her the title of Keeper of the Sprit of the place called Rice University. Presidents come and go. Students wave in and out every four or so years. Buildings get built. Buildings get demolished. But who keeps track of the natural life around all this? It is Nancy. She knows the plants, the animals, and what is going on.

Therefore, it was no surprise that she spotted us doing some early morning checks on the migration at a glorious oak right by the new swimming pool. It was 30 September, a wonderful Friday with a touch of cool in the air. We checked it out with Cin-Ty Lee, and several students, and saw Wilson’s warblers, Tennessee warblers, yellow warblers, Nashville warblers, and an orange-crowned warbler.

You try it. Go back to that wonderful urban campus. Take the time to check out the more natural corners, and before you know it, up will come Nancy, full of information, and love of the place.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Birds, Environment, Houston, Rice University and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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