Category Archives: Nature: plant and animal identification

Look For Amphipods The Next Time You Are Visiting A Beach

Summer is on the way and many families head to the beach. Make a special effort to seek out amphipods. They are rather interesting little creatures.

You can find amphipods such as this big-eyed beach flea on or in the sand. This picture was taken in Southern Maryland. They like to feed on decaying vegetation that washes up on the beach.

This amphipod is commonly called a beach flea. Don’t worry though, they don’t bite. They feed only on organic debris. If you get flea bites from a visit to the beach, you got them from common fleas (like the kind you have on your cat or dog). Common fleas can also be found on beaches.

Big-eyed Beach Flea Talorchestia megalophthalma

Have you ever come across any of these funny looking things with excellent hopping ability while at the beach?

More about amphipods:

About 7,000 species of amphipods have so far been described.

Amphipods are found in almost all aquatic environments.

Check Out Elms Environmental Education Center Website: A Wonderful Resource for Local (Southern Maryland) Environmental Education

I’m working at a great place these days. It’s an environmental education center. I’m really enjoying sharing my love for nature with visiting school children from across the county.

To learn about this lovely place located along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

Click on the link and you will find pictures of everything from bright green bugs to mischievous raccoons.

Our ever -growing collection of local (Elms) “critter” pictures.

Making Fun Gourd Bird Houses

Attract birds to your yard with home-made environmentally friendly gourd bird houses. You can make several in an afternoon and have fun doing it. You can keep it simple or you can tap into your playful side.

How to:

Getting the gourd

Ask around at local farms and farmer’s markets. There is a good chance that you will find some already dried. If so, you can start making your birdhouse right away.

If you plan ahead, you can grow your own gourds. How cool would that be?!

Drying the gourd

The easiest way to dry your gourds is to spread them out in a box and place them in the garage for the winter. They are going to mold on the outside a bit no matter what you do: no worries. Check on your gourds: if a gourd is rotting (i.e. the shell is getting soft), you should discard it so it won’t spoil the others.

Cleaning your gourd

Some people soak their gourds in a bleach solution to remove the mold. I don’t like to use bleach more than necessary and I find it isn’t necessary here. Either way you will need to scrub and wash and even scrap your gourd clean. It takes a bit of elbow grease. Don’t you like the patterns left on its skin? 

Drilling the holes

Use a drill bit for the size you want your birdhouse hole to be. You can find suggested birdhouse hole size for specific birds online. I used a two inch (diameter) hole for the birdhouse seen here.

I also drilled small drainage holes in the bottom of the gourd just in case rain should get inside.

Finished birdhouse has linseed oil applied.

Finishing the birdhouse(s)

Find salvaged paint (your own or someone else’s leftover paint). I found a small container of exterior paint at the Restore and used that to paint one of my birdhouses. I also used the two hole pieces, from the door openings which I painted white, for the eyes of this amusing birdhouse. I used Gorilla glue to attach them.

For my other gourd, I applied linseed oil. Linseed oil is a natural oil used as a wood preservative and is made from flax seeds. Use a rag to rub on a thin layer of oil. If using multiple coats, allow to dry between applications. The linseed oil will give the gourd a polished look and will help repel the rain. Linseed oil doesn’t preserve your birdhouse for as long as other products but you can compost the old and make a new.

Hanging the gourd birdhouse

Use a piece of scrap rope/ string or even an old shoe lace to hang your finished birdhouse. If you want to be fancier, you can bend an old coat hanger into a hook. First drill two holes to slide the wire through.

This purchased birdhouse has an orange stain on it. Stain is nice because it gives the birdhouse a color but the natural look of the birdhouse shows through. The diameter hole for this birdhouse is 2 inches. I placed this orange gourd birdhouse outside my front door where it is sheltered by our house roof. It is hanging on the wall of our house. Despite the fact that wren birdhouse hole sizes are recommended to be much smaller, a pair of wrens moved into our gourd birdhouse and successfully raised six chicks last summer (2009).

 I hope they will be back, I do love wrens. On a side note, I’ve seen wrens go in/ out of our gourd birdhouse in the winter. I assumed that it or they were seeking shelter from the cold. This is one of the baby birds that left the nest that day. So cute!

This is a snapshot of the mother or father wren that worked tirelessly feeding all those babies!

Explore A Stream: You Might Find Salamander Larvae

My daughters found some salamander larvae in a stream in Southern Maryland in March. They are out there but how many of us ever see them. To find these little guys, you will need to look more closely and perhaps have a bit of luck.

Some salamanders have an aquatic larval stage. The larvae can swim and they have gills in order to breathe in water.

The photo shows the aquatic larval stage of a salamander in Southern Maryland. Note the feathery gills extending out of the neck area. Eventually the larvae will metamorphose into an adult salamander.

Naturally, I wanted to find out what kind of salamander these guys would grow up to be.

I did some research and of all the salamanders found in Maryland, the only salamanders that can be found in the Southern part of Maryland and have an aquatic larval stage are: Dusky salamanders, Two- lined salamanders (see: http://www.funinthemaking.net/2009/11/05/finding-salamanders-for-fun-and-study-where-to-look-and-how-to-handle-for-your-safety-and-theirs/), Mud salamanders, and Red salamanders. I’m not sure it is possible to identify them at this young stage. If you have any knowledge on the subject, please pass it on.

Here is the website I referenced to discover the Salamanders in Maryland:

http://wwwnew.towson.edu/herpetology/Amphibians.htm

Explore A Stream: You Might Find An American Eel

Post Correction: I made a mistake! We did not find  an American eel. In fact we found several lampreys!

On a recent hike along a stream (Maryland USA / March) we found several young American eels (Anguilla rostrata) swimming around.

I did a little research on these eels and discovered that the females lay their eggs in the Sargasso Sea. That’s a long way away from Maryland. Apparently all eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The eggs hatch into a larvae and are carried by ocean currents to areas along the Atlantic coast. They are called glass eels because they are transparent at this time. Next they make their way into freshwater rivers and streams. When they begin to get some color they are referred to as elvers. When they reach 4 inches they are called Yellow eels. Yellow eels can stay in fresh water for many years. Eventually they making their way back out to sea to spawn and die.

Eels can produce slime. The slime coat protects it from disease. (This is not an American eel as it turns out but a lamprey!

We promptly returned this guy to the stream after a quick photo shoot.

Read more here: http://www.agmrc.org/media/cms/AmericanEel_42EA03380CDE9.pdf

Or here: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishfacts/eel.asp