Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The date of this email from Ron LeValley is December 10, 2005.

"Ron’s Outside My Window is a recent photo that I have taken. It usually has some natural history theme (but sometimes not) and I sometimes miss a few days and catch up later. Much of the reason that I send out these pictures is to increase awareness of the natural world, awareness of the wonderful things that are ‘outside’ our windows, beyond the insulation that that much of our daily life imposes on us. Please feel free to pass this photo along to anyone you think might be interested. If your e-mail box is getting too full, let me know and I will remove you from the list. I also appreciate comments or questions about the photos, and any way you think this effort can be improved. Enjoy (and) take the time to look outside your windows!"

Burrowing Owl by Ron LeValley

Since that Dec. 2005 email I've been saving some of his pictures in file marked Outside Ron's Window. A few weeks ago, I asked him if I could post one once in a while. "Of course," he said.

When I asked him if I could use his amazing wave shot as the wallpaper on my blog he said, "Of course." 

I met Ron nearly twenty years ago when I was president of our local Audubon chapter. I invited him to give one on the dozens of talks he's since given to our chapter. That's not counting all the pelagic trips he's lead. In all those years, I've never asked Ron for a single thing, that I didn't hear "of course." No one I know has. Not the Study Club, not Point Cabrillo Light Station, not the City of Fort Bragg, not the Audubon Society. He never says no. He is passionate about his family, his community, and the natural world, and we all richer for knowing him. (And he's one of the few people who knows where our Blue whale is buried.)

To me, his photographs are a window into his soul. He is honest, loving, gentle, and generous. Please join me in supporting him, and his family.



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Updates, Odds and Ends

A friend recently told me she tries to watch a TED talk a day. I checked it out, and the first one I found was about octopuses. You know I'm a sucker for anything to do with octopuses. 




Sammie look alike
Lost and Found was a November 23rd post about Sammie, the little dog that showed up on my doorstep. He was so terrified of men that the couple who took him had to give him up, and he ended up in our local shelter. Weeks went by, then I heard that he's been adopted--this time by two women.

And then there was Guest Blog: My Life by Jeremy Cimino August 28th.

Jeremy now owns Geronimo 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Blog by Sallie Reynolds: The Gift of Flight

I had a poisoned wild Red-tailed hawk in my care for three months, and we came to know each other well. If we hadn’t, this story might have ended differently. I’m a licensed, trained wildlife rehabilitator, one of those nutty people who (legally) treat injured, ill, or orphaned wild animals. About 50 percent of the animals in our care grow strong, cured of whatever brought them in. The other 50 percent die. For the nature lover, these are heartbreaking odds.
My Red-tailed came from a golf course. That season, our group had taken in a number of poisoned raptors from that area where the greens had been sprayed with pesticides. The raptors would eat a poisoned ground squirrels, and slowly lose control of their bodies. The feet go first. Then the wings. Then the head. Golfers saw my hawk tumble to the ground, unable to take wing again. They called a near-by rehabber, who picked up the bird and took her to a veterinarian. From there she called me – I suspect because she couldn’t stand watching another beautiful bird die.
My bird was large. Her great size and her coloring indicated a mature female. She was bone thin, and appeared paralyzed. Hawks cannot move their eyes much under the best circumstances, but hers, unmoving as they were, were still fiercely alight. As I watched, her beak opened. Normally, she would have screamed her fury, but not a sound emerged.
 Her neck was golden, almost like a Golden Eagle's, her crest high, and that open jaw was mighty. How beautiful! And so unlike the blur of a bird you see flying overhead. Here every detail was exquisite, each breast feather perfectly marked, as if someone had taken a little paintbrush, dipped it into a sunset, and applied it to her bib.
At my little “clinic,” a shed converted into a bird hospital, I injected Lactated Ringers, a hydrating fluid, under the skin between the top of her leg and her body. This bird was so dehydrated, the skin stood up in a peak when I pinched it. Afterward, I put her in a box, covered it with a towel, and went in the house to do some research.
I had notes from several groups on how to treat poison cases. None very hopeful. After I'd read awhile, I called a woman who works with eagles. She had released 38 that year, among them a few she'd pulled through a poisoning.
“Expect the worst,” she said. "The bird might not live the night. But if it does, there's a chance of recovery." She had a protocol that might help. It would be a long haul.
The next morning, my hawk was alive.
More fluids, more rest, more dark. The next day, she tolerated yet more fluids and a thorough exam. She was still unable to move, and a matted vent indicated an intestinal disturbance. A flaring of feathers over one eye suggested neurological involvement. I cleaned her up and fed her watered-down baby-food meat with a gavage tube (gavage = delivering a liquid via tube directly into the crop.) I did this five times a day.
Throughout, she was calm. For four days, I kept up the routine, flushing and re-flushing her system. On the fifth morning, she'd lost so much weight, it was frightening. And she refused to open her beak. I was losing her after all.
I looked at my notes: “She will tell you when she's ready for the next stage.”
Maybe, just maybe. I offered fileted bits of mouse. And oh how she ate – polishing off nine small mice in 20 minutes!
Three days later she was eating chopped mice, laced with vitamins, taking the bits from my glove. In a week, she'd put on weight and could stand on her own. I let her free in the room, and while I cleaned, she  staggered around, using her wings as crutches (not the time to worry about feather damage!).


In another week, she was eating voraciously and hopping onto her crate. Twice a day, I held her by her upper legs, and let her exercise her wings. A few days later, she flew from one side of the room to the other, landing imperfectly.
“Wobbly is good!” I told her.
Sure enough, she soon had her feet under her.
Then one day she wouldn’t come out of her crate. Poison cases can break your heart this way; they can do so well, and suddenly crash.
But I hadn't forgotten my list: “She will tell you. . .”  So I decided to risk her in a flight cage. When I set her on the ground, she walked two steps – and flew!
Another month of flight exercise and good food, and my hawk was ready to fly free. We wanted to release her into her old habitat, which would be familiar and where she probably had a mate. The golf course manager had stopped using the poisons, so we took her home.
I lifted her our of her box and opened my hands; she sat very still, looked at me, then with a cry, she flew into a tree. Suddenly another Red-tail appeared overhead. My hawk cried again – and he answered. A moment later, the two joined in a spiraling dance, up and up, until they vanished into the sky.

Note the errant feather on the top of the bird's head.
That was part of the syndrome, nerve involvement in a poisoning. 

At the of this rescue, Sallie was an active volunteer for Sierra Wildlife Rescue 

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on standard sized chickens.[2] It breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common buteos in North America. Red-tailed Hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within its range. There are fourteen recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm (18 to 26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm (43 to 57 in). The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25% heavier than males. (From Wikipedia)

I am often asked about the Audubon International stamp of approval on golf courses. Audubon is not a copy-rightable name, so in 2004, the PGA form an alliance with Audubon International, created specifically give the impression that a specific golf course has gone through a rigorous reveiw by environmental specialists. Audubon International is in no way associated with the National Audubon Society, and it's stamp of approval on any golf course in no way guarantees that they do not use pesticides, or excessive amounts of fertilizers. It also doesn't mean that they aren't doing the best they can for their business, and the environment.

When I wrote Sallie about this, she added this addendum:
Today many organizations that used to use organophosphates improperly -  too often and too strong - may well monitor their usage more closely. Otherwise, we'd see more poison cases. When it's freshly sprayed on the trees, or the greens, raptors (and other predators) can get poisoned not only by eating poisoned rodents and insects, but from perching on the fresh, too-strong solution. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Guest Blog: Linda Bonvie--Comparing apples and oranges

As I wrote this, it looked perfectly normal: Times New Roman 12pt. When I hit preview, it is in all caps. I have no idea why, and I can't make it stop. I am not shouting at you.

We've all seen the ads where a mom reaches past a myriad of orange juice cartons, and is handed a fresh carton by a guy in an orange grove. I know those ads are bull, so why was I surprised to discover there is nothing "fresh-squeezed" in orange juice, (the fresh flavor is added just before packaging) and that there is enough pesticide residue in our orange juice supply to alarm the powers that be at Coca Cola?

So okay, duped again. We like to feel good about healthy food and beverage choices. Orange juice is full of vitamin C and calcium, and only a trace or two of a not-so-healthy ingredient. And then there was that reassuring network news interview with a Walter Middy-like spokesperson from the FDA. He promised that there is no need to worry. In my case, that's probably true. I am a child of the 50s, no doubt, still brimming with residual DDT & malathion, and can remember stirring that glowing orange glob of coloring into a white brick of oleo-margarine to make it look like butter. So why would I choose to do a post about orange juice? Because I was talking to my friend Bill Bonvie, Linda's brother, about it and he told me Walter Middy the 2nd used to work for Monsanto. That reassuring spokesperson worked for the largest producer of pesticides in the world, the same company that is trying to genetically modified everything we eat. Really? I was outraged.

 From Bill:

"Michael R. Taylor (or "Mike Taylor," as he was recently referred to by Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News, as in "I just got off the phone with Mike Taylor at FDA") is your quintessential revolving-door bureaucrat, having gone from being a staff attorney for the FDA to attorney for Monsanto, back to the FDA where he was largely responsible for the approval sans safety testing of Monsanto's genetically engineered crops, which were deemed to be "substantially equivalent" to conventional ones, as well as the administering of rBGH, the Monsanto growth hormone many researchers consider carcinogenic, to dairy herds to make them produce more milk. He subsequently went to the USDA as administrator for Food Safety and Inspection, then returned to Monsanto in another position (vice president for public policy), only to pop up again (surprise, surprise!) at the FDA under the Obama administration as deputy commissioner for foods, or "food safety czar." This guy gets around!

Comparing oranges and apples: the whole story about a prohibited pesticide

As you probably know by now, a  fungicide banned in the U.S. called carbendazim was found in imported orange juice. Discovered by Minute Maid – the orange juice giant owned by Coca Cola — the find was reported to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency swooped into action, writing letters to the Juice Products Association, testing orange juice and assuring us that the levels detected pose no hazard.

At the same time, the FDA declared current supplies of orange juice A-OK to drink, it also said orange juice arriving at the U.S. border  with any “measurable level” of the chemical  would not be allowed entry.
So which is it? The juice is safe if it’s in the store, but not if it hasn’t crossed the border? And what about the fact that residues of the banned chemical, also known as MBC, are allowed in other fruits that make up popular juices such as apples, cherries and grapes, and found to be perfectly fine by the FDA?
First, we need a little primer in what’s going on here, and to do that, we need to skip over to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a minute.

When it comes to pesticides in foods, the EPA can be thought of as the judge and the FDA as the cops. In other words, the EPA sets what are called “tolerances,” the legal limits of pesticides allowed as residues in food, while the FDA enforces that limit, with the authority to stop and recall foods that contain detectable residues above what the EPA has established. (Note that the word “safe” isn’t used here. A “tolerance” is basically what’s been determined at one point or another to be a level at which a chemical has “no effect.”)

Back to the orange juice: MBC, a nasty chemical that until several years ago was allowed to be used on Florida oranges, is currently on the banned list, considered “illegal” by virtue of there being no EPA tolerance set for it. So it makes sense that the FDA would stop all orange juice heading our way that contains it.

What doesn’t make sense is a sort of  FDA slight of hand that allows for MBC residues to be present in numerous commodities, even though the chemical itself has no food uses.

A case of ‘pesticide identity theft’?
How can this be, I hear you asking. Well MBC has a close relative called thiophanate methyl (TPM for short) that is allowed to be used on crops – quite a few, in fact. And after it’s used on strawberries, apples and blueberries, for example, it starts to degrade and turns into other chemicals, one of them being the banned MBC. In fact, when testing for residues of the permitted TPM, they look for, and measure it as … MBC.

In a attempt to show how safe our orange juice is, in fact, FDAimports.com, a private consulting firm founded by a former FDA employee, issued a press release with the headline: “FDA cracks down on Carbendazim (MBC) in OJ but ignores it it other foods…”

The moral of this appears to be that our news is creatively delivered to us. While headlines from papers all over the county and news anchors are talking about an “orange juice recall” and discussing whether it is warranted or not, what reporters aren’t telling us is that the same dangerous and banned chemical that caused the OJ scare is allowed on many other fruits used to make juice – with “permitted” residues at much higher levels than what caused all the to-do with the oranges.

Of course, such pesticides could be avoided by buying nothing except certified organic juices, but for a great many shoppers, that’s simply not an affordable option, since organic juices at best tend to be considerably more costly than their conventional counterparts.

For most consumers, a more practical solution would be for public pressure to force the regulators to abandon the double standard now being used in regard to MBC by prohibiting use of any other chemical that morphs into it as well – in effect, a form of  ‘pesticide identity theft’.

Telling us all about this, of course, should be the media’s job – but right now, rather than getting the whole story from them, all we’re hearing is what the FDA has to say about the chemical in oranges, while apples are given a pass. To say nothing of strawberries and blueberries.

Linda Bonvie,

Linda Bonvie is an author, and consumer advocate with over 20 years of experience researching and writing about food safety, health and environmental issues.  She is the co-author of Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child’s Diet and Environment (2003) and Chemical-Free Kids: the Organic Sequel (2008), as well as The Stevia Story: a tale of incredible sweetness and intrigue (1997). Articles she has co-authored with her brother Bill have been published in a number of magazines and many major newspapers. (One of these, an expose on the spraying of passengers on international flights with a toxic pesticide, which was published back in 1993, led to the requirement being dropped by a couple dozen countries after then-Transportation Secretary Federico Pena became personally involved in the issue.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guest Blog: Cheryl Gillmore

A couple of days ago, I mentioned I was in St. Louis on a panel reviewing writing samples of 8th and 12th graders. I've since heard from a number of you wanting to know more. As it happens, this morning I got this blog post from a fellow panelist, Cheryl Gillmore, also a writer, and she said everything I would have said, only better.
      This past week in St. Louis I had the pleasure of serving on a federally funded NAEP panel to set up and review writing samples of 8th and 12th grade students. Our job, after two days of training, was to establish the "cut scores" that divide the three levels of achievement...advanced, proficient and basic.  

      Seventy percent of the panelists were teachers or non-teacher educators representing nearly every state in the union--including Hawaii and Alaska. The other thirty percent of us were "general public," with nearly all of us writers.

      We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb about 20 minute from St. Louis and enjoyed great rooms, great service and great food! Those incentives seemed to balance the long brain-draining hours of hard work each day in our training and subsequent scoring sessions.

      I was reminded of the love and dedication of teachers this week as I had the chance to talk and socialize with them again. It didn't matter what part of the country they came from, they were all equally concerned for the success of each of their students. I will always be proud to be a forever teacher.

      I will always remember this great week spent with truly wonderful and dedicated people. I'm so glad I was chosen to be on the panel and that I was open, accepting and positive for this opportunity and experience to come into my life.   

Once again, I am reminded... 

"A page turned...new chapters begin. The sequel yet to unfold.  
Never forgotten and never to end. Images etched on each soul." 
C. L. Gillmore is a retired special education teacher for whom writing has always been an important part of life. "My second grade teacher was a big influence," Gillmore says. "She was instructive and encouraging and made me love putting my thoughts on paper."

A transplant from Muscatine, Iowa, Gillmore resides in Surprise, Arizona with her husband Mike. She has two adult children and five grandchildren. She is writing a sequel novel to Uncommon Bond sure to please her growing fan base.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Home again, Home again, Jiggity Jog

For the last week I've been in St. Louis on a Federally-funded panel set up to review writing samples of 8th and 12th grade students. Our job, after two full days of training, was to establish the "cut scores" that divide the three levels of achievement.

I'm a better person today than I was last week. I, and 59 other panelists, worked from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day for 4 days, and a half day on Saturday, before shipping out for our home states. I've never been so exhausted, and was reminded how lucky I am to be "retired."

If you are interested in looking at what I was doing here's the website. Seventy percent of the panelists were teachers representing nearly every state in the union--including Hawaii and Alaska. Thirty percent of us were "general public," but of those panelists, nearly all of us were writers, and predominately middle grade and young adults novelists.

I'm going to spend a few days paying bills, and clearing my emails, then I'll be back to looking for interesting issues to share, or wonderful animal stories. Meanwhile, a little self-promotion. This is the most wonderful review of Hurt Go Happy I think I've ever read. It brought me to tears.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Guest Blog: Ronnie James

Owlets in Triplicate

It was early June when someone brought in three one week old Western Screech owls. My first reaction, as always, was to return them to their parents who would have happily continued to feed and care for them. It seemed, however, that not only was the nest tree destroyed, but the acreage in all directions had been leveled and plowed in preparation for an illegal agricultural use. The finder wasn’t about to tell me the location.

The owlets were little ping-pong ball sized bundles of gray fluff; the food of choice, minced mouse sprinkled with vitamins and calcium. They ate every three hours, gained weight and grew rapidly. Within a week I was able to sleep through the night without feeling guilty.

Owls, like ducks and geese, readily imprint but not until they’re about 3 weeks old when they’re finally able to focus their eyes clearly. Then whatever they see feeding them is how they will visualize themselves for the rest of their lives. To prevent them from imprinting on me, I hid under a hood so they could only see each other, and the picture of an adult Screech owl I held near my feeding hand. Funky, but it worked.

By week 5 they had grown feathers, could handle whole dead mice, and were ready to be released into a 12’ x 12’ outdoor cage built around a tree. I put them in an owl nest box and fed them there for a few days until they came out on their own. Owlets normally will come out of the nest long before they can fly. This is referred to as the brancher-stage. One day I found them sitting on a nearby branch, and my presence frightened them—a good sign. Two dashed back into the box, but the biggest spread its wings, and I had the pleasure of witnessing its first flight to a nearby branch. Landing was a bit of a challenge—it always is the first few times.

I installed a small, plastic swimming pool, stocked it with 2 inches of leaves and dirt, and left them live mice and mealworms so they could learn to hunt for themselves. I knew they were catching the mice because the next day the mice would be gone, and there were three owl pellets on the bottom of the cage. Owls eat their food whole, and when the nutrients are digested, they spit up a pellet of fur and bones.

Owl nest boxes were installed in the woods in sight of the owlets’ cage, and at 11 weeks I opened their door, and watched the owlets fly into the woods near the boxes. I haven’t seen them since! I know from experience they haven’t gone far, and there is plenty of food around. There is no way to know if they’re using the boxes, or have moved on, since they would snuggle in the bottom of the box during the day, and coming out and returning only at night, when I am gratefully asleep. Such are the frustrations and joys of doing wildlife rehab. 

Ronnie James is the founder and operator of a small wildlife rescue facility located on the northern California coast near the town of Mendocino. She has been doing wildlife rehab for nearly 30 years, and recently published a book about her experiences:  Touching Wings, Touching Wild available at TouchingWings.org.  This is one of her experiences that isn’t in the book.

To learn more about Screech owls