Monday, February 28, 2011

Alert! Design for Conservation Sales Tax

Missouri leads the nation in its conservation efforts.  We are the envy of every other state in the nation for our  many conservation areas.  These areas support a wide variety of activities including hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, caving, picnicking, stargazing and nature study.  Our conservation areas provide healthy outdoor activities to individuals and families.  In addition the many Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Centers around our state provide programing for children, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens on nature and outdoor recreation.  I have never met anyone on a conservation area that hasn't said,"Its the best 1/8th of 1 cent we've ever spent!"

All of this is at risk!  Representative John Cauthorn just introduced HJR 22 to sunset the Design for Conservation Sales Tax.  The Conservation Sales Tax is 1/8 of 1% of every taxable sale. For every $8 spent on taxable items, one penny goes to conservation efforts managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.  

I am asking everyone who lives in Missouri to contact your senators and representatives immediately and show them your support for conservation and your opposition for HJR 22.   You can find out who your legislators are by entering your zip code here

Please leave a comment letting our readers know if your Representative and Senator are supportive of conservation in Missouri.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

We Become the Land We Inhabit

The people of the Ozarks are shaped by the land as much as they are shapers of the land.  Try it for yourself.  Stand in an Ozark valley with a clear, rocky, stream running beside you and look down-valley.  Do you sense the hills on either side?  Like muscular shoulders lifting the sky.  Does the strong close presence of those hills make you feel the strength in your legs and back? Now use this strength to climb the steep hills to the ridge overlooking the valley.  The climb will strip you, carve you. Find a prominence to look out from.  There are many to be found. See, the vista laying out before you.  Feel the open presence of the air all around you filling your lungs and lifting you up as you gaze upon the airy grandeur of the near and distant hills and valleys. Do you feel your back straighten, your shoulders rise and your chest swell?  Don't you see yourself being fitted by this land for this land? Day by day experience this and the land will carve you strong and bright and make you an Ozarker.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I touched a snake

Snakes have always given me the heebie jeebies.  The way they move and flick their tongues out have always been menacing to me.  Its truly subconscious.  I had dreams for most of my life in which I was walking down this road and there were snakes everywhere and I had to watch where I stepped for fear of getting bitten.  As a young boy I saw a Black Rat Snake eating a field mouse and freaked!  I literally ran a quarter mile to my Grandma's house screaming all the way.  What a dope!

Great Plains Rat Snake, Courtesy MDC
So, today I touched a snake.  It was a Great Plains Rat Snake, about 3 feet long.  It wasn't venomous, nor did it try to bite me.  It actually held still when I stroked its underbelly feeling the scales it uses to move forward.  It wasn't slimy, it didn't hiss at me.  It just sat there.  It was a tame snake and is often used in programs to teach children and adults about snakes.

Snakes are much maligned creatures.  They don't deserve their reputations and they truly are more afraid of you than you are of them.  There are 46 species or subspecies of snakes in Missouri and only 5 are poisonous. Only one snake, the Copperhead is commonly encountered.  Few people in Missouri ever get bitten by a venomous snake and more people die of lightning strikes each year than die of snake bite.  I've heard that most people get bit by snakes because they do something stupid, like grab the snake.

  For the most part if you watch where you walk and place your hands you'll never have a problem with snakes.  Snakes will try and get away from you if they can rather than bite.  They only bite when they have no other choice.  Snakes are actually beneficial in that they help control rodent populations.  If you encounter a non-venomous snake use a long handled tool such as a hoe or shovel to carry them to an isolated and safe habitat to be released.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a four day citizen science project each February where amateur birders get together and count birds in their backyards, parks and nature centers.  Anyone can participate and its a lot of fun.  The science behind the project is simple, it gives us a snap shot of where birds are at this time of year just before the Spring migration is in full swing.  Combined with other citizen science projects such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, eBird and the Breeding Bird Survey we can get a dynamic picture of the population of birds across the North American continent. (Click through to find out more about these important projects).

Birders enjoying the large picture windows in the library.
Today, Amy and I went to the Burroughs Audubon Nature Center and Bird Sanctuary which was hosting one of the locations for the GBBC.   Also known as the Audubon Library for its excellent collection of books on nature with an emphasis on birds, this little gem of a place is one of my Little Edens(more about that in a future post).  There are two rooms set aside with large picture windows that make an excellent place to view birds in all weather conditions.  The many well stocked feeders make this a smorgasbord for every species of backyard bird and a few uncommon visitors as well.

Downy Woodpeckers visit our feeders.
We had the opportunity to see a number of common backyard birds.  Highlights were one lone Fox Sparrow, a small handful of Harris Sparrows, a Red-shafted Northern Flicker, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the occasional Downy Woodpecker visiting our feeders.  Some of the American Goldfinches were already showing a partial molt into their summer breeding plumages with bright black and white tail feathers and even one or two with a brightening of the yellow feathers on its head.

Birding is not always about birds.  As often as not its about the comradery between birders and the openness with which most birders pursue their passion for birds and for nature. Its about sharing time with people who know the importance of nature and our overwhelming dependence upon it for our life and happiness. As always a good time was had by all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coming Attractions: Spring

Its like a movie trailer of what is coming soon to a park or woodland near you....

The House Sparrows are reenacting their own version of Jerry Springer.  Throwing little birdy "chairs" and raising a ruckus as the young males try to dominate one another for the coming breeding season.  Doppler radars along the Gulf Coast show echoes of northbound avian migrants and night calls of northbound birds can be heard for those who listen.  Snow geese are on the move during the day, cardinals call out their song in the early morning and American Woodcocks have begun penting over brushy fields.

Spring is coming to Missouri and the Mo-Birds Listserv, that modern front porch for bird nerds, is full of reports of early arrivals, movements and other happenings all pointing towards the arrival of Spring.  Meteorological Spring is just around the corner.  It's said to start in just over a week on March 1st although astronomical Spring, that carefully calculated point in time for those who demand exactness, must wait until March 21st and the vernal equinox, a time of equal days and equal nights.

This is the 51st Spring of my life. I am no longer compelled by the rush of hormones as I was when I was younger, unlike the migrating flocks.  Although I still look with hope to warmer weather and the promise of nature's beauty I have come to that time in my life when I can reflect deeply and take a step back and take it all in.  I am coming to understand the essential beauty of this earth, the wonder of nature and the power of evolution.  I am coming to understand just how magnificent this all is, to appreciate it more and to seek to be its guardian, protector and advocate.  I like this time of my life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winter's Grip

Its been bitterly cold around here for about the past month with several spells of heavy...even historic snowfall. As I get older the winter's get more difficult, or if not more difficult then more difficult for me.  The birds around the apartment tend to huddle more closely in the thicker bushes and are less visible.  But the past few days we've had milder, more comfortable weather.  The temperatures have gotten warmer and the forecast is for 50's and 60's next week.

So today Amy and I went to one of our favorite conservation areas, Jame A. Reed Memorial CA.  JAR as we call it is a 3000 acre area with 11 lakes located in a suburb of Kansas City.  Its close to home and one of our favorite places to birdwatch.  At the right time of year you can see almost anything, with its lakes, wetlands, fields and forests it provides ready habit to many species of birds.

The land was still largely covered with snow and there was a constant chill in the air.  The trees were bare and ice still covered the lakes and ponds.  Snowdrifts and snow piles were scattered along the edges of the roads.  Ice fishermen plied their craft in once last hope for a winter catch.

The occassional bare patch of ground became the collecting point for small flocks of song sparrows, robins...and a bluebird or two. And the gravel roads had turned to slush and mud.  Red-tailed hawks soared over head and every now and then a bird would burst forth into joyous song,  One field was filled with the chorus of black-capped chickadees singing their hearts out.  With the hope of the coming forecast for warmer weather and the signs of the coming spring my own heart slowly started lifting out of its winter blues.  The stark landscape took on a brighter hue.  Winter was losing its grip on me and on the land around me.  The ice and snow of the past month are slowly yielding to a new season.  Even the bleakest landscapes are beautiful if you have hope in your heart.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Little Edens

The story of the Garden of Eden, of paradise lost I think is a very human story.  More than anything I think it tells us something about our relationship with nature.  When people cast about trying to explain the origins of humanity they chose to tell the story of a garden of delight, bountiful with all we could imagine we would want.  I believe they told this story because it rang true to our need, our human need for wildness.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world"   Thoreau
Human history is filled with stories of little Edens, places where people go to look inward, find peace and to heal.  From the Greek idylls, poetry that depicts a simple life, close to the land, to the poetry of Wordsworth or to Thoreau's Walden. We find people looking for that quiet sanctuary, that place in the wild that brings peace, that centers....

I've been thinking about the little Edens I've had in my life and what they've meant to my personal growth and my understanding of nature. I think we all have our little Edens.  I hope to share some of mine from time to time.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Down Home

Although I was born in the city I have always been from the hills and deep valleys of the Missouri Ozarks. Long before I was born I was stamped with a permanence that would forever bind me to the land of spring feed creeks and deep river valleys. I could no more change that, than I could change the color of my eyes. I have inhabited many places but have lived in only a few. I have spent most of my life outside of the Ozarks but the Ozarks have rarely been outside of me, not even for a moment.

Like many others of her time my mother moved to St. Louis after World War II to find opportunity.  I was born there but spent my childhood summers with my grandparents on a little Ozark's farm.  They watched after me, but as I grew older I was allowed more and more freedom to venture around the farm, down to the creek and beyond...a freedom lost to many today.  Now fifty years have gone by and those idyllic days are still with me.  In those moments when I look back, through the haze of time like the mists of fall I can still see the land, the people...still feel the cool grass and hear the summer breezes sighing through the trees.

They say you can't go home again. I guess that's true enough. Times change, people grow old and die. We change. But there are some places that never leave you. They stay with you no matter where you are. They call you back to them, even after many years.

A Tribute to Rivers

In the Missouri Ozarks there is a river that flows through some of the most beautiful country I can imagine.  If there is a heaven on earth this river and its watershed would win my vote.

It is a special river, set aside to be kept pristine.  The Current River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR).  The first Scenic Riverways in the nation. It is a special place to anyone who has experienced its gentle beauty.  Thomas Malkowicz has created a beautiful and moving tribute to this river.

Tribute to Rivers from Thomas Malkowicz on Vimeo.