Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Ice Age is Finally Over!!

Hey guys,
The ice age is finally over (grin) and it actually felt like spring today! *Gasp*

This heron seemed to be enjoying that all the water has finally melted and he can fish again


Spotted something.....


Ready to strike!!!!!


Nope. It would seem herons wait hours for the perfect opportunity...
For those of you who are wondering he's a Great Blue Heron. These guys "eat nearly anything within striking distance, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They grab smaller prey in their strong mandibles or use their dagger-like bills to impale larger fish, often shaking them to break or relax the sharp spines before gulping them down."(http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/great_blue_heron/lifehistory)

The Spring is a great time to find birds nests before all the vegetation grows in - looks like there might be some cute factor in the future...
Here's the female on her newly made nest

Don't worry - the male (called a gander) was keeping guard from the water


Spring is also when I discover all the things I totally missed the year before...
This tiny little nest was probably not much bigger than 5cm across and wasn't made of twigs (although what it is made of I'm not quite sure). Correct me if I'm wrong but it kinda looked like it might be a humming bird nest! In any case I'll keep a look out for any activity around this tree as hummingbirds have been known to reuse their nest if it survives the winter..



And of course what would a post from me be without a bit of a mystery?
We've seen these Terns diving for fish several times recently but I'm still pretty stumped when it comes to what type of tern they are.


So far we've narrowed it down to three types of tern; Forster's Tern, Caspian Tern, or Common Tern


The Common Tern is the most likely by range since we're right on the edge of the range for the other two


However I had a listen to their calls and the call we've been hearing sounds much more like a Caspian Tern...


The Forster's Tern has quite a remarkable tail but due to the sun being behind the subject in these photos (plus I was struggling to keep them in focus - they sure move fast!) I'm not convinced we can rule that out.....


http://www.birds-of-north-america.net/Forster-s_Tern.html
http://www.birds-of-north-america.net/Caspian_Tern.html
http://www.birds-of-north-america.net/Common_Tern.html


What do you guys think? I'll keep an eye out for them and try to get some better shots but since these guys are just migrating through I'm not sure how long they'll stick around...


Spring is definitely springing - get outside and enjoy the warmer weather!!
Chris

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