Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seven Red Birds for the Holidays

I can’t think of prettier cards to send out to all my friends and readers here!  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and wishing you a wonderful sustainable New Year!  -- Gene
12/10/2014 // By David Mizejewski
Red is a color associated with Christmas, Yule and the winter holiday season in general.
Here in North America, we don’t have too many wildlife species that are red. There are a few reptiles that have a bit of red on them, but the species that sport this vibrant color over all or most of their bodies are pretty much are all birds.
Here are seven of the most cheerily red birds that might show up in your backyard or community.
Click on their names to learn more about them, and hare your sightings and photos of red birds in the comments section below!
Pine Grosbeak by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant David Halgrimson.
Cardinal by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Bob Schlake.
Summer tanager by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant John Bomar Jr.
Purple finch by Rick Derevan on Flickr.
Vermilion flycatcher by Carol Foil on Flickr.
Red crossbill by Warren Lynn on Flickr.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reindeer: Twelve Fascinating Facts About These Amazing Creatures

12/21/2010 // By Kevin Coyle
Reindeer are prominent in our holiday music and images.  They pull Santa’s sleigh, have red noses, have names, and fly.  But how much do you really know about this northernmost deer species?
Here are 12 fascinating facts you can use to impress your friends and family.
  1. In North America reindeer are also called caribou.
  2. Both the males and females grow antlers.
  3. Their noses are specially designed to warm the air before it gets to their lungs.
  4. Reindeer hooves expand in summer when the ground is soft and shrink in winter when the ground is hard.
  5. Some subspecies have knees that make a clicking noise while walking so they can stay together in a blizzard.
  6. Some North American caribou migrate over 3,000 miles in a year – more than any other mammals.
  1. Though thought of as a tundra species, a form of caribou lived in southern Idaho until the 19th Century (there are ongoing efforts to re-establish them in the State),
  2. Northernmost species are much lighter in color than species at the southern end their range,
  3. Reindeer have been herded for centuries by several Arctic and Subarctic people,
  4. The name “reindeer” is of Norse origin (From old Norse word “hreinn” for deer) and has nothing to do the reins of a sled. The name “caribou” comes to us through the French, from the Mi’kmag “qalipu,” meaning “snow shoveler.”
  5. Golden eagles are the leading predator on caribou calves in the late spring and fall.
  6. Once the entire body of a reindeer was found in a Greenland shark (most likely a case of near shore scavenging versus a migrating land shark). :)
Measure for measure, reindeer are pretty awesome creatures.  They are also threatened by global warming, oil exploration and other human-caused pressures.  They will surely need our help and appreciation for many holiday seasons to come.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top Green New Year's Eve Party Tips

  1. Beat the crowds
    There's a certain excitement to being out in a group on New Year's Eve, but if you stay home and host your own ring-in-the-new shindig, you'll save transportation emissions--and, of course, money. You'll also be able to better control the environmental impact of your night, from sending out email invitations to preventing the food and paper waste that comes from bars and restaurants. (Oh, and you can let your friends crash so no one has to drive.) Even the Times Square ball is a little greener since switching to LED bulbs in 2006--isn't it time you were, too?
  1. Choose glass over paper
    Once you've decided to have everyone over for the big event, you'll have to find a way keep them all fed and hydrated--without ending up with a pile of wasted plastic cups. Look for brands made from recycled paper--like those from Treecycle who makes biodegradable dishes and cups from sugarcane fiber--and make sure you compost those after the party. Even better, if you don't own enough china and glassware for all your friends, rent some: they look nicer, they're reusable, and you still won't wake up to a sink full of dishes. Check Rental HG to find a rental location in your area.
  1. Satisfy the appetites
    Your guests will need some food to counteract the effects of all those drinks. Keep it simple with a spread of easy appetizers, homemade salsa or hummus, and fresh fruit and vegetable trays-with organic ingredients grown as close to you as possible (preferably from within 100 miles can help you track down a farmers market or community supported agriculture program in your hometown or, if you live in parts of the world where markets close for the winter, you can order online from Local Harvest's vendors--you can buy some carbon offsets to balance out the shipping expenditure. And you don't have to spend your entire year-end bonus, either--your party can be festive and fun without breaking the bank.
  1. Pour some green drinks
    Get your guests in the party spirit with a bar well-stocked with eco-friendly cocktails--whether it's organic vodka mixed with juice from your local orchard; beer from the brewery one town over; or biodynamic wine. Or make your own: Our How to Go Green: Cocktails guide offers recipes for easy DIY gin and ginger ale, plus specialty drinks like a Lemon Drop or a Rusty Nail, which tastes way better than it sounds, we promise.
  1. Decorate responsibly
    This is the year you can finally forego those plastic 2009 glasses, the cheesy top hats, the disposable noisemakers, the paper streamers. Try making your own decorations out of recyclable materials, from soda can lanterns to plastic bottle snowflakes; for a more elegant look, put together centerpieces and place settings that are stylish and eco-friendly. Skip the throw-away noisemakers and replace them with nutshells in a can or cardboard tube, or with dried beans rattling around inside two stapled-together paper plates.
  1. Toast with organic bubbly
    Champagne has long been the drink of special occasions, whether anniversaries, wedding receptions, or job promotions. Raise your glass to '08 with champagne and sparkling wine made from organic grapes and without synthetic additions-then make sure to recycle (or reuse!) your bottles and send your corks off for reuse in Design Within Reach's chair design contest or for recycling through Korks 4 Kids.
  1. Pucker up
    What's New Year's Eve without someone to kiss at midnight? Keep your lips soft with all-natural lip balm, like those from Revolution Organics or J.R. Watkins, and banish bad breath with organic breath mints from St. Claire's. Still single? No problem. Dating sites like Green Passions, Green Romance, and Planet Earth Singles will have you watching the ball drop with a fellow treehugger in no time.
  1. Cure the hangover
    No matter how much fun you had the night before, spending all of January 1 feeling like death on toast is no way to start the new year. Start the detox with a blend of organic herbs and seasonings, like those in Lotus Root Cooler or Ginseng Licorice Tea. Drink plenty of water--but not from disposable bottles--and fight headaches with thyme or peppermint tea. Tea alone won't help your body recover from last night; fill up on organic, free-range eggs, too, since they contain plenty of cysteine, which breaks down toxins in the liver. Other hangover helpers include bananas (for their potassium) and fruit juices (for their energy-boosting natural sugars and vitamins). Don't depend on coffee, burnt toast, or more alcohol--none of these will help your body replenish its stores. Fried food, while delicious, is better as a hangover preventative--it slows down the rate of alcohol absorption.
  1. Help keep food tradition alive (with a green twist)
    Different cultures and regions each have their own version of a lucky New Year's Day meal--black-eyed peas in the South, pork and sauerkraut for the Pennsylvania Dutch, 12 grapes eaten at the stroke of midnight in Spain. Other favorable foods include cooked greens, legumes, fish, and pastries or cakes. No matter which meal you choose, support local farmers and markets when you shop for ingredients, and choose free-range meat, organic fruit, and other natural supplies whenever you can.
  1. Make some resolutions
    Many of the same resolutions we make year after year--lose weight, eat healthy, stop smoking, get organized--aren't just good for you: they're also good for the environment. Read on for foolproof ways to do the Earth some good while (finally) sticking to your new plans.

Where to Get Green New Year's Party Supplies


Friday, December 19, 2014

Things you didn't know about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Published on 12/15/2014
You’ve probably endured a televised tree lighting ceremony or two over the years, and you may have even braved the tourist-ridden plaza to see the massive evergreen for yourself. But there’s a lot more to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree than meets a jaded New Yorker’s eye. And by "a lot more" we mean "these 18 things"...  (I’m not posting all 18 things, you’ll have to go to for all of them but here are the ‘green’ highlights!)
1. In 1931, the first tree was put up unofficially as something of a Depression-era fairy tale
A group of workers responsible for the early construction phases of Rockefeller Center raised the tree to celebrate the fact that, unlike most of America, they actually had a way to pay the bills. They decorated the 20ft balsam fir with cranberries, paper garlands, and a few tin cans. A clerk distributed their paychecks from the foot of the tree later that night.
6. The tree is solar powered
LED lights were introduced in 2007 and are powered by 300 solar panels installed on the roof of One Rockefeller Center. The tree now saves enough energy to power a 2,000sqft single-family home for a month. That’s 2,213 kwH per day (but you knew that).
7. The tree’s lights reach farther than you can probably run
There are 45,000 LED lights on 5mi of wire, roughly the distance from 110th St to 14th St along Broadway. Or one mile less than the perimeter of Central Park.
8. The tree remains lit for 24 hours straight on Christmas Day
5:30am to 11:30pm on all other days with the lights going out at 9pm on New Year’s Eve.
9. The largest tree to date was 100ft tall
Although the tree usually stands no less than 65ft tall -- or seven stories -- because it needs to be dense enough to hold all the ornaments, but narrow enough to fit under bridges as it’s transported, horizontally, into Manhattan, the record-setter came from Killingworth, Connecticut and was on display in 1999. Any bigger and it probably won't make it here, the width of New York City streets limit tree height to 110ft.
12. Nearly 450mi is the farthest a tree has traveled to get to Rockefeller Center
Most of the trees come from New England and suburbs of the tri-state area, but this 64ft spruce was donated by our neighbor to the North in honor of the Centennial of its Confederation (1967). It hailed from Ottawa, to be exact, and was the first tree to come from outside the US.
14. This year’s tree is 90 years old, weighs thirteen tons, and traveled 155mi to Manhattan
Rock Center’s head gardener Erik Pauze had been coveting the choice evergreen for years after discovering it during a drive along I-80. It wasn’t until this year that the owners, a pair of self-proclaimed “Christmas elves”, were willing to part with it.
15. The tree gets turned into lots of useful stuff
The evergreen has been even greener since 1971 when it was turned into 30 three-bushel bags of mulch for nature trails in upper Manhattan. It has since been used to build homes for Habitat for Humanity in New York, Louisiana, India, and Brazil, and to rebuild houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The stump, however, gets its own afterlife; it's donated to the US Equestrian Team to be used as obstacle jumps.
16. The tree doesn’t need to be watered
Cold outdoor temperatures keep it fresh so it doesn’t dry out like the indoor tree that may currently be wreaking havoc on your carpet.
Nina Stoller-Lindsey is a freelance journalist who has written for the likes of Time Out New York, NY Magazine, The Atlantic, and more. Follow her on Twitter @NinaStollerLind.

Friday Funny

Thursday, December 18, 2014

10 ways to give without buying stuff

Thoughtful gifts can be experiences, time or even a special after-holiday treat.

Cuttings from a plant can be a great, no-cost gift. (Photo: Madlen/Shutterstock)
Unless you've gotten serious about the Minimalism movement, chances are that you have way more stuff than you are able to use — and so does almost everyone you know. So this time of year can be tough; you want to show your friends and family that you are thinking of them, and it feels good to give, but it's not like anyone needs another tie, decorative box or holiday sweater (ugly or not).
So here are some easy ways to give gifts that are unique, interesting, potentially low-cost and most of all, enjoyable. Hopefully with this approach, you won't be anything adding to the landfill or the Goodwill pile. 
1. Make handmade treats for later.
Think of food that lasts, because nobody wants to eat much over the next couple of weeks. But they certainly will be hungry again come January. Think jellies and jams for brunch-lovers, energy bars for your workout-obsessed buddy, or homemade chocolates for dessert nuts. And then make it yourself, and create some interesting wrapping paper from recycled materials. 
2. Check out The Buy Nothing Project.
The organization's premise is that we all have stuff to give and stuff we need. The organization is community-based, and works using Facebook as a hub where people are only allowed to join if they live within the area where the group operates. One family found everything they wanted for a kids' birthday party, so it seems like holiday gifts might be a possibility. But remember, this group is about giving too, so clear out your cupboards and post things you don't need or use.
3. Give herbs and plants.
This is an inexpensive way to give a holiday gift that will keep giving, literally, through the winter, spring and beyond as it grows. It's an inexpensive present that will not only add a bit of green for a prettier indoor atmosphere, but will also clean the air as it grows and could provide food or flavor. Too late to grow your own gifts and really strapped for cash? Find any container that can hold soil and simply buy some seeds and plant them and give the gift of life to come. Sunflowers, dill or parsley would all be a welcome midwinter sight, even if its just the promise of green things to come in the spring. 
4. Make a mixtape.
I don't actually mean a cassette tape — although some cars still have tape decks, so you could, I suppose. But you could create a Spotify playlist to share with friends, or even better, mix a set of songs just for them. It's fun to make mixes too, so you'd be giving yourself a gift of sorts in the process of creating one for your friends. 
5. Clean someone's home.
Ideally, you would do this before or right after the actual holiday, because that's when most people need a hand keeping their places neat and tidy. You could arrange this as a surprise (imagine them coming home to a sparkling clean house and a nice note that says: "Happy holidays! My gift to you this year is a clean and cozy home") or give them a nice card that presents the gift in a written format. 
6. Offer baby-sitting or pet-sitting.
Like housecleaning, this is a great present that gives the gift of time yet doesn't cost you a thing.
7. Make a week's worth of dinners.
Most people don't like to cook, but they want to eat healthfully. And even for those who like to cook, by the end of a long workday, it's just not in the cards. Being tired and hungry while cooking is a tall order. So making a week's worth of dinners — thick hearty soups, chilis, and maybe a frozen entree or two — can mean the difference between a good meal and another night of popcorn and wine. And what a gift that is for a busy person!
8. Give the gift of donating money.
There are a number of organizations that facilitate getting money to nonprofits for gift givers, but a great clearinghouse for all sorts of great charities is Just Give. You just choose a gift amount, then the person you donate to can give the money to an organization they love. That way they get to be in on the fun of giving money away without the cost! Cool gift. Just Give will print up and mail the cards for you, or you can hand them out yourself. 
9. Buy a pre-paid gas card.
If they drive a car, they're going to need gas, and nobody enjoys spending their money on that. Instead of giving a gift card to a store, give a gas card, which frees that person up to pay off bills, or buy something else with the money they're not spending on gas. 
10. Buy a gift certificate to a restaurant, ball game, concert or spa.
Services like these are the ones people cut when they are scrimping and saving, and enjoying an experience, even some months in the future, will make them remember you when they are having a great time. What a great gift to give.   

Tree Thursday - The Man Who Measures Florida’s Champions

Mark Torok beside a national contender button-mangrove. Credit: Mark Torok
When a new tree is submitted from Florida for the National Register of Big Trees, chances are Mark Torok is the person who measured the nominee. In the six years that he has been with Florida's Champion Tree Program, Mark has measured and verified more than 220 Florida champions and 130 national contenders. That includes approximately 86 current and former national champions, as well as measurement updates for the 10-year rule.
Mark is the senior forester for the Florida Forest Service Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program and the state forester for Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties. Given his ideal location, it makes sense that he enjoys going to the beach to surf, fish and hike and landscaping with plants and trees that attract beautiful wildlife such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Oh, but we can't forget that part of the fun is also eating at some good restaurants, too.
For someone who has measured the country's biggest trees, you have to wonder if he can lay claim to nominating any of Florida's national champions. He can. Mark is the nominator of the national champion cocoplum in Pompano Beach, located in a park where he played soccer and tee ball as a kid. His next potential champ is a mango tree behind the house where he grew up in Pompano Beach.
When asked about his favorite trees, Mark lists them based on size. He says his favorites among his "not so big champions" are the Jamaica caper (62 points) in Key Largo, the roughbark lignumvitae (137 points) in Key West and the black ironwood, or leadwood (110 points), in Lignumvitae Key, an island in the upper Florida Keys. Of the bigger sized champs, his two favorites are the same species — the former and current (260 points) champion green buttonwoods, or button-mangroves, both in Palm Beach. "I think they look very majestic-looking, like something out of a fairy tale. They are extremely larger than what you typically see in the landscape and have such gnarly-looking bark that catches your eye!"
So how does he do it? What's his technique? Mark is in the field about 50 percent of his work time. "I use a diameter tape or logger's tape for circumference, a clinometer for height and a 100' logger's tape or a 120' reel in measurement tape for the crown measurement. Recently, I have added a green laser pointer to my arsenal to help with measuring tree crown. The laser pointer helps you know when you are at the edge of the tree canopy. I also use a GPS unit for tree location and my laptop and Google Earth for mapping the trees."
Mark (on right) standing at the base of one of his favorite Florida champions, the kapok tree. Credit: Mark Torok
On a few occasions, Mark has had to use Joseph Nemec, a park ranger in his 60s, as his GPS. While updating measurements for trees in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Mark had to rely on Nemec for directions to find trees that hadn't been visited in more than five years. Many trees were hundreds of feet away from any road or trail, and without a compass most would be lost in the middle of a tropical hardwood hammock —a dense canopy forest. At times, Mark wasn't sure if Nemec knew where he was going, but in the end he led them to the right tree. Mark thinks "Joseph had a GPS system built inside him."
Florida reigns supreme with 130 national champions, but that doesn't mean Mark's work is done. He says his eyes and ears are always open for big trees. Mark encourages everyone, including employees who work for natural areas, arborists, horticulturalists and tree enthusiasts, to hunt for big trees and promote Florida's Champion Tree Program to their friends. Several trees are on lands open to the public and some parks, gardens and municipalities provide guided tours of their champion trees, such as the Vizcaya Museum and Garden in Miami-Dade County where Mark recently gave a measurement demonstration on how to measure champion trees. The tour ended perfectly when they discovered a pigeon-plum was one point larger than the current champ. If no other nominees are submitted, the pigeon-plum will become a new co-champion in the spring 2013 National Register.
"Doing work for the National Big Tree Program and the Florida Champion Tree Program is probably my favorite aspect of my job. I enjoy seeing the excitement and happiness in the tree owners faces when they find out their tree is a champion. These programs have increased my tree identification skills tremendously as well. These programs have taken me to many places I have never been before and many places not open to the general public. I have also been provided with many opportunities by these programs to network with many wonderful people who are landowners and/or employees for parks or gardens that I would have never met. Some of these people I have become good friends with. So, I will forever be thankful I had the opportunity to work with the National Big Tree Program and the Florida Champion Tree Program."
Keep up the great work, Mark.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's Wildlife Wednesday! 8 Wonky and Wonderful Woodpecker Adaptations

12/15/2014 // By Dani Tinker
Each winter I’m absolutely thrilled to see woodpeckers in the woods of Virginia. Woodpeckers are a welcome part of my cold weather hikes, when wildlife sightings become more rare. I’ve had a few looming curiosities about these birds. For example, how do they hammer trees all day without brain damage? Since they don’t sing, how do they communicate? It turns out that the answers lie in a few incredible adaptations that help woodpeckers survive.
1. Chisel-billed
Woodpeckers are often characterized as “chisel-billed” because they peck into living or dead wood to find grubs or build a nest. Cells in the tips of their beaks are constantly replaced, preventing them from wearing down over time.
Nuttall’s woodpecker fledgling by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Anthony Mancini.
2. Hole Shape
You might be able to tell which species of woodpecker was around by the shape of the holes left in trees. Pileated woodpeckers create a rectangular shape, which you can compare to the sapsucker pattern below.
Yellow-bellied sapsucker and the species’ distinct hole pattern by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Allen Phelps.
3. Tongue
Woodpecker tongues, however, vary based on their diet. Some species have a tongue that is longer than their bill in order to extract insects from a hole. Woodpeckers also have a lengthened hyoid apparatus (bones, muscle, cartilage connected to the tongue), allowing their tongue to extend incredible lengths. Red-bellied woodpeckers, for example, have a tongue extending up to three times the length of its bill!  Meanwhile, sapsuckers have a shorter tongue with a brush-like tip to lap up sap from trees.
The detailed texture of an acorn woodpecker’s tongue by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrants Hal and Kirsten Snyder.
4. Tail Feathers
Woodpeckers use their stiff tail as a prop while climbing in order to balance themselves.
Pileated woodpecker uses its back tail to balance. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Anita Merrigan.
5. Feet
Their strong “zygodactyl” feet are specifically adapted to cling and grasp onto trees. Two toes face forward, and two face backward. Most songbirds have three forward-facing toes, and one backward-facing.
Downy woodpecker using its specially adapted feet to hang onto the tree, even upside-down. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant William Osterloh.
6. Brain Protection
They may peck a total of 8,000-12,000 pecks per day! Luckily, a woodpecker’s skull is built to absorb this shockSinewy attachments at the base of a woodpecker’s bill and around the brain help to minimize damage to the brain.
Red-headed woodpecker pecking out a nest site by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Stephen Patten.
7. Drum Communication
Woodpeckers don’t use vocals to communicate like other songbirds. Instead, they rapidly peck on a resonant object to create a pattern of sound (known as drumming). They’ll do this to attract a mate or announce their territory. This is one reason woodpeckers might peck at your gutters.
Woodpeckers have to protect themselves from flying wood particles. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Eileen Sullivan.
8. Nose Feathers
Woodpeckers have bristly feathers over their nostrils to prevent inhalation of wood particles as they chisel.
Woodpecker peeking out from a tree cavity by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Anthony Mancini.
9. Eyes
With all the debris flying around as woodpeckers chisel, goggles would be helpful. Instead, they have a translucent third eyelid (called a nictitating membrane), which can be drawn across the eye for protection, while maintaining visibility. It also cleanses as it moves across the eye.
The nictitating membrane of a masked lapwing as it closes. “Bird blink-edit” by Toby Hudson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
10. Food
Woodpeckers are all about their protein, whether from larvae, nuts, seeds or suet. They are common visitors to backyard feeders!
Pileated woodpecker visiting a backyard suet feeder by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Beau Liddell.
Enjoy Woodpeckers this Winter
You can attract woodpeckers to your yard by providing food or leaving snags. You’ll be one step closer to making your garden a habitat for wildlife!
Celebrate nature and wildlife this winter with a woodpecker holiday ornament, or symbolically adopt a red-headed woodpecker for a loved one. Take a look at more woodpecker gift items in our catalog.