Backyard birding

I needed a break today, an easy one, so I thought I’d write a post about what is going on in our backyard. Amazing stuff!

_1190424Premise no. 1: Stefano and I love watching and photographing birds…all types of birds…puffins in particular, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog for at least a year. That said, we still aren’t very good at identifying bird species and often need to resort to friends and/or our birdwathing manual, but at least now, after years of birding, we don’t just say: “Hey, did you see that BIRD fly into the yard just now?” but rather, “Hey, did you see that blue tit over there?”

Premise no. 2: we have been trying for years to attract birds into our back yard. With absolutely zero success.

And we don’t kid around, either: every time we go to the U.S., we go to the (famous) Bird Watchers’ General Store in Orleans MA, and return to Florence “armed” with new bird feeders that we naively believe will attract even the most diffident birds. Hah. Forget it. Not even once. One time we even bought some special U.S. bird seed that was guaranteed to attract all sorts of birds from miles around. Didn’t work, either.

The simple and unfortunate fact is that birds in our neighborhood, like most Italian birds, are not used to being fed. Feeding birds is simply not an Italian hobby, generally speaking, although one of my closest friends has been feeding generations of robins with bread, cake, and cookie crumbs that she simply tosses onto a ledge outside her kitchen window. The robins are so tame by now that all she has to do is open the window and whistle, and they come flying down to the ledge. For years, I was soooo jealous of her robins._1190437

I also have an Italian friend who is an expert birder. He has proper feeders at his house, which is out in the country, and is always telling us about all the birds he’s been feeding.

But the thing is, I’ve never seen a proper bird feeder in anyone’s garden over here. The only place where I’ve seen birds being seriously fed is at the bird reserve just outside of Florence, the place where Stefano and I have taken all our photos of the black-winged stilts.

It’s really too bad, since we have fantastic birds over here…Italians should really pay more attention to their, er, birds…

Anyway, this winter everything changed. We had a rather prolonged and unusual cold (i.e., below freezing) spell here in Florence in January, and the various birding organizations made urgent appeals to feed the starving, frozen wild birds. We wanted to help, of course. But how?

Well, one day, back in January, I noticed a couple of birds (to be exact a yellow wagtail and a black redstart) hopping around on our kitchen terrace, looking unhappy and pecking around at…nothing. I grabbed a slice of panettone (a typical Italian Xmas cake, with raisins and whatnot) and took it outside. Almost the second I’d gotten back indoors, the birds were on top of the panettone, gorging themselves.


And so my daily bird feeding routine began. I asked for and received panettone presents from our friends, and in fact, thanks to them, I still have some, and it’s March!!!

But I was worried about Romeo (see my Feb 19 post), the outside cat who sleeps in a shelter on our terrace. I decided to move the panettone, which I’d by then put inside containers so it wouldn’t get dirty, off the terrace and over to a safer spot in our backyard.  One of our heretofore unused bird feeders, built for us by our birdwatcher friend in fact, is stuck on top of a tall post and is shaped like a little house. Its little roof, as you may be able to see in the photos, protects seeds and panettone from rain and even wind. For years its only inhabitants had been spiders. I decided that it was time to train the birds to use the little house, which, by the way, is open on all sides. _1180812

It didn’t take long for the birds to figure out that their panettone had moved to the bottom of the garden. I ordered some wild bird seed from Germany and added that to the mix, too.

So we finally have birds now…right in our back yard. And our binoculars are finally being used at least five or six times a day, more on weekends. The birds are still a bit camera-shy, so Stefano and I are thinking of setting up some sort of hide on the terrace when the weather gets warmer…

And I already have a plan for when we run out of panettone: I will buy some “colomba,” a typical Italian Easter cake shaped like a dove. It’s very similar to panettone, in my view, so the birds should love it. Right after Easter, I’m going to be buying as many “colombe” as possible during the two/three-for-one sales. Anything to make our birds happy…and to keep them coming to our yard.

The first two photos show our bird house and one of the robins. In the first photo, which I took through the dining room window (so it’s not very clear), he’s got some panettone in his beak. I tried to get a better shot, so I quietly went outside and stood very still for about a half hour, but the robin was still very wary and stayed on the fence to the right. The third photo shows one of my favorites, a very smart little bird, the black redstart, staring straight at me. Again, photo taken through the window…not very clear.

Here’s a list of the birds that have been eating in our bird house, thus far (the ones I’ve seen and been able to identify, anyway):

  • European robin
  • Black redstart
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Dunnock
  • Eurasian blue tit
  • Great tit
  • Eurasian blackcap (I think)
  • Common blackbird
  • Sardinian warbler (seen on March 30)

P.S. Do you have any birding tips for me? 🙂

Cancer cells may prefer fats to sugar

I just read a fascinating new study about cancer cells slurping up lipids rather than glucose, as has been thought for a long time. I’m in a bit of a hurry now, but I thought I’d go ahead and publish the link:

By the way, please have a look at the comment that Charlotte left on my previous post, the one about the negative curcumin review. Dr. Michal Heger, University of Amsterdam, wrote a strong rebuttal to the review (Charlotte provides the link), and, interestingly, he had one of the same objections that I had, namely, that the review authors hadn’t looked at (or worse, had ignored) PubMed curcumin clinical trial results, where they would have found evidence negating their theory…

There you go. Thank you, Dr. Heger!

“The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin”

No, I haven’t finished reading what I have called the negative review on curcumin, but I already have some preliminary comments, which I thought I’d go ahead and publish today. Here’s the link to the abstract, by the way:

First impression: this review seems to prove that if you have a thesis, any kind of thesis on any kind of subject, you can look around and always find something to support it. If I wanted to prove that tinsel grows on trees, I’m sure I’d be able to find something online to prove that. Okay, okay, you’re probably right: my example is a bit too wacky. But I’m sure you see what I mean…

Seriously now: what if I told you only good things about curcumin and never touched on the potentially negative stuff? Not that there are many, as it happens, but, for example, what would you think of me if I didn’t warn you about the dangers of having gall bladder issues while taking curcumin? What if I didn’t tell you that you might experience some diarrhea, at least in the beginning?

Well, duh, I would never do that…

I mean, I’m not just some random person writing about curcumin. I actually take curcumin, every day, and at what is considered to be a high dose. I want to keep my smoldering myeloma stable for as long as possible. Oh, by the way, I should mention that I’ve been taking it for the past 11 years (January 2017 marked the start of my 11th curcumin-taking year), which I say is cause for celebration…  😎

Anyway, getting back to the point, I think it goes without saying that I don’t want to be taking anything that might harm me or cause my myeloma markers to worsen. How dumb would that be?

And I wouldn’t want anyone else to be taking something harmful, either. Duh.

And that is precisely why I will always read and comment and post about any negative information about curcumin. And so we get to the review that I mentioned in my January 12th post.

Ah, this review isn’t simple at all…lots of technical jargon…unraveling it could take a while. But, as I mentioned before, here are a few of my first impressions…comments…Ready? Let’s dive right in:

The researchers state the following, both in the abstract and in the body of their review: “The likely false activity of curcumin in vitro and in vivo has resulted in >120 clinical trials of curcuminoids against several diseases. No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful.”


My reactions can be boiled down to the following, for now at least:

  • What do those researchers consider to be a “successful” trial?
  • Do they realize that curcumin isn’t a drug and therefore does not and cannot behave like a drug?
  • Did they check every single double-blinded etc. clinical trial?

I cannot answer the first two questions yet (as I said, I haven’t gone through the entire review), but I can answer the third one. Surprisingly, the review authors chose to discuss only FOUR curcumin clinical trials. But it isn’t just that: they essentially admit that it would be pointless for them to examine the results of ALL the curcumin trials…for the purposes of their review, that is. And so they chose four “archetypical” curcumin trials that support their thesis…their thesis, that is, that curcumin is useless, therapeutically speaking.

I found that astounding.

I mean, how would you react if I declared the following, for example:

  • Premise: I have 135 neighbors (135 = same number of curcumin trials).
  • Thesis: all my neighbors have dogs.
  • Proof: I leaned out of my study window one day and saw 4 of my neighbors (4 = same number of clinical trials checked in the review) walking their dogs.
  • Conclusion: all my neighbors have dogs.

Of course, you’d say that’s ridiculous. And you would be right.

You can’t just consider the specific trials that support your theory.

This means that if you are making sweeping statements about curcumin, it is indeed NOT “beyond the scope” of your work to look at ALL the trials that have results. But that is what  seems to have occurred here.

Note: the review authors tell us that they chose these trials because the data is available on the website. Um, I’d like to point out that there are curcumin clinical trial results in PubMed, too…

Let’s look at their first choice, which I thought was quite interesting for a variety of reasons, as we will see:

The goal of a recent University of Rochester study testing curcumin on breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy was to reduce radiation-caused dermatitis. Its results, the review authors say, are “inconclusive.”

I looked up the results on the clinical trial website (as far as I know, and as far as the review authors know, the results have not been published anywhere else yet), and yes, true, there was not much difference between the Mean Radiation Dermatitis Severity Scores of the two groups: 2.02 in the curcumin group, 1.99 in the placebo group.

However, I didn’t stop there.

I found a previous University of Rochester clinical trial, in which curcumin was tested on a group of breast cancer patients. Same group of researchers, same center (University of Rochester), same everything, including dosage, except that in this trial, there were only 30 women, compared to 686 women in the second trial.

The results of the smaller clinical trial led the University of Rochester researchers to state the following:

In conclusion, oral curcumin, 6.0 g daily during radiotherapy, reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients.” And, quoting from the full study: “Overall, although curcumin did not completely prevent radiation dermatitis in this trial, the reduction in moist desquamation is clinically significant and suggests improved quality of life during RT.”

You can read the abstract and download the full study (for free) here:

Now, in order to understand why there were such different results between the two trials, we will just have to wait for the full study to be published…Pointless to speculate about results without having access to all the information, right?

Note: the review authors chose not to mention the earlier, smaller trial, even though it had results (in fact, very good results), and even though it was carried out at the same center…and, let me add, even though the full study was published online…and for free, as we have seen.

Well, I suppose it’s clear at this point that I didn’t just look at the clinical trials website. I also checked out PubMed where I found a number of curcumin clinical trials whose results are “successful,” at least in my opinion. And that includes the Australian curcumin trials, which concern us, in particular…

But it’s time for lunch now, and then I have stuff to do, so I have to leave it at that, for today. Ciao!!! 🙂