The Nature of Things | WYPR

The Nature of Things

Tuesday at 4:44 pm

The Nature of Things is a weekly broadcast about our area’s native flora and fauna, hosted by Irvine Nature Center’s Executive Director Brooks Paternotte.  At the start of each week, The Nature of Things offers an eco-friendly perspective on everything from our changing seasons to the sounds of our migrating birds to the plants invading our yards, fields and forests.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 4:44 pm. as Brooks inspires us all to explore, respect and protect nature.

Snowbirds

Jan 16, 2018
Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

One of my favorite parts of winter is the snowbirds. No, not the people who spend the cold months in Florida each year... I’m talking about the beautiful, artic birds like Tundra Swans, Snowy Owls, and Red Crossbills. Some of my most rewarding birdwatching has occurred in the winter months when bare trees and quiet parks create the perfect condition for seeing different species of birds.

Wood Frogs

Jan 9, 2018
Dave Huth/flickr

There’s a popular children’s movie, Frozen, that I have “watched” way too many times. It’s one of my children’s favorite movies and it is always on as soon as the first snow falls. In case you haven’t seen it, the main character has the ability to freeze people and objects with the wave of her hand. When we first watched it my son asked me “can people really be frozen?” I think he was disappointed to hear my answer, “no”. However, his curiosity did remind me of an animal who can freeze and thaw….a little brown frog who spends winter almost completely frozen, the Wood Frog.

leah/flickr

Brooks tells us about about our region's Southern flying squirrel!

Oysters

Dec 26, 2017
Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble Follow/flickr

Did you know there is a creature in the Chesapeake Bay that can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day? Perhaps one of the most iconic species in the Chesapeake, the eastern oyster, is an essential part of the bay’s ecosystem. Their powerful vacuum-like ability to filter large amounts of water helps create a balanced ecosystem where many species can thrive.

@MrTrashWheel/Twitter

Think about the last time it rained. Maybe you were cozy at home reading a book, or you took your kids outside to jump in puddles. For me, rain reminds me of a harsh reality – trash pollution. When it rains, I imagine the piles of garbage sitting on the side of the street and think about where it goes, and then I think of Mr. Trash Wheel. Since May 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected 1.4 million pounds of trash.

Wood Ducks

Dec 13, 2017
One Day Closer/flickr

Last week, while walking by the wetlands at Irvine, I saw a young male “dressed” elegantly and walking alongside the water. He wore chestnut on his body and iridescent green on top of his head.  A white collar extended along the side of his neck and a second one ran up each cheek. His bright red eyes glanced over at me as he descended into the water. Of course, this impressive attire wasn’t for my admiration. He was hoping to attract a female. This well-dressed creature is one of the most recognizable birds because of his decorative markings, and his scientific name, Aix Sponsa, echoes his beauty. The latin word “sponsa”, meaning betrothed, refers to this bird’s striking plumage as he appears to be dressed for a wedding. However, you probably know this dapper duck as a male wood duck.

Maple Syrup

Dec 6, 2017
Jason Dean/flickr

As I was leaving work a few days ago, I decided to take a walk around the property to enjoy what was left of the daylight. As the days get shorter and colder, I have to make an extra effort to get outdoors. I started to walk down the trail, pulling my hat on tightly and zipping my coat up close around my chin. As I walked past brightly colored red and orange trees, I thought about how just a week ago the leaves were still green. Although all trees have sap that can be used to make syrup, Maple trees have a higher sugar content than any other tree.  For this reason, the Sugar Maple is the primary tree used to make syrup, thus giving it its name, maple syrup.

MICHAEL BAMFORD/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

This past Thanksgiving I had turkey galore. And there was so much ham. Sausage for breakfast, I think. Some duck. Even bacon-wrapped venison at one point. I was quite the carnivore. But I’ve got nothing on one of our area’s hungriest carnivores and most efficient predators: the long-tailed weasel.

Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

A few days ago, one of our teachers pitched me an idea for a weekend program, something called “forest bathing.” I’ll admit I was skeptical at first as she listed the benefits promised by this Japanese practice: reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and increased mindfulness. How could “taking a bath” in the forest increase your well-being and how exactly does it work?

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. 

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.

 

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