Frogs—Unexpected Desert Inhabitants

In all, around 4,500 species of amphibians occur around the world, but only a few dozen are found in the Southwest. All of our desert amphibians, with the exception of toads, require access to a water source to keep their skin moist. Not surprisingly, our arid Southwestern deserts are not ideal habitat for many such creatures. Nonetheless, a number of frogs and toads are found in the Southwest, and their special adaptations help them survive here. Many species are inactive or underground during the height of the desert heat, and some species can even sense when rainstorms are approaching (by feeling the vibration from thunder). After a storm in the desert, a chorus of frogs might just surprise you! Sonoran Desert toads (Colorado River toads) are olive, gray, or dark brown in color, and the underparts are lighter in color. The skin is mostly smooth and shiny. There are warts around the edge of the mouth and on the hind legs. Northern leopard frogs are...

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The Great Crested Flycatcher

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela talks to us about the Great Crested Flycatcher, a very common but not commonly seen bird. There are a few birds that are very common but not commonly seen. In other words, these birds are found in good numbers all across our region, but you just don’t see them. One good example of this is the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus). It is not a secretive bird; in fact, it’s bold enough to sound off with a very loud and distinctive call that echoes throughout the forest, announcing its presence. Starting in late spring and throughout the summer months, you can easily hear the distinctive “weeping” whistles high up in the treetops. Most birds will stop calling while nesting so they don’t attract attention to their nests, eggs, or young. But this is not true of the Great Crested Flycatcher—no, they keep on calling all summer long....

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Trilobites—The Stars of U-Dig Quarry

Jon Kramer, Julie Martinez, and Vernon Morris, authors of the book Dinosaur Destinations, explore the most exciting dinosaur and fossil sites near you. Today, we take a look at the U-Dig Fossils quarry located in Utah. Found about an hour west of Delta, Utah, the U-Dig quarry is the place to go if you want to find trilobites. Trilobites, which became extinct before the Age of Dinosaurs, were oceanic arthropods related to present-day spiders and scorpions. At the U-Dig site, zillions of trilobites were buried in the deep, dark muds of an ancient sea. Here, you find direct evidence of what scientists call the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in time when life on Earth diversified very quickly. Trilobite populations, in particular, went bananas, and they ruled the Earth for many millions of years. Trilobites—Way Older than Dinosaurs Maybe we’re going a little off the dinosaur track here, but you’re gonna love it! Compared to trilobites, dinosaurs are young pups. Trilobites rose to prominence more than 500...

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Monarch Butterfly

In today’s blog post, Stan Tekiela shares with us the intriguing world of the Monarch Butterfly. There are so many amazing and marvelous aspects of nature. Take the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), for example. This may be the most familiar and recognized butterfly in North America, yet I’m not sure that it’s understood just how special this winged creature really is. It’s right under our noses, but we don’t seem to appreciate it. Unfortunately, due to unprecedented drops in population over the past 10 years, this butterfly is now being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a candidate for the endangered species list. Recently, I’ve been photographing all of the life stages of the Monarch Butterfly in my studio, and I must tell you that I am so impressed with this insect. Even after 30 years of studying wildlife and traveling to the far corners of the world to photograph...

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Minnesota Children’s Museum

In their book Grandparents Minnesota Style, Mike Link and Kate Crowley provide opportunities for adults and children to spend more time discovering Minnesota together. The book is designed for today’s grandparent who wants to use the time with grandchildren to laugh, have fun, create memories, and grow. The first children’s museums were established in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, but it wasn’t until the ’60s that they really evolved into the type of places we are more familiar with today. The Minnesota Children’s Museum first opened in December 1981 in Minneapolis. Attendance grew rapidly, leading to a series of moves. After 20 years of success and continued growth in attendance, the Minnesota Children’s Museum undertook a major expansion of its downtown St. Paul space and exhibits in 2015, completing it in early 2017. Minnesota Children’s Museum One of the Most Child-Engaging Places in the State Today, the museum boasts four floors that...

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The Spruce Grouse—A Most Elusive Bird

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela takes us deep inside the northwoods of Alaska in search of a hard-to-spot bird, the spruce grouse. Deep in the northwoods of Alaska, and stretching eastward to the dense conifer forests of Maine, lives a bird that superficially looks and acts more like the familiar Eastern Wild Turkey. It is the Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), also known as the Fool Hen, Black Partridge, Canada Grouse, and Spotted Grouse. Standing about 15-17 inches tall, it’s a good-size bird. You would definitely notice it if you saw it, not like those small, brown, nondescript birds. It resembles a chicken or perhaps a miniature turkey. Some who might be familiar with the Ruffed Grouse might also be confused. But the Spruce Grouse is much darker then the brown Ruffed Grouse. Male Spruce Grouse are nearly black with large white spots on their sides and belly. They have a bright red patch...

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Waco Mammoth National Monument

Jon Kramer, Julie Martinez, and Vernon Morris, authors of Dinosaur Destinations, explore the most exciting dinosaur and fossil sites near you. Today, we take a look at Waco Mammoth National Monument, a famous enclosed bone bed of mammoths located in Waco, Texas. About Waco Mammoth National Monument On a fine spring day in 1978, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin embarked on a search for arrowheads and fossils near the Bosque River. They soon stumbled upon something else altogether: a very large bone eroding out of a ravine. They took the bone to the Strecker Museum at nearby Baylor University, where it was examined and identified as the femur of a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). The museum organized a team to search for more bones, and digging soon began. This paleontology party hasn’t stopped; since then, scientists have found 19 mammoths. Today, the dig site is now enclosed and climate controlled, and it was recently named a National Monument. Waco Mammoth National Monument—A River of Mammoths When you...

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101 Amazing Sights in the Night Sky

George Moromisato’s 101 Amazing Sights in the Night Sky is a curated guide to the best the night sky has to offer. This magnificent full-color guide will be available in March 2017. George shares with us some tips and pointers that make a night under the stars exciting and meaningful. Once, we were all astronomers. Before electric lights banished the Milky Way, and before digital clocks announced the time, and way before GPS satellites let us know exactly where we were on Earth, the night sky was our entertainment, our timepiece, and our compass. Understanding the night sky was a matter of life or death. The North Star guided wandering hunters back home, and the rising of the constellations determined when planting should start or when the Nile might flood. Today, thousands of years later, we’ve gained knowledge our ancestors could never imagine.  We are awed by the scale of the universe, thrilled by the beauty of colliding galaxies, and humbled by the work and dedication...

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