Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Nature’s Neighborhoods

Filed under: Critters,Environment,Plants,Trees — Lowell Christie -- May 29, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

Cloud's RestWhere do you look for wildlife? It depends on what you want to see. No one expects to find an alligator in a desert arroyo or a manatee in a mountain lake. But it’s surprising how many don’t notice that even small changes in surroundings can mean major changes in the creatures that live there.

Acorn Woodpeckers know that oaks from little acorns grow because that’s how they make their living. If you want to see these clown-faced hammerheads, search for foothill woodlands where oak trees predominate.

Meadowlarks sing their songs from fence posts in meadows and grasslands, and build their nests in the same habitat. To hear their melodies you leave the foothills and drive down to the flats.

These birds got their names from where they are found, but almost all wildlife has a specific combination of living conditions to which they have adapted. The migrants might only restrict themselves to these areas during certain times of year, but even the long distance travelers tend to look for similar conditions when following the seasons.

(Read the rest …)

Night Owls

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- May 23, 2015 @ 8:54 am

BarnOwl-LHoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo. This time of year we’re audibly reminded that some birds work the night shift, for during the breeding season owls are a noisy lot. Great horned owls started their hooting clear back in January and February, and other species, like the barn owl in the picture, are migrating in now back to their warm-season homes and/or are establishing territories and nests.

All this activity requires a lot of conversation, so owl hoots, screams, and screeches fill the spring nights like the sounds of Halloween. We don’t have to see the owls to know that they are there. (Read the rest …)

Birds of a Feather, Flock…

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- May 20, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

Sanderlings-1A flock of birds is more than a gathering – it’s a group that remains together over an extended period of time because of common benefits. This definition of a flock excludes the casual association that birds develop when they stop at your feeder, but it includes the groups of chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches that may forage together for hours. And, of course, it includes the array of sandpipers that wheel at the edge of the surf and the V-shaped formation of cormorants or geese flying south in the fall.

A flock of dickey birds may number only a dozen individuals, but flocks of large birds can exceed 100. Compare those numbers to the thousands of blackbirds and starlings that mass together to forage. Is there some kind of organization, some mysterious plan behind flock behavior? (Read the rest …)

Tortoise Tales

Filed under: Reptiles — Lowell Christie -- May 15, 2015 @ 9:14 am

DesertTortoiseA desert tortoise lumbers in slow motion through the cactus forest, pausing occasionally to chew a sprig of grass. With its body shielded by armored plate, this critter seems more in keeping with dinosaurs and pterosaurs than with coyotes and kit foxes; a remnant of the prehistoric past.

In fact, however, tortoises haven’t been around that long; they appeared just as the giant reptiles died out and the Age of Mammals began, about 65 million years ago. Tortoises haven’t changed much over the years.

After gradually sprouting branches on the family tree, tortoise species are now found throughout the world; four of these species are found in North America. Two species – the desert tortoise and the Texas tortoise – descend from ancient lineage, and two others – the bolson tortoise and the gopher tortoise – are relative newcomers, dating back only 22 million years. (Read the rest …)

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 …)

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