Explore: March 2013

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9 posts from March 2013


5 Fascinating Animal Mating Behaviors

animal mating reproduction banana slugsWe'll assume you've gotten the birds and the bees talk, so without ado: Animals reproduce, usually (though not always) through sex. And while that might evoke scenes of cuddly coitus, à la March of the Penguins, procreation isn't always so pretty. It can be strange, scary -- even downright deadly. But behaviors that might seem bizarre in the boudoir are actually completely normal in nature. Today we bring you five fascinating animal mating habits and explain why natural selection might sometimes favor the kinky. 

Banana slugs:  They might look cute, but these bright yellow critters, which inhabit damp, coniferous forests along the north Pacific coast of the U.S., take tough love to a new level. They’re also enormously endowed. As an adult, the banana slug measures roughly 6 to 8 inches in length -- and so can its penis when erect. The organ emerges from a genital pore on its head.  Since slugs, like their snail cousins, are hermaphrodites, the banana slug also has female organs.

Banana slugs begin their tryst with some rough foreplay, lunging, biting, and hitting one another with their tails. Then they curl around each other, like two chubby, slimy commas, and insert their penises. Sometimes one partner gives sperm while the other receives, but usually they exchange sperm. The partners can remain enjoined for several hours. Normally, they then retract their organs and crawl on their merry way. But things can take a grisly turn.

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Meet America's 5 Newest National Monuments

Rio monument1President Obama signed five more places into the sacrosanct fold of national land-hood on Monday under the nearly 107-year-old Antiquities Act.

Make room for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, the San Juan Islands National Monument, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, and the First State National Monument on your bucket list.

First we'll tell you a little bit about the path to protection for national monuments, then we'll show you why you should visit these five new destinations. 

The Waiting Game

The Antiquities Act lets the president make national monuments of public lands with "historic or scientific" interest, and fast.

While Congress can establish national monuments, too, fast is unlikely — which is just what Antiquities is for, according to Meghan Kissell, campaign communications director for the nonprofit Conservation Lands Foundation.

See: the Grand Canyon.

"There were tremendous fights for years about what to do with that area," Kissell said. "By the time it was designated as a national monument, there had been bills in congress for a dozen year or so. There were a lot of people arguing about what the value of it was."

President Theodore Roosevelt secured the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908 (two days after Muir Woods). It became a national park in 1919 via Congress, which alone has authority to establish national parks.

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Astronomy in April: A Pair of Comets


Two comets are in the nighttime skies in April, one lingering after sunset and one appearing before sunrise. Comet PanSTARRS made its debut appearance in the Northern Hemisphere in March as it began to appear in the sunset’s glow midmonth. The comet is dimming as it moves out of the solar system, so use binoculars or a telescope to try to track it down. In April it will be crossing through the region of Andromeda, heading toward the North Star.

Comet PanSTARRS's biggest event of the month will be on April 3, when it passes a few degrees from the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. Binoculars or a wide-field telescope will give the best view of this fuzzy pair of objects.

Comet Lemmon is the second good comet of the year, also beginning its show in the Southern Hemisphere before moving into northern skies around April 19. The comet is expected to shine around 4-5th magnitude, similar to a dim star.

Both Comet PanSTARRS and Comet Lemmon will occupy the same region of sky but at different times. Comet PanSTARRS passes through Pisces, moving from left to right in March in the west at sunset. Comet Lemmon also passes through Pisces, moving from right to left in late April in the east at sunrise. Both comets are once-in-a-lifetime for Earthly observers, with Comet Lemmon’s first chance of returning 11,000 years from now, and Comet PanSTARRS 110,000 years from now, if it returns at all.

Continue reading "Astronomy in April: A Pair of Comets" »


9 of the World's Most Breathtaking Canyons

world's most beautiful canyonsAlthough there is only one that has been named as such, our planet is home to many grand canyons. From steep cliffs to narrow valleys, each evoke a sense of wonder and amazement while documenting thousands of years of geological history. Although each is unique in its own right, we have found nine canyons that are must-sees for any nature lover. But beware, if you have a fear of heights, you may feel uncomfortable just gazing at these pictures, as some of these grandiose layers of rock plummet to depths of close to 10,000 feet. 


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Green Stars: 5 Luxury Eco-Hotels and B&Bs

Exterior-Pool DeckWith the summer months fast approaching, many of us are starting to plan vacations with family or friends. But wait! Before you book that five-star hotel room, did you know that hotels contribute more than 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually? U.S. hotels spend over $7.5 billion on energy and generate 1.9 billions pounds of waste each year. Thankfully, there are some amazing alternative lodging options for the more environmentally concerned. And they don't require you to sacrifice that five-star, luxury ambiance. Best of all, they are located in vibrant locations, surrounded by tons of eco-activities.

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Sordid San Francisco Falcon Drama

Feb 13Watching the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group's Falcon Nest Cam is a popular worktime timewaster educational activity in the Bay Area. Up until last week, it was a peaceful domestic scene: Peregrine falcons Dan and Diamond Lil had produced four eggs in the nest on the 33rd floor of the headquarters of Pacific Gas & Electric. Then all hell broke loose. Here's how the SCPBRG reports this avian Downton Abbey:

March 14, 2013: About one week ago, Diamond Lil disappeared. We do not know her current status, just that she has not returned to the nest ledge. A new female, dubbed "Cher," has been visiting the nest ledge but does not seem inclined to share in incubation duties. Dan has been doing all the incubation but he must also hunt for food to eat. The eggs have been uncovered during these absences and incubation has been uneven. The eggs need about 12 days more incubation. Will the eggs hatch? Will Dan continue to make a heroic effort at incubation? Will the new pair recycle and lay a new set of eggs? We will soon know. 

Watch for the weekly update on Monday here. If you don't want to wait for Netflix, you can join the San Francisco Peregrines Discussion Forum.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber



Q&A: Climber Rosemary Saal Reaches New Heights

Rosemary SaalIn four months, Rosemary Saal will embark on Expedition Denali with a team of leaders in the African-American outdoor community. But their mission goes far beyond climbing the highest peak in North America. With a true zeal for encouraging diversity in the outdoors, this group of trailblazers brought together by National Outdoor Leadership School hope to inspire minority youth to take part in nature and the activities it has to offer.

Sierra magazine spoke with Saal, one of the youngest team members, about her fear of mountain lions, the thrill of climbing and why she carries around a headlamp in her purse.

What made you want to start hiking and climbing in the first place?

I just love the way climbing feels. Pulling yourself higher and higher until you reach the top. It is like you are always reaching for the next step.

I feel like a champion after climbing the flight of stairs to my third-floor apartment. What does it feel like when you reach the top of the huge mountains that you’ve climbed?

I just feel really fortunate and grateful to be able to do it. I remember when I hiked the North Cascades. It was amazing because I had been looking at those mountains from my hometown in Seattle all of my life. Now I was climbing them!

Expedition Denali team member Rosemary SaalWhat is a must-have item for you on every hiking trip?

I have gotten so attached to my headlamp I started to just carry it around in my purse. You never know when you might need it. But a less technical item would be my journal. It is super important to have when you’re out there.

What convinced you to climb Denali now, with this group of people?

It just seemed like such an amazing opportunity. I didn’t even think about it. I was just like, “Heck yeah, I want to be a part of that.” It is a sponsored trip to climb the highest peak in North America while encouraging youth to get involved in the outdoors. You can’t pass up an opportunity like that. 

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Q&A: Tyrhee Moore on Tackling Denali

TyrheeMooreWashington, D.C., native Tyrhee Moore was 13 before he saw his first mountain. Now, six years later, Moore joins a group of African American climbers setting out to ascend the highest peak in North America on Expedition Denali. Brought together by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), these climbers are role models in the African American outdoor community, each having a passion for nature and a dedication to encouraging the involvement of minority groups in environmentally motivated activities.

With hopes to inspire people of color to explore, embrace, and experience the outdoors, this team of trailblazers will begin their summit of Denali in June of this year, on the 100th anniversary of the mountain's first ascent.

Sierra magazine spoke with Moore about the outdoors, being a city kid, and what he’ll do when he reaches the top of Denali.    

What originally motivated you to get involved with outdoor activities?

I was in the 7th grade, and my school had this summer opportunities office. I went there looking for something to do over the summer, and they told me about some camp in Wyoming. When I went, it was my first time flying on a plane or seeing mountains. And I was wondering why didn't I know anything about that at 13. I really liked the camp so I kept going back, and they ended up giving me a scholarship for a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course. But if it had not been for that camp that exposed inner city kids to outdoor activities, I probably would not be doing any of this.

I understand you are one of the youngest members of Expedition Denali. As a sophomore in college, what made you want to spend a month of your summer vacation climbing a mountain rather than lying on a beach somewhere with your friends?

I can always spend time with friends, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think that's the reason that we are climbing. It is such a good cause. Right now most of my friends don't do stuff like this, but hopefully my participation in this expedition will change that.

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Conservation Art: Jane Kim's Migrating Murals

Mt Williamson Motel

Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence, California, might be the only place in the world where you’re guaranteed a glimpse of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, one of the country's most majestic -- and elusive -- creatures. Although conservation efforts have helped boost the numbers of the endangered species, only about 500 of them exist today.

A mural of an adult bighorn standing amid the rugged Sierra Nevada bedecks one side of the motel. On the other, a second mural illustrates the sheep's growth stages, from prancing lamb to regal ram, crowned with iconic spiraled horns.

"Not everyone can physically see them, but they can see life-size paintings of them," San Francisco-based artist Jane Kim said of the sheep, which she grew "obsessive" about sighting during a fellowship with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. The field biologists she shadowed rarely saw the animals, even through their spotting scopes.

Kim finished the Mt. Williamson Motel murals late last year as part of the first installment of her Migrating Murals project to paint endangered wildlife along their migration routes. Mt. Williamson Motel sits at the edge of Highway 395, which roughly follows the bighorn's seasonal trek.

Merging scientific detail with artistic insight, Kim's murals inform as well as enthrall. For her, science and art have always gone hand in hand. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2003, she found herself frequenting science museums more than art museums. As she leafed through National Geographic and academic journals, she dreamt about her own illustrations filling their pages.

In 2009, Kim decided to get her science illustration certificate at California State University, Monterey Bay. More than conveying scientific data, she wanted tell stories about science.  

"The visceral connection, the draw of people becoming fascinated with a certain topic because they saw a really beautiful piece of artwork that made them shift their perspective on something -- I thought it could be such a powerful tool to providing new information to a new demographic," Kim said. Ideally, everyone, even those without a scientific background, would understand her drawings.

Jane Kim portrait 2Kim's love for wildlife began at an early age. Growing up in suburban Chicago, she felt "a lack of connection" with people but felt a deep kinship with animals. She routinely begged her parents for pets and underwent "phases" of drawing a single type of animal.

"At one point I had my bear phase, and then I had my dog phase, my horse phase," she recalled, laughing. "There was a moment where I was really obsessed with sculpting and painting horses, and then I had a fish phase." During her bear phase, she decided to move to California because of the grizzly on its state flag.

In high school, Kim began filling her portfolio with human anatomical and medical illustrations. But it wasn't long before she returned to her first love -- animals. "I actually find more connection with animals than with people," she explained. "There's something just so beautiful about wildlife that you can't find in anything else."

If all goes as planned, Kim will finish the fourth and final Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep mural in October.  Future Migrating Murals will showcase the North Pacific blue whale, whooping crane, and coho salmon. Kim hopes that her art will help raise awareness about these species, a crucial first step toward conservation. Ideally, her art will also foster community, with cities potentially creating programming around the murals, such as bike races or field trips. "I'd really love to see these murals create that opportunity and have that lasting connection," she said.

Read More:

Nature Art: Keeping a Nature Journal

John Muir: Sketching in the Sierra

Nature Art: Fish Printing by the Chesapeake Bay

Garbage Art and the Environment

(Photos © 2012 Cody Tuttle Media, All Rights Reserved)

HS_Melissa_BLOGMelissa Pandika is an editorial intern at Sierra and a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. Her interests include environmental health and justice, urban environmental issues, and conservation biology. She has a soft spot for cetaceans.

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