Climate Crisis

Climate Crisis

Recurring record breaking weather events such as fires, hurricanes, and flooding have become common news. Pollinators like monarch butterflies and honey bees are in decline. Research now indicates that North America's bird population has decreased by 30% in 40 years. And NEWSFLASH! You can be part of the solution.

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+  3 BillionBIrds.ORG #BringBirdsBack
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Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Sugar River Almanac - The Harbinger of Winter


Dark Eyed Junco in our yard today

At this point in the year, it's dark when I wake. There are no birds at the feeders. The sun rises just after I have the kids ready for school. And it's fully risen when I walk out the door. Weekends become about the only time I can bird. And sadly from now for the next two months, each day will be darker than the last.

This morning presented the first time this year I've seen juncos visiting the yard. Three slate gray, Canadian sparrows descended on our Highbush Cranberry bushes before beginning their morning forage. The white V of their tail feathers is a dead giveaway as they zip in and out of the shrubs. They forage on the ground under the bird feeders and around the compost.

Their arrival is sequenced after the last of our summer migrants have left. It was just a couple of weeks ago when the wave warblers and grosbeaks made a last visit to our yard. We had one last Painted Lady and Cabbage White butterfly today along with a handful of bumblebees. The juncos visiting is a sure sign that the cold weather is soon to be upon us.

Oddly enough, I needed to snap a picture today. As common as they are; I hadn't taken a picture of a junco in years. They are frequent visitors in the winter and admittedly a bird I must take for granted. I sat down this afternoon with the latest edition of Living Bird which is focused on the loss of 3 Billion North American Birds. A graphic near the end of one article caught my eye; it was on declines in common bird species. Species that we not even notice are declining because sightings are still frequent. 1 in 3 Dark Eyed Juncos have been lost as part of this massive decline which affects many bird species including Blue Jays, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, and Baltimore Orioles.

The weather today was beautiful (sunny and 60 F) so after watching the juncos, we took the kids for a walk by Goose Lake. While our Quaking Aspen and Red Oak have not yet shed their leaves, the oaks and aspens along the trail were mostly bare. That made spotting a kinglet picking at the edge of branches easy. We'd hoped to see fancy ducks like Mergansers or Redheads, but instead we found Blue Heron, Double Crested Cormorants and Pied Billed Grebes.

The juncos arrival signals the start of the end of the year. Over the next couple of months, we'll watch for American Tree Sparrows, Pine Siskins, and Common Redpolls who are looking to escape the dark and cold of the Canadian winter. It's funny to think of the impending Wisconsin winter a warm weather destination for these migrants. We'll be sure to keep the feeders full in anticipation of our cold weather migrants, and as the leaves begin to fall; they should be easy to spot.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Everyone as Conservationist - 2050 Imagined


It's a wonderful thing being retired. It's a Tuesday morning, and spring migration is in full swing. I decided to venture out early this morning. After a full night's charge our EV is ready to go (It really only needs about 2 hours of charge to be ready; it's just easier to remember to plug it in before bed). It has a range of 500 miles. I won't be needing the full charge for this road trip as I set out before sunrise to visit Horicon Marsh.

I back out of the driveway slowly watching for critters who are active before dawn. Over the last 30 years, the neighborhood has become more densely planted. Our oak trees now tower in the front yard. Throughout the neighborhood oaks, maples, aspens and birches line the streets. Lower growing serviceberries and redbuds decorate the street with white and pink blooms. The city sponsored a native plant initiative and encouraged property owners to more densely plant their yards, and the results speak for themselves.

The town now resembles neighborhoods which dotted the parameter of the UW Arboretum in the 2000's. It's commonplace to see Wild Turkey strutting across the street and Red Foxes make occasional appearances cutting across the road in the dark. Last fall, our acorns provided a sufficient food for turkey, jays, squirrels, and grouse. The spread of large deciduous trees throughout town has lead to a boom in woodpecker species; 30 years ago Downy and Hairy were common place but now it's not unusual to see Pileated, Red Bellied, and Red Headed Woodpeckers. In fact, with our close proximity to the retention pond a pair of Wood Ducks have been inspecting a hole dug out in our Bur Oak by woodpeckers two years ago.

My car rolls quietly in the dark past the retention pond. Signs have been posted warning drivers to slow down and watch for frogs, turtles and ducks in the road. I drive slowly, stopping to get out and usher a few Green Frogs across the street.

The sky is still dark as I speed down the highway out of town. In the distances, I can see the flash of red beacons marking windmills. The county is almost entirely powered by clean energy. Electric water heaters and heating are in most homes while a few still use natural gas. At this point it's somewhat unusual to use gas, like a lan line telephone in the age of smartphones.

Still cruising down the highway, I pass under a number of bridges spaced about every 15 or 20 miles. The bridges don't carry car traffic though. These are green spaces. These green corridors help connect mammals living on one side of the highway with another. The number of dead deer and raccoons on the side of the road has been drastically reduced.

The sun is just starting rise as I pull into the parking lot near the Horicon Auto Tour off HWY 49. It's been dubbed a scenic highway and traffic passing between the start of the Auto Tour and Cty Rd Z has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour which is strictly enforced by camera / radar enforcement. Tickets for speeding across this portion of marsh have triple the fine.

I walk the auto tour route in reverse, starting at the largest pond, knowing that flocks of American White Pelican are easy to spot here in the morning. I'm also keen to skirt over to the floating boardwalk quickly to spot the growing flock of Whooping Cranes who wade in the reeds between the boardwalk and the Old Marsh Rd. 30 years ago, I spotted a pair along the Old Marsh Rd, safe inside the refuge. Every spring since, the flock here has grown, and now it's not unusual to spot a few dozen birds here during migration.

The refuge continues to be an important habitat for all types of ducks. On my walk I spot: Blue Winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Redheads, and Gadwalls. In case you're interested, people still hunt in the fall. In fact, members of the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited make up a significant green voting block which helped restore wetlands and forest across the state and encouraged cities across Wisconsin to take up native plant yard initiatives.

After the morning's successful birding adventures; I head to Waupun for lunch. Nearing the town, every building's roof is gleaming. The bright May sun is soaked up by solar panels which adorn most buildings. Wind and solar make up most of Wisconsin's power supply, and many property owners installed solar panels as way to offset their electrical use as EV cars become common.

The speed limit on this stretch of HWY 49 is still 55 MPH but the riparian buffers give me pause so I limit my speed to 45. In order to prevent soil loss and nutrient run off, farmers have adopted buffer zones which are largely comprised of native prairie plants. This stretch doesn't appear to have been burned this year so a tangle of dense brown grasses could hide any number of animals looking to cross the road. It's midday so I luck out and the critters remain asleep or hiding.

I sit down for lunch and do some people watching. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't eavesdrop on the conversations of the locals. I overhear them talking about the heavy snowmelt in March and April's heavy rains. They remark that none of the roads flooded despite the high cresting of the Rock River. In addition to restoring wetlands, rain gardens and rain barrels have become the norm and run-off from storms has been significantly reduced. Municipalities offered cost sharing plans to encourage the use of rain barrels and rain gardens as they ease the city's need to maintain and build storm water sewers and retention ponds.

I finish my lunch at the local burger place. I return my plate and cup to a tub so they can be taken back to the kitchen to be washed, and I throw my paper napkin away. There is garbage of course but for customers eating-in all restaurants have moved to using real plates, cups, and silverware. Beverages to go now typically come in an aluminum can or glass bottle, and yes that means I get charged for a second beverage. I take a root beer to go and start my drive back home.

As I pull into my driveway, I notice that the Columbine, Delphinium, Lupine, and False Indigo have started to bloom. I'm greeted by the buzz of bumblebees and the thrum of hummingbirds. Bees have made a huge comeback, their populations began to bounce back at about the time people's lawns stopped being so green. We still have some grassy lawn; it's practical for picnics and barbecues, and many other people have patches of it as well. It's just a little green. It's yellow and purple too with dandelions, violets, and creeping charlie. As I walk across the lawn, I stir up Cabbage White and Sulfur butterflies.

This reminds that Monarchs have rebounded as well. I won't expect to see them for another few weeks, not until our Milkweed has gotten much taller.

In retirement, I had planned to continue to blog, but there isn't really a need. Wisconsin was among the states that took the lead on green initiatives; this wasn't really a surprise given our historic roots passed down to us by Also Leopold and Gaylord Nelson. Momentum built and eventually the U.S. took the lead on global climate initiatives. The plastic garbage islands aren't totally cleaned up but the Navy has partnered with private industry and is making progress on the plastic problem. Given that most packaging has gone back to easily recyclable products like paper, glass, and aluminum; plastic has become less common.

The blog has become obsolete. Now everyone sees butterflies, bees, and migrating birds in their yards. Wildlife instead of being rare is common. Our children have had most of the heavy lifting to do, and they've helped us learn how to better live with nature.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Everyone as Conservationist - The Plastic Problem

I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on plastic. Plastic is the material of modern times. Plastic is highly versatile: it can be light and airy like grocery bags, shaped into cylinders, squares, and tiny cartoon characters, and it's great at keep things fresh, keeping out water, air, etc.

It's also cheap and convenient. Perhaps too cheap and convenient.

When we're done with a straw, drink lid, fork, bag, etc. We throw it away.

Some plastic is recyclable but not all of it. Knowing which plastics are recyclable is tricky business. NPR just ran a guide to help with the challenges of knowing which plastics are recyclable.

In the end the complexity of plastic recycling and that fact that it's often mixed with things which are not plastic recyclables means a lot of plastic ends up in the landfill; either because we just throw it away or because it's considered contaminated and non-recyclable.

Most plastic takes somewhere between an eon and an eternity to break down; it's not biodegradable. And it eventually escapes the landfill, blows around, gets caught in trees, ends up in the water, and eventually compiled in the ocean into giant plastic islands.

Animals like whales, sea turtles, and pelagic birds get confused and eat the plastic. And eventually die. And of course if fish and other critters are ingesting micro-plastics then we are too when we eat those fish.

In short, plastic (in particular disposable plastic) is a very real problem washing up on our beaches.

Like many of the problems we face, the plastic problem is our problem, and that means changes to our own behaviors are the solution.

5 Simple Things You Can Do:

1) Use cloth bags for shopping instead taking store plastic bags

2) Buy non plastic food packaging - look for aluminum, tin, cardboard or glass containers

3) Instead of baggies - use reusable containers like glassware or even long-life reuse-able plastic if necessary

4) No plastic straws - paper, metal, or just no straw at all 5) Bottled Water? - If you live somewhere, where the water is potable, you don't really need it. Use a reusable water bottle, stop buying tap water from somewhere else filled into 20 oz bottles

Bonus - If you are out for a walk and see a loose piece of plastic trash, pick it up and put in the garbage.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Wisconsin Nature at Home - More Asters with Bees and Butterflies

Took another video today as the sun warmed our asters. Probably just about the last we'll see of butterflies for the year.