Archive for May, 2010

Some Rainy Day Treasures

Friday, May 28th, 2010

It was the kind of rainy morning when the rain seemed to be falling all around but not much on me.  So it was a good time for a foray into the woods.

I walked down the hill into the forest, listening to the birds singing from unseen perches.  Perhaps the birds had decided not to leave their sheltered nooks until after the rain stopped.

I looked around at all the green, wet flora.  Every plant had been touched by rain.  The various low-to-the-ground weeds shone wetly.  And the fennel in Andy’s herb garden looked almost ethereal.  Its pale, thin stalks and even thinner, feathery leaves seemed almost to disappear in the greyness of the day.  Only the tiny, sparkling raindrops dotting the numerous tiny plant tips made the fennel stand out, keeping it from receding into the background, upstaged by its coarser, sturdier neighbors–the lemon verbena and the mint.  The deep lines on the mint leaves were darker than usual, more defined by the wetness.  They reminded me of the furrows on the back of my hand that become an intricate little network when viewed under a magnifying glass.

A few steps down the hill, the saucer magnolia tree looked particularly alive in the rain.  Individual leaves quivered in response to drops of rain gently pelting them.  Now this leaf, now that one, trembled with the impact of drops pattering down through the tree.

Deeper into the forest, I noticed here and there small, net-shaped webs, close to the ground, strung between a twig and a little pile of leaves, or between edges of a hole in a log.  Once I knew something about how these woodland webs are formed and what they are called.  And now I don’t!  But this morning they were nests of sparkling raindrops, and I knew they should be called ‘fairy nets.’

A few moments later, I paused to look at a pine tree’s new growth under watery beads of sustenance.  Only because I had stopped in my walk did I notice the bright yellow on the ground near the tree.  It was a box turtle!  I rarely spot turtles, so I was excited.  The turtle’s head stretched far out from its shell, and inclined upward toward me.  The turtle stood completely motionless, its coral pink, scaly front legs curving outward and down, balanced firmly on many-toed feet.

The turtle and I stared at each other.  I kept more than a yard of distance between us, not wanting to drive the reptile into its shell.  After a few moments, the turtle’s throat sac began to inflate and deflate, again and again.  Was the animal taking deep breaths?  Was it beginning to relax in my presence?  Soon the turtle withdrew its head a little, and the sac was no longer visible.

We looked and looked, the turtle perfectly still, and I slowly moving from side to side, wanting to see as much of the turtle as I could.  How long could  the turtle remain so still, I wondered?  Whatever activity my presence had interrupted could wait, it seemed, perhaps indefinitely.  Finally, I moved on.  But I was curious.  How soon would the turtle resume whatever it had been doing?  I took a few steps away and then came back.  Still no movement.  And I came back again after walking a little farther away.  Still the turtle stood motionless.

What a great protection is stillness, I thought.  I would never have noticed the turtle in my walk, despite the bright yellow markings on its shell.  So many animals know how to be–and stay–motionless, unnoticed by predators, safe despite the fact that they are in plain view.

I know that stillness can be good for me too.  When I meditate, even if my mind is far from still, my body is still.  And it feels good, deeply good, a peaceful contrast from the almost constant movement that characterizes the rest of my day.–April Moore

photo:  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Enjoy–and Help Sustain–Monarch Butterflies

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

     As you may know, monarch butterflies are in decline. 

     A major reason for the decline of the fluttering little orange and black beauties is the disappearance of their main food–milkweed.  But this is a situation that can readily be addressed by increasing the amount of milkweed that is available to monarch butterflies.

     Now, in late spring, is a good time to plant milkweed.  Plant seeds or seedlings in full sun.  As the plants mature, adult monarchs lay their eggs on them.  The caterpillars that hatch, then, eat the milkweed leaves.  The caterpillars also build their pupae on the milkweed plants.

     The milkweed is a lovely plant that we humans can enjoy too.  It produces orange flowers in mid-summer, and in late summer the large seed-pods begin developing.  In the fall, the pods split and disperse their seeds.  You may want to save some of the seeds to plant more milkweed next spring.

     Milkweed seeds and young plants are readily available at garden stores.  Planting a good stock of milkweed will bring monarchs to your yard and will support them through their life stages.  In addition to the pleasure of watching these butterflies, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to rebuild the population of this once-ubiquitous butterfly.–April Moore

 

 

 

 

Monarch laying eggs on milkweed

Monarch laying eggs on milkweed

A Family Tale–Owl Style

Friday, May 21st, 2010

     I thank my friend Sara-Jane for letting me know about this opportunity to watch real-life barn owl parents hatch and care for their babies.  And I even got to watch as one of the little owlets took its first flight from home!

     Apparently, millions of people all over the world have been watching the show for months.  A San Diego couple set up an owl house atop a 15-foot pole in their yard.  The couple installed an infrared videocamera inside the owls’ home, and people have been tuning in to the streaming video since the female owl laid four eggs inside the owl house last February. 

     By late March the eggs began to hatch, and viewership swelled.  Classrooms of schoolchildren, insomniacs, nature lovers, and cuious people in many countries tuned in to watch the family of parents and babies.  Viewers (some in online communities of  self-proclaimed ‘owlcoholics’) tuned in to see all four eggs hatch, and to see the parents feed and care for the babies.

     In the last few days, the young owls have started to fledge.  And it’s all recorded on camera.  If you are patient enough to watch a two-hour video, you will be able to see the parents perched outside the owl house, trying to entice their children to come out and give flying a try.  Just click on the link at the bottom of this entry, you will be taken to the website of the San Diego Union Tribune.  There you can tune in and watch what’s happening at this very moment in and around the owls’ home.  Or you can click on the aforementioned video of the parents urging their babies to come out and try their wings.    

     I am fascinated by the whole thing.  It seems a wonderful use of technology to enable us ‘regular’ folks to observe the natural world far more closely than ;people have ever been able to do before.  Anyone who wants to can watch–up close and personal–birds engaging in the processes of launching the next generation.  And all without disturbing the birds in the slightest, it seems.  

     And I am touched that millions of people find the owls’ saga interesting enough to spend time watching the little barn owl family.  People had been blogging, twittering, and writing on Facebook, eagerly awaiting the night when the baby owls would leave the nest for the first time.  It pleases me that birds’ normal life cycle activities have evoked so much excitement, such sustainead interest.

     I’m reminded of “The Truman Show,” minus all of the creepiness.April Moore 

 http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/may/19/we-have-lift-internet-owls-venture-out/

Astonishing Discoveries Inside Remote Volcano

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

     I love tales of discovery, and here is one that has been hailed as one of the greatest wildlife discoveries of all time.

     Last year, for the first time ever, scientists were able to make their way down into an extinct volcano caldera on the Pacific island of New Guinea.  For years scientists had speculated that the remote, rainforested crater, known as Mt. Bosavi, must be teeming with species scientists had never seen before.  After all, the volcano last erupted 200,000 years ago, and is ringed by nearly vertical, thousand-meter high walls.  Scientists assumed that animals, unable to move beyond the forbidding walls surrunding the deep caldera have evolved in distinct ways after many thousands of years of isolation.  

     The scientists were well-rewarded for the hard work of getting into Mt. Bosavi.  Two weeks in the walled-in rainforest resulted in the discovery of 40 previously unknown animal species–mammals, amphibians, fish, spiders, and insects among them.  Never having seen humans before, many of the animals were completely unafraid of the scientists.  For example, the newly discovered Mallomys giant rat, a furry creature the size of a large cat, sat in the lap of one team member.  And a ‘new’ marsupial, the silky cuscus, perched on a scientist’s shoulder.

     The team of scientists documented 16 previously unknown frog species, including a frog with fangs.  They discovered two mammals–a ’new’ bat species as well as the giant rat, and three new fish, including one that makes a grunting sound, produced by its swim bladder. 

     While the number of newly discovered species now totals 40, scientists believe that number will increase.  Not knowing for sure whether some of the discoveries are different enough from known species to be designated as separate species, the scientists have categorized them as sub-species until more research can be done to determine which ones are, in fact, distinct secies.

     Actually getting into the caldera was an adventure in itself.  The expedition took many months of planning.  On their first visit to the village nearest to Mt. Bosavi (a four-day trek distant), the advance team found a community that has no contact with ‘the outside world.’  The villagers had no television, and they did not understand the concept that the scientific team wanted to pay to set up a base camp outside the caldera.  The advance crew asked permission to enter the caldera, and they hired 25 villagers to help them–including a cook, a medic, and a tree-climbing expert to help them scale trees. 

     A group of hunters guided the advance party to Mt. Bosavi, up its steep side, and down into the crater.  Later, the actual expedition team members were helicoptered into the caldera.  Even though the scientists chose the ‘dry’ season to make their foray into the crater, wet conditions often prevented the helicopter from entering the crater.  

     I share the glee expressed by the scientists who discovered so many ‘new’ animal species!  It’s exciting news.–April Moore

silky cuscus--a newly discovered marsupial

silky cuscus--a newly discovered marsupialMallomys woolly rat

 

 

 

Mallomys woolly rat

Mallomys woolly rat

Vespers

Friday, May 14th, 2010

     Here are some words to ponder.  They were written by Dag Hammarskjold, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN Secretary General in the 1950s.

VESPERS

In the point of rest at the center of our being, we
encounter a world where all things are at rest in the
same way.  Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud
a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches
we can only catch glimpses.   The life of simplicity is
simple, but it opens to us a book in which we
never get beyond the first syllable.

                          Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961)

 

A Tenuous Success

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

     I am happy to report that a bird once thought to be extinct has made a comeback.  

     Bermuda Petrels  once inhabited the Bermuda islands by the tens of thousands.  But when the Spaniards first came to the islands in the early 1500s, they were spooked by the petrels’ haunting, nighttime calls.  Believing the island to be inhabited by devils, the superstitious Spanish sailors never settled there.  Unfortunately, however, they left behind pigs as food for shipwrecked sailors.

     Within 100 years, the pigs had killed off 90% of the petrel population, eating eggs and chicks from the nests the petrels had burrowed into the ground.  When the English arrived in 1609, there were only a few of the petrels surviving on remote islands in the archipelago.  Thanks to predation by animals brought over by the settlers, combined with hunting by the settlers themselves, the Bermuda Petrel (locally called the cahow) was thought to be extinct by the 1620s.

     Then, more than 300 years later, in 1951, 18 nesting pairs of the Bermuda Petrel were spotted on a few tiny, remote, rocky islands of the Bermuda archipelago.   One of the bird’s ‘discoverers’ was then teen-aged David Wingate.   The discovery inspired him to attend Cornell University, where he studied ornithology.  He returned to Bermuda and devoted his entire career to protecting the Bermuda Petrel, which lives nowhere else in the world.

     Wingate and other wildlife managers worked to restore a viable petrel population.  They created artifical nesting burrows that could not be accessed by non-endangered birds known to take over petrel nests. 

     Thanks to the efforts of Wingate and his team, the Bermuda Petrels’ numbers grew, albeit slowly.   But when a hurricane swept through in 2003, many of the nesting burrows on three of the four breeding islands were damaged. Many of the nests were destroyed completely.  

     Scientists responded by creating a new and safer habitat for the fragile petrel population.  A special reserve was created on one of the islands.  Nesting sites were built at a high elevation, to ensure protection from hurricane flooding and erosion.  Native trees were replanted, so that the island today has a closed canopy forest similar to the one under which the birds nested before the English settlers appeared.   

     In 2009 the first live petrel birth in the reserve was documented.  Today there are roughly 200 of the birds in Bermuda.  Scientists are cautiously optimistic about the bird’s future.  But the petrel is a slow breeder, with females laying just a single egg every year or even every other year.  

     Bermuda Petrels spend most of their adult lives on the open seas.  When they are five years old, they return to their original nesting grounds to begin breeding.  Petrels mate for life.–April Moore

 

photo by Ned Brinkley

photo by Ned Brinkley

    

  

Spring Pools

Friday, May 7th, 2010

     I have long been a fan of Robert Frost’s poetry, but I only recently ‘got’ how very deeply the man experienced nature.  So many of his poems are eloquent celebrations of particular outdoor observations.

     Frost’s poem below, about vernal pools, speaks to me, as I have just learned in my Master Naturalist class about the value of vernal–or seasonal–pools. 

     These small, natural pools of water that exist only during the spring, and then disappear, I just learned, are very important in the lives of many amphibians. 

     For example, when springtime mating season arrives, salamanders will leave the tiny portion of forest where they dwell for most of the year.  They make their way to a nearby vernal pool, where they will mate and lay their eggs in the water.  Then these salamanders will make the trek back to the little spot of forest that is their home.

     Many frogs also come to the vernal pool in the spring to mate.  They station themselves in and around the pool, and the males call in the evening for a mate.  Hence, the pool may become the site of a lively, nocturnal chorus of spring peepers, green frogs, and bullfrogs  on a spring night. 

     Given the ephemeral nature of the pool, it is devoid of fish.  Thus, the pool is a safe environment for the developing young of the amphibians.  The eggs of the salamander, for example, and then the growing larvae, can develop without being eaten by predator fish.  Once the young salamanders complete the aquatic portion of their lives, they begin their terrestrial phase.  No longer needing the vernal pool, the young salamanders head out into the forest where they will stay until they return to the pool to breed next spring. 

     And it’s a good thing these amphibians no longer need the pool;  it’s disappearing anyway.April Moore

Spring Pools–by Robert Frost

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect                                      
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods –
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Save Energy and Money By Investing in Your Home

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

     The price the earth pays for heating and cooling a single home, of lighting it and running all of its appliances, is very high.   According to the EPA, an average 9,000 pounds per person of CO2 are emitted from people’s houses in the U.S.  every year as a result of home energy use.   This amounts to 17% of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

     While one can try to save small amounts of energy by increasing efficiencies here and there around the house, why not invest in ways that will save a lot of energy, while saving money as well?  Home Energy Saver is a website that can tell you how much money it costs to pay for the energy in an average home in your zip code area, compared to the cost for an energy-efficient home in the same area.  And, based on information you provide about your house, the site offers concrete suggestions for making your house much more energy-efficient.  Just click on http://hes.lbl.gov/ to get to Home Energy Saver.  The financial investment you make now will more than pay for itself over time.–April Moore 

    

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