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Feb 072014

Green Right Now Reports

There’s little doubt that the massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River that began Sunday and has continued intermittently this week released serious contaminants into this water source used by cities downstream.

Duke Energy, owner of the pipeline that cracked open spilling more than 80,000 tons of stored toxic coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of water, has admitted that the accident spewed a brew of dangerous chemicals.

Among the most concerning of those compounds are toxic metals, such as arsenic.

Dan River, coal ash sludge 2014.02.06 WKA Dan River (61 of 67)

The coal ash spill left a grayish scum on the Dan River. (Photo: Waterkeeper)

On Thursday, Duke and state officials with the North Carolina Department of the Environment, issued reports that water sampling shows the levels of the arsenic and other toxics were sufficiently being diluted in the river.

State tests for several water quality parameters, “including 17 metals, show no violations of state water quality standards for most samples taken Monday and Tuesday near the site of the coal ash spill in Eden,” the NCDENR reported.

The state sampling of water was taken upstream and, according to news reports, about two miles downstream of the spill.

In addition, a safety check of water exiting the water treatment plant at Danville, about 20 miles downstream, indicated that water treatment was working to cleanse the water of contaminants, officials said.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, however, didn’t come to such a happy conclusion. Testing the water on Tuesday, albeit within feet of where the spill enters the river instead of two miles away, found levels that exceed the safe thresholds for the arsenic and other compounds.

Waterkeeper reported its findings Friday:

“A certified laboratory analysis of Waterkeeper’s samples, completed today, reveals that the water immediately downstream of Duke Energy’s ash spill is contaminated with extremely high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals typically found in coal ash.”

Waterkeeper compared water upstream of the spill, which could be assumed to be unaffected, with water immediately downstream of the spill, and found that arsenic levels there were 30 times higher; chromium was 27 times higher and lead levels were 13 times higher.

Arsenic, to take just one of those toxic metals, is considered safe only at a 10 parts per billion or less, according to the EPA. That’s because arsenic is extremely detrimental to human health. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause paralysis or blindness; lesser or longterm exposure has been linked to cancers of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate, according to the EPA.

According to Waterkeeper, the lethal metals contained in the coal ash spill are virtually certain to kill life within the river.

Arsenic is a toxic metal commonly found in coal ash and is lethal in high concentrations. The .349 mg/L concentration found in Waterkeeper’s sample is greater than EPA’s water quality criterion for protection of fish and wildlife from acute risks of injury or death. It is more than twice as high as EPA’s chronic exposure criterion for fish and wildlife, and is almost 35 times greater than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard that EPA considers acceptable in drinking water.

The watchdog group also noted that the heavy metals released into the river tend to persist in the river and remain in the food chain.

“They will stay in the river, in its sediment, and in the bodies of fish and other animals for a long time to come,” the group noted in a statement Friday.

For the record, the NCDENR did not say that the Dan River is completely in the clear. The  department is awaiting the results of further tests on metals to determine the levels of boron, titanium, vanadium, iron, cobalt, beryllium, strontium and more in the river, which flows near the border of North Carolina and into Virginia, where it’s tapped by municipalities.

Dan River sign irony

Sign irony (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance)

In addition, the NCDENR will be looking at fallout from the spill that might have settled on the river bottom.

“The Dan River does not have a clean bill of health,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. “We continue to monitor the situation and are especially concerned about the deposition of coal ash residuals in the sediments underlying the Dan River and how that could affect the long-term health of the river.”

Waterkeeper chided the state, however, for not getting test results published more quickly.

“The fact that four days after the spill the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources has been unable to obtain heavy metals water test results is inexcusable,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Staff Attorney, Peter Harrison. “It’s an abject failure of government to do it’s job of protecting the public when citizen groups are able to obtain water quality data faster than regulators- even when state officials waited more than 24 hours to alert the public to the spill.”

Duke, meanwhile, has said it will continue to share its sampling tests with the NCDENR and the US EPA. It reported Friday that crews are making progress in slowing the leak from the buried broken pipe, and containing the attached waste coal ash ponds. Workers are diverting coal ash into a catch basin, Duke reported.

“Overnight, crews used pumps to move the ash basin water that was pooling around the break in the stormwater pipe into a secondary pond,” said Paul Newton, Duke Energy president – North Carolina. “Today crews nearly completed a temporary ramp into the ash basin to the area where they will work to permanently seal the pipe. That work continues overnight.”

Feb 052014

Green Right Now Reports

Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming homeowners whose water has been contaminated by gas fracking operations called on Congress today to hold hearings about what they see as the natural gas industry’s widespread negative impacts on water, air and communities.

Gasland Part II -- Steve Lipsky of Texas

Steve Lipsky’s water demo. Drillers say the flames are caused by naturally occurring methane. Lipsky says his water was fine before drilling nearby, but not afterward.

They also called on the EPA to reopen cases where communities or residents have lost their once-clean water after drillers blasted water and chemicals deep into underground shale deposits to obtain gas in a process known as “fracking.” Already, last fall, some 250,000 Americans submitted public comments as part of a drive to get the EPA to reopen its investigations.

Speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill, the residents said they’re sick and tired of hearing officials doubt that their water wells were contaminated by drillers when EPA, state and private reports all verify that many dangerous chemicals appeared in their water after wells were “fracked” nearby.

The cases the residents want reopened include sites near Dimock, PA; Pavilion, WY and Fort Worth, TX.

Earlier this week, 200 organizations that oppose fracking submitted a letter to President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asked them to meet with the victims of fracking-related water contamination.

In Dimock Township, 19 families remain without water after drilling operations nearly five years ago apparently contaminated water wells, said rural Dimock resident Roy Kemble.

“We still do not have water,” he said, explaining that his household is served by tanks of water and bottled water.

“I’m tired of trucking water in, when I had a perfectly good well. I’m tired of buying bottled water too,” he said, noting that his house, once worth $400,000 is now “worth zero” because it has no clean water supply.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which drilled in the Dimock region, has said the methane in rural residents’ water occurred naturally.

In 2010, the EPA investigated and found that wells had been contaminated and ordered Cabot to supply residents with replacement water. But the agency later pronounced the water to be OK.

Gas Fractivists in DC, Feb 2014

Residents affected by gas fracking at the DC hearing. (Kemble is in the light blue shirt. Fenton is wearing a cowboy hat.)

Fracking opponents at Wednesday’s gathering noted that the EPA also withdrew from cases of water contamination in Pavilion, WY, where the agency turned the matter over to the state, and in the Parker County case, which also was given to the state.

But the states are not ameliorating the situation. The local investigation in Wyoming is ongoing, and partially funded by Encana, the very firm that is accused of causing fracking pollution, said John Fenton, head of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, which is seeking remediation.

In Texas, the Parker County case has morphed into a lawsuit in which the drilling company is suing the landowner, who has accused the drillers of ruining his water supply. That landowner, Steve Lipsky, was at the hearing, but said he was limited in what he could say by the court case. His case is detailed in the film, Gasland II, by Josh Fox, which tracks cases of water contamination across the U.S.

In the film, Lipsky famously demonstrates how he can light a fire at the end of a water hose, mirroring a similar demon of a kitchen tap bursting into flames in Pennsylvania in the first Gasland film.

Fox, who was also at the hearing, echoed the residents in complaining that Congress has been ignoring the damage being caused by fracking.

“We need someone in the Senate or the House to come forward and say we need to have citizen hearings in the House and the Senate. These people [the families whose water has been contaminated] know their reports backwards and forwards….The point is the science is there and we need some power to come in here and bring it to bear.”

Pavilion landowner John Fenton said officials have been blinded by the influence of the natural gas industry and have forgotten that this is a “we the people country.”

“Support the people you’re supposed to support,” he exhorted lawmakers, who weren’t actually in the room, but nearby in the Capitol.

“Take the dollar bills out from in front of your eyes and look at the people who live with this day in and day out, and find out that this is not the heaven on earth the gas industry has said it is,” Fenton said.

During a discussion of how other businesses might be affected by fracking contamination, Fenton noted that the Angus cattle drinking the water that’s been contaminated in Pavilion will someday be someone’s steak.

Ultimately, the US is trading its well-being and health for profits that don’t even come back to US communities, said Kemble and another affected landowner Craig Stevens, who added that many natural gas companies have begun exporting their product.

Fracking is becoming a problem around the world, and before long it will affect everyone, Kemble predicted.

“Water is life and we’re a closed loop system….We have to protect the planet,” he said.

“We have a right to water and it’s being totally ignored,” said Stevens, a sixth generation Susquehanna County, PA, landowner and founder of Marcellus Patriots for Land Rights.

Competition for water also came up as another way that natural gas drilling hurts communities. While they didn’t mention the reported tensions between gas drillers and ranchers in Texas over the 4-6 million gallons of water being used to drill each well, Lipsky alluded to the difficulty of allotting so much water to fracking.

“We don’t have the water to waste on it in Texas,” he said.

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D) of Pennsylvania’s 17th District hosted the hearing at the Cannon House Office Building.

Jeremy Marcus, an aide to Cartwright spoke at the hearing, saying that some members of Congress still seem to believe the gas companies’ marketing pitch that there’s never been “a single” instance of water contamination from fracking.

“We hear at every hearing that there’s not been a single case of contamination due to fracking . . . There are dozens and dozens of cases that have been verified that there is contamination,” he said.

Jan 132014

The Guardian optimistically reported over the weekend that Asia is starting to share the West’s disgust with shark-finning, a change that could be very good for the millions of sharks who face slaughter at sea every year just so someone can enjoy shark-fin soup.

John Vidal writes:

Shark, Discovery

(Photo: Discovery Channel)

“Six months after China banned the soup from all official banquets, the price of fins has fallen by 20-30% in Hong Kong, Macau and other major fishing markets. Some specialist restaurants in Beijing have changed their menus or closed down, and airlines and hotel chains have stopped serving the soup. Meanwhile, in Europe, California and elsewhere, loopholes that allowed shark finning to continue have been closed.”

All this represents major progress, because even though shark-fin soup is considered a delicacy, a dish reserved for celebrations and the upper classes, there’s been plenty of demand for shark fins. An estimated 75 to 100 million are believed to be killed each year just for their fins, which are sliced off at sea while the rest of the shark is left to die.

This brutal practice has been outlawed by countries around the world, including the oft laissez faire United States. Now that China is signing on to shark-conserving practices, the apex predators may have a chance to recover.

Dozens of environmental groups have been working to save sharks, many species of which are now critically endangered.

The group WildAid launched a “I’m FINished with Fins” campaign in Mainland China this past fall, recreating an effort that had already begun in Hong Kong, to raise awareness about the dire impacts of finning. The group signed up local celebrities and dignitaries to publicly pledge that they will refuse to eat shark fins, including the members of “Happy Camp,” a popular TV show in China, He Jiong, Xie Na, Li Weijia, Wu Xin, and Du Haitao.

WildAid reported in the fall that the South China Morning Post and the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong say that shark fin imports have declined from 10,292 tons to 3,087 tons from 2011 to 2012.

Sales of shark fin were down in 2013 by 50 percent, according to the chairman of the Hong Kong-based Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association, who was quoted in the South China Morning Post .


Jan 102014

From Associated Press

Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators canceled the day’s business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties.

The chemical that spilled into the river, contaminating drinking water, is 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, which is used as a foaming agent in processing coal. It is considered harmful if swallowed or inhaled, though it may not be lethal.

It’s believed that at least 5,000 gallons of the toxic chemical escaped into the river.

On Friday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for the Charleston-area counties affected.

He earlier issued an order to customers of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.

“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” water company president Jeff McIntyre said. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.”


Jan 102014

Across Africa, the mighty lion is in decline. Under pressure from illegal hunters and loss of habitat, the lions’ population has slipped to less than 35,000 across territory that represents only 25 percent of its historic range.

The picture’s even worse for lions in West Africa, according to a study published this week.

Lion_in_masai_mara Wikimedia

Lions are in decline across Africa, and on the verge of extinction in West Africa. (Photo: Wikimedia)

There, researchers found that lions have dwindled to critically endangered levels with only an estimated 400 still roaming what was once a a well-populated territory for lions. Only 250 or so of that number were considered to be of breeding age.

In the study, experts sought to define the lion’s modern range and take their census in West Africa. They had hoped to find them living in 21 areas across 11 nations, areas called out for the study because they represented the West African lion’s historical range. But after five years, lions could be confirmed to occupy only four of the study areas, in pockets in Niger and Senegal, leaving the study team bitterly disappointed.

“When we set out in 2006 to survey all the lions of West Africa, the best reports suggested they still survived in 21 protected areas,” explained Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel, who led the study, The lion in West Africa is critically endangered, published in PLOS One.

“We surveyed all of them, representing the best remaining lion habitat in West Africa. Our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals.”

The team determined that the West African lion has characteristics that make it distinct from lions in Eastern Africa, and called for stronger conservation programs.

“We encourage revision of lion taxonomy, to recognize the genetic distinctiveness of West African lions and highlight their potentially unique conservation value,” they wrote in their findings. “Further, we call for listing of the lion as critically endangered in West Africa, under criterion C2a(ii) for populations with <250 mature individuals. Finally, considering the relative poverty of lion range states in West Africa, we call for urgent mobilization of investment from the international community to assist range states to increase management effectiveness of PAs [protected areas] retaining lions.”

Lions status in West Africa

Dark areas show the few remaining areas occupied by West African lions.

The survey received funding from National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI), as did an earlier study by Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The Duke study determined that lions had lost 75 percent of their habitat across the African savannah.

Learn more about Panthera’s lion conservation efforts in Project Leonardo.

Jan 082014

Polar Vortex in U.S. May be Example of Global Warming (via Climate Central)

By Andrew Freedman Follow @afreedma While the ongoing cold snap is breaking records from Minnesota to Florida, it will not go down in history as the most significant Arctic outbreak in U.S. history, not even by a longshot. Scientists said the deep freeze…

Continue reading »

Jan 082014

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Midwest Jan 6 White Out 2014

A NASA satellite captured this Midwest “white out” on Jan. 6, 2014, showing us what the polar vortex and biggest storm of 2014 so far looked like from above Earth. You can make out the Great Lakes, or at least two of them.

Our current blast of extreme cold weather doesn’t seem to fit into the “global warming” story, except that it’s quite likely that the polar vortex visitation is a function of the warming Arctic circle.

Essentially, warmer air over the northern arctic regions forces new wind patterns, in this case, the shift is sustaining a deep dip in the jet stream that crosses North America. The result, well, you’re living it. Kentucky meet Canada. Brrr.

In fact, this phenomenon is no surprise to climate scientists; it’s part of the changing air currents that also are bringing heavy precipitation, deluges even, during all seasons to the US Midwest and Northeast. Hence, this area of the US has been experiencing big snow events and heavy summer storms and flooding.

Read more from Climate Central, which has one of the most complete stories explaining the current polar vortex phenomenon.

Dec 182013

Center for Bio Endangered Species Condoms - Leatherback-preGreen Right Now Reports

The Center for Biological Diversity would appreciate a little less human fecundity.

But it’s not asking. The Center is offering direct assistance. This year it will again distribute 25,000 free, colorful Endangered Species-branded condoms to raise awareness about how the runaway human population threatens all other populations.

With more than 200,000 people added to the planet every day, wildlife is being squeezed out of habitat and left with diminished food resources. Young people could help if they thought more about their own population plans. At least that’s the message. Make merry! But show restraint.

The CBD, which advocates for endangered and threatened wildlife and plants, has been celebrating the holidays with this unique campaign since 2009.

This year’s, um, packages feature six endangered species, the polar bear, snowy plover, leatherback turtles, panthers, hellbender lizards and the dwarf seahorse. They are being distributed by hundreds of volunteers around the country at holiday parties, churches, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, skate parks, health clinics and yoga studios.

“The Earth’s population now tops 7 billion people, and that has a huge impact on wildlife, climate and the resources we all need to survive,” said Taralynn Reynolds, population and sustainability organizer at the Center, in a statement.

“These are big issues that need to be talked about, and the Endangered Species Condoms give people a fun, unique way to start the conversation.”

Dec 062013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Hunters have killed 299 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, as the trophy hunting season approaches its rough midpoint later this month.

Wolves in Lamar Canyon (Photo: Marc Cooke, Wolves of the Rockies)

Wolf in Lamar Canyon (Photo: Marc Cooke, Wolves of the Rockies.)

Even more have been killed in the Upper Midwest, where trophy hunting of wolves also is underway. But one ecosystem at a time. First, the Rocky Mountain gray wolves.

Trapping is beginning in the three states and will add to those kill totals in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (tallied through Dec. 6). One can envision that if the season proceeds apace, 500 to 600 wolves will be killed, perhaps more. Last year, the total “harvest” for the season was 611 wolves in the three states. Some pups were born in the interim, but now another 600 wolves are facing the bullet (or a leg trap) in the 2013-2014 hunting.

That would mean that more than one-third of the estimated 1,600 wolves (+ an unknown number of pups) in the three-state region will be gone. (That 1,600 population estimate is the number believed to be alive at the end of 2012, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).)

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that pretty soon state wildlife officials could get their wish of managing the wolf population down to about 400 animals in the three-state region. Their justification for keeping the wolf numbers low: wolves prey on livestock. It’s a real problem. At their peak, wolves killed hundreds of cattle and calves annually in the three states, according to federal officials.

Wildlife experts say the predation is exaggerated, with some cattle deaths attributable to other factors. In addition, wolf kills of livestock, they say, could be reduced by better managing grazing on public lands and through the use of fladry to frighten the wolves away from herds. Oregon, which passed a coexistence law, is trying to establish a more tolerant approach that provides for wolves and ranches.

But there’s another facet to the wolf debate. Hunters are worried that wolves may be the reason elk herds have declined in some areas. The reasons for the periodic dips, though, are likely multi-faceted, with elk herds suffering from disease and bad weather.

For hunters, this third wolf season is a big victory, except for that Catch-22 that the aggressive wolf killing may extinguish the opportunity for more of the same in the near future. But for the moment, the wolf is a new trophy animal to pursue. Like other trophy targets, such as the black bear and the mountain lion, wolves are killed for sport, for bragging rights, as compared with deer or elk hunting, which fills freezers with meat.

Conservationists are worried about the Rocky Mountain wolves. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, The Center for Biological Diversity and the National Wildlife Federation are all fighting to restore protections for the wolves, or at least stop the pending removal of protections nationwide.

Wolves in Yellowstone, NPS photo

Wolves in Yellowstone (Photo: National Park Service)

Many don’t believe the Rocky Mountain wolf population, which might have reached about 2,000 at its peak three to five years ago, was sufficiently recovered to sustain the bombardment of hunters. They think hunting will at best drive the wolves into remote regions, where they may or may not survive and will lack important genetic breeding connections to other packs; at worst, bring on a second extinction of the wolves in the lower 48 states. In the latter scenario, history would repeat itself, with hunters and trappers annihilating the wolves in the lower 48 states as they did in the first half of the 20th Century. (A sliver population survived in Northern Minnesota and Michigan.)

Most importantly, the conservation groups say the focus on killing predators overlooks their importance in healthy ecosystems. Sierra explains this on their website:

Wolves are vitally important to maintaining the natural balance, culling out weak and sick animals to keep populations of elk and deer healthy and in check. The rippling benefits of wolf reintroduction can be seen throughout the region– from the reappearance of willow and aspen trees, to the return of beavers, and increased populations of red foxes.

Managing the wolves “down” also ignores that this wild animal once counted the entire country as its native range, notes the Center for Biological Diversity, which is fighting the Obama Administration proposal to lift protections for wolves across the rest of the U.S. (In addition to the three Rocky Mountain states, the FWS has delisted the wolf in Minnesota, Wyoming and Michigan, where hunting also has commenced.)

The Center maintains that wolves are entitled to more space and also that a more tolerant policy toward them would benefit many species.

Since the original wolf recovery plans were written in the 1980s, we’ve learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs. We know, for example, that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation — which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves — and pronghorn and foxes that are aided by wolves’ control of coyote populations.

After their mass extinction in the 20th Century, the gray wolves were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973 and reintroduced into the Rocky Mountain West in the mid-1990s.

Within a decade it was clear the animals were thriving in the wild spaces of Idaho, Montana and to a lesser extent Wyoming. The habitat was perfect. The wolves were able to live off their preferred natural prey, the elk.

But as the wolves recovered, ranchers experienced their presence as a nuisance or deadly threat, depending on the situation. The wolves preyed on cattle, though environmentalists noted that often lethal encounters took place on public lands  near wilderness, and during calving season, drawing the wolves into a situation that could have been obviated by keeping the cattle on fenced or guarded private property.

Wolf pups (Photo: Larry Allen)

Wolf pups are expected to regenerate the population, but will they? (Photo: Larry Allen)

Federal and state game officials decided the wolves had become too successful and after several years of trying, they succeeded in removing the wolves from the ESA list, clearing them for hunting. Environmentalists protested, saying the rugged mountain landscape needed this apex predator, who had fit neatly back into the wild ecosystem. But by 2011, the wildlife conservationists lost their last court challenge. The wolves were returned to state management and transitioned from sheltered to trophy animal status, with a number or quota on their back.

The hunts began and even Yellowstone Park quickly lost radio-collared wolves that had been studied by biologists and photographed by tourists for years. The wolves were fair game when they stepped out of the park, where hunting is not allowed. Rifle fire brought down the legendary ’06, a beloved Alpha female that had been the pride of the park.

Meanwhile, in another ecosystem, the Upper Midwest, wolf hunts also began as the FWS lifted wolf protections for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. At this point in the 2013 season, 27 wolves out of a quota of 132 have been killed in Minnesota; 219 out of a quota of 251 in Wisconsin and 19 out of a quota of 43 in Michigan, where there are many fewer wolves. Grand total in the Upper Great Lakes wolf hunting territories: 370. (The hunting quotas have been less aggressive relative to the total population in Minnesota, but wolf hunting has been controversial with conservationists questioning, and sometimes protesting, game officials.)

With wolf hunting underway in the states where the wolves mainly reside, the Obama Administration officially proposed lifting ESA protections for all wolves in the lower 48 states (except for a small section of AZ and NM where the Mexican wolf struggles near extinction). This proposal has been hugely upsetting to environmentalists, who had hoped the animals would be allowed to randomly reestablish themselves in states like California, Utah and Colorado or New York, where wooded, mountainous areas offer ideal habitat, but which have not had wolf populations for decades. Wolf migration into potentially “friendly” states would give the wolves a foothold on survival, they say.

The public has until Dec. 17 to comment on the plan to lift protections across the U.S. The Center for Biological Diversity has set up a protest letter for use by those who support wolf conservation.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Dec 062013

With much of the U.S. under snow, it’s time to make sure your bird feeder is filled.

Snow Day 10

An assertive Blue Jay, first at the trough.

Even if you don’t have an official feeder, no worries. Just get the seeds or suet out there somehow.

We have a bird feeder that’s often raided by squirrels, and so this morning we supplemented the offerings in our yard with simple pie tin of black oil seeds. We placed it beneath a tree where the birds have been sheltering. Within minutes, it had visitors.

The squirrels will eventually find this food too, so it could be a free-for-all later on. Still, we’ve counted four species of birds — the Blue Jay, cardinals and a couple varieties of nuthatches – that are staking turf nearby and taking turns at the seeds.

Here are a few tips from the Audubon Society to best assist the birds:

  • Provide a variety of quality seeds and also fresh drinking and bathing water (the latter is more for warm months).
  • Make sure there’s ample cover, preferably provided by native plants. Native plants also provide potential nesting sites and a source of natural food.
  • Be mindful that windows present a hazard; keep feeders a safe distance away.

Cardinal waiting his turn.

Audubon also has posted a list of the seeds that birds like, explaining what works best for different species and how to handle suet and peanut butter so these needed fatty foods are digestible.

Here are some short recipes from Audubon for creating hearty winter bites for birds:

Peanut butter pudding: Peanut butter is a good substitute for suet in the summer. Mix one part peanut butter with five parts corn meal and stuff the mixture into holes drilled in a hanging log or into the crevices of a large pinecone. This all-season mixture attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and occasionally warblers.

Fruit for berry-eating birds: Fruit specialists such as robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds rarely eat birdseed. To attract these birds, soak raisins and currants in water overnight, then place them on a table feeder, or purchase blends with a dried fruit mixture. To attract orioles and tanagers, skewer halved oranges onto a spike near other feeders, or provide nectar feeders.

Nectar for hummingbirds: Make a sugar solution of one part white sugar to four parts water. Boil briefly to sterilize and dissolve sugar crystals; no need to add red food coloring. Feeders must be washed every few days with very hot water and kept scrupulously clean to prevent the growth of mold. (Many hummingbirds over winter in Southern states, so people in Austin and Phoenix and similar locales should consider keeping their feeders up year round.)