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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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Great Crested Flycatcher

The Great Crested Flycatcher

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela talks to us about the Great Crested Flycatcher, a very common but not commonly seen bird. There are a few birds that are very common but not commonly seen. In other words, these birds are found in good numbers all across our region, but you just don’t see them. One good example of this is the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus). It is not a secretive bird; in fact, it’s bold enough to sound off with a very loud and distinctive call that echoes throughout the forest, announcing its presence. Starting in late spring and throughout the summer months, you can easily hear the distinctive “weeping” whistles high up in the treetops. Most birds will stop calling while nesting so they don’t attract attention to their nests, eggs, or young. But this is not true of the Great Crested Flycatcher—no, they keep on calling all summer long....

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Dinosaur Destinations

Trilobites—The Stars of U-Dig Quarry

Jon Kramer, Julie Martinez, and Vernon Morris, authors of the book Dinosaur Destinations, explore the most exciting dinosaur and fossil sites near you. Today, we take a look at the U-Dig Fossils quarry located in Utah. Found about an hour west of Delta, Utah, the U-Dig quarry is the place to go if you want to find trilobites. Trilobites, which became extinct before the Age of Dinosaurs, were oceanic arthropods related to present-day spiders and scorpions. At the U-Dig site, zillions of trilobites were buried in the deep, dark muds of an ancient sea. Here, you find direct evidence of what scientists call the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in time when life on Earth diversified very quickly. Trilobite populations, in particular, went bananas, and they ruled the Earth for many millions of years. Trilobites—Way Older than Dinosaurs Maybe we’re going a little off the dinosaur track here, but you’re gonna love it! Compared to trilobites, dinosaurs are young pups. Trilobites rose to prominence more than 500...

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Monarch Butterfly

In today’s blog post, Stan Tekiela shares with us the intriguing world of the Monarch Butterfly. There are so many amazing and marvelous aspects of nature. Take the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), for example. This may be the most familiar and recognized butterfly in North America, yet I’m not sure that it’s understood just how special this winged creature really is. It’s right under our noses, but we don’t seem to appreciate it. Unfortunately, due to unprecedented drops in population over the past 10 years, this butterfly is now being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a candidate for the endangered species list. Recently, I’ve been photographing all of the life stages of the Monarch Butterfly in my studio, and I must tell you that I am so impressed with this insect. Even after 30 years of studying wildlife and traveling to the far corners of the world to photograph...

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