Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around, I renew my gratitude for the special people in my life. But I usually don’t remember to give thanks for many of the things I just take for granted. So this year, I’m thankful for trees…for the many ecosystem services they provide — for FREE.
…for forests that enrich our lives and uplift our moods as we wander their winding paths.
…for vast tracts of unending vegetation that pump oxygen into our atmosphere and remove carbon dioxide, helping to manage the climate.
…for forests and other vegetation that filter runoff to maintain clean water in lakes and rivers and prevent soil erosion
…for trees that provide food and shelter for wildlife (and food and building materials for us)
…for forests that improve our urban landscape by providing shade, lowering the air temperature nearby, buffering noise, air, and light pollution, as well as providing a mental and physical escape from the urban jungle.
this post dedicated to daughter Becky, an ecosystem services specialist.
I’ve visited quite a few famous caves in the U.S., but the amazing caverns carved from karst limestone near Postojna in southwestern Slovenia are the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. They are definitely one of the Wonders of the Natural World.
The Postojna cave system is notable because of all the animal life found there. Over 100 species have managed to survive in the dark, cold (45-50 F), mineral-rich water, including a cave beetle species, a jelly fish relative, crustaceans, pseudo scorpions, and a cave spider species. But the largest and most remarkable cave dweller in Postojna cave is the “baby dragon” or cave salamander or Olm (Proteus anguinus).
There was some excitement among the cave biologists several years ago when one of the large Olms began to lay eggs. It took quite a while but she eventually laid more than 50 eggs, about 20 of which hatched in about 5 months. The youngsters had normal eyes, but they regressed in size and skin eventually grew over them. When presented with small worms, Olms immediately go on the attack, hoovering them up (like a vacuum cleaner) with their elongate snout.
After 10 days of ship travel, at last we reached the entrance to the Panama Canal and our passage to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean. It took almost 12 hours to transit the 50 miles of the canal, through three sets of locks on the Pacific side, into huge Lake Gatun, and then through three sets of locks on the Atlantic side.
I was particularly interested in getting a look at the islands in Lake Gatun, which was formed by damming the Chagras River at a narrow point near its mouth on the Atlantic side (see map below near Gatun locks) back in 1913. When dammed, the river then flooded a once wide valley forming a large lake with just the mountain tops projecting up forming a series of small and large islands in the lake.
This area of Panama receives about 100 inches (i.e., 8 feet!) of rain annually, but almost all comes during the rainy season. During the dry season between December and April, less than 3 inches of rain falls and many of the island streams dry up. The soil becomes so dry, large cracks develop in it. Flowers and insects disappear, trees stop producing fruit, and animals on the island become food limited.
As a result of changes in the forest structure with limited island land surface and the size of the islands themselves, species diversity of animals, and especially birds, is markedly lower than that of intact rainforest on the hillsides of the canal — as you would expect. Researchers have found smaller numbers of under-story bird and mammal species, and there are no large mammalian carnivores to control the herbivore populations. But food is a limiting factor here.
National Geographic produced an interesting video featuring some of the work that has been done on Barro Colorado Island in 2007: Panama Wild — Rainforest of Life. If you like nature videos and want to know more about this area of the world — click on the video below.
It is snowing this morning, and the yucky weather here in southern Minnesota means the wildlife has deserted the backyard (temporarily, I hope). Even the chickadees are absent from the feeders this morning!
So, it’s a good time to reflect back on the adventures of the summer — to warmer times and prettier views. I found a lot of photos from Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge north of San Jose CA that I had never posted. That’s a good excuse to go back a couple of months to October and revisit the marshy pools in southern San Francisco bay
Dowitchers are medium-sized chunky shorebirds that use their very long bills to probe deep into the mud of shallow pools to find insect and crustacean larvae and small molluscs, as well as seeds and even vegetation that is buried there. Extremely sensitive tactile receptors in the tips of those long bills help them discriminate what is animal, vegetable, and mineral. Their continuous up-and-down motion as they probe the mud has been likened to the action of a sewing machine needle moving through cloth.
Unfortunately, despite their names, bill length is not a definitive characteristic! Long-billed Dowitchers are mostly found in fresh water, and the Short-billed species is mostly found in salt water, but the pools here are full of a mix of salt and fresh water depending on the tides in the bay. And in their drab, non-breeding plumage, all their distinctive coloration is missing, so one must rely on their different calls to determine the species. However, I have no memory of what they sounded like, so what else can I use to tell them apart?
Not all of the shorebirds are so difficult to identify. Two species of long-legged wading shorebirds stand out: avocets and stilts.
This past week has been prime time for Fall color in the Twin Cities area. Frosty overnight temps coupled with sunny, warmish days have really brought out the brilliant red and gold colors of the oak trees, in particular. For a more in-depth explanation of how these changes take place in plants at this time of year, please click here.
It seems like when we’re not in the mountains, we’re at the beach. That’s the wonderful thing about California — the variety of places to explore. This time it was the beautiful sands of Pajaro Dunes, where the gently sloping shore allows you to walk far out into the waves and not even get your knees wet.
The grandkids enjoyed the ocean and the bird life, and especially skipping rope with a giant piece of brown kelp.
We took a drive from our campsite in the Ruby Mountain foothills up to Angel Lake about 2000 feet above. The saturated colors of green meadows, bushes, and grass, and deep blue color of the water were stunning.
We’re back at Fort Robinson in northwestern Nebraska, this time with grandkids to enjoy the sights and the wildlife. With three visits in the past two years, I’m beginning to feel like this place is “home”.
Sunset drives are always full of surprises… bison and pronghorn were grazing in the still-green pastures on some of the 22,000 acres of the park.
More wildlife was spotted near the road the next morning on our drive through Smiley Canyon in the park.
The spring wildflowers were abundant in the grassy meadows as well: a purple Penstemon, the white of the Yucca flowers, and small orange Globe Mallow flowers brought a lot of color to the green pastures.
Because the temperature will be 20 degrees above normal today (98 F!!), I’m thinking about places where I could be relaxing in cool water. So, it’s time for a summer quiz on the location of significant waterfalls in the state, the U.S., and the world. If you’re a traveler, you may have been to one or more of these locations — if you haven’t visited them, maybe it will give you some ideas of places to visit in the future.
Give yourself one point for each correct name and then tell me how you did in the comments to this post. You can check your answers by clicking on the image which will open in a new window and then click on or hover your mouse over the URL at the top of the new window.
A highly recognizable waterfall on the north shore of Lake Superior named for its multiple falls. Many Minnesota waterfalls have a coffee color due to the oak tannins in the water.
2. Another easily recognized waterfall located in the Twin Cities, where it’s fun to explore behind the falls in the winter to see the beautiful blue color of the ice.
3. This is one of the large waterfalls (about 50 feet total drop) in the southern part of Minnesota, and if you’re a FB friend, you’ll recognize this from a recent post.
Well-known waterfalls in the U.S.
4. Another easily identified waterfall from the first national park in the U.S. This is just one of the many unique highlights of this national park.
5. One of many waterfalls in this extremely popular western National Park, and a favorite of John Muir. It’s actually a double waterfall, but difficult to capture in one photo. (Hint: it’s named for the park.)
6. This beautiful double waterfall is one of many that can be viewed by car or by train when driving through the Columbia Gorge in Oregon. The scenic beauty in this area makes it the most popular destination in the Pacific Northwest.
Famous waterfalls of the world
7. There are dozens of waterfalls on this island nation, but this is the biggest and most famous one. Approximately 5000 cubic feet per second rush down the falls, draining from a massive glacier. You can get an impression of its size compared to the tiny people standing on the rocky shoreline.
8. Another massive waterfall located on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa, first explored by David Livingstone. Nicknamed “the smoke that thunders” for the mist and roar made by the falling water. The photo captures only a portion of the entire falls.
9. This is one of two famous waterfalls in South America, located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The combined cataracts of the multiple waterfalls here make up the largest waterfall in the world. The river that feeds the falls flows through Brazil, but most of the waterfalls are in Argentina. Although I have visited Brazil twice and Argentina once, I have never been here — so it’s on my bucket list. (Photo from https://www.contiki.com/six-two/iguazu-falls-side-choose/)