Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

During my winter travels, my companion book is Winter World; The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich.  I am just going to quote the back cover, because I certainly couldn't describe this book
any better!
"The animal kingdom relies on staggering evolutionary innovations to survive winter. Unlike their human counterparts, who alter the environment to accommododate physical limitations, most animals are adapted to an amazing range of conditions.  In Winter World, biologist, illustrator, and award-winning author Bernd Heinrich explores his local woods, where he delights in the seemingly infinite feats of animal inventiveness he discovers there.

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal SurvivalBecause winter drastically affects the most elemental component of all life - water - radical changes in a creature's physiology and behavior must take place to match the demands of the environment.  Some creatures survive by developing antifreeze; others must remain in constant motion to maintain their high body temperatures.  Even if animals can avoid freezing to death, they must still manage to find food in a time of scarcity or store it from a time of plenty.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with the author's delicate drawings and infused by his inexhaustible enchantment with nature, Winter World awakens the wonders and mysteries by which nature sustains herself through winter's harsh, cruel exigencies."

There, I couldn't have said it better myself!!  I will add, however, that Bernd adds an element of personalism to the writing of this book.  (Is personalism a word?  It is now!)  And he writes in a manner that all readers can understand.

Just click on the book above to link to to check it out!  Check out the other books I recommend by clicking on the in my sidebar!

Friday, January 29, 2010

So Deer

There is such a feeling of excitement when seeing an animal in the wild.  ANY animal.  Even a little chipmunk. 

I always consider San Antonio to be on the northern fringes of S. Texas, and it was a cold, damp day even for San Antonio.  We'd taken a ride just to get out of the house for a little while.  While riding through a preserve on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, my daughter and I encountered a small group of deer nestled in among the trees.

Some were just as curious about us as we were about them.

And some were too busy eating whatever that is!

They stared and stared and stared at us.

They watched our every move with innocent curiousity.

This one was so curious, she came in for a closer look,

she'd take a few steps closer,

then I'd take a few steps closer,

then she stepped closer, still! 
 It was difficult to end our visit and continue on our journey through the wilderness area.

Take a look at these other interesting Camera Critters!

Once in a Blue Moon

On New Year's Eve, 2009, earthlings experienced an "astronomical phenomenon" - a blue moon.

As dawn approached, I found myself preparing to travel by air from San Antonio, Texas to Portland, Maine.
As I walked to my terminal, this is the sight that welcomed me through the airport windows.

A Blue Moon is the name given to a full moon that occurs twice in one month.  Through the centuries, a Blue Moon has had numerous definitions. According to the Farmer's Almanac, a Blue Moon  is an extra full moon that occurred in a season, each season having 3 full moons.  But a misinterpretation in the 1940's defined it as we now know it.

  Because the monthly calendar was built on the lunar cycle  of 29.5 days, there is usually only one full moon every month. But once every 2-1/2 years, those extra half days add up to two full moons in a month.

The last time a Blue Moon occurred on New Year's Eve was in 1990.  The next time the night sky will host this event will be in 2028, at which time a total lunar eclipse will be visible from some locations in the world.

Click HERE to view other participants of SkyWatch Friday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower

Of all the herbs and wildflowers used for medicial purposes, Echinacea purpurea is, in my humble opinion,  the most effective modern day natural remedy on the market.  I seldom succumb to colds and flus.  I am convinced that drinking Echinacea Tea has come to my rescue each and every time.

Like so many wildflowers, Echinacea was used in traditional Native American medicine to treat an assortment of problems -  toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis, coughs, and blood and lymphatic system ailments.

Many studies have been conducted over the years, and, like everything else, depending on the source, many different opinions have been published.  But hundreds of these studies have shown that using echinacea at the first sign of coming down with a cold is very effective. 

It works for me!  I went to bed Tuesday night and felt that itchy, scratchy feeling in the back of my throat and ears.  I helped myself to a cup of echinacea tea in the morning and again during the evening hours on Wednesday when it became obvious that a cold was definitely in the making.  When I went to bed last night, I thought, "darn, I didn't catch it!  I'm doomed."  But I woke this morning cold free.  I'll follow up with a couple more cups of tea today to be absolutely sure.

Echinacea works by stimulating the development of white blood cells.  These, in turn, consume the invading organisms that infect the body, causing cold and flu symtoms to take hold.

In order to be most effective, Echinacea should be taken as a tea or in tablet form as soon as you first experience cold or flu symptoms.  When you first feel that scratchy throat or start sneezing, the experts advise that you begin taking Echinacea every few hours to nip any infection in the bud.

And if you are unable to catch your cold at the onset, Echinacea will still work to keep colds and flus from getting worse.

"Echinacea contains a substance that works with the body's immune system by binding to cells to prevent bacteria and viruses from getting into those cells. In this way, it fights the spread of any pathogens that try to invade the body."

Ordinarily, I'm not a tea drinker.  But most brands of Echinacea Tea are supplemented with lemongrass and/or spearmint to make drinking the tea a pleasant experience.  Adding a little honey is also tasty, as well as more soothing for a scratchy or sore throat.  Some preparations combine Echinacea with other immune system boosters or with vitamin C.  There are many varieties on the market and I urge you to have some on hand for the next time you feel a cold coming on. Unless you have an allergy to the Purple Coneflower itself, it's safe to at least give it a try! Some articles suggest that if you have severe allergies to ragweed,  chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.  Click HERE for more information.

It is also interesting to note that studies have also shown that echinacea stimulates interferon, a vital part of the immune system known to be one of the front-line components in fighting the development of cancer cells.

I'm all for staying healthy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Watery Wednesday

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Cibolo Creek, Texas

A recent outing along the mostly dried bed of Cibolo Creek just outside of San Antonio didn't yield many birds of note, but a few interesting rock formations

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a Western Kingbird (a lifer for me!), who only lingered long enough for a good look, and then disappeared.  There was, however, a cacaphony of cardinals among the trees lining the river bed.  I have never seen or heard so many in one place before.  Vultures soured overhead, both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures.

Tracks abounded in the dried river bed, mostly those of coyotes and raccoon, but this track was of interest to me because of it's roundness, like a flower petal. 

However, it was the rocks that peaked our imagination this day.  I'm no geologist, and I tried to do a little digging, but wasn't able to uncover much information that I could understand.  I believe it's mostly limestone in this area, dating back to prehistoric days when the area was covered by the sea.

Here is a picture of the dried up river bed showing the fossil remains of hundreds of shells.


And upon closer inspection...

The rock formations along the bank of the river were incredible.  One looked like the profile of a face.

and for scale

We scrambled over rock formations, climbed down and across crevices, peeked into "caves", followed paths cut out by flowing water.

It was almost "other worldly".

We found treasures galore.

This would make a lovely necklace!

And this looks like a skull, abandoned and alone.

Evidence of flooding, 8 - 12 feet above the creek bed was everywhere.  Here is a small bird's nest, probably American Goldfinch, that had been ravaged by rushing waters.  It's amazing how something that appears to be so small and delicate, is strong enough to withstand nature's wrath.

We accessed the river bed from an overpass off the highway leading out of the city.  This shot from between the railroad tressles is looking back toward the highway.  See the gorgeous Live Oak off in the distance.

Cibolo Creek runs for 100 miles before joining up with the San Antonio River. I hope to continue following the creek bed further along on my next visit to the area, providing it is at a time during the year when there are no snakes!!


I never wondered where mistletoe came from.  Mistletoe was just mistletoe.  You brought it out at Christmas time, and tucked it away for the remainder of the year.  So it was with amazement when I first traveled to Texas a number of years ago to spend Christmas with family.  And there, amidst the barren branches of the local trees, were these beautifully green clumps.  Everywhere!

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on conifers, hardwoods, and shrubs  over much of the temperate regions of the US.  Different types of trees are hosts to different species of mistletoe, but they are all from the genera Phoradendron.

Although they are completely parasitic, they manufacture most of their own food by photosynthesis.  They only require water and mineral elements from their host plant in order to thrive. 

Birds that feed on the mistletoe berries are responsible for most of the infestation.  Birds will digest the pulp of the berries and excrete the seeds.  The seeds have a viscous coating and hair-like threads that cover their outer surface, making it easy for them to attach firmly to the branches of trees. 

Once the mistletoe becomes established on its host plant by a penetrating root system, it will eventually suck the life right out of it.  Only then will the mistletoe itself, die.

I'm still fascinated by mistletoe every time I visit Texas.  These pictures were shot from the dry bed of Cibolo Creek outside of San Antonio.  Tomorrow I'll post a few photos of the creek bed with it's interesting rock formations.  It was a pleasant day away from, but within easy access to, the city.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sky Watch Friday

Rainbow over the harbor 
in front of my house
in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
-a late summer shot!

We have, what I call, 
Rainbow Season,
and I have been fortunate enough
to capture
many rainbows on film.

They never cease to instill
a sense of awe in me.

To experience the beauty of more Sky Watch Friday photos, click HERE!

Window Views

This is kind of a window.
It's a "window" in the wall looking down at the
RiverWalk in San Antonio, TX.

For more Window Views, click HERE.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Close Call!

Better brace myself!

Whew!!!!  That was close!
Semipalmated Plover
(Charadrius semipalmatus)

For more Watery Wednesday photos, click here.
Please scroll down to previous post!
Thank you!

Nature vs. Nuture

I am an early riser.
I like to check my blogs
to learn of things in nature,
like spiders, snakes, and frogs.

But this morning it was different.
I went to Loft Creations,
and here my lesson for the day,
was helping other nations.

Click HERE
to visit a silent auction
comprised of beautiful, hand made and hand crafted items.
I'm so overwhelmed by the generosity shown here,
I am struggling with words to describe just
what is happening at this site.
You have to see for yourself.

Wordless Wednesday

(Rubus chamaemorus)

Visit other Wordless Wednesday entries here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sense of Wonder

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”   Rachel Carson

I was recently gifted with the most wonderful book.  My childhood friend, knowing my combined passion for nature and children, selflessly saw to it that I had a copy.  I am forever thankful.

If I have my way, this book, entitled: The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, will be under every Christmas tree next year in the homes of all those families in my life who share their existence with young children.

Rachel Carson, a noted environmentalist, revealing the world through her interactions with her young nephew, writes,  "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood."

This book encourages the reader to keep the window open to nature and humanity  in a magical and mystical manner and to foster a child's natural curiosity and imagination from a very young age, while rediscovering their own. Her insight and wisdom is a gift to all, young and old. Her recollections are delightful and inspiring, and quite frankly, reveal how simple, yet enjoyable it can be to spend just a fraction of your time engaged in meaningful activity, away from the electronics and pace of this new age. 

"This book, filled with its sage and poetic insight, and illustrated with luscious photographs of the natural world is a first step toward rediscovering that amazing sense of wonder within.", states one reader.

It is worth your every effort to check it out, either by clicking on the Amazon button to the right, or visiting your local library for a preview before you purchase it.  If you are not a nature buff, or spend little time out of doors, you'll be asking yourself, "Is that all it takes?"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shadow Shot Sunday

(Another awesome photo by Little Sister.)

See more Shadow Shot photos here

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

In March of last year, I went on a birding trip to Reid State Park along the Maine coastline.  While basking  in the warm sunshine after devouring our picnic lunch, watching a raft of mergansers negotiate the waves while feeding, this little fellow (I know, it's not a bird!) decided to join us for a tasty treat. 

Undaunted by our nearby presence, he continued to munch down on his little pine cone,

 and munch and munch and munch,

Until he had finally stripped it clean.


Visit other Camera Critters HERE!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ant Farming

Woke this morning to temperatures of  -10F.
The blue jays line the trees,

This is the Year of the Blue Jay!
Record numbers are being recorded here in the Northeast US.
Although it is only mid-January, I'm already weary of the biting cold, and my thoughts have turned to spring.
Little sister keeps assuring me that spring is just around the corner!
I wait with anticipation for our daily jaunts through the forest in search of my favorite flowers of all,
the spring ephemerals!
One of the phenomenoms surrounding these alluring
harbingers of spring
that intrigues me the most
is a symbiotic relationship called myrmecochory,
or "Ant Farming".

Ants are attracted to the seeds of certain species of spring bloomers because the seeds bear small protruberances called elaiosomes.  These elaiosomes contain fatty food, attractive oils, and possibly sugars, and are considered to be a tasty treat if you are an ant.  The ants carry the seeds into their nests, sometimes as far away as 70-75 yards, where they dine on this gourmet meal.  But the seed shells are too hard to penetrate, and are cast off in an unused tunnel.  Here, protected amid the nutrients in the soil, the seeds will germinate.

Among the species of spring ephemerals that encourage ants to collect their seeds are:

violets (Viola sp.)

Wood Anenome (Anenome cinquifolia)

Hepatica (Anenome Americana)

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) 
Ground beetles and crickets also disperse trout lily seeds. 

Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

and Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum).

(Photos compliments of Little Sister, the "Holly" in KaHolly, my mentor.)

"Just what makes that little old ant, think he can move a rubber tree plant.........."