Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GREAT editorial about pesticides in The New York Times!

There's a splendid editorial in today's New York Times by Deborah Blum, titled, "Who Killed Fido? We All Did." It ends:

We kill lots of animals — the ones we find annoying, destructive or unsafe. We regularly employ toxic substances against rats, insects, prairie dogs, coyotes and invasive fish, and yet we are shocked when those same lethal substances affect us.

We’ve been learning and forgetting this lesson almost since we began using industrial pesticides: in 1959, American consumers spun into panic upon learning that their Thanksgiving cranberries were contaminated with the weed killer aminotriazole; in 1962, Rachel Carson published her exposé on the wildlife deaths caused by the pesticide DDT; in 1984, consumers nationwide threw away their pancake mixes after learning they contained trace levels of a grain fumigant; in 1989, consumers were horrified after the pesticide Alar was discovered on apples in grocery stores.

While cases of acute toxicity are rare, accumulated research studies show that chronic pesticide exposure, not surprisingly, is less than healthy. In 2003, for instance, a federal study reported that a high level of exposure to agricultural pesticides raised the risks of some birth defects by 65 percent and increased the likelihood of a variety of diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s. Suburban lawn chemicals have been associated with increased cancer risks in both people and domestic pets.

So I don’t think we have to look too far for the poisoners in this round of pet deaths. We lean toward the saboteur and the murderous poisoner because they’ve always lived among us, and because they make excellent scapegoats. But we’re all poisoners in our way — purchasers of roach sprays, consumers of perfect produce delivered by grace of dangerous chemicals. Every so often, we are forced to realize that, like the arsenic poisoners of old, our lifestyle also demands innocent victims.

Read the whole wonderful essay.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rochester birding

The temperature rose steadily yesterday as I left Duluth (50 degrees) and first went up the hill to Spirit Mountain (60) and then on southward to Hinckley (72) and the Twin Cities (82). I'm staying with Ken and Sharon Nichols, and Ken and I are headed out to look at birds now. Keep your fingers crossed! I want to see swans so bad I could taste it. Tonight I'll be speaking at Quarry Hills Nature Center, to the Zumbro Valley Audubon, about 101 Ways to Help Birds.

Monday, March 26, 2007

New "For the Birds" podcast started!

Whew! I got a bunch of old radio programs loaded onto my new server this weekend (it takes forever!) and now I've figured out how to start podcasting anew. If you want to hear current radio programs (and in a little while, before I leave for Rochester, I'll get up a couple more programs for this week and maybe a surprise series from 2005), they'll all be listed as I post them at If you want to subscribe via the RSS feed, the xml file is It's good to have that done!

It's going to be a day or two before iTunes has the new podcast listed, but I subscribed to this in iTunes by going to the "Advanced" menu and clicking on "Subscribe to Podcast" and entering the xml file name. I use iTunes myself, so if you listen to a program in iTunes you'll usually see a photo of the pertinent bird (today I put up a photo of Robert Frost since the program is about his birthday), and the script is usually in the info tab for lyrics.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New cameras

My favorite digiscoper reports that Nikon has just introduced the Nikon Coolpix P5000, which may or may not prove to be the ultimate digiscoping camera. It's going to be a long time before I can afford another camera now! I am a little disappointed with my Sony W100--I don't know if my camera is defective or if there's a problem with the autofocus design--I'm just not pleased with how crisp the photos are that I take through the scope with it, and when I took regular shots of monkeys with it in Costa Rica, they weren't too good, either. I bought it at Best Buy, and would have to pay a restocking fee to return it, and just haven't had time to think about it. I shouldn't have given my Canon SD-500 to my son until I made sure that I liked the Sony more--it does have a nice, bright screen which is pretty nice when shooting pictures outside.

Meanwhile, my good birding friend Brian mentioned in an email today that Sony is upgrading their DSC-H5, the camera I take most of my photos with. The upcoming H9 will have 15x optical zoom, 8 megapixels, and has one of those cool screens that flips out, making it easier to take shots at all kinds of weird angles. That would have been very helpful when I was taking pictures of myself this fall with Florida Scrub-Jays on my head. But my Sony DSC-H5 does a great job, and I even get decent digiscoped pictures with it, so even if I never can afford to upgrade again, I'll keep getting as many photos as I can.

Robins and pigeons, oh, my!

It's been raining on and off all day, and foggy as well. In other words, it's one of those DDDDDDDDDs--those Dreary, Dank, Dark, Dull, Drippy, Dismal Depressing Duluth Days. Fortunately, these are often followed by the MMMMs--Magnificent, Magical Minnesota Mornings.

Robins have arrived back in town, but aren't doing much singing in my neighborhood yet. Today I did hear and see another kind of robin, though--the pair of fakey American Robins that turn up, an ocean away from where they belong, in London in Mary Poppins. And the male sings a decidedly unrobin-like song. There's something so beautiful about the song "Feed the Birds," and Jane Darwell is extraordinarily moving as the Bird Woman, that it's almost easy to forget that the birds she's feeding are pigeons. Then again, there's something lovely about pigeons when you're in a big city. One of my earliest memories is of standing on the sofa in our two-flat in Chicago, looking out the window at the grimy neighborhood. We were near Riverview Park (I could see the parachute ride from our apartment), and just a few blocks from a drawbridge on the Chicago River. Every now and then we could see the bridge go up, and when it did, pigeons took off. I loved how they drew my eyes skyward. In my book I talk a lot about how important cities are--in wildness is the preservation of the world, but in cities is the preservation of wildness. And city birds are an important factor in making cities livable. That's why I so appreciate Cornell's Project Pigeon Watch.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

YOU tell me what to do!

Okay, I've sort of got the new page design worked out. Today I'll be concentrating on this week's radio programs so the stations that carry For the Birds won't have any more dead air, and figuring out how to start a new podcast with iTunes. But then what? I had over 24,000 files on my old blog directories. What would YOU like me to be restoring first?

Lots to do!

It's a gorgeous day outside, but I'm going to be stuck indoors trying to figure out how to organize my new webpage. I made the header from a photo I took a few years ago of the Sandhill Crane migration over the Platte--I may make a few different designs to reflect the changing seasons, but for now this one seems appropriate. My email is working again, too.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Beginnings

Spring is rushing in, with all kinds of new birds and plenty of hope for lovelier times ahead. But as if the end of winter is reflected in my life, this is a time of major transition. I'm going to be hosting this blog at, but I've been using the same web host for almost a decade now, and it turns out they have a new plan, for no more than I was already paying, that gives me 170 gigabytes of space. But that meant I had to change over to a different server, meaning I had to cancel the old plan and site to start a new one. In the interim, emails sent to or are going to bounce, and there's an error message when anyone tries to access It's going to take a while for me to get a new site looking pretty and being exactly what I want it to be. If you need to reach me in the next few days, send messages to