Monday, December 24, 2007

down it comes

Down it
comes, large flakes,☼
building drifts, the best
part, * the wind blowing
“snow snakes”, across
the street and school playground,
just۞as I remember it always
was. Amid the bustle of early-winter chores.
we’ve watched۝ this snow piling up
for hours. The snow and these thoughts remind us:
autumn has departed. The newly-arrived۩ guest,
winter, seeks how to make her presence known.
Where did ۞you grow up? What was it
like, when you were a child at this time of year?
Did you wait in hiding for Santa and build snow forts in the yard? Or, are cookies
what you remember۝ most? Memories seem solidly strong,
but they can slip away, like those snow drifts, with the wind. What could be
more substantial? Our wish for you involves many ۩ seemingly insubstantial things
that the world at large may judge as lacking, next to material wealth, or the strength of armies.
Among these things, count truth as well as friendship, honor۞, and honest work;
and count ¤the last thing anyone might have expected to
have lasting ۝power: the Christmas message of love and light and grace.
You are the only one who can see the light in your own life. But those
who know
you well
can remind
you that
it is there,
and that
it does not
go out.

Wm. P. Mueller; 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

what about next year?

There are so many global, hemispheric, and regional conservation issues and directions to point in, to increase awareness about, it is really quite overwhelming. To list just a few places to learn more about conservation issues, try these (a list with links is just below) for a start, in 2008. Really make a difference; pick one or a few, learn about the issues, and get involved. It can be as simple as making a donation - maybe you don't have time for anything else. On the other hand, maybe you've always wanted to do more, but did not know how or where or why. Here are some good places to start:

Conservation International -- learn about international conservation campaigns, conservation biology, and learn how to take action at this link.

BirdLife International: more ways to learn about issues, and how to get involved.

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network - what we're learning about these long-distance migrants, and how to protect them and their habitats.

Boreal Songbird Initiative - closer to home; what the issues are across North America's boreal forest.

Bird Conservation Alliance - the "network of organizations that focus on bird conservation, study, education, observation, and advocacy" - how could your organization fit in?

If you're thinking that New Guinea, or northern Ontario, or Venezuela, or Madagascar are pretty far away, you're right. But any one of the habitats in any one of those places is just as much "home" for the animals and birds that live there as your neighborhood is to you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

conifers and winter

Within the branches of coniferous trees in winter lies another world, one of dramatic cold-weather plant physiology and ecology, dormant insects, nearly constant shade, roosting or feeding birds, patterns of snow, and the interplay of light and dark. Learn more about the coniferous forest biome here. Conifers provide safe daylight roosts for many owl species, for example...but only if we leave them alone.

They Owe Her

They Owe Her

The mourning doves in my neighborhood are building
a monument to my wife. She is, they know, the one who
provides. She is the source of seeds.
The twenty-one doves know, and honor, her. After all,
in the break-open cold of dawn, this is the place, the
mourning dove restaurant.
The youngest and smallest wait their turn. When the others
have eaten, there is still enough. They know, and they owe
a debt. But Leah, the one who provides:
is she re-paying a debt, too?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

inner city owl

In Milwaukee's inner city, there are many problems. Lots of these problems are related to human greed and indifference, racism, selfishness, and intolerance. To top all of that off, there isn't much space left for wildlife. That's not surprising - many major cities are no different. But Milwaukee (County) has a park system still having much to offer, and in some areas, wildlife still can find a place.

Today was the day for the Milwaukee Christmas Bird Count. My absolute good fortune led me to this Long-eared Owl, in dense brush and a row of trees along a creek, during a steady snowfall. While I've found this species in Milwaukee County before, I don't find one every year, and it is always a wonderful find - a gift, in fact.
Long-eared owls may be in decline - there is much we don't know about their populations. It's a relatively cosmopolitan species, circumboreal in distribution (found around the northern hemisphere). The raptor trappers at Hawk Ridge have caught fewer in their banding nets as the years have passed - that seems ominous to me, but as I mentioned above, there is much we still have to learn about them, and about their numbers. They are secretive, not easily censused, and don't respond well to tapes. In fact, of the times I have heard them on nocturnal surveys, they have occasionally responded to a tape of a screech-owl - not to a tape of a long-ear vocalization. It has often seemed as though they are stimulated to call by the screech-owl tape, but that they seem to realize that they "made a mistake", and they immediately stop calling. This individual was found in the late morning, however - no tapes were used.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

changing migrations

The ecologist David Wilcove of Princeton has recently completed a new book. No Way Home (Island Press) describes the declining phenomenon of animal migration, in addition to telling the reader about many types of migration and what has been learned about it. Hear a fascinating radio interview with Wilcove here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

news - 12/10/2007

A conference hosted by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association is coming up. "In 2008, Wisconsin Wetlands Association will convene members of the regional wetland community for our 13th annual conference to discuss the latest in wetland science, management, restoration and protection issues as they relate to anthropogenic alterations that affect wetlands. The program for this 2-day conference will have a special focus on the theme Wetlands in the 21st Century: Altered Landscapes and Changing Climates." See more at this link.


See the newly-updatedwebsite of the American Bird Conservancy, here. Learn about their programs and work to promote bird conservation across the Americas. Watch a great new video from the Bird News Network here.


While checking the "North American Landbird Conservation Plan" published by Partners in Flight (the consortium of wildlife agencies and other entities), I happened to look through a table listing the approximate population sizes for landbirds on this continent. The population numbers are arrived at through a multi-step process utilizing BBS data. I expected Red-winged Blackbird to be number 1, with the largest population. But while that may have been true some years ago, it no longer is the case.

Can you guess which species is most abundant? Hints:

a) it has a very wide distribution throughout the United States and Canada
b) it does NOT normally come to feeders
c) we usually find some on the CBCs in Wisconsin, but the majority of individuals have left the state by the CBC period

Friday, December 7, 2007

protect boreal forest birds

Across Canada's boreal forest, home to millions of breeding songbirds, logging for fiber to make toilet paper and catalogs is a huge industry. Alternatives in the form of recycled fiber can save a LOT of habitat for birds and other boreal forest species. To learn more, go the "take action" page of the Boreal Songbird Initiative, here, and scroll about halfway down the page. When you've read about toilet paper, catalogs, and book publishing, click on any of the pertinent links there to learn how to take action.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How climate change will affect humans - the link to poverty

Take action, with Oxfam America. "The Senate is currently debating the bipartisan bill, America's Climate Security Act of 2007, which is supposed to tackle the problem of global warming." Go to Oxfam's site to send an e-mail to your senators, here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

conserv. news 12-4

From the most recent Birding Community E-Bulletin:

"WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH WINTER WHEAT? Winter wheat, planted in the fall and harvested the following July, is beginning to draw attention from bird-observers, simply because it's beginning to draw attention from the birds. Increasingly, there is evidence that winter wheat, especially in the American Great Plains and the Canadian Prairie Provinces, may be improving things for certain bird species. Ducks and Ring-necked Pheasants seem to be doing well nesting in winter wheat fields, and Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, and Willets have also increasingly been found in wheat fields at nesting season. Even certain grassland songbirds seem to be taking to winter wheat cultivation.

When the nesting-season starts for many species, winter wheat has already had a head start growing, and is ready to provide nesting cover for grassland birds early in the season. By the time winter wheat harvest begins, in mid-July in the Dakotas, for example, young birds nesting in the wheat fields are either developed enough to avoid harvest combines, or else have already fledged from the fields. In contrast, alfalfa, which reaches harvest height in May, is typically cut within the first 10 days of June - a dismal predicament for nesting birds and young in areas like the Dakotas. Marbled Godwits have also recently been found nesting in other crops, such as several other varieties of cereal grain crops, flax, and stubble fields of these same crops; however, the winter wheat appears to be the most promising.

U.S. farmers annually plant about 40 million acres in winter wheat. Across Canada, more than 1.2 million acres of winter wheat is grown. Is this great for birds? No, it's a monoculture. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat attractive crop , and one that usually reaches a suitable height at the right time of year to benefit breeding birds. It is a crop that won't be harvested until most nesting birds safely fledged their young. . Winter wheat will never be a substitute for idled grassland, like CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land, but if cropland goes into a rotation with winter wheat, there may actually be some benefits for certain ground-nesting birds. (It should also be noted that farmers usually don't plant winter wheat in the same field in consecutive years.)

Right now it's unclear whether winter wheat is truly a win-win crop for both agriculture and bird conservation, but indications appear to be positive. Further evaluation is certainly warranted. For a Ducks Unlimited Canada summary of Long-billed Curlews nesting in winter wheat in Canada last spring, see: "

If you're interested in receiving this electronic newsletter, contact:

Wayne R. Petersen, Director Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program Mass Audubon 718/259-2178 OR Paul J. Baicich 410/992-9736

Past e-bulletins are at:


In southern Europe, trapping of songbirds for sale as food is illegal, but continues. Read about efforts to stop this practice here, at the site of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter.

Monday, December 3, 2007

new Scottish study on bird song and humans

A new study by researchers at Aberdeen University in Scotland "will spend two years listening to birds to find out how their songs, calls and cries become a part of people's lives".

Find out more here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

the contrarian view?

As I get older, I often seem to hold a contrarian view on many topics under discussion by any particular group. I am often surrounded by death penalty advocates, homophobes, climate change skeptics, intelligent design aficianados, free market boosters, and the like. The thing that has puzzled me the most, recently, has been the growing group of birders who don't want to hear about conservation. This really has me baffled.

Many citizens are conservation-oriented far too seldom, and that is an ongoing source of frustration, for me. I keep wondering how we think our "bank account of birds" will stay robust unless we "make deposits and accrue interest" (as a species, we keep "spending the principal", and then are amazed that there is less in the bank every year...).