Over the River and Through the Wood, Christmas trees, boughs of holly. There is much to love about nature and the outdoors during the holiday season. If you are looking to create a new tradition, here are a couple nature-themed holiday ideas!
Nothing quite signals the start of the holiday season like the sudden bombardment of the seasonal tunes on the radio. While certainly festive, not all holiday music is cheerful. Some of our favorite lyrics and melodies are redolent with longing and nostalgia. This is especially true of the “Christmas Song,” which opens with the memorable line “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” At the turn of the 20th century, the American Chestnut (castanea dentata) was prevalent throughout the Eastern United States, accounting for 25% of hardwoods in the forests of Appalachia. By mid-century, the species was near extinction, ravaged by the chestnut blight. Nat King Cole first sang this lyric in 1946 at the tail end of this devastation, memorializing a quickly vanishing holiday tradition.
Since 1983, The American Chestnut Foundation has been working towards the restoration of the American Chestnut tree. As part of this effort, their backcross breeding program is crossing American Chestnut trees and Chinese Chestnut trees in hopes of developing a cross with the attributes of an American Chestnut and the blight resistance of a Chinese Chestnut. These efforts give us hope that roasting chestnuts might once again become a holiday tradition! If you need a gift for that one person who already has everything, consider supporting The American Chestnut Foundation and their incredible work!
Christmas Day Bird Count
Have you participated in a Christmas Bird Count before? If so, congrats -- you are part of the longest running citizen science initiative! If not, now is your chance! There is still time to sign up and participate in the National Audubon Society’s 119th Christmas Bird Count.
Despite the name, local counts can take place any day falling between December 14th and January 5th. The annual event was devised at the turn of the 20th century by ornithologist and conservationist Frank M. Chapman. Concerned about declining bird populations, Chapman proposed a bird count to replace the holiday tradition of old, the Christmas Day Hunt.
How do you participate?
The annual count is structured to ensure that both novice birders can participate and that the data collected is valid and useful. Anyone interested must make arrangements to participate in an established local count with an experience leader. On the day of the count, volunteers traverse predetermined routes and make note of all the birds they hear and see throughout the day.
Goals / Outcomes
What comes of all this walking and tallying? The data collected by each individual is compiled into the master data set. The Christmas Bird Count has created 118 consecutive data sets, making it a remarkable resource. The data set helps us understand changes in population and range for different species, which informs management and conservation strategies. Data collected during the Christmas Bird Count proved that the American Black duck was in decline and helped usher in hunting restrictions to conserve the species.