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.


Suggested Reading:


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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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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Casting a Fire Ant Colony with Molten Aluminum

Check this out:

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

November Beach Trip

There’s nothing more relaxing than a stroll down the beach on a beautiful day and it’s especially nice during the fall when tourism is low. Much quieter.  Sometimes I will be the only person there on the surf giving me the sensation that I’m the last soul on this earth.  As if the beach is all mine, to do with whatever I please.  I stroll for miles it seems without a care in the world.  Just me, the salty air, the crashing waves, and the wildlife it possesses.  In Richard Bode’s book “Beachcombing at Miramar” he says “Why do people all over the world flock to the sandy shore? I think it’s because the instant they touch the sand, the moment they hear the surf, the evil spirits flee and they feel at home in the world.” Each and every time I come here I can hardly contain the excitement of not knowing what I will come across on these sandy shores.  What gifts will the sea present to me?
The first thing I notice as I cross over the dunes is the magnitude of railroad vines that have taken up residence there.  These vines (aka- bayhops, beach morning glory, goat’s foot creeper, goat’s foot morning glory)- are a trailing species of plant that have a deep root system.  They have been planted here in order to help reestablish and “anchor” the dunes (which help prevent beach erosion) in place making it less likely for them to wash away during a storm surge as happened following the landfall of Hurricane Ike in September 2008.  Its leaves and branches contain alkaloid compounds which protect it from being eaten by insects and grazing mammals.
The dunes not only help prevent erosion, but are also important to wildlife- the Wilson’s plover and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (endangered) both use these areas for nesting. Incidentally, there are signs posted near the dunes alerting everyone about what to do if you see a turtle on the beach.  From the Sea Turtle website:  As of July 8, of this year there were 3 KR turtle nests found on Bolivar Peninsula as reported by the Galveston Sea Turtle Patrol. They nest from mid-April into July. As far as Texas goes they nest mostly at Padre Island , but there have been increasing numbers of nests found in Galveston and on Bolivar Peninsula. Other areas include Mustang Island, South Padre Island, Surfside, Boca Chica Beach and on Aransas/Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge. Back in 2008 a friend of mine came across a dead one that had washed up on the beach. Read about about this in a previous post here.
I found this balloon that had washed up, which I collected and disposed of.  These along with plastic bags when floating on the surface of the ocean can be mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles consuming them by mistake.  Dead sea turtles have been discovered with these in their stomachs. 
Collected sea glass.    Each time I come across a shard of sea glass I marvel at the effort that the waves and the sand have put forth in order to create, what was once trash, into a work of art.  To not take it as a gift from the sea would be sacrilege…..
 Collected plastic that will go in the recycling bin.  (More on plastics and the environment in a future post.)
 Redfish (aka red drum) carcass. Looks like a fisherman caught this, filleted it, then left the rest for the shorebirds.
Nearby I discover a trail of sanderling tracks.  This tiny sandpiper is known by many other names- surf snipe, beach-bird, white snipe, beach plover, whitey, bull peep.  They are long-distance migrants and nest only in the High Artic tundra.  
During the winter though they go to places like our beaches and stay until it’s time to head back up north to nest. It is an opportunistic feeder meaning that it will pretty much eat anything that comes along.  They are often seen probing the sand with their stout little bill for small crustaceans, marine worms, amphipods, bivalves, and insects.  Most times though you will see them in the surf.   
They will run quickly to evade the oncoming waves, but then turn and pursue the wave as it recedes, hoping the wave’s motions will stir up small mollusks or crustaceans.   
They will even take advantage of carrion, as I witnessed one nibbling on the remains of a redfish.  Another interesting fact- it has an anatomical feature that it not found in any other sandpiper- it has no hind toe.   Ever so often I hear their sharp “chit” call as they scurry along the shoreline.    
Fossilized Turtle Shell.  I have found quite a bit of these also in my years of beachcombing.



A collection of whelk shell fragments-  In all my years of beachcombing here on Bolivar Peninsula I have never found an intact, undamaged whelk shell.  Indians consumed the marine snail that inhabits this beautiful work of natural art and used the shell afterwards as a weapon, a tool (to scrape and gouge), and as cups and bowls.  In 1986 the lightning whelk was designated as the official state shell of Texas.

Gull tracks.  Not far from these tracks were a herring gull and a smaller ring-billed gull.  Herring gulls will take mussels which are hard to open and drop them on the wing onto rocks to try and break them.  

References and Suggested Reading:

1) Beachcombing at Miramar.  Richard Bode. © 1996 (If you ever want to read an enlightening book about a guy who beachcombs along the beach of Miramar in California, who gives life lessons in the process, do yourself a big favor and buy this book.)
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Raptor Study

Michelle Losee is a raptor ecologist and falconer who lives in Flagstaff, AZ and is studying the golden eagle to see what its diet consists of.  She is trying to raise money by way of “crowdfunding” to help her with project costs. She is working with a site called Rockethub which allows artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and social leaders to become noticed and raise money to fund their particular project.  It allows the average person to get involved by donating money and be part of a particular project’s success.  What a great idea. Check out her blog.  If you would like to help her with her project you can donate by going here.
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hummingbirds

“The hummingbird is the miracle of all our winged animals.  He is feathered as a bird, but gets his living as bees.”  Englishman John Lawson 1714

Hummingbirds are making their way to Mexico for the winter and are showing up in numbers in our quaint neighborhood.  I planted zinnias as usual this past spring for them, but the seeds must have been tainted because hardly any of them produced.  So I dusted off and set up my small blue single port feeder which immediately was taken over by a female ruby-throat.  Weighing no more than a penny, we sit watching as her blurred wings fanned the hot, humid air as it performed a little “sugar water snorkeling” at the feeder.
My wife suggested getting another feeder so I picked up one that had 8 ports and a perch for them to rest while they feed.  The female quickly discovered it and has claimed ownership of it also.  That’s the way hummingbirds are when it comes to finding a rich food source.  A single bird will dominate your feeders, hoarding it all for themselves.   I increased the distance between the two feeders so as to free one up for others.  Sometimes a third one is needed in order to do this.  Another trick is to put them all out of sight of one another.
My neighbors have also put up feeders, and some are using the artificially red-colored commercial mixes.     The red dye used in this mix, which is believed to be harmful towards hummingbirds, is added as an attractant. The same thing can be accomplished by using a red-colored container instead, or by just placing a simple red or orange ribbon on the feeder’s tube.  I highly suggest making your own feed.  That way you’ll know what’s in it.   
I follow Dan True’s formula from his book “Hummingbirds of North America”, using a 5:1 ratio (water to sugar) using plain white sugar (avoid honey or any other sugar types i.e. brown, raw or organic, and also sugar substitutes). [It is interesting to note the reason to avoid honey- it was discovered that a honey-water mixture produces a type of fungus that invades the tongues of hummingbirds, which in turn kills them.]  To make a 5:1 ratio mix, measure sugar (1 cup) and water (5 cups)  into a pot and bring it to a boil for two minutes (helps inhibit fermentation).  Be sure and place a lid on the pot when doing this so as to not concentrate the mixture.  He says not to microwave it because this alters the sugar molecule.  Cool the mixture before using and refrigerate the rest.  Also add plants such as trumpet creeper, Carolina Jessamine, cardinal flower, zinnias and others which hummers love.  They also need protein which they obtain from insects.  You can put out pieces of fermenting fruit which will attract fruit flies, gnats and other small bugs that they will readily take on the wing.  Also consider putting up feeders that contain just plain water.  Misters during the dog days of summer are always a welcome “oasis” for these tiny dynamos.

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