Merlin dines on robin in front yard

Merlin on ground with robinYesterday, While meeting with a couple of people to plan the September field activities for the  Riparian habitat workshops at Onanole’s Sonics and Sojourns Festival of Learning & Music, we happened to look up from our planning discussions and saw a male merlin mantling a fresh kill.  As we watched, the merlin (a small falcon) proceeded to feed on the robin for about 20 minutes.  After this, it picked up the half-remaining body and moved to a new location for a “picnic lunch”.

Merlin with robin in talons

And, then he headed off.  Merlins typically feed on small birds (starlings, robins, finches, swallows) and small mammals, snakes, and insects.  About 80% of their diet is small birds.  When it took off with so much of the robin in its talons, I wondered whether there was a female and young at a nest that were needing to be fed.  We live on the edge of mature aspen and balsam poplars, with lots of open grassy meadows and nearby (half mile) is the south boundary of Riding Mountain National Park.  When I see this kind of amazing natural occurrence, I am deeply reminded of the depth of biodiversity we have on this planet.

It brings sharply into focus the responsibility we have to educate and inform our elected representatives to shift their policies and laws to deal with climate change.  Yvo de Boer, the UN Climate Chief offers four (4) important political essentials that we have to get right at the UN Climate Change Conference December 7 – 18, 2009.

What a great Christmas gift it would be to our children and grand-children to offer them a new global climate treaty that moves all of our countries towards a 350ppm CO2 atmospheric carbon target.  This will be the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also known as COP 15) and the 5th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 5). According to the Bali roadmap, a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012 is to be agreed upon at Copenhagen at this conference.  Maintaining a healthy atmosphere as part of our everyday community and business livelihoods contributes to biodiversity and a rich, healthy planet.

Making bread, biodiversity and spring bird songs

I am baking some fresh bread today.  A new recipe, using organic whole wheat flours from Prairie Seasons Bakery, a delightful café and bakery in Neepawa, Manitoba. In a recent search for the town to host Manitoba’s Homecoming in 2010, Neepawa received 14,000 votes, and has been awarded the grand prize of hosting Manitoba’s official 140th birthday on May 12, 2010.  Neepawa is on the road to Riding Mountain National Park. I highly recommend stopping at Prairie Seasons Bakery right on main street for a very nutritious sandwich featuring breads made with organic, local grains and local produce.  The coffee is great too.  Oh, so are the amazing baked goods.  Stock up on your way to Wasagaming Campground.

As I made my bread today, the mourning doves, clay coloured sparrows, chipping sparrows, robins, rose breasted grosbeaks and house wrens were all nattering or singing loudly.  We live not more than .5 km from the boundary of Riding Mountain National Park, a place of great biodiversity in the southern part of Manitoba, Canada.  

As I sat, drinking my coffee and waiting for the yeast to develop in the bowl, I was reading from David Suzuki’s new book The Big Picture – reflections on science, humanity, and a quickly changing planet.  I met David briefly last week in Nashville where he gave, to a standing ovation, one of the most inspiring morning talks as he introduced Al Gore to more than 500 of us from Canada and the US , who are officially trained as Climate Project presenters, participating in the Climate Change Summit.

In his chapter on “Getting to Know the Joneses” (about biodiversity, and knowing our neighbours in nature), Suzuki identified that 1,200 bird species worldwide are currently facing extinction (2004 study from Birdlife International), with some 200 on the critical list.  Why?  Largely because humans are affecting their habitats.  “Converting prairie grassland to farmland, for example, has resulted in a 60% decline in native prairie bird species”. 

Why does the protection and enhancement of bio-diversity matter?  Because on a large scale, the diversity of life on Earth underpins many of the ecosystem services that we need to survive (producing oxygen, cleansing our water systems, cleansing our air, storing carbon that prevents global warming).  Faced with a growing population of some 6.7 billion people, there has been an explosive rise in demand for energy, land, resources, and the planet’s bio-diversity is declining.  “A diversity of life has proven to be a key element of evolution and the resiliency of life on Earth over long periods of time, even through periods of great change.”

We are at an unprecedented time in the history of the Earth.  Humans are altering the earth at the same or greater levels of magnitude as geologic change – except that we are doing it in flash or a wink in geologic time, not over eons.  And, it’s impacts are being seen all over.  

I want to save the Earth.  I know that I cannot do that.  But, I want to.  And, my frustration as I kneaded out the dough that became my bread and listened to spring symphonies that reflect the presence of such biodiversity of life on Earth, was that we have a lack of leadership and action within our country right now, to address our climate change challenges.  

Our adventure company Earth Rhythms is dedicated to helping travelers experience this bio-diversity. We contribute to the Nature Conservancy which saves habitat; we live in an R-2000 home that we designed and constructed and was designed by us to have a low ecological footprint, and minimal impact on the land.  We are helping to create programming for our fall festival Sonics and Sojourns, which will celebrate bio-diversity, educate youth and adults about our emerging low carbon economy, and provide opportunities for anyone to experience nature in the fall.  I am doing a very small part to move my life towards saving the Earth.

I want to see our Canadian federal politicians making a positive contribution to the Copenhagen Climate Treaty in December by setting an aggressive target for reducing CO2 in Canada.  The US has taken a mighty step forward by creating a new climate bill (Waxman-Markey bill) that has set an ambitious and achievable 83% reduction in CO2 over 1990 levels by 2050.  

Come on Canada – let’s start putting the heat on our Canadian politicians to get with it, to create a policy environment that restores our global  leadership that we have now lost; that reflects a realization that our long-term economic health is directly linked to our long-term ecological health.  Let’s get down to making new bread, featuring prairie grains that reflect a commitment to restoration of prairie diversity, where the presence of spring bird songs will continue to mean that we have saved the Earth, together.