Chirps Article

Is E-Shopping Harmful to the Environment?

by Kim Dolgin – Everyone knows how e-commerce has taken off in recent years, not just in the United States, but globally. More than half of U.S. purchases are now made electronically, accounting for 9% of all the dollars that consumers spend. (Big-ticket items remain more likely to be bought at a bricks-and-mortar store.) These amounts are increasing rapidly, and since younger folk are more likely to make purchases on their phones or computers, the upward trend seems likely to continue or accelerate.

The question is: is this good or bad from a carbon-emission perspective? The answer is quite complex and depends upon the assumptions you make in doing your calculations. For example, how far do you assume a buyer travels to get to the retail store? What kind of car are they driving, or are they biking? Have they bundled their trips so as to make several purchases? Researchers from MIT’s Center for Logistics and Transportation have studied this question and have calculated the carbon costs for different types of shoppers. Traditional shoppers – those who do all their examining and purchasing in stores – emit on average of 3.1 kg. of carbon dioxide going to and from stores on each visit, including those made to exchange goods (a surprisingly high percentage of trips). In addition, the store they visit expends carbon by needing to have lights on and from packaging their goods in appealing ways (such as by having plastic windows so the merchandise can be seen). Cybernauts, who account for about 12% of U.S. shoppers, do all their buying online and incur carbon costs because their products must be delivered, because of the IT infrastructure they support, and because of excess packaging when items are mailed. Still, per purchase on average they produce only about half the carbon emissions as Traditional Shoppers. Modern Shoppers are the most common type, a hybrid of the other two: moderns go to stores to examine merchandise and then ultimately buy online. As you can imagine, this is the worst of both worlds, for these shoppers incur all the costs associated with travel, delivery, and excess packaging.

Unfortunately, the environmental cost of e-shopping is getting worse, largely because so many more shoppers opt for guaranteed two-day delivery. Mega-retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Costco entice shoppers by letting them choose rapid two-day delivery, often at no cost, and even same-day delivery. Choosing these speedy options negates the carbon advantage of pure e-shopping, because companies must make additional, less optimally-routed trips with partially empty vehicles to ensure speed, so more trucks are driving more miles. These swift-turnaround times also increase the likelihood that products will travel by air as well as by land.

Fortunately, it is becoming more common for e-retailers to let patrons select slower delivery service. Some even offer an incentive for you to do so. For example, the last time I waived the free two-day delivery that I receive for being an Amazon prime member, I was offered free slower delivery, and a discount on a future digital purchase was thrown in. The company is also trying out a new feature, Amazon Day, which will let you select a single day each week when all your week’s purchases are bundled and delivered together. This option also reduces packaging and lowers the risk of theft if you opt for delivery on a day you will be home. (And, of course, the company will save money).

With more and more types of items available online, and more and more companies offering expedited shipping, it becomes ever more important to consider the environmental effects of e-commerce.  Next time you buy with a click, ask yourself if you really need that new lawn ornament by the day after tomorrow. If you can wait a little longer, you will be doing a small bit to help reduce carbon pollution.

Volunteer of the Year Award

BHAS has a new award!

The eligibility guidelines are:

1. The volunteer contributes outstanding long-term service through work that addresses BHAS’s mission and strategic priorities.

AND ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:

2. Performs intensive work on one project/activity and/or extensive involvement on several projects/activities.

3. Work demonstrates special creativity and/or efficiency and has a lasting impact on the functioning of the organization.

4. Work increases volunteer participation that continues beyond involvement of the individual volunteer (even when s/he moves on to other projects).

Please submit your nomination to Elizabeth Rodrick, vice-pres@nullblackhills-audubon.org. Submittals should not exceed 500 words; bullet points detailing the nominee’s efforts are appropriate.

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees – Thor Hanson, Dec 12

Weaving together culture, science, and history, Hanson sets the stage for understanding the modern plight of bees, from pesticides and colony collapse to climate change. Sponsored by the Friends of the Olympia Timberland Library. This event will occur after regular library hours, no other library services will be available. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Date: 12/12/2018
Start Time: 7:30 PM
End Time: 8:45 PM

 

A Citizen Science Opportunity…

The National Audubon Society is sponsoring a program called Climate Watch. This project is designed to track the presence of several target species over time and to assess the effects of climate change on their numbers. Several of the species, e.g. the Red-breasted Nuthatch and Western Bluebird, are found in our area. Participation is easy: once or twice a year (your choice) you spend 5 minutes watching or listening for your target species in 12 different spots within your claimed map area. You choose the date, between January 15th and February 15th and/or May 15th and June 15th. There are many unclaimed map squares in our tri-county region! For more information, go to https://www.audubon.org/climate-watch-faqs.

Musings of “Christmas Bird Counts” Past

(by Joe Zabransky) I had recently turned 11 years old when I experienced my first Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Bergen County, NJ.  This CBC was the first opportunity to take my new birthday binoculars, received two weeks earlier, on a real spin in the field. Birding was only three months old for me, so I was just beginning to know the common birds in the region, all observed with a pair of beat up opera glasses given to me by my grandfather and probably purchased toward the end of the 19th Century!

Knowledgeable adult mentors surrounded me on the field trips and their presence on the CBC was just as valuable. I quickly found out, however, that bird counts were approached in a different way than field trips.  Because there is a prescribed area to cover with a limited amount of daylight, there is a tendency to keep on the move and not tarry too long at any one location. Field trips are organized to visit special habitats (marshes, lakes, ocean, etc.) at certain times during the year. All the CBCs occur roughly within a three-week period and with a given CBC team, you might walk residential streets, visit cemeteries, look at backyard feeders, hang around garbage dumps or walk in city parks.

The CBC period is held from 14 December to 5 January every year.  An individual count can be held on any day during that period but usually occur on weekends. A CBC area is a circle with a 15-mile diameter, usually centered on a town. The circle is divided into irregular sections, each with a designated team and leader who identify and tally the number of individuals for each species at each stop. You may be observing and counting from a car or getting out and walking a few streets and roads for a while. I always prefer the latter because you will usually see more individual birds on foot than from a moving vehicle.

Later in my teenage years, the state herpetologist of New Jersey became a birding mentor and I then went on the Boonton, NJ CBC with the Urner Ornithological Club (UOC), a self-professed all male group in the 1950s. They were, however, a club of outstanding competitive birders from all over the State. So, I participated in 3:00 AM wakeups to go owling on back country roads as part of 12-hr CBCs on cold winter days.  There was one significant difference between Audubon and UOC CBCs. Audubon lunches were taken with youwhile UOC members would have sit-down lunches at a diner!

For about twenty years I took a long break from birding (academics and living abroad got in the way) and did not take it up again until I moved to New Hampshire in 1982. A faculty colleague and his wife were two of the most avid birders in the State, so it was natural to resume birding again and the CBC was my starting activity. One time, when I was team leader of one of the sections of the Laconia, NH CBC, I arose at 3:00 AM, dressed appropriately, drove for 45 minutes to get to my CBC sector and started calling owls.  There I was, standing beside my car, the air calm, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature at 6 degrees F calling a Barred Owl, then trying meager attempts at Great-Horned, Saw-Whet and Eastern Screech Owls. A light came on in a distant house.  I was expecting someone to come out with a shotgun, but the light went off again. I have successfully called in several Barred Owls over the years but the best I could do this frosty morning, long before sunrise, was one isolated car with a caring driver who asked if I needed any road assistance!

I tried to encourage my wife, Emily, who is an artist and lover of animals (snakes excluded — unless they come bearing at least one leg!), to go birding with me. I was planning to go with my colleague and his wife on the NH Coastal CBC, so I thought what better way to introduce Emily to birding than a CBC.  This CBC required a 3:30 AM rise, a drive to meet our partners and a long drive to the coast at Hampton Beach to begin scanning the ocean at 6:00 AM.  For some, this might sound a bit much to just get started, but there is more. Did I mention that the air temperature on this fine morning was 10 degrees F and the wind was howling out of the northwest at a comfy 25 mph! Several inches of snow covered the hard, frozen ground. After ten hours of glacial exposure, in and out of the car, I lost all hope of ever inducting Emily into the community of birders! The very best upside to the suffering we endured that day was a Snowy Owl sitting on a beach-front picnic table, just 15 ft from our car. The moral of this story is always use warm, sunny spring days to introduce folks, especially your spouse, to the joys of birding!

Counting birds in large flocks has always been a standing joke between Emily and me. She recognizes that it is nearly impossible to count to the nearest whole bird when a flock of 127 Canada Geese fly over. Isolating a known number, say ten geese, then extrapolating, by groups of ten, over the remainder of the flock will give you a pretty good “estimate” (~130) of the number in the entire flock. Emily says that’s not good science, and I say you are right, but it is good community science. Counting birds is not an exact science, the methods and equipment are not consistent among observers and certainly observers are not all scientists. Most of all observer’s eyes are all different.

Nevertheless, approximate information on bird numbers can carry a lot of weight. On one Laconia, NH CBC no Blue Jays were seen in our sector. This was very unusual for a bird that is a year-round resident of NH. When the compilation was held at the end of the day, only two Blue Jays were reported for the entire count circle (177 sq. mi.). When the final National Audubon Statistics were published for that year the count across the northern U.S. uncovered an obvious plummet in the Blue Jay population. It wouldn’t have mattered whether our NH count had reported 2 or 10 jays, it still would have been a low number. The cause of the sudden population decrease was something that scientists could study but the data were taken by a community of non-scientists via the annual CBC.

One year I decided to combine a trip back to New Jersey to visit my then 92-year-old mother with a special reunion CBC with my childhood buddies, Doug and Frank Gill, in Barnegat, NJ along the Jersey shore. There were even some aging UOC birders there from the old days. I had not birded with either brother since Urner days some 30 years prior. We had a great time catching up on our lives and talking about “the old days”.

Doug and Frank were always competitive birders, but the respect for each other and their shared love of nature, especially birds, became the basis of their respective Ph.Ds in Zoology. Frank is one of the world’s leading ornithologists who has always been a large-scale thinker and the motivating force behind such projects as eBird, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the Birds of North America encyclopedia series and author of the well-used, college text Ornithology.  Doug is an emeritus professor of Zoology at the University of Maryland who has spent many years studying frog populations, wild orchids (lady slippers) and the effects of restored indigenous grasses on the return of bird populations to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He also contributed a couple of pieces to Bird Note on the latter work in Maryland. Sadly, I must say with complete confidence that none of the birding acumen, amassed by the Gill brothers, has ever rubbed off on me!

The reunion brings me to one of the best aspects of birding, camaraderie, which is enjoyed by all who participate, especially in the CBCs, because we enjoy the outdoors, seeing birds in their natural habitat and contributing to the overall science of bird ecology.  The compilation of all the bird sightings at the end of the day is just another part of this shared enjoyment, including what sector group saw the best bird of the day, how did this year’s total compare to previous years and which species showed a decline or increase.  Audubon compilation dinners around the country are quite similar.  Chili is the usual main course although the NH Coastal CBC always had moose meat in their chili — what can I say, “Live Free or Die”! Then there is the even simpler version of dinner — a large order out of pizza. Of course, the UOC in New Jersey had to be different by commandeering a large section of a restaurant for a sit-down dinner to top off a long day of counting!

When I moved to the Olympia area eight years ago and began participating in the local CBC, it was not a surprise to find the same camaraderie among the participants out here. I have birded the same sector on Cooper Point each year which covers a variety of habitats including open water, residential, forest, a golf course and a horse farm. Perhaps the only difference from my CBC experiences back east is that we start a bit later in the morning out here unless, of course, you go owling.  I have long since put in my time owling and eagerly leave that now to others! There is one other difference in the CBCs in the South Puget Sound region from those back in the Northeast, namely I traded snow and cold for generally cloudy and wet conditions! Overall, I prefer the latter.

For over a hundred years the Audubon CBC has produced a wealth of valuable data, data that scientists have used as bases for bird studies. That is reason enough to participate in a CBC, but I trust I have also given you an insight into the friendships, fun and memories that CBCs have garnered for me. If you have never participated in a CBC, I encourage you to do so. Learn to identify birds, meet a new friend, have some fun in the process, consume a chili dinner and most all, contribute to science.

 

Armchair Birding: Mentoring Books for the Giving Season

(by Anne Kilgannon) Musings on BirdNote and The Naturalist’s Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal, for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You

We are all familiar with the much appreciated flute notes that announce a BirdNote story on the radio following the morning news report: a quick upbeat and very bird-like melody that creates a pause in the rush to get out the door. Each story is only one minute and forty-five seconds but is packed with insight about bird life, a quirky fact or two, with the narration highlighted with cheerful or even thrilling bird sounds. Each broadcast is a dose of nature-medicine, a re-set and reminder to go outside and look up.

The BirdNote stories are so easy to listen to we might not realize how carefully curated and crafted they are, how deeply researched by noted ornithologists and writers, and how much they touch on the big questions about bird life pondered by academic experts and experienced birders alike. The recorded bird songs are drawn from the renowned collections of the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Every presentation is polished, evocative, and sparks curiosity and wonder. They are miniature masterpieces.

And now BirdNote has come out as a book? Can something so aural be captured on the page? And no, there is no attached CD of the soundtrack that is such a highlight of the radio segments. (Of course, there is still the website we can peruse to refresh our recollections of bird songs: www.BirdNote.org) I was intrigued by the question enough to attend the book presentation at Browsers Books in late September by Dr. Bob Sundstrom, science advisor and lead writer of more than 800 of the radio scripts, and Dr. Trina Bayard, another science advisor. They had me with an opening comment about Rachel Carson and the need to foster a sense of wonder in children and adults alike as the driving concept behind BirdNote. And while I enjoyed their stories capturing the essence of diverse species from Anna’s Hummingbirds to sanderlings and Great Blue Herons, I was still pondering the notion of replicating the magic of BirdNote as a book.

The one thing the radio program does not have is imagery—the absence of which does ask us to use our other senses, mainly that of listening, a sometimes neglected ability in this visual era. And that is all to the good. If a radio could waft the scent of a forest or marsh or desert, the feel of sun or wind, as well…well, then we would be outside! (That would be asking too much.) But get hold of a copy of BirdNote, the book, and return to that need for wonder we all feel and hope to inculcate in others, and then slowly turn the pages. The illustrations by Emily Poole are vibrant, almost kinetic, and so lively you expect to hear bird sounds of calls, brush rustling and water splashing. Each is a feast of observed detail that captures the nature of the bird in focus, often in motion, with the correct habitat suggested just enough for context. The format of page-size illustrations matched by accompanying page of text, bird by bird, follows the radio BirdNote formula, only substituting image for sound. It works very well.

If you know a child or teenager or any adult that you wish to entice outdoors with you or on their own, this book would make a wonderful gift. As a first step, or with a field guide, these stories give just enough information to intrigue and inform a beginning birder in a narrative form that is easy to grasp yet not simplistic, and the illustrations are even more evocative than most field guides I currently possess.

With a note including the webpage address for the aural enrichment, this book will delight anyone.

As the gift-giving season is upon us, I have another suggestion of a book that opens the Nature door and is a feast for the eyes and imagination. I was lucky enough to receive a copy for my birthday: The Naturalist’s Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal, for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You, by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich. The charming and accurate illustrations are also by Bernd Heinrich.

This book is packed first with the “why” of keeping a nature journal and very helpfully, the “how,” with pages of examples drawn from the personal practices of these veteran naturalists and then a set of pages inserted for your own use: no excuses! The “why” pages detail all that can be learned by tracking observations over time, of returning again and again to places of study to deepen one’s knowledge and gain new insights as patterns and variations are recorded and pondered. Noticing the fruiting of a bush and the appearance of insects and birds on or about the same date, or perhaps the mismatch as climate change impacts our location, or the date of fledglings testing their wings one year alerts the watcher for the next, keeping and checking our records enriches our excursions in fields and woods. Nathaniel and Bernd—who feel like friends by now—inspire and inform us how to begin, and just as importantly, how to continue this valuable practice of recording observations.

Understanding that this method was foundational for these respected writers and that everyone starts step by step building knowledge and experience would encourage any budding naturalist, yourself or someone lucky like me who receives this book as a gift. However you celebrate the holiday season, the gift of either of these books would be life-giving and even life-changing.

Field Trip Report – Sauvie and Swifts in September

The day was supposed to be a wet one so we were all delighted when we met at 9am under a blue sky sprinkled with high clouds. We were there to ride most of the perimeter of Sauvie Island, just outside downtown Portland, while birding. The island contains a large refuge so birding any time of year is usually worthwhile. For those birders who also like to bike, the island is flat and pastoral so a lovely ride on a quintessential autumn day.

We rode and birded for 4 hours before ending at Kruger’s Farm for sandwiches and shopping. After a few free hours to spend as we each liked, we met up again at the Chapman School in NW Portland to view the nightly performance of the thousands of Vaux’s Swifts that roost in the tower there during their migration south. It was not disappointing! It took about 40 minutes for all the birds to settle inside after gathering, circling and flying lower and lower until at last they dropped into the tower. They cannot perch due to their body structure so are on the wing all day. Besides the thousands of Vaux Swifts, we saw on the island, a stunning flock of about 150 White Pelicans, in migration, over 100 Sandhill Cranes, and 5 Great Egrets.  There were also two Osprey nests along the road, which the birds were still using as staging areas, and there were lots of more commonly seen birds as well.

We saw amazing birds while experiencing a wondeful island ride with a wonderful group of people. Join us next September, and check out other upcoming birding trips on the BHAS web page.

New BHAS Patches Arrive

These beautiful patches arrived this summer to identify our birding-watching backpacks being donated to libraries in the Timberland Library system. We have extras to offer to our members. They are perfect to sew onto your own backpack, hat or outerwear. You can buy one at our program meetings for $5.00. If you would like one but are unable to attend a program meeting, please contact Kathleen Snyder, secretary@nullblackhills-audubon.org. It would be easy to mail one to you.

Wanted: Used Birding Books
If you have some birding books that you no longer want, please consider donating them to our used book sale which happens at our monthly program meetings. All the proceeds from the book sale are used to support our chapter and its good works. Either bring your donations to a meeting or contact Kathleen Snyder, secretary@nullblackhills-audubon.org to arrange pickup.

Replacing Fossil Fuels with Renewable Energy in Washington State – Black Hills Audubon Supports I-1631

Pervasive wildfires, along with heat and drought, contaminate the air we breathe, and endanger both humans and wildlife.  In a word, global warming is already here in Washington state.  National Audubon scientists have determined that climate change is the greatest threat to birds.  Climate change is rapidly occurring — too rapid for birds and other wildlife to adapt, not to mention, us.

To address climate change, Black Hills Audubon, as well as Audubon Washington representing the 25 chapters across the state, have endorsed Initiative I-1631.  This measure would place an ever-increasing fee on greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels by the largest emitters in the state.  These funds would be used to develop renewable energy, like wind and solar; protect forests, clean water, and clean air; while protecting communities at risk.

Our air would become cleaner not only because emissions into the atmosphere would decrease but also as the shift away from carbon addresses the effects of global warming, eventually reversing the trend toward wildfires, droughts, severe storms, and a disruptive climate toward which we are now headed.  Passage of I-1631 would foster development of renewable energy, thus generating many new jobs in Washington state, while offering help for those losing jobs in fossil fuel industries and communities affected by the transition. Passage of this initiative would establish our state as a leader in addressing global warming.

Climate change is with us; we need action now. We have before us an opportunity to do our part in addressing a clear and present danger.  Please help Washington state be a bellwether for the nation by voting for I-1631 in the November election.

Library Backpack Program Success Story

The following letter was sent to BHAS last month:

I recently checked out the Birding backpack from the Olympia Timberland Library.  I have a 7 year old who is interested in birds.  We carefully unpacked the backpack and looked at each item the other night.  We read the binocular directions and practiced using them.  I did not know how to properly use binoculars, so that was so helpful.

Today when I picked my son up from school I brought the pack along and we had a long, leisurely walk home, by way of the Garfield Nature trail.  It was so fun to watch my little guy get so excited about finding bird nests, and identifying the few birds we saw.

Thank you for putting this lovely resource together.

Could you suggest other resources for birding that would be appropriate for children?

Thank you,

Joann T.