Saturday, July 19, 2014

Raining Toads

 Our local weatherman predicted a 90 percent chance of rain today and to most parents this means their kids will be trapped inside with nothing to do.  What most parents do not realize is the learning experience being presented to them right under their noses.  When I was a kid my friends and I would revel in the thought of going outside following a torrential rain storm.  We would wade the rain swollen ditches barefoot in search of frogs, crawfish, amphiuma, snakes, whatever came our way, collecting everything in buckets.

Well today the bottom fell out for most of the morning leaving the ditches and neighboring yards swollen with rain. My grand-daughter and son came over and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try out her new wading boots and to get outside for a little adventure.  As I've said before- I want my grand-daughter to grow up learning and knowing that nature is not all bad and scary. That nature is beautiful, inspiring, and something to be cherished.  She grabbed her boots and net and we searched the ditches up and down our streets.  In the distance I could hear the loud trill of gulf coast toads coming from my neighbor's backyard.  His property is low and collects lots of water following a good rain so I called him and asked his permission to enter.
We found the water was ankle deep and it didn't take long for grand-daughter to spot her first toad or.........toads.  She scooped them up with her net and that's when I noticed that love was in the air. 
She is very observant and asks lots of questions and wanted to know why one was riding atop the other.  What do I say??? 
She's only six years old so I took the easy way out and told her one was giving the other a ride.   Before you know it we found another pair then another and another.  When it was all said and done we captured around 20 toads.
Heavy rains trigger the mating instinct of these amphibians, proven by the long gelatinous strands of submerged toad eggs we found in different areas of the yard.  These eggs will develop rapidly and soon produce a new generation of toads.
Something as simple as a rain-filled backyard, a net, and a pair of rubber boots provided not only a learning experience, but also a memory that my grand-daughter and I will cherish for years to come.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Mother Turtle

Today me, my son and grand-daughter went on the hunt for a geocache at a local park.  While searching for our "treasure"  we came across a large red-eared slider at the base of a hackberry tree.  The park we were at contains a pond which is where the turtle had originated from. 
It appeared that the turtle  had begun digging a hole.  The first thing that came to mind was that it was about to lay eggs.  With finding the geocache on our minds we went on leaving the turtle undisturbed. 
A short time later we walked passed the turtle again so my grand-daughter ran over to check on it.  The next thing I hear is the sweet voice of my grand-daughter hollering "Paw Paw.......it's laying eggs!".  Sure enough in the hole was about three eggs.  While we were watching she laid another. 
When she finally finished her motherly duties she scraped the soil and covered her future progeny.  Depending on temperature, humidity, and other factors it usually takes anywhere from 45-90 days for turtle eggs to hatch.  It would be great if we could time it just right to be able to see the baby turtles emerge from the nest.  I plan on bringing her back starting in about 6 weeks, with regular checks afterwards in hopes of being able to observe this.  Hopefully a predator such as an opossum will not discover the eggs.  What a wonderful experience for my grand-daughter to witness.
 

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Grackle

I tossed a watermelon rind that still had some "meat" on it out in the yard and it wasn't long before a female grackle came along began eating on it.

While it fed it kept a close lookout for other grackles and would chase them away if they got anywhere near the watermelon.
One of the grackles it chased off it returned later with a large cheeto in its bill as if to gloat....

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mystery Sea Monster Eats Shark??

Check out this video about a tagged great white shark that is believed to have been eaten by something much larger.....

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Purple Martin Colony 2014

I haven't mentioned anything about my colony yet this season, which so far is looking pretty good.  They began showing up on February 16, and as of May 17th I have 19 pair, which have so far produced 2 nestlings and 86 eggs. 
Over the last 10 years (of the 20 years of my colony's existence) I've averaged around 23 pair. There was a couple years (2004 & 2010) where I had 25 pair.  In the last 3 seasons though (counting this one) I'm beginning to see a downward trend: 2012- 20 pair, 2013- 18 pair, and this season again with 18 pair.  It is very possible that some could have perished on their way back during their exhaustive migration back from South America.  Just a fact of life with these swallows.  Eventually newer adults could be attracted here which could replace those lost.
As mentioned before I discovered my first of two nestlings, one of which was still inside one half of the egg it hatched from.  When I discover eggshell in the nest I remove them to prevent the other eggs from becoming "capped".

I expect to find more eggs during my next check in 5 days and more the likely more nestlings.  I will report from time to time what's going on.  Hopefully this will be a very productive season.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Ringtails and bears

A fellow blogger of mine and camera trap extraordinaire- Camera Trap Codger, put an excellent video capture on his blog.  He set up a camera hoping to capture ringtails on video near an area where he put down lures in the form of civetone (the musky pheromone from the African civet) and castoreum (exudate from the castor sacs of the North American beaver which is used by them for scent marking). He got one ringtail to bite, but what follows is some excellent video of a family of black bears also enjoying the lures. Check out Codgers blog here.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Gray Squirrels


Grey squirrels have been an ever present resident here in our neighborhood for as long as I can remember. My wife likes watching their antics and had me put up two feeders, which she keeps stocked with raw peanuts. It didn’t take long before our local “tree rats” discovered them. 
We sit on our front porch and watch as they lift the feeder’s lid, reach inside and grab one of the nuts and either eat it right away or carry it to a more private location. They’re very protective of their food source and will chase off other squirrels who try to pilfer from them.  Sometimes the squabble gets pretty physical.
Some of the peanuts though end up buried as I have found “peanut caches” in our flower gardens and in various spot of our yard, some of which had begun to sprout.  Makes me wonder how they can remember where they put them all.
We’ll also toss leftover cornbread, biscuits or bread out for the birds, but if they see this they’ll confiscate it.   It’s kinda odd (and hilarious) seeing a squirrel darting across the yard with a biscuit in its maw.
 
 

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Quote

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
~ Cree Prophecy ~

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sabine Pass Trip

Several weeks ago I had some free time so I decided to take a ride up to Sabine Pass and see what was going on at Sabine Woods Bird Sanctuary.  This is one of my favorite haunts that I frequent and it never disappoints as seen by my previous blog posts involving this area.  I haven't been up this way in a while and thought I might get lucky and see the beginnings of spring migration, it being a favorite fall-out area.  It was a comfortable 58 degrees outside, sunny, but windy as hell.  I checked a local weather station on my smart phone and found it to be gusting upwards of 26 mph.  Windy days make for haphazard birding.  When I arrived the first thing I usually do is walk over to the small covered area near the entrance and check the clipboard hanging there to see what observations had been reported.  The last entry was made back in October of last year. 

Cutting off on one of the side trails I began hearing the calls of a red-bellied woodpecker and found it working its way up the trunk of a tree.  At times it twisted its head in odd positions as it probed the tree’s every nook and cranny for bugs.
I walked over to the man-made drip site to see if anything was present and found an eastern phoebe resting on the drip line enjoying the day.  A few minutes later a black and white warbler passed through. After about a half hour nothing more showed up so I decided to go and check out the swift tower that had been built several years back.  
The Driftwood Wildlife Association is an organization that promotes the conservation of chimney swifts and came up with the plans for these nice towers.  This one has been here for several years and so far no swifts have been observed utilizing it.
 I then encountered an area that was barricaded encompassing a large oak and hanging from the barrier tape I find a sign that read “DO NOT ENTER OWLS NESTING”.
I immediately began glassing the upper branches for any sign and then movement on a branch caught my eye and it was then that I discovered a juvenile great-horned owl.
I respected the yellow tape, walking its edges to a spot where I could get a better view, not wanting to risk frightening it or eliciting a response from the adults.  By that I mean a response towards me in the form of sharp talons.  I never saw the adults, but owls have a knack for concealment and I’ll bet a $100 bill that they were somewhere in the upper story of the trees watching me.  I tried locating the nest itself but was unsuccessful.  Owls do not build their own nests, but use old hawk, crow, raven, osprey, squirrel, eagle, and great blue heron nests.  They do not add anything to these nests and so over time they tend to break down quickly.   Juveniles will disperse from the nest and hop from limb to limb in what is known as “laddering” or “branching” as a way of exploring the area until they are able to fly.  I read of an instance when a juvenile had fallen to the ground and had to literally claw its way up the trunk of the tree to return to its perch. 
This dispersal from the nest may also act as a survival mechanism preventing nestlings from becoming the prey of bobcats and raccoons.   It never moved from its perch, but it also never took its eyes off of me.  Since I had owls on my mind I decided to stroll over to a spot in this scrap of woods where the oak upper story is thick providing a dense niche for roosting, where in the past I have spooked several barn owls and have found lots of pellets for study.
The easiest way to find an owl roost and pellets is to look for “white wash”- a gracious label for owl crap.  It wasn’t long before I came across a site where the ground was splattered and an accumulation of pellets scattered among the leafy floor.

Most of the pellets I found had already begun to break down from recent rains that came through this area. Dissecting them is really interesting and not only helps determine the diet of owls in a particular area, but also sometimes lead to new discoveries as with what happened in Ireland where barn owl pellets revealed the skulls of mammals never before found there.  Pellets I came across all contained the fur and bones of rodents.  I can remember in the past walking in the open fields on the north side of these woods and seeing hispid cotton rats scurrying all around my feet.  Using Mark Elbroch's book " Animal Skulls: A Guide to North American Species"  I was able to identify the top photo remains as that of a hispid cotton rat and the other as a marsh rice rat.


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Friday, April 11, 2014

Barn Owl Cam

Check out this live cam inside a barn owl nest presented by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology:

Barn Owl Nestbox Cam
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Parulas

Today I had a small flock of four Northern parulas pass through our yard. No doubt they’re part of the spring migration that is beginning to occur.   There was a slight drizzle falling from the overcast sky when I spotted their movement among the branches and blossoms of a pear tree in our lot. 
This tiny wood-warbler at one time was called a “blue yellow-backed warbler” by John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson, by others a “finch creeper”.  They move among the branches much like that of a chickadee and a titmouse, bouncing quickly from limb to limb, sometimes hanging upside down to get a look at the inside of a pear blossom for an unawares bug.  All of them appeared to be males
In their southern nesting range they build their nests within Spanish moss that hangs from trees, while northern nesters use a beard moss known commonly as “old man’s beard”- a lichen of the Usnea species.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Gecko in Hiding

In my son's backyard resides a storage building that he has been meaning to clean out for years. He finally got around to it and after he was done decided to install a deadbolt on the shed's door.  The was an existing hole for the lock which was capped on one side.  Inside the hole on the backside against the cap was a Med gecko (short for Mediterranean gecko).
They are pretty speedy and at times difficult to catch, but this one was a little sluggish due it being cool outside which made it an easy capture.
Look closely at the close-up of the tail.  Notice how it appears dissimilar to the rest of its body.  This is a newly replaced tail.  Geckos have break-away tails which acts as a defense mechanism.  The tail breaks off and wiggles, distracting predators as the gecko escapes.  Through the process of regeneration a new tail is grown.
You find little surprises in the strangest places.

Other gecko posts can be found here.
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Construct a Simple Fossil Sifter - Popular Science Build It

This is a great idea for finding shark's teeth and fossils at the beach.  Will be building one for me and my grand-daughter to try out later this year and I'll report on  how it works.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Here We Go Again......

We've been here before.  Back in August 2008 I posted about Mr. Rick Dyer and his dead bigfoot, which naturally, as expected, turned out to be a hoax-  a  rubber gorilla suit in an ice chest stuffed with animal guts.  Well Mr. Rick Dyer may be at it again. ...or is he?  He's already caught tons of flack and threats because of his prior hoax, which he admitted.  Why would he put himself through even more grief?  But then again some folks are gluttons for punishment and publicity.  I guess we'll have to wait and see on Feb. 9 when he says he will have a press conference presenting the details of his recent Bigfoot adventure where he claims to have really shot and killed the big hairy dude.  Stay tuned.
“Fool me once shame on you;  fool me twice, shame on me.”

My prior posts here: (1)  (2)

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 Purple Martin Colony Preparations

Purple martins are starting to show up in various parts of Texas.  Seems like they just left on their long migration to South America.  I usually begin seeing them showing up at my colony around the second or third week of February, which isn't far away.
This year will mark the 20th year that I have had a martin colony and over the last few days I've began making the usual preparations for their arrival.  I cleaned out and washed the gourds in a mixture of bleach and dish washing liquid and repainted the wooden rack's arms.  Each year I also change out the ropes used to raise and lower the racks.  A rope that has been out in the elements for a year can weaken and the last thing I need in the middle of the nesting season is for a rope to break, which could be disastrous.
I also had to re-caulk several of the PVC elbows that I installed on each gourd that help with ventilation during those hot Texas summer days.  
I've began to replenish my leaf pile that I've had near the racks for years.  This allows the martins to collect nesting material near the colony so as to not waste precious energy looking for it otherwise.
Once I got the gourds attached to the racks arms I placed caps in the entrance holes until I begin to see martins in the area, otherwise English house sparrows and European starlings would try and take over.  Hopefully this will be a productive season.
Read my previous purple martin posts here.
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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Instagram and Twitter

As some of you may have noticed I've added an Instagram and a Twitter badge on the upper right-hand side of this page.   On Instagram I post mostly nature - related photos and on Twitter I send out links to nature - related articles and news that I have come across.   Check both occasionally and subscribe if you like.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Plastic Nightmare

Did you know that the energy it takes to produce an aluminum can is enough to power a 60 watt light bulb for an hour?  Did you know that there’s approximately 5.1 billion pounds of plastic waste created each year in the U.S. alone?  In Alan Weisman’s book “The World Without Us” he states:  “…every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last 50 years or so remains.  It’s somewhere in the environment.” (4)
I have been recycling aluminum and plastic for awhile now, and what really heightened my concern, especially when it comes to plastics, was when I came across the photos of dead albatrosses that were found on a beach on the MidwayAtollWhen a necropsy was performed on the birds their stomachs were literally packed solid with all varieties of plastics that they had consumed from the surface of the ocean (not knowing the difference between food and plastic).  This occurred mostly in an area known as the Eastern Garbage Patch located in the North Pacific, one of the five major oceanic gyres of marine debris. These gyres consist of mainly high concentrations of “pelagic”plastics that became floatsum due to land-based sources and ship-generated pollution.  
A wildlife biologist by the name of John Klavitter who has looked into this estimated that “albatross feed through regurgitation to their chicks about 5 tons of plastic a year at Midway.” (1)  Check out this video from Chris Jordan's upcoming film:

MIDWAY a Message from the Gyre : a short film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

It’s not only albatrosses that are affected by our plastic refuse.   In Weisman’s book he reports:

 “….sea otters choking on polyethylene beer rings from beer six-packs;….swans and gulls strangled by nylon fish nets and fishing lines; ….a green sea turtle in Hawaii dead with a pocket comb, a foot of nylon rope, and a toy truck wheel lodged in its gut.”   “Plastic bags clog everything from sewer drains to the gullets of sea turtles who mistake them for jellyfish.” (4)  Scientists have found that discarded plastic in our oceans are eventually ground down into tiny pieces forming a “plastic soup” (aka micro-plastic pollution),  that ends up being eaten by all sorts of ocean life, including plankton and krill, which then serves as the main food source of whales, seals, penguins, squid, and fish.  “Beyond the albatross, studies have shown up to 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic nets or debris every year.  About 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate.  And what about the humans ingesting seafood nourished by the plastisphere?”  (1)  (9)  Nature is talking to us and we damn well better start listening.  I shudder to think what shape the environment will be in when my grand-daughter grows up.
While we bicker and ignore the signs, the health of the planet slowly but surely continues to degenerate into an inhospitable nightmare right under our ignorant noses.  One day a devastating irreversible event will occur and we will then plead with God to fix it, whilst all along He has been screaming at us from the get go.  “Nature is not merely created by God; nature is God.”  (12)  
Albatross photos courtesy of Chris Jordan  

References and Suggested Reading:

(1) Pacific Voyagers: Plight of the Albatross
(2) Rise Above Plastics
(3) Midway:A Message From the Gyre
(4) “The World Without Us”  Alan Weisman © 2007.
(5) NOAA: Marine Debris
(6) Greenpeace: Trash Vortex
(7) Discover Magazine: The World's Largest Dump
(8) Plastic Pollution Coalition
(9) Wire Magazine.  November 2013. Pg. 48.  “Trash Fashion-Wear Your Own Water Bottles” Ben Paynter
(10) "Trashed"
(11) Earth 911
(12) “The Island Within” Richard Nelson. © 1989
(13) Drowning in Plastic
(14) The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
(15) Micro-Plastics
(16) Micro-Plastics in the Great Lakes
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