Lynx Rufus!

When engaged in a multiyear, ecosystem restoration project, starting with helping to restore the living soil, then moving on to replanting mixed evergreen forest and coastal sage scrub plants, one 1-gallon seedling at a time, then waiting, and waiting , and waiting as the years tick by… it is easy to become discouraged, to wonder if you will ever really get the whole thing right, with all the plants and animals, mycorrhizae, and forest-floor clippings in balance. It is therefore heartening when the first native birds and reptiles move in and begin to fight for ownership of the property. It is even more heartening when you start to know (and name) the individual animals, the breeding pairs and their offspring — brush rabbits, quail, and red-tail hawks.

But nothing shouts success more loudly than the long-awaited arrival of your first top predator. In our case, it was the arrival at dusk, yesterday evening, of this beautiful Lynx Rufus, who came to hunt rabbits and rodents on our property, last night:

A healthy top predator is the best indicator that the ecosystem is finally robustly in balance, with all pieces of the food web healthy and thriving. The celebration begins tonight. Drinks are on me!

Wildlife Torpors (one-night “hibernations”)

Two mini-hibernations I observed in the garden today:

At morning prayers (a bit earlier than usual, well before sunrise), I heard a noisy motorcycle revving its engine, and spluttering and revving and spluttering, and revving hard and long, successfully getting started… from up in the top of a coast-live oak. After its successful start, the engine abruptly aborted and ended in a couple of clear, hummingbird chirps, and then the hummingbird, now fully awake from its nightly hibernation, flew off to hunt for breakfast.

And tonight, while we were eating dinner as darkness was falling, a giant mama, yellow-faced bumble bee flew to a blueberry bush just outside our dining room window (single-pane glass allows some of our heat out to warm that bush at night, and the first rays of morning sun warm it in the morning), and after pumping her abdomen for a wee bit, trying to stay warm, she curled into a tight little ball huddled beneath a blueberry leaf, and turned to stone – hibernating for the night.

What a wonderful cold weather warning system.

Time to put on an extra layer of heavy, merino woolen-wear!

Nature’s Temples

“Nature’s Temples: The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests,” by Joan Maloof (with illustrations by Andrew Joslin), is a profoundly inspirational work of science writing that describes the structure and ecology of old-growth forests.

The book begins with an awe-inspiring overview of the history of forests on Earth, the earliest known from fossil-records dating from 383 million years ago! Maloof discusses the role of forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere, and the surprising discovery that the largest, oldest trees are far more effective at this task than a multitude of younger, smaller, fast-growing trees. She presents a convincing case for the preservation of old-growth forests, on the grounds that they are essential for the survival and well-being of all other life on Earth.

Maloof then goes on to make the reader fall in love with all the living beings found in old-growth forests, one short chapter at a time. She introduces us, first, to the trees themselves, then one at a time to the birds, amphibians, snails, insects, herb plants, mosses, fungi, lichens, worms and mammals that are resident in old-growth forests. And it is truly a book of wonders.

One of the things I had always wondered was how deer and elk could find sufficient food in an old-growth redwood forest, in which the browsable branch tips are hundreds of feet high. The answer: Although the herbaceous understory might be shaded out, a rain of lichen from the lofty canopy provides ample nitrogen-rich food for them. But what is a lichen? It is a magical symbiotic alliance between photosynthesizing algae and mineral-harvesting fungi! Mushroom salad. And I had no idea how amazingly diverse was the world population of lichens, especially within the remaining old-growth forests.

The most surprising thing I learned from this book was that the (mostly non-native) worms found in North American forests north of the ice-age moraines – areas that had once been covered in glacial ice – are in fact doing more harm than good to the forests in which they are found. In order to develop the rich biodiversity that enables a forest to thrive into grand old age, a thick layer of forest-floor duff must be allowed to accumulate. The moist, decaying duff at the surface of the forest floor supports diverse fungi, which in turn support diverse plant life, and allow for the germination of tree seeds, which might otherwise lie dormant. If too many worms begin churning under the duff, too quickly, that mechanism for growing diversity in the forest is disrupted, impeding the growth and healthy development of the forest! And I had always assumed that worms were good for the trees!

Live and learn.

In fact, there are so many new things to learn, in the pages of “Nature’s Temples,” that the book bears repeated readings. It is a definite must-have volume for the shelves of a Druid library.

Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees

by Estifanos (age 6), of California, U.S.A.

About the middle of January, I started seeing these bumble bees visiting the blueberry bushes in our front yard and the manzanita bushes in the back yard, getting pollen from the flowers. They make A LOT of noise when there are a lot of them buzzing around your head, so we wondered what kind of bees they were. I looked in the Kaufman “Field Guide to Insects of North America,” and found out that they are called yellow-faced bumble bees. These bumble bees live in the area between southern Canada and Baja California, along the west coast of the United States. They look like this:

I’m not very fond of bees, and so I wanted to know where their nest was, so I wouldn’t get stung. Mama found this video about bumble bees, that I found very interesting and very very amazing. The amazing thing I want to tell about was that a bee drove a mouse out of its home, so that the bee could own it instead! Since these bees nest underground, I think we should put a big rock near the entrance so that we remember not to go too close.

 

 

Wild Animals in Alaska

by Estifanos (age 6), of California, U.S.A.

I went on a cruise ship to Alaska, in September 2017. My first stop was at Mendenhall Glacier, in Juneau. While I was there, I saw a cute little baby porcupine on the side of the trail, munching leaves and grass! I also saw a Mama porcupine. It was probably the baby’s mom. This is a picture of the little baby porcupine:

The second stop on the cruise was in Skagway. From there, we took a ferry to Haines, and then a bus to the Kroschel Wildlife Center. There’s a crazy old kook there who keeps an orphaned grizzly bear as a pet, and feeds it oatmeal porridge with a spoon!!! He also feeds the bear blueberry pie!  Look at the picture:

Steve Kroschel also kept a moose, a wolf, a red fox, and some reindeer. He was always feeding his animals organic carrots. Karen is his orphaned moose, and he even let me feed her a carrot. Guess what? I had my first kiss at the Kroschel Wildlife Center. I “kissed” Karen:

The most funny part of the entire thing was the wolverine:

He had razor-sharp claws and teeth, so Steve put on his shoes before bringing him out. He came out with the wolverine on a leash, and he kept saying, “Ouch! Don’t bite!” while the wolverine nipped at his pants! It was so funny, I burst out laughing.

After Steve massaged the wolverine’s gums, and kissed his nose (!!!!!), the wolverine calmed right down like a baby falling asleep in Mama’s arms, and let me pet his rear end.

On the bus back to Haines, we also saw a bald eagle on a tree, and three bears hunting for salmon in a river.