Hey, fellow nature-lovers!   There are two days left to the WeDigBio event for you to participate.   WeDigBio stands for Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections and focuses on the digitization of natural history museum specimens. 

All you need to do is complete five transcriptions. Anyone can do this as the process is easy. There are instructions to guide you along.  Use this link to get started:  

https://www.zooniverse.org/organizations/md68135/notes-from-nature?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=announce14oct2021

Topics range from plants to bugs to marine invertebrates and many others. If there’s a natural subject that you are interested in, there is probably a project focused on it.

If our entire readership does just five transcriptions each, we can make a significant contribution to the cause. 

Have fun.  You might even learn something at the same time!  The event ends on October 17th so don’t delay.

This challenge is rated as easy.   

#WeDigBio

Photo 199977285 © Samuel Martins | Dreamstime.com

Who doesn’t love pandas or elephants?  Doesn’t a baby hippo steal your heart?  Aren’t you in awe of the majesty of lions and the fierceness of tigers?  Each of these endangered species has one or more organizations dedicated to saving them.  Each is also a charismatic species.  We are drawn to them because we like them and we are inspired by them.  We recognize something about each that we don’t want to lose.  

Now imagine if every species, threatened or not, had an advocate.  Unfortunately, not every species has the ability to naturally attract a fan club.  Some are born photogenic, others are rather plain.  This shouldn’t dictate their chances for long-term survival.

Since there are no available photos for use of Northern Bog Lemming, here is a similar-looking Common Red-backed Vole. © Jarmo Saarinen | Dreamstime.com

For today’s nature challenge, select a little-known or under-appreciated species.  For example, in Maine, we have the Northern Bog Lemming (Synaptomys borealis).  It is the rarest mammal found within the state and it is considered threatened here.  The species shares much of the range with the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis).  However, the lynx is a charismatic species that receives federal protection.  Not so for the Northern Bog Lemming. 

I chose this as my species to support.  Now, it’s your turn.  What species will you choose?

Each state and many countries have lists of local species.  Find one that intrigues you.  Seek out one that you’ve never heard of before.  Learn as much as you can about it.  In what kind of environment is it found?  What is its life history?  How would you go about making it more well-known and more popular?  Note, many of these don’t have decent photos available on the internet.  Perhaps you could capture a compelling snap?

If you were this species’ public relations manager, how would you advance its image?

For inspiration, you might want to listen to Lucy Cooke’s wonderful presentation to the Commonwealth Club of California.   She almost single-handedly made sloths popular.  Here is a link to the podcast:  https://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2018-04-26/lucy-cooke-truth-about-animals

Another great listen is by Dr. George Schaller, also known as the Feral Biologist.  Here is the link to Scientific American’s show called Science Talk for the episode:  https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/2d91176b-d494-02ed-fb892017eb1c1dbf/

This challenge can be rated as easy or difficult depending on how involved you want to become as the PR manager for your selected species.   Good luck!

Have you ever noticed how many things in our lives are named after something from nature?  Often the named object has minimal connection to the inspiring species or natural feature except to evoke an emotional response.  This response may be a feeling of power, or a suggestion of the exotic, or perhaps reminiscent of the unspoiled, to name a few.  

Your nature challenge for this week is to find at least 20 nature-inspired names as you go about your day.  I’ll bet you’ll find even more.  

Mammoth Cave Sign © Jiawangkun | Dreamstime.com

To give you a head start, consider names of:

    • State parks like Turkey Run State Park in Indiana
    • Cities such as Buffalo, NY
    • Sports teams such as Toronto Blue Jays
    • Clothing brands such as American Eagle Outfitters

You may be surprised by how frequently natural inspiration is used.  

Ironically, some of our most beloved brands and locations call to mind symbols of nature that have been eliminated so that those products can be available.   Just think of a new housing development called Deer Meadows which no longer has grazing fields, and the deer have dispersed to other locations, or worse. 

This challenge is rated as easy. 

This is the second part of the Nature Challenge that we started last week.  In that activity, you were asked to find a nature story to tell.  This story doesn’t need to be lengthy but its detail and flow should build to keep an audience member interested throughout.   If you missed that part of the challenge you can connect to it here:  https://comfortmewithnature.com/nature-challenge-prepare-to-tell-your-nature-story/

Photo 177351528 © Anna Kazantseva | Dreamstime.com

Now that you’ve developed your story’s theme, it’s time to illustrate it.  Most everyone has a mobile phone with a camera function.  Get out there and snap some photos or short video clips that align with the bullet points you outlined earlier.  

Once you have those, consider the best sequence for these shots to convey your message.   Sometimes you will need a frame with narration in-between to facilitate a transition.   This can be done in Powerpoint (on a Microsoft-based computer) or Keynote (on a Mac or iPad/iPhone).  Next, save these in the jpeg format.  

Then, depending on the type of computer, tablet, or mobile phone you are using, there is a free application that will stitch your photo files together to make a short movie. Most also allow you to do a voice-over for additional narrative elements.  Other more sophisticated applications can be used to create your masterpiece, but this isn’t necessary.   For our challenge, the free ones are sufficient. 

Once you add a title frame and end with a credits frame, you are good to go.  You can share the video with others via email, on YouTube, on Twitter, or any platform that works for you. 

All of this is relatively easy.  I say that tongue in cheek. While I had no trouble creating my movie, I’ve yet to figure out how to add it here on the blog!   I will try to figure that out over the weekend, then post my modest accomplishment here. 

This challenge is rated as easy or difficult, depending on your level of technical savvy!

First, let me apologize for the delay in posting this week’s Nature Challenge.  Technical difficulties prevented me from posting as regularly scheduled. So with no further ado…

This is the first part of a two-part challenge.   

Photo 33192479 / Ancient Tree © David Morrison | Dreamstime.com

This week, as you explore outside, look around with the eye of a storyteller.   Find something that you would like to share with others.  This may be the tale of a unique geologic formation that has shaped your area and the flora and fauna that live there.  Perhaps it is the history of an unusual tree that has particular meaning to you or your community.  Maybe it is the story of a polluted area that deserves attention and ultimately, restoration. 

Once you have your story, it’s time to write it down.  This doesn’t have to be a lengthy piece.  It only needs to be long enough to provide the context for why this is important to you and others.  Include the details that make this story engaging and relevant.  Ensure that each piece of information builds on the previous.  

To make this exercise easier, you don’t have to write the narrative in paragraphs. Consider using bullet points or phrases to capture the ideas you wish to convey.

Now think about your ending.  Is there a call to action?  What would you like people to do with this information?   Would you like for them to recognize similar geologic formations in their area should they come across them?  Would you like for the audience to help preserve the historical tree?  Are you trying to motivate your audience to call upon local politicians to put forth funding to clean the polluted site?

Refine your outline until you are satisfied with its flow.   What we will do with this work product will be the subject of the second part of the Nature Challenge.  

This challenge is rated as medium difficulty. 

If you live in the United States, then it’s the start of the Labor Day weekend which is the unofficial end of our summer.  According to the agencies that monitor such things, this will be one of the busiest travel weekends since before the pandemic.  Likely, you are traveling beyond your home turf, even if just for a few hours.  

For your nature challenge this week, try to grab at least 15 to 20 minutes in this new location to explore.

Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Chances are you will be in a very different habitat.  If you are going to the city, find a local park, lake, or nearby river.  If none of these are available, consider using a garden plot.  If you are going to a new rural, oceanside, desert, or a different wilderness area, you will have ample material to study.

Consider the following:

  • Are the trees different in this location?  
  • Have you noticed any new-to-you fungi or lichen?
  • Is the birdsong different?  Perhaps some species are common here that you don’t see every day.  
  • Is there a body of water?  
  • If so, are their pools or eddies that may have small fish?
  • Are there any shells (freshwater or saltwater)?
  • What about insects?  Perhaps an unexpected type of dragonfly or damselfly?
  • What kind of terrain is this?  Wet and boggy?  Dry and sandy?  Describe it.
  • Again, this will hold unique-to-you insects.
  • What types or species of plants are thriving here?
  • Do you see any creatures?
  • How about tracks?
  • Do you see any nests, dens, or other living quarters?
  • What else makes this area unique?

With all of this information, you now can craft a nice description of the habitat.   Some people collect their experiences in different habitats and catalog them.   When you want to find a specific species for a future project such as capturing a photo of a specific species or searching for a particular flowering plant in another season, you will have created a handy reference guide. 

Now it’s your turn!

This is an easy challenge.   Enjoy and discover!

If you read my post aboutanimal cooperation, you may recall that 90% of all bee species are solitary bees.  Many types will create their own private nest but do so beside others, much like separate residences in an apartment building or hotel.  For this week’s challenge let’s build one of these structures.  It’s too late in the season for this year’s bees to use it, but you’ll have it ready by spring.

Mason Bee Hotel © Pnwnature | Dreamstime.com

Note that there are two broad categories of cavity-building solitary bees and they have different nesting times.  First, there are the mason bees (Osmia sp.) which are active in the spring.  They are followed by the leafcutter bees (Megachile sp.) seek nesting locations during the summer months.

Both types of bees seek hollow tubes with a very smooth interior that are roughly 4 to 6 inches deep.  Depending on the species, they may require a tube with a diameter anywhere from 3/32 of an inch to ⅜ inches.  Be sure to leave ¾ of an inch between each hole or tube.  

There are some great instructions already on the web that describe the building process so no need to rewrite them.  Here are two excellent sources:

https://www.thespruce.com/build-a-diy-bee-house-5112611

or 

https://pollinators.msu.edu/publications/building-and-managing-bee-hotels-for-wild-bees/

A few additional thoughts to consider:  

  • Ensure that the hotel is facing southeast to receive the most sunlight in the morning. 
  • Be sure that the “roof” is angled a bit so that rain runs off instead of pooling.  
  • Be aware that the hotel might attract unwanted guests.  Sometimes the bee larvae attract lots of ants.  Paper wasps can be opportunistic interlopers.  Finally, if you see spider webs, likely, the hotel is not getting enough sunlight.  

After a nesting season, you will need to clean out the tubes.  Use half a cup of bleach diluted in a gallon of water as the cleanser.  A pipe cleaner will provide good friction.  

This project will provide additional nesting sites for some of our most valuable pollinators.  

The challenge is rated as moderately difficult. 

Do you want to try a new activity that can help the environment and might be a treasure-hunt at the same time? Introducing magnet fishing, today’s nature challenge.  This is similar to metal detecting, except that it happens in the water.  I have not tried this activity yet, but it sounds like it could be fun as well as beneficial if you proceed with care.

Tons of items are discarded in our waterways every year.  Many have metal parts.  With a strong enough magnet and a rope as a fishing line, you can pull your metal catch out of the water.  

For the magnet, you will want a good-sized neodymium fishing magnet.  Start with a one-sider as it is easier to use.  Also, read up a bit about how to safely use these magnets.  They bring their own set of risks.

Next, you will need a nylon rope.  The length is up to you.  Consider where you will be standing when you are casting your magnet.  If you are, for example, standing on a footbridge, estimate how long the rope needs to be to touch the bottom of the pond or stream.  

Also, think about wearing some good sturdy gloves.  Many items will be broken or rusty.  You don’t want to get tetanus!  So please be careful when handling the items. 

Magnet Fishing © Couperfield | Dreamstime.com

Common catches include lost fishing lures, keys, and cell phones.  Some folks have hit the jackpot with old railroad ties, repairable bicycles, knives, jewelry, and even a money box.  

Then there are the scary catches.  They are rare, but they are not unheard of.  Bullets and oxygen bottles can be snagged.  Once, an unexploded WWII bomb was pulled up.  Occasionally, and depending on the location, hand grenades are found. If you “catch” something that might be an explosive, stop immediately, gently lower your catch, tie your line to something solid, and call for the authorities.  This doesn’t happen often, but it has happened. 

This can be a fun family event but if kids are involved, there needs to be adult supervision.  

Finally, before beginning this unusual challenge, please check the local regulations to ensure that this activity is permissible in your area. 

This seems like it could be a fun way to help clean up a waterway — if you use some good sense.  

Source: 

https://fishingbooker.com/blog/magnet-fishing/

Nearly 200 million people are under a heat advisory today in the US.  It is so unnaturally hot and humid in Maine that the grocery store is rotating staff to collect grocery carts every fifteen minutes.  

It may be too hot to be outside nevertheless we can still have some fun with nature.

Raven
Raven Image by Cornelia Schneider-Frank from Pixabay

Today’s challenge is to write a haiku about a single species or nature-based theme.  If you aren’t familiar with the haiku form, it goes like this:  Compose a phrase with five syllables, the second phrase contains seven syllables, and the last phrase has five syllables again.  It doesn’t need to rhyme although, the piece does need to be internally consistent.  It should make sense and, if you want to get fancy, you might want the poem to prompt the reader to think. 

The idea for this challenge was inspired by an observation of some squawking ravens a few days ago.  They were loud and persistent. However, I couldn’t quite catch their meaning nor intent.  Here is my offering entitled The Raven, as an example. 

 

The Raven

Clever sooty bird

Do you taunt or do you play

Warn of trouble hence

 

The readpoetry.com website offers some additional haiku examples where nature is the subject.  Here is the link for easy access:  https://www.readpoetry.com/10-vivid-haikus-to-leave-you-breathless/

Have fun with this challenge.  Feel free to share in the comments.  Try to stay cool.

This challenge is rated as Easy. 

I’ve been catching up on reading some older issues of magazines available for free on the internet.  The December 2020 issue of BBC Wildlife offered a thought-provoking article.  Entitled Dreaming of a Wild Christmas, the author, @DominicCouzens, challenged himself to find and identify as many types of birds, plants, insects, lichens, and other species, as he could in his home county of Dorset, England during one month.  His goal was to achieve at least 500 identifications.  And this was during December!

Imagine doing this in your own community.  Couzens enlisted the assistance of a few specialists to help him with the more challenging identifications.  We could do a version of this now with the help of guidebooks and other resources.  

Anything “natural” is fair game. Start with those items that you already know.  Then begin adding and identifying new-to-you species.  

There are many references available for free on the web.  Some of the most useful are region-specific dichotomous keys, so be sure to search around.  As a reminder, a dichotomous key is a tool for identifying organisms where a series of choices between alternative characteristics progressively leads to the correct organism.

Challenge yourself by exploring types of grasses and sedges, mushrooms, bryophytes such as mosses, insects, and galls.  They can be difficult to distinguish between, so don’t worry if you can’t do a complete identification.

Let’s set a modest goal of 100 species identified between now and August 15th.  That gives us one full month.   I will be posting a copy of my results sometime after that date.  Please feel free to share yours too!

This challenge is rated as moderate.