August 4. 2014

Environmentalists can be a depressing lot. Nothing seems to be good in their world. Too many people, no clean water, global warming, rising seas and toxins everywhere. I am guilty of spreading these messages on a regular basis.

But, it is worth noting some success stories during the past half-century, when people got concerned about human impacts on the planet. One of the first was built off Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which is still criticized by many, but led to banishing DDT as an insecticide in North America. DDT had been linked, albeit indirectly, to eggshell thinning on large, predatory birds that got a big dose of it from their position at the top of the food chain.

Result? Without DDT, Ospreys, Bald Eagles and pelicans have returned in good numbers to the lower 48 states, where they were nearly absent 40 years ago. The DDT story leaves a legacy of concern about endocrine disruptor chemicals that are released to the environment. We see their effects on nature, but seem less concerned about what they might do to us.

This Green Heron is fishing in an almost dry pond. The bird will sometimes use twigs to lure in fish.

Dianne Engleke is an artist, photographer and naturalist living in beautiful Dutchess County, NY.

Mercury: the element

Mercury has always held fascination for humans. Its red sulfide ore is known by the romantic name of cinnabar. Mercury metal, which we played with as kids in the 1950s, is quicksilver. It is clearly not very toxic, or I wouldn’t be writing to you. Some salts of mercury, such as mercuric chloride, are good bacterial poisons and were once used to preserve leather. The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland clearly suffered from an overdose of mercury.

'Bumblebee on Wild Bergamot. Populations of this important pollinator are declining.' -Dianne Dianne Engleke is an artist, photographer and naturalist living in beautiful Dutchess County, NY.
Bill Schlesinger's Blog

July 27, 2015- I have a confession to make. I have always spent a lot of time outdoors, doing field work and bird watching. But, I don’t like to be a meal for insects.

So I love DEET. What’s more, I believe that a lot of Americans spend a lot more time outdoors because of DEET, and that is ultimately good for the environment (see my 20 July posting here). Undoubtedly DEET has prevented cases of Lyme disease and West Nile Virus in this country, and countless cases of malaria and dengue fever in more tropical regions. Without DEET, I doubt I would have survived the field work for my Ph.D. thesis in Okefenokee Swamp.

It does worry me a bit that a strong bottle of DEET can dissolve a plastic table cloth, take the printing off a ball-point pen, and turn a plastic wine glass cloudy. But in its 60-year existence, DEET has not been found to be carcinogenic. Someday that may change, but for now, I am willing to accept the track record. My friends who alternatively slather on healthy, organic repellants and eat copious quantities of garlic are usually covered with mosquito bites.

Bill Schlesinger's Blog

July 23- For fear of neighborhood child-molesters, drug pushers, tick-borne disease, and melanoma, parents across the nation are more comfortable knowing their children are playing computer games and surfing the internet than spending time outdoors. Even programs of environmental education, often offered by not-for-profit partners of local school systems, have forsaken the concept of a field trip—driven indoors by fear of liability for accidents in the field and by competing budget and curriculum activities, including athletics.

  'The elegant Cedar Waxwing can be found here year round, feeding on berry bushes and
fruit trees.' -Dianne
Dianne Engleke is an artist, photographer and naturalist living in beautiful Dutchess County, NY.