Archive for August, 2010

The Mating of Damselflies

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

     Yesterday my husband Andy and I had the pleasure of canoeing on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While the river is, unfortunately, not in good health, it was nonetheless a pleasure to ply the still waters between the river’s forested banks. 

     So much wildlife!  We delighted to see turtles sunning themselves on logs.  And it was a thrill to stare, as a green heron, semi-hidden in riparian foliage, puffed out its feathers and became for a few moments a much larger bird.  And we saw what I think was a mink, scampering along the ground, high above the water.

     And all around us, flying hither and thither above the water, were damselflies.  I have long admired these dainty, gauzy-winged, romantically-named dragonfly species, with their touches of brilliant blue.  

     And it was obviously mating season for these insects;  most were not flying solo!  While I have often seen insects joined together, or mated, in flight, what amazed us yesterday was the way these creatures looked at rest.  Just about every floating leaf we paddled past seemed to be a resting spot for damselfly duos.  As many as three or four of the insect pairs might be resting on a single leaf .  And what a sight they made–gauzy jumbles flecked with azure.  Had we not observed individual pairs, we could not have guessed what comprised these translucent masses.

     Even more amazing to behold were those ‘couples’ who were not sharing ‘their’ leaf with any other damselfly pairs.  A single mated pair on a leaf held the strangest looking pose.  It seemed as if one of the two rested in a ‘normal’ posture on the leaf, while its mate ’stood’ vertically, with its back end appearing embedded in the other’s thorax, just behind its head.  Sticking up straight in the air, the latter damselfly appeared poised to take off!  (Please see my photo below).

     Of course I was curious to learn more about what we were seeing, so I did a little Internet research on the mating of damselflies.  I learned that the male produces packets of sperm from the tip of his abdomen (hindmost segment of his body).  He then bends his abdomen forward and deposits the sperm packets into a depression in the second segment of his abdomen.  Once he has filled his sperm receptacle, the male uses the claspers at his hindmost tip to grasp a female just behind her head.  Then the two fly joined together for some time.  And each takes its turn flying while the other rests.  After awhile, the female bends her abdomen under and reaches it up to the abdomen of the male.  She grasps the second segment of his abdomen and picks up a sperm packet, or spermatophore, he has deposited there.  The two remain in this joined position for 15 minutes or more, afterwhich she lets go and they resume their joined position with the male still grasping the female just behind her head.  

     The two may continue flying, joined, as the female lays her eggs on submerged plants, or the two may separate, with the male remaining close to the female as she deposits her eggs.  It’s all pretty amazing!–April Moore

  

 

a mated pair of damselflies on a leaf

a mated pair of damselflies on a leaf

A Forest Orchestra

Friday, August 27th, 2010

     I am drawn to the quiet of the forest.  At least I think of the forest as quiet because I don’t hear the cacophanous sounds of cars, telephones, and television. 

     As I sit on the ground in the woods down below our house, I tune in to the sounds I do hear.  And there are many.  But unlike some of the sounds of human activity, the forest sounds are soothing, calming.  After a matter of seconds, I feel different.  Just as I have gone down into the forest, I feel I have gone down into myself as well.  A quiet well-being grows within my body, and my mind is peaceful. 

     As I settle in to listen, I have a sense of myself as  the audience, present to the performance of an orchestra.   From all directions, the dominant sound is the buzz of crickets.  Far off to my left, the buzzing is building to a crescendo.  Then it fades, and as it does, I begin to notice those crickets off to the right.  Now they are growing louder.  Suddenly they stop, with no decrescendo at all.  It takes the absence of their sound to make me realize just how loud they were.  Out of the silence grows a soft buzzing from nowhere in particular, and from down the hill comes a pulsing rhythm.  Maybe another type of cricket;  maybe another creature.   

     Other  ‘instruments’ weigh in.  An unseen pewee adds its sweet, questioning song.  I hear staccato chips from a cardinal.  Fluttering wings whisper, and then a breeze blows through the ‘orchestra,’ creating the grand whisper of thousands of leaves.   An insect flies by. 

     Then there are the occasional accents from the percussion section.  A high-up twig breaks and falls.  Its downward journey registers through bumps on wood and the shaking of leaves.  An acorn, premature, lets go and drops, settling with a muffled thud into dead leaves on the ground.  

     Like an orchestra, the sounds of the forest work together to create a pleasing whole.  And why wouldn’t they?  The ‘forest orchestra’ reflects the wholeness of the forest, where its member species thrive together in true harmony.–April Moore

forest_orchestra

The Blue-Footed Booby

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

     The blue footed booby is an intriguing bird, I think.  With its blue, webbed feet and its high-stepping ways, this tropical seabird is unlike any other. 

     I am posting here http://www.duskyswondersite.com/animals/blue-footed-booby/a link to a short, informative article about this unusual bird, along with photos and a short video.  The piece was created by Loduskia (Dusky) Pierce for her website www.duskyswondersite.com.  

     I encourage you to enjoy not just Dusky’s piece about the blue footed booby, but to explore her website as  well.   www.Duskyswondersite.com is devoted to experiencing wonder at our amazing planet and its inhabitants.  A  psychotherapist, Dusky cites brain research which shows that the experiences of wonder and appreciation are good for us.  The more we purposely tune in to moments of positive experience, she explains on her site, the easier it becomes to notice them because we have literally made changes in our brain circuitry.  Enjoy.–April Moore 

a blue footed booby

a blue footed booby

The Wondrous World of the Seashore

Friday, August 20th, 2010

     August is beach time.   Who doesn’t love the smells, the sounds, the sunshine, and the rhythms of the waves?  How awesome to stand on the beach and look  into the distance, imagining the continent that is at the opposite side of the ocean.

     For the last four months, since the BP oil disaster, we have been focused on the Gulf shoreline, that delicate area where salt meets fresh to form a unique coastal ecosystem.  No one has written more beautifully, in my view, of coastal beauty than Rachel Carson, one of my heroes.  

     I love this brief excerpt from her 1955 book The Edge of the Sea, and I hope you will enjoy it too.–April Moore

     “The shore is an ancient world, for as long as there has been an earth and sea there has been this place of the meeting of land and water.  Yet it is a world that keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and of the relentless drive of life.  Each time that I enter it, I gain some new awareness of its beauty and its deeper meanings, sensing that intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and each with its surroundings. . . . .

     “There is a common thread that links these scenes and memories–the spectacle of life in all its varied manifestations as it has appearead, evolved, and sometiems died out.  Underlying the beauty of the spectacle there is a meaning and significance.  It is the elusiveness of that meaning that haunts us, that sends us again and again into the natural world where the key to the riddle is hidden.  It sends us back to the edge of the sea, where the drama of life played its first scene on earth and perhaps even its prelude;  where the forces of evolution are at work today, as they have been since the appearance of what we know as life;  and where the spectacle of living creatures faced by the cosmic realities of their world is crystal clear.”

Don’t Let a Recalcitrant Senate Hold Up Progress on Climate Change!

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

    As the east coast swelters in 100 degree-plus temperatures, as Russian towns are torched in a summer of fire, and even as 14 countries report their highest-ever temperatures this year, the U.S. Senate still refuses to address global warming. 

     Even a bill greatly watered down in an attempt to get 60 votes could not pass.  Oil and gas companies, and their friends in the Senate–all the Republicans as well as Democrats Blanche Lincoln (AR) , Kent Conrad (ND), and Jay Rockefeller (WV)–got their wish.  No action on global warming. 

     But even as the highest legislative body in the land wastes precious time, we cannot afford to wait.  Fortunately, there are many actions we citizens can take to help stop global warming, even as our elected Senators sit on their hands.  Following are just a few:

  • If one or both of your Senators is a Republican, contact that Senator’s office, and let him/her know in no uncertain terms that you are angry that the Republicans are blocking needed legislation to address climate change.  Also make it known that you vote.  To find your Senators’ contact info, click here:  http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
  • If you live in Arkansas, North Dakota, or West Virginia, let Senator Lincoln (AR), Conrad (ND), or Rockefeller (WV) know that you are very disappointed that s/he joined with all the Republicans to block any meaningful legislation to address climate change.  Click above for contact info.
  • Help hasten the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy by working to end our reliance on coal.  The burning of coal accounts for about 30% of U.S. global warming pollution.  Support the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal effort at www.sierraclub.org/coal
  • Urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to approve the 2,000 mile pipeline planned for the importation of dirty oil from Canada’s Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico.  Learn more at www.1sky.org/blog/2010/07/stop-the-keystone-xl-tar-sands-pipeline.
  • Urge President Obama to install solar panels on the White House.  Former President Jimmy Carter had them installed, and Ronald Reagan had them removed.  Admittedly, this step is more symbol than substance, but the President sets a powerful example.    Go to www.putsolaron.it/whitehouse/ and urge the President to join with people all over America who will be celebrating climate solutions on October 10.–April Moore

Too Cold in the Summer

Friday, August 13th, 2010

     Below is a link to an article my husband Andy Schmookler published several years ago in The Baltimore Sun and The Albuquerque Tribune.  If you have had the experience of freezing indoors on a hot summer day, you may have had similar thoughts.–April Moore 

 http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2002-09-17/news/0209170047_1_enlightened-summer-winter

A Friend of the Earth Joins the Supreme Court

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

     More than 40 national environmental organizations actively supported President Obama’s appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.  In a letter to Senators prior to last Thursday’s Senate approval of Kagan’s confirmation, the groups cited her “understanding of the importance of fair Court decisions that uphold, enforce, and correctly interpret laws that protect people, wildlife, and the environment.”

     Since the Supreme Court decides the fate of lawsuits that attack safeguards for clean air, clean water, endangered species, and special natural places, it is important that the Supreme Court be made up of Justices who respect the right of future generations to a healthy planet.  Unfortunately, however, four of the current Justices–Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia–are no friends of the earth.

     Four other Justices–Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Kennedy, and Breyer–have been much more sympathetic to environmental issues.  Kagan is replacing the fifth pro-environment Justice, John Paul Stevens.  In his decisions, Stevens upheld the power of governments to regulate pollutants.  So while the appointment of Kagan does not give us an environmental majority on the Court, her appointment does mean that we should not lose ground.

    Indeed, Kagan’s environmental background is reason to cheer her presence on the nation’s highest court.  As Dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan made environmental law a top priority there.  She helped found the Environmental Law Program and started the Harvard Law School Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, which she called “the heart of our environmental program.”  She wrote in 2008 that “this program is fast becoming an international leader in showing how law schools (and lawyers) can actively shape a field that will in many ways determine the world’s future.”

     Now that Elena Kagan is a member of the Supreme Court, and the “mum’s the word” Senate confirmation process is over, let’s hope she will be a strong voice on the Supreme Court for the environment.–April Moore

Elena Kagan, newly appointed Supreme Court Justice

Elena Kagan, newly appointed Supreme Court Justice

 

  

Musings on a Damp Summer Morning

Friday, August 6th, 2010

     I awoke this morning to the subdued aftermath of last night’s raging rainstorm.  The second in two days, the storm had pummelled our ridge, yanked trees this way and that, and  lashed the house with angry fits of hard rain.

     Now the air felt friendly, the fresh breeze light and caressing.  But signs of last night’s siege were everywhere.  Branches, large and small, littered the driveway.  Oak twigs, fully alive with their perfect leaves and  firm green acorns fallen before their time, lay here and there on the ground.  I wondered if the animals would find these unripe summer versions of their favorite food acceptable.

       As I strolled down the hill into the woods, my attention was immediately absorbed by the greenshield dotting, splotching, coating many of the trees.  Were my eyes drawn to this lichen all about because I had just written about greenshield for this website (http://www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2010/08/the-secret-life-of-greenshield/)?  Or was the greenshield greener than usual this morning, holding moisture from last night’s storm? 

     Gazing at the myriad manifestations of this greenish lichen on one tree after another, I noticed that what I had read is indeed true.  Greenshield is most prominent at the base of a tree.  Yes, on just about every tree I looked at, the greenshield appeared thickest and greenest just where the trunk’s bark met the ground.  And mosses, bright green and plump, reached upward from the earth, joining the greenshield on the tree’s lowest bark.

     As I crouched to examine the life at the base of a large chestnut oak, I noticed just inches from the tree the tiniest, daintiest white wildflower growing up between some mosses.  How lovely, I thought, were these two close neighbors, one so massive and one so slight, living next to each other in perfect harmony.   

     Also very alive-seeming on this damp morning were the fungi.  They too looked fatter and fuller after the rain.  I was intrigued by a dense colony of little shelflike fungi, clustered in a concave portion of the base of a tall oak.  There in the lee of this living tree, away from the sun’s drying warmth, dampness reigned to create the perfect home for this little fungus community.  And farther down the hill, tiny white fungi grew on a log, but only along the edges of the bark tearing away from the wood inside.  The fungus formed a perfect trim for the bark’s torn edges.  

     And there was a third fungus I especially enjoyed, this one for its surprising precision.  Back in the driveway, in the woodpile, was a piece of wood that was almost completely ringed by some small shelflike fungus.  The circular, cross-section of the firewood, however, was entirely bare, circled by the fungus growing from the bark. 

     Bright, sunny days have nothing on a damp, post-storm morning when the lingerning wetness accentuates beauties that may go unnoticed in the bright light.–April Moore 

a fungus colony in the 'lee' of the base of an oak trunk

a fungus colony in the 'lee' of the base of an oak trunk

         

fungus growing along the torn edges of bark

fungus growing along the torn edges of bark

 

fungus encircling firewood

fungus encircling firewood

The Secret Life of Greenshield

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

     My neighbor recently told me that she was concerned about the greenish patches she had noticed on the trunks of many of the trees in the forest here.  She feared these green growths might somehow be harming the trees. 

     Fresh from my Master Naturalist training, I was able to assure her that the pale green–dotting some trunks and branches and practically enveloping others–is nothing to worry about.  Called greenshield, these greenish patches are a common lichen that is harmless to trees.  In fact, greenshield on trees is a good thing because it is a sign that the surrounding air is clean.  Like all other lichens, greenshield is highly sensitive to the toxic compounds in air pollution.  Hence, greenshield and other lichens abound in forests but are mostly absent from polluted cities.  

     With its different looks on different trees, greenshield fascinates me.  For example, the two giant chestnut oaks I see outside my window right now are almost entirely a mottled pale green.  Only the youngest, thinnest branches of these trees are a solid brown.  Farther down the hill I see a corkscrew willow with several roundish green splotches about the size of coffee saucers here and there along the tree’s main branches. 

     Then on a tupelo tree near the other side of the house is one particularly interesting greenish splotch.  As I observe it through the window while I wash dishes, I am reminded of a toupee.  About head-size, thicker and much more textured than most of the other greenshield I see, it could have been parked there on the tree between wearings.  

     As with most aspects of nature, even a tiny bit of research reveals highly complex processes taking place.  And lichens are no exception.  A lichen is actually a combination of fungus and algae.  The lichen takes the form of the fungus, and the algae lives inside it.  The algae makes food directly from sunlight, and that food nourishes the fungus as well.  And the fungus, by surrounding the algae, protects the algae from drying out.  The fungus and the algae grow together as a single being, spreading very slowly over many decades.

     The greenshield’s powdery outer surface is the lichen’s reproductive system.  The ‘powder’ is made of spores, which are a combination of fungus and algae.  Tiny balls of fungal strands wrapped around algal cells are blown or washed away to a new location, where they may start growing into new greenshield.  Greenshield attaches itself to a tree with black, root-like structures on its undersurface.

     Knowing just a little more about greenshield than I knew yesterday, my pleasure in seeing these clean air-loving lichens on the trees all around me is a joy.–April Moore 

chestnut oak mottled with greenshield

chestnut oak mottled with greenshield

  

'toupee' on the side of a tupelo tree

'toupee' on the side of a tupelo tree

  

small round splotches of greenshield

small round splotches of greenshield

 

    

   

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