Tag Archives: Nature

A frog’s call signals spring

Call me bold. Or myopic. Or just plain crass. But while the rest of the world mourns the potential loss of a million of the planet’s eight million species in what scientists warned yesterday would be described as the most comprehensive global nature loss ever, I’m celebrating one species: Frogs.

When spring comes, it sounds like there are a million of them.

Our former house bordered a nature preserve. It was really just a detention pond in a large suburban neighborhood, but it sounds better to call it a nature preserve. It was filled with turtles and frogs (and other creatures) with which I would occasionally cross paths while running on the nearby paths and streets. Turtle are a quiet neighbor, but frogs are not. At least not during mating season. The trill of the frogs’ song saturated the air to the point my brain cancelled it out.

It’s not until I moved to this new house, which is not near standing water, that I noticed the absence of the frogs’ peeping. But recently, as I was driving on a back road with the windows open, I noticed the distinctive frog ribbiting as I passed the puddles in the farm fields. Pass a puddle, the sound clamored. Pass a dry spot, the sound died away. Clearly, these farmers aren’t using too much pesticide; even their transient mud puddles attract residents. It was glorious, actually, hearing the frog calls. Such a clear sign of spring.

Frogs are among the planet’s few fully amphibious creatures, as much as home in water as they are on dry land. But water they demand. As I was walking my granddaughter this afternoon, I could hear a frog’s bre-ke-ke from a half block away. I traced it to the decorative pond in the yard of a neighbor.

Couldn’t see him. But definitely heard him.

Advertisements

Winged signs of spring

I’m neither a birder nor a photographer, but I got a real show when I visited my parents in Minnesota recently.

Some people mark the beginning of spring by sighting a robin, but in my parents’ neck of the woods, one might see all kinds of springtime birds. There are 442 species of birds on the official list of Minnesota inhabitants, but I’m not talking about sorts of everyday chirping birds just about everyone has visiting their backyard bird feeder. My parents’ home is remote enough to be nestled on the edge of river, or you might call it a “crik” or possibly a swamp, all depending on the time of year and inches of precipitation. A number of large birds also inhabit the area, apparently because it’s well stocked in fish and small game and whatever else birds eat.

Most of the time, the photos I take of birds (of any size) look something like this:

birds sandhill

See those two blobs in the middle there? Those are two sandhill cranes. You’re just going to have to trust me.

As we drove up to my parents house the first afternoon we arrived, a solemn looking bald eagle observed us from his perch in the middle of a field. Of course, I didn’t have my camera at the ready; I just swiveled my head as I engaged in a staring match driving by. The nest he shared with his mate was clearly visible in the leafless tree bordering the creek, and we saw him frequently during the course of the week as we drove by into town. Eventually, I figured out to have my cell phone camera in hand.

birds eagle

His head is white. Again, trust me.

The bald eagle, once an endangered species, now flourishes across the United States. Even if you’re not all that interested in birds, he’s quite a sight, frequently appearing on lists of the world’s most beautiful birds.

birds eagle flying

This bald eagle wasn’t much for photo shoots. He flew away when I got out of the car.

I also saw a red tail hawk and a pheasant. I’m pretty sure I saw a turkey vulture, too. Here’s my shot of the pheasant.

birds pheasant

Yup, he’s there in the middle, walking away from me.

The birds that put on the most fantastic show were the wild turkeys. Dad lent me his binoculars to observe the males fluffing up their feathers in order to get laid. When they’re strutting about, they look just like they do in those handprint paintings kids do at Thanksgiving with their tail feathers spreading up vertically, sort of like a less colorful peacock. Lots of drama in that mating dance.

The large bird I saw most closely was attracted to the bird feeder in my parents’ yard. I heard it before I saw it though: The pileated woodpecker.

birds woodpecker

I wouldn’t describe myself as a nature girl, but I was amazed to see all these distinctive large birds within a mile of my parents’ house. They were quite beautiful and impressive, bright spots on the otherwise brown not-quite-spring-yet landscape. Signs of more colorful days to come.

Travel Tuesday: The redwood forests

We cut down three 70-year-old trees on our property last week, and it made me unreasonably sad.

The Chinese elm trees were mostly dead, and it was time for them to go, but I miss them and it made me think of a trip a couple of years ago to northern California when we drove through the Redwood forest.

You may have sung the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” when you were a youngster, but a walk through the forest here will have them ringing in your head for days: “From the redwood forest to the Gulf Steam water, this land is made for you and me.”

redwoods

Look up and behold, in a Redwood forest, you feel like you’re in a special place.

California’s coastal redwoods, which grow on the northern coast (the scientific name is sequoia sempervirens), can grow up to 377 feet tall, the tallest living things on earth. Like the related sequoia trees, redwoods are long lived, due in part to their bark, which can be up to a foot thick. That bark protects a tree from cold and from forest fire.

Our trip two years ago through California included a drive and walk through the Redwood National and State Parks, an experience I can’t recommend highly enough. Being there, breathing in the piney air and feeling the silence as much as hearing it, one is reminded of dinosaurs and is tempted to believe in dryads and wood nymphs. The trees are alive, and they might be smiling or frowning or about to reach out and touch you. No wonder one of California’s stereotypes is of tree huggers. Even a logger’s gotta love a tree like that.

Standing among those majestic trees reminds me I am nothing, and my life, however long it is, passes in a blink. The “little” trees we removed from our property are gone, but not forgotten.

If nature is a place of worship, the redwood forests are cathedrals. Worth a trip.

Good neighbor + good timing = good show

Sometimes I’m just amazed at the kindness of strangers.

Some benefactors make me want to be a better, more generous person.

Don was that good neighbor to us yesterday.

He took us for a boat ride, and it turned out to be the most memorable jaunt on the water I think I’ve ever experienced.

We visiting the area of Ten Thousand Islands. I find this ironic, coming from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Here in southwest Florida, the bits of land are sprinkled in the water like the pools of water are spread across the land in Minnesota.

Don has spent his winters here for 30 years so he has a lot of experience navigating these shallow waters between islands and mangroves (or, he joked, he has one year of experience 30 times over).

The wind was calm, and the sun was high in the sky. Don has a boat, and he offered us a ride. Who wouldn’t want a boat ride on such a beautiful day?!

He toured the nearby mangroves, showed us an osprey nest (I’m pretty sure it was an osprey — I’m no birder) and brought us to the edge of the Gulf.

And then the show began.

He instructed us to look for fins in the water, and we spied some dolphins frolicking in one of the bays.

As we approached, another boat met us from the other direction, and the dolphins discovered his wake. What fun!

dolphin leaping

Then the dolphins discovered our wake. There must have been at least a dozen of them! I’m no National Geographic photographer (and I only had my iPhone), but several times we saw dolphins right next to our boat and swimming beneath us.

Here’s a shot of a school of dolphins behind us (do dolphins swim in schools?).

dolphin school

And here’s a shot of dolphins swimming in front our boat.

dolphin close

For 20 or 30 minutes, Don drove around and around in circles playing with these amazing and charming creatures. More than once he said we were being treated to a special show; he meant the dolphins, but I know his patience and knowledge of the waters had brought us to this serendipity.

Don’s kind offer and generosity with his time meant we got a special gift — a personal, up-close performance of some of nature’s most fascinating sea life.

The lowly ‘shroom

IMG_4258.JPG

Had nature any outcast face,
Could she a son contemn,
Had nature an Iscariot,
That mushroom, — it is him.

~ Emily Dickinson

Nest test

Nothing like a slaughter to put you in the mood for spring, right?

You’ve heard of the phrase “first, do no harm”? It’s a doctor’s guiding principle (though I sometimes think oncologists walk on the wrong side of the line).

We don’t abide by that theorem here. No sirree, here on Minnesota Transplant, our principle is “anything for the blog.” I’ve posted pictures of me dressed as a Klingon warrior, I’ve made ricotta cheese, I’ve even mucked through an arid 155-page report to determine how much teachers are paid (a relic written in 2009 but still one of my most popular posts to date).

Today, I almost killed a baby bird.

Whaaaaht?

Yeah, but the worst part is, it wasn’t on purpose.

So I let the dog out in the backyard. A common occurrence when it’s not 50 degrees below zero. And this angry bird starts dive-bombing her.

I’ll remind you, my dog weighs 8 pounds, and while she’s energetic and territorial, she’s not a birding dog.

So I leave my usual post behind the patio glass to investigate, and I heard chirps coming from the nest built in the rafters of the deck.

A-ha! Mama robin is defending three baby robins in the nest.

Do I think, “Oh, Mama robin has a point, maybe I should get the dog back in the house?”

Noooooo.

I think, “I’ve gotta get a picture of this for my blog!”

So I grab my camera and venture up the deck steps to get a closer look. Like paparazzi after a Bieber pic, I stick the camera in the babies’ faces and boom! One of them flies out of the nest — or drops out of it, it was sort of awkward so I’m not sure — and I hear Mama robin going even more berserk. Eek! I’ve disrupted the ecosystem for sure. That baby bird won’t be able to get back into the nest, and I’m in big trouble.

Meanwhile, the dog is peacefully sniffing rabbit turds in the corner of the yard.

I realize I’ve got to get the dog back into the house so Mama robin can cajole baby bird back into the nest, so I approach the dog in the perimeter of the yard.

She thinks it’s a game, and starts running in circles around me.

I shriek.

The dog thinks we’re having a good time now! She makes her way to the patio where, of course, she spies something even more interesting than her shrieking master.

The baby bird.

Oh! My! God!

I’m screaming, “No! No, Chloe! No!” My dog is about the examine baby with her mouth.

Baby is skittering away on the cement. Mama is chirping somewhere in the background. Chloe is intent on catching her first ever bird.

I race to scoop up the dog, and I snatch her into my arms just before she chomps on a chicken a la robin sandwich. In the house we go.

I didn’t touch the nest.

I didn’t touch the bird.

I didn’t mean to get baby almost killed. I hope nature’s balance returns baby bird to Mama’s nest.

But I got my picture:

robin nest

Coyotes intrude on suburban security

two tracks

Let’s establish this much up front: I couldn’t track my way to dinner even if I was starving and my prey was blind.

But I’m 100% sure these are the tracks of two coyotes that crossed behind the fence in my back yard yesterday.

I have witnesses, your Honor.

My Beloved, his office colleague and a neighbor all saw these two interlopers — possibly a male coyote and his mate — patrolling the so-called wetlands beyond our fence.

Coyotes are enemies in suburbia. They have killed at least three dogs in Wheaton since November (read about it here). Wheaton is a long way from Hampshire, but I’ll confess to species-ism: I judge all coyotes by the actions of a few.

My dog is a babied victim of overindulgence (and low body weight), so I know she wouldn’t stand a chance against one of these territorial tricksters.

The good news? I found no evidence of coyotes inside my fence, and the tracks I found outside it kept going. When I inspected the area to take these pictures, the only other tracks I found were likely left by a rabbit and birds (but on the other hand, see caveat at beginning of this post).

sign tracks

Do not disturb. Or else.