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.