Friday, December 31, 2010

Turkey Dinner

Wild Turkeys dined on corn on New Year's Eve

and enjoyed birdseed on Christmas Day

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have been honored guests here for many years now, and it was a privilege to see them during their recent visit right before Christmas. As is their custom, they tend to show up seemingly out of nowhere, stay a few days and then disappear. This afternoon, as dusk was falling on New Year's Eve, they appeared again.

Their appearances and disappearances are not nearly as random as they seem. Wild turkeys wander through large territories and remember areas where food, water and nesting sites are plentiful. Often, those that seem to disappear have simply flown up into the trees to roost for the night. I recently discovered that a flock that I thought had left abruptly after spending the afternoon in my woods was actually right above me, roosted high in a towering oak near the house. Watching them slowly rouse the next morning and begin to look lively as I spread seed for the songbirds and filled the birdbaths was akin to preparing breakfast for a hungry bunch of kids.

The debate continues as to whether allowing these wild birds access to supplemental feed is wise, but since their visits here in winter are rare, I don't consider it an issue. I am also mindful that as these birds and other wildlife continue to lose their native habitat to humans, their natural food sources decrease as well.

Five days ago a monster blizzard dropped a foot of snow in these parts. The turkeys that visited today were mighty hungry and seemed grateful to find a decent meal. Tomorrow's temperatures are expected to rise into the 50s, a welcome respite for them as well.

I am always delighted to see these beautiful and intelligent birds, and their visit today seems like an auspicious way to begin the new year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Do the right thing

House mouse

We've had mice in the house, on and off, for years. They can squeeze into the smallest openings where the foundation and clapboards meet and it's very difficult to seal every entrance. I won't use pesticides or chemicals, but in the event of an infestation, I will use traps, as long as they are quick and humane. The quickest death is the most humane.

There are lots of ads for mouse traps that deceive consumers into thinking that some of the worst traps are the best: "no fuss, no mess, nothing to do but throw the trap in the garbage and you never have to touch a mouse or even see one."

But, the truth is that most of these are glue traps, and for any mouse unfortunate enough to encounter one, the result is a long, drawn out and horribly cruel death.

Recently, the cities of New York and Chicago were praised for using humane traps to deal with serious mice infestations. Those charged with the task of removing the mice were willing to become fully informed and learn the most humane trapping methods. Read more at the end of this post to learn why using glue traps is wrong and why doing the right thing is also the most humane.

For minor problems with mice, I recommend what I have found to be an extremely effective deterrent: peppermint oil. Mice hate it. I fill small containers with cotton balls sprinkled with peppermint oil and keep them in the cupboards that mice have frequented in the past. I add more oil when needed and guess what? It works!

New York, Chicago lauded for humane killing of mice

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To live in a tree

Photos by Pete Nelson

If I had my way, I'd move to a treehouse tomorrow. That's why I'm crazy about Pete Nelson, a world renowned treehouse builder and author. His latest book, New Treehouses of the World, was published in 2009, and I can hardly wait to hang his 2011 wall calendar in my study.

In addition to treehouses, Nelson builds tree studios for writers and artists and finds inspiration in these words by Blake:

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On sabbatical

"I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward."
~Charlotte Bronte

See you later this fall.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

'Blue Bird' Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
click on the photo for a better view

“I have spent my days stringing and
unstringing my instrument, while the song
I came to sing remains unsung.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

On sabbatical to write.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

On a happier note...

Catmint makes Baby giddy (click on photo)

“One joy scatters a hundred griefs.”
~Chinese Proverb

Friday, July 30, 2010

Theme of endings

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly(Libellula pulchella)

Baby Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)

As the month of July comes to a close, the theme of endings seems to loom large. I found the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer in a parking lot, and still marvel at how perfectly preserved it is (click on the photo for a closer view). My guess is that it had died only hours earlier, having come as far as it could from a nearby marsh. The fact that it remains beautiful in death is interesting. The Transcendentalists referred to the thin veil between life and death, and in the case of this dragonfly, I find that to be an apt description.

The wild baby Cottontail died in my hands, albeit peacefully. Since its life had only just begun (wild cottontails have a life expectancy of less than two years) this death struck me as tragic. Though I was happy to have saved its sibling, I dearly regretted the loss of this baby (click on the photo for a closer view).

In thinking about what living means, I am certain of this: It is one thing to live and another to be truly alive. We can only be truly alive if we are pursuing our passions and living with intention and authenticity, oil spills and double dip recessions aside. This is our time. Our time is now.

I like the way the playwright Arthur Miller put it when he wrote:

"The word "now" is like a bomb through the window, and it ticks."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A time for reflection

There is something so peaceful, reassuring and healing about these river stones (click on the photo for a closer look). They convey permanence, which I find comforting in the days since losing G. And they look almost magical against the damp bluestone.

Last night a friend lost her beloved mother. Her name also began with G. This woman, like my G., was extraordinarily brave in the last weeks of her life. And though I never got the chance to meet her, I felt I knew her in some way.

I think these river stones are also stepping stones. Whether we step from this life into the next or from one experience to another, the death of someone we love often brings a heightened sense of awareness of the paths we have taken and those that still await us.

This is a time for reflection. There is much to learn.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On the passing of G.

For G., who was like a mother to me.
May she rest in peace.

"Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned…

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay
Dirge Without Music

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fountain

Fountain of sorrow

A dear friend has been taken off life support. Her once-mighty life force is waning.

Although I love listening to this little fountain gurgle on summer nights, mingled with the sounds of birds getting ready for sleep and crickets calling, these last few evenings have been filled with dread. As I wait for the phone call I know will come, the fountain sings a sorrowful song.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What is killing penguins?

Hundreds of dead penguins are
washing up on Brazil's beaches.
AP Photo: Aquario Municipal de Peruibe

Click here to read the story by Associated Press Writer Stan Lehman. Scientists are investigating but worry that overfishing may have played a role in their deaths.

How long will it take for humanity to respect the delicate and intricate web of life? When will we end our practice of taking more than we need?

These penguins are telling us that things are going terribly wrong. We have so little time now to get it right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

If you sow it...

Baby plays amid overturned nursery pots of catnip

Here's proof that the old saying is true: 
 "If you sow it, they won't know it,
but if you set it, they will get it."
 Life is short and this scamp is worth indulging

Monday, July 19, 2010

Slumbering Sisters

Baby sleeps with abandon

So does Daisy, orange foot up

Sisters ― so different and yet so alike. One thing these two definitely have in common is their sleep style. When I first brought them home from a crowded shelter last summer, they seemed to luxuriate in sleep as they enjoyed the comfort of a bed for the first time in months. It did my heart good to see how relaxed and safe they felt on their very first night.

It has been a year of laughter in between the tears for Rock. I don't know what I would have done without these goofy girls and their wacky ways! Click on the photos for a better view.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Border Collies Chase Geese Away

Photos by Marc Vasconcellos

"Nothing spooks a Canada goose like Louie the border collie and his business partner, Tug. The canine agents, dressed in orange life jackets, send their targets honking from ponds on golf courses, cemeteries and college campuses."

Click here to read more of of Amy Littlefield's story for The Enterprise, a Massachusetts daily newspaper.

If the officials in charge of parks and recreation in Brooklyn, New York had used a team of Border Collies to keep the Canada Geese population at bay, all those put to death (read previous post) would still be enjoying life. Border Collies are also extremely effective near airports and other locales where geese can compromise air travel safety.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

They suffered in secret

Goslings like these were among hundreds of geese
from Prospect Park that were put to death.

Last week, in the early morning, wildlife biologists descended on Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. There, working with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they herded hundreds of Canada Geese into a fenced area, packed them two or three to a crate and took them to a nearby building where they gassed them to death.

Not even the goslings were spared.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Agriculture said all this was “necessary.”

Read more here

This is the first I've heard of what the Humane Society of the United States calls “geese round ups." I find them to be despicable acts, especially because they are carried out during the birds’ annual molt, when they are growing new flight feathers and can’t fly — from mid-June through July.

And, why on Earth didn’t anyone call GeesePeace, an organization dedicated to building better communities though innovative, effective, and humane solutions to wildlife conflicts?

In the Gulf waterfowl are dying by the thousands in the wake of the BP Oil Spill and in the so-called “greatest city in the world,” waterfowl are being executed to ensure safer air travel for humans. It doesn't make sense and it's all about us and what we seem to need.

But, what about them?

I've always had a tremendous affinity for geese. I can only imagine the fear and panic they experienced, especially the goslings, separated from their mothers. The disregard for these innocent lives and the suffering they endured is more than egregious; it is a reflection of who we are and who we are becoming.

Like the great Albert Schweitzer I believe that "the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass – and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A change of worlds

My "Rock-dog" in the summer of his life
(click on the photo)

I woke up happy this morning because last night I dreamed about Rock, a rare event these days, but one I recognize as significant, for I believe that those whom we have loved and lost can visit us in the realm of sleep.

I dreamed I was standing in a huge crowd, people were calm but the energy was chaotic. I could see an escalator carrying people in one area just ahead of where I stood, but the place itself was vague, not a shopping mall, not outdoors and not indoors.

The next thing I knew was that I needed to find Rock. I called his name and out of the din of voices I heard his meow in reply. Just like that we found each other. I reached down and picked him up and held him in my arms. He was paler than he had been in life – his coat was a soft gray instead of Brown Tabby, a purebred Maine Coon coloring that often appears black.

Rock is letting me know that no matter what, we will always be able to recognize one another whenever and wherever we meet again. I will always recognize his voice and he mine. The paler color of his coat is a sign of time passing, “going gray” and the gray shadow side of life.

More than a year has passed since I laid eyes on my Rachmaninoff. He’s gray, gone away, faded...dead.

“Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.” ~Chief Seattle

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cricket Summer

Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni)

Northern Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia)

Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen canicularis)

For me, true summer begins when the crickets, katydids and cicadas start singing, specifically, the Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni), Northern Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) and Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen canicularis). This year, like everything else, they are about two weeks early and how wonderful is that?

This is also the time of Fireflies (Lampyridae), Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus), sweetly scented Night-Blooming Woodland Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) and fragrant Black Plums (Prunus domestica).

But the crickets, cicadas and katydids leave me spellbound. Talk about an Electric Light Orchestra. At times the very air seems to vibrate with the sounds of their low chorus and high pitched buzz.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nesting Tree Swallows

Tree Swallow chick, about a week old
Young Tree Swallow ready to fledge

Wrapping up my tour of wild Concord:
We ended the day with a visit to an expert birder's home. Her meadow-like property is dotted with nest boxes that attract Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. During our visit she opened two boxes to allow us to view Tree Swallow chicks at various stages of development. She carefully removed these two chicks from their boxes in one deft but delicate movement, allowing me to snap a couple of photos before quickly returning them to their nests. Their parents, flying in and out with meals of insects, hardly seemed to mind. Clearly, there is a great deal of trust between avians and humans here.

I learned that the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) is a ready inhabitant of nest boxes and very much appreciates having access to them as more and more people remove dead and dying trees without regard for their use as essential nesting sites for birds and other creatures.

Tree swallows are common summer residents in Massachusetts. I have always found them enchanting and I particularly enjoy their song, a series of repeated whistles and twitters. Listen.

During our visit we also saw a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a male Eastern Bluebird, Downy Woodpeckers and Red-winged Blackbirds. What a magical way to end the tour!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lodge by Castor canadensis

The American Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Photo: Gainesville State College

A beaver lodge in the Estabrook Woods, Concord, MA

More from my tour of wild Concord, (June 29 post):
We came across this beaver lodge in the Estabrook Woods and it was a marvel to behold. These shelters have underwater entrances and beavers build them from the inside out using mud, grass, and branches. Most predators find it too difficult to break through the complex network of branches and mud so the beavers stay protected. Beavers that live in rivers do not usually build lodges instead they create burrows out of the mud along riverbanks. Some beavers build in existing lakes while others build in the newly formed ponds that they create with dams.

Beavers' ability to change the landscape is second only to humans. Mostly nocturnal but also active at dawn and dusk, adults may weigh over 40 pounds, and beavers mate for life during their third year. Both parents care for the kits (usually one to four) that are born in the spring. The young normally stay with their parents for two years, and yearlings act as babysitters for the new litter.

Beavers love to eat the bark and leaves from the trees that they fell. Their favorite trees are aspens but they will also eat birch, alder, willow, and mountain maple. They usually prefer trees between 2-6 inches in diameter. A busy beaver can chew through a 5 inch willow tree in 3 minutes! With the leftover wood they create dams and lodges.

I was not surprised to learn that wildlife rehabilitators have found beavers to be gentle, reasoning beings who enjoy playing practical jokes. An Indian word for "beaver-like" also means "affable." Once weaned, their favorite foods include water lily tubers, clover, apples and the leaves and green bark (cambium) from aspen and other fast-growing trees.

Source: All About Beavers

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Robert Byrd: Animal Lover

Byrd with his beloved Maltese Billy Byrd who died in 2002

I will continue my posts on touring wild Concord but today I wanted to pay tribute to Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who died Monday at age 92. He was the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate and today he made one final visit to the chamber where he spent 51 years to lie in repose, allowing members of Congress and the public to pay their respects.

Like me, you may not have known that he was a longtime animal welfare advocate. I learned this when I read A Humane Nation, a blog by Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. The following are excerpts from his June 28 post on Remembering Robert Byrd, Lifelong Leader for Animals:

As a teenager, he butchered hogs. But later in life, he came to love animals in a profound way, especially his beloved Billy Byrd, a Maltese. While he voted for the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1958, it was during the last decade of his career in office that he truly made his mark on animal welfare, his love nourished by his relationships with his dogs and his conscience pricked by cases of cruelty, especially in livestock agriculture. He worked to increase funding for enforcement of all major animal protection laws, to halt the slaughter of American horses, to crack down on animal fighting, and to reform industrialized agriculture. He took to the floor of the U.S. Senate time and again during the last decade, arguing for the proper care and decent treatment of all creatures.

Today, as a tribute to his extraordinary and impactful work, I excerpt some of the most memorable lines from his Senate speeches:

About the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms: "Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs -- they were pigs at one time -- raised in 2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beasts are unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and this way they live for months at a time.

"On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark wooden crates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain. Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread their wings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine."

About the inhumane treatment of farm animals: "It is one thing to determine as a culture that it is acceptable to raise and rear and then eat animals. It is another thing to cause them to lead a miserable life of torment, and then to slaughter them in a crude and callous manner. As a civilized society, we owe it to animals to treat them with compassion and humaneness. Animals suffer and they feel. Because we are moral agents, and compassionate people, we must do better."

About cruelty to animals: "Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating. Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated, even if these animals are being raised for food -- and even more so, more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society."

And from a stirring speech in 2007 where Sen. Byrd condemned dogfighting: "The immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice reserves special places in hell for certain categories of sinners. I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculate)
‘Black-winged Damselfly’
(click on the photo above for a better view)

More from my tour of wild Concord:
Harry Winston, you can keep your emeralds, diamonds and rubies. These are the jewels that I covet. We saw these exquisite insects near a pond in the Estabrook Woods. They can be found along wooded, slow-moving streams and small rivers. Nymphs develop in water; adults often perch on low shrubbery in sunlit openings in forest canopy. These beauties glinted above a stream that fed into a pond.

Check back for more on my tour of wild Concord in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Secret places of wild Concord

Great Blue Heron Rookery

Trevor chats with our group as Peter checks on herons

The invitation was impossible to resist ― Tour the secret places of wild Concord, Massachusetts with my friend, naturalist and author Peter Alden and Manomet Bird Observatory Program Director Trevor Lloyd-Evans ― so I didn't.

On Saturday, June 26th, we spent the day visiting woods, meadows, swamps, ponds and other wild places, beginning at 9am and ending at 4pm. It was my kind of day, spent in the company of like minded nature lovers.

Peter and I visited this rookery last spring. The adults were still sitting on their nests and only a few young had hatched. Still, it was exciting for me, because I have a special fondness for Great Blue Herons and make weekly visits to a much smaller rookery near me throughout the spring and summer. Visiting this one in late June allowed us to view young at several stages of maturity ― soon to fledge, ready to fledge any day now and some still only a few weeks old.

This is a busy, raucous place. The young are very vocal as they keep a keen eye out for parents returning to the nest with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cak, cak, cak, cak, cak ― is the sound they make most often. But once they spot a parent returning with food, their cries become much louder and urgent, perhaps the loudest hoping to be fed first. Later, when the young are full and content, the sounds of bullfrogs, green frogs and red-winged blackbirds provide a lovely background chorus.

This habitat is ideal for Great Blue Herons ― a swamp created by
beavers doing what beavers do best. Stands of tall dead trees surrounded by water are perfect for the platform type nests that herons build and keep the young safe from predators.

Watching the parents coming and going and the young herons stretching their wings to develop the muscles they need to fly was a memorable experience. Seeing my first green heron was also thrilling.

I will share more about my tour of wild Concord in upcoming posts.

Peter Alden is a world-renowned naturalist, lecturer, ecotourism guide and author of 15 books on North American and African wildlife, including the "National Audubon Society's Regional Field Guide Series." He is considered to be an authority on birds― and larger mammals of the world and is often consulted by the media and the ecotourism industry for his expertise.

Trevor Lloyd-Evans is an ornithologist and avian conservation senior scientist. For more than three decades he has worked as a specialist in bird populations at the Manomet Center for Conservation Services. He is also an expert on invasive plants, migrant birds, bird banding programs and bird molting.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gray seals off Monomoy

Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) feeding in the Atlantic
Click on the photo collage for close up views

This is my last post about my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge:
I went to Monomoy to see gray seals and I was not disappointed. Though our naturalist guide expected to find vast numbers of them hauled out and resting, we arrived during their lunch time when feeding was optimal for them. Instead, we watched them surf the waves and dive for eels and fish. I could not have been happier ― seeing them on the move and in their natural element was wonderful. They’re very curious and some of the juveniles briefly swam in close to shore to get a better view of us!

The gray seal has a wide variety of coloring. Males tend to have a dark brown-gray to black coat with a few light patches. Females are generally light gray-tan, lighter on the chest, with dark spots and patches. Adult males, and some older adult females to a lesser extent, have a characteristically long nose with wide nostrils, which is why this species is called "horsehead" in Canada, and why its Latin name translates to "hooked-nose pig of the sea." Gray seals have been known to dive to depths up to 300m for as long as 20 minutes. Females live up to 35 years of age, males up to 25 years. The maximum recorded ages are 46 years for a female, 29 years for a male.

Gray seals are found in the north Atlantic Ocean separated into three distinct populations: the western Atlantic population is found off the coast of Canada from north Labrador down to New England occasionally as far south as Virginia. The eastern Atlantic population is found around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on the coasts of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, and northwestern Russia as far as the White Sea. Smaller populations are also found on the French, Dutch, and German coasts, and wandering individuals have been found as far south as Portugal. The third known population of gray seals is located in the Baltic Sea.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Limulus polyphemus

Translucent molts of growing horseshoe crabs
(Limulus polyphemus)

More from my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge: I gathered these molts from baby horseshoe crabs that I found while walking on the beach.

A female horseshoe crab will lay 90,000 eggs or more during a spawning cycle. But only about 10 horseshoe crabs will make it to adulthood.

As larvae and hatchlings, juvenile and subadults, they will shed their shells or molt as they grow. Males are sexually mature after about 8 or 9 years and 16 molts. Females are not sexually mature until they are about 10 or 11 years old and have molted 17 times. Some horseshoe crabs continue to molt even after sexual maturity. No one knows how long horseshoe crabs live.
Source: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ancient Mariner

A horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) swims in the shallows off Monomoy Island. Click on the photo for a better view of the seaweed and mollusk beard on his shell.

"IT is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?"

~from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
English Romantic lyrical poet, critic, and philosopher

More from my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (see previous post):
I encountered this fellow as I was making my way from the beach on North Monomoy Island back to our boat. The horseshoe crab is a distant relative of the spider and is probably descended from the ancient order Eurypterida. Horseshoe crabs are among the world's oldest and most fascinating creatures and are estimated to be at least 300 million years old.

For many decades, humans have harvested the horseshoe crab for use as fishing bait. Since the 1970s, horseshoe crab blood has also been used for medical purposes to the point where their kind have declined significantly, and so have their egg numbers.

Their decline is especially important to the red knot, a small shorebird that is a global traveler of the most impressive kind. The red knot makes one of the longest migrations of any animal — a journey that takes it from one end of the earth to the other. To accomplish this feat, it relies on the eggs of the horseshoe crab. Without these eggs, the red knot is doomed.

To learn more view Crash: A Tale of Two Species, from NATURE.
Horseshoe Crab Information Source: Crash: A Tale of Two Species

Monday, June 21, 2010

All Things Are Possible – Again

This beach appeared as if in a dream
North Monomoy Island Wildlife Refuge

As the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf continues to boggle my mind and sadden my heart, I felt compelled to make a "Cape Escape." Afterward, I realized this is something I need to do more of from now on. Nature is my elixir and I'm just not getting enough.

My destination: Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts. I went to observe a large population of gray seals and spend some time on North Monomoy Island.

The day was near perfect – sunny and clear, a bit too warm on land, but much cooler out at sea. Speeding along, the waves rolling high on either side of the boat, gulls and terns flying overhead, I felt alive again. Days later, this feeling continues.

I felt the same joy and elation speeding out into the ocean when I visited South Monomoy Island 16 summers ago to go birdwatching.

For me, there is power in this place, something about Monomoy Island resonates with me on a profound level. Spending time there fills me with inspiration and hope, and infuses my senses with the magical elixir that only places in nature can. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but since my return I feel I can face anything now, even the catastrophe in the Gulf, with a renewed sense of mission and a belief that I can make tomorrow better.

I’ll share more photos from my time on Monomoy in the next posts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wayward Hayward

President Barack Obama after speaking

"Their leaders talked
and talked
but nothing
could stem the avalanche."

~opening narrative,
The Road Warrior, 1981

Click on the green links for more on Hayward and Obama.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We interrupt this catastrophe...

The fierce but beautiful Baby

The Baby is much smaller than her sister Daisy take a much-needed "Baby" break. Too much death, destruction and incompetence surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Baby is a welcome distraction.

After watching President Obama speak last night I am still processing my thoughts, though "hellfire" would probably be the best word to describe my first reaction. More on that in an upcoming post.

Back to Baby. Unlike her much larger sibling, Daisy, I'm beginning to think this petite girl might have run alongside Diana the Huntress in a past life. If I didn't have a mouse problem I'd object, but Death by Baby is merciful compared to traps or poison, neither of which I can stand to consider. As long as she sticks to mice, and she does excel at finding and dining on them, even foregoing the usual cat and mouse games, I figure it's a quick death.

The fact that she's likely to face a quick death of her own in the next year is the other reason I allow the Baby to go on mouse patrol. There's no way to know when that will happen but she seems bent on packing in a lot of living.

Fierce as the Baby may be when hunting, she's incredibly charming and fetching when not. She possesses an allure and charisma that are difficult to describe. And, she's a wicked flirt.

When I first adopted the girls last summer, I did so knowing that the Baby had a serious heart condition, which had stunted her growth. I was still heavy with grief for Rock then but when I saw her, I knew I had to have her.

I wasn't the only one to recognize something special about her. Several expensive and highly experienced veterinarian cardiologists took the time and trouble to evaluate her, free of charge, while she and her sister languished at a city shelter. But nobody wanted to adopt both girls until I came along.

The first week after they came to live with me I dreamed that the Baby had died. I was very upset even though she had only been with me for a short time. In the dream the lady from the shelter tried to console me by reminding me that I still had Daisy.

"Yes, but the Baby is the prize," I told her.

I dreamed that I said that then but I am certain when I say it now. Much as I love Daisy, the Baby is the prize, and Daisy seems to feel the same way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Apocalypse in Barataria Bay

The Bald Cypress Swamp of Barataria Preserve, which is more biologically diverse than the Everglades and serves as a nursery and breeding ground for the gulf's shrimp, crab, oyster and fish. Photo by Carolyn Cole for The Los Angeles Times

From ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 14, 2010

Barataria teems with wildlife, including alligators, bullfrogs, bald eagles and migratory birds from the Caribbean and South America. There are even Louisiana black bears in the upper basin’s hardwood forests.

Before the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, oyster and shrimp boats plowed through these productive bays as fishermen snapped up speckled trout and redfish within minutes of casting their lines.

Now it resembles an environmental war zone.

“The whole place is full of oil,” said fishing guide Dave Marino. “This is some of the best fishing in the whole region, and the oil’s coming in just wave after wave. It’s hard to stomach, it really is.”

Everything from crabbing to bait fishing is shutting down, and the anger on the bayou is palpable.

“It’s scary, you know, man,” marine mechanic Jimmy Howard said from his hurricane-battered fishing shack, a cigar stub stuffed in his mouth. “I see them doing what they can, you know. All the boats going out, all the boom. I’m hoping they can contain it.”

“We got little otter families that swim in and out, we got ’coons — all that good stuff, man,” Howard said. “It’s good for the kids out here. Keeps them off the streets. They swim, work on the boats, fish.”

Barataria has played a vital role in Louisiana history. It is where the pirate and Battle of New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte established his colony of Baratarians. The estuary was also the setting for “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. Like other wealthy 19th-century New Orleanians, Chopin spent summers on Grand Isle, to the bay’s south, and made the evocative island a focus of her work.

Barataria was a wild place back then. It was covered in virgin cypress trees, some believed to be thousands of years old. Throughout the marsh and forests, shrimp-processing towns and American-Indian settlements hummed with activity in the bay, which is at the heart of a 1.5 million-acre delta basin formed 3,000 years ago. But heavy erosion has been pushing the bay closer to the brink of collapse in recent years.

Since the damming of Bayou Lafourche in 1904 cut off a supply of fresh water and nutrients, Barataria has declined rapidly. About 500 square miles of marsh, mangrove, mudflats, sand ridges and cypress forest have been lost to the encroaching salt water of the Gulf. It’s a familiar story in coastal Louisiana, where 2,000 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1930s.

Scientists fear the oil may overwhelm Barataria’s remaining defenses, already stressed by erosion.

“There is no good estuary to spill oil in, but this estuary is particularly fragile,” said Mark Schexnayder, marine biologist with the Louisiana Sea Grant program, an affiliate of Louisiana State University

C.C. Lockwood, a wildlife photographer whose iconic images of the vanishing coast are a coffee-table feature, has been out in the slick capturing its impact.

“It looks to me like the roots (of marsh plants) are pretty much smothered and they will die at the edges,” Lockwood said. “I saw what I counted to be about 1,000 dead hermit crabs. I saw blue crabs with faces covered in oil.”

"I’m pissed — and you can print that,” said Donna Hollis, 39, hanging out in a tank-top and with a cigarette at Jimmy Howard’s camp in Wilkinson Canal.

She echoed Jefferson Parish council chairman John Young: “This is a battle. Oil’s our enemy right now. This is going to destroy the livelihoods of these people in south Louisiana.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What The Spill Will Kill

A dead sea turtle on the beach in Gulf Port, Mississippi
Photo by Brandon Kruse for The Palm Beach Post-ZUMA Press

A dead seabird in the surf on Elmer's Island, Louisiana
Photo by J. Sisco for The Times-Picayune-Landov

The title of this post is Newsweek Magazine's cover story for June 14, 2010, which tackles the oil spill's environmental, economic and political toll. The story opens with:

"Giant plumes of crude oil mixed with methane are sweeping the ocean depths with devastating consequences. ‘I’m not too worried about oil on the surface,’ says one scientist. ‘It’s the things we don’t see that worry me the most.’"

Click here to continue reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BP Stands for Baby Pelicans

Oil-covered brown pelican chicks stand in contrast
to clean chicks on Cat Island, LA
Photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

The BP Gulf oil spill disaster occurred in the middle of breeding season, dooming the hatchlings now sitting in marshland nests waiting to be fed. If exposure and/or ingestion of oil and chemical dispersants doesn't kill them, starvation will – many are waiting for parents that will never return.

Heartbreaking as this nursery nightmare is, the worst is yet to come. Marine life, including rare and endangered turtles, and dolphins, have been washing up on beaches for the past few weeks, something BP doesn't want you to know.

However, the more BP tries to hide the truth of the irreparable harm they have caused in the Gulf, the more damage they do to BP, the company. What goes around still does come around.


In the end nothing can bring back what we've lost. No dollar amount can compensate, and no act of justice can even begin to rectify this crime against nature. This is an epic event and the losses will be staggering.

We must be vigilant in protecting what remains.

Monday, June 7, 2010

We owe it to them

Oil-covered brown pelicans huddle together in a cage at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, LA. Photo by Lee Celano for Reuters

Shannon Griffin, Julie Skogland and Darene Birtell clean a brown pelican at a rescue center set up by the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, LA. Photo by Bill Haber for AP

Today's numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups involved in the cleanup show that 413 oiled birds have been collected alive, and 594 dead birds have been picked up. Of all those birds, only 39 have been released back into the wild.

Rick Steiner, an Alaska marine biologist who was involved in the 1989 Exxon Valdez cleanup and is now assisting Greenpeace, said from a boat in the Gulf that he and the crew turned in a heavily oiled young egret for cleaning just today.

"It was in horrible shape and I doubt seriously that it will survive the day. But, you know, we caused their pain and suffering, so we owe it to them to do everything we possibly can to give them a fighting chance of survival.”

A crime against nature

Dead seabird covered in oil on a Louisiana beach.
Photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

At a public appearance in Watertown, MA on Wednesday, June 2nd, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill “a crime against nature.” As a resident of Massachusetts I am proud that Markey has chosen to draw attention to the most innocent victims of this catastrosphe. While the spill is tragic for humanity, it is a death sentence for wildlife.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What have we done?

photo by Win McNamee for Getty Images
photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

Brown pelicans coated in heavy oil
wallow in the Louisiana surf.

"I remember a time of chaos,
ruined dreams, this wasted land...
when the world was powered
by the black fuel..."

~opening narrative,
The Road Warrior, 1981