Learn about foraging and preparing seaweed Saturday

Seaweed croppedMore than 250 species of seaweed thrive in the waters along New England’s coast, and many of them are edible. Learn which ones to forage and how to prepare them Saturday, Jan.25 when Focus Yoga in East Greenwich RI presents “Our Garden Under The Sea.”

Seaweed is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Many of the species that are edible thrive in the area between the tides, so you can pick them by wearing chest waders.

Katherine Conte of Focus Yoga will explain how to use the nutrient rich plants. Her class is scheduled to run from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturday; it costs $40. For more information visit her website here, or call 401-354-9112. I hope to see you there.

If you can’t make it, you can download an excellent “Field Guide to Economically Important Seaweeds of Northern New England” here. It’s fee, and contains some great recipes (including pickled seaweed, casseroles, and more) as well as foraging tips.

Beekeeping classes start soon in #RI

honey bee 1 new cropIt’s time to sign up for beekeeping classes in Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association is offering four course options for convenience.

The classes are scheduled to meet at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. Betty Mencucci will lead classes at Rhode Island College on Friday mornings from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28, and Mar. 7. She will offer another set of classes on Saturday mornings Feb 8, 15, 22, March 1, 8.

Beekeeper Evelyn Vose will lead classes at URI’s East Farm on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar. 13. She will offer another course at URI on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. on Feb 8, 15, 22, March 1, 8.

The course will cover everything the beginning beekeeper needs to know. Subjects will include getting started, the honeybee life cycle, choosing an apiary site, buying bees and equipment, and more. A variety of beekeeping equipment will be displayed and demonstrated each week.

The cost for the five-week course is $65 per person. It includes all course materials, a textbook and membership dues in the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association through April 1, 2015. Additional family members at the same address may attend for $10 each. (The entire family will be a member of the organization but will receive only one textbook and one set of handouts). Advance registration is required. To enroll, print out the 2014 registration form and send with your check payable to: RI Beekeepers Association , PO Box 64, Greenville, RI 02828.

For more information, call Betty Mencucci at 401-568-8449 or email bmencucci@cox.net

Want to be Happier? Take a Walk in Nature

On an icy winter day, we are connecting with visitors to the bird feeder outside the kitchen window today.

hike.wander.wonder

Within moments of beginning my walk around the grounds of the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley this morning, I began to experience that wonderful feeling of peace and calmness that washes over me me when I’m out in nature.  Whenever I begin to feel stressed, overwhelmed, quick to anger, or anxious, I’ve learned the best thing for me to do is head outside.  It doesn’t really matter what I do there.  It could be a hike in nature, a walk around my neighborhood, photographing flowers at a botanic garden, doing a bit of yard work, or simply staring out the back window, watching the birds at our feeder.  Science is finally beginning to back up what I’ve always known… that time in nature improves mental health.  Studies have found that…

  • spending time in nature increases happiness.
  • walking in nature fights depression.
  • time in nature improves the ability to concentrate.
  • exposure…

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Creating young forests to save the N.E. cottontail rabbit

Twenty four girls and boys hunted pheasants over some of the finest bird dogs in Connecticut Sunday when the Groton Sportsmen’s Club opened its land for the annual youth hunt.

Mike Marchand photo, N.H. Fish & Game

Mike Marchand photo, N.H. Fish & Game

Inside the club lodge, meanwhile, the conversation was about rabbits. Bill Salisbury and Ray Thiel, two of the club’s committee chairmen, were discussing how they have been working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to manage club land for the threatened New England cottontail.

It’s being displaced by the eastern cottontail, a rabbit which is much more tolerant of humans and their suburban sprawl, Bill says.

necottontail.org

necottontail.org

Working with foresters and wildlife biologists — and supported by government grants — the club and other private landowners have been restoring woodlands to provide the native plants and the coverts New England cottontail need. Some areas required clear cutting.

When the old trees were felled, new brush appeared, and in other spots, state workers, biologists and club volunteers planted native shrubs that were grown in Connecticut nurseries.

It’s too early to tell how much the New England cottontails will benefit from the work, but Ray says that birders already are noticing that songbirds such as the eastern towhee, have moved in. The population of this beautiful sparrow has declined dramatically, due, in part, to forests maturing and the lack of new shrub growth.

Deer also love the new growth. They like it so much that the sportsmen’s club had to erect fences to keep the deer out of certain areas.

If you’re interested in learning more about Connecticut’s Young Forest Initiative, click here.

#Stripers are nailing flies on the Narrow River in #RI

Ed Lombardo at Middle Bridge in November.

Ed Lombardo at Middle Bridge in November.

Striped bass are still biting in southern New England, so don’t put your fly-fishing tackle away.

Geno Rapa caught a fat 25-inch fish late last week on the Narrow River in Narragansett RI, reports fly-fishing guide Ed Lombardo.

Geno and Ed started around 3 p.m. near the Sprague Bridge on Route 1A where they spotted baitfish that appeared to be sand eels, according to Ed. “We didn’t do anything there, so we worked our way to the rocks at the mouth of the river. That didn’t work out either, so we headed to Middle Bridge, and that’s where we found the bass,” he said.

Heavy fog fell on the river, forcing the anglers to head home, but before they left around 5, each had caught four “footballs,” Ed said. He was fishing a sky-blue streamer, and the other anglers were casting shrimp patterns.

As good as the fishing was, it may get better, Ed said. His fishing log from 2011 shows a banner day on Dec. 18.

Track bird health with Project FeederWatch

bird bath croppedA nuthatch shares a wall-mounted bird bath with a tufted titmouse outside our kitchen window, close enough for an iPhone photo.

The 2013 edition of Project FeederWatch has begun. It offers families an opportunity to experience nature up close as they help scientists keep track of birds.

FeederWatch also has a new look for its 27th season, plus new web tools that make participation and exploration even easier and more fun.

“We have a new interactive tool called ‘Common Feeder Birds’ that allows people to learn about the food and feeder preferences of nearly 100 species, based on data collected by participants,” says FeederWatch project leader Emma Greig. “The tool can be used to predict what birds can be attracted to an area so you can offer foods strategically to attract desired species.”

Observations from a record number of participants last season helped scientists follow the changes in woodpecker and nuthatch populations in the Midwest where trees were infested with invasive emerald ash borer beetles.

“We need continued FeederWatch data on woodpecker and nuthatch populations throughout North America to better understand the long term consequences of this beetle invasion,” Greig says. “We also need renewed FeederWatcher effort to monitor the health of House Finches, which are susceptible to a disease that causes swelling around the eyes. Our participants will be asked to report whether they looked for the disease and whether they saw sick birds.”

To learn more about joining Project FeederWatch and to sign up, visit www.FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Cornell Lab members), participants receive the FeederWatcher Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to your feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings, as well as the Cornell Lab’s quarterly newsletter, Living Bird News.

Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

The joys of walking slowly

About a month ago, my friend, Ed, and I rode the train to New York to hear Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh talk.

We arrived at Penn Station about thee hours before the dharma talk, and rushed to the Broadway theater where he would speak about slowing down to be more mindful.

That’s right, we rushed to hear about slowing down.

Travels cover croppedSince then, I have been reading “Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life” by Daniel Klein.

In his 70s, the author visited his dentist. “He said I had to get these implants over the course of a year [or] I would look older with denture plates …and my teeth would pop out once in a while,” Klein recalled. “And I thought, ‘what do I care if have a goofy old man smile? I am an old man!’”

So began his quest to find the way to grow old pleasurably. With a bag of philosophy books, he traveled to the Greek Island Hydra to study the wisdom of Epicurus and of modern day Greeks who age in grace and the pleasure of companionship.

On the island’s hills, Klein also discovered, at first by necessity, the pleasure of walking slowly.

Writing in Ladies Home Journal, Carol Mithers says, “Most of the time you walk with a destination in mind and the urge to get there as fast as possible. You hurry, head down, eyes anxiously scanning the phone for messages, fingers frantically typing a text, completely oblivious to your surroundings. But walking slowly…ambling…strolling…whether you’re going somewhere or nowhere in particular is a whole different experience. Slow walking — no iPods or cell phones allowed — isn’t a workout; it’s an exercise only in observation, a way to look at the places and people around you as a small child might, with curiosity and wonder.

Thick Nhat Hanh frequently writes about the rewards of walking meditation. Since his talk in New York, my almost-daily hikes have become strolls, saunters. I do carry a phone because I am seeing so much more than I ever have, and I want to make photographs. And I try to follow the Zen master’s advice:

Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”

Capturing a snowy owl on camera

Capt. Ed Hughes photo

Capt. Ed Hughes photos

Wildlife photographer and harbormaster Ed Hughes headed out to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middlwtown RI this weekend to photograph a snowy owl that had been reported by Jeff Hall of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

Ed soon found the bird and got several shots of it, including these.

“Friendly owl,” he said in a text message.

Maybe, but it doesn’t look all that friendly in the next picture.

Many of Ed’s photos are displayed at the Beach Rose Cafe on Brown Street in Wickford RI where he is the harbormaster.

snowy owl 2

NOAA: Warmer winter ahead for So. New England

Winter scene croppedA winter white-out in southern Rhode Island last year.

Southern New England is in for a warmer than normal winter, according to climatologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific have been near average since spring 2012, and forecasters expect that to continue through the winter. That means that neither El Niño nor La Niña is expected to influence the climate during the upcoming winter.

It’s a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Without this strong seasonal influence, winter weather is often affected by short-term climate patterns, such as the Arctic Oscillation, that are not predictable beyond a week or two. So it’s important to pay attention to your local daily weather forecast throughout the winter.”

The forecast calls for below-average temperatures in the Northern Plains and the Alaskan Panhandle. Rge forecast predicts above-average temperatures in the Southwest, the South-Central U.S., parts of the Southeast, New England and western Alaska. The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong or reliable enough climate signal in these areas to favor one category over the others, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

NOAA’s outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. 

Take a walk to Hanging Rock in Richmond #RI

hangin rock bridgeThe round-trip walk to Hanging Rock is less than two miles, but it’s a pretty good work-out with some ups and downs and a couple of spots that demand mindfulness.

The trails to Hanging Rock wind through the Bradner Preserve, maintained by the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust in southern Rhode Island. The 63-acre preserve is one of several wild places in the rural community; the others are featured on the Richmond Conservation Commissions website.

The canopy here is varied, dominated by American beech, oak and white pines with many yellow birches and some hickory. All but the beech and pine tress have dropped their hanging rock walk sign croppedleaves, so you can see though the woods for a long way off. Over the weekend, we spotted four deer running about 100 yards away in the middle of the day.

Throughout the preserve, old stone walls say the land was farmed, probably for livestock, because the land is much too rough for a plow.

From a little parking area on Gardiner Road, take the blue trail though a grove of immature beech trees and over a rocky spot that demands attention. The trail turns to the right here. Soon after, you can continue straight ahead on blue or turn onto the yellow trail which re-joins the blue trail just before Hanging Rock.

The blue trail has two sturdy bridges over streams that must be crossed. The yellow trail has one short bridge and requires a stream crossing. This time of year, with extremely low water, the crossing is easy, but when spring comes, it may be difficult.

hanging rockJust up the hill from the stream, turn right onto the blue trail, and look up to see Hanging Rock. An “erratic” left by the great glacier, Hanging Rock rests atop a massive outcrop. The trail loops around it.

Though the trails of the Bradner Preserve are too rough for a stroller, they are ideal for a family walk with children;

For a trail map, click here.

To find more places to hike and paddle in Rhode Island, visit ExploreRI.org.

Beautiful: ‘Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter’

weeds in winter cover croppedThe first snow of the season fell on Massachusetts, eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island this morning. It sent many gold finches, tufted, titmice , nuthatches and other birds to the feeders before dawn.

In the withered perennial garden, there were more birds – mostly finches – feasting on the seeds of cultured plants and weeds left standing. High winds had blown seeds of goldenrod, beebalm, and Queen Anne’s Lace to the ground, and the birds scooped them up.

We encourage native “weeds” to find their way into the garden to feed the critters that depend on them.

We also love to look at the plants after they have withered and stand in contrast to winter’s snow.

We appreciate them even more since receiving a copy of Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter by Lauren Brown, a beautiful and helpful guide for plant lovers.

Her pen-and-ink drawings are lovely, and her text is succinct.

For anyone who lives and walks in the Northeast, Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter would be a perfect holiday gift.

If you’d like to learn how to sketch wildflowers, check out the wonderful blog, Let’s Paint Nature.

New bridge completes Grills trails in Westerly & Hopkinton #RI

New bridge enhancedHarvey Buford, left, and Ted Dionne complete a day’s work on the new bridge over Tomaquag Brook yesterday.

A new bridge, connecting the Grills Sanctuary in Hopkinton RI to the Grills Preserve in Westerly RI, may be ready for hikers this weekend. The span crosses Tomaquag Brook, connecting the 3.1-mile trail from the trailhead off Route 216 in Hopkinton (pictured below) to the parking area on Bowling Lane in the village of Bradford.

Tomaquag trail at sunsetThe top of Tomaquag Trail in Hopkinton RI at sunset yesterday

The new bridge, built by volunteers from the Hopkinton Land Trust, is less than a mile from the Polly Coon Bridge, an aluminum span, built by the Westerly Land Trust, over the Pawcatuck River.

The new bridge over Tomaquag Brook is 55 feet long, said Harvey Buford. It is about a foot higher than the 100-year-flood mark, but the boardwalks leading to it probably will be submerged in times of flooding, he said.

The new bridge has fiberglass braces and black-locust wood walkways that should endure for 100 years or so, he said.

Both of the Grills sanctuaries offer wildlife a variety of habitats, and hikers can enjoy some gorgeous New England scenery and sounds throughout the year. (For the past week, barred owls have been hooting away during the day.)

Trail maps ave available online from ExploreRI.org.

#Stripers and shad are striking streamers in #RI

Ed Lombardo on Narrow River 110613The weather was chilly, but striped bass and hickory shad were taking flies on the Narrow River in Narragansett RI yesterday afternoon, said fly-fishing guide Ed Lombardo, pictured here.with a bright bass. The fish were taking purple-and-white streamers. Most of the fish weer in the 18- to 20-inch class,

#RI mom and environmental educator asks Toys R Us to pull TV ad

As conservationists and educators encourage American children to go outdoors, a new commercial by retailer Toys R Us is portraying a trip outdoors as boring. Shopping is much more fun, the commercial says.

In the ad, a group of kids are put on a bus for a fictional “Meet the Trees Foundation” field trip. The bus ride seems purposely boring, until the leader announces that they are actually going on a shopping spree in a Toys R Us store.

AboutUsBioPhoto2Jeanine Silversmith (pictured with her family at right), founder of RI Families In Nature, has launched an online petition asking Toys R Us to pull the ad. “Just like healthy food and a good night’s sleep, spending time in nature is essential to our health and well being,” Jeanine says. “There is a growing body of research showing the connection between interaction with the natural world and the physical, mental, academic, and emotional health of both children and adults. Research studies show that children who regularly play and learn outside are healthier, happier, and smarter than those who do not.” She cites evidence posted on http://www.childrenandnature.org/research/.”

To Toys R Us, Jeanine says, “Stop attacking environmental education. Take down your TV commercial that portrays spending time outdoors as a boring activity that children do not enjoy.”

Regulators plan to cut striped bass catch

Fly fisherman Ed Lombardo

Fly fisherman Ed Lombardo

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has voted to develop management options for reducing fishing pressure on striped bass beginning with the 2015 season. One option is to reduce the daily recreational limit from two to one fish beginning in 2015

The action by the 15-state commission came in response to a new assessment of the coastal striper stock, presented at the ASMFC’s annual meeting last week St. Simons Island, Georgia.

The stock report concluded that striped bass are not over-fished and that overfishing is not occurring, but it did show a dramatic decline in adult fish in recent years and projects that the breeding population is on course to cross the overfished threshold in the near future.

“The ASMFC did the right thing, responding to anglers’ concerns about the future of striped bass, concerns that are backed up by troubling trends in the science,” said Wild Oceans president Ken Hinman, who attended the meeting.

Some members of the Striped Bass Management Board argued for immediate action to reduce the current recreational bag limit from two fish of at least 28 inches to one fish, with an equivalent reduction on the commercial side. But a majority supported a more deliberate process that will allow them to consider all the options, after the board’s technical advisers determine how much of a cut in fishing mortality is needed to reach the target and what percentage would come from changes in the bag limit, size limit or season.

 

Mass. legislature mulls endangered species repeal

Lesser snakeroot/delawarewildflowers.org

Lesser snakeroot

The New England Wild Flower Society has issued a legislation alert for Massachusetts conservationists.

Next Monday, Nov. 4, the the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture will hold a hearing that includes two bills that would result in a repeal of endangered species protections in the Commonwealth.

“Environmental groups and the business community alike have supported the standards the program currently uses to protect endangered species,” the group said in a statement. “The effort to gut endangered species protections is coming from a limited, but very vocal, few.

“We urge you to contact Chairman Pacheco and Chairwoman Gobi today – by phone, email, or mail – to ask them to protect endangered species and halt Senate Bill 345 and Senate Bill 411. In addition, you can let your own representative and senator know where you stand, and ask them to speak to the Chairs as well.

“Please alsoexpress your support for An Act Relative to the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, H.756. We support this consensus bill, which would improve the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act rather than repeal it.”

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New book, ‘Inland Fishes of Rhode Island,’ is a keeper

libby book cover croppedTwenty years in the making, Inland Fishes of Rhode Island by Alan D. Libby, with illustrations by Robert Jon Golder, is a beautiful book meant for everyone who loves wildlife and surprises.

The 287-page book is published by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife where Libby is a  a principal freshwater biologist. He has been there for over 26 years.

He surveyed more than 375 sites on streams and ponds, and found more than 70 species, including some pretty exotic fish including the lookdown (pictured here), jacks and pipefish,  With each species, Libby describes its typical habits and habitat, and an accompanying map shows where he found it. He and his colleagues caught several saltwater species, including snappers and flatfishes, in estuaries.

Libby book lookdown croppedLibby found the greatest diversity in the Pawcatuck River (67 species) and the Blackstone River basin with 31 species. Since 2008, his team has found five additional species: guppies, rock bass, green sunfish, striped mullet and sea-run brook trout.

The illustrations by Robert Jon Golder are at once scientifically precise and stunning.  His paintings of sunfishes and herrings are outstanding.

Fishes of Rhode Island by Alan D. Libby, with illustrations by Robert Jon Golder is the perfect gift for anglers and nature lovers. It costs $26.75, and is available at the Division of Fish and Wildlife Headquarters at 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston RI between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. where only cash and checks are accepted. To order by mail, click here for an order form.

This book is a treasure.