Earth Day 2017: Create a Habitat and Celebrate Nature

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female, immature) feeding at our butterfly bush. They are attracted to colorful flowers, but it takes considerable patience waiting for the right moment to capture them in a photo.

April 22 is Earth Day 2017. It’s a day to take action. It’s a day to celebrate. It’s a day to honor the movement that began in 1970 giving “voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling human energy toward environmental issues. ” It’s a matter of survival. Let’s give thanks to all people around the world who do their part, big or small, in protecting our planet, and making it a better place to live for generations to come.

Preserving our environment is of paramount importance. It’s an acknowledged fact that the Earth’s climate is changing, it means we must take action to improve our world’s quality of life for humans, plants, and animals alike by keeping clean the air we breath, the water we drink, and the soil that grows our crops. It takes commitment and perseverance to act responsibly, locally and globally. Even if our actions won’t instantly reverse current trends, we must constantly pursue strategies that mitigate — better yet solve — the challenges, problems, and dangers we face ahead. Please take the time to learn the facts — respect science — and act responsibly.

To understand why preserving our environment is critically important, we need to take joy in what nature provides us every day. This year I’m celebrating nature in my “backyard nature preserve.” It doesn’t take much to set up your own nature preserve whether you live a rural, suburban, or urban area, and regardless if you own a plot of land or rent an apartment. It just takes imagination to attract and enjoy the flora and fauna, the biota, if you will, which is the animal and plant life indigenous to your surroundings.

My wife Peggy and I have lived on the same .6 acre plot of land in the same cozy cape for forty years in a typical old New England northern Connecticut town.  These days one might call it rural-suburban. We know we are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and raise our family here. That said, over the forty years we’ve lived here, we tried to make the most of what we have. We planted a variety of trees, shrubberies, and flower beds, plus a small vegetable garden, all to make the property our little nature preserve. It paid off. Now we have the good fortune of enjoying the trees and flowers, and the seasonal birds and butterflies they attract each year, with an occasional deer, bear or flock of wild turkeys, as well as the ubiquitous squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.

So rather that write about the beauty of nature, and the importance of preserving our environment, which we cannot — must not — take for granted, I’m simply going to show a sampling of my photos illustrating the flora and fauna you can enjoy when you create your own backyard nature preserve; a preserve that, in its own small but vital way, helps preserve our precious environment.

Pileated Woodpecker

A Pileated Woodpecker and its mate paid us a quick visit to the giant White Ash tree in our back yard. I was fortunate to have my camera handy to capture pictures because they are very shy. Fortunately they didn’t stay long, which was a good indicator that the tree offered no good source of insects on which to feed. A local arborist is working hard with root injected insecticide to keep the tree-killing Emerald Ash Borer away. 

A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk sitting on our split rail fence.

Beginning in the late fall and continuing to early spring, before the bears awake from winter torpor (if we’re lucky – if not the bird feeders get destroyed) we keep the local birds well fed. We even have a window feeder, which is great entertainment, especially for our grandsons. We only use black oil sunflower seeds and suet. They are the surest ways to keep the flocks happy, and coming back. 

A Wren house custom built by my good friend Vern

A sturdy, easy to maintain (note hinged bottom door for annual cleaning) bird house is an excellent way to keep small birds returning each spring to nest, year after year. If you have ever seen young chicks fledge their nest, you have witnessed the miraculous cycle of life continuing — it’s a leap of faith followed by a startling tumble to the ground where waiting parents lead an urgent flight into life.

Flowers attract all kinds of life — especially bees, birds, butterflies, and admiring friends. Picking fresh flowers and arranging bouquets in vases allows you to bring nature directly into your home. Below are just a couple of flowers that spread color throughout our yard. If you are space constrained, try growing certain plants in appropriate sized planters or window boxes.

If you’re of my vintage, you may remember the 1972 movie romance/comedy Butterflies are Free with Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert. If not, that’s okay; you’re probably just too young. I digress. However, while we may think real butterflies are free, many are endangered species struggling to survive in our changing environment, especially the Monarch.

Plant More Milkweed is a blogpost I wrote last fall. I encourage you to read it, and create a welcoming environment wherever you can. Butterflies add a special beauty to our lives, and you and I can make a difference.

And as I mentioned earlier, the occasional deer, bear, or flock of wild turkeys pass through our yard. This deer stared me down, but by keeping still I was able to take this photo before it bounded off into the nearby woods — nature photography takes patience — lots of patience.

“In wildness* is the preservation of the world. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forests and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind.” — Henry David Thoreau,  Excursions

Let’s all do our part to preserve and save our planet. Celebrate Earth Day every day!

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

*Thoreau wrote and meant “wildness.” It is often misquoted as “wilderness.” Think about it.
Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

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