Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go! RL Version

This week I've been playing my own version of "Pokemon Go!"  It's great getting outside (for any reason).  My adventures do not feature being hit by a car, robbed, falling off a cliff, etc.  Yet adventures they were.

I am in the process of writing a field guide for 15 Minute Field Trips™ featuring pages that give a bit of background on things encountered outdoors.  There's a page on bees, cloud types, measuring instruments, soil, and more, each designed to help people understand and enjoy what they are focusing on.  

In the bee page, I describe the habitats of solitary bees, which includes wood hollows and underground tunnels.  I spent months photographing bees and going through my photos to include some very diverse species found in my garden.  Today, I took it a step further, catching 9 of the 12 or more species I sighted, for further study.  Gotta catch 'em all, they say.  And with tiny species like the perdita and mason bees and metallic ones like certain sweat bees, it's hard enough getting a well-focused image of one, let alone knowing if it's a new one that looks similar to others I've found.

Another reason for all the photos (And collecting insects for more photos), is my licensing dilemma.  I have created a number of info graphics I have started sharing with other educators.  The ABCs of Bees graphic is all my own images.  The Seed Dispersal graphic uses a lot of images from Fotolia.  I have a licensing agreement that allows me to print 500,000 copies of something and use it in presentations, etc., but not allow me to put it online or sell it.  In order to do that, a 70¢ to $1.00 image goes up to a $70 to $150 image.  One of my pages had nine such images.

So...I need to recreate some pages and make up my own image catalog in order to make this field guide and make it available on Amazon.  It's been interesting weather this week, and I've found myself taking pictures of clouds through my car window (not safe, I know), or racing to the baseball field behind my house to get enough distance to photograph the cumulonimbus clouds while also finding a ground hog living in a fractured steel pipe full of plastic water bottles and even a used syringe...  So yes, adventures trying to capture all this images.

So kids, grab a camera or a smart phone, look before you cross the street, and see if you can capture a bee with pollen on its legs, a swallowtail butterfly, a cloud that looks like a turtle...  Make your own list!  Catch 'em all!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Much Ado About Mullein

You see them everywhere in the summer, tall candelabras of yellow flowers and soft, fuzzy leaves.  They're erupting from cracks in the sidewalk.  They line the highways.  They dot wildflower field.  Some even include them in their gardens.

Verbascum thapsus, or mullein, is part of the snapdragon family.  Originally native to Europe and Asia, they are now ubiquitous to North America.  Being drought-tolerant and providing flowers make them a very eco-friendly plant to have.  They starts a rosette of fuzzy leaves, and flower in their second year, before releasing seed to start the cycle anew.  

Mullein provides pollen for bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles.  It provides seeds for birds such as the goldfinch.  Ants, true bugs, earwigs, and other creatures use the plant as food, shelter, and building material.  (Perhaps the wool carder bee likes this plant to line its nest.  It does like my lamb's ear!)  The decomposing leaves at the base also feed pill bugs, who provide a great clean-up service in the garden.

Look at the happy honey bee in the first photo.  In the center, a ladybug, grasshopper, shield bug, and a four-lined plant bug.  Last, mullein in the wildflower field at ASRI Bristol, RI.

Mullein also has many medicinal uses.  I've made a tea of the leaves to use as a demulcent, useful for a phlegmy cough or mild asthma.  The leaves are also anti-inflammatory.  Both leaves and flowers can be used in a tea, the mucilage properties,  soothing irritated membranes, and saponins making coughs more productive.  (Interestingly, saponins cause respiratory arrest in fish.)  Some Native Americans have used the roots as well.

The stalk has been used to start fires and may have been used as a wick in Roman candles.  Ancient Romans called it "hag's taper."  It's also been called candlewick, bunny's ear, and flannel leaf, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff and Aaron’s rod.  Kids love to pet it.  My kid uses the leaves to make sleeping bags for her Barbies.

Mother Earth Living
Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs


Monday, July 11, 2016

Two Free Insects Lectures

I will be doing two free lectures coming up.  (Both are the same, so pick which one is more convenient for you.)  The first is July 14th 7 p.m. at the Greene Public Library in Coventry.  The second is at 6 p.m. July 21st at the E. Smithfield Public Library.

Insects in the Garden 

What was that bug?  Insects are part of gardening, and knowing which ones are beneficial and which are pests will help you take the best advantage of them.  There are over 4000 types of bees in North America and many are in crisis!  There are over a billion beetle species.  Learn about a few good ones and a few you should look out for.  Join Melissa Guillet as she helps you identify several common insects, which herbs and flowers will attract beneficials or deter pests, even how to raise butterflies!  Live and preserved specimens will be available for examination.  (Don't worry, nothing that bites!)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tales of the Tiny: Pulaski Park

RI Families in Nature guide Jeanine Silversmith took a group of about 30 down a trail going around a freshwater pond full of water lilies and through the mossy woods to examine beaver dams and lodges.  What was most surprising were all the tiny things we found...

Pulaski State Park is in Chepachet off Route 44, nearby to several campgrounds and hosting their own.  After a brief introduction, the group set off along the beach, small children in hand and older ones making instant friends with others.  We soon had our itinerary lined with lily pads and white flowers floating at the edge of Peck Pond and my daughter was quick to spot a Bullfrog.  

An oak gall formed from a wasp egg landed perfectly on a pad.

Look fast!  Bullfrog lurking!

Catching, examining, then releasing with the net.

I expected some frogs and toads, especially with the recent rain, but I wasn't prepared for what happened next.  One little boy had proudly declared his skill in locating frogs, and he did not disappoint.  

Snail friend.
American toad.
The toad is in here, I swear!
Another toad.
Still another toad...
A katydid (cousin to grasshopper, cricket, and mantis).
Another snail!
And this...this TINY frog! 
 I'm pretty sure it's a frog because I did not see any of the glands behind the eyes or bumps or warts toads have.   It was spotted with banded legs.  Could it be a newly transformed leopard frog or a Eleutherodactylus (Syrrhophus) marnockii?  Did we find a rare or new species???!!  Can anyone comment below?

Of course, it was hard to miss the beaver lodges and dams and we were able to examine beaver activity on several trees, although the beavers themselves (mostly nocturnal) were not in sight.  

Notice the tapered chisel before the trunk snapped.

Beaver lodge.  Residents enter from underwater, but inside is dry and has air.

More beaver evidence.

The beavers weren't the only ones who likes this spot!  We saw FOUR garter snakes and I saw one slither into a tiny hole in the earth.

What (bigger) animal lives in here, I do not know.

Sometimes it was enough just to enjoy the textures of leaf litter, moss, and lichen, find an interesting tree.  How many moss types were there?  How long would it take these baby pine to grow as tall as their parents?  When trees fell, how long until the mushrooms, insects, and bacteria returned them to the earth?  What made two trees grow together?  What story does the shed birch bark tell? 

A tiny setting for Middle Earth?

Faery tool?

A forest of pine and oak, the only birch fallen.  Birch borers?

Perhaps a parachute or a ship for a tiny creature?

Two trees, grown together.
A tree growing over a slab of stone.  Excalibur?
Decomposition is often invisible.  One mushroom has many threads.
Across the lush forest of moss...
Tiny mushrooms emerge. 
Westeros, perhaps?

Another toad.

A tree torn down by ___________.
What must live in this tower of roots?
A mosaic of roots, rocks, and forbs.


An accident, a clue?
A turtle-rock :)

And then there were the tiny treasures: A mushroom tower, flowering bearberry, single fungal cap rising above the damp, leafy ground.   It was a mile and a half, a lot of pausing to look at the ground, before we made our slow journey back.  Swimming in the pond, I thought of all the tiny things, stretched out my arms and legs, and looked past the ring of trees into the eternal sky.