Ignorance Perpetuates Prejudice

crow

crow (Photo credit: crowdive)

There’s so much outrage these days. Something has stirred up our emotions and I’m at a loss to find one single cause. The overall theme of this simmering pot is misunderstanding with a big helping of mistrust on top. The visible combatants, via our sensationlizing media, in these divisions are claiming the ability to divine the intent of anyone who has a differing opinion. The core element to the outrage seems to be a misguided philosophy that assumes, those who differ, do so from a purely mean-spirited inspiration.

I’d like to offer a true story that helped me to realize that most prejudice comes from ignorance not an evil agenda.
A few years ago, I witnessed one of Nature’s violent “goings on”. I was alerted to a “bird battle” in my back yard by dozens of squawking crows. As I watched the commotion, there was a flailing of wings and seeming screams coming from a gang of large birds on my lawn. One red-tailed hawk emerged from that pile, and flew off, followed by more crows than I could count. My curiosity brought me straight to the, now abandoned, crime scene to discover three dead fledglings on the ground. My human heart was saddened but I returned to my daily routine.
A few hours later, my neighbor had taken up the task of burying the victims and joined me at my doorstep with his tale of the tragedy .
Before I tell you about his understanding of the bird “murders”, I’d like to point out that most people have a small knowledge of birds, and Nature in general. In fact, until my curiosity of natural things had awakened, I was among those folks who could identify only Robins, Crows, Blue Jays and the, occasional, Cardinal. These birds are of the highly visible type that most people come to know. With that commonness , there also comes wide-spread folk-lore about them. Blue Jays are brash and bossy, Robins are sweet, Cardinals are special and Crows are murderers. In fact, a group of crows is referred to as a “murder of crows”. (In defense of crows, they are actually primarily scavengers and highly intelligent to boot. I’m sure, the common place sightings of these fellows eating carrion was the impetus of the “killer” label.)

Now, back to the story:
My kind neighbor broke into a tale of murderous crows who attacked a red-tailed hawk nest, leaving baby hawks littered in our shared yard. It was true that we witnessed the same event but ignorance was there too.

I proceeded to tell him my version. The dead babies were crows. I showed him the straight beak of one of “the fallen”. It was easy to understand his confusion though. Crows are big birds and are about the size of many hawks. The dead babies were very close to leaving the nest, therefore, they were almost full-sized.
My tale continued with the murderous intent shifted to the hawk. By the time I had finished, his sympathy had done a one-eighty. My tale ended with an admiration for the community and brotherhood which had brought so many crows, out of nowhere, to aid in the rescue attempt.

So you see, my neighbor was not being mean-spirited in his inaccuracy. It was his ignorance that perpetuated the prejudice.

I’m hoping this story, inspires you to take a moment to explain yourself when someone has a different opinion and refrain from judging others as mean-spirited. Overall, the most important message, here, is to stay informed and curious.

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NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Veery

veeryThis cute little bird is a Veery. It belongs to the group of birds known as Thrushes, therefore, it has a more familiar cousin, the American Robin. A Veery is slightly smaller than a Robin.

All Thrushes have lovely voices. The link below will bring you to a site where there are audio samples:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Veery/sounds

I found these birds hopping around my yard, at camp. It’s not surprising that I find them there. They live and nest in damp forests. These feathered sweethearts, primarily eat small insects and berries. The one, below, was flipping over leaves and gobbling up insects as she moved along. I usually find them to be shy but either the food source was just too enticing or the nesting drive too strong, to scare these photo subjects away from my lens. There were two birds present and, it seems safe to assume, that they were a mated pair. Their coloring was identical, so unlike Robins, there is no easy way to tell “Mom” from “Dad”.

038These birds build nests on the ground, or very near the ground, under dense shrubs. They occupy Canada and the Northern U.S. during springtime and summer but migrate to South America for the winter.

036Their cheerful voices always fill me with happiness. How fortunate I am to have them as summertime neighbors!

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Lupine

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The purple flower, in my enhanced photo, is a Lupine (Lupin). This variety is the perennial version that blooms in the Spring and early Summer. It belongs to the legume family and, when it goes to seed, produces small edible pea-like pods. Many countries, on the Mediterranean Sea, serve the brine soaked pods as appetizers. In fact, the plant’s resistance to cooler temperatures, make it a cash crop which is beginning to rival even soy beans.

Natural Patterns 2 I have quite a large area of these beauties at my camp. They are hardy and prolific. The foliage of these flowers is quite distinct. Upon close examination, the leaves have fine “hairs”. (click on my photo for a closer look) That feature makes the delightful, large fronds water-repellent. The lupine patch is my first visit, with my camera, immediately after a rain shower since the foliage offers wonderful droplet shots.

The name Lupine comes from the Latin, Lupinus. It means “belonging to the wolf” and describes the manner, in which, it ravages the land where it dwells. They are so beautiful and range from one foot to four feet tall. Lupine are certainly welcome to ravage my woodland retreat!

Lupines

Lupines (Photo credit: RahelSharon)

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Black Raspberries

July 4th Week Vacation 2011 073These are Black Raspberries. Many people refer to them as “Black Caps”. As you can see in the photo, when the fruit is picked, the white core remains attached to the plant. This is the simplest way to tell them from Blackberries.

Another way to tell the two berries apart ( in my area of upstate New York and western Massachusetts), is according to their time of ripening. Black Raspberries appear in June and Blackberries are in August.

Black Raspberries are a small fruit and grow in sparse numbers per bush while Blackberries can yield gallons of fruit in a similar space.  I’ve found it hard to find significant patches of wild Black Raspberries. They are susceptible to many blights which also plague wild Raspberries. One final note, they are far less painful to harvest than Blackberries, simply because, their thorns are much smaller and their fruit tends to grow outwardly.

A Black Raspberry patch is indeed a great find!

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Giant Leopard Moth

new stuff 2012 007pointsMy previous Nature Knowledge post, from today, inspired me to look through my photos of caterpillars. I made another great find that I will probably keep next time that I encounter one. Above, is a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar. This prickly fellow is not poisonous like the Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar, although he looks formidable. In fact, Giant Leopard Moths feed on broad leaf plants, rather than, decimating trees. I had found this caterpillar at my camp doorstep in New York State. I’m sorry, now, that I did not identify it sooner. It must have been coming out from an eave where it had wintered.

English: A baby moth that hatched from cocoon,...

English: A baby moth that hatched from cocoon, raised the larval state black fuzzy caterpillar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a lovely moth to behold! (Personally, I prefer moths to butterflies but they are nocturnal and are harder to find.) The photo specimen above, was an actual successful rearing of a caterpillar to adult.

Here’s another borrowed photo:

Giant Leopard Moth

Giant Leopard Moth (Photo credit: cotinis)

Interesting Facts

  • It might look dangerous when it is a caterpillar but it is not poisonous and hence can be an easy pet for children.
  • They get attracted to electric lights during the night, but some experts conclude that more than the females, the males can be seen doing so with the beginning of summer.
  • Since they navigate effectively in moonlight, electric lights can baffle them, causing them to hover around them.
  • The caterpillars can roll itself like a ball to mislead its predators, in which it exposes its spines and the orange segments lying between.
  • These moths are often regarded helpful in controlling invasive plant species.
  • On being alarmed, glands located in the thorax region can produce a stinking liquid to ward off predators.

My caterpillar photo was from last Spring. Hey, I’ve got some searching to do this weekend! The kids may enjoy raising one, almost as much as, I. 😉

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Hickory Tussock Moth

Aug 2011 033come to me

This fuzzy little guy is a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar. Most caterpillars are discovered in mid to late summer. Usually, by then, they have reached a noticeable size from eating all season and growing from larva into full caterpillars. Below, is one common variety of Hickory Tussock Moth.

Lophocampa caryae

Lophocampa caryae (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many varieties of Tussock Moths. Their caterpillars vary in appearance too. All are about 2 inches long and fuzzy/spiky in appearance . They love eating Hickory trees but will settle for Elm, Ash, Oak and Willow trees too. They sometimes can cause the defoliation of these trees.

weird 001The one above, was brought to me by my daughter who had found it so curious looking. Thankfully, she did not handle it directly. I found this warning when making the identification:

“The Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar has poisonous hairs and spines that can cause skin rashes similar to poison ivy. If your child should rub his/her eyes or touches his/her nose after coming into contact with this caterpillar reactions can also include conjunctivitis (eyes), light sensitivity (eyes) and wheezing (nose).”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/30/news/state/entomologists-beware-of-hickory-tussock-caterpillar/

Under a microscope, those little hairs are barbed. Seems these little guys are “armed and dangerous” to most prey. Thankfully, most toads, small snakes and birds don’t mind a bit. We are very fortunate that Mother Nature holds everything in delicate balance!

PS.~ These caterpillars were photographed in New York State and Massachusetts. The link to the warning talks about Maine but they are here too!

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Blue Jay

Blue Jays are very commonly found in central and eastern USA, as well as, Canada. They are stunning birds but, due to the fact that they are numerous, often these birds are not fully appreciated. Humans seem to treasure rarity above beauty.

BIRDS AND FISH 029close up jayThese birds stay where they have grown up and brave winter. Their breathtaking blue colors are a delight to behold against a winter white background. I was aware that Indigo Buntings (another, more rare, blue-colored bird) gained their blue color from a deflecting of light. The feathers do not have a blue pigment. According to Wikipedia, Blue Jay feathers have the same properties.

“As with most other blue-hued birds, the Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived from pigments but is the result of light interference due to the internal structure of the feathers;[7] if a blue feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.[8] This is referred to as structural coloration.”

Blue Jay males, and females, share the same bright coloration. They build open topped nests in tree limbs and have 2-7 eggs in each clutch. These birds love seeds and nuts and frequent bird feeders.

BIRDS AND FISH 027found itWhen Mother Nature made these birds so beautiful in appearance, she must have felt as though she had done enough.  Their voices lack beauty and their loud raspy cries are borderline annoying. When you add a brash, bold attitude, there are more than a few people who don’t like these beauties.

One group who does appreciate Blue Jays are hunters. Not only are Blue Jays bossy, they are nosey. Often these birds announce the presence of intruders with their incessant reports. This can alert animals and hunters to danger or big game in the area.

As the most recognizable local bird by sound and sight, Blue Jays are the first on my list when introducing birds to kids.

Blue Jays are a BIG favorite of mine!

Birding with My Granddaughter

2651594282_ef987cc879_bThe human brain is a fascinating subject. I can’t get too much information about what scientists are finding to be “the way we learn and remember”. As an early childhood educator, the little “sponges” around me have me in awe.

I remember showing my daughter her first glimpse of a butterfly in the wild. She was about 18 months old and quite a chatterbox. She returned to the same spot…same flower, the next day and asked, “Butterfly?”. My first parental reaction was, “Wow! I have a genius on my hands!” Then the truth grabbed me. Of course she’d think about butterflies in that spot. That’s the only place her brain has ever witnessed one.

Adults have so many more experiences and, therefore, filter and connect images and ideas in a “wasteful” way. We have to cast off some of our information in order to keep a tidy collection. Kids are that wonderful “clean slate” that we adore. It’s no wonder that kids can learn multiple languages far more easily than adults. They have no competing categories or files in their brains to interfere with their memorization efforts.

Keeping this in mind, I have tried to make up little games with my granddaughter in order to teach her to notice and identify birds by their songs. I must have done this instinctively with my day care babies because I was stopped in the grocery store by a few parents and grandparents who pointed the “blame” for their nature walk interruptions on me.

“He just froze and said, Hear that Grandma? That’s Mr. Blue Jay singing.”

“She kept shushing me as we walked so she could listen for the birds.”

I just love hearing such “complaints”!

As for my granddaughter and me, we make up our own little phrases for familiar bird songs. I don’t know if there are different bird dialects but sometimes the professional translations just don’t fit the sounds that we hear. The only one that seems universal is the Chickadee. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” is our translation too…but we also know there is a sound that Chickadees make other than their name. We think it says “JEAN-nee”.

Eastern Phoebes are our favorite. Their first part sounds something like “Phoebe…Phoebe” but it ends with “She DID it!”.  At least that is our own label and it always makes us laugh.

When we look through books, I will point out the birds and reminder her of our own game and the sounds. Recently, I pointed out a Nuthatch in a book and reminded her of that bird who’s always laughing at us from the trees.

I cannot emphasize enough what a wonderful world we can open up to kids when we teach them to listen and notice what too many adults have no time for.

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Red-Tailed Bumblebees

new photos 017redRed- tailed bumblebees are delightful to watch in my garden. They are easy to spot, with their bright patch of orange, as they buzz around nectar rich flowers. Colonies, of these bees, number around 200 members. Aren’t they pretty?

2948342526_cf7a110d6f_bThe queens come out of hibernation in early Spring. Queenie lays eggs of worker bees right away. The workers build nests in stone crevasses or , sometimes, in old birds nests. They tend the eggs too. A while later, the male bees hatch to mate with females and carry on the nectar collecting business, which is their source of food. In the Fall, all the males (including worker bees) and the old queen die…the new queens, hatched that year, hibernate in order to start the cycle again in the spring.

These bumblebees are common in the United States and Europe. In recent times, their numbers have diminished as their habitat has been reduced and pesticides have killed some of them off. You can make a difference in their population numbers by keeping nectar rich flowers in your gardens.

Last season, I noticed an alarmingly reduced number of honeybees and red-tailed bumblebees. Part of last year’s dilemma was, in my opinion, the unusually warm and snow-free winter which affected the natural timing of tree flowers with bee hatching. Whatever the reason, my fruit trees bore far fewer fruit due to the absence of pollinators. I have high hopes for this spring to come.

As a footnote, I have never been stung by a bumblebee. One of my favorite childhood activities was catching them in jars, then releasing them. Mom warned that I was asking for stings, yet they never did. The photos above were taken by practically placing my camera lens on the subjects…still no stings. I don’t recommend antagonizing bees but would hope that people avoid them rather than kill them. They are very important to farmers and our produce!

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Quick ID~ Moth or Butterfly

There a few tips that you can keep in mind in order to quickly distinguish a moth from a butterfly. Although they belong to the same larger group of insects, there are some rules (with, of course, some exceptions) to follow. Directly below there is a Luna moth. Notice the “feathery” antennae. Moth feelers lack a club-like tip too.

Butterflies have more narrow Q-tip-shaped antennae . See the Great Spangled Fritillary  butterfly below for example.

Another tip : If you see the insect in the bright sun of daytime, it is most likely a butterfly. Moths prefer the shadows and night.

Moths are usually drab in color while butterflies have bright colors. There are exceptions though.

Butterflies most often have a slender body with moths generally looking stout and furry.

When moths are at rest, they usually lay their wings flat along the surface of their post. Butterflies usually keep their wings upright and perpendicular to their spot. (see photos)

Butterflies have free hanging translucent “containers” spun from their caterpillars called chrysalises. Moth caterpillars spin cocoons of soft silk for their metamorphism.

These fascinating creatures share their ability to turn from a worm-like caterpillar into a graceful flying wonder. Hope this post adds to your pleasure when viewing Nature.

A butterfly chrysalis
photo credit: Wikipedia

a moth cocoon
photo credit: Wikipedia