Backyard Pics: A Napping Chickadee, a Chubby-Cheeked Chipmunk, Flying Squirrels, and “Ms. Deer”

Posted on October 11, 2010. Filed under: Environmental Issues, Nature |

Chickadee napping on hummingbird feeder

Chickadee Napping on Hummingbird Feeder

Chubby-cheeked chipmunk

Chubby-Cheeked Chipmunk

Flying squirrel

Flying Squirrel

Ms. Deer

Ms. Deer

Photos copyright 2010 VisualInfo.Biz, Inc.

Before starting a long day on the computer, I enjoy my early mornings drinking coffee with the wildlife in the backyard. It is my little bit of peace before a usually hectic day.

About two months ago, I caught this little chickadee napping on a hummingbird feeder. Notice how its head is tucked under his wing. I got as close as six inches to this little guy; I could have petted it. There are a few chickadees that like the hummingbird feeders. They sip the water out of the ant moats in the middle of the nectar feeders. The hummingbirds do not appreciate the chickadees’ presence in their territory. They protect their food sources to the extreme. I’ve seen the tiny little hummingbirds chase the relatively much larger chickadees away from the nectar feeders.

After a year of feeding the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks in this yard, I now regularly have four little chipmunks visit every day. To me they are cute little rodents, but I know some people do not appreciate their little striped selves.

About a year ago, I noticed the bird feeders moving when I returned home at night, even at 10 or 11 o’clock. I have heard birds that late at night, but I never thought they ate seed then. I kept watching the feeders and observed what I thought was a mouse hopping very quickly into the feeder. But then I noticed it had a bushy tail, and mice don’t have bushy tails.

I found out on the Internet that these were flying squirrels. They are nocturnal small creatures, about nine inches long, including their tails. They usually can’t be bothered with crawling on tree limbs. They often glide from tree to tree. They do not literally fly, but have furry webs between their limbs and their bodies (you can see the web in the photo). They spread all four paws and stretch these webs out into furry little capes. Some nights I used to sit on the terrace while they glided over me like small hang-gliding Supermen, easily traversing twenty feet from tree to tree.

At one point I regularly counted six flying squirrels out on the trees at night — they used to scamper up and down them all night long. But a pretty new tabby cat moved in next door and I saw it having fun chasing the little guys at night. I have a feeling the squirrels decided a nightly game of “Survivor” wasn’t worth the peanut chips, and I haven’t seen them for about a month. I regularly got so close to them that I could have petted them while I was changing bird feeders.

“Ms. Deer” — I’m not very orginal with names — is usually a daily visitor. Once she sat down under a tree and kept me company while I was gardening. She is a curious soul and seems to like observing me on the terrace as much as I like observing her.

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Very Remote Smith Island, Maryland

Posted on April 18, 2010. Filed under: Environmental Issues, Native American Issues, Nature, Travel |

Smith Island Seascape    Crab
Smith Island Seascape Crab
Boat that Brings Mail to Smith Island Smith Island Seascape
Boat that Brings Mail to Smith Island Smith Island Seascape
Seagull Boat passing our ferry
Seagull Boat Passing Our Ferry
Photos copyright 2010 VisualInfo.Biz, Inc.

When I found Smith Island on the map — it’s an island below the southern tip of Maryland’s Eastern Shore — I knew Chris had picked a good place to get away this weekend. It’s about a four-hour drive from northern Virginia to Crisfield, Maryland, one close mainlaind point near Smith Island.

Fewer than two hundred people live on Smith Island. You can only get there by boat — there are no roads to it. A boat brings mail to Smith Island every day. Drive to the end of Route 413 and you will find a few ferry boats that will take you over to Smith Island at 12:30 p.m. each day.

We rode over on a small boat with a family from Newport News, Virginia; another couple from Annapolis, Maryland; and a large Doodle dog. The ferry trip was about one pleasant hour each way.

There were a lot of houses pretty close to each other — some in excellent shape, some abandoned.

We had a few interesting conversations with locals. Some of the residents spoke with a heavy dialect that could be difficult to understand.

Most of the people on Smith Island earn a living by crabbing and digging for oysters. There were a lot of crab pots on the decks near the bay. Quite a few of the residents grew up on Smith Island and have crabbed for generations.

Chris and I asked about their schools. They have one school that everyone attends until eighth grade. Later on we found out from the family with whom we rode on the ferry that there are currently four girls and no boys in the seventh grade. After eighth grade, the high school children ride a boat to high school in Crisfield, Maryland on the mainland during the week.

We read beforehand that many people travel around the island on golf carts, and there did seem to be almost “a golf cart in every yard.” Most of the trucks and cars did not have license plates. We asked a few people about this, and they said that there was really no need for them.

These people said that there was no need for a legal system in general, and that they have never had police on Smith Island. When there are disputes, the people involved have handled them satisfactorily.

We also asked people how they deal with everyday shopping. A few locals told us that most people have cars parked on the mainland in Crisfield, Maryland. When they want to go shopping, they ride a boat over to their car. They go shopping and do other errands. When they are done, they pack their purchases on the boat and ride back home with them.

On the way back, we were looking for a museum run by the local Accohannock Tribe, which is state-recognized and seeking Federal designation. It was not open, but we chanced upon an interesting little store that we will visit again — Blue Heron Junction in Marion Station, Maryland. I talked to Lou Ann and Perry Brown for probably about an hour and purchased some interesting items. I have to go back for the harnd-carved wooden birds. They have a great mixture of old and new there — antiques, handmade items, and some real unique finds. I know plenty of people around Washington, D.C. would appreciate this little store.

I learned from Lou Ann that Marion Station has been officially designated a ghost town. I also learned that the big event in Crisfield, Maryland is the annual Crab Derby during Labor Day weekend, to which people have brought racing crabs from as far as Australia. Also there are local strawberry and daffodil festivals.

We are going back to this area sometime to at least see Tangier Island, and hopefully for our first Crab Derby.

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Endless Caverns: My Favorite Cavern

Posted on April 11, 2010. Filed under: Environmental Issues, Nature, Travel |

Click on photo to see better detail.
  Inside Endless Caverns   Inside Endless Caverns  
Inside Endless Caverns
  Hibernating Female Indiana Bats   Hibernating Female Indiana Bats  
Hibernating Female Indiana Bats
Click on photo to see better detail.

Two weekends ago Chris and I visited Endless Caverns in New Market, VA, for about the sixth time. It’s a little over two hours from northern Virginia.

Endless Caverns is my favorite cavern for three reasons.

  • They have the most stunning views of many different types of formations.
  • They have the best tour guides — by far the most knowledgeable about cavern geology, history, and biology. And it’s obvious that they love what they’re doing.
  • They have the most bats!

During the last tour, we had the good fortune of being with a really large, raucous group of people from Minnesota and Pennsylvania, including a high school astronomy club from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Four species of bats frequent Endless Caverns. All of the other bats we have seen hibernating in caverns sleep upside-down solo. The Indiana bats — an endangered species — hibernate in colonies (I think of them as “clumps”). I just read online that sometimes as many as three hundred bats have been found huddled together in one square foot.

After our tour guide, James, showed us a group of female Indiana bats piled on top of each other, a woman in the group asked if they were lesbian bats. Those who could hear her broke out in laughter.

Endless Caverns also has more natural lighting than the more commercial caverns, which we prefer, and a beautiful campground to boot.

Photos copyright 2010 VisualInfo.Biz, Inc.
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Organ Cave: Finally Got the Bat Picture

Posted on March 28, 2010. Filed under: Environmental Issues, History, Nature, Travel |

Hibernating Bat in Organ Cave    Organ Cave Hopper used by Confederate Soldiers  
Hibernating Bat, Organ Cave   Hopper Used by Confederate Soldiers

Click for Organ Cave’s web site

Saturday Chris and I drove to Organ Cave, West Virginia to take the Organ Cave Tour. It was well worth the trip. (Organ Cave is about a four-hour drive from northern Virginia.)

Chris and I have been touring many, many caverns in Virginia and West Virginia over the last couple of years. We found Organ Cave most memorable for its history, fossils, naturalized state, wildlife, and extended tours.

We prefer more natural caves over the showy, commericialized caverns. Organ Cave has lights reminiscent of old-style lanterns so you get a feeling of how people visited and interacted in the cave in times past.

The cave is unusual in its many hoppers which soldiers left behind after the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The soldiers refined saltpeter with these hoppers. Saltpeter is derived from bat guano found in the caverns.

Many fossils have been discovered at Organ Cave. Most famous is the giant three-toed sloth, the remains of which were sent to Thomas Jefferson. Also the remains of a sabre-tooth cat, nine-banded armadillo, reindeer, and other prehistoric animals have been found.

We finally obtained our elusive bat picture. We have seen plenty of hibernating bats at Endless Caverns (New Market, VA) and Dixie Caverns (Salem, VA) but have not gotten good photos of them yet. The bats hibernate in caves in Virginia from November through April. During the spring and fall, they may go into the caves to sleep during the daytime. During the summer they tend to sleep outside of the caves.

Organ Cave also has many extended tours where you can do “real” hiking and caving to explore deeper parts of the caverns. The tours that we are going to go back for seem to range around $50 per person. Also they have an “undernighter” where you can even sleep in the cave overnight!

Our tour guide and the people running the gift shop were very knowledgeable and obviously enthusiastic about Organ Cave.

We recommend a visit to Organ Cave. There are also many other attractions in the area, so it is worth an overnight trip to allow time to explore everything.

Photos copyright 2010 Organ Cave, Inc.
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December 19, 2009 Blizzard: Backyard Pics

Posted on December 20, 2009. Filed under: Current Events, Environmental Issues, Nature |

Click on photo to see better detail.
Bamboo in Snow Cardinal Eating Seed
Bamboo in Snow Cardinal Eating Seed
Holly in Icicles Bamboo in Snow No. 2
Holly in Icicles Bamboo in Snow No. 2
Bamboo in Snow No. 3 Squirrel in Feeder
Bamboo in Snow No. 3 Squirrel in Feeder
Click on photo to see better detail.

I was relieved when I heard the weekend snow forecast because I had not done my homework for Saturday’s Microsoft Project class. Friday night I fervently checked the Internet for school closings, just like kids do.

The eighteen inches of snow that fell Friday and all day Saturday ensured that there was no class on Saturday. My wish came true, but with a price tag: The weather totally changed my weekend schedule.

While the snow continually blew through the yard on Saturday, I put new seed and peanuts out for the backyard birds, squirrels, foxes, and other animals just about every hour. The snow was falling so quickly and the wind was so strong that snow kept covering the seed, even though all the feeders have covers over them.

Thankfully, the snow stopped early on Sunday, today. I spent at least four hours today shoveling the yard and my car, although I doubt I will be driving that car anywhere tomorrow. The plows have yet to get to our street.

A good part of the rest of the day I have laid on the couch, staring at the plethora of grazing birds and squirrels, my body aching in all sorts of places. I am going to be sore tomorrow for sure. In fact, my fingers hurt while I am typing — that must be from holding the shovel with pounds of snow on it.

I got plenty of wonderful outdoors exercise on Saturday and Sunday but I still have not done my homework. 🙂

Photos copyright 2009 VisualInfo.Biz, Inc.
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Gray Wolves No Longer U.S. Endangered Species in Three States

Posted on February 24, 2008. Filed under: Environmental Issues, Nature, Non-Profit Organizations |

Johnson, Kirk. “U.S. Ends Protections For Wolves In 3 States.” New York Times. Feb. 22, 2008: A14.

The U.S. Government plans to end federal protection for gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in March 2008.

Gray wolves were one of the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1974 when there were no gray wolves in the West.

Sixty-six wolves were brought into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s. They have multiplied to almost 1,300 wolves. About 230 wolves have migrated into the West from Canada. The population has been rising at a rate of about 24 percent a year.

State governments now allow wolf hunting and aim for target populations of 150 wolves in each state.

Several environmental groups and biologists think that federal protection should not be dropped and that a population of 2,000 to 3,000 would be more stable.

Some conservation groups are filing lawsuits against this action.

Read Kirk Johnson’s full article.

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