Archive for the 'nature' Category

Marsha

Summary

We left Vermont nearly two weeks ago, and I’m just now starting to get caught up here.

raspberriesftf.jpgwading and boulder hopping in the Winooski River
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picking wild berries
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the jewel greens of mosses and ferns in the forest
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heronftf.jpgchasing and (rarely) catching frogs and snakes
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the susurration of wind in the trees
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swimming in a cold lake on a hot sunny day
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eating lots of maple ice cream
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mossftf.jpga campfire on the beach
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carpets of pine needles on forest floors
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seeing the amazing night sky*, including the Milky Way and shooting stars during the Perseids
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walking along the top of Vermont
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lichenftf.jpgspotting hummingbirds and herons
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kayaking and canoeing on the lake
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Queen Anne’s lace everywhere
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thistlesftf.jpgeating a picnic lunch at the bottom of a cliff bordering Lake Champlain
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the beaver lake and dam down the dirt road from our cabin
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visiting the place where we got married
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leavesftf.jpgWe built a lot of great memories this year. We are already looking forward to next year’s trip.

*”The stars were so many there, they seemed to overlap.”–“The Painted Desert,” 10,000 Maniacs

Marsha

In the blink of an eye

I took these just over two weeks ago. Already, the tulips are long gone, and the lilacs are nearly all spent as well. The pale-green new leaves have grown into full canopies on most trees in the area.

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Marsha

Help with bee research

Have you heard of Colony Collapse Disorder? In short, bees are disappearing—and no one knows why.* This is very bad news, because bees are vital for pollination of numerous plants, including many of those in agriculture.

Scientists are trying to figure out what’s going on. One project, run by a biology professor at San Francisco State University, invites—and depends on, actually—public participation: the Great Sunflower Project. They’re sending free sunflower seeds (specifically for Lemon Queen plants) to gardeners who promise to plant the seeds, observe the bees who visit your flowers, and send in your data.

I found out about this too late last year to participate, but I signed up right away. My seed packet should get here any day now, and I can’t wait to plant them in my garden and start counting bees! If you want to participate, too, visit the project website and sign up!

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*You can read more about CCD in these places:
The Daily Green
—The Great Sunflower Project website (especially this article, which ran in Bee Culture magazine)
Wikipedia (of course)

p3046456yarnbox.jpgA few years ago, I started saving my yarn scraps and snippets in a large Mason jar. They’ve proven useful for crafting with Sylvia (yarn cuttings make great hair), and last spring she enjoyed spread handfuls of them outside for the birds to use in nest-making.

This year we decided to kick our bird-aiding efforts up a notch and made a little box to hold the yarn bits. I covered this Barilla pasta box with packing tape (to make it a bit weatherproof), and Sylvia decorated it with stickers that she thought the birds would like. I punched holes for a little perch and punched yarn holes. She then filled the box with yarn from the jar, and pulled some strings through the holes to give the birds a hint. (I think of this as akin to the “suggestive change” in a busker’s open instrument case.)

We hung the yarn box on the dogwood tree outside our dining room window. It’s just a branch away from the birdhouse and a different branch away from our new goldfinch feeder. All of this is easily visible from the dining room, so I hope this spring nature will provide us with some mealtime entertainment.

Marsha

Butterflies

One of our county parks is a 300-acre working farm that’s been in agricultural use for three centuries. In addition to barns, pastures, and lots of farm animals, it also has a butterfly house that’s open only during the summer. It’s sort of a yurt-shaped building consisting of wood-framed panels covered in mesh screen. Inside are a small koi pond and lots of flowers—and lots of butterflies.

The butterfly house recently closed for the season, and Jan, Sylvia, and I visited it on the day they were tagging monarchs before sending them on their 3000-mile migration to Mexico. (Sylvia got to tag and release a butterfly, which was very exciting for her.) We got to walk around inside the structure, and although I don’t have a macro lens I did manage to take a few photos that turned out all right.

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Marsha

Empty nest

The baby birds took flight this morning. As Jan was heading out the door, he called out that a few of them had left. Sylvia and I rushed downstairs and watched the nest for a few minutes, but the two birds that were left didn’t do anything interesting, and she got bored. So we went back upstairs, and by the time I was done with my shower the nest was empty. I wondered if the babies might return to the nest at nighttime, but it looks like they’re gone for good.

Have happy lives, little baby birds!

Marsha

Update on the baby birds

Our new neighbors are growing like gangbusters! Jan’s mom thinks they are house finches. That’s the best guess so far, though both of the parents who frequent our porch have near-identical coloring.

In a matter of a few short days, the babies have lost almost all of their baby fuzz and are now sporting adult feathers. They’re practically crowding each other out of the nest, and I’m sure they’ll be taking their first flights any day now.

p4300125birds430.jpgApril 30
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p5050260birds55.jpgMay 5

Marsha

New neighbors

p4219858smallbird1.jpgAbout three weeks ago we noticed that some birds had built a nest in a copper hanging thing (I have no idea what to call it—I think it may technically be a bird feeder that we have never gotten around to filling with bird seed) on our front porch. We think the bird is some sort of wren. It’s small, and it is totally terrified of humans. At least, it flies away immediately whenever anyone opens the front door from the inside or approaches the porch from the outside. So we figure it’s either scared of us or it somehow thinks that by flying away it will convince us to leave the nest alone.

We have left the nest alone, of course. The day we noticed it we took a quick peek inside to confirm that there were three little eggs in it, and since then we were very careful to avoid the porch so we wouldn’t scare the bird. Having birds nesting on the porch has done wonders for motivating pokey toddlers to go inside or outside; Sylvia, too, rushes through the portal “so the mommy and daddy birds will come back right away and won’t be scared any more.”

p4239884smallnest.jpgEarlier this week, Jan announced that the eggs had hatched. He knew this because, as he put it, “I saw the parent puking into a baby bird’s mouth.” Yup, that’s a pretty good indication.

Today I managed to get a few pictures of the nest and its inhabitants. I didn’t spend much time fiddling around with the camera or positioning to get good quality. The parent bird gave me plenty of dirty looks when I snapped the first photo from just inside house. I didn’t want to stress it out any more by lingering too long near the nest while it went to get more food. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of three little ones snuggled up together.

Marsha

Evening events

I just spent the last hour or so watching tonight’s total lunar eclipse (the last one for three years). For the first half hour, I observed it from my living room. But when the moon moved behind the branches of a nearby tree, I put on my heaviest coat, hat, and super-warm mittens (not thrummed mittens, but gauntlet-shaped, insulated snowboarding mitts with fleece liners, to boot—toasty, indeed!) and headed outside. I pulled up a chair and sat down to watch the disappearing moon do its dance over the barely snow-covered landscape.

It’s amazing how quickly the moon moves. You don’t really get a sense of it unless you spend a few minutes just watching it. One minute you can see the whole thing, and the next minute half of it is hidden behind some tree branches. (Hmmm. Maybe it was the tree that moved. Ents, anyone?)

It’s cold outside, but not so frigid that I’m miserable sitting outside for a little while. The sky is remarkably clear—I can’t remember when I’ve seen this many stars over eastern Pennsylvania. (The best night sky I’ve ever seen was over Canyonlands National Park, in southeastern Utah, where there were so many stars that it looked like someone had just thrown handfuls of glitter into the sky. Tonight’s was pretty good, though.) I even saw a shooting star.

Sylvia is sleeping now, and Jan is out. Even though I could hear the hum of the nearest major road (this is suburbia, after all), and even though all of my neighbors have their inside lights on (and sometimes their porch lights on, too—why do people leave those things on all night, I wonder?), the quiet and stillness and cold made it seem like it was just the moon and me out there tonight.

Marsha

Review: The Life of Mammals

Growing up, I watched a lot of PBS: Nova, Nature, and all sorts of stuff. This was before all of the quasi-educational channels hit their stride on cable television. (I find the History Channel and the Discovery Channel particularly bad, with their low-information-density programs full of fast editing, far too much use of unnecessary–and bad!–computer graphics, and dramatic voiceovers. And is it just me, or does anyone else think that the History Channel is way too fond of bad reenactments, usually involving scowling men in sandals pretending to be Roman soldiers, splashing on foot through streams while invading some dark and foggy land?)

I have particularly fond memories of watching David Attenborough‘s programs. So I was pleased when, looking for some animal documentary footage that might be fun to show my daughter, I came across his series The Life of Mammals. I just watched the first disc (thank you, Netflix!), and all I can say is “Wow.”

It is good stuff. Phenomenally good. The content is fascinating, of course, but what’s even more striking is the presentation. In addition to Attenborough’s avuncular style, there is the best wildlife cinematography I have ever seen. Ever. Take a look at this clip:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAHACe0uc64[/youtube]

(It doesn’t hurt that I have long been interested in sloths. Amazing. Top speed 0.3 km per hour, yet the species has managed to survive.)Now that I think about it, this is some of the best cinematography I have seen period, wildlife or no. Some of the shots are jaw-dropping–for example, a bat flying at nighttime approaches a spider web and, with a skin “pouch” between its feet, delicately scoops up the spider at the web’s center without getting ensnared in the sticky silk.(How do they film something like that? Jan hypothesized that they probably used gobs and gobs of film, with the camera at high speed. He’s probably right. I’m not sure that digital has the clarity that the close-up shots demanded. Or maybe it does–I really don’t know anything about cinematography.)

Disc one goes in the mail tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

Oh–and it gets Sylvia’s stamp of approval, too. She was especially fond of the bats, the giraffes, and the elephants. And the hedgehogs (which are currently among her favorite animals, thanks to this book)–she loved the hedgehogs

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