Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Your Cup of Joe Can Make a Difference

Yellow-throated Warbler, formerly known as the Sycamore Warbler for its
fondness for sycamore trees, has a sweet melodic song. Photo by John Howard
"Don't these birds look like candy? Flying candy...?", a quote from the great orator, Rocky Balboa. Come to think of it, they kinda do, Rocky! And, I am like a kid in a candy store when I am around them. Warblers! They are so colorful and animated. I love chasing them, watching them and sharing them with others.

"TEA-cher, TEA-cher, TEA-cher!" screams out the Ovenbird, like
an overeager student. I love its orange crown. Photo By John Howard.
I look forward to each spring when the migrant birds come back from Central and South America with their cheery songs and gorgeous plumage. Normally, I like to hit the snooze, but during migration it is somehow much easier to get up. I find myself eager to jump up at the crack of dawn to be greeted by these little bundles of energy that hop and flutter from limb to limb while gobbling up tasty caterpillars and other insects.
Common Yellowthroat, the masked marauder of
the wetlands. Photo by John Howard

About five years ago, I learned about the importance of shade-grown coffee and the link to my bird friends. I found out that this coffee is grown in a more natural way. This process allows birds to safely occupy the plantations; they use very little, if any, pesticides or herbicides. Fewer pesticides means lots of juicy insects are around to help the birds put on fat before their big trip up north. Fewer herbicides means there is plenty of cover so the birds feel safe while they feed.
Chestnut-sided Warbler with its flashy yellow cap. Photo by John Howard.

Traditionally, this was the way coffee was grown until 1972. Most varieties of coffee prefer to grow under a canopy of shade trees. The coffee plants are protected from direct sun and the fallen leaves from the trees provide mulch to retain soil moisture. The abundant birds feed on insects and naturally reduce damage from insect pests. In 1972, new sun-tolerant coffee hybrids were introduced that produced higher yields of coffee beans. Growers started switching their crops to the new form, cutting down trees in the process. Unfortunately, the new sun coffee needed high volumes of pesticides. Because the areas are cleared of other plants, erosion and mineral depletion required additional fertilizers to be applied to the soil.

Bee-buzz!!! Bee-buzz!!! I love that sound and then the subsequent chase to
find where it is hiding. These little guys are great ventiloquists. You
think it is located in the shrub right in front of you and realize it is actually
180 degrees behind you! Blue-winged Warbler photo by John Howard.
The brilliant flame-colored throat of a Blackburnian Warbler
always stops me in my tracks. Photo by John Howard.

So what is a birder to do? We love coffee; it is essential to help us roll out of bed at 4am to go looking for birds. There is an option that can make a huge difference if all of us would climb on board. Shade-grown coffee is bird-friendly and healthier for you, as well. Sun coffee is sprayed with more chemicals than any other food product. Shade-grown coffee uses very little, if any, chemicals. The coffee beans ripen slowly in the shade to develop a deeper, richer flavor. Because the crop grows in the shade, local farmers can grow fruit and nut crops along with the coffee to give them multiple sources of income. It is estimated that shade-grown coffee plants can live twice as long as sun-grown plants and some shade-grown plants can live up to 50 years!
The" zee zee, zoo zoo, zee" of the Black-throated Green Warbler was one of
the first warbler songs I learned. Photo by John Howard
Black and White Warbler, with its beautifully patterned
zebra-striped plumage. Photo By John Howard

So, an ordinary, everyday task of making a cup of coffee, can make a big difference to the migrant birds that visit the midwest. If nature lovers would switch to shade-grown coffee and convince a few of their friends, it could make a huge impact. If we create a demand for shade-grown coffee, this may slow the clear-cutting to produce more sun-grown fields and possibly some of the fields may be converted back to shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee is good for the growers with a better livelihood and health. It is good for us becuase the coffee is grown with less chemicals. And, it is great for the birds by supplying much needed habitat. Less pesticides and more flavor! What a bargain! So, please consider the simple switch next time you make a cup of joe. There is always room for more warblers in this world!
Summer Tanager, another gorgeous visitor of shade-grown
coffee plantations. Photo by John Howard

For more information, please visit Birds and Beans and Audubon Coffee.
For more posts on birds, visit I and the Bird.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Adams County Exploring

Sorry about the absence of posts, lately. I have been very busy with many projects. Anyway, Sunday I had a chance to visit Adams county and hang with a few of my pals. We went exploring in search of Micro-botany, lots of tiny amazing things that are sometimes overlooked. Here are a few of the treasures we discovered.

Here is the organizer, John Howard, standing behind a Dwarf Hackberry. (The twisty, skinny tree smack dab in the center). He was our chauffeur and very knowledgeable guide, knowing just where to find all the rarities. Cheryl Harner and I joked that he could be the new Brawny towel guy , with the red flannel.

One of the first plants we encountered, I had been wishing to see for quite a while. Last year, I found it when the petals were just beginning to unfurl at Clifton Gorge. Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale was open in all its niveous glory. Gorgeous!

A little further in our journey, we encountered some interesting lichens on the path, Pixie Cup Lichen, Cladonia chlorophaea, looks like miniature goblets fit for a mythical woodland creature. If you drink out of them, will you see these creatures??? Hmmmm.... I need a willing guinea pig to test this out. Photo by John Howard.

On the same log was Common Powderhorn Lichen, Cladonia coniocraea. They look like little bony fingers coming out of the wood.

After climbing up a steep ravine, I knew what it was like to be a mountain goat. Baaaaaaaah! But after reaching the top, we were well rewarded with all kinds of cool finds. The basal rosette of Wedge-leaved Whitlow-grass, Draba cuneifolia, is not much bigger than a nickel. John Howard's "mad skillz" with the camera was able to capture the minuscule downy hairs on the leaves. In a week or so, a stem will shoot up from the center and will grow about two inches tall. It will be topped with beautiful tiny white flowers. Drabas are in the Mustard family along with other favorites that will be blooming soon like Cut-leaf Toothwort and Purple Cress.

Here is a view from atop Walton's mountain. Ummm, well, I don't really know what this spot is really called, but it sounds good to me. :)

Another find from atop "WM" was Michaux's Sandwort, Minuartia michauxii. It is in the Pink family, the same family Fire Pinks are in. This plant will also have tiny white flowers that you can view here. Photo by John Howard.

Back down "WM" we went, while trying really hard not to slide down the slope on my bottom. We cut through a field and made a fascinating discovery.

Here is a shot of the gang, left to right: John Howard, Cheryl Harner, Jessica and Jeff Huxmann. What are they all intently scrutinizing?

American Hazelnut, Corylus americana, in bloom. I had never seen the female flower of hazelnut before. It is a diminutive wonder, a tiny fuschia firework. John took this awesome photo. It is nearly impossible to focus on such a small, delicate subject.

Just for fun, here is one of my attempts. This would be a great "What is wrong with this picture" quiz. Sigh...

Here is a shot of the male catkins. Hazelnut are dioecious, possessing both male and female flowers.

Off to another site with more micro-botany. This time we were in search of two more tiny mustards.
Michaux's Leavenworthia, Leavenworthia uniflora with its compound basal rosette. Note the acorn cap in the picture for size reference.

Also present was Carolina Whitlow-grass, Draba reptans. This one was farther behind and was not ready to bloom, yet. Note the dense hairs on the leaves.

One last plant from our micro-botany foray. This one is a real rarity. Canby's Mountain-lover, Paxistima canbyi. It is in the same family as bittersweet and euonymus.

It has unique evergreen foliage and lovely pink teensy-weensy flowers. I loved it. The pink petals and the contrasting yellow stamens were fantastic.

Hopefully, you will get out soon and look for some of natures small wonders, as well.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Field Trip Choice-Clifton Gorge

At our upcoming Midwest Native Plant Conference, we have ten field trips from which to choose. One of those will be the breath-taking Clifton Gorge, located in Greene County. This 268-acre preserve was registered as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Two miles of the Little Miami State and National Scenic River runs through deep, winding channels. A few of these unique channels were shaped by potholes formed in Silurian dolomite bedrock that became interconnected over time. The site has scenic waterfalls, spectacular spring wildflowers and fascinating geology.

The day I had decided to visit had been a bit stressful and I was exhausted. As I scrambled down the rock steps, I could hear the water swiftly coursing through the gorge. Soon I felt tiny droplets of mist on my cheek and I could feel the tension melting away.

A tiny bee was visiting these lavender lovelies

It was early April and the Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis, was really putting on a show. One hillside along the gorge was blanketed with petals of delicate pink, white, lavender and blue.

This handsome deep blue variety is my personal favorite

An unusual candy-striped white and pink variety

A waterfall will always brighten one's mood, especially when accompanied by interesting botany. Near the falls I found Carex plantaginea, Plantain-leaved sedge. I had originally learned the common name as Seersucker Sedge. It was easy to remember because the leaves have a puckered appearance.

Puckered leaves of Carex plantaginea
Giant slabs of rock were peppered with stands of hemlocks and arborvitae. All along the river, massive blocks that once formed the cliff overhangs had tumbled into the gorge.

While poking around near another waterfall area, I stumbled upon this brilliant red Sarcoscypha sp. fungus. I was fascinated with how it was curled about itself. It was very fleshy and a tiny bit slimy to the touch.

Clifton Gorge is such a fascinating place to explore; one could easily spend a day there. I plan for a return visit soon and hope to find the rare Snow Trillium in full bloom.