Some Favorite Nature Photos from 2009

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you to everyone that visited my blog this year. I had a wonderful year blogging- and even more so, enjoying the photos and commentary from my fellow blogging friends.

The following slideshow contains some of my favorite nature photos from 2009. To see a larger version of the photo- simply click on the photo and the browser will redirect you to a larger view of the photo. I tried to include only photos that I haven’t already displayed on this blog.

Regarding the photo of the elm tree bud (I think that it is from a elm tree) on the left- I included it, because to my imagination it looks like a Red-haired Native American mom with her child following along behind her. 🙂

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is a beautiful, native perennial that begins to blossom in the early spring. It is not only an attractive wildflower, it also has a rich history in folk medicine where it is often referred to as “Abcess Root”. Some of its other common names include: Creeping Jacob’s Ladder, Spreading Jacob’s Ladder, False Jacob’s Ladder, American Greek Valerian, Blue bells, and Sweatroot. It is known as Jacob’s Ladder because of the shape of its leaves- they branch out into the shape of a ladder.

The Jacob’s Ladder pictured with this article was found in the deep shade in the woods near my home on April 8, 2009. It can typically be found growing in the deep shade throughout most of the Eastern United States from early spring to the mid-summer.

The roots have long been used as a herbal medicine- many 19th century pharmacology books refer to its uses as an aid for tuberculosis (often called “consumption”), venomous snake bites, as a diuretic (which would explain the common name of “Sweat Root”), and as a treatment for bronchitis.

In the Eclectic Medical Journal, Volume 67 published by the Ohio State Eclectic MedicalAssociation in 1907, Dr. John Albert Burnett wrote an article regarding an effective use that he had discovered for treating bronchitis using a mixture containing Polemonium reptens root. He wrote:

According to my experience, bronchitis is a hard disease to treat successfully when the ordinary course of treatment is followed that is usually recommended by most writers on this disease. In my opinion the best general all-round treatment for just any and all cases of bronchitis is a mixture of amphiachyris dracunculoides (broom weed) and polemonium reptans(abscess root). In speaking of amphiachyris dracunculoides, Dr. J. M. Massie says: ” I have been using this agent for the last six years in a climate where, on account of the sudden changes of temperature, we are subject to all kinds of diseases of the air passages and of the alimentary canal, and I am sure that amphiachyris excels all other agents in the treatment of these diseases. In combination with polemonium and lycopus I get the very best results. If I have a case of bronchitis, I use amphiachyris and polemonium. If a case of bronchitis where there has been some hemorrhage, I add these to lycopus. Amphiachyris is always the leading agent in my prescription, and often the only agent.” Dr. Massie further says: “A man thirty-eight years of age had been troubled for several months with bronchial catarrh ; coughed quite a great deal, especially in the morning upon rising from his bed, raising quantities of mucus each day. These conditions continued until the latter part of March, when he had a slight hemorrhage from the lungs. There was a distinct spot in the right lung, in the region of the right nipple, that was very sore, and it was from this spot that the hemorrhage seemed to come. The cough continued, and just four weeks from the time that he had the slight hemorrhage referred to, he had a more distinct hemorrhage, and could determine plainly that the hemorrhage came from the spot in the right lung. There was a burning sensation there alf the time, and a tendency to hacking all the time to relieve the accumulation at that spot. He was put upon the following treatment, and being a believer in the physio-medical practice, he followed the treatment persistently: Teaspoonful every three hours continuously.

This treatment was continued for five months, with the following results: There has been no more hemorrhages, soreness at the spot referred to entirely gone, and the cough entirely stopped, and the patient has passed through the entire hot summer and has gained fifteen pounds in weight. He has now gone for two months without treatment and no return of the trouble whatever.” ( source )

However, before trying Dr. Burnett’s “cure” for bronchitis, it is interesting to note a rebuttal of his findings by the California Medical Journal, Vol XXVIII, No.2, February 1907:

Dr. Burnett’s paper is a resurrection of old time Eclectic and physiomedical uses for Polemonium reptans chiefly in the direction of its effects in respiratory diseases. The remedy is practically obsolete and its importance is questionable. ( source )

But why was it used as a snake bite aid? Most likely because of its effect of causing people to sweat. According to the King’s American Dispensatory, Vol. 2, 1900 :

Alterative, diaphoretic, and astringent. A warm infusion of the root will, it is said, produce copious perspiration, and has been found serviceable in pleurisy, febrile and inflammatory diseases. The tincture, made of whiskey, in doses of from 1 to 2 fluid ounces, 2 or 3 times a day, has been found valuable in scrofulous diseases, and other chronic diseases where an alterative is indicated. The infusion is recommended in the bites of venomous snakes and insects, and in bowel complaints requiring the use of astringents. Reported to have cured consumption, but these cases were probably of severe bronchitis. Useful in bronchial and laryngeal affections. The plant deserves investigation. ( source )

The scientific name for Jacob’s Ladder is Polemoniu m reptans . Polemonium was named after Poleman, a 2nd century Greek philosopher. Reptans means “creeping”.

Radioactive Gifts

“So, what did you get for Christmas, Johnny?” Johnny’s aunt, Sarah, asked. “Golly, Aunt Sarah! I got a Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab ! It has over 150 radioactive experiments that I can perform. It’s great! Look! My hands are even starting to glow!”

Did you get a radioactive play lab for Christmas this year? Probably not- but a few children between 1951 and 1952 might have received a set as an educational Christmas present.

The Gilbert U-238 lab and other radioactive products is part of an interesting Scientific America article by Adam Hadhazy on their website: 7 Hot Products: Radioactive Gifts and Gadgets of Yesteryear . It is a sobering exhibit- primarily because most of us trust consumer products to be safe. But sometimes, as in the case of the early days of radiation, the manufacturer will assume something to be safe until it is proven to be otherwise. The articles about Radithor (Certified Radioactive Water) and also the radium laced paint (used on early watch hands to make them glow in the dark) illustrate the dangers of willfully not understanding the dangers of a product. In the case of Raditho r , the article documents where a doctor had advised his patient to begin drinking Radithor as a tonic to help the patient with his broken arm. Later, because of the radiation poisoning from the “tonic”, the patient suffered through losing most of his jaw as well as holes forming in his skull. The article indicates that the drink was marketed as “perpetual sunshine”.

In the case of the radium laced paint for early 20th century watches- a supervisor of the women that were responsible for the painting of the watches- actually drank some of the paint to prove to her co-workers that the paint was safe. Many of the women would later suffer from various skin issues and ultimately cancer. ( source )

The Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) website has a fascinating virtual museum of radioactive consumer products of the past AND present. For example, Brazil Nuts are listed on the ORAU website as having high levels of both barium and radium. Who knew?

Other current or past radioactive products listed on ORAU’s Consumer Products list:
  • cat litter
  • low sodium salt
  • bathroom tile
  • porcelain dentures
And perhaps the oddest example of an irradiated product- a golf ball . Visit the site and look how misshapen it is after 40 years- presumably due to the effects of the radiation. I would hate to have been a golfer that carried a pocket full of those things around.


Photo of the Gilbert Atomic Lab is from the ORAU museum website

Ugly Bug Contest

As I was browsing through the web, I came across a contest that I felt that the loyal readers of this blog would want to know about: The Ugly Bug Contest . This year’s winner (loser?) is the Agulla “stretch” Snakefly . I was excited to see that a Cranefly was in the running for the title as well. I had taken a photo of a bright green-eyed Cranefly in the early summer (as shown here.)

One gripe that I have about the contest is that all of the images are super, super magnified. I think that the contest would be more effective if the bugs were shown in regular macro mode. I don’t think that we can fully appreciate their “ugliness” in the manner in which they are currently shown.

And without further adieu- here is the link to the contest winners: http://askabiologist.asu.edu/uglybugs/index2009_vote.php

Copperhead Video

The following a short video that I made of a Copperhead snake. Many thanks to my friend and Zoologist, Dr. Ron Van Houten for his contributions in this video. A full article on the Copperhead can be seen here .


A Real Puzzler

Every now and then I discover a product that is so bad that I will actually purchase it because of its “badness”. This United States Jigsaw Puzzle- Official Birds of the States fell into that category. As I was looking at the box while in the store, I was astonished to not only see a few errors, but also an especially terrible sense of photo selection as well!

Click on the photo of the jigsaw puzzle. Can you spot the errors?

Times up.

Michigan, Alabama, and New York all seem to have the wrong species of bird in the photograph. The photo of the robin used for Michigan should be a photo of an American Robin (like in the photo used for Wisconsin.) However, it isn’t. It appears to be a photo of an European Robin .


Perhaps the puzzle manufacturer was simply thinking that a robin is a robin is a robin- so it wouldn’t make much difference which species of robin they used. This line of thought might help explain why a photo of what looks to be a Mountain Bluebird was used for the state of New York. A photo of an Eastern Bluebird should have been used.

Which brings me to Alabama. My home state. The state bird of Alabama is the Yellowhammer – which is a Southern nickname for the Northern Flicker . The bird used in the photo for Alabama is definitely not a Northern Flicker. Thanks to my friend Eve, of the wonderful Sunny Side Up blog, I now know that the bird pictured for Alabama on the puzzle is actually the Yellowhamme r species of Europe- which isn’t even remotely similar to the Northern Flicker. Thanks Eve for solving that mystery for me!


Cardinals have to be one of the easier birds to photograph. They frequent bird feeders. They are very common and they are very pretty. So why in the name of all that is good and feathery did the puzzle maker use a photo of what has to be the ugliest Cardinal in the world? Look at the photo of the Cardinal used for Kentucky. Yikes!


I began to suspect that this puzzle must have been designed by someone in China who wasn’t familiar with the the birds of North America. No such luck. Prominently and proudly printed in the lower right corner of the puzzle were the words: “Made in the U.S.A.” 🙂

Contributing to Scientific Knowledge

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources State Lands Division, Natural Heritage Section . Someone from their division had seen a photo of the Purple Fringeless Orchid that I had written about in July 2009. It seems that this orchid is indeed rare in Alabama and they were kindly inquiring as to whether I would provide them with the date and location of the find-which, of course, I didn’t have an issue with at all.

The department also provided me a link to a database whereby one could lookup and/or enter the spotting of other species- not only wildflowers, but also amphibians, reptiles, fish, etc.

Needless to say, receiving their inquiry “made my day”. I am greatly encouraged by the department’s keen appreciation and diligence to protecting our wildlife. It was also very reassuring that they took the time to drop me an email and politely ask for more details so that they could log the sighting accurately. They designated the database entry as “Private” to ensure that the location of the orchid will not be visible to the general public- the reason for doing that is to help safeguard the location from collectors. I am glad that they have that policy in place- often times GPS coordinates are provided which would pinpoint the exact location of a species.

The following is a link to the database that is available for use to all. It is especially handy for the browsing of species at a county level. New users will need to create a username and password. The site is free and it doesn’t take much time to setup an account.

Here is a photograph of the orchid:

Double-crested Cormorant

A large flock of Double-crested Cormorants have made their winter home at Wilson Dam, on the Tennessee River near Florence, AL. I have been fascinated by these birds ever since I had seen a National Geographic photo of a fisherman in China using a Cormorant to catch fish. The fisherman would tie a rope around the neck of the Cormorant so that it couldn’t swallow the fish, he would then allow the bird to dive for fish and bring them up to him in its beak. I was unable to find the photo that I had in mind. However, I was able to find another National Geographic photo that had been taken in Japan of the fishermen using the Cormorants in the same fashion. Here is a link to the photo: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography

Cormorants do eat a lot of fish. So much so that there is an on-going debate in many states regarding the Cormorant’s impact on the fish population. Cormorant’s are federally protected birds- it is illegal to hunt them.

As recently as 30 years ago, due to the effects of DDT , the Cormorant, like the Brown Pelican, had almost been driven to extinction. And now, also like the Brown Pelican, through the banning of DDT and other conservation methods- the cormorant has made a stunning comeback. I would estimate that I saw over 500 Double-crested Cormorants while at the Wilson Dam location- and that is just one of many wintering sites for the Cormorant in the Southeast. I was also pleased to be able to get a photo of a Cormorant that had been banded for research- band #92E.

The Double-crested Cormorant’s scientific name is Phalacrocorax auritus . Phalacrocorax is derived from the Greek word phalakros which means “crow” or “raven”. Auritus is latin for “eared” which describes the tufts of feathers that appear on the Cormorant’s head during the breeding season. This is also how they get their common name of “Double-crested”.