Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Hummingbird Helicopters

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- March 24, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

RufusHummer-Ryan BushbyBack in 1764, an astounded William Wood wrote these words to friends in Europe:

“(It’s) … no bigger than a Hornet, yet hath all the dimensions of a Bird … bill … wings … quills, spider-like legges, small clawes: for colour she is glorious as a Raine-bow; as she flies she makes a little humming noise.”

Neither he nor his friends had seen anything like it in Europe – the hummingbird is strictly a New World bird.

Here in North America hummers are, for the most part, summer visitors. As nectar sippers, their passage is regulated by the blooming season of flowers. When midsummer brings on masses of red, tubular blossoms, you sometimes find hummingbirds in such numbers that they fill the air with a beelike hum. Or sometimes they come to find you.

In one of those stranger than fiction situations, we were sitting in the coach working on this column when a hummingbird zoomed up and peered inside our window. For a long moment she hovered there, beating her tiny wings at a blurry 80 beats per second. She didn’t offer to be interviewed or to criticize what we had written, so when her curiosity had been satisfied, she swooped back to her favorite perch in the tree.  (Read the rest …)

Eagles on the Agenda

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- November 2, 2014 @ 7:30 am

Bald-eagle-with-fishEach autumn for more centuries than man has existed on the North American continent, bald eagles have temporarily abandoned their northern breeding grounds for winter sojourns farther south. Early man lacked the ability to interfere with this migration; not until man was civilized enough to use guns and poisons did the vagabond eagle face peril. Only then could humans make a sport of shooting eagles and poison the earth with DDT, in addition to draining and paving the wetlands that the eagles needed. The bald eagle became an endangered species in the very country that claims it as its national symbol.

Today man is making amends. He builds reservoirs for flood control and then stocks them with fish, at the same time providing eagles with a reliable food supply. He establishes refuges for migrating waterfowl that, aside from providing sport for hunters, serve up eagle food in the form of wounded ducks and otherwise incapacitated birds. Of equal importance, he outlawed the slaughter of predatory birds, thereby making the eagles’ migratory passage less hazardous. As a result of these efforts, once again we can enjoy the sight of bald eagles in the wild. (Read the rest …)

Uninvited Guest

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- September 11, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

Wood RatWe think we’ve finally trapped the right pack rat – the one who’s taken up residence atop our gray-water tank after building its granary in the engine compartment. Other than the fact that it has chewed through several spark plug cables, the problem is the critter’s nocturnal habits.

The trouble starts when, along about 2:00 a.m., “PR” scratches and scrapes out bits and pieces of insulation with which to line his nest. Our Doberman, Sassy, mutters under her breath in protest, and then Lowell growls at the dog. Hoping to ignore all three, Kaye pulls her pillow over her head.

Trap it, you say. That’s easily suggested, but not so easily accomplished. We bought a live trap and armed it with a gourmet spread of peanut butter and birdseed, but with the abundance of seeds scattered about the desert at the time, our offering held no attraction. (Read the rest …)

Fabulous Fungi

Filed under: Plants — Lowell Christie -- September 5, 2014 @ 10:50 am

MushroomThere are fungus among us; we call them mushrooms. Just what season they arrive depends upon the arrival of the rainy season, but they will pop up just about anywhere, even in the desert. You can imagine our amazement when a botanist held up a sample of a mushroom of the Sonoran desert. It appears only during the monsoon season and that means July and August. Of course, they look pretty desiccated even in their prime.

Awareness of the fungus, and of its curious properties, stretches far back into antiquity. The Bible refers to these strange plants. Ancient Greeks and Romans harvested them for food, and for their poisons for although many are quite edible, the wrong ones can be deadly.

(Read the rest …)

Gulls: Anything But Gullible

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- August 30, 2014 @ 6:36 pm


Jonathan Livingston Seagull, eat your heart out. The best browsing isn’t at the beach anymore; it’s at your local landfill. You’d better hurry, though. Word spreads fast, and almost every city dump in gull country already has a resident flock.

This doesn’t mean RVers won’t see these birds along the shoreline, however. A great many landfill gulls join their coastal cousins at the beach, snoozing until the rising tide laps at their feet. But when the dinner bell rings, they turn their backs on the beach and fly inland, swirling across cities large and small on their way to the local dump. In fact, the very presence of the steady supply of human refuse that is found at landfills has contributed to a burgeoning population of certain species of gulls. (Read the rest …)

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