Archive for the ‘birds’ Tag

SciSun: Looking at the World with Rose Colored glasses   Leave a comment

Humans think we’re pretty special. But other than the combination of our hands (which other animals have – from apes to squirrels); and large brain (that might even be larger and more complex in whales and dolphins); humans miss out on a lot of talents and abilities other species take for granted. Many animals are faster than the average human; can run, swim, and fly longer and further (humans, of course; can’t fly at all); have better hearing and sharper eyesight; and have learned to use resources in ways that allow for a thriving life now, without destroying what might be needed in the future. A skill humans are still struggling with. But aside from obvious differences, many animals hold hidden abilities that, by human standards, mirror the powers of any super-hero.

What we would see as a rather bland brown and grey owl becomes bright red under UV light. They just don't want humans - or mice - to know how magnificent they are.

What we would see as a rather bland brown and grey owl becomes bright red under UV light. They just don’t want humans – or mice – to know how magnificent they are.

As far as we know, no animals can use time-travel or freeze rays or control others’ minds only through the power of their thoughts (although sometimes dogs seem to come close to achieving that one. OK, just one more treat). While heat- or x-ray vision isn’t something any animals seem to possess, many species have far greater ability to distinguish the color spectrum than humans could ever dream of: Some types of snakes and other reptiles can see infrared light, colors in the spectrum longer than reds, the highest colors humans can see; many insects depend upon shorter ultraviolet (or UV) light to help direct them to flowers; and it’s been recently discovered that some birds – particularly berry- and fruit-eating birds – not only possess UV abilities, but can adjust the structures in their eyes according to the time of day and surroundings. Special pigments, picked up through foods, are metabolized into the eye in ways that allow birds to adjust to higher or lower light waves, almost as we would use a camera filter or sunglasses. It’s not known if the birds actually choose how to apply these ‘filters’, if the effects can be varied or are constant, or even if the effect is temporary or long-lasting. What has been noted, however, that as the birds vision shifts, it also becomes more cloudy and unfocused. Because you can’t wipe your glasses on your sleeve when the filters are on the inside of your eyes.

Michonne Says: Flowers come in all colors and I’ve never known any marmot who looks through inferior lights or light spectumms or any of those other things in this story. But of all the flowers to eat the purpley ones are usually very tasty, so they must be those ultra-best-violet ones.

Posted August 14, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Let it Flow, let it flow let it flow   Leave a comment

Prior to the 20th Century, rivers throughout America ran freely: From their source headwaters; through forests and meadows, across prairies and sometimes underneath deserts; coursing toward the oceans while carving majestic canyons and molding the landscape; providing water and homes for countless fish, birds and other wildlife. The rivers were neither stopped nor faltered by any obstruction or barrier but surpassed and pushed through anything in their path. The rivers reserved all their energy for themselves, occasionally flooding farms and defeating towns to show humans who, really, is the boss. Selfish rivers. But beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the first half of the 20th century, humans took on this imposing power of uninterrupted water through the construction of hydroelectric dams; structures that, by channeling water flow and harnessing the power and strength of water provided tens of thousands of megawatts of electric energy to power the growth of cites and provide basic electrical power to rural communities. Take that, rivers.

While this all generally worked out fine for humans, hulking cement structures re-routing and blocking natural river flow was neither useful, not helpful, to wildlife: Fish, including Salmon and Trout (family Salmonidae) who need large stretches of turbulent water to thrive were restricted or populations cut off; wetlands were flooded or drained, the loss of homes to species from insects to mammals and vital to migrating birds who had fewer places to rest along flights of thousands of miles; and dams brought about changes in the amount and speed of flowing water (literally, the ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’), creating downstream basins holding millions of gallons of water in artificial lakes while upstream ecological communities suffered from water loss.

Dams can lead to stagnant water and unregulated algae growth.  This can't be good for anybody.

Dams can lead to stagnant water and unregulated algae growth. This can’t be good for anybody.

Crossing the border between California and Oregon lies the Klamath River. For centuries one of the main water sources for Northern California (the second largest river in the state) and a significant part of Oregon, the river continued unobstructed as Lewis and Clark charted a path to the Pacific Ocean; pioneers followed the Oregon Trail toward a better life; and 49er’s searched for gold. Local Native Americans believed the river was holy, balancing their lives with the river flow. But due to continued growth and development by the 1920’s dams were being built across the Klamath – by 1960 a total of four complexes providing power and regulating water resources to the benefit of man. Not so much to the benefit of anyone else.

While hydroelectric power is important, so is a healthy environment. Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. Department of Commerce; dam management company PacificCorp; and the states of California and Oregon entered into an agreement to remove all four dams on the Klamath River by 2020, resulting in one of the largest river restoration efforts in the country. Working with Native Nations; local communities; non-profit organizations and other interested parties, this agreement will work toward providing more equitable water resources to farms, ranches, and communities; allow for water recreation such as rafting and fishing; and perhaps most importantly, restore the river and river basin to its natural ecology. While this is a huge and hugely expensive project, the true cost can’t be measured in dollars but in the salmon who once again will be able to freely migrate to the ocean (and back!); flocks of birds who find a safe refuge in river-created marshes; and the numbers of people who just enjoy a peaceful afternoon sitting under a tree by the flowing water. And the only dams to be seen are built by beavers whose goal isn’t creating electrical power for televisions and computers and to light up the night sky; but just to keep the water from washing away their house.


Michonne Says: These ‘dams’ make water so there’s even more of it in one place? I don’t think I like that. Water’s best when it just passes by and maybe you can get a drink but then it doesn’t stay around. Then things could live in it and who knows that that could be. It’s best to leave that kind of water to bears (who like the fish) and striped-tail-night-mask raccoons (who don’t know better).

SciSun: Love in Boom   Leave a comment

Cupid, a god of ancient Rome (the Romans believed in two types of gods: Major gods, who controlled things like weather, the ocean, and destiny itself – and could cause a lot of trouble if they didn’t like you – and Minor gods, who were more concerned with human day-to-day life, such as the Goddess of bread-baking and the God of weeding), was revered among that Classical Civilization as the powerful god of love and attraction. Only though the help of Cupid could one find and hold love. Online dating sites hadn’t caught on yet. (Cupid started out as a single being, but later became multiple Cupids as best fit whatever story was being told at the time, resulting in the numerous little winged baby cuipids, with bow and arrow in hand, now seen as symbols of the occasion). Today, on Valentines Day (which may itself be the remaining fragment of a Roman holiday), we’re not concerned about what Cupid, the matchmaker, might mean to us; but, how that name became associated with, of all things, a medium-size prairie-living bird.

Tympanuchus cupido is the Greater Prairie Chicken. A member of the Grouse family (along with Sage Grouse and Ptarmigan), the Prairie Chicken is not a chicken, but was named after its size, shape, and somewhat similar coloration to the typical farm chicken known to many pioneers of the 1800’s. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands across America’s Midwest, from northern Texas to Minnesota, by the 1930’s the species was nearly extinct due to loss of habitat, environmental pressures, previously unknown predators (dogs and cats), and, of course, that unfortunate resemblance to chickens when a typical Midwestern Sunday dinner was chicken with all the fixens’.

The species is now slowly recovering, but how was a weekends’ dinner named for the Roman god of love? Particularly as these birds aren’t normally associated with Valentines; like the Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur); or sweethearts, such as Lovebirds (genus Agapornis); nor do Prairie Chiks make any appearances at weddings, or on the covers of Valentines day cards. The name probably refers to booming, a behavior not supporting a college football team but rather an annual Spring event where male Chiks gather together at booming grounds – called leks – and perform elaborate dances for females, who are observing nearby. While none of the birds are known to break out into any of the latest dances, they do have the tried-and-true moves of stomping their feet while walking in small circles; fanning and un-fanning their tail and head feathers; inflating and deflating colorful air sacks on their necks; and making deep ‘booming’ and ‘chucking’ sounds. Very similar to what many guys do at the club every Saturday night.

While this behavior might not necessarily be what’s expected of a Cupid, it does fall into the category of attraction and love – whenever a female chick decides that one special sac-inflating circle-walking tail-snapping male is the one for her. And because of this, scientists (who often name discoveries based upon classical figures; or location; or themselves); decided to title the bird after an ancient Roman deity representing love. Which, for a Prairie Chicken, is a much better name than ‘dinner’.


Michonne Says: Anyone who walks in circles stomping their feet and shakes their tail and makes strange deep sounds and worse of all, inflates pouches on their neck doesn’t sound right. I think these chickies need to take a long rest until they feel better and don’t want to do these strange things any more.

Posted February 14, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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Behind the Mask: Pumpkin Stuffing   Leave a comment

As many of us are finishing up those Thanksgiving feast leftovers (last to go: Turkey casserole); and looking forward to the upcoming Christmas feast (first to go: Gravy. People never get enough gravy), what was once fresh and inviting too often sits at the back of the refrigerator, largely overlooked, until one day discovered and cleared out to make room for the next well-intentioned-for-lunch but possibly forgotten foil-wrapped package or plastic container. And while each year the average household throws away the equivalent of two dozen meals, it’s not just family and friends who are enjoying the seasonal bounty; in what we consider ‘trash’ is a waiting banquet for wildlife seen and unseen; who may be looking forward to our scraps even more than we’re savoring that second helping of mashed potatoes. And gravy.

Wildlife, all with natural histories and families going back hundreds of generations and thousands of years before man, never expected to live in today’s world. While some have been forced into ever-decreasing territories and others are now extinct, a few have become synanthropic species that have become quite successful in our human world. The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – a dirunal, or active in the daytime animal; and Raccoon (Procyon lotor), more of a nocturnal, nightime explorer; work round the clock navigating our urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods, not only living but thriving in a world built for humans, but suiting some animals rather well.

Christmas raccoon

“…OH, you mean that spunkpin pie? I’m keeping it safe…IN MY TUMMY!”


While the two can scarcely be considered partners (in fact, crows don’t trust raccoons and raccoons only accept crows because they raid crow nests and eat crow eggs – which is probably why they have earned crow disrespect), both species, furred and avian alike, have evolved similar – or modified existing – behaviors to exploit our unique human-environments: Both are omnivorous, seeking and eating anything that can be eaten from insects to seeds to convenience store pizza (which really takes a, let’s say, talent to eat); both find, and make homes, in any area that’s deemed protected and dry, not being too choosy between trees (nests in branches for crows; holes in trunks for raccoons), to eves and under the overhangs of buildings to, for our masked friends, any old abandoned log on the ground or hole in the wall. (Literally. In many cities, particularly where the climate is harsh, raccoons find their ways into attics, basements, or even inside walls). But one behavior shared by both, obvious yet often disturbing to some people, is the animals’ fondness for what we would rather not think of : Roadkill and human trash.

While disgusting to some, the fact is something has to happen to everything, and putting trash on the curb for pickup – or putting the unfortunate victims of roadkill out of our minds (the animals too slow, too trusting, or too engaged in just going about their business who fall victims to our cars; or rather, the drivers of those cars) doesn’t just mean these things go away; but rather, they re-enter the food chain by becoming food for someone else. While we may not intend our trash to become some animals dinner (and if they are going to tear open those garbage bags, just don’t make such a mess of it), it’s not a presumption of wildlife taking advantage of a convenient and free meal, but rather it’s us, as humans, who have created a human-centric world in which these animals have learned to survive. And as we dispose the remainders from our next feast – from a Holiday, or celebration, or for many of us a typical dinner – remember that leftover stuffing (and gravy!), might be going directly into stuffing someone else.


Michonne Says: Raccoons and kraw-crows might not be the most friendly, but they aren’t anything for marmots to be afraid of. I’ve seen kraw-crows scare off hawks so that’s good for everyone, except maybe the hawk. I don’t know what raccoons do, they always seem to be up to something and that something usually causes trouble so it’s best to just keep away before that trouble finds you, too.

Posted December 13, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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SunSpecial: Thanks for Giving   Leave a comment

Thanksgiving, an exclusive American holiday, is abundant with symbols only associated with that Autumn time of year: Falling leaves; a chill in the weather; abundant fruits and vegetables (where else would cranberry sauce go?); and family and friends gathering around a seasonal feast most often featuring the friendless turkey. No one’s your friend when you’re the main course.

Most of us know Founding Father Ben Franklin preferred the humble Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) as America’s national symbol, over the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) as, he wrote, it is a “Bird of bad moral character”. But beyond his position of turkey advocacy, is it possible old Ben (powdered-wig wearer of the 1700’s, not the light-sword-fighting Old Ben from science fiction), had more to do with our favorite Fall feeding festival; and much of that day, from our food to our traditions to the holiday itself has less to with with Pilgrims and Native Americans from the 1600’s sitting together for dinner, than it does with events set into motion as recently as the 20th Century?

Following the harvest of 1621 (sometime between late September and early November), historical records state 90 local Natives and 53 recently-arrived Englishmen took a break from their work for a three-day celebration. (For some families, the number of people and duration of eating is almost the same today. Leftovers!). But following that introductory year, there are no records of any similar feast occurring, on any regular basis at any specific time, until the mid 1700’s when Americans – then British Colonials – were growing tired of being considered the ‘poor cousin’ to English rule and were looking for something american to celebrate. So, following any successful harvest, or building of a new church, or when someone’s family returned from a long journey, the village held a ‘thanks-giving’ – an opportunity to get together, eat local foods, and probably talk about how it would be better to be our own country, rather than an English Colony. By the time of the Revolutionary War this tradition had caught on and in 1777 the Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving; but as a strictly somber time of remembrance and thanks, not a day to feast and watch football. By 1815 the custom had largely been forgotten as a national event (maybe because football hadn’t yet been invented), and while families may have continued to celebrate a Fall harvest festival, there was no national Thanksgiving day until 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt established the permanent holiday.

So what does this have to do with Ben, and his turkeys? Through much of the 1700’s, Ben was just about everywhere and involved in just about everything. While much of his work remains unknown (for someone so important he worked hard to remain behind-the-scenes), the 1777 first Thanksgiving was certainly influenced by his actions; and while he continued to believe the Turkey, not the eagle, is a more fitting symbol of America due to its perseverance, ability to survive under difficult conditions, and is a “Bird of Courage”, Ben was never able to convince most anyone else. Because, as it has turned out, Thanksgiving is a celebration for the people; and among animals, who on this day make the biggest sacrifices, there is no thanks to give.

“...well, the sign said 'This way to free Thanksgiving dinner'....”

“…well, the sign said ‘This way to free Thanksgiving dinner’….”

Posted November 22, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Ill-Eagle   Leave a comment

In most of our human environments – whether we know it or not – we are surrounded by wildlife. (Or maybe it’s our lives that are intruding into their environments). From crows to robins to deer to possum to unknown numbers of insects to dozens of species of grey and brown sparrows that even birdwatchers have trouble identifying – the un-official watcher designation is ‘LBB’ for ‘little brown bird’ – humans and wildlife share the same space. And, for many of us, we like to think we help the animals by rescuing ‘abandoned’ babies; chasing away hawks and other natural predators; and putting out food because those animals just look so hungry!

While feeding wildlife is not encouraged, for the health and well-being of the animals in many areas it’s actually against the law to attract, detract, disturb, harass, relocate, or otherwise effect the natural behavior of wildlife unless they are a health risk or threat – and then, any actions usually require someone trained in wildlife care. While some animals such as rats, cockroaches, flies, and feral cats aren’t considered wildlife, known for breeding and spreading disease dangerous to both humans and other animals; familiar animals like squirrels; deer; raccoons; varieties of wild mice; and other species truly are wild creatures (although some are non-native, introduced species which is a whole topic in itself). Unfortunately, often through artificial feeding or habitat construction, these wildlife congregate into large, un-naturally encouraged groups where intra-species diseases – illnesses that effect only that one species; and inter-specific diseases, that can spread between various species including humans – can readily be transmitted within and among populations, leading to suffering and death for the same animals we wanted to help by feeding them – and for other animals we may never see, but affected by transmitted diseases.

Feeding a couple of ducks is all fun and games until the crowd arrives and there are more beaks, than treats.

Feeding a couple of ducks is all fun and games until the crowd arrives and there are more beaks, than treats.

(Feeding backyard birds, however, is usually allowed as long as the feed doesn’t attract unwanted wildlife. Or the birds aren’t endangered or otherwise protected, such as eagles and other threatened species . Of course migratory birds, like robins and the majority of other birds, are protected, but they can usually still be fed. Feeding geese, ducks and other waterfowl is harmful as it could change their migration patterns and crowding could lead to water-born disease. And don’t overfeed any birds, or make them dependent upon human-provided food, which could result in weak and sick birds. Bird feeding rules are generally more like guidelines.)

So, really, just leave wildlife alone and it will be better for all; primarily for the animals, who were doing just fine without our interference; and for the humans who, no matter how much you want to hand-feed that squirrel (have bandages handy) or set our corn for the deer (two deer one day will miraculously become ten deer tomorrow), or hug that baby bear (NEVER a good idea), just remember what your mother told you and look, but don’t touch. There’s a video going around of a kayaker gently ‘poking’ a resting sea otter in the stomach to wake him up, because…, well, just because he could. (Bet the boater wouldn’t have done that to a sleeping elephant seal). Not only is this wrong on many levels – the Pacific Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) is protected both as an Endangered Species and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, anyone disturbing an otter can be fined or even put in jail; but bothering any resting animal, particularly one that thinks it’s safe, is very unkind. If you’ve ever woken your dog from a nap, remember the mean look you got.


Michonne Says: Flowers and berries are the best to eat. Sometimes if you’re really hungry grass or leaves or even little twigs are fine if that’s all there is, but never, ever eat man food. That’s just for men even if it looks OK. That poppy-corn I found tasted good, but later I didn’t feel so well.


Posted November 8, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Double-Crossed   Leave a comment

Why did the turtle cross the road?

To get to the other side, because there’s probably a good reason why (that we may not understand) she needs to be on the other side.

Every day, thousands of wildlife endeavor the hazardous journey of crossing roads; traversing parking lots; flying among weather vanes, windmills and other threats to flight; or even remaining quietly in place hoping no one will bother them. But the world animals evolved to live in is far different than the world man has constructed for his lifestyle – wildlife can often find themselves strangers in a strange land – and behaviors that have taken millennia to develop can be reversed in a moment by a (human) well-wisher or do-gooder.

Of course, if you’re going to do anything, doing good is better than the alternative; however where nature meets civilization, wildlife can find their paths crossed when people ‘rescue’ young animals found hidden in tall grasses; or ‘help’ a turtle off the road by moving her a few feet back from the direction she came; or feeding animals that look helpless and hungry – they always seem happy to get the food!

And while, by definition, all these good-deeds are done with good-intentions, unfortunately the actions may cause more harm, than good:

While young wildlife may appear abandoned, many animal parents purposely leave the area where they’ve hidden their offspring for hours – or possibly a day or more – at a time, to mislead predators away from the young. By ‘rescuing’ or even drawing attention to these hiding places, humans could be exposing the young to danger.

Wildlife that may seem ‘out of place’, like turtles far away from water, raccoons, squirrels and possums trying to cross highways, and birds laying quietly on the grass, are probably not sick or lost, but moving from territory to territory. Pond turtles, for example, can travel hundreds of yards away from water in normal conditions, and during a drought have been recorded traveling through fields, over roads, and even past human developments while seeking out places to estivate (summer dormancy – similar to hibernate). Of course, if an animal is near dangerous traffic, she could be gently helped across – in the direction she was heading.

After being told by his mother to stay in this exact spot until she returns, Buckson the fawn would have counted the passing minutes.   If he only knew how to count.

After being told by his mother to stay in this exact spot until she returns, Buckson the fawn would have counted the passing minutes. If he only knew how to count.

It’s never a good idea to feed wildlife – except birds, which research has shown seem less likely to depend upon one source of food but continue to seek out alternatives, no matter how much expensive food we put in our feeders. Once most wild animals identify a source of food – if that source is a field with berry-producing plants; neighborhood garbage cans; pet food left outside; or handfuls of corn thrown on the ground – the animals continue to return and expect the food, often suffering if our human-handouts disappear. Or, in the case of larger animals (elk); stronger (bear); or smarter (raccoon), who can cause damage or become dangerous in their search for the food source.

Both by Federal and state laws, in most areas it’s illegal to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native animal without authorization. Reptiles, amphibians, and migratory birds are particularly sensitive and under even greater protection. It’s also illegal – and unwise – to return any captive animal to the wild. Despite how lost or lonely or helpless wild animals may appear – particularly those young, small, or cute – the best rule to follow is ‘If you care leave them there’. While in the larger picture wildlife, their ecosystems, and the natural world can benefit by smart choices and positive actions we can all make; individually, unless they are injured or threatened most wildlife can do just fine on their own, thank you very much. They’ve been specialists at their work far longer than humans have built cites or developed technology or even ‘discovered’ fire, and might have more we can learn from them, than anything we can create ourselves. From time to time, all of us need to cross to the other side of the road.


Michonne Says: The best place to be left alone is underground. And it’s a lot cooler. No one will bother you unless they already know where to look (or they’re dangerous trouble-makers which is why you always need more than one tunnel out). But there’s no flowers or grass so you have to bring your own. I think there should be flowers that grow underground so we could stay there as long as we’d like.