Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

You Little Stinker

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- June 15, 2008 @ 11:15 am

Skunk Not long ago we were out for a walk and we smelled a skunk — a very ripe, very dead skunk. When we finally located the source of the odor it proved to be a dried out, thoroughly dismembered carcass that had obviously been lying beside the road for months. Unseasonably warm weather had activated its pungent scent, proving that the odor of wood pussy certainly lingers. Long ago it had tangled with a car, lost, and ended up on the grassy bank.

That brings up the question of why in some areas skunks are exceeded only by rabbits and opossums in numbers of road kills. We all know how numerous rabbits are and how stupid opossums are, but skunks? They aren’t that numerous and they certainly aren’t dumb. Just overly confident.

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Stalking The Bighorn

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- June 10, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

Desert Bighorn

With vision so sharp it equals that of a man with binoculars, a bighorn ram gazed down the mountain. In the open vistas favored by this species, keen eyesight far overshadows the need for acute hearing or sense of smell, so we were certain the animal eyed us long before we spotted him. Even so, he seemed more curious than alarmed.

We hiked up Truchas Peak in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains especially to see bighorn. As in any designated wilderness, if you want to visit the critters, you walk. Gradually, our eyes picked out several more bighorn, less visible against the rocks. Oh, for their surefootedness as they ambled down the almost-vertical slope. We couldn’t believe they were actually approaching us. Could it be that there were enough hikers along here to turn these wild, free creatures into panhandlers? Surely not.

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Ghostly Remnant Of A Forest

Filed under: Trees — Lowell Christie -- February 13, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

Chestnut TreeSitting on our desktop there’s a weathered twist of wood that we like to think is American chestnut. We found it near the top of a North Carolina peak and carried it, sodden and heavy with the remnants of winter, all the way down to the motorhome. In spite of the fact that one of us was jabbed in the back every step of the way by a wooden elbow, you could legitimately call our botanical artifact a ghost — the ghost of a race of trees that once covered the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A few old folks remember seeing trees like this one, whose uppermost leaves fluttered more than 100 feet in the air. They speak of tree trunks measuring more than four feet around, and of branches so heavy with nuts that you could gather them up by the wagonload. They talk of the lumber turned into houses and fences and railroad ties, and of bark stripped off and sold for tanning hides. They recall when chestnuts roasting over an open fire was more than the words of a song sung around Christmas time.

Walk in the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains today and you find only a few half-hidden trunks moldering into soil, and a few defiant saplings tilting like Don Quixote against impossible odds. (Read the rest …)

Hairy, Scary Spiders

Filed under: Bugs — Lowell Christie -- October 21, 2007 @ 11:00 am

TarantulaKaye still remembers the first time she saw a live tarantula. She was glancing out the front window of our California home when an enormous, hairy spider crawled past the front of the house. It was huge. Conditioned by adventure movies to believe that tarantulas are both deadly and intent upon attacking innocent people, Kaye allowed the critter to continue right on down the road.

Her next tarantula sighting wasn’t until after we’d begun traveling, and by that time we knew enough about spiders to realize that although a chase scene featuring a tarantula may make good theater, it doesn’t represent the facts. These spiders aren’t pretty, but neither are they hostile; they’re simply fascinating.

Even decades after the event, we can make certain assumptions about Kaye’s early tarantula sighting. She probably saw the spider in late summer or early fall; it probably was an adult male on the prowl in search of a mate; and in all likelihood it wasn’t as huge as it appeared. So, since tarantula season is here and since at least some of you who are reading this column will be traveling into the spiders’ territory during the months ahead, we’ve compiled a few facts about these hairy spiders. (Read the rest …)

Seeing Red

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lowell Christie -- October 16, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

Red FlashlightVision at night is difficult at best, whether you are watching wildlife or searching the sky for meteor showers. But it always seems you need just a bit more light to check the settings on your camera. Or to find the position of a constellation on your star map.

The problem is that flipping on a flashlight ruins your night vision. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark and see detail, and only a second or so of bright light to undo the process. Fortunately there is a solution.

Dim red light has only a minor effect on our vision at night, so a red flashlight allows you to check what you just wrote in your notebook and still look up to see the animals that have better night vision than we do. And the animals are less disturbed by red light.

I’ve seen advertisements for red flashlights, but a less expensive solution is to cover a light source with red cellophane or plastic. When I couldn’t find any locally, I bought a transparent reddish-pink file folder at a stationary store. Two layers did the trick. Enough light to see, but not enough to ruin my night vision.