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Every once in a while, nature’s humbler creatures take on humankind’s technological behemoths.

The British tabloid The Sun is reporting today that jellyfish have clogged a filter screen at a nuclear power plant in Scotland. This forced a shutdown on Tuesday “with no threat to the public” (of course!). The plant is still shut down as the cleanup continues, with no word on when it will start up again.

And in New York, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered runway 41 at JFK International to be closed for a time yesterday morning, after several pilots reported a “turtle incursion,” with several turtles on the runway. The reptiles caused some delays, “but nothing serious” according to an FAA spokesperson. Ground crews were sent out to hurry them along.

This is getting to be an annual event at JFK, as the turtles climb out of Jamaica Bay to go lay their eggs in the sand on the other side of the runway.

It may not be a living creature, but a flooding river has a life of its own. Two nuclear power plants in Nebraska are being threatened by flood waters from the Missouri River. At the Ft. Calhoun plant, machinery there poked through an inflatable dam that had been set up around the reactor. Water poured into the electrical transmission room, forcing operators to switch to their emergency generators.

The plant has been shut down since April, but the reactor still needs power to keep the cooling system operating. Sounds a lot like Fukashima – but don’t worry! Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko toured the plant Monday, and afterwards a statement was issued stating that the public was “in no immediate danger.”


Wild strawberries in my backyard

Maybe it was a result of benign neglect, but I was stopped in my tracks yesterday while mowing the back edge of my yard. There at my feet was a small patch of bright red wild strawberries. There was just enough for a handful – but what a handful!

The aroma and the flavor instantly sent me back 50 years, to the time when we first moved here and wild strawberries were all over the cow pastures. The cows kept the grass short, and fertilized the soil. The strawberries thrived. I could fill a coffee can in less than an hour.

Wild strawberries are much smaller than their cultivated cousins, and as with all our wild berries they’re becoming scarce and harder to find.

The cows are long gone. The fields are still there, occasionally mown for hay. But even that happens only sporadically.

The strawberries have been choked out and disappeared, or so I thought. I’m going to be more careful about my mowing now, and with luck maybe they’ll spread.

This reminds me.

It’ll soon be time for wild blueberries, and I know I place where I can still pick them by the pailful. With all this rain, it could be a good year for them. Maybe later I’ll go scout them out.

Two news stories yesterday help shed a little light on just who the Republicans in Congress are working for.
First, consider the case of Dwight Miller & Sons, a family-owned orchard in Dummerston, Vt. They used a modest Dept. of Agriculture grant to make improvements to their irrigation system, to help them through dry spells, as reported in the Brattleboro Reformer. Small family farms throughout New England got similar help in recent years.

But in the current budget-cutting frenzy, those grants were eliminated in an agriculture bill passed this week by the Republican-controlled House.

What they didn’t eliminate were subsidies to millionaire landowners. As a result, multimillionaires such as Mark Rockefeller – who lives in Manhattan, and is most definitely not a fake Rockefelller – will continue to receive hundreds of thousands in agricultural subsidies. According to ABC News, he qualifies for the subsidy by agreeing NOT to farm on an estate he owns in Idaho.

Go figure.

If wildlife officials were hoping that the mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway a week ago were hoping that would put an end to reported mountain lion sightings, they were mistaken. Several more sightings have been reported, including some deemed credible.

The most recent reports come from the Fairfield, Conn., area. Local papers are reporting that a gentleman named Paul Hiller, that town’s chief fiscal officer, was on his way to work this morning when the large cat crossed the road in front of him.

Hiller described the animal as about four feet long, with a yellowish coat. He said he has seen bobcats, a much smaller species, and said it was definitely not a bobcat.

On Tuesday afternoon, also in Fairfield, a woman reported seeing a mountain lion.

Given the steady rate of sightings over the years, it seems likely that there is a resident population here in New England. It could well be that some were originally released or escaped. There is plenty of food for the predator, and areas of remote terrain are a suitable habitat for them.

Another possible explanation is that some individual animals have migrated eastward from their traditional western range. Their food of preference is deer, and with the explosion in the deer population here, there’s plenty for them. This is a similar explanation for the development of the coyote-wolf mix that has been discovered in what had been previously regarded as the eastern coyote.

The Hartford Courant is reporting that the animal struck and killed by a car on the Wilbur Cross Parkway was a male mountain lion, a species declared extinct in New England earlier this year by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Officials speculate this is the same cat spotted in Greenwich, Conn., a week ago.

There have been occasional sightings throughout New England over the years, and a small band of believers say a population of the animals, also called catamount or eastern panther exist in the wild. Most wildlife officials dismiss reported sightings as mistakes, or in the case of irrefutable evidence, such as in the present case, that the animal must be one that escaped captivity or was released.

The eastern panther had been on the endangered species list until this past spring, when the USFWS decided, after a year of study, that it was extinct in the northeast. Further, their research suggested that the animal was extinct even before it was put on the list. This raises the question of why the agency would be so anxious to spend resources to take an extinct animal off the list.

Wouldn’t that money have been better spent studying populations that need protection?

Assuming that this animal had been kept captive by someone, then the questions would be who? And where? And just how many people would have these cats roaming around their property?

What’s missing from the story is just what are they doing to find out who might have had this cat as a pet, if indeed it had been domesticated.

Garter snake on the trail

One of the joys of walking the same route fairly frequently is making the acquaintance of some of the other inhabitants. Last week it was the mud turtle. Today it was this garter snake. He, or she, to be honest there’s no easy way to tell which is which among snakes, hangs out at the top of a small rise, often sunning himself out on the path.

We first met three years ago, when he was newly-hatched and only about 6 inches long. He was pretty skittish then and disappeared quickly into the undergrowth whenever I’d come by. A year later he was a good foot or foot-and-half long, and he’d mellowed a bit, moving leisurely, watching me the whole time. He’s quite a bit longer now. Three feet, I’d say, and not the least bit aggressive. I was kind of hoping he’d coil up and look fearsome, but he was more curious about the camera than alarmed.

This is getting to be a more common sight

Black bears have been in the news a lot lately. Sightings have been reported in a residential part of Holyoke, in Weston, Hartford, Conn. , and several other places. In Center Harbor, NH, a black bear knocked a woman down. She was uninjured and the bear fled. It was later caught and put down.

There seem to be several reasons for this.

It’s coming on mating season, so breeding males are on the move looking for a mate. Yearlings may be breaking away from their mothers and looking to establish their own territories. As human construction and development continues unabated, there’s bound to b more contact with bears.

At the same time, the Massachusetts bear population has increased drastically, from just 100 bears in the 1970s, to about 3000 in 2005, and those numbers have continued to grow. It used to be that if a bear was causing trouble in a neighborhood, it would just be tranquilized and brought to a more remote part of the state. That’s no longer practical.

There is a bear-hunting season in the state, and wildlife officials hope that will at least stabilize the population.

But the bottom line seems to be we’re all going to have to live with black bears showing up from time to time, much like raccoons, skunks, and woodchucks.

Just as with other wildlife, bears are looking for food, and are attracted to anything edible that’s lft outside – whether it’s garbage or bird seed. In the NH incident, the woman’s neighbors had a history of purposely feeding the bear.

The following website is a good starting point to get more information:

Nature Blog Network


RSS The Ecocryptic

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RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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