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 Hawkwatchers on the summit of Mount Watatic

They’re baaack … like that line from Gremlins, people are beginning to clog the roads to ooh and aah at the fall foliage. For several years, I lived out along the Mohawk Trail and had a bird’s-eye view of the annual ritual. In good seasons, the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Massachusett Route 2 would stretch far into the hills and long after dark their headlights would wind through the valleys. Getting anywhere isn’t half the battle, it is the battle. There’s a festive atmosphere to everything, with tourists stopping at roadside stands to buy pumpkins, apple cider and whatever else the locals had to sell. Armies of photographers would line up at favorite spots to capture the colorful landscape. In bad weather, however, the atmosphere would be distinctly different, looking more like a dysfunctional family festival. Parents tight-lipped and glaring at each other. Adolescents pouting, with arms crossed, pretending they weren’t related to anyone in sight. Younger children whining to let everyone know they wanted to be somewhere else.

Anyway, this year looks to be a spectacular year for colorful foliage, thanks to the wet summer we had here. Farmers are reporting a pumpkin shortage, because the pumkin crop got a late start and it seems the foliage may be changing a bit early. On the other hand, we have a bumper crop of acorns and apples.

One of my favorite seasonal activities is to devote a liesurely afternoon to hawk-watching. Here in Central Massachusets, we’re blessed with a number of good vantage points, most notably Mount Watatic and Mount Wachusett. I went up to Mount Watatic, which straddles the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border in Ashby and Ashburnham last Sunday, a spectacularly clear and beautiful day. There were plenty of hikers … the small lot at the base was full and cars were parked for a long way along both sides of Route 119. What was especially nice was to see the numbes of families out to enjoy the afternoon. This was paticularly heartening, because both the Red Sox and Patriots were playing that afternoon which tends to keep people inside.

The number of hawks seemed to be a bit sparse this year, a few broadwings and an osprey were all I could readily identify. There were a few others that I didn’t get a good enough view of to identify. I figured I may have missed the peak of the migration, until one of the other hawkwatchers up there remarked that there didn’t seem to be as many this year, and this was his fourth or fifth trip up. He had just come back from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where he had also gone for some hawkwatching. Now there’s a dedicated birder.

With a few hearty Yo-Ho-Hos and no doubt a few bottles of rum to wash it down, the Connecticut Legislature has voted to do away with the Long Island Sound Fund along with another twenty or so other good ideas. Since its inception in 1994, the sale of special license plates has generated $5 million for a host of conservation and educational programs. So why would they do this?

Their answer is as disarmingly simple as that of the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks – because that’s where the money is. Faced with serious budget challenges, Connecticut’s lawmakers cast their jaundiced eyes on these funds and decided they could be better used elsewhere.

In an effort to mollify the concerns of conservationists, who fear that the loss of these dedicated revenues will mean the loss of many valuable programs, Gov. Jodi Rell offered this bit of SarahPalinesque logic in a prepared statement from her office: “The Sound is a unique and precious natural resource that is a part of what makes Connecticut such a special place to live. In the absence of the Long Island Sound Fund, we will seek out any and all opportunities to attract Federal and other dollars to fund important projects related to the Sound while making the best use possible of the dollars we have.”

So why not put the pinch on the landed gentry who have so jealously guarded their beaches from public access all these years?

And in a bit of what seems perilously close to fraud, the state will continue to sell these special license plates at their premium prices, even though after October 1, the money won’t be going to the purposes for which they were originally created.

The headline in today’s Helsingin Sanomat had me reaching for my Finnish-English dictionary. Sure enough, that’s what it said. Killer snails. I was just there last month and nobody warned me about them. I had to read on.

The online article was fairly short, saying only that the slug posed a serious threat to crops, that it had first been found in Finland about 10 years ago, and now it appears to be there to stay. Eradication is no longer possible. I had to find out more, and so I cruised through several websites.

The article was about the Arion vulgaris, commonly called the Spanish slug, and often nicknamed the Killer slug for its voracious appetite. Native to the Iberian peninsula, it has been spreading north and westward through Europe.

I wondered whether it had made its way to North America, but apparently not yet. However, we have our own snail pests to worry about. On the UConn Integrated Pest Management website there are warnings to be on the lookout for the Cryptomphalus aspersus or Brown Garden Slug. This one seems to have originated in the Mediterranean region and was first found on the New Jersey shore about 10 years ago. It has spread to various regions. In California, it causes $7 million in crop damage annually.

Also today, the Portland (Maine) Herald reported that a new Hemlock pest was found in Kennebunkport. Great White Sharks are cruising off the Cape Cod shore even as I write this. Communities are preparing to do battle against the Asian Long-horned Beetle.

And I thought Jaws was scary. Will this never end?

I came across a few signs of hope toay. First, I read a report that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wants to build some wind turbines on the campus of Mount Wachusett Community College. That school, by the way, has done a lot of innovative work in green technologies, but more on that another time. Lately, a lot of places near me have been toying with the idea of solar panels and wind turbines … even the principal at the school where I teach was asking about the feasiblity of something like that for our school. That will be fodder for this blog for sometime … maybe fodder for a separate blog.

 

But there’s still work to be done. I teach something called Technology Education, and today I asked a group of 5th and 6th graders if they knew anything about Earth Day. Not a single one had heard of it. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

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