May 19, 2013
When the scent of Lilacs fills the air each Spring, it is but one of many seasonal gifts of Nature which serve to uplift the spirit after a long, cold Winter. This heavenly aroma is among the very first of the overwhelming olfactory sensations (just after Hyacinths) that permeate the air here in the Northeast. Sadly, this narcotic fades fairly quickly.
This morning, I ventured out just after sunrise with scissors and bowl in hand to harvest some of the delicate flowers while at their peak with the intention of preserving their precious essence to enjoy later in the year. This activity itself was a sublime meditation. The early hour meant only the sound of the natural world was around me – no lawn mowers, chain saws or road noise could be heard. Instead, life as it was intended predominated with the buzz of Carpenter Bees near the woodpile, a Baltimore Oriole singing for his apple jelly treat, the American Robin pair first scolding and then standing guard near their nest of 4 eggs in the nearby Rhododendron and the sound of an oh so gentle breeze through the needles of the White Pine. This wonderful scene intermingled with wafting perfume and sunbeams making for a resplendent moment in time.
So now when I later enjoy the jelly, infusions and waters that these lovely Lilacs have afforded me, the memory of the magical interlude that made this morning’s brief outing so special will remain for months and perhaps years. Mitakuye Oyasin, indeed.
May 14, 2013
“The Acre” has been an active bird nursery for many years. Last season, at least six separate species nested successfully on the property. A combination of mature trees, wet meadow and open field makes this land suitable nesting habitat for a number of birds.
Since 2010, an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) pair have built their sturdy nest in the rhododendron directly behind the house. I am fairly certain this is the same female every year because the nest is built in the exact same crotch of the “rhodie”. This conjecture is based on the fact that it is the female of the species who builds the nest and all nests found on “The Acre” are removed each Autumn and added to my collection (songbirds rarely re-use nests). Robins nested in a Norway Spruce in the upper field before 2010 but it may have been different individuals who reproduced – there has been no nesting in that tree since.
In 2010, the eggs were hatched on Mothers’ Day (see photo). Unfortunately, a week of ~40F with rain in late May doomed this brood. My theory is that the birds had grown to a point where both parents were required to forge thus leaving the fledglings unprotected from the elements for long periods of time. Last year, the first brood fell to predation (the neighborhood Raccoons perhaps?). Otherwise, there have been at least two successful families raised and, except for last year, I have not yet seen this female produce more than one brood per season.
So again Mamma has returned and is busy incubating in the “rhodie.” I’ve not yet seen signs of Raccoon this Spring and the long-term weather forecast looks favorable. So perhaps “The Acre” will be sending off a 4th generation of American Robins before Summer begins in earnest.
May 11, 2013
I learned during childhood that my Mom was afraid of birds. This fear was rooted in an incident from her own youth. You see, she often stayed with her Grandmother who ran a subsistence farm. On one of those visits, a chicken had just been “dispatched” the old fashioned way with an axe which resulted in the bird performing a “post-beheading” dance across the barnyard directly into my mother.
As I was growing up, we lived next door to an older couple and Mom and the neighbor lady (who we called “Aunt Peg”) were quite close. Aunt Peg took great pride in her flower gardens and was an avid bird watcher, having a number of feeder stations in her back yard. So you can imagine the air space around our house was busy with fluttering wings and this tended to keep Mom from spending time outdoors in the yard. On one occasion, a bird got into our house which caused my mother quite a panic.
Flash forward 50 years to 2012 and Mom was diagnosed with advance stage colon cancer. Surgery was successful in removing a softball-sized tumor but the disease weakened her to a state that put her just over the line for assisted living, requiring her to have long-term care. Outside the window of Mom’s room in the nursing facility are several bird feeders and during her early, mostly bed-ridden days there, she passed time watching the avian callers. On nearly every visit, Mom would describe a bird she’d seen and ask if I could identify the species. Her daily inquiries led me to purchase her Stan Tekiela’s “Birds of New York” field guide so she could enjoy her bird watching more completely and keep a checklist.
Once the weather warmed and Mom regained much of her previous strength, her bird watching moved to the outdoors to a bench near the feeders where she enjoyed their company as they flew to and fro. Imagine the joy I felt now that the fear of birds Mom carried all those years had disappeared allowing us to share one of my greatest passions.
Mom passed over a few days ago and while my heart is very heavy, I am elated that she had discovered the joy, beauty and wonder of the bird world before leaving this reality. Fly with your new friends, Mom – one day we will again enjoy the feathered world together. Much love…
May 8, 2013
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, what could be more appropriate than a piece on the matriarchs of the wild. And since this special date is steeped in love, perhaps it’s time we pay heed to the moms of species who are in need of some positive PR. Enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day to all!
Striped Skunk: This mom is a fierce protector of her young. After weaning, as she teaches her youngsters how to find food and survive in the wild, she continues her vigilance and will strike a defensive poster at the least sign of threat to her babes. She’ll not think twice about executing her most effective weapon when it comes to the kids!
Turkey Vulture: This scavenger mother will defend chicks in the nest in a most effective way. Vultures will hiss and regurgitate their meal on the attacker. The smell of rotting flesh will drive off most predators!
Eastern Garter Snake: Garters give birth to their young live, as opposed to laying eggs. Upon birth, Garters are fully independent so do not need their mother. However, the garter mom can hold sperm from an Autumn mating within her abdomen until Spring. Additionally, she may also mate in the Spring. The mother will choose when to allow fertilization depending on which mate shows the best characteristics for survival. These genes then will be passed on to her offspring ensuring they also have the greatest chance for survival. Talk about wanting only the best for her children!
April 30, 2013
It’s not the first time I’ve pondered and written on this subject. However, recent events here in the Buffalo area have resurrected the conversation on animal cruelty. Two separate cases of cruelty to domesticated pets (one puppy and one kitten) and the subsequent movement to pass more stringent punishments for such offenders have been all over local media (see story links below). Interviews with law enforcement officials and animal welfare experts express the contention that the purposeful injury of an animal indicates mental health issues that can lead to criminal behavior extending to humans. No argument here.
But WHY are these same considerations not extended to wild animals? We legally allow painful and cruel trapping every single day. Where is the scientific evidence that wild animals feel any less pain or psychological trauma than domesticated animals?
And WHY are animals raised for food (although protected better than wild animals) subject to treatment not allowed to pets? People get arrested for housing too many dogs and cats. Why can we crowd domestic farm animals in horribly small and filthy spaces? What scientific evidence exists that animals raised for food feel less discomfort than a dog or a cat?
Yes, I am ranting because the capacity for humans to disregard groups of beings and categorize them as requiring less respect is an obscenely ignorant behavior.
What the puppy Phoenix experienced was horrible and the death of the kicked kitten, appalling. Yet the treatment that is associated with the photos and video below of wild and farm animals is LEGAL (and in some states a constitutional right). WHY, WHY, WHY?
Shouldn’t the mental health concerns associated with the purposeful injury of a companion animal extend to all animals? If not, cite the scientific evidence that the psychological demeanor of a person who painfully traps a fox, clubs a seal or electrically shocks a pig is different than an individual who would be arrested for applying the same treatment to a pet. I’ll wait…
PLEASE NOTE – these stories and images may be disturbing to sensitive individuals.
Treatment of Battery Caged Chickens:
April 28, 2013
April 26, 2013
It’s that time of year for the annual ritual of “leeking” and “timberdoodling” as we head out to harvest wild ramps and watch the early evening heavens for signs of the “Skydancer” – officially, the American Woodcock.
The Woodcock (Scolopax minor) – also known as the Timberdoodle – is a member of the Sandpiper family. The size of a small game bird, this forest dweller is well camouflaged with its brown mottled coloration. The Woodcock’s bill is long to accommodate the hunt for earthworms (its chief diet) and the eyes are placed near the back of the head to allow it to keep a close eye on its surroundings while scavenging for lunch.
It is in the early Spring of the year that this quirky bird begins its mating rituals with the males making a dazzling display in their attempts to woo the gals. Just after sundown, in an open (preferably gravel) area near woodlands, you might hear a male Woodcock “peent”- the sound he makes to signal the ladies he’s about to impress them with his prowess. After a few moments of “peenting”, the male will take off in flight spiraling high in the sky creating a whistling effect with his wings. He circles a bit, then dives down with a kissing-like sound. He often will land almost exactly where the ritual “dance” began.
Head out to an open area near the woods in the evening during the next few weeks of Spring and listen for the tell-tale “peenting”. Then watch the skies above and enjoy one of the most spectacular of bird displays.
Here’s a video showing the air dance and the peenting of the Timberdoodle:
April 25, 2013
It seems mind-boggling that lethal trapping of wildlife, including leg hold traps and poisoning, is legal. If these methods were applied to domesticated animals, they would be illegal in nearly every state. Yet some states have made such trapping a constitutional right, including Idaho, while several others have similar amendments protecting hunting, fishing and, in some cases, trapping.
Why the distinction between wild and domesticated species?
April 23, 2013
Arbor Day is April 26th and what better way to celebrate than by planting a tree or shrub. Below are suggestions for native trees to plant in the Northeast United States.
Remember to ALWAYS purchase trees based on the Latin name to ensure they are native species. Also, determine needed conditions for growth before your purchase. Not only will you and your property benefit, you will also be doing a great service for wildlife. Happy Arbor Day!
American Beech – Fagus grandifolia ^®
American Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis ^#@
American Hophornbeam – Ostrya virginiana
American Hornbeam (aka Blue Beech, Musclewood) – Carpinus caroliniana
American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis +
Black Willow – Salix nigra #@
Common Witch Hazel – Hamamelis virginiana #
Eastern Hemlock – Tsuga canadensis ^®
Eastern White Pine – Pinus strobus ^
Nannyberry – Viburnum lentago
Patriot Elm (disease tolerant cultivar of American Elm) - Ulmus patriot
Pin Oak – Quercus palustris @
Red Maple – Acer rubrum @
River Birch – Betula nigra @
Serviceberry (aka Juneberry, Shadbush) – Amelanchier arborea ^
Speckled Alder – Alnus incana
Striped Maple – Acer pennsylvanicum
Sugar Maple – Acer saccarum ^
Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua
Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera
White Ash – Fraxinus Americana ®
Winterberry – Ilex verticillata *@
Yellow Birch – Betula alleghaniensis
^ Food source
® Threatened by disease/invasive insect
+ Salt tolerant
@ Tolerates moist soils
April 18, 2013
Every year as the date of Earth Day approaches, so many ask me, “Aren’t you excited?” or “What are you doing for Earth Day?”
“No, not really” or “Nothing special,” are typical responses.
Before the stoning begins for this apparent blasphemy, consider the rationale for why Earth Day was started and the necessity to continue this “holiday”. The reasons for both are the same – the planet is in a very precarious state and we humans are solely accountable for its condition. Had we been a responsible and ethical cohabitant, our Earth would be healthy and most of our fellow species not threatened by the looming largest extinction in recorded history due to habitat loss and climate change.
Yes, the day does bring awareness but after 40 some years what have we learned? Perhaps our air and water are in better condition, but there are still major issues affecting these resources. Plus climate change, industrial agriculture (including the health and hunger problems it has wrought), deforestation, contemptuous wildlife management policies, along with a corrupt world political system, do not bode well. In fact it can easily be argued that the planet is in worse shape than ever.
Most environmental stewards live Earth Day every day and so what we do on April 22nd is not “special” – it is ordinary. As for myself, I do not get “excited” about needing a special day to remind people about the damage we have done due to short-sightedness, greed, over-population, and over-consumption.
My hope is that one day we find it not necessary to have an annual Earth Day. How much better would it be to find ourselves overjoyed at the blessings given by this planet, living in harmony with our fellow species, and understanding the intimate and intrinsic connection we have with our Earth Mother. Then each day would be a true Earth Day.