Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Finding Frost Flowers

Filed under: Plants — Lowell Christie -- November 24, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

Frost_flower_closeupWe intentionally schedule many of our activities to the rapidly passing dates of the calendar. Early spring is for chasing birds, but it soon competes with photographing wildflowers. Early summer and we head for the beach (or the shore if we’re in the east.) Early fall finds us marveling at the changing colors, watching as leaves drop from the deciduous trees. And this year early winter has us looking for frost flowers.

No, not the artwork Jack Frost leaves on a windowpane after a cold winter night. These frost flowers are associated with the plant world, although they appear long after everyone expects the flowering season to be over. Frost flowers materialize from plants that appear to be dead or dying, but they rival the beauty of springtime blossoms. (Read the rest …)

Nature By The Numbers

Filed under: Others,Plants — Lowell Christie -- November 1, 2015 @ 6:55 pm

PineconeAs a child, did you play counting games as you plucked the petals off a flower? One – she loves me, two – she loves me not. Did you know that the probabilities are high that you’ll end on an odd number? In fact, if I can identify the plant, I can almost guarantee the outcome.

Perhaps the originators of this pastime were just lucky. Or maybe they actually knew about the regularity of numbers in nature. Most flowers have an odd number of petals. In fact, in the majority of flowers, the petal total equals one of the numbers in a series found throughout nature. (Read the rest …)

Animal Communication

Filed under: Critters — Lowell Christie -- September 7, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

GreatHornedOwlThe coyotes have begun singing outside our window, perhaps chorusing some meaningful message or merely entertaining themselves. It is, however, the season in which the boys and girls begin to look each other over, perhaps to evaluate the other’s contribution to the choir.

Also working the night shift, a pair of great horned owls pass through now and again; he hooting with a voice pitched at one level, his lady’s pitched at another. The night is anything but silent, even though our nearest human neighbor is camped many sites away.

So far as we know, only man uses words to communicate his thoughts; however, even though “lower” animals lack the complex system we call language, they get their point across very well. On a superficial level there doesn’t appear to be much commonality in communication among bats and bees, or among badgers and butterflies, yet these creatures actually send many of the same messages – for good reason. There is an almost universal need for understanding among creatures that establish and defend territories, attract and keep mates, bear young, and, in the case of many species, rear those youngsters until they are mature enough to survive on their own. (Read the rest …)

The Eyes (and the Teeth) Have It

Filed under: Critters — Lowell Christie -- September 1, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

BarnOwl-LHere in our desert campsite, daybreak means that coveys of quail will soon strut in for a morning meal. They dash this way and that while vocalizing cheerfully, competing with the cottontails for the seed that we toss out at first light. It means furry little ground squirrels popping their heads out of their burrows and, if the coast is clear, chasing each other around with just awakened vigor. It means a female coyote who, with her half-grown pup, comes in daily for water. When the coyotes near, other animals scurry for cover.

The morning hours are a time to seek food. There’s no morality in nature; each animal eats that for which its body is designed. Predatory creatures capture and devour other animals, while prey species try to escape becoming a predator’s next meal.

Examining eye placement is one way to determine whether an animal species is more likely to be predator or prey. There are exceptions to this rule, but when an animal’s eyes are situated to the front of the skull facing directly forward, that generally indicates that the animal is a predator – a meat eater. When the eyes are located farther back on the skull, and face more to the side, they indicate that the animal is typically prey. (Read the rest …)

Bats Above

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- August 23, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

Big-eared-townsend-fledermausWhile we stroll idly through the campground, swatting mosquitoes and trying to enjoy the last moments of daylight, we’re joined by reinforcements. A pair of fluttering wings begins zigging and zagging above our heads.

Is it an owl? No; its flight pattern is too erratic. Even the most coordinated owl can’t manage such midair acrobatics. Our benefactor turns out to be a bat, a fierce predator of mosquitoes and other night-flying insects. Thanks, buddy; you can join our camping trip anytime.

Although these flying bug hunters are often the subject of horrid childhood fantasies, they are a camper’s good friend. Bats won’t take a bite out of your hide and – campfire tales to the contrary – it would be extraordinary if one came close enough to become tangled in your hair. (Read the rest …)

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