Not much winter, yet. The “new normal” action starts later and seems to extend into the spring. Snowdrops and pansies are flowers. If we want to change actions, attitudes must change. “All things are interconnected. Everything goes somewhere. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Nature’s bats survive. -Four Laws of Ecology attributed to Barry Kommerr.”
Use and reuse
In January, several news outlets were alarmed by images of carelessly dumped plastic choking the Drina, one of the most beautiful and beautiful rivers in the Balkans.
Who carelessly throws all this away, and what else is being thrown away? Here on the island – we are. The island is increasingly prone to flooding; Plastics and garbage and PFAS wash and slosh with the water, the water table or ocean that always needs its level.
All plastics contain toxins and harm our environment and expose us to a wide range of health problems that we – all of us – cannot avoid. A few examples of harm: nanoplastics in baby placentas, pollution, endocrine disruption, cost and waste disposal logistics, cancer. think about.
Suggestions for serious winter reading: “The History of Things,” by Annie Leonard; “Cradle to Cradle”, William McDonough and Michael Braungart. These show the way forward, and much, much more. Developing ways to limit, use and reuse them all, using as many iterations as possible, are ways to become more plastic-conscious islanders.
Rats and raptors
Encouraging the island population of owls, especially barn owls, through habitat protection and building nest boxes will help control island rats.
When they built their barn, our owl-loving neighbors up the mountain installed an owl box. Barn owls eventually moved in and produced four barn owls last year, which may have dispersed around the area, as another nest box nearby was recently rented. I picked up books out of curiosity to inform myself more.
My first subhead was pedestrian: “Barn Owls”, but “Rats and Raptors” is more interesting. Rat infestations have become an island-wide problem, and raptors, a group of raptors with sharp claws and claws, are part of the solution. However, Gus quotes Ben David as saying, “The hunters do not control the hunters.” It is the prey that controls the predator.
From the compact to the humble, no family or yard is affected by rodent problems. You name it – voles, rats, chipmunks and mice are causing problems on Island and Down Island. Rat damage to crops is especially painful for tomato growers. But when rats live in the country, even our cars can be damaged!
Many issues, as horticulturists and farmers understand, represent problems of unbalanced ecosystems, problem systems, and responses to so-called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) measures.
Are garbage disposals part of this? Is there a good crop that supports mice in berries and seeds? Do bird feeders encourage rodent population explosions? Are indoor compost piles adding to the problem? Do broadleaf groundcovers such as vinca and English ivy contribute?
Is the decline in the raptor population graph equal to the rise in the rodent population graph? Are rat populations improving before control measures? (Incidentally, New York City rats have developed a taste for dog milk and are said to be thriving on it!)
Egyptian cat worship? Cheering on coyotes? Despite the near-universal complaints across the island, there are no easy answers. Of course, many start using poison baits, the short-term answer: eventually they fail to make teeth and – “everything goes somewhere” – they add toxins up the food chain. Eventually they return to bite non-target wildlife, our pets or ourselves.
Many islanders have been captured by Felix-necked barn owls with video cameras in their nests or have heard of barn owls at other island farms. But he may have thought that providing nesting opportunities would require comparable spaces.
Not so. According to the Three Borrowed Owl Books, barn owls (not seen) occur worldwide except in Antarctica, and are comfortable nesting in built-up areas if they find suitable habitat. Although there are fewer of these now than in the “old days”, a rat-infested shed or barn is extremely suitable.
Barn owl populations are declining in many parts of the country, as seen here, due to changing winter weather, a lack of nesting and foraging conditions, as well as the effects of pesticides in the food chain.
Nesting owls use tree holes that woodpeckers dig in mature forest. Barn owls usually pair for life and accept a variety of nesting opportunities, including holes in trees, rocks and rocky areas, buildings and barns, ridges and nest boxes. Installing nesting boxes may not lead to immediate settlement – this may take time, but that is no reason not to take the first steps.
Barn owls, being a colonial species, are even tolerant of sharing their territory with other barn owls. While most owls roost during the day and feed at night, barn owls prefer open areas such as meadows and grasslands or marshes.
Owls as integrated pest management
Integrated pest management (IPM) attempts to use known ecological components, such as predators, to address nuisance problems such as rodents. I want to give a shout out to BiodiversityWorks: biodiversityworksmv.org, an island-wide non-profit that studies bio-life and may be the best place to track barn owls and their IPM opportunities.
Ben David mentions the importance of voles as prey for barn owls; And the numbers of those owls tend to decline rapidly as we face a snowy winter. Voles stay under the snow, rolling back and leaving tracks after the snow melts. Barn owls cannot hunt them, under the snow, and as a result, starvation reduces their numbers.
Nine other owl species, all members of the Strigidae family, (two of which are endangered or in need of special attention) live here. They join island barn owls (family Tytonidae) in eco-mouse hunting, either as perpetuators or as scavengers. All rabbits, small fish, reptiles and amphibians, insects, bats and birds like diurnal raptors appreciate a good number of common small rodents.
Can we look to the 4-H clubs or MVRHS’s VocEd program for an owl nest box building project in an unfinished barn? (Offer them for sale on Earth Day?) Linked PDF contains construction details: bit.ly/Barn_Owl_Box.