Ticks! Don’t be afraid, be informed!

Hello, friends! It’s May 22 already. This year is flying right on by. I think it is important to take a moment to pause, enjoy the lovely spring weather, and guard ourselves against anything that could ruin our fun outside.

The topic of the day is Ticks. Rather than reinventing the wheel (so to speak), I would like to direct you to a fabulous website I just found: https://www.capecodextension.org/ticks/

What I love about this site is that it narrows down the most important information about preventing tick bites, but it also offers a testing service if you happen to get bitten by a tick. Information is power, people! It is in that spirit that I need to tell you about “Ticked Off“. It looks like a measuring spoon with a slit in it, and it is a better tick remover than any pair of tweezers (and it is available on Amazon!).

 

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A mission of sorts

Several years ago when I volunteered at a Wildlife Care Center, I fell in love……with opossums. Hear me out. I know a lot of people view them as some of “the uglies” in the animal kingdom because they have a mostly hairless, rat-like tail and a long, pointy snout with sharp teeth (by the way, I also think rats are cute, and they are intelligent critters, but that’s another blog post for another time). My mission, since I have chosen to accept it, is to prove that opossums are worthy of love and admiration. Opossums happen to be North America’s only marsupial. That in itself is cool.

Here are ten more reasons for why the opossum is awesome: https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-opossums

And! And! The following video is great at showing that opossums have a bad reputation that they do not deserve.

Keep the volume turned on for the following ridiculously cute video so you can hear the enthusiastic lip-smacking going on.

If, after reading all of this information about an animal that I personally adore, you still feel that your neighborhood opossums are a nuisance, please read this information on How to Get Rid of Opossums Humanely.

Thanks for reading/watching!

Why every day should be like a blood donation day

I donated blood for the first time in my life on July 12, 2017. Full disclosure: I am 35 years old, and the reason I have not donated before now embarrasses me. I was afraid. Very, very afraid.

I think my fear stemmed from having a major surgery when I was only a year old, and even though I do not actively remember that experience, I must subconsciously remember the IVs and machines that I was hooked up to. In the last year or two, I started to get really sick of my fear, and I started to have a really strong desire to get over it.

I do not want to be scared anymore or feel heart palpitations when I get a blood test at a Dr.’s office. That sucks. I want to move on. I think I did just that this past Wednesday.

The reason why I titled this post, “Why every day should be like blood donation day” is not to encourage people to give blood every day. Don’t do it-you will die. I simply noticed how much better I treated myself during the week I knew I would be giving blood. I drank plenty of water, I ate healthy food, and I got good rest. The practice of giving blood made me more mindful of what I put in my body, because someone was literally going to take something out of my body.  I am a relatively healthy eater anyway, but during the week I gave blood, my diet was stellar. Lots of veggies, lots of water, and a good amount of healthy fats and protein.

The experience of giving blood was life changing for me. The needle didn’t hurt much at all. The ARC nurses take blood all day, every day. They had a lot of compassion for me in my nervousness, and now I feel like a blood donation disciple. If I can do it, anyone can, and I hereby recommend it. You can find blood drives in your area at the following link:

American Red Cross Blood Drives

A new healthy habit!

I felt like something was missing every time I went running around a body of water. I finally pinpointed what was missing. I needed some light binoculars that I could put in my running backpack so that I could get a better look at the birds swimming in the ponds, rivers and lakes that I frequent. I bought an adorable, light pair of Bushnell Powerview 10x25mm Compact Folding Roof Prism Binoculars and took them out for a (literal) test run. They were light as air in my backpack, and when I wanted to get a better look at a bunch of ducks swimming in the Charles River, I took out my handy dandy binoculars and got a great look at two American Black Ducks    swimming next to a bunch of Mallards which is apparently quite common. In fact, the two types of ducks often interbreed, making identification between a female American Black Duck and a female Mallard even more challenging than it already is. I love the dark line that passes “through” the American Black Duck’s eye (picture is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology since I chose binoculars and not a camera):

ABDU-Greatblue

I am so glad I bought those binoculars. I have a feeling they will bring me many years of enjoyment.

A Cedar Waxwing Dream (but it was real!)

There is still some slush and ice on the ground, but it was too beautiful and warm to stay inside. I took a walk along one of my favorite running routes. All I was expecting was for the endorphins to flow, and for my mood to uplifted from being outside and moving and breathing the fresh air. The most wonderful thing about being outside in nature is that you are guaranteed to see something jaw-droppingly awesome at some point. If you consistently make the time to get out there, you will be rewarded.

I was in the right place at the right time today. I do not have any photographic proof, so you’re just going to have to believe me. 

Here’s what happened:

I was getting close to home and I walked by a house with a couple small trees in the front yard that had branches full of berries. In a flash of yellow and high pitched whistles, about 30 Cedar Waxwings suddenly landed in the trees and started eating the berries. Cedar Waxwings are my favorite songbird, and I will never get a closer look at them than I did today.  A couple of the birds climbed down to the edge of their branches and cocked their heads and checked me out…….kind of like this (these are not my pictures, but these pictures capture what I saw-these beauties were everywhere):

I slowly and carefully started to take my phone out of my pocket, and they all flew to a tree further down the street. They did not want to be photographed. Just as I tried to get closer to them in their new location, a loud truck thudded by and they all flew away, further and faster than I could (as a gravity laden human) follow them. Just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared like an apparition. Cedar Waxwings are pure magic. They let me take a peek into their world today, and I will never forget it.

 

Wintering songbirds to look for

Happy New Year!!!! I cannot believe it is 2017, and I also cannot believe it is winter, but the snow and the cold helps to remind me. For all those that feel spring and fall is where all the birding action is, do not despair. There are plenty of fascinating, beautiful birds to look for during the winter season. Here are several that always make me smile (the links contain helpful info and sounds so you can learn to bird by ear!):

White-breasted Nuthatch…..these birds are around all year, but I almost always see them and hear them on quiet winter afternoons as they climb up and down the trunk of a tree in my front yard: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-breasted_Nuthatch/id

Dark-eyed Junco…..it is a sparrow, even though it does not look like the other sparrows that can be seen in Massachusetts during the rest of the year. It is a winter migrant: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Dark-eyed_Junco/id

Northern Cardinal…..a year-rounder here in Massachusetts, although it is so flashy and beautiful that it ends up on a lot of Christmas card designs: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/id

White-throated Sparrow…..I am going to put a bird feeder in my backyard in hopes of attracting these cuties: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-throated_Sparrow/id

Snow Bunting…..I am quite sure I have never seen one of these strictly winter migrants. They are so pretty though, and so is their song! I hope to see at least one of these this year: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Bunting/id

Lapland Longspur…..The difficulty with identifying this bird (also a strictly winter migrant) is the female’s and the immature bird’s plumage looks very sparrow-like. Pay attention to the dark cheek outline as this may help identify it: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lapland_Longspur/id

 

Important: Safety tips for exercising outside

And now, for something completely different.

I don’t know how many people read this thing, but I have to write about something that recently happened to me in hopes that other people will benefit from my story.

I love to run outside. I love it. I have always loved it. The following experience will not keep me from continuing to run outside, but it will make me even more alert than I was before.

My workout was 6 x 1 minute hill sprints. It was simple to remember, but a challenge to actually do it. Hill sprints are hard, folks! I have learned to love them though, because if you want to get in shape fast, hill sprints are the way to go. I have heard them called the “poor man’s weight room”.

Anyway…I digress. Back to my story. Halfway through my workout, before my 4th hill sprint, a truck that contained two guys and what looked like construction equipment drove by me and the guys said something that I could not decipher. They pulled over about 30 yards in front of me, and I did not have a good feeling about having to run past them during my next hill sprint. I crossed to the opposite side of the road, and they drove away. Super freakin’ creepy.

I am telling this story as a reminder to do four things if you are outside exercising:

1) Make sure you tell someone your exercise route before you leave home.

2) Listen to your intuition. If you have a bad feeling or hunch about anyone, listen to that and get as far away from them as you can.

3) If the sketchy folks are in a car and behaving strangely, get the make and model of their car as well as a license plate number.

4) Do not listen to any inner shame voice telling you that you are being mean or paranoid.

In other words, be safe and have fun out there! *Getting off my soap box now*

Goldenrod and its bad reputation

From the Edible Wild Food website: “Goldenrod is a perennial plant that is well-known for its healing properties. This wild edible is a plant that reproduces through its roots, bulbs, stems and by its seed. Goldenrod does not cause seasonal allergies as many tend to believe.”

If it harmless, why does Goldenrod get demonized? One theory I have is that people associate bright colors with poison and venom. It could also be a simple mistaken assumption since Goldenrod almost always grows near a very potent allergen: …..drum roll please…..Ragweed!!!!!

How is Goldenrod harmless while Ragweed is anything but? The answer lies in the flower/seed structure. Goldenrod flowers are sticky and not windblown. Pollinators such as bees and flies land on the flowers, and the pollen sticks to their legs and gets carried with them everywhere they fly and pollen is spread everywhere they land. Ragweed seeds and pollen grains on the other hand are windblown. One giant Ragweed plant can contain up to 10,500 seeds! The pollen grains of a Ragweed plant if looked at under a microscope are ragged (hence the name “Ragweed”) and spiny, and they get caught in nasal passages and eyes. People that are allergic to Ragweed will experience red, itchy eyes, sneezing and awful nasal passage inflammation, as well as an itchy throat.

The moral of this story is: stop demonizing Goldenrod. Enjoy the beautiful yellow flowers that bloom in late summer and fall, and take Zyrtec to protect yourself against the true bad guy, Ragweed.

 

A Naturalist’s Summer Reading List

Remember Summer Reading? Going to the library in the summer and reading all of the books on the list was one of my favorite things when I was in grade school. I decided to implement that into my adult life and create my own summer reading list. The only stipulation was the topic. I wanted to read about nature and blog about the books I read each week. WordPress book reports, if you will.

I know, I know: we are smack dab in the middle of the summer and we are in the middle of a heatwave in Boston. You may find this topic incredibly boring, but I am blogging about these books in the hopes of expanding my knowledge and understanding about the world I want to stop being so afraid of. Sharks! Stinging insects! The unknown! Oh my!

The first book that I finished reading a few minutes ago is The Primal Place by Robert Finch. Robert Finch still lives on Cape Cod as far as I know. He is a longtime resident of Brewster, MA and this book contains a lot of natural history gems. He prefers to use big words in his writing, so I not only got a natural history lesson, I got a vocabulary lesson as well.

Let’s review, shall we?

One of my favorite chapters in the book was about herring, because I did not know much about them beforehand. In describing the annual herring run that takes place every April and May in Brewster, he described the fish as ” anadromous”. I had to look it up, but I will not make any of my readers look it up. Ha! Anadromous means that the herring migrate from saltwater in the spring season to spawn in freshwater ponds and lakes. If you live in the Boston area and take the “T” (the train), I am sure you have heard of the “Alewife” train stop on the Red Line. The alewife is a type of herring.

alewife

“Its more common name of ‘alewife’ is said to derive from a loose association of its pronounced abdomen with the alewives or female tavern keepers of Elizabethan England, who were traditionally represented as large-bellied women.” – Robert Finch

What I liked most about this book is the way that Robert Finch found the beauty in all of nature, not just the aesthetically pleasing parts. For instance, this is how he describes a leech (yes, a blood sucking parasite): “Its slimy back is as boldly painted as a copperhead’s, adorned with beautiful butterscotch patterns on a richly brown body, with tints of red and green scattered throughout.” It sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? A leech. You gotta love a new perspective on things.

The Running Naturalist

“The Running Naturalist” is a nickname that I recently gave myself during a run around the Charles River. The explanation for the nickname is that I love to run, but if I hear an interesting bird call that I want to investigate further, I interrupt my workout. Nature takes priority over running.

I heard the Cedar Waxwings before I saw them. They have an extremely high-pitched monotone call. When I heard them, I looked in the direction of the sound, and five of them immediately took flight. They look like little flying drops of peach sunshine.

I began to run again. About a mile later, I stopped running to watch a Double-crested cormorant coming in for a smooth water landing. This running-interrupted-by-nature behavior is precisely why I usually run by myself. If I do run with anyone else, I will explain my tendencies to them before heading out.