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The Hawk in the Hedgerow

We crept slowly forward, peering into the hedge where it thinned, looking to the lawn on the far side. We saw nothing. We closed to within five feet of where the hawk had flown into the hedge. Still nothing. Until, with the same swift grace with which it had flown in, the hawk emerged from the hedge. As the bird sprung aloft, so close in front of us that we felt its wingbeats as much as we saw them, it faced us for the briefest of moments as it elegantly arced back over the hedge and up into the spreading branches of a massive pin oak in the churchyard.

The flash of the hawk’s underside showed that the white feathers of its breast and belly were marked with fine, red barring. We had a bit longer to take in the dorsal view, with the bird’s slate-gray back and banded tail. As the hawk flared its wings and tail to brake into a landing, we could see that the tip of the tail had a deep, C-shaped curve, edged in white. It was a Cooper’s hawk.

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Small Nonprofits Doing Great Things

Since finishing grad school and re-entering the workforce, I’ve upped my annual charitable contributions.  I’ve also re-thought my giving plan, trying to target smaller nonprofits that work on conservation issues that are often neglected by the biggest, best-known organizations.

The end of the year is a great time to give; several of my favorite groups have matching programs right now, so that donations made before December 31st will be doubled.  If you’re looking to make some contributions in the next week or so, here are a few of the nonprofits I support:   Read more

When I was a senior in college, I took a seminar called “Dealing with Natural Disasters” that looked at the power of the insurance industry to change imprudent societal practices–e.g., repeatedly building in floodplains. This is an interesting extension.

Climate Change Reports

Paying out billions of dollars here and billions of dollars there has made the global insurance industry a believer in climate change, according to a new study that shows insurance companies are staunch advocates for reducing carbon emissions and minimizing the risk posed by increasingly severe weather events, reports Ken Weiss at the LA Times. “Climate change stands as a stress test for insurance, the world’s largest industry with U.S. $4.6 trillion in revenues, 7% of the global economy,” writes Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The industry now pays an average of $50 billion a year in weather- and climate-related insurance losses, including property damage and business disruptions, Mills writes  in the journal Science. Such claims have been doubling every decade since the 1980s. Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the Eastern Seaboard, is just one recent example of the kinds of increasing liability posed…

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Superstorm Sandy and National Parks

It’s been just over seven weeks now since Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey and New York, and national park sites in the region are still recovering.  Some have re-opened, but others—including iconic destinations like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—suffered such heavy damage that they will remain closed well into 2013. Read more

Audubon Magazine’s Choices for Best Books of 2012

I’m always on the lookout for great new natural history books to read, but 2012 has been such a busy year that I haven’t paid as much attention to new publications as I usually do.  Hence my delight in seeing the titles chosen for Audubon Magazine’s 2012 List of Notable Books.

A few of the authors on the list are familiar names—I eagerly skim bookshop shelves, looking specifically for their new titles.  But most of the authors are unfamiliar to me, and that is a delight in and of itself. Read more

Book Review: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, written and illustrated by John Muir Laws

The latest book from California naturalist, artist, and educator John Muir Laws is a delight, with a potential audience far beyond what its title suggests.  The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is not just about drawing birds or bird anatomy, though it addresses those topics thoroughly and adeptly.  It is, rather, a book about seeing nature more truly and getting over fear. Read more

Serenity Spell

The Federal Duck Stamp has a long history in the U.S., a program devoted to conserving this country’s pristine lands. The stamps themselves are beautiful pieces of art, and remain highly collectible. There are efforts to re-issue the stamp, now called the Wildlife Conservation Stamp, to help the currently severely underfunded wildlife refuges… See below for more information of this wonderful endeavor!

From the website:

It is now more important than ever to draw on the diverse group of refuge advocates around the country to safeguard America’s wildlife heritage. National wildlife refuges have been underfunded since President Theodore Roosevelt created the first refuge in 1903 and Congress refused to appropriate money to manage it. Without adequate funding, habitats are not restored, invasive species are left unchecked, poaching and other illegal activities occur and our nation’s wildlife suffers.

Already underfunded and understaffed, National Wildlife Refuges are now facing even more budget…

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“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”

Should the Manhattan Project become the newest site in the national park system?

The Secretary of the Interior has submitted a letter to Congress recommending the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  If approved, the three sites that hosted most of the research and production facilities associated with the making of the world’s first atomic bomb could become the 399th unit managed by the National Park Service. Read more

From Prairies to Cornfields

I didn't give much thought to America's prairies until I moved to South Dakota. I grew up loving the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, then discovered the great western mountains as a college student. The grasslands of North America were something I skipped over, believing them flat, unvarying, and dull. What little I knew of prairie came mainly from childhood. Fourth-grade geography lessons, Little House on the Prairie, and the favorite Apple IIe game of eighties educators, Oregon Trail—these were the sources of the vague impressions I had about an ecosystem that historically occupied more than 1.4 million square miles of North America.

When I first came to work at Badlands National Park in 2008, the prairie took me by surprise. Far from being a pancake-flat plain with a boring lack of biodiversity, the grassland teems with life.

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