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Nature News: Gender roles reversed for spotted sandpipers I am constantly reminded that I am not a very good birder. Most recently while traveling to Wisconsin I stopped in at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York (we have such great National Wildlife Refuges in this country I make it a point to visit one whenever I can). This refuge is located at the north end of Cayuga Lake (the longest of New York’s Finger Lakes) in the middle of one of the most active migratory routes for birds (the Atlantic Flyway) and provides resting, feeding and nesting habitat for a wide variety of waterfowl and other migratory birds. A slender sandpiper was bopping along the edge of one of the river beds. I use the word “bopping” because it was doing just that - strutting and bobbing its tail as it walked. I was very excited... I didn’t recognize it. So I pulled out my bird book and identified it as a spotted sandpiper. Wow, I thought, how exotic! Then I looked up spotted sandpipers and…
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Brown-headed cowbirds are terribly problematicPosted May 1, 2018 at 3:24 PM Updated May 1, 2018 at 3:24 PM
Brown-headed cowbirds have shown up at my bird feeder a couple times over the last few weeks. Fleeting visits, they were there and then gone. I have always liked them because they seem so exotic - brown heads contrasting with their glossy black bodies (this is true of the males -- the females are plain brown). These are a problematic bird. Here is a typical sentiment (ohiohistorycentral.org): “The brown-headed cowbird is one of the most hated native songbirds. The females are brood parasites. This means that rather than building a nest and incubating their own eggs, they will lay an egg, almost daily, in the nests of other songbirds. The cowbirds generally hatch first and are larger and more aggressive than the nestlings that are supposed to be there. As a result, these young quickly die of starvation and populations of approximately 150 species of songbirds such as vireos, warbl…
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Decomposing cattails producing large amounts of methanePosted May 8, 2018 at 3:19 PMUpdated May 8, 2018 at 3:19 PM
A new positive feedback on climate change has been identified. The warming climate is causing wetland plants, like the common cattail, to thrive while at the same time forest cover is being lost, causing increased methane production by northern freshwater lakes. A study recently published in Nature Communications (Emilson et al. “Climate-driven shifts in sediment chemistry enhance methane production in northern lakes”) looked at the amount of methane released during the decomposition of three types of plant debris commonly found in the sediment in freshwater lakes in the northern parts of North America: pine needles, leaves from deciduous trees and cattails. The researchers found that the organic matter from the decaying pine needles and deciduous leaves inhibited methane production whereas decomposing cattails produced large amounts of methane (400 times more than the p…
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Marsh wrens hide well, easy to overlookPosted May 29, 2018 at 2:28 PMUpdated May 29, 2018 at 2:28 PM
Marsh wrens are fantastic little birds. If you have ever been in or near a freshwater marsh you have probably heard them chattering away from deep in the marsh. Sibley’s Guide to Birds describes their call as a musical rattling trill. I always hear them but never see them - they are secretive and difficult to see. This is certainly true. While out helping with our neighborhood marsh clean-up a few weeks ago, I finally saw one - it would pop up above the cattails, flying up with rapid, stiff wingbeats and then plunge back down into the cattails and disappear. I decided to go back with a camera and see what I could capture on film. While difficult to see, marsh wrens are even harder to take a picture of -- they move so fast and generally stay hidden down in the grasses. I didn’t have a lot of success, just an eye or a tail, the rest obscured by the cattails. I did, however, learn a lot …
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Temperature determines gender in reptilesPosted May 30, 2018 at 6:22 AM Updated May 30, 2018 at 6:22 AM
I am not superstitious. I believe in uncanny coincidences, not mystical connections, but still, I’m always excited when it feels like the universe is talking to me...as it was last week. An article came out in Science magazine about how temperature determines gender in a variety of reptiles, snapping turtles for example. The next morning, I saw a huge snapping turtle next to the road by my house. If that isn’t the universe telling me to educate myself about reptile gender determination, I don’t know what is. The Science article in question “The histone demethylase KDM6B regulates temperature-dependent sex determination in a turtle species” (by Chutain Ge et al) concerns some complicated genetics that made me think about turtles in a whole new way. Temperature-dependent sex determination occurs in a large number of reptiles - from alligators to turtles. Instead of different ‘X’ and ‘…
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Pink lady’s slipper a species of special concernPosted Jun 5, 2018 at 2:03 PM Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 9:37 AM
The pink lady’s slipper (New Hampshire’s state wildflower) is one of the few woodland wildflowers that almost everyone has heard of and gets very excited about seeing. They are blooming right now in woodlands near you. I was helping out with my school’s senior service day last week. We were cleaning up a campground near Alton Bay. We found large numbers of these showy pink flowers scattered about around the cabins. The students did a great job avoiding trampling them and all seemed aware that they are rare, endangered even, and that it is illegal to pick them. Turns out pink lady’s slippers aren’t rare or endangered, instead they are relatively common. And, in New Hampshire anyway, it isn’t even illegal to pick them (picking is also legal in Maine but is illegal in Massachusetts). This myth of endangered, off-limits status has been a good thing, it has probably protected the p…
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Not showy but black grass has subtle beautyPosted Jun 12, 2018 at 2:04 PM Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 9:36 AM
I love close-up photography. A modern digital camera is like having a field microscope at your disposal. With everything growing so profusely right now it is a good time to get outside with a camera and stalk the small stuff. My recent goal was to find and photograph the tiny flowers of our local grasses. When I used to work at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve one of the first things I learned about was zonation in a salt marsh. Different grasses grow at different elevations - cord grass grows low, down at the edge of the little tidal streams with its roots almost constantly submerged in water. Salt marsh hay grows a little further up on the broad expanses of the high marsh, generally submerged only at the monthly spring tides. Higher still, at the upper edge of the high marsh, black grass (Juncus gerardii) grows. The road near my house cuts through a salt marsh. Righ…