W. Brooks Paternotte | WYPR

W. Brooks Paternotte

Host, The Nature of Things

W. Brooks Paternotte took the helm of Irvine Nature Center as executive director in July 2013 and immediately began building on the strong 35-year foundation.  Brooks is a Baltimore native who was a teacher, coach, advisor, dean and Head of the Middle School during his 13 years at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore.  He is also an instructor and ambassador of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and is a Leave No Trace Master, as well as an avid outdoorsman and a features writer for FlyLife Magazine.

Ways to Connect

Fermentation

Nov 15, 2017

One of my favorite ways to unwind after work is sitting on my deck and enjoying a fermented beverage. Okay, I’ll admit, fermented beverage is just a fancy way to describe beer, and I might be stretching it a bit when I try to convince my wife that beer is good for you. But, fermented foods and drinks DO provide us with many health benefits and some types of fermented foods can even aide in digestion. 

Jay Sturner/flickr

I’ve noticed on my drive to work that the leaves are starting to turn bright red and orange. It makes me happy to know that my favorite season has finally arrived. But, did you know that for some animals, this time of year can be dangerous?  As we approach colder days, white-tailed deer will cross the road in search of food or a mate, making them vulnerable to car strikes. This is made worse by the fact that deer are naturally more active during the late evening and early morning, when there is less light. Drivers should take extra precaution during deer mating season as a car accident can be dangerous to both the deer and humans.

Black Bears

Nov 2, 2017
www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/bear_safety.htm

Every Halloween when I was a kid, my dad used to tell me a story about a big growling beast who terrorized families after dark. The beast would roam neighborhoods at night searching for a tasty treat, knocking over garbage cans and ripping through any bags left behind from trick or treaters. My heart would race as he described the beast; 600 pounds, covered in black fur with sharp teeth. I shivered and pulled the covers up closer around my shoulders as I envisioned the beast standing on its hind legs reaching my bedroom window and growling at me.

It would be a few years later during a camping trip to Shenandoah when I would see “the beast” for the first time.  My dad and I were about a mile into a hike when he abruptly stopped and put his finger to his lips, motioning for me to be silent. A hundred yards ahead of us off the trail was an adult black bear.

Brian Ralphs/flickr

I consider myself to be an experienced fisherman. I spent most of my childhood with a fishing rod in my hands and I've braved extreme weather in hopes of catching that "legendary" fish. Occasionally, I will take my two children, Jack and Emma, to a nearby lake or pond where we spend all day casting lines. One day during a fishing expedition, we ran into some serious competition. Our challenger had long, skinny legs, a graceful neck, and the ability to grab fish straight out of the water!

Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

One of my family’s favorite places to vacation in the summer is the beach. We always enjoy exploring the beach and seeing the wildlife that lives there. I love watching the sandpipers poke in the sand for insects in between the waves crashing on the shore. However, recently we’ve noticed new hotels, parking lots, and buildings popping up around our favorite beach town and it made me wonder how much we're losing in return. 

Edible Plants

Oct 12, 2017
Chris Luczkow/flickr

My kids used to gather a bucket full of plants and twigs they foraged from our backyard and offer it to me and my wife as “soup.” While most of those ingredients were inedible, you’d be surprised how many were edible and rich in vitamins and minerals! Their favorite food to serve, and most easily harvested, was Dandelions. I can remember the shock on their faces when I put the whole thing, stem and flower, in my mouth, chewed and then swallowed.

Goldenrod

Oct 3, 2017
Friends of the Prairie Learning Center and Neal Smith NWR/flickr

The end of summer is often announced by the arrival of Goldenrod, the yellow clusters of tall stemmed flowers popping up everywhere. If you’re like me, you dread this change of season not because of the colder weather settling in but because of the dreadful allergies it brings with it. My son and I both suffer from seasonal allergies and this time of year can be the worst. Our sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and itching was thought to be a result of those yellow flowers we’ve seen sprouting up everywhere. However, while Goldenrod does produce pollen, it is falsely accused of your seasonal suffering.

Killdeer

Sep 28, 2017
Becky Matsubara/flickr

Last spring, our Nature Preschool class thought they found an injured bird while exploring the property. The bird, who had two black bands across its white chest, was fluttering on the ground with what appeared to be a broken wing. What the students didn’t realize is that they were actually witnessing a great performance. . .

Canada Geese

Sep 19, 2017
SHAWN NYSTRAND/FLICKR

You might be able to ignore the increasing amounts of leaves falling from trees, or the suddenly sinking nighttime temperatures. But when you hear the noisy, distinctive honking of a v-shaped flock of Canada geese as they migrate above you, there is no denying that autumn has arrived. 

Mint

Sep 14, 2017
JAMES JARDINE/FLICKR

Over the weekend, my daughter Emma and I picked a posy of flowers for her mom. I was helping her tie a ribbon around the bunch when Emma stopped to pulled one green stalk out from the tiny bunch. She eyed the base of the stem curiously.

“This one’s square,” she told me, looking puzzled.

I took the greenery from her hands to confirm. She was right – though my expectation was for the stem to be round, this one was very clearly square. It had simple leaves that were opposite each other and smelled divine. We went straight to a plant book for some answers. In it, we learned quickly that if you pick a plant with a distinctly square stalk, then it is very likely a member of the mint family.

MIKE KEELING/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

 

When children visit Irvine’s exhibit hall, they are often most excited to see our lively snakes. They can meet any of the 4 species of native snakes we have, from the corn snake to the leucistic black rat snake. Immediately, these kids step forward and want to get up close. And they have so many questions: “How big does it get? What does it eat? Where does it live? What animals eat it?”

But when adults visit, they often see a snake and quickly take one big step back. And they only have one question: “Is it poisonous?”

Of Maryland’s 27 species of snakes, only 2 are dangerous. But none are poisonous. Not one. And worldwide, few slithering species are poisonous. That’s because the small, select group of non-constrictor snakes that are dangerous are venomous, not poisonous. And it’s an important difference.

Dragonflies

Aug 29, 2017
David Heise/flickr

Flying insects are usually annoying. Mosquitoes can bite, leaving itchy red welts. Bees and wasps can sting. Flies are quick to invade your meal at a picnic. But there’s something really magical about dragonflies.

Barred Owl

Aug 22, 2017
Ralph Daily/flickr

The rich baritone hooting of my favorite owl species is a characteristic sound in our listening area, where breeding pairs often call back and forth to one another.

Bird enthusiasts quickly learn this easy-to-recognize rhythm with the mnemonic “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It is, all bird watchers will tell you, the sound of the magnificent barred owl.

 


We have long been fascinated with the history of the wild birds in our country, so we're excited to get writer and educator Margaret Barker in the studio for a conversation. Margaret is a Chesapeake Bay native with an interest in watching birds. She and her colleagues Paul Baicich and Carrol Henderson published a book called Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce and Conservation

Marsh Rabbits

Aug 9, 2017

A childhood friend of mine once sent me on an official snipe hunt. He lead me out into the woods with a set of ‘magic’ snipe-finding rocks and encouraged me to knock them together while I searched. I wandered around aimlessly for hours just to return to him laughing hysterically at my naiveté. There was no snipe, of course.

So when that same friend told me just last week that he’d seen something called a marsh rabbit swimming in Virginia, I instinctively believed he was ‘pulling my leg.’ I wasn’t even sure I should Google it, lest I realize it was another elaborate practical joke.

But it turns out that searching for information on marsh rabbits was no fool’s errand. They do exist! They do swim. And they even live in our Chesapeake Bay watershed!

Acid Pix/flickr

 

As elementary school students, we all learn that leaves contain a pigment called chlorophyll, which colors leaves green. And shortly after, we middle-school scientists usually discover that through a process called photosynthesis, plants can use chlorophyll and energy from the sun to turn carbon dioxide, water and minerals into food.

So it took me by surprise when a recent nature center visitor asked me if plants can eat anything else. “Are there,” he asked me earnestly, “other ways for plants to feed themselves?”

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is: yes.

On our planet, there is a diverse type of plants that have evolved a very different strategy than the one we learn about as children. These plants, alien as it may seem, can actually eat animals.

louie Daurio/flickr

One of the greatest things I have from my grandfather is a collection of wooden duck decoys. There are about a dozen different-sized, hand-carved duck pairs. My kids – who often visit my office where the decoys live on a bookcase – like to mismatch all the pairs, placing a bufflehead with a canvasback, a blue-winged teal with a common goldeneye. After the kids leave, I put all the pairs back together, and this time as I placed the male and female mallards side by side, I wondered: why is it that the male duck gets such elaborate, colorful plumage? While the female duck is nearly all light brown, and, frankly, rather drab? At a quick glance, these two look drastically dissimilar, and the untrained eye could think they were not the same species. 

It turns out that differences like these in the same animal species are known scientifically as “sexual dimorphism.” Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species, like the boy and girl mallard, exhibit different characteristics – beyond just the differences of their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals, insects, birds and even some plants.

This episode originally aired October 2016. 

Cicadas

Jul 19, 2017
WAYNE THUME/FLICKR

 

Sitting outside on my patio this weekend, my attempts at reading the Sunday paper were thwarted by an unmistakable, buzzsaw-like song.

I could hear, but not see, the culprit. With my kids at my heels, I ascended a nearby pine tree to pinpoint the noise and locate its source. Just a few limbs up, my son found a stout, one-inch long, black-and-green insect loudly calling out. My daughter knew it instantly. It was a cicada.

This episode originally aired August 2016. 

Red Foxes

Jul 11, 2017
ANTHONY ADAMS/FLICKR

 

There is a very clever animal that lives near my house. It’s so cunning, it knows to wait until my 3 Labradors are inside the house before coming onto my property. And it has a penchant for my chickens.

I could be quick to say that this fox has become my nemesis, with its maddening habit of sneaking in and stealing my egg layers. But the shrewdness with which this fox has outsmarted my chickens, my dogs and even me makes me hold his ingenuity and abilities in high regard.

Chris Luczkow/flickr

Flying insects are usually annoying. Mosquitoes can bite, leaving itchy red welts. Bees and wasps can sting. Flies are quick to invade your meal at a picnic. But there’s something really magical about dragonflies.

Brittany Lindsey

A snapping turtle's prehistoric appearance makes it an easy local species to identify. It's an impressive reptile with a large head and a strong, hooked beak that makes it resemble a toothless yet ferocious old man.

Glenn Euloth/Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most popular questions I overhear at Irvine’s comes from every age group. Our Nature Preschoolers ask it. High school-aged visitors on field trips ask it. Moms and dads coming in to hike the trails ask it. And then right on their heels, seniors from our area garden clubs ask it too.

What’s the difference between frogs and toads?

This episode aired in May 2016.

 

Butterflies

Jun 11, 2017

Butterflies of all kinds can be found flitting across our listening area’s woods, fields, yards and gardens. In fact, Maryland has more than 150 species of these winged wonders. Brooks wits down with Laura Soder, Irvine’s coordinator of its native Butterfly House, to chat about butterflies.

This episode originally aired in June 2016. 

The Nutria

Jun 6, 2017

 

With the exception of my kids after those messy, artificially flavored orange popsicles, there’s only one animal I can think of that has orange teeth. While some people might be turned off by this critter’s hairless, rat-like tail, it’s actually the teeth that stick with me.

The hooked, stubby, Tang-colored fangs protrude forward prominently. They are long, sharp and perfect for eating marsh plants.

And they belong to an animal called the nutria.

This segment aired July 2016. 

Box Turtles

May 30, 2017
Michael Mulqueen/Flickr

Driving on a quiet back road this Sunday, I rounded a slight curve and hit the brakes. In the middle of the road was a ball-cap-sized animal stranded near the double yellow line. I knew immediately it was a turtle in need.

This segment originally aired in June 2017.

Glenn Fleishman/flickr

 

Pollination is something that’s happening in the natural world 24 hours a day. Its ordinariness might be why we forget how vital it is to our everyday lives.

The transfer of pollen from the male part to the female part of a flowering plant is essential to life on earth, for without pollination we would not have enough food. Over 90 percent of all known flowering plants, and almost all fruits, vegetables and grains, require pollination to produce crops. And since one out of every three bites of food we eat each day requires pollination to make it to our plate, we are indebted to the creatures that perform this critical service.

This segment originally aired in August 2016. 

Ticks

May 17, 2017
Ted and Jen/flickr

 

There may be no bug creepier than a tick.

These sesame-seed-sized parasites crawl slowly and silently up our bodies, surround their mouth-parts in our skin, and then casually slurp their fill of our blood until their bodies expand like tiny water balloons.

So as you carefully pluck a tick from your skin, you may undoubtedly wonder: what purpose could they possibly serve? What good are ticks, exactly?

This episode originally aired on May 3, 2016.

Chesapeake Conservancy

I don’t watch a lot of TV. But I do watch a lot of animal webcams. And one of my favorites is the Chesapeake Conservancy’s osprey cam, which has had a lot of activity lately.

Mitchell Orr/Unsplash

 

On weekends, I love to play with my three, big Labrador retrievers. Homer, Fletcher and Violet are great dogs, and they live for the days when we’re all outside together. They get really excited when I hide a spoonful of peanut butter in our neighboring field. All three dogs sprint to see who can track it first. Other times, I’ll play “red rover” of sorts with signal sounds. And on hot summer days, I’ll offer them big ice blocks with frozen meat inside to encourage them to use their instincts to solve an icy puzzle. I call these games, “enrichment activities,” after the kinds of work I see Irvine’s animal care staff doing every day.

Enrichment activities improve the lives of animals in captivity. It’s a way for animal caretakers to encourage and stimulate natural behaviors in captive animals through sight, smell, taste, touch and interaction.

Zachary Bedrosian/Unsplash

With its intimidating yellow-eyed stare and deep hooting voice, the great horned owl is the quintessential owl of storybooks. In fact, one of my daughter’s favorite picture books was Jane Yolan’s timeless story Owl Moon, featuring a great horned owl with cat-like eyes and tall, earlike tufts.  

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