A Personal Note…

Dear Readers, Friends, Students, and All Who Love the Earth:

I have been in the publishing business since 1994. This journey has given me so much joy, but now it is time to let go of that part of my work.

For that reason I am pricing all inventory of my three books at $10/ book which includes shipping and sales tax. To learn more about each book and purchasing, go to the sidebar and click on the book you are interested in.

White Tailed Deer

photograph by Dale Antonson

If you live in a suburban area, white tail deer can be pests eating  hostas and vegetables in your garden; destroying a young tree by making it a rubbing post during the rutting (mating) season.

But white tails are the largest wild mammal in our neighborhoods, and are incredibly beautiful and sleek. There is something special about taking a morning hike and watching doe and yearling bound away with their tails “flagging” in the air.

White-tail “flagging”
Photograph by Larry Wade

Below are some stories about white-tail encounters:

  •  My wife and I were hiking and our dog, Hug, was barking wildly ahead of us. Hug had recently weaned her pups. We rushed up to see a wobbly newborn fawn nursing from Hug’s teats. The dog was standing with a bewildered look on her face, not sure if she  should try to take bite out of the fawn or lick it. Time slowed down to one frame per second. My wife, picked the fawn up and cradled it. Then we both realized what she has done and she laid the fawn down in the weeds. We continued down the trail, wondering if the whole event had even happened.
    Larry Wade

Photograph by Dale Antonson

  • I had the good fortune to have a free hour to spend before our worship service last Sunday, so I ventured over to Lake Ann in Chanhassen for a hike in the beautiful forest there. I was alone, so I prefer to move through the woods carefully and quietly. I was pleased to come upon a pair of deer. I paused and took some of the photos for this posting. Look carefully in the photo above and you can see the doe who blends so well into the background (circled in red). As I began to walk away from them and  the buck began to follow after me, which made me a little nervous. Thankfully, I was able to move up a hillside and lose his sight line.
    story by Dale Antonson
  • Many years ago, I was working with a group of 6 graders at a nature center. We were doing a deer study near a deer feeding station. I was showing the students how you could tell the age of the deer by looking at the scat (poop). I was getting less than 10 % interest from the group. So, having a few milk duds in my pocket, I reached down pretending to pick up some deer scat. I said to the group, “You don’t need to be so freaked out, because deer scat tastes pretty good”. Then I popped the milk dud into my mouth. I’ll never forget the look on those kid’s faces. Their jaws dropped and eyes bugged out, as they tried to fathom what had just happened.
    Larry Wade

 If you have a favorite white tail story post it in the comments section.

Photograph by Dale Antonson

Special Facts about Deer

DeerFlag2Wade

Flagging

 

Flagging is an alarm signal to other deer in the herd, telling the herd that danger is near. The white tail of the deer goes up and the deer bounds off. Before a deer flags, it may warn others in the herd by stamping the ground with its foreleg.

 

DeerVelvetWade

Growing antlers still in “velvet”.

 

The antlers are grown and shed each year. In late spring, the buck’s antlers begin to grow. The antlers of a healthy buck can grow as much as 1/2 inch per day. The antlers are covered by a thin layer of skin called “velvet” which is hair-like, short and fuzzy. Under the velvet are thousands of tiny blood vessels. High levels of calcium in the blood helps the antlers grow. Also, during the breeding season, the neck swells to almost twice its normal size ( See Dale Antonson’s very first photo).

The size of the antlers depends upon the age and food available to the deer. In areas where there is very little browse (food) available, the antlers remain small even if the buck is an adult. In January and February, the antlers begin to drop off (ordinarily just one at a time). Antlers have been called “nature’s drug store”, since they are rich in vitamins and minerals. After falling on the forest floor, antlers are quickly chewed up by mice, squirrels, fox, and other animals of the forest.

Deer Bed

Deer Bed

Deer bed down in the evening and remain there most of the day. Deer will not bed in windy areas because they need to conserve their body heat in the winter. Most deer beds are found in areas protected from the wind, and on south-facing hillsides. South-facing hills are warmed by the sun sooner on cold wintry days and allow deer to conserve body heat.

 

Hoof A deer actually walks on its hoof which are the toe nails of two toes. The other two toes are called dew claws and are positioned a few inches above the ground. Dew claws help slow a deer if it is sliding down a hill. The unique shape of the foot allows a deer to run up to 30 miles/hour in short bursts. Deer are also capable of jumping eight feet high from a standing position.

 

Deer are herbivores, meaning that they feed only on plants. Their diet varies with the season. In summer their main food is the leaves of green plants; while in the fall they may rumeneat acorns; in the winter they eat primarily buds and twigs. A deer eats six to eight pounds daily of plant material. In the winter, they may get as little as two or three pounds and still survive. A deer has a total of 4 stomachs, allowing it to get more nutrition from the food it eats. The deer is a ruminant mammal. A ruminant feeds on plant material and then stores the food in its first stomach (known as a rumen). Then later when it laying down in a safe area, it “burps up” the food and re-chews it. This is a called “chewing the cud”. Many mammals ruminants including cows and goats. Chewing cud allows an animal to get more nutrition out of its food.

Deer have excellent eyesight and can detect the slightest movement. Even the blinking of an eye can cause a deer to “bolt”. However, deer are color blind. So if you are hunting and wearing “blaze orange” for hunter safety, deer will not be afraid of the color. Their hearing is excellent and their ears can move, allowing them to pick up sounds of possible danger. Possibly their strongest sense is their ability to smell a scent from a distance of over 1/3 of a mile.

Deer Population Study

Do you have a deer herd in your neighborhood? What is the population make-up the herd? By recording some simple field observations, you can get a good idea what age groups of deer live in your neighborhood. Below are three tools for studying deer populations including: scat analysis; measuring the size of deer beds; and analyzing hoof size.

Deer bed

What to do: Go out into woods looking for deer signs: including scat, tracks, and beds. You will need a tape measure to determine the deer bed size. When it comes to analyzing scat, count a clump of scat as one observation. Make a tally for each of the signs that you find. The number of tallies that you make for each age class, will give a good idea what the population structure is in your neighborhood.


Petroglyph Canyon de Chelly

Petroglyph Canyon de Chelly

 

 

 

 

 

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A personal note….

Dear Readers, Friends, Students, and All Who Love the Earth:

I have been in the publishing business since 1994. This journey has given me so much joy, but now it is time to let go of that part of my work.

For that reason I am pricing all inventory of my three books at $10/ book which includes shipping and sales tax. To learn more about each book and purchasing, go to the sidebar and click on the book you are interested in.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Going Solo in the BWCA

Holly Einess has a Biology degree from St. Olaf College and is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. Her dream is for humans to welcome nature into their everyday lives and to live in kinship with their fellow creatures on this planet.

“You’re in good health and fit right now and you’re not getting any younger; if you’ve been wanting to try this, now is the perfect time,” says my husband Brian reassuringly. So I quiet the what-ifs and, both nervous and excited, set off for my first-ever solo trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I hit the road at 6 am, pick up a canoe in Ely at 10, get my permit at the ranger station (where I’m told the summer’s drought has resulted in higher-than-normal bear activity–gulp), and head for the put-in.

About a mile down the road the canoe starts sliding sideways. Uh oh. I pull over, cinch the straps tighter, and take off. Again, the canoe slides to the side. Again I pull over, now slightly panicked, thinking this is the sort of thing Brian usually handles. And I tell myself, “Well, he’s not here. So you get to figure it out yourself!” I move some straps around, and once again set off. This time the canoe stays in place (hallelujah!).

At the entry point I get help lifting the canoe off the car, load up, and start paddling. Then portage. Then paddle some more. And portage again. And paddle. And portage. And I’m IN! Lake One. I nab the first open campsite I see, put up my tent and hammock, and text Brian, letting him know I’ve made it in safely. (I send the text with no small amount of humility and abashedness, having for years opined loudly, to anyone who’d listen, “No cell towers in view of the BWCA! If people are going into the wilderness, they should leave their phones at home! Disconnect for a few days!”) Hearing back from him is surprisingly comforting.

My campsite (at tip of pine needle). Red and blue dots indicate campsites, red lines indicate portages. My entry point is at the top of the map (#30: Lake One Access*). 

As I take the trail up to the latrine I’m suddenly very aware that I’m BY MYSELF. My usual camping friends aren’t sitting around the fire grate preparing supper, or getting ready to head out fishing. It’s just me. I feel a little disoriented, the memories of their presence on past trips coming alive such that I almost expect them to be there when I return to the campsite. And a truth I’ve always known about myself comes into sharp focus: I am not a loner.

It’s relatively early—4 pm or so—but I‘m hungry. And hey, I’m on my own! I can eat whenever I want! So I “make” dinner (boil water and re-hydrate a freeze-dried backpack meal), then grab my kindle and binoculars and settle into my hammock.

I notice the sun getting lower in the sky. Savor the lingering warmth. Appreciate the pointy tips of the fir trees. Very briefly consider opening my kindle and doing some reading. Do not open my kindle. Feel the breeze on my cheeks. Am aware of the quietness of my breathing; of the way my chest rises and falls. Compare the blue of this particular sky to the blue of other skies. Hear a bird calling. See that the sun is about to dip out of sight. Watch the sky change color near the horizon—yellow, orange, a deeper blue. Welcome a bright planet as she appears low in the sky, then a faint star high overhead. Join the star party as more and more show up. Start to feel chilled. Realize I’ve spent three hours doing nothing. And it was time well spent.

I awake at first light and emerge from my tent, eager to see whether one of my favorite Boundary Waters phenomena—Mist on a Still Lake at Dawn—is in effect. It is, sort of. Way off across the lake. And I turn into a petulant three-year-old, nearly stomping my foot, the voice in my head saying “I want the mist HERE!!!” and the grown-up voice calmly responding, “Well then, why don’t you GO to the mist?” And with the gleeful realization that I can do just that, I skip down to the canoe, hop in, and paddle to the mist. Oh, what a lovely hour I spend, feeling the chill of the damp air on my skin, drinking in the near-full moon floating in the sky, watching the rising sun appear like a bonfire.

Back at camp I once again boil water (this time for tea and instant oatmeal; I am truly loving not having to wash dishes!), then pack a lunch (cheese, crackers, and salami) and go paddling some more. It is another perfect day of mid-70s, sunshine, and light winds. I chat for a bit with a couple camping around the bend from me, pulling up to their shore to get some love from their golden retriever, Grace. I meander past islands, getting out to hike around one with passable trails, and eat lunch at an empty campsite.

I return to my site mid-afternoon and go for a swim in the chilly water, then stretch out to dry on a sunny rock and nearly fall asleep. Rousing myself, I consider my options for what to do next. I’ve sometimes wondered how wild animals—squirrels, for example (or even my dog, for that matter)—decide how to spend their day. I presume they don’t consciously plan. And yet… do they operate purely on instinct? Or is it something in between?

I check in with my mammalian self, and discern what’s pulling me. Another walk! So I head on foot toward the portage, again grateful for the semblance of a trail, and do some boulder-hopping over the lake outlet to get there, pausing for a time to enjoy the sound of running water. The portage is short, but still makes for a sweet little out-and-back, especially as I’m unencumbered by canoe or gear.

I return to my campsite hungry, and once again dine unfashionably early. Then into the hammock I go, this time reading for a good while before welcoming that first luminous evening planet.

The next morning dawns cloudy and still. I decide to paddle back to the put-in to retrieve something I’d forgotten in my car. I only entertain doing this because I heard the day before that there’s a way to get into Lake One without doing any portages, and I’m eager to check out that option. So off I go, raingear at the ready. All along the way the shore is reflected in the water so perfectly that I have moments of near-vertigo, losing track of where land and water stop and start. A loud slap and a disappearing tail tells me I’ve startled a beaver. I wait a moment until he reappears, little ripples bunching up in front of his face as he swims to shore.

I’m back at camp within two hours, arriving just as it starts to rain. I shelter briefly in the vestibule of my tent, but am feeling antsy to move to the appealing campsite I’d passed earlier, worried it might get taken by others. As soon as the rain lightens I quickly pack up and head out, and am relieved to find my new site unoccupied. There’s a break in the rain just long enough for me to get set up and have breakfast. As I’m rinsing out my oatmeal bowl it starts up again, so I crawl into my tent and sleeping bag, read for maybe 10 minutes, and fall happily to sleep. I wake periodically, appreciating the sound of the rain on my snug, waterproof tent, then drift off again. This goes on for several hours, until I’m well rested and the rain stops for good.

Because I had a late breakfast and slept through lunch, I once more have an early dinner. A family with young children is camping within earshot. Their entertaining chatter includes lots of “Daddy, look at this!” and curiously, “One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two, one two, one-two …” How lucky those kids are, to grow up in a family that values wilderness experiences.

I set up my camp chair on a rock that juts into the water and do a little writing in my journal. The retreating clouds create lovely skyscapes, their reflections in the water equally beautiful.

The temperature is quickly dropping. I keep adding layers until I’m wearing nearly everything I brought, including long underwear, two fleeces, a winter hat, and gloves.

I stay in my chair, alternating between reading and stargazing, until full dark.

I wake before first light and have breakfast by moonlight, savoring the absolute silence. It’s still early when I push off, gear loaded somewhat haphazardly, knowing I don’t have any portages on my way out. The wind kicks up as I paddle, and as I struggle to keep a straight course I see a head pop out of the water a little ways off, then another, and another. Otters! One of them, head tilted back, chews with relish some tasty morsel, arcs out of the water, and dives back in. All three tussle and play, disappearing underwater, then bobbing again to the surface in a new spot. I set my paddle down and let the wind have its way with the canoe as I twist around to keep an eye on the fun.

The otters’ course takes them in the opposite direction to mine, so I carry on and eventually pull into the landing. Several parties are loading up for departure, including a couple with a dog and a 2-year-old. They tell me it’s their son’s first trip to the Boundary Waters; from the fresh, outdoorsy look of them, I suspect it won’t be his last. They offer help lifting my canoe onto my car, and I gratefully accept. It’s not lost on me that my first-ever solo BWCA trip included plenty of interactions with and help from others; a reminder that even when doing things alone, I’m still connected to and can lean into a larger community.

I tell my husband on the drive home that I haven’t decided whether this was a one-time, check-it-off-the-bucket-list adventure, or whether it will become an annual event. Either way, I intend to continue looking for ways to step outside my comfort zone, taking things I already love and expanding them a bit. I may not be getting younger, but my life still has room to grow.

 

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Oceanography 3 – Mapping the Sea Floor Across the Atlantic Ocean

Before starting this lesson, I recommend that you do the previous lesson on the Features of the Sea Floor. To do that lesson go to: http://oldnaturalist.com/?p=11077

We can’t start mapping the seafloor across the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to France, until we know something about how sound travels in water.

key: 1. five times faster   2. approx. 4 seconds for the echo to be received

 

 

 

 

Download Ocean Floor Depth Chart which is shown below
Depth Chart

 

2. Double check the depths that you calculated using the key  at the end of the post.

3. Download both pages of the ocean floor graph shown in miniature  below:

Download page 1 and 2 of the Ocean Floor Graph which is shown above
Depth Graph page 1

Depth Graph page 2

3. Once all of the depths are calculated, plot the depths on the graph on the next two pages. The depths at 60°W, 55°W, and 50°W are already plotted on the graph.

Let’s plot the depth at 48°W together.

According to our depth chart the depth at 11,520 feet. Place a ruler across the graph at that depth. Find 48°W and make an imaginary vertical line to the ruler. Plot the point where the vertical line and ruler meet. Plot all of the remaining depths in this fashion.

4. Connect all of the points. The line that develops is a profile of the ocean floor from Nova Scotia to France.

5. Look at the graph and label the following topographic features of the ocean floor:

a. Continental Shelf
b. Continental Slope
c. Abyssal Plain
d. Ocean Ridge

6. In the space above the graph make a three dimensional sketch of the actual sea floor.

Key for the Activity:

Depth chart:

 

Ocean Floor Graph

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Oceanography Lesson 2 – Features of the Sea floor and Climate Change

Features of the Sea Floor

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

The sea floor has many unique features. The mid ocean ridges are undersea mountain ranges that extends 42,000 miles throughout the Earth. The ocean trenches form the deepest areas of the oceans. There are undersea volcanic peaks called seamounts.

The drawing below shows some of the distinct features of the mid ocean topography. There is a second page showing the undersea coastal features. Download both the mid ocean and coastal pages. 

Mid Ocean Topography

 Download Features of the ocean floor
Features of the Ocean Floor 1
Features of the Ocean Floor 2

So You Want to Be an Oceanographer

Read the descriptions below of the ocean floor and label the geologic features on your downloaded pages. Even better make your own drawing of the sea floor and label each of the features.

Features of the Ocean Floor

Abyssal plain – The abyssal plain begins at the base of the continental slope, usually at least 2 miles (10,000 feet) deep. Much of the ocean floor is abyssal plain. These plains form the ocean basins of the world.

Continental shelf – The continental shelf is the gradually sloping shelf (less than 400 feet deep) that extends from shore. The distance that the shelf may extend from shore varies greatly (10–100 miles). Sea life is abundant in this area. In fact, many of the great fishing grounds of the world are on the continental shelf.

Continental slope – The continental slope is that area in which the ocean floor plunges from the continental shelf to the deep sea abyssal plain. The drop-off can be significant, often more than 10,000 feet.

Estuary – An estuary is a salt-water bay that has a river emptying into it. Estuaries are important nursery areas for fish, shorebirds, and other sea animals to lay their eggs.

Guyot (guy ́-ot) – Guyots are flat-topped seamounts and also called tablemounts.

Island – Islands are the tops of ocean mountains that rise above the surface of the water. On the island of Hawaii, the twin peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea rise almost 14,000 feet above the sea. If you add in the depth of the adjacent sea floor (16,000 feet), these volcanic peaks, beginning at the ocean floor, are comparable in height to Mt. Everest.

Mid-ocean ridge – Mid-ocean ridges are undersea mountain ranges that extend approximately 42,000 miles and cover 23% of the Earth’s surface. This is the largest geological feature on the Earth, yet it was not explored extensively until the 1970s. The ridges occur where mantle material rises to the top of the Earth’s crust and spreads out to create a new ocean floor.

Ocean trench – Ocean trenches form the deepest areas of the oceans. The Mariana Trench is more than 7 miles deep. Many of the trenches are several hundred miles long and several miles wide. The ocean floor is very slowly disappearing into the ocean trenches, moving at a rate of approximately three inches per year.

Seamount – Seamounts are undersea volcanic peaks that are not part of an undersea mountain range. The top of a seamount forms a cone.

A Trip to the Ocean Floor  –   A Guided Imagery

Take a journey in your mind into the oceans and explore the ocean floor. Swim through the breakers of a sandy beach and move to the edge of the continental shelf. Think about the steepest drop-off that you can imagine (mountain or building) and know that it is a short drop compared to this one. From the edge of the continental shelf to the floor of the abyssal plain it is over two miles—or greater than eight Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. You slowly swim down the continental slope to 10,000 feet deep. The pressure is enormous on your body. But it doesn’t bother you today.

It is dark in the abyss, but somehow you can see. You can see the great abyssal plain that stretches for hundreds of miles. You quickly move across the plain and can see the mid-ocean ridge, a huge mountain range that rises up above the plain. Most of the mountains in the mid-ocean ridge rise over 6,000 feet above the plain, but some of them are so huge that they rise above the water and form an island. You follow one of the tall ridges to the surface, then sink back to the depths. Along the mid- ocean ridge you find the place where the sea floor is being formed from molten lava. You can feel the heat because this lava is coming from below the ocean floor, in the mantle of the Earth itself. Just for a moment you imagine going into the core of the Earth.

Continuing your journey across the ocean, you leave the mid-ocean ridge and drop into another abyssal plain. It stretches a great distance, like a barren desert. At the far edge of the desert you see a huge canyon, called an ocean trench, that is over fifty miles wide and hundreds of miles long. You float above the ledge that leads into the ocean trench, the deepest of the ocean’s deep. As you swim down three miles beneath the surface… four …. five …….six……. seven miles, the pressure continues to build. Under normal circumstances you would be crushed, but not today. Finally you reach the bottom of the trench, it is a dark and lifeless place. As you swim upward, you can feel the pressure lessen on your body.

Finally you come to the edge of the continental slope on the other side of the ocean and can see it rise towards the surface. As you move up the edge of the slope, you start to see light above you. You continue swimming until you reach the surface of the water. Open your eyes, your journey is over.

Conservation Issues

 Climate Change and Global Warming

Global warming is caused by excessive amounts of pollution (mostly CO2) in our atmosphere. Under normal conditions some of the heat from the sun is absorbed by the Earth, but most is reflected back into space through the atmosphere. When excessive amounts of CO2 and pollutants enter the Earth’s atmosphere less of the sun’s heat is able to escape and more is redirected back to Earth, causing global temperatures to rise.

If the Global Warming increases too much in the future, the average temperature of the Earth might rise as much as 10°F.  Drought, hurricanes, forest fires and extreme temperatures are what we call Climate Change. We are seeing the effects of Climate Change throughout the world. Also, the rise in temperature might cause melting of the polar ice caps. When this happens, sea level will rise and flood most of the cities located on the coasts, including New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The average person can do a lot to reduce this problem. The burning of fossil fuels (oil and gas) at power plants and in automobiles is a primary cause of global warming and climate change. Individuals can conserve energy by reducing electrical usage in their homes, buying fuel-efficient automobiles, car-pooling, and using mass transit. Planting trees is another important activity that will help reduce Global Warming and Climate Change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the air, and thus reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

What Is Your Carbon Debt?

Every year humans are putting larger and larger amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by driving automobiles. Living plants that absorb CO2 cannot process the amount of carbon that is being emitted into the air. To deal with this carbon debt, there is a growing conservation movement to plant more trees on our planet.

Download the following worksheet  to determine how many trees you should plant to pay your family’s carbon debt for their automobile. The trees may be planted over several years since they will continue to remove CO2 from the air for over a hundred years.

Download “What is your Carbon Debt?”

What is Your Carbon Debt?

Key for Features of the Ocean Floor

Features of the Ocean Floor 1 key
Features of the Ocean Floor 2 key

Example for “What is Your Carbon Debt?”
Example – What is your Carbon Debt?

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Oceanography Lesson 1 – Pangaea and Plate Tectonics

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

The Earth itself has many stories to tell because it is always changing. One of the stories has to with the continent known as Pangaea. The Earth has not always looked the  way it does now, with all of its beautifully shaped continents.

So you want to be an Oceanographer

1. Download the cutout pages  6 & 7 below to build the supercontinent of Pangaea. Use the mid ocean ridge as a guide, since many continents broke apart along it. [Hint: start with Africa and add South America.]

  1. If you have an Oceanographic Map, find the Mid-Ocean Ridge on the oceanographic map and show students how the continents have spread apart over the past 180 million years.
  2. Have students put a title on page 7 “Pangaea”

4 Students can cut out the continents  by their general outline or put a continent underneath the page 7 in the correct location and trace it.

  1. Show the students how Greenland, North America and South America are to the West of the Mid Ocean Ridge today, so they must have begun “hugging” the west side of the Mid Ocean Ridge. The same is true of Africa and Eurasia, only they are to the East of the Mid Ocean Ridge.
  2. Start by showing where Africa goes and make an arrow showing the direction Africa moves in (page 9).
  3. Place South America , North America, Eurasia, and Greenland. Show the direction that each continent is moving (page 9) and make sure that the continents are placed on the correct side of the Mid Ocean Ridge. When they are drawn or taped in, have them use a black marker and show where the Mid Ocean Ridge is in relation to the continents.
  4. Put in India and show how it moved northward and literally crashed into Eurasia – forming the Himalayan Mountain Range. It is still pushing into Eurasia today and causing the mountains to grow higher
  5. Put in Antarctica and Australia south of the Mid Ocean Ridge and show the direction they both traveled.

Student Cutout Pages

Page 6

Page 7

Download Student Pages 6 & 7

page 6
page 7

Page 9    Shows the direction that the plates are moving

Finished Student page

To view the entire Whales in the Classroom curriculum go to:

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Cierva Cove, Antarctica

Photos and text by Jane Ball. Jane is a frequent contributor to the Old Naturalist. She has traveled the Earth and is a true guardian of our Planet.

Humpback Spyhop
Photo by Jane Ball

To me, Cierva Cove in Antarctica is one of the truly magical places on Earth. I have been there twice. The first time, in 2016, the glistening serenity of the water and the sky and the partnership of the icebergs and the clouds all blending together lifted the spirit of the place and made it tangible. Being there was like floating in the ether. There I saw my first beautiful floating berg of rare black ice.

Black Ice
Photo by Jane Ball

My second trip was in 2017. January 9, 2017, was my friend’s 70th birthday. For her birthday, she wanted to go to Antarctica, so I happily went again. On January 9, our boat pulled into Cierva Cove so that the guests could have a few hours in Zodiacs investigating whatever we found in the Cove. The Cove was filled with icebergs, as it usually is, and plenty of big flaky snowflakes filled the air.

What we didn’t know was that at that time, the waters of the Cove were also apparently filled with krill. Krill are tiny crustaceans and are a keystone species and essential food source for most marine species in Antarctica and around the world, including whales, seals, penguins, and various birds. Krill populations are declining in many areas which is cause for concern. But this day, they were providing a feast for dozens of humpback whales.

Eight or so Zodiacs were loaded with guests and spread out in the Cove, along with a half dozen kayaks. As we were bobbing in the water, getting our bearings and excited to see a whale in the distance, a humpback surprised us with a spyhop right in our midst, I suppose taking a minute to check out all the new flotsam in the water. From that point, the game was on!

Two Humpbacks  surfacing beside a kayak and Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball

 

The captain and crew stopped their duties to stand on deck and whoop and point. The people in the Zodiacs and kayaks tried to be everywhere at once. There was something exciting to see in every direction.

With Icebergs on the horizon, another humpback alongside a Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball

Two humpbacks lunge feeding.
Photo by Jane Ball

At one point I was furious because everyone in my Zodiac was standing up between me and a lunge feeding whale that I could hardly see. The next minute I was hanging over the side, watching a whale come directly at me and dive just before it reached the Zodiac.

Humpback fluking-up close to the Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball

All the while, a heavy snowfall gave an otherworldly feel to what was already an action-packed and thrilling experience, my camera alternately focusing on the whales and the snowflakes. Dozens of birds surrounded the feeding whales, getting their portion of the feast.

Humpbacks and Gulls
Photo by Jane Ball

 

Gulls feasting
Photo by Jane Ball

 

Even a raft of penguins swam next to us.  So much life! and all because of the tiny krill.”

Gentoo Penguins
Photo by Jane Ball

I’m told we were out for over three hours, but to me it seemed like 10 minutes. The crew said they had never seen anything like it and that there were at least 50 whales. If I could have stopped time, I think I’d be there still.

For more of my images of  Antarctica go to:
https://janeballphotography.com/product-category/antarctica/.

The Ethereal World of Antarctica
Photo by Jane Ball

 

 

 

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art, Whales & Oceanography | 6 Comments

Open Ocean Odysseys

Readers Robert Pitman, James Cotton, Diane Kaplan, Jen and Jordan Ganley share their stories about being at sea.

A sperm whale swimming away from the ship. The blowhole is at the upper left hand corner of the photo.
Photo by James M. Cotton, NMFS

Mom’s the Word
Robert Pitman, Whale Biologist, NMFS
I was aboard a Japanese research vessel and we approached a pod of sperm whales. The adult females were 30 to 35 feet long, lying side-by-side and moving slowly away from our vessel.
We had cut the engines and just by chance our vessel glided to a stop where the group had reassembled. Just as we were getting ready to leave, we noticed for the first time that there was a newborn calf in their midst.

Our tiny calf was spasmatically flailing at the sea surface with a tail it clearly had not gotten the hang of yet. It looked like a newborn fawn trying to get up on wobbly legs for the first time.

Sperm Whale cow and calf.
Photo by James M. Cotton, NMFS

Then, an utterly miraculous thing happened. One of the females appeared to suddenly become aware that the struggling calf was positioned between her and the ship only meters away. She dropped her massive lower jaw, carefully took up the calf in her mouth, and rolled over, depositing it on her other side, putting herself between the boat and the baby!

There was stunned silence onboard our vessel. Everyone on the boat had connected to what just happened: a concerned mother had, without a moment’s hesitation, put herself between her young and a perceived threat. I was standing on the bow and immediately swung around to see everyone on our little expedition staring at the water, visibly shaken. We engaged our engines and slowly pulled away.

 

 

Green Sea Turtle
Photo by Lawrence Wade

 

In 2018, I was honored to visit the Galapagos which are truly enchanted islands.  Often I felt like I was walking in a dream and wondering whether the experience was real. Being so close to this beautiful green sea turtle was the high point of my snorkeling experience.

Lawrence Wade

Dancing with a Green Sea Turtle
Floating together
Back and forth with the surge
Experiencing wonder
Such beauty and wildness
Never to be forgotten

Contributor Alex Munoz contributed the following story:
I once had encounter with a large sea turtle, It’s back was green with a light undercoat, I was swimming 100 ft from shore at the pier in Ventura, California. We swam together for about 5 minutes, I was astonished at how graceful it was and huge in comparison to  myself at age 17. An experience I have never forgotten.

 

 

Whale Shark Photo by

Video by Jen Ganley

This video is from the Sea of Cortez, Baja California and was shared by Diane Kaplan, Jen and Jordan Ganley.
“I felt excited to swim with the whale shark. It was humongous and I thought was it going to suck me up.” Jordan Ganley, 7 years old.
“All my fears disappeared when I saw how gentle the creature was.  The animal was so HUGE under the water.”  Jen Ganley.
“I had to swim on the side of the whale shark and keep up with it because  it could slam me with its tail. My entire body felt this intense calmness and excitement all at once. The whale shark was so powerful and calm. The whale shark  was on some level connecting with me.  It allowed me to share its presence like I was another fish. The whale shark touched me deeply and I felt at ease with it.”  Diane Kaplan

 

 

Humpback Whale Breaching. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Photo by Jen Ganley

“Getting to see these majestic, gentle creatures breaching was incredible. Of course, I know that whales are huge, but it wasn’t until they breached that I got a real sense of their size.”  Jen Ganley

Humpback whale splash after breach.
Photo by Jen Ganley

Diane Kaplan’s observation of  the humpback whale’s breach:
“It is impossible not feeling the powerful energy that emanates from Humpback Whales.  When you are close and they breach the full size and power of them is amazing.  Everybody always gasps and “oohs and ahhs” when their bodies slam against the water.  Tremendous gift.”

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Whales & Oceanography | 5 Comments

The Beauty and Value of Fungus in a Forest Ecosystem

A fungus photo essay by Jen Ganley who is from New England; Janine Pung who is from Minnesota; and Jim Cotton from Redwood country, Northern California; Maria Montero, from Minnesota. Thanks to Ron Spinosa of the Minnesota Mycological Society for identifying the fungus.

Purple Crust Fungus            Phlebiopsis crassa
Photo by Jen Ganley

When most of us think of fungus, we think of mushrooms sprouting out of the ground. A mushroom is actually the “fruit” of the fungus. Most of a fungus grows underground and is a large network of tiny threads called “mycelium” that intertwine with trees.

American Caesar’s Mushroom, Amanita Jacksonii
photo by Jen Ganley

This attractive mushroom is found in hardwood forests of New England. Most types of Amanita are highly poisonous, whereas this one is edible. It is a close relative of Caesar’s Mushroom, which grows in Italy, was a favorite of the emperors of the Roman Empire. The mushroom has a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees.

How large can a fungus get? The largest known underground fungal network in the world is a honey fungus in Oregon that measures over 3 miles across.

 

Tremella foliacea.
Photo by Jen Ganley

Jelly fungus is usually found growing on fallen logs or stumps of trees in deciduous forests.

In a healthy forest, trees are inter-connected with other trees by the fungus’s mycelium network. The mycelium allow trees to share water and nutrients.

Violet Cortinarius
Photo by Jen Ganley

 

The Violet Cort emerges after a fall rain. As the fungus grows, its brilliant color fades.

The future of our forests may depend more upon what is beneath the ground rather than above. Most trees have underground fungal partners that channel water and minerals from the soil into trees. In exchange trees supply the fungus with energy-rich sugars from photosynthesis.

Laetiporus sulfphureus
Photo by Jen Ganley

Giant Puffball
Photo by Jen Ganley

Giant Puffballs feed on decaying organic material and are always found growing on the ground rather than on a tree. As the puffball ages, it turns brown and releases its spores. The spores were used by Native Americans to treat bleeding and prevent infection. The largest puffball on record was 59 inches around.

Honey Fungus
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Some species of Honey Fungus are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark.

Amanita muscaria guessowii emerging from the ground
Photo by Jen Ganley

 

Amanita Muscaria Guessowii fully grown
Photo by Jen Ganley

Amanita is one of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world. The mushroom is featured in the video game “Super Mario Brothers”and in the movie “Fantasia”. It is  highly toxic if ingested. It has a symbiotic relationship with various types of trees. It sends nutrients into the tree’s roots and receives sugars from the tree’s photosynthesis .

Jack o Lantern
Photo by Janine Pung

 We saw the Jack o Lantern on August 14 at Minnewashta Park.  I remember we both thought it was kind of surreal or “other worldly-looking”.  It had a unique energy.
Janine Pung

I was with Janine and we saw a few clumps growing in a hardwood forest. The Jack O Lantern is poisonous and is said to glow in the dark, thus its name, “Jack O Lantern”.
Lawrence Wade

Indian Pipe
Photo by Janine Pung

Whenever I see an Indian Pipe in the woods, my first reaction is, “What’s that?”. Lawrence Wade

Indian Pipes are not actually mushrooms but a unique form of plant also known as the “ghost plant”. It grows in the shade and lacks chlorophyll, thus it has a pale color. Since it is not able to photosynthesize, it “steals” nutrients from the mycelia of fungus who are interconnected to the roots of trees.

Laetiporus cincinnatus
Photo by Janine Pung

The “Chicken in the Woods”  is not only colorful, but a culinary favorite of mushroom hunters. It can be found growing on the base of dead or dying hardwood trees.

Photo by James Cotton

Loved the color variation and Redwood habitat.  James Cotton

Tetrapyrgos nigripes.
Photo by James Cotton

Really like the architecture with nature’s skylight. James Cotton

Mycena sp.
Photo by James Cotton

So tiny and delicate.  Another micro world that is so easily passed over.  A reminder to slow down and take it all in.  James Cotton

Amanita Muscaria
Photo by James Cotton

Like Gondwana land the white surface fragments of the cap breakup into other patterns as the cap evolves.  Startlingly beautiful coloration! Perhaps a cautionary signal not to eat.  James Cotton

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Upper Pennisula MI.
Photo by Maria Montero

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Upper Pennisula MI.
Photo by Maria Montero

Contributor, Cindy Eyden shared the following link: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other

https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/the-wood-wide-web-how-trees-secretly-talk-to-and-share-with-each-other?fbclid=IwAR0b-csElpHQ4PD7llPbtW74Tfcd2IbJdB2opnR9rXkN6iQoVlQHcYP7hWQ

 

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

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