Monday, February 27, 2012

Nature’s Sanitary Workers

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Nature’s Sanitary Workers

When my work at Port Discover expanded to include writing this column a year ago, I had no clue how it would alter my vision of the world. In order to find subjects to explore and write about, I had to adjust my focus to include the science topics that I encounter and observe daily. Things I used to ignore have become food for investigation.

Today, for your Sunday morning edification, my topic is turkey vultures. The woods next to our house now host approximately fifty of the carrion-eating carnivores every evening. Why? I haven’t discovered that yet.

One Sunday morning recently, I heard and saw my neighbor across the canal standing on her back porch in her bathrobe loudly beating on a pan with a spoon in an effort to scare the birds away. Two weeks after that, I was standing on my back porch ringing a large antique cowbell trying to accomplish the same.

I’m sure the vultures were laughing, and they weren’t scared a bit by either one of us. There is just something unnerving about the way they sit in the trees silently looking down. You begin to wonder what they are waiting for. Because they have no voice box, the only sound they make is the slight flapping of their wings as they settle down for the night in the trees.

There is a Turkey Vulture Society whose site has many interesting facts about the helpful scavengers. Also, Cornell University has done much research on the birds and other species, which you can find on their site.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects these year round residents of our area, and it is against the law to shoot one. They are raptors, and serve mankind through their habit of eating dead animals.

Although television westerns used to portray them as evil, some religious groups such as Tibetan Buddhists honor them, and depend on them for the removal of their dead. They believe that vultures release the soul from the body.

Often incorrectly called buzzards, they are unaggressive and non-confrontational, and unlike their cousins the black vulture, they do not kill. Often feeding on road kill, washed up fish, as well as rotten pumpkins, and juniper berries, they politely take turns eating. They can soar gracefully for hours using thermals of warm rising air for lift.

It is some of their other characteristics that are not too appetizing. Readers with weak stomachs might want to stop here.

Their heads are almost bald which allows them to eat without getting remains on them. Frequently, they urinate on themselves, not only for cooling, but also to kill the harmful bacteria that are on their feet. If they are scared or threatened, they vomit in order to ward off the enemy with the smell.

I trust that they will move on eventually. In the mean time, I’m considering becoming a vegetarian.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talking (Less) Trash

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Talking (Less) Trash

Difficult times changes people’s values. Looking back at history, you find that major events usually refocus the way that we see our world. I hope that one of the results of the Great Recession is that we learn to value experiences and people, instead of things.

The material excesses of the American way of life are overdue for an examination and overhaul. Bea and Scott Johnson and their two sons of Mill Valley, California are setting an example for all of us. Their effort to reduce their household trash to zero was featured in People Magazine recently.

According to the article, the average American produces 1,051 pounds of trash per year. Even with all the talk of creating an eco-friendly world, experts know that our habits are not sustainable and that we must change.

Ms. Johnson suggests specific techniques for eliminating trash on her website, The ideas presented are extremely useful and focus on the four R’s—refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The concept of refusing was new to me. When the Johnsons purchase something that is wrapped in too much packaging, they unwrap it and leave the trash at the store. The message to the manufacturer is to use less packaging. They also buy things in bulk and take their own reusable containers to stores.

A great deal of planning goes into every aspect of life when the goal is to reduce our carbon footprints. Most of us find it difficult to spend time making the effort, no matter how much we want to behave responsibly toward our environment. We tend to take the easy way out and continue to live our disposable way of life.

The Johnsons recommend buying used items. For the last three Christmases, my adult children have engaged in an activity they call “Craigsmus.” They draw names among the six of them and try to find a useful gift on Craigslist for a limited amount of money. The results have been hilarious, creative, useful, and memorable for the whole family, but also rewarding in many ways.

A key technique is to organize your possessions, so that you know what you have and won’t buy things you already own. We all waste a lot of food because it goes out of date before we can use it, or it gets lost in the back of the pantry.

The Johnsons reduced their actual trash to a large mason jar full in a year’s time. That’s extreme, but we can all make an effort to consume intelligently. Doing something is better than nothing. You can make some small adjustments and, as the Johnsons report, be “happier, healthier, and richer.”

Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” She’s right.

Check out this video from the The Huffington Post:

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