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Bear hibernation

The Miracle of Hibernation

Stan Tekiela, author of Bears: Black, Brown & Polar Bears, explains the miracle of bear hibernation. Black and Brown Bears are perhaps best known for the fact that they hibernate in winter. Hibernation is not a response to changing weather, extreme cold, or lots of snow, as many people believe—it’s a reaction to reduced food supplies. Thus, bears in captivity, which are fed regularly, do not hibernate. Similarly, many bears in the wild won’t hibernate when food is abundant during mild winters without snow. Hibernation in bears is a state of inactivity with a high degree of dormancy. Metabolic rates, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature are greatly reduced at this time but still functioning. During summer, Polar Bears go into walking hibernation, a state in which their metabolic rate is reduced, but they are still active. Grizzly Bear hibernation is different from the deep sleep hibernation experienced by groundhogs, chipmunks, and other similar animals. It usually takes these critters several weeks to attain their extremely low metabolic rates. It doesn’t...

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Coastal Redwoods

Coastal Redwoods

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela talks about his visit to the Californian coastal redwoods. California is known for many things—sunny beaches, Hollywood, Disneyland, its designation as the Garlic capital of the world—well, maybe not so much for this last one, but you know what I mean. However for me, California has some of the most beautiful places on Earth and some of the most amazing wildlife. I am always on the lookout for the unusual or the underdog or the cool thing that isn’t so flashy. So I headed for the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens)—the tallest trees in the world! On my recent trip to California, I took a day out of my wildlife photography schedule to visit a stand of old growth Coastal Redwoods. You really need to stand at the base of one of these magnificent trees to really understand their grandeur. The Coastal Redwoods grow along a narrow band of...

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American Goldfinch

About Birds and Plants

Today, Stan Tekiela, author of Backyard Birds: Welcomed Guests at Our Gardens and Feeders, talks to us about the relationship between birds and plants. Often the most complex relationship between birds and nature is right in front of us, but we don’t see it. For example, Blue Jays are critically important for forest regeneration. A number of studies link the dispersal of oak trees to Blue Jays. Jays collect, disperse, and cache oak acorns, then later forget where they hid some. The forgotten acorns sprout into oak trees, which extend the stand from the mother tree almost 400 yards per year. Blue Jays surpass squirrels as successful oak tree planters. Birds in flight can disperse acorns farther away from the mother tree than a scurrying squirrel. Some botanists even speculate that oak trees with smaller acorns have an evolutionary advantage, as their acorns are more likely to be dispersed by Blue Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, and other birds, rather than squirrels. The...

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Flying Squirrel

Flying Squirrel—A Mysterious Critter

In today’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela shares with us about flying squirrels. I’ve always found the critters that are less well known or more mysterious to be the most fascinating. A good example of this is the flying squirrel. I have recently photographed a wonderful little Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys Volans). There are more than 40 species of flying squirrels in the world, but only 2 species live here in North America. Besides the Southern Flying Squirrel, we also have a Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). In general, the Southern Flying Squirrel lives across most of the eastern half of the country, while the Northern Flying Squirrel lives in the northern states and across Canada. Both the northern and southern flying squirrel are closely related to other tree squirrels. All are in the family Sciuridae. The big difference between flying squirrels and other more familiar tree squirrels is that flying squirrels are nocturnal. All of our...

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Bald Eagle

Valentine’s Day and the Bald Eagle

Valentine’s Day always makes me think of the Bald Eagle. I know, I know: It’s the symbol of our country, but it’s not exactly the symbol of romance. Still, the holiday and the bird are forever connected in my mind, thanks to one of nature’s happy coincidences. While we’re out choosing the perfect card, buying the perfect gift, and planning the perfect dinner, eagles are starting to get romantic too—and their idea of romance is way more awesome than ours! I learned plenty of interesting details while researching and writing the children’s book Eagle in the Sky and by following an Eagle Cam. Few were as startling or as intriguing as the mating rituals of the Bald Eagle. (No, that information didn’t make it into the book.) And here, in the northern part of the country, mating often begins around Valentine’s Day. Finding a Partner The males and females first become ready to mate when they...

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Eclipse of the sun

Observing a Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today, George Moromisato, author of 101 Amazing Sights of the Night Sky, helps us to observe a total eclipse of the sun. Lunar eclipses happened regularly enough that ancient astronomers were able to work out how to predict them. But total eclipses of the sun, which happen at a given spot only a few times per millennium, were impossible to predict with any accuracy. Imagine, then, how awesome and scary it must have been for our ancestors to see the life-giving sun swallowed up completely without warning. They must have watched anxiously as the skies darkened, perhaps wondering whether the sun would disappear forever. Within minutes, however, the light and warmth of the sun reappeared and everything would go back to normal—at least for a few more centuries. Today, of course, we know that the sun is eclipsed when the moon happens to pass in front of it. We can enjoy it as one of nature’s greatest spectacles. But it’s only the coincidental size...

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Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls

In today’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela shares with us why Burrowing Owls are different from all other owls. I love the rule breakers in nature. People tend to pigeonhole (sorry for the pun) birds and animals into categories not based on facts but on how we perceive them to be. We think that if they are one kind of critter, then they will act a specific way. Owls are a good example of this stereotypical thinking. I have written many times in the past about the Red-headed Woodpecker, which is a species of woodpecker that doesn't really act like other woodpeckers. This is a good example of a rule breaker. The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is another great example of a species of owl that doesn’t behave like other owls. First of all, Burrowing Owls are tiny birds—not the large hulking predators that we often think of when imagining owls. In fact, they are so...

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Queen Anne’s Lace

Common Backyard Weeds of the Upper Midwest

Teresa Marrone has been gathering and preparing wild edibles for three decades, and we are excited about her new book Common Backyard Weeds of the Upper Midwest. Hundreds of full-color photos with easy-to-understand text make this a great visual guide to learning about nearly 60 species of common weeds—toxic, edible, or otherwise interesting—found in the Upper Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Today we take a look at Queen Anne’s Lace. The distinctive part of this non-native biennial is the second-year flowering plant, which is 2 to 4 feet tall. Its slender green stem is hairy and has fine vertical lines. It often grows in large colonies; in sunny, dry areas, including yards, gardens, parks, and waste areas; and in fields, on railroad embankments, and along roads. It is very common in the southeastern two-thirds of our region and is listed as a noxious weed in Iowa, Michigan,...

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Horned Lark

Horned Lark—A One-of-a-Kind Bird

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela shares with us about the Horned Lark, an interesting American bird. One particularly unique bird is the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). Several dozen lark species occur in the world, but only one calls America its native home. This small songbird is found throughout the U.S., in every state in the nation. It is also found from sea level to over 13,000 feet elevation. However, it has regional variations: The larks in California and the Pacific Northwest look very different from those found in the Midwest and East. Even though it’s widespread, I don’t believe many people notice this bird. It seems to be one of those species that everyone has heard about but hardly anyone sees or can identify. The Horned Lark is found in fields, open areas with short grass, and agricultural areas. It is also found along roadsides or just about in any open place without trees. It...

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Northern Leopard Frog

Frogs—Unexpected Desert Inhabitants

In all, around 4,500 species of amphibians occur around the world, but only a few dozen are found in the Southwest. All of our desert amphibians, with the exception of toads, require access to a water source to keep their skin moist. Not surprisingly, our arid Southwestern deserts are not ideal habitat for many such creatures. Nonetheless, a number of frogs and toads are found in the Southwest, and their special adaptations help them survive here. Many species are inactive or underground during the height of the desert heat, and some species can even sense when rainstorms are approaching (by feeling the vibration from thunder). After a storm in the desert, a chorus of frogs might just surprise you! Sonoran Desert toads (Colorado River toads) are olive, gray, or dark brown in color, and the underparts are lighter in color. The skin is mostly smooth and shiny. There are warts around the edge of the mouth and on the hind legs. Northern leopard frogs are...

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