March notes


Here we are well into 2018. We started the year in Columbus, Ohio, where we had been with Ellen’s Dad and our kids and their families for Christmas.

In January I had surgery to repair an abdominal hernia; no problems, recovery was rapid. Also that month here at ECHO, we hosted a one-week Tropical Agriculture Development class. (read more about ECHO classes at

People like to visit Florida in the winter!

house in Columbus, OH

First Community Village

In February Ellen’s 97 year-old Dad came down to Florida for a 10 day visit. We always enjoy the time we can be with him.

In March Ellen was in Peachtree City, Georgia connecting with new missionary candidates with AIM. And then our son James and his family were down from Boston for a visit. They managed to get their travels done in between the winter storms that battered the northeast.

Next week our daughter Ginny and her family will be here for a short visit. We look forward to celebrating Easter with them and with my mother and sister up in Gainesville, Fl.

There have been other visitors and events to enjoy but that pretty much brings us up to date.

Until the next post…


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Cuba Birds

October 2 – 7th I had the opportunity to visit Cuba with a team from ECHO. We were hosted by the United Methodist Church of Cuba and had an excellent experience. The purpose was to visit several sites and learn what agricultural activities were planned so that we could then discuss how ECHO might be able to help.

Of course I was on the lookout for birds the whole time! There was very little spare time for focused birding but I did manage to find 8 life birds.

  • Cuban Crow was observed while driving around Havana. It’s a crow!
  • Antillean Palm-Swift — we were on our way to the Methodist campground in central Cuba and stopped for the usual reason one stops on a road trip. There were dozens of these swifts swirling around the small restaurant. It’s hard to keep such an aerial acrobat in binoculars and the birds were mostly silhouetted by the bright sky, but I was able to pick out the white rump on several individuals.
  • Greater Antillean Grackle — I got just a quick look at an individual bird in the top of a tree but this is the only grackle one would find in Cuba and the field marks were right.
  • Cuban Emerald — a beautiful emerald green hummingbird. One bird was spotted at a farm near the southwest coast and two more at the Methodist campground stuck around for a very good look one morning
  • La Sagra’s Flycatcher — similar to the Great Crested Flycatcher common here in Florida. This La Sagra’s was foraging on the forest edge at the Methodist campground
  • Cuban Blackbird — Many of these at the campground. Basically a black bird but handsome in it’s Johnny Cash sort of way!
  • Red-legged Thrush — This one (well several at the campground) was a real treat. A robin sized thrush, actually same genus as American Robins,  with a black throat, white “moustache”, red eye-ring, black and grey striped wings, and of course, red legs.
  • Great Lizard-Cuckoo — the best bird appeared last when I thought chances of finding any more lifers had pretty much evaporated. Then the pastor we were visiting pointed to the bushy trees and this very large Cuckoo, unmistakable due to size and the black and white underside to the tail.

So I ended the trip with eight lifers out of only 22 birds observed in Cuba. But the main objectives of the trip were accomplished.

The arrangements for accommodations and travel were very well organized and we thoroughly enjoyed the generous hospitality, food and friendliness of our hosts. We look forward to future collaboration between ECHO and farmers in Cuba.

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Fertilizer Trees

No, fertilizer as we normally think of it doesn’t grow on trees! But agroforesters and other agriculturalists are using this term for any tree that helps improve the quality of soil. One great example is the Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida).

The Apple ring acacia is an unusual tropical nitrogen-fixing tree in that it drops its leaves in the rainy season thus adding some fertility to the soil underneath. It then leafs back out in the dry season. That would sort of be like our temperate trees losing their leaves in the summer and leafing out in the winter!

We have publicized this tree at ECHO (see EDN #107) and encourage planting it as part of a farmer’s strategy to keep land productive in a sustainable way.

ECHO intern alumni, Noah and Katie, have these trees on their site in Senegal and have some more information for us:


Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal

photo by Noah Elhardt

March 30th, 2015 — Faidherbia albida, or Apple ring acacia. This deep-rooted Sahelian tree is famous for leafing out in the dry season and dropping its leaves in the wet season, unlike the vast majority of trees which do the opposite. (In fact, the term “reverse leaf phenology” is most often associated with this species.) This trait has saved this tree from the fate of most Sahelian trees. Its value to farmers is at least threefold: 1) The plentiful and tasty seed pods and foliage provide valuable forage to livestock during the long dry season. 2) Livestock, attracted by these treats and by the shade created by the dry-season foliage, spend a lot of time underneath these trees, fertilizing the field as they do. 3) The nitrogen-rich leaves, dropped just at the start of the rainy season, provide another source of organic inputs for the crops grown underneath.

This tree, near the farm where I work, is providing shade for cattle, sheep AND goats. 3 months to go till rainy season!

Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal's rainy season

photo by Noah Elhardt

Nov. 7th, 2015 — We’re back in lovely green Senegal! Remember that picture I posted a few months ago of an Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida) providing shade for livestock in the dry season? Here is the same species in the wet season.

photo by Noah Elhardt

May 31, 2017 — Faidherbia albida: the Giving Tree. Shade when you need it, none when you don’t. Forage to feed your animals in the dry season or, when you want to keep them out of your garden, thorny branches to build a fence with. This farmer is fencing in his mango trees at the beginning of fruiting season.

Faidherbia at ECHO

ECHO Apple ring acacia understory

At ECHO these trees are growing  where they are highlighted on our public tour as one of the sustainable practices we are “echoing” out to our global network.

Fertilizer Trees!

Apple Ring Acacia at ECHO

Apple ring acacia at ECHO

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Just a few pictures

How about a few pictures from the last half of 2016 until now?
Click on any photo for a larger version.

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Summer 2016

The main event of this summer was a cross-country move for our son and family to Boston for seminary.
We started in Abbotsford, British Columbia (near Vancouver)
[click on photos to enlarge]

loaded moving truck

Loaded and ready to roll. (photo: James Hargrave)

We crossed the Cascades, the Rockies and the Great Divide.

the continental divide

In Yellowstone (photo: James Hargrave)

And visited many rest areas!

Montana rest area

Montana welcome station.

We did take some time to sight see and also came across some interesting places.

Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons

world's largest truck stop

Self explanatory! (Photo: James Hargrave)

After 12 days and 3,660 miles we unloaded the rental truck at Hellenic Holy Cross Seminary in Boston where James has started graduate school.


Unloading at seminary housing.

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This and that from March to June

Bob date 24132

I only had my cell phone with me while birding so flowers instead of birds 🙂


A species of phlox


Relative of sunflower

Connect Week

I have been in Peachtree City, Georgia this week at AIM’s US headquarters. Ellen arrived back from Kenya on Sunday and I drove up from Florida to meet her here. We’ve met some great people and I have enjoyed reconnecting with friends.


Our grandson Isaiah, who was born in March (14 weeks early) was released from NICU in Orlando on Monday. Everything looks good at this point. For more about this young fighter see Craig and Laura’s blog “A Way in the Wild“.

Next grandchild

So Ellen and I have been together this week after her two and a half weeks in Kenya but tomorrow we head in different directions! She is going to Albuquerque to be with our daughter Ginny who is expecting our 7th grandchild any day now. Actually, labor will be induced on Sunday if nothing happens before then.

ECHO — Climate change initiative and crop selection tool

One thing we have been working on at ECHO recently is how to help small-scale farmers deal with uncertain yearly weather and long-term climate change. We worked up a proposal to develop a strategy for tracking changes in any country. We also plan to develop a crop selection tool that would indicate which crops would be best suited for a specific location, both at the present and in the future based on reliable models of climate shifts. Of course all of that depends on funding!


For several years now I have taken up the “June Challenge” to see how many birds one can find in a specific county in the month of June — basically the worst month for birding in Florida. So far I’ve seen 16 in Lee County (haven’t had much time for birding there yet) and 30 in Fayette County, Georgia where I’ve been this week.

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