A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Happy Birds

by Maria Reidelbach   

The Eastern Bluebird is not only New York’s official state 
bird, but two-thirds of its diet is insects—a great friend to 
have around!
I think amateurs get a bad rap—the phrase “just an amateur” telegraphs all the negative cultural attitudes about lack of skill, quality, and commitment. However, the root of the word, amare, is Latin for “love.” That’s why true amateurs do what they do—not for money, not for fame, not for power, but for love. Isn’t this the most noble of motives?

One of the many places where amateurs make a real contribution to the world is in science. A great example of this is a BioBlitz—a 24-hour event where teams of volunteers, both professional and amateur, work together to compile a complete census of flora, fauna, and fungi within a specific area. These lists help environmental and other scientists keep tabs on what’s going on and, repeated over time, reveal changes in populations.

You, too, can become a “citizen scientist,” at a new website that is a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. YardMap is designed to gather information about bird habitats and populations all over the United States. It’s fun and easy to do. Sign up, then find your home on the Google Map that’s embedded in the site. The map is one of those awesome detailed satellite views where you can almost see your neighbor standing in their driveway sneaking a smoke—as well as your house, garden, parking area, and other features of your place. YardMap supplies tools so that you can outline your property, and then add all the elements—things like buildings, pavement, lawn, trees, edible and flower gardens, even brush piles, compost heaps, rain barrels, and windmills. I have a small lot with several buildings and it didn’t take very long to make a detailed overlay. You can add more information about what kind of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation you use, your pets and other elements that might affect bird life. You can even add photos and comments. When you’re done, you can see a pie chart of the makeup of your place—the relative amounts of pavement, buildings, forest, etc. It’s a fun project to do with kids (who might be even better at it than you!).

This information by itself will help ornithologists and other biologists learn more about bird habitat, especially as more areas are mapped (you don’t have to stick to only your yard—you can map public parks and other places, too). But there’s lots more on the YardMap site. You can sign up for the related project, eBird, where you can identify and note what birds you’ve seen. You can learn about what makes a yard more hospitable to birds. Did you know that a typical lawn is a bird desert? Lawns are a closely cropped monoculture (one type of plant), often treated with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. There’s no place for birds to have protective cover, not a lot for them to ​eat, and artificial additives take a toll on bird health, too. You can look at others who have replaced much of their lawn with beautiful edible or decorative plants. One woman with a gorgeous garden said she can cut her remaining lawn with scissors! I love that idea—I instantly had a fantasy of converting my backyard to berry bushes. If I do, there are lots of resources linked to the site to help me. It’s all at yardmap.org. It would be great to see yard maps all over Dutchess and Ulster Counties!

Full of Beans
This is the summer of beans at my house. I stumbled upon a fantastic new way to make bean dip and spread that I’m calling “Bachelor Bean Dip” (or “Bachela” for us females). This makes it so easy to make a delicious bean puree that’s a great veggie dip or sandwich spread. Here’s what you do:

1. Get a 19 oz. can of your favorite beans (slightly bigger than the usual 16 oz. size—Progresso uses this size can)
2. Take the lid off partially and drain the liquid from the can, then remove the lid completely
3. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (no need to measure—this is bachela style!)
4. Add a clove or two of garlic and salt and pepper to taste
5. Take a stick blender and puree those beans right in the can! (The slightly larger can allows space for the business end of the blender)
6. Add a handful of roughly chopped or scissored herbs and give them a quick blend to chop them more finely

That’s it—you’re done—and no dish to wash! If you’re really baching it, dip those veggies right in the can! Or get civilized and serve your tasty puree in a bowl or spread it on a sandwich. I love white beans with rosemary and garlic chives on toast with chopped fresh-picked tomatoes. Also great is black beans with garlic, chilis, and cilantro, and classic hummus with chick peas, garlic, tahini and lemon. The variations are endless. Ah, summer!
Maria Reidelbach is an author and applied artist living and eating in Accord, NY. Email to maria@corncow.com.