For the Birds

Winter is a time when the birds could use some help with food resources.  But, it’s important to practice some good housekeeping techniques too so that your birds stay healthy.  There are so many types of feeders available these days that you could spend unlimited amounts of dollars on just feeders, never mind the bird seed.  But, pick a couple different ones and see what works for your habitat.

One of my favorites is the large squirrel proof feeder that holds 5 lbs of seed.  Just about every bird species I know love black oil sunflower seed and this feeder works great since you don’t typically have to fill it every single day.

Female Cardinal and Rose-brested Grosbeck Fussing over the Feeder Rights

Female Cardinal and Rose-breasted Grosbeak Fussing over Feeder Rights

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What’s all the Fuss About The Carolina Heelsplitter?

Freshwater mussels are not high on the “cute” list of wildlife, but they play an important role in our ecosystem nonetheless.  They are what’s termed indicator species which means they help indicate sources of clean water.  They live in our freshwater streams and tributaries and filter the water as they feed.  If the water becomes too polluted or toxic, they die which is happening more and more each year.  Plus, as our population grows, development expands into areas resulting in habitat loss for the mussels since we have this need to move or reroute anything in the way.  We also have an invasive species,  the Asiatic mussel, which reproduces at a much more aggressive rate and overruns the mussel habitat.  Therefore, our native mussels have become an endangered species on the brink of extinction.

Our folks in the Department of Natural Resources (both South Carolina and North Carolina) have been hard at work in restoring the freshwater mussel.  Just recently, the SCDNR made the news when they successfully propagated 131 adult Carolina Heelsplitters with a known population in Lancaster County, SC.  These mussels are tagged so they can be studied to determine their success.

Carolina Heelsplitter

Carolina Heelsplitter

The mussel propagation process is quite complex Continue reading

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The Splendor of Fall Color

Months ago, I planned what’s becoming an annual trip to the SC upstate for fall color.  And such a trip would not be complete without a boat ride with Lake Jocassee Boat Tours.  While the vista views seemed less than brilliant, once you were up close and personal, the colors just popped!  From the neon yellow walnut trees, golden brown magnolias, bright red sourwood, yellow maples, and sweet gum; well it’s just endless.

Lake Jocassee Boat Tour

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South Carolina Master Naturalist Conference 2015

Each year for the past 4 years, great effort has been put into action by the SC Master Naturalist program (an extension of Clemson University) to provide a weekend of learning for those of us in the program.  This year I was able to clear my calendar so I could attend and it was really fun.  We were on Seabrook Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry in early October, a perfect time to be there.  Despite the historic flooding that had just occurred one week earlier, things dried out enough for us to continue albeit we were a bit worried.  Some roads were flooded out and rains did continue throughout the conference weekend but all in all it was a success.

The highlight of the event for myself was an all day trip out to the Ace Basin with Dr. Al Segars.  This is an incredible estuary, actually one of the largest at 350,000 acres along the Atlantic Coast.  It is home to thousands of shorebirds and mammals, and its natural beauty is breathtaking.  ACE actually comes from the 3 rivers that flow into the estuary:  Ashepoo, Combahee (pronounced comebee), and the Edisto.

View of the ACE Basin from Bennett's Point

View of the ACE Basin from Bennett’s Point

Back in the 1800’s, thousands of acres of old-growth hardwood forests were cleared Continue reading

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Fire and Ice

On a recent visit to Glacier National Park, it was truly a vision of contrast.  All the fire activity had me curious but the weather had closed in and snow caused the Going to the Sun Road to close temporarily.  This is quite common in late summer/early fall and often makes the visit to the park more interesting.  Luckily the road opened on day 2 of the trip.  However, the weather on those high peaks just wasn’t going to cooperate and kept the Logan Pass area fogged in as you can see and a balmy 38 degrees.

Fog at Logan Pass

As always, one tries to make the best of things especially when it comes to photography.  Fog rolling through offered up some nice views of the valley below and using a long lens, taking close ups of the frosty peaks was great fun.

An Opening in the Fog at Big Drift

An Opening in the Fog at Big Drift

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I’m a Monarch Butterfly Mom!

Today, after 18 days in chrysalis form, it happened.  On my previous post, you saw a bright green chrysalis.  This is that same chrysalis about ready to break open. I watched diligently for days, waiting for the process to begin as the chrysalis got darker and darker.  My camera was set up on a time lapse for at least 48 hours so I wouldn’t miss it like I did the chrysalis formation. But, naturally I had an appointment that took me away for 6 hours during which it all took place.  Thank goodness I had a camera going the whole time so we can see what happened.

Monarch Chrysalis 2 days Before the Break

Monarch Chrysalis 2 days Before the Break

The little gold dots are somewhat of a mystery but are believed to be related to organ functions while some say camouflage. Those on the top of the chrysalis are called spiracles and are thought to be for breathing.  You can see the wings starting to take shape as the colors give them away. Continue reading

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Horns versus Antlers?

We all enjoy watching wildlife especially those with horns and antlers.  But have you ever really thought about which is what?  Horns?  Antlers?  What’s the difference?  Horns are permanent where antlers are shed annually.

For example, this Big Horn Sheep is a male with a really big set of horns.  They are never shed and it takes as long as 11 years for the full curl to happen.  So, he has to carry that load around for a long time.  Female sheep have horns too but much smaller.  Horns are made of the same material as our fingernails.

Big Horn Sheep (male)

Big Horn Sheep (male)

Antlers, on the other hand, are typically shed every year.  Deer, moose, and elk, all in the deer family,  are among those that shed their antlers every year.  They only need their antlers to show their strength and protect themselves when looking for a mate.  They grow back each year and are often covered in velvet, hence the term, “elk in velvet” in spring as shown in this photo.  The antlers are tender during the velvet stage so it’s not a good time for sparring with others.  As fall approaches the velvet is shed and the antlers mature just in time for the mating season.  That’s when everyone wants a photo but remember patience is wearing thin at this stage and these guys can be a bit unpredictable.

"Elk in Velvet"

“Elk in Velvet”

Test your knowledge:  Which animal has horns but still sheds them each year?  Answer in next weeks post!

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Take a Hike!

Take a hike, a nature hike that is and leave the phone in your pocket.  Take a friend or two or three but take some time to get out there and enjoy nature.  I did just that and was so exhilarated that I don’t even remember my feet hurting after the 7 miles (actually I do but not enough to keep me from taking a hike).  The wildflowers were spectacular and the number of varieties were too many to count.  I always carry a camera just in case I see something wonderful, which is always!  At least these days many of the smart phones do such a nice job that there isn’t always a need to lug the heavy DSLR bundle.

Indian Paintbrush and Elk Thistle at Goat Flats

Indian Paintbrush and Elk Thistle at Goat Flats

This hike was to a place in Montana called Goat Flats.  It’s in the Pintler Anaconda Wilderness Area and has never been disappointing.  Here’s a small list of the wildflowers seen on the trail.

Indian Paintbrush, elk thistle, American bistort, lupine, milkvetch, yarrow, tall bluebells, yellow groundsel, bog orchid, asters and more.

One of the fun things about this hike is that you truly feel “on top of the world” when you reach the top of mountain.  It was one of the clearest days I’ve ever seen in a Montana summer so you could see forever.  No smoke!!

Vista View of Goat Flats at Storm Lake Pass

Vista View of Goat Flats at Storm Lake Pass

So, take a hike, even if it’s in a nearby city park. You’re sure to be inspired!

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Raising a Monarch Butterfly

I know this is grade school stuff, but I never got to do it grade school so now is the time for me.  I came upon an opportunity to acquire a monarch caterpillar from a fellow naturalist and jumped at the chance to nurture it to butterfly.  It was already a beefy little thing so it was projected to go into the chrysalis stage soon.

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

Sure enough, in about 5 days, this little guy hangs upside down in a J-form and I’m just thrilled because I know that’s the sign of chrysalis stage coming on soon.  I took these photos and overnight this little caterpillar morphed into this bright green chrysalis.  No, I didn’t think to set up a time lapse but hopefully I’ll catch it on the next phase.  Whew!

Monarch Chrysalis

Monarch Chrysalis

Now, in about 10-14 days, the metamorphosis will happen, I hope!!  When the chrysalis starts to become clear or nearly transparent, the monarch will begin to emerge.  So, stay tuned for pictures of the final stage, a beautiful butterfly!

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Signs of Spring at Lake Jocassee, SC

Recently I had the opportunity to take a boat ride on Lake Jocassee in South Carolina as part of a Master Naturalist class.  The Loons were still around and naturally I was eager to capture these winter residents.  Until this class, my loon knowledge was from seeing them in the 1980’s movie with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond.  Who knew they actually migrate to this lake in the South Carolina foothills but they are pretty spectacular.  They like clear waters since they are sight feeders and they can dive 200 feet and stay down for Continue reading

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