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Join in the flutter of wings.

Bluebirds of happiness, migrating Canadian geese, the ugly duckling, mythology surrounding the phoenix…it’s no surprise that our avian friends play a central role in many cultures and mark the seasons of our lives.  Flying dreams take me above the treetops to rescue people like superman or evade predators with the carefree ease of a bubble floating into the air on a summer’s day.  Even as an adult, my imagination tempts me to consider every knee-high rock a launching pad for a springy step into the air.  On road trips I pretend that the highway is a combination ice rink and air field, allowing my mind to envision elegant dances in mid-air around the telephone poles, feet just barely tickling the tall roadside grass and wildflowers that our birds and other wildlife depend on for food.

There are many great websites that make an interest in birds even more fun…

“What happens when a jazz composer challenges a vocal virtuoso to match the voices of some of her favorite birds? Serious fun! Join Grammy-recognized artists Maria Schneider and Theo Bleckmann in their musical experiment to help us tune in to nature’s music—from the melodious to the downright weird. You’ll never think of a sparrow or a toilet plunger in the same way again.” Visit Birds Got Swing: A Musical Experiment

“Train your brain to recognize over 50 bird songs with the Bird Song Hero matching game. Listen closely to featured songs and match each with the correct spectrogram visualization. You’ll be harnessing the power of the visual brain to help you identify the unique qualities of each song and commit sound patterns to memory.”

Learn about the features of a great birdhouse, pick the right box for the right species of bird, and learn how to install a nest box camera (ooooh!) at NestWatch.

Bird Trivia

(Answers Below)

  1. What’s the difference between precocial and altricial chicks?
  2. True or false: Great Blue Herons can seriously injure a human being.
  3. True or false: Hummingbirds can be as big as your hand.
  4. Birds are amniotes. What does this mean?
  5. When do two Bald Eagles lock their talons in a free-fall?

Organizations for the Birds

American Bird Conservancy

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds

Audubon Society

Hummingbirds at Home is a fun way to gather data and track hummingbirds.

Lend a Wing: Helping Birds

There are almost as many ways to help birds as there are flying fantasies.  Pick from a myriad of options like the Great Backyard Bird Count, or eBird Counts year-round, and boost the end of your summer into the beginning of lifelong friendships with the feathered variety of sacred beings:

  1. Build a variety of bird feeders like platform feeders, finch feeders, suet feeders and more.
  2. Build a variety of bird houses or nest boxes for songbirds, doves, and owls.
  3. Create a backyard full of seasonal food sources for wildlife and birds.
  4. Put window decals on any windows that may confuse birds into colliding with them.
  5. Keep house cats indoors to prevent songbird killings.  Cat predation is a major reason for songbird decline (2014).  I have pet cats and love them, but my emotional love for cats is no reason to ignore the science involving cat numbers and bird numbers.  My love would be better spent increasing the cats’ indoor quality of life than denying science exists.  And no, just because cats are predators does not make them natural local predators or make their excess predation sustainable for ecosystems. Habitat loss and predation from other animals does kill birds, too, but it doesn’t cancel out cat-on-bird predation. “It was sort of like arguing that because there are wars going on out there, my little murders shouldn’t count.” -Richard Conniff, author. Fact Sheet on cats and wildlife.

Answers to Trivia Questions

Precocial means that chicks are hatched in an advanced state and able to feed themselves almost immediately, Altricial chicks require longer care from their parents because they hatch in a less developed state; True; True; Amniotes are organisms who reproduce with eggs that contain amniotic fluid and are adapted to lay eggs on land instead of in water; Bald Eagles lock talons in a free-fall during courtship.

Fish are Friends

 

Watching fish at the grotto near Dickson St.

Watching fish at the grotto near Dickson

Fish freak me out.  The bulging eyes, that fishy smell, the scales and slime…and fortunately for the fish, I think they taste terrible!  One of my biggest fears in life is deep water where large fish dwell, waiting to chomp on things which move (like my kicking legs) while they glide through a murky abyss.  And yet, water without fish would be like trees without birds.  I could spend hours (and have soaked up many a moment of free time) watching fish of all sizes.  Their swimming movements are hypnotizing and meditative, reminding me a little of the arm movements of hula dancers in Hawaii.  I wonder if the fish are telling their own oral tradition through their fishy dances, just like Hawaiian hula? View full article »

As a mammal, perhaps I’m biased towards these loveable creatures.

Each twilight, I stand near the windows and crane my neck to see into the graying day.  If I’m lucky, a few times a year I’ll catch a glimpse of this scene: a waddling, bushy bandit followed by five more, tinier lumps hop-stepping at her flanks, and a sixth furry fluff ball hurrying to rejoin the group, called a “nursery” of racoons. Or perhaps I’ll stumble upon a doe and her fawn in mid-afternoon while I tend to outdoor chores. At midnight we hear the armadillo rustling around in the leaves outside our bedroom.

At any of these occasions, I’m liable to jump up and become a dangerous (if well-intentioned and still cute) force of stealthy urgency. Midnight armadillos bring a flailing arm or jutting knee with a startling squeal of joy that cuts into Ryan’s dreams.  Like a true lover, he never minds.  He just smiles, rubs his sore side, and falls back to sleep just after hearing “Oh no, it’s the BABY racoons!  Hear them trilling??” Mm-hmm, he mumbles, oblivious but happy to see me happy.

Any good day includes mammals.  But I think of them less as organisms classified into groups, and more as revelations of the meaning of life.  Tiny secular deity symbols, if you will, of the interdependent web of life.  Mammals are a stampeding, scuttling segment of the world that can’t seem to find contentment with just one size or function. View full article »

Like hobbits, sometimes the littlest creatures are the most significant.

Great Smoky Mountains synchronous firefly display is an annual event! Click photo to visit website.

Great Smoky Mountains synchronous firefly display is an annual event! Click photo to visit website.

Surely this post of all the summer naturalist series will receive the least Likes no matter what I write here.  Bugs!  Not very popular.  But it is sometimes nice to know that fewer people will be reading this and I can therefore write whatever I want to about insects!  It’s liberating, like fireflies just released from their jar held in the sweaty hands of a mystified young girl intent on capturing Tinkerbell.

My favorite fluttery, crawly things happen to be ladybugs, fireflies or lightning bugs, damselflies, pill bugs or roly polys, bumble bees, and Monarch butterflies. Of course, they’re all important.  Without the two species of midges (small flies) that pollinate the cacao trees, we’d never have chocolate! View full article »

Water is the pinnacle of summer fun, but frequently overlooked.

Near my wedding day in 2007, finding my usual place next to the water.

Near my wedding day in 2007, finding my usual place next to the water.

Regarding water, I’m quite a paradox.  As a Pisces who can’t swim, I find myself being drawn towards and away from water simultaneously.  Deep, murky water terrifies me more than a dark forest.  Yet I love nothing more than being close to flowing, constantly cycling water such as the streams and creeks known in the Ozarks.  Water moving across shiny rocks is hypnotizing, and few things are more fun than looking for life around the water’s edge – from ducks to frogs, they’re a few of of my favorite things.  Even a nice-sized, natural fountain can suffice if I’m stuck in a city for the afternoon.  I just find a rock big enough to sit on near the water, and immediately feel whole again no matter how many people pass by.  Water is a tough thing to pin down.  Our bodies are full of it, but it can be considered a resource “out there somewhere,” external to us, filling up our delightful swimming pools.  It’s a source of life, but also of destruction and death.  And despite these powers, aquatic habitats are the most fragile and vulnerable to pollution.

Play this online game to learn helpful hints for water conservation!

Water Trivia

Impress your friends with a few facts from the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalist Hydrology Training!  “Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability.” -Source

(Answers Below)

  1. True/False: The weight of all algae on Earth is greater than the weight of all terrestrial plants.
  2. Approximately what percentage of water on our planet is salt water?  And fresh water?
  3. What percentage of fresh water is our surface freshwater?
  4. The human brain is composed of what percentage of water? And our blood?
  5. How many miles of rivers and streams are there in Arkansas?

View full article »

Ripples presents a Naturalist Blog Series for the summer!

As a young girl, I became a traveler.  I wanted to experience the world in the way some people experience their first love, and sought to explore islands with no cars, forest waterfalls, new cultures, vegetarian cuisine, other languages, and mountains that brought me closer to a simple version of God.  As a woman, however, I have matured into a problem with traveling and exploring the world, much like the way children outgrow tiny playhouses and discover one day that their elementary classrooms seem inexplicably tiny after years away.  A traveler can develop the habit of discovery, overturning rocks and societal expectations, rustling around in leaves and layers of place.  Discovery alludes to an audience the way writing does: true, it can be a private experience just as joyful as a public ceremony transitioning us from one stage of life or state of being to another, but the discovery of something which is so tantamount to its salvation is an experience cloaked in morality. No sooner can I discover an abandoned child without telling someone than I could explore the world and encounter nature, knowing its peril, and keep it a secret.

Being a naturalist is like being Edge Habitat, a conglomeration of science, art, spirituality, philosophy, and love, never just one place but stepping into many at once.

Being a naturalist is like being Edge Habitat, a conglomeration of science, art, spirituality, philosophy, and love, never just one place but stepping into many at once.

Our summer naturalist series is composed of short blog posts spread throughout July and August, covering environmental science topics including:

  1. Water (Hydrology)
  2. Insects (Entomology)
  3. Mammals (Mammalogy)
  4. Fish (Ichthyology)
  5. Birds (Ornithology)
  6. Stars (Astronomy)
  7. Mushrooms (Mycology)
  8. Rocks (Geology)
  9. Plants (Botany)
  10. Amphibians and Reptiles (Herpetology)

Each topic will contain trivia, interesting websites, online games, relevant organizations you can get involved with, upcoming classes and events, and more.  These blog posts won’t be exclusively science, though – Amanda will be sharing related artwork and sketches from her journal, and each post will be written “creative non-fiction” style. We hope it’ll be interesting and informative summer reading, and that you’ll join us as we explore the many adventures and wonders Earth has to offer.

Master Naturalist Programs by State*

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Methodology for Making a Difference

Why are we doing this thing called Ripples?

Mostly because of this list. As always, we’re striving for transparency – and this is a draft of the process we use to make decisions and take action to improve the world in our own lives.  These are guidelines – they don’t tell you which choice to make, but suggest a process for making choices that create bigger ripples. We hope this will be like a manuscript for the music of making a difference. Smile View full article »

An exciting new development at Ripples!

UPDATE June 2014: This partnership was not successful, but we’re not giving up! If you know of land for sale or areas that need protection, please let us know at MakeSomeRipples@Gmail.com View full article »

Doing good is good. Doing good effectively is amazing.

Ever wonder why “Small Droplets. Big Waves.” is our slogan? Here’s why:

Small Droplets, Big Waves is our way of summarizing the idea of maximizing our positive impact on the world.  We want to make bigger ripples and make small droplets go further.  In short, we want to do the most good.  This is the basic underlying concept of Effective Altruism, according to Holly Morgan with the Centre for Effective Altruism. “Effective altruism is all about combining empathy, reason and evidence. By carefully considering what we value, and by working together to find the best ways of achieving that, we can each do an amazing amount of good.” Source

Our friend Jay Quigley recently gave an excellent presentation on Effective Altruism:

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