Christiana Figueres is one of my “eco-heroes.” As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) between 2010 and 2016, she was responsible for leading the annual UN climate change conferences, which eventually led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Last year, she was a candidate for the role of secretary-general of the United Nations. When she wasn’t elected, I wondered what wonderful work she would do next.
. . .
Figueres is skilled in policy-making protocol and diplomacy, which is exactly what we might expect from the daughter of Jose figures Ferrer, a three-time President of Costa Rica who founded democracy there and abolished the nation’s standing army. Her US-born mother, Karen Olsen Figueres, served in Costa Rica’s Congress and as ambassador to Israel.
Costa Rica is a small country that has become a model for sustainable ecological development. They have set aside 26 percent of their rainforests and coastlines in national parks and kproved that ecotourism could become their most important industry. Christiana Figueres, small (five feet tall) but mighty, approaches her work with passion and energy.
When I first read about her in “Climate Controller” by Clara Germani in the Christian Science Monitor Weekly, I was struck by references to her deep concern for the environment. Here are some things that made her weep:
What is Christiana Figueres’ new project? She’ll join a group of global leaders and business executives on the Leadership Council for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Nearly three billion people around the world depend on wood, charcoal, animal dung, or coal in open fires or in inefficient stoves for their daily cooking needs. Their cooking emits pollutants, such as black carbon, carbon dioxide, and methane, which contribute to global climate change and pollution. Figueres will be working to improve health, empower women, and protect the climate and environment.
Happy World Turtle Day!
How should we celebrate?
I have a few turtle stories. (Doesn’t everyone?)
One: On a cold spring morning when the ground had just thawed, Bob and I were walking along a path in the woods. He said, “I smell a turtle.” I was doubtful. “Really? I don’t smell anything.” Early spring doesn’t offer much to interest your nose.
But he insisted, so we started looking for a turtle. Nothing. We looked more carefully. No turtle. We stirred some leaf litter. There was the turtle just emerging from his winter hibernation-home in the mud. The turtle, a box turtle, looked at us somewhat cynically with his red eyes. “This is my first day in months to open my eyes and move my body and pick up my turtle life. Did you ever think I might want some privacy?” No, we never did.
Two: I once bought a painted turtle at a pet store to release in our pond. I saw it once sunning itself on a floating branch but never again. Then I found a painted turtle on a dirt road where I like to walk. I picked it up and carried it back to our pond. I thought, “Now we have two turtles. Unless the turtle I found was the turtle I bought….” Now, a decade later, we have painted turtles in all sizes. Our two turtles have populated a pond.
Three: I was sitting in the back seat of my son’s car, while in the front seat, he and his wife were having an escalating argument. Their voices were becoming shriller and louder, and I was getting worried. We drove around a turtle that was crossing the road. As the argument continued without a pause, my son turned the car around, stopped by the turtle, my daughter-in-law got out and moved the turtle to safety, we turned around again and continued on our way. The argument was not yet settled, but I was. Beneath the disagreement of the moment was a perfectly executed dance of agreement.
. . .
World Turtle Day was founded in 1990 by American Tortoise Rescue as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. American Tortoise Rescue has placed thousands of rescued tortoises and turtles in caring homes.
Turtles are more threatened than birds, mammals, or amphibians. In 2010, almost 50% of all modern turtles were either extinct or threatened with extinction. They are collected for food, medicine, cosmetics, or to be sold as pets. They are subject to loss of habitat in its various forms: deforestation, drained wetlands, and rivers converted to stagnant reservoirs. They are often killed by traffic as they move around to feed and nest.
71% of all tortoise species are either gone or almost gone.
. . . . . . .
NatureReconnect: Continuing to follow the Carolina wrens:
Keep feeding your birds
When nesting birds have a ready supply of food, they don’t have to spend as much time away from their eggs or from their babies. Then there’s a better chance of raising all their young successfully.
Put out nesting materials for them
You can invite birds to nest in your yard by putting out nesting materials for them. Look at the list of nesting materials in the previous blog, “What’s in a nest?” Gather any of those materials, such as dried grass, pieces of moss, or bark and lichen. Add some interesting things that birds love – cat or dog hair, dryer lint, or bits of string. Hang the materials near your birdfeeder in a mesh bag or a basket, or drape them over a pinecone suspended on a string. Or just scatter them on the ground. (There is hardly a bird that can resist pet hair. I have a friend who brushes her huskies on their porch, and birds come down to steal the fur even while the dogs are still there!)
Have a messy yard
Another way to attract birds is to have a messy yard. Birds like to nest and raise their young where they feel safe and sheltered. They look for dense shrubbery, tall trees, brush piles, trunks of dead trees, and high grass. Is there room in your yard for some wilderness?
Build a birdhouse
Did you know that every species of bird has its own special requirements for an ideal home? For example, when you build a birdhouse, it’s important to use precise measurements for the size of the entrance hole. A wren is comfortable and safe in a house with a 1-inch entrance hole, but a bluebird prefers a 1 ½-inch hole, and a robin nests in a box with no hole at all. Before you build or buy a birdhouse, check the nest box requirements below.
Become a nest watcher
Bird nests are fascinating to observe, but it’s against the law to collect them. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to kill, injure, or take any migratory bird or any of its parts. That includes taking feathers, nests, or eggs. You can see how this law protects the birds we love.
When you find a bird’s nest, don’t touch it, but do look at it as closely as you can. Take a photo – disturbing the birds as little as possible – and make some notes.
Where is the nest located? – On the ground, in a shrub, in a tree, in a cavity of a tree, in a hole in a dirt bank, on or near a building?
What is the nest made of? – List the materials. Anything man-made?
What is the nest lined with? – Something soft, such as downy feathers, moss, fine grass?
Return to the nest every few days, always approaching quietly and respectfully. Take more photos. Make more notes. Remember to record the date each time. Now you’re acting like a scientist – especially if you begin to have questions and try to find the answers!
Try building a nest
Once you’re familiar with some birds’ nests, try your hand at building one yourself. First gather materials that a bird might use. You can try weaving the materials together or use mud to help stick them together, but don’t use anything that a bird couldn’t use (like glue or chip clips!). Then test your handiwork by putting your nest in a tree or shrub and placing a chicken egg from your kitchen in it. Did your nest pass the test?
From A Kid's Spring EcoJournal by Toni Albert.
What’s in a nest? (They’re awfully homely….)
For this blog, I planned to look at the various materials that birds use to make their nests. But “What’s in a nest?” prompted me to check on the Carolina wren’s nest with the five cinnamon-spotted eggs in it. The tiny altricial babies are undeniably homely!
For children and the young-at-definitions: Altricial means having young that are hatched or born in a very immature and helpless condition so as to require care for some time.
While the wrens were hunting insects, Bob took several photos, which we examined minutely.
Toni: Is this in focus?
Bob: It is. Look at the fine grass that lines the nest.
Toni: They’re not very pretty.
Bob: I think they’re a work in progress.
Well, back to “What’s in a nest?” Now I’m thinking about more than nesting materials and skill in weaving and hiding a nest. Now I’m focused on how a bird’s nest must shelter, protect, and hide a brood of tiny helpless birdlets. Nests, nesting materials, and nesting locations are as varied as birds. Once you identify a bird and its nest, you’ll be able to recognize another nest like it and know what kind of bird made it. Because robins often build their nests near or on our homes – even in a wreath hanging on a door – many children are familiar with their “robins-egg blue” eggs and their finely woven grassy nests.
Although it’s against the law to collect birds’ nests, you can certainly examine a nest (without touching it) after the bird family has left. When you look closely at a robin’s nest, you’ll see that it’s made of mud, grasses, weed stalks, and found objects like string or cloth and that it’s lined with fine grasses.
This is a partial list of nesting materials used by birds in our area:
Leaves or leaf mold
Plant down (like milkweed silk)
Found objects: string – cloth – paper – aluminum foil - (I once found a nest with a tea bag woven into it.)
This is the time of year to keep our eyes open for birds’ nests and nesting birds, tiny bits of eggshells, often dropped away from the nest so as not to give away its location, and birds returning repeatedly to a single place (where they are feeding young?). I never tire of watching this cycle of life repeated and repeated.
In the Old Testament, “Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” Men and women have always ordered the world by naming and classifying. It’s not enough for a birder to spot a bird he hasn’t seen before. He has to identify it and add its name to his life list. Nature lovers live with field guides.
In our home, we have field guides to birds; trees and shrubs; wildflowers; mushrooms; Eastern butterflies; insects and spiders; North American wildlife; animal tracks; edible wild plants; mammals of PA; rocks and minerals; fossils in PA; fishes and sea life; and coral reefs. And even a field guide to Eastern birds’ nests!
That’s how I identified a Carolina wren’s nest that is built under our deck and, at this very moment, has five tiny eggs in it. (There were only four when we took the photo.) Later, we confirmed the ID when we saw the wren fly from her nest.
From the field guide:
Habitat: Brushy forests – check!
Nest: Built in … nook or cranny around human dwelling – check!
Rarely higher than 10 feet – check! About 4 feet above the ground.
Bulky mass of twigs, mosses, rootlets, strips of inner bark – check!
Side entrance – check! The photo may look like one taken from above, but it was taken from the front, looking in.
Lined with … fine grasses – check! Messy on the outside, good camouflage, but neat and tidy inside.
Eggs: Commonly 5-6 – check! There are five today.
Short-oval shape. Smooth with little gloss. – check!
White, pale pink; typically marked with heavy brown spots, often concentrated at larger end – check!
So why do we love field guides? They help us identify what we observe. And think of the rich education one entry in a field guide provides. By the time we answer our question, “What is this?” we have a sense of ownership. I think it’s thrilling to investigate the great diversity of nature and, at the same time, to acknowledge the perfect individuality and consistency of each member. At a simpler level, it’s fun to recognize and call by name the living things around us. It’s a way of knowing a tree or a flower or a butterfly like a friend.
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”