30 December 2012

Unwelcome Find

Invasive English laurel
Not all of my discoveries on nature walks have happy endings.

I've found plenty of cool things while on my walks. The evergreen huckleberry bush I blogged about recently is one example. I also found salal two years ago. However, last week, I came across two invasive species.

First, I found some ivy. Seven years ago, I removed a patch of ivy, but apparently, I left a piece because a new vine was starting to spread in the same place. I quickly pulled it up. A few days later, I found a plant I had never seen before. We checked with Sound Native Plants and the Washington Native Plant Society, and they informed us that it was an English laurel, which is starting to invade parts of Washington state. We'll be removing it.

It's always fun to find a native species, but finding an invasive species can turn a nature walk into a security patrol.

To learn more about plants native to Washington, visit the Washington Native Plant Society and Sound Native Plants. For information on removing ivy, visit Ivy Out.

28 December 2012

Traditions of the Tree

My family still has its Christmas tree--from each of the last six years.

In 2007, we started a new tradition of retiring our trees to the wooded area of my parents' property. This allows the trees to become part of the habitat, provide shelter for animals, and break down into the ground. (Currently, the trees from past years are serving as a trellis for blackberry vines.) Keeping the trees also lets them remain part of our lives.

Of course, not everyone has the space to provide permanent homes for their Christmas trees. However, disposing of them in a proper way is still important. (I cringe to see them tossed on the side of the road.) Fortunately, many local governments have options for recycling the trees.

In Washington state's Grays Harbor County, members of the Boy Scouts will collect and recycle the trees for free (donations are welcomed). For more information on this program, click here. Residents of Washington's King County can get information about their tree recycling program here. If you do not live in either of those counties, check the Web site of your county or city government to see if they have a program.

Recycling or reusing your tree is definitely one of the most important Christmas traditions.

22 December 2012

Branching Out

Out of one accident, much growth.

My parents have an evergreen huckleberry plant on their property. It is a native plant and was seeded in by a bird. After we identified it some years ago, it became one of my favorite things to visit when I come home.

During an ice storm last winter, tree limbs fell on the plant, breaking some of its branches. When I saw it, I nervously checked the damage. After examining it, I knew the huckleberry would be okay, and I saw an opportunity. My mom had always talked about getting a start from the plant and growing her own. I collected the broken branches, and she placed them in water. Some of the branches grew roots, and she placed them in dirt. Two of the plants survived.

The successful starts are one great outcome of the accidental pruning. Another occurred with the original plant. I just dropped by for a visit the other day, and the plant has almost completely replaced the broken branches with new growth. It looks more robust than ever.

I was sad when I initially saw the huckleberry plant in pieces, but that moment brought two new plants and a flourish of activity at the old one.

18 December 2012

Fledgling Birders

Nature or nurture? When it comes to our connection to nature, nurture helps.

I've probably always had an interest in birds. My family has recordings of my dad reading field guides to me when I was about four.

Still, bird-watching is something I've only recently taken up. In fact, I didn't really start to figure out just how much someone could do with bird-watching until a few years ago. Before then, I simply had not been made aware of that world. As I grew up, my family gave me plenty of chances to connect with nature. However, beyond our bird books, we didn't have a lot of access to bird-watching information.

That's why I think the latest offering from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is such a great thing. As explained in a blog post on Round Robin, the lab is working with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory to connect aspiring bird-watchers through the Young Birders Network.

The network gives students in high school a chance to start or join bird-watching clubs, share bird sightings, and learn about college and career opportunities related to birds. This is the kind of thing that gives wings to childhood interests.

For more information, visit the Young Birder Network on eBird.

16 December 2012

Seeing the Hermit

Sometimes, hermits come for a visit.

Each of the last few days, I've seen a thrush-like bird. It's brown and lacks any particularly obvious markings. Birds like that can be hard to tell apart. However, knowing it looked like a thrush helped.

I was pretty sure the bird was not a Swainson's thrush because I vaguely remembered that they leave during the winter. With that information in mind, I guessed the bird was a hermit thrush.

After checking All About Birds and WhatBird last night, I found that my memory was correct. Swainson's thrushes move south in the winter, and the hermit thrush is the only member of the thrush family that looks like the bird I saw and lives in the Pacific Northwest this time of year.

Last night's investigation left one thing to do: wait for the bird to come back so I could confirm the species. Sure enough, it came back today, and I was able to get pictures (not the one above) that provided enough evidence to show it was a hermit thrush.

It was exciting to realize I had accumulated enough birding knowledge to make such a guess about a rather plain bird. I'm glad it decided to stop by and give me a chance to get to know it.

09 December 2012

The Ranger's New House

Just like any other raccoon, the National Wildlife Federation's Ranger Rick is adaptable.

I grew up reading printed issues Ranger Rick magazine. They were a special part of my childhood and helped shape my connection to the environment. I remember loading my bookshelf with the old issues.

In the digital age, publishing has changed a lot, and the wily ranger is adjusting to those changes. The magazine has a digital version available for tablets through Barnes & Noble. And now, a new, interactive version is available for the iPad.

The interaction and reading takes place in Ranger Rick's tree house. Children can play games, earn badges, and learn about wildlife.

It's great to see one of my favorite raccoons settling in nicely to the 21st century. I know he'll be around to touch the lives of many more children.

03 December 2012

Going Nowhere

The "Forward" movement Barack Obama emphasized in his reelection campaign apparently comes from fossil fuels.

Continuing the trend he began in his first term, the president seems ready to ignore key environmental issues like global warming. In this article, TreeHugger reports that Obama has already declined an agreement with the European Union that would have required airlines based in the United States to pay a carbon fee. The article goes on to reveal that the administration is auctioning off to oil companies 20 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

Together, these decisions mean no movement on carbon emissions and a strengthening commitment to oil.

Just a month before the president's second term, two things shine crystal clear: Obama's way forward does not include the environment, and our way forward on the environment does not include him.