Toxic wastelands threaten Bird World

In the course of a few hours today, a friend living in Pennsylvania sent me the news and a video from Twitter showing the nuclear waste being pumped into a holding area in Sarasota, Florida. Moments later, the Cornell Bird Lab e-mailed the latest edition of Birdlife Magazine with its story of the threats to African vultures from farmers using anti-inflammatory pain killers, dielofenae, on their cattle to stop pain and increase milk yields. Another reader sent me an article on the red algae along the coast of Texas and Florida that causes damage to the nervous and digestive systems of marine life and the birds that eat the fish. All of this information arrived on my desk just moments after one of the chatters on the Achieva Osprey streaming cam in St Petersburg brought up the fact that the male Ospreys in the area, there are reported to be thirty Osprey nests, have to compete with lots of motor boats in order to feed their families.

I sat staring at the screen remembering that eons ago, my father fished with a motorboat in Lake Texhoma. It was a time when no one considered their environmental actions. What I remember were not only the 31.7 kg or seventy pound catfish my father regularly caught but also that beautiful iridescence floating on the water around the boat. As a child I did not understand that the fuel and the oil my father mixed with it was poisoning the fish that we would eat – and neither did he. We know better today.

Humans are capable of cleaning up much of the mess that we have made to the planet. When I was a graduate student, my advisor, Dr Klaus Klostermaier, informed me the reason that there were no insects in Germany was because the massive pollution had killed them all. The industrial area around Dusseldorf cleaned up the river system. It took some time but it was accomplished I think, also, of the groundbreaking work that Rachel Carson did on the impact of DDT and her book, Silent Spring. Today, we still feel the impact of DDT, despite it being banned now for nearly fifty years. That poison still remains in the soil and the plants. Bald Eagles in certain parts of the world still have thin egg shells because of it. Regardless of how long it takes and how defeatist some feel about our ability to survive a sixth extinction, I believe, like Greta Thunberg that we have an obligation – each of us as individuals – to try and make a difference. It doesn’t have to be some great international effort. The women saving the General Adjutant in Assam began at home and so can the rest of us.

In Winnipeg, members of the Manitoba Birding FB group are considering how to best address the issue of feeding bread to the ducks and geese at the ponds in our two big parks – St Vital and Assiniboine. Bread is not good for any bird. Yes, it fills them up and they seemingly love it but it is empty calories. It would be like us eating junk food all day long every day, losing our taste for good nutritious food. I know, first hand, that parents do not necessarily know that bread is bad for the birds. This was something that I did with my parents. For many, taking their children for a walk at the park and bringing a loaf of bread is almost free entertainment for an afternoon. We delight at the geese scurrying across the water of the pond to grab the bread. It makes people feel good. However, the bread is not only bad for the bird’s health, it also deteriorates in the water causing algae growth which leads to the death of the pond and the plants that the geese and ducks need. No one wants to take away the fun that people have feeding the ducks and geese. It is hoped that through education people will choose to find food that is healthy for both the birds and their ponds. My plan is to write our City Parks and Recreation Department asking that their staff put up posters on the buildings near the ponds or have permanent signs made at significant sites around the ponds. There should then be a convenient place for individuals to purchase appropriate food at a reasonable price. An option would be to license a vendor to sell food at the ponds. It’s a beginning!

Please feel free to grab this poster and spread it through social media and if you are a teacher perhaps include this in a science lesson. And for those of you who find yourself with a glut of lettuce in your garden, those ducks and geese will sure love it. Chop it up before heading out.

For those of you that do not live in Winnipeg, it is very possible that you have this very same issue. Check it out and see what you can do. It is one way to help the local birds.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate the messages and all of the information that you send to me. Next week I will be addressing the issues of dumping toxic and nuclear substances into the ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans. For now, I just want to smile. Someone on the Achieva Osprey chat said that they had never seen a chick like Tiny Tot/Lionheart/Braveheart/Tumbles/3 survive such testing conditions in any Osprey nest. Diane really filled him up this afternoon and even though the fish brought in around 6pm was not enough to feed it, the little one still had a crop and its little bottom is getting some flesh on it. So I want to close with an image of Tiny Tot’s large crop and another of Tiger and Lily, the two owlets living in a nest stolen from a Bald Eagle near Newton, Kansas. My how they have grown! Some days we just have to not allow the massive environmental issues to cloud the joy and the love we get from the birds. My friend, Phyllis, would say put it in a container and leave it there for a few hours – it isn’t going away!

It is a strange angle. Tiny Tot is preening but that big grey beach ball where you would think his head would be is his crop. He is on the far left. Oh, how I love this little bird – like so many of you. His determination to live, to not give up, to figure an angle around to get fed is impressive. It is day to day. He is getting a cute little tail and well, we hope for several fish in a row, large ones, tomorrow.

Tiny Tot ate and ate. Thank goodness. He will have enough to keep him til tomorrow. 3 April 2021

Tiger and Lily are being left alone more and more by their mother, Bonnie. Butt, no worries, she is just on another branch on the tree. Look at how big they are and how well they blend into the environment.

Thank you to everyone who wrote and sent me links to information today. I really appreciate it. Anyone reading this loves birds and we are all in this together. The streaming cams give us a glimpse into their lives that we would never have otherwise. We share their joys and their sorrows. Take care everyone. Stay safe!

Thanks also to the Achieva Credit Union and to Farmer Derek for their streaming cams. That is where I took my screen shots.

Earth Day 2019

As Earth Day 2019 comes to an end, there are young people around the world dropping out of their classrooms to go on ‘Extinction Walks’.  A sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, is calling out politicians around the world for their irresponsible behaviour towards caring for our planet, what I have come to call the ‘Mothership’.  In Greta’s speech to the Swedish Parliament last year, she said:  “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”  I am hopeful that my grandchildren who can vote will vote and that they will have a loud voice in shaping policy in Canada towards the environment and its protection not the profits of large corporations and their stockholders.

I wear many hats, so to speak, and one of those is as a ceramics instructor at the University of Manitoba, and the other is as a maker.  Recently, I have seen other ceramists on various Facebook pottery groups ask if there is anything they can do to help the environment.  Some have shown photos of poorly made pots that broke wondering how to repair them while others wonder what to do with all of the work that they cannot sell.

Ceramics has a large footprint, and it is not ‘green’.  All the clay and Earth’s minerals (in whatever form we use them – stains, oxides, ready-made underglazes, etc. – are mined.  They are packaged and shipped around the world.  Responsible management so that none of those materials is either wasted or harm the local water table needs to be considered.  Firing.  Some regions use fossil fuels to create electricity.  We should all be aware of issues related to natural gas and oil.  How then to fire our work so that we do not waste those resources?  One way, so simple, is to make sure those kilns are full.

I am reminding myself to make sure that the first year students understand fully that greenware (before the clay is fired the first time and then it is bisque ware) can touch other pieces.  Just be mindful of weight distribution, etc.  But then there is the real question:  what is worthy of firing?  This is something that only you can answer.  But if you make more mugs than you can sell then just fire the ones that are magnificent and worthy of the resources.  The plan this year is to cut back further on what my students are firing.  They need to learn to be self-critical.  We all do!  And then there is the question of firing and to what temperature.  Wood is a renewable resource.  But what about gas kilns, LPG, or oil?  How much is saved in terms of cubic use by lowering the temperature of firing from cone 10 to cone 1?  I do not know the answer, but I am confident that if we all Googled it, we would find many answers.

As potters and knowing that our planet is in peril, perhaps we need to contemplate what we can do and how we can help others to be productive, create beautiful work while at the same time being more conscious and lowering our impact on the environment.  Maybe this year is the time for each of us to stand up and challenge ourselves over the coming year.  When I look at my grandchildren, I know that their future, the future of the animals, and our Mothership deserve it.