My daughter and grandchildren, for Christmas, gave me a book called The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman.
Ackerman’s thesis is that “the misguided use of ‘bird brain’ as a slur has finally come home to roost.” Scientific evidence shows that birds exhibit “toolmaking, culture, reasoning, the ability to remember the past and think about the future, to adopt another’s perspective, to learn from one another.” In short, “many of our cherished forms of intellect–whether in whole or parts–appear to have evolved in birds quite separately and artfully right alongside our own.” (p. 11)
Like humans, birds have brains that are large in relation to their body size. Bird brains and human brains share many similarities in directing social behaviors, in brain activity during sleep, and in learning. When scientists, in 2014, sequenced the genomes of 48 Continue reading Bird Brains→
To everyone’s amazement, an otter has been visiting the retention pond behind the Teaberry homes on the east campus.
This pond was constructed when the Teaberry homes were first built in 1996, as part of the storm water runoff system required by law to protect our wetlands. It has a rubber liner on the bottom, but it’s full of cattails, and we’ve seen plenty of turtles, frogs, salamanders, and toads in it, so there must be a layer of mud on top of the rubber. Since the purpose of the pond is to filter pollutants from the road, roofs, and lawns, the water and mud may be polluted to some extent.
Fertilizer from the surrounding lawn undoubtedly contributes an abundance of nitrogen, leading to heavy algae growth in summer.
American Woodcocks are small, brown, woodland birds that you very rarely see. They hang out in shrublands, old fields, and young forests, quiet and shy, superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter, walking slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with their long bills in search of worms and insects.
Except now, when the courting males put on quite a show. East campus residents have heard them behind Huckleberry and Mulberry. You can find them in wood openings and fields at dawn or dusk. Listen for their buzzing “peent” sound, and the whir of their wings as the males leap straight up into the air. Hear them at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/sounds
A bruised branch we see in the woods these days is likely to be oozing sap. As we drive through our countryside, smoke rising from a shack along the road tells us the inhabitants are “sugaring.” Those of us who don’t do our own “sugaring” trek to the Hadley Sugar Shack for pancakes drowned in real maple syrup.
Behind this common New England scene lie some amazing physics. Sap flows because of carbon dioxide–yes, that gas we have too much of, causing climate change. But inside a tree, carbon dioxide is essential. A tree has a problem–it has to get nutrients and water to its branches and roots, especially in spring when it’s trying to nourish new shoots and buds. It can’t burn coal for electricity, as we do to move heat and water through our homes. Instead, a tree uses the properties of carbon dioxide, and the spring changes in temperature, to push around the life-giving sap.
Sap flows through a portion of the outer tree trunk called sapwood. Sapwood consists of actively growing cells that conduct water and nutrients (sap) from the roots to the branches of the tree. During the Continue reading The Physics of Sap→
Walking in our beautiful Lathrop forests gives us a sense of peace and timelessness. Yet great stresses lie ahead for New England forests: buildings and roads; invasive plants, insects, and diseases; heavy deer browse; and climate change. In a 2016 booklet, “Increasing Forest Resiliency for an Uncertain Future,” the authors, from U Mass, U Vermont, and the USDA, identify these stresses and help landowners increase their forests’ “resiliency,” which the authors define as “The capacity of a forest to respond to a disturbance by resisting damage or stress and recovering quickly.” Resilient forests have a diversity of tree and plant species, adaptable plants, a mix of old and young trees, ample deadwood, a variety of tree arrangements from dense to sparse, and ample regeneration of species, especially those adapted to future climate conditions (www.masswoods.net).
Spring nights at Lathrop ring with the chorus of spring peepers– little tree frogs that emerge from their winter hiding places in mud, logs ,or tree holes. An antifreeze in their blood has kept them alive, though partly frozen, during the winter.
Unfrozen now, they head for a pond to mate. The gals choose the guy who sings loudest and fastest. With a vocal sac under his mouth that is almost as big as he is, he peeps about 20 times a minute. The chorus can be heard up to 2.5 miles.
At Lathrop, we human residents are mapping and flagging our wetlands so as NOT to build on them. If our plans involve wetlands, our town Conservation Commissions, backed by state and local laws, will require us to submit descriptions and diagrams, notify abutters, post a notice in the newspaper, and appear at a hearing.
Meanwhile, ignoring the flags and the paperwork, Lathrop’s red-winged blackbirds, early harbingers of spring, newly returned from wintering in the south, are busy building their homes in our wetlands.
The nest is what Habitat for Humanity would call a “woman build.” The nest site is low to the ground or water surface, among clustered stems of plants like cattails, alder, goldenrod, or blackberry. Our builder weaves stringy plant material around several close, upright stems to make a platform. Around and over this, she adds more wet Continue reading Building in the Wetlands has Begun!→