Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Getting an armchair nature education through Facebook

By CHERYL KIMBALL February 02. 2018 10:05PM
Nature Talks author Cheryl Kimball's first picture captured on her new game cam is a healthy-looking coyote in the field behind the barn. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

I am, after 10 years, still not sure how I feel about Facebook. Many of the stories leave me feeling stressed. It is impossible to donate to every worthy cause you can see in just 15 minutes of scrolling through your news feed. There are way too many puppies needing me to rescue them. And, no matter which side of the aisle you are on, there are an awful lot of political posts to get riled up about.

But there are two things about Facebook that I do enjoy: One is connecting with long-distance friends. I have reconnected with people I worked with two decades ago in Minnesota, someone who worked with me in my bookstore venture in Portsmouth three decades ago who now lives in Colorado, another that I worked with a couple years ago who now lives in Florida, and of course several high school classmates. This I appreciate.

The other thing I very much enjoy is the information I glean from the nature-related Facebook pages that I follow. In one weekend morning scrolling my news feed for a half hour, here are the nature things I viewed:

• A NatGeo video following the introduction of 14 wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The wolves’ presence, over time, transformed the entire landscape. Deer were preyed upon, reducing their population and chasing them deeper into the woods. That meant aspen and willows were able to take hold in the areas where the deer formerly grazed heavily. The new trees brought more insects and then more birds. The trees also stabilized the soil, reduced erosion, and attracted beaver, all of which changed the river to accommodate even more wildlife. All of this, and more, started with 14 wolves.

• A weather forecast showing a weather cam at a location in their region when a raven photo bombed the camera, peering into the lens upside down. It is hilarious.

• A video of a male hummingbird of a species not in this area performing an intricate mating dance for a female.

• “Birdaday” for that day had a post about the Carolina wren, a species that I didn’t even know came to the Northeast. The post discussed their vulnerability in harsh winter weather and suggested we all could help them by leaving old plant pots, watering cans, pails, whatever (presumably on their sides to keep out the wet) lined with dryer lint or hay or leaves next to the house foundation where the temperature is a few degrees warmer for birds to shelter in.

• Sadly, a video showing a beautiful barn owl dying having been poisoned from eating a mouse that had been killed by rodenticide. The post (which I presume is authentic and which I cannot watch for more than two seconds) begs people to stop using pesticides, insecticides, rodenticides, etc. If a post like that educates even just one person on the consequences of these poisons, Facebook is worth it.

• The National Audubon Society reposted Prescott Audubon Society’s video of a kestrel preening its feathers.

• And a Canadian lawn company video showed how to detect rabbit nests in your lawn before mowing. They teach that the doe comes back just once or twice a day, so just give the nests a wide berth, they will be gone in a couple weeks.

Of course, like everything on the internet, you need to be mindful of the source of what you are reading or watching. The National Audubon Society, NatGeo, Cornell Ornithology Lab are all reliable sources of nature material. I also follow two wildlife rehabilitation centers that leave me grateful for the remarkable work they do.

Many of these things I would otherwise never have seen or learned.

And then of course there is Fiona who (in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past year) is the hippo born prematurely a year ago at the Cincinnati Zoo. Like Facebook itself, I have mixed feelings about zoos. But those were mitigated many years ago on a visit to the Minnesota Zoo. My mother and I sat in an outdoor amphitheater and watched a raptor show. And while I was awestruck by the raptors themselves, what struck me even more was the reaction of the audience. A group of people left that amphitheater clearly more in tune with the magnificence of these birds and likely have held a lifelong fascination and a defensive attitude about their importance.

Thirty years later in the age of Facebook, Fiona has captivated thousands, perhaps millions, around the world. And maybe the little hippo that could with all her Facebook postings and one-year birthday party and joyous flips off of her mother’s back and her magnificent natural grin will encourage a backlash against big-game hunting or protection of any species. And that possibility makes Facebook totally worthwhile.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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