Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Joe the Disney Stilt Walker

Not every Joe the Whatever is for McCain/Palin. Here's one Joe on the other side.

Six years ago today...

We lost this great man six years ago today, not long after he gave this prescient speech saying why he was voting against going to war with Iraq:

I loved Paul Wellstone. When he was killed, I wrote this commentary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Houston Audubon Update

From the Houston Audubon website:

October 12 Update: Help us restore habitat on the Bolivar Peninsula! Hurricane Ike decimated many Purple Martin houses and old buildings where Barn Owls nest. Houston Audubon is stepping up with an important recovery effort for these species on the Bolivar Peninsula. We are looking for donations of martin houses as well as owl boxes that will be set up throughout the peninsula in the upcoming months. More information on the nestbox program. We hope to start a program to provide trees and shrubs for the Peninsula. Members are encouraged to dig up and pot hackberries, oaks, mulberries and other suitable plants. Please contact Flo Hannah for more information.

High Island: Once again, High Island's woods were impacted by a hurricane; trees are down, trails blocked, boardwalks damaged, and branches and leaves are everywhere. Several of our ponds were inundated with salt water and we are not sure what the long term impact of that will be. Most of the vegetation in those ponds is already dying. Hopefully we will soon have adequate rain to dilute the salt. Claybottom Pond where the Rookery is was not inundated with salt water but all of the trees on the island are gone. The cypresses on the east end of the pond did not appear to be damaged.
Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary: At Bolivar Flats the roadside and marsh are in good shape, although there are a lot of plastic bags on the fences. The beach looks very different. When you get to the end of Rettilon Rd., there is a large hole caused by water running out of the marsh. The beach has been moved back to the vehicular barrier that was parallel to the beach, and this barrier is pretty well destroyed. Much of the sand from the beach was pushed inland along with some debris, really not much compared to what is everywhere else. The vehicular barrier where everyone parks is still there but will need some work. The observation tower is gone, but we may have found it in Horseshoe Marsh. I don't think we can get it back to Bolivar Flats. There is a large empty Del Monte shipping container in the grass, and there appears to be another shipping container back in the marsh.
Horseshoe Marsh Sanctuary: The part of the sanctuary closest to the ferry landing is a mess. Debris from the houses in Port Bolivar washed into the sanctuary, and it will be a big job to clean it up. Fortunately most of the fences are still up.
Mundy Marsh Sanctuary: From a preliminary assessment, the sanctuary appears to be in good shape except that the sign and fences were down. From our vantage point we did not see a lot of house debris in the marsh.
Dos Vacas Muertas: This sanctuary on Galveston Island was named after the two dead cows which had been found there after Hurricane Carla, and it has survived Ike as well. Preliminary reports that the trees are still standing are reassuring.

Read more about conditions at the coastal sanctuaries in our Sanctuary Blog. We need lots of help with coastal cleanups. Work day dates have been scheduled through December. Please refer to the volunteer page for sign up directions.

- Winnie Burkett, Sanctuary Manager

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary

My last political entry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let's have a chickadee for president

I’ve been paying close attention to politics since I was first eligible to vote in 1972. That means this is the tenth presidential election I’ve endured. Up until the last two or so, I’ve been getting most of my news from printed newspapers and magazines. No matter where on the political spectrum a person may fall, some of the news preceding an election is disturbing, and so naturally I’ve taken some relish in using some of those articles to line bird enclosures.

Now that I’m getting most of my news from the information superhighway, I’m conserving paper and lowering the pollution associated with paper and ink production even if I can’t lower the toxic levels of discourse. But now it’s trickier to find anything satisfying to cover the floor with when I’m cleaning Archimedes’ cage—I’m stuck with weekly sales papers that come by mail.

Regardless of what form it comes in, news is news, and every four years, in a cycle as regular as natural rhythms, we Americans grow restless and cranky as we face yet another national election. Chickadees are working out their new flock hierarchy statuses right now, too, but they don’t seem nearly as irritable about it as we do, perhaps because they don’t grant their leaders authority over their personal lives; perhaps because they work out their differences without bickering, holding grudges, or negative campaigning; perhaps because they never incite their followers to yell out "terrorist!" about their opponents; and perhaps because the worst choice they could possibly make would still be a chickadee—good-natured, honest, cautious but curious, and realistic about danger but ever optimistic that a chickadee flock can survive anything as long as they stick together. Chickadees don’t have any problems with banks or other companies losing their wealth, or with allowing other chickadees to capitalize on their savings—each chickadee stores its own caches of food in a variety of solid hiding places, and if lightning strikes or a wind storm knocks down one savings cache, there are sure to be plenty more left standing. They don't tout free enterprise because they don't believe in enterprise of any kind. They don't tout governmental protections because they don't believe in government. Yet they're hardly libertarians even as they transcend both conservatism and liberalism, being deeply and absolutely self-reliant while all the time recognizing how dependent they are on the basic rules and structure of civil society. Chickadees happily accept into their flocks not just chickadees but a host of birds of other species as well, knowing that in both the long- and short-run, security and success depend on inclusiveness, diversity, and shared interests. Chickadees speak softly and perch on, rather than carrying, their sticks. They know that the only things they have to fear are hawks, shrikes, and other predators, but rather than cranking up their color code, they give a quick warning call and move on.

Chickadees are, by nature and by anatomy, incapable of throwing mud, they never use folksy phrasings and bad grammar to pretend they’re lower on the hierarchy than they really are, they never make empty promises or pretend they know how to catch bin Laden, and they know deep in their bones that brevity is the soul of wit.

Chickadees may be mavericks—birds that don’t join a particular flock but move within four or five different flocks—but flocks don’t seem to respect these birds any more or less than they do the chickadees that honor traditional roles within a flock. Researchers call face-offs between two chickadees “ballets” rather than debates, but have discovered that chickadees who directly face their competitors are far more likely to win high places in a flock hierarchy than chickadees who turn away and don’t make eye contact. Chickadee flocks seem to make decisions about leadership based on this kind of confidence, on experience—older birds often assuming higher ranks than younger ones—and on fitness, which is judged by clear and honest vocalizations, physical size and strength, and qualities that we haven’t quite figured out how to measure in chickadees or in people.

As I turn off my computer in disgust yet again this election cycle, I can’t help but wish we Americans would learn less from Fox News and more from chickadees.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What are the chances?

I've been going through a rough patch for a while now, and that means I spend too much of my weekend evenings watching sad movies. Last night I watched Dead Poets Society. I was sobbing my heart out at the end, as first Ethan Hawke and then most of the other students bravely stood up on their desks in solidarity and love for their teacher. It's one of the best movie moments ever, even if some critics I love say it's just not realistic.

Anyway, the movie ended, I was still at that snuffling stage after crying too hard, and I check my email to find a letter from one of MY former students--Jane was a fun and lively sixth grader back in 1978 when I was teaching in Madison, Wisconsin. She's a teacher herself now, and her letter included this:

The other 5th grade teacher that I team with got a grant from the Tahoma Audobon Society to take 120 students on 4 field trips to the Morse Wildlife Preserve down the street from our school, so the past week we have been getting ready to go. I used your book "Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Children" everyday and the kids couldn't get enough of the activities. We drew a scientific diagram of a bird and labeled the parts, we drew the beaks and feet adaptations from your book, we were given a temporary permit and a loan of 7 stuffed birds so we compared them and drew them and the kids were all so engaged and excited. One of the stations at the Preserve is bird identifying and the kids will learn to record their results in ebird online as well as have a guest speaker talk to them about bird banding and bird counts.

Thanks to you, this is the one part of school I am loving teaching!! Thank you for giving me such a lifelong gift and sharing your passion and knowledge with so many people. Looking back on my elementary years, the only real memories I have are the ones I spent birding with you and I hope that I will impact my students to think a bit about the world we live in and how we should care for it the way you impacted me. Public teaching is getting harder each year with more and more of the curriculum mandated, but thanks to this grant and the knowledge I gained from you, an entire new generation of children may learn about the magical world of birds.
I'm still swelling with joy.