Wednesday, April 30, 2014

coral beauty


Another hummingbird favorite is now in bloom. Trumpet honeysuckle (a.k.a. coral honeysuckle, or for you botanical purists: Lonicera sempervirens) is a native vine that is ideally suited for ruby-throated hummingbirds

It has showy nectar-rich red-to-coral flowers arranged in terminal clusters. The color is right, and the long, slender tubular flowers seem especially designed for the birds’ equally long bill and tongue. This is a great example of a plant and bird that work together, each perfectly suited to the other. Simpatico.The hummers get nectar, the flower gets pollinated. Quid pro quo.

This native honeysuckle is a twining, trailing woody vine with a long flowering season that will last well into the summer.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

the art of pollen

Pollen washing down Hardin Valley Road last Friday

Here, anon, we can't wait for a heavy rain to wash it all away, down the street, down the drain, out to the creeks and away, a billion, billion, gazillion, bright yellow pollen grains. Minuscule and spiky. Can there be anything more sinus membrane irritating? But elsewhere

German conceptual artist Wolfgang Laib says, "Pollen is the beginning of life." And for him, art made from hazelnut pollen collected over the past two decades, a billion, billion, gazillion tiny grains.

Thanks, Suzy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

an honor being mentioned

This one falls under the category: Holy Moly.

My book "Ghost Birds" was mentioned in Scientific American, in an article by Errol Fuller titled: 10 Extinct Animals Lost to Planet Earth but Preserved in Photographs.

Yes, Holy Moly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

banana shortage!

What the h---! 

That's it. "Stop the world, I want to get off." (Broadway musical circa 1962.)

I'm tired of the bad news: wildfires, mudslides, extreme storms, droughts, melting ice caps, sinkholes, pollen vortex, dying malls and those are not Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. Everyone on the planet and floating above the planet know they are, Vladimir.  

If that all weren't bad enough, I've just read we are ripe for a banana shortage. Yep, yet another bad-boy fungus doing in the Cavendish. Or, should that be Cavendishes? To quote yet another Broadway musical forty years earlier than the one before, "Yes! We have no bananas." Or should I be quoting R.E.M., "It's the End of the World (as We Know it)"?

Just answer me this: How will I make my pudding?

Monday, April 21, 2014

amid another vortex!

A billion billion billion pollen grains rain down on me.

It's official! NBC News has announced we're in a pollen vortex. And this comes on the heels of a winter with several polar vortexes. 

Either it's the classic overuse of the word "vortex," or for the nonce, we're in Old Testament trouble. The reports say the lingering winter has delayed the trees, so they are all casting their bread upon the water at the same time (that's from Ecclesiastes, also Old Testament), i.e. a modern day pollen vortex of biblical proportion.

Truth is: tree sex is messy, messy, messy.

Plants have a big problem when it comes to reproduction. The males and females cannot cozy up to one another. Since they are stationary, how do the male pollen grains and the female eggs get together? Somehow they need help. Basically, either a creature like an insect carries the pollen or the wind blows the male particles.

If a tree has a showy flower, like a dogwood or apple, then they rely on insects. That's why they have the flashy blossoms, to attract the pollen carriers. Generally, this pollen doesn’t bother most allergy sufferers because it's heavy and sticky in order to bond itself to the insects' bodies. It doesn't float around freely for us weakling humans to inhale.

Imagine a snout full of these prickly male gametes!
The trees that rely on the wind for pollination, like the maples, birches, cedars, hickories, oaks and pines, do not have showy flowers. They don't need them. But, these trees have to produce tons of tiny, lightweight, barb-covered pollen because the wind is a sloppy messenger and a pretty untargeted way to move things around. It's actually quite messy.

It is estimated that a single male flower—called a catkin—on a birch can produce 5.5 million grains of pollen. And, there can be thousands of male catkins on a single tree. Most of this pollen seems to find either my car, turning it yellow, or my sinuses, turning them achy. 

Or as my doctor once told me, the number one symptom of pollen allergies is lethargy. 

I think anon, I'll take another nap.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Welcome WVLT Melissa!

Photos by Chuck Cooper
Ijams extends a special thank you and a warm welcome to WVLT's Local 8 new weekend news anchor Melissa Lee. She stopped by the nature center to visit for Earth Day and see the hawk flap her wings in excitement. 

Before Local 8, Melissa was morning anchor at
41NBC/WMGT in Macon, Georgia for nearly four years.

Here's her report: WVLT

Photos by Chuck Cooper!

Monday, April 14, 2014

hairy birdfeeders

The Eastern tent caterpillar is the larva stage of a rather nondescript small brown moth. (Trust me. It’s small and brown. You’d hardly notice it, would have difficulty describing it to anyone. That's nondescript.)

Early last summer, the female adult moths laid her varnish-coated egg masses—hundreds of eggs—in the crotches of trees. The females were very particular. They only laid their eggs on the trees with leaves her young would eat. Cherries, apples and crab apples are their most common host plants.

The eggs remain there for over nine months. In early spring the tiny larvae hatch and begin spinning a small silken tent where they live protected during the day. At night the caterpillars venture out to eat leaves; their sole purpose in life is to eat a lot and grow.

The carterpillars return to their nests each morning and because they've grown—which tends to happen if you eat all night—they add to their nest to accommodate their new bulk.

People often panic when they see these tents in their trees. They want to attack them with kerosene and fire. Napalm is no longer available for household use. But relax. These silken tents are really just natural birdfeeders. Only a small percentage of the caterpillars survive, the birds eat most of them. The other day I watched a blue jay standing on top of one of the nests tossing down caterpillars as fast as it could like they were shrimp from an Aussie's barbie. Ga-day mate.

I wonder what they taste like? A bit hairy, I would imagine.

Eastern tent caterpillars, a.k.a. bird food

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

peace in my heart

“Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him,” wrote naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

The Master of Walden was describing what many believe to be the most beautiful song of any North American bird—the wood thrush.

As a group, the thrushes, including the American robin, are exquisite singers. Wood thrushes’ songs have three individual parts. You can really only hear the first part if you’re fairly close to the singer. It consists of two to six short low-pitched “bup, bup, bups” The middle part is flutelike, almost angelic. The phrase is generally described as “ee-oh-lay, ee-oh-lee.” It’s one of the most purely beautiful utterances made by any living creature. The third part of their song is a trill-like phrase that seems to come from somewhere else as though the bird is throwing its voice. It’s described as non-harmonic pairs of notes rapidly and concurrently repeated.

It all sounds as complicated as a Rossini aria but it gets even better. Arias are for one voice. The heart of the wood thrush’s song, the flutelike “ee-oh-lay,” is actually the bird singing a duet with itself. Wood thrush have two sets of vocal cords, so they can sing two overlapping phrases simultaneously, which gives their song a hollow, richer tone, like a sound engineer has added a bit of reverberation. Thrushes’ voice boxes contain two membranes that they can control independently.

Each male wood thrush has a repertoire of various arrangements of these basic parts, some drawn out, some condensed. And each male sings long and often.

A wood thrush returned to Chapman Ridge home yesterday. I heard the first “ee-oh-lay” of the season. And all was right in my world; peace was in my heart.

And as Thoreau suggests, I was young yet once again. My spring tonic had arrived.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rikki Hall

Ijams Insect WalkAbout. Group leader Rikki sixth from right. 

When I write, I write with someone in mind, a particular reader. For years I wrote a regular column called "The Backporch Naturalist" for Hellbender Press and I'd always weave in a strand of humor to make Rikki Hall laugh. He was one of the editors of the environmental newspaper and I knew he was one of the first readers of raw copy.

If I later heard that he laughed, I knew I got it right.

And Rikki loved to challenge me: "How about a pro-cowbird piece? The native species that everyone loves to hate, give them reason not to." Or "How about a column about roadkill?" That would be interesting.

As indeed it was.

I also lead nature walks at Ijams, but sometimes someone else leads and I just go along for the adventure.

This week we mourn :( the passing of our friend Rikki Hall who led several insect and birding walks for the nature center over the years.

Noted for his broad smile and that tress of dark hair that loved to rebelliously fall down over his forehead, Rikki was one of those remarkable people that took enormous joy in noticing nature's minutia, the little cogs in the master clockwork. The oothecae, the pupae, the pedipalps, the warbler wispings, Rikki noted them all. Rikki was in his element in the middle of an overgrown field.  

Rikki knew the secret: that nature is as vast as it is deep, and always infinitely fascinating, a set of nesting Russian matryoshka dolls with one treasure hidden inside another, inside another. The closer you look, the more that's revealed.

He would stop and point out the smallest spider workings or beetle meanderings, sharing the details of their lives and, in turn, his love for such things that generally go completely overlooked. Rikki's passing should not go overlooked. He cared.

Rikki knew if you look deeply enough, nature makes sense, but in his untimely death that logic flies out the fenêtre.

I quote here from Emerson, "To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.”

Transcendent Emerson must have known Rikki, one of life's truly great people, an attentive eye, sadly missed by absolutely everyone who knew him including this former Hellbender writer. 

Kim, I hug you with tears rolling down my face.

With visiting group from Russia. Rikki second from left. 
Insect exploration at Ijams Homesite. 
Walk leader Rikki second from left.
Birding WalkAbout on Ten Mile Creek Greenway. 
Rikki in the middle with co-leader Janet McKnight.