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.