Blood Moon: What the Eclipse is it?

The final lunar eclipse in the 2015 tetrad (sequence of four lunar eclipses) occurred last night, beginning at 8:30.  The view from our neighborhood was hazy, but we still had a quick “viewing party” on our street. It was a strange feeling to see the moon any color other than white, and I had a ton of questions after it finished. Now, I’ll answer them for people with the same dilemma.

The Blood Moon is a mixing of a “supermoon” and a solar eclipse. Let’s start with:

SUPERMOON

A “Supermoon” is a full moon that is the closest to the fall equinox and at is nearest point to Earth. This makes the moon appear fourteen percent larger in diameter, and therefore causes this eclipse to have an excellent visibility. Supermoons are also thirty-three percent brighter than the average moon.

LUNAR ECLIPSE

A lunar eclipse is when the Moon passes behind the Earth’s shadow. This can result in a reddish tinting to the Moon, hence the name “Blood Moon”.

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Video courtesy of NASA 

SUPERMOON LUNAR ECLIPSE? IS THAT EVEN A THING?

The answer is yes, and it’s only happened 5 times since 1900! If you missed it, because the SuperBloodLunarEclipseHarvestMoon was actually only visible from Europe, the Americas and Africa, there are tons of videos online. Here’s a layout of the eclipse’s stages:

Partial Eclipse begins at 9:07 pm EDT, Sept. 27, 2015

Total Eclipse begins 10:11 pm EDT, Sept. 27, 2015

Total Eclipse ends 11:23 pm EDT, Sept. 27, 2015

Partial Eclipse ends 12:27 am EDT, Sept. 28, 2015

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SEA TURTLES!

Okay, this is really overdue. I was working on it in July, and then holy guacamole, it’s August already.

But I still remember it clearly.

I wet on a trip with AFiN to Cozumel. The trip lasted a week, so it’s not chronicled here in its entirety. This is just a snippet.

We all stayed up till midnight to go see sea turtles nesting. It took some major effort, but everyone managed to stay awake long enough to hop in their rental cars and take the single highway to the East Side of Cozumel. The east side has barely any buildings, isn’t as touristy, and makes a way better place for sea turtles to lay their eggs.

Upon arrival, our group was greeted by a volunteer named Lemuel. He took us over to a large pit in the sand and explained that it was a nest made by a sea turtle. I looked inside and, lo and behold, there was an adult Green sea turtle! She was laying her eggs, which we got to watch. It was an amazing sight. We got to touch her huge shell, which felt smooth and sandy.

Lemuel then took us to watch a mother digging herself a path out of the nest. With some help, she dragged herself out and we watched her lumber out into the waves, their crests lapping softly over her shell.

And then came the great part. Two volunteers ran over and talked to Lemuel. When their attention turned back to us, Lemuel said he had a surprise. There was a baby loggerhead nest ready to hatch!

Our group stumbled around turtle nests to reach the location of the hatchlings. At first glance, it appeared to be just a normal nest. Then Lemuel scooped a handful of sand off the top, and turtles poured out! There were only a few at first and then more, and then an impenetrable black mass of flippers appeared.

The turtles crawled toward us, so we turned our headlamps off. A volunteer was at the water, holding an enormous flashlight. The turtles flopped towards it, all trying to reach the ocean. One tiny baby got kelp stuck to its butt, and kept falling over until the volunteers took off the kelp. Eighty-four eggs hatched that day, and all of them made it to the water.

FACTS I LEARNT (Learnt is a real word!)

Turtles lay “pink eggs”, which are eggs that contain no embryos. Their purpose is to space out the fertile eggs and maintain the clutch’s temperature.

If a nest of turtles happens to hatch during the daytime, instead of running to the ocean, the turtles will fall back asleep, sometimes poking their heads out of the sand.

Male babies are generally the majority if the nest is cold, whereas females are more prevalent when the nest is warm.

Loggerhead males can be told apart from females because their tail is longer.

An Update on Nature Undercover

This, I felt, was necessary. I have a lot of “Part One”s on my blog and zero “Part Two”s. That being said, today I realized if I don’t do it now, I will never run a sequel to Nature, Undercover. I’ll get caught up in spring birding and summer kayaking. Nature, Undercover: Part Two will go never made.

So I made one!

Get ready for:

Nature, Undercover: Part Two

An Addition to Birds

They are anywhere and everywhere. One species I appreciate for their general everywhereness is the Barn Swallow. They make nests in strange places.One family nests in our broken porch light. The same family has been coming to our house for years. Another remarkable place I have seen them nest is a filter inside a drained pool. It’s really funny to watch them fly out of there.Such a small living space for so many birds!

Another nice sight is Cliff Swallows. The most prevalent colony I have ever seen is under the overpass at Ladybird Lake. Last time I was at the lake I watched a cloud of them gather mud to build their nests. It was funny to observe them congregating around the puddle.

Birds fight just like cats. I watched some Carolina Wrens fighting yesterday. It was a big ball of feathers with lots of squeaking and chirping. They were louder than my barking dog at some points!

The reason I classify these as Undercover is that they all were in man-made areas.

Another good example is wasps. Wasps simply do not care where they nest. In fact they appear to like human spaces for their nests. It is not the sort of thing the average person would appreciate , per se, but you do have to admire their ability to enter a tiny space and turn it into a rapidly multiplying wasp colony. Plus they are extremely hard workers.

My next undercover is a bit different: how people incorporate nature into their lives using inorganic materials. I like to see how the human race, deep down, all share a fascination with nature. Below is LEGO artist Thomas Poulsom and his Robin Red Breast.
Thomas Poulsom with his recently in stores Robin Redbreast.

carol carter yellowjacket. jpg        Barn Swallow Canvas

Above is watercolorist Carol Carter’s Yellowjacket painting from her bug-themed series, small INTRUDERS. There are one hundred paintings in the series. Next to it is Peggy Dreher’s rendition of a baby Barn Swallow. All of these share a sense of the maker being “in tune” with nature to me. I love the creativity that stems from nature.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did! Feel free to tell me about your Nature, Undercover experiences!

Technology, Apps and Butterflies – The Children & Nature Network Conference

Me and my sister in the bluebonnets that were EVERYWHERE at Lost Pines!

Me and my sister in the bluebonnets that were EVERYWHERE at Lost Pines!

Last Tuesday I went to a Children & Nature Network conference with a few of the selected staff and members of AFIN. The conference was held at the Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop, TX.  The place is enormous, to say the least. The weather was beautiful with all the flowers blooming and trees budding. It seemed strange that we would be having the conference inside on such a nice day!

The conference revolved around a central mission of getting children to embrace nature.  It started with a kickoff speech by a few ecologists and naturalists, including Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods.  Louv’s book discusses how children are more detached from nature than ever and the negative impact that is having on social and emotional wellness in youth.  He calls it Nature Deficit Disorder. Richard Louv is also the Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. I was incredibly honored to meet him!

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Meeting Richard Louv – he’s really nice!

Tuesdays presentations focused on the role of technology and how it can be used for education and conservation.  The first presentation I chose to attend was about a new digital product known as Nature Passport Beta. Nature Passport is an app designed to gradually “wean” kids off their portable electronics.  Nature Passport was created by two organizations, IslandWood in Washington, and Nature Play WA in Western Australia.

IslandWood is an organization dedicated to get people to spend more time outside. Based in Bainbridge Island, they run programs and hold events designed to get the community to enjoy being outdoors. This is very important, because in the US over the course of a single generation, kids’ time outside has been halved.

Nature Play WA is a very similar non-profit organization working towards getting their community to love being in nature. Australian children get an average of 2 hours a day outside but Nature Play WA wants to increase that amount.

The two groups collaborated to make Nature Passport which is an app for any small portable device. The app encourages kids to get outside by providing missions such as identifying birds or finding native plants. When a mission is completed, the user is rewarded with a virtual prize. Eventually, Nature Passport hopes to add real prizes from some of their sponsors such as the North Face.  The idea and the missions were creative and I think they would definitely appeal to kids who like a game-based challenge.

The next presentation I attended was given by several  different groups. These groups all shared a mission of providing kids, often coming from low-income neighborhoods,  with nature-oriented afterschool programs. One takes the kids to natural spaces and just lets them explore and be kids.  This group also regulates the use of electronics so people are not interacting with  their phones all the time. Two of the groups, including Austin Youth River Watch, monitor water quality, letting the kids test water areas to see if they are clean or unhealthy.  One of these groups uses something called “Invisible Nature”. Invisible Nature uses infrared cameras or computerized maps to make a rough design of something like an aquifer, or things that can’t be seen at all, like heat patterns in water. They then take the design and transfer it to their 3-D printer. The printer creates a plastic model of the image, and voila!, they  have a hands-on model to work with instead of a flat photo!  I thought that the ideas the presenters showed  were very creative and took large steps toward protecting the environment in a citizen-based way.  I know my little sister would really love using the 3-D printer!

After lunch,PBSKids previewed their new show,  Nature Cat. It is an animated story in which the characters spend time in nature, enticing viewers to do the same. The show also has an interactive app that gives users things to do outside, whether in an urban, suburban, or rural environment. It’s geared for a younger audience but I know how much I loved the Kratt brothers so more shows about nature (especially anything with a cat because I love cats)can only be better!

Finally,it was time for Kid Talk, in which kids gave speeches about how they brought together techonology and nature.  My friend, Andy Kuhlken, talked about how to use the viral game Minecraft in a biophilic, or life-loving, way. The worlds he built were really cool and complex.  He demonstrated how to create landscapes that mimicked real ecosystems and could be seen as educational.  It was definitely a progressive way to use a game I once viewed as keeping my friends AWAY from nature.

Then Sahil, a student from Laurel Mountain Elementary, presented how he did a study on nature using a website called iNaturalist. Originally, he was just interested in the technology, but as he continued he began to truly love nature itself. He decided to do an experiment  in which he identified things incorrectly on iNaturalist to see how long it took people to correct them. He found it never took more than three days.  Pretty impressive oversight for an app!

Third, came Commander Ben, a 16-year-old who goes to public schools to teach younger kids about invasive plant species and how to fight them.Ben also makes short movies in which he fights invasive plants. I thought this was an informative but humorous way to teach kids about the threat invasives pose to our ecosystem. Some were super funny!

Surprisingly, at the end of Kid Talk, I was asked up on stage to showcase my blog! It was really cool, but I was a bit nervous. I think everybody liked it, though and maybe a few new people are reading this thanks to the conference!

At the end of the day, I eagerly went outside to tag butterflies-two of them! How you tag a butterfly is you affix a small sticker to a blunt toothpick. You then roll the toothpick around on the butterfly’s wing until the sticker is properly attached to the butterfly. Both butterflies I tagged were monarchs from Monarch Watch. It was really fun! I liked watching them fly away to Lost Pines’ pollinator garden.

monarch tag

Overall, it was a great day filled with new ideas and I love how many groups are committed to education and conservation.  Now let’s get back outside while it’s still Spring!

Leadbetter Beach Tide Pools

Well, a few days ago, I got home from a fabulous trip to an even more fabulous place….

(Insert drum roll here)

Santa Barbara, California!

As you may know, the wondrous west coast is composed of as series of beaches. California’s beaches are not very rocky, with most of them just a flat stretch of sand until they hit the water.

That’s when things get interesting.

The water’s edge is lined with rocks on some beaches. Those rocks happen to get wet when the tide comes in. Voila! Instant tide pools!

IMG_8970

There is a variety of animals in the tide pools. The most common are probably aggregate anemones, or ‘squirties’. They are bright to deep green on the inside, with the occasional purple or blue one. On the outside, though, they have a coating of sand and shells that are stuck to their sticky flesh. Aggregate anemones clone themselves, hence the abundance of them. The aggregate anemones squirt water if you touch them: that’s why I nicknamed them ‘squirties’.

There are also limpets, chitons, and mussels found on several of the beaches in Santa Barbara.

Limpets are a type of snail without a curved shell. They pretty much latch onto the rocks and stay there. BOOORRIINNGG. Or so it seems.

On closer inspection (as in really, REALLY close), the limpet has a tiny tongue or radula that is used for scraping algae off the rocks to eat it. The tongue is lined with tiny teeth, which when tested turned out to be stronger than any natural material, even spider silk!

There are several beaches in Santa Barbara, one being Leadbetter Beach. You can tell right away that this beach’s tide pools are chock-full of marine life by the fact that there are hermit crabs practically every two inches. Normally they are rare in Santa Barbara.

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Sea hare being picked up

Then we found the sea hares.

Sea hares look pretty much like a cross between a slug and a sea cucumber. (Eeuw.) It looks like some kind of Star Wars reject. Or maybe the physical embodiment of a nightmare.

But if you get closer, suppress your gag reflex, and touch one (how unthinkable), they’re actually kind of soft. It’s kind of hard to describe what they feel like, but the closest thing I can think of would be a balloon made of silk filled with Jello and then coated with egg whites. (Whew.)

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Sea Hare with Algae

And if you pick one up (oh, the horror) and hold it above water, they don’t bother you as much. They can stretch their bodies, making it super hard to hold them. They feel so insubstantial that it seems if you picked them up they would burst, but they are actually pretty heavy. And they have all kinds of rainbow designs on their backs.  But be sure not to scare them, or they will ink you, and that stuff is stinky. We saw one ink there, and it was a very dark crimson-purple.

Some other people found an octopus, and we looked at it change colors. In the only picture we have of it, it is kind of greenish-bluish, but it has a wide range of colors, thanks to the chromatophores on its back. Chromatophores are a type of color changing cell, the equivalent of melanocytes in  humans. Octopi can also change texture. Wow.

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Can you find the octopus?

Eventually we had to pack up and go back to the place we were staying, but it was a pretty cool stretch of coastline, and if you are ever, EVER, EVER, traveling California, I recommend stopping by Leadbetter Beach. You won’t regret it!

Stanley

Okay, I know I have not written for a while, and it’s because of two things:

One: It was cold.

Two: I was sick.

So I wasn’t outside much. End of story.

But there is a fair amount of animals inside the house (17, plus we are usually babysitting somebody or other’s dog.) I spent a lot of time with them this inside, cold, siiiiick winter, and I decided to blog about them (or at least some of them). My posts will hopefully resume their outdoor quality this weekend. In the meantime, meet Stanley!

Stanley

Stanley is not technically our cat, we’re babysitting him. But it’s for a matter of months, so I do believe I know plenty about him.

Stanley is kind of psycho. He will be rolling around on the floor one minute, tearing up and down the stairs the next. He has the concentration of a chicken with its head chopped off. He is really sweet, though, and if you come to him instead of carrying him to you, he will let you pet him.

To work off all that steam, we have to exercise him. He will play with ANYTHING: thread, laser pointers, TV remotes, crinkled paper, etc. It’s not too hard to exercise a cat like that. But he never gets tired, so the real reason is Stanley’s size.

Stanley is fat. He just eats way too much. He also eats anything: cat food, thread, cheese, paper, dust, spit-up ham (don’t even ask). He has a devious strategy: gets up at 5 am, makes a ton of noise, and only stops when you feed him. He then proceeds to push his cat food off of the plate, slather it across the kitchen floor, then eat it. He also eats whatever the other cats don’t finish.

Stanley loves our older cat Stella. Stella is the grumpiest fourteen-year-old cat ever. She pretends not to like his company, but I think she secretly does. Stanley is her shadow, following around the house constantly. He looks up to her like an idol.

He does his own thing sometimes as well. One of his hobbies is hurling himself against our 30-gallon fish tank. Nothing ever happens, but he likes to do it anyway. He looks pretty ridiculous, flying through the air, arms splayed like a skydiver. When he collides with the tank, he just picks himself up and tries again.

When you sleep, Stanley sleeps with you. Well, not always sleeps, exactly. Sometimes he crawls on your chest and licks your face. His rough little tongue goes right up your nose, and makes it impossible to sleep. Ahh, kittens.

Well, that about closes it up for Stanley. If you would like more pet posts in the future, let me know!

Hazards 101, Part One: Poisonous Plants

In Earth Native, we are having a challenge. Part of my challenge is to journal 5 hazardous plants found in Texas. I came up with a pretty good list:

Chinaberry, Common Oleander, Holly, Larkspur, Mexican Buckeye, Mistletoe, Mountain Laurel, Poison Hemlock, Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Possumhaw (I think), Silverleaf Nightshade, Star Jasmine, Water Hemlock

Well, turns out there’s a lot more. I decided to start my journal on an insanely common plant: Mistletoe. Here’s what I found out:

Common Name: American Mistletoe                                                                                                       Scientific Name(s):  American Mistletoe has had a number of Latin names, the current being Phoradendron Serotinum. (Phoradendron means thief of the tree in Greek.)

Mistletoe is an evergreen plant. It is called a hemiparasitic plant, and it uses other trees as its host, using its roots to take the tree’s nutrients. However, the mistletoe still photosynthesizes, and therefore is not fully parasitic.

Mistletoe’s hazard is when it is ingested, which is caused by a toxin in the plant called phoratoxin. In addition to being poisonous, mistletoe has been used as a cancer treatment, and still is in parts of Europe. The symptoms of mistletoe-eating include nausea, blurred vision, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even death.

American Mistletoe pollinates by having sticky seeds, which attach to birds that come to eat its berries. (Mistletoe can be safely eaten by birds.) When the bird lands on another tree, the seed attaches to the tree and starts to grow another plant.

Mistletoe grows in clusters on branches. These clusters can grow to a whopping five feet across, and are called witches’ brooms due to their appearance. Many birds nest in witches’ brooms, like the mourning dove and house wren.

Mistletoe’s name literally means “dung on a twig” in Anglo-Saxon.

Out of 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide, North America has but two- the American Mistletoe and the Dwarf Mistletoe. Twenty types of mistletoe are endangered. Dwarf Mistletoe pollinates by exploding their berries, sending seeds flying up to fifty feet!!!!!!!

There’s Journal Number One. I’ll post more as soon as I make them!