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Naturespeak: A Clam in Time Saves Nine
« Reply #30 on: October 03, 2009, 04:43:06 PM »

A Clam in Time Saves Nine
3 October 2009, 3:49 pm



I was walking the shoreline east of Port Clinton, Ohio last week and saw that the wind had created an extensive wind tide. This  effect, called a seiche (a Norwegian word I believe), involves a bit of bathtub science in which...

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Naturespeak: Buzzards on the Beach
« Reply #31 on: October 06, 2009, 09:30:24 PM »

Buzzards on the Beach
6 October 2009, 9:11 pm



October out on Middle Bass Island is about what you’d think. On a clear day there is no prettier place, but on a gusty cold day the place takes on a harsh edge. The island is well out into the gray choppy waters of Lake ...

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Naturespeak: Les Ile aux Serpentes
« Reply #32 on: October 10, 2009, 08:24:13 PM »

Les Ile aux Serpentes
10 October 2009, 8:14 pm



Long ago the Lake Erie Islands were known as “Les Ile aux Serpentes” -a French name meaning “the Snake Islands.” Stories, nurtured since prehistoric times, centered on the abundant snake population of t...

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Naturespeak: A Living Breeze
« Reply #33 on: October 13, 2009, 10:12:30 PM »

A Living Breeze
13 October 2009, 10:09 pm



Sunday dawned cooler than the previous few autumn mornings at the Detroit River mouth. It promised an especially cool autumn day. The sky quickly phased into a bright blue canvas as soon as the sun crept over the Canadian skyl...

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Naturespeak: Mother Nature Fooled?
« Reply #34 on: October 16, 2009, 04:51:11 PM »

Mother Nature Fooled?
16 October 2009, 4:46 pm



Humans like to categorize natural events into “earlier than” and “later than” normal time slots. If there is anything we should have learned by now is that there is really is no such thing as “nor...

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Naturespeak: A Flight of Fancy Floss
« Reply #35 on: October 19, 2009, 09:48:51 PM »

A Flight of Fancy Floss
19 October 2009, 8:16 pm



I wish Milkweed plants weren’t so dog-gone photogenic this time of year. I generally waste so much time admiring their artistic merits – you know those rustic pods spilling out cascading plumes of cotton – th...

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Naturespeak: You Go, Bear!
« Reply #36 on: October 22, 2009, 10:33:04 PM »

You Go, Bear!
22 October 2009, 9:01 pm



Well, the official 2009-10 Woolly Bear Weather report is in.  Before you dismiss my results out of hand, allow me to explain that my research was performed under carefully controlled clinical conditions and made use of time-t...

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Naturespeak: Leap’n Leopards
« Reply #37 on: October 26, 2009, 09:30:43 PM »

Leap’n Leopards
26 October 2009, 7:53 pm



Take a look at this passage from a research paper on Leopard Frogs (published in Brain Behav. Evol. 2004; Saltzman, Zacharatos, & Gruberg). Please read carefully – there will be a quiz.

“When given a choice betwee...

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Naturespeak: A Beetle to Die For
« Reply #38 on: October 29, 2009, 09:16:16 PM »

A Beetle to Die For
29 October 2009, 8:40 pm



I doubt that any kids out there will be dressing up as a Predaceous Diving Beetle this Halloween. Apart from the obvious structural difficulties it poses as a costume, it is too obscure of a beast to qualify. And the name, wel...

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Naturespeak: What’s Wrong With This Picture?
« Reply #39 on: November 02, 2009, 12:10:20 PM »

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
2 November 2009, 12:03 pm



You might remember that a few weeks ago I posted a piece on some  un-natural late season events. I included a Red-Panicled Dogwood in flower & a trio of Monarch Caterpillars still munching away on late October milkweeds.  Si...

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Naturespeak: Quality Tadpole Time
« Reply #40 on: November 05, 2009, 09:00:56 PM »

Quality Tadpole Time
5 November 2009, 9:00 pm



November might seem an odd month to turn one’s attention to the subject of tadpoles. Indeed, most of the tadpoles out there have already converted over to four-legged adults and are now preparing to over-winter as four l...

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Naturespeak: Sweet Feet
« Reply #41 on: November 08, 2009, 09:42:30 PM »

Sweet Feet
8 November 2009, 9:12 pm



It’s duck hunting season out on the Detroit River right now. Along with all those mallards, black ducks, gadwalls, canvasbacks, and  buffleheads out there, coots are also on the list of fair game. Huge rafts of those ro...

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Naturespeak: Blood on the Trail
« Reply #42 on: November 13, 2009, 08:20:38 AM »

Blood on the Trail
11 November 2009, 10:27 pm



The autumn White-tail rut provides a showcase for all kinds of testosterone driven activities. There are saplings out there to be pummeled, ground to be pawed, and scent saturated urine to be spread about. No, I’m not talking about the activities of those orange-clad victims of buck fever who take to the woods pursuing monster bucks, but am referring to the animal these humans are seeking. For love-sick male deer, November is the signal bell that initiates a period of intense pummeling, scraping, strutting, peeing, and goring toward reproductive success. Individual females are only receptive for a few days and there is no room or time for weakness. Only the dominant males earn the right to breed.

Normally, the question of dominance is settled peacefully by a simple matter of size – antler size, that is. A meager spike horn will not challenge a stately six, eight, or ten pointer in the hierarchy. The larger antlered deer is assumed to be the rightful lord of all the does in the vicinity on the merits of his rack alone. Bucks of different rack sizes will often engage in innocent sparring matches, but these don’t amount to more than confirmation exercises. Dominant bucks also maintain a series of scrapes and sent marked trails to advertise their virility to all comers. The problem comes when two bucks of equal measure are interested in the same female. Unable to assess each other by visual means, they are forced to settle the matter with a show of power. A buck fight can be a violent and deadly affair.

I was lucky enough to witnesses to one of these matches recently.  A pair of eight point bucks elected to duke it out at the trail head at Lake Erie Metropark near the Marshlands Museum. The rumble took place at high noon and within photo distance of the museum lobby. I was able to record most of the event as a distant observer. From behind the protective enclosure of the glass I was even able to shout out like an animated viewer at a boxing match and engage in a bit of maleness. Fortunately, there was not another human soul around at the time.  Take a look at the tussle in this video here or slip on over to the longer You-Tube version
(You-Tube video here).


Overall, the fight probably lasted only about three minutes. By the time I started filming, the thing was well underway but there was still two minutes of contact to go. The two bucks never broke their entanglement during this whole time. Each was trying to push the other backward and/or catch his opponent off balance. Bark chips and dirt flew up from time to time as one or the other would dig in with his hind legs and drive forward. They kept their heads down  and sideways with locked antlers maintained at right angles. Thickened necks were held rigid as high arched shoulders provided a platform for the front legs to claim ground. It was an exhibit of sheer power.

I never saw the contested doe during this match, but the fracas did draw the attention of a spindly four point. This smaller buck circled excitedly around the fighting pair like some sort of referee. He was hardly an impassioned observer, however. At one point he rushed at them as if considering a run at the prize money and then wisely veered off. This deer could have been shouting “deer fight, deer fight!” for all I know, but if he did I could not have heard it from my position behind the lobby glass.

If you look closely at the video you can see that the eventual loser tried to break things off about twenty seconds before finally succeeding. His left antler was hooked into his opponents rack as the dominant buck pushed him back. It took a quick sideways jerk to free his tines and then he was off. The winner was hot on his victims trail as they bounded off into the hawthorn thicket.



I saw the winning buck come out of the brush about ten minutes later (see above). Mouth agape and panting heavily, he trotted north and disappeared up the trail. The loser was seen sneaking south across the parkway by a park visitor. I’m sure the four-pointer went off to tell his fellow dorks about the “big fight.”

After the battle, I examined the arena where events had unfolded. The ground was plowed for about fifty feet along the trail (see here). Tufts of hair were scattered about the scene and the autumn leaves were evenly mulched into the bark chips and soil. Scattered drops of rich red blood (see below) on the ground provided evidence that this fight was an intense one. Since I saw no injuries on the victor, I assumed these scarlet markers were from the vanquished buck, although I doubt that the wounds were serious.



The heavy scent of testosterone still hung in the air only minutes after the conclusion of the fight. For a moment I felt an uncontrollable urge to do a head butt into a tree – but only for a moment.

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Naturespeak: A Bitter Bird
« Reply #43 on: November 14, 2009, 10:52:52 PM »

A Bitter Bird
14 November 2009, 9:38 pm



There are times when wild animals really don’t want our help. Sometimes they just need to work things out on their own and without our opposably-thumbed assistance, thank you.  Take the recent case of an American Bittern recently “recovered” in the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area marsh. Two birders encountered this bird last week. The sight of an American Bittern is always a welcome sight – especially given the fact that these secretive marsh birds are becoming rare (listed as a “special concern species” in Michigan). Add to this reality the additional fact that they are very hard to see even when standing in front of you. Because of their cryptic coloration and their preference for slinking through the shadowy narrow spaces under the cover of cattails and rushes, they can be downright ghost-like.  On top of all this, the find was notable because of timing. Bitterns, like most members of the heron family, migrate south for the winter. Some individuals venture all the way to the sunny climes of Central America. Mid Novembertime is well past the time to expect a lingering Bittern.

This Bittern find was marred only by the fact that the bird was apparently injured. It was stumbling though the grass and suffering with an “apparently broken right wing.”  The birders were able to get hold of it (getting the proverbial bird in hand away from the bush) and secure a contact number for a re-habilitator.  I had nothing to do with the details of this particular affair other than having the opportunity to give the creature a quick visual inspection. Frankly, I had never seen one this close and my “inspection” amounted to little more than taking a few detail pictures (see above and here).  Since healthy bitterns do not, as far as I know, willingly allow people – even birders – to simply pick them up I assumed the thing had to be  “hurt.” The “injured right wing” was held tightly by the birder and was not visible.  The bittern exhibited  no signs of pain or discomfort, but did look…well, indignant at best or pissed at worse. Hurt things need help, however. The bird was safely in the hands of a wildlife rehabilitator, some 40 miles distant, by nightfall.

A few days later, contact was made with the re-haber – a Ypsilanti area resident named Carol – to see how her fragile charge was doing. She responded by saying that the bird was doing very well and was, in fact, without injury. It had neither a broken wing or leg or broken anything, she said. There was no visible sign of trauma what-so-ever. It simply stood in the corner, flared out his wings, and lunged at her with deadly intentions every time she approached. Apparently the Bittern had either ingested some bad minnows or perhaps eaten a fermented frog. Whatever the case, it had been only temporarily “out of it” and the issue was resolved by a good healthy “dump.” It was perfectly healthy and ready to kill anyone attempting to “help” it again.



The decision was made to get the poor thing back to Mouillee as quickly as possible. I picked it up, neatly re-boxed into a cat-carrier(see here), and delivered the bitter bird to a nice cat-tailed spot at the game area.  The box shuffled only slightly during the entire return trip – the occupant making quick moves whenever my shadow passed over one of the ventilation holes. A pair of very intense eyes greeted me when I cracked open the box lid (see above). American Bitterns are known for their terrific cattail pose in which they point their beak straight up and align their striped features with the surrounding vegetation. They even have been known to enhance this act by rocking gently back and forth like the wind blown plants about them. But, bitterns can also assume a terrific threat pose if frightened or ticked. This bird was in classic tick mode with flared head feathers and opened wings (perfectly healthy wings I might add). The beak was raised and both eyes were focused forward at a single point in the universe – me.



Like a frightening jack-in-the-box, the bittern suddenly lunged forward out of the box while delivering a dagger attack at the position where I was (as in formally) standing (see above). It then retreated immediately and prepped for the next jab. It would be professional of me to say that I was prepared for such an explosive action but I was not professional. You’ll note the blurred action in the photo as I reeled backwards. Only via a very careful and remote manipulation by a cattail stalk was I able to gingerly open the second half of the lid enough to convince the flustered soul to finally leave his confines. It jumped the box and stalked off into the marsh. After one angry look back, it lowered it’s neck and melted into one of those shadowy narrow spaces between the cattails.

This was not one of those magic goodbye moments that you see in the movies. Good intentions mean absolutely nothing to a marsh bird.



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Naturespeak: The Case of the Shivering Moth
« Reply #44 on: November 18, 2009, 05:52:54 PM »

The Case of the Shivering Moth
18 November 2009, 4:22 pm



I will admit that the title of this blog sounds like one straight from the casebook of Sherlock Holmes – as in the “Case of the Creeping Man,” etc.  But this title instead refers to a case that has already has been solved and doesn’t require the services of that legendary sleuth from Baker Street. We know why the moth shivers, my dear man (as Sherlock would have put it).  He shivers to generate heat so that he can fly on a very cold day.  However, the very fact that there are moths that can fly on very cold days is in itself one of those mysteries of life that never fails to amaze, wouldn’t you say Dr. Watson? I therefore ask you to be the good doctor in this scenario and respond by saying “yes, Holmes, I guess it is a curious case of thermodynamic magic.”

It is a fact that there are a select group of moths living in the northern temperate zone that are actually active in the cold season and inactive during the warm season (see example in photo above). This frigid gang of Nacht-Vlinders , generally referred to as the Winter Noctuiids, completely reverse the normal life cycle of their fellow moths. They emerge as adults in the late fall and  live through the winter. Their eggs are laid and produce spring caterpillars but these ‘pillers “estivate” (or hibernate) through the summer and don’t finish up their business until the following fall. All of this is leading to the reality that these moths need to fly when the temperatures drop well below 50 degrees. In order to do so, they engage in thermogenesis.

Take a look at this video and you’ll see one of these winter moths preparing to fly on a recent 32 degree morning. I believe it is a type of Sallow Moth (see below). Don’t ask me exactly which kind of Sallow because I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care, but I just don’t know and frankly haven’t had the time to track it down. In my defense, these things tend to be a bit non-descript in appearance and, …anyway, never mind we are getting off point here. This moth needed to get his body temperature up to around 86 degrees F before it could fly. That is the required minimum for flight muscles to work – it is also a 54 degree difference from the ambient air.



The necessary heat, in such a situation, can be generated by intense bouts of shivering – aka thermogenesis. On fairly warm days, it only takes a few minutes to get up to snuff, but there’s a whole lot of shaking needed as the temperatures approach the freezing mark. It takes nearly 30 minutes of shivering to reach the proper core temperature when the ambient air is 32 degrees F. Remarkably, these creatures are able to restrict the heat build-up to the wing muscles muscles only. Through a special set of internal vessels, the thing is able to keep the thermostat down in the abdomen, head, and feet. Because the body is covered with “hair” (actually modified scales called pile) the precious heat is retained.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see if this individual flew off. The morning sun beckoned me to other tasks. I’m confident he warmed up sufficiently enable himself to at least move into some protective shelter. Oddly enough these winter moths fly mostly in the evening when the sun is unavailable to provide any additional heat. As winter advances and the temperature falls well below the 30’s, our Sallow Moth will eventually retreat to the cover of the forest leaves and hibernate through the coldest months. Even winter moths can’t produce internal heat when the air is below 30 degrees F or so.

In the Case of the Shivering Moth, then, it’s all done with shivering  muscles, my dear Watson – the most elementary of means.

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