Monthly Archives: June 2016

Quote of the Week #68

roannnn--7Do you have a place, outside, that you love to go regularly? Somewhere you can go when you want to be alone or when you need to get away from the stresses of your life?

Since moving to western North Carolina I travel every spring to a place two hours away called Roan Mountain. In mid-June the pink blossoms of the Catawba Rhododendron color the hillsides, mixing with the brilliant orange flowers of Flaming Azalea bushes. When the stars align and all the conditions are perfect, this is an amazing spectacle! roannnn-3044

There are 3 balds in a row, two of which fall on the world-famous Appalachian Trail. When I was there during my thru-hike in 2008, I remember being blown away by the beauty. Imagine a grassy mountain top dotted with yellow, pink and orange, with layers of mountains falling away in the distance and jagged-edged rocks sitting silently, sentinels of Nature’s majesty.

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This year my husband, 7-month-old puppy and I camped on the top of one of the balds, our tent tucked away in a Rhododendron thicket decorated with pink petals, like something out of a fairy tale wedding. After enjoying a spectacular sunset from our “front row seats” we drifted off to sleep under a ceiling of stars with lightning flashes visible behind the distant clouds.  Ahhh, is there anything better than camping alone at the top of a mountain?

And so, this week’s quote: (two actually, because I could not choose)

roannnn--10“Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt; she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.” –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis 

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And:

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”            –John Muir

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Which one do you like best? Where is a place you return to every year in the same season?

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Click HERE if you’d like to read last year’s post from Roan Mountain.

Weekly Puzzler #117: Foster Parents…but Not by Choice!

Last week’s puzzler was the song of an eastern towhee, an attractive bird common to the eastern United States. As I was learning about this bird I discovered that in some areas nearly half of its nests are parasitized by this week’s puzzler.

An eastern towhee's nest

An eastern towhee’s nest

Do you know who would lay their eggs in an eastern towhee’s nest? Not only does this mystery bird skip nest building in favor of laying its eggs in OTHER bird’s nests! it also will remove one of the mother towhee’s eggs, making it even harder for this poor, unsuspecting mother to notice anything amiss.

Do you know what bird I am talking about? This bird doesn’t make its own nest! Instead, it dedicates its energy to laying eggs–sometimes more than 3 dozen during a summer! It lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, including the eastern towhee and 220 other species!, and then leaves them there for the other mothers to feed and raise! Unfortunately the original mom doesn’t really get a choice in the matter and often raises the “odd egg” at the expense of her own babies.

If you want to guess, use the comment box below. All correct guesses will be entered in the next drawing (First day of Fall). Good luck!

And have a wonderful weekend! I hope to see you again soon.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #116

First off, congratulations to Renee who was the winner of my Weekly Puzzler contest! Earlier this week I sent her one of my blank notebooks.

A new contest starts today! All you have to do is use the comment box below the puzzler to give your guess. All correct guesses will automatically be entered in the next drawing–way far away, on the first day of Fall! The more times you enter, the more chances you have to win!

So then, let’s look at last week’s puzzler. Did you know this bird? It is the song of an eastern towhee! They are famous for saying “Drink your teaaaaaa!” Can you hear this phrase in their song?

Here’s what one looks like.today33-8141

Have you ever seen or heard this bird in your neighborhood?

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Eastern towhees are birds of the undergrowth, often seen shuffling through the leaf litter looking for good things to eat. Their diet includes seeds, fruit, buds, insects, spiders, millipedes, and other invertebrates. They live year-round in the southeastern US, but also can be seen during the summers in the northeast.

Click HERE to check out the next puzzler! (And your first chance to be entered in the next drawing!)

10 Things You May Not Know about Damselflies

If you’re saying, “Damselfly? What the heck is a damselfly?”…read on!

Recently I featured a damselfly nymph as one of my Weekly Puzzlers. If you don’t know much about this insect, here’s your chance to learn a bit more! (Continue all the way to the end to watch some fabulous videos)

A damselfly covered in dew

A damselfly covered in dew

Many people who see a damselfly think it is just a little dragonfly, but this is not true. The two ARE related, in that they both belong to the order Odonata, meaning “toothed ones.” In this order there are 5000+ different species, with roughly a third of them being damselflies. Both have an extendable hinged lower lip called a labium that they can shoot out like a dart to grab unsuspecting prey.

Eyes of a damselfly do not touch

Eyes of a damselfly do not touch

Here’s how you can tell the two apart:

First, damselflies are smaller and more delicate-looking– less stocky–and they fly less swiftly.

Second, when at rest most damselflies hold their wings above their bodies rather than spread out to the sides, as do dragonflies.

Lastly, the eyes of dragonflies meet on the tops of their heads –in damselflies they are widely spread and not touching.

A dragonfly's eyes touch in the middle

A dragonfly’s eyes touch in the middle

Here are some facts about damselflies:

1. They have been on earth for more than 300 million years! That’s a long time. Wow, what a successful group of insects! They were here long before the birds. Some Odonata had a wingspan of 30 inches–as big as a hawk!

A damselfly snags a fly!

A damselfly snags a fly!

2. Like their bigger cousins, damselflies are FABULOUS hunters, both as nymphs and adults. As adults, they grab prey in mid-air, using their legs like a basket to catch it. In the water, as nymphs, they are also fierce predators, catching other aquatic invertebrates like mosquito larva, mayfly nymphs and isopods.

3. Just like dragonflies, they cannot walk with their 6 legs. Instead they use them for catching prey and for perching when at rest. If you look closely at their legs you will notice they are covered with small, sharp-looking bristles. These help in trapping prey in mid-air.

A damselfly

Notice the bristles on the legs of this damselfly

4. Damselflies are found throughout the world, everywhere except Antarctica. And, they can be found in just about every color of the rainbow, from turquoise, blue, green, purple, brown and gold. Which color is your favorite?

Wow, a purple damselfly! Temperature and light can make their colors fade.

Wow, a purple damselfly! Temperature and light can make their colors fade.

5. Both males and females have a long abdomen with 10 segments. Both also have clasping organs at the ends of their abdomen. Have you ever been kayaking or fishing and seen two damselflies locked together and flying around? Ever wondered about this? Yes, damselfly mating is quite interesting, especially for the female. First, the male clasps her behind the head with special claspers at the end of his abdomen, fitting into the space perfectly–like a key in a lock. Then the female bends her body upward to grasp the male with her clasping organs at the end of her abdomen. Before transferring his sperm to her, he scoops out any remaining sperm of rival damselflies. Sometimes you can see them flying around in this tandem position, known as the “wheel position.” It looks a bit like a heart, the way their bodies bend towards each other.

First, the male clasps the female behind her head.

First, the male clasps the female behind her head.

Damselflies in "wheel" position

Damselflies in “wheel” position

6. Damselflies (like dragonflies) DO have antenna. They are just so short most people never notice them.

7. Damselflies have many nicknames, including damsels, bog dancers and devil’s darning needles. This last one especially might give cause for alarm, but not to worry, these insects are harmless and do not sting or bite–unless of course you are a mosquito, fly, or other insect.

8. A cool fact that I just learned recently is that the female of many species of damselflies actually goes UNDER water to lay her eggs! She crawls down the stem of some submerged vegetation and will cut small holes in the plant stem where she will lay her eggs. All the while down there she is able to breathe because of oxygen surrounding her body and wings. When she is done, she travels back to the surface and then must be able to take off again into the air. Many damselflies become fish food during these tense moments.

dragon-9. Their eggs hatch in 1-3 weeks and will stay in the water as nymphs for 2 months up to 3 years, depending on the species. They will go through 15 molts before finally crawling up a plant stem or rock and emerging from their nymphal skin as an adult with wings. This is an amazing thing to witness! I have seen it a few times in my lifetime, and am always blow away by it. Next time I see it, I will make a point to film it so I can feature it here on my blog! Have you ever been lucky enough to witness this?

10. As nymphs they have 3 feathery-looking appendages at the ends of their bodies–these are their gills. Dragonfly nymphs have internal gills.

A damselfly nymph--notice the 3 feathery gills at the end.

A damselfly nymph–notice the 3 feathery gills at the end.

If you want to learn more about dragonflies, check out my post on these HERE, or, Check out this fabulous video from BBC Nature about the short life of a damselfly.

Hope you’re having a fabulous day! See you again soon.

Check out this video of a damselfly emerging as an adult! WOW, spectacular! Nature is so amazing! (Whether it happens in Scotland or the US, the process is the same! Don’t let the location turn you away)

Here’s a video from the BBC on damselfly mating:

Quote of the Week #67

It’s the first day of summer!!! Happy day to you. I hope you can schedule some time to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature soon.

As a child, did you enjoy your summer vacation? How did you spend your time? Do you think summer is a “waste of time” for children?

When I was a kid summer was my favorite season because it meant I could spend every day OUTSIDE. I lived to be outside and started a countdown weeks before the final day of school arrived. When it did I gloried in my freedom to let the days unfold, never feeling burdened by what to do or bored with the many unstructured hours. Often I spent the entire day wandering in the woods across the street or along the wide, shallow creek behind our house, jumping from rocks into the deeper pools, catching crayfish, watching birds or just sitting beside the flowing water doing nothing.

These days I wonder if kids spend their summers doing the same things… do they? I think our society believes summer is a waste of time for kids, that summer is just a big, empty space where kids “lose ground” on their education. I know many believe we should do away with a summer vacation for kids and have more time for lessons in the classroom.

But I would argue that the learning that can happen during summer goes beyond what we might be able to accomplish in a classroom. There is something to be said for giving kids unstructured time to explore, to imagine, to watch, and listen and touch and feel.

Of course, if the kids just sit around inside the house and play video games, watch tv or text their friends, then that’s a whole other story.

I feel sad when I think of kids these days, and how their every minute seems accounted for.

And so, this week’s quote:

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What do you think? Did you like summer vacation as a child? Do you know any children today who spend their summer days outside? What can we learn from time spent outside?

Weekly Puzzler #116: Who Says Drink Your Tea

This week’s puzzler is a sound from an animal common to the US. Listen below: Do you know who makes this song?

If you know or want to give a guess, please do so using the comment box below. All of the correct answers will be entered in a drawing. Get your guess in by tomorrow and you can be entered in THIS drawing. I will pull one name on Monday–the first official day of SUMMER! You could be the next winner!

Click HERE for the answer!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #115

So did you have any ideas for last week’s puzzler? This aquatic insect can be found throughout the world, with the most species occurring in North and South America, Eastern Asia and Northern Australia.

A giant water bug out of water

A giant water bug out of water

It is a Giant Water Bug or Lethocerus americanus. Some species can grow more than 4 inches long! but most are around 1.5 inches. Some other common names include”toe biter” and “electric light bug.” Of course the first name is easy to explain and should make you wary of handling it! I have never been bitten by one, but I have heard they have a painful bite. Their other common name, electric bug light comes from the fact that they are often attracted to lights and may show up on your front porch some hot evening.

Giant Water Bugs live in water but have wings. Many people are surprised to learn they can fly (like water striders, another aquatic insect) and will do so to find new bodies of water.

hh-2The one pictured in last week’s puzzler is a MALE. Interestingly, females glue their eggs onto the backs of their mates and the male will carry these around with him, protecting them from predators, until they hatch into nymphs. This is an unusual habit in the world of insects!

Giant Water Bugs are fierce some predators, able to kill a variety of aquatic animals including minnows, dragonfly, damselfly, stonefly nymphs, tadpoles and other invertebrates. They usually sit motionless and wait for something to come by but will also actively stalk and capture prey. When they grab something, they use their sharp beak to inject enzymes that will dissolve the body tissues of their unfortunate prey.

Do you know your animal sounds? Test your knowledge with the next puzzler!

Have a great weekend! Happy Father’s Day to all of those Dads out there!