Author Archive

• Friday, May 27th, 2011

I’ve never been a good reader.  In school, it was painful and slow.  If I tried to push myself to go faster, I’d end up not understanding what I just read and invariably have to start again.  I didn’t read much as a result and reading out loud was worse.  I’d stutter and get hung up on words like “is” or “that”.  Maybe I’d have been diagnosed with ADD, but it wasn’t described yet.

Even today, if a book doesn’t grab me by the throat and threaten not to let go, I am very quick to put it down. So when I come across one that really catches a hold on me, I want to tell the world.

I’ve recently read two books that I can honestly say changed my life. Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” has given me a new perspective on what I do.  For nearly 25 years, I’ve been a naturalist in and around the mid-Atlantic region.  I’ve helped educate and mold children and adults on the decisions they make and the impact it has on the environment.

I’ve always been an advocate for using native plants in the landscape, but never fully understood the ecological principles behind those choices.  That is, until I read Mr. Tallamy’s book.

“Bringing Nature Home” describes the relationship between native plants and the insects that depend on them. How native insects haven’t evolved to feed on non-native plants and therefore, can’t survive on them. This spirals out to talk about the birds and animals that depend on the insects that are depending on native plants.  I knew everything was connected, I guess I just didn’t realize to what extent those relationships existed.

The other book that I want everyone to read is Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. It scared, enlightened, and thrilled me and set my resolve to do better by the animals I eat and prepare for my family. I read the young readers edition since I was assigning it to a class, but I’m sure the grown up version is just as good. Mr. Pollan describes where our food comes from, how it is processed, and why certain ingredients are so pervasive in the foods we eat. Why fast food burgers are so cheap and why it seems to cost more to eat healthy. With concise, easy to understand language and straight forward facts, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is a great read for the food shoppers, cooks and consumers in your family. Be prepared to be first horrified, then inspired to take a stand.

So throw out your high fructose corn syrup and your pappas grass and enjoy the summer.

• Friday, March 11th, 2011

There is a magical event that happens in the early spring. No one knows what triggers it and no one knows exactly when it will occur. It’s a surprise. Don’t you just love surprises? It is a secret trek of the Spotted Salamanders to their breeding pools.

Vernal Pool in New Jersey

In what seems like impossibly cold weather, these amphibians have waited underground for the first warm evening spring rain. Warm being a relative term because it is still only about 45 or 50 degrees. But without fail, as the rain falls, spotted salamanders come up from their underground burrows and march sometimes by the hundreds, to vernal pools where they’ve been breeding for decades.



Vernal pools are shallow depressions in the earth where water collects in the spring but dries up by late summer or early fall. Salamanders will not breed in traditional ponds where predators such as fish loom.

Male spotted salamander. Spots are unique like finger prints.

Male salamanders migrate to their breeding pools and hang out in bachelor groups called congregations. But when the females arrive, the party really starts. 40-50 Spotted Salamanders gyrate, rub against each other and rotate their tail in hope of attracting a female’s fancy. If all this foreplay works, she’ll follow him out of the crowd as he swims away. He’ll then deposit a gelatinous sperm packet called a spermatophore. The female will trail him and pick up the spermatophore in her genital opening thus completing fertilization. Within a few days, she’ll deposit 2-3 jelly-like balls with 50-100 eggs in each. The egg sacs resemble snowballs that are attached to underwater sticks. After completing this task, both male and female adult salamanders leave the pool and return to their underground burrow until next spring.

The egg sacs remain underwater for 5-6 weeks when they hatch into tiny, gilled tadpoles. After feeding on small aquatic insects through the summer, the tadpoles metamorphose into miniature adults and leave the water by the fall.



Category: Amphibians, Seasons  | One Comment
• Saturday, February 19th, 2011

I was walking in a park I’ve never visited before with some colleagues who work there and one of them pointed out a lichen growing on a tree outside the nature center. She said up until a few years ago, there were no lichens in the park. Hmmm. How could that be? How did she know? Light bulb over head! A topic for Nature Niche!
I’m sure all of you have seen lichens, unless you never left the city, but perhaps mistook them for a moss or fungus. They are usually light green and grow on trees, rocks, really anything. Some grown in lacy patterns that remind me of the doilies my grandmother used to put on furniture.
Lichens are a combination of an algae and a fungus that grow together in a symbiotic relationship. The fungus offers moisture and a place for the algae to grow. The algae photosynthesizes to make food which the fungus consumes. The reason my colleague was remarking on the return of the lichen, was because they are extremely sensitive to air pollution. They can actually be used as air quality indicators. Lichens grow in three forms— crustose, foliose and fruiticose; each of which is progressively more sensitive to poor air quality. Crustose is most common around here and is flat and well, crusty. Foliose is leafy looking and fruiticose is almost shaggy. It is difficult to find fruiticose lichens where there is any industry since they are for the most part, intolerant of air pollution.
So good news for Bristol, Pa. The lichens are returning. You can all literally breathe a little easier.
Aren’t you now wondering if there are lichens growing in your habitat? Why not go out and take a look. Here are some photos of crustose and foliose lichens.

Crustose Lichen on Silver Maple bark

Foliose lichen on oak tree

Crustose lichen on rock

Crustose lichen on brick

• Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Hello all.
So, here is the saga of the screech owls. They have been hanging around my yard, one in the box, the other in the tree since March. Presumably, the female was incubating while the male fed her at night. Recently, I noticed they had both moved to a crab apple tree in my yard.

In the late afternoon, one of them would move back in the box. I’ve never seen the fledglings, but I’m hopeful this pair was successful. I want to believe they left the box to encourage the young to leave.

Now, it has been two days, and there is no sign of either. I have to say, I miss them and I’ve been a little melancholy today. I hope they come back next year. I’ve gotten so much pleasure from watching them.

Another recent addition to the yard is a family of Tufted Titmice. They are busy going back and forth feeding their clutch. I counted 7 trips in 15 minutes by both parent. When I hang the laundry on the line which is tied to the tree their box is on, the babies chirp and peep hoping it is mom or dad with their next meal.

Category: Birds  | Leave a Comment
• Saturday, April 03rd, 2010

I haven’t seen my screech owl in the box for about 10 days. I’m not sure if it is hunkered down in the box because the chickadees and bluejays are relentless in their harassment, if it is a female sitting on eggs or maybe it left. But I was out moving logs from the wood pile yesterday and happen to glance up in a tree next to the one that holds the box and I found another owl, sitting in the ivy.

I’m hoping they are a pair and the one in the ivy is the male. He’ll feed her through the night as she incubates the eggs. I may try to scope them out tonight since it is supposed to be clear and try to watch the action. Will keep you all posted. Stay tuned. Please comment so I know someone is reading this.




Category: Birds  | Leave a Comment