Geek discovers nature
It's not true that I spend my whole life sitting
and staring at a computer screen. The fact is,
sometimes I turn my head and look out the window.
And there I see. . . Nature.
There's a mulberry tree right outside my large,
second-floor window that's so close to the building
that it's as if I'm living inside the tree. It was
in that tree that I first saw an albino fledgling
being fed by its mother. It was in that tree that I
saw a hawk catch a small bird and eat it, bit by
grisly bit, pulling off the feathers and eating
flesh. Following its meal, it sat there, with its
yellow eyes, looking satisfied. And then it cleaned
its beak by scraping it on the limb.
You can always tell when a hawk is around
because you'll hear birds banging into the glass.
They tend to get fooled by the "false azure of the
windowpane" when they're scrambling for their
And you can always tell when a cat is around
because all the birds tend to make a staccato
chirping sound. I heard a real chorus of it about a
week ago and walked to my window to see a big ol'
orange cat lounging on the patio. This was one fat
cat--certainly not the sort to catch an unwary
Sometimes, truth be told, I actually leave my
computer and head outside to walk to main campus.
And this, too, is an opportunity to experience
nature. One day I saw something suspicious on the
sidewalk: it looked like short strips of black tar.
But I suspected that it was poop. I looked closer
and saw some little bits of fur.
This was very curious. It just wasn't like
doggie do, and I don't think anyone else even
noticed it. I watched it over the coming weeks, and
as the rains fell, the black outer covering
gradually washed away. Eventually all that was left
was a pile of hair--rabbit hair.
I suspected a coyote. And I turned to the
Internet to see what I could learn. I went to
the absolutely wonderful nature site that offers,
for free, all the information typically found in
It described coyote "scat" as typically being
deposited on the middle of a path (indeed it was)
and consisting mostly of hair (indeed it did). I do
hear coyotes occasionally, and had the feeling that
they came on campus at night to eat the rabbits.
Seeing the coyote scat convinced me that they
I also learned from the entry on coyotes that
they run with their tail down. That, too, was
telling, because one morning when I went out for a
jog before dawn, I saw what seemed to be a wild
animal the size of a dog. When it sensed my
presence, it immediately took off in the other
direction and didn't stop until it was out of
site--and it ran with its tail down.
eNature.com offers a complete guide to over
4,800 North American plants and animals, with
detailed descriptions and photographs. I'm thrilled
about two new features: the local guide and the
addition of bird songs.
In the past when I tried to find specific birds,
it was hard because there were so many. The "Zip
Local Guide" lets you type in your Zip Code and
then offers you a selection relevant for your area.
It not only takes into account your location, but
also the time of year, which is especially
important in regard to migrating birds.
Once you've typed in your Zip, you can choose
from among four categories: birds, mammals,
amphibians, and reptiles. Since there are few of
the latter two in Iowa, the results of my Zip Code
search combined amphibians and reptiles into one
The site has 60 bird species I can expect to see
in summer in the "greater Iowa area, including
Jefferson County." I was also thrilled that I can
now click on a link to hear the bird's song. Doing
so opens a popup window with a larger picture of
the bird and plays the song in one's choice of
format: RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, or
QuickTime. RealPlayer seems to work the best for
The eNature site is filled with additional
features, including ecards, an "Ask an Expert"
feature, a park finder, birding basics, life lists,
habitat guides, and sky guides.
So do take a peak at nature on occasion--and
then let the eNature.com tell you what you saw.
© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.