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!