The Nature of Things | WYPR

The Nature of Things

Bird Nesting

Apr 18, 2017
slgckgc/flickr

Spring is officially here, and I’m starting to notice the days feeling longer. For me, the increased daylight is a signal that it’s time to break out the camping gear. I feel ready to hit the trail with each uptick in sunshine hours. Birds, too, are noticing the difference.

Throughout the year, most birds use day length to tell what season it is. When daylight extends, the change triggers physiological transformations. It’s how they know it’s time to breed and nest.

Because of its history as a game bird in North America, the northern bobwhite is one of the most intensively studied bird species in the world. We know tons about them, especially with regard to human activities like pesticide application and prescribed burning.

The bobwhite is a small, rotund, ground-dwelling bird. Adults are about the size of a large grapefruit and weigh roughly as much as a baseball. They have an intricately patterned, multi-colored body with feathers in mottled-brown, rufous, buff, white, black and gray. Males have a bold, black-and-white head, a white throat and a white brow stripe. Females have a buffy throat and brow. Both sexes have short, dark tails.

From my description, you might be sure you haven’t seen a bobwhite quail in our listening area, but you have probably heard one before.

Pillbugs

Apr 4, 2017
Michel Vuijlsteke/flickr

I recently had the chance to join some of the students from the Nature Preschool at Irvine on an early spring walk. It was beautiful out, and we stopped near some decomposing tree stumps to look for insects. The quietest boy in the class suddenly got really animated, and all the students gathered around to see what he had found.

I joined in on the enthusiasm, peering over the heads of many murmuring and excited kids. The little boy gently opened his hand to reveal a tiny, grayish-brown pillbug. As if on cue, and a little like magic, the pillbug froze, then curled up into a perfectly round ball. The students cheered!

VIRGINIA STATE PARKS

 

Just imagine this.

There. At the bottom of the river.

There’s a 7-and-½-foot-long, 170-pound, armor-covered behemoth. Its brown, sandpaper-like hide has sharp bony plates along its back. Its fins are large, and its tail is just like a shark’s. And its dark eyes regard you suspiciously as it flexes its blubbery, sucker mouth and the catfish-like whiskers on its chin. The giant prehistoric-looking animal uses its snout to root around the sandy Chesapeake Bay bottom before lumbering away.

Salamanders

Mar 20, 2017
marylandbiodiversity.com

One of the more peculiar native animals in our listening area seems like it could have come from the inspired imagination of a Hollywood director.

This segment originally aired on March 17, 2015.

Fungi

Mar 14, 2017
Andy Roberts/flickr

On a recent hike through a forest in Howard County, my kids and I discovered something interesting growing on the side of a decaying beech tree stump. Each of the shelf-like fleshy growths were white-to-cream in color, oyster-shell-shaped and about the size of a CD. The top sides were smooth, almost velvety, but the undersides were heavily gilled like an infinite accordion. They were wild mushrooms, of course.

psionicman/flickr

Last week’s unseasonably warm weather brought some unwelcome visitors into my home that aren’t usually here in February: ants.

David Slater/flickr

On my drive into the office last Monday, I saw one of my favorite misunderstood native creatures. It was the first thing in the morning, and a large brown-black bird was standing on the roadside with enormous, outstretched wings. It looked like a white-tailed deer had been struck by a car the night before, as its lifeless body lay on the road’s shoulder. I slowed as I passed, and the bird’s featherless, leathery red head followed me as I rolled by.

flickr

How did you spend your free time in childhood? I remember how I did. I spent loads of time climbing trees. And investigating what was living in mud puddles. I went fly fishing with my friends, raced bikes across dirt lots with my siblings and went on what-felt-like epic hikes through Maryland’s forests and meadows. I was outside all the time. I just had to be home for dinner.

David/flickr

Many people don’t realize seals are common winter visitors along our eastern shores. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, cold-weather beach goers saw a seal on the sands at 135th street. And a few days later, Ocean City Animal Control reported seeing one lounging in the shape of a banana by the 9th street fishing pier on a Jet Ski platform.

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