Busy Finch on a Morning Filled with Birds

Busy Finch on a Morning Filled with Birds

This morning I was able to watch a female purple finch work on making her nest. She caught my eye as I looked out my kitchen window and saw movement in the garden below, near an ornamental Korean Lilac tree close to blooming. Busily, she kept adding pieces of mulch and plant debris to the clutch in her beak, obviously approving of the quality and availability.

Not making the connection at first, I soon realized her nest was being made in tightly woven confines of branches in the soon to flower lilac. She nearly disappeared when she entered the rounded crown where her family would  grow.

After a brief period, and maybe realizing I was watching, she flew out of the tree, off to another place to collect treasures of twigs that might strengthen her soon to be nest.  In the time I sat waiting for her return, now with camera in hand, I noticed other birds were checking out Miss Kim II (fond nickname of the Lilac Tree). Several robins visited, barn swallows, and at least one tiny black-capped chickadee.  The swallow, or at least what I thought was a swallow, was really checking out the tree and sat in it for several minutes. The lady finch had returned, now only ten feet away, sitting on our deck railing, again with a mouthful of the newest nest components. She patiently sat, waiting for the other birds to leave. Again, I assumed she could see me, now the lady with the camera, and wanted to be sure I was there to do nothing more than take pictures.

Eventually, the purple finch flew back onto the very top branches of Miss Kim II, still holding her precious oral cargo. There, she very obviously checked around the yard for what I imagine she thought were any signs of potential predators. After looking thoroughly, I saw her fly into the tree once again to add to her nest.

There was a flurry of song bird activity in our yard this morning. My observations all started with noticing a very plump Eastern Blue Bird siting on our deck rail, in the very same spot the finch subsequently patiently waited to return to the popular, odiferous, and soon to bloom lilac tree.

The beauty of the birds, the color of the tree, and the persistence of the finch, all attracted my attention today. It’s the little things in life. Notice them.

Everyday is Environmental Day

Everyday is Environmental Day

Yesterday.

Friday was Arbor Day.

Friday, April 28th, yesterday, was Environmental Day at our school.

Approximately 24 hours ago, 375 students visited with me in K-5 grade level groups for 35 minutes per grade level,  at our local Elementary School, Evergreen Elementary, to hear me talk about the importance of Forests. Yes. I talked about forests for an entire school day!

What was my motivation? As an environmental educator, I want to inspire our youth to take care of our earth. It is theirs to inherit, healthy and sustainable, or decaying and uncared for. It is theirs.

We have a couple of  special  outdoor places at our school. One, is our butterfly garden, of which I am very familiar. In 2006, students in our garden club, lead by my facilitation, researched and planted host plants to support local butterflies. Two years later, we were certified as a Monarch WayStation by Monarch Watch.  The garden has been our base for the club’s activities for 12 year.

But, the other place we have that is special at Evergreen is what I call the Pine Tree Forest! The forest is full of Eastern White Pines, essentially a temperate coniferous forest in an area of our state that more typically nurtures broadleaf forests. Yet, it is there. It is beautiful. It is unused. I am not sure that it is even seen on most days, yet is it right next to the playground.

Forest behind Evergreen

So, what was my message to our elementary students?  My message was simple. People take from the forest everyday, with every breath. We all use multiple products from the forest, everyday, with almost every action. Yet, do we really appreciate our forests? Could we live without them? No. The answer is no; we could not live without forests.

I shared what the students might do to become or be better forest stewards.  To help keep the forest ecosystem healthy and sustained, for not just all of us, but for them, for their future earth. They learned some facts about the web of life that exists in the forest and how it is a community where everything has a job and a purpose to help it function in a healthy way. I pointed out how this was just like our communities of families and classrooms where everyone has a responsibility to help things run more smoothly.  They learned a little about our state history in Forestry and how very early on, Wisconsites learned that you can not cut down every tree in the forest. I told them how this was done and how this was a mistake. By the 1840’s we were well on our way to managing sustainable forests.

Due to climate change and the important role trees and forests have in carbon fixing, we are at another point in our history globally that we must take care of our forests. They sustain human life. We must make sure the forest is sustainable, for we are part of the forest ecosystem – whether that forest in the U.S., or not. The forest connects us all. It is the invisible connection of the breath of life.

Lastly, the students were given concrete examples of how to be a forest steward. This included using renewable products (if you cut down a tree, replace it with another),  recycling products, reusing products like cloth grocery bags, plastic spoon, and paper. Reusing helps you reduce. The students were introduced to the importance of rotting. The debris on the forest floor rots with the help of decomposers. I shared that I think this is the most important part of the forest because as the soil is enriched with the materials decomposed by fungi, bacteria, and worms, it provides a place for new pine tree seeds to germinate.  New trees. New life.

The students heard the importance of the phrases, leave no trace, and carry in – carry out.  They were encouraged to share information with their families, talking with others about the importance of forests and trees. They seemed to know it is important to live in a way that does not hurt trees or plants.

But, my take away message to this group of young people was to use the forest! We have the good fortune of having many beautiful forests in our state. Being outside and unplugged, is healthy for humans. And, studies have shown that the more forests are used for recreation such as hiking, camping, and geo-caching the more we will appreciate them. Appreciation leads to love, and love leads to protection.

I hope the students learn to use our Evergreen Pine Tree Forest, learn to appreciate it, and learn to love it.  Then, they will protect it.  Protect if for their own future.

For Everyday is Environmental Day.

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.

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Yesterday I drove I -35, otherwise known as The Great River Road that runs parallel to the Mighty Mississippi and divides the state borders of Minnesota and Iowa with Wisconsin.  There was a time in my life that I thought I would never see Bald Eagles or even Great Blue Herons other than the one that resided on a pond near my college campus. The Mississippi and surrounding bluffs are awash with wildlife this spring. It is a fitting Earth Day Post to write how much I reveled in the beautiful surrounds near my home yesterday. Having completed a writing challenge in March, I saw many clever ways to catalog observations rather than writing a narrative.  So, here we go:

On A Sunny Spring Day on the way to Iowa I saw:

Ten Trains Rolling

Nine Boats Rowing

Eight Cranes Standing

Seven Seagulls Gliding

Six Mallards Quacking

Five Barges Moving

Four Motorcycles Speeding

Three Great Blue Herons Wading

Two Eagles Soaring

One Turkey Vulture Perching

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What a Hoot!

What a Hoot!

Friday, my boys were off from school for the Easter holiday break.  About mid-afternoon, I looked out our back window and saw a white patch in a tree at the edge of the field behind us. The landscape is slowly greening up but the trees have not leafed out yet so seeing something pure white mid-way up a tree was odd.  I wondered what it could be so I got out my binoculars and look a long look.  Ah, it was still too far away.  We have another pair of binoculars – a “real” pair, not the child’s pair I was using initially, so I dug those out of their resting place in the front closet.  Back at the window, the white “thing” was still in the tree, but its shape had shifted.  Now, I knew it was alive, just as I thought!

Staring, dialing in and out of focus using the binoculars, I stood at our living room window for 10-15 minutes, looking for clues about what was in that tree behind our house. This also required a lot of blinking, as my contacts did not respond to being shoved up against a glass lens as I peered into the eyepiece.  In the meantime, my fifteen year old asked what I was up to. When I told him, I spilled what had been on my mind.

“I think there might be a snowy owl in that tree back there, by the edge of the field,”  I told him, excitedly!

“Seriously? Mom.”  he replied, shaking his head. But, he got up off the couch to take a look.  My boys are used to my nature–based escapades and frequently indulge my thoughts, if only to prove me wrong, as time permits. At this point, I went to get my camera to try to zoom in close enough to prove it was indeed an owl, a snowy owl!

The camera didn’t help, but then my son said, “Do you want me to go out there and take a closer look?”

“Sure,” I said. “Take the binoculars with you.”

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A few minutes later, he was waving to me.  I went outside, taking the camera with me, hopeful.  He shouted something. I couldn’t hear it.

“What is it?”  I shouted back.

“Well, it’s not an owl, mom. It’s our neighbor’s cat!”

A half hour spent – looking, wondering, snapping photos, enlisting the help of a reluctant teen and hoping, just to find out the white patch in the tree behind our house was our neighbor’s cat!

What a hoot!

Oh, yeah. Our neighbors do have a white cat. Obviously, I was hoping for something more exciting.

 

 

Sixty Six, Sunny, & Some Music for the Soul.

Sixty Six, Sunny, & Some Music for the Soul.

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Being a mid-life graduate student in Environmental Education, I’m well versed on the positive effects nature can have on all aspects of your health. We need nature more than it needs us. Today, I lived what I preach and took my weekly walk a day early – alone.

By late afternoon, I took off down the road enjoying the sun, a warm sixty-six degrees, a cooling  breeze, and some of my favorite tunes from my iTunes library. Sheena Easton, Stevie Wonder, Glenn Miller, Toto, The Band Perry, Orchestral Arrangements of various pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean, Jackson Browne, the Zac Brown Band, Gloriana, and Steel Magnolia kept me company. Three miles, round trip, I walked along with a bounce in my step, a breeze to keep me cool, and songs to make me smile.

Usually, I walk with a friend and we try to solve the “problems of the world” during our one hour journey covering the roughly the same path I did today.  Today was for me – a tune up of my spirit using music, sunny skies, a warm breeze, and some great company – myself.

I noticed how green everything has become, the spring hyacinths and daffodils poking through the ground with touches of pink and yellow, the trees just trying ever so hard to leaf out dusting the ground with pollen, and the freshness of the air. It is spring. Nature is rejuvenating itself and nature is rejuvenating me.

Wildlife Wednesday Without Words

Wildlife Wednesday Without Words

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Monarch Butterfly
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Bumble Bee on Wild Romance Aster
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Seal on beach sunning himself on the Island of Kauai
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Monarch Larva – Fifth Instar
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Crane at Bird Rescue on Florida Keys
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Swallowtail caterpillar

 

The Birds are Back!

The Birds are Back!

Growing up, I was never a fan of birds. On a trip to the zoo when I was much younger than ten, I witnessed a girl with red hair be attacked by a bird in the aviary at the local Zoo. Needless to say, it left an impression on me.   Then, there was the time we were in Myrtle Beach with my family over Easter break, when a seagull relieved himself on me while I was sunbathing. Human beach bird feeders brought forth contempt from me as I avoided their “area” of the beach for years to come. Finally, the barn swallows would swoop and dive at my long, black hair that seemed to flow out behind me and whip around my face as I performed the requisite the adolescent chore of grass cutting. So, it is true for the above obvious reasons, birds and I were never friends when I was growing up.

Some where along the way, that began to change. I really don’t know when. But, I can tell you now that I appreciate the birds, with their grace, and beauty that arrive in my yard to tell me spring is here. In the last two weeks, despite some heavy snowfall, I have noted first the return of robins, then purple finches, and now red-winged black birds. They join the imposing black crows that have found some sustenance on our grounds throughout the winter. Soon,  I hope to see blue birds, cardinals, and my personal favorite, the ruby throated hummingbirds!

I have taken to providing a fruit and nut mix of bird seed that sits in a feeder in my yard and homemade nectar that hangs just outside my kitchen window for the hummingbirds. The birds are fun to watch, adding color and movement to our yard. Spring is near, the colorful, chirping birds are telling me so.