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Migrating Monarchs

What does a flash of orange and black wings in the sky, a chubby white and black and yellow lump on a leaf, a delicate light green translucent jade container with flecks of iridescent gold trim, and a microscopic light green cone on the underside of leaves have to do with one another? If you have ever seen any one of the three then, you have seen one of the unique life stages of a Monarch Butterfly, an intricate and

Monarch Butterflies taking a rest on their long migration. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

fragile California Native Insect. While the different life stages of a Monarch are fascinating, it is the endurance and incredible distances that this lightweight insect travels that is truly astonishing.

 
Monarchs are a common site in California, and if you’ve ever been outside on a bright spring day in a garden surrounded by flowers, you’ve probably seen one of these taking a sip from a flower, hovering and then gracefully floating on and over the wall aimlessly. But in reality these insects have a greater sense of direction than you would expect. Monarchs have been known to travel from Mexico to Canada! Technically it is not the same individual Monarch butterfly to make the entire trip, but each generation of Monarch picks up where the last generation left off. Talk about a family purpose and vision!
 

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Nature Journal: Ice and Elegant Eagles

This past weekend I was able to see an American icon! It wasn’t at the Superbowl or on the streets of Los Angeles, but at a frozen and snow-covered Big Bear Lake I saw the famous bald eagle.

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The San Bernadino Mountains were perfect that weekend. I was there for a retreat and the snow had built up perfectly. In the early mornings, you could hear the sounds of the ice cracking on the lake and as the day went on little miniature streams broke open in the ice on the lake and flocks of geese and ducks could be seen far off in the distance paddling around in the frigid water. These birds have amazing insulation and feathers which help to keep them warm and allow the water to roll right off their backs. When I stepped outside to get a closer look, I went downward up to my knees suddenly finding myself in three feet of snow! Continue Reading →

Delicate Definition-Breaking Decomposers

 The mushrooms were covering an old stump in their backyard. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The mushrooms were covering an old stump in their backyard. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

This past week we received a call from some friends who had a nature story to share with us–they had discovered an entire stump full of mushrooms just outside their home! The mushrooms were crowded together, varying in size and stages of growth. While their tan color wasn’t particularly impressive, their sheer number and clustering was fascinating. Seemingly overnight these brown umbrellas had popped up for the world to see.

While mushrooms appear to pop up out of thin air, they actually have really unique ways of becoming a full grown mushroom. Many mushrooms start out underground and pop to the surface only after the “fleshy-fruiting body” is fully developed from the spore. That sounds like a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, so what exactly is a mushroom and how do they work?

First we will have to break it down a bit, a mushroom is a fungus. That means a mushroom is neither a plant nor an animal–it is it’s own unique creature. Scientists commonly describe mushrooms as being composed of a “fleshy body” that spreads spores. What that essentially means is that the mushroom is capable of making more mushrooms without another mushroom (spores = baby mushrooms or mushroom “seeds” if you will). Continue Reading →

Hummingbird’s Health and Hibernation

We are back! Happy New Year everyone, we hope you have been having many nature adventures in our absence. In the past few weeks I know I certainly have had all kinds of nature adventures: being followed by a coyote, stumbling upon some skunks, being buzzed by some hummingbirds and much more. . . But the joy of nature walks and nature stories truly lies in sharing them! Please feel free to share your nature stories with us. You can submit your stories to facebook at: Havasi Wilderness Foundation.

One of our local Santa Barbara Anna's Hummingbird Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

One of our local Santa Barbara Anna’s Hummingbird Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Recently a friend of Havasi Wilderness Foundation observed that where she lived (up north in Oregon) hummingbirds are spotted all year round, much like in our California climate, however these hummingbirds stay even in the winter. Hummingbirds can be spotted even during the snowy months–buzzing about in spite of the frigid temperatures. Now we know that the postal service runs rain or shine, but apparently even certain types of hummingbirds tough it out. But how do they do it? Hummingbirds have such a high metabolism and are so small it seems impossible that they would be able to survive. They don’t have blubber, they don’t have fur, they don’t have those warm downy feathers that many other bird species use to survive winters. They couldn’t possibly hibernate like bears. . . If we see them they must be awake and active. Continue Reading →

Nature Walk: Predator and Prey at Work and at Play

western-gray

Western Gray Squirrels are able to thrive in human impacted environments. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

From the park bench, I could easily watch the two Eastern gray squirrels fake fighting and playing. These squirrels tend to be more solitary and less playful than ground squirrels but these two squirrels were bouncing around as if they could defy gravity. Eastern gray squirrels are actually quite impressive jumpers, and can easily leap up to fifteen feet horizontally and free-fall twenty feet or more. These squirrels have especially thrived in human environments where they have easy access to food (including many decorative plants) and where people feed them.

It was a pleasant little scene and I looked down to check my phone. When I looked up, the scene had changed. The bouncing squirrels had disappeared. Where did they go? I saw one motionless in the dirt and one had scurried even further away from the tree. What had changed? Had it been a territory battle? Continue Reading →

Moth Eaten

I don’t know about you but the fact that the sun sets so early has been confusing my internal clock. I’ve been taking longer to adjust, so several days ago when I got home from work in the dark and clicked on the light switch in the

Moths come in different shapes and sizes

Moths come in different shapes and sizes. Photo Credit: Makena Crowe

kitchen, it took me several minutes to realize something wasn’t right. There was a fluttering and a movement that I don’t normally see inside my house. . . Moths. The kitchen had moths fluttering around, walking on cabinets and sitting on the walls and fridge. I was horrified. I love animals, insects, moths. . . but I really do not like it when they are in my house. And I especially do not like to be surprised.

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Film Review: Before the Flood

“Before the Flood” is more than just another film on climate change. Leonardo DiCaprio guides the viewers through his own personal experience as UN Ambassador of Peace discovering the science behind climate change and its impact on everyday people across the globe. For me, having studied Environmental Science in college the drama of climate change was so commonly talked about that watching this film did not have the sense of novelty that many of the viewers would feel. However, because of my familiarity with the topic I can say that “Before the Flood” addresses many of the issues with climate change that others have avoided and as a whole it provides the most complete and positive collection of science, policy and personal stories I have seen outside of in-class/in-depth discussions between climate scientists.

Oroville Lake in California Before and After

Oroville Lake in California Before and After

Climate change is complicated, and that is one of the first things we learned as Environmental Scientists. Our world is a huge web of cause and effects that we really don’t fully understand. From food chains that exist in our own backyards to the ocean currents and El Nino, our world is so incredibly beautiful, fragile and complex that scientists are still discovering things! And this is true of climate change, there are many factors that can directly speed up climate change. But just because there are so many factors in this incredibly complex system does not mean that humans have no impact on the environment. It also does not mean that we won’t be able to change anything for better (or worse). “Before the Flood” presents this idea by following Leonardo DiCaprio’s travels through Florida, Sumatra, Greenland, Canada, Paris and many other important areas in the world to climate change. For me as a scientist, it was especially powerful to see him visit Greenland and talk with the scientists who work there about the receding ice sheets. It was so extreme of a difference in just five years and was such a first hand glimpse of the changing climate.

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Anthropophagy: The Science of Man-Eaters

While attending an event in Agoura Hills,

Grayson Kent and Marilyn Fordney pictured with Kodo the Colombian tegu. Photo by Alex Havasi.

California, I sat next to Karen Kent and we began conversing. I learned that she has a son, Grayson Kent, who has had a passion for reptiles since he was a little boy. His parents encouraged this interest and eventually he graduated from UC Santa Barbara as a paleontologist. Kathy invited us to attend one of his upcoming presentations for the Southwestern Herpetologists Society – Los Angeles Chapter meeting. Little did we know that it would be the most interesting, entertaining, and educational presentation that we have attended with lots of fun and interaction with exotic reptilians. The title of his presentation was “Anthropophagy: The Science of Man-Eaters.”

snake

A lavender albino reticulated python around Jared McGowan’s neck. Photo by Alex Havasi.

There were over 30 members and guests attending and you could hear a pin drop during Grayson’s lecture. Before he got started, everyone walked around and interacted with the various exotic reptiles and snakes. This was definitely a

Jackson Bloszies with his savannah monitor. Photo by Alex Havasi.

Jackson Bloszies with his savannah monitor. Photo by Alex Havasi.

reptile friendly group of people who love these creatures. My husband, Alex Havasi, briskly walked the room to take photographs of each creature with their owners and guests handling and petting them.

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Surprising Nocturnal Animals

In the growing dark of the evening, there was a rustling in the bushes and a small black shadow scampered across the path. We slowed down. Were our eyes playing tricks on us? What was that? We were almost home from an evening stroll when we stopped, surprised. The motion  detecting light of a neighbor’s house flashed on and the yellow glow illuminated our little black shadow. It was still black but in the fluffy blackness a thin white stripe gleamed. It was a skunk! 

 

Skunks are known by their unique markings

Skunks are known by their unique markings.

We froze. It froze. We began slowly to back away keeping our eyes on the black furry skunk. For such a small animal, we treated it with a great amount of respect and personal space, backing away quietly and quickly without making any sudden movements. Perhaps you’ve had a similar encounter with this shy nocturnal creature. They are small, roughly the size of a small cat or dog and usually solitary and prefer to dig for grubs and worms in the dark of night. 

Sticking to the Mountains: Nature’s Tiny Actors

Hiking back, a bit breathless and winded from the crisp mountain air and altitude, my eyes were drawn to a light tan stick on our window. We had just hiked through mountain trials and there was plenty of sticks and leaf litter everywhere but there was something about this particular twig . . .

This little guy was on our window

This little guy was on our window

For one thing it was vertical on the window screen and the oddness of it made me stop to take a closer look. Quickly looking around for a source plant, I noticed that there weren’t any trees nearby that would match that type of thin light tan stick. The closest trees where more evergreen and oak-like than this reedy looking tan twig. As I drew closer, I grinned. I had fallen for the illusion–it was not a dead twig as I had originally thought. It was not even from a plant. It was a living moving and incredibly fragile stick insect!

This wild “stick bug” was almost as long as my hand and was just hanging out on our screen. We had walked through forests and trees for hours earlier and had only heard some bird calls from a distance. I had been a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen much of anything interesting or unusual on our hike. But now here I was right back at our cabin and here was an animal I had never seen in the wild. And it had never even crossed my mind to think that stick insects were native to Running Springs, California. Did you know that stick insects can live in most of the world? They are found (in different shapes, sizes, and colors) from North America to Southeast Asia, the tropics to the subtropical regions of our world.

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