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Looking back on intriguing messages from readers

Each year as more and more people take to the Internet, my column-related reader contacts increase, and this year represented a kind of "correspondence warming." In addition to dozens of letters, I received several hundred e-mails and more than 5,000 hits on my "Nature Watch" Web site,, where older columns are collected.

Please understand that I'm not complaining; my communications represent the most interesting part of this job. I try to respond to each message but I am sure that I miss some. To those readers I apologize. Here I comment on a few of these messages.

A poor photographer myself, I am particularly beholden to those correspondents who send me photos, many of which have appeared with columns. Among the photographers, I cite Bonnie Bowen, Carl Carbone, Willie D'Anna, Tom LeBlanc and David Ruppert, who have been especially generous.

But one kind of forwarded photo represents a challenge. It is accompanied by a request for identification of the species pictured. I often have difficulty answering these requests and have to turn to local experts for help. A few days ago, for example, the Padowskis of Grand Island forwarded a photo of two small birds roosting in the corner of their porch. I couldn't identify them, but Willie D'Anna immediately noticed a characteristic that I had missed -- the birds' tails pressed woodpecker-like against the wall.

That cinched it: The birds were brown creepers.

Far and away, the most reader responses came to my column on butternut trees. Those messages addressed two major points of that column. The first was about the rarity and decline of this species nationally. Clearly, readers indicate that butternuts are doing far better here than elsewhere. In particular, Jeff Crane showed me dozens along the railroad tracks behind Crescent Avenue. The other concern I raised in that column was about the disease that spreads rapidly through a region to cause this decline. Happily, only one Lockport writer noted even the possibility of this virulent canker. Other local trees are apparently in good health.

I am, of course, delighted that our butternuts are healthy. I urge readers, however, to monitor their trees and to have any diseased tree removed promptly to avoid infecting others. Those of us who witnessed the ravages of the Dutch elm disease that took out those lovely trees that formerly lined our neighborhood streets should be especially sensitive to this kind of possible epidemic. Readers who want more information about the disease and how to control it should visit the Forest Service Web site:

Another column that drew much reader interest was about trilliums. Joe Maddi of Orchard Park told me that deer avoided his white trilliums, but others found deer browsing on their red and painted species.

One kind of reader request has always posed problems for me. My columns are essays on a single subject and I do not include announcements unless they tie in with that topic. Normally a request like Audubon naturalist Adam Kneis's I couldn't answer, but in this column I am happy to do so. Adam has started a monthly natural history book discussion at the Beaver Meadow Nature Center in Java. His group meets on the fourth Thursday each month. At the Jan. 25 meeting, they will discuss Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods."

I continue to receive many notes from readers who wonder where the birds have gone. Their feeders stand empty. But I get about as many messages from readers like Gene and Rita Kautz of Attica who tell how their feeders are overflowing with birds. One suggestion the Kautzes offer: Plant conifers near your feeders to provide cover from hawks.

I end this column with this delightful tongue-in-cheek response by Mary Ognibene of Grand Island to my curling column: "If the Scots had any smarts they would keep very quiet about indulging in a such a sport as curling. They never should have let the news out of the country. I mean, here's a country that first invents Scotch whiskey and the next day sees the Loch Ness monster and invents curling and telephone pole throwing. Doesn't that tell you something?"

Thank you readers and best wishes for the year ahead.


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