Autumnal Program Offerings 2015

Early Autumn LakeSustainable lifestyles, Indigenous ecology and understanding wild things encompass our Autumn schedule of public programming. We hope you’ll join us for one or more of our offerings as we welcome the Season of Change!

Cultural Ecology of the Haudenosaunee
Thursday, October 22
12:00 noon to 1:00pm
Erie Community College
South Campus – Orchard Park
A discussion and demonstrations on how the People of the Long House (Haudenosaunee/Iroquois), and in particular the Onödowa’ga:’ (Seneca), modeled their civilization upon the cycles, rhythms and systems of Earth through ceremony, food, medicine and recreation. This is a FREE presentation.
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Autumn Amble
Saturday, October 24
10:00am to 1:00pm
18 Mile Creek Park – Hamburg
A leisurely interpretive hike concentrating on how both critters and plants prepare for the coming Winter.


Earthly Cleaning
Thursday, November 5
6:00pm to 8:30pm
Springville Griffith High School
A workshop focused on creating home-made, environmentally friendly cleaning prepartions for household use.


Herbal Crafts for Gift-Giving
Sunday, November 8
1:00pm to 4:00pm
Roycroft Campus – East Aurora
A hands-on demonstration of several lovingly crafted herbal treats for body and mind perfect for the holidays.


Wild Bird Care for Winter
Tuesday, November 17
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Roycroft Campus – East Aurora
Learn some easy steps and projects you can make that birds will appreciate, allowing you to discover more about their behaviors as they find your property a very hospitable place to visit.


Hunting (survival) vs. Killing (ego)

Homo sapiens love to claim a superiority over other species on the planet. We even have a loosely defined categorization method that generally places plants at the bottom followed closely by the “crawly” things (insects, spiders, snakes, etc.). High on the ladder just below our species we place the other primates. But it is not so simplistic since even within genetic families we differentiate (domestic dogs vs. wild canines, for example). And from what I can tell, this hierarchy is pretty much based upon our own species’ ego, likes and dislikes as individuals and societies, and/or religious convictions.

Coyote as bait

Trapped coyote being used as bait for the dogs of an employee of USDA’s Wildlife Services.

What this unilaterally defined hierarchy demonstrates to this writer, however, is a lack of intelligence on the part of H. sapiens because our knowledge and understanding of the roles individual species play within the complex network of Earth’s systems is quite limited. Consider there are thousands of species we’ve not even identified, much less perceive the significance of their niches. There are a few more open-minded scientists who have challenged the lower levels of this pecking order, such as John Marzluff and his research on Corvidae, which flies in the face (pun intended) of previous  “primates are the most intelligent animals” presumptions, but much more work along such lines should be done.

This self-named species’ superiority is the entire problem behind the current mass extinction event the Earth currently is facing. The causes are clearly understood (human over-population, habitat destruction, over-consumption, lack of education, profiteering, etc.) – these all speak of a species nearly entirely self-centered and, thus, woefully misguided.

The taking of a species’ life for a trophy is the epitome of self-centered egotism (one that is either too big, very fragile or potentially both). What other species causes such worthless death? What is wrong with H. sapiens? Is it a genetic mutation? Is our brain malfunctioning because it is more difficult for blood to reach it due to our “uprightedness?” Why do we as a species feel superior to all others? How has our existence improved the complex entity solely responsible for our survival – planet Earth? We seemingly have no beneficial niche unlike the other species with whom we share this blue marble.

Pursuing another species in a fair “sporting” manner for food or because one is under deadly attack can be called hunting. Taking an animal’s life in order to hang its head on the wall, put a rug on the floor, pin its remains in a book, etc. is killing – and ALL such intentional killing, regardless of species, should be illegal.

A few last notes in this highly controlled rant:

  • To recommend or inflict harm on those who collect animal trophies makes one no better than the trophy seeker. Pursue the higher ground and move for legislative and educational changes in our society.
  • For those in the U.S., if you are concerned about the wanton death of wildlife, then focus some of your abhorrence on your federal elected officials and mandate they dissolve Wildlife Services – an arm of the USDA responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals every year and funded by YOUR tax dollars (see for the gruesome facts, as well as the graphic below).
  • If you fear any wild animal or plant, educate yourself about the species. Learn what role it plays in the environment and understand how it benefits our own species. Knowledge can overcome fear and promotes tolerance.

Each semester, I provide my Environmental Science and Field Ecology students with numerous definitions. The most important one is as follows:

Homo sapiens (hoh-moh sey-pee-uh nz): n. – the only species on planet Earth knowingly engineering its own extinction.

May peace guide the planet…


An Oakmoss Summer

Our program line-up for the Summer of 2015 includes two field outings and a hands-on workshop in East Aurora, NY as we continue our mission to share the lessons of Nature to benefit the planet and all its inhabitants. Details and registration information available on our website. Please join us!

Twilight Trek
Saturday, July 11 – 7:00 to 9:00pm at West Falls Park. Enjoy an interpretive stroll through the woods and along the creek at dusk, one of the most active times of day as diurnal creatures wind down and nocturnal critters begin to rouse.

Field Flutterers
Saturday, July 25 – 9:00am to 11:30am at Knox Farm State Park. We’ll be seeking out the flighted creatures of the open field, be they insect or avian. From butterflies to birds, there are many species that fill the morning with activity.

Introduction to Herbal Concoctions
Saturday, August 1 – 1:00pm to 3:30pm at the Roycroft Campus Power House. A hands-on workshop in which students will become acquainted with incorporating common herbs into simple preparations for body care and overall general health.

Wildlife Dads

Oakmoss Education:

Repost in honor of our wilderness fathers.

Originally posted on Oakmoss Education:

In honor of Father’s Day, let’s not forget the wild fathers who are also remarkable parents. Below are just a few examples.

Red Fox dan and Kit (Photo by Sandy Sisti) Red Fox dad and kit
(Photo by Sandy Sisti)

Red Fox(Vulpes vulpes):

Making a monogamous pair for the season, the male stays with the female from the time they mate until the kits become independent in the Autumn. The first few days after birth, the male brings his mate food and then continues to provide for the pups (and the vixen) as they grow. As parents, they also assist in preparing their offspring for independence by caching food so that the pups learn to seek out sustenance.

Beaver(Castor canadensis):

A monogamous mate, the male is an active participant in maintenance, training and defense of its offspring. Beaver live in family colonies composed of two parents and generally two generations of offspring. They have a…

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Let it rain…

Today is gray and wet, dark skies loom and the world around us quiets. But when the Sun re-emerges, oh how life will sing – the birds, the butterflies, the bees will hum harmoniously – and the green of Kingdom Plantae will pulse with new life.


Predation, Intelligence and the Neighbors

An ordinary day on “The Acre” with an extraordinary event last weekend. I was in about hour four of hand-tilling and weeding the vegetable garden. It was hot (~87F) and humid with the sun beating down between the fleeting clouds, and black flies becoming annoyingly prevalent as my body exuded more CO2. As one would expect, the air was filled with the calls of songbirds and field birds, a singing Chickadee still in search of a mate, the back and forth fluttering of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and the irritated calls of Baltimore Orioles who were not comfortable with my proximity to their jelly feeder. Also droning in the background were human machines – lawn mowers, roto-tillers, weed-eaters – why could they not work more quietly?

Suddenly from the back of the property near a pair of Eastern Bluebird nest boxes came a frantic shrieking, the kind one might hear from an American Kestrel or Sharp-shinned Hawk but more desperate. Within 2 or 3 seconds, the Red-winged Blackbirds swarmed the spot, both males and females, quickly followed by a few Grackles. They combined to form a chorus of alarm calls while the shrieking continued.

Given the aggressive gathering, I presumed a now panicked small raptor was in the Silky Dogwood that grows along side the nest boxes. So I got up from my tilling to see if I could spot anything in the shrubbery. “Why don’t I ever remember to bring the  binoculars when I work out here,” I grumbled. Not seeing anything through the thicket, I stepped out from the fencing that surrounds the garden and fox-walked slowly toward the site to get a better perspective. The shrieking was relentless but my cautious approach was too much for the blackbirds, who took flight. Still the desperate wails continued.

I tentatively walked further toward the back and my sight-line cleared the high grass that surrounds the narrow mowed path leading to the nest boxes. That is when I spotted something brown writhing on the low grass. I was still too far to make out exactly what it was, but suspected it might be a female Red-winged given the coloring and concerned collective that had just flown off but still called feverishly a short distance away.

This is when my paced quickened, surmising that some smaller bird of prey had wounded the Red-winged and it needed help. “What the…”, said I as a small brown Weasel spun off the pile and bolted into the high grass. Left behind was this now smaller weakly wriggling mass. The air was silent of wildlife now and quickly I went to check on who it was that remained. A young Eastern Cottontail, perhaps a month or two old, was rolling slowly in pain.

As I gently scooped it up, the shrieking started again but silenced once I covered the rabbit’s eyes. Immediately its injuries were obvious as the back of its neck was raw and bleeding from the Least Weasel’s attack. Dashing across the property and into the basement, I gingerly placed the small lagamorph into a box and closed it up. Having taken some wildlife rehabilitation classes, I knew that stress is the number one cause of death for injured wild animals and that keeping it in a dark quiet place was very important to reduce anxiety. I raced upstairs to get the list of local rehabilitators and selected one close by. Grabbing my phone, I popped back down to the rabbit so to give an accurate appraisal of the animal’s situation once the rehabber was on the line. But, alas, the little one already had expired so the call was never made.

This entire episode was completed in not more than 5 minutes. Most astounding was the incredibly fast response by the local birds. The Acre regularly hosts one or two pairs of nesting Red-winged Blackbirds each season and the surrounding property likely another 2 or 3 pairs. At least a dozen Red-wingeds were present and, as mentioned above, a few Grackles. It was if they all came out of the ether at the doomed rabbit’s first shriek. Talk about being in the moment! But more interesting is how they knew trouble was at hand.

There have been a number of studies of late reporting on communication among birds and the possibility that different species understand each others’ languages. But this event seems to clearly show that these birds understand, at least to some degree, the language of a mammal.

As humans, we have a tendency toward intellectual superiority, often attributed to the size of our brain and/or complexity of our nervous system. I’ve heard rabbits make soft, muted squeals but never a shrieking sound. I hypothesized a raptor based upon the sharpness of the call and the behavior of the birds, which I have witnessed before when hawks or crows are too close to nest sites. But instinctively I knew it was a call of distress, and so did the birds. And they were at the location so fast and reacted far more quickly than any human could do. So in this situation, my intelligence was off the mark, while my instincts were right in line with those of the birds.

As I buried the box and its tiny contents in a pile of leaf litter, it was the inability to assess the situation as quickly as the birds that bothered me the most. Had I immediately been able to discern, as they did, that the event was natural predation in process, I would have let it come to its inevitable conclusion – the inexperienced wayward rabbit would have provided a meal to a cunning weasel (and perhaps some others). But it would have been impossible to achieve the adeptness of the birds without a pair of binoculars at a minimum. They definitely have an advantage being able to achieve superior sight-lines and their reaction time cannot be matched by any human I know. We simply are too caught up with our mostly needless distractions, particularly those in our own brains, to ever attempt matching the “at one with nature” talent of wildlife, a skill we let go of generations before.