Category Archives: Amphibians

Three videos take us upstream, where it all begins

John F. Williams of Suquamish, known for his brilliant underwater videos, has worked his way upstream from Puget Sound and into the freshwater streams of the Kitsap Peninsula.

His latest video project began somewhat haphazardly, John told me. But the end result is nothing less than an entertaining and educational series that anyone can enjoy. It helps that each video is just a little over four minutes. In such a short time, John was able to tell a story while packing in a lot of information.

“It all started,” John said, “when Ron (Hirschi) invited me to come film him taking some preschool kids down to the South Fork of Dogfish Creek. He thought that would be fun.”

Ron Hirschi, who grew up around Port Gamble, worked as a biologist for years before becoming a successful children’s author. He tells stories of nature in simple and endearing ways. In the first video on this page, you’ll see Ron reading from one of his books.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ron and I have known each other for more than 30 years. He was an early mentor for me as I was learning about streams and shorelines in Western Washington, and I still rely on him for advice from time to time. He was an important voice in the book “Hood Canal: Splendor At Risk.”

Anyway, it was nice to see the two storytellers — John and Ron — link up on a project together.

“At the time, we had no idea where this was going,” John said.

A member of the Kitsap Environmental Education Program, John learned that some money was available for education projects through the “Puget Sound Starts Here” campaign.

“It occurred to me that what I was doing with the streams fit into what they wanted,” he said, “so I pitched the idea of doing several movies about streams and people’s interactions with them. I wanted people to understand that these streams, which are hidden behind the trees, are part of their lives.”

John completed the video with Ron Hirschi, showing a visit to a forgotten stream, Poulsbo Creek, as well as the well-known Dogfish Creek, both in North Kitsap. John also obtained leads for stories about Olalla Creek in South Kitsap and Chico Creek in Central Kitsap.

His contact in South Kitsap was teacher Lisa Wickens at Ollalla Elementary School. It so happens that I had worked with Lisa on a story about elementary school children building a rain garden to prevent dirty water from getting into Olalla Creek. Check out “Olalla students learn science with a rain garden,” Kitsap Sun, Dec. 13, 2013 (subscription).

John was blown away by the intellectual and scientific skills of this younger generation.

“I was sitting in Lisa’s classroom one day, and she was giving her second-graders an assignment to write a persuasion piece,” John noted. “She wanted them to persuade someone to take care of the Earth. I said I would love to come and film the kids reading their papers… It was so amazing.”

You’ll get a feeling for their abilities in the second video.

For the third video, John connected with Maureen McNulty, a teacher at Klahowya Secondary School who was organizing the students to build a rain garden. It turned out that older students were teamed up with younger ones on the project, so that everyone learned something.

John also traced the path of a stream from the school wetlands into the adjoining forest and encountered Frank Sticklin, the chief guru for Newberry Hill Heritage Park. Frank educated John about beaver dams.

“I had never seen beaver ponds, and he showed me these incredible things,” John said.

In reality, John probably had seen beaver ponds and beaver dams without knowing that beavers were responsible. After Frank’s tour, he went for a walk south of Port Gamble and encountered something that he immediately recognized as a beaver dam. Once you’ve seen one, you know what to look for.

“I think of this as a metaphor of what I do with my movies,” John told me. “I help people see things that they haven’t seen before and to look at the world in a new way.”

John’s videos have been recorded onto DVDs and distributed to nearly 200 schools and environmental organizations throughout the area.

He’s now working on some projects involving the Puget Sound shoreline. I’ll let you when they are done. Meanwhile, you may wish to check out his websites, Still Hope Productions and Sea-Media.org.

Amusing Monday: Baby turtles race for the sea

The sand was smooth and still. Waves lapped at the distant shoreline. A sign, stuck in the sand, stated, “Do not disturb. Sea turtle nest.”

That was the scene on a beach in the Florida Keys for the past few weeks, as it was in June, when I posted a blog entry listing cameras that were capturing live action in bird nests as well as other wildlife locations. A quiet patch of sand was not much to look at, so I didn’t mention it.

On Friday, that patch of sand came to life, as you can see in the first video on this page. I thought it was time to share the brief action, as about 100 loggerhead turtles emerged from the sand and headed out to sea about 9 p.m. Check out the action in full-screen.

The camera on the beach uses infrared lights to capture the images, thus avoiding visible light that could confuse the young turtles. The project is supported by Save-A-Turtle, a volunteer non-profit group dedicated to the protection of rare and endangered sea turtles and their habitats in the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, some of the young ospreys shown in their nests back in June have fledged, but there is still plenty of action in the nest at Missoula’s Riverside Health Care Center, where the camera is operated by the University of Montana. Check out the images in full-screen, high-definition while you can, because these growing chicks will soon be gone.

Another still-active osprey nest is operated by Chesapeake Conservancy on Maryland’s eastern shoreline.

The Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is picking up some excited feeding activity at the nesting area, where experts are establishing a new colony of puffins after hunters wiped them out in the 1800s.

Brown bears are now feeding on salmon along Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park, according to bloggers on the site. Check out the live video below to see if you can spot a bear, including a subadult mentioned by observers.

You may wish to go back to the June 23 “Amusing Monday: A visit with wildlife via webcam” to see what other cameras are picking up activity. You can generally count on Pete’s Pond on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa, for some exotic animals coming to the watering hole.



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Amusing Monday: Creative cakes take you places

I’m still amazed — and amused — by the idea that talented artists can create edible cake sculptures depicting just about any object or scene — including underwater realms and seaside landscapes.

osprey

The water-related themes are especially amusing, because water is one place you would never want to put a cake.

One amazing artist is Kim Simons, who got her start in cake decorating about five years ago while watching cake shows on television. As she told “Dessert Professional” magazine:

“I said to myself, ‘I can do that!’ So I taped the shows and freeze-framed the shots to learn of all the products they used. I started to play around with the materials and found my true passion in the process.”

The magazine listed Kim, a New Jersey resident, as one of the top 10 cake artists of North America last year.

Since then, she has won numerous awards for her specialty cakes, including the osprey cake, which was named best of division for show cakes at last year’s “That Takes the Cake! Sugar Art and Cake Show” in Austin, Texas. No one photo can capture the intricacy of this cake, so check out Kim’s website for a variety of shots of the osprey cake, and click each one to enlarge. The details are truly amazing.

The same goes for the painted turtle cake below. The detail shots help you take a closer look, as if you were seeing the cake in front of you. This cake won several awards at the 2011 National Capital Area Cake Show in Annadale, Va., where the theme was “Under the Sea.” I would have loved to have seen that show.

If you’re intrigued by these cakes, you must check out all of Kim’s creations under the tab “Award Winning Cakes” on her website, Cakes by Kim Simons.

See also previous “Water Ways” entries on cakes:

turtle

Amusing Monday: Frogs really can be funny

I almost forgot about Crazy Frog, who I featured a few years ago in an Amusing Monday entry. Crazy Frog was a cartoon frog. His first video showed him riding an invisible motorcycle. His “ah-ding-ding-ding-da-da-ding-ding-ding” became a popular ring tone for awhile until it drove everybody else crazy.

It’s OK to revisit a crazy cartoon frog by clicking on the link above. But this blog entry is about funny real-life frogs or facsimiles thereof, starting with a video in which a frog tries to catch his meal from a smart phone. Was the frog frustrated toward the end when he went after something larger?

See for yourself in the first video player.

The second video player shows a frog known as a desert rain frog, which comes from an exclusive desert area in Namibia and South Africa with just enough moisture to keep the species alive. The video shown here went viral after it described the little amphibian as the “world’s cutest frog.”

We all know that frogs can croak, but did you know that they scream. Here’s a video called “33 Screaming Frogs.”

On the serious side, PBS Nature produced a video about frogs and their risk of extinction. It was called “The Thin Green Line.”

Finally, to make sure you never run out of different ways of seeing frogs, I located a photo bucket said to contain nearly 20,000 images. It’s called simply “Frogs” by SimbleSimble. I scanned through the first 400 or so to verify that there probably are that many pictures and drawings of frogs.

The images below are from a different photo bucket called Funny Frog.

funny frog photo: Photoshop animated gif - Frog photoshopanimatedgif.gif

funny frog photo: funny frog with dentures 2z56oox.gif

Amusing Monday: Blobfish earns uncommon respect

We know about beauty contests and cute baby contests, but the competition really worth celebrating is the Ugliest Animal Contest, sponsored by the British-based Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties
Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties

There were plenty of candidates, from the proboscis monkey, with its large nose, to the Dromedary jumping slug, a slug with a hump on its back known for jumping to escape from predators.

But when more than 3,000 votes were counted last month, the winner, with 795 votes, was the blobfish, a gelatinous fish that lives at great depths off the coast of Australia.

As far as I can tell, nobody asked the blobfish what he thought of this honor. But there was an important theme to the contest. With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the ugly animals need special attention, according to Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, who told The Guardian newspaper:

“We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time, and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction. For too long the cute and fluffy animals have taken the limelight, but now the blobfish will be a voice for the mingers who always get forgotten.”

I love that British term “minger,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a male or female who fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.”

Simon Watt explains the origins of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and how the contest came about on a video posted on YouTube.

Adam Gabriel of “Epic Wildlife” took note of the contest and posted his own video on YouTube, which helps us understand the blobfish and his motivations.

When you have time, listen to the comedians who nominated other species for the Ugly Animal Contest. I think you’ll find the following videos educational as well as amusing:

Finally, I have to reflect on the photo of the blobfish, a face that launched a thousand YouTube video players. There are pictures of blobfish and then there is THE PICTURE of a blobfish. This picture has been repeated again and again, apparently without permission, and many of the photo credits are simply wrong.

How THE PICTURE came to be taken during a research expedition is described by Mark McGrouther, collection manager for ichthyology at the Australian Museum. By the time of the Ugliest Animal Contest, the blobfish, known as Mr. Blobby, was already quite famous and beloved in Australia, where he had his own Facebook page and Twitter account. For more about Mr. Blobby, check out this blog on the website of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of blobfish by now, check out “The Blobfish Song” by Friday Morning Freak House.

Amusing Monday: Animal friends and foes

Parental instincts are on stark display in this video, below, showing a pair of fish protecting their eggs against an aggressive turtle, who no doubt wants to make a meal of their unhatched offspring.

The conflict takes place in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. At first glance, you have to wonder how these fish, known as emperor cichlids, could possibly hold off the larger terrapin. But they do.

Another kind of fish-vs-turtle contest is the classic tug-of-war involving a worm. I found two videos in which a goldfish in an aquarium tries to steal a worm from a turtle. In each, the fish is at least partially successful. The longer (2.5-minute) video on Benjenings Channel plays up the drama; the shorter (22-second) video on Stonemanjosh Channel gets right to the moment of truth.

Can a turtle and goldfish be friends? They can, according to this sweet little video by Chibikana70.

But if you want to understand the more common scenario between turtle and goldfish, just search in YouTube for “turtle eating goldfish” and choose from the long list. You’ll find out more about the dark side of life than you wish to know.

I used to include some epic battles in this “Amusing Monday” feature. (Remember the octopus-vs-shark video taken at the Seattle Aquarium?) But some readers objected to violent battles ending in death, so I’ve kind of steered away from them. But I’m still fascinated by closely matched conflicts, such as the alligator against the python. Check out this video from “Nature,” originally broadcast on PBS.

As the narrator of the alligator-python battle explains:

“Alligators were once the undisputed reptile kings of the Everglades. But when push comes to shove, who would win in a battle now, alligator or python? It all depends on which one is bigger.”

Who wins in a battle of bats versus crows? I’m not sure there is an answer, but this well-produced video on BillsChannel is amusing to watch.

Amusing Monday: A friendship of the reptilian kind

We’ve talked about unusual friendships, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the videos showing Gilberto “Chito” Sheeden, a Costa Rican man, wrestling with and even cuddling with Pocho, a 15-foot crocodile.

A story in the London Daily Mail (with some great still photos) quoted Chito in 2009, when he was 52:

“This is a very dangerous routine, but Pocho is my friend and we have a good relationship. He will look me in the eye, and he does not attack me. It is too dangerous for anyone else to come in the water. It is only ever the two of us.”

The pictures of Chito and Pocho tell you more than anyone can describe, but the question remains how such a friendship could ever develop.

As Chito tells it, he found the crocodile close to death about 20 years ago on the shore of a river, where he had been shot in the eye by a farmer who said the crocodile had been feasting on his cattle.

Chito brought the crocodile home, fed him and nursed him back to health, even sleeping at his side. Later, he began to play with him, cautiously at first and then more vigorously over time.

Chito and Pocho became somewhat famous around the world, although I never saw these videos until recently, when Chuck Hower of South Kitsap sent me some still photos showing the pair. Since then, I’ve learned from the Tico Times that the crocodile died in October of natural causes. His age was estimated to be about 50.

Despite reports of the friendship, a story published by “Inside Costa Rica” says crocodiles cannot be tamed, because their brains are too primitive to react other than instinctively — which often means attack.

So why didn’t Pocho attack Chito? Experts at Costa Rica’s inBio Parque, say the bullet that blinded the animal could have affected his brain, eliminating his aggressive tendencies. If Chito had not taken care of Pocho until his final days, the animal surely would have died, because he was unable to fend for himself, the experts said.

I found two other good videos about the friendship on YouTube, one by bTV, the other by Aicirta. I believe the three videos I picked out are among the best, but I was unable to review all of the dozens of videos on YouTube that feature the pair.

A new perspective on creosote log removal

I’ve always wondered how much ecological good comes from removing old creosote pilings from along the shoreline, as the Washington Department of Natural Resources has been doing in its Creosote Removal Program.

A helicopter transports logs out of the salt marsh at Doe-Keg-Wats near Indianola in Kitsap County
Kitsap Sun photo by Meagan Reid

I was given a new perspective on the problem Tuesday, when I visited the Doe-Keg-Wats estuary. (See my story in Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.) Now I am better able to see the value of removing creosote logs. Still, I wish a few more quantitative field studies would be done.

We all know that creosote, generally made from coal tar, contains numerous toxic chemicals. A study completed in 2006 for the National Marine Fisheries Service, titled “Creosote-Treated Wood in Aquatic Environments: Technical Review and Use Recommendations” (PDF 1.7 mb) talks about the many toxic constituents (p. 52), routes of exposure (p. 53-54) and toxicity (p. 54-65).

The report draws this important conclusion (p. 84):

“Overall, the laboratory and field studies described above indicate that treated wood structures can leach PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic compounds into the environment. However, the degree of PAH accumulation to sediment associated with these structures appears to be relatively minor in many settings, particularly in well-circulated waters….

“Nevertheless, there are several factors that suggest that a precautionary principle might be applicable to certain treated wood uses. First, the above studies typically have evaluated responses at the community level (e.g., the benthic invertebrate studies) or to tolerant life stages (e.g., adult oysters and mussels). However, the level of environmental protectiveness applied to T&E (threatened and endangered) species (such as endangered salmonids) should occur at the individual rather than the population or community level.

“Moreover, field studies have indicated that PAHs can accumulate to potentially deleterious concentrations in poorly circulated water bodies or when the density of treated wood structures is high compared to the overall surface area of the water body. As a result, site-specific evaluations of risk should be conducted for treated wood projects that are proposed for areas containing sensitive life stages, species of special concern, or where water circulation and dilution are potentially low….”

This brings us to Doe-Keg-Wats, which appears to be one of the most pristine estuaries in the Puget Sound Region. Take a look at the aerial photo at the bottom of this page.

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: python versus alligator

Here’s another battle between species. In November on Water Ways, I repeated a “dramatic” video showing a life-or-death fight between a shark and an octopus. The video was filmed at the Seattle Aquarium and was produced by National Geographic.
-

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

This time, the fight (actually a double billing) is between an alligator and a python in the Florida Everglades, where Burmese pythons are not native but have grown to incredible numbers in recent years. So which animal is the king of the swamp? Left to their own battles, will the alligator survive or will the python become the dominant predator?

This video, taken from a Nature program last year on PBS, shows that individual battles between an alligator and a python depend on the size of the individuals.

The program describes research in which pythons have been found to eat a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. Because the invasive pythons could wipe out endangered species, a serious effort is under way to keep them out of the Florida Keys, where they have not yet established a comfortable home. The invasion is a serious, but interesting, challenge. I can recommend the entire 50-minute episode if you have not seen it.

Environmental ed takes on social challenges

Happy Earth Day!

Environmental education has undergone a revolution since the first Earth Day 40 years ago, as I describe in a story I wrote for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, which I called “The Evolution of Environmental Education.”

Poulsbo Elementary first-grader Ella Jagodzinske, 7, looks for worms under a rock in the school's courtyard wildlife habitat.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Now in Washington state, requirements approved by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction are designed to take another huge step in preparing young people to understand all sorts of environmental tradeoffs and write environmental policies for the coming decades.

The word “sustainability” is emphasized in the new “Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education Learning Standards.” Unlike other educational standards, this new approach does not include specific grade-level expectations.

The standards call for an understanding of: 1) Ecological, social and economic systems, 2) the natural and built environment, and 3) sustainability and civic responsibility.

I hope you’ll read the Sunday piece, which includes an interactive map of environmental programs and projects across the Kitsap Peninsula. You’ll meet Lisa Hawkins, a first-grade teacher who built an outdoor classroom — a certified wildlife habitat — in a courtyard at Poulsbo Elementary School.

This amazing young teacher has a special relationship with her students, especially when they are exploring freely and finding connections among living things.

Here are some links for creating habitats to foster environmental learning at all grade levels.

National Wildlife Federation

Time Out: Using the Outdoors to Enhance Classroom Performance

Certify Your Wildlife Garden

Creative Habitats for Learning

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Schoolyard Habitat Project (Chesapeake)

Schoolyard Habitat Program (Sacramento)

Lisa Hawkins, first-grade teacher at Poulsbo Elementary, engages her students in the wildlife habitat she and an earlier class created in a courtyard at the school.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall