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.

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.

Mourning Dove

Oct 11, 2016

One of the true pleasures I find in observing nature is that repeated encounters with familiar species can evoke a much deeper appreciation, and even a fascination. The mourning dove, one of the most common and widespread birds in our country, is a perfect case in point.

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. 

Beavers

Sep 27, 2016
Bryn Davies/Flickr Creative Commons

Over the weekend, I was lucky to be hiking along a stream in Montgomery County. But the hastening sunset of early autumn took me by surprise and I found myself rushing down the trail toward the park exit. Just as dusk was reaching its end though, I saw something really incredible. 

A beaver about the size of a very overweight beagle waddled away from the trail and toward the stream. I heard the sharp, startling alarm smack of the large rodent’s wide, paddle-shaped tail hit the water. There was a pause as it looked at me, and then it gracefully escaped toward its lodge. I stood, silently watching the deep reddish-brown mammal’s comings and goings, until it was nearly too dark to see.

Canada Geese

Sep 20, 2016
SHAWN NYSTRAND/Flickr Creative Commons

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 13, 2016
James Jardine/Flickr Creative Commons

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.

Andy Powell/Flickr Creative Commons

I always feel like I’m in a hurry. I hastily speed to work for a fast meeting. Then the kids need to get to soccer practice, stat. I fly home to let the dogs out—chop, chop, chop. I inhale a quick dinner while I’m on the run. And I hit ‘send’ on a rapid-fire text to a colleague about a task to bang out ASAP. Before I can blink, it seems, I’m racing to get back home for not-quite-enough shut-eye.

But a lot of animals live life in no hurry at all. Take slugs and snails, for example. They live luxuriously without a rush. For them, it’s a life in the slow lane. 

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.  

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