My love of porcupines has been well-documented on this blog (see here, and here, and here, and of course here). I remember watching this YouTube clip from Birdchick of an adorable baby porcupine eating banana and hiccuping one afternoon last spring and thinking it was the best thing ever:
This video has had over two million views. This porcupine, whose name is Thistle, definitely qualifies as internet famous. And this week I met this famous porcupine in person! Turns out Thistle is now an education animal at Wolf Ridge, the environmental learning center in northern Minnesota that my fellow grad students and I went on a field trip to. Here is a hastily-snapped photo of him, no longer a cute porcupet – yes, that is the real word for baby porcupine – but now a big fat grown-up porcupine. These days his treat of choice is peanuts.
Just another day in the glamorous life of a naturalist, constantly rubbing elbows with celebrities.
Over the weekend I hiked out to one of my favorite spots on campus, the same place where I photographed grass-pink orchids this summer and watched courting turtles last fall. It’s this amazing area along a lakeshore where old logs in the water have been colonized by bog plants, creating little islands of habitat. Getting out to them requires scrambling down a bank and then walking out on the newer vegetation-free logs.
While I was crouching on a log admiring the sundew and pitcher plants, a meadowhawk dragonfly (I’m not sure of the exact species) blundered into a big spiderweb next to me. I admired it for a moment, thinking I might take a photo and then free it, since the spider seemed to be nowhere in sight. Then the dragonfly twitched and the enormous spider appeared out of its hiding place.
After a second it occurred to me to switch my camera to video mode. Ta-da! I can almost hear David Attenborough narrating. You can see the spider working to crunch the awkwardly-shaped dragonfly down into a more manageable package, crumpling up its wings and abdomen.
It was hard to keep the video perfectly in focus, since I was balancing on a log and couldn’t see what I was doing terribly well. But I’m not gonna lie, this was a pretty darn cool thing to watch. What a big meal for that spider!
We visited the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin yesterday. More on that later, but their captive Whooping Cranes were beating the heat by panting and splashing around in their pool.
It was entertaining to watch such graceful birds let loose and act goofy. Whooping Cranes are the most endangered of the world’s crane species and one of the most endangered birds in North America – less than 500 remain in the wild.
My coworker at my assistantship this semester just finished editing this video featuring both of us (and our friend Bob) for her web series, Cool Things in Nature.
In addition to the return of my raspberry-colored coat and dorky hat, this features me talking (again) about fisher predation… and Julia telling you more than you ever really wanted to know about porcupine mating rituals.
The local news came and did a brief piece on the seventh graders who were here from inner city Milwaukee last week. I can’t embed it, unfortunately, but if you’re interested you can watch it here. I wasn’t interviewed or anything, but I’m visible in a couple of the shots – I’m the one in the pink coat, green backpack, and dorky-looking gray hat with the ear flaps and tassels. (Hey, I love that hat, okay? It’s very warm.)
A while ago I wrote about fishers, which were on my mind because I was preparing to give my final presentation for my Certified Interpretive Guide training, for which my topic was fishers and the fact that they’re the only predator that kills and eats porcupines. If anyone is interested in hearing me talk about fishers for ten minutes, here’s the video of that talk.
It’s always disconcerting to see and hear oneself on video. I really look and sound like that? Oh well.
Before we had a bit of a thaw this week, we had something like eighteen inches of snow on the ground. Base – not drifts. That’s a lot of snow. I noticed that along the edges of the plowed walkways you could see an interesting cross section of layers formed by all the individual snowfalls we’ve had.
A couple inches of snow fall and settle, and then another inches fall on top of them and settle, etc. etc. It looks like geological layers in a rock formation. You could stage a miniature archaeological dig in there.
I know not everyone has a lot of snow this winter, but if you do and you’re looking for something fun to do with it, my friends at Cool Things in Nature (remember this?) have put together an instructional video on building a quinzhee snow shelter.
I’m not in the video because it’s from last week when I had stomach flu. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try!
I am out west for my holiday break now, but this post was written and scheduled on Monday.
By now most of the animals I enjoyed observing in September and October are dead, dormant, or gone south. When I do run into signs that a creature has been out and about, it’s always worth stopping to take a look.
Running vertically from the bottom of this photo to the woodpile at the top is a well-trod squirrel highway, crossed at right-angles by human boot prints. When I looked more closely I found the remains of a meal of pine seeds on top of one of the logs.
I kept walking and spent a while exploring the edge of one of the lakes. On my way back, however, I was lost in thought when a sudden movement nearby startled me out of my reverie – the squirrels had returned to the scene of the crime. The American Red Squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, is a much more frenetic and noisy animal than its fatter, lazier gray cousin. One of them immediately started scolding me from the safety of a tree, but when I sat on the ground and waited it eventually decided to continue about its business, albeit still shooting me suspicious looks. (I’m being very anthropomorphic here, but watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.)
In the video you can see the squirrel disappear under a pile of decaying logs and emerge with a cone. It did this several times while I watched, so I assume I stumbled upon it retrieving food from a cache. I was tempted to lift up one of the logs and see what all was in there, but I decided I didn’t want to disturb it, in case doing so would adversely affect the squirrel’s survival somehow – the animals that do remain active through the winter here need every scrap of calorie they can get.
Tomorrow is the winter solstice. Halfway out of the dark, my friends.
The A.P. Environmental Science teacher here has put together a time-lapse video of one of the lakes on campus (Little Donahue, not to be confused with Big Donahue) over the course of the fall. I love the changing patterns you can see in the ice once it freezes over!
Remember that post about the teneral dragonfly at the edge of Lake Superior (ooh, teneral, listen to my fancy new vocabulary)? Well, there’s more to that story. After taking the photos you’ve already seen, I climbed back up to our campsite and excitedly told the others about what we’d found. A few minutes later one of the other grad students, who goes by the name “Coolia” on the web, sidled up to me and said thoughtfully, “You know a lot about dragonflies, huh?”
“Um… define ‘a lot.’”
“Can you talk about them for thirty seconds for a Cool Things in Nature video?”
“Yes! Yes I can!”
Coolia, you see, is just as much of a nature nerd as I am, but rather than blogging she produces her own video series. So the two of us clambered happily back down to the shore, relocated the dragonfly (now signficantly drier and almost ready to fly away), and geeked out about it while she shot a video on her digital camera. Neither of us is an entomologist, and it shows, but what we lack in knowledge we make up for in excitement.