Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Thanks to the folks at Short Wave for this brief tutorial on backyard birding, featuring a scientist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For those fortunate enough to be able to use some of their time in recent months for this purpose, the tutorial may resonate. A total novice like me finds it useful so I recommend it to others.
I especially appreciated the advice of paying attention to the coffee that you purchase, because it can have significant impact on migratory birds. The new series of Organikos labels are almost ready for print-testing. One of the final decisions made in the last month was to let the label on the bag focus on the coffee and keep the bird-habitat mission messaging on the website and in places like this. A key part of that message is that the particular coffee offered matters most. We believe that if we start with the highest quality green beans, apply the perfect level of heat, and deliver them at the fairest price we will get what we need to plant more trees. So, the Tarrazu single estate is the second label I will share here. Along with the Hacienda la Amistad single estate organic, this is some of the most spectacular coffee grown in Costa Rica. And for every bag sold, the difference between what we pay to get this to you, and what you pay to Organikos, goes to bird habitat regeneration.
Our bee obsession on this platform has many explanations, but my personal motivation for following the science of bees goes back to a summer in the late 1970s when I worked for a beekeeper. I cleared brush and vines from the forest edge to make way for more bee-friendly plantings. I worked within sight of a dozen active bee colonies in boxes where I could see buzzing swarms constantly. I learned to be calm around them from the man who tended them. He used a poncho, a mask, and a smoker when opening the boxes to remove honey, but other times walked among them with no protective gear. To my surprise the resins from Toxicodendron radicans–poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac–did more harm to me than the bees I worked around. In fact, I was never stung by those bees. Not once.
Which explains why when we finally had the chance to start our own bee colony I was all in. Above is a bee box, with found objects inside, above and below it. The bees inside had nested at the top of our house so we had a beekeeper extract them. He gave them this new home in a location where we have been clearing brush to make way for coffee planting. The old table had been in the chicken coop and the mysterious disk was on the roadside headed for recycling. One month later now, very happy bees.
Above is a small sampling of the vines and brush I have been clearing from the land near that hive. History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. As it happens, on my arm I have some of the same toxins from vines like those 40 years ago. The clearing work started in March and is nearing completion to make way for several hundred shade trees and several thousand coffee plants.
One section of this clearing has already received twenty banana plants, based on the practice of our friends at Hacienda la Amistad. These make excellent companions to the coffee and are pollinated by bats, so provide another kind of ecological service too complex to discuss in a post primarily about bee surprises.
So, with all that in mind I was very happy to come across the story below by Cara Giaimo. Her work first appeared in our pages last October, then again a few months ago–both times related to birds. Somehow I missed this short article on bees from earlier this year, and I thank her for it now for making me laugh when there is not enough other news to laugh about:
Frank Bienewald/imageBROKER, via Alamy
Regurgitation is an important consideration when it comes to the process of pollination.
The bumblebee is a discerning nectar shopper. When choosing which flowers to gather the sticky substance from, it might consider a plant’s distance, the shape of the petals and how sugar-rich the nectar is. Continue reading
In the summer of 2005 I worked in Yakutia (officially known as the Republic of Sakha). My strongest memory is a week on a boat going from Yakutsk up into the Arctic circle. I can still feel the intensity of the August sun through my sunglasses at midnight, while freezing air pierced my fleece. My project assistant, who was also my translator, helped me understand from the boat’s captain and two crew members that our passage on the Yana River toward the Laptev Sea was getting easier and easier each year. They had all been Soviet naval crew on this river long ago and could remember plenty of Augusts when the northern stretch of this passage was not possible.
I was aware of climate change as a distant calamity that required urgent action, but did not have a clue what it might eventually mean for this location. The funding for our tourism development strategy came from a natural attraction discovered in the permafrost. Our assumptions about attracting nature tourism to this region were clearly rooted in the permafrost. For the following decade, projects we worked on in the region continued with these assumptions, which seems ignorant now.
In Siberia in late May, thawing permafrost caused an oil-storage tank to collapse, leading to the largest oil spill ever to occur in the Russian Arctic. Photograph by Irina Yarinskaya / AFP / Getty
We have linked out to some of Carolyn Kormann’s various smile-inducing environmental stories, as well as more serious ones. A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic goes darker than her previous darkest, but is a must-read for keeping current on the impacts of climate change in faraway places.
The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. Continue reading
The image to the right is from twenty years ago, during my first foray into the world of coffee. It is not the most flattering photo, but it will do. I was eight, on location with my brother and parents at a worksite in Nicaragua. One part of the project was the development of a coffee tour, and my brother and I were tasked with testing how a young person might react to that experience. The expression on my face was, I suppose, a slightly embarrassed result of how little coffee I had managed to pick relative to the basket’s capacity. There was plenty of coffee to be picked, but these 20 years later I still remember how hard that work was.
The second foray was in 2011, back in the same region of Nicaragua, but as an intern documenting the coffee growing and maintenance process, as well as having the pleasure of zooming over a coffee plantation on a canopy tour zip line.
Just a year later, my third foray came when I spent the summer living on an organic farm freshly planted with coffee. What made it special, even spectacular, was that the farm was one of the rare private properties in the Galapagos Islands and was situated in the vicinity of the forests where the giant tortoises roam.
The fourth foray, which I wrote about in these pages, was between 2014 and 2016. I participated in each step from germination, to planting, harvesting, processing, roasting and cupping. I created a coffee tour on property that was an echo of the work done 15 years earlier in Nicaragua.
My fifth and most recent foray, over the last few years, has been the start up of Organikos. During the months leading up to starting graduate school I developed a plan with my parents to launch the coffee business as part of their Authentica venture. That brick and mortar retail approach worked out very well, until the world changed a few months ago. So now online and onward…
For some time now green has been the new thing and we live in one of its showcases, with access to all kinds of tropical nature within easy driving distance. But it has been where we live that, for the last few months, has had us greening our own living patterns. There will be a fuller post on that soon, but for now I just smile at my friends across the Atlantic, on a day when our rooster woke me as usual well before the sunrise. And opening the gallinero (chicken coop) on my way to the lower land we are planting, I was sensitive to the smell that I had otherwise stopped noticing until I read this short piece. I appreciate the imaginative approach, probably unique to France, to protecting heritage that some at best take for granted and others find a nuisance:
Townies v tractors
Some second-home owners have sued over loud livestock and church bells
France’s sense of itself has long been rooted in the land, even though three-quarters of French people live in towns. Now, however, having locked down in small airless spaces, many city-dwellers feel the call of the wild. Estate agents report an uptick in searches for homes with gardens. Diehard urbanites talk wistfully of a bucolic existence in la France profonde. In a poll, 61% of the French think confinement will encourage people to move to the country or buy a second home. But do today’s townsfolk know what rural life really entails?
The question arose late last year, when Pierre Morel-À-L’Huissier, a deputy from the Lozère, a remote rural area, introduced a bill to protect France’s “sensory heritage”. By this, he meant “the crowing of the cockerel, the noise of cicadas, the odour of manure”, and other rural sounds and smells. Continue reading
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) off the coast of Madeira Island, Portugal. PAULO OLIVEIRA / ALAMY
Of all the ways to transition to vegetarianism, which I am on snail’s pace doing, I just realized that the one form of animal protein that I have completely eliminated without thinking about it is fish. I cannot remember planning on doing this, but at this moment I cannot remember the last time I ate fish. It may have been 2016. But I have been conscious of the sensation every time I am grocery shopping that I avoid the fish.
Sushi was my favorite treat of a meal years ago, and while living in India we were as much pescatarian as vegetarian. But that changed with a growing awareness of the challenges related to regulating the world’s seas. So I quit eating things from it. Jennifer E. Telesca, writing in Yale e360, does not make me feel any better about this–as a data point I am exactly of zero relevance compared to the total market size–but I am gratified to see a book on a topic that will help me better quantify the reasons why exiting the market for fish is a priority:
The international commission responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin — prized for high-quality sushi — is failing to protect this magnificent fish. The regulators’ focus on fishing industry profits points up the need to change the way we view, and value, the lives of wild creatures.
In 2010, after years of global headlines highlighting the runaway harvest of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the international regulatory agency managing this endangered fish capitulated. It cut the total allowable annual catch to 12,900 metric tons, the lowest level recorded. For the world’s most valuable fish, coveted as the most succulent sushi on the planet, a return to plenty looked promising. Continue reading
Friday, one of the hotels where we operate Authentica re-opened. With not much exaggeration I can say that for hotel staff, for Amie and me, and for the Costa Rican guests we interacted with, seeing tourism start up again after three months felt emotionally kind of like this, only with serious social distancing.
Yesterday, day 2 of this experiment in moving forward, before going to greet guests at the shops we began on the land. Above is the first of what we expect to be a larger set of honey bee colonies that will pollinate our coffee and fruit trees. Amie is in beekeeping tutorial mode and after a few weeks in place it seems to my untrained eye that the bees are happy with her progress. The land surrounding the hive, and other parts of the property, have been planted with beans common to the Costa Rica diet–mostly black and red–and some special varieties that we favor, such as white and butter varieties. Those we planted first, as you can see below, are already sprouting.
While we look forward to their eventual edible state, the primary purpose of these legumes is to fix nitrogen in the soil in advance of planting when our coffee seedlings are ready. Regeneration of the nutrients will allow the soil to host the coffee we are preparing for the microlot restoration project, planned long before current crises and to bear fruit some time after we have figured out how to move on with life. For now, seeing guests again, having beans sprout and bees buzzing is good enough.
The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.
Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.
The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading
Since mentioning the new Organikos labeling and upcoming delivery of coffee in the USA we have progressed enough to predict that by sometime in July we will be shipping. The label to the left is mostly the same as three weeks ago, but now highlights the two general categories of coffee we offer. We knew one year ago that we would be featuring single estate and single region coffees from Costa Rica, but our labels did not focus attention on that as clearly as we now will. Organic, as well as Fair Trade and Decaffeinated were treated as their own categories, even though our organic is at least as special because it is a single estate. The same can be said for the two single region coffees–special for that reason but also due to their fair trade practices and decaffeination processing–so we decided to simplify the format as you see here, and can also see in the example below.
While we wait for our coffee to germinate, and for our graphic designer to complete the remaining sketches that accompany the twelve coffees, we are also finishing the structure of the e-commerce platform where the coffee can be purchased.
We started receiving requests last year from people who had bought our coffee while in Costa Rica about how to buy more and have it delivered to them. Not all of those queries were from the USA but under current circumstances it happens that fulfilling the requests in the USA is most feasible. So, we will be roasting weekly and coffee will arrive to those who order it within a few days.
If you are in the USA and you are interested in learning more about this option, please leave a message in the comment section here, or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alladale first came to my attention in 2017, several years after I had started reading about rewilding. It came to my attention because of an introduction, through a mutual friend, to the founder of Alladale. I recall finding his description of what he was doing as identical to our own work in entrepreneurial conservation. I cannot recall why we have only two prior links to Alladale in our pages, but here is one more, in the form of a 30 minute podcast and its descriptor page:
Listen to the latest episode of THE WILD with Chris Morgan!
Scottish cow at the Alladale Wilderness Reserve.
The wind is really ripping through this valley in the remote Scottish Highlands as I’m zipping along in an ATV. I’m with highlander Innes MacNeil. He’s showing me a few remaining big old trees in the area.
The trees appear like something from a Tolkien novel — remnants of a forgotten time, like a magical connection to the past. There used to be a lot more trees like these across the Highlands. These are anywhere from 250-400 years old — and many are too old to reproduce.
“So these, we would describe them as granny pines,” MacNeil says. “The ones down here in front of us are about 250 to 300 years old, just sat in the bottom of the glen.” Continue reading
Starting in 1997 I got to know the entire country of Honduras over two years while working on a sustainable tourism development project for the government. I spent more time in Tegucigalpa than anywhere else because my monthly meetings with the Ministry of Tourism were held there. While poverty was visible, the city had a charm, unique in Central America, based on its particular history. At the time I also had many students from Honduras, most from Tegucigalpa, so it was more than a workplace for me. When hurricane Mitch descended on Central America in 1998, nowhere was more devastated than Tegucigalpa; by the time my project ended in 1999 I could not picture how or if the city would recover. I have not been back since, but continued to wonder. Nando Castillo has given me part of the answer, and I thank him for the clarity of his presentation on Medium, which I recommend taking five minutes to read:
Can our cities evolve into the places we truly need?
Image: Fuad Azzad Ham
At Raíz Capital our mission is sustainable urban revitalization. Our vision is for Tegucigalpa, a community with a neglected urban core, to become the creative capital of Central America and regain its glory as a prosperous city. We are still a ways from realizing it, but this is the story of how we found that vision and began to make it come true. Continue reading
ANNALS OF OBSESSION
As climate change, disease, and political instability loom, the cricket farmers Adam Brody and Jude Tallichet, of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, find comfort in the insects they’ve raised in their homes.
When we started carrying nutrition bars made from cricket meal in our shops earlier this year, I was not prepared for how well they would catch on. We started with a small, exploratory inventory. They sold out quickly, and when we reordered more they sold out again. I had not had cricket in my diet previously, and I am still not fully there (Gricket bars being my only foray to date), but I appreciate the efforts of those entrepreneurs making the case.
Time to see what our coffee is capable of. After cleaning the last parchment off, hundreds of beans unsuitable for planting were removed. For germination we took the path with a ratio of lowest cost to highest probability of success. On the spectrum of possibilities is no seedlings in August, or more than the few thousand we expect. The area in this photo, normally with no chicken wire or covering, has for two decades served no other purpose than for our dogs to run along the ivy-covered fence line on the right, chasing the occasional passing horse or cow or car. All that running has packed the earth pretty well so we built up a base of compost and potting soil, about two feet wide and thirty feet long. Diagonally above it all is agricultural mesh, to shade the seeds and to keep the rain from washing the seeds away.
As we prepare to plant coffee Amie and I yesterday completed washing 14,000 beans, give or take, from the most recent harvest of coffee from this land where we live. As big as that number sounds, it is just a few pounds of green beans, picked from several trees that have held on over the years.
In previous years this would provide a month’s drinkable coffee, but this year we will germinate the beans instead. We selected the fully formed, unbroken beans like those above, separating out the small percentage of broken or misshapen beans like those to the right. After germination, by August we expect to have between 3,000 and 4,000 viable seedlings we will keep in a nursery. One year from now those will be saplings ready to plant in the ground. We are approaching this task traditionally, by hand, sight of eye, and a few simple analog tools.
This morning we will dig holes for the first of the shade trees going onto that land where the coffee will be planted. But first, the news. The best I could find, for motivation, involves a man temporarily in New York City, working in a museum. His work, and the exhibition he is tending to, provides me context for the countryside as it still is for many coffee farmers here, and the technology transforming the countryside for future generations. Already plenty of coffee farmers are using technology as advanced as that of the tomato man in the story below. Without romanticizing the hard labor of traditional coffee farming, the work we are doing makes me more appreciative of the coffee farmers we source from. Thanks to Elizabeth A. Harris for this story:
Although the Guggenheim’s “Countryside” show was shuttered by the pandemic, its crop of cherry tomatoes is still growing, and feeding New Yorkers.
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
The halls of the Guggenheim Museum are pretty quiet these days, with mostly just its ghosts and some security guards as company for the art.
Oh, and there’s the guy who takes care of the tomatoes.
David Litvin, an indoor crop specialist, tends the plants in a temporarily shuttered exhibition, “Countryside, The Future.” He moved to New York from Tel Aviv in February, along with his wife, Stefanie, and their Dutch shepherd, Ester, with a plan to stay six months harvesting the Guggenheim tomatoes. He was going to see the city, too.
“I went out once to a comedy bar, but that’s it,” he said.
The museum has been closed since March 13, but Mr. Litvin still walks across Central Park every day around noon from his rental on the Upper West Side to tend to his flock. “When you grow tomatoes on Fifth Avenue, you want to have the perfect tomatoes, there’s no room to mess up,” he said. “If I have ugly plants, I’ll hear it from the neighbors.” Continue reading
The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.
During those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.
I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.
We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…
The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)
When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.
Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…
I visited the Nelson-Atkins many times in recent decades when visiting family in Kansas City. I never visited the Kansas City Zoo because, while I am grateful for the essential services zoos can provide, animals in captivity generally depress me. Our son Milo and his 3-year old daughter were in Kansas City just after Amie and I visited in late February. With grand/great grand-parents they visited both the Nelson-Atkins and the Kansas City Zoo. The zoo was a huge hit with our grand-daughter, and I am grateful to that zoo for her exposure to live animals she might never otherwise get to see.
I did not know before just now what exceptions might exist to my general rule of avoiding even images of wild animals in captivity. I have discovered one. I suppose on reflection I will probably change my mind, but for now I stand by the idea that the directors of these two institutions are doing their best in tough times to find creative solutions for everyone:
Kansas City Zoo executive director Randy Wisthoff says their Humboldt penguins have missed their regular interactions with zoo visitors, so a field trip was in order.
Gabe Hopkins/The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Penguins were allowed to waddle through the galleries of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Both the museum and the Kansas City Zoo — home to the penguins — have been closed because of the pandemic.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
What a time to be a penguin.
First, a group of the flightless birds were recently allowed to roam the halls of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium — a through-the-looking-glass moment if there ever was one.
Now, penguins visited a museum for a “morning of fine art and culture.”
The outing was arranged by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Kansas City Zoo. Both institutions are closed to the public because the pandemic.
“Quarantine has caused everyone to go a little stir-crazy, even the residents of the Kansas City Zoo. So several of the penguins decided to go on a field trip to the Nelson-Atkins, which is still closed, to get a little culture,” said a caption accompanying the video. Continue reading
Marco Umaña, Santiago Adaniz, Hugo Santa Cruz and Beto Guido (from left to right) / Birding Guides in Costa Rica
My name is Hugo Santa Cruz and I’m excited to write about the Macaw Lodge Global Big Day outcomes. As I’m new to the La Paz Group site, let me introduce myself. I’m a birdwatching and neotropical ecology guide in the Central Pacific of Costa Rica and Bolivia. I’m also a nature photographer and consultant for ecotourism projects and management of protected areas.
The Global Big Day is an initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has been held since 2015, to raise awareness about the conservation of birds and their habitats. Birdwatchers and photographers from around the world contribute to the census of birds through the eBird platform; an increasingly popular citizen science management tool among birders.
Birders across the globe persisted with the Global Big Day despite the crisis caused by COVID-19, surveying birds either in literal “backyard birding“, or carefully enjoying the fresh air of parks and natural areas within access. This year’s event had record-breaking participation with more than 48,500 registrars and more than 15,000 submitted lists.
In this edition of the Global Big Day, Costa Rica registered 676 species, obtaining the seventh place worldwide among 172 participating countries. The Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve stood out among the best hotspots in the country, achieving the eighth place with 137 species of birds registered in a single day, inside our Ecological Sanctuary.
Our team of expert guides and birdwatchers began our Big Day census at 00:00 hrs., starting the first records with species of nocturnal birds. We then continued the count at dawn, moving through the different micro-ecosystems of Macaw Lodge. Continue reading
‘Hearing birdsong with such clarity has become for many a small joy and a valuable mental health boost during lockdown.’ Photograph: Alamy
Although not an experienced birder, I would call myself a proponent of ornitherapy; it makes me happy and relaxed to see and hear birds around me. I also have the good fortune to live in a country with not only a great number of birds (both species and individuals), but also an area that’s remote enough to have fairly little noise pollution. So bottom line, I hear birds all the time. In fact, at the times when they’re quiet for some reason, it feels eerily strange.
So, despite the unprecedented challenges people are currently facing around the world, I hope that occasionally there’s a moment to at least open the window and listen for the birds.
Macaw Lodge dining room observation deck, January 29, 2020
Three years ago today, a few countries north of where I type this, Team Sapsucker had excellent results on Global Big Day 2017. Today I am reporting on the efforts of one part of the Spoonbills Dream Team.
This team’s dream is spread across multiple geographies and results will be shared later. I will share what I know from Costa Rica. A few months ago, in a world that now seems far, far away Amie and I visited the farm where the cacao is grown for the farm-to-bar chocolate we offer in our shops. The farm has a lodge (or vice versa depending on your perspective), and before our visit to the cacao plantation and chocolate-making facilities we started, at dawn, on the deck of the lodge. That is what you see in the photo above. The lodge is closed at present but the deck that you see in that photo normally has birders from all over the world because of the forest conservation surrounding the cacao and the neighboring Carara National Park.
More on the cacao-growing and the chocolate-making later. Plus, this is where I first saw a melipona bee hotel and I have photos and video from the recent harvest, so more on that later also. For now, birds. Seth, in New Haven, CT USA joined this team, then asked Amie to join the team, and she asked some birding guides who work at the lodge in the cacao plantation to join the team. I am the scribe for that Costa Rica part of the team. I do not even know who else is on the team in other countries, so will leave that for Seth or Amie to report later.
For now, some photos from the location where the bird experts have spent much of their time in recent years. Continue reading