Monday, August 28, 2017

Mammal Monday -- Sloth Bear

The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is an unusual looking bear found in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.  These long-haired bears grow to about 5-6 feet in length and 200-300 lbs. They have an unusual, pigeon-toed kind of stride and very long claws, because they dig into termite and ant nests and beehives to find their favorite foods.  They're so well-adapted to eating termites and ants that they're missing their two upper front incisors -- the better for slurping!  When in season, these bears also like to eat honey, mangoes, figs, and other fruits and flowers.  Want to learn more about these bears, efforts to protect them, and how you can help?  Visit the Smithsonian National Zoo's website.

Here's my video from a recent trip to the National Zoo:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Meat-free Friday -- Fig Season

Well, the figs are finally ripe!  If you're lucky and have a fig tree in your backyard, then this is the recipe for you -- so simple, so tasty, and such a short time for fresh figs!  Photo from

Arugual and Fig Salad

  • Arugula
  • Figs, stems off, cut in half
  • shredded parmesan cheese
  • italian dressing, optional
  1. Combine all ingredients in a salad bowl.  I never use the dressing, so test it before adding any dressing to your salad.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Street creatures

I often enjoy starting my day by reading the latest post on Next Door Nature.  This well-written blog, published by Kieran Lindsey who teaches at Virginia Tech with me, includes fascinating insights about nature that we encounter in urban settings.  On her blog, she includes a fun feature called "Street Creatures."  While I was in Iceland this summer, I was often reminded of "Street Creatures," because public art is everywhere you turn in this beautiful country.  So let's take a look at a few of Iceland's "Street Creatures."  There were the mammals,

and the birds,

and, of course, the butterflies which are always a favorite of mine.  It was surprising how many butterflies and moths I saw in Iceland (the living ones, not just the art).  After a little sleuthing, I learned that most are summertime visitors, just like me! 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mammal Monday -- Fun Facts about the Degu

Last week, we looked at the beaver of North America.  This week, let's check out a rodent from South America -- the degu!  This little guy is a native of the grasslands of central Chile, but I saw them at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.  Here are two fun facts about the degu:

  • Similar to reptiles, degus can drop their tails when attacked by a predator.  Unlike reptiles, the tails don't grow back.
  • Degus "sand bathe" by urinating in a patch of sand and then rolling around in it.  Bruh, don't try this at home.
Want to learn more about degus?  Check out the National Zoo's website.

(all photos and videos are the author's)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Meat-free Friday -- Ratatouille!

I've got all of the ingredients, because my garden is growing crazy!  So this week I'm going to try ratatouille!  I don't have a recipe that I've tried before, so here's the link I'll be trying from All Recipes and Disney.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  If you try it, please post on our FB page about whether you liked it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mammal Monday -- The Beaver!

Last week, I paid a visit to the Smithsonian's National Zoo to take a few pictures and check on some of my favorite animals like the naked mole rats.  My family and I wandered onto the American Trail exhibit, where we could see sea lions, seals, wolves, bald eagles, otters, and these cute little guys:

Beavers are what we call a "keystone species," or a species whose impact on the environment is greater than you'd expect based on their biomass.  They basically hold an ecosystem together.  Let's take a closer look at these industrious critters:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

It's almost time to go back to school -- What I did, and read, on my summer vacation!

Iceland is a chilly place!  As I explored southern Iceland from the west coast to the east at the beginning of August, the temperature never hit 70 degrees F.  I drove through the vast, open wilderness and noticed that the landscape looked somewhat similar to one of my favorite places in the U.S. -- New Mexico.  But the instant I left the car, I knew I was in Iceland.  The wind that blows across Iceland is MUCH colder than the wind that blows across New Mexico in August.

As I drove across chilly Iceland, I couldn't help but think about a rather odd topic -- warming.  Global warming, that is.  While playing with puffins at an aquarium, I spoke with people in the Westmann Islands who told me about a wetter than usual spring.  Was this just a weather event or is the climate of the Westmanns getting wetter?  I chatted with researchers who were investigating the distribution of orcas in the frigid water around Iceland. I wondered what would happen to the orcas and minke whales that I saw as the ocean absorbs more heat and CO2 in the future.  As I hiked up to huge glaciers and gazed down on the glacial lagoons, I remembered reading national park signs describing the 5-meter annual loss of the glaciers leading to larger lagoons and downstream flooding.  I felt fortunate to visit Iceland right now, and I'm curious to see what it will look like in 20 or 30 years.

Planning for my trip to Iceland involved proper clothing selection (that would be lots of layers, since I'm a warm weather gal) and a few other items (but not too many, since I was flying on no-frills WOW airlines).  One must-have is a book. As every avid traveler knows, you've got to bring along a good book when you travel.  Playing solitaire on your phone or scrolling through instagram for hours during a long car, ferry, or plane ride just won't cut it.  Just before leaving on my trip to Iceland, I attended a book signing by Dr. David Goodrich who retired as head of NOAA's Climate Observations and Monitoring Program, and served as the Director of the U.N. Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Switzerland.  For my Iceland trip, I brought along Dr. Goodrich's book, A Hole in the Wind.  As I made my way across Iceland, I enjoyed Dr. Goodrich's story of his cross country (U.S.) bicycle trip (actually, several of his long-distance bike trips).  Throughout the book, Dr. Goodrich skillfully weaves together biking adventures, history, and climate change stories.  Each evening, after exploring a new wonder in Iceland, I enjoyed reading Dr. Goodrich's entertaining tales about the people he met.  I also enjoyed learning about climate change from an expert, because Dr. Goodrich provides the facts about climate change in a non-threatening but informative manner.  As my travels and the book drew to a close, I was inspired by the author's hopeful outlook.  One of my kids once told me after meeting folks at a polar plunge environmental fundraiser, "these environmental activists deal with one of the most depressing topics, but they're the most positive people I know!"  Dr. Goodrich is one of these positive people, which is why I highly recommend A Hole in the Wind to anyone looking for an entertaining yet informative read.  The final section of the book is titled, "A Case for Hope", and Dr. Goodrich states, "It's a great battle, but one that's been won before.  More than a battle, it's an opportunity."
A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mammal Monday -- arctic fox!

As I drove through the southern part of Iceland this past week, I was astounded by the island's natural beauty.  We hiked to waterfalls and glaciers and watched birds on the coast.  As we hiked, I was watching out for snakes in the brush, as I would here at home.  Then I realized, Iceland has much less terrestrial biodiversity than we have here in the mid-Atlantic region.  In fact, there's only one terrestrial mammal native to the island -- the arctic fox.  Usually, they look much better than this unfortunately taxidermied little guy we found at the Natural History Museum, but they're hard to see in the wild.....

Arctic foxes have specially adapted furry feet to help them walk on frozen ground and snow, and their coat color changes from dark to light to allow them to blend into the snowy winter landscape. Although in Iceland, they survive by eating birds as well as other prey, they're probably best know for their ability to hunt for prey under the snow: