“…in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity”

A very hopeful article landed in my email queue this morning, entitled Six Promising Trends for the New Nature Movement” – by Richard Louv, syndicated from blog.childrenandnature.org, Jan 07, 2015 –  http://www.dailygood.org/story/940/six-promising-trends-for-the-new-nature-movement-richard-louv/

Of course, this bit popped for me:

2. Greater understanding that, in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity.

 

There’s more than one reason to create a park or preserve open space. Urban parks with the greatest variety of species (emphasis is mine) are the ones with the best impact on human psychological health.

 

As the new Washburn Center suggests, biophilic design (the creation of living buildings through the addition of green roofs, hanging gardens, abundant natural light and many other features) is beginning to enter the vernacular of mainstream architects, urban planners, health officials, educators and business people. Biophilically-designed workplaces and schools are seeing an increase in productivity and decrease of sick days taken. Across the country, some libraries are assuming a new role as connectors of people to nearby nature and centers of bioregional knowledge.

 

In recent months, The National League of Cities – an organization that supports leaders in 19,000 municipalities across the U.S. – has taken a leadership position on this issue, and NLC and C&NN will soon announce a major initiative to connect children and families to nature.

Imagine that Springfield were one of those 19,000 municipalities. Someday, the children in Greenwood School could look out back and see flourishing of native plantings ensuring food, cover and homes for wild birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians. Someday Springfield folks might walk through Van Horn and never be disturbed by earsplitting machinery noise, or choked by vehicle and heavy equipment fumes, because the city would respect such a precious resource for our generation and those to come. – Let’s hope.

Save the dates…for the birds

Image

GBYBirdCount-2014

It’s fun & it helps science, which can help birds. For more information click http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.

April Showers

Breezy days with temperatures close to 60 degrees made conditions pleasant for walking this past week. The last couple of days, mornings have been sunny and afternoon clouds bring pattering rain.

Saw the first fish of the season on Thursday, 28 March. It was sunfish shaped – about 8″ long and floating sidewise at the pond surface, dead. The water level is very low and unappetizing algae growth (and sulphurous smell)  has well begun. Spotted a couple of turtles each day, warming themselves in sunshine spots, which lends a little hope.

The high count for squirrels was two (2) individuals on 29 March. Iwas happy to see a black morph,  Image  especially after all the recent habitat destruction by the city parks department.

I can’t stay blue with the Red-winged Blackbirds noisily conducting their business Image and Robins can be seen, as well as heard, every day.

Image My daughter and I  are again carrying a bag of bread with us. We’ve been sharing with the three Canada Geese and a few ducks. These are Mallards, – common species throughout North America. However, as the sun shone full on their purple iridescent feathers, – the feast for the eyes left me gasping at their beauty. Image Today I fear these smaller birds are being overwhelmed by the 30 additional Canada Geese that appeared on the pond.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15

Image

I don’t believe the Parks Department has killed them all…yet. There are marks snow at the base of some trees. Chewed twigs with tight red buds lay on the ground in a couple of places. And only bits of shell remain at my raw peanut drop spots. Still, not to record a single squirrel for nearly six weeks is an aberration, according to field notes I’ve kept since 2008.

How many died when the trees were cut down? How many lost their homes and froze to death, or otherwise died of exposure in the cold and snow that came after? How many fled into the neighborhood? – (Where they may be unwelcome house guests and face harm again at the hands of humans.)

Earlier in the week, I encountered a middle-aged man who shared his upset over the city’s latest and earlier attacks on Van Horn Park. He sadly recounted the disappearance of a fox family here, and said he’d seen dead rabbits – victims of the bordering streets.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil in a Springfield, MA park.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil

1st Red-winged Blackbird

Perfect. The first day of March and a Red-winged Blackbird visited my feeders and suet cage. Since I keep records, I checked to see last year (2012) the first male showed up on Feb 26, and in 2010, it was March 13. So, all in all, right on time. Spring is at the doorstep.

Mud and Superheroes

I laugh at myself, which sounds weird, but it’s a healthy way to hang on to sanity in an insane world. I so want to be a force for good in the world, but I’m a dismal failure as superhero even in my tiny bit of the world

For instance, I loathe the concrete and poisonous asphalt that seals off the earth from the atmosphere, and creates killing fields for countless creatures (which, incidentally, include humans). I hate asphalt so much that when I bought my little house, I tore up half the length of the driveway. I added compost to rehabilitate the starved soil, which now supports living things, like a transplanted conifer spout  that’s nearly three feet high and wide, and of which I am ridiculously proud.

Small conifer pokes through snow showing where asphalt was removed to allow nature to recover.

Prior owners’ drive covered about 25% of this small back lot.

Then this summer, my next-door neighbor hired a contractor. With banging, clanging and roaring machinery, billowing bituminous stink, – I  saw that people will kill for a parking space. What killed me is that nobody has to.

New asphalt extends a driveway, covering up the neighboring backyard.

Neighbor ADDED asphalt beyond the driveway, into their backyard.

There are eco-friendly choices like sand, grass and gravel [more at eHow | Our Everyday Earth]. In light of burgeoning problems of storm-water runoff and urban heat sinks, isn’t it a no-brainer that public planners and community leaders would do the wise thing and promote the public good?  Yeah, funny.

Anyway, mud was the original topic, occasioned by several days of near-40F temperatures melting down the snow and saturating exposed patches of ground. While mud is a harbinger of spring, it’s a dreary lead-in for nature’s return to life. Mud is slippery, it splashes clothing (with unattractive color) and gunks up the tread on footwear.

But the mud got me to thinking about small ways individuals can have a positive impact. I ‘liberated’ a bit of earth from asphalt… only to have an equal area smothered next door. What if I had been a better neighbor? I might have shared ideas, suggested solutions that might have resulted in a net gain for the neighborhood.

Surviving Snow

Spent yesterday digging out of the 30 inches of snow left here in Springfield. I couldn’t push my back door open more than 12 inches and squished myself through onto the deck to commence with shoveling. Several shifts were required to clear paths from front and back doors. Hardest of all, was restoring access to the street after the city plows had passed.

However, I didn’t need the park to observe wildlife behavior. Soon after day broke, cardinals (7), woodpeckers (hairy, downy and red-bellied), and a group of 100 house sparrows, juncos and starlings were busy plucking sunflower seeds from backyard feeders. They worked, despite the overnight coating of snow, despite gusts of wind that swirled snow around, and despite snow that continued to fall until about 10 AM.

I had just reached ground level, after pushing white stuff off the deck stairs, when two poufs of dark feathers danced in the air before me, drifting with the windblown and sparkling snow.  I paused to scan the trees for a suspected raptor.  Seeing nothing, I went back to work.

A little later, during an inside break, the view from the second floor showed three craters in an otherwise pristine backyard. The first and deepest hole in the snow was ringed with dark feathers, – where a starling met an untimely end.

In the afternoon, I was excavating the driveway. Hefting the five-hundredth (or so) shovelful of white stuff, –  high and to the side, – I held my breath while half of it blew back into my face. When my vision returned I was looking at a hawk that was looking me. Sitting on back fence with its chest feathers puffed out, it looked very large, but I recognized the Cooper’s Hawk. It seemed content to continue as it was, so I returned to my task. The bird stuck around a while observing my behavior for a change.

I believe this Cooper’s Hawk has been a frequent shopper at my backyard feeders for two years, now. Its favorite meal is pigeon, and normally, it’s readily available, but the overnight blizzard and heavy snowfall sent the rock pigeons off to parts unknown to seek shelter. A starling had to suffice in the wake of the winter storm.

Snowstorm Imminent

Gray and quiet early walk with the ground still bare. Only the occasional lump of flakes drifted downward. In spite of the dire predictions, crows were hanging around a favored spot and “the littles,” chickadee, titmouse, downy woodpecker, and brown creeper announced themselves as usual.

I left my peanut offerings to the squirrels, hoping they will add them to their larders. The foot or two of snow expected will make foraging near impossible.

During the last month, there has been snow from time to time. My daughter and I enjoyed seeing track-ways made by birds, squirrels, humans with dogs, and the occasional cat.

I was less sure of the identity of a small clawed critter, who was also impressive wanderer. The close-together line of tracks crossed the (often lethal) Armory Street to the park. They veered into the leaves here and there, but invariably came back to the asphalt. They extended fairly deeply into the park, and we found evidence for more than one individual.

Then, this morning, in full light and full public view, a skunk, of considerable size, waddled into the park’s south gate. I’m worried because it was in no rush to disappear, and, I’m sad to say, humans are not universally wise or kind.

The snow has begun, and the birds at backyard feeders (mostly pigeons) are becoming more frenzied. Next post after shoveling out what I hope will be 12, not 24 inches of white stuff.

Jonathan Franzen on urban birding

Unexpected heavy snow this morning, so no park walk. However, there are hundreds of birds in my back yard at this moment. Most are pigeons and house sparrows, but a male cardinal just did a star turn, posing on a holly branch against the fluffy backdrop. His mate is nearly as visually striking, against the white backdrop. Lots of juncos (a native sparrow) are hopping about, too. And to think that yesterday it was bare ground again, – but for the dirty piles lining the roadways.

Salon.com this morning has a piece by Andrew O’Hehir about a new documentary, Birders: The Central Park Effectthat features the author, Jonathan Franzen. He writes that a former head of the Audubon Society tells a group of birders, even common non-endangered species of birds have experienced precipitous population declines in recent decades and widespread avian extinction is occurring…

Still, urban islands of green like Central Park, a manufactured wilderness that now behaves almost like a real one, can attract staggering numbers of migratory birds.