Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Our Pet Water Scorpion and a New Kind of Mosquito Problem June 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 8:38 pm
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When we dropped Aaron off at his friend’s vacation cottage in Michigan, we brought home a new pet: A Water Scorpion.

Water Scorpions are insects. They look like a cross between a Walking Stick Insect, a Preying Mantis, and a vampire. Their bodies and legs are long and skinny like a Walking Stick, to camouflage them in aquatic vegetation. Their front legs are like Preying Mantis legs, designed to quickly reach out and grab bugs and fish. And they jab their sharp beaks into their prey to suck the juices, like vampires:

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A Water Scorpion looks like a cross between a Walking Stick Insect, a Preying Mantis, and a vampire, but it's a kind of insect called a True Bug. The long tail is used to get oxygen from the air while the Water Scorpion hides in underwater plants. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Our Water Scorpion lives in a gallon jar, and it’s always hungry. One of its favorite foods is Mosquito larvae. If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you may remember that we’ve been keeping baby Mosquitoes (called larvae) as pets. (You can see posts about them here and here.) Well, for the last two weeks we’ve been feeding our former pets to our current one. It looks like this — but turn away if you love Mosquito larvae!

The Wtare Scorpion is sucking the juices from one Mosquito larvae while holding its next meal in its Prey Mantis-like front leg. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The Water Scorpion is sucking the juices from one Mosquito larvae while holding its next meal with its trap-like front leg. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Here’s the problem: Our Water Scorpion eats five or more Mosquito larvae a day, and our Mosquito supply can’t keep up with its appetite! We’ve been using our backyard pools as Mosquito traps. We lure adult Mosquitoes to lay their eggs in the stagnant water, then we capture and raise the newly hatched babies. Fortunately, the hot, wet weather has been good for Mosquitoes. Ethan found about a dozen egg masses this evening, and in a week or so we’ll have another big batch of larvae ready to feed to the Water Scorpion.

Until then, please check any buckets, bird baths, and other water sources in your yard. If you find them filled with wriggling Mosquito larvae, please let us know. We’ll pick them up if you live within five miles of our home in south Oak Park. If you live farther away, you’d better dump the water out, or you’ll soon have a different kind of Mosquito problem in your yard!

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To learn more about Water Scorpions, please visit these websites:

 

Columbus Park Goslings and Ducklings: Not Really Babies Anymore June 22, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 8:54 pm
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On Sunday morning — the first day of summer — I returned to Columbus Park to monitor breeding birds.  I also visited the families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks we’ve been following since May.

The seven-week-old Canada Geese had adult-like feathers on their bodies. From a distance, they looked like smaller versions of their parents:

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The Canada Goose family was more mobile and more nervous than before -- they headed for the lagoon as I approached.

They still looked like miniature adults when I zoomed a bit closer:

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The new-grown body feathers made this gosling look like a miniature adult.

But when a gosling flapped its wings, it was clear it still had a way to go before becoming an adult:

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The seven-week-old Canada Goose had not grown full-length flight feathers.

Here are four previous posts about this Canada Goose family:

I also found the family of one-month-old Wood Ducks on a tree-lined shore of the lagoon. As usual, the mother Wood Duck eyed me nervously and led her brood to cover. I couldn’t get a clear photo of the entire family. I counted nine ducklings instead of the usual eleven, but the last two may have been hiding in the leaves:

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The month-old Wood Ducks were almost as big as their mom, but their feathers still looked babyish.

Here are two previous posts about this Wood Duck family:

We’ll keep watching both families as they grow, and we’ll post more photos on this blog.

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To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.
  • Daily Herald – Story about how Wood Ducks are becoming more common in urban areas.

To learn more about Canada Goose families, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Canada Goose natural history, including nesting.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Canada Geese.
 

Baby Blue Jay in the Street — but Not for Long June 19, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 3:07 pm
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While finishing my walk this morning, I noticed a small bird flopping in the middle of the street, about a block south of our house. I walked closer and recognized it as a baby Blue Jay. It could flap but not fly, perhaps because it was so young, or maybe because it had been soaked with rain. So, I gently herded it to the side of the street, over the curb, across the tree lawn, and between two bird-friendly houses.

Then I paused to take a photo:

The gleam in the baby Blue Jay's eye is from my camera's flash (not because it's thinking up ways to annpy other birds or people).

The gleam in this baby Blue Jay's eye is from my camera's flash (not because it's thinking up ways to annoy other birds or people).

Its parents watched from 20 feet above, scolding but not attacking:

The parents scolded my efforts, but did not attack me.

The parents scolded my efforts, but did not attack me.

Some folks don’t like Blue Jays because they’re loud and sometimes steal from other bird’s nests. But we have cultivated the few Blue Jays in our neighborhood for the past five years, leaving them peanuts-in-the-shell on our feeder’s squirrel baffle. Sometimes the Jays swoop down to grab a peanut, screeching alarm calls to scare off the Pigeon that dominates the baffle. More often, like today, they sneak in silently and snatch a peanut before the Pigeon notices.

We like helping Blue Jays, because they’re beautiful and smart and feisty — and because West Nile Virus almost wiped out our local population a few years ago.

Last year Blue Jays brought their young to our yard to teach them about peanuts. We hope today’s baby Blue Jay also finds our yard once it can fly.

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More than two weeks later, on July 5th, a much larger young Blue Jay showed up in our backyard, and Aaron took photos of it. Go here to see them.

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To learn more about Blue Jays, check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Blue Jays.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Blue Jays.
  • Birdscope – An article about West Nile Virus in birds. For a related article, go here.
 

Tulip Tree Fruit: Green, but Ripening Seeds June 18, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Summer,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 7:12 pm
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We’ve been following a Tulip Tree in a nearby city park as its buds opened, leaves formed, and flowers blossomed. Today we visited the tree again and found some big green fruits where flowers used to be:

The outside of this Tulip Tree fruit shows the outlines of ripening seeds.

The outside of this Tulip Tree fruit shows the outlines of ripening seeds.

This tree still has some flowers left if you want to see them, but hurry because they’re fading fast. The tree is in Oak Park, on the south side of Rehm Park, where Scoville deadends into the park.

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Go here to see what happened to the seeds as summer turned into fall.

Go here to see photos of the tree earlier in the year, including flowers, leaves, and buds, plus the remains of last year’s fruits. This page also includes links to more information about Tulip Trees.

 

Bumps on Hackberry Leaves? They’re Nipple Galls

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Plants,Seasons,Summer,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 5:53 pm
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Hackberry trees grow in many places in our neighborhood: Planted in city parks and along streets, growing wild in alleys and along rivers and streams. You can recognize Hackberries year round by their warty looking bark, and in summer by their leaves:

Hackberry leaves have teeth and taper towards the tip -- and they are often covered with bumps, called Nipple Galls.

Hackberry leaves have teeth and taper towards the tip. They are often covered with bumps called Nipple Galls.

Up close the galls really do look like baby-bottle nipples — that have fallen to the ground and been covered with tiny hairs:

Up close, the bumps look like hairy nipples.

Up close, the bumps look like hairy nipples.

Galls are odd, greenish shapes that grow on plants. Many galls form when insects lay their eggs on leaves or stems. The gall becomes a nursery for the baby bugs, which feed on the insides  — the gall is shelter and food at the same time.

So, we decided to take home some Nipple Galls and cut them open to see what was inside. Here’s what we found:

We cut open the Nipple Galls and found green stringy stuff, but no bugs big enough to see.

We cut open the Nipple Galls and found soft, green, foamy, stringy stuff -- but no bugs big enough to see.

So, maybe there were bug eggs in there, but there were no bugs big enough to see (without a microscope). Time to search the web, and here is what we found. The insects that cause Nipple  Galls look like tiny cicadas and are called Psyllids (SILL-lids). You can read more about Psyllids and Nipple Galls here and here and here.

So, now we have something else to look forward to this summer. We were already looking forward to finding real Cicadas (perhaps by the end of June). And we were looking forward to finding Hackberry fruits (that taste a bit sugary and are eaten by birds like Robins and Crows). Now we can look forward to cutting open Hackberry Nipple Galls in a month or so and finding the young — and maybe the winged adults — of tiny bugs that look like Cicadas.

And we really like Cicadas — so much that we made a website all about them, called Kids’ Cicada Hunt.

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Update added October 21, 2009: On October 20th we cut open some more Nipple Galls. Go here to see what we found:  We Found Tiny Insects Inside Hackberry Nipple Galls

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Here are some links to information about plant galls:

 

My Favorite Family Nature Blogs, Part 1 June 8, 2009

To my way of thinking, a family nature blog is either (1) written by a family who want to share their natural discoveries with the online world, or (2) written for families to encourage them to get out and discover nature on their own, or (3) both of the above. Our Neighborhood Nature blog strives to be number (3). In my explorations of the blogging world, I’ve found examples of all three kinds of blogs, and they’re worth sharing with you.

So, here are some of my favorite family nature blogs. So I don’t overwhelm you, I’ll spread my selections over several posts. Here are the first three:

5 Orange Potatoes. Want ideas for nature-oriented crafts and activities? Then this blog may be for you. It’s written by Lisa, an Ohio mother with two young daughters. She describes herself as “a stay at home, nature lovin,’ felt lovin,’ vegetarian earth mama.” Like many family nature bloggers, she’s a former teacher. Her reason for blogging? “I have been asked numerous times how I have raised such nature lovin’ and creative little ladies. This blog is dedicated to those questions, this is how I do it!” Here are some of my favorite posts:

Handbook of Nature Study. This family’s blog is an “online nature journal using Anna Comstock’s book, Handbook of Nature Study, as our textbook and the great outdoors as our classroom.” Barb, a homeschooling mother of four, presents more than forty “Outdoor Hour Challenges,” short assignments based on the Handbook. Most of her examples were found near her California home. Some of my favorite posts:

Wild About Nature. Kenton and Rebecca write this blog to share their natural adventures with both children and adults. They focus on the nature they discovery wandering near their home in western Wisconsin. The authors are naturalists and nature educators whose website, kentonandrebecca.com, includes more examples of their writing, photography, and family-oriented classes. Some of my favorite posts:

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Although I’ve only listed three blogs in this post, it would take hours to explore them all completely and many weeks to duplicate  the activities and explorations they describe. I’ll try to post three more of my favorite family nature blogs later this week. If you can’t wait, more family nature blogs are listed in the sidebar on your left.

And if you know of other family nature blogs worth sharing, please link to them in the comments section, below.

 

Following Families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks at Columbus Park

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 11:30 am
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Late last week I returned to Columbus Park to check on the families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks. The five-week-old Canada Goose goslings were bigger than ever and starting to replace their downy coverings with some adult-like feathers:

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

The goslings are growing fast because they almost never stop eating. Even as they rest, they continue to nibble on green grass at the edge of the lagoon:

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other chased off another goose.

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other parent chased off another goose.

Unfortunately, I saw only four young geese that day. Sometime during the previous week a gosling was lost, perhaps to a predator like a dog or raccoon.

Here are four additional posts about the Canada Goose family:

There was better news about the Wood Duck family — I saw all eleven ducklings last week. When I first saw them, the two-week-old ducklings were resting in the sun beside some turtles:

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

Later their mother took them for a meal in the shallow southwest part of the lagoon. Of course, once she saw me, she called them together, and they headed for cover:

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The mother Wood Duck guided her family to safety when I got too close.

Here are two other posts about this Wood Duck family:

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To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.
  • Daily Herald – Story about how Wood Ducks are becoming more common in urban areas.

To learn more about Canada Goose families, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Canada Goose natural history, including nesting.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Canada Geese.

We’ll keep watching both families as they grow, and we’ll post more photos on this blog.