Category Archives: seasonal: spring

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.

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

Finding Salamanders for Fun and Study: Where to Look and How To Handle For Your Safety And Theirs

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Lungless salamanders, like the one above, breathe through the mucous membrane in their mouth and throat and through their skin. Moisture is especially important to lungless salamanders, because their skin must be wet in order to absorb oxygen. These animals like to stay protected but may venture out when the air is very humid. I guess that is why we found him out on that drizzly day.

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Northern two-lined salamander found not too far from my house. Isn’t it cute?

Here is an activity to get the kids outside. Take them on a fun salamander hunt. Your kids probably won’t need much convincing but you can get them excited by telling them a few cool facts about salamanders.

1. Salamanders can drop off their tails to escape predators. This is called tail autotomy. The disconnected tale wiggles around and provides a distraction so the salamander can escape.

2. Salamanders can grow back a missing tail! It can also re-grow a missing leg!!

3. Salamanders regularly shed the outer layer of their skin (the epidermis) as they grow, and then eat it.

4. The skin of salamanders secretes mucus, which helps keep the animal moist when not in the water.

5. Salamanders can secrete poison from glands in their skin in order to be an undesirable meal. (more about that below)

Where to look for salamanders

Because a salamander’s skin must stay moist, look for adult salamanders in places where the earth is damp such as: under leaves, under logs, or near a wetland (stream, pond, swamp, marsh). If you do look under logs, be sure to replace the log back the way you found it being careful not to squish any living organism in the process.

Because salamanders are nocturnal (which means they are active mostly at night), you might also try hunting at night.

Perhaps you have come across one while doing yard work, working in your garden or while hiking through the woods.

Northern Two Lined Salamander on my finger

Most salamanders have four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs. This guy has 5 toes on its back legs; they are just hard to see in this photo.

Be kind to these little critters:

Handling suggestions for salamanders

Make sure you wash your hands before and after touching a salamander (or any amphibian). Wash your hands beforehand to remove any moisturizing lotion, suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap residue, or toxins from other amphibians. Salamanders are very sensitive to such things.

Handling should be kept to a minimum. When I show salamanders to children, I like to let the salamander walk on my hand rather than me “holding it”. You don’t want to squeeze any part of its delicate body.

Salamanders need to be kept cool. Also, they shouldn’t be left out in the sun because their skin will dry out. Mist its skin as necessary.

Never hold a salamander by its tail; it can break off. Although it can grow it back, it’s better for it not to have to.

Protect yourself:

Always wash your hands after handling amphibians because they have glands in their skin that secrete chemicals. (Salamanders, frogs, toads and newts are amphibians.)

Some of these chemicals are very nasty tasting. Your dog or cat may have discovered this. (That guy just didn’t want to be eaten.)

Some chemicals may cause skin or eye irritation. Don’t take any chances, wash your hands.

Some may actually kill (the poison-dart frogs of Central America).

Among the native amphibians of the United States, the two amphibians of greatest concern are giant toads (also called cane toads, marine toads, aga toads; Bufo marinus)- Common in some parts of FL. and the western newts of the genus, Taricha (found on the west coast of the U.S.).

Proper hand washing after handling should also prevent any problems with infection from Salmonella (bacteria that makes you sick).

This website http://therealowner.com/reptiles-amphibians/caring-for-salamanders/

Has good advice on how to care for your temporary “pet” once you find it.

For more information presented in a kid friendly way, check out this website:

http://www.thorp.k12.wi.us/~steinbach/limnology_oceanography/student_work/Salamanders/index.html

Flower Centerpiece: Milk bottle Vases in Weathered Canning Jar Lifter

Milk bottle Vases in a canning jar lifter

I found this weathered canning jar lifter and was happily surprised to find that the milk bottles that I saved fit perfectly. Of course I thought of a vase centerpiece. The first time I tried this, I used daisies from my wildflower garden and I liked the look even better.  Regardless of the flowers: charming.