Just me, relaxing by my backyard pond, writing to you. Nature beckons out here and ideas float free in the fresh air. Pull up a chair and join me.

Seasons may change, but I'm out here until my fingers shiver.

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Hello, friends! Welcome to my POND SIDE BLOG. Visit me every few days here for a new nature note, a thought to ponder, or to click the THE NATURALIST link to the left for a new article every Sunday plus my archives ... .. and then, let's CHAT!

A tiny tragedy - a huge problem

July 22, 2014

Tags: bird. nest, population

An abandonned Carolina Wren Nest
We humans are so lucky. We don't expect our babies to die. In the wild, infant mortality is a given. Some animal species have adapted to this fact by having so many young that the loss of many, many 'kids' doesn't really matter: a bullfrog can lay 500 eggs; a catfish, 5,000. Those mega-broods come cheap:the simple eggs take little energy to build and the parents don't bother to house, feed, or defend their huge families. That works out fine since only two of the babies need to reach adulthood to maintain the population.

Other animal species play the odds differently. They produce just a few well-developed young and then lavish energy on them. The Carolina Wren uses this strategy. As you can see in my photograph, the birds lay intricately constructed (and decorated) eggs. The wrens poured energy into building a protective nest. When a predator (a jay? another wren?) discovered the hidden nest site, broke into one of the eggs, and made a meal of it, the wrens cut their losses. They left one egg-child to die so they could start another nest, more secret, and hopefully more productive.

Those predators are important. So are the parasites and illnesses that trim a population down. Without infant mortality, there is wild growth in a population. The animals soon run out of space, food, air, or water. Then their population crashes. As I said, we humans have stopped expecting some of our young to die. We pour incredible amounts of energy (plus medicine, money, schooling, food, housing, tc.,etc.,) into insuring that each child reaches adulthood. So our population is ballooning. Around our globe you can already see water wars, famines, land grabs, and overcrowding-caused social breakdowns. Maybe we humans aren't so lucky after all.



A House Toad

July 6, 2014

Tags: amphibian, spider

A "Fowler's Toad" has a white line down its back. The American Toad is plain.
I'll bet you have a house toad like mine if you have a back door with a light and a water spout nearby. You probably have spider webs up around the light, too. You've made a feeder out of your back stoop by attracting insects all night long to your light.

A bird feeder full of seed brings in hungry birds. Toads and spiders get hungry, too, and they've come for your buggy handouts. You have nothing to fear from your new loyal friends. All those "warts" taste so nasty that any predator spits Toady out before swallowing.. For this reason, you should never lick a toad - even your own personal house toad.

Now go check the back stoop...and the moist corners near your well-lit front door. Then let me know who you find there.

Welcome Dear Readers from my newspaper columns!

July 5, 2014

Tags: writing, birds

A different sort of welcome mat
It feels quiet here and lovely. I am, for the first time in decades, not frantically searching for a snazzy new topic to write abut this week. The habit is so ingrained however, I can't stop looking (I hope I never do!)

Actually, nature sounds off all around me.I'm writing on my porch serenaded (?) by a birdhouse full of hungry English Sparrows. All the adult birds ever seem to say is "cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep ...." That's what the babies are chanting, but urgently and in a raspy voice.

Are English Sparrows pests? Not to me. They are the most people-tolerant of wild birds and dependably present at shopping centers and school yards, park benches and outdoor restaurants. They are neighbor-tolerant, too, building nests close together without all the territory battles that consume the days of other birds.

And their nest box - what a slovenly mess! Most songbird babies expel their waste in a tidy little "fecal sac" which Mom or Dad grabs in their beak and carries away from the nest. That way predators won't find them. English Sparrows are such jolly good fellows they don't worry abut trivia like that. The babes just hoist their little tails to the door and let fly.

Yes, they are an alien species and yes, they displaced native birds - but that is old news. These "English" Sparrows are American now, found all across the country, friendly and cheery. And a little messy.

A new book !

June 12, 2014

Tags: Writing

Imagine! An old editor just emailed me and asked if I'd write a biography for Capstone, the new publisher where she works now. I love writing bios for kids (have done it 13 times) and gushed YES YES! So half of my mind is buried in research, back in the South Carolina hill country in 1781, where my heroine, teenaged Dicey Langston spied for the colonists. What fun!

Eggs for Breakfast

May 24, 2014

Tags: Birds

wreckage from our meals
On the left, a chickenís egg shell. I bought it, fair and square at the store. On the right, a song birdís eggshell. It was stolen from a helpless mother birdís nest by a hard-hearted thief. (Or was it the other way Ďround?)

Hepatica

May 16, 2014

Tags: wildflower

The liver flower? by Kay
Such a pure, pristine white little wildflower. How'd it ever get the name Hepatica when "Hepatic" refers to the liver? The flower is an early spring ephemeral, raising its head to bloom quickly in the spring before the trees leaf out above it. Once the ground is shady, there isn't enough solar energy for a plant to power its growth, flower production, and seed generation. So this little one sends up a leaf or two first. Each leaf has three big lobes, just like (you guessed it) your liver. Odd name. Breathtaking flower. This is a white one I saw in VT last weekend, though the same species can produce blossoms in sky blue and lavender, too.

Making Paper Wasps

May 10, 2014

Tags: Insect

Three wasps wandered along the top bar of the old split rail fence. I leaned in close to watch.They were focused on mouthing the surface and barely noticed me. Closer still, I could see patches of roughed up wood half an inch long here and there. One bent her mandibles down into a space where splinters, fine as the nap of velvet cloth, beckoned. She gathered a tiny snowball of fibers between those mandibles and its forelegs and flew off.

I wished I could follow her. Perhaps she would stop along the way to her nest for a deep drink of water. Back at home she'll 'chew' those fibers into a paste with her saliva and spread it in a paper-thin sheet, extending the paper wall built by her sister hive mates, mouthful by mouthful. The entire paper lantern structure can reach 2 1/2 feet long and hold thousands of wasps.

When they are not foraging for wood, wasps hunt for smaller insects which they kill and bring back to feed their queen or the hundreds of hungry larvae. They sting only to protect themselves, their little sisters or the Mother in their nest.

The Bully on my Block

May 8, 2014

Tags: Hawk, bird

The Red Tailed Hawks are nesting nearby. They must be, for their hulking shapes in treetops silence the birds in my back yard at odd hours. The squirrels are subdued and secretive. We're seeing fewer and fewer chipmunks. Not one rabbit has hopped into sight all spring.

When a crow or raven lands in a treetop, the local songbirds go into attack mode driving the nest-raiders away. Nobody messes with the Red Tail.

Our Blue and Yellow Macaw, every bit as big as the hawk. ducks and flinches when the predator's high, thin cry pierces the air. I thrill to the sound, but then, I, too, am a top predator.

Coming Home

May 5, 2014

Tags: Bird, Migration

I stepped outdoors after a full four days in a hotel at a wonderful conference and was stunned by the fresh air. Startled by the intensity of the sunshine. Astonished by Springfield MA's flowering trees and flower beds. Reconnecting with nature felt like a physical jolt. In that flash I could see how city dwellers might end up feeling completely disconnected from nature.

When I got to my house, another traveler had just arrived home: the (more…)

A Huge Bee Sting Coming for All of Us?

May 1, 2014

Tags: insects, pesticide

In writing today's newspaper column about the disaster known (far too cutely) as the Beepocalypse, I uncovered a truly alarming possibility. Yes, bee populations, all kinds, are collapsing, their numbers in free-fall. This is due to a Bayre and Monsanto collaboration using the pesticide neonicotinamide but these behemoths have an ominnous new trick up their sleeves. (more…)

NEW: Release Date: Fall of 2015 "Boy, Were We Wrong About Weather" Dial Books for Young Readers. I've seen Sebastia Serra's illustration sketches and they are boistrous fun!

HORSE INDIAN WOLF
Filled with natural history facts and the Native American way of relating to animals and the environment.
Early Science
The often hilarious story of how dinosaur science evolved as theories had to change with every new fossil discovery
Biography
Why - and how - Suess created the classics we all grew up reading.

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