For 100 years or more, Christmas was the scene of Christmas hunts in which hunters competed in teams to kill as many birds and animals as possible.
But by the 1900s, conservationists noticed the populations of birds were declining. That’s when ornithologist Frank M Chapman, an early organizer of the Audubon Society, proposed a new kind of hunt — a count.
The Christmas Bird Count has since spread around the world, with thousands of counters heading out between November and December to tally up the number and kinds of birds they see in their neighborhoods.
In 2005, birders counted the largest number of species ever reported in a single U.S. location, finding 250 separate species around Matagorda and Palacios, Texas.
The world record is 529 species observed Dec. 21, 2013 on the eastern shores of the Andes in Ecuador.
Bird counting is free and open to all. Counts are conducted in a count circle of 15 miles with at least 10 volunteers and a compiler.
While the counts are not an exact census, they do offer valuable insight to scientists on the health of bird populations.
Learn more and join the count at audubon.org
How farmers can adapt to changing trends in meat consumption
North American consumers are increasingly diversifying their meat consumption. Beef used to be king, but people are now eating more chicken, pork and turkey than before. Here’s how small producers can take advantage of this trend.
Diversifying the types of meat your farm produces is likely to be advantageous. This is largely due to the increasing popularity of direct buying practices through venues like farmers’ markets, which provide small producers who can’t meet supermarket quotas with a lucrative alternative for selling their products.
It’s not always possible to rapidly modify your production practices. Fortunately, gradually introducing new animals to your farm opens up a number of interesting business opportunities. Consider setting up a petting zoo or opening your farm to visitors. These are easy to organize for those with small animal populations.
Raise specialty livestock
Raising specialty animals such as rabbits, elk and bison does more than diversify what your farm produces. It also increases public interest in your petting zoo and farm visits. Plus, these meats may prove to be highly lucrative to produce.
Consumers, in addition to diversifying their meat consumption, are increasingly valuing direct purchases and transparent production practices. This is a boon to small farmers, who are uniquely positioned to profit from this emerging trend.
Harvesting grapes for wine: the ins and outs of crush season
Winemaking is both a science and an art, with many factors influencing each vintage that gets produced. While advances in technology have impacted the practices used by some modern vintners, the principles of winemaking have largely remained unchanged.
How a particular wine tastes is hugely influenced by when the fruit gets picked. On many vineyards, grapes are tested for the appropriate balance of acidity and sweetness with devices that measure sugar levels. However, some growers still use a simple taste-test. When the grapes are determined to be ready, the harvest begins.
Grapes can be picked either by hand or with mechanical harvesters. While faster, the machines tend to be harder on the fruit, and many winemakers prefer to collect their harvest manually. In order to pick the fruit in its prime, a number of vineyards rely on volunteers.
Crushing and pressing
Once the grapes have been sorted to remove any rotten or under-ripe fruit, they’re crushed and pressed. This is no longer done with the winemaker’s feet, however. Nowadays, it’s almost always completed with mechanical crushers that press the grapes into must (juice from the grapes that includes the skin and pulp).
When making white wine, the must gets filtered prior to fermentation. But to make red wine, the must is left unfiltered so that it can acquire the ideal flavoring and coloring from the skin and pulp. Once the must is prepared, the winemakers leave it to ferment for up to a month. It’s then “racked” or filtered and transferred to another vessel to age.
Volunteering and visiting
Are you interested in experiencing crush season firsthand? If so, many small wineries need help picking grapes during the harvest. In return for a day’s efforts, they often provide a hearty meal and a glass of wine.
Even if you’re not interested in volunteering, you can still visit a vineyard during the crush. In fact, it’s such an important event that many wine-growing areas host festivals to celebrate.
What public scrutiny of livestock treatment means for farmers
Increasingly, consumers are concerned about the treatment and well-being of livestock, and this concern is informing their spending habits. Here’s what this increase in public scrutiny means for farmers.
What consumers want to know
Conscientious consumers who purchase meat are typically concerned about three things: how much space the animals were given, how natural their diet was and whether or not hormones and antibiotics were used.
Because of this, meat from free-range and grass-fed animals commands a premium price on the market.
A silver lining for small producers
The bottom line is that many consumers want to know how the food they eat is produced. This is why a number of them seek out farmers’ markets, product labels and other ways of getting information about where their food comes from.
Small farm operators should view this trend as an opportunity to expand their offerings. These producers can profit from setting up agro-tourism attractions like food stands and farm visits. They can also benefit from expanding into local markets by taking part in farmer’s markets and by working closely with regional food service providers.
Some industry experts worry about the economic impact of changing production practices. However, small producers are in a unique position to take advantage of the public’s growing demand for transparency.
Data from space will improve irrigation practices
New data provided by the International Space Station’s ECOSTRESS instrument will drastically improve the efficacy of irrigation systems.
What ECOSTRESS does
The instrument was attached to the International Space Station last year and measures surface temperatures from orbit. This allows scientists to monitor the temperature of plants and determine their level of heat stress.
Even before a drought, water-stressed plants cool off less in an effort to conserve water. If they’re warmer, it means they need more water. The ECOSTRESS system can identify water-stressed plants down to a scale of 230 square feet.
Valuable information for farmers
Knowing which plants need to be watered is extremely useful for farmers who use irrigation systems, and NASA is already making this information available to them.
With the increasing scarcity of water, this new data could help farmers make the most of limited resources. More generally, the ECOSTRESS project could help identify drought-resistant species.
Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia?
Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia? If so, you’re not alone. Fear of Friday the 13th dates way back. However, the exact origins of this superstition are unclear. Some suggest that it comes from the tale of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion. Others claim that it stems from events on Friday 13, October 1307, when hundreds of Knights Templar were arrested and crucified.
Whatever the reason Friday the 13th became unlucky, it’s far from the only puzzling superstition in the world. Here are 10 others.
Receiving a knife. Has someone given you a knife as a gift? You better give them a coin in exchange, or else your friendship will be ruptured.
Opening an umbrella indoors. Why does opening up an umbrella indoors bring bad luck? The belief likely dates back to when the earliest umbrella models were sold. Their hazardous opening mechanisms and metal ribs presented a risk for fragile belongings when opened indoors.
Walking under a ladder. When you step under a ladder, some believe that you desecrate the Holy Trinity that the object forms with the ground and the wall. The ladder is, moreover, associated with death by hanging and Jesus’ crucifixion.
Breaking a mirror. In Rome, it was once believed that mirrors reflected the soul. If you broke a mirror, you damaged your soul and suffered seven years of bad luck. Why seven? The Romans believed that this was how long it took for the body to renew itself.
Cutting fingernails at night. According to the Japanese, if you cut your nails at night, you won’t be at your parents’ side when they die. Indians, on the other hand, believe it causes you to lose small, valuable objects.
Installing witch windows. In Vermont, and a number of other places, the gables of some homes have windows tilted 45 degrees to prevent witches from breaking in with their broomsticks. They’re aptly called witch windows.
Turning a loaf of bread upside down. Placing an upside-down loaf of bread on your table invites the devil into your home. This superstition dates back to the Middle Ages when executioners were presented with an upside-down loaf of bread on execution days.
Putting your purse on the ground. In Brazil, you risk ending up impoverished if you put your handbag on the ground.
Seeing a black cat. Black cats were believed to be witches’ companions and therefore evil. This was largely due to black being associated with the devil. In some cultures, black cats are thought to be harbingers of death.
Running an electric fan. In South Korea, running an electric fan in a closed room with closed windows is thought to be potentially fatal. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: Seonpoonggi samangseol, or fan death.
5 things to consider when preplanning a funeral
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable about making arrangements for your funeral. However, doing it ensures that the burden doesn’t fall on your loved ones. Here are some of the things you’ll need to make decisions about when preplanning a funeral.
1. The funeral home
If you want a traditional funeral service, you’ll need to select a venue. Factors to keep in mind when choosing a funeral home include ambiance, location and pricing.
2. Arrangements for the body
Do you want to be buried or cremated? Or maybe you’d rather donate your body to medical research? Deciding what to do with your remains will also likely involve choosing a casket or urn.
3. Presentation of the remains
You can choose to present your body at your funeral in either a closed or open casket. If you opt for an open casket, think about the clothing, jewelry and accessories to be worn.
If you want your remains to be cremated, this can take place either before or after the funeral, making presentation of the body an option regardless.
4. Type of funeral service
Funeral services can be religious affairs or simple celebrations of life. Don’t hesitate to personalize the service with a favorite piece of music, poem or bit of scripture. Be sure to also consider floral arrangements and other decor or mementos you may want present.
5. Final resting place
If you want to be buried, you’ll need to select a plot in a cemetery. If you want to be cremated, you’ll need to decide where your ashes will be placed. Your final resting place may be incorporated into your funeral service, but it doesn’t have to be.
Preplanning a funeral isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Invite a friend or family member to help you, or work with a funeral home that can walk you through the whole process.