08/29/2019

Save The Fireflies!

QuickImage Tags: Environment Nature Biodiversity


HOW TO HELP

Fireflies are disappearing all over the world, and it’s believed to be because of human encroachment on habitat and increased light pollution from development and traffic. But there are a few things you can do to help fireflies make a comeback in your area.

None of these steps have been proven to work, mainly because scientists have only been studying firefly populations for a few years and data is still inconclusive. But signs point to human development, light pollution and toxic chemicals as likely culprits behind the dwindling of firefly populations. Follow these steps, and with luck your yard will once again sparkle on summer nights.

Turn off outside lights at night.

Fireflies use their flashing lights to signal each other, attract mates and warn of danger. While the science is still preliminary, it’s likely that human light pollution can disrupt their flashes—making it harder for fireflies to find mates and breed. This leads to fewer fireflies mating and smaller numbers in subsequent generations. You can make your yard a haven for fireflies by turning off exterior and garden lights, and drawing your blinds at night so that interior light doesn’t brighten your yard too much.

Let logs and litter accumulate.

Some species of firefly larvae grow up in rotten logs and the litter that accumulates beneath the forest canopy. To encourage their growth, plant some trees on your property. If you have trees in your yard, consider leaving some natural litter around them to give firefly larvae a place to grow.

Create water features in your landscape.

Most species of fireflies have one thing in common: they thrive around standing water and marshy areas. Ponds, streams and rivers can all provide good habitats for fireflies, but even a small depression full of water can cause them to congregate. Build a small pond or divert a small stream to run through your property, and it’s more likely you’ll see fireflies at night. Chemically treated swimming pools aren’t a good substitute; fireflies are believed to eat the smaller insects, grubs and snails that thrive in natural ponds and streams, and these don’t live in chlorinated environments.

Avoid use of pesticides, especially lawn chemicals.

It’s likely that chemical pesticides and weed killers may also have a negative effect on firefly populations. Fireflies and their larvae may come into contact with other insects that have been poisoned, or they may ingest the poisons from plants that have been sprayed. Avoid using pesticides on your lawn and you may boost firefly populations.

While no formal studies have been done specifically targeted to the effects of lawn chemicals on fireflies. Two known studies indirectly suggest that these chemicals may be harmful to fireflies and larvae. The first study suggests that lawn chemicals are toxic to insects in the lawn where firefly larvae are found [1]. The other study provides proof that lawn chemicals are very toxic to the food that sustains firefly larvae [2]. Both show that lawn chemicals can have a serious detrimental effect on fireflies throughout all growth stages.

The best thing you can do to support fireflies is stop using lawn chemicals and broad spectrum pesticides. Firefly larvae eat other undesirable insects, so they are nature’s natural pest control.

A notable example of how pesticide overspraying has affected a local population is the extinction of the dusky seaside sparrow who was native to the salt marshes of Merritt Island in Florida. Its habitat was sprayed with DDT to control mosquitoes and human development quickly changed the ecosystem so much that the bird could not compensate and went extinct.

Many communities over spray for mosquitoes at night just when fireflies are active, flashing and mating. Such over spraying can wipe out firefly populations. These same communities often do not implement more effective control of mosquitoes, such as neighborhood programs to reduce standing water, especially in swimming pools, and usage of mosquito larvacides to prevent the growth and development of mosquitoes in drainage ditches. By encouraging broad spectrum mosquito control efforts and discouraging spraying at times when fireflies are active, communities can actually save money and effect better control of mosquitoes, causing less impact to firefly species and other small animals.

Use natural fertilizers.

While no conclusive studies have been done, it’s possible that chemical fertilizers may have a harmful effect on firefly populations as well—especially since many harmful chemicals in pesticides are also found in chemical fertilizers. Using natural fertilizers may make your yard a more healthy place for fireflies.

Don’t over-mow your lawn.

Fireflies mainly stay on the ground during the day, and frequent mowing may disturb local firefly populations. While you may feel that you need to keep your lawn mowed for aesthetic purposes, consider incorporating some areas of long grasses into your landscaping. Fireflies prefer to live in long grasses, and doing this may boost their population in your yard.

Plant native trees.

Fast growing pine and native trees provide a good habitat for many species of fireflies. Naturalist Terry Lynch, who has studied fireflies for many years, recommends Pine trees because they provide shade and the low light area provided by a canopy actually increasing the amount of time fireflies have to find a mate. Also, the litter produced by pine trees, if left to accumulate, provides a good habitat for earthworms and other small animals which firefly larvae feed upon.

Do NOT introduce earthworms to you yard.

What’s so bad about a worm? For many of us, seeing earthworms under rocks, on sidewalks after rainstorms, and in our gardens is just a fact of life. Few of us think to question the presence of worms or their impact on fireflies. The truth about earthworms is this: they are not native to any of the northern United States or Canada. Any worms that were here originally were wiped out during the last glaciation. It would be pretty hard for a creature that lives in the upper topsoil to survive the crushing weight, scraping, and sedimentary deposits of a mile-thick hunk of ice.

Talk to your neighbors.

If you live in a suburban area in close proximity to others, what you do in your own yard will help—but you can create even more habitat for fireflies by enlisting your neighbors in your efforts. Tell your neighbors about your concern over dwindling firefly populations and what they can do to help. If you convince even one or two people on your street, you could help increase firefly habitat in your area even more.

Fireflies are disappearing all over the world. But there are a few things you could do to help—and every little bit counts. Allow some room for wildness on your property—low-hanging trees, forest litter, and long grasses all create welcoming environments for fireflies. Ponds and streams are crucial to firefly populations, and you can further encourage their numbers by reducing the amount of light in your yard at night and by cutting back on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Follow these tips, and it’s possible you could see a resurgence of fireflies in your area.

References:

1. "Understanding Halofenozide (Mach 2) and Imidacloprid (Merit) Soil Insecticides," by Daniel A Potter. International SportsTurf Institute, Inc., Turfax, Vol. 6 No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1998)

2. "Relative Toxicities of Chemicals to the Earthworm Eisenia foetida," by Brian L. Roberts and H. Wyman Dorough. Article first published online: 20 Oct 2009. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan. 1984), pp. 67–78.

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07/28/2016

Finally, Baby Pictures!

QuickImage Tags: Nature Birds


Here are the Junco babies at 4 days old. All four of the eggs hatched. Way to go, feathered mama!

08/10/2012

PLEASE Dispose Of Your Trash Properly

QuickImage Tags: Nature Wild Things


It only takes a minute to dispose of trash properly. When you discard plastic 6-pack holders, PLEASE make sure to cut through all the loops first so wildlife won't be harmed by them.

If you see someone else's trash improperly discarded - cans, bottle, cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic 6-pack holders, etc. - please do the right thing and pick it up.

It's up to us to make up for all the irresponsible people out there.

04/04/2012

This Is What Coyote Hysteria Brings

Tags: Nature Wild Things


Alfred called his brother and Ray Dawson Jr., Dillon's father, to tell them of the incident. The father and son arrived at the scene and found Alfred "holding Dillon's body in his lap," the complaint said. Ray said his son, Ray Jr., hugged Alfred and said, "I know it was an accident," according to the complaint.

Alfred told investigators he had recently seen coyotes and "that was what I thought I had," according to the complaint. He said he got out of the vehicle and shot off-handed twice at the "coyote." When he went down to inspect the area, he found Dillon's body behind a log and placed his coat under the boy's head.

Duffield went back to Alfred's home to ask about the weapon. Troopers recovered a Japanese SKS 7.62 rifle at the scene and one shell casing.

Alfred told the investigator the gun was loaded when he went up the hill. He said he only heard one shell hit the vehicle when he fired the shot.

A search of the vehicle turned up the second shell casing.

Alfred Dawson was charged with negligent shooting fatality and shooting at a wild animal not plainly visible.

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03/07/2012

National Cherry Blossom Festival

QuickImage Tags: Life In General Nature
If you have never been to see the cherry blossoms in bloom on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., I highly recommend that you put it on your bucket list. You have never seen anything so ethereally beautiful!

The weather is warming very early this year so expect the blooms to open in March. They used to open mostly in April but that is changing along with the climate.

You can find the link to the cherry tree web cam here. http://www.nps.gov/cherry/index.htm

Average Peak Bloom Date: April 4

2012 Peak Bloom Date: March 24 – March 31

2012 Blooming Period Forecast: March 22 – ???

Enjoy!

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02/01/2012

Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2012

Tags: Nature Freethinkers
The new video publicizes the approaching Reason Rally in Washington DC on March 24, 2012. The Reason Rally is an attempt to bring attention to a diverse and greatly underrepresented and marginalized segment of the American citizenry.

Many of you around the world are aware that so many United States citizens remain closeted. They are fearful of ostracism if they are candid about having a naturalistic worldview. This circumstance exists despite the US being a supposedly secular and democratic nation.

In keeping with The Brights’ Net’s civic vision, BC is urging maximum attendance at this Rally. We are cooperating with other organizations and hoping to produce a notable crowd of citizens on the mall.

It is important to impress media and politicians, as well as citizens at large. Having a crowd in significant numbers will achieve that. Having a small crowd will not.

Please view the new video, and then share as you think best.

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09/19/2011

2011 Fourth Fungal Foray Forging Forward! September 30-October 2 (Friday to Sunday)

Tags: Nature
Mark your calendars! September 30-October 2 (Friday to Sunday) will make history as the fourth –fourth! Foray of the Nova Scotia Mycological Society.
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07/13/2010

We Have Seeen No Bats ThisYear.

Tags: Bats Nature Marble Mountain
We always have bats at our house in the summer. They have a particular preference for the umbrella over our patio table. This year there is no sign of them. I wonder if they succumbed to the White Nose fungus that has been killing off bats all up and down the east coast. This is not good.

06/25/2010

Every Day I Look

Tags: Life on Marble Mountain Nature
At approximately this time every year, we find a stunning Luna Moth attched to some part of our homestead, usually the wall of the shed. The watch is on. Keep tuned for developments.

09/14/2009

Food For Raccoon, Bears and Who Knows What Else

Tags: Nature
Whatever critter ate the big hive also dug out a nest of ground bees that Kit had torched in the orchard. Last night we had a raccoon visit the patio in the wee hours, presumably dipping into a dish of apples that we had left on the patio. Would that be the fearless yellow jacket muncher? The raccoon was a little on the small side. I don't know what I would have done had I looked out the bedroom window and found a bear on the patio!
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09/11/2009

5 Reasons to Befriend Your Local Beekeeper

Tags: Nature Food & Health News
September is National Honey Month, which means that there's more of an excuse than ever to find something to spread it on. But to fully appreciate honey, it helps to know about all that honey and honeybees contribute to your daily diet.

Honeybees are responsible for $15 billion in added crop value to large farms, and Albert Einstein once quipped that one out of every three bites an American takes is pollinated by honeybees—which is why colony collapse disorder is so distressing. Scientists still don't know what's causing the ailment, which first struck in 2006 and killed up to 90 percent of some beekeepers' hives. But small-scale organic beekeeping operations didn't see the same drastic declines in bee populations, and haven't reported as many collapses as large-scale commercial beekeepers have. So when the dust settles, the disorder may leave us with nothing but locally produced honey.

Here are five more reasons you should support local organic beekeepers:

#1: They take a hands-on approach. Commercial beekeepers use antibiotics on their hives to combat a bacterial disease called American foul brood, says Ross Conrad, author of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture (Chelsea Green, 2007). "It's a very deadly, very contagious disease," he says, that can spread quickly to other hives as bees in those hives eat honey from the affected hive. But, while antibiotics are good a wiping it out, they also kill the "good" bacteria that bees need. "Bees are like humans," Conrad says. "They need beneficial bacteria to help their digestive processes, and they also need it to process pollen, which provides nutrients and protein." Some tests have found traces of antibiotics in honey imported from abroad, so buy honey from local beekeepers who use mechanical methods, such as thoroughly cleaning out hives and removing infected honeycombs, rather than antibiotics, to kill diseases.

#2: Honey can heal. Honey is often touted as a cure-all for everything from burns (put raw honey on a burn as soon as possible to speed healing) to cuts and scrapes (honey's natural antiseptic properties allow it to work a bit like hydrogen peroxide). It's soothing for sore thoughts. And it may be good for your heart, too. Research by food scientists at the University of Illinois found that honey, especially dark honey, slowed the action of LDL "bad" cholesterol in test-tube studies. Buckwheat honey seemed to have the biggest effect. Honey is also full of health-protective antioxidants, though the clover honey that's ubiquitous in supermarkets has the least. Try buckwheat, sunflower, tupelo, and acacia types.

#3: They feed their bees well. "Bees collect honey all summer and store it away to eat all winter," says Conrad. "It adds back a lot of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that are found in the nectar from plants." In organic beekeeping, farmers are pretty responsible about leaving enough honey behind for the bees and harvesting just enough so bees don't get hungry. However, he says, if the bees don't produce enough, or if they eat up all their honey in the first few months of winter, beekeepers have to feed them something to keep them going. "Typically, an organic beekeeper feeds them organic sugar syrup," he says, but commercial and large-scale beekeeping operations may feed them corn syrup or even high-fructose corn syrup, which Conrad says contains sugars that are mildly toxic to bees. And a study just published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry proves him right. Those researchers found that that high-fructose corn syrup produces a toxic chemical that kills honeybees when it's heated, as it often is before it's fed to the bees.

#4: Honeybees are peacemakers. Reports of killer bees attacking and killing animals crop up every now and then, but those are Africanized bees, a hybrid specimen imported to South America in 1956 to breed with local bees to form a new breed better able withstand the temperature of the tropics. Their European counterparts that are used by American beekeepers, however, are pacifists that won't harm you unless under duress. As Conrad rights in his book, "Unless it feels threatened or is forced to defend itself or its hive, the bee is the only creature in the animal kingdom, that I am aware of, that does not kill or injure any other being as it goes through its regular lifecycle."

#5: Honey might improve your sex life. Apparently the word "honeymoon" was coined in ancient Europe as a reference to the practice of newlyweds using honeyed wine to build up their sexual stamina; honey is an easily digested, easily absorbed energy source. Herbalists have claimed that the bee pollen in raw honey is good for sexual performance; you can also buy bee pollen in pellet form. RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—

07/04/2009

Chanterelle Sighting

Tags: Nature
Chanterelles est arrivee! I saw the first of the chanterelles yesterday. Let the hunt begin!

06/15/2009

The Luna Moth is Back!

Tags: Nature
It is perched over the big garage door. If you want to see it, hurry, before it flies again.

06/12/2009

Luna Moths Have Arrived

Tags: Nature
There is a large and lovely Luna Moth attached to the siding over the sliding garage door. Beautiful! Every morning this time of year quite an interesting selection of moths attach themselves to the siding near the lights. Each day is a new treat to see what arrived overnight.

04/19/2009

A Big Black House Cat At Graveyard Cove

Tags: Nature
The day before yesterday, late in the afternoon, I was walking the dogs along the road to Beucken's, behind the cove. On the way back, Flyn had wandered into the woods, as he so often does. As we approached Graveyard Cove, a gorgeous black cat with a thick, shiny coat and full, long tail came flying out of the woods, across the road and into the woods on the the other side, in the direction of the graveyard. Hot on its tail was Flyn in pursuit. There isn't much he enjoys more than a good cat chase. Lily immediately decided to join in but I called them both back right away. I don't want any animals to be hurt, neither pets nor wild life.

The cat had an interesting odor of woodsmoke, almost a burnt smell.

03/03/2009

National Cherry Blossom Festival In Washington, D.C., Peak Bloom Dates April 3 - 9

Tags: Nature
2009 Press Conference Capped with Peak Bloom Announcement

A day after the worst snowstorm of the season covered the DC-area in white, festival representatives, participating organizations, business leaders, civic groups and government officials gathered at the Newseum to announce the 2009 Festival's events and preparations.

Rob DeFeo, Chief Horticulturalist for the National Park Service, concluded the event with his prediction for the peak bloom dates of the Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin: April 3 through April 9, 2009. www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org

11/30/2008

Seen Any Acorns?

Tags: Nature
Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop

By Brigid Schulte Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 30, 2008; A01

The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.

"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."

The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."

To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.

"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."

Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called "No acorns this year," reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."

Jennifer Klepper of Annapolis even blogged about it. "Last year our trees shot down so many acorns that you were taking your life into your own hands if you went outside without a crash helmet on," she wrote this month. "But this year? Forget it."

Louise Garris lives in an Arlington neighborhood called Oakcrest, which is home to towering oak trees. When she couldn't find any acorns, she began putting out peanuts for the squirrels. Last year, oaks in metropolitan Washington produced a bumper crop of acorns, and squirrels and other urban wildlife produced an abundance of young. This year, experts said, many animals will starve.

Garris started calling nurseries. "I was worried they'd think I was crazy. But they said I wasn't the only one calling who was concerned about it," she said. "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."

Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. "It's sort of a mystery," Zell said.

* * * A word about the mighty oak. Long before people paved over the area, much of the Washington region was covered by oak and hickory forests. There are at least 20 different species of oak trees in the region, and they produce acorns on different cycles: white oaks every year and red oaks every two years. Each tree, too, has its own two- to four-year cycle, producing many acorns one year and few in other years. Stressed trees, including those trying to survive extended drought conditions in the Washington region, often wildly overproduce acorns to ensure the survival of the species.

Oaks are one of the few trees that can self-pollinate and "clone" themselves. But they prefer the genetic variety that comes from the flowers of male trees pollinating the flowers of female trees. That's a dance that takes place every spring, usually in May, for anywhere from seven days to two weeks, depending on the weather.

And the weather is critical. A late frost can kill the flowers and any chance of pollination. But there was no late frost in this area last year, according to the National Weather Service. Gypsy moths and other insects can damage trees, but because the pollen is airborne, insects don't play much of a role in oak reproduction.

That leaves Simmons's theory. Last spring was so wet, he reasoned, perhaps the pollen was washed out of the air and down storm drains before it had time to do its work. Ed Zimmer, regional forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry, doesn't buy that.

"It would have to be Noah's flood kind of rain for me to believe that. Forty days of constant rain," he said. "I don't think that could be a factor because there's so much pollen and all these trees release it at different times, depending on if they're in full sun or partial sun, or even from different places on the tree."

But last May, when the oak trees would have been busy flowering, coating cars and sidewalks with a thick dusting of golden pollen, the National Weather Service logged 10.6 inches of rain at Reagan National Airport -- three times the normal amount, making it the third wettest month on record since 1871.

Whatever the reason for no acorns, foresters and botanists are paying attention.

But they say they're not worried yet. "What's there to worry about?" said Alan Whittemire, a botanist at the U.S. Arboretum. "If you're a squirrel, it's a big worry. But it's no problem for the oak tree. They live a long time. They'll produce acorns again when they're ready to."

White oaks can live as long as 300 years. Faster-growing red oaks can reach 200. And it takes only one acorn to make a tree, he said, which in an urban area with little open space is often more than enough.

"This is probably just a low year, a biological event, and it'll go away," Zimmer said. "But if this were to continue another two, three, four years, you might have to ask yourself what's going on, whether it is an indication of something bigger."

Foresters survey acorns, nuts and berries for their annual "mast" report that helps wildlife managers figure out how much food there might be for deer, bear and other wildlife. Those reports can fluctuate, and the foresters have noticed how "spotty" it is this year in parts of Northern Virginia.

"This is interesting enough to ask some questions and pay attention to," said Adam Downing, forestry and natural resources agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. "Fortunately, natural systems are resilient. Oaks are tough."

* * * Rachel Tolman, a naturalist at Long Branch, smeared a big glop of peanut butter on one of the nature center's trees. She grabbed handfuls of store-bought hazelnuts and placed them atop boxes to attract the tiny, nocturnal flying squirrels that tend to mass in the oaks every winter. Within seconds, the squirrels dive-bombed in from nearby trees, legs outstretched like fist-size silvery-gray sky divers. "They're so much more willing to be seen this year," Tolman said. "It's because they're so hungry."

Tolman was the first naturalist to notice that there were no acorns or hickory nuts this year. Each fall, starting in September, she takes daily walks through the forest to collect nuts and acorns to feed the flying squirrels and other animals at the center through the winter. This year, she found nothing. "I'm hoping this is just some weird anomaly," she said.

Hazelnuts gone and peanut butter licked clean, the still-hungry flying squirrels scampered high into the tree canopy and chirped angrily for more.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/29/AR2008112902045.html

11/09/2008

For The Birders - Vermont mountain draws hawk watchers

Tags: Nature
This time of year, there's bound to be someone sitting on top of Putney Mountain.

Not for the foliage. For the hawks.

Volunteers park their camp chairs on the peak and point their binoculars at the sky, counting and identifying the migrating kestrels, sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks and eagles soaring south over or past the mountain.

The information is included in data from about 200 sites in the U.S., Canada and Mexico kept by the Hawk Migration Association of North America to monitor populations.

"It's just to see how the hawks are doing, like are we down on a certain one, are we OK with another one," said Alma Beals, 74, of Westminster, who helped start the Putney Mountain count in 1987. "And then it is an awful lot of fun up here."

From the mountain, some birds are just specks, thousands of feet in the air. Others swoop so low you can see their color, size and markings.

This year's jackpot came on Sept. 16, when the group counted nearly 1,900 birds.

That many birds could really hook someone to hawk watching, said Beals.

"What hooked me is my late husband and I were coming up and it was early in the morning and they shouldn't have been coming through that soon and we had 900 in an hour that came through and that did it, I was hooked that day," Beals said.

Starting in September, she treks up the mountain five days a week.

Another member of the group, 66-year-old Marshall Wheelock, tries to make it three or four days a week. At least one volunteer is on the mountain every day from September through November to make sure the census is taken.

The loosely organized group of about 20 is in it as much for the birds as for the scenery, tranquility and camaraderie.

"We're here partially for the birds and partially just because we all enjoy the outdoors," said Wheelock, of Brattleboro, an original member of the group.

But it's the birds that get their attention.

"Bird," one of the hawk watchers says while scanning the sky.

The talk stops and the five men and two women try to get the raptor into view in the bright blue sky.

"A glass above the horizon and two glasses north of Stratton, maybe three," said Wheelock, referring to the binoculars and Stratton Mountain.

They uses landmarks to try to steer others to the birds _ above the oak, to the left of the birch, in the wispies (clouds).

Then they fall silent as they watch in unison.

Most times they can identify the birds, but sometimes because of sheer distance they can't.

The birds fly solo or in groups called kettles, taking advantage of thermal air currents caused by the sun heating the ground.

As the day gets warmer, thermals get stronger, and the birds get higher and more join in. It's been determined that a bird _ a broad-wing in a thermal _ can go 10 miles per hour straight up, said John Anderson, 58, of Dummerston.

"So he can go up 4 or 5,000 feet in a very short time. And from that distance he has about a 10-to-1 glide ratio, so ... he can glide 40,000 feet before he has to find another thermal. So they're getting a real good free ride," he said. And that's just what they want as they head south. "Wind from the north or west will hit the side of this mountain and give them uplifts that they can travel without having to expend much energy, hence they'll fly along the ridge and we'll be here waiting for them," Wheelock said.

Most of the birds are going where the food is. Broad-wings travel the furthest _ to central and South America. Birds like the red-tailed are partial migrants and their populations shift south several hundred miles.

The migration tallies reveal how the populations are doing and what routes they take.

Raptors, which are the top of the food chain, also are a good indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem, Wheelock said.

They seem to be holding their own in the Vermont, although there's been a dip in the kestrel population likely caused by a decline in undisturbed open fields. The biggest threat to the hawks are the use of pesticides in central and South America that are banned here, Anderson said.

The hawk watch also brings good news.

Bald eagles and peregrines, which were rare 20 years ago, are now rebounding. And there's few things more exciting for the group than seeing a golden eagle.

"We've had 53 golden eagles in the entire history of the site," Anderson said, estimating that in the 16 years the group had seen between 64,000 and 80,000 birds.

A day of hawk watching has its hazards. Some go home with sore necks and burning eyes from staring at the bright sky.

But like the birds, they come back _ year after year.

Spouses don't necessarily join in. Wheelock's wife doesn't mind him going; she calls herself "a hawk widow" in September and October.

Beth Hughes, 42, says the hawk watching feeds her in "this unsettling time."

She headed up the mountain on Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks.

"One by one, every active hawkwatcher left their jobs, spouses, home chores and came up to view 1,200 hawks fly overhead. That is where we went to cope, to heal," she said.

By LISA RATHKE The Associated Press Monday, October 27, 2008; 7:01 AM BROOKLINE, Vt.

Hawk Migration Association of North America: http://www.hmana.org/ © 2008 The Associated Press http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/27/AR2008102700377_pf.html

10/30/2008

Annual Birding Walk Saturday, November 1, 9:00 a.m.

Tags: Nature
A lively & interesting group of people will be meeting at the Visitor's Centre to do a bird count or bird watch, I forget which, this coming Saturday morning. This is an annual event and it will give you the opportunity to learn about the activity of birding and to learn about the birds that inhabit our community, in the company of like-minded people. I am sure it will be an enjoyable activity as well as an educational one so don't be shy, just do it. I believe there will be a gathering and lunch afterward. This activity is organized and run by expert birder Dave Johnston.

10/09/2008

Samhain -- Hallowe'en

Tags: Nature
Samhain is held at the Hunter's Moon near November 1. This year it falls on October 14, not on Hallowe'en or All Hallows Eve, the traditional Catholic holiday. Hunter's Moon: October 14, 2008.

This time of year is considered the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. One can communicate with departed loved ones or help those who need it with their transitions into the spiritual realm. It is a time to burn the phallic symbol erected long ago on Beltane, preparing it for the hearth fire present with the Yule log in December.

Any ashes from the fires can be plowed back into the fields, again to help the earth regain her fertility after having proferred her human stewards such wonderful bounty during the growing season. Many consider this festival the lunar new year. It is an air festival.

Beltane -- May Day or May 1.  Beltane has been traditionally celebrated on May Day but more accurately in the Wiccan calendar, look to celebrate this festival on the full moon closest to May 1. This holiday commemorates when farmers led their cattle from winter shelter to the summer pasture. Often the cattle were driven between two fires to purify them. Current celebrations include the erecting of a phallic symbol and dancing around it to promote fertility in the fields. It is a fire festival.

http://www.wicca.org/calendar/events.html

Herb is going to be one busy or sorry scarecrow in '09.

09/08/2008

Happy Trails, Hummingbirds!

Tags: Nature
The first wave of hummingbirds departed over Labor Day weekend, which fell on September 1 - very early. Every few days we notice fewer and fewer hummies feeding. I am watching one right now and I suspect it is a transient bird passing through on the first leg of the migration. We will continue to keep two feeders up, with a 3:1 nectar mix, to keep the travelers tanked up for the long flight until we are certain there are no more coming by this year, probably two more weeks.

08/29/2008

Bats and Wind - from Bat Conservation Times

Tags: Nature
Tens of thousands of bats are being killed each year at wind-energy facilities in North America. The grim pace of bat fatalities was documented four years ago by scientists of the BCI-led Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC). Biologists generally assumed that the bats were dying in collisions with the giant, spinning turbine blades. But now it appears that another culprit may be involved: many bats seem to be dying because the turbines cause a sharp drop in nearby air pressure.

In research published in the journal Current Biology and reported in Scientific American online, Erin Baerwald of the University of Calgary describes her examination 188 hoary and silver-haired bats killed at the Summerview wind farm in southwestern Alberta, Canada. Nearly half of the bodies showed none of the external injuries that would be expected from bat-blade collisions.

Baerwald’s research was supported in part by a Bat Conservation International Student Research Scholarship, which was by BWEC, an alliance of industry, government agencies, universities and conservation groups.

Scientific American reported that Baerwald autopsied 75 of the killed bats and found that nearly all them died of burst blood vessels in their lungs. “What we found,” she said, “is a lot of internal hemorrhaging.”

The online magazine said that air pressure drops sharply behind the turbine blades and “any bat unlucky enough to blunder into such an undetectable low-pressure zone would find its lungs and blood vessels rapidly expanding and, quickly, bursting under the new conditions.”

“If bats have a lungful of air as they fly through the air-pressure change, there's nowhere for the air to go,” Baerwald told Scientific American. “The small blood vessels around the lungs burst and fill the lungs with fluid and blood.” Birds rarely show similar damage because their lungs are more rigid and their capillaries are stronger.

It is unclear at this point how such pressure-related bat fatalities might best be prevented, but BWEC research continues.

The full impact of these bat-killing pressure zones extends far beyond the wind farm, the magazine said. “Such migrating bats travel from Canada as far as Mexico, eating thousands of insects en route, including crop pests such as moths and beetles. … ‘Bats killed in Canada could have a detrimental impact in America or Mexico,’ Baerwald notes. ‘It's not local. It's an ecosystem-wide issue.’”

http://www.batcon.org/news2/scripts/article.asp?articleID=246&newsletterID=49

08/19/2008

Home Birds: Hummies And Peeps

Tags: Nature
This morning I was privy to a bout of hummingbird aggression. A hummingbird came to the feeder for its breakfast and as it was perched there feeding another hummingbird flew over top of it, using its body to push the first birdie down and away from the feeder. Neither one got fed because they both were too busy chasing or defending. The first birdie tried over and over again to feed but the second birdie repeatedly pushed it away. Nasty little thing! There are 6 flower outlets on this feeder, there is no reason to fight, but they are so territorial that it doesn't matter to them. I wonder why the first birdie didn't simply go to anohther feeder or to one of the many flowers I plant for them each year.

Today our layer chicks will arrive. We ordered 12 chickens, 6 hens and 6 mixed gender, but we are recieving only 11 hens. That's fine for egg laying next year but we won't have any baby chicks next year until we re-order and get some roosters, chicken propagation being what it is, then the roo's will need to mature to breeding age and size. We'll get treated to the immature roo's learn to crow at dawn each morning. It's one of life's more entertaining experiences, even at that hour.

I am preparing a baby wading pool as the chick's first home. It will be filled with sawdust, paper mulch or straw of some sort. The peeps should be arriving with a feeder, a waterer and bags of feed. Flyn & Lily will be trained to watch over the chicks. "Let's go check on the chicks" will be a nearly hourly command for them until the birds get a little bigger and a safe chicken house gets built. Hopefully two dutiful, trained border collies will protect the chicks from wild things that intend to make a meal of them. It will be a joy to train the dogs to a new command, for both them and me.

07/20/2008

Shooting Stars On Tap For Summer

Tags: Nature
Best display is annual Perseid meteor shower in August

By Joe Rao, Skywatching Columnist, Space.com, updated 12:49 p.m. ET July 18, 2008

Anyone gazing at the summer night sky for even a short length of time is likely to spot a few "shooting stars" darting across the sky.

Meteors are typically bits of material left behind by comets. They're often no larger than sand grains, and they vaporize as they enter our atmosphere. In general, the Earth encounters richer meteoric activity during the second half of the year. Between August 3 and 15, there are a half-dozen different minor displays that are active.

The best display of the summer comes during the second week of August: the annual Perseid meteor shower. At its peak around the nights of Aug. 11 and 12, this display can produce 50 to 100 fast, bright meteors per hour.

This will be a fair-to-good year to watch for the Perseids. A bright gibbous moon, which initially will interfere with observations, will set at around 1:30 a.m., leaving the rest of the night dark for prospective meteor watchers. The only equipment you'll need is your eyes and a modest amount of patience.

Early morning is best

The main trick is to plan your meteor-watching for the pre-dawn hours. Not only will the moon have set, leaving skies darker, but there are simply more meteors then. This is due to the fact that during the pre-midnight hours we are on the "trailing" side of the Earth, due to our orbital motion through space. So any meteoric particle generally must have an orbital velocity greater than that of the Earth to "catch" us.

However, after midnight when we are turned onto the Earth's "leading" side, any particle that lies along the Earth's orbital path will enter our atmosphere as a meteor. These objects collide with our atmosphere at speeds of 7 to 45 miles (11 to 72 km) per second, their energy of motion rapidly dissipates in the form of heat, light, and ionization, creating short-lived streaks of light popularly referred to as "shooting stars."

Already begun

The very first forerunners of the Perseid shower began to appear around July 17. Unfortunately, that virtually coincides with a full moon, but even without any interfering moonlight you would only see a few per hour at best.

The numbers will begin to noticeably ramp up during the second week of August. The last Perseid stragglers may still be noted as late as Aug. 24. To go along with the Perseids, however, there are at least ten other minor meteor displays that are active at various times during July and August. While the hourly rates from these other meteor streams are but a fraction of the numbers produced by the Perseids, combined, overall they provide a wide variety of meteors of differing colors, speeds and trajectories.

Among these are the Southern Delta Aquarids, which reach their peak around July 28 and can produce faint, medium speed meteors; the Alpha Capricornids, which arrive at their maximum a couple of nights later on July 30 and are described as slow, bright, long trailed meteors and the Kappa Cygnids, peaking near Aug. 17 and have been classified as "slow moving and sometimes brilliant."

Earlier this year, Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute announced he had identified the probable breakup of a comet from several thousand years ago that may be responsible for the Kappa Cygnids; the asteroid 2008 ED69 may be a fragment from that breakup.

As meager as the individual hourly rates are with the minor displays running from mid-July through the third week of August, collectively they become strikingly augmented with the annual August Perseids. British observational meteor astronomer, Alastair McBeath comments that August is Perseid month, with " ... rising sporadic meteor rates, mild weather overnight, several other minor showers on show and it's vacation time. With the Perseids partly moon-free, all we need are clear skies!"

© 2007 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25736754/

07/18/2008

Impressive Polyphemus Moth

Tags: Nature
There is one next to the outdoor light this morning. Here's what Wikipedia says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antheraea_polyphemus Photos: http://www.cirrusimage.com/polyphemus_moth.htm

07/04/2008

I've Put this In Here Before

Tags: Nature
but it's important enough to birdwatchers and birds to repeat. http://www.flap.org/new/prevent.htm

06/19/2008

Full Moon Summer Solstice

Tags: Nature
According to what someone relayed to me two days ago, the last frost of the season usually happens at the full moon in June, which occurs a day or two before the solstice this year. The conversation was about gardens and when it is considered safe to put out tender, frost-sensitive plants. Mine green babies have been out for at least a week and I have been monitoring the nighttime temperature forecasts daily. I was ready to haul in the potted plants and cover the vegetable garden with hefty bags and sheet plastic. The season must be beyond frost concerns by now. The sky has been cloudy and yesterday we received substantial rain, which was needed and prevented frost. The low for the last two nights was 11C/52-53F. Not bad for a full-moon solstice! Now the concern is over germination, watering, replanting and harvesting. We have already begun replantings of greens, peas and beans. Come on summer!

The hummies are swarming. For those of you who are familiar with our travails of the flicker (woodpecker) that has been tapping out his noisy love song at dawn, Kit wrapped the metal chimney with black plastic Hefty bags and orange streamers. That deterred the bird for 2 days, he was back percussing on our chimney again yesterday morning, just after 5:00 a.m. Fortunately Kit slept through it and I was already up.

06/15/2008

Marble Mountain Orchid Photo-Op Hike

Tags: Nature
Up the mountain we went yesterday, cameras in hand. It's a good thing that we brought cameras because there were numerous wild flowers to be preserved in photos. One of my old favorites is mountain laurel and it is just now coming into bloom. At one point we sat for a rest and noticed a most gorgeous bright yellow lady's slipper in the woods just off the side of the road. Being a very rare plant, this is very possibly the only time any of us will see a yellow lady's slipper in our entire lives. It was a thrill for we plant lovers. All lady's slippers are protected and they are not to be touched - it's a law that will get you a fine if you break it. Plus there's the wrong kind of karma of harming nature and possibly contributing to the extinction of a lovely plant. Picking the flowers kills the plant and it is a plant that does not transplant - try it and the plant will surely die. There were a few pink lady's slippers. That was on the south side, on the north side there were no flowers. I saw no mushrooms, the weather is too dry. There has been no substantial rain in a week - week and a half.

This wasn't an "official" community hike. In a casual conversation last week some people mentioned that they had never been up the mountain so we took them up yesterday. The hike began at the McCann's and ended in Valley Mills. The hike was more strenuous than previous hikes. The road is tremendously torn up in quite a few places where atv's have dug deep ruts that filled with water. What a mess. Getting past these flooded segments of road require either negotiating a narrow piece of roadside or hopping from tuft to tuft on low mini-hillocks along the road and, if we're lucky, we don't sink into the mud or water upon landing. Sometimes we had to forge our way through thick undergrowth on a side detour through the woods. At times the going was almost grueling. I don't remember the road being quite so damaged in past hikes. Atv's are a mixed blessing, they keep the road open but at the expense of the quality of the road.

From experience I know that we return famished so all of us ended up on my patio for a very informal repast. All is good.

05/30/2008

Here's A Batter (groan) Story - Scientists Attack Urgent Threat to Bats

Tags: Nature
Scientists invited to the “White-nose Syndrome Science Strategy Meeting” in June will examine the latest evidence and try to identify the most urgent research needs for dealing with what may be the worst threat ever faced by bats. This mysterious malady has spread to five northeastern states in just two winters, killing hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats – and the cause remains unknown.

With mortality rates of up to 95 percent reported in some hibernation caves, entire bat species are at risk. If unsolved, this could become an ecological disaster, since bats consume enormous quantities of night-flying insects, including many of the nation’s most costly crop pests.

The emergency meeting was organized by Bat Conservation International, Boston University, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. BCI is the leading funder of the session, including travel expenses for participants, with generous support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and National Speleological Society.

A wide range of scientists and agencies are working to discover the cause – or causes – of these die-offs. Twenty-five leading scientists, including specialists in wildlife pathology, infectious diseases, toxicology, climatology and bat ecology, behavior and physiology, are invited to the session June 9-11 in Albany, New York. Representatives from a number of federal and state agencies will participate in discussions of current research and hypotheses and will independently develop management priorities.

With so much at stake, organizers hope the results will reduce duplication of effort and suggest the most efficient approaches for solving this critical puzzle before the damage becomes irreparable.

A disease-causing pathogen, pesticides or other toxins top the list of possible causes. One or a cascade of factors may be involved.

The malady is called “White-nose Syndrome” because many affected bats are found with a dusting of white fungus on their faces. The fungus’ role in the die-offs, however, is unclear. Dead or dying bats typically are emaciated (with little or none of the stored fat that bats must have to survive months of winter hibernation) and often dehydrated. Large numbers of these bats are reported emerging from hibernation caves much earlier than normal, and dead bats are sometimes found on the ground near cave entrances.

Die-offs have been documented at caves and mines in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and three possible WNS sites recently were reported in Pennsylvania. One affected species, the Indiana myotis, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. Little brown myotis are hardest hit, while northern myotis, eastern small-footed myotis and eastern pipistrelles are also confirmed as WNS victims.

http://www.batcon.org/news2/scripts/article.asp?articleID=237&newsletterID=46

05/05/2008

Wildlife Reports From The, Uh, Field

Tags: Nature
"Norman and Frances dropped in yesterday and while standing on my deck looking out towards Pistol Island noticed a few seals...One seal came by in front of the house and he/she was certainly a whale of a seal...the lake "was as calm as oil" and Flipper stuck his big big big head out of the water on several occasions...Norman was the resident seal expert and commented several times on the size of the brute...Norman fished lobster before and is familiar with seals and I think his little mermaid, Frances, is acquainted with the species as well." As reported to me by Hughie MacDonald.

I've been told, third-hand, that hummies have been sighted somewhat locally. They have not yet shown up at my feeders, which were put up a few days ago, but I am sure they will soon be arriving in swarms, attitude and all.

Yesterday we were rudely awakened between 5:00 am and 5:30 am by a loud, repetitive noise outside our house. At first I thought it was power equipment, eventually I came to the realization that it was a bird pecking on a building. Next, it started pecking on what sounded like the rain gutter. Then it moved on to what sounded like the chimney, pecking almost frantically. Then the pecking got frenetic and we thought a bird had gotten into the chimney, like the bat we found dead last year attached to the inside of the woodstove door in the early fall, so I opened the door to the woodstove and Kit got the ladder and climbed up on the roof. He found once he got up there that there was a slippery, light frost on the roof - not the time to find there's been an overnight frost. He removed the top of the chimney and peered down, looking in with the flashlight in hand. No bird, no critter of any sort, just an accumulation of creosote and soot. (Add chimney cleaning to chores list.) Later, Michealette told me it's probably a Flicker, a member of the woodpecker family. During mating season the male pecks on things that make his peck sound powerful in order to impress the females. We definitely were not impressed. Michealette said they had one that plagued them for 3 years. She and her daughters were not impressed, either. Ok, maybe we are a little impressed, it's the timing that gets to us. Do they always have to do it at the very first rays of dawn?

04/18/2008

There's A Website For Everything

Tags: Nature
There's even a website devoted totally to rhubarb. http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/ Pretty soon they'll probably have a presence on Second Life.

04/10/2008

It's As If Someone Flipped A Switch

Tags: Nature
Spring has arrived over the last week and it's happened suddenly. The weather went overnight from feeling like winter to looking and sounding like spring. There are new birdcalls of birds calling for mates. The day before yesterday I started hearing the owl calls again. Who-who, who-cooks-for-you. I love hearing the owls! The bulbs are sending up leaves and the shrubs are budding. It's time to make cuttings of plants that have overwintered in the potting shed.

Last Sunday we saw an interesting track in the snow across the frozen cove from Charlie's to the opposite shore. It seemed to be a combination of paw prints and drag slides, similar to the dotted lines in the road, only with paw prints. I took the dogs for a walk on the peninsula across the cove to look at the tracks at the other side to see where they led, where I met up with Hughie MacDonald. Hughie seems to think we have seals coursing across the coves and through the woods on the peninsulas. That is one busy seal. There are tracks coming and going across the next cove as well, across that peninsula and into Graveyard Cove and on into Oyster Cove. I know the seals are there but I never see them. Perhaps that's what the dogs bark at early in the morning. They seem to know to steer clear. There were also paw prints from what is probably a fox, that grizzled, old strawberry blond fox that looks like a weathered, wily old male. A fox version of a tom cat - a "tom fox".

Likewise, last week Flyn came across two raccoons. He went up to them, almost, but held back a little. Smart dog. Raccoons can do serious damage to a dog.

I have seen crows gathering beakfuls of grass for their nests. Maybe this year I'll be treated again to bald eagles gathering sticks for their aeries. I hope so. All the clumps of dog hair I gather are going into the side yard for the birds to use in their new nests. That should keep the chicks nice and warm.

04/07/2008

Birds get the credit, but bats eat more bugs

Tags: Nature
MAGGIE FOX Reuters April 4, 2008 at 1:47 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — Bats play a bigger role than birds do in controlling tropical insects, and the loss of bats might mean that morning cup of coffee gets more expensive, researchers say.

Two separate studies show that bats eat far more insects than birds do, protecting plants of the rain forest and, in one of the studies, coffee plantations.

The studies, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggest that the loss of bat populations worldwide might affect agriculture – not to mention making warm evenings outside more uncomfortable, the researchers said.

"Bats are impacting ecological systems in all kinds of ways, and I just want them to get the credit they deserve," said Kimberly Williams-Guillen, a tropical ecologist at the University of Michigan who led one of the studies.

Rhogeesa tumida is one of three species of insectivorous bats common in Mexican coffee plantations whose predation reduces insect numbers on coffee plants. (Science)

Dr. Williams-Guillen and colleagues studied bats at Finca Irlanda, a 300-hectare organic coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico.

In previous studies of insect damage, scientists have simply covered plants to keep off birds and then counted the bugs and measured what they ate. They forgot to account for what the bats did at night.

Dr. Williams-Guillen and her colleagues set up three types of enclosures – one that excluded only birds, one that excluded only bats at night and nets that kept out birds and bats day and night.

During the summer wet season, the coffee trees under the nets that kept the bats out had 84 per cent more insects, spiders and other bugs than unprotected plants, they reported.

Birds had far less of an effect, they said.

Hanging out on plants

Margareta Kalka of the Smithsonian Institution in Balboa, Panama, and her team did a similar experiment in what she described as pristine rain forest.

"Insects could freely pass through the nets to eat the plants, hang out on the plants," Ms. Kalka said in a telephone interview.

"Both bats and birds had a significant effect on plants. And in our particular study ... we found a bigger impact of bats than from birds," she added.

Plants shielded only from birds during the day had double the insect damage of plants that were uncovered, she said. Plants netted at night to keep bats out suffered three times the usual insect damage.

The findings have important implications for conservation, Ms. Kalka said.

"Bats worldwide are suffering," she said in a telephone interview. "People still don't understand what are the threats to bats. Climate change may be a threat to bats."

Dr. Williams-Guillen's team agreed.

"Bat populations are declining worldwide, but monitoring programs and conservation plans for bats lag far behind those for birds," they wrote.

Dr. Williams-Guillen also noticed that bats do not only catch insects on the fly – a technique that helps them eat half their body weight in a single night.

Many also perched upside-down from branches, swooping onto nonflying insects and other pests as they munched on leaves.

Ms. Kalka said it is clear why people credit birds with protecting crops.

"People like birds better and they are more obvious – they are colourful, they are singing," she said.

"People love them – they see them eating bugs off leaves. It seemed more obvious that birds have a role in pest control. Bats hunt in the dark so it is really hard to study them. They are completely overlooked."

03/24/2008

It's Cherry Blossom Season in D.C.

Tags: Nature
National Park Service forecasts dates for the Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park -- 2008 Peak Bloom: March 27-April 3 (2008 Bloom Period: March 26-April 9)

To view the trees via live cam, click here. http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/stream/stream.htm?parkcode=nama or http://www.nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/cherry-blossom-web-cam.htm

02/29/2008

Bats Are Dying From A Mysterious Disease In New England And New York

Tags: Nature
Mystery Disease Kills U.S. Bats

A mysterious malady is killing thousands of hibernating bats in New York and Vermont, with yet another outbreak reported in a Massachusetts mine. Scientists are working desperately to unravel the cause. The disease is called “white-nose syndrome,” because a fungus appears around the muzzle of some affected bats. Researchers do not know whether the fungus is causing or contributing to the deaths or is merely a symptom of another problem.

  Bat Conservation International has established a fund that is accepting donations to help finance this critical research. BCI is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other agencies to help find solutions to this critical problem.

  Describing the bat deaths as “an unprecedented die-off,” the USFWS is working with state biologists and wildlife officials in New York and Vermont and specialists around the country to understand the nature of this threat to several bat species, including the endangered Indiana myotis. No human impacts have been reported.

  White-nose syndrome was first reported last winter in New York, where it was associated with the deaths of more than 8,000 hibernating bats. This past winter, the USFWS says, the disease was again found at the same caves and mines, as well as in several other sites in New York, as well as Vermont and now Massachusetts.

  USFWS says the outbreak is especially disturbing because these bats congregate each winter by the thousands and tens of thousands to hibernate in caves and mines, where the disease could spread. Each spring, the bats disperse and migrate to summer roosts that might be hundreds of miles away.

  Because it is not known how the disease spreads, the Fish and Wildlife Service is asking cavers in New York and Vermont to avoid entering caves and mines until more information is available. Cavers are also urged to clean and decontaminate all gear between trips in order to minimize transmission of the unknown agent.

  In addition to Indiana myotis, white-nose syndrome has been reported among little brown myotis, eastern pipistrelles and northern long-eared bats.

  Scientists are examining dead bats in hopes of discovering the cause of death, which is needed to determine how the bats become infected and how that might be prevented. Others researchers are documenting the geographic extent of the outbreak and details of its impact and spread.

You can help with this crucial scientific effort by contributing to BCI’s Fund for White-Nose Syndrome Research

http://www.batcon.org/news2/scripts/article.asp?articleID=227&newsletterID=43

01/03/2008

Must-see meteor shower Friday morning - The notoriously unpredictable Quadrantids may end up being 2008’s best

Tags: Nature
The Quadrantid meteor shower is due to reach maximum in Friday's predawn hours. The Quadrantids are notoriously unpredictable, but if any year promises a fine display, this could be it. Indeed, this may end up being the best meteor shower of 2008. The Quadrantid (pronounced KWA-dran-tid) meteor shower provides one of the most intense annual meteor displays, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours. The timing of peak activity favors Western Europe and eastern North America. Weather permitting, skywatchers in rural locations could see one or two shooting stars every minute during the peak.

As viewed from mid-northern latitudes, we have to get up before dawn to see the Quadrantids at their best. This is because the radiant — that part of the sky from where the meteors emanate — is down low on the northern horizon until about midnight, rising slowly higher as the night progresses. The growing light of dawn ends meteor observing usually by around 7 a.m. So, if the "Quads" are to be seen at all, some part of that eight-hour active period must fall between 2 and 7 a.m.

According to the International Meteor Organization, maximum activity this year is expected on Friday at 1:40 a.m. ET.  For those in the eastern United States, the radiant will be about one-quarter of the way up in the east-northeast sky. The farther to the north and east you go, the higher in the sky the radiant will be. To the south and west the radiant will be lower and the meteors will be fewer. 

Read more http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22488764/

12/30/2007

The Nearly Bright-As-Day Winter Solstice Full Moon

Tags: Nature
Ever since the full moon at winter solstice a week ago my 2-year-old pooch Lily has gotten me up at odd hours, thinking that it's so bright out that it must be morning and time to get up. Last night she slept through the night, finally. The diminishing moon and cloud cover kept the night dark enough for solid slumber. Really, the night sky has been bright enough to see easily without lights up to a week later. Apparently, this past solstice was an unusually bright one, with the moon closer than normal.

The following is excerpted from Accuweather. "The full moon occurs Sunday evening around 8:17 PM eastern time. It will light up the sky quite nicely on Christmas Eve (Monday) due to it rising a bit higher than normal. This may not happen again until 2023, so don't miss it. Not far from the high flying moon, Mars will be shining at a fabulous -1.6 magnitude and will reach its opposition (the point at which Earth is directly between Mars and the Sun). This means that Mars will be visible all night long, and of course is still near Gemini. Those of you in northwestern Canada, Alaska, northern Russia, eastern Europe and the northeastern British Isles may be in for a treat of a different kind. The nearly full moon will appear to "occult" Mars Sunday night. Those of you in most other places will see the two very near to each other. Cool stuff. Get some pictures! Hoping for some clear(ish) skies here... " http://www.accuweather.com/news-blogs.asp?partner=accuweather&blog=astronomy

Also, on Stargazer "... mark these three dates on your calendar: December 22nd, 23rd and 24th. On December 22nd not only will an almost full Moon be at its very closest for the month but the 22nd is also the day of the winter solstice, the first day of winter. On the next day the 23rd the Moon is officially full and thus has the name Moon before Yule and will be the highest riding full Moon of any full Moon until December 26th of the year 2023. On top of which on December 24th the red planet Mars will be at its brightest and officially at opposition and up all night riding across the sky alongside both a full Moon and good old St. Nick. ... it gets even better because on Sunday Dec. 23rd if you go outside just after sunset and look east you will see an exquisite full Moon followed by the rouge gold planet Mars which right now is at its closest and brightest until 2016. And both Mars and the Moon will travel across the sky all night long side by side reaching their highest point between midnight and 1 a.m. And when I say highest point I mean highest because this full Moon will take the highest path of any full Moon across the sky until the year 2023. And Mars will take its highest path across the sky until the year 2040! " http://www.jackstargazer.com/scripts0SG0750.html Yes, I did see Mars and it was very bright and easily visible.

All this is pretty interesting for skywatchers. Next month we'll be following news of the asteroid that's headed toward Mars at the end of January, with a 1 in 75 chance of striking the red planet. Apparently that's big news so you'll be apprised of it regularly, whether you want to or not. It is not expected to threaten Earth but it may pass close by.

12/09/2007

Meteors Again

Tags: Nature
Best meteor shower nears its peak . Geminids are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers'

By Joe Rao

Skywatching Columnist

Space.com

updated 2:49 p.m. ET, Fri., Dec. 7, 2007

What could be the best meteor display of the year will reach its peak on the night of Dec.13-14.

Here is what astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg have written of the annual Geminid Meteor Shower: "If you have not seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor."

The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini the Twins, because the meteors appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

Also in Gemini this month is the planet Mars, nearing a close approach to Earth later this month and shining brilliantly with yellow-orange hue. To be sure, Mars is certain to attract the attention of prospective Geminid watchers this upcoming week.

The Geminid meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August.

Studies of past find the "Gems" have a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness.

They are of medium speed, encountering Earth at 22 miles per second (35 kps). They are bright and white, but unlike the Perseids, they leave few visible trails or streaks. They are four times denser than most other meteors, and have been observed to form jagged or divided paths.

Geminids also stand apart from the other meteor showers in that they seem to have been spawned not by a comet, but by 3200 Phaethon, an Earth-crossing asteroid. Then again, the Geminids may be comet debris after all, for some astronomers consider Phaethon to really be the dead nucleus of a burned-out comet that somehow got trapped into an unusually tight orbit. Interestingly, on Dec. 10, Phaethon will be passing about 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from Earth, its closest approach since its discovery in 1983.

The prospects for this year

The Geminids perform excellently in any year, but British meteor astronomer, Alastair McBeath, has categorized 2007 as a "great year." Last year's display was hindered somewhat by the moon, two days past last quarter phase. But this year, the moon will be at new phase on Dec. 9. On the peak night, the moon will be a fat crescent, in the south-southwest at dusk and setting soon after 8 p.m. That means that the sky will be dark and moonless for the balance of the night, making for perfect viewing conditions for the shower.

According to McBeath, the Geminids are predicted to reach peak activity on Dec. 14 at 16:45 GMT (11:45 a.m. ET). That means those places from central Asia eastward across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska are in the best position to catch the very crest of the shower, when the rates conceivably could exceed 120 per hour.

"But," he adds, "maximum rates persist at only marginally reduced levels for some six to 10 hours around the biggest ones, so other places (such as North America) should enjoy some fine Geminid activity as well."

Indeed, under normal conditions on the night of maximum activity, with ideal dark-sky conditions, at least 60 to 120 Geminid meteors can be expected to burst across the sky every hour on the average. (Light pollution greatly cuts the numbers.)

Earth moves quickly through this meteor stream producing a somewhat broad, lopsided activity profile. Rates increase steadily for two or three days before maximum, reaching roughly above a quarter of its peak strength, then drop off more sharply afterward. Late Geminids, however, tend to be especially bright. Renegade forerunners and late stragglers might be seen for a week or more before and after maximum.

What to do

Generally speaking, depending on your location, Gemini begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight is coming to an end. So you might catch sight of a few early Geminids as soon as the sky gets dark.

There is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors. Earth grazers are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from a point near to even just below the horizon. Such meteors are so distinctive because they follow long paths nearly parallel to our atmosphere.

The Geminids begin to appear noticeably more numerous in the hours after 10 p.m. local time, because the shower's radiant is already fairly high in the eastern sky by then. The best views, however, come around 2 a.m. local time, when their radiant point will be passing very nearly overhead.

The higher a shower's radiant, the more meteors it produces all over the sky.

But keep this in mind: At this time of year, meteor watching can be a long, cold business. You wait and you wait for meteors to appear. When they don't appear right away, and if you're cold and uncomfortable, you're not going to be looking for meteors for very long! The late Henry Neely (1878-1963), who for many years served as a lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium, once had this to say about watching for the Geminids: "Take the advice of a man whose teeth have chattered on many a winter's night — wrap up much more warmly than you think is necessary!"

Hot cocoa or coffee can take the edge off the chill, as well as provide a slight stimulus. It's even better if you can observe with friends. That way, you can keep each other awake, as well as cover more sky. Give your eyes time to dark-adapt before starting.

Bundle up and good luck!

2007 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22149504/

12/05/2007

Tough Little Birdies

Tags: Nature
I've been very delinquent in making entries so when I saw this on National WildIife Federation's website I decided it would make a good return article to share with you. We all like winter birds, right? And there are lots of chickadees at our feeders now. Yesterday I cleaned out a large pumpkin and put the seeds & strings that got scraped out of the cavity into a mesh onion bag. I hung the bag near the patio door on a plant hanger. The little birdies have been enjoying it immensely, judging by the frequency of their visits.

Backyard Birding

By George H. Harrison

How Chickadees Weather Winter

The little black-capped birds that visit your yard during the cold months have evolved some remarkable adaptations to help them survive even the most frigid conditions

IF YOU LIVE in the northern half of the country, the odds are good that a black-capped chickadee will visit your property this winter. The most widespread of North America’s seven species of chickadees, it also is one of the most commonly seen backyard birds, particularly during the cold months when most other featured creatures have flown south.

For years, scientists have been intrigued by the ability of these tiny imps to survive—and thrive—during even the most frigid days. As a result, today biologists have a clear understanding of many of the species’ survival techniques, which likely are employed by the other members of the chickadee clan.

“Black-capped chickadees have a wonderful assortment of adaptations for the winter,” says biologist Susan M. Smith, who has studied the birds’ biology and behavior for more than a quarter century at Cornell University and Mount Holyoke College. “Carefully hidden food items, dense winter coats, specially selected winter roost cavities and, perhaps most remarkable of all, the ability to go into nightly hypothermia, thus conserving large amounts of energy, greatly increase the chances of survival.”

The chickadee’s ability to go into regulated hypothermia enables it to actually lower its body temperature, in a controlled manner, to about 12 or 15 degrees F below its normal daytime temperature of 108 degrees F. This allows the bird to conserve almost 25 percent of its hourly metabolic expenditure when the outside temperature is at freezing. The lower the outside temperature, Smith found, the more energy the bird conserved.

“Chickadees are not the suburban wimps that some people think they are,” says wildlife ecologist Margaret Clark Brittingham. For three winters in Wisconsin in the 1980s, Brittingham kept track of 576 black-capped chickadees. Her research at the University of Wisconsin showed that during milder winter weather, chickadees that had been exposed to feeders as a supplemental food source apparently did not become dependent on the feeder food. They survived at the same rate when the feeder food was removed as did chickadees that subsisted solely on insect eggs and wild seeds and had never been exposed to feeder food.

However, Brittingham’s research did find that during harsh weather (below 10 degrees F), black-capped chickadees benefited from supplemental food they obtained at feeders. The survival rate of her subjects, compared to those birds that obtained less-accessible food from the wild during severe winters, nearly doubled when they consumed sunflower seeds at feeders. “The thing that really impressed me about chickadees,” she says, “is their metabolism. We weighed birds early in the morning and found that they had virtually no body fat. Yet the same birds examined in the afternoon of the same day were bulging with fat.”

Though biologists uncovered many of the chickadee’s survival secrets, no one had focused on where the birds performed these amazing acts of energy conservation at night—that is, until University of Alaska–Fairbanks biologist Susan Sharbaugh began to track them down seven years ago.

Sharbaugh spent several winter nights trying to find out how a creature as light as a handful of paper clips survives nighttime temperatures of 40 below zero F. She confirmed earlier studies when she found that during the darkest days of Alaska’s winter, black-capped chickadees have to stuff themselves with enough seeds and frozen insects to survive 18-hour nights. Her research showed that the birds gain an additional 10 percent or more of their body weight each day. (Another study found that chickadees consume 60 percent of their body weight each day.) They then went into hypothermia to reduce their metabolism and used up excess body fat to shiver all night to keep warm. The human equivalent of this overnight phenomenon would be a 165-pound man spending a frigid night outside and emerging 15 or so pounds lighter in the morning. To learn where the birds spent winter nights in Alaska, Sharbaugh attached radio transmitters weighing less than .5 grams to some chickadees. Then by following the beeping signals after dark, she was led to a birch tree with a broken top. She returned the following day at twilight and watched a chickadee dive into a tree hole the size of a quarter.

Sharbaugh found several more of the birds’ roosts that year—all in birches, suggesting that the trees provided better roosting conditions than other tree species in the region. “For chickadees, finding a roost is just as critical, if not more critical, than finding food,” she says. “Birds that small have to find a good insulated place to spend the night.”

Field Editor George H. Harrison is the author of more than a dozen books on birds and backyard creatures. To learn more about attracting wildlife to your property, visit www.nwf.org/backyard.

Making Chickadees Feel at Home

Chickadees are among the easiest birds to lure into your yard, especially during winter. Here are a few tips to help attract them:

· Put out sunflower seeds, either in the shell or cracked. They have a high fat content, essential to the birds’ winter survival, and are a favorite food of all chickadee species.

· Almost any bird feeder will attract chickadees, but they seem to be especially comfortable eating from a tube feeder.

· Chickadees will frequent yards that have adequate natural cover near feeders, giving the birds an area to hide quickly when threatened, as well as a protected night roost.

· A small birdhouse with a 1 1/4-inch entrance hole, placed in heavy natural cover, may provide both a winter roost and summer nesting site for chickadees.

11/09/2007

North Mountain Nature And Garden Club Meeting Notes

Tags: Nature
Firstly, my apologies for not providing notes from last month's meeting but I did not attend it due to circumstances beyond my control. (Communication breakdown. I didn't get notified of the particulars - where, when, what - of the meeting ahead of time. Just as well, I had a headache that day.)

Next Meeting: In lieu of December's meeting, the NMN&GC will participate in the Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count. More details to come later.

Meeting Notes:

Very little business was covered in order to make time for our guest speaker. I gave an overview of our club as there were a number of guests and new members.

Dave Johnston, expert birder from Port Hawkesbury, spoke at our meeting last night for at least an hour and he was excellent. He took questions afterward and spoke to the birding environment of Marble Mountain. Someone inquired about the prevalence of grosbeaks and he informed us that they follow the cone crop, which was good this year. Here is an overview of what was covered.

Most wild bird seed mixes that you find in stores (like Wal-Mart and supermarkets) is junk. Look for finch seed, specifically, and black niger seed. Sunflower seed, especially the black oil type, is good for feeders. Birds like suet and you can make your own with any piece of fat. A good suet blend is comprised of 1/3 lard or other rendered or ground fat, 1/3 peanut butter, any kind will do, and 1/3 oatmeal. An upside-down suet feeder that feeds from underneath is preferable, to thwart starlings.

Birds are identified primarily by their calls. From May – July birds are very vocal as they are calling to find a mate. That’s a good time to identify birds by their song or sound. To identify calls when he hears them in the outdoors, Dave carries a backpack with speakers and a recording of birdsongs. A bird will often answer a call of its own kind, even a recorded call.

Binoculars are helpful and at times necessary when birding. Dave recommends 8x24 binoculars in order to access enough light to be truly useful. The numbers refer to the distance and the width of the opening. Look for a clear close-up focus of 5’, much farther than that and you will lose focus of birds that are close. He also recommends a spotting scope.

The Christmas bird count runs from mid-December to early January. Early in the count season participants are required to spend 3 days identifying birds, then on the 4th day the birds are recorded. Every bird is recorded, both field and feeder birds. Toward the end of the count season another 3 days are required to record birds. Feeder and field bird counts are kept separate. The number of participants and the number of hours spent are also recorded as well as the distance traveled and weather conditions. Territory is assigned in a 15 mile radius and needs to be applied for to the Audubon Society.

At the end of the meeting a thankyou gift of wine was presented to Dave.

Birding Resources:

A good, local birding resource in Mahone Bay. http://www.forthebirdsnatureshop.ca/

NS Bird Society http://nsbs.chebucto.org/

Our gratitude goes out to Dave and Mary Johnston for an excellent presentation and pleasant company.

10/31/2007

Creating A Brights Constituency

Tags: Nature
I have mentioned this organization before and I want to remind you that it is still out there for the benefit of all of us and it is growing in size and recognition.

The Brights -- Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview -- http://www.the-brights.net (A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements.)

You can support them in several ways, one of which is to purchase a calendar. You can also support them by making a donation and simply by speaking up and letting people know about The Brights. You can put the insignia on your own website, weblog, tee shirt, business card, the list goes on and on. A number of suggestions are offered on the website.

As the November newsletter says, "The Brights' Network welcomed over 800 new Brights in October. Altogether, slightly over 34,500 individuals have registered. Next goal (after 35,000) will be growing to 50,000 Brights. To achieve that target well before the end of 2008, it is important that you do your part to extend this movement for civic justice for those whose worldviews are naturalistic. (The organization is dedicated to the secular concept of a level playing field of social acceptance and civic participation for all, inclusive of people who have a wholly naturalistic outlook.) The Brights' website holds the keys to anyone's understanding the nature of this endeavor, so even if you are not a Brights activist, you can still invite persons to view the site when appropriate occasions arise."

For some unknown reason there are no members listed in Nova Scotia. There are listings for members in Montreal, Ottawa and Ontario (you can find them on The Brights website) but not NS. I invite you to remedy that by signing up. Don't leave me here all by myself! Please, someone tell me why there are no Brights in NS. Are we not oppressed enough, are the religious among us so pleasant and non-oppressive as to not drive us to join The Brights? Simply going by the behavior of self-identified Christians, I'd venture to guess that the largest number of Brights is in the US.

10/31/2007

Birding Excursion meets at Visitor's Center @ causeway Saturday 9:00 am

Tags: Nature
As told to me by Carolyn -

Lunch at Mr. Johnson's house after the excursion 3:00 a talk in the church across from civic center on nesting owls

I'd tell you more but this is all I have. On a related note, here is information on a very serious issue, one that has happened at my house numerous times.

One to ten million migratory birds collide with windows in Toronto each year. This global problem is the cause of decline for many bird species - some of which are already threatened with extinction. Collisions with structures are now the leading cause of death to migratory birds.

http://www.flap.org/

10/23/2007

Fall Bird Feeding Tips

Tags: Nature
This is from the Organic Gardening e-newsletter:

Fall is the time to clean and stock feeders and to stock up on birdseed. Here's what they'll need.

AT THE FEEDER

Repair any feeders that need a makeover. You may need to pound in a loose nail or replace a cracked bottom piece. Put out several suet feeders so all your resident birds get a turn. A single woodpecker can monopolize a suet feeder for most of the day. Stock a very low tray feeder (1 foot or less above the ground) with cracked corn for mourning doves, who gather in flocks to feed in fall. Keep the hummingbird and other nectar feeders up as long as you dare; until freezing temperatures threaten; more that one late migrant has been saved by a forgotten feeder. Keep the birdbath brimming. Fresh water is vital year-round.

IN THE GARDEN

There are plenty of ways to provide bird treats in your garden in the fall. Try some of these ideas. Keep an eye on any berries or fruits in your yard. They're prime foods for birds that may alight during migration. The Virginia creeper that sprawls through my garden as a groundcover offers its midnight blue berries in early fall, right when vireos and orioles are passing through. The vines of fox grapes winding among the treetops attract later migrants like rose-breasted grosbeaks and tanagers.

Listen for the quiet twitters and sharp chip! notes that betray the presence of song sparrows, white-throats, and other hard-to-see native sparrows around your yard. In the fall, a bounty of ripening seeds on garden plants, grasses, and weeds brings flocks of these LBBs (that's "little brown bird" in birder talk) to backyards. They may stop at abundant seed patches for a morning or a whole week, but they're small, quick moving, and wary of people, so you'll hear them more often than you?ll see them.

AT THE GARDEN CENTER

Check garden centers and nurseries for viburnums, bayberries, and other shrubs that are already full of berries. Cart them home carefully so as not to dislodge the fruit, pop them into the garden, and the birds will reap the benefits immediately. One September I brought home three deciduous hollies; while I was planting the first one, cedar waxwings descended on the shrubs that were still in the pickup truck.

If you love a bargain, check the end-of-season sales at nurseries and garden centers. Trees and shrubs—usually the biggest investment you'll make when creating a bird-friendly yard—are often available at half price. Although the selection may not be as big as it is during the spring, the savings are hard to beat!

http://www.organicgardening.com/feature/0,7518,s1-2-7-1371-2-1-2,00.html

10/20/2007

Orionids meteor shower is scheduled to reach its maximum before sunrise on Sunday morning, Oct. 21

Tags: Nature
Remains Of Halley's Comet To Fall Sunday

Some astronomers think weekend Orionids will be flashier than usual By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist Space.com Updated: 1:25 p.m. ET Oct. 18, 2007

A junior version of the famous Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to reach its maximum before sunrise on Sunday morning, Oct. 21. This meteor display is known as the Orionids because the meteors seem to fan out from a region to the north of Orion's second brightest star, ruddy Betelgeuse.

Weather permitting and under very dark skies away from light pollution, skywatchers could see several meteors per hour. Rates will be significantly lower in cities and suburban areas. Interestingly, this year, brilliant Mars is nearby and the apparent source of these meteors, called the radiant, will be positioned roughly between Mars and Betelgeuse.

When And Where To Watch Currently, Orion appears ahead of us in our journey around the Sun, and has not completely risen above the eastern horizon until after 11 p.m. local daylight time. Expect to see few, if any, Orionids before midnight — especially this year, with a bright waxing gibbous Moon glaring high in the western sky. Moonset is around 1:30 a.m. local daylight time on Sunday and that's a good time to begin preparing for your meteor vigil. At its best several hours later, at around 5 a.m. when Orion is highest in the sky toward the south, Orionids typically produce 20 to 25 meteors per hour under a clear, dark sky.

"Orionid meteors are normally dim and not well seen from urban locations," said meteor expert Robert Lunsford. "It is highly suggested that you find a safe rural location to see the best Orionid activity." According to Lunsford, Orionid activity has been increasing noticeably since Oct. 17 when they were appearing at roughly five per hour in dark-sky conditions. After peaking on Sunday morning, activity will begin to slowly descend, dropping back to around five per hour around Oct. 26. The last stragglers usually appear sometime in early to mid November.

Halley's Legacy In studying the orbits of many meteor swarms, astronomers have found that they correspond closely to the orbits of known comets. The Orionids are thought to result from the orbit of Halley's Comet; some of the dust that has shaken loose from this famous object as it runs its gigantic loop from the Sun out to Neptune ram our atmosphere to create the effect of these "shooting stars."

There are actually two points along Halley's path where it comes relatively near to our orbit. One of these points corresponds to early May and causes a meteor display that emanates from the constellation Aquarius, the Water Carrier. The other point lies near the late October part of our orbit and produces the Orionids. In May we meet the "river of rubble" shed by the comet on its way outward from their nearest approach to the Sun, while in October we encounter the part of the meteor stream moving inward toward the Sun. The meteors are moving through space opposite or contrary to our orbital direction of motion. That explains why both the Aquarids and the Orionids hit our atmosphere very swiftly at 41 miles (66 kilometers) per second — only the November Leonids move faster.

Another distinguishing characteristic that the October Orionids share with the May Aquarids is that they start burning up very high in our atmosphere, possibly because they are composed of lightweight material. This means they likely come from Halley's diffuse surface and not its core.

What To Expect Last year there was an unexpected surprise when the Orionids put on a display more worthy of the Perseids. Observers saw meteors falling at double the normal rate, at 40 to 50 per hour. In addition, many Orionids were much brighter than normal; a few even rivaled Venus in brilliance.

Two meteor researchers, Mikaya Sato and Jun-ichi Watanabe of Japan's National Astronomical Observatory, recently announced in a paper released by the Astronomical Society of Japan that the unusual concentration of large particles that produced last years Orionids were probably ejected from Halley's Comet almost 3,000 years ago and are being held together by interactions with Jupiter about every 71-years.

There appeared to have been unusual Orionid activity during the years 1933 through 1938 so perhaps, after an absence of seven decades, this concentration of comet material has returned, implying another rich Orionid display might be in the offing this year.

The only way to know is to step outside just before the break of dawn on the morning of Oct. 21 (try the mornings of Oct. 20 and 22 as well). Almost certainly you would sight at least a few of these offspring of Halley's Comet as they streak across the sky.

© 2007 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com. URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21362492/?GT1=10450

09/26/2007

A little Fall Season Gardening Advice

Tags: Nature
This time of year, absent a cold frame, try planting radishes, lettuce for baby greens into December and mesclun mixes. Spinach, beet greens and chard sown now will overwinter as small plants, and produce a fine spring crop. You can also plant garlic for harvest next summer. - Adrian Higgins

09/17/2007

Up Close & Personal

Tags: Nature
The day before yesterday I went with a couple of other women to Orangedale and on the way there we got to watch a beaver up close on the side of the road as it munched clover and vetch flowers at the edge of the lake. After a while it tired of us, scooted into the water and swam away. They do indeed have long, flat tails. Getting to watch the beaver ups close was a true treat. We were amazed at how comfortable it was in our presence. It sat there eating for 2 - 3 minutes before it left.

09/10/2007

The Hummies Have Departed For The Year

Tags: Nature
For the first time this season we saw no hummingbirds at the feeders. Yesterday I saw perhaps two. The day before that I saw anywhere from three to six, it's difficult to count birds that move so quickly and constantly. We'll leave the feeders up for another week or so to help the stragglers along on their migration. I miss them already.

We'll put the feeders back up on Mother's Day 2008.

09/03/2007

Our Friends Are Still Here

Tags: Nature
The hummies, that is. The male hummingbirds departed for points south and west two weeks ago, leaving the females and juveniles to depart at a later date. Since the territorial males left, action at the feeders has been harmonious and not nearly so noisy. They also are much more inclined to feed from the flowers. Lately the numbers have been even scarcer, which would mean that either the females or juveniles have already left for the year. Which is the last group to migrate? We will keep nectar in the feeders for a couple of weeks after the last sighting, just to help the stragglers that are stopping to rest and tank up. I will miss them. Today is Labor Day and the birdies have nearly all departed.

Yesterday Michealette and I picked blackberries, then I cooked them into jam. They were big and plump on the canes in the backyard. By the time they were cooked down and the pulp removed, I ended up with slightly less than 3 one cup jars of jam. That's not a lot of jam for all the effort that went into them but it is tasty and home made. The jam will be a taste of summer on a cold winter's day.

We also picked wild chanterelles in the nearby woods. I cooked mine with yellow onion and chives, doused them with a little cream and brandy, then spooned them over steak at dinner last night. The leftovers went into a fritatta for breakfast. Euell Gibbbons would be proud of us.

The weather is lovely though breezy today. We'll be taking a cruise on the lake in a short while. Today is also a good day for gathering seeds from nasturtiums, sweet william coreopsis, rudbeckia and whatever else is providing seeds. This is turning out to be a pretty nice Labor Day.

05/31/2007

Nesting Geese on the Bras d'Or Lake

Tags: Nature
A couple of weeks ago the dogs and I came across a nesting goose as we walked along the beach on Clarke Island. She took flight and paddled around in the water for a long time after we passed by, honking incessantly. Eventually she positioned herself back on the nest to further incubate her 6 eggs. This morning we went back out to the island and again alarmed her, sending her out into the water, this time with her mate, followed by two fluffy, little gray goslings. We looked in the nest and found two empty shells and one yet to hatch. A predator must have gotten the other three eggs - that's half her clutch gone for food to some other creature. I don't mind seeing Canadian geese on the island, that's where they belong, where predators keep their numbers in check. That's a much better place for them than the lakes of office parks and shopping centers.

Terns must also be nesting. As we walked the beach they took flight squawking and squealing in alarm. I wonder if they lay eggs in rock nests along the shoreline like the piping plovers do. That would explain their apparent bird hysteria. The dogs do no harm to the nests, they merely sniff & look. Flyn was going to eat the empty shells that the hatchlings left behind but I told him not to. I don't know if it would do him any harm and so I chose the safe policy - leave it. If in doubt ...

05/28/2007

They're here!

Tags: Nature
The hummies arrived at our feeders two weeks ago, starting with the mature males tanking up en route for a farther destinations, followed a week later by younger males and females. Today there is bickering over the feeders and probably for mates as well. The weather today is rainy and chilly, 49F/9C, which must be quite cool for the little birds.

I'm impatient for summer to arrive. So far there have only been the occasional day of warmth and sun, then right back to the chilly temps. The locals say that once we get past the next new or full moon (depending on who says it), the weather will warm up and frost will be history until fall. Btw, June will have two full moons, making the second one a "blue moon".

Today is Memorial Day in the US, it's the day when the dead are remembered and families visit the cemeteries to put flowers on the graves of relatives who have passed on. It's also the kickoff to the summer season, when people have cookouts and parties. We're going to be celebrating with scallops, good wine we purchased at the excellent Beer, Wine and Spirits Showcase in the Civic Center Saturday evening, plus some chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert that I made this afternoon. There is one in white chocolate because Kit can't eat chocolate at night, it keeps him up. This was the first time I made them and it wasn't too bad an ordeal. I scorched the white chocolate that was melting over a tea light so I only got one out of that so, learning from my mistakes, I rigged a teeny double boiler of sorts with a tea light that's designed to melt butter for lobster. It went well but more practice would be a good thing in more ways than one.

01/05/2007

Flowers in January!

QuickImage Tags: Nature
While out for my daily walk with my dogs yesterday afternoon I took this picture of a lavender-color bloom in a neighbor's yard. Can you believe it - on January 4? It has been identified by Dell Landry, who organizes the excellent Autumn Joy Garden Club, as the Johnson's Blue Geranium. I love it!

01/02/2007

Rain, Rain, Rain Instead of Snow, Snow, Snow

Tags: Nature
On New Year's Eve we had enough snow that we were glad to have someplace close to go to party. Snow fell all evening long. Yesterday was nice and sunny yet just cold enough that we went for our daily hike in the snow, hovering just at the freezing point. Today we're getting pouring rain.

Last night, in the evening, an icy rain started falling and in the middle of the night it turned to rain. I woke to the sound of loosened snow layers sliding down the roof. At this time last year and the year before I wouldn't have woken at all to the sound of wet, sliding snow sheets; falling snowflakes make no sound.

It used to be that a new sled or toboggan was a well-received xmas gift since you could nearly always count on a good snow between xmas and new year's. This year there was no white xmas and the little amount of snow that fell was not sufficient for sleds, skis or snowshoes.

In MD and DC the weather is so warm that the cherry trees are blooming. This is wrong. Will this kill the blooms that we should be getting in April? Will this eventually kill the trees themselves?

Is our weather broken or it this merely due to El Nino?

Hi Dave!

12/04/2006

There Must Be A Full Moon Coming

Tags: Nature
I woke up to find the bedroom lit up like it was day. I looked out the window and the yard was illuminated so that all the trees and the patio furniture could be easily seen. A light coating of snow had fallen, giving a glowing quality to everything outdoors. I looked at the clock thinking it was time to get up and we had overslept but the clock read 1:30 a.m. When there's a full moon on a cloudless night it might as well be daytime, the moon & stars shine that brightly.

11/03/2006

Winged Things Of The Night

Tags: Nature
In the late afternoon yesterday as dusk was approaching, I was talking on the phone and I glanced out the window onto the patio to see a bat flittering around the doorway and patio. It swooped around, flew away and came back several times, swirling around up & down and around the patio. I thought that bats would be in hibernation by now but it must have been using our patio light to attract its food. I wonder where they stay over the winter. In the trees, I suppose?

This morning I got up early, at the first rays of light before the actual dawn, and went outside with the pooches. From a distance, perhaps up by the road, I could hear the hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo of an owl. Judging from the calls, we have three different kinds of owls here in Marble Mountain - hoot, barred and screech. Some nights we hear two or three different kinds of owl calls. A few weeks ago the evening was full of loud, incessant, intriguing owl calls and this went on night after night for quite a few days. After some research in the bird books, we found that this time of year the owl parents are training their brood to hunt and they do it with lots of calling for encouragement and instruction. It was pretty interesting. The calls were so loud and insistent that it interrupted conversations. Life in the country is seldom boring.

09/08/2006

The Hummies have departed for Brazil

Tags: Nature
Today is the first day we have not seen hummingbirds at the feeders since they arrived way back at the beginning of summer. It appears that they have "officially" migrated south for the winter.

08/24/2006

Hummingbird migration is starting

Tags: Nature
Over the last week or so we have noticed a reduction in the number of purple-throated birdies at the feeder by approximately half. We have increased the nectar to a 3:1 ratio to plump the little birdies for their long flight to back to Brazil's rain forest. I don't know if that's something we're supposed to do but it makes sense.

I believe it's the oldest males that return first and the youngest that return last. Please correct me if you know differently. It has been nice having them, the dozen or so of them, and it is time for them to fly away until next year when they return in mid-May.

08/11/2006

It's Berry Picking Season

Tags: Nature
This is an out-of-the-ordinary berry growing year. The red raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are all ready at the same time, though overlapping, in that order. It's been a good year to make pies, jams & jellies as well as freeze berries for winter use. Daughter and I decided to make blackberry and red raspberry jam. We went back out to pick a few green apples for pectin. Her first try at jam-making turned out to be a great success. The jam is perfect. The blueberry syrup, however, had a little too much natural pectin or else we should have diluted it with some water because it is jelled in the bottle. No problem, we'll heat it to loosen it, then serve it warm on waffles.

There was no late frost this past spring and we've have a balanced combination of rain and sunny weather with consistently warm weather that has provided us with plentiful berries. The cranberries are bright and juicy and there is a goodly crop of apples on the trees. This should make for a boom in the rabbit & bird populations.

08/04/2006

Wild Harvest Foraging & Dining

Tags: Nature
Over the course of the last week and a half we have dined on local, wild-caught foods several times. First there was the marvelous dinner of haddock and cod, then mussels and, most recently, chanterelle mushrooms, red raspberries, blackberries and lowbush blueberries. The fish was done simply in the oven with a shrimp white sauce; the mussels in a white wine and garlic broth; the raspberries became excellent jam, the blackberries eaten out of hand and, lastly, the blueberries became a coffee cake and breakfast pancakes. This afternoon the blueberries will go into a freshly grown salad with blueberry vinaigrette. We've gone back to our hunter-gatherer roots, foraging for our meals.

07/09/2006

The Christmas present that keeps on giving in unexpected ways

Tags: Nature
I just took the compost out. Behind the composter is a white bird feeder made to look like the church steeples in North Carolina. It was a Christmas gift I picked up for Kit while staying at the Fearrington Inn www.fearringtonhouse.com during a corporate holiday party for our Raleigh office. Inside the bird feeder sat a chipmunk, just as happy and comfortable as it can be, chomping away at the bird seed. In the time it took for me to come back out with the camera, it scooted away. In the name of efficiency, I put the bird seed bin behind the composter. That was a good idea until a wild creature figured out how to get the lid off. It must be a smart creature, the lid is held on with plastic pop-up clips opposite each other. There are no tooth marks or claw marks so the creature must have figured out how to pop the clips off. Dumb animal, eh?

I'll have to remember to bring the camera out with the compost. This a too-cute photo op to pass up.

06/09/2006

Luna Moth

Tags: Nature
We wondered where the Luna moth went after she laid her eggs. Today I found her or her mate upside down in the bottom of a puddle in the garden. It's hard to tell for sure if it's the same moth after the body has lain upside down in a puddle for a few days.

The eggs have not yet hatched but they should be doing so within the next few days, certainly by next weekend.

06/03/2006

She laid eggs!

Tags: Nature
Not only did the Luna moth treat us with her delightful presence, she very generously laid her eggs on the wall of the shed, behind the little flower garden. I counted approximately 35 eggs. According to the web article, they are laid on the underside of a food plant leaves - a birch leaf - but these are on the outer shed wall. The first stage lasts 8-13 days, then what? Do they need to be on a food source at this stage? If so, how do they get there? Are they merely a food source themselves if they are laid in the wrong place?

06/02/2006

Luna Moth

QuickImage Tags: Nature
LUNA MOTH FACTS Luna moths are one of the most unusual and beautiful of the North American moths known as Saturnidae. They are well known for their green-yellow colors and long tails and they are a real surprise when found in nature. Although they are common throughout the eastern U.S., their night flying habits and short life span as an adult moth, only about 1 week, combine to make them a rare find. The luna moth, with a wingspan of 4.5-5.0 inches, is one of the largest moths in North America and is very common in many of the eastern states from Maine all the way to Florida. They are seen less as you go westward to Texas and the Great Plains. It is also found in southern regions of many Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskachewan.

WHAT DO THE LARVAE EAT? The luna moth caterpillars eat many kinds of tree leaves, depending on where they live. In Canada and the northern border states within its range, larvae prefer white or paper birch leaves, and produce one generation a year. Most adults fly from early June to early July. In New Jersey and states of that general latitude, larvae eat hickory, walnut, and sweetgum leaves.

In these warmer climates they produce two broods, or generations a year. The first brood appears from late April to May and the second brood appears nine to eleven weeks later. In the southern part of the United States, larvae like to eat persimmon tree leaves. Adults fly at eight to ten week intervals starting in March, allowing for at least three broods. Adult lunas have been found in every month in Louisiana.

EMERGING FROM THE PUPA Adults emerge from their cocoons in mid morning. The moth pushes itself against one end of the cocoon, tearing at the silk with hornlike projections near the base of the forewing. A secretion called cocoonase helps to break down the sericin binding the silk. The soft moth escapes through a hole approximately 3/8 inch in diameter. Once it gets out of the cocoon, the moth must climb to hang its wings and wait to dry before it can fly.

MATING In the late evening, the female extends a scent gland from the posterior of her abdomen and begins releasing an air borne pheromone. This scent attracts the male. Once they mate, the pair will remain that way until the following evening. Wild males are easily attracted. Scenting or "calling" usually continues until late at night or until the female has mated, whichever comes first. Males usually emerge a day or two before females and it is rare that an unmated female would be captured at a light because females usually don't fly until after mating.

EGGS, LARVAE, AND PUPAE Female luna moths lay 4-6 gray-brown cylindrical eggs with concave tops on the underside of food plant leaves. Females have a capacity of 150-250 eggs. Incubation time is 8-13 days depending on temperature and humidity. Females will lay eggs in brown paper sandwich or grocery bags for those who want to try to raise luna moths. Larvae, which grow to approximately 3.5 inches (9 cm.), are mostly green throughout their five instars (or larval stages) and spend about one week in each stage except the longer fifth instar. Larvae which are going to overwinter in the pupae/cocoon stage take on a dark amber or burgundy-brown coloration just before spinning cocoons. Some caterpillars will use a leaf wrap while others go down to the ground to spin up among whatever ground protection they can find. Luna cocoons are papery thin, and pupae outlines can easily be seen when the cocoon is held up to a bright light. In regions of the United States where lunas are double or triple brooded 25-40% of early brood stock will spin the darker cocoon and overwinter instead of emerging that same summer. The pupae are dark brown and the antennae outline can be seen on the pupal shell to determine sexes. http://www.ivyhall.district96.k12.il.us/4th/kkhp/1insects/luna.html

05/18/2006

They're here! The hummingbirds have arrived.

Tags: Nature
Finally, the wait is over, the hummingbirds are back. For the last week or two, people in the Vilage have been asking each other if they have seen the hummies yet. All is well in the world, the hummies have returned for the summer.

05/05/2006

Eagles: Soaring High

QuickImage Tags: Nature
There are 59 species of eagle found in the world. Only two – bald eagles and golden eagles – call North America home. Bald eagles are not found outside of this continent. They are Canada's largest raptor or bird of prey, and are found in every province and territory. About one-third of the total bald eagle population (roughly 100,000) can be found in Alaska and British Columbia, particularly along the Pacific coast, according to Environment Canada. There are also healthy breeding populations in the boreal (or northernmost) forest between Alberta and northwestern Ontario. There are smaller populations found on the East Coast. Some bald eagles call one area home, while others migrate short distances, either to breed or to escape the winter weather. Bald eagles live on the British Columbia coast all year round, and the numbers of eagles increase during the colder months. But those breeding in central Canada head south during the fall and winter. They migrate to west-central and southwestern United States and return only in the spring. Bald eagles, despite their name, aren't actually bald. The name stems from "balde," an old English word meaning "white." Young eagles are dark brown with speckles of white, with dark grey bills and dark brown eyes. But, after four or five years, the feathers on their heads become white. Female bald eagles usually weigh about six kilograms, while males weigh about four kilograms. When perched, the bird is about 76 centimetres tall. Both male and female wingspans are about two metres wide. They can fly higher than 3,000 metres, at speeds of 105 kilometres per hour. When diving, they can hit a top speed of 320 km/h. Bald eagles eat fish, waterfowl, small mammals and carrion (dead animals). They hunt with their large beaks, talons and oversized feet, which have small spikes called spicules. But, most of their diet consists of sickly animals or those wounded by hunters. These eagles usually have life-long mates and will only seek another if their companion dies. Or, if they have problems breeding, they may split up and look for new partners. The bald eagle courtship ritual usually involves elaborate calls and acrobatic displays, such as cartwheels, roller-coaster swoops and chases. They build the biggest nest of any bird species in North America, measuring about one metre deep and 1.5 to two metres across. The nests are lined with feathers, soft mosses, grasses and twigs. Nests are built at the tops of very tall and sturdy trees, which are near water. Eagles usually nest in older forests, but also nest on cliffs and the ground when trees aren't available. Eagles come back to the same nest to breed each year, and add more to the nest each time. Some nests can grow to more than three metres in width, six metres tall, and can weigh several tonnes. Females lay one to three eggs in April or May (in Canada) about two or four days apart. These hatch after 35 days of incubation, two or three days apart. Both parents share duties such as egg incubation, hunting, nest watching, feeding and brooding until the young eaglet can fly. But, the female is usually in the nest almost all the time. The eaglets are fully-grown and ready to fledge at about 12 weeks. Eaglet mortality within the first year is high, at 50 per cent. Total numbers of bald eagles have dropped since Europeans came to North America but this eagle is still fairly common in western Canada and Alaska. According to the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, prior to 1800, there were between 250,000 and 500,000 bald eagles in North America. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada currently designates the bald eagle as not at risk. But, in the United States, they are listed as threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Lacey Act. Bald eagles may live for 50 years in captivity, but are unlikely to live that long in the wild. This is due to natural hazards and the eagles' biggest threat: humans. Habitat loss due to deforestation is the main threat. Others include shooting, collisions with power lines and windmills, and mercury and lead poisoning (which can be contracted after eating waterfowl shot with lead shotgun pellets). As well, DDT, a chemical pesticide used in the 1940s and 1950s, devastated the bald eagle populations. It interfered with the eagle's ability to absorb calcium, and when they laid eggs, the shells were too thin and were crushed during incubation. According to the American Eagle Foundation, the eagle population in the continental U.S. dropped to less than 10,000 nesting pairs by the 1950s, and to less than 500 pairs by the early 1960s. According to Environment Canada, in the early 1900s, about 200 pairs nested in southern Ontario, from the Ottawa River to the lower Great Lakes. By the late 1970s, however, there were less than 10 bald eagle pairs recorded. However, the northern and western parts of the country were not as drastically affected by DDT. Laws were then passed in Canada and the United States to prevent the unrestricted use of the pesticides. And, conservationists worked with landowners to protect the eagles' nesting habitat, to encourage breeding. But, the effects of DDT lingered. In 1980, there were only three active bald eagle nests along the north shore of Lake Erie, and no young were produced, according to Bird Studies Canada. Today, the bald eagles of Southern Ontario are recovering slowly. Across southern Ontario in 2000, 28 eaglets were known to fledge, from 18 of 23 active nests. Recent estimates put the bald eagle population in southern Ontario at about 20 pairs. But, eagle populations are flourishing in other parts of Canada. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/eagles/

04/29/2006

Awaiting the Blessed Event

Tags: Nature
The population of eagles on the Buchen's beach in MacDonald's Cove just outside of Black's Cove is due to increase soon. I looked at the nest this morning with binoculars and a white eagle head can be seen sticking out of it. It's too bad I didn't take notice of when the incubation began so I can't say when to expect the pipping to begin and the nestlings to emerge.

This nest has been here for years and it's probably a safe assumption that the same pair of eagles has been using it for quite some time. We saw the same nesting last year. If you want a livecam of eagles incubating (sitting on the eggs) and brooding (sitting on the hatched chicks), go to the previous posting where a pipping (opening of the shell by the peep) is going on at the present time. If we're lucky I'll eventually be able to provide a pic of our local hatchling and its parents.

04/26/2006

Nesting Bald Eagle livecam

Tags: Nature
http://www.infotecbusinesssystems.com/wildlife/

It's pretty amazing to see a bald eagle sitting on the nest in realtime. The eggs are due to hatch perhaps as soon as today. It's pretty amazing. These aren't local leagles but you could easily see the same eagle action nearby. Warning: this is addictive.

03/31/2006

Out Like The Proverbial Lamb

Tags: Nature
The weather is truly springlike today. True to the old adage, March '06 came in like a lion and is going out like a lamb. The bulbs are coming up and I can see the beginnings of early, red tulip flowers showing. Next year the early spring display should include muscarii and forsythia.

This morning a good crew of people from MM went for a hike at 9:00. The Nova Scotia Government (I think it is NS, I could be wrong) is trying to encourage its citizens to shape up & slim down by using motivational tactics like community hikes and "carrot dangle" rewards such as entering the names of participants for a drawing for something attractive, I don't know what. The participants were required to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes. I believe we walked for a little over an hour. The groups of hikers included George & Caroline Chant, Lynn & Carl Zimmerman, Dave & Fiona Dauphinee, Russell McLaughlin and the Davises, and Flyn & Lily trotted along on their leashes - that's 9 humans and 2 poochies. Linda Campbell will walk when she gets home from the Post Office this evening. We'll see who wins what prize. We couldn't have ordered better weather for the walk.

The sky is clouding over and the temperature has dropped a couple of degrees this afternoon. It looks like rain and I hope we get enough of it. The ground is dry enough that if we don't get some rain soon we'll have to start watering the young plants in our landscape. A dry March is weird.

03/20/2006

Pussy Willows have arrived!

Tags: Nature
Pussy willows may be the absolute best harbinger of spring, being the very first thing that comes to life at the end of winter. Also, very appropriate that they pop out on the first day of spring. The nicest thing about them is that they can be cut and will keep throughout the year. Left on the tree, they turn into leaves. They grow wild all over the place here. I have them along my driveway and they grow on both sides of the road that goes past my driveway.

The mint is already growing, though we've had such a mild winter that the mint grew nearly year round, save for a few weeks in late February - early March. Daylilies and tulips are also showing signs of life, sending up green leaves before the blooms.

03/17/2006

This is nest-building season for bald eagles

Tags: Nature
On the way to Halifax yesterday we saw a beautiful bald eagle with sparkling white head & tails feathers flying overhead with a slender branch in its talons. The branch was approximately 2 feet long and had a small y at one end. I expect the eagle carefully selected this branch for length, thickness and material. I don't know much about eagle nest-building materials.

Aerie, such a lovely name for an eagle's nest. The aeries are built in an upper crook of a tree on the side of the tree that faces open, usually toward the water since they eat fish, mostly. They do eat other things, being scavengers of a sort.

A couple of months ago there was an eagle standing on the side of the road when we went into town to do shopping. It was still standing there when we returned a few hours later. Someone had dumped a dead dog in the ditch on the side of the road and the eagle feasted on it until it was so full it couldn't get airborne, it had to digest some of the dog first. So much for the United State's noble symbol of freedom.

02/20/2006

The Fox of Marble Mountain

Tags: Nature
In early winter last year, perhaps 15 or 16 months ago, a fox appeared in Marble Mountain Village. We think he was from last year's litter. He would go from house to house every day on a route, getting food at each stop. He showed up at our house one evening, staring in the patio door at us. He appeared to be begging, just like a pet, so we tossed some dog food nuggets out the door to him. We were intrigued watching him bury his new stash under the small fir tree in the back yard. He went around here & there marking his scent on our woodpile, the patio chairs, etc. The next morning Flyn went out and dutifully covered up his scent. Everyone knew the little guy and we all watched out for him. His front right paw is gimpy, part of it along the outer edge appears to be missing and he doesn't walk well on it. Our guess is that he got it caught in a trap, either the steel kind or a snare. The fox appeared every day and, bad paw & all, he covered quite a range daily from Marble Mountain Village to Malagawatch. That paw didn't seem to hold him back. He didn't make any trouble for anyone and we all loved seeing him. He became the pet of the neighborhood. Every day Michaelette and I go for a walk. Sometimes as we walk he will shadow us just inside the woods, allowing us every so often to get a glimpse of him. When Michaelette went away I made a point of feeding him. He ate the food but he went to Hughie and MaryLou's place, we think he gets lonesome for companionship. When Michaelette is working in the yard, he keeps her company, following her wherever she goes. If she's mowing, he sits at the edge of the lawn. If she's potting, he's watching from under the tree. He's quite endearing. Foxy has food preferences. He really likes the hot dogs and sunflower seeds that Michaelette puts out for him, and the apples. He doesn't like green peppers. Some things he'll eat if his favorites aren't there. I once gave him hamburger buns with hummus. He liked that. He also likes cheese. Some time in January he disappeared for a week and we were worried for him. He finally showed back up at Michaelette's favoring his back left paw. A few days later he reappeared and the paw seems to have recovered but he has gone absent again. Foxy boy hasn't been seen in a few weeks. We have a neighbor, John, who traps locally. Three or so weeks ago we saw John's truck parked at the property of vacation folks from Raleigh,NC, who are only here a few weeks out of the year. We assume he is setting traps, though he tried to put word out that he is no longer doing it due to local disapproval. I don't believe it, I think he's still trapping. The house of the Raleigh folks is right behind the woods where the fox lives. I went for a walk to look for our little red fur guy but I had no luck and there was no sign of him. A neighbor thinks fox is really a she and is in a den getting ready for a litter. I fear our little fox is gone forever.

02/16/2006

Young Eagle Visitor

Tags: Nature
There is a juvenile eagle sitting in the tree in the backyard, just looking around like it belongs there. I can tell it's a juvenile by its mottled brown plumage, though it appears to be full size. It will sit there as long as Flyn doesn't see it in his yard. Flyn doesn't let eagles stay on our property, he'll go after it with a huge WOOF! and make it fly away. A bald eagle in the yard - that's almost too cool for words. It's like having a pet eagle. Kit just took a pic of it, let's see if we can put in in this entry.

02/04/2006

They're back! The eagles, that is

Tags: Nature
The eagles have returned, not all 11 of them but still a noticeable number, more juveniles than adults. We still haven't figured out what's attracting them. There is some ice on the cove and the rest of the lake is wet so it can't be that the fishing is better in the cove. If you figure it out, please let us know. It's a mystery.

02/02/2006

Happy Groundhog Day!

Tags: Nature
Prognosticating Punxatawney Phil did indeed see his shadow this morning, which means 6 more weeks of winter. Winter, eh? Now that would be something new & different. Good thing Kit skied in the yard yesterday afternoon or he would have missed ski season altogether. Eagle update: Yesterday I sighted an adolescent eagle sitting in the tree at the edge of our yard overlooking the cove. Concurrently, I could hear the sound of eagles screeching, squawking and trilling like they do. Little did we know those big birds are so raucous. Yesterday the ice cover on the cove started melting. Now that would make sense that they have come back for whatever it is they're waiting to surface but today they are gone again. Who knows what's going on with them. We'll see if they come back yet again when whatever it is does indeed surface. Kit says it's a drug deal gone bad. He's been reading too many dark-side mystery books. Wasn't that a plot line in a P.D. James novel?

01/31/2006

More Eagle Mystery

Tags: Nature
Yesterday there were no eagles in the cove. All of a sudden they left. Just like that, no note, no explanation, no 'bye see ya later. Yesterday the cove froze over all the way across from waterline to waterline. The big birds must prefer their water in its liquid state (much easier to catch fish that way). They didn't say whether or not they'll be back. We saw no new animal prints in the snow, either.

01/29/2006

Eagle Mystery

Tags: Nature
It's been at least a week that the nearly dozen or so eagles have been hanging out in the cove and perched on the branches of the trees at the edge of our yard. The eagles sit on branches overlooking the water to give them a clear view of the water and whatever good things to eat are swimming in it and to allow their expansive wingspans room to move.