Monthly Archives: March 2016

Quote of the Week #58

cherry--3Do you have an intimate relationship with the natural world? Do you visit a piece of land regularly, noticing the changes that happen over time–the tiny stem bursting out of the ground in the spring or the last leaf falling from a limb in the fall? Do you sit in this place and just listen and look, paying attention to the details that make it unique?

cherry-8099This morning as I sat at my office window before daylight I watched with delight as the eastern sky turned gold and then pink, the wispy clouds painted with color as light filled the wooded hillside. Then later, when the breeze blew, the air was filled with delicate white petals from the cherry tree, floating by in curtains of white, like snowflakes, landing silently on the ground amid the decaying leaves. I considered running downstairs to fetch my camera and try to capture it, but then decided against it. Instead I just watched, mesmerized by the moment of beauty that was as fleeting as the golden light at sunrise. It seemed doubtful I could ever capture it accurately–for so much of its appeal comes from the feelings it evokes, the way it makes me feel in the given moment.

cherry-8143I cherish and nurture my intimacy with the natural world, especially the land surrounding our house in the woods. The changes are often subtle and almost always silent, but for me, it is rewarding to notice them.

Here’s the quote of the week–a long one but one that is very meaningful:

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“To look at anything, if you wanted to know that thing, you must look at it long; To look at this green and say, ” I have seen the spring in these woods,” will not do–you must BE the thing you see. You must BE the dark snakes of stems and ferny plumes of leaves, you must enter into the small silences between the leaves, you must take your time and touch the very peace they issue from.”

–John Moffitt

cherry-If you’ve not spent any time outside recently, maybe you can schedule some soon. And one word of advice: do so with no agenda and a clear mind–it doesn’t work to bring your worries with you. Just relax in the moment and do nothing but BE.

cherry-0310Have fun, and do let me know your thoughts on intimacy with the natural world. How do YOU define intimacy with nature? What changes have you noted lately?

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Ten Things That May Amaze You About Frogs & Toads

So in preparation for an amphibian program I had recently I did a lot of reading, much of which was fascinating but didn’t actually apply to my program because it was about amphibians in other parts of the world instead of here in western North Carolina.

Spring peeper

Spring peeper

Some of this stuff is right out of a science fiction movie so I decided to write a post about it. I suspect you will be as blown away as I was! We live in an amazing world and there are so many wickedly-awesome adaptations that animals have!

So here then, are 10 Things You May Not Know about frogs and Toads:

Frogs are slimy and hard to hold!

Frogs are slimy and hard to hold!

1. Have you ever touched a frog and noticed how slimy it was? That’s because they have mucus glands that secrete slime to keep them moist since they can obtain oxygen through their skin. They also breathe through their nostrils and lungs but about 50% of their oxygen is through their skin and when they are underwater, all of the oxygen exchange takes place through their skin.

2.Did you know frogs and toads shed their skin? Some do this daily, some weekly or less frequently. I have never seen this but have read that it’s like the frog suddenly has the hiccups and starts moving strangely, then peels off its outer skin, like removing a sweater. Then, guess what? It eats it! Yum.

3.Some frogs and toads, like our Cope’s gray tree frog, can change their color. Light, moisture, temperature and even mood can affect this!

Gray tree frogs can change colors!

Gray tree frogs can change colors!

4.The largest frog on Earth lives in West Africa and gets to be a foot long. It is aptly named the Goliath Frog. As for the smallest frog, it is a tie between the Gold Frog in Brazil and the Eleutherodactylus iberia (Yikes, I’m not going to try to pronounce that! Too bad they don’t have a common name yet for this frog!) that was discovered in 1996 in Cuba. Both are only about 9.8mm long! And we thought our spring peeper was tiny! (Our spring peeper is 1 inch long!)peep-5854

5. Many frogs and toads make noises to attract mates. They do their by inflating their vocal sac or sacs. (Some frogs have one but others have two, one on either side of their mouth) When they do this, it looks like they are chewing gum and blowing a giant bubble. Sometimes the noise of a lot of frogs doing this at once is DEAFENING! The songs can sometimes be heard a mile away! Ever wondered why they don’t go deaf with all of this noise? It’s because their ears or tympanums are connected to their lungs which also vibrate when they call. This pressure keeps frogs from hurting their own ears as they call. peep-

6.Have you heard of a pipi pipi toad? My gosh, this toad is incredible! The male actually embeds the female’s eggs onto her back, and then the skin grows over them so the developing eggs are INSIDE of her back! Then, incredibly, fully formed froglets hatch out several months later! Check out this video:

7. Maybe you’ve heard of Darwin’s Frog? This is a frog that looks like an overweight leaf and lives in the Amazon. The male actually swallows the tadpoles and then allows them to grow up INSIDE his vocal sac. Wait’ll you see what happens when they become fully formed frogs!

8. Wood frogs are a frog that we have here in the US, especially on the east coast, but even up as far north as the Arctic Circle. Amazingly, this frog can freeze solid–with more than 60% of its body frozen–and then just wake up and thaw out in the spring. As the first ice begins to form on their body, it sets off an alarm reaction which then triggers the production of glucose in their body. This acts like anti-freeze and protects the INSIDES of their cells from freezing. In less than 15 hours their heart stops beating, they don’t breath, no blood circulates. They look DEAD. But as long as the temperature doesn’t go below -8 degrees, they will wake up in the spring and head off to continue their lives!

Wood frogs freeze!

Wood frogs freeze!

9. Did you know frogs have teeth? They don’t look much like ours, but they do have teeth on their upper jaw. They use them to hold prey in place before swallowing it whole.

10. Frogs’ tongues are not connected in the back of their mouths like humans, but rather in the front so they can “throw it out of their mouths” and use its stickiness to catch prey. Here’s a video of this:

I hope you are as amazed by frogs as I am! It was hard to narrow it down to only 10.

If you want to read more, here are a few other links

10 things you may not know about wood frogs

Here are some recordings of the songs of an American Toad, Spring Peeper,and Pickerel Frog.

What cool facts do you know about frogs and toads that I have not included? As always, I would love to hear from you!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #103

Did you know the answer to last week’s puzzler? Was this a flower you’ve seen and been able to identify on your walks in the woods?

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It’s called Spring Beauty / Claytonia virginica and is one of our most recognizable flowers, as well as one of the first to emerge in the spring. The dainty white leaves look hand-painted. Though only 3 or 4 inches tall, this flower can be pretty impressive when the hillside in the forest is covered by it!

Click HERE for the next puzzler!

Weekly Puzzler #104: Yellow Petals and Spotted Leaves

Happy weekend!

Do you know your spring ephemerals? These are the flowers that bloom before the trees get their leaves and shade out the forest floor. Where I live in western North Carolina, we are just starting to see some of these. For me it’s always great, I am excited to see them! but I often have to consult the books again on many of them since I haven’t seen them in an entire year. Do you have a favorite spring ephemeral?

I will do a few more spring ephemerals for the next few puzzlers… What is this one pictured here? Hint: notice the two thin green leaves with splotches on them as this is a clue that’s in this flower’s name. Check back next Saturday to see if your guess was correct. And don’t forget to use the comment box to give your guess and be eligible for the next prize–Congratulations to Barbara, who was our first winner for this contest and should be receiving a sampler pack of my greeting cards soon. The next prize will be given on the first day of summer… use the comment box below for your chance to be eligible.

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As always, have a wonderful weekend! Happy Easter to you all.

If You’re NOT Doing This, You May Be the Cause of Hummingbird Deaths: 8 Things You Need to Know

Hey, hey, guess what!

The birds are back in town!!

Woo hoo the ruby throated hummingbirds are back!!! Have you seen one yet?

I have not seen one but have been frequently checking the spring migration map and know they were spotted in NC on March 19th. At my house in the woods, I don’t usually see the first ones until the first week of April but every year I am ever hopeful for an early arrival! You can check out the map to see when you might expect them in your neighborhood.

Do you love to feed and watch the hummingbirds?

Do you clean your feeders REGULARLY? Are you religious about watching for and eliminating BLACK MOLD? Do you change the nectar OFTEN during the hot summer months?

If you answered yes to those questions you have nothing to worry about, but if you answered NO to any of the last 3 questions, you could be causing the death of the birds you so love to watch! 

It is a sad reality that biologists have been seeing a deadly fungus infection in the hummingbirds that causes their tongues to swell, essentially causing the birds to starve to death! And if that’s not bad enough, a mother hummingbird can pass the infection on to her babies who will also die of starvation.

If your feeders have BLACK MOLD and you just ignore it, this is one way they could come in contact with this infection.

And amazingly, there’s more.

You know that fermented sugar water that has become cloudy in your feeder? Fermented sugar water can cause liver damage and liver damage could cause death.

And sorry, but one more–YOU DO NOT need that red food coloring or store-bought nectar which also may be causing harm to the little birds you love so much.

So then, here’s 8 things you need to know about feeding hummingbirds:

1 Honestly, if you are not willing to clean and fill your feeders every two or three days, PLEASE don’t bother putting them out! Watching hummingbirds is wonderful but it requires a commitment on your part.

This feeder comes completely apart for easy cleaning.

This feeder comes completely apart for easy cleaning.

2.The best hummingbird feeders are the ones that are EASY to clean. I like the feeders that come completely apart for easy washing. There are many feeders on the market that don’t come apart at all! Making cleaning them IMPOSSIBLE! If you have these, throw them out and replace them with feeders you can clean. Some have a built-in ant moat–these are AWESOME! They cost more, but are totally worth it because the ants will not find their way to the nectar and eventually, will give up trying. (Here’s one I love) If you don’t have a built in ant moat, you can buy one and attach it to the top of the feeder. Another thing to look for in a hummingbird feeder is a resting spot for the birds, rather than feeders that require them to hover.

Here's what an ant moat looks like.

Here’s what an ant moat looks like.

3. Speaking of cleaning your feeders… it’s not hard if you stay on top of it. Just bring them in every 2 to 3 days and flush with hot tap water. Use a sponge/ bottle brush/Q-tip to scrub inside all of the parts. You do not need to use soap as it can leave a residue. If you see any sign of mold–soak the feeder in 1/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water for one hour  and then rinse well, OR soak in a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar to one gallon water for 15 minutes and rinse well.

4. Hang your feeder in the SHADE. The nectar will last longer this way and though we can’t ask them, the birds might appreciate the cooler spot too.

Notice this feeder is in the shade

Notice this feeder is in the shade

5. Make your own nectar solution, SANS RED FOOD COLORING. Just mix up 1 part regular sugar to 4 parts water. You can do this in hot tap water or you can boil it, but boiling is not necessary. Boiling it may slow fermentation but if you are replacing it regularly anyway, this won’t come up.

6. You should only put 2 or 3 days worth of nectar in the feeder. So if you have a giant feeder with a large holding area, don’t fill it up! It will just be a waste since it will have to be replaced before it empties. You can keep made-up solution in a pitcher in the fridge. (labeled of course so your guests don’t inadvertently become addicted to your sweet nectar)

I love this window feeder!

I love this window feeder!

7. Put your feeder either right at the window, or at least 5 feet away from a window to prevent collisions. There are window suction cup feeders that are great–especially if you have kids or are a kid yourself and love to see these amazing birds up close.

8. The sooner you get your feeders out, the better. If the birds come through and don’t find suitable food sources, they will keep traveling north. Having your feeders out when they pass through increases your chances of having them stay and call your yard “home.” I put out red blankets and towels to add more red to my yard and make the birds more likely to stop in to check it out–then discover one of 5 feeders around the house. This is not necessary! But it can’t hurt to make your yard more noticeable. feeder2-8170

One more thing! The birds can’t thank you, but I can!!

Thanks for caring about our hummingbirds!

And for taking the time to protect them and to spread the word to others. Together, we can make a difference.

Read more about the fungus infection at the Audubon Society

Quote of the Week #57

 

Do you pay attention to what other people might think? Do you let it affect your actions, your dress or your thoughts? Do you think it’s true that sometimes what someone doesn’t say has just as much impact on you than what they do say?

I saw this great quote recently and thought I would share it. I think it’s wonderful, but also that it can be challenging to convince yourself of this simple truth. As the old adage goes, it is a whole lot easier said than done.

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“Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”

What do you think of this quote?

10 Things You Might Not Know About Salamanders

Eastern Newt

Eastern Newt

Happy Spring!!! Did you know today is the first full day of spring? (If the temperature is any indication, you might be fooled! Did you get snow where you live last night?)

In the past two months I spent an amazing amount of time reading about amphibians in preparation for a program I had last week. This group of animals is incredibly fascinating and I seemed to find something daily that had me shaking my head in wonder. I thought it would be fun to share some of the really interesting stuff with you. (And if you were at my program, this won’t all be a repeat–much of this was stuff I didn’t have time for.)

1.Did you know that salamanders have been on Earth for more than 300 million years? They were here 40 million years BEFORE the dinosaurs! Worldwide there are close to 600 different species.

A dusky salamander

A dusky salamander

2. When you think of salamanders, do you imagine a GIGANTIC creature that is as big as a baby alligator? Well amazingly, such an animal exists! It lives in Japan and gets to be 5 feet long. And guess what? It’s not even the LARGEST salamander in the world! (That prize goes to the endangered Chinese giant salamander, Andrias davidianus that can be 6 feet long!) Check out the video here of the Japanese giant:

3. The Giant Japanese Salamander from above is related to another pretty big salamander we have right here in western North Carolina–one called a Hellbender. The Hellbender salamander can get to be 29 inches long and lives in fast moving, pollution-free streams and rivers in southern Appalachia. It can live for 30 years and may live it’s entire life under the same rock! Males actually are the ones that will guard and protect the developing eggs, for 68-75 days! Here are two great videos about this unique creature called a Hellbender:

4. You probably know that frogs have long tongues that they can shoot out of their mouths to grab their unsuspecting prey, but did you know some salamanders can do this too? Check out this salamander with the world’s longest amphibian tongue!

5. In many places in eastern North America the biomass of salamanders outweighs the biomass of all of the mammal and birds combined!! Do you wonder how this can be since you hardly ever see salamanders? It’s because at any given time 90% of the salamander population is underground! The other 10% is hiding under leaves or rocks so you don’t see much of them either. The Southeast has the highest salamander density in the world!

Male spermatophores on the bottom of the wetland

Male spermatophores on the bottom of the wetland

6. Most salamanders have a pretty dull sex life. The male deposits sperm in a little packet called a spermatophore on the bottom of the pond bottom and then the female comes along and sits on it, bringing it into her cloaca, where her eggs are fertilized and then laid in the water and left behind to develop on their own.

7. Some salamanders actually watch over the eggs before they hatch, especially if the female lays them on land rather than in water. Many of our lungless salamanders lay their eggs under rocks and then will curl their bodies around them to keep them moist and protect them from predators. They will remain with them for several months, until they hatch.newt-7241

8. Yes, if you read that last one correctly, you probably noticed I said lungless salamanders. It’s true. There is a giant group of salamanders (family Plethodontidae) that do not have gills or lungs. They live on land and get the oxygen they need through their moist skin! This is one of the reasons why salamanders (and other amphibians) worldwide are declining in great numbers–they are very susceptible to pollution.

9. Salamanders don’t need to eat all that often. Some will have only a few meals each year. And amazingly, there is a salamander that lives in caves in southern Europe that can go 10 years without a meal!! This salamander, called “Olm” or “Human fish” (Proteus anguinus) is light colored and can live for 100 years! Check out the video of it here.

10. There is a salamander that lives on the high Russian plain at 64 degrees latitude–almost to the Arctic Circle. This amazing salamander, called the Siberian newt (Salamandrella keyserlingii) has the largest range of any salamander in the world and is capable of surviving after being frozen in the tundra ice for several years! 

So many amazing creatures on our great Earth! Stay tuned as next week I will do a post called 10 things you might not know about frogs and toads.

Have a wonderful day!