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.

Snow Owls

Dec 20, 2016
Tony Hisgett

Just a few weeks ago, I got some exciting news.

Some colleagues, all enthusiastic birders, I.D.’d a snowy owl sitting atop the Bay Bridge on the second to last lane signal on the eastbound span. It’s still early in the season, but this unusual visit could mean another year of these unmistakable, rare white owls visiting our shores.

Ravens

Dec 13, 2016
NH53/flickr

Everyone knows of Edgar Allen Poe’s darkest and most well-known poem, The Raven. And you’d be right to suspect that his inspiration came from a real, live bird. The illustrious avian Poe encountered had an excellent vocabulary, in fact, and it did set the ground work for the author’s macabre storytelling. The bird Poe met, however, belonged to his contemporary, Charles Dickens, and was a family pet.

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.

Weasels

Nov 29, 2016
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.

Woolly Bear

Nov 22, 2016
Juanita Demchak/Flickr Creative Commons

On an autumn walk through Schooley Mill Park in Howard County, I really had to watch my step. Every few feet or so, my well-worn hiking boots endangered another tiny black-and-copper critter crisscrossing the trail ahead of me.

Reaching a stopping point at a sunny spot, I picked up one of the 2-inch-long caterpillars before it could reach its destination. Its soft, bristled body tickled my hand as it motored across, intent on completing its journey before cold weather truly arrives. “How will our winter be, woolly bear?” I asked it.

The woolly bear caterpillar – also called a woolly worm, black-ended bear or fuzzy worm – may be a small animal, but it has a grand reputation. Regional folklore contends that the relative amounts of black and ruddy brown on the short, stiff hairs of a woolly bear caterpillar indicate the severity of the coming winter.

Moles

Nov 15, 2016
Bert Cash/Flickr Creative Commons

When I watch red tail hawks turning their heads to zoom in on prey from above, I’m captivated by how well they can use their binocular vision to hunt from the skies. When I trudge into a stream, and a frog leaps away before I’ve even seen it’s there, I’m impressed by its keen, nearly 360-degree perception. And when I watch my honeybees navigate flowers, even on cloudy days, I marvel at their talent for using ultraviolet light to see.

Which is why I find one of our native animals, the eastern mole, so very curious. It barely has any ability to see at all.

Marsh Rabbits

Nov 8, 2016
Alan McDonley/Flickr Creative Commons

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!

Jessica Hickman/Flickr Creative Commons

Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in our eastern forests. But, today, more than 100 years after a blight forced the chestnut into near extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. Dr. Gary Carver joins Brooks in the studio to discuss the American chestnut. Dr. Carver is an emeritus board member of the American Chestnut Foundation, and has been president of our area's chapter of the foundation. 

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.

Blue Heron

Oct 18, 2016

Last week as I exited my car in a sprawling Howard County neighborhood, a loud flapping sound caught me completely by surprise. Just 10 feet to my left, from out of a drainage ditch, flew a massive bird. I ducked in alarm, and then felt my pulse return to normal as the bird slowly settled on a tree limb leaning into the unnatural stream.

The very slow wingbeats were both clumsy-sounding and strangely majestic at the same time. And the bird looked shaggy and gray.

It wasn’t until I was back on the road again that I realized what the bird had been. The car in front of me had Chesapeake Bay plates which are graced with the only species to rival the blue crab as a symbol of our healthy bay: the great blue heron.

Pages