Archive for the ‘Birds & Wildlife’ Category

Richard James collected bottles

Richard James' bottle collection

Often it is the discoveries one makes in between the final destinations that make a trip interesting. Transported from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore we came across this display in a barnyard. These are giant bottle shapes sculpted out of chicken wire and filled with the litter of actual plastic water bottles. An accompanying photo reads:

In One year

One person collected these bottles

On the beaches of One national park: Point Reyes

Most plastic in the ocean breaks into particles that contaminate

The fish that eat them and us where we eat the fish.

Use One metal bottle.

Collected, created and photographed by Richard James copyright 2011.

If you follow through to “Coastodian’s” blog www.coastodian.org you’ll learn this:

Almost every day Richard walks for miles up and down Tomales Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Carrying a backpack, he collects 40 to 60 pounds of trash each trip.

Shows how just one person can make a difference, but a shame that one could spend a lifetime cleaning up after folks. Thanks, Richard, for making every day Earth Day.

Nancy R. Peck


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Botanical Garden at UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

I’ve left the desk-nest this week and am touring the San Francisco area. Sunny weather. That’s always a nice gift to bring to one’s host.

Field trip to UC Berkeley Botanical Garden: Up up up the hill the car crawls past two flagmen. Grunting trucks are painstakingly choreographed  in the renovation/retrofit project going on at the old university football stadium. Destination reached and admission paid, we enter this very diverse 34-acre UC Berkeley research garden—13,000 varieties sectioned off by geographic regions of the world’s continents. First we enter the Arid House with its large collection of the quirkiest of cacti, sheltered, because they would not tolerate the Bay Area’s dampness. The collection dates back to the 1920s.

Exiting that shed, one is immediately struck by (photo above) the “Southern Africa” rocky hillside on the left dotted with oranges, yellow, purple annuals and bulbs and fan aloes. Turn around and there’s a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay behind a gauze of atmospheric blue.

I’m always attracted by the sound of water features. The Japanese Pond (photo below) augments the diminutive Strawberry Creek which runs midway through the property. The pond is set off by a small waterfall framed by maples, empress tree and dogwoods. But the pool’s claim to fame is its breeding ground reputation for Taricha torosa (newts), native to upper Strawberry Canyon. I got to see several newt couples doing their thing which is always interesting. Ah spring.

The loudest aspect of the botanical gardens, I would say, is a chorus of frogs. They live in a pond ecosystem which lies between the Herb Garden and Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. No need to follow path signs, just follow your ears.

There’s much to see and learn at this botanical garden but I did notice that some toddlers couldn’t be happier frolicking around a small man-built water feature next to the tour deck and rest rooms. Down close to the ground and with attention to details they were fascinated searching for the little slimy critters clinging for dear life to the concrete pond wall.


For a list of garden tours click here http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu/education/tours.shtml#children

Nancy R. Peck

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Japanese Pool

Japanese Pool at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

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Photo captured by ‘mozzecork’ in Cork, Ireland—Flickr Creative Commons

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If your New Year’s resolution, like mine, was to swear off TV in the year 2011, you may have missed this news item.

red-wing blackbird

In memorium  ~5,000 red-winged blackbirds

But my other forms of news media this past weekend were swarming with notices about the thousands of red-winged blackbirds that fell from the sky in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas (coincidentally a town having a people population of 4930). ‘Twas a mystery.

At 11:30 pm New Year’s Eve thousands of dead, dazed or dying birds began dropping from the skies. The next morning within a mile and a half stretch, startled homeowners were finding bird corpses on their roofs, more than several on their lawn and perhaps a dozen on the street asphalt as they backed out the driveway. That’s my version of a bad New Year’s hangover to wake up to.

For several years now and at this time of year, several hundred thousands of red-winged blackbirds have used a wooded area in this town as a nighttime roost. So it seems it is a loss of just a percentage of the population. Nevertheless, I’m sad for the loss of these feathered friends.

A visit by officials to the Arkansas roost found no dead birds there. For this reason (and later autopsies found empty stomachs) poisoning has been ruled out. Autopsies did reveal blunt trauma and internal bleeding with death occurring in mid-air, not from ground impact.

Ornithologists are now speculating—at the time of this posting—that while the birds were roosting, violent weather (such as tornado and/or lighting and/or hail) passed through and took their lives. 

We’re still waiting to learn how 100,000 drum fish, 100 miles away from Beebe, were found sick or dead in a twenty mile section of the Arkansas River.

Photo source: red-winged blackbird by ‘dmallen321’ (Flickr); many birds by ‘seabamirum’ (Flickr)

Nancy R. Peck

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polar bears

Well, it’s another year when I’ve successfully gotten out of shocking my bodily functions with the annual Polar Bear Swim—sparing my body of shock and shudder. In lieu of not partaking I thought I should take my head out of the sand and learn something about the threatened status of the polar bear population. 

Polar Bears International (PBI) is one go-to source, serving as an informational clearinghouse connecting with scientists, biologists and others who study and document polar bears in their Arctic habitat. According to their website the organization’s been solely focused on the polar bear since 1992.

I hadn’t seen until now this short video depicting the progression of sea ice loss in the Arctic 1978 to 2008. A real eye-opener—was rather shocking to me actually. PBI thanks Ignatius G. Rigor at the University of Washington, Seattle Applied Physics Lab, for creating this video. (Keep one eye on the changing date at the top right.)

Polar Bears International asks for your help in its collaborative program planting trees to slow global warming. The Kettle Moraine State Forest in southeast Wisconsin is the site of the first Polar Bear Forest. Learn about Planting Trees for Polar Bears here, how to donate, how to make a difference.

Want to see a polar bear in its habitat up close? When BBC filmmakers deployed supposedly unobtrusive and resilient spycams to film polar bears on the sea ice, they discovered that “the cameras were no match for the curious carnivores.” I don’t know what’s cuter—the camera or the polar bear. Play the footage below.

Top photo source: Scott Schliebe for U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Wikimedia Creative Commons

Nancy R. Peck 

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recycling Christmas tree

In a previous post I was lamenting about needle-drop. As much as I love trees and hate to see the holidays end, under my breath I look forward to the day when the holiday fir-ball and its few remaining needles can be put out on the curb. I’ve dutifully remove all ornaments, wire hooks, tinsel, stand screws, wreath wires—essentially anything that could bollix up the chipping machine. There the Poor Thing patiently waits for the DPW to take it away. From the curb it goes on to its next life in the form of . . . smithereens.  

In my limited suburban experience, discarded Christmas trees have gotten hauled off to a local landfill lot and are made into mulch—used to pave a city or state park trail, other municipal property or used at a playground. Though I’ve seen instances of overusing mulch, it is good for weed control and it does not introduce invasive elements or seeds.

But with each year comes a new idea for recycling the roughly 30 million once-living Christmas trees sold each year. In San Francisco and Burlington, VT for instance, much mulch is used as biomass fuel, generating electricity by heating water and creating steam. Christmastree.org lists some of the ways trees are being repurposed in various communities.

Unchipped whole trees have been used to rebuild wetlands, and stabilize fish habitats along lake or river shorelines. They may also serve as shelters and perches for birds and other wildlife. Christmas trees have also been used for management of river delta sedimentation and for the prevention of beach erosion and coastal sand dune restoration.

And here’s a random curiosity. What is happening to this year’s huge Rockefeller Center tree in New York City? In keeping with the three previous years of “tradition,” the tree will be milled into lumber which will then be used in house building by Habitat for Humanity. The wood will go to housing in the Newburgh, NY area near where the tree grew.

If treecycling chipping is not in your area and you’d like to start a program, see the several how-to articles found by exploring the Earth911.com website.  Some good suggestions can be found including the importance of promoting the event. A lot of treecycling programs come with clever themes and signage to gather interest. In New York City the program is called “Mulchfest.” The Keep Georgia Beautiful organization uses the title “Bring One for the Chipper.” My favorite? The drop-off signage at Prospect Park—“Thank you very Mulch.” 

Nancy R. Peck

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traveling by reindeer

Reindeer travel in Russia ca. 1890-1900

Today, wild reindeer (referred to as caribou in Canada) live in Norway, the Markku region of Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada. But caribou and reindeer numbers worldwide have plunged almost 60% in the last three decades.

In 2010, Dr. Jeff Wells has been quoted in various media to say that

By the early 1900s, caribou disappeared from the U.S. side of the Great Lakes and most of the Rocky Mountains. In Ontario, the species range has retracted at a rate of two miles a year, resulting in the loss of half of the province’s woodland caribou range; 60 percent has been lost in Alberta, and 40 percent in British Columbia.

More recently, massive declines in the numbers of the barren-ground, long-distance migratory caribou have been recorded, some herds dropping by as much as 90 percent. Much of the decline in caribou populations is due to industrial development, but many scientists also point to global warming as a culprit.

Setting aside large tracts of land free from industrial development is the best chance for caribou survival in many regions.

You can give “Gifts of Nature” at

The Nature Conservancy of Canada by clicking here

The Nature Conservancy in the United States by clicking here


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