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.

 

Driving along 695, it’s easy to ignore the greenery beyond the concrete medians and metal guardrails.

But that’s just where one of our area’s most troublesome invasive species hides and thrives. It’s so troublesome, in fact, that residents in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have called it “the scourge that ate the south.”

American Eel

Nov 5, 2019

There are some words that you don’t get to use very often and when you finally get the opportunity, it’s a big occasion. The word I’m about to throw down might be familiar to some of our listeners – especially those who are knowledgeable about fish. Are you ready?

Catadromous.

Fishers

Oct 30, 2019

In the animal kingdom, there are a lot of species with rather spectacular misnomers. For example, the killer whale is not actually much of a killer. The red panda isn’t actually a panda at all. Starfish and jelly fish – both aquatic, but neither fish. And the Southeast Asian bearcat, which is neither a bear nor a cat. Similarly, one of our native animals, called a ‘fisher’ or a ‘fisher cat’ is neither much of a fish catcher nor is it a member of the cat family.

Irvine Nature Center

The beginning of fall marks the start of duck hunting season in Maryland. While not every Marylander is a duck hunter, the state has a rich tradition of hunting waterfowl – both for food and sport. While I understand the sporting aspect of duck hunting, I prefer to hunt for my dinner – and there is no duck I would rather eat than the canvasback duck.

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.

Bluefish

Oct 11, 2019

It’s autumn and migration is in full swing. But more than just birds are preparing for their long journey south. Bluefish are on their way to warmer weather in Florida now as well.

White Oaks

Oct 1, 2019

The storm had already passed, so I was surprised to hear a loud ‘crack’ and then an imposing ‘thump’ outside.

Walking to my front yard, I noticed an enormous dead branch had fallen off a white oak tree and crashed onto the ground.

This massive tree has been growing quietly in my yard for many years. With a 4-foot diameter trunk and crown spanning more than 100 feet, it looks both ancient and majestic. But I rarely pay it much attention.

We’ve all heard the adage that earthworms are a gardener’s best friend. While you might be glad to see these slithery, small friends in your vegetable garden, all worms may not be as beneficial as we have been led to believe.

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. 

This is a re-broadcast. 

Kudzu

Sep 10, 2019

 

Driving along 695, it’s easy to ignore the greenery beyond the concrete medians and metal guardrails.

But that’s just where one of our area’s most troublesome invasive species hides and thrives. It’s so troublesome, in fact, that residents in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have called it “the scourge that ate the south.”

Kudzu, a strong woody vine with rather lovely purple flowers, is a plant native to Asia. It was intentionally introduced to North America at the Philadelphia Continental Exposition in 1876 as an ornamental bush and an effortless, efficient shade producer.

 

Earlier this season, an invasion of ants came flooding into our mud room. They came in two by two, three by three, and eventually just in a big army. They set up shop in some gardening equipment I’d meant to put away but forgotten about. Most people’s first reaction would be to get ant killer from the store. Just a couple minutes of spraying would kill them and keep them from coming back.

But spraying them wasn’t on my mind at all.

Did you know that over 95% of the insects aren’t really pests? That means that the great majority of creepy crawlies we swat, squash and flush are actually beneficial.

Sometimes when I mention that I have a bat house on my home, I see people visibly shudder. I can understand that reaction because bats, just like 8-legged arachnids and slithering reptiles, have a sordid on-screen history that makes a lot of people really uncomfortable.

 

A few weeks ago, I was tucked snuggly into my bed, eyes closed, attempting mightily to fall asleep when a loud crash echoed from outside my home. I sat up quickly, listening for more clues about what the sound could have been. I heard nothing. I sighed, knowing that my already vain attempts at sleep were now well and truly dashed. I set my feet on the floor to investigate the noise.

When I arrived downstairs, I grabbed my flashlight and walked out my door. In the dark of the night, the bright light shone on what appeared to be many, many eyes. As my own eyes adjusted to the light, I could see four raccoons staring intently back at me from the area surrounding the trash can they had knocked over. 

Monarch butterflies are famous for their southward migration and northward return in summer from here to Mexico. This impressive feat spans three-to-four generations of the butterfly and takes several months.

But it’s not the only incredible fact about monarch butterflies. Yes, monarchs are beautiful and beneficial, but they’re cool right from the start of their lifecycles.

Irvine Nature Center

All Marylanders know their state flower: the lovely and prolific wildflower, the black-eyed susan.

Designated our state flower in 1918, black-eyed susans are native to North America, and thrive east of the Rocky Mountains. They are one of the most popular wildflowers grown in our country and tend to blanket open fields, often surprising walkers, runners and drivers with their golden-yellow beauty.

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?

Mosquitoes

Jul 23, 2019

At Maryland’s famous Benji’s Drive-In Movie Theater last weekend, my family and some friends enjoyed an evening playing outside, eating popcorn and candy, and watching a new film out in the great open air.

About an hour in, though, my buddy started to look uncomfortable. “I’m covered in mosquito bites,” he told me. “Aren’t you?”

I looked at our arms side by side, only to realize that he had several red, itchy welts, but I had not a single one.

Was this just dumb luck? Or is there science behind which of us the mosquitoes prefer?

There are some species of animals that hold a special place in my heart. I know that as an environmentalist I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but some species just have that certain something that pulls on my heart strings. Enter the bog turtle, whose name is not especially fancy, but who could definitely use a little help from us humans.

Ghost Pipe

Jul 9, 2019

Sometimes, walking through the woods can be an unsettling experience. The damp ground yields a little too much under my feet, releasing the smell of rotting plant matter and thick soil. The quiet space gives way to a sense of being…watched. On days like this, I find myself drawn to some of the more macabre aspects of our natural world. And of course, I keep my eyes peeled for ghosts. Not the spooky, supernatural variety, but the eerie, peculiar little plant called a ghost pipe, also commonly called an Indian pipe.

The ghost pipe is a part of the wild blueberry family. It is native to our area and can be found in unusual bunches in temperate regions of North America. It pops up from the damp leaf litter of the deciduous forest floor and is a startling white. Generally rare in occurrence, ghost pipes have also gone by the ghoulish nicknames corpse plant and death flower, as well as the much more intriguing name: fairy smoke. 

Poison Ivy

Jul 2, 2019

There’s not much about the weekly lawn and field maintenance I do that makes me nervous. Actually, I think there’s really just one thing. One amazing, yet harmful plant with three leaves, a furry vine a white-ish berries. Even using its 2-word common name makes me feel itchy. That’s right. It’s the mighty poison ivy.

Copperheads

Jun 25, 2019

There are 27 kinds of snakes in the state of Maryland, but only two are dangerous to humans.

While both species are in the pit viper family, the more common of the two is the northern copperhead and it was my favorite reptile when I was a youngster growing up in Baltimore City. I’d seen one staring back at me through the glass at the Maryland Zoo and was immediately transfixed.

The Nature Conservancy

As the tender buds of spring flower and bloom to make way for summer’s lush greenery, an annual battle begins anew. This clash pits our big human brains and thumbs against one of our region’s most prolific species. It has seemingly few boundaries, except that of an unattractive, tall wire fence. As summer nears, gardeners and landscapers across our state suit up for combat against hungry deer, who see their carefully-laid beds of flowers as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Irvine Nature Center

A few weeks ago, I visited a friend. We were sitting outside, enjoying the weather with a couple local brews while his daughter played nearby. Suddenly, his daughter yelled, “Dad! Come see this!”

We quickly got out of our chairs and hurried over.

“Look at this bug,” his daughter demanded, “When I poke it, it curls up!” 

My friend smiled and said, “That’s a potato bug, sweetheart. You find them under rocks and in the dirt and, you’re right, they do curl up when you poke them.” 

Luna Moths

Jun 4, 2019

Moths are often regarded as the less appealing cousins of butterflies.

Moths are seen as the night-flying pests that harass our summer porch lights and eat holes in our clothing. Their relatives, the butterflies, steal all the glory, flitting through flowery fields and delicately sipping nectar from colorful flowers.

But the incredible luna moth may be just the creature to change your perspective.

Coyotes

May 28, 2019

The Animal Care Team at Irvine Nature Center is always busy. When they’re not caring for Irvine’s 60-plus Animal Ambassadors, they’re fielding interesting finds and calls from our neighbors about injured or found animals.

A few weeks ago, some Good Samaritans entered the nature center with something small and furry cradled in the front of their hoodie. It was hard to see what the tiny brown fuzzball was, but it was clear from the cooing and “awwwwe-ing” that I heard that it was something adorable. When I was finally able to squeeze in among this animal’s new adoring fans, it was clear what the fuss was about. A coyote pup was sleeping soundly, its tiny belly rhythmically moving as it breathed. It had been found alone on the side of the road and I had never seen a pup that small in person. The whole experience got me thinking: coyotes are a relatively new arrival in our area, and their impact has been significant.

Sapsuckers

May 21, 2019

On a walk through the forest you might spot rows of shallow holes in tree bark. In our listening area, this is likely the work of the yellow-bellied sapsucker, an enterprising woodpecker that laps up the leaking sap with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue.

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready for bed after a long day; I was looking forward to tucking into the covers and the book I had been reading. I turned off the overhead light, turned on my reading light, and put my head back against my pillow. When I looked up at the ceiling, I saw the shadow of a massive bug. It had more legs than I wanted to take the time to count and must have been at least three inches long. This was not the relaxing evening picture I had imagined moments before, but I knew exactly what I was looking at—a house centipede.

Hummingbirds

May 7, 2019

Weeding in my garden this weekend, I saw a tiny flash of green and red speed past the brim of my hat. As I looked up, I just caught wind of a miniscule bird darting toward our hanging feeders. And before I could even get my son’s attention to catch sight of this iridescent acrobat, it was gone to the next source of nectar.

The glittering tones I noted as the bird turned to leave were a dead giveaway. It was one of the season’s first ruby throated hummingbirds.

Trout

Apr 30, 2019

If you’ve ever met me, you know that I love fly fishing. Spending the morning on the tranquil waters of Gunpowder Falls has to be one of my top ways to unwind – and springtime is a great time for trout fishing.

Trout are one of the few animals in our area where non-native species are not only available and accepted – but managed, stocked, and encouraged. There are three types of trout that can be found in Maryland waterways, but only one is a native species.

If you like oysters, you have lots of choices this season. You can buy a dozen Choptank Sweets, or you can go Skippy Dippers. The Hongatonks are plump and juicy, and the Sweet Jesus might become a new habit at least if not a new religion. Or you can go wild – a dozen of the Chesapeake’s best, harvested as they’ve always been by the watermen who have worked the bay for centuries.

It wasn’t always this way. For decades, there was one oyster, and you could only eat it in a month that ended with an R. But aquaculture oysters can be eaten all year, and they are gaining in popularity. Here to tell us more about them is Rona Kobell, science writer for Maryland Sea Grant and longtime Chesapeake Bay reporter – for the Bay Journal and before that The Baltimore Sun.

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