Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Memories

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Have you ever noticed how a song can take you back to your childhood or some long stashed away memory?  The same can be said about a smell, like a special recipe your mom made when you were a child or perhaps a particular flower. Even taste has its place in the storing of your lifetimes worth of experiences. The fact is that “all” of our senses seem to help attach themselves to a special moment of our lives and have the ability to open that part of our mind as if giving us an old unique key to a hidden door that we can suddenly peak into.  Amazingly our senses give us the ability to add a sort of protective layer around particular moments in time that might have been otherwise forgotten. Each second of everyday we are bombarded with information of some kind or another and its easy to see how many of the details become lost in the pile of countless pieces of information. By heightening the overall experience at the time of the event, it’s like using a yellow highlight marker on a particular sentence buried in 10,000 words. Suddenly its easy to find that particular spot.

Image from healthmango.com

Understanding how or why that works is fairly simple, think of it another way; imagine if you were to eat 1 bowl of plain oatmeal every day for 100 days and I asked you about your experience on one “particular” meal you probably would have no idea. You would also be pretty sick of eating oatmeal. Sure maybe you would remember the first bowl, or the last might stand out a bit but most meals would sort of blend over time. Now imagine one particular meal you were surprised because unexpectedly added into the bowl was smelly and super powerful hot sauce. Suddenly, that meal no matter which of the 100 days, stands out as unique. Years later if you smell or taste that same hot sauce you would certainly remember that moment in time and a large part of that day would probably come flooding back into your mind.

As we grow from childhood our young minds associate the many things we see, taste, touch, hear and smell with our experiences and those in many ways help create the building blocks of our minds. Since the nature of growing up means many of our memories are from a younger time, we tend to perceive the world with a heightened and nostalgic view. Perhaps an old street you lived on, place you visited as a young person etc becomes sewn into your mind.

Early Spring Nature Walk

Knowing this is a powerful thing for a parent. That means you have the ability to help ensure the experiences and reflections in the life of your child are wonderful ones worthy of that hopefully nostalgic view.  That is exactly why it is so vitally important that we all remember to take our children for walks into natural habitats to admire wildlife and appreciate “their” world. As we walk through a forest, meadow or watershed (or any other habitat) the smells of the trees and flowers, the songs of the birds all fill the senses with the wonder of “life” itself. Something all of us can relate too. That positive impression left in the mind of the child can last a lifetime and the love and endearment of the natural world means that you are helping to building a better future by ensuring people still “care” in future generations.

Imagine a person in government being asked to develop a particular habitat and suddenly hears the song of a bird reminiscent of his or her childhood. Perhaps that will mean that same person has pause before making a decision that would destroy the place that they hold close to their own heart because they would also understand its importance.  Now when I was raised before the internet, cell phones even “cordless homes phones” there wasn’t much reason to stay indoors. In fact I spent all my time outdoors so much so that I grew up to do things like become a conservationist (I like the term “preservationist” better btw). So my experiences as a child did directly impact the course of my own life.

The beauty of a healthy wild place

In today’s high tech world of the iPad and smart phone ensuring constant online communication with websites like Facebook it’s hard to imagine that people have time to be outdoors. As we spend more hours in front of a computer, sadly that means less time to see what is happening in a nearby forest preserve for example.

These experiences are not to be missed at any age, but it is absolutely imperative for a child to see. In nature the scent of wildflowers in a meadow, the sound of a birds, whales and wolves singing or the feeling of bark on a pine tree all create a world of wonder and awe that locks in to your consciousness for a lifetime.  I can remember watching a Luna Moth flying at night against the back drop of the moon or and eagle landing on a salmon and flying off. Those images have forever blended into my heart and my mind is inseparable from that humble feeling of respect. They are so powerful even as the years go by and I forget little things like “why did I just walk into this room” or “what was I looking for in this drawer” I never forget those magical moments exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and I never will. That is the point I suppose. Our “memories” are built on “experiences” so ensuring we spend quality time in places that reflect the best things in life i.e., “Nature” will ensure we hold a lifetime of wonderful building blocks for our future.

Mark Fraser

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Federal Budget Cuts and the Environment

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

When thinking about something’s “value” we often get confused by just exactly what that means. Seeing value in only direct monetary terms is short sided and can easily lead us astray. Think of it this way, compare the “value” of lets say gold, to the “value” of air. We think of air as free, and gold is – well, valuable – how odd is that?   Just imagine that if you take gold away, your fine but take air away and you’ll die. Seems to me that air should have far more value then gold since we can not live without it. Compare diamonds and water – do you see my point? These days we seem to describe something as valuable based on a flawed system. All too often we loose site of what’s really important and take them for granted. The children then grow up in a world where they are taught to hold monitory things as far more important then the natural world, which is dangerous for the well being of everything and is something we need to correct right away. If you replace the word “valuable” with the word “precious” it helps but still we see terms like “precious metals” as opposed to “precious forests”.

Image from forestpolicyresearch.com

How does this poor use of the term valuable lead us astray? Take the recent budget cuts here in the United States. The goal was to cut spending so they pulled money from things considered less important, or to put it another way, less valuable. Being a naturalist all my life I knew what that meant long before anyone itemized the cuts because I have seen this many times. It means that laws protecting the environment, agencies whose job it is to enforce environmental protection even protected wildlife habitat all come under attack. That’s because of the confusion about value. There are those in government that want very much to exploit the natural world for profit and have a long track record of doing exactly that. Trading (air) and (water) for (gold) and (diamonds) when you think about it.

The irony is that I know we are better then this and so do you. I believe the majority of us care, I mean who wants their family to not have air and drinking water?  What I can not understand is why so many of us are all but unaware when these “precious and valuable” natural resources come under attack. Our future depends on our society learning to live “with” the natural world and not in spite of it. We all would rather see a clean and healthy watershed and forest then a devastated one.

Image from Care2.com

In the recent federal budget cuts were things like “lifting protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. Now I am no economist mind you, but how exactly does failing to protect an endangered species help federal budget shortcomings? What that really is all about is special interest groups out west in this particular case, called “ranchers” who have been trying to open up wolves to hunting since they were reintroduced. The Wolf has as much right to exist on public land as any other species does and certainly more right then free roaming domestic cattle in my opinion. They are public lands we are talking about not just a particular piece of private land. Now in my case after being involved with these discussions and paying attention to what has been happening I no longer consume beef. I made that choice many years ago after hearing multiple reports of ranchers killing wolves. I figured that was the one thing I had the immediate power to do and that no one person or organization had the power to control. So instantly I was no longer their customer and therefore stopped supporting their business. When you purchase beef you are funding them after all. We have all heard the term “the customer is always right” because in business you want to protect the relationship with your customers because that is literally how you are paid. The point being if enough of the beef consuming public wants to “protect wolves” we could then demand it of the ranching community by our own purchase decisions. There are some ranchers, that have stood up and “do” actually work with environmental groups to protect their cattle but at the same time not harm the wolves. Those ranchers should get more publicity for their positive contributions and also provide a venue for those in that market. In this way, protecting wolves would become a reality because in the end of the day don’t “we the people” control that money. We just need to put our money in the right places where we see the most “value”. Imagine that instead of the flash mob phenomena simply dancing in a mall, we instead used the power of social media to take control of protecting wildlife by shifting our purchase power.  Rest assure that there is nothing that gets attention to a cause like moving our buying power money around from folks who hold that, as the most… “valuable”

Wolves are “valuable” because a clean and healthy natural world does consist of apex predators.

Image of Earth's water cycle from NASA.gov

Other recent cuts that gave me direct pause were things like the gut wrenching $1 billion from Environmental Protection Agency. Remember the EPA enforces laws to protect against greenhouse gases, clean drinking water etc. Think of what will happen at the hands of coal plants for example, without that level of monitored and safeguards in place. Other groups that received cuts were the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consisting of industry scientists around the world dealing with the impact of climate change. There was even $407 million from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Ironic when you think about how they are cutting the funding protecting against greenhouse gases and then cutting the funding for new sciences to help break our dependency on things that produce, greenhouse gases. Projects like high speed rails not only help reduce greenhouse gases by providing alternative commuting but also create jobs so I found that odd that they have even cut funding to a high speed rail system. At the same time as we are talking about federal “overspending” I was curious about how much money was being spent overseas. What does it cost to be in Iraq and Afghanistan these days etc? A quick online search shows that we spent over 1.1 “trillion” (with a T) dollars overseas fighting battles in places that produce oil. A source of energy that creates greenhouse gases. I found this website with a chart showing how fast money is being spent overseas that is actually a near real time view. http://costofwar.com/en/ I am not affiliated with the site so I cant speak about it other then they have a great chart showing the cost.

Now let’s talk again about our use of the term “value”.

According to dictionary.com the top three definitions of value are as follows:

1. relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.

2. monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.

3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.

I still am not really seeing the point of why we think “money” is more “valuable” then “Clean Air”, “Clean Water” and “Wildlife”. I believe we have become confused about what’s important in life and those who would sacrifice all we have for a quick profit are making decisions that will profoundly impact each one of us, our children and the world we all share.

Nothing is more valuable then Mother Earth and its time we recognized that.

Mark Fraser

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The Jersey Barrier

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Many of us have a common path to commute from each day. Part of our normal routines headed both towards and back home from our place of daily work. Along my own commute I drive along this one particular highway that cuts in to the middle of some local conservation land. It’s a nice area with a lot of deciduous trees on either side of the highway and I have seen many species like Deer, Hawk and Fox on several occasions.

Some years back a project to widen the road began as a part of Massachusetts “Big Dig” project and the state began to open up the highway infrastructure in and around the city of Boston. For along time this had not impacted the commute in my area away from the city until finally they decided to work on the highways further north of Boston and then my normal predictable commute suddenly changed dramatically. That small little highway near conservation land was becoming larger and the work took off at a feverish pace for a couple of years or more. It took a long time for things to settle back down but in time, it eventually did. Although the daily roar of heavy equipment had stopped one legacy of the construction work remained, the “Jersey Barrier”.  For those of you who don’t know what a Jersey barrier actually is; they are those approx 3 foot tall cement walls made of snap together sections along the highways and even secondary roadways. They are made by pouring concrete into a re bar filled mold and have become all the rage in the construction world because they can be poured “as needed”. So widespread is there use as a highway traffic barrier that there hasn’t been much thought about their ecological impact. Imagine being a Mouse, Skunk, Porcupine, Opossum etc and being on the wrong side of a 3ft high smooth surface that you absolutely can not cross.

"Many species like this female Snapping Turtle run into serious problems trying to lay their eggs because they can't cross Jersey Barriers. This often causes them to become fatally trapped on the roadway."

What about a turtle trying to reach a pond? It is not a small unimportant consideration; it is becoming a very big deal. Once they were installed the forest on either side of the road was totally separated for smaller wildlife since between the north and south bound lanes were endless miles of tightly connected barriers, each tied together neatly in a long and seamless string stretching far beyond the actual conservation land and across countless towns. That habitat has been “fractionalized” into two separate non connected realms each only half of what its original size was. There are places that have water on one side in the form of a marsh and forest on the other.  The problem is that often individual towns conservation commissions miss the point since they simply see this as part of the highway department and are not necessarily thinking about the “connect-ability” of protected conservation land along the highway and rather just the single parcels themselves.

One of the most important things to consider when protecting wildlife is undoubtedly the preservation of habitat and lots of it. It seems simple enough at first thought; I mean what can be so difficult about remembering to leave some forest and wetlands aside so that our wild neighbors have a place to live? The problem comes down to more of a “big picture” scenario. By that I mean most towns and municipalities make jurisdictional laws specific for their own region, and list of conservation parcels.  This does not mean they consider the connection points between parcels especially when they intersect other towns or jurisdictions. Wildlife on the other hand doesn’t really care about what we humans call a town, state or nations border.  They are living with something we humans often idealize and rarely actually come to know and fully understand ourselves, called “Freedom”.
They will roam wherever they need to based on food availability, the search for a mate, curiosity about a new territory etc.

They don’t worry about taxes or town councils or even passports for that matter. They live a truly “free” lifestyle and do their best to live around and with, all of us. That is, until we create a physical barrier preventing them from moving across from one side of a habitat to another. Just imagine in an urban environment,  there are many roads with many Jersey Barriers.

Image from the Florida D.O.T Website

That means we can literally create “boxes” of island habitats where nothing small and flightless can get in or out from. Keep in mind “nothing will dig under a Jersey Barrier in the middle of the asphalt highway”. Just imagine if you were a small mammal and during the night attempt to cross the road to get to your drinking water, you could be in very big trouble. Wandering miles to find a place to cross trapped up against the Jersey Barrier and traffic. Too many times I have witnessed first hand turtles, opossum, skunks etc trapped up against a miles long barrier with traffic whizzing by on one side and the cement wall trapping them on the other. That being said there is a simple solution after all; why not create gaps at every few hundred feet?

It can be done and is in some case like in the image below where a simple gap has been left for wildlife.

Image from D.O.T Federal Highway Commission website

What is ironic is that image is actually from the “Department of Transportation” Highway Commission website and even comes with caption about the gap allowing wildlife to cross. Before any traffic engineers tell me that they need to connect to provide the safety benefit allow me to point out that I have also seen a few cases where there was gaps connected by a steel plate but leaving an obvious opening. I don’t know if that was made for wildlife or not but I assure you it works for their benefit. That simple act doesn’t come with a big price tag in fact it probably costs the same as not having them since you will save money buy needing slightly less Jersey Barriers to begin with but then buy the scrap steel connection braces (made from scraps of steel “Guard Rail” Material 2 ft or 3 ft long). A net cost of close to zero. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cheap and it “works”.

You can help me spread the word on this one. If you like what you read in this article and live in a region where Jersey barriers are common without a gap for wildlife to cross please call or write to your local highway Department. Let me know what response you get by sending me an email at mfraser@naturewalkswithmark.org.  Working together we can make a difference and it’s about time we proved it. This simple and common sense consideration and action “will” positively help the lives of wildlife thanks to your own assistance within your community.

Mark Fraser

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The Social Media Revolution Solution

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

In the natural world, species that are considered “prey” often use a common tactic by joining forces with others and taking advantage of the “strength in numbers” benefit. This can both confuse and overwhelm the predator that is challenging them. In the human domain, that applies just as much, we “are” animals after all.

Watching the people in countries like Egypt and Libya rise up and struggle to bring about change in their homeland is literally about that same strength in numbers that applies to any species.

History itself will inevitably decide both the positive and or negative outcomes of this new and powerful social capability.

Those are stunning examples of people uniting their own voices to a common cause. In a world of instant communication and constant social media, broadcasting a viral “thought” is a new hi-tech approach to the phenomena of social change. The message is instantly capable of traveling like a living breathing organism working its way through the minds of the masses. Sometimes the sway of society’s popular opinion can turn on a dime sounding the bells of freedom and the end of oppression or in some other cases to strange directions that seem to fly in the face of reason.

Recently I watched major news reports of Charlie Sheen as they seemed to morph the stories from a drug riddled public meltdown into a Twitter superstar posting comments like #winning.

Suddenly the social media “Flock” sprung into action and millions connected to watch. Was this shift of millions to help better the world, save wildlife, help with poverty or end social oppression?….um…no.

Of course the money hungry marketers have no doubt stepped in and as long as the eyes of the masses are still watching Charlie’s party you’ll see lots of drinks, phones and untold products magically appear on tweet photos. Some stars are paid by the “tweet”, very lucrative deals because the commercial real estate on their Facebook and Twitter pages are enormous.

Odd, isn’t it? I actually find a healthy forest and clean river far more important and, well “valuable”.

Perhaps it’s our definition of the word “valuable” that has taken a serious turn into the Twilight Zone. According to my quick search on “Google” looking to define the term value, I see one of the top 3 definitions that seems to apply. “The quality (positive or negative) that renders something desirable or valuable; “the Shakespearean Shylock is of dubious value in the modern world”

I would say that there is overwhelming evidence that a beautiful healthy forest with wildlife brings a positive quality to life making our own lives on this Earth more desirable. Letting it die and harming it, brings upon a negative impact and so on.

So how is it that we do not seem to “value” the most important things yet we flock to the stories of the strangest and most bizarre behavior? Not that Charlie is all that bizarre, he actually reminds me of my late uncle both in looks and in character. After all it’s not like he suddenly shaved his hair off or anything.

No matter how you slice it there seems to be a huge void between “ethics” and “value” and that discrepancy, well makes me concerned for our future and the fate of all that wildlife that I keep blogging about. We teach ethical guidelines to our children and they will make the decisions of tomorrow. That means it is vitally important for our generation to provide a healthy moral compass to our children to invest in the future of the entire world. Is this really needed in our tech savvy society? Well, look at the influences of today’s online world. Any research on the most popular films seen on Youtube demonstrates the point as the most popular films tend to avoid any social or educational “value” albeit some are certainly fun to watch.

The people in Egypt and Libya from what I see on the news seem to value their
basic freedoms and their rights as a people. They look like they are standing up
for “We the People” hmmm, boy that sure sounds familiar.

What I find hard to understand is that many of us seem to be “bored” with
real-world issues like caring for the natural world (you know, just the health
of the planet that gives “us” life) and lately are fascinated by a wealthy mans public
meltdown. What exactly does that say about “us” as a society and our own moral
compass?

I think its time that we had our own “Social Media Revolution Solution” and
start to put “ethics” back in front of “value”.

Living on this Earth made us rich by birth; we just seem to have forgotten that.
There is no greater wealth then the smell of a healthy forest, the view of an
Eagle in flight and the admiration of a young Deer fawn in a meadow.

You see, we could “create” our own “Social Media Revolution Solution” by helping promote “good” in the world. Imagine what we could do if caring about the natural world could once again be seen as “valuable”.

That is, if we could just allow ourselves the joy of understanding that in the first place.

Then, perhaps we really would all be “#winning”.

Mark Fraser

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Terraform Earth

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

“Terra-forming” that’s a theory about taking a world like mars and making it Earth like. It’s a fascinating scientific endeavor into the possibility of making another planet or even a moon somehow become new habitat for our own species.  Now that’s an interesting subject when you think about it. During my life growing up in the 1970s with great TV series like “Space 1999” where humans actually lived on the Moon, albeit not a terra-formed one, but still they carved out a seemingly impossible niche none the less. I liked that show as a kid and I have often wondered about such things. Life on the surface of the Moon or Mars seems exciting at least at first glance, although I then have to ask myself, would I actually “want” to live in a place like that? Ok so then I went to get a drink of tap water, and the real world came crashing back to me. It’s all about “this” world, isn’t it?

I know there are a lot of Sci-fi folks out there that don’t want to hear this but Terra-forming theory is just that, a “theory”. It’s easy to debate the “what if’s” about the engineering and financial considerations involving warming a planet, introducing algae or microbes helping to create a new world so perhaps we can one day enjoy it however today here you are, hungry, thirsty and needing of shelter. All of which come from the planet your on right now, the Earth (no offense to the International Space Station team). Now I suppose one could say we are actually Terra-forming the Earth, just not intentionally and the current direction isn’t exactly been what one would call “creating a better world”.

No worries, there are some simple truths about our lives to keep the peace with the most die hard science types:

Fact: We are already floating in space… that’s pretty cool.

Fact: There is substantial evidence of life forms right here on Earth that are millions of years older then our own species (ask any cockroach, shark or horseshoe crab)

Fact: There is non human intelligent life on the planet. According to species like crow, apes, dolphins and elephants all intelligent life is non human by definition. Ahem…

Terra-form your own world in 6 easy steps? Sure we can…


Step 1: Protect Sea life

Filling the Oceans with so much plastic that it replaces plankton is a really, really bad idea. The so called “Garbage Patches” that exist around the planet are collection points due to current. Point being the entire sea is at risk from our bad habits and the current eventually takes the broken down pieces of plastic to the gyres like the Pacific Garbage patch. What can we do about something so massive? Lot’s, for example we “each” could say goodbye to plastic disposable shopping bags, bottled water and only shop for products that use an Earth friendly approach to their product material and eventual recycling. Of course all this is mute unless we use “sustainable fishing” in practice rather then theory

(It doesn’t hurt to try)

Step 2: Preserve wild places:

Like us wildlife needs a home. There is less wild places every second of every day around the world, help reverse that. Zoning laws meant to keep a community green actually increase “urban sprawl” substantially.  Is it me, or do you find it strange that we often drive past a dozen abandoned city buildings to get to the new development? Having eco-friendly practices in our lawn and yard care can help substantially as well. (Did you really think safe labels on pesticides meant they were actually safe?)

Step 3: Prevent acid rain

Many planets are acidic but does ours have to be? Dealing with that is a serious concern. Acid falls in the form if rain/snow which can corrode the soil and make the watersheds sterile bleaching away the possibility of fish. Solution; update the “Clean Air Act” to include better regulations and avoid corporate dollars from undermining the spirit of the law. Keeping sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in check will ensure our watersheds can support fish which are important considerations when making a planet habitable, especially our own.

Step 4: When politicians disregard climate scientists, “change the channel”

Yes contrary to the belief of some, political party affiliation does not also mean you have become a climatologist. Scientists around the world have never been as united as they are to say the Earth’s climate is dramatically changing and our behavior does impact it.

Let me try to sum this up with some basic math;

Steady Climate= Farms= Food

Or

Unsteady Climate=? Farms =? Food

Step 5: Plant a tree

I don’t mean just send money  so someone else can plant a tree for you. I mean get a Pine Cone or Acorn of a native tree. Put the seed into a pot and raise it your self at home. When its time to plant your baby tree sapling, take your family with you. Find a place that is safe for the young tree by studying what it needs to survive. Look for a spot where it won’t be cut down by future development during its life cycle. Those steps alone will teach you more about conservation than you would expect. Teach your self and family about how that very tree exhales what we inhale and role you eyes at anyone who says it doesn’t count because they don’t have lungs and remind them that “we do”. Keep in mind that very tree could grow to outlive your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grand children and even far beyond them. It may be the longest lasting legacy of your entire life, really.


Step 6: Become the person you know you can be.

Do not expect someone else to fix the world for you because that simply won’t happen. You have to become the hero right where you live, for your family, for your community and for the planet that all of us share.

So I suppose all things considered there is a form of Terra-forming we can actually do today on a planet wide scale. Let’s call this a great experiment in the future of our own species. If we can make all 6 of the above steps come to life maybe we will actually be around in the future to see a community on the Moon or even Mars.

I believe we can succeed. Nature has the amazing ability to heal, and we have the amazing ability to rise to diversity. The future really is up to us.

Mark Fraser

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Real Magic, it’s all natural

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Yes, I said “real magic”, I am not referring to a parlor trick like pulling a domestic rabbit from a top hat or making flowers appear from a cane.

I actually mean everything from levitation to the ability to make one’s self invisible. In the natural world, we see wonders that make the best high end Las Vegas magic show seem at best, cute. No offense to those who make their living that way but

let’s face it, that’s smoke and mirrors.When we look at “Mother Nature”,  it is not only reality it’s biological.

I have been Scuba Diving of the Massachusetts coast for over 20 years. Now some would argue that the colder murky green waters in the north east offer far less to admire but I am here to tell you that is far from the case.

I have seen the most amazing things diving in less than 65 feet of water that sometimes defy logic yet there they were. Let’s take “invisibility” for example, well that’s no problem for species of fish I commonly see like the incredible “Flounders”. This oval shaped fish has several types like the “Winter flounders” and is commonly found off the New England coast as is the similar albeit rounder “Window Pane”. They can change both their color and patterns on their skin to match the surrounding sea floor so perfectly they become literally “invisible”. Sure they are not as famous as the cuddle fish for such abilities but they deserve a sea full of respect for their amazing art of camouflage or as they like to say in the magic business “invisibility”.

It’s not just fish that have this ability, Take the American Bittern. A medium sized heron species with golden stripes on its belly. Standing in its grassy habitat it also will rely on its own form of magic. If it wants to disappear, it will look up to the sky and start to sway it’s body from left to right mimicking the grass swaying in the breeze so the patterns on its belly look undetectable against the surrounding grass. I had no idea how incredible this ability was until I had the honor of seeing a Bittern in the wild standing still in an open field. I watched as it lifted its head looking up to the sky and began to sway “perfectly” matching the grass swaying in a gentle breeze, then within in a second, it disappeared and I could no longer see it until it started to walk away. Ok Los Vegas, give that one a
try! Evan some species of lizards have the ability to blend in to their surroundings so well that you would hardly notice they were there at all.

So let’s talk about levitation. For this, I will leave the sea out of it because that is not only common but as a diver I can do that one myself with the right balance of air in my vest called a “BCD” and weights. What about out of the water, and in the open air and to make it more interesting, not including birds like the Hummingbird since we all know they have that down to a science.   How about spiders? Yes that’s right they can levitate themselves. It’s called “ballooning” and many species can travel this way and even amazing distances. They use a silk called “gossamer” or “Balloon Silk” to weave their magic to life. There is evidence they can travel up to 16,000 feet in the air and over 1000 miles far beyond the distance of any great magician’s theater at the finest venue. They walk to tallest point in the immediate area, then create their “balloon silk” waving it in the air where the tiniest of breezes can carry them away. Even the young “spiderlings” of many species get in on the act as a way to leave home and start off on their own life’s journey. There are even caterpillars and mites that also have this amazing ability. Of course this is an old hat trick when talking about plants like Milkweed or the Dandelion that like many species use levitation to transport their own seeds.
In nature “Levitation” is not only real its fairly common among many species.

So in review, we have covered both invisibility and levitation in the natural world.

Ok no big magician act is ever complete with out a bonus “encore” presentation for the audience. Have you seen a magician saw someone into pieces? Of course we know that’s done with the help of a couple assistants squished into boxes one with the feet hanging out and the other showing the top half to appear as if they were actually cut into pieces. Thankfully that’s fake, just a trick.  Now let’s look at another animal magician, the Sea Sponge. Although they look more like plants they are actually animals and they have a trick that would put any would-be magician out of business. If they are actually passed through a tiny screen mesh, they come out on the other side and start to regroup back into a sponge. Not that I would ever want to do that mind you but it’s not trickery, it’s the real deal.

Is their “real magic?” there answer is; yes very much so and it’s all natural. All we need to do is look it’s actually all around us.

Mark Fraser

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Living with Carnivores: The Coy Wolf

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes and I truly love them all, but let’s face it some species have a bad rap.  Carnivores for example seem to suffer from a skewed public image.  Let’s talk about that for a moment. Cats are carnivores, and very serious ones at that. When domestic cats are left outside suddenly cuddly little fee-fee is pouncing on Chipmunks and songbirds and in fact “millions” of birds and many other species are taken each year from our domestic pets.  Despite this fact, Cats are considered “cute” so regardless of the science about what really happens, they are left outside and continue to harm local wildlife because they are lucky or even smart enough, to make friends with humans. That’s an important survival skill for a carnivore these days since we are still learning how to coexist with wildlife.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Let’s look at another species, the “Coy-Wolf” also sometimes called the Eastern Coyote. This is a large predator with some animals reaching huge sizes of 50 to 60 pounds double their western cousins and is actually due to the genetics of being a hybrid between the Western Coyote and the Eastern “red” Wolf.  Like the Cat, this animal is a true carnivore and in the case of the Coy-Wolf is also a very intelligent opportunistic and social hunter.  Unlike that Cat, the Coy-Wolf suffers from a very serious public image problem. They pay a terrible price for that fact and are hunted relentlessly in many areas of their habitat and despite their wild beauty, haven’t yet been able to win over us humans.  Coy-Wolves are a “stunning” looking animal reminiscent of wild times long ago and one would think that people would warm up to them.  They look like, and are very closely related to dogs who are our best friends so what exactly is going on? Well first of all we can’t tame them and many people are bothered by that.  They are really wild, not like the domestic cat who just acts like that when you’re not looking.  The other problem is a real one – they sometimes will eat unprotected cats that are left outside. Our pets are our family and people who have lost a small dog or cat to a coyote or Coy-Wolf certainly have good reason to be upset.  There is however more to the story, and rushing to judgment isn’t always the best approach.  Living with carnivores requires some disciplines to ensure the safety of your household pet as well as the safety of the wildlife. Think of it this way, living next to a road (like most of us do) is far more dangerous. We learn common sense rules at a very young age. “Look both ways before crossing”, “stay in your lane when driving” and the list goes on and on. Following these rules is the best way to ensure your safety. Would you let your small dog or cat cross a busy highway?  Of course not, that’s because you know the rules and the consequences.  Living with carnivores also comes with rules and is by far, much safer then the highway. If you leave food outside for your pet you most likely will attract wildlife including carnivores.  So leaving a doggy dish with food in it can attract Coy-wolves.   Leaving your pet outside unattended is taking a chance that could put your pet in harm’s way so try and keep a leash on your pet or at a minimum stay with your pet. Most importantly, do not let your pets out at night. There is no need since you can easily set a schedule with your pet so they go out when it’s safe to do so. If you must let them out at night for some reason remember the earlier leash rule.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Like the highway, following all the rules doesn’t mean that something unexpected can never happen however, it will greatly reduce the risk of an incident that can hurt your pet, and the wildlife.  People often ask if humans are at risk from Coyotes and Coy-Wolves. The answer is certainly “no” you are completely safe I have been in the presence of these animals many times. Here is another way to make the point. Every year, there are more fatalities from “domestic dogs” then there are from coyotes or coy-wolves in “all of recorded history”. Please read the previous sentence twice, it’s important.

The environment flourishes when there are carnivores its nature’s way and trust that she knows exactly what she is doing-she has had alot of practice.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

The world is far better with Coy-Wolves.  Mother Nature chose them to fill a niche in the natural world fixing an apex predator void that we humans created. Learn about this beautiful species online from scientists studying the species like Dr Way http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com and cherish their incredible songs. Recently I had the honor of spending time with Dr Way tracking radio collared Coy-Wolves during the night and studying them.  His critical research is helping to better understand this amazing and yet poorly understood species. You’ll see more about the Coy-Wolf and observe some actual film taken during the research trip in the coming weeks on the Nature Walks Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/nwwmark

They are as beautiful as any species you will meet and I hope in time we all can learn to both appreciate, and live “with” this beautiful singing wild k9 called the Coy Wolf.

Mark Fraser

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Native Wild Flowers a magic place

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

These days many of us are caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives hardly noticing the goings on in a forest or swamp. Even within feet of our own homes wildlife continue to carve out a niche. At night while we sleep many species begin their moonlit search for food. Life in the wild can be tough especially these days where their habitats are so very fragmented between the ever growing developments of humankind.

I know many of us wonder “how could I help” sometimes thinking that the big picture is out of our hands. Some even think that there’s an agency or government group that will come by and save the day however that is not going to be the case. You see each of us individually contribute to the problem and therefore, we are each part of the “key” that will unlock the solution.  The fact is “you” do matter and “your” input is critically important.

What if we looked at our residential development in a brand new way where we consider our overall ecological impact? Is that so radical of a thought? The good news is that when you actually think about it, it’s really not very difficult at all.

We could look at each of our own yards as eco-friendly habitats where birds were safe from toxic poisons like lawn chemicals. We could inspire native plant species to thrive and therefore help insects as well.  These simple steps only make our yards much more beautiful and allot healthier then a chemical filled nearly sterile lawn. For example, imagine if every home created something as simple and beautiful as a native wildflower garden section right in the yard. This would allow pollinators like wild native bees and many other insects to find a source of food. That in turn creates food for birds and so on. Simple steps like this can make an enormous positive impact on a very large scale when you think of the big picture and make a great contribution to the health of wildlife species that live right in our own backyard. You see that is something “you” can personally work on taking care of your part, in the big picture.  If many of us did this throughout a community we can make a huge impact, this can grow to a national or even a global scale. That’s the power of working together as a collective. It’s a trick found in nature from ants and Bees as well as many species around the Earth. There is strength in numbers and it all starts with each one doing their part. That means both you and me right in our own backyard.

Choose not to use chemicals and research the impact they have on birds and other species that can eat poisoned insects and even unknowingly feed them to their young ones. You see your part in keeping the world green, clean and healthy literally depends on your choices and your ability to share those good choices. If you allow for a “green patch” of wild flowers and share that story with others you may actually inspire them to do the same.

Then the idea can grow wild, on its own, just like the flowers themselves. If you have children show them the magic of all the different species that live in your native wildflower garden and research the many species you may find there.

You may even find unexpected things like Eft Newt, Frogs and countless others species. There’s a magical world of wonder to be found even in small patches of native wild flowers and you can help protect wildlife with something that takes no more effort than to simply not mow it down.

It seems like a wonderful trade when you think about it!

Mark Fraser

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The world is what we create

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Nature- the word itself stirs the imagination in each of us. The more wild a region is, the more “pristine” a forest, then the more incredibly beautiful we perceive it. That love of the natural world is something I find with people from around the entire planet from every culture I have ever encountered.

Maybe there is something more to that, something deeper than what meets the eye. I mean why is it that we see a clean and healthy river as beautiful, yet a pile of discarded tires or batteries as ugly. From a biological standpoint is it possible there is something more instinctive at play here?  Deep down inside each of us there seems to be some lessons learned long ago that we each have buried within our brains.

That is what “beauty” actually is – isn’t it? The word describes a feeling; the feeling is created by our brains giving us positive stimulation. Why is it doing that? What’s the point?

Well it boils down to something important, the survival of ourselves as individuals and on the big picture, our entire species.  Eating poison is bad, rotten things are seen as ugly etc. It protects us so that we may live on. In the same way that bad feelings may warn us about pending danger and help protect us from harm the good feelings may also help by showing us the way. A natural built-in compass we are given to navigate through life.

Now let’s get back to the beauty of nature. Not long ago I rented a small aircraft to fly over a wilderness area and view it from above. As I looked over the millions of trees below I actually could feel my eyes well up with tears as if something long lost was remembered, something I yearned for. I even choked a bit trying to have a conversation with the pilot. It feels wholesome and “right” to look over a massive swath of healthy trees or to admire a Whale and hear its beautiful song.  It “feels” good.  You see nature is giving us a compass teaching each of us what is right from what is wrong.  So “why” would nature’s built in bio-compass teach us that we should protect the health of the forests or the sea?  It seems common sense really; we simply won’t have a future without the natural world. Just like teaching us to avoid poison is it so hard to imagine nature is teaching us to avoid destroying the habitat that we are connected too for our own survival? When we level a forest, exploit and damage the sea we are impacting our future as a species and that is very ugly. So follow your instincts – admire an ancient old-growth tree- smell the Balsams and Pine in the forest. Know that wonderful feeling you get is something more than just a great day about to happen. It’s the Earth itself talking directly to you, to each of us.

I sometimes wonder if wildlife that is certainly watching us walk through the forest on a hike or kayaking along is thinking “are they getting it yet?”  Perhaps one day more of us will pay attention to our biological -compass and navigate through life in a way that allows our wild neighbors to walk, swim and fly right beside us.  For now, we are literally at a cross roads in the evolution of our species.  We have never in history been more capable of both great things on a massive scale and also global destruction at the same time.  If we choose poorly and don’t listen to our compass I fear one day the ambers of our own species will shine no more like so many other species before us. If we choose well, we will enjoy a long and happy future on the very special living world we call both home and “Mother”, Earth.

Mark Fraser

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The Brilliance of Autumn

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Most of my life I have lived in the North Country in one area or another. That has allowed me to appreciate the brilliant fall colors during their annual return. Sure the autumn is brief, but certainly everyone will agree it is by far the most beautiful of seasons. The weather and moisture can have a huge effect on the fall colors. If the season is too wet, fungus like tar spots and anthracnose can create brown patches on the leaves.  Wind storms can remove the leaves too early in the season. This year in 2010, everything was just right in Mother Nature’s kitchen and the fall is absolutely breathtaking.

The colors on a sunny day are so bright that I have on many occasions had the vibrant yellow and brilliant reds seemingly burned into my vision after walking through the forest and I’ll have splashes of color in my mind for weeks to come.  The nights are just right for sitting by a campfire and that allows us to listen to the sounds of the forest. Species from Owls to Coy-wolves sing to the night giving us the magic sound of the chilly autumn nights.  

Wooly bear caterpillars can be seen roaming the ground across the autumn leaves and ungulates like Deer and Moose are engaged in the rut so the bucks are boasting their striking antlers as they fight for the right to procreate.  There is something wonderful about the change of seasons. A cyclic change happening each year and if you were raised in a part of the world where you can enjoy this phenomenon then every few months you’ll seem to naturally expect even yearn for the pending change.

As autumn quickly passes by, we see the leaves earn their namesake and “Fall” until all deciduous trees are bare, remaining dormant until the following spring.  This survival tactic has allowed them to survive the harsh cold of winter. Conifers keep their needles and are protected from frost with a natural wax coating. The same trees are a crucial survival food for species during winter like Red Squirrels who are safe in their dens with food caches of “Pine Nuts” loaded with Vitamin C that represent  a great food for them.

Some species like Wood frogs are able to “freeze” nearly solid to survive winter and only their most vital organs are barley thawed until spring when they come back to life.

Insects hide in the bark of trees and Black Bear prepare their dens where they will rest off and on through the winter months.

The autumn is both a time of beauty and a time of change.  Each year I look forward to it, and often I will later reflect on it. Soon the colors of autumn will be gone and the world will again change this time to the white blanket of snow covering the leaves that are now falling.

They will decompose into the soil, returning their nutrients into the Earth as they continue a cycle that has happened since long before any human roamed the Earth.

I love all the seasons each for their own natural beauty but of all, the autumn gives us the wonder and joy of appreciating the beautiful painting Mother Nature creates for us each and every year.

Mark Fraser

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