Song Sparrows, Round 2

This is the second brood of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) to hatch on The Acre this season.  The first nesting successfully fledged 4 and another 3 have hatched in the second brood (still waiting on one egg). The photos below are of the nest a week ago (June 17) on left and yesterday (June 22) on right.

songsparrows

Natural Science Days at the Roycroft

I am pleased to be offering 3 Saturday morning sessions for youth this Summer YOUTH - Natural Science Daysfor the historic Roycroft Campus in East Aurora. Often asked how nature education ties in with the Arts and Crafts movement, of which the Roycroft was among the most well-known practitioners, I remind folks that the movement itself was rooted in a return to Nature, self-sufficiency and simplicity. So spending time in Nature and sharing details on the processes  behind physics, chemistry, geology, botany, biology, etc. seems an excellent fit. Certainly Elbert Hubbard would have no argument on that score.

For more details, check out this informational flyer on Natural Science Days: http://oakmossed.com/NatScienceSummer2013.pdf

Loving a Species Too Much

Those who study or enjoy Nature often have one or more species to which they are particularly drawn. Many wildlife biologists focus on specific genera, botanists tend to study specific families, and those who just like to spend time in the woods have their favorites for which they keep their eye out. As a naturalist who must be have a strong working knowledge of biotic and abiotic elements, even I have certain animals and plants that hold particular fascination and regard. Among birds, Crows and the Black-capped Chickadee are highly respected; predators are a very interesting group, particularly how their behaviors force so many evolutionary adaptations for both their prey and themselves; and among the foundation of Earth’s biological energy, trees hold a special curiosity and respect.Ecology

But as we begin to form attachments to particular species we must not lose perspective. I’ve encountered many people who place their favorite on such a high pedestal that they despise any entity that applies pressure or threatens it.  For example, there are some birders who despise birds of prey because they seek out their favorite songbirds for sustenance. Once I had to enlighten a fox lover that her poisoning of hated mice threatens the very canid she adores. Then came a  recent email inquiry about  what insecticide to use on a hummingbird feeder pole which led to enlightening the sender that hummingbirds are insectivores, as well, and not to waste energy on a needless fight. More broadly, a commenter to an article on laudable women environmentalists still disdains Jane Goodall for standing by as a wild baby Chimp died in its mother’s arms during a research outing decades ago. No explanation that scientists tend not to interfere with natural processes in the field would suffice – Jane is just heartless and not deserving of the accolade. This is a common response by some animal rights activists who are well-intentioned but sometimes misguided as to the appropriate human response to wildlife (and sometimes domestic animals).

Each and every species, along with the chemical and physical processes that characterize planet Earth, have an essential function. It does no species any service to put so great an honor on it that other species are demonized. Such obsessions only exacerbate the practice of speciesism (human view that other species are inferior and intolerable) which has led to what many researchers refer to as the “Sixth Great Mass Extinction” currently under way.

Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related – Lakota prayer).

Nature Tats in Ice

A mid-Winter trip to the forest lands of northern Pennsylvania revealed the beautiful relationship between water and cold. So reminiscent of the lost art of making lace (tatting) which must have its inspiration in Nature.

Lace in Ice

Lace in Ice

So delicate and so cold.

Lace in Ice

Lace in Ice

In a flash, the lace will melt away.

Lace in Ice

Lace in Ice

A temporary frozen waterfall can be formed.

Ice Falls

Ice Falls

The ethereal nature is inspiring.

Lace in Ice

Lace in Ice

The Skunk has Arisen

The first tracks spotted upon arrival home.

The first tracks spotted upon arrival home.

The space beneath the enclosed porch on the front of the house has served as long-term and temporary shelter for any number of critters over the years, particularly in Winter. On the coldest and snowiest of nights, a local domestic feline seems to use this space as a respite judging by the tracks left on the stoop. This cat, who has never actually been spotted, leaves its sign more often than any other animal. And over the years, Eastern Cottontail have also been known to take shelter beneath the porch now and again.

One memorable evening, bumping and thumping sounds were traced to this spot. Interested in who was making the ruckus, my daughter and I carefully approached the opening at one end and no sooner did the beam from the flashlight penetrate the gloom under the porch than the most ungodly snarling and growling emanated from the dark. In a flash the two of us high-tailed it back into the safety of the house having never seen even a trace of the “banshee of the porch.”  (It was presumably a Raccoon not happy with our nosing into its private affairs.)  The Acre is a regular stomping grounds for Coons and, a few Summers back, one family jolted me awake on numerous occasions with their squabbles on the roof directly above my bed. If you’ve ever heard Raccoons arguing, you know what an eerie and ghastly noise they can make.

But the tenant who’s made the most profound mark, both actually and figuratively, is the Striped Skunk. Every two or three years, Mephitis mephitis makes my home its home finding the porch space prime real estate. And because this spot is in an apparent demand neighborhood, there have been the rare but quite memorable encounters with other squatters vying in vain for a piece of this popular spot.

Striped Skunk tracks?

Striped Skunk tracks

During Winter, Raccoons and Skunks are deep sleepers, laying low in seasonal dens with only an occasional short jaunt outside during mild spells. It’s quite common to get a whiff of Skunk on the air at these times. And although the last several days have been quite cold and snowy here in Western New York, a Striped Skunk must have sensed the forecasted mellowing of weather due to arrive.

Upon my arrival home tonight, I noted fresh tracks in the newly fallen dusting of snow on the porch stoop.  “Ah, Kitty, you’re back for another visit,” I muttered automatically since the mysterious feral has left sign of having taken refuge under the porch numerous times this Winter. But as I drew closer to the door, I noted the tracks were not that of a cat. First clue was the presence of claw marks, which is not a characteristic of a pad featuring retractable claws. Then, of course the track itself did not have the same toe arrangement as a cat nor did it show the more hand-like attributes of the Raccoon. “Ah, the Skunk has awaken and is checking out potential quarters for the coming active season,” I next surmised.  No tell-tale scent was discernible so it appears the Skunk has yet to take up residence, but there is a good chance he or she will be back once Winter has released its grip.

This portends the potential for some fairly smelly days ahead but this naturalist accepts that a resident Skunk is a good sign because it means The Acre provides suitable habitat for wildlife beyond just a convenient place to escape from weather, predation or grab a day’s rest. This is why the Skunks, Coons, Rabbits and even the Cat are regular residents. And as any knowledgeable  gardener will attest, a Skunk is a most welcome ally in the battle against moles, slugs and snails. So welcome back, Mephitis mephitis. I’m sure we both are looking forward to an encounter-free warm season ahead.