The Nature of Things | WYPR

The Nature of Things

Emerald Ash Borer

Jan 14, 2020

There’s nothing more calming and downright medicinal than taking a long walk through some our region’s beautiful hardwood forests. Pacing among the trunks of old trees, listening to the breeze lightly blow the leaves or – in the winter – the winds bend the branches. It’s perfection, all brought to you by nature.

During one of my recent walks, I was sad to see so many of these old-growth trees with small, D-shaped holes in their bark. Noticing these marks brought me from “meditative calm” to “moderate existential panic” pretty quickly. Why? These trees – most of which are ash trees – had been infected by an invasive species so damaging that we could see the complete eradication of ash trees in our region as a result. The emerald ash borer has been in Maryland since 2015 and has wreaked havoc on our ash trees since.

Hibernation

Jan 7, 2020

With our short days, long nights and frigid temperatures, our listening area is firmly amidst the Maryland winter. 

It’s a great time of year for me to eat homemade comfort foods and nap by a cozy fire. My kids tease me that I’m like a bear in hibernation.

And surprisingly, that’s partially true! My winter habits may be bear-like, but neither of us hibernate.

Cranberries

Dec 31, 2019
Irvine Nature Center

If your family is like mine, the holiday season becomes a race to see how many traditional holiday foods we can take down between the end of November and the beginning of January. Menu planning becomes akin to an Olympic sport as we try to fit in everyone’s favorites: stuffing, turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, and more. There is one dish, however, that I feel is under-appreciated. It’s usually relegated to a sad, small dish somewhere in the corner of the table, with only a small serving spoon because…let’s face it…it’s not that popular. Whether you make it from scratch or serve it in a jellied, can-shaped cylinder, cranberry sauce has been a staple on American tables since before America was even America. And I’m here to tell you that the cranberry deserves your respect.

Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

 

One of my favorite parts of winter is the snowbirds. No, not the people who spend the cold months in Florida each year...I’m talking about the beautiful, arctic birds like Tundra Swans, Snowy Owls, and Red Crossbills. Some of my most rewarding birdwatching has occurred in the winter months when bare trees and quiet parks create the perfect condition for seeing different species of birds.

This is a re-broadcast. 

Stink Bugs

Dec 17, 2019

No one, not even the talented naturalists I know, likes stink bugs.

Though they don’t sting like bees or bite like spiders, which each have their own groups of devoted human fans, a stink bug’s smelly defense has not garnered it any love.

Holly

Dec 10, 2019

As fall quickly turns to winter, our Maryland landscape is beginning to look very brown and a little gray. It can be difficult for many who enjoy the lush green scenery and warm temperatures of summer. There are, however, a few bright spots of the impending long winter...and I’m not talking about popular winter holidays. A number of gorgeous native plants remain in bloom during the wintertime and among the most bright and beautiful are our native holly plants. Maryland is lucky enough to have three native holly plants and while they all come from the same holly family, each plant is unique and special in its own way and all are wonderful options for both décor and landscaping.  

Ruffed Grouse

Dec 4, 2019

This time of year there are some things I've come to expect: getting out to enjoy the crisp cold air, the rush of holiday shopping, and getting Christmas carols stuck in my head. Last year, I was at home and couldn't quite shake The 12 Days Of Christmas. I stood in the kitchen finishing the last bars "...and a partridge in a pear tree…" when my daughter rounded the corner. "DAD," she exclaimed, mortified, "stop singing!" Once her level of embarrassment returned to regular dad-status she looked at me and asked, "What even is a partridge anyway?"

Irvine Nature Center

 

At Irvine Nature Center, every day is different. Some days include trail walks and ground maintenance, while other days include exciting animal encounters with native animal species. Last week, I was lucky enough to have a day that included the latter.

Irvine’s Marketing Manager and I were at her desk discussing a few upcoming projects. I glanced down briefly to the seam where two cubicle walls met and was greeted by two very tiny, shining black eyes. I stepped back, unsure of what, exactly was staring out at me. The shy creature moved forward slightly, producing two fuzzy legs. “Oh hey,” I exclaimed, “A jumping spider!”

 

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.

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