Archive for May, 2011

An Avian Success Story

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

     The Seychelles Magpie-Robin is a great success story. 

     Coming back from the brink of extinction, with fewer than 25 birds living on a single island in the Indian Ocean, the species now numbers almost 200, with stable populations on five islands in the 115-island Seychelles archipelago east of Africa and northeast of Madagascar.  This large, glossy black bird with white wing splotches has been downlisted from “critically endangered” to “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Animals.

     The Seychelles Magpie-Robin had been in decline since the nineteenth century.  The clearing of forests greatly reduced the bird’s habitat.  And the introduction of such alien species as cats and rats meant further devastation.  Then, once the bird became truly rare, museums around the world began collecting specimens of the rare bird, making further inroads into a very fragile population.

     By 1990, fewer than 25 of the birds were left.  And they all lived on Fregate Island, just one of the seven Seychelles islands where the bird had once thrived.  The plight of the Seychelles Magpie-Robin led to a well-organized, international effort to save the bird from extinction.  And today’s increased population is the result of years of determined conservation efforts by a handful of organizations and individuals.

     To save the bird from extinction, many things had to be done.  Efforts to restore habitat and to control invasive species were made on several of the islands where the bird had been extirpated.  Reintroduction efforts were carefully planned.  When 20 birds were reintroduced to Denis Island, for example, they were fed with food on tables before being released.  The table feeding was done so that the birds would be used to eating from tables in case their diet needed supplementation later, after they were released.  Also before release, the birds were trained to respond to whistles that indicated feeding times.  It was necessary that the ornithologists be able to attract the birds, in order to monitor them for health and well-being.  

     Birds being reintroduced to Denis and other islands were released in pairs in suitable habitats.  Fortunately, the birds established themselves quickly in their new homes, and within months, several pairs bred successfully.  “This translocation is a fantastic example of how bird keeping expertise, developed through captive management, can be highly beneficial when applied to the conservation of endangered species in the wild,” notes Gary Ward, Senior Bird Keeper with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, one of the organizations working to save the Seychelles Magpie-Robin.  “Organizations working in unison are bringing different skills together on a project such as this is how many species recovery programs are moving forward,” he adds. 

      Although still rare, the Seychelles Magpie-Robin’s population is stable.  And it is growing.  But growth will never be rapid with this bird.  The female lays but one egg at a time.  And once a young bird has left the nest, it flies poorly and is very vulnerable to predators.  In fact, both parents continue to feed their vulnerable young offspring for 2-3 months after it leaves the nest.  The Seychelles Magpie-Robin is a long-lived bird, living about 15 years when conditions are favorable. 

     I say a heartfelt thank you to those in the international conservation community whose skill, dedication and determination saved the Seychelles Magpie-Robin from extinction.–April Moore

In Time of Cloudburst

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

     I am a fan of Robert Frost’s poetry.  Not only did he write insightfully and beautifully about human relationships,  but he was also a keen observer of nature. 

     The poem below is an eloquent musing on violent weather and about our planet’s changes over geologic time.  I find an added resonance in this poem, as the area where I live has been hit recently by waves of thunderstorms and even tornadoes.  Our warming climate is producing increasingly violent and unpredictable weather.–April Moore  

 

In Time of Cloudburst

Robert Frost

Let the downpour roil and toil!
The worst it can do to me
Is carry some garden soil
A little nearer the sea.

‘Tis the world old way of the rain
When it comes to a mountain farm
To exact for a present gain
A little of future harm.

And the harm is none too sure.
For when all that was rotted rich
Shall be in the end scoured poor,
When my garden has gone down ditch,

Some force has but to apply,
And summits shall be immersed,
The bottom of seas raised dry,
The slope of the earth reversed.

Then all I need do is run
To the other end of the slope
And on tracts laid new to the sun
Begin all over to hope.

Some worn old tool of my own
Will be turned up by the plow,
The wood of it changed to stone,
But as ready to wield as now.

May my application so close
To the endless repetition
Never make me tired and morose
And resentful of man’s condition.

Dispose of Cell Phone Batteries–Safely

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

     For a couple of weeks now, two old cell phone batteries have been taking up space on our kitchen counter.  My husband and I got new batteries for our cell phones, but what to do with the old batteries? 

     I knew I couldn’t just throw them in the trash because they contain toxic metals and should be kept out of the environment.   Although tiny and innocuous-looking, they are classified ‘hazardous waste’ by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   So safe disposal matters.

     I did a little research, and I am happy to report that getting rid of old cell phone batteries safely is actually quite easy.  An outfit known as the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) works with a variety of retailers and organizations to take all types of cell phone batteries:  nickel-cadmium (ni-cd), nickel metal hybrid (Ni-MH), and Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries.  Lowes, Home Depot, Staples, and many other retail chains offer a drop-off program.  Consumers can simply drop off their old cell phone batteries (and other household batteries as well, for that matter), and know that these batteries will be disposed of safely.  They will not be contributing to air pollution through incineration nor to contamination of groundwater through landfill disposal.

     But my research also informed me that while many retail chains have a policy of accepting old cell phone batteries, not all of their individual stores actually do.  To find a
site near you that actually does participate in the RBRC program, just click here:  http://www.ehso.com/ehso2.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rbrc.org/consumer/uslocate.html 

     Here, at the Call2Recycle website, you can enter your zip code to find the nearest stores and organizations that will accept your old cell phone batteries for safe treatment.  I live in a rural area, and I was pleasantly surprised that a large number of stores in the nearest big town of Harrisonburg, VA, popped up, along with phone numbers.  So I can check by phone to make sure these individual outlets actually do participate in the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation program.  Then I’ll just take the cell phone batteries (if I can remember!) with me next time I head down to Harrisonburg.  And since outlets that receive cell phone batteries also take AA, AAA, and other household batteries, I can just save up all used batteries to drop off on trips to Harrisonburg.–April Moore

A Roomful of Joy

Friday, May 20th, 2011

     My friend Jan Frazier is one of my favorite writers.  Her work is beautiful, lyrical, precise, and accessible.  I am publishing here a short piece she wrote about a joyful encounter with birds.  It was published in THE WRITE ACTION #2:  TENTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.–April Moore                                                                                                

 

A Roomful of Joy

by Jan Frazier

 

I spent time not long ago in a room filled with happy people.  It was a roomful of birds, really, a space people were allowed to walk in, to co-occupy.  We slowly moved about, strangers to one another mostly, though some had entered as collections of family members – a couple of parents with a kid or two, a father with a baby, a mother with her daughter and her daughter’s friend.  I was there with my grown-up daughter.  There were old people, there was a developmentally youthful adult, there were East Indians, and people with pale skin, and tanned white people.  There was a white-haired woman using a walker.

            We were keeping company with maybe two or three hundred birds.  It was mostly parakeets, of various colors – cobalt, pale blue, white, yellow, lime.  A few small brilliant parrots were in the mix, and quite a number of birds I recognized but whose name I couldn’t say – crested birds of gray or yellow, a lot larger than parakeets, about the size of a robin.  Scattered here and there were artificial trees where the birds could alight.  The entire scene was enclosed within a large tent made of some kind of see-through synthetic material. 

            Imagine the sound, the raucous chirping and tweeting and squawking, over the talk and delighted laughter.  Several dozen amazed mammals walking in circles, reaching their hands above their heads, extending wooden popsicle sticks studded with seed.  The function of the seed sticks was to lure the colorful winged beings that were perched high on the branches of the pretend trees.  Birds flew all around the swiveling human heads, one occasionally alighting on somebody’s hairy head, somebody else’s clothed shoulder.  The constant whirr of beating wings filled the air.  Lots of people stood transfixed with a bird on their very own seed stick, held at eye level, in wide-eyed pleasure at the close view of a bird picking at the seed under and around its feet. 

            I had parakeets when I was a youngster, so I know something about how to convince a pair of those feet to accept a stiffened finger as a suitable perch.  Some of the pleasure I experienced that day came of assisting others (eager children, mostly) in bringing this about for themselves.  What joy to see a little child’s bright eyes grow brighter with the unaccustomed feel of the fleshy finger being gripped by ridged and clawed bird feet.  This left the other hand deliciously free to slowly raise the seed stick up in front of the hinged yellow beak.  The youthful eyes drank in the close-up scene:  beady black bird eyes intent on their morsel, the feathered head tilting this way and that, and then the beak selecting its particular morsel.  The rubbery tongue working in tandem with the point of the beak to puncture and then to roll off the papery husk of the seed, delivering the luscious kernel to the mouth.  All of it taking place right there in front of the face.

            The children weren’t the only ones enthralled.  Or, you might say, we had all become kids.  No matter the appearance, no matter the burdens of life, the dignified day job.  Here we all were:  alive and together, in love with these birds with their colorful bodies, their feathers and wings and feet and beaks and eyes, all the landing and taking off, eating, dropping husks.  It was fun, it was purely fun, purely joyful.  Even the occasional discovery of a soft little black-and-white stool deposited on an arm or a head – even that, no one seemed to mind.  Not even the ladies made up just so. 

I recalled how as a kid, peering at a parakeet dropping on the living room rug, I’d noted its resemblance to a miniature cream-filled donut, the tiny coil of black circling around its white center.  At a certain age, nothing is so off-putting to a child that it fails to be fascinating.

Late in the afternoon, grown-up eyes could see, if they bothered to look through the clear sides of the tent, that the sky was darkening with its next load of rain.  The day had been mostly sunny, but now it was evident we would soon be visited with another episode of the summer’s familiar bounty of sky water.  Since it was not long till closing time, and the parking lot was a considerable distance from the tent, a good number of the adults (recollecting their conscientious selves) pulled themselves away.  Some had pleading, sobbing children by the hand. 

The diehards stayed.  It was as if we didn’t notice the dark sky above our heads, or maybe just didn’t care enough about the prospect of getting drenched to force ourselves to a premature goodbye.  Nothing could get us out of there; nothing could matter enough.  Here and there was a wild-eyed glance around the room, eyes locking in fleeting recognition of our mad communal in-love-ness with this place.  Soon, as if a giant egg cracked above the roof of our feathery heaven, the sky opened and let down a great torrent, a fresh deposit from a cloud.  Magnificent, that deluge.  Briefly the birds grew still and quiet.  Then, as if realizing they were not actually out in it and needing to seek refuge, they resumed their chirping and eating and taking off and landing. 

It was like a dream.  It was like the last day of the world, all of us young and old humans in there, all those brilliant flying creatures, the rain coming in great silvery sheets all around our happy room.  The thunder rumbled.  No one cared, no one cared.  Was there any better place to be?

            Once, as the rain came down, I stood still.  No bird, just then, was on my person.  I looked around me at all the bright faces, all the birds intent on their seed-proffering humans, and the human eyes glistening, amazed.  And I thought, No one in here is unhappy.  No one just now is remembering they have any problems, or that there are wars in the world, or that someday they will die.  Everything has been forgotten but this here, this now.  I wanted to cry out to all those dear, perfect strangers, Hey everybody, it could be this way all the time!  If I had, no one would have looked strangely at me, or looked surprised.  In the bird room, in that magic suspension of the ordinary, they would have known the truth of it.  They’d forget it later maybe, but right then, they’d know it was so.

Amazing Life Under the Sea!

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

     I thank my friend De for showing me this video.  It is astonishing!  I already knew there are amazing creatures under the sea, but the ones depicted in this short video boggle my mind.  

     You’re in for a treat when you click on this link.–April Moore 
http://biggeekdad.com/2011/02/amazing-sea-creatures/

A Tale of Two Turtles

Friday, May 13th, 2011

     On the morning after the giant thunderstorm I wrote about recently (http://www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2011/05/the-weather-aint-what-it-used-to-be/, ), I took a stroll down into the woods to see what I could see.  I still regret not bringing my camera that day because I saw an amazing sight that I will never forget.  I will have to do my best, using only words, to paint a picture of the scene.

       It all started when I stooped to examine some bright coral-colored fungus growing along the furrows of a small log on the ground.  I was about to reach across the log to pull out a tall garlic mustard plant, when I gasped.  From the other side of the log, a box turtle faced me.  And it was in a position I have never seen assumed by a turtle!  It seemed to be leaning back, facing me from a reclining position.  While I have often seen turtles fully on their backs, I have never seen one at a 45 degree angle!

     The turtle’s head was fully extended, as were its front legs.  Its right hind leg was also fully out of the shell, bent and open wide.  The turtle’s other rear leg was obscured by the shell of another box turtle, resting on the ground, in a more usual turtle posture–a mound with head and legs tucked inside.

     I stared, garlic mustard forgotten, at the ’reclining’ turtle.  I felt it noticed me, and its head moved slightly from side to side.  Was this turtle okay?  Was it stuck somehow?  What could account for its strange position?  Should I try to move it?

     If this turtle was able to take care of itself, I didn’t want to interfere.  But neither did I want to abandon an animal in need if I could be of help.  So after a few moments of watching the turtle looking about, I gingerly picked it up by its shell.  Head and legs quickly vanished.  But not the left rear leg.  Trying to lift the turtle, I could see that it was stuck!  Its left hind foot was trapped inside the shell of the other turtle!  What?!  How could such a thing happen!

     In trying to separate the turtles, I was afraid to pull very hard.  I feared I might hurt the stuck turtle’s trapped foot.  But, in a moment, the other turtle’s shell must have opened enough to free the captive foot, because suddenly the two animals were separate.  The shell of the second turtle, while closed, was not closed tightly.  So I peeked inside and saw slight movement.  The turtle was alive.

     I set the two turtles on the ground, two helmets side by side, and continued my walk.

     But still I wonder.  What caused one turtle’s foot to get caught in the shell of another?  Had the two been mating when the nighttime storm blew them down the hill together? Did the wind tumble them into this unorthodox union?

     To find out if that might be possible, I did a little research on ‘turtle sex.’  I learned that springtime is indeed mating season for turtles.  And I learned that the male may do a lot of pushing and prodding of the female before he actually mounts her.  Maybe some of this shoving was going on when the wind took the twosome down the hill, leaving them in a tangle.  

     What a sight!  And to think I would have walked right past it, unnoticing, had I not stopped to look at something else nearby.  So much that I don’t see in nature!    I am attaching below a couple of generic photos of eastern box turtles.–April Moore

 

 

 

photo by Lisa Brown

photo by Lisa Brown

 

 

     

    

Garlic Mustard: Make War, Not Love

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

     I used to kind of like these tall, straight, slender plants topped with tiny white blossoms.  I thought they must be some sort of wildflower. 

     But then I took the Virginia Master Naturalist training last year, and I learned otherwise.  This plant is not some benign local flower;  it’s garlic mustard, described on the Northwest Ohio Nature website as “public enemy number one in a native habitat,” a biological disaster.  

     Garlic mustard is native to Europe, and it was first spotted on this side of the Atlantic in 1868, on Long Island.  Since then, the plant has spread across North America, thanks to the movement of humans and animals.  As of 2000, garlic mustard was growing in 34 states and four Canadian provinces, according to the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Service.  The largest U.S. concentrations are in the midwest and the northeast.   

SO WHAT MAKES GARLIC MUSTARD SUCH A BAD THING?

     “Garlic mustard is one of the few non-native herbs capable of invading and dominating forest understory communities,” according to MSU.  The plant can grow in virtually any type of soil and can thrive in low levels of light.  A single plant can produce thousands of seeds.  And these seeds can lie dormant for up to nine years and still germinate.  Because garlic mustard begins growing very early in the spring, it gets a head start on other flowering plants and tree seedlings.   Garlic mustard “diverts resources from native spring woodland ephemeral plants such as liverworts, toothworts, solomon-seal, trilliums,” and many other wildflowers, according to MSU.  In a forest habitat, garlic mustard displaces native plants, hampers the regeneration of tree species, alters the natural associations between plants and fungi, and even alters soil composition and structure!

     I am beginning to understand that invasive plants are not just weeds, a nuisance because they are not the plants one chose.  I now ‘get it’ that a plant as invasive as garlic mustard can create serious and long-term effects in native habitats.

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT GARLIC MUSTARD?

     The plant can be controlled by homeowners, but it takes a lot of diligence and persistence.  Herbicides like Roundup work well.  Experts recommend using the herbicide on the young leaves.  The larger plants can also be sprayed if they haven’t already gone to seed. 

     Many gardeners and naturalists advocate ‘pulling on sight.”  And they suggest putting the pulled plants into a garbage can or bag because, if left on the ground, the pulled plants can still go to seed.  If a can or bag is unavailable, some gardeners advise gathering the pulled plants into isolated piles to at least limit their growth to a small area. 

WHAT DOES GARLIC MUSTARD LOOK LIKE?

     A biennial plant, garlic mustard looks different during its first year than during its second.  In its first year, the plant is close to the ground and has scalloped, kidney-shaped leaves.  These early leaves have a garlic-like smell when crushed.  This smell fades as the plant matures.  During the second year, the plant grows tall, and its upper leaves are more triangle-shaped.  Tiny white flowers grow atop the stem, and later, slender green fruits appear, radiating outward from below the flowers.

                                                                                                                                                ****************************************************

     So unless you are lucky enough to live in an area that has not been visited by garlic mustard, happy pulling this spring and summer.–April Moore

 

 

          

The Weather Ain’t What It Used to Be

Friday, May 6th, 2011

     One night last week I was awakened by crashing thunder.  Rain lashed against the windows, surging with the wind, as if trying to break them.

     I got out of bed to take a look.  The sky, which should have been fully dark at this hour, was instead only intermittently dark.  Lightning flashed so frequently that the sky was mostly light.  Although I’m usually one to enjoy a good thunderstorm (from indoors, that is), this storm made me a little nervous.  It was battering the house and bending the trees with a fury I have seldom witnessed.  For the first time ever, I wondered if we were safe in our upstairs bedroom.  Should we sleep downstairs instead, in case a tree might come crashing through the roof?

     But by morning, all was calm.  The sun shone, and the sky was bright.  I stepped outdoors and was pleasantly surprised to see how normal everything looked.  A few small branches lay scattered about the driveway, but nothing substantial.   I marveled that the dogwood blossoms were still fastened to the trees, that the little pansies in my window boxes had made it through.  How could such fragile little flowers survive such a beating?

     Sometime during the storm, the electricity had gone out.  We were cut off from our usual sources of news, so all I knew of what was going on in the world was what I could see around me. 

     Later that morning, I decided to go out for a run.  I stopped to talk to a neighbor who told me that a tornado had swept up and over our ridge druing the night, uprooting trees, flattening chicken houses and a barn.  About a half-mile down the road I talked to another neighbor who had actually heard the tornado charge past at about 3 am.  “It sounded just like they say it does,” he explained.  “Just like a freight train, only without the whistle.  And it lasted only a few seconds.”

     I ran on.  Before long, the scene became dramatic, chaotic.  Trees, some of them large, lay across the road.  A crown of new, green leaves at one end, exposed roots covered with fresh soil at the other end.  Some trees still stood, but their trunks had been snapped in the middle.  Jagged splinters protruded from the still rooted trunk.  And the top portion was folded over, its topmost branches and twigs crushed against the ground next to the rest of the tree.  The sweet smell of freshly cut wood seemed out of place;  it doesn’t belong in a mature forest.

     All around was a mess, but an intrepid neighbor was working to make the road passable again.  Cutting through the trunks and branches that blocked the road, he admitted he was tired, having been out there with his Bobcat since first light.

     Three days later, my husband Andy and I took a walk along the ridge in a different direction, and then down one of our smaller country roads.  We’d heard from a neighbor that funnel clouds had touched down there as well.  And soon we came upon the evidence.  Uprooted trees and severed limbs, thrown by the storm into the road, had been pushed aside and were now resting against the grassy slopes lining the road.  Here and there trees stood, minus tops that the storm had torn away.  

     Here, it was more than trees that had been damaged.  A barn, neat and tidy-looking just a few days before, was now collapsed and spread over the grass.  Pieces of it were caught in nearby–and not so nearby–trees.  Fortunately, the tornadoes caused no human deaths, even though we later learned that the system churned its way up the valley a distance of more than 20 miles.

     Since the tornadoes swept through our area, I have heard neighbors commenting about the power of nature and acts of God.  But it seems clear to me that these terms no longer fully capture the state of our situation, because now, even our weather is partly man-made.  At an accelerating rate, over the last two centuries we have been changing the atmosphere of our planet.  And climate scientists have been telling us that the effects of these changes, especially the near doubling of the proportion of carbon in our atmosphere, would result not just in warming, but in an increase of extreme weather events as well. 

     Over the course of the last year, we have seen many examples of extreme weather.  Two of the most dramatic were the crippling drought in Russia and devastating floods in Pakistan.  And last week’s storm is part of this picture.  Our little tornadoes in Virginia were a piece of a southern regionwide tornado system that killed more than 300 people.  It was a storm the likes of which have not been seen in North America in 40 years.  No, the weather is not what it used to be.–April Moore

stand-of-damaged-trees

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Good News: Florida Panther’s Numbers Rising

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

     Back in the early 1990s, the magnificent Florida panther was nearly extinct.  But thanks, in part, to a creative initiative on the part of scientists, governmental agencies, and conservation organizations, the animal’s numbers have more than tripled.

     Twenty years ago, only 20-30 panthers remained in south Florida.  Explosive human population growth and all the construction that goes with it had destroyed most of the panther’s forest and swamp habitat.  With so little of their natural range left, most of the wide-ranging panthers could not survive on the remnants of land left to them.  And with so few of their species remaining, panthers suffered the problems associated with inbreeding–heart problems, fertility issues, and genetic defects.  

    Then the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), working with many partner agencies and organizations, introduced a bold effort to help the Florida panther survive.  In 1994 the Plan for Genetic Restoration was launched.  To strengthen the health of the remaining Florida panthers and to improve their chances of population growth, scientists added genetic diversity to the population.  Eight female panthers from a Texas population of the same species were introduced into the Florida panther population.

     Scientists hoped that the addition of the Florida panthers’ Texas cousins would reduce the health problems inbreeding had caused in the Florida panthers by adding genetic variety to the population.  The scientists’ hopes have been realized.  ”Now, panther kittens of mixed-state background have about half the mortality risk of pure Floridian kittens, and adults face lower risks too,” Susan Milius reports in Science News  (October 23, 2010).  Today, the Florida panther numbers about 100.  And while this figure represents steady growth over the last 20 years, it is hardly high enough to mean the Florida panther is out of danger.  The Florida panther remains on the Endangered Species List.

     “We are excited by the success of this project,” states Dr. Dave Onorato, a FWC biologist.  “We now have a larger, healthier population that more closely resembles what we would have expected to find in the once-widespread Florida panther population before it became reduced in numbers and isolated in south Florida.”  

     The success of genetic restoration efforts with Florida panthers is a model that offers hope for other endangered carnivores, many scientists believe.  But of course genetic restoration is only part of the answer.  Providing sufficient habitat is also essential.  And while Florida panthers today occupy only about 5% of their original range, the species’ success has been aided greatly by the establishment of such land preserves as Big Cypress National Park, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

     So just who is this animal that scientists and conservationists are working hard to save?  The Florida panther is a large, sleek, tawny-colored cat.  An adult male weighs about 160 pounds.  Panther kittens are darkly spotted on a buffy background.  Panthers thrive in a variety of Florida terrains–swamps and freshwater marshes, pine forests, and hardwoods.  The panther’s ability to hide and its habit of seeking dense cover make spotting it difficult.  Biologists must rely on such signs as tracks and scat to confirm a panther’s presence.  A subspecies of the North American Cougar, the Florida panther evolved to eat deer.  But in today’s changed environment, panthers also eat wild hogs and smaller animals.  The panther does not have the ability to roar, but its sounds are distinct–whistles, chirps, growls, hisses, and purrs.   

     The Florida panther was designated Florida’s state animal in 1982.–April Moore

 

    

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