Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

NANPAMichael is an active member of the Cypress Basin Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.  Originally from Newsome, Texas (Between Pittsburg and Winnsboro), educated in Dallas & Garland schools, then off to the University of Texas system where he received a degree in biology and worked as a biologist with the University of Texas system. After many years away from nature and biology, he recently relocated on the banks of Lake O' the Pines where he has been rediscovering the joys of nature. He is somewhat surprised that he has become a birder. Most of his interest in nature was centered around reptiles. Perhaps just like birds evolved from reptiles starting in the late Jurassic, he has begun his own evolution. During his formal education his interests in biology/nature grew to include community ecology and population studies, all with a binding of evolutionary processes. He liked birds, but they were secondary at best. All at once he finds them fascinating.

Need to be Working But All I Can Do Is Play

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There is a delight when you get new toys.  You want to play with them all the time.  Do we ever grow out of that?  I really think not.  

I recently upgraded my camera and added a longer telephoto lens.  I now have a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 200-500 lens.  What a change.  Before this, my longest lens (of any quality) was my Nikon 18-300mm which is a surprisingly good lens.  I was mainly using a Nikon D3300 and sometimes my old Nikon D60.  The upgrade was significant.

Naturally, I was out with it just as soon as I could be.  However, it has also been a very busy time for me with work and I had to really move some things aside in order to "play".  Actually, I took time I should not have taken but . . .  Then, I had a bout of food poisoning.  Seems like things have been stacked against me.

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Dead Ancestors Are Delicious and Oh So Nutritious

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With Spring coming, I start to get antsy.  We have had some warm days and nights lately (in February) and the other afternoon I heard tree frogs calling. It won't be long before the pond and creek bottoms are blackened by little tadpoles. There is no telling how many thousand of them that I killed . . . uh caught as a kid, put in a jar or aquarium and watched for hours.  I meant well but the mortality rate was high.  Of course, it is in nature, too.  

Each male and female frog may have many hundreds eggs.  In order for the frog population to remain stable, only two need survive and in most cases that is what happens.  Otherwise, we would be knee-deep in frogs.

Did you ever wonder what happens during the Springs that don't get enough rain for the frogs to successfully breed?  Here in east Texas, that doesn't happen often but when it does, there is an interesting development (no pun intended).  

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Kristi Mears Thomas
Wonderful blog, Michael! Thank you! You are so right - Nature is just so amazing!
Thursday, 25 February 2016 05:31
Jill Wright
Wow!! Fascinating facts about "arrested" tadpole development and how it benefits the next generation - I learn from your posts ev... Read More
Monday, 29 February 2016 16:35
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Japanese Climbing Fern Lygodium japonicum (Thunb. Ex Murr.) Sw.

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During this time of year, some of us are eager to see more green in the rather barren east Texas woods of winter.  Sometimes the green we see is not as welcome as we might first believe. While there are many pleasant shades of green out there that come from several types of evergreen trees and vines, there is one shade of green that my eye is particularly trained upon: Japanese Climbing Fern.  

The Japanese Climbing Fern is native to Asia and tropical Australia.  Like many other invasive species, it was introduced here due to its striking appearance and its ease of cultivation in local gardens.  After its introduction in the 1930's, it became a very popular garden addition.  Unfortunately, while it may make a particular corner of a garden "pop" with its striking leaves and healthy growth, its escape into our natural habitats can be disastrous.  Japanese Climbing Fern can form dense mats, twining and climbing over anything in its way: trees, shrubs, telephone poled, etc.  The dense growth shades out native species and reduces diversity in a habitat.  

Being a fern, it does not produce a flower and does not reproduce via seed.  It thrives and colonizes by rhizomes and spreads rapidly by wind dispersed spores.  Those tiny powder-like spores are dispersed not only via the wind but also by any conveyance they can hitch a ride including the mud in your shores, your clothing, your pets and, of course, with free roaming wildlife.  Another way it is moved from place to place is in pine straw bales used for mulching your landscape. That is another reason you should insist that any pine straw used to mulch your beds be weed free.  You should be leery of what pine straw mulch may bring into your garden as several non-native invasive species can travel the U.S. in these bales.

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There's Another Stupid Cardinal or How Familiarity Breeds Contempt

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If you only saw one Cardinal a year, think how much you would appreciate their beauty.  The male Cardinal in breeding colors is one of the most beautiful single colored birds in the world. Their fairly large size, their black mask and crest give them a distinctive and almost regal manner.  Many birdwatchers all over the world outside of the U.S. view the Cardinal as a huge prize on their Life List. 

Ah, but in my yard where I can hardly look out the window without seeing a Cardinal, their value as a noteworthy sight on my bird feeders honestly is not high.  It is not that I don't see their beauty.  It is just that I see it every day over and over again.  

I'm not so crass as to not appreciate them at all, for one can't help but feel some joy in their beauty.  Today, there were four males and at least five females around my yard (with ten feeders).  I enjoyed watching them, along with the Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, a single Pine Siskin, Chipping Sparrows, a Mockingbird and a couple of Song Sparrows.  It was a busy day on the feeders.

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Kristi Mears Thomas
Love this, Michael! An inspiring message, and one that I have been thinking myself lately...we sometimes get so accustomed to the... Read More
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 07:03
Jill Wright
Great blog, Michael! That is one handsome cardinal, and you got an amazing photo of him. It is great when the scales are peeled ... Read More
Friday, 29 January 2016 12:21
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The Weeds Are Coming! The Weeds Are Coming!!!

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I wrote recently about all of the water hyacinths that were appearing in large clumps all over the lake after recent heavy rains.  The heavy rains caused the lake level to rise rapidly causing the lighted moored water hyacinths to break loose and float downstream.  Many people who lived in the south part of the lake were not used to seeing these floating islands and some were not sure what was happening. 

If they were really surprised by the large number of plants that floated down, just wait.  Right now there is approximately 5 or 6 acres of water hyacinths pressed up against the Highway 155 bridge.  Little by little they are squeezing through and floating downstream as the ones a couple of weeks ago did.  This time, after the recent rain last week that caused the lake to rise another five or more feet, there are many more water hyacinths headed their way.

We may get a good cold front that could slow the progress for the plants do not do well in cold weather.  With prolonged times of freezing weather, much of the mass of plants may sink below the surface and not continue its migration.  Many of those growths will actually die in the deeper water.  If we do not get the cold weather, then these plants will eventually make their way under the bridge.  Winds and boat traffic will free the "logjam" that now exists.  

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