Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why We Do It, Part II

The Reward of an Ecological Education           24 May 2013

Canada Warbler

They continue to move in great waves from the tropical forests of the Americas onward to Wisconsin and beyond 45 degrees North Latitude.  Warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and buntings, the deeply rich colors of the rainforest head north on featherlight wings.  A wondrous diversity of sound accompanies the color.  Here and there, flocks of birds bring the forest canopy and understory to life! I embrace the moment, soak it in, drink it up, and wish for time to stand still.  This is my love.

Magnolia Warbler, baby oak leaves

I am an environmentalist, because I cannot imagine a life without such beauty and diversity.  This is how it works, how the world is supposed to be.  This beauty is here because it is right, because it has been here long before all of us.  We owe it to each other and all future generations to protect it.  To destroy it would be cruel and selfish.  Take in the moment.  Breathe in the blossoms and hold, frozen for an instant, the colors and wondrous personality of a small forest bird.

American Redstart, female

Blackburnian Warbler

In today's day and age, a confusing fight has broken out among people.  The term "Environmentalist" has been smeared and distorted beyond recognition by radio media, political debate, and fear propaganda. Take a moment to remember, like a bird following the deep genetic storybook of a migratory route, what this was all supposed to be.  Environmentalism at its best is simple.  It is a deeply rooted conservation ethic, land stewardship with respect for biological diversity, water protection, sustainable agriculture, and sustainable forestry. It works locally, but it thrives in branching to statewide, nationwide and international conservation cooperatives that hold true to form. Economically, environmentalism works in supporting small and local businesses and the reduction of the overall "footprint" made by each consumer. 

Tennessee Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler

The big idea is that we can pass a healthy planet on to our great grandchildren. Like the songbirds, we put our value in bringing our future generations the certainty of a working path.  There are a million other buds and branches to the environmentalist tree, but that is the essence.  It isn't fiery radical.  It is how real national security comes about. It is sustainable muscle, a steady trickle of productive movement with respect for the future, a promise in the future that comes with forward-thinking and caring gestures all along the way.  Environmentalism is a proud, noble, service-oriented, caring, and productive direction to take.  Sure, environmental attitudes have had to become strongly political as industrialization forces impose short-sighted direction for short-term capital gain at the expense of clean water and healthy biodiversity. Like the birds, we have had to adapt our route to sudden changes on the landscape.  All that is and was simple becomes a war of escalations. And politicians have made a game of it.  It is time to get back to basics again, to make environmentalism attainable by the masses again.  Gaylord Nelson, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold had it right a long time ago. 

American Redstart, after-hatch-year male on first return to Wisconsin from the tropics

Black-throated Green Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Tennessee Warbler within the oak branches

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Aldo Leopold wrote, "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.  Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen."  He has said it best, capturing the essence of what it is to be in love with the details in the ecological fabric, the tiny patterns that make up the larger pattern, the individuals species that make-up the whole function of each system.  When you love it, you learn it.  When you learn it, it becomes a part of you.  When ignorance destroys it, it angers you.  When ignorance angers you, you teach.

Magnolia Warbler

Yellow Warbler, female

Golden-winged Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler with insect prey

Real conservationists must dedicate at least part of their lives to being teachers.  We should strive daily to share an ecological education with so many others so that it is no longer so much a penalty as a reward.  This would make Aldo Leopold very proud!  "The reward of an ecological education is..."

Magnolia Warbler

Canada Warbler

Magnolia Warbler, parting shot...

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4L IS lens.  To boost shutter speed a little, I shot these images at ISO 400 in natural light.  A light overcast made for soft and pleasing tones of light.   

Why We Do It, Part I

Celebrations in Waves of Biodiversity                                       23 May 2013

For nearly a week, the Saint Croix River valley has been bustling with the activity of thousands upon thousands of migrating songbirds, most of them Neotropical migrant birds arriving on territories and passing through, on to destinations further North.  They move in waves, in great mixed flocks, more than a dozen species rich in each and every small cloud of birds.  They adorn grasslands, fields, and prairie marshes.  They comb the trees and understory to devour forest insects, busily occupying different feeding niches, darting out to the ends of branches, fluttering upside down for an instant to pull a caterpillar away from a leaf, sallying out over open water to pull a midge fly from the air.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Magnolia Warbler

Most people don't know these birds exist. The subtle buzzing "chip" and "zrrrrt" sounds go mostly unnoticed.  Without taking the time to visually comb the baby green leaves of Spring forests and stiff stems of a prairie remnant, the majority of these tiny birds are invisible.  For the few of us, the sounds are a gently exciting secret that beckons binoculars into the leaves.  Colors await, a feast for the mind, a celebration of biodiversity that is there for the prepared.

American Redstart, female


In today's day and age, secrets aren't so good.  Long ago, keeping secrets was part of keeping a good fishing hole or a favorite spot to pick berries.  Today, keeping secrets keeps others from learning, from loving, and ultimately from passionately protecting the spectacular living beauty that moves in seasonal pulses all around. We must share it freely.  Pass it on. Pay it forward. Walk the walk while holding a hand.

Savannah Sparrow

Black-and-white Warbler, male

Biodiversity.  The variety of life on earth.  Shape, color, essence, and personality.  Meaning and purpose in being, each species and each contributing member of every population plays an intimate part in the telling of Earth's natural history.  For those of us that go relentlessly afield with binoculars, cameras, sketchbooks, or hunting boots, biodiversity is equal in simple importance to water, shelter, and food.  It is a passion that runs deep in the genetic memory, connecting today with all that has ever happened.  This is why we do it.

Savannah Sparrow

All images were photographed in the spare moments of a busy teaching day, photographed with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Eastern Deciduous Forest Ramblings, Part I

The Stage is Set!                                                                         15 May 2013

Large-flowered Trillium

Days are long and warming.  Insect clouds ride thermals, back-lit above the river by a setting sun.  Baby leaves are budding and growing quickly.  The day's activity ends with a slow and steady chorus of birds.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Black-and-white Warblers, Ovenbirds, and the slurring singers, the Blue-headed Vireos are here...  They have arrived!  The tropical forests have again reached 45 degrees north latitude.  They have arrived on the wings of birds.

Ostrya leaf-out on the Saint Croix River, a place for birds...

Blue-headed Vireo

The flowers are blooming a perfect complement to tropical plumage.  Black-capped Chickadees, sturdy year-round residents, are the age-old hosts and greeters of the avian tropical tourists.  Where chickadees sound off, bustling flocks of warblers follow.

 Black-capped Chickadee


As quickly as the first green hues have pushed through dead leaves and waved off the last snows, some flowers are already pollinated and dropping petals.  Others are just getting started.

Marsh Marigold

Skunk Cabbage, Black Ant, and Filtered Sun

Spring Beauty Flowers, Trout Lily, and Equisetum

Trout Lily in Bloom

Underfoot, the ephemeral forest season blooms in a carpet of diverse forms and colors.  Up above, this diversity is echoed in the hurried activity of many passing migrant birds.

Large-flowered Trillium and Filtered Forest Light

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4L IS lens.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mississippi River in Spring Time

Springing to Life in Wabasha, MN                                 5 May 2013

American White Pelican

Snow crashed in again on May 2nd and May 3rd, dropping tree limbs and covering forests, hills, and fields in another cold, wet blanket.  Finally, on the afternoon of May 4th, Spring pushed open the door and announced a firm commitment to stay.  I was in Wabasha, Minnesota, and the morning of May 5th warmed and soothed with the songs of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles distant to the ringing of Red-winged Blackbirds.   Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraged on midge fly clouds that hung in the rapidly warming air.  Green leaf buds popped open, and snow melted rapidly from south-facing slopes.   As much as the snow had forced its way across the landscape, Spring now advanced rapidly in every sound, color, and form.

American White Pelican

Spring Ahead, Spring!  How we anticipate the march of the migrant birds!

Double-crested Cormorant

Melting snow, reflected sunlight

Double-crested Cormorant flight

Lesser Scaup drakes and hens

Horned Grebe

Great Egret and Blue-winged Teal

Great Egret, detail

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird 

White-breasted Nuthatch, D.D. Kennedy Park, Polk County, WI 

Bufflehead Sunset, end of the day, Polk County, WI

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D, and a Canon 300mm f4L IS lens, handheld.  I used a Canon fluorite 1.4X converter on some images.