Earth Day 2020: Celebrating Nature During A Pandemic

Since Wisconsin issued a Safer at Home order on March 25, I have been leaving my home exactly once a week. Every Tuesday morning, I drive to a small town outside of Madison to spend an hour monitoring a nest of bald eagles. I’ve been volunteering for Bald Eagle Nest Watch since the beginning of the year, and three weeks ago I got my first look at two newly hatched eaglets. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found that my time at the eagle nest is a wonderful relief from the stress of the pandemic and the confinement to my home.

I’m not the only person escaping to natural spaces for relief during the widespread lockdowns in response to COVID-19. Parks have been filled with people taking daily walks and enjoying fresh air when there are few places indoors they can safely go. Besides encouraging many people to visit local parks and forests, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many complexities of humanity’s relationship with the environment. The severe drop in human activities has resulted in decreased air pollution, as well as fascinating changes in wildlife behavior. However, the pandemic is also an important reminder that the environmental impact of human activity has drastic consequences for global risk of infectious disease. This Earth Day, it’s the perfect time to pause and examine how the COVID-19 pandemic and the natural world are influencing each other for better and for worse.

Continue reading “Earth Day 2020: Celebrating Nature During A Pandemic”

Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018

2018 has been designated “The Year of the Bird”, and beginning today, Friday, February 16, 2018, bird lovers around the world will grab their binoculars, fill their bird feeders, update their eBird app, and look toward the skies. The 21st Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, begins today, and you can be part of this grand event of data collection.

All it takes is a mobile device (or computer) to log your results, an account at gbbc.birdcount.org , and 15 minutes of your time during the four-day event.

Can’t tell a red-tailed hawk from a red-winged black bird? That’s okay. The GBBC web site provides a handy online bird guide.  The web site also provides a guide for tricky bird IDs, including: Which Red Finch is it, Identifying Some Common Sparrows, and Identifying Doves.

I recently spent some time talking to Brian Schneider, one of the educators at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI, to get some tips for first-time birders. Continue reading “Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018”

Thawing Out to Sing: The Story of the Wood Frog

Wood Frog_Northern WisconsinOne of the hallmarks of the arrival of Spring in Wisconsin is the cacophony of evening croaks and calls from the Spring Peepers and Chorus frogs. Indeed frogs and toads are ubiquitous around the globe, and many of us who have become life scientists (even those of us who have relegated ourselves to the world of macromolecules, cell signaling networks, and nucleic acids) probably spent some time in our childhood chasing and catching frogs.

But what happens to those frogs and toads over the harsh winter months in places like Wisconsin? Well, their strategies are species-dependent, but at least some of them overwinter by freezing, and the story of one species, the Wood Frog, is quite amazing. Think about it. It freezes from the inside out. No heart beat, no circulation, completely dormant. Then in response to some unknown signal (day length? temperature? angle of the sun?), bodily functions slowly resume. What kind of cell signaling cascade controls that response?

Here is a video from NOVA about the Wood Frog and its amazing deicing event. The next time you are out on a Spring or Summer evening and you hear a chorus of frogs calling, you can think about the incredible molecular story behind the event and be even more impressed!

A NOVA Video about the Wood Frog:

 

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

raised bedYou may have read several posts on this blog relating to the non-spring-like weather we have been experiencing here in the Midwest. Well, it’s still cold, but the weather has to break sooner or later and that concept has me so excited to get my garden going! Have you ever considered gardening? Are you new to gardening? You may have considered it and gotten overwhelmed by the details- What class should I take? What books should I read? What do I do?

I am here to tell you to Just Do It! There is nothing like watching your own food grow and then eating it. Things have been growing in the dirt since the beginning of time with no help from humans, so if you approach your garden project with this in mind and just aim to take it lightly, gardening can be really fun! I got started about four years ago only because someone at work left a flat full of different seedlings and a sign that said help yourself. I waited until the end of the day and only a few disappeared, so I carried the whole flat home on the bus and got started with just a 4´ × 4´ plot. Here are some beginner tips; just things I’ve learned over the last few years, that may help you get started. All these tips will be from a Madison, WI, perspective, but should be applicable anywhere in the midwest. Continue reading “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners”

Inviting Mother Nature to the design table

Marble globe on green leaf, close-upSustainability is all over the news these days. Green this, eco-friendly that, recycle everything, buy the twisty lightbulbs, and “Aren’t you going to compost that?” Much like good compost, sustainability is hot, and it’s finding its way not only into our households, but also into product design. Principles like using low-impact materials, energy efficiency and designing for reuse and renewability are increasing in importance. In ever-greater numbers, designers are looking to nature for inspiration as they create the next generation of innovative and sustainable products. It’s a burgeoning discipline called biomimicry. Continue reading “Inviting Mother Nature to the design table”