Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whose Feet?

Okay, it's been a while since I posted a "guessing game," so here's one on animal feet.  This first photo is of an animal in our Outdoor Aviary, a part of our three-quarter mile Outdoor Trail.  If you need another clue, look carefully and you will see a shadow of this animal's beak:
Here's another set of feet, also from a kind of animal in our Outdoor Aviary:
Here's a foot that's great for swimming.  Notice the skin between the toes?:
These feet are also great for swimming, but in these photos, take a look at the claws.  The two inner toes of this animal's hind feet have "split" toenails which are used like combs to groom its fur:
Finally, a foot that is in our Changing Exhibits Gallery.  This represents the front foot of an extinct critter.  Hint:  notice there are only two toes on the front foot:
Ready for the answers?  The first photo shows the feet of a great blue heron.  In the photo below, I caught him scratching his head--ahhh! just the right spot!  Herons are wading birds, so their feet help them get around in their wetlands habitat.  They are the largest type of heron in North America:
The second photo was of cormorant feet.  They eat mostly fish--so those feet are great for helping them dive from the surface and chase their prey  Here's a cormorant getting ready to dive:
The third mystery foot belongs to one of our two river otters.  The photo below was shot through about three inches of glass and the scene is underwater, so it's a little fuzzy--but take a look at the hind feet.  Check out the awesome webbed toes--what great built-in swim fins!:
The fourth mystery foot belongs to one of our beavers.  I watched our two beavers groom themselves ("autogrooming"), then they groomed each other's fur ("allogrooming") for a few minutes:
The last mystery foot belongs to a robotic Tyrannosaurus rex that's part of our Dinosaurs! exhibit here at the Virginia Living Museum now through September 3, 2012:
That's all for now--hope you enjoyed this post!  More "Off the Beaten Path" in two weeks,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nature's Signposts

As I walk around the Museum grounds I'm fascinated by the many small signs of nature that perhaps go unnoticed by casual passersby.  For example, near the front entrance to the Museum, there are some witch hazel plants--and if you look closely you may notice some odd looking cone-shaped bumps on the tops of some of the leaves.  Hundreds of people walk by these plants every day--and they probably don't even see them.  So, what are they?  They're insect galls made by cone gall aphids.  Well, technically, the plant grows around the aphid as a defensive response to being bitten by the aphid.  Anyway, the gall becomes the perfect place for the aphid to live in and reproduce:
Here's another sign that an animal has been here--even though you don't see the animal.  Look closely at the small holes that are in a straight line on the bark of this pine tree.  They're holes made by a woodpecker, a yellow-bellied sap-sucker, if I'm not mistaken.  The woodpecker eats the sap as well as insects attracted to the sap.  Sorry I wasn't able to catch the woodpecker in action, but if you want to see a photo of a sapsucker has some amazing photos.  But, here are the tell-tale holes:
Next, thanks to very observant students from Lee Jackson Elementary School that came here on a field trip, I was able to photograph these giant leopard moths the students found in our picnic area.  In the first photo, the two moths are mating.  The "leopard spot"  coloration is fantastic:
In the second photo, you can see the ring pattern that distinguishes the female's head and also the metallic blue color of her antennae and forelegs.  Many thanks to my friend and co-worker, Judy Molnar, for being my extra set of hands while I took the photos:
I get a lot of help from my colleagues who are always on the lookout for interesting "small things" for me to photograph.  My friend and fellow-educator, Bo Baker, spotted this gorgeous Betsy beetle. These are flightless beetles that eat wood and are often found under and in rotten logs.  Don't worry--they won't eat your house!  They are in fact great decomposers, and as such are vital components of forest ecosystems:
There are some faithful Museum guests that regularly walk our Outdoor Trail and while doing so watch out for interesting things for me to photograph--thank you Marnee and Lynn!  Last week they spotted three mallard ducklings on the pond--these critters are now almost fully grown.  Here they are stretching a bit before taking a plunge into the pond:
Well, I suppose it's appropriate to mention one of my favorite organizations that has the same conservation concerns as I do.  Recently I had the pleasure of talking to David Lauthers with the Boy Scouts of America.  As a Council Outdoor Ethics Advocate and a Leave No Trace Master Educator, he helped spread the Leave No Trace message to our guests during our Earth Day celebrations held on April 21, 2012.  Another great organization that is helping our local area to "go greener" is the Newport News Green Foundation whose mission is to preserve the green spaces here in the City of Newport News, Virginia.  It really helps to have people involved in conserving natural habit--that way, we can all enjoy the small pleasures--and treasures!--of nature.  Thank you David for your tireless efforts!:
As usual, I'll post again in two weeks.  Until then, I hope you'll find and enjoy the small wonders of nature in your area.  Be on the lookout for "nature's signposts," the small traces that reveal that animals are here all around us, even though we may not be able to see them.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fine Feathered Friends

Remember the photo of those Carolina wren nestlings I posted two weeks ago?  I was able to take one final shot of all four of them before they fledged and left the nest:
And those mockingbird fledglings are still around, with most of their feathers now grown in.  On the Museum grounds I've counted three fledglings--they're almost as big as their parents and still asking for food!:
More elusive and trickier to catch with a camera are the family of cardinals that nested right outside the education center.  Here a fledgling cardinal looks at me curiously while dad cardinal was not too far away, keeping a close eye on things.  Females and juveniles have more muted red colors while the adult male has the well-known bright red plumage:
Perhaps the most fascinating to watch this last week are the four goslings that have been roaming the Museum grounds and pond area.  Geese are "precocial" birds meaning they hatch pretty much "ready to go" with fluffy feathers, their eyes open and are able to walk around.  (Birds like the wrens, mockingbirds and cardinals are "altricial" birds that hatch without feathers, their eyes are closed and they generally take more parental care since they can't leave the nest right away.):
Both mom and dad keep a close watch on their young ones--dad frequently chases other birds, even other geese, away from the nest site--that's dad in the lower right of this photo:
I hope you are enjoying the fine feathered friends in your area, too!  More off the beaten path in two weeks....