Friday, July 31, 2009

Why I do What I Do

Yes, today was pretty cool. It was the last day of nature day camps for the season. And for some odd reason, it was chock-full of memorable moments.

Nature did abound today. I couldn't believe all the cool things we observed. And as a blogger, one realizes some days there is hardly anything to talk about, a virtual drought. But today was a gullywasher. There will be many more posts stemming from this day.

But my most memorable moment today was shared with one other person, a very wee one. This camper, just minutes before, was being a typical six-year-old boy bouncing on a picnic table, which he was told NOT to do. Boom, off he fell, landing on his head.

The other children headed down to the picnic area to have lunch and romp on the playground. I stayed behind in the building while the little camper iced his noggin. As we sat there quietly watching out the window, the wildlife decided to visit the sandy-haired boy, one by one.
First came the Red Squirrel. It scampered right up to the window and proceeded to devour the pile of black sunflower seed meant for the songbirds. Usually the Red Squirrel is skittish and darts around frantically. This time it popped up on the platform feeder next to the window and let us watch him, just inches away. The large blue eyes that were brimming with tears just moments before were soon filled with wonder.

Next came the cardinals, then the goldfinches, then the nuthatches. All curiously coming up to the window, not at all bothered by our presence. We watched the goldfinch eat a sunflower seed and spit out the hull. "I do that, too!" exclaimed the camper.

I grabbed an Identiflier so we could listen to the visitors' songs. Soon the many questions came in rapid succession. "What is that bird? What does it sound like? What do woodpeckers eat? Do their tongues ever get stuck in the tree? Why do they call it a Mourning Dove?" And I loved every minute of it.

I told him to watch the red flowers for the hummingbird. He had never seen a hummingbird, so he asked all kinds of questions about what it would look like and how big it would be. And then it came, buzzing around the cardinal flower, lapping the nectar from the flowers with its long tongue. He was quite impressed with the "honey bird", as he called it. What a thrill- a child's first glimpse of such an amazing animal.

And as I sat there with my injured camper, answering his many, many questions, I realized this is what it is all about. I truly enjoy sharing the wonder of nature with another. I love seeing their world open up and their realization of how miraculous it all can be. Yes, there is no better way to spend a day!
(Goldfinch photo from Wikipedia)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Massassauga Rattlesnake

I had a fun-filled weekend hanging out with friends in Ohio at Killdeer Plains. I had many lifers (things seen for the first time in one's life). One was a shockingly pink katydid which you can view at my friend Cheryl's blog and my friend Jim's blog. And then the Duke Skipper, found by my friend Jim Davidson and photographed by Warren Uxley.

But something I was really excited to see was this creature...

Massassauga Rattlesnake! What a beaut! Doug Wynn does research on these amazing animals and was driving by while we were out looking for butterflies. He was nice enough to show us what he had found.
This one was a pregnant female. Hopefully she will have lots of healthy babyMassassaugas!
Massassaugas are a smaller rattlesnake with a length of only 20-30 inches. (Timber Rattlesnakes can reach 36-60 inches). They are also known as "black snappers" according to Doug because of their reputation of "snapping" at things, which this one demonstrated nicely.
It is on Ohio and Indiana's endangered species list and is found only in a few isolated areas.
Thanks, Doug, for sharing your find!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer Bloomers

Summer Bloomers. No, not the kind made of sheer cotton, silly :) Flowers! I took a quick tour around the park today and snapped a few pictures of the things in bloom. Some of my favorites were making a nice showing today.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is always a crowd pleaser. This is a great plant to add to any garden. It has beautiful, long-lasting blooms. It is a great nectar source for butterflies; I have seen many different species utilizing coneflower. And the seedheads are a great seed source for birds and other animals. Goldfinch absolutely love coneflower seeds. They will grasp the stem and become so completely engrossed in eating you can almost touch them.

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, one of my all time favorites. Lush, round pink blossoms that smell terrific. And, they attract lots of interesting bugs, as a bonus.

Another milkweed that also has a great fragrance, Marsh Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. This plant likes areas a little more wet. It has a deep pink blossom that is more flat than Common Milkweed. This one is just starting to bloom.

Yet another member of the milkweed group, Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, is a brilliant orange. This plant attracts loads of butterflies and other nectar-seeking insects.

One of those insects is the cuckoo wasp. This beautiful tiny creature is iridescent and can shimmer green or gold depending on the light.

Another shot of a different cuckoo wasp on Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana. It was so busy nectaring it didn't even flinch when I bumped the plant. Naturalist note: Pokeweed is the plant that gets the large clusters of blackish-blue berries in the fall. Historically, the berries were used for ink. The Declaration of Independence is supposedly written with ink from fermented Pokeweed berries and many letters home from the Civil War were written with Pokeweed ink.

Virginia Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana, is another wonderful summer bloomer. I found a little patch growing in the woods. Blue is my favorite color, so I am biased.

Along the same path, I found many Solomon's Plume in bloom. I am a poet, and didn't even know it. :) Solomon's Plume, Maianthemum racemosum, has a spike of white flowers that turn into these wonderful red and gold-tinged berries.

At the woods edge, I noticed a patch of Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. Such an interesting looking flower. If you ever wander into a patch of Stinging Nettle, Jewelweed can be your best friend. Just crush the stem and rub the juices on the area. The burning itch on you legwill quickly go away.

The lacey inflorescence of elderberry, Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, was found along the woods edge. The tiny white flowers are gorgeous.

This Phlox ( I am not positive what species), is just covered with pretty pink blossoms.

Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum. Not a super showy plant, but butterflies love it and the leaves smell fantastic if you crush them. Supposedly makes a great tea, but I haven't tried that yet. Yes, the lady who eats bugs is hesitant to try a tea. Go figure : )

Downy Wood Mint has interesting white flowers with tiny spots. The leaves do not smell as nice as the Mountain Mint's, but more like cat pee. Sorry, not drinking that!

Almost gone. Celandine Wood Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, starts blooming in April and is still blooming!

And this is why it is called a poppy. These seed heads, when ripe, will pop open when bumped by some unsuspecting animal and thus scatter the seeds. Hopefully, some of the seeds will end up in its fur and be carried off to another locale helping with seed dispersal.

So spring isn't the only time to see whats out there. Later this week I will wander to the prairie and hopefully get some other summer bloomers.