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The Wild Burlington Newsletter

The Wild Burlington Newsletter2021-12-06T12:22:18-05:00

Welcome to the Wild Burlington Newsletter

The (mostly) weekly newsletter covers a wide range of natural history topics. You’ll discover the wild world around you with the help of professional naturalist, Teage O’Connor. So if you’re interested in tracking the changing seasons, connecting to your local landscape, and learning more than you ever wanted to know about twigs, then this is the newsletter for you!

Plus, you’ll also get nature quizzes, notes on upcoming events (like the Wild Burlington Lecture series), contests, and awareness activities that will engage you with the wild world. And it’s all delivered right to your inbox.

The newsletter is the perfect learning tool for naturalists of all abilities!

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And shoot me an email if you have an idea for a future blog post, newsletter issue, or podcast episode!

The Wild Burlington Archives

You can also check out the blog for more natural history and the natural history section for field guides, essays, and other explorations of Vermont’s natural history.

1506, 2023

Nesting smallmouth bass

By |June 15, 2023|Fish, Lake Champlain, Videos|

I finally got back in the water for some early summer snorkeling. The surface of the lake was rather murky from all the pine pollen that's in the air right now, but the water was relatively clear below and so visibility was somewhat decent. And now that the water's above 60º, the smallmouth bass have all come up for the spawn and so I got to spend some time with my old friends!

806, 2023

Nesting Carolina wrens

By |June 8, 2023|Birds, Spring, Urban wildlife|

A few years ago I enclosed my front porch and built some cubbies to store my running shoes. It wasn't long after that the Carolina wrens discovered the cubbies and started building their nests tucked away in my shoes. This happened three years in a row, but the nests never had any eggs in them. While my shoes don't smell particularly nice, wrens don't have a well-developed sense of smell and don't seem to respond much to the scent of predators (and I don't think my shoes smell any worse than mink urine and feces: source). The behavior always struck me as odd - why go through all that trouble and put in such a big investment of energy to build a nest and not even use it? Here we look at some of the adaptive reasons a bird might build multiple nests.

2702, 2023

That’s a lot of fur

By |February 27, 2023|Fun Math, Mammals, Natural History|

A friend game me a challenge a bunch of years ago of finding any spot in the woods, sitting down, and not getting up until a I found a wild animal hair’s within arm’s reach. It was a great challenge, and on my first attempt took me about an hour to complete (it’s possible that the hair I found may have been one of my own). I often think about the ubiquity of lost hairs when out tracking animals in the woods, especially in the spring when some fur bearers molt. This weekend I came across a trail of deer tracks littered with fur and wondered just how hard this challenge is. So this week I’ll describe your odds of finding a deer hair in the woods and next week I’ll describe why deer hair is amazing.

302, 2023

Should You Pee When You’re Cold?

By |February 3, 2023|Humans, Natural History, Weather, Winter|

I felt cold yesterday while out at the Field School. It was a different kind of cold from today’s cold, wetter, less biting, but cold nonetheless. We were talking with the kids about ways to stay warm in the cold, and one of the suggestions that came up was that peeing would help you stay warm. This made me curious about the relationship between pee and cold weather and other creative ways I might be able to stay warm.

1312, 2022

Orange Balls On Powerlines

By |December 13, 2022|Humans, Natural History|

Everytime I drive I-89, I notice those bright orange balls attached to the power lines that cross the interstate to the Bolton Falls Hydro Station (map). It seems an odd marker as there are plenty of other places where power lines cross the interstate or other major roads but aren’t adorned with these plastic orange ornaments. Not surprisingly, the visually obvious orange balls, called power line marker balls, are intended to make power lines visually obvious to pilots, particularly in places where airplanes and helicopters tend to fly at low altitudes (like around airports, mountain passes, deep valleys, or even on larger bodies of water where a float planes might land). The balls were invented in the early 1970s by Arkansas governor, Winthrop Rockefeller, who noticed their potential danger during the landing of a flight with Arkansas’ head of the Department of Aeronautics.

212, 2022

Wren Kitz album review

By |December 2, 2022|Humans, Natural History|

Identification is a most powerful skill. It illuminates, reveals, unlocking a secret world just beyond the edge of our tongue. There was magic in my early days as a naturalist, endless lost hours spent pouring over the intricacies of the various species of Atriplex that licked the salty scrub coast of California. As my ID skills developed I began to see patterns in the land, to appreciate the nuance of a slope's aspect, the soil's affinity for water, the lingering influence of land use on vegetative communities. I also came to understand that identification isn't a language, it isn't even the syntax, only the barest tracings of what the world is, a necessary foundation to reveal deeper truths about the world we inhabit. E.E. Cummings' words strolled through the arid chaparral with me: since feeling is first who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you; I was again reminded of this poem while listening to Burlington musician Wren Kitz's new album, Natural History vol.1.

2811, 2022

The Natural Community concept needs to go

By |November 28, 2022|Natural Community, Natural History|

As many Americans celebrated Thanksgiving last week, indigenous peoples from across the country and their allies gathered at Cole's Hill near Plymouth Rock for a National Day of Mourning. The first gathering was organized by Wamsutta (Frank James) in 1970 on the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower's landing and continues to this day. From this year's flyer: "many Native people do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims & other European settlers. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures" (link). And it is the last point that has been gnawing at me as I wrap up my unit on natural communities in my natural history class.

311, 2022

UVM’s Rifle Range

By |November 3, 2022|Humans, Natural History|

A good mystery is a fine companion to carry with you through the years. It nags like a pair wet socks, a constant reminder of an itch that needs scratching, to not to let go of your curiosity. I've had just such an itch for about 15 years now. Recently, and sort of haphazardly I stumbled upon a satisfactory answer! It feels good, but also a bit like I've lost an old friend.

2107, 2022

Abortion in the Natural World: Humans

By |July 21, 2022|Abortion, Humans|

This is the third and last post in this series on abortion in the natural world. Humans are wild animals, special only in that we typically don't consider ourselves wild animals. As animals, it's no surprise that we share many life history characteristics, adaptations, and reproductive strategies with other animals. Here we conclude our discussion of abortion in the natural world with an ethnobotanical look at how females in indigenous cultures in North America have made choices about pregnancy for millennia.

2601, 2022

Myths: Behind the name serviceberry

By |January 26, 2022|Myths, Taxonomy, Trees + Shrubs|

I'd heard the origin of the name serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) well before I even knew what the tree looked like. It goes something like this: when Europeans were first colonizing New England, the strange land was a fierce, unrelenting, and unforgiving environment, so troublingly reflected in the mortality rates (about 1 of every 5 babies born died in their first year, over 1/3 died before adulthood). In the all-too-common case that someone died during the long cold winter months, their body was stored anywhere it would be exposed to cold temperatures but protected from snow and rain: barns, sheds, caves. In more populous, established villages, the town and/or churches had a dead house (or mort or sometimes charnel houses) for temporary storage of bodies/bones before burial. It was only when the weather warmed and the ground softened that the dead could be buried.

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