What You Can See on March 6
Submitted by Ted Williams on Mon, 03/06/2006 - 08:43.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Shaggy Fur, Smooth Stones We don’t have much room for North America’s largest land animal anymore. So in early spring a female bison facing into the prairie wind and licking the wet fur of her new calf is a sight to lift the spirits of all who love wildness. An hour after birth the calf will be standing; it will be running in four. We almost lost them. The last eastern bison was killed in Pennsylvania in 1799; the last free-ranging herd of western plains bison (before limited restoration got under way in Yellowstone) was destroyed in Montana in 1891. Bison scratch themselves on large, hard objects, which were at a premium in their realm before it was defiled by iron rail. Here and there on the Great Plains you’ll see huge, polished boulders perched in depressions—perhaps behind a shopping mall. They were rough-edged when the glacier cast them off, but millions of bison rumps and flanks over 10,000 years wore them smooth; the depressions were made by their hooves. These boulders are monuments to America’s lost wealth. Look for them later; now it’s spring, and there’s new life on the prairie. Down to the Crawdad Hole People catch crawdads mainly to eat or to use for bait. But there’s an even better reason—to admire them. The best time is early spring, when you’re still beset with cabin fever and not yet distracted by things like warblers, garden plants, and lawns. Crawdads (a.k.a. crayfish, crawfish, ditch bugs) are lobsters that moved up out of the estuaries, miniaturized, and evolved into mostly freshwater forms. About half the world’s 500 species reside in North America. Turn over rocks in streams and ponds and, if you don’t mind a gentle nip, grab the finger-sized crustaceans before they snap their paddle tails and scoot away backward. Note the stalk-mounted eyes, the long, whiplike antennae, and the swimmerets along the abdomen—exquisite, featherlike organs with twin paddles joined at the tip. At this season the swimmerets of some specimens may be covered with as many as 700 dark globules. They’re eggs, attached by a waterproof glue called glair.