Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ice Storm and Happy Holidays!

Hey Guys

As many of you probably already know, we've recently had a huge Ice Storm. Along with breaking tree branches off, making the roads and pathways very slippy and leaving a lot of people without power (we've got ours back but some people are still out!) it made everything VERY pretty! :)

So when everyone else was staying sensibly by the nice warm fire, I was sliding around on the ice in the garden trying to get some good photos! Gotta have some fun! Here are my favourites.


Don't look at this one too long - it makes your eyes go funny - grin


Fancy a sit down anyone?





The poor trees are bending over in the weight


This flower is entirely contained in ice!


How do such small branches hold up so much ice??


I hope this proves to you guys that there is beauty in everything. The holidays are about magic and fun, and that's exactly what this is.



 Don't stop the holiday spirit because you might not have power, or didn't have a chance to get all your shopping done - just have fun with family and enjoy the magic this ice storm has given to us! It's awesome.


Happy Holidays Everyone!!!!
Chris

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Growing Bacteria with Biology Club

Hey guys,
So sorry for the huge gap - grade 11 is far crazier than any other year so far - you wouldn't believe the Homework. Even know I'm sitting staring at 4 different things I'm trying to get done for just English class alone. (Shh.. I know I should be doing them but I just had to get a break and thought I should post something here anyways).

It's getting pretty chilly here as autumn comes to a close and winter starts creeping in (we even had some flurries in the last couple of days). The birds have mainly disappeared and I can't say I disagree with them - it was pretty cold standing outside for our remembrance day parade today! As the colder temperature sets in and the wild animals hide away (and I kinda do as well - takes a little bit more mental persuasion to go out side when it's chilly strangely...) I'm directing more of what free time I have towards slightly warmer activities - namely Reptilia (obviously) and my school Biology Club.

So I thought I'd share with you guys and activity we did with the club several weeks back where we got them to grow their own Bacteria Colonies inside Petri Dishes. It's a very easy activity actually, basically we prepared the Petri Dishes (we mix up our own Agar) and then the students were given cotton swabs which they rubbed on a chosen item (for example the bottom of a shoe or a cellphone) and then applied gently to an area of the Petri Dish. We then asked them to clean the item with hand sanitiser and repeat the swabbing process, applying this swab to a different area of the dish. I took some photos of the results after letting the bacteria grow for a week - they were pretty remarkable...well let's just say you might be washing your hands a bit more than before after seeing this xD

This crystal like bacteria was from a Classroom Door

This culture was from the Trashcan and Door Handle

Here is a closer up view of the Door Handle side


This lovely stuff was from the bottom of someones shoe

Another - remarkably different shoe. Note the amazing lines formed

 Unfortunately I couldn't get a very good photo of this one due to the condensation on the lid of the Petri Dish, but basically it was a black slime like bacteria - pretty gross but very cool xD


We also did a mini lesson with the students about different forms of Bacteria. Here is a diagram of some different types. At the top of the diagram are some of the most common shapes of Bacteria. The diagram is laid out in columns so everything under one type of Bacteria is the different arrangements of that type. You'll probably recognise some words such as strep from strep throat. And yes, strep throat does has strep arranged bacteria. Cool huh?


(photo credit: www.tutorvista.com)

We've got an entire year of Biology club still ahead of us, so if any of you guys have any cool activity Ideas (maybe something you did in Biology that you found fun) feel free to comment below and we might just do it! Oh and if your a student (or have some other way of getting your hands on petri dishes and agar easily) make sure to try this activity out! It was a lot of fun.

Chris

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why do I always have the wrong lens??

Hey again, 
So after really wishing I had a macro lens on the other day, I decided to put one on and try my luck with the dragonflies again. I did take a few photos (discovering in the process that I really need to practise macro, because they are all blurry... my monopod would probably also come in handy...)
However in the typical fashion, because I had a macro lens on, the unexpected had to happen. As I was concentrating on trying to focus on a little dragonfly sitting on a leaf, I became aware that all the birds were making alarm calls and flying around. Looking around I spotted this little mink running around on the pathway. Obviously he had been looking for bird eggs thus scaring all the birds.


I tried to take a few shots, but a macro lens isn't exactly quick at focusing, plus my settings we're all wrong, thus the photos are extremely blurry.  "American mink territories are held by individual animals with minimal intrasex overlap, but with extensive overlap between animals of the opposite sex." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_mink) thus, this guy is likely to be either the same one we saw a while back, or his/her mate. (see previous post here)


After a few shots I stopped to quickly alter the settings to see if I could get a clearer image. When I looked back up again, the little guy was bolting straight for me. Two things suddenly occurred to me; firstly, minks can be pretty ferocious hunters and secondly, ferrets are a bit like minks and when Narissa's pet ferret bites - it hurts. I started slowly backing up, which kind ended up with me in a full sprint. Apparently minks are pretty fast though, as he easily overtook me. I skidded to a stop as he turned around, stood up on his back legs to look at me and made a little squeaking noise as if to say "ha ha I'm faster than you". Then to my surprise he casually plodded off into the bush and I never saw him again! Animals never cease to amaze me. :D Still they could do this when I have the right lens on....



Hope you all had a great day too, even if your's didn't include racing a mink...
Chris

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bored of Exams....

Hi everyone,
For those of you who aren't up with the school calendar, we're right in the middle of exams right now - possibly the most annoying two weeks ever. It's nice and warm outside, and all the wildlife is out by the millions, but no; I've got to sit inside where it all hot and stuffy, reviewing trigonometry or quadratics - yay. Yesterday I just had to get outside, so I went for a walk around the pond.

There are a lot more weeds this year than before, so I had to scout out a bit before I could find a spot where I could get to the water, but once I did, it was pretty awesome. It seems that due to the cool spring, the American Toads tadpoles have taken a longer time to develop than usual and the first ones are just starting to hop on their new little legs. Usually at this time of the year the garden is full of tiny toads but it seems it will be another week or so before they are ready to leave the safety of the water.

This should give you an idea of size - they are tiny huh?


So these guys are about a month behind schedule - usually I see them all swarming in the water like this around the beginning of June (see this post). Interestingly I'm fairly sure I heard the adult Toads mating around the usual time like previous years, and although I didn't get out to have a look, a friend of mine confirmed that there was a lot of adults clustered at the water's edge. This suggests that the cooler weather actually caused the Tadpoles to take about a month longer to develop!


Look at all those little faces...


There was also a couple little guys just starting to hope around. Normally the leopard frog tadpoles are just starting to grow legs around this time of the year, so at first I presumed it was them, but these guys do look much more like the American Toad babies which makes sense with all the tadpoles still around - too small for leopard frogs I would of thought. Chances are the leopard frogs are going to be late out as well, so I'll keep an eye out for them. :D



 I also couldn't resist trying to get some photos of the White Tailed Dragonflies courting - unfortunately they tend to do this mid flight and aren't exactly slow (courting for these guys is pretty much the guys chasing the very uninterested girls - sound familiar?). Grin. After about 100 photos, here are my few that actually included the dragonfly in the frame.



It just occurred to me that these 3 are all of the females....trust me the guys do have white tails! 


And here are some other types of dragonflies that were being far more co-operative!


These guys are laying eggs, hence the bent bodies. I really wish I had the macro lens or a longer telephoto = why do you always have the wrong lens on?? It's some kind of rule or something...



 Why don't you go out and see what's going on in your piece of nature? You might find it's not what you'd normally expect for this time of the year! And to my fellow students with exams this week - good luck!!
Chris


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Presents From Our Resident Owl

Yesterday I was getting ready for school and noticed this grayish blob sitting on our deck. On closer inspection I noticed little bones sticking out and realised it must be an Owl Pellet. For those of you who don't know, a pellet "is the mass of undigested parts of a bird's food that some bird species occasionally regurgitate. The contents of a bird's pellet depend on its diet, but can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, bills, claws, and teeth. The passing of pellets allows a bird to remove indigestible material from its proventriculus, or glandular stomach. Pellets are formed within six to ten hours of a meal in the bird's gizzard."  
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellet_%28ornithology%29)

So after school (and after really boring math homework - ugh) I put on a glove and started to see what there was in my little pellet. It might seem gross, but it's huge amounts of fun, so will list the steps of how to dissect an Owl Pellet, in case any of you are ever lucky enough to find one. :)

1. Put on some gloves (you might also want some tweezers because the little bones can be quite fiddly) and gently pull the pellet apart.

2. You probably want to put all the "similar looking stuff" together in little piles (eg. all long thin bones together, all big bones together, etc). This will help you organise what your doing. You don't need to know WHAT everything is yet, we'll figure that out later.


 3. Starting with the biggest bones (they are the strongest so it will give you practise before the smaller ones), start washing all the "gunk" off. I placed them in water first to loosen any dirt, then used an old tooth brush and a tooth pick to scrape it off. Lastly, I placed the bones back in the water again, to get off anything I'd missed.

4. Now for the fun bit!! Take a look at the clean bones in front of you. "Owls feed mainly on furry animals such as mice, rats, moles, squirrels, rabbits" (http://www.tooter4kids.com/owls/what_does_an_owl_eat.htm) etc. They will also eat smaller birds if they are quick enough to catch them. There are several clues that will help you to identify what you have found in your Pellet. Firstly, are the bones hollow. (Make sure they're not just filled with dirt). If they are, your owl has had a tasty bird for dinner, if they are solid, your looking at some kind of mouse or other rodent. Next, look at the size of your bones. Good clues for size are the Vertebrae and the Skull (if you have one). Also, take a look to see if you have any claws, these might help you in identifying what you have in front of you. Lastly, don't forget you might not be looking at one animal. Your owl may well of eaten several different species, so if the pieces don't all seem to fit, don't worry.


5. Now that you have an idea of what species you owl ate, go on line and find some diagrams of that species skeleton. For example, I had some kind of bird skeleton in my Pellet.

 6. Now that you have found a diagram start to place your bones to replicate the diagram. Warning - this is really hard. Even after this photo here, I still had about 5 bones I couldn't put anywhere. :)


7. After you've got a good photo of your skeleton, get a clear bag, and place your bones inside. Write a little note with what the animal was, when and where you found the pellet, etc. and place this into the bag as well. Get a nice big box (if you don't already have a collecting box) and put the bag in there. It might seem odd, but it's fun to see what things you can find. My box has a birds nest, various feathers, snake skins, animal teeth, and of course, this skeleton now!


Have fun and feel free to post what you find here, I'd love to hear. Also, if you don't live near wildlife, don't worry! You can actually buy Owl Pellets on line at various websites, including E bay. Take a look!
Chris

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Baby Time!

Hi Everyone,
It seems to be baby time at Reptilia right now, and not just any old babies either! Earlier last week on January 1st we said hello to 14 baby green anacondas! For those of you who don't know, green anaconda's give live birth! They're also the heaviest snake species in the world, growing to 550 pounds! (227kg)

"Anacondas live in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, mainly in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. They are cumbersome on land, but stealthy and sleek in the water. Their eyes and nasal openings are on top of their heads, allowing them to lay in wait for prey while remaining nearly completely submerged." (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/green-anaconda/)
Here's a photo of one of the little babies!


(Credit; Reptilia)

"Baby snakes are about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long when they are born and are almost immediately able to swim and hunt. Their lifespan in the wild is about ten years."


If that wasn't exciting enough, on Sunday our Monkey Tailed Skink also gave birth! Again, these lizards give live birth, and this time the mother and all the colony are fiercely protective of the little baby! Here's a photo of the mother (top right) watching her little baby (Bottom left) explore his new home. :D




                                                                     (Credit; Reptilia)

The Monkey Tailed Skink (Also known as the Solomon Islands Skink) is an arboreal species of Skink native to the Solomon Islands. 

It "is completely herbivorous, eating many different fruits and vegetables. It is one of the few species of reptile known to function within a social group or "circulus".  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Islands_skink)

I'll try and keep you updated as they grow older! :D
Chris

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bird Counting

Hi everyone!
Yesterday (Saturday) I joined a group of bird experts to count birds for the Annual Christmas Bird Count. Thousands of volunteers all across the Americas are counting birds over the Christmas Vacation to help scientists spot changes and trends in the bird populations. For more information about the Bird Count, go to http://www.onrichmondhill.com/events.php?id=16328

The day started at 8am, and we all headed off to our first location. It was still quite dark when we spotted our first birds, so I apologize for the grainy photos, but it was the best I could do. It turned out to be quite a gray day and we spent a lot of time in woods so the conditions don't improve much, but it was just so much fun I thought I'd share it with you anyways. 

Here's what we saw;

10 Redpoll Finches


"Common Redpolls are small songbirds with small heads and small, pointed, seed-eating bills. The tail is short with a small notch at the tip." (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Redpoll/id)


"Traveling in flocks of up to several hundred individuals, they move south irregularly in winter following patterns in food supply. Along with Pine Siskins they are among the best known finches to do this."




90 Pine Siskins

I know what your all thinking, "you actually counted every single one??" Well we did our best. These guys really didn't want to sit still! But I have a photo of one tree. Go on, count if you want! There was two other tree's as well!!! The Redpoll's are mixed in here somewhere as well.....


 "Pine siskins are brown and very streaky birds with subtle yellow edgings on wings and tails. Flashes of yellow can erupt as they take flight, flutter at branch tips, or display during mating" (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pine_Siskin/id)


"They cling to branch tips of pines and other conifers, sometimes hanging upside down to pick at seeds below them. They are gregarious, foraging in tight flocks and twittering incessantly to each other"



"Pine Siskins get through cold winter nights by increasing their metabolic rates — typically 40% higher than a “normal” songbird of their size."



2 little birds, sitting on a twig.....or not....grin. 




14 American Goldfinches
5 Red Tailed Hawks
10 American Tree Sparrows
2 Chickadees
139 Mallards - and yes we did count every single one that time!


"Ducks are strong fliers; migrating flocks of Mallards have been estimated travelling at 55 miles per hour. The standard duck’s quack is the sound of a female Mallard. Males don’t quack; they make a quieter, rasping sound." (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory)



96 Gulls - 85 of them were Ring-Billed Gulls, the rest we're not certain. 


"Many, if not most, Ring-billed Gulls return to breed at the colony where they hatched. Once they have bred, they are likely to return to the same breeding spot each year, often nesting within a few meters of the last year's nest site. Many individuals return to the same wintering sites each winter too." (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ring-billed_gull/lifehistory)



3 Cardinals
121 Canadian Geese - plus about 500.....



 If your wondering about the "plus about 500", the photos below should explain...


*Several minutes later*


Yup they just kept coming...



Kestrels



"North America’s littlest falcon, the American Kestrel is one of the most colourful of all raptors: the male’s slate-blue head and wings contrast elegantly with his rusty-red back and tail; the female has the same warm reddish on her wings, back, and tail." (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_Kestrel/id)


"Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place. Kestrels are declining in parts of their range; you can help them by putting up nest boxes."




1 Sharp Shined Hawk
37 Starlings
1 Rock Dove
2 Morning Doves
1 American Crow

A pretty awesome list huh? We also saw this tree while we were hiking in one of the woods. A vine had grown around it restricting it's growth and "carving" it into this amazing sculpture!

This is the vine wrapped around the tree


And this is the result!



Cool huh? All just proves that nature doesn't just disappear during the wintertime, you just have to get outside and look! Why don't you all go for a stroll outside sometime this week and see what you can find? You'd be surprised how much there is! Be patient though, sometimes you have to wait for it to appear. 

Have a great week,
Chris