Good Use for a Road-kill Deer

Guest Posting by Dean Hansen.
Dean has contributed to Old Naturalist over the years.

I noticed a road-killed deer near my land just east into Wisconsin from my home in Stillwater.  I registered the deer online and dragged it onto my five-acre lot.  A simple Moultrie “trail cam” was strapped to a tree a dozen feet from the carcass.  It didn’t take long for hungry animals to find the carcass.

Crows on the carcass
December 29, 2019

17 March, 2020: First Spring visitor was a mature Bald Eagle.


17 March: After surveying the scene, he started to open up the chest cavity to get at the lungs and heart.


18 March: A Red Tailed Hawk joins the dining club.


21 March: The Red Tailed Hawk continued feeding in the chest cavity.


22 March: The surprise of this whole experiment was the appearance of a Red Shouldered Hawk on the carcass. This is a Threatened Species in Wisconsin. A WDNR worker told me that it was quite unusual to see this species at carrion.

29 March: The Bald Eagle returns and enlarges the hole to the chest organs.

3 April: A late spring snowfall doesn’t keep the Bald Eagle from returning. That’s a really large bird, I’d say.

7 April: Vultures appear. Again, the chest cavity is the preferred dining site.

April 8:   A curious deer


29 April: Vultures continue feeding through the month. Note the grass greening.

May 10: Finally–a coyote appears. I was hoping for a bear, but that was a no-show.

May 11 The coyotes worked on the hind quarters (the “thighs” of the deer), and they even dragged the carcass noticeably to the upper right of the frame.


Posted in Animals, Nature Notes | 4 Comments

Finding Balance in Nature

I am thrilled to share this posting that includes the voices of so many people who love nature. I hope you have time to enjoy the creative energy that they have expressed through their photography, stories, poetry and art.


Holly Einess is a naturalist and contributor to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Nature Notes.

American Goldfinch
Photo by Holly Einess

I took this photo of a goldfinch in September as he was feasting on coneflower seeds. I love how fluffy and bedraggled he looks as he’s transitioning from his bright breeding plumage to his more drab winter colors. What is it about birds that I find so charming? That makes me want to know them? I took up birding several years ago with a local Audubon chapter, and while I now can identify more than the usual suspects (robins, cardinals, crows, and chickadees), I feel as though my appetite for avian knowledge will never be sated. What a challenging endeavor it is, to become an expert birder! Not only do the males often differ in appearance from the females, the juveniles can have their own look distinct from the adults. And then there’s breeding vs. non-breeding plumage, migratory vs. non-migratory… A naturalist I know once said, it’s not so important that I  hang a name on every bird I see. It’s about being out in nature, or even my own backyard, noticing the life around me and getting curious about it. Expert or no, sharing habitat with these feathered miracles brings me untold joy, and for that I’m very grateful.  


Dale Antonson is a frequent contributor to Old Naturalist.

Back to the Garden
A global pandemic and climate change. Difficult headlines to avoid. To relieve ‘cabin-fever’, people are returning to the outdoors.

Clouds above my house.
Photo by Dale Antonson

There are many more people out walking, biking and paddling these days. When I was recently hiking in a state park midweek, I saw many families hiking the trails through the forest. The Earth offers ever changing opportunities to notice what’s going on around us.

Bur Oak in Kelly Park, Minnetonka
Photo by Dale Antonson

Observation of the world we’re part of can provide an endless commercial free show of wonder. Entertainment by nature. It is a hidden Blessing in these changing times.

An egret in Purgatory Creek
Photo by Dale Antonson

Across the street from my house.
Photo by Dale Antonson


Sandra Cowing has contributed previously to Old Naturalist.

This work was inspired by a late afternoon walk this summer at Staring Lake in Eden Prairie, MN. It was rainy all day, the clouds were finally breaking up and the sun came streaming in through the vegetation. The sun caused an ethereal, misty effect shining through the wet trees. It was a magical moment.



Jen Heyer is a 3rd grade teacher at Highlands Elementary, Edina, MN.
To learn more about Jen’s Program go to :

My third graders and I went on a noticing walk and happened upon a rabbit “murder” scene. It was incredibly interesting and I literally had to pull some of them away. There were bones sticking out and all of the organs and intestines had been removed and placed next to it. We made our predictions regarding what happened and then, real close to the scene we found this feather.

Photo by Jen Heyer

With the feather in hand, we made some guesses regarding which bird of prey could have done this to the rabbit. While looking through feather guides, the children debated between the feather belonging to a red-tailed hawk or a great horned owl, but could it possibly be a Cooper’s hawk? Barred owl and bald eagle came into the discussion as well, but were quickly removed from the list.

Our class reached out to the Minnesota Tracking Club with our two main predictions and heard back from them: “Sherlock and Watson were investigating a murder when Watson called out to Sherlock, ‘I found a knife! It must be the murder weapon.’ Sherlock in a calm voice replied, ‘My dear Watson, just because you found a knife in the kitchen, do not assume it is the murder weapon.” Are you sure the feather is associated with the crime scene?” I read the response to the students and one student jumped up, “We don’t know that the rabbit died from a bird of prey!” The search was on; what bird could have left a feather this large, and not be a bird of prey? After much discussion and a little bit of research, we solved the mystery. Have you?



Christina Gregory is an artist and poet and has contributed previously to  Old Naturalist

Photo by Christina Gregory

The Sculpture Garden

Christina Gregory

Sculpted frozen trees

their artwork formed in time and wind

stretch their arms in praise.

And so we also stand as naked fragile souls

before our Maker , seeking His embrace.

 Their art-formed trunks in shapes grotesque or elegant broken lines

 groan with only a rusty, frozen leaf to blow

 in brittle memory of a past life.

 Winter’s butterfly.

 These spirited statues in motionless frost

 embrace the silence

 caressed by stillness.

 And so I view in quiet awe their majesty

 a tapestried reckless mass of threaded branches

 a lesson in frozen time.

 Like pen and inked objects before me

 they quietly teach the lessons of the universe.

 Stripped of life, save a fragile leaf or two,

 in bitter cold each branch moans and snaps

 some failing winter’s test.

Helpless and trusting they stand waiting for nature’s next event

 when bubbling life inside decorates with new spring greens

 and clothes the forest once again.

 And so I stand, as do we all, as God’s little works of art

 Shaped by tragedy and time yet filled with life waiting to be reborn:

 “clothed in the newness of life”.


Paul Gagner has contributed previously to Old Naturalist

Most of these photos were taken within a couple of blocks from our house.

Photo by Paul Gagner

Being outdoors is one  of the only places I would rather be during this period of confinement.

Twelve Spotted Skimmer
Photo by Paul Gagner

Nature is really all that counts after  waking up (not including family and friends).

Photo by Paul Gagner

Rather a tree than a human?
Not in all cases, but I think you know what I am saying.

Photo by Paul Gagner

Photo by Paul Gagner



Alex Munoz is a frequent contributor to Old Naturalist.

These are Grizzly bear cubs, mother was killed in Montana, the cubs were donated to a sanctuary for wildlife, near flagstaff, AZ. Where they are being raised to date.

photo by Alex Munoz


Carnivore, herbivore, omnivore
Some of them squeak – some of them roar! 
When they get older they start to walk
Start to grunt and start to hunt.
Some animals are endangered species,
These kind of animals need more space.

Photo by Alex Munoz


Photo by Alex Munoz

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art | 2 Comments

New! Fall Nature School

The Old Naturalist has been getting outside as we leave Summer and enter Fall. It’s a beautiful time of passage for Nature, and there are many things She has to teach us!

Use the Nature School navigation link above to look at our Fall Nature School lessons, and check back frequently for new ones!

Posted in Nature School, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teach me How to Be a Forest

Ancient Sugar Maple
Photo by Janine Pung

Most humans walk by us and think, “It is just a tree.” But a few humans stop and listen and realize we are so much more than “just a tree”.

Listening to trees
Consider this a “mindfulness” activity that includes a tree. Many people “talk” to trees, but in doing this activity, you will be learning how to listen to the trees.

  • Find a place that has a sense of wildness with some big trees
  • Find a tree that you are drawn to
  • Choose a place where you feel safe and will not be disturbed
  • Slow down your energy – pay attention to your breath
  • Be present – quiet the self-talk and chatter
  • Ground – send your roots down below your feet and let them mingle with the roots of the tree
  • Listen to your heartbeat and let the tree join with your heartbeat
  • Inhale Oxygen – a gift from the tree / exhale CO2  – a gift for the tree
  • Listen with your whole body, not just your ears
  • Listen without expectations – let your mind be a clean slate
  • Listening can come to you in feelings, colors or sounds inside of your body and it may not be in words
  • Learning how to listen is a skill that needs to be developed over time

Red Oak snag
photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest – A human asks an old red oak snag –  “Why is it you seem so alive, when you are dead?”
We don’t think/live like you do. You think that when something “dies” it has no more life. Nothing actually “dies”, but is part of a continuum that is in constant change. There is no end or beginning.

Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest
Put down your phone. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up and receive. Trust the deep connection being created, for it is within this space that you will fully experience what you see, hear, feel and sense.

Blue Dasher
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest  – You have to let go of the “I” and be part of the “We”.

False Solomen Seal Fruit.
Photo by Janine Pung


Teach me how to be a forestWhen you touch one of us with an open heart, you touch the whole forest.

Photo by Lawrence Wade


Teach me how to be a forest  –  You have to let go of  your dead wood.

Tree Wound
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach Me How to be a Forest –   You can heal from your wounds.  All you need is within you.

Jack O’Lantern – Highly poisonous
ID by Ron Spinosa
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest – Be deeply rooted to the planet and connected to the sky at the same time.


Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest     You will find freedom in embracing uncertainty.

Chicken in the Woods
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest  Just like all things in this forest, you have a right to exist.

Photo by Lawrence Wade

Teach me how to be a forest  –  Slow down. Walk and breathe with the forest inside of you.  Become One with us.

Reader Dale Antonson shared the following:
Connecting to the trees creates an awareness of the timeless life that exists all around us.  It’s important take the time to get out of our own way and connect ourselves back to the energy of the soil.

Performing ‘Healing Touch’ on an ancient Bur Oak that suffered major trauma in 2014.
Photo by Dale Antonson

 If this posting resonated with you, I would highly recommend, Finding the Mother Tree by Susan Simard. Dr. Simard is a forest ecologist whose research has shown how interconnected and conscious trees are .

At a forest clear cut, Simard writes, “The beauty is that with a little momentum, a little help at this site, the plants and animals will come back. They’d make the forest whole again, help it recover. The land wanted to heal itself.”

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians, Photography/Art | 11 Comments

Mind in the Waters

Some of us would rather spend our lives underwater. The welcome arms of nature allows us to become part of something that is greater than ourselves.

Editor note: Click the photo to get a full screen view.

Bluegill School
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Eye to Eye with a Northern Pike
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Poetry by Cynthia Eyden

I take in the surface of the stream –
    weeds and lily pads rising above
    ducks and fishing bobbers skim
    clouds, trees and sun reflect

Black Crappie
Angel of the waters
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Lying on the water, masked and snorkeled
     aquatic realms and rooms divided by the plants and rocks that were inferred at the surface
     Crappies and sunnies, muskies and carp, northern and bass find me curious or frightful
I grasp a branch or a rock to stay as still as the fish do without struggle

    To watch in awe and delight, and then follow through ribbons of plants.

Mixed school of bluegill and bass.
Photo by Jane Ball

To the shadowed spaces beneath a thick mat of algae.
     The bigger fish seek this out, sitting at the edge of light and dark
     They move into and out of this mystery with ease, appearing and receding 
     It is their domain to know and for me to ponder what riches reside there.

Northern Pike
Beautifully Camouflaged
Photo by Lawrence Wade


The silty water of mid summer allows clear awareness of only the closest myopic view.    
     A few fish glide into this layer of clarity
     More are softened and less and less defined as the distance grows
     Reminding me of my own limited consciousness.

Carp School
Finding Beauty in an invasive Species
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Rupturing the surface I return to the air and earth. 
    With its familiar breath and vision
     I drip with evidence of the liminal sacred layers beneath
     My heart and mind open, grateful, elated by this venture across boundaries of awareness.
Poetry by Cynthia Eyden

Water Color
Cynthia Eyden

The bowfin or dogfish is snake-like. It is a primitive fish that was around during the time of the dinosaurs.
Photo by Jeff Saslow

Poetry by Jeff Saslow

Under surface of air, trees and grass
Underwater, creek water
My insides open up to a fluid world
That has a different pulse
My frenetic stiff awkwardness slaps the weeds, rocks and tadpoles
Until I settle, watch and wait
Using my flippers to gently move
I then drift in and out of currents
As my land thoughts recede I am lulled by the undulating movement of water, plants and creatures.

Photo by Jeff Saslow


It is not until later that I am aware that my heart is open
My body has become electric
I am two feet away from a bluegill
She is staring at me for a long while
Her gills are moving water in and out
Mesmerized, my sides gently ache
As we breathe together

Jeff Saslow

Photo by Jane Ball


Minnow schools were everywhere.
Photo by Jane Ball



Have you ever had a walleye swim right up to you and look you in the eye? It changes you.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Restless Poetry by Jeff Saslow

I hear the loon call out
On the humid summer evening
I miss crowds of people
While the fish school under water
The performance has stopped
Or viewed at a distance from parked cars

The big bass swam right past me and the light danced off its back.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Paranoia has stepped in where
Covid has left off
No one gets away free
Even though we posture the charade of control
It is today, tomorrow or next week or . . ?
We don’t know

The news announcer’s mouth
Bites through our security blanket

When November comes
Will the blanket keep us warm?
How about in January?

The rock bass is in the sunfish family. It can be identified by its reddish eye.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

The mother duck with her little ones
Moves close to the sandy shore
I kayak and swim
Fish gather
And the loon cries through the night 
Poetry by Jeff Saslow

Photo by Lawrence Wade

We saw this fish several times during the summer. It had sores on its mouth from being “caught and released”. Its left gill flap was torn off. The fish was roughly 4 feet in length. A lion in the water – A top predator.

The muskie slowly swam away.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Reader and contributor, Paul Gagner shared: “When we lived on Gray’s Bay (Lake Minnetonka),  12 years ago, there was a “friendly” muskie that I could feed and pet it’s head! It also had a scar on the top of it’s back. It may have been attacked by another fish or hit by a small prop.”
Paul also added, “Did you know that the grooves that emanate outward along the snout is a sight line for lining up prey?  Amazing creatures, eh?” (click on photo to enlarge.)

Photo Paul Gagner


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art, Summer | Leave a comment

A Quarter Century at the Friends of the Trail Prairie

For the past 25  years, a few of us have transformed an abandoned lot into a native prairie.

The prairie is right beside a bike path and walkers often look at us in disbelief. One of our favorite quotes is: “What are you doing down there, do you know?”.  When we first started it was one acre of European spurge, Canada thistle, ragweed, and brome grass.

We have created a booklet about planting a vacant lot:

One Vacant Lot

If you live in the Minneapolis, please visit the prairie. It is across the street from “The Marsh” health club. at 15000 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka 55345

Native Big Bluestem
In the early going, we planted over a hundred grasses and flowers a year. We used the burlap to control weeds so the plants could get established. We have never used any herbicide or pesticide on the land.


Lessons learned at the prairie:
“The land knows us and gives so much as we work among the plants.”

Garter Snake – Over the years the diversity of life at the prairie has increased.

Lessons learned at the prairie: 
” Nature can balance the rough places inside you.”

Cup Plant
The leaves of the plant form a “cup” that birds and insects drink from.

 Lessons  learned at the Prairie:
“Let the beauty go deep into your bones”.

Pale Coneflower

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Every living thing has a unique vibration. Share your vibration with the plant.”

Mountain Mint
An August favorite of many pollinators.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
“Be appreciative of the life that is around you”.

Queen of the Prairie
A wetland plant in the rose family with beautifully scented flowers.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Life is so much better when your hands are digging in the Earth.”

Rattlesnake Master
A favorite of pollinators in July. The plant is a a northern type of agave .

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
Respect the weeds, they are teachers too.
(vetch, thistle, canada anemone, and European Spurge).

wild rose

Lessons learned at the prairie:
“Say “good morning” to the plants and to the people walking by on the trail”.


Lessons learned at the Prairie ( from reader Dale Antonsen)
A true guardian is one who finds their encouragement (and benefit) from a simple flower, the flutter of wings and the buzz of happy bees.

Blooms in late July to early August

Lessons learned at the Prairie:  “Work with others whom you care about.”

Friends of the Prairie
25 years later

Posted in Nature Guardians, Photography/Art | 2 Comments

Was Tinker Bell a Firefly?

Photo: Angeli Wright/

For the past three nights (mid June) I have watched as many as a  hundred fireflies blinking in my yard. This is so hopeful because for years I have rarely seen them. Twenty-five years ago, I remember walking out at night with my kids on a warm summer night. In the field below were hundreds of fireflies with blinking lights. The kids ran down in the field shrieking with joy.

Yes, they are magical, but they don’t come from pixie dust.

Adult Firefly
drawing by Jeanette Dickinson

The greenish glow or “bioluminescence’ of adult fireflies comes from a light-producing organ in its abdomen. The light is produced by a chemical reaction in its body and the reaction is triggered by oxygen from the breath of the firefly. So a firefly can control its flashing pattern with its breath. Each species of firefly has a specific flashing pattern that helps it locate a mate. In observing fireflies you may see the male flash once and then flash again 5 to 10 seconds later. Typically a male will fly just above the grass flashing for a female of its species. It will continue this flashing until a female hiding in the grass, flashes back to it. There are also species that flash twice instead of once.

Firefly underside showing the bioluminescent organ. photo by Heather Holm.

Early Summer Firefly watching:

  1. Track a firefly and make a map of where you see the firefly go.
  2. Try to find female flashers in the grass.
  3. Keep track of the number of flashes a firefly makes and the amount of time between flashes. How many different flashing patterns (species) can you find?
  4. What is the most common type of firefly? Make a chart of the different types:
    One Flash – Two Flash – Other Patterns
  5. Catch some fireflies in a jar, enjoy them for a few minutes and then release them, so they can mate and complete their life cycle.

There is danger in the weeds!

It all sound so simple, a male firefly flashes and a female waiting in the weeds flashes back. Some female fireflies are predatory and mimic the blinking pattern of another species, to draw the male to her. Imagine a male locating its mate and just when the male thinks it is going to mate, the “female mimic” kills and eats the male.

Firefly life cycle

firefly larva
illustration by Jeanette Dickinson

Fireflies are not flies or bugs but actually a type of beetle. The adults live only long enough to mate and lay eggs (usually 1-2 weeks). Mated females lay up to 100 eggs under leaves and the larvae hatch in about a month. Surprisingly the eggs of some species of firefly glow dimly in the soil. Most of a firefly’s life is spent underground as a larva. In fact, some firefly larvae live underground for almost two years. They are found under leaves and mulch in moist soil. The larvae are predatory and feed on earthworms, slugs and snails. Many species of larval fireflies have “lights” and have been called “glowworms”. In late spring or early summer of the next year, the larvae makes a mud chamber and forms its pupae. While in the mud chamber, the larvae metamorphoses into an adult flying beetle in 2-3 weeks.

September firefly watching:

  1. Look in your moist leaf pile for firefly larvae.
  2. Once you find one, look at its light-producing organ with a magnifier.

Mating fireflies. Notice the large size of the female.
photo by Heather Holm

Where have all the fireflies gone?

Alert! Have you noticed that you don’t see as many fireflies as you used to? This is not happening just in your yard, but researchers are seeing firefly populations disappearing around the country. It is not really clear what is causing the drop in firefly numbers, but there are several things you can do to create a friendlier environment for fireflies and other invertebrates in your neighborhood.

  1. Don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Keep your yard friendly to fireflies and pollinators by using natural fertilizers. Chemical fertilizer may harm the ground-dwelling firefly larvae. Spraying pesticides or herbicides in your yard may kill adult fireflies and adversely effect ground-dwelling creatures like slugs which are food for firefly larvae.
  2. Don’t over-mow your lawn. Frequent mowing may disturb local adult firefly populations. Leave an area of your yard un-mowed from mid June through July because adult fireflies like to hide in tall grass for protection.
  3. Build a small pond. Fireflies like standing water and moist areas and tend to congregate in these areas.
  4. Keep a leaf pile . Firefly larvae live underground and feed on creatures that live in the leaf litter. Rotting logs and leaf piles are also excellent microhabitats for fireflies.
  5. Turn off outside lights Too much light pollution can disrupt the mating behavior of fireflies. If they are unable to find mates, then they will not be able to complete their life cycle and lay eggs.
  6. Catch and Release – If you are going to catch fireflies in a jar make sure you release them so they can find a mate.
  7. Make a brochure about fireflies – Give it to your neighbors and alert them about the plight of fireflies. Tell them some interesting facts about fireflies and let them know what they can to do make their property better for fireflies.
  8. Join Firefly Watch Citizen Science and participate in a firefly study near your home:



Posted in Insects | Leave a comment

Isn’t Nature Amazing!

The Short Life of an Early Spring Bee.
Look at this barren hillside. Who would guess that beneath the ground is a whole colony of bees awaiting the warmth of the sun, so they can emerge. Known as the cellophane bees, they are the first bees to appear in the spring. Their adult lives are short (one month) and they depend upon the weather to cooperate. Anyone who lives in Minnesota knows that our weather patterns tend to fluctuate (e.g., sunny and warm one day and cold and snowy the next).

Nest entrance of a female cellophane bee.



This is where Heather Holm picks up the story. Heather is a biologist, as well as a nationally known bee researcher and author. She has studied not only the life cycle of many dozens of bee species, but also the plants they need to pollinate for their survival.

Heather has located and examined the cellophane bee’s nesting areas for the past four years. Below is her video of male cellophane bees patrolling the colony looking for a female to mate with. Most people would run the other way if they saw hundreds of bees buzzing around. But not Heather, for she is what we call an “Earth Guardian,” a person who cares about the small things on our planet.


Male cellophane bee emerging from its winter home (photo by Heather Holm).

Cellophane bees remain in their underground homes for eleven months. First as larvae eating the food provided for them by their mother (who died the previous spring). Then in late summer, they pupate (similar to a butterfly) and eventually turn into an adult. If the soil temperature gets above 50°F and it is sunny outside, the adult males will emerge from their underground home for the first time. They will fly around the surface looking for a female to mate with (see Heather’s video above) .

Apparently, the male’s main purpose in life is to mate with a female. Their adult life is very brief (less than a month) and they will die shortly after mating with the female.

Cellophane Bee Ground nest.
(illustration by Heather Holm)

After emerging from the ground and mating with a male, the female begins digging her nest for her larvae. The hole can be up to 10 inches deep, with side branches where she builds oval cells to place the pollen and nectar she collects.

Once she has enough food for her larvae in the cell, the female starts laying eggs at the bottom of her nest and uses the sperm to fertilize those eggs ( they will become females). When there is no more sperm, she lays unfertilized eggs (they become males) closer to the surface. The following spring, the males, who are closer to the surface, dig their way out first and then later the females emerge.



Female Cellophane bee gathering pollen from a willow flower. (photo by Heather Holm).

The females have only four weeks to accomplish the following tasks: mate; dig their ground nest, gather pollen from nearby willow or red maple trees; stock the nest with pollen for their larva and lay their eggs.

Minnesota is not an ideal place for cellophane bees to flourish. They can encounter several challenges, such as the changing weather conditions, predators digging out their nests, and humans disturbing their nests. It is a tough life, but many are able to survive. By the first of May, all of the males and most of the females will have completed their life cycle and will die. It is nature’s way.

See Heather’s video of a female cellophane bee gathering pollen and nectar from a red maple tree.

Questions about Cellophane bees

1. Do cellophane bees sting?
The male does not have a stinger, but the female does. Heather walked right in the middle of the colony and they did not react to her. She said the only way someone could be stung is to pick up a female in your hand.

Cellophane-like lining of that protects the larva and its food. Photo courtesy of Max McCarthy and Nick Dorian, bee researchers From MA.


2. How did cellophane bee get their name?
The female lines the nest with a blend of her saliva and a glandular secretion from her abdomen. When these two materials combine, they form a waterproof cellophane-like lining that protects the larva from flooding during heavy rains.

3. In Heather’s video I saw hundreds of bees in one area. Are they like a yellow jacket wasp and have a central nest?
No, each female cellophane bee builds her own nest.



4. Where can I go to see a cellophane bee colony?
Cellophane bees like south facing, flat ground that gets plenty of sunlight. They like the ground to be bare and the soil to be sandy.

Many thanks to Heather Holm for sharing her wisdom with Nature School. To see her website go to:

Thanks to Janine Pung, Kathy Adams and Cindy Eyden for their suggestions on improving the text.







Posted in Insects, Spring | 4 Comments

How I Feel About Nature

All photos  by Alex Munoz
Alex Munoz is an accomplished photographer and this is his second posting at Old Naturalist.  His first post was titled Raw Beauty Unleashed and was published in Dec. 2017. Alex Munoz is from my home town of Fillmore California. Alex currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Note: Click on each photo to see it full screen.

For as long as I can remember,
Nature has been
A source of solace, inspiration, adventure and delight.
A home, a teacher, a companion.

I’m just happy to capture what I see. I go out with my friends for the simple purpose of taking photos and nothing else. At 77  years of age, I have taken some great photos  and I and wonder why I like them so much.  That’s why, I began carrying my camera more, seeing more opportunities to take a photo.

Granite Dells

Granite Dells
The Granite Dells is a geological feature near Prescott AZ. The rocks consist of bedrock and large boulders of granite. The granite has been dated  to be 1.4 billion years old. Erosion has caused the rocks to have an unusual rounded appearance.

The changing water levels over time has created interesting patterns on the rocks.


Rock design and Reflection

Watson Lake level 2012

Watson and Willow Lakes are reservoirs that were build in the early 1900’s. The area is used by sportsman for fishing,  paddling, climbing and camping.


Riparian Preserve
Riparian plant communities are found along edges of rivers and wetlands. Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is 126 acres. The area was once  a 1,000 acre  of riparian  forest consisting of cottonwood and willow trees. Concerned citizens were able to protected this land which  has now become an oasis for wildlife and humans alike.


Cattail Reflection

Great Egret

Red-tail Hawk


Pictographs at Devil’s Bridge
I am not a archaeologist, but I was there to photograph these pictographs shown  below at Devil’s Bridge where you may see rock art in red sandstone. These symbols have lasted, while those people who made them  have not. I travel extensively, visiting sites, it does require permits and a fee.

Devil’s Bridge


Granite Mountain Alligator Juniper Tree
Granite Mountain is outside of Prescott, AZ and if you hike to the top of it, you’ll find one of the oldest alligator juniper trees of its kind. It is thought to be over 2,000 years old. This juniper has been designated as an Arizona Champion Tree.

In 2013, the tree was saved from a wildfire by an elite group of wild land firefighters called the “Granite Mountain Hot Shots”. A week after the juniper was saved, all but one of the crew were killed by another fire in the area.

View from the top of Granite Mountain (7,000 ft high). Photo by Alex Munoz

Bark on the alligator juniper


Desert Wildflowers
In the spring,there can be all kinds of blooms out here. These are stunning landscapes to visit anytime of the year.While you may be able to enjoy wildflowers from the roadsides, finding the truly impressive displays usually requires some degree of hiking and off road vehicles. These photos were taken in the lower areas of Arizona deserts.


Spring Cactus bloom

Ocotillos live up to a hundred years and get to be 20 feet tall. They usually bloom after a rainstorm



Alex Munoz beneath a huge cottonwood that is said to be 1000 years old

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Winter Animal Tracking

Below is an excerpt from an expert tracker,  Jonathan Poppele. He wrote the book Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition:

Tracking is the study and interpretation of the footprints and other signs left behind by animals as they go about their lives. Tracking does not necessarily mean following a string of footprints to locate the animal that made them. It means understanding the footprints, scrapes, chews, digs, and scat that we inevitably run across when we are out in nature. Tracking begins with identifying the animal that left the tracks and signs behind for us to see, and grows into an understanding of the intimate details of that animal’s life.”

Animal Tracks Gallery

fox walking pattern. The animal is registering – meaning that the hind foot steps in the front foot track. Animals who register are trying to conserve their energy.


River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Two  river otters – body Slide – push off – body slide        Photo by Lawrence Wade


Owl making an attempted to kill a mouse. The left wing is on the left – tail is below and head is above. photo by Lawrence Wade


Crow Wing prints in the snow. The bird must have been flying low, but did not land.
photo by Lawrence Wade

Opossum Tracks w/ tail drag
photograph by Faith Frankel, Boonton, NJ.
Faith said that she lives in town and the opossum lives somewhere in her yard.

Animal Tracking Tutorial 101

In winter, studying animal tracks will give you a lot of information about who is active in your area. The best snow depth to read animal tracks is 1-4 inches. When there is more snow, it is difficult to see the patterns that each animal leaves. Tracking is all about looking at patterns and knowing where an animal is most likely to be found.

There are three basic groups of track patterns to learn.

Mouse tracks show the drag of the tail
Photo by Cindy Eyden

Rabbit Bounding Track
“F” is the smaller front foot. They hit the ground first.
“H” is the larger hind foot which jumps over the front feet.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Squirrel Tracks – often end at a tree
“F” is the front foot which hits the ground first
“H” is the larger hind foot which hops over the front foot.


2. Walkers – “big foot” and “little foot”
In identifying the three species below, the important things to look for is the size of the track and the position of the front foot and the hind foot. Also, the beaver and muskrat are only found in wetland areas, whereas raccoons are found in many different habitats     including wetlands.In all cases the hind foot is larger than the smaller front foot.


Raccoon tracks
The arrow shows the direction of travel
“H” shows the larger hind foot
“F” shows the smaller front foot

muskrat Tracks
Muskrats rarely leave their huts in the winter, unless they run out of food or the population is too high.  Photo by Lawrence Wade

3. Straight-line walkers

Both deer and fox step with the hind foot falling exactly in the track of the front foot. Thus, the pattern in the snow appears that the animals are two-legged. This behavior is called “registering”and it helps the animal to conserve energy when walking in deep snow.

Fox Tracks crossing the creek.

deer tracks showing the hoofs










After you determine whether it is a hopper, straight line walker, or a “big foot-little foot”, Look at the pattern closely and notice how many inches there are between tracks or clumps of tracks. Also, think about the habitat you are seeing the tracks. Some animals are restricted to certain habitats (ie beaver, mink, and muskrat are found in wetlands).



fox tracks

Dog Tracks

Foxes leave a neat pattern in the snow because the hind foot steps in the front foot track (registering). Registering helps a fox to conserve energy, when walking in deep snow. It’s cousin, the dog,  does not register and leaves a much sloppier track. Deer also register, with the hind foot walking in the front foot track. Also, a deer hoof is easy to see when the snow is packed, and they usually drag their hooves. However, in deep snow, the hooves are more spread out and the dew claw is visible in the back of the track.

Mink Tracks along Minnehaha Creek
One foot is slightly ahead of another
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Expert tracker and author, Linda Spielman, made the following comment about mink:

Larry, I see that you have put the mustelids (weasel family) in the section with the straight-line walkers, but they don’t belong there. Sometimes mink are more like the hoppers but at other times they lope or gallop like deer and dogs. Mink are known to walk, but not very often. Maybe you need a fourth category. 


A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast
by Linda J. Spielman
Paperback, published by Countryman Press, released July 4, 2017     192 pages, 6 X 9 inches
ISBN-13: 978-1682680643

My book contains between 6 and 12 drawings for each of 40 species, each drawing meticulously and accurately copied from one or several photographs.

Each species treatment also includes written sections that discuss important details and point out differences and similarities between different species. Gait patterns can be as important as individual tracks for identification, so the typical gaits for each species are illustrated with diagrams and explained in written discussions. Measurements are given for tracks and gaits, and there is also a short section on habitat, sign, and scat.

By focusing on the tracks themselves and limiting other topics I was able to produce a book that is easily carried in a day pack and yet remarkably comprehensive. My book arises out of my own experience tracking northeastern mammals, but the approach will be beneficial for trackers in any region. A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast is available from major booksellers. I can also ship it directly to you. You can send a check for $15.66 ($13.00 + $2.66 media mail) to Linda Spielman, PO Box 955, Dryden, NY 13053. I welcome your comments; visit, or contact me at


Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
by Jonathan Poppele.
Published by Adventure Publications


Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition is a pocket sized guide to the tracks and sign of Midwestern mammals. Excellent illustrations and quick identification tips help you get started. Track pattern illustrations, scat photos and descriptions of other signs that animals leave behind provide more clues to help to with identification. The information is easy enough for beginners yet detailed enough for experienced trackers.

Praise for Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
“There are many great guides to identifying animal tracks. A few are truly excellent and some others are surprisingly misleading. Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition by Jonathan Poppele is a book that surprised me. It has fantastic track drawings, accurate information, and a very smart organization method. This book is inexpensive and worth adding to your library.”–Jonah Evans, tracking expert and State Mammalogist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The book is widely available at State Parks, Wildlife Refuges, major book sellers, and online book sellers. The Second Edition is scheduled for release by January 2021. Readers can order directly from the publisher, Adventure Publications 1-800-678-7006.


Posted in Nature Notes, Winter | 2 Comments