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 a former biologist and  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 relocated to 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.

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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Recent Comments
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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The Fine For Picking Up Feathers is Anything But Lightweight

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There is no telling how many feathers I collected a kid.  I did that without ever killing a single bird for in the woods, I found feathers everywhere.  I had feathers from blue jays, crows, cardinals, doves, sparrows, mockingbirds, ducks, owls, hawks and dozens of other types of birds.  I had a very nice collection that I took to school and showed everyone.  Back then, no one thought anything about it.  Now, possession of those feathers would be a major problem.  Fines in the thousands would be coming and maybe jail time.  Today, it is a big deal.

Most birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which makes possession of feathers or other parts of the bird to be illegal.  The idea of this is to protect wild birds from being killed for their feathers and in some cases, their claws or beaks.  There has always been a market for these items by collectors and for commercial trade.  It does not matter how the feathers were obtained.  You can't pick them up off the ground, pluck them from a dead bird on the road or get them from a dead bird your cat left on your step.  This is absolute.

For more information about the MBTA included a list of which species are included (almost all birds) visit the FWS website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/regulationspolicies/mbta/mbtintro.html.  

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You've Got to Have Goals. Trying to Score With Nature in 2016.

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I love living on the lake. Many mornings, as soon as I am dressed, I open my front door, sit on my steps and watch whatever may be happening on the lake or on my bird feeders right in front of me.  Not a bad way to start the day.

This morning is a bit chilly, but not bad.  It is overcast, quiet and peaceful.  I have been drinking my coffee on my steps watching a large flock of canvasback ducks (Aythya valisineria) feeding and cavorting just off shore.  There are probably 40 to 50 of them drifting back and forth.  Each one occasionally ducks his head (no pun intended) beneath the water and quickly disappears as it goes underwater to feed.  Sometimes it seems as if there was a signal given and almost all of them go at once leaving a dozen or less still on the surface.  Good entertainment for a quiet morning.

The canvasback ducks don't usually come down to the more open waters near me.  They are normally in the more secluded shallow water that has lots of little islands and inlets.  That shallow water provides a lot of nutrients in the way of buds, snails, tubers, roots and insect larva that makes up most of its diet.  It is also more secluded and normally away from human activities.  However, it is still duck season and the area where they normally stay is not a safe place.  Down here, closer to human activities and in the open is definitely safer for them.  That is good for me for I get to shoot them now.  Yes, it is a bit of a cliche, but I am shooting them with a Nikon.  

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