Archive for April, 2011

A Trillium Feast

Friday, April 29th, 2011

     This week, and maybe next, is the height of trillium season in our part of Virginia.  The blooming of these delicate, low-to-the-ground, white flowers is not to be missed.  So my friends Kathy, Renee, and I arranged to hike together a few days ago at Virginia’s Thompson Wildlife Management Area, a spot known for its profusion of trillium.

     It was practically a perfect day.  As we set out along the wooded trail, all was delightful.   The temperature was perfect, and the green, both on the ground and above in the trees, shone in the sunlight.  Worrier that I am, it does my heart good to see just how exuberant, how persistent, how varied life is, in spite of the terrible things humanity is doing to the planet.  The birds, heard but not seen, twittered and chirped from their hidden perches.  Only once did we get to watch one, a scarlet tanager so gleaming red, a male  cardinal would pale in comparison.  

     Springtime blooms were everywhere.  Purple violets, and some yellow ones too, dotted the forest floor on either side of the trail, and dainty white flowers on the slightest of stems showed strength in their great numbers (Kathy later learned they are rue anemone).  And here and there, almost hidden by the surrounding green, was a jack-in-the-pulpit.  Unassuming on the outside, but boldly striped on the inside with white and marroon, this intricate plant is among my favorites.      

     The trees too were lovely to behold on this fresh, spring day.  Here and there a slender dogwood bloomed sweetly.  And the junior-sized  leaves of maples, oaks, and hickories were still folded downward, not yet mature enough to lift and open to the sun’s nourishing rays.   

     And then there was the trillium!  We hadn’t walked far before we spotted our first one, a fairly large, three petaled flower growing out of three largish leaves close to the ground.  Now on the lookout, we saw more and more of them.  They dotted both sides of the trail, and they could be spotted, singly, in little clusters of three or four, and in very large patches deeper into the understory.  Here and there was a trillium colored lightly pink.  A few of the little trillium groupings were all pink.  And we spied one trillium, quite a ways off the trail, that was a deep pink, truly magenta. 

     Trillium has an interesting way of reproducing.  When the plant matures, ants are attracted to elaisomes, a fleshy substance attached to the seeds.  The ants carry the seeds to their nest, eat the elaisomes from around the seeds, and put the seeds in the ‘garbage,’ where they germinate.  Trillium is a fragile flower;  picking one seriously injures the plant by preventing the leaf-like bracts from producing food for the next year.  A plant take years to recover. 

     I am very happy to have had this wonderful day in the forest with my friends and so much beauty at every turn.–April Moore  

two-trilliatrillium-and-tree 

The Life of a Bald Eagle

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

     Since last week I have been enjoying tuning in on three little bald eaglets and their parents in a nest 80 feet above the ground near Decorah, Iowa.  Thanks to a webcam set up by the Raptor Resource Project, people are tuning in by the tens of thousands to watch the progress of the little ones, born the first week of April.  You can view them too by clicking here:  http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles 

     It has been fascinating to watch the mother sit on the nest, and to see parts of the fuzzy little babies poking out from under her breast.  And to see a parent (both mother and father share in the feeding of bald eagle babies) gently inserting scraps of fish or other flesh into the little mouths.  In fact, watching the bald eagle family has been so interesting, I wanted to learn more.  So I did a little online research.

     First, I wanted to know how the bald eagle became the United States emblem.  The bald eagle was chosen in 1782 for several of its characteristics:  its long life; its great strength; its majestic looks; and because the bird was then believed to exist only in North America.  I remember much distress back in the 1960s, when the number of bald eagle nesting pairs had fallen to well under 500.  It was feared that our national symbol was on its way to extinction.  

     But the bald eagle is an American success story.  Protective efforts, including the bird’s placement on the Endangered Species List, were so successful that bald eagle numbers rebounded.  In 2007, the U.S. Interior Department removed the bird from the Endangered Species List.  Today, there are an estimated 9,800 breeding pairs in the U.S!  The bird’s range is broad, with its greatest concentration in Alaska.  

     Both the male and female bald eagle have a white head and tail, yellow beak and talons, and brownish feathers on back and breast.  The female is generally larger than the male.  Renowned for its keen eyesight, the bald eagle can fly at heights of 10,000 feet and at speeds of 30-35 mph.  The bird weighs 10-14 pounds, and its wingspan extends about 6-7  1/2 feet.  The bald eagle may live as long as 30 years, and a single bird has about 7,000 feathers!  The mainstay of the bald eagle’s diet is fish (salmon accounts for the bird’s great success in the Pacific Northwest), although it will also eat carrion.  The bald eagle is a strong swimmer.

     Bald eagles reach maturity at about 4 or 5 years.  At that time they choose a partner, with whom they mate for life.  If a partner  dies, the other will likely accept another mate.  Each breeding pair of bald eagles builds a nest, usually high in a tree near a river or coast.  A typical bald eagle nest is about 5 feet across.  A nesting pair uses the same nest year after year, adding to it annually.  Nests as large as 9 feet across have been spotted, and they can weigh up to 2 tons!

     The female lays 1-3 eggs in the spring.  She incubates the eggs with her body for about 35 days.  During that time, the male frequently brings conifer sprigs to the nest.  Why he does this is not known.  One theory is that he is trying to deodorize the nest!

     Eggs hatch in the order they were laid.  Each eaglet ‘pecks’ its way out of its egg with its egg tooth, a pointed bump on the top of its beak.  The hatching process takes 12-48 hours.  After the eggs begin hatching, the female spends almost all her time in the nest caring for the babies.  The male brings in food, which both parents shred and feed directly into the babies’ mouths.  To view a lovely little video of feeding time in the Decorah, Iowa, nest, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N50wZxRk-ds  The video was made a couple of weeks ago, when the babies were much smaller than they are now.  And are they cute!  All covered in white down, heads wagging goofily.

     Bald eagle parents, careful not to harm their babies, ball their talons into ‘fists’ when moving about the nest, so they won’t inadvertently skewer a chick! 

     The eaglets grow rapidly, adding about a pound of weight every 4-5 days.  After 3 weeks, the eaglets are about a foot tall, and their feet and beaks are nearly adult size.  Between 4-5 weeks, the young are able to stand and can begin tearing their own food.  At eight weeks, the young birds’ appetites are at their greatest.  At this point, the parents spend most of their time hunting for food, and the eaglets begin ‘stretching their wings.’  Gradually, the eaglets’ down is replaced by juvenile feathers, and at 10-13 weeks, they take their first flight.

       Even after their first flight, the young eagles stay around the nest for 4-5 additional weeks.  During this time, they take short, ‘practice’ flights and develop their flying, landing, and hunting skills.  Parents still provide the food. 

     Living independently away from ‘home’ is not easy for the youngest bald eagles.  After building their strength and skills during their first summer and fall, they face the rigors of winter.  The first winter is generally the most difficult one in the life of a bald eagle.--April Moore 

  

   

Enjoy Earth Day with Eagles–Live!

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

     “Oh, world, I cannot hold thee close enough.”  This line from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “God’s World” often runs through my mind when I find the world around me achingly beautiful.  Wonders everywhere.

     Today, Earth Day 2011, I would like to share one of those wonders.  It was sent to me by my friend Priscilla.  Some ingenious person managed to set up a video camera very close to the nest of a bald eagle near Decorah, Iowa.  The camera is on 24/7, and tens of thousands of people are tuned in at any given moment.   I can see why.  It is fascinating to watch the activities of mother and babies at such a close vantage point without disturbing them.

     The babies are darling, and as the mother warms them with her body, she looks about with those piercing eagle eyes, renowned for their acuity.   So far, I have not been fortunate enough to tune in at feeding time, but Priscilla tells me it is a thrill to watch the mother placing food directly into the little mouths. 

     In addition to the pleasure of watching these eagles in the wild, it is heartening to know that the bald eagle, once on the Endangered Species List, has rebounded.  Four years ago the U.S. Department of the Interior delisted the bird because of its greatly increasing numbers.  

     You can tune in to the lives of this little bald eagle family by clicking http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles  Enjoy watching.  If you’re busy, you may want to set up the video and then check back from time to time to see what’s happening.

     And Happy Earth Day!  I hope you will enjoy our glorious planet today–and all days.–April Moore

Native Plants: Gardening With the Earth

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

     When it comes to gardening, one of the best things you can do for Mother Earth is to ‘go native.’ 

     Choosing plants that are indigenous to one’s local area is much better for the environment than planting exotic species.  Plants that are found naturally in a region have evolved over many millennia to grow well there.  Thus, these plants are well-adapted to average local temperatures, rainfall, and soil conditions.  And these plants do not depend for their success on extra watering and fertilizing efforts. 

     With adequate supplies of clean, fresh water becoming a concern in many places, it makes sense to plant species that do not require large amounts of it to survive.  And inorganic fertilizers are known to harm soil and water.

     Another problem with exotic plants is that they may become invasive.  When introduced into an area where they did not evolve along with other flora and fauna, there may be no way to keep their growth in check.  Kudzu, for example, was introduced to the southeast from Asia in the 1880s for erosion control.  The plant now covers millions of acres.  Salt cedar, introduced to the southwest, reduces native seed germination by adding salt to the soil.  Thus, salt cedar is replacing native trees that provide food for area wildlife.  Unfortunately, there are many more such examples of invasive species that have altered the ecology of an area where they have been introduced. 

      ‘Going native’ offers many environmental benefits.  Replacing a traditional lawn with native trees, shrubs, and other plants not only saves a great deal of water and fertilizer, but landscaping with native plants also preserves biodiversity.  Restored native plant  communities provide habitat to local wildlife.  “Birds, animals, butterflies, and pollinators have co-evolved along with native plants in the region,” writes Terrie Schultz on Brighthub.com.  “Native plants produce flowers, berries, pollen, and nectar that local wildlife need for food, and provide shelter and a place for wildlife to reproduce,” explains Schultz.  And native plants are more resistant to local insects and pest diseases than are exotics.   

     Planting native species is good for the gardener as well as the planet.  You can save time and money by focusing on native plants.  You will spend less time watering, mowing, edging, and amending the soil.  And you’ll save money when you don’t have to buy fertilizers and pesticides.  

     To get started with native plant gardening, you can check with nurseries in your area to see what they have to offer.  But since many nurseries are not especially oriented toward native plants, you might also want to visit the site http://www.plantnative.org/  There you will find many resources, listed on a state by state basis.  You can learn which plants, native to your area, best suit your gardening needs. 

     Enjoy gardening for a healthier environment!–April Moore

 

photo from Beginner Gardening, HAPPY NEWS, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2007

photo from "Beginner Gardening," HAPPY NEWS, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2007

 

 

    

Springtime in Moscow

Friday, April 15th, 2011

    I don’t fully understand this poem by Boris Pasternak.  But I am drawn to its strong images of spring coming to the city.  Interestingly, this poem and others are published in the new translation of Doctor Zhivago under the authorship of the character Yuri Zhivago!  This poem was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.–April Moore

THE EARTH
     Yuri Zhivago

Spring comes barging loutishly
Into Moscow’s private houses.
Moths flutter behind the wardrobe
And crawl over the summer hats,
And fur coats are put away in trunks.

Pots of wallflowers and stock
Stand on the wooden mezzanines,
There’s a breath of freedom in the rooms,
And the garrets smell of dust.

And the street enjoys hobnobbing
With the nearsighted window frame,
And the white night and the sunset
Can’t help meeting by the river.

And in the corridor you can hear
What’s happening in the wide outdoors,
What April says to the dripping eaves
In a random conversation.

He can tell a thousand stories
About the woes of humankind,
And dawn feels chilly along the fences,
And draws it all out endlessly.

And that same mix of fire and fright
Outside and in our cozy dwellings,
And the air everywhere is not itself,
And the same transparent pussy willows,
And the same swelling of white buds
At the window and at the crossroads,
In the workshop and in the street.

Then why does the distance weep in mist,
And why does the humus smell so bitter?
In that precisely lies my calling,
So that the expanses won’t be bored,
So that beyond the city limits
The earth will not languish all alone.

It is for that my friends and I
Get together in early spring,
And our evenings are farewells,
Our little feasts are testaments,
So that the secret stream of suffering
Can lend warmth to the chill of being.

 

 

 

 

Good News: Wild Tigers on the Increase in India

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    Is any animal more magnificent than the tiger?  What a loss it would be for the world if this sleek, strong, and beautiful cat, so admiringly described by William Blake (see below), were no more.  And until recently, it looked as if the tiger could soon disappear.

     But  with a hopeful heart I can report that the numbers of this greatly endangered animal are increasing in India.  A recent survey conducted by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority found that there are 1,706 tigers living in the wild in India.  This is 225 more than existed there in the wild in 2004, the last time such a survey was taken.  About 70% of India’s tigers live in 39 tiger preserves around the country.   

     At the start of the twentieth century, more than 100,000 tigers roamed wild in India.  But in just 100 years, their numbers plummeted by 97%, as 94% of their home range was lost, and they were hunted for body parts.  But in recent years, India’s government has made a concerted effort to save the tiger from extinction. 

     “The good news is that we can save the tiger,” says Azzedine Downes, executive vice president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.  India’s success shows that strong protection of core areas where tigers live and the areas that connect them, combined with effective management of surrounding areas. produce results, explains Mike Baltzer, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Tigers Alive Initiative.  ”We can not only halt their decline, but ensure tigers make a strong and lasting comeback,” says Baltzer.     

     In addition to working to protect the wild tigers within its own borders, India is working with other tiger range nations as well.  About half of the world’s wild tigers live in India, and the others are spread among many other Asian countries.  Last November, scientists and government leaders of 13 tiger range nations gathered to launch the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP).  GTRP’s goal is to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022.   The tiger range nations are supported in their initiative by the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic, Wildlife Conservation Society, and many other organizations.

     Besides India, wild tigers are found in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, China, and Russia.–April Moore

 

photo credit:  Dave Watts

photo credit: Dave Watts

 

P.S.  If you’d like to read William Blake’s breathless poem The Tyger, just click here:   http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~keith/poems/tyger.html

 

 

 

A Visit to a Tree

Friday, April 8th, 2011

img_0622     Monday was an interlude of sunshine and warmth, sandwiched between cold, windy days. 

 

     Thinking about Krishnamurti (http://www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2011/04/to-love-a-tree/ )’s invitation to listen to the sounds a tree makes, I strolled down into the forest.  My eyes immediately fastened on a handsome chestnut oak– tall, muscular, and mightily furrowed–beside the forest trail.  

 

     Always up for a good hug, I pressed my body against this stalwart being, wrapped my arms as far around its body as they could reach, and gazed upward.  High above me, the weighty trunk tapered, then cleaved into two big forks.  Each fork divided again, and each again, over and over, until all the cleaving ended–for now–in tiny twigs.  More than 100 feet from the roots,  these frail little things were the tree’s ‘ambassadors’ to the sky.

 

     I sat down on the ground next to the oak, letting its body support me silently and surely.  Gazing at the forest all around, I sank into a peaceful space. 

 

     Perhaps not sensitive enough to hear the ‘silent sounds’ of the tree’s bark and roots, I enjoyed instead the birds calling from farther down in the forest.  A bird I couldn’t name, more of a squawker than a warbler, seemed to synchronize its call to coincide time after time with the piercing cry of a pileated woodpecker.  And now and then came the tiny and distant drillhammer of another woodpecker beating against a tree trunk.

 

     With the warm sunshine dulling my mind and the day’s responsibilities receding into the background, I realized that sitting was too much effort.  So I stretched out along the tree’s narrow, westward path of shade.  Supported by the earth, with the base of the tree just behind my head, I closed my eyes and savored the balm the forest so freely offered.

 

     Despite my dulled brain, the day’s tasks soon reasserted themselves, and I sat up.  But before leaving, I picked up one of the acorns scattered about.  It was slightly shriveled after a winter on the ground.  And as I looked closely at the little thing, I had to shake my head.  How could this little acorn contain the entire blueprint for all the complex systems of this mighty tree?  What perfection!—April Moore 

img_0621

 

    

Spring Peepers

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

     For many people throughout the eastern United States, the sound of spring peepers is a herald of spring. 

     As soon as the ice has melted on the wetlands, these diminutive forest frogs take up residence at the edge of a pond or vernal pool, in or near a forest.   Well-hidden near the bases of grasses and shrubs, the males take up their mating call in earnest.  Launching their song around dusk, they may well continue their throaty chirps for much of the night.  

     Rarely does one hear a spring peeper peeping alone.  “Under most conditions, but especially during the moist, spring nights that are most conducive to reproduction, a chorus of peepers is heard,” says Jennifer Frick-Ruppert in her book Mountain Nature:  A Seasonal History of the Southern Appalachians.

      After a singing male does find his mate and breeds, the female lays a clutch of eggs, about 900 of them (!), at the water’s edge.  The eggs soon hatch, and during their larval stage, the peepers feed on algae and other water organisms.  Six to eight weeks after hatching, the young frogs are ready to leave the water.  They disperse into underbrush and low trees.

     While they have the large toe pads typical of tree frogs, spring peepers don’t climb high into trees.  Instead, they spend more of their time hunting for food amid low vegetation and in the loose debris of the forest floor.  Spring peepers are nocturnal carnivores.  Their night-time meals include small invertebrates like beetles, ants, flies, and spiders. 

     Although only about an inch long, the spring peeper is hardy.  In the northern parts of its range, it can withstand occasional sub-freezing temperatures during its breeding season.   It can even tolerate the freezing of some of its body fluids!  During the winter, spring peepers may hibernate under logs or inside loose bark on trees.  Typically, a spring peeper lives about three years in the wild. 

     In appearance, most spring peepers are some shade of brown or grey.  They are easily recognizable by the dark X on their backs.  The male’s coloring is usually a little brighter than the female’s, and he is usually a little smaller than she is. 

     There are two sub-species of spring peeper, the northern and the southern.  While the northern is found all over the eastern U.S. and Canada, the southern is limited to north Florida and south Georgia. 

     If you have a half-minute to spare, click here Watch a spring peeper peeping!You’ll see the vocal sac’s massive expansion and deflation that makes the frog’s famous ‘peep.’ Spring is here!–April Moore

To Love a Tree

Friday, April 1st, 2011

     More than 30 countries have an annual holiday devoted to the appreciation and care of trees.  In the United States, for example, Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday of April.  In South Korea, Tree Loving Week is held in early April.  

     In appreciation and celebration of trees, I post here a short piece written by Jiddu Krishnamurti.  Primarily known as a great teacher and thinker, Krishnamurti (1895-1986) also wrote lovingly and beautifully about the natural world.  This excerpt is from Krishnamurti to Himself.

     “There is a tree by the river, and we have been watching it day after day for several weeks when the sun is about to rise. 

     “As the sun rises slowly over the horizon, over the trees, this particular tree becomes all of a sudden golden.  All the leaves are bright with life, and as you watch it as the hours pass by, that tree, whose name does not matter–what matters is that beautiful tree–an extraordinary quality seems to spread all over the land, over the river. 

     “And as the sun rises a little higher, the leaves begin to flutter, to dance.  And each hour seems to give to that tree a different quality.  Before the sun rises, it has a somber feeling, quiet, far away, full of dignity.  And as the day begins, the leaves with the light on them dance and give it that peculiar feeling that one has of great beauty.  By midday its shadow has deepened, and you can sit there protected from the sun, never feeling lonely, with the tree as your companion.  As you sit there, there is a relationship of deep abiding security and a freedom that only trees can know.

     “Toward the evening, when the western skies are lit up by the setting sun, the tree gradually becomes somber, dark, closing in on itself.  The sky has become red, yellow, green, but the tree remains quiet, hidden, and is resting for the night.

     “If you establish a relationship with it, then you have relationship with mankind.  You are responsible then for that tree and for the trees of the world.  But if you have no relationship with the living things on this earth, you may lose whatever relationship you have with humanity, with human beings.  We never look deeply into the quality of a tree, we never really touch it, feel its solidity, its rough bark, and hear the sound that is part of the tree.  Not the sound of wind through the leaves, not the breeze of a morning that flutters the leaves, but its own sound, the sounds of the trunk and the silent sound of the roots.  You must be extraordinarily sensitive to hear that sound.  This sound is not the noise of the world, nor the noise of the chattering of the mind, not the vulgarity of human quarrels and human warfare, but sound as part of the universe.”–J. Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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