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Bird Nursery in a Tree

This tree has become a dove nursery.

My neighbors have an oriental arborvitae tree, that looks to me like a tall bushy pine, which grows over my fence. It has become a nursery for different kinds of doves.

 

The first doves I noticed were two small blue and gray birds that kept flying in and out of a small entrance way among the branches with sticks in their beaks. They were building a nest I could not see, protected well by the tree. Later, I spotted tiny white broken eggshells that had blown 10-15 feet away from the tree. They were lying near a metal gate that led into a dog run and then into my back yard.

 

A few days later, I spotted a young mourning dove sitting under the juniper tree in my front yard. It didn't look like the blue and gray doves I had seen building a nest, but I wondered if it might be one of their babies. It stayed under the tree for several days. Had the bird not learned to fly or couldn't fly because of an injury or defect? It stayed under the tree for several days. I left it some water. Then one day it was gone.

 

A couple of days ago, I looked out my office window onto the side yard and saw a sight that made me happy. Strutting along the ground were two small blue and gray doves, a mother and father, followed by four baby doves, quite tiny, but moving very well. There was too much shadow for me to get a picture. Something startled the little ones, and they flew high into a nearby spruce tree. I keep watching for them but haven't seen them since.

 

Yesterday, I noticed a larger dove, gray and white with darker tail feathers, fly into the nursery tree, a large twig in its mouth. I believe it was a mourning dove. It was building a nest! In a few weeks, I might spot some baby mourning doves taking a stroll on my lawn as they stretch their legs and try their wings. Who would have guessed my yard would become a dove nursery?

 

I have some concerns about that because doves are related to pigeons, which have an unsavory reputation for perching on rooftops and leaving a gray sea of messy droppings. I hope doves don't do that.

 

Even as I worry about how I could ever clean up such a mess, I also look forward to witnessing the next family of doves stroll through my yard. It would be fun to watch little ones following their parents as they explore the new world into which they have hatched.

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Baby Dove's Adventure

Baby mourning dove

Ever since a pair of doves built a nest in the branches of my neighbor's evergreen tree, I have been following their progress. The neighbor's evergreen hangs over the fence in my side yard. It is in this hanging section that the doves built their nest.

 

A few weeks ago I began to see small pieces of tiny egg shells on the ground, quite a distance from the nest. The wind may have blown them along. I never saw any baby doves – until over a week ago I accidentally found one.

 

I was using a garden hose to water the juniper tree in my front yard when all of sudden something hopped up and disappeared. I walked around the tree and found a baby mourning dove huddled next to the base of the juniper. Its coloring was so much like the tree that it was hard to spot.

 

The bird pushed itself as far into the base of the tree as possible. I knew I was scaring it, so I went inside and hurried to my kitchen window that looks out onto the juniper. I spotted two doves fly into the tree. They began to send trilling sounds through the air. They must be the parents, I thought, letting their baby know they were close by. Those doves must be the ones that built a nest in my neighbor's evergreen tree!

 

Why was the baby dove at the base of my juniper tree? Did it have trouble learning to fly? I found a tiny bowl, filled it with water, and took it to the base of the tree. The baby dove was there, but it hopped to the other side of the tree when it saw me. I put the bowl close to the spot where I hoped the bird would return. It was in a shaded, somewhat protected space. Sure enough, the bird eventually did return there. I stayed as far away as I could to keep from scaring it.

 

I hoped the baby dove would be safe there until it learned to fly. I don't see cats wondering around my area of the neighborhood, and I hoped no larger predator birds would try to make a meal out of the little one.

 

This went on for several days until one day when I went to check on the bird, it was gone. There were no feathers to indicate an attack, nothing but the slight indentation the baby had made in the soil at the base of the tree. The bowl of water was empty. I kept checking every day, but the dove never returned. I stopped hearing its parents trill support to their little one.

 

I hope the baby mourning dove learned to fly and that it will live a long, productive life. I will never know, but I choose to believe the story of the baby mourning dove had a happy ending.

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A Neighborhood of Doves

Doves have created holes in this tree to reach their nest

A pair of doves has built a nest somewhere among the plentiful branches of an evergreen tree that grows in my neighbor's yard. Part of it hangs over my fence and creates a shady ceiling for some of my flowers. The tree is called an oriental arborvitae, according to my trusty Picture This app.

 

The doves have created a bird-size doorway among the branches of the tree. Sometimes I see one of the birds fly in and out of that hole. Then the branches start to shake as the bird is either settling down on its eggs or feeding its nest full of hungry babies. There are actually several similar holes in various places on the tree. Doves may have created a neighborhood of nests in this tree. I've only seen doves fly in and out of one spot on the tree this spring, so I suspect this is the entrance to the active dove home this season.

 

The nest is about eight feet off the ground, away from the reach of neighborhood cats. One of those cats used to come into my yard quite regularly, and I would pick it up and pet it. But as soon as I adopted my dog, who loves to chase cats, the cat learned to stay away.

 

At first, I was sad that I couldn't enjoy both my dog and the neighbor's cat. Now I'm glad it doesn't come around, because it might worry the doves. I have taken great pleasure in watching them fly in and out of the tree.

 

I can't see through the branches well enough to spot the nest, but I know it's there. I wonder if I will soon see little doves take flight in and out of the tree as they learn to use their wings.

 

I have seen quite a few doves near other homes around the neighborhood, so I suspect the nest in my yard is only one of several in a dove community that has created its own little neighborhood within our human one.

 

The doves are gray with a hint of light blue coloring. They are fairly small and quite graceful in flight. I hope the babies grow up healthy and strong and learn to fly without mishap. Maybe I will someday see a few of them sitting on the fence, singing a song to their human neighbor.

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Trees Carry Evidence of Ancient Solar Storms

Trunks of pine trees buried in a bank of the Durance River in the southern French Alps show evidence of a powerful solar storm that happened 14,300 years ago. Such storms are produced when very large flares erupt out of the sun.

 

Recently, Tim Heaton at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and his colleagues found evidence of the solar storm in those tree trunks after the river bank eroded and exposed them. A significant rise in the levels of radioactive carbon-14 alerted Heaton and his colleagues to the powerful event.

 

They compared the tree rings, and they constructed a timeline of when each tree lived to calculate when the event happened, according to an article in New Scientist magazine, a free sample issue distributed in early March 2024. The article, titled Largest Known Solar Storm Struck Earth 14,300 Years Ago, was written by Alex Wilkins.

 

Heaton and his team found evidence that showed another area of the world was also affected by the event. Some Greenland ice cores have elevated levels of beryllium. Those levels can be produced in a way similar to carbon-14.

 

Other evidence of similar solar flares have also been discovered. Fusa Miyake discovered evidence of a powerful solar flare that affected tree trunks at Nagoya University in Japan. The 2012 discovery shows how the solar storm, made up of charged particles from the sun as well as magnetized plasma and gamma rays, caused a spike in the trees' carbon-14 levels.

 

France, Japan and Greenland are not the only places where evidence exists of massive solar storms. At least nine such possible solar storms, called Miyake events, have been found.

 

No one knows what such a powerful solar storm would do to our world today. The largest solar storm experienced in recent history occurred in 1859. Called the Carrington event, it was named after one of the two British astronomers who observed it. The solar storm caused fires and produced currents in telegraph wires.

 

Though it had an impact on Earth, the storm was so tiny it would not have registered in the radiocarbon record. A storm as huge as the one that happened 14,300 years ago might be catastrophic or it might be much less destructive, depending on who you ask.

 

Scientists don't know for sure what caused the powerful solar storm. It might have been at the extreme end of moderate solar storms that occur frequently, or it could have been an unusual, special behavior of the sun.

 

Whatever the cause, trees recorded the event in their trunks, and researchers have begun to discover the evidence.

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Doctors' nature prescriptions for health

Trees and bushes provide a healing environment on the Big Island, Hawaii.

Can you imagine going to your medical doctor and leaving with a prescription, not for pharmaceutical medicine, but for a nature prescription, something you can physically do to improve your health?

 

It's not the kind of prescription many people expect to receive from their doctor. Thanks to public health pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr, it's the kind of prescription that more people are starting to receive.

 

Dr. Zarr began the nonprofit group, Park RX America (PRA) in 2017. Thanks to his initiative and to the network of health care professionals who now provide nature prescriptions to their patients, you might get a prescription that says something like this: "Walk along a trail near a pond or in a park with a friend, without earbuds, for half an hour twice a week."

 

Park RX America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship. I read about this wonderful nonprofit, PRA, in a Feb. 1, 2024 article written by H. Patricia Hynes in truthdig, an award winning alternative news website at https://www.truthdig.com.

 

Several studies have shown that people who spend time in nature improve their health. Hynes wrote that Korean scientists "have confirmed that walking through forest areas improved older women's blood pressure, lung capacity and elasticity in their arteries." Those results can happen whether people walk in an actual forest or through an urban park with plenty of trees.

 

Hynes quotes Diana Beresford Kroeger in the article. Kroeger, born in Ireland, was educated in the ancient Celtic culture of spiritual and physical respect for trees. She has a doctorate in medical biochemistry. "A forest is a sacred place," Hynes quoted Kroeger as saying. "The medicines available in the forest are the second most valuable gift that nature offers us: the oxygen available there is the first."

 

Kroeger went on to say that when people walk through a pine forest, they benefit by the pinenes aerosols that the trees release and that are absorbed by our bodies.  Those chemical aerosols are "a balm for the body and soul."

 

People can benefit from trees even if they can't physically walk among them. Patients recovering from surgery who are hospitalized in a room with a window that looks out on nature often need fewer pain killers and heal more quickly. That benefit extends to students who have a view of nature from their classroom windows.

 

If you have a doctor who sometimes gives you nature prescriptions, consider yourself fortunate indeed.

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Proof that Plants Communicate

It is easy for us to walk by a tree or other plants, admire their beauty, then move on, unaware that the plants are aware of everything that happens around them. We can't see evidence of that awareness, so it's easy to assume it doesn't exist.

 

A group of Japanese scientists decided to find out what kind of awareness and response to their environment that plants really have. According to a January 16, 2024 Yahoo News article written by Bryan Ke, the scientists were able to film plants communicating with each other. The plants warned each other about potential dangers going on at that moment. The findings were first published in the journal Nature Communications in October 2023.

 

Molecular biologist Masatsuga Toyota of Japan's Saitama University led the research team that captured the plants communicating on film. The national university is located in the city of Saitama in the Greater Tokyo area. The team photographed undamaged plants sending warnings to nearby plants. These defense responses occurred after the plants sensed volatile organic compounds (VOC) produced by plants when they experience mechanical damage or attacks by insects.

 

The team captured the plants' responses on film by attaching an air pump to a container that was filled with leaves and caterpillars and to another container holding a common weed from the mustard family called Arabidopsis thaliana. The team managed to genetically modify the Arabidopsis so that its cells turned fluoresce green after they detected calcium ions that act as stress managers. Team members used a fluorescence microscope to monitor signals that the undamaged plants released after they received VOCs from the damaged leaves.

 

The team's accomplishment is impressive because it films what had been an unseen network of airborne communication between plants. Purpose of the network is to warn neighboring plants about an imminent threat so they have time to protect themselves.

 

The team's work is a breakthrough after a 1983 study in which plant communication was first observed. Ever since then, scientists had wondered how the communication actually happened. With the filmed evidence, they know that plants are aware of dangers around them and spread that information to each other. It makes us more aware that plants have the ability to network with each other, to care about each other, and to develop a warning system that helps to keep each other safer.

 

Sometimes we might think that only humans have that kind of ability, but the film project has the potential to change the way we view plants. On some level, we all have the capacity to care about each other and to want to keep each other safe.

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Blue Spruce Improves Backyard

Blue spruce adds welcoming touch

When my son, Philip, bought a house in Anchorage, Alaska earlier this year, he talked about what looked to him like a beautiful blue spruce tree in his backyard. He wanted me to take a look at it when I came to visit.

 

I spent two weeks with him in his new home during the first half of December. We donned our boots and tramped through sometimes foot-high snow in his backyard. The tree was, indeed, gorgeous. He's right about it being a blue spruce. It towers into the sky, much taller than his split-level home.

 

It felt good to stand near the tree. Not only is it part of Philip's new property, but it exudes a sense of welcome and love. That may seem ridiculous to some people. I can only say that it felt good to stand near the tree. I lingered outside in the cold and snow because I liked the way I felt being close to the tree.

 

During the time I visited Philip, I often saw a raven fly through the covered deck, which overlooks the backyard, and into the blue spruce's branches. The bird must have a nest there.

 

The towering tree, which provides a home for birds, also will provide my son with many years of pleasure and enjoyment. I think he chose well when he bought that house and the property on which it sits! The welcoming tree is an extra bonus.

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Experiments to Sequester Carbon

A fascinating article in the November 2023 issue of National Geographic tells about several projects around the world that are experimenting with ways to remove carbon from the air. "Clearing the Air" was written by Sam Howe Verhovek. It discusses many projects for sequestering excess carbon, which can overheat the planet enough to threaten life itself.

 

One such project in Iceland is working to capture carbon dioxide in porous basalt, in essence turning carbon into stone. The article also focuses on a project in Arizona that uses a mechanical tree to capture and store carbon. There's another project in Australia focused on trapping carbon dioxide and locking it in crevices under the earth.

 

Another project along Long Island's Little Peconic Bay in New York experiments with using a special green sand in an effort to remove carbon from the oceans. The sand is finely ground olivine, a type of magnesium iron silicate common in Earth's upper mantle. Still another project aims to use seaweed that, pound for pound, can sequester up to 40 times as much carbon as trees.

 

Carbon is not our enemy. It is essential to life. Plants need it for photosynthesis. The problem is that now there's too much of it in the atmosphere. That excess carbon became a problem when massive amounts of it were released when fossil fuels were mined, drilled for, or extracted in other ways.  If the planet gets too warm, it could threaten life on Earth.

 

Because my blogs focus on trees, I was especially intrigued by the mechanical tree project in Tempe, Arizona.  It is a form of direct air capture. Physicist Klaus Lackner has been working on the project for a long time. Lackner runs the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University.

 

What he calls mechanical trees are three-story tall devices that suck in carbon, filter it, and store it. Lackner says the mechanical trees are about 1,000 times more efficient than actual trees in their ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Unlike trees that release their carbon dioxide when they die, the mechanical trees keep it locked away.

 

To learn more about the fascinating carbon sequestering projects being developed right now, head for your local library and read the article, "Clearing the Air," in the November 2023 issue of National Geographic. It left me feeling hopeful that so many intelligent, creative, passionate people are dedicating part of their lives to solving a significant problem.

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Leaf Patterns

Leaves on Lawn

Cottonwood leaves from my neighbor's graceful, gorgeous tree are starting to blanket my lawn. I know that means freezing weather is soon to follow.

 

The leaf patterns on my lawn are intriguing. I could look at the leaves and think about the work it will take to remove them. But it's not a huge task. When I run my lawnmower one last time over the grass, it will pick up 90 percent of the leaves. The remaining 10 percent don't take that long to bag.

 

Instead of worrying about leaf pickup tasks, I find myself focusing on the leaves and the way they decorate my lawn. When I do that, something interesting happens. I am so focused on appreciating the beauty of the leaves that I forget everything else. It becomes a kind of meditation, a moment when the world fades away as I rivet my attention on the artistry of the leaves.

 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by more work to do, I find myself at peace. The concerns about everything else in my life melt away. Those short moments in time are incredibly restful. It's easy to forget to take a little time to appreciate the beauty in simple things around us. The rewards of filling our awareness with the wonder of the moment are immense.

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Endangered Cypress Trees Get Help

Cypress trees can live for thousands of years. Some over 2,600 years old have been found in the United States. Tree ring expert David Stahle found one of them along the Black River in North Carolina. Stahle, a dendrochronologist at the University of Arkansas, cores cypress trees to learn their age and to find out what they can reveal about soil moisture during the trees' lives.

 

The process involves taking a pencil-thin core from the tree in a way that does not endanger it. An article about the cypress trees called Ghost Forests, written by Joel K. Bourne Jr., appeared in, I believe, the August 2023 issue of National Geographic.

 

The ancient trees are disappearing for several reasons. Just 120 years ago, swamps containing bald cypress trees covered about 40 million acres of forested wetlands in the southern United States. But by 1935, 90 percent of the ancient bald cypress trees in the U.S. had been cut down.

 

The loss of those trees has had disastrous effects in some places, such as Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Though Louisiana once had lush cypress forests, over the years most of them were cut down and the swamps were drained. The city of New Orleans sits on some of those old cypress swamps. Over time, the city sank many feet below sea level, Bourne wrote in the National Geographic article. As a result several parts of the city were flooded during Katrina.

 

Conservation groups such as the Ponchartrain Conservancy have been planting many cypress trees as a buffer against hurricanes and to provide other benefits. Other actions also have been taken to make the city safer from devastating storms.

 

The value of cypress trees was not always recognized. Through the Swamp Land Act of 1850, the federal government targeted swamps for destruction. The Act "gave unclaimed federal wetlands to several southern states, requiring that the proceeds from land sales be used to drain them," Bourne wrote.

 

The federal government apparently did not understand back then that cypress trees can withstand months of flooding, and the soil around their roots have an amazing ability to absorb storm water and carbon. Their intertwined root system lets them stand firm even in furious winds.

 

In spite of their resiliency, cypress trees are dying because they cannot survive rising tides that push salt water into what were once freshwater ecosystems. When trees are surrounded by water with more than two parts per thousand of salt, they start to die. Though not all cypress trees grow in areas being invaded by sea water, some cypress forests are dying along coastlines from Delaware to Texas, the National Geographic article revealed. Scientists estimate that as seas continue to rise, all the coastal forested wetlands in the U.S. could be gone by 2100.

 

But all is not lost. Conservation groups are planting many cypress trees. Individuals like Stahle

and organizations such as the National Geographic are doing what they can to educate people

about the trees' importance.

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