Salt and Sex Changes?

Here’s an interesting article about how something as simple as road salt is upsetting frog populations in the US.

Courtesy of Tree Hugger, Creative Commons

Courtesy of Tree Hugger, Creative Commons


A tidbit

I know I’ve been away from this blog for too long and I’m slowly working on some new content…but in the mean time I’ll post some things by others to keep the embers glowing.

Here’s some good news from the Good News Network about the kings of the lepidoptera.


Courtesy Creative Commons and the Fish and Wildlife Service

Courtesy Creative Commons and the Fish and Wildlife Service

I Resolve…

Most dictionaries (I haven’t checked them all) state that “resolve,” among other things, indicates  making a firm decision about something.  It comes from a Latin word for paying a debt.  So, to make a resolution, to resolve to do something is, by definition, something serious.  Not, as seems to be the annual custom, to make a claim for a change and then drop it by the third week of January.

Make 2015 (Where are our rocketpacks, by the way?) the year you learn the names of three trees in your neighborhood.  Perhaps even go the extra step by differentiating more than “that maple over there” to “See that black/red/sugar/Norway maple?”

Good ol' Calvin and Hobbes

Good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes

Aim for two or three herbaceous plants.  How about identifying those three birds you always see, but don’t know what they are called?  Insects and arachnids–what are they exactly?

Whatever goals you might set, make them achievable–saying you’re going to know all the plants in your yard by December might be too lofty–or maybe not.

Visit some new areas in your community; observe what problems may exist.  Is it in your power to effect a positive change?  Our duties go far beyond entering a voting booth.  Let this be the year.

Resolve to love your community, the ecosystem you inhabit and are already embedded in.

Lakeport State Park, MI

Let me end with an excerpt from farmer and writer Joel Salatin’s essay “Healing” found in The CAFO Reader, a book I recommend if your interests lie in ag issues.

For the first time in human history, people can move into a community, hook a water pipe into one coming in, the sewage pipe into one going out, buy food at the Wal-Mart from unknown sources, flick on a light switch for energy from who knows where, and build a house out of materials covered in bar codes from Home Depot.  We don’t have to know the local ecology, economy, society, climate, agriculture, or anything.  Just hook up.  Such a noninvolved existence inherently breeds contempt for the community that sustains our existence: physical, spiritual, mental.  Respecting our humanness requires that we respect–by appreciating our codependence on–that community of air, water, plants, animals, soil, and microbes.

What do you resolve to learn to love in 2015?  Leave a comment.


Why Some Immigrants Deserve Capital Punishment

ImageThis month’s challenge is something near and (deathly) dear to my heart: the eradication of invasive species.  One reason to get to know what belongs in your ecosystem is so that you can help keep out that which doesn’t belong.  Obviously, if you are ignorant of the natives, you won’t recognize the aliens which will inevitably arrive.

So, here’s the thing, organisms move, deliberately and accidentally, all the time.  When said organism arrives in a new landscape it will try to fit in and survive.  Some do, some don’t.  Some that do survive can be benign, like honeybees, or some can cause severe problems like garlic mustard or zebra mussels.  These invasions have been happening since probably the beginning of life on Earth, but people have, at times, accelerated or worsened invasions (look up pythons in Florida for starters).

Once a foreign creature establishes a population, the problems begin, though we humans won’t notice it for some time.  Again, some organisms are relatively benign, these are alien or exotic species, they can exploit a niche without much damage or displacement, much like most of our agricultural products or perhaps horses (as usual, I’m speaking from a North American perspective–see the working home page tab).  Then there are the invasives.  These are the plants and animals that not only survive but tend to crowd out and kill the natives and completely disrupt or destroy the ecosystem for which they were given a green card.  They can do this because they generally have no predators keeping the population in check.  No diseases to hold back their numbers; no reason not to survive and thrive, multiply and subdue. 

Every state in the United States has some invasive species.  Some more than others.  Florida and Hawaii have the most.  Here in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes we have over 183.  Some of the worst offenders in SE Michigan are garlic mustard (pictured above), common and glossy buckthorn, several varieties of honeysuckle, autumn olive, zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian milfoil, the emerald ash borer (which has killed nearly every single ash tree in lower Michigan and upper Ohio), and several more. 

This is where all your “training” comes in: if you’ve been a faithful reader and and DO-er of the word rather than just a reader, then you should have some sense of what belongs in your ecosystem.  Plants are probably the easiest to identify since they don’t move much, but perhaps some insects, birds, amphibians (the bullfrog, native to Michigan, is an invasive in California), reptiles, and mammals truly don’t belong in your yard or neighborhood.  Pigeons, or rock doves, are a start, but good luck trying to eradicate them.  No, you’re better off with plants.  Check with a university extension office in your area, or your department of natural resources, to learn what might be setting up illegal areas of employment and reproduction in your area.  If you find some unwelcome immigrants (in some cases, many invasives are illegal to possess or transport in your area) call the authorities or better yet take the law into your own hands: kill them, without quarter.  Though you should find out first if it is even safe to handle the alien.

Here are several resources (for Michigan or the midwest) that are well worth the price: My favorite is (with its verbose title) A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities, Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest, and for a more expansive view, Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants.

Seek and ye shall find, then kill, kill, kill!ImageTeasel: interesting in appearance, but it doesn’t belong in Michigan


ImageAutum olive berries: they’re like Doritos for migratory birds.  Try to run a half-marathon powered only by Doritos.  Tell me how well you did.

How to make love to a naked tree

I know, I know, I stooped to such a base level to get your attention, but it’s worked hasn’t it?  The title isn’t that far off from what this month’s challenge is.  In the verdant seasons, tree identification is much easier.  After all, deciduous trees are covered with their solar panels, namely leaves.  In these northern climes, those trees undress and bask nakedly from November through March.

So, how does one identify skeletal trees?  Well, the easy way is to ID them during the growing season, IMG_0166but that doesn’t help in February, now does it?  The first step I would suggest is to just walk around.  Carefully observe bark patterns and texture.  For instance, some say sugar maples have “peanut butter valleys.”  These would be light brown vertical striations between plates of bark.  Black cherry trees appear to have “burnt-potato-chip bark.”

Notice the shape the branches form: is it roundish? tall and narrow?  irregular?  Simply looking with intent at trees is going to acclimate your eyes to patterns that exist all around your neighborhood.

The second way (and for full disclosure I use it all the time) is to use a guide much like this one.  A guide like this one moves you to attend to branches and bark, since the easiest identifier has gone missing.

It does take more effort to ID trees in the winter, especially mature trees which don’t have branches close to your level for examination.  Still, with some effort it can be done.

So, take a walk outside–the fresh air is invigorating–and ogle some naked trees.  You’ll be surprised at what you might learn. IMG_0290

Challenge #6 Winter: answered

We had a rather short, but warm stretch this week with a record breaking day at 60 degrees, but the snow and cold are comfortably ensconced once again.  The regular winter inhabitants in these parts of SE Michigan include tufted titmice, juncos, nuthatches, cardinals, hairy, downy, and red-breasted woodpeckers, fox and gray squirrels, and probably rabbits and raccoons, but I haven’t spotted any of those recently.  The cold limits the variety, but it’s still there, for those with eyes to see.  Have your oaks and beech trees lost their last shreds of leafy dignity?  My beech still clings to a few.  What’s winter like where you live?