Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Citizen Scientist At Work
The post that tells what Citizen Science is all about is here.

This is the dashboard id that goes in the car when we're parked in an area where someone might wonder what a car is doing there.

Picture of Citizen Science car sign
Monday was my first Citizen Science solo field trip, except it wasn't solo. I met a very pleasant lady at our first class and it turns out that she also is concerned about going out alone and getting lost. We decided to try working together.

If Monday was any indication, it's going to work great.

We met at the gate, had no trouble using the map to pick out our route for the day, and away we went. We identified many of the plants in bloom along the trail. The obvious needs to be recorded so we will recognize the rarer and less obvious plants when we come across them.

We've been assigned a very diverse half mile square with an old field, upland shrubland, pine plantation, hardwood forest, emerging swamp, a source pond, and a stream.

All these different environments occur because long ago glaciers cut through the area creating an esker. An esker is a narrow, steep-sided ridge of irregular stratified sediment shoved up by the glacier ice. Most eskers are straight, but ours meanders.

What this means in plain English is that we have high areas, low areas, and steep banks to climb up and down.

The Nature Center has asked us to "get off the trails and explore". We will do that after we have more confidence in plant identification and finding our way back to our cars.

We've also been told we have the endangered eastern massasauga rattle snake in our assigned area. We were given instructions on what to do if we see one and/or get bitten. First and most important, get a picture! If bitten, drink a lot of water, hold the bitten part as low as possible, and get back to the Nature Center for treatment.

Massasaugas are very shy and will leave us alone if we leave them alone. We need to be aware of where we're walking and sitting. Unfortunately, I get all wrapped up in what I'm doing and don't even think about rattle snakes when I'm out in nature. I need to work on that.

More Snakes
Twice now Pappy has found a blue racer in the field where we walk numerous times a day. Pappy thinks he wants to play with the snake and starts dancing around and lunging at it. The snake is curled up flicking its tongue in and out trying to tell Pappy that snakes don't play with dogs. I hurry and get Pappy out of the area as quickly as possible.

The blue racers are a large, beautiful snake. They are becoming endangered because of loss of environment and lack of human tolerance for their presence. I'm thrilled that they are living and thriving at Violet Acres. I'm not thrilled that one of my little dogs thinks he wants to play with them.

Both racer sightings have been in the vicinity of the occupied bluebird house. The racers would climb the pole, go right in the hole and eat the young birds if the pole wasn't protected by a baffle. Heavy duty pole greasing also keeps predators out.

Picture of bluebirds at two weeks old
Final Bluebird Picture
Yuk! Nature isn't always as pretty as we might like to think.

The bluebird chicks are two weeks old and only a few days from leaving the nest. They are exercising their rapidly developing wings and pooping all over the inside of the birdhouse.

This is the last time I will open the nest box for fear they will fly away before their time. In a few days I hope to walk out into the field and see seven bluebirds sitting on the power line.