Monthly Archives: September 2016

Weekly Puzzler #130: Metallic Jewel

Recently I spent the morning in a meadow near my house, doing what I love most, which is walking around with my camera, looking for tiny spots of beauty. The sun’s rays cut through the fog hovering above the field, lighting up the silken traps of spiders everywhere. Have you seen spider webs lit by the sun? Wow, they are magnificent!

puzThe yellow and purple blossoms of the goldenrod and New York ironweed attracted butterflies and other insects of all sizes stopping for a sip of nectar or to hunt for food. As I made my way through the field I  spotted this week’s puzzler–a metallic jewel suspended amid the purple flowers.

WOW! This is so beautiful with the sunlight shining on it–I fear my pictures will not do it justice.

I have seen pictures of this, but seeing it in person, was even more spectacular than I could have imagined. What beautiful, beautiful treasures Mother Nature creates! Woo hoo, it is my lucky day!

Check it out:puz-7400

Do you know what it is? Or what it will become? Can it be even more beautiful than it is now? By the way, you cannot simply identify WHAT it is, you must tell whose it is!

Check back next weekend to learn the answer. And congratulations to Helen K, our winner of the weekly puzzler giveaway. She was sent a sampler pack of greeting cards from my Beauty is Everywhere collection. (By the way, these cards make great gifts! You can buy them locally at Kress EmporiumII,( where I am the featured artist of the month),  The Compleat Naturalist,  The North Carolina Arboretum, or, contact me and I will send them to you. Buy 5 and get one free.)puz-7404

If you want to be the next winner, be sure and use the comment box below for your chance to get your name in the next drawing–on the first day of winter. It’s a long way off so there are LOTS of opportunities to be qualified. All correct answers will automatically be entered. Good luck! And no worries if you guess wrong–better to try than not.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Here’s hoping YOU find some spots of beauty worth appreciating too. Don’t forget to look for the little wonders–they are everywhere, once you start to notice them! Who knows what treasures YOU might find!

See you again soon.puz-2

Weekly Puzzler Answer #129

Did you know last week’s puzzler? Are you lucky enough to live where this bird does, or perhaps you’ve seen it traveling over, in fall or spring during their migration.

A sandhill crane lands in a field

A sandhill crane lands in a field

It’s a sandhill crane! If you’ve been following my blog for very long you might remember me talking about a trip I took last spring to Nebraska to see MILLIONS of them migrating. I wrote a post featuring a video of sandhill cranes coming to roost on the Platte River.  This was another amazing experience I got to cross off of my “Bucket List” and share with my amazing husband. Anyone who likes birds should add this to their Bucket List–it is a sight to see.

Sandhill cranes are a striking bird, standing on long legs, just under 4 feet tall, with an impressive wingspan of 6.5 feet! Seeing millions, or even thousands in the sky above is a pretty impressive event. Have you witnessed this?

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Do you know much about these attractive birds? Do you know where they live or why so many are in Nebraska each year, twice– in the spring and then again in the fall? Do you know how long they live or how long the young cranes remain with the adults? Do you know what’s special about their mating ritual?

Check back next week as they will be the Creature Feature. Have a great weekend! Check out the NEXT PUZZLER!

A poem from the walls of the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Nebraska.

A poem from the walls of the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Nebraska.

10 Things That May Surprise you about Turkey Vultures

Did you know that the first Saturday in the month of September is celebrated around the world as International Vulture Awareness Day? Did you celebrate this holiday?

A soaring turkey vulture

A soaring turkey vulture

If you are like me, you probably never heard of this holiday! But new things are learned everyday, especially with the internet and the ease of getting information about anything and everything. When I was doing research for this post I came across reference to this and looked into it. Too bad I didn’t discover it a few weeks earlier– could have helped the world in its celebration.

So it is true that some people don’t have a very favorable opinion of vultures. Yes, they are a bit less attractive than other birds, with their bald heads. And yes, they do have some pretty gross habits, as we’ll discuss later, but they are very important in our ecosystems, alerting other animals to the presence of dead animals and recycling nutrients back into the environment. Not to mention their ability to sterilize contaminated meat with their strong stomach acids. Imagining a world without vultures is not very pleasant. (Think LOTS of dead and smelly animals, everywhere, rotting, and generally making the world a less pleasant place.) Many animals–EVERYDAY–die from diseases, starvation, parasites, fights over mates, competition, and accidents.  vulture-0026Vultures find and eat these animals.

Let’s look at some facts that make these animals unique.

1. Worldwide there are 23 species of vultures, 14 of which are endangered or threatened. The turkey vulture, (Cathartes aura) is the most common vulture in North America and can be found throughout the lower 48 and into southern Canada.

2.Turkey vultures, and other vultures, feed on carrion–dead animals. This may seem gross, but they play a vital role in the ecosystems and are essential to the health of the planet. This is why vultures lack feathers on their heads and necks–imagine the mess drying blood on feathers would be!

Vultures riding thermals

Vultures riding thermals

3. Turkey vultures are oddities in the bird world in that they have a very well-developed sense of smell. Most other birds do not smell well at all (making it a myth that a bird will abandon its nest if you touch its egg or chick) Old world vultures–those found in Africa and Asia–like hawks and eagles, do not have a sense of smell! New world vultures–like turkey, black, Andean and California condor DO have a developed sense of smell. These vultures find their food–carrion, or dead animals–by smell and sight; they can find carrion over a mile away! Not all vultures have this great sense of smell, including NA’s other vulture–the black vulture.

4. When a turkey, and other vulture, feels threatened, for instance, at its nest or at a carcass, they can launch their vomit containing powerful stomach acids up to 10 feet away! Wow, talk about an undiscovered talent! Need a smelly shower anyone?

5. Vomiting on potential predators isn’t their only gross habit; they also defecate on their legs and feet when they are feeling hot. This habit cools their blood vessels and kills harmful bacteria and parasites that might otherwise make them sick. Don’t try this at home!

vulture6. Turkey vultures (and other vultures) do not build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs on bare ground–perhaps on the edge of a cliff, in a crevice, under a dead tree, in an abandoned building, etc. Females lay 1-3 creamy white eggs that have dark blotches on the fatter end. Eggs hatch in 30-40 days.t

7. Vultures congregate in large flocks to feed, fly and often roost. A large group of vultures is called a committee, a venue or a volt. When they get together in the air, using thermals to effortlessly drift in the sky above, it is called a kettle, which is a large flock. Sometimes eagles or other birds will be found among them.

8. Have you ever seen a movie where a character is out in the desert, hot and lost and looked up to see circling vultures, worried he was going to be eaten by them? This is a myth! Vultures do not circle and follow dying animals.

9. Most birds have an organ called a syrinx. This is the vocal organ that allows birds to sing. Turkey vultures do not have one of these so the only sounds they make are grunts, hisses and clacks.

10. Male and female turkey vultures look the same. They are the same size and have no identifying traits that would signal their sex. Gender

Another species of vulture--a black vulture

Another species of vulture–a black vulture

cannot be determined without a medical procedure.

11. (Yes, I know I said 10, but one more won’t hurt!) In many parts of the world vultures are threatened or endangered. Many die from electrocution, car collisions and from toxins or lead in the carcasses they eat. In many European countries, vultures are in trouble, dying from a drug called diclofenac, which is used by some farmers as an anti-inflammatory in cattle and pigs. Vultures who feed on these animals die within a few hours of ingesting this drug. Amazingly, other drugs that accomplish the same goal are available and word is out on this deadly result, but still the drug is being used. Want to read more about this? Read more from BirdLife.org, the Royal Society of Chemistry, or Nature.com or the Guardian.com

So wow, did you learn anything new? I am always amazed when I do these creature features because it is inevitable that I will learn many new things. I have always enjoyed watching turkey vultures soaring in the blue sky above me, envious of their ability to fly so effortlessly. Next time you see one, perhaps you too can stop for a minute to admire this amazing bird.

Resources:

Turkey Vulture Society: This is a fabulous site offering lots of wonderful information about vultures. If you go, check out the frequently asked questions.

Quote of the Week #73

Hey everyone! Happy First day of Fall! I hope as you read this you are having a glorious day. Are you ready for a change of seasons? If not, get ready because unfortunately, you have nothing to say about it!

My husband and I just returned from 3 weeks in Alaska, where fall was well underway. The blueberry bushes were bursting with berries, the aspen trees had yellow leaves, the tundra was decorated with vibrant red vulture-5leaves and the weather was cool and fall-like.

While in Alaska we spent most of our time backpacking and camping, exploring the great state in a way few visitors who go there do. We hiked in the wilderness of Denali National Park, where there are no trails to follow and in Denali State Park and on other trails that are perhaps known to locals but not very frequented by tourists. It was a glorious 3 weeks!

vulture-4Much of our time there we woke to rain and fog and a sky filled with clouds. But it didn’t stop us from carrying on with our plans because sometimes the rain and fog and clouds add drama that has an appeal unlike any other kind of weather. It is magical when the wind pushes the fog out of the way for brief glimpses of the landscape or clears totally to show you a mountain you hadn’t seen before. Or when a rainbow appears, stretching across the entire sky.

vulture-7173

So this week’s quote, something we heard more than once while we were in Alaska:

Hiking in the wilderness of Denali National Park

Hiking in the wilderness of Denali National Park

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

And it’s true. With the right clothing, one can be outside experiencing whatever Mother Nature decides to throw your way! So with that in mind, get OUTSIDE and enjoy this new season! It is sure a glorious one.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #128

kite-7583Did you recognize the silhouette in last week’s puzzler? It is probably a bird you’ve seen before as it is common throughout the United States.

It is the silhouette of a Turkey Vulture. This bird plays an important role in ecosystems. Do you know what it is? It is a super recycler! Turkey vultures feed on dead animals.

kite-7581

A turkey vulture soars in a shallow V

Do you know how you can tell a soaring hawk from a soaring turkey vulture? First off, most turkey vultures are much bigger than most hawks. With a wing span of 6 feet, they are hard to miss. However, when you’re standing on the ground, looking up, size is not always that easy to tell. So besides being larger, turkey vultures fly in what’s called a dihedral, which is a shallow V and they have distinctive long “fingers” (primary feathers) at the ends of their wings. Hawks on the other hand fly flat, with their wings in line with their heads.

A red-shouldered hawk flies flat

A red-shouldered hawk flies flat

One of my subscribers thought the silhouette in last week’s puzzler was a bald eagle. This is not a bad guess. Check out the silhouette below, taken of a bald eagle on my recent trip to Alaska. Not the tail shape is different as is the head. But the two do look similar. Like a hawk, eagles, when soaring, fly flat, rather than in the shallow V of the vultures.

a bald eagle silhouette

a bald eagle silhouette

Turkey vultures are interesting animals for sure. Do you know much about them? Like how they find their food, where they nest, how they stay cool or how long they live? Stop back next week as they will be the Creature Feature!

Weekly Puzzler #129:Another Long-Necked Bird

So since we’ve been talking about birds, and especially, large, soaring birds that use thermals. Let’s look at one more. This bird reaches amazing heights as it migrates high above the earth. Here are two pictures, first a flock in silhouette, and then one with the sunlight on them.

puzz-8288

puzz-8523Can you identify this bird? If you want to guess, use the comment box below and then check back next weekend to see if your guess was correct.

All correct responses will be entered in the next week’s free giveaway! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO QUALIFY! No harm in having a wrong guess. I will pick a winner on September 22, the first day of autumn. Will YOUR name be the one pulled?

Good luck. And see you again soon.

10 Amazing Things about Ospreys

I think ospreys are amazing birds and love to watch them dive into a body of water and come up with a giant fish. I am always amazed when they lift off from the water and fly off, carrying a fish with their sharp talons. Did you notice the fish is always facing the same way as the osprey? What must that fish be thinking!

Let’s look at these interesting birds and see what we can learn.

An osprey eating a fish

An osprey eating a fish

1. Ospreys are often called fish hawks or fish eagles and it’s easy to see why when you watch them for any length of time. They eat a lot of fish! And are very skillful hunters–catching fish about 50-80% of the time. 99% of their diet is fish. The rest might be animals such as small reptiles and amphibians, rodents, small birds and rabbits.

osp2-10572. Ospreys are found on every continent except Antarctica.

3. Ospreys are 21-23 inches long with a wingspan of 5.9 feet.

osp2-15134. Like owls, ospreys have two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards, rather than the 3 and 1 arrangement of most other birds. This allow them to snag their prey in water and then hold it in flight.

5 Another interesting thing about their feet is that their talons have backward facing scales that act like the barbs on a fish hook. These help the osprey hold the wiggly fish in flight.

6. Ospreys will catch their prey and then move to a safe place to feed–this might be a pole, tree top, branch, roof, etc.

An osprey on a nesting platform

An osprey on a nesting platform

7. Ospreys build nests at the top of dead trees, though they will readily build a nest on human-made structures such as utility poles, artificial platforms, and other structures.  Females lay 2-4 eggs and then incubate them for 5 weeks.

8. Chicks do not hatch all at once and the first one out has the greatest chance for survival. Both the male and the female take part in the raising of the chicks.

They don't seem all that fussy about where they nest

They don’t seem all that fussy about where they nest

9. Can you imagine learning to fly if you’re and osprey? Have you ever seen their nests? They are SO HIGH up! The chicks have never flown before, but must take off on their own and hope for a good flight. They learn to fly when they are 7-8 weeks old.

A crow chases an osprey that has a fish

A crow chases an osprey that has a fish

10. Ospreys are long-lived birds, able to live more than 20 years. However, most live between 7-10 years in the wild.

An osprey dives into the water to snag a fish

An osprey dives into the water to snag a fish

A crow in hot pursuit!

A crow in hot pursuit!