Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Her Majesty's Army

From home base in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kimberly writes: To say that I hadn't traveled much before Kenn and I got married would be a serious understatement. A lifelong Ohioan, I come from a family perfectly happy to set their roots deep in northwest Ohio and keep them there forever.  The idea of living any place else or traveling the world was something that had never entered my mind. 

All that changed when Kenn and I were married in 2005.  Suddenly, I found myself in love with a world-traveler who had experienced some of the most extraordinary places on earth.  In terms of deciding where we should make our home together, the world was on the table.

If you read this blog or know anything about me and Kenn, then you probably know that the bird migration here in NW Ohio is pretty phenomenal. I'm sure most people just assume that birds are the reason we decided to live in Ohio, and of course that's a big part of it.  But, the main reason we decided to live here--of all the places in the world we could be--has nothing to do with birds.   ---It's the people.

NW Ohio is a great place to live. The people here are warm, friendly, caring, and fun. They'll also help a person in need --- even a complete stranger with a completely strange problem. 
I can think of no better example than an incident that occurred recently when old friend of mine needed some serious help.

Working for a nonprofit is not without challenges.  I've been involved with Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) for more than a decade, so I know by direct experience.  BSBO has developed a very big reach, but in terms of bricks and mortar, we're still very small.  Our building is modest, to say the least.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory Headquarters
This poor old building has lots of issues. But, two highly redeeming characteristics help make up for a lot of what it lacks.  These two "old friends" have stood like sentinels, welcoming me each and every day, reminding me that there is beauty in all things, if we just look deeply enough.  

The first friend hugs the southeast corner of the building. In spring she spreads herself across the front of the building like a lovely cloak, welcoming visitors with an eruption of beauty that holds the promise of all that spring in NW Ohio holds in store.  
BSBO's Eastern Redbud Tree
No one can seem to agree on just how old our Redbud might be. 
But everyone agrees that she is a glorious thing to behold.

Not to be outdone, the northeast corner of the building is graced by the
skyscraper that nature built.

Her Majesty: the Trumpet Vine

When Her Majesty is in full bloom, she is a towering inferno of orange-red blossoms that sets the landscape on fire.  She is irresistible. Hummingbirds swarm around her, drinking nectar from her fluted trumpets like guests sipping champagne from the finest crystal.  People love her, too, traveling from near and far to pose for photos in front of her majesty.  

The fluted flowers of the Trumpet Vine
She has stood, grand and tall, for as long as any of us can remember.  But, when the northeast winds blow fierce and strong off of Lake Erie, even the mightiest of warriors can grow weary. And sadly, I arrived one recent morning to find that my old friend had surrendered, and gently, ever so gently, laid herself down softly along the roof, coming to rest just as gracefully as she had stood. 

Strongly she stood.  Gracefully she rested.
I was devastated. When I arrived, a few of the BSBO staff were already huddled together trying to decide how to deal with me when I found out.  They promised me that she would grow back quickly and that they'd cut her down when I wasn't there so I didn't have to hear the chainsaw.  My reaction to all of this?

Uh, No.

Giving up on this old friend without a fight was unacceptable.  I launched into action, taking everyone outside to assess the situation. Okay, she was not on a wooden utility pole as we thought, she was growing on a metal tower, much like the towers used to mount TV antennas.  Okay, all we needed to do, I reasoned, was dig a hole, station a wooden utility pole near the base of the old tower, stand her back up against the new pole, and chain her to it.  Simple! 

The look on the faces of my rescue team revealed thoughts that bordered on "She's clearly lost her mind!"  But, they loved Her Majesty, too, and they didn't want to have to deal with a sad and dejected director, so they allowed themselves to be convinced that it was worth a try, and we sprang into action to save our friend.

With Phase I (convincing the BSBO team this was necessary) complete, we moved on to Phase II: Convincing others that they should help.

Call after call after call was made looking for a pole; looking for someone to deliver it; looking for someone to bury it; looking for someone to check for buried power lines before we dug, and on and on and on.   Eventually, help came in the unexpected form of public servants with big-big trucks!

First on the scene were the guys from Oak Harbor Public Power.

Without a moment's hesitation (or a single questioning glance in my direction),  and with a really cool truck and a 35 foot pole, they sprang into action.  
Phase III: My heroes from Oak Harbor Public Power delivered, set, and buried the pole.
They were so proud to be a part of the rescue operation that they agreed to pose for a photo!
The guys with soul and a pole: the Oak Harbor Public Utility Dudes!
 Next on the scene were the guys from Magee Marsh / Ohio Division of Wildlife.

I was moved to tears at the extra time and consideration
they put into hooking the chain and lifting her as gently as possible. 
Phase IV: My heroes, BSBO's Research Director Mark Shieldcastle and the guys from
ODOW hooked a heavy chain ever so gently around the vine and the old tower
Then, ever so carefully, they began to lift. 




Until she stood
just as elegant and proud as she'd been before. 

When I thanked the ODOW guys for going way above and beyond the call of duty, one of them turned to me and said, "Hey, Our job is to manage habitat for wildlife. This Trumpet Vine is habitat for hummingbirds, so we're really just doing our job."   The next time someone tells me that the wildlife agencies only care about game species, what a story I'll have to share!

Thanks to some pretty remarkable people, my old friend is more beautiful to me than ever before. When I look at her now, I see more than just a gift from nature, I see a gift from caring, compassionate people. Heroes come in many forms. For some, they are NASCAR drivers, sports stars, movie stars, or the uber-rich. For me, the greatest heroes of all are everyday, real life people who will go to great lengths to help the natural world. I hope you'll come visit BSBO someday and see what heroes like mine can do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MBS: Use Your Birder Power, part 3

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: With the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS) only a couple of days away, here are some final suggestions for how to make the most of the experience, for yourself and for the birds.

All too often, when birders are asked to support conservation, we are just asked to send money somewhere. Of course, that’s often a good thing to do; but I prefer to focus on approaches that represent an actual, personal involvement.

So, in a post on September 10, I recommended that you should connect with Birds & Beans Coffee. That’s a personal commitment: if you’re going to drink coffee, why not go for the type that protects bird habitat, not the type that kills birds? In a post the next day, I suggested picking up the Duck Stamp and the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. This is a personal involvement also: we’re not just sending $15 off somewhere, we’re buying a stamp that we can show off in public, to demonstrate that birders are stepping up to the plate and supporting conservation in a visible way.

Those were suggestions 1 and 2. The following are four more suggestions, numbers 3 through 6. I hope we’ll see you at the MBS! And if you can’t attend, think about trying to adapt these ideas to your local situation, wherever you might be this month.

3. Let people know you’re here. When thousands of birders come to northwest Ohio in spring, local business owners (hotels, restaurants, stores, etc.) are all reminded of the major economic value of protecting bird habitat. During the MBS, we’ll be more concentrated within the confines of Lakeside, so we won’t be so obvious on the local scene. But you won’t spend ALL your time in Lakeside. When you’re out, when you stop at gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, etc., let them know that you are birding. Wear your binoculars, mention birding, or hand out “birders’ calling cards.” You can get these cards from Black Swamp Bird Observatory, or print out your own from the BSBO website.

4. Support the Carbon Offset Bird Project at the MBS. Purists might say that this isn’t exactly a carbon offset program, since that would mean taking some specific action to counteract the CO2 emissions created by our visit (such as planting a certain number of trees to remove that amount of CO2 from the atmosphere). Instead of doing that, the program at the MBS will raise money to protect more bird habitat. But that is a tremendously important goal also, and indirectly it accomplishes the same amount of good.  It also helps to make us all more aware of the carbon footprint of our actions, so that maybe we’ll do something about it. For example, we can reduce our per-person carbon footprint by carpooling, finding ways to drive shorter distances, or driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, and we can conserve energy (and thus cut down on CO2 emissions) in other ways. 

However we define it, this is a very exciting pilot program.  Only a few bird festivals have even attempted a carbon offset, and this is arguably the first time that such a program has had such a high profile.  I hope all birders will get behind this project!  I've been keeping track of the miles I've driven while scouting out the birding sites for the MBS, and I will dutifully go make my contribution to cover that carbon footprint.  If we can make this a big success, other festivals may follow this example.

5. Contribute to Birders’ Exchange. This program of the American Birding Association does a tremendous amount of good by providing much-needed equipment – binoculars, spotting scopes, tripods, cameras, reference books, etc. – to researchers, birding guides, and others involved with conservation in the developing nations of Latin America. If you have recently upgraded your optics, why not bring your used optics to the MBS and contribute them to Birders’ Exchange? Please note that they can’t use junk – they don’t have the capacity to repair broken or poor-quality optics. But if you have some decent equipment that you don’t need any more, it could increase the effectiveness of a biologist, park ranger, interpretive naturalist, etc., somewhere in the American tropics.

6. Join the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. BSBO is recognized as the premier birding authority in northwest Ohio, but it’s more than that, too. For more than 20 years, the Observatory has been conducting essential research on all aspects of migration through this region, and for more than ten years it has been a major force for nature education as well. BSBO is the main sponsor of the Ohio Young Birders Club (inspiring and empowering the next generation), and also provides free programs for thousands of school students every year. BSBO is also a strong voice for conservation, speaking out on critical issues, and working with scores of businesses and agencies to highlight the economic value of protecting bird habitat. What’s more, it’s local: BSBO is headquartered in the very same county where the Midwest Birding Symposium is taking place! If you enjoy the birds at MBS, consider giving something back to the local area by joining Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Not only will you be kept up-to-date on all the local bird happenings, you’ll also be helping to preserve the quality of the local birding for your next visit!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

MBS: Use Your Birder Power, part 2

The current Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp: not only is it one key field mark of a good birder, it can also help to get you a significant discount during the Midwest Birding Symposium.

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: This is a continuation of yesterday’s post about how to make the most of your visit to the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS), in Lakeside, Ohio. But as I’d like to point out, you can take advantage of some of this advice even if you DON’T get to attend the MBS.

Yesterday, I wrote about how you could do yourself (and the birds) a favor by visiting the booth of Birds & Beans – The Good Coffee. Today, here’s another kind of approach:

2. Get Your Stamps On. Everyone who goes birding in Ohio should be a stamp collector to some extent, collecting at least two per year: the “Duck Stamp” and the Legacy Stamp.

This year's Migratory Bird
Hunting and Conservation
The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly known as the “Duck Stamp,” represents one of the most wildly successful conservation programs in history. Since its inception in 1934, money from Duck Stamp sales has allowed the purchase of nearly six MILLION acres of prime habitat to add to the National Wildlife Refuge system, providing a priceless resource for populations of birds and wildlife of all kinds. Right here in northwest Ohio, most of the land in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was paid for with proceeds from Duck Stamp sales! If you have enjoyed birding on the refuge itself, or on any of hundreds of other National Wildlife Refuges, you obviously have benefited directly from this stamp program. But even if you never set foot on a National Wildlife Refuge – which would be a sad thing for you! – you have probably seen birds that were hatched on a refuge, or that made essential migratory stopovers on refuges.

So the Duck Stamp is not just for ducks; it benefits most birds and all birders, and I believe that every birder should buy this stamp every year. At the moment it’s only $15, and 98 cents of every dollar goes straight into buying bird habitat!

The Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp is a newer program, but it holds tremendous promise. Unlike the Federal Duck Stamp, which is based on paintings, the Legacy Stamp features a photograph. In its first year it portrayed a Baltimore Oriole, photographed by Russell Joseph Reynolds; this year’s stamp features an Eastern Amberwing dragonfly, photographed by Sharon Cummings. The photo for next year’s stamp, chosen in a contest just a few days ago, is a Spotted Salamander taken by Nina Harfmann.

The Legacy Stamp costs only $15, and at least $14 of that will go straight into supporting the work of Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources – Division of Wildlife. This Division is a leader among state agencies in paying attention to the whole spectrum of wildlife and plants, not just game species. They publish very popular little field guides to many groups of living things in Ohio – butterflies, reptiles, spiders, owls, and many more – and they have active programs for the conservation of everything from salamanders to Sandhill Cranes. And let’s face it: Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, one of the greatest warbler-watching sites on the planet, is administered by Ohio’s Division of Wildlife! That in itself is a good reason for birders to buy the Legacy Stamp.

So – if you buy these two stamps, what’s in it for you, aside from ensuring that we’ll have birds to watch in the future? Well … at the Midwest Birding Symposium, these stamps are good for MAJOR DISCOUNTS!

That’s right. During the Symposium, September 15-18, 2011, come to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) booth at the Symposium vendor hall or to the BSBO Center and Gift Shop at the entrance to Magee Marsh, and show that you have both stamps, and you’ll get a 15 percent discount on purchases!

Come to the booth or the shop and BUY both stamps during the event, and you’ll get a whopping 25 percent discount on your other purchases!

(And, hey – if you already have both stamps for yourself, wouldn’t it be good to buy them as gifts for someone else, and collect that discount?)

For more information on this program, see the Black Swamp Bird Observatory website. 

A point I want to emphasize is that BSBO does not make any profit by selling these stamps. They sell them at cost. Therefore, by offering a discount on other purchases to stamp holders, BSBO is actually losing out on a chance to raise much-needed funds for their organization. Why would they do that? Because everyone at BSBO is passionately dedicated to conservation. The Observatory is putting its money where its mouth is, supporting these conservation programs in a concrete way, and hoping that you will want to do the same.

So come visit Black Swamp Bird Observatory at the vendor hall or at the entrance to Magee, show your stamps with pride, get a great discount on quality items for yourself or for friends, and help us prove that birders really will step up and support bird conservation!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

MBS: Use Your Birder Power, part 1

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: In a few days, the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS) will roll into Lakeside, Ohio, for the fourth time.  I spoke at the first one there, in 1997, and Kimberly attended the one in 1999, but we didn’t know each other then.  We were both involved when the MBS came back to Lakeside in 2009, and we’ll be even more heavily involved this time: for example, we’re giving a keynote talk together on Friday morning, September 16th.  And Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Kaufman Field Guides are sharing one of the major booth spaces in the vendor hall.  We’ll hope to see many of you at the Symposium!

If you attend, you’re bound to have a good time, no matter which of the many alternative activities you choose. But there are a few simple things you can do that will make your visit good for the birds, as well as for you. I’ll describe a few of them, in separate posts.

1. Go talk to Birds & Beans. This company is a sponsor of the Symposium, and will have a presence in the vendor area. But their impact is felt throughout the Western Hemisphere, because what they’re “selling” is the concept of helping birds by drinking the right kind of coffee. (The “beans” in the name are coffee beans.) In the American tropics, organic shade-coffee plantations that have been certified as Bird-Friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center support tremendous numbers of birds, both residents and wintering migrants from North America. Factory farms that grow coffee out in full sun support essentially no birds at all, and they’re also far less healthy for the workers and local communities. Switching from standard grocery-store sun coffee to Bird-Friendly coffee is one of the most powerful, yet simple, things that you can do to ensure that we’ll see migrating birds in the future.

So – check out all the fine vendors and exhibitors at the MBS, but make a special point of going to the Birds & Beans booth.
Also, be sure to catch Bridget Stutchbury’s keynote talk on Friday night. Bridget is a talented ornithologist and conservationist (she wrote the compelling book Silence of the Songbirds), and she’s also a major advisor to, and spokesperson for, Birds & Beans. (By the way, Birds & Beans is also strongly supported by famed nature author Scott Weidensaul, by Wayne Petersen from Massachusetts Audubon Society, by Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and others. And the American Ornithologists’ Union has just come out with a strong endorsement of the Smithsonian’s Bird-Friendly certification. This stuff is seriously important!)

Also, go to the Rhein Center “travel talks” from 4:10 to 4:30 pm on Friday or Saturday, to hear Jefferson Shriver talk about a wonderful Bird-Friendly coffee plantation called the Gaia Estate, in Nicaragua. Jefferson is a friend of ours, Gaia Estate is one of the most inspiring places that Kimberly and I have ever visited, and their coffee is delicious!

And if you can’t attend the Midwest Birding Symposium this year, be sure to check out Birds & Beans online to find out more. Please do this for the birds, and do it for yourself!