Archive for December 2008

Reptiles & Amphibians

December 26, 2008

I sit here at my computer listening to a recording of frog and toad sounds. H gifted me a field guide and accompanying CD of Minnesota reptiles and amphibians. This rounds out my collection of Tekiela’s field guides. Hopefully, this CD will resolve the disagreements H and I have about whether the noises we hear while camping are birds or frogs (or something else).

I usually ignore reptiles and amphibians, because I think they’re gross, but this book and CD should help open my mind.

Counting Birds with the Pros

December 20, 2008

I spent this morning counting birds for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. This annual event occurs throughout the Americas and its purpose is to assess the status of bird populations.

This was a new experience for me, as I haven’t done much bird watching. Four men and I drove around a specified territory and we counted all the birds we saw. We went through cemeteries, trails, wooded areas, busy streets, and residential neighborhoods. We got out and walked at times. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from long-time birders.

What I discovered:

  • I can be much more observant than usual if I try.
  • I can now identify the dark-eyed junco.
  • There are several nearby trails that I didn’t know existed.
  • When birders drive a car they don’t keep their eyes on the road!

It was a very snowy day, so the birding supposedly wasn’t very good, but I was impressed with our numbers. We saw (or heard) 17 different species and a total of 369 birds.

Clipping Coupons for Bluer Skies

December 16, 2008

The Blue Sky Guide is a book of coupons for living green. The guide is temporarily discounted at your local co-op for $15 (usually $20). I purchased it the past two years and broke even with the coupons I used. I’m more motivated for 2009 and expect to save lots of money. If you enjoy co-op hopping, you’ll be happy to hear that most of the co-ops have coupons for $5 off your grocery bill. There are also free bus passes, manufacturer’s coupons, discounts from restaurants, bike shops, museums, garden centers, and more. And everything has a green flair!

Master Naturalist

December 14, 2008
Field trip to Interstate Park

Field trip to Interstate Park

I started the year looking for an opportunity to learn more about nature. Signing up for a college-level class was a possibility, but I couldn’t imagine enduring freshman biology. Then I stumbled across the Minnesota Master Naturalist website. Perfect!

For 11 weeks in the spring I learned about Minnesota’s natural history. The idea behind this program is that graduates will volunteer 40 hours per year toward environmental causes (education, stewardship, science, and/or administration). The official slogan is “Explore. Teach. Conserve.” Right up my alley and just the impetus I needed!

There is an article about my class in Mankato’s weekly for farmers, The Land.

Ten fun activities from the Minnesota Master Naturalist course:

  1. Searching for delicate spring ephemerals at Interstate Park.
  2. Searching for scat at Fort Snelling State Park and learning that rabbits eat their scat.
  3. Watching a classmate get dressed up like a beaver to discuss adaptation.
  4. Watching a fish dissection and learning that fish have a swim bladder to control buoyancy.
  5. Tasting sap straight out of the sugar maple, and then having homemade maple syrup on top of ice cream, thanks to a classmate.
  6. Learning to identify trees by their branches and bark before the leaves bud out.
  7. Learning about the oak savanna and prescribed burning at William O’Brien State Park.
  8. Discovering, by digging through the sludge in Snelling Lake, that lots of tiny creatures live in our wetlands.
  9. Collaborating with classmates to create a tree identification guide for a small park.
  10. Having that AHA! moment. Why wait until summer to visit our parks? Each season has something unique to offer.

The master naturalist course was a great experience which will evolve with my pledge of volunteer service.

Tekiela’s Field Guides

December 11, 2008

With the gift-giving season upon us, Stan Tekiela’s field guides are a good choice for budding naturalists. I personally own the Minnesota versions of Birds of Prey, Mammals, Trees, and Wildflowers. I also have the Birds field guide and its companion CD of bird songs. Matching the song to the plumage is a good time, and requisite if you want to get into birding.

These field guides are great because they have just the right amount of information without overwhelming you, and the photography is stunning! Some of the reviews on are negative, saying Tekiela’s guides are too basic. But if you’re a novice like myself, basic is what you want!

Film Fest Review

December 10, 2008
Reusable shopping bags that fit in your purse

There are prizes such as these reusable shopping bags that fit in your purse

On Saturday night H and I went to the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival. (See my pre-fest blog post.) The event lasted a little over three hours and consisted of 9 films ranging from 2 to 33 minutes each.

I plan to make this an annual event because it seems we are very lucky and win the prizes. This year H and I each won a reusable shopping bag that stuffs into a tiny sack. Last year H won an oversized duffel bag.

But the real reason to attend is that these films are so inspirational and motivational, as well as eye-opening. For a taste, check out the People’s Choice Award, Oil + Water.

Cross-Country Skis

December 9, 2008
New gear made all the difference!

New gear made all the difference!

A few years ago three friends and I decided to rent a cabin and go cross-country skiing. So I dug out my never-been-used skis that I bought twenty years ago. It was March so the weather was warm and the snow sticky. I applied the appropriate wax and off we went.

I knew that I was the most inexperienced skier of the group, but this was ridiculous! My friends were always way ahead of me and I was slipping all over the place. After two hours of torture, one of my friends looked at the map and said, “We’re about half-way done.” I could not believe my ears; I didn’t think I could survive another two hours.

The next day I made a deal to trade skis with my friend for awhile. I happily zipped along on her skis and at the end of the trail she pulled in well after us and yelled, “Sue, your skis suck!” It was then and there that I decided to invest in a new pair of skis.

I went to Finn Sisu and purchased Atomic waxless skis, Salomon boots, and Rex poles. It’s been smooth gliding ever since.

Rather than Recycle…

December 8, 2008

While recycling has its merits, it is not a silver bullet. Better yet is to reduce the consumption of things that should be recycled. The New York Times reports Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up:

“The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.”

Another strike against recycling is that it is an energy-intensive process. So when we talk about Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, REDUCE is really the first choice.

Easy ways to make a difference:

  • Buy items with minimal packaging
  • Bring a reusable bag to the store
  • Use refillable bottles instead of buying bottled water
  • Buy recycled products to create a demand for them

Meet TED

December 4, 2008

I want to introduce you to “Inspired talks by the world’s leading thinkers and doers”

This website features videotaped presentations about Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Among many other topics, there are 33 speeches about the future of our environment. I was going to watch them all and tell you about my favorites, but that is just too big of a task for now. Check it out for yourself!

Looking Forward to Spring

December 3, 2008
Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

I am already looking forward to spring. I know, I know—winter is not even here yet. But next year I plan to convert areas of grass (weeds, really) to gardens with flowers, herbs, and berries. I’ll be spending time this winter strategizing with the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota. Gardening is a lot of work, so I’ll be taking it one step at a time, starting with the sunniest patch in the yard.