30 December 2011

Waxwing in the Tree

Twice, I've blogged about cedar waxwings, so my affinity for them is no secret. However, I usually see them much more in the summer because their search for fruits and berries leads them far and wide in the winter.

This year, my mom got me a waxwing for the Christmas tree. The ornament doesn't flutter from its perch to pursue flying insects or give off the distinctive trilling whistle of a waxwing, but it's a nice holiday companion nonetheless--one of my favorite birds decorating the season.

26 December 2011

Bird Brains

For a while, people have known that certain types of birds, especially crows and parrots, are pretty smart. As The New York Times reports, we now know that pigeons can learn abstract rules about numbers.

Just a few weeks ago, I blogged that calling someone a rat could no longer be an insult. Now, it appears birdbrain is also out as a slam.

I think the new things we find out about animals and their capacity for intelligence and feeling reveal how our own knowledge is a work in progress.

21 December 2011

Appy Holidays

Just in time for the holidays, the National Wildlife Federation has released three new apps for kids. They are all nature-related of course, and they feature Ranger Rick and his friends.

Two of the apps are for either the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The third app is for just the iPad. One of them is for ages 2-5 while the other two are for ages 7 and up.

For more information, click here.

13 December 2011

That Hums

Yesterday, I came across a great video clip on hummingbirds. It is a promotional piece for a 2010 episode of PBS's Nature.

The images are stunning and enlightening, but what I really like is how the filmmaker talks about seeing into the birds' world and getting another look at an animal we thought we knew. Both of these ideas are important to developing our understanding of nature because we should always be prepared to learn from the natural world.

It's great that technology is allowing us to see more and more of nature. Check some out in the video below:

11 December 2011

Spread Those Wings

I've blogged before about BirdSleuth, which the Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses to provide teachers with curriculum for citizen science projects.

The program is continuing to expand. As this story describes, a classroom of students from Oregon and a classroom of students from Florida used BirdSleuth to conduct a peer-reviewed bird-watching project. Such collaborations are beginning to rise up across the country, and the goal is now to facilitate similar interactions on an international level.

Considering bird migrations don't pay much attention to state or international boundaries, this is a great way to track birds throughout their range and get children around the world engaged in science. It's also cool because the birds are helping bring people together.

If you are a teacher, this is an exciting time to consider getting involved with BirdSleuth.

09 December 2011

Rats!

When a person calls another person a rat, it's not a good thing, but maybe it should be.

In a very interesting study reported by DiscoveryNews, rats were observed helping free other rats from imprisonment often even when presented with the alternative of eating a whole pile of chocolate chips.

The scientists conducting the study say the actions show that rats are empathetic. According to the conclusions, the results of the study indicate that empathy is a biologically rooted trait likely to exist in many species. This is interesting, especially considering how people used to think that humans were the only species capable of such feelings.

I wonder what assumption about our superiority over other animals will fall next.

08 December 2011

He Who Has Stalled

The climate conference in Durban, South Africa, has not been going very well, and the United States may be a big reason why. In the last week, the message has circulated through the conference that the US is seeking to delay action until 2020.

Well, as The New York Times reports, the US delegation got an infusion of fresh blood today, when Abigail Borah, an American representative of the International Youth Climate Movement, interrupted a speech by the US special envoy at the conference, saying the envoy had forfeited his right to speak because the US delegation seemed to be delaying action. Before she was escorted out by police (of course), she called on the delegates to act now on global warming and earned an ovation for her efforts.

This may be the most positive action undertaken by an American at the climate talks in years.

Thanks, Abigail.

02 December 2011

Sharing Sadness

Important note: The video I am posting and blogging about tonight is very sad. However, in an effort to help the affected family and others like them and to try to work toward preventing anything like this from happening in the future, I want to share it.



The trap that killed Maggie the dog and the approach being taken to address animals we have identified as "problems" need to be reevaluated. They put us and those we love at risk, and they represent one of the ugliest ways we touch nature. I think letting the US Department of Agriculture know that it needs to rethink its operations is an important first step. By taking this approach to dealing with wildlife, the agency is creating the type of world that I don't like living in, one full of secrets, danger, fear, and senseless killing and absent of accountability and compassion.

For more information about the issue, click here.

01 December 2011

Lost Again

An interesting documentary focusing on an admirable effort is about to come out. Tomorrow, in New York City, Lost Birds will make its debut.

The film chronicles sculptor Todd McGrain's campaign (The Lost Bird Project) to place his sculptures of five extinct North American bird species near the place each species was last seen in the wild. McGrain says he made the sculptures to keep the birds, including the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the Labrador duck, the great auk, and the heath hen, from going extinct for a second time, this time from our memory. He thinks (and I agree) that remembering the birds' extinction is important to honoring those species and to how we approach our relationships with species that still exist today.

I hope the film's release widens to the rest of the country (and the world) soon. Be on the lookout for it. I'll try to post about it again if I hear more. Here is the trailer:

27 November 2011

Law of the Land

As the National Wildlife Federation reports, earlier this year, Bolivia granted legal rights to nature. This is a very interesting development, and it continues a conversation that is beginning to pick up steam.

I think it is important that we consider the possibility that nature has legal rights. First, it challenges our traditional views about our relationship with nature, and when we start to examine our views, we can develop them. Second, our consumption of resources is driven by the belief that they exist for our benefit, creating a way of life that often jeopardizes the well-being of the planet as well as ourselves; but seeing nature as having rights revolves around the idea of safeguarding the natural world's welfare, a focus that may also protect us.

It will be exciting if more people follow Bolivia's lead and pick up the discussion about nature's rights.

24 November 2011

Changing POV

Last week, the National Wildlife Federation provided some photography tips from a professional nature photographer.

I liked the tips about changing the perspective from which photographs are taken. Those tips are useful for producing good photographs as well as for seeing new things and getting new insights into nature.

Also, I found it interesting that the photographer characterized photography as telling a story. I'm going to try to keep that in mind when I'm photographing the environment. The first thing probably is deciding what story I want to tell. Once that is accomplished, turning photographs into stories becomes another great way to influence people's perspective on nature.

22 November 2011

Every Last Piece

As you may know from my June entry, I use body wash instead of bar soap, so while the following idea may seem basic, when I heard it, my eyes opened.

A family friend who got tired of trying to deal with the little pieces that remain of a soap bar near the end of its lifetime decided to buy a luffa with a soap pocket. That way, the entire bar of soap is used before a new one is needed.

I love the idea of getting the most out of every product. It saves money and resources.

18 November 2011

Here's to Charlie

In a piece of good news, Charlie, a red-tailed hawk who has been in the care of veterinarians at Washington State University since being injured in a collision with a car when he was three months old, has set the lifespan record for his species.

Although Charlie's story essentially begins with the car accident, it provides some great examples of positive human-nature interaction, including the veterinarians saving Charlie's life, his interaction with his longtime friend, falconer Erik Stauber, and his contributions to teaching people about the world of raptors.

The bonds Charlie has made with people have the potential to help transform the way we interact with nature. It's great to hear that he continues to have good health. Hopefully, he'll keep adding to his record and the number of human lives he touches.

Congratulations, Charlie.


13 November 2011

Wild About Organics

A new book is generating wild praise for its focus on how to eat organically. Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet--All on $5 a Day or Less takes on the assumption that eating organic foods brings extra expenses.

Written by Linda Watson, the book has been met with many positive reviews, which laud its ability to serve as both a cookbook and a shopping guide for those who would like to eat organically but don't want to spend too much doing it. It's great that the book combines concerns about the environment, human health, and frugality. Just one of these things would make it worth a look, but combining them all with a practical, how-to approach adds a little more to its value.

The book is available on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble. Watson also has a Web site called Cook for Good.


10 November 2011

There's a Reason Green's a Holiday Color

Green and red usually have quite a showing during the holidays, but green can always use a little more emphasis, so think about reducing your waste and energy use this year.

Reducing your impact this holiday season will probably require some changes, but those changes might just start a few new traditions. Some things to consider include the following: (1) give experience gifts such as tickets to concerts, plays, or movies; (2) make gifts for people; (3) instead of buying presents, make contributions to charities in the name of those people on your gift list; and (4) recycle as much as you can, including your Christmas tree if you get one.

For more ideas and information, click herehere, and here.

06 November 2011

Watch Out

Get ready. This year's Project FeederWatch, which the Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses to collect information on bird populations, begins November 12.

Project FeederWatch is just one of the citizen science opportunities provided by organizations like the Cornell Lab. It's a great way to do some bird-watching, contribute to science, and engage with nature during the winter. It can also get children started with observations of the natural world.

31 October 2011

Friend to Animals Retires from Baseball

Tony La Russa, who managed the St. Louis Cardinals for 16 years, including this year's amazing World Series run, has retired. In 33 years of managing, he also led the Oakland Athletics and the Chicago White Sox.

La Russa leaves with the third most wins of any manager in Major League Baseball history. I have been a fan of his teams for about 20 years, but my respect for his work in the game would not be as strong if it were not for his efforts on behalf of animals.

He co-founded the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), which is a no-kill shelter for dogs and cats. Recently, La Russa also supported a campaign to shut down puppy mills in Missouri.

Thank you, Mr. La Russa, for all the sports memories and especially for the work you do to protect animals.

29 October 2011

Of Cardinals and Squirrels

Three weeks ago, I blogged about my favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and their squirrelly experience in the playoffs.

Last night, less than 24 hours after completing a World Series Game 6 comeback that served as a microcosm for the team's season and provided an ultimate example of perseverance, the Cardinals prevailed in Game 7 to win their 11th world championship.

The victory capped an incomparable run to first get into and then progress through the playoffs. In two months of work that seemed more like play, the team created something special; and right in the middle of that special experience, you'll find a real-life squirrel, name Rally Squirrel by the St. Louis fans.

Even after the real squirrel was caught in a live trap and relocated to a wooded area away from the ballpark, St. Louis embraced it: Fans dressed up as squirrels, relief pitcher Octavio Dotel carried a toy squirrel with him, and a squirrel mascot was hired to accompany the Cardinals' usual mascot, Fredbird. Major League Baseball even created a commercial that tied the playoff theme "Legends are Born in October" to the squirrel's runs around the field.

Sports aren't always all they're cracked up to be, but I'll treasure the experiences the Cardinals and Rally Squirrel gave me this fall. It was something more than playing a game and winning. For just this once, it was the stuff of life.

What an autumn this has become.

22 October 2011

The Height of Fall

No season makes me happier than fall, and this fall has been an awfully fine one. This evening, it achieved perfection.

For the last two weeks, I have been enjoying the coolness in the air, the glowing reds, oranges, and yellows in the trees, and the occasional whiff of wood smoke on the wind. It's getting dark earlier, the rain is coming more often, and Halloween draws near. I love it all.

Today, I was feeling particularly fallish, so after I finished an important piece of work, which left me quite satisfied, I decided to go for a walk. The wind was blowing, but it wasn't nasty. In fact, it's been a pleasant wind all fall. It was great to look around and appreciate all the trees and plants showing off their autumnal attire.

I decided to walk up by a small stand of pine trees because I have always thought they looked perfect for a fall scene. On the outside edge of the stand, the limbs are green and full all the way to the ground, giving the place a closed-in feel, and on the inside, the limbs are dead and boney, so it's both dark and a little eerie. The floor of the small forest is carpeted with pine needles, which lend a slight touch of their perfume to the ambiance.

As I walked past, I suddenly decided to follow one of the trails inside. Concealed in the trees, I found fall everywhere. The forest stood on the edge of some grassland, which ended at a barbed-wire fence. The fence was old and the grass dry and blond. It was as if the forest were a keeper of fall. I stayed and soaked in the coziness.

While I looked out over the field, I heard something behind me. I turned my head and saw a great horned owl flapping its wings in a tree. Owls are silent fliers, so I was fortunate that the bird had hit a branch with its wing. Otherwise, I might never have had the experience that ensued. Slowly and quietly, I turned around to get a better look. On occasion it look right at me, but it seemed unconcerned about my presence. I watched it listen to every little sound and walk carefully along the limbs as if it were testing a tub of hot water with its toes. After some time, it flew to another tree, and a few minutes later, it hooted. That brought a smile. It listened some more, bobbed its head, and remained in that tree for a while longer. Then, it hooted again and flew to another tree farther way, giving me a chance to leave without driving it from the forest.

An owl hooting at night in a dimly lit stand of pines. Surely, that is fall in its most concentrated form.

Perfection is possible in certain moments. Those moments are a mixture of hope, decisions, and the right circumstances. When they happen and you let them touch you, you realize that you are experiencing something special--the pinnacle of life. I had one of those moments tonight. Other experiences may equal it by achieving perfection in their own right, but for what it is, nothing can ever improve or top my time in that grove of pines on this fall evening.

Note: The owl in this entry's picture is not the one I saw tonight.

19 October 2011

Black Day

Today's news from Ohio disgusts me. As a quick summary, law enforcement agents in Ohio have killed at least 25 48 exotic animals that were kept as pets and then released by their owner.

The event and the system that has allowed this to happen make me sick. I condemn those individuals who selfishly try to own animals that should be left wild; a legal system that has not bothered to check this selfishness; anyone who makes money by selling exotic species; the law enforcement agents for whom the use of lethal force seems to be becoming the first and only reaction to so many things; and the society's general lack of concern for animal welfare.

An unhealthy culture indeed.

08 October 2011

Life Partner

When I think about nature's impact on me, I realize it has given me quite a lot. What it has shared includes a piece of my life perspective, a place to find and compose myself, and, to some extent, my health.

These are not minor things, and they have helped lead me to where I am. Perhaps this is why I feel a partnership with nature and a need to give back to it.

The following video also talks about a partnership with nature and how the natural world has given us both resources and the inspiration to use them. Check it out:



I found the video on an entry from Round Robin, which is the blog of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

06 October 2011

Nature at the Park

I'm a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, so this fall has been pretty exciting. The team had a special run just to make the playoffs, and it's been a lot of fun to watch.

Then, on Tuesday, the Cardinals played Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. That's when things got really interesting: A squirrel ran on the field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and momentarily delayed the game.

Yesterday, a squirrel (perhaps the same one) ran across home plate right after a pitch, and an inning later, the Cardinals scored two runs to solidify a lead that gave them a win, letting them tie the series at two games apiece. Watch a video of yesterday's squirrelly events below:



The squirrel has been named Rally Squirrel by Cardinal fans, and it now has a Wikipedia page, two Facebook pages, and a Twitter account. Without doubt, this has been an interesting mixing of human and nature, and now, people seem to be speaking for the squirrel.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the World Series. That was pretty neat, but regardless of what happens for the rest of this season's playoffs, the September comeback by the team combined with the adventures of Rally Squirrel have really made 2011 memorable.

26 September 2011

Another Part of Reality

I thought I would single out one more piece of Al Gore's 24 Hours of Reality. This one looks at the efforts to question the science that studies global warming. Such efforts have eerie similarities to the campaign that sought to reassure the public that cigarettes pose no threat to human health.

 Watch:


DOUBT from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.

23 September 2011

Parts of Reality

As I already blogged about, Al Gore's 24 Hours of Reality took place last week. I don't expect you to consume all 24 hours of the coverage, but if you didn't get a chance to watch it a week ago, you can check out a few pieces below. And for more pieces of the coverage, click here.

Here is the introduction to the coverage. It is done by Bill Nye, aka the Science Guy, and offers a great overview of global warming:


CLIMATE 101 from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.


Also, here are the highlights from Hour 2, which featured a presentation from Boulder, Colorado, and a panel discussion that included Gore and actor Mark Ruffalo:




22 September 2011

Solar Decathlon

Tomorrow, the US Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon begins in Washington, DC.

The decathlon challenges college students to design and build energy-efficient homes that can be used right now. You can get more information about the event by clicking here, and you can watch a video about it below:

15 September 2011

Remember Big Moves

Two months ago, I talked about two big events planned for late September. Today, I am just posting a reminder that September 22 is World Carfree Day and September 24 is the day for Moving Planet.

If you can, make plans not to use a car for transportation on those days, and if you feel like it, participate in a Moving Planet event near you.

Right now, a lot of efforts (like Al Gore's 24 Hours of Reality, which wraps up today) are being made to push for better environmental policies and practices, so it's a great time to get involved and help maintain the momentum.

14 September 2011

Love Birds

The last few entries have focused on resources that give us the chance to be active participants in nature-related programs and communities. Today, I'll introduce another of those communities.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have partnered up to create We Love Birds, which is the Web site for a membership community dedicated to birds. You have to join to interact with the other members, but joining is free, and if you're into birds, it might be something to check out.

The Web site allows members to share bird pictures and videos, ask birding questions, and read and comment on stories in various bird blogs. Some of the photos (like the one of the common nighthawk in this entry) are simply spectacular. For more information, use the link above, or go directly to the site's About page by clicking here.

13 September 2011

Share and Share a Bird

Yesterday, I blogged about the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Watch program, which includes a chance to share wildlife photographs on Flickr. Well, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a Flickr site for sharing pictures of birds.

The site is called Birdshare, and you can find it here.

12 September 2011

Are You Watching?

Here's another opportunity for citizen science. People of all ages can participate in this one.

The National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Watch program combines getting out into nature with citizen science and photography. It allows people to report findings and tell stories from their experiences in nature. Also, participants can share nature photos on the program's Flickr page.

11 September 2011

Reality Reminder

Just a reminder: As I blogged about in July, September 14 is the beginning of Al Gore's "24 Hours of Reality."

Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation, is one of the presenters. Check out his pre-presentation interview by clicking here. For more information about the event in general, click here.

10 September 2011

Teaching Sleuths

For teachers interested in citizen science curriculum, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a program called BirdSleuth. It is linked to the lab's Citizen Science projects, and currently, it offers curriculum for grades 1-10 (something for older students is being tested now).

This looks like a great way to combine learning and an experience of nature. Follow the link above for more information. Below, you can watch the lab's promotional video about children learning bird-watching skills and becoming citizen scientists.

09 September 2011

Kids and Energy

The US Department of Energy and the National Science Teachers Association have team up on a program designed to engage students in energy issues. Along the way, the children get to serve as citizen scientists and possibly earn their school money.

America's Home Energy Education Challenge is for children in grades 3-8. Some of the ways to participate include the collection, analysis, and sharing of home energy use data, the creation of energy use savings plans, and entering a poster contest. The choice of participation option is up to each individual class.

For more information, start here.

08 September 2011

New Crop of Croppers

You may have noticed my blog list includes Go Explore Nature, which talks about outdoor activities for people with children. It provides some cool ideas and is worth checking out.

One thing of particular interest on Go Explore Nature is Give a Kid a Camera. The idea is that people get a current topic from the Web site and share photographs their children took for that topic. The images are shared on a Flickr page.

I really like this idea. For one thing, it's a really simple way of interacting with nature. In fact, it's as much about getting outside as it is about the photography. Also, I remember being given a camera early in my life. It gave me the chance to capture my world and see nature through photographs. I've kept that early interest in photography, especially photographs of nature. The idea from Go Explore Nature just reminded me of how I started out.

06 September 2011

Toyota Gives a Plug to the Hybrid

As I have done before, I will state that what you are about to read does not constitute an endorsement of a product. The following discussion is my attempt to spread news and offer my interpretation of it.

In 2012, Toyota will have a limited release of a plug-in version of its Prius. It's an encouraging step.

The car will only be available to people in fifteen states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Additionally, most of these cars available in 2012 can only be obtained through preregistration, which has already closed. Toyota promises wider availability in 2013.

The limited release and the fact that this car still uses gas are downsides, but according to Toyota, the car has the potential to give drivers up to 475 miles per tank of gas. Together with the release of cars like Nissan's leaf, which I blogged about in June, this new Prius indicates that carmakers might be getting serious about fuel issues and carbon emissions. If that's true, it's good news for those who need cars and decent news for the planet.

Watch a video of the plug-in Prius below:

04 September 2011

I Don't Know What Else to Say

I mentioned yesterday that Barack Obama has pulled his own EPA's proposed smog regulations.

This is an inexcusable, cowardly move, and here's a great explanation of why:



Matt Damon for president in 2012.

03 September 2011

The Line it is Drawn

Today concluded two weeks of White House protests (I blogged about them last week), which were organized to oppose the proposed Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.

A total of 1,252 people were arrested (many more attended) in peaceful protests over the two weeks, and I would like to thank those individuals and say I support them with pride. Yesterday's decision by President Barack Obama to withdraw the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal for tighter smog regulation reemphasized the importance of the protest and the degree to which the president has set environmental issues to the side.

For information about Tar Sands Action, a group that has helped orchestrate the pipeline protests, click here.

You can watch a short video of the protests below:

02 September 2011

The Tough Love of Nature

This afternoon, I had a conversation with a friend, and at one point, we started talking about being out in nature. That discussion led me to some reflection.

My friend is from the East Coast, and she talked about growing up in suburbia and feeling apprehensive when she leaves behind civilization for wild areas. She said she sometimes worries about encounters with wildlife. Being a child of the rural Pacific Northwest, I grew up surrounded by nature, wild areas, and wildlife, so I told her how I often get uneasy in cities (in essence, the reverse of her concerns).

After the conversation, however, I thought more about what she had said. I came to the conclusion that for as much as I love being out in nature, in the back of my mind, I am always a little wary of its power.

I've never seen a cougar in the wild, but I have seen cougar tracks and also a black bear. While the chances of being attacked by either a cougar or a black bear in the wild are small, seeing those animals or even just seeing signs of them is a reminder that people don't get to call the shots in nature.

I try to meet nature on its terms, and I also attempt to keep alert. I think being wary of what nature can do is a good thing and is important to the interaction we have with it. In fact, it might be one of the reasons I like being in nature. When I come through the experience of being reminded of my place, I get a sense of comfort and belonging.

01 September 2011

Swift Action

By now, a lot of the summer bird-watching is dying down. However, for several species, especially the chimney swift and the Vaux's swift, this is their time to shine.

These swifts like to roost in human structures such as chimneys, and each night about this time of year, they can be seen entering those structures, often in huge flocks. Such events have attracted a following of birders and other interested people. For this reason and because of the fact that the chimney swift, in particular, is seeing its numbers decline, people are holding Swift Night Out events.

In the eastern portion of the US, Swift Night Out events occur in August and September and offer a citizen science component, in which participants can report what they see. For information about these Swift Night Out events, click here.

Meanwhile, in Washington state, Swift Night Out takes place in Monroe, where it has become a community event, featuring a spaghetti feed, information booths, activities for children, and, of course, the swifts, in fact thousands of Vaux's swifts (true chimney swifts live in the eastern US) diving into a four-foot chimney. The Monroe event is scheduled for September 10 and starts at 4 p.m. For more information about it, click here.

29 August 2011

Take a Hike

In September, residents of the areas in and around Seattle; Atlanta; Chicago; Washington, DC; Denver; and Bernardsville, New Jersey, will have opportunities to take their children out for a hike.

The National Wildlife Federation's Hike & Seek event, which is part of the organization's larger Be Out There campaign, will take place in those cities. The event features a hike (of course) along with stamp/sticker collection, wildlife displays, snacks, crafts, awards to top "junior naturalists," and photos with Ranger Rick. Registration is required. For more details about the event, click here

If you don't have children but would like to volunteer to help at the event, click here

27 August 2011

To a T

Earlier this week, I saw a person wearing a T-shirt that read, "I Play Green." The words intrigued me, so I committed them to memory with the intention of looking them up online later.

First, I discovered that I Play Green is a program from the Green Education Foundation. I Play Green focuses on making participation in sports more environmentally sustainable by recruiting athletes, coaches, and teams for the purpose of reducing waste from plastic bottles, instituting eco-friendly field management policies, and lowering the carbon footprint of travel associated with sporting events.

In and of itself, this sounded pretty cool, combining sports and the environment, both of which I enjoy. Then, I found that I Play Green was only part of a larger effort by the Green Education Foundation, which advocates for sustainability in education and the teaching of skills that will help children think critically about environmental issues. The foundation provides programs, resources, and curriculum geared toward fulfilling these ideals.

25 August 2011

Keep Your Eyes Wide

When I think about progress in changing our energy sources and reducing the negative impact we have on the environment, one of the things that bothers me is when we put in place policies now that lock us in to the old technologies that have polluted the planet for years. For example, those vehicles being produced today (the one's that don't even get 20 miles per gallon) will be around for a number of years. Another example is building new coal plants, an action that shackles us to the impacts of those plants for decades.

Truthfully, things like this dishearten me because it seems like they suggest we aren't making the changes we need to make. However, I've been reading about an ongoing, four-year-old campaign called Power Shift, which coordinates rallies, demonstrations, and protests in support of clean energy sources and against sources that pollute heavily. Learning about the campaign has returned a little hope to me.

Recent efforts by Power Shift have centered on helping a coalition of many other groups stop the proposed building of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline through the middle of the US. Here is a video from the National Wildlife Federation about the pipeline:



I like that the pipeline and other energy issues are generating this king of enthusiasm for the environment. Recent years have not brought great environmental policy to the country, and sometimes, action is necessary. Watch the following video to check out some of the protests that recently took place outside the White House:

Write On

After having my own Cooper's hawk experience this summer, I was drawn to this article from All About Birds.

It was cool to find that someone else recently had encounters similar to mine, and the writing in the article is wonderful. The author communicates a connection to the environment with passion and care. Also, the story has some great information about the birds.

24 August 2011

Just a Memory in the Future?

I was feeling a little down today, so I looked for some things that would put a smile on my face. After listening to some music and watching some comedians do their work, I felt better, so I stopped actively seeking pick-me-ups. Then, after a while, a seemingly unrelated urge to get some information on cedar waxwings overtook me. (As you may recall from an earlier post, the cedar waxwing is one of my favorite birds.)

I decided to go to All About Birds for my waxwing information. Along with tons of information about birds, the Web site has recordings of bird sounds, so I clicked on one of the waxwing calls. As they do when I hear them outside, the familiar trilling and whistling brought a smile of happiness to my face. However, I recognized the presence of another feeling sparked by the sounds. This one was deeper, and I realized just how connected I am to cedar waxwings.

That may sound fanciful, but in truth, I think the feeling is quite grounded. I have a number of special memories tied to waxwings. For instance, I remember my grandma yelling for a gun to keep the birds out of her berry patches; I remember my personal rediscovery of them near my home ten years ago; and I think of how this summer, while I was fishing, I decided to take a break and just sit and watch as a group of the birds fluttered over the creek in pursuit of bugs (I was so happy to see these old friends there).

Through those memories and others like them, the cedar waxwing has become part of me, and I think that is why I ended up at All About Birds, looking at, reading about, and listening to them today: Needing to tap in to something strong, I reconnected with an enduring element of my life.

Afterward, I thought about what would happen to me if cedar waxwings were not around anymore. I am in a part of the world where the birds live all year round, and I usually don't have to wait very long before I hear them outside (as opposed to finding the sound on the Internet); but I wonder if global warming might change that, forcing them farther north or even driving them toward extinction. I think if either of those scenarios were to happen in my lifetime, I'd lose part of myself, a part that would be hard to live without. (This is an example of what I meant when, in my top five reasons for addressing global warming, I said I didn't want to see the place I grew up changed by something we can stop.)

21 August 2011

Who Would Have Guessed?

About a week ago, I heard a BirdNote podcast about the molting birds go through around August. One of the points made in the piece was that some birds may become tailless during this time. Having never seen a bird that had lost all its tail feathers, I found the information interesting but wondered at the frequency of such an occurrence.

Well, this evening, as I was taking a walk, I saw an American robin that had no tail feathers. Instantly, the BirdNote information, which had faded to the background, sprang to mind. It was a nice feeling to be aware of and understand this strange sight.

Out and About

I've seen some exciting environment-related campaigns lately. It's enough to make me think the recent concern for environmental issues isn't just going to fade away like a fad. Many people seem to be making a lifestyle of the environment.

Below is a video from Outdoor Nation, which brings young people together to promote the importance of getting out into nature and having places to get out into. For additional information about Outdoor Nation, visit the campaign's Web site.

19 August 2011

Natural App-titude

I know that's a horrible pun (it even incorporates some redundancy). But oh well.

For those who are both tech lovers and nature lovers, a number of environment-related smart phone applications have popped up, and Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Federation has reviewed some of them.

As a group, the apps allow you to do quite a range of things, including identifying animals and plants and participating in citizen science by sharing your findings. Some of the apps are even free.

Brigida's review looks like it provides a good introduction to the various apps, so if you're interested, check it out.

13 August 2011

Flying High

I have been fishing since I was three or four years old, but I've never seriously taken up fly-fishing.

However, this summer, I made a conscious decision to develop my fly-fishing skills. I wanted to do so because using this method of fishing can have a smaller impact on fish. Being a catch-and-release fisherman, I want the fish to swim away without any major damage.

In one way, the experiment lowered my impact right off the bat: I simply didn't catch as many fish this year. I'm more than okay with that though because I really like the getting-into-nature part of fishing best. In addition, the process of working on my casting gave the experience an extra bit of interest. Whenever I got off a good cast or accomplished something new, I felt great satisfaction (I was growing as an outdoorsperson).

Two days ago, I got the best reward. After hooking and failing to bring in a few fish and failing to hook numerous others, I finally brought in what I am calling my first fly-rod catch (I've caught some in the past, but I didn't really have to cast much in those cases--more like just throw the fly out there). The most satisfying part of the catch was the release: The barbless hook came right out, leaving a small hole in the front of the mouth, and the fish swam away instantly. All in all, it was a great result for my first summer of fly-fishing.

I'm glad I made the switch and can enjoy one of my favorite things while doing less damage to the environment than before. I still have some things to learn and practice, but if this summer is any indication, that will be part of the fun.

11 August 2011

The Hunt for Green Ammunition

Last fall, I blogged about lead-free fishing and hunting equipment. With fall hunting season just around the corner, I thought I'd give another resource for finding such equipment.

The American Bird Conservancy has a list of manufacturers and retailers who make and sell lead-free ammunition. To see the list, click here.

Birds are heavily impacted by lead in ammunition. Some pick up birdshot with gravel, and those that scavenge eat it when they feed on an animal that has been shot by lead ammunition but never retrieved by the hunter. Exposure to lead weakens and sickens the birds, and most die painful deaths. For a story about the impact of lead ammunition, check out today's BirdNote podcast.

If you are a hunter, when you are buying ammunition this fall or any other time in the future, please consider choosing the lead-free options. As outdoorspeople, we can be leaders in bringing people together with the environment, but let's lead without the lead. Thanks.

03 August 2011

Still Haunting

I remember watching a video about marsupials when I was a kid, and one of the most memorable pieces of it was about an extinct animal called the thylacine.

The portion about the thylacine included black-and-white footage of the last thylacine. Something about those images and the story of the animal's extinction struck me. Now, I wonder if the effect was like seeing a ghost (the lingering image of something no longer here in physical form).

Well, two days ago, I read an article in The New York Times about a researcher who had gone to Australia to see rock art of the thylacine. The article has some great stuff about our relationship with nature, and it triggered the memory of that video I watched as a kid (it even has a video with some of that footage of the last thylacine). The effect was much the same as it was when I was younger.

30 July 2011

Lesson Learned

About three weeks ago, I tried to photograph some Cooper's hawks that had been flying over the house. They had a nest close by, and I took a number of walks with my camera in hopes of getting a good picture.

However, the birds were flighty, and I couldn't get any decent photos. Once, when I was walking without my camera of course, I got a pretty good look at one. At that moment, I decided to end my quest for a photo. (Obviously, the birds were playing with me and didn't really want their pictures taken. Plus, I didn't want to disturb them while they were nesting.)

Putting a stop to my pursuit irritated me a little bit because it meant not achieving my goal, and I really don't like failure.

Today, all that effort and agitation turned silly when one of the fledgling hawks flew by my window twice and landed on the rail outside. Although I had to take the pictures through the glass, I got some pretty satisfactory shots (in fact, some of the most detailed I have of any bird).

The encounter reminded me that when interacting with the other parts of the environment, I can't always have it my way, but it also hinted at how nature likes a little patience.

29 July 2011

Garden Native: Part Two

In May, I talked about resources for finding and using native plants in gardening. Here's another one for Puget Sound-area residents: Sound Native Plants.

Sound Native Plants, based in Olympia, sells plants that are native to the area, offers consultation and education about native plants, and works on restoration projects. Additionally, to do its part for sustainability, the company's Web site is powered by wind energy.

My mom bought a vine maple from Sound Native Plants this spring, and it is taking root in her yard as I type. It should be a pretty sight this fall.

28 July 2011

Jarring Experience

A Seattle coyote is free from a mayonnaise jar after two men helped remove the jar from its head.

Way to go, Roel Garcia and Jeff Bryant. Thanks for caring.

Watch this great story below. Along with providing a piece of good news, it gives a reminder of the afterlife trash can have after we are done with it. It's another reason why reduce is the most important of the three Rs.


                             

25 July 2011

Book 'em

Two months ago, a new photography book about Pacific Northwest birds was published. Our Northwest Birds & Habitat is a visual celebration of both the Northwest and its birds.

The authors, Craig and Joy Johnson, are dedicated to protecting birds, and they use the book to share some great photographs of their avian experiences. The Johnsons also have a Web site.

For more information about the book, click here 

20 July 2011

Steller Anniversary

Today is the 270th anniversary of Georg Wilhelm Steller documenting one of my favorite birds.

On July 20, 1741, Steller, as part of Vitus Bering's Second Kamchatka Expedition, landed on Kayak Island in Alaska. He convinced Bering to stay longer than the captain had intended, and while there, he became the first European naturalist to record the existence of the Steller's jay.

I used to think blue jays were prettier and wished they lived where I did, but I have grown to prefer the Steller's jay. The Steller's jay has subtler coloring than the blue jay, and that is where its beauty lies. I love how the blue blends to black toward the bird's head, and the placement of the stripes above the eyes is a nice finishing touch. Of course, the Steller's jay also possesses the attitude, wiliness, and raucousness common to jays, so it has a big personality.

Steller's jays have a wide range, but to me, they are definitely a symbol of the Pacific Northwest. It's great to be called out by one of them as I walk through a forest. It always brings a smile to my face.

19 July 2011

Flying Food for Thought

Usually, I don't have great expectations for the reading available behind the seats on planes, but recently, I found something quite interesting and useful in one of those offerings.

The magazine had a preview of a book that will come out October 18. Written by Jennifer Reese, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter investigates whether it is more cost effective to make or buy various foods and snacks. The book also includes recipes.

Besides its potential to help people save money, I like the idea of this book because it is tied to quality of life, health, sustainability, and waste. In general, the less prepackaged stuff we buy, the healthier we are and the less trash we have.

By chronicling her experiences, Reese gives us some good food for thought. Think about getting this book when it comes out. I know it's on my radar.

Reese also has a blog. If you are interested in it, click here.

18 July 2011

Five for Starting

Earlier in the month, I gave my top five reasons for addressing global warming. Now, I want to give five things people can do to help address it.

You'll see different versions of this list everywhere, but I want to give those who are starting out on this task something to get the process going. With that in mind, hopefully, you'll find most of these steps closely connected.

1. Calculate your carbon footprint. This will get you started and give you a baseline from which to work. Various carbon footprint calculators exists. If you have trouble finding one, refer to my post about The Nature Conservancy's calculator.

2. Make a list of things you do that use energy sources like electricity and gas. Using a carbon footprint calculator can help with this list because as you answer the questions for the calculation, you can note the sources of energy consumption the calculator includes.

3. Use the list from the second suggestion to make plans to cut energy use (use power strips to turn off appliances when you aren't using them; use fluorescent light bulbs; take shorter showers). The carbon footprint calculator can help with this list too.

4. Drive less by consolidating trips, walking, bicycling, and/or taking public transportation.

5. Contact your elected officials and ask them to create legislation that limits carbon emissions. This last suggestion is a little different than the others, but it is important because it deals with the larger system. It's great if individuals are doing their part, but the society as a whole must be set up to limit emissions, and elected officials are the ones responsible for that. For information about how to contact your elected officials, click here. The link allows you to find and contact officials, including the president, members of Congress, governors, and members of your state's legislature. Don't underestimate the impact of contacting these officials. Please let them know it's important to you that they address global warming with legislation.

16 July 2011

Big Moves

September is shaping up to be a big month for action on global warming. My previous post was about Al Gore's "24 Hours of Reality." Today, I'll talk about Moving Planet, which is a rally scheduled to take place September 24.

The purpose of Moving Planet is to show world leaders the amount of support people have for moving off fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming by producing greenhouse gases. People are encouraged to organize local events (that are all connected under the Moving Planet idea) and to arrive at those events without the use of fossil fuels. Walking, biking, and skateboarding would be great alternatives to driving to the event. To find a local event near you, click here. If you'd like information on creating your own event, click here.

Also, Moving Planet comes two days after World Carfree Day, which takes place every year on September 22. Plan ahead, and make arrangements (walking, biking, public transportation) so you don't have to use your car that day either.

I think it's great that Gore's event, Moving Planet, and World Carfree Day are happening so close to each other. That should add to their overall impact. Let's help that happen.

13 July 2011

Al In

Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth helped refocus people's attention on global warming, is back at work. This time, he's trying to make the push that finally produces laws that limit greenhouse gases.

Gore is readying the planet for a September 14-15 event that attempts to tie together public awareness, science, and political momentum. "24 Hours of Reality" involves presentations from around the world describing the local impacts global warming has had.

Check out the video promotion of the event below and visit the Web site for more information.

12 July 2011

Sound of Summer

Summer isn't my favorite season, but it does open up many chances to experience nature and attend environment-related events.

If you're a western Washington native or will be visiting the Puget Sound region this summer, you might want to check out the happenings at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which borders the sound.

This summer, lots of events are taking place at the refuge. There is a summer lecture series that runs through August 24 and a catalog of weekend nature programs through September 24. The topics for the lectures and programs vary greatly and include birding, photography, grizzly bears, and earthquakes. Events are free, but the refuge has an entrance fee of $3 per four adults. Such fees are important to keeping parks and refuges going, and their importance has only grown with cuts in tax revenue and funding.

For additional information about the refuge's operations, go to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's site.

If you attend one of the summer events, don't forget to get a few looks at Puget Sound while you're there and be sure to also check in on the work that has recently been done at the refuge. In 2009, dikes surrounding much of the area were removed to allow the natural estuary to reclaim what had been lost when the land was converted for farming in the late 19th century. For more information on the project to restore the Nisqually Delta, click here.

02 July 2011

Close Enough

When we think about positive encounters with nature, skunks probably aren't the first animals that come to mind. Still, in the last two days, I have had close, non-smelly interactions with skunks.

Two days ago, while I was walking, I came across three skunks, and yesterday, I saw another. What amazed me about the experiences was how unconcerned the animals were. The one in the picture allowed me to get quite close to it. In fact, I don't know if I have ever gotten closer to a healthy wild animal that was aware of my presence. I didn't try to push the animal past the limits of its comfort, but I was able to get within about 12 feet.

It was very exciting to cross paths with these animals--such an unexpectedly cool experience. I think it shows that even some of nature's more notorious elements can give us a lift.

I apologize that the picture isn't perfect. I was holding a dog leash in one hand and the camera in the other, and despite its apparent calmness, I didn't feel like asking the skunk to pose for me. I just let it go about its business, and it tolerated me.

01 July 2011

My Top Five

This week, I was encouraged to think about and communicate the reasons it is important to me that we address global warming. Because I am a fan of the movie High Fidelity, I feel it is appropriate to express those reasons as a top five.

1. Addressing global warming improves our relationship with the planet because it requires cutting pollution from greenhouse gas emissions.

2. I feel a responsibility to the other inhabitants of the planet to stop the global effects of warming.

3. I feel a connection to the place I grew up, and I don't want to see it changed significantly by something we can stop.

4. I want to protect the species that are threatened with extinction by warming.

5. I want to feel the excitement of taking a new path of energy use and production.

Do you have a top five reasons to address global warming? What's important to you? How will it be affected by warming?

30 June 2011

Urban Tumbleweeds

In recent years, many different landscapes and environments have seen the introduction and rise of a new species. It's invasive, ugly, and even deadly. It's known as the urban tumbleweed, and everyday, people contribute to its increasing numbers. Urban tumbleweeds are more commonly called plastic bags.

Last year, a class of students at Northern Arizona University created a campaign (called Urban Tumbleweed Destruction) to urge those at their university to use reusable bags instead of plastic ones. The following YouTube video records their plastic bag fashion show, protest, and rendition of Blowin' in the Wind. Check it out, and then, visit my earlier post about reusable bags.

19 June 2011

Dad and Mother Nature

When it came to connecting with the environment, I was lucky growing up. As soon as I stepped outside my door, I was surrounded by nature. On top of that, my dad always made sure I had plenty of other chances to interact with the environment.

He had me fishing and hiking by age four, and we spent a lot of time exploring the hills near our home. Along with learning about nature, I got a chance to associate it with my dad, doubling its importance. I have so many great memories of those experiences, and it's still fun to go out and do things with him.

I appreciate that during my formative years, my dad helped me see the importance of nature and the environment. I'm sure my perspective on the environment owes a lot to him.

18 June 2011

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

Last week, I came to the end of a 12-ounce bottle of body wash. Now, in itself, that's not a very big thing. (I'm guessing it happens quite a bit around the world.) What made it significant to me was that before it finally ran out, that bottle served me for 23 weeks.

I don't have any official way of proving this, but I am pretty sure 23 weeks is a record for me with that size of bottle.

Stretching out the contents for that amount of time took a degree of adherence to the "pea rule," which suggests applying an amount of body wash the size of a pea to a washcloth or pouf and working it into a lather. I must admit, the actual amount I used at a time was probably a little bigger than a pea, and I usually used three of these applications per shower, but the rule of thumb helped me a lot.

It's great to know I made it nearly a half of a year before I had to open a new bottle. That saves resources and cuts down on the number of plastic bottles I have to recycle.

With my next bottle, I'm going to see if I can set a new personal record. Maybe I'll reach 26 weeks one day.

How far can you go with one bottle?

17 June 2011

Turning over a New Leaf?

I want to say right off the bat, the following post is not an endorsement of the car to which it refers.

In fact, if you read the earlier entry on donating your car to charity, you know that my perfect vision with regard to automobiles is a car-less life for myself.

With that said, I want to talk about this commercial for the Nissan Leaf. Actually most of the video is about the making of the commercial, but the commercial is tacked on to the end. Give it a watch, and then, continue reading below.



The commercial interests me for a number of reasons. First, I hope the Leaf is just a first step toward human's future with cars. (I have heard reports that more electric vehicles are on their way to the mainstream market, but honestly, I don't trust car companies on this one--they've moved the goalposts one too many times.) Yet I'll continue to hold a little optimism.

Another important point (one that is not made apparent by this commercial) is that Nissan, at least, is starting to talk about the impact of a car's whole life cycle. The company says it is already considering how to recycle the lithium batteries that power the Leaf. This is nice to hear because while carbon emissions are a big issue, pollution comes in many forms, and sustainability requires an examination of the whole picture.

Finally, the main reason the commercial caught my attention is its use of nature. Except for the very end, the only voices the viewer hears are from nature. Is this just another example of green washing, in which a company hides behind an environmental claim while making money and doing really very little to help the environment? I hope it isn't. I hope it's an example of a new mainstream way of thinking about our relationship with the planet.

Still, what's with making nature come to us? I mean that bear had to do all the hard work. And can we really connect with nature just by buying a car, especially considering the damage that act has done to the environment in the past?

16 June 2011

Participate, Celebrate

Bird-watching doesn't end where the city begins. In fact, some species have adapted well to city life, giving people in urban areas a great chance to develop and practice their skills as bird-watchers.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is trying to make the most of this opportunity with Celebrate Urban Birds. This program is part of the lab's Citizen Science efforts, which enlist the public in the collection of data about birds.

Celebrate Urban Birds gets people in cities interacting more with nature, gives them a chance to contribute to science, and helps scientists gather important information about birds.

With just 10 minutes of observation, you can make an important addition to our collective knowledge about birds.

If you live in a city and would like more information about participating in Celebrate Urban Birds, click here.

12 June 2011

See What I See

Two days ago, I had the exciting experience of seeing a bird species I had never seen before, the eastern kingbird. The thing was, I didn't know what it was when I first saw it.

When I saw the bird, I was jogging. I'm not training for a marathon or anything, so I have time to look around me and check for animal species. However, I don't jog with a camera, so I can't document what I see. Because I still had about 30 minutes left on my jog when I saw the bird, I had to commit as much of it to memory as I could. This was particularly difficult because to see it, I had to look into the sunset. From what I could tell, it looked like some sort of flycatcher with a dark head and back and a white front. I tried to get a better angle, but when I moved, the bird flew away.

Upon returning home, I checked two online sources (WhatBird and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds) for help in identifying the bird. These are great resources. WhatBird's search function is particularly helpful in narrowing down the possibilities. I had some difficulty with this bird, but eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was 90 percent sure it was an eastern kingbird. The descriptions of this species and its habitat basically fit what I had seen and where I had seen it, and they gave me a key identifier to look for if I ever saw the bird again (a white terminal band on the tail).

Armed with that information, I decided to go jogging last night at about the same time, hoping the bird might be in the habit of being in the same place at the same time. As it turned out, it wasn't in exactly the same place, but it was close. I saw it on a fence, stopped jogging, and looked for the distinctive band on the tail. Sure enough, it was there, and when the bird took flight, the band was even more obvious. Success: a positive identification!

It's a cool feeling to come across a species for the first time, and the eastern kingbird is especially interesting. The males and females fiercely defend the nest. All About Birds even talked about an incident in which a kingbird knocked a blue jay from a tree near the nest and forced the jay to hide under a bush to avoid further attack. Eastern kingbirds can also identify cowbird eggs in their nests (cowbirds will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and let the other birds raise the babies). When the kingbirds find these eggs in their nest, they, unlike many other birds, realize they are different and remove them.

Discovering this information is like learning about a new friend, and it all started by positively identifying a species I had not seen before.

If, like me, you are relatively new to identifying bird species, you might want to pay special attention to All About Birds' page for building bird identification skills.

11 June 2011

Toadally Cool

Continuing the trend of relaying tips from the National Wildlife Federation, today's entry focuses on providing places for toads to live.

The human-toad relationship has the potential to be a good one. Toads are great for insect control, but in many places, their numbers have been declining, so providing them with a good place to live can help out both you and them.

As the article from NWF notes, you can buy toad houses, but I really like the ideas it provides for making your own. Check out the full article here.

10 June 2011

Dark Side of Photography

Taking photographs at night brings some challenges, but it also has the potential to generate some great shots and experiences.

If you're interested in getting started photographing nature at night, the National Wildlife Federation has a few basic tips. You can find them here.

Hopefully, the night excursion will give you some new types of photographs to enjoy and a novel way of experiencing your environment.

06 June 2011

Howls About This

Summer brings with it increased chances to get out and do things, and the last couple of posts have looked at some options. For those of you who live in or will be visiting southwest Washington state, here's another: Wolf Haven International's yearly Howl-Ins.

Wolf Haven, which is located near Tenino, works for wolf conservation, houses captive-born wolves, participates in breeding programs for Mexican gray wolves and red wolves, and provides resources and opportunities for learning about wolves. The organization is also involved in the preservation of local prairie.

The summer Howl-Ins are full-scale family events, which include sanctuary tours, live music, and fun activities.

This year's Howl-Ins will take place July 9, July 23, August 6, and August 20, 6-9 p.m. Make your reservations early.

05 June 2011

Finding a Parking Space

After reading yesterday's post about making your own field guides, you might be looking for a place where you can find some specimens; or maybe, you're just looking for a nice place to get away.

The National Wildlife Federation's Nature Find can help you with that. By entering your zip code, city, or state, selecting a distance radius, and hitting search, you'll discover parks, wildlife refuges, hiking trails, and other nature-related sites near you.

Even if you think you know your area pretty well, using Nature Find might reveal some place you overlooked.

04 June 2011

Guide Yourself

I happened upon a neat idea for connecting with nature. This is especially great if you have young children.

The idea is to make field guides of plants and animals where you live. How often do we find ourselves running to our professionally produced field guides to find out about a new species we have seen? Now, we can become the experts ourselves. Check out ideas for building field guides here and here.

I think making field guides of our own is such a great way to become more familiar with the world around us. As the links suggest, it can also be a wonderful experience for our families. Additionally, the guides could become important records of both the workings of nature where we live and the activities and experiences of the people we love.

One idea I would add to those discussed in the links would be to put together some field guides based on different times of the year. For example, you could have a guide for winter species, for birds that appear during the migration periods (fall and spring), and for birds that stay throughout the summer.

30 May 2011

Summer Cinema

Starting June 3, a new documentary will begin popping up in theaters across the country. The Last Mountain looks at the issue of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Mountaintop removal is being used to extract coal, and in doing so, it destroys mountains and threatens human and environmental health. Check out the movie trailer below.



Besides the fact that it reveals the growing impact people can have on the planet, the film interests me because the issue it takes on challenges us to look at the interconnectedness between our behaviors and the environment. It lets us see where much of our energy comes from, how we get it, and the consequences of our need for it.

What is more, this film comes on the heels of last year's Academy Award-nominated Gasland, which explored the dangerous ramifications of using fracking to access natural gas. Together, the films indicate a larger problem with a need for resources.

It looks like The Last Mountain will appear first in major cities. Hopefully, it secures a wider release. For a list of theaters where the movie is scheduled to show, click here.

27 May 2011

Catching Eyes, Spreading Words

Today's entry is about something I just heard about. I have no great insight into it (I can't even guarantee that it's worthwhile), only a great curiosity for it, and I relay it to you only as a thought that passed through me and seemed to deserve dissemination.

The topic is a book called No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. It chronicles a year in which the author and his family tried to minimize their impact on the planet. From the sound of it, they made some drastic changes and reached some profound conclusions.

I don't know if I'd ever be brave enough (or have the ability) to make all the changes the Beavans made, and I am not suggesting anyone else has to make such attempts. However, even if the book leaves a reader with one single thing she or he can do, that's something significant; so I'm going to look into it further as soon as I get a chance, and if you're interested, check it out too.

It has been my experience that getting started on minimizing one's impact is the hardest part. Once the mindset is in place, it gets easier. Perhaps this book can provide a nudge in the right direction.

No Impact Man is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. Also, it has been turned into a documentary, and I have added Beavan's blog to my bloglist.

23 May 2011

That's the Chap

I've used considerably less lip balm this year.

As you might recall, last summer, I posted about buying Badger Balm sunscreen and unscented lip balm. In that post, I reviewed my experience with the sunscreen and promised to talk about the lip balm later.

After almost a year with the lip balm, I am quite happy with my purchase. It has been part of a systematic decrease in lip balm usage. First, I stopped using my other brand and decided to wait a while before applying the Badger Balm (theoretically giving a clean break between products). That was during the summer, so I didn't need it as much anyway. In the meantime, I realized I'd become accustomed to using lip balm at the slightest hint of dryness. I also realized this habit was unnecessary. Sometimes, my lips would feel dry one day but return to better shape on their own the next.

Second, when I finally used the Badger Balm, I only applied a small amount. That was all I needed to give my lips the moisture they required.

Third, even during the winter (and this winter was windy and cold and had long dry spells), I would go weeks without using the lip balm. I had a tube of medicated Blistex on hand just in case things got bad. (I've had to use medicated lip balm during the winter for at least 13 years.) To my surprise, I only had to use the medicated lip balm once this year. I virtually made it through the entire winter with just periodic applications of my organic, non-medicated Badger Balm.

It feels nice to rely less on lip balm, and I know that when I do need it, I've got an organic option with fewer chemicals.

As bonuses, Badger Balm does not test on animals, and the tube is recyclable.

You can buy the lip balm directly from Badger Balm or at Amazon.com.

22 May 2011

Garden Native

If you're a gardener or have some yard space you'd like to fill with plants, consider choosing native species.

Using native plants helps maintain or restore a bit of the natural ecosystem, and it actually makes gardening easier because the native species are more suited to living in your area and can usually get the water and nutrients they need through the natural conditions. This means less work for you, and it also cuts down on the resources and money needed to sustain these plants. Plus, there is beauty in the natural fit between the plants and the environment.

For lists of native plants in your region and directories of nurseries that sell plants from your area, visit PlantNative. Washington state residents can find a wide variety of information resources by going to the Web site of the Washington Native Plant Society. Information at this site includes a list of plants native to Washington specifically and descriptions of invasive species. You can also check in to see when and where the latest workshops on native plants will occur. Finally, American Beauties: Native Plants provides additional information and resources. Those in the Northeast of the US will find this site particularly tailored for their needs, but the information and plant search can benefit most American gardeners.

21 May 2011

Collision Prevention

The last entry provided information on birdhouses. This one deals with birds and houses (our houses), particularly the windows on our houses.

Birds often hit windows because they can't tell the difference between the glass surface and open air. If they're lucky, they fly off; some are severely dazed; and others don't survive. Any way you look at it though, this is an encounter with nature that you'd rather not have, and every time you hear that familiar bonk on the glass, you cringe a bit.

It's been tough to find ways of preventing these collisions, but today, I came across some interesting tips from the American Bird Conservancy. Check out the PDF of the info here. Along with the tips, the guide includes information on where to get the things you'll need to put the strategies to work. I haven't tried any of these yet, but the use of decorative Tempora paint definitely looks interesting.

15 May 2011

Cozy Quarters

We're right in the middle of the season in which birds are looking for nests.

If you've always wanted to put up a birdhouse but were unsure about how to get started, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can help. Click here and here for information. You'll learn what houses work for which birds, how to place the house, how to make your own, and many other useful ideas.

Birdhouses are a great way to make friends in the animal kingdom, and they can bring you entertainment and fun.