Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hemileuca maia – Barrens Buck Moth – October 2

male Hemileuca maia found by Shelley 
I haven't used this blog in quite a while but thought I'd see if anyone still was following. Well September 29 began our week for Buck Moths - Hemileuca species. We saw our first on Sunday as we were part of an Athol Bird and Nature Club Trip to Middleboro. A Buck moth buzzed past us, and by habitat it seemed possible to be H. lucina but not being able to get a good look we will just have to call it  Hemileuca species...

Well that got our juices flowing and the warm temperatures of Wednesday October 2nd had Lula Field, Shelley and I out in good barrens habitat in hopes of finding Hemileuca maia – Barrens Buck Moth.

We weren't disappointed as driving in the gravel entrance road we soon encountered several individual Buck Moths patrolling the road. Most likely these were males seeking females to mate with. Careful searching  and observing Lula came upon a female ovipositing on a small Scrub Oak (Quercus) at the edge of a cart road. This very accommodating female continued to lay her eggs as we watched and snapped photos.

 Hemileuca maia female laying eggs on Scrub Oak
We continued to move around the sand plains observing literally a hundred or more of these state listed moth in the silk moth family. A species fact sheet is posted on the Mass Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program web site: .Barrens Buck Moth Species page

I know I'll be back next year to watch the flight of the Buck moths and will seek out the New England Buck Moth which generally flies a couple weeks earlier...  Thanks to my wife Shelley and Lula Field who actually found the sitting moths... A great team effort :-)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Endangered Species - Who Should Decide

Wild Turkeys on a recent winter day at Quabbin Park

Ok this blog has nothing to do with Turkeys but I did enjoy watching them:

One of my facebook friends had posted the link to this story: Proposed bill aims to get frog off endangered species list and it got me thinking.  Decades of progress in recognizing the value of the diversity of life resulted in passage of important legislatative measures such as state and federal endangered species acts. The fact that a N.Y. legislator has proposed a bill to remove a species from the State's list and exempt it from any regulations is abhorrent in itself. To make matters worse it is not because of a reasonable argument that it is or is not endangered but born rather from frustration and political expedience over how to clean up a lake. 

This story is not really about the Northern Cricket Frog Acris crepitans but rather that we as a society have let our desire for parts of the wild world overcome our understanding of the processes that created it. I've never been to Glenmere Lake in Western New York State. It sounds like so many other great places in the northeast. Once a clear cool lake with great fishing, the perfect place for building that lakeside cottage or home. Nutrients from now failing septic systems and fertilized lawns have also created the perfect environment for the introduced invasive exotic Eurasian milfoil. Life at the lake has changed. Milfoil has overtaken the lake and in spite of all the good effort to change the direction of the infestation nothing has happened. Part of the issue is that the state conservation authorities are accused of not being clear of what is needed for the Lake's population of the listed Northern Cricket Frogs and moving the target at the expense of the developers and townspeople. The issues involved are complex and the failures must be shared with people on both sides. The answer may not be close at hand but gutting the Endangered Species act is likely the wrong avenue to pursue.
So how did we get to this place? Caught between a lake free of exotic weeds and the survival of a rare frog. Most would agree that cleaning up the nutrient loading of the lake would be a good place to start and if we didn't introduce exotic invasive plants into the landscape the issue may never of come up in the first place. Conflicts dividing good people who should be on the same side of the issue of a clean diverse environment are finding themselves on opposite sides of the bargaining table. I have seen many cases of abusive use of our wetlands and endangered species legislation over the years by those who use it as a club to stop or delay development they don't like and regulators that take extreme protective positions without the benefit of good research often restricting landowners use of their land. These actions have weakened the resolve of many in the general public (and their elected representatives) to support our Natural Heritage Programs and the species they represent.

There are great battles raging around the region between groups with differing perspectives in the future management of our natural resources. What role should the needs, desires and economic vitality of our human population be included in this decision process? If we don't find ways to come together to resolve these issues the decisions will be made for us and we may not be happy with the outcome.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Coyotes at the Kitchen Door - Living with Wildlife in Suburbia

Anyone who has happened by my home office may have noticed the profusion of natural history books with many books on Insects, Herps and Birds filling the shelves. I readily admit of all the taxa I have explored over the years Mammals aren't well represented in the collection. That is beginning to change.

This time last year I was reading Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz in preparation for our winter vacation to the Cockscomb Jaguar preserve in Central Belize. Shelley and I were joined on that trip by a pair of biologists Kiana Koenen, DCR Biologist at Quabbin, and her husband Stephen DeStefano, project leader for the US Geological Survey Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Research Professor at UMass in Amherst. My appreciation for mammals has increased, learning from my good friends. We didn't see any jaguars in Belize (except at the zoo) but did find some fresh tracks in the early morning mud along a remote trail as we climbed in a successful search for Scarlet Macaws.

Shortly before Christmas Steve announced the book he had been working on was published and I was presented with a copy wrapped in true holiday regalia... I decided to place it under our tree and open it on Christmas morning. You never know how a gift like this will turn out. Will it be great, full of interesting useful information and stories? or be something you'll need to avoid in polite conversation with friends. Fortunately it is the former... I really have enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in natural history.

The ability of the coyote to survive in the presence of humans is a great story in itself but Steve weaves tales of his vast personal experience around the hemisphere from encounters with Polar Bears in the Arctic to Andean Condors in Peru. The real message of the book though is the change in our ever more populated world. We have been spreading the footprint of human development around the world into new areas and densities while simultaneously seeking to build our houses deeper into the forest and canyons seeking comfort in the vanishing wild world, happy until a predator eats our cat...

A coyote dissapears into the forest at Quabbin Park

 Reading the book I again became aware of Coyotes. I used to see them often when Quabbin Deer were more numerous and fallen deer would be seen on the reservoir ice being consumed by Coyotes, Eagles, Ravens and Crows. I have heard them calling to each other in the night while I was in search of Owls in remote parts of the region, always a thrill felt by the chill in your spine on a frosty winter night.  I see them only occasionally these days but the animal above was hanging around our office in Quabbin Park this week. Not really afraid of people but wary non the less. Coincidently as I was finishing the book Channel 5 News had a lead story about a coyote attacking a pet dog on Cape Cod. I just have to wonder what we as a population expect. We provide lots of food and habitat for an animal that has adapted to our excesses, forbid hunting and trapping, than let the pet dog (off leash) run in the remnant suburban forests and wonder why the Coyote is appreciative of the free meal...

A Robin feeds on a Crabapple in New Salem
Many of us are guilty of manipulating our environment to attract desirable wildlife. Bird feeders and wildlife plantings are likely responsible for the ability of birds such as Tufted Titmouse, Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, and our former harbinger of Spring the Robin to winter here in Central Mass. We are now becoming more aware that these seemingly harmless pursuits may have less desirable effects as Black Bears and Coyotes along with skunks, raccoons and oppossums take advantage of our free lunch program...

So as you enjoy the winter please pick up Steve's book throw a log on the fire and enjoy... Who know's what will be stalking the mice under your bird feeder...
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guest Blog by Eric Eaton

Deer Ked
I volunteered to do a guest blog for my good friend Dave Small after he sent me an e-mail inquiring whether I might know the identity of an insect in an image he attached with his message. I didn’t quite understand the story at first, like why two hunters were involved, and why the insect was adhered to hard candy. The image was clear enough, though, that I could tell what the creature was, and that this was not a tall tale evolved from heavy drinking.

Deer Ked
Found by local deer hunters saved on hard candy

Deer and related animals play host to a variety of parasitic invertebrates, including the familiar, slow-moving ticks. Such blood-feeding creatures are quick to abandon a deceased host, however, and so animals harvested during the hunt often yield some strange, living cargo during inspection and dressing. The specimen discovered by these  hunters is an insect known as a “louse fly,” among the most peculiar of insect parasites.

They are much more nimble than ticks, dodging attempts to catch them as they skirt through a host’s fur. Their flattened shape, top to bottom, and talon-like claws enhance their ability to slip between hairs and grip the hide of the host, avoiding licking and biting efforts to dislodge them.

Members of the fly family Hippoboscidae, most known louse flies are actually parasites of birds. The most infamous member of the family, though, is the “sheep ked,” well-known at least to those who manage flocks of ovine livestock. The adult flies are wingless, but find each other easily for mating when the host animals crowd together

Back to the specimen the hunters found, and collected by sticking it with a piece of hard candy. That would probably be a “deer ked,” Lipoptena cervi. Here is a terrific image of a related Lipoptena depressa from northern California. Both species have a life history that is typical of the entire family of louse flies, but truly mind-blowing compared to other insects

Female louse flies do not lay eggs. They grow one offspring at a time, within their bodies, much like mammals. A single larva develops inside the equivalent of a uterus, feeding from a “milk” gland. When mature, it is “born alive,” dropping to the ground where it immediately buries itself and pupates. An adult fly emerges weeks later. Deer ked are winged, at least initially, but females that have found a host will break off their wings, the better to maneuver through the dense, coarse hair of their host.

While keds are known to transmit certain diseases from host to host, they are for the most part not economically important. Consequently, little is known about them. Kudos to our hunter friends for bringing this one into the spotlight.

     Thanks Eric for answering the Identification question... A pretty interesting life history... To read more insect related stories see Erics Blog on Blogspot. Thanks to Bill Rose and the staff at Vegetation Control Service for capturing this neat insect and passing it along. For the record I do not know the flavor of the hard candy.. nor will I seek to find out... DHS

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Athol Christmas Bird Count (preliminary report)

Thirty-six, members and friends of the Athol Bird and Nature Club covered the 40th annual Athol Christmas Bird Count Saturday December 19th. Very cold temperatures and about 6 inches of snow made for a wintry day in the north Quabbin. A total of 11,061 individual birds of 56 species were observed by 12 teams of observers who fanned out over the 15-mile diameter circle centered on Athol. Highlights included: Northern Shrike observed in Royalston by Jacob Morris-Siegel And Bruce Scherer, 2 Rusty Blackbirds observed by Jeff Johnstone and his team, A chipping Sparrow and 4 Snow Buntings observed by Billy Fregeau, Josh Rose, and Virginia Rettig, and 3 Eastern Bluebirds observed by John Henshaw and Steve Ferrell. Dave Small’s Team observed a mink and Butch Labrie called in his bird report from his tree stand that included a sighting of a fisher (but no deer as yet.

Canada Goose 7, Am. Black Duck 7, Mallard 11, Common Merganser 12, Ringed-Neck Pheasant 4. Ruffed Grouse 2, Wild Turkey 104, Common Loon 2, Bald Eagle 8, Sharp-Shinned Hawk 4, Coopers Hawk 5, Red-Tailed Hawk 14, Ring-Billed Gull 4, Herring Gull 6, Rock (Dove) Pigeon 558, Mourning Dove 329, Great Horned Owl 1, Barred Owl 5, Saw-Whet Owl 4, Red-bellied woodpecker 13, Downy Woodpecker 153, Hairy Woodpecker 99, Northern Flicker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 9, Northern Shrike 1, Blue Jay 916, American Crow 345, Common Raven 34, Horned Lark 26, Black-capped Chickadee 1226, Tufted Titmouse 283, Red-Breasted Nuthatch 56,

White-Breasted Nuthatch 214, Brown Creeper 21, Carolina Wren 8, Winter Wren 1, Golden-crowned Kinglet 57, Eastern Bluebird 3, Hermit Thrush 1, American Robin 190, Northern Mockingbird 3, Starling 950, Cedar Waxwing 800, American Tree Sparrow 128, Chipping Sparrow 1, Song Sparrow 17, White-Throated Sparrow 236, Dark-eyed Junco 3096, Snow Bunting 4, Northern Cardinal 127, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Rusty Blackbird 2, Purple Finch 16, House Finch 136, American Goldfinch 117, House Sparrow 682

Count participants in the field included: Dave Small (compiler) Ed Armstrong, David Brown, David Cass, Jonathan Center, Anne Cervantes, Dick Cooper, Bob Coyle, Chris Coyle, Paul Daniello, Joan and Larry Duprey, Chris Ellison, Steve Ferrell, Bill Fregeau, John Henshaw, Jeff Johnstone, Bob Mallet, James Mallet, Kate marquis, Melissa Martin, Greg McGuane, Dale, Monette, Jacob Morris-Siegel, Tom Murray, Tom Pirro, Mike Polana, Jay Rasku, William Rasku, Virginia Rettig, Josh Rose, Bruce Scherer, Shelley Small, Barbara Snook, Jenny Southgate, Ann Spring, Mark Taylor, Greg Watkevitch, Todd Wiley. Special thanks go out to all the feeder watchers who also contributed reports.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunny November day in Quabbin

November is a time of extremes here in Central Ma; below freezing nights and cool days interspersed with snow squalls and balmy 60-degree afternoons. Today was one of the latter. A gorgeous frosty morning unfurled to a beautiful late fall day as friends Jeff Johnstone and Bob Mallet joined me for a few hours of birding at Quabbin. Juncos seem to be the most abundant bird in our roadside forests these days. The plethora of white pine seeds is the most likely cause. The last big pine seed year in 2001 Juncos descended on central New England with record numbers observed on several area Christmas Bird Counts. Other birds of interest today included a couple immature Bald Eagles, several Common Loons,  Common Mergansers, Horned Grebes and a first year male Long-tailed Duck. And 5 Otters feeding and playing in the reservoir...

This Horned Grebe was observed off the Gate 35 Road
in the Petersham area of Quabbin

To many of my good friends November is a time for hunting. Whether following a spaniel through Grouse cover or staking out a deer run from a tree stand with bow and arrow many sportsman and women await the changing of the calendar to December and the traditional start of the Massachusetts Shotgun Deer Season. Its been awhile since I have walked the woods with gun in hand. Not because I'm against hunting, quite the contrary, I still purchase my Sportsmans license each year and enjoy a little venison shared by my successful hunting friends. It is more that it is not as high a priority in my life these days. I "hunt" throughout the year; whether stalking that rare bird or laying in wait along a babbling brook with net in hand watching for that elusive snaketail to get just close enough... Deer hunting for me is about the management value of hunting in reducing and maintaining the number of deer browsing the vegetation in our forests. As a manager at the Quabbin I have been intimately involved with the controlled deer hunt since its inception and believe it to be a very effective tool in restoring the reproductive processes in the forest. But it is work for me with longer hours and a responsibility to keep everyone safe while providing a quality experience for participents. So for now I'll hunt vicariously through my friends and hope they all have a successdul and safe season... And if your freezer is overful I'll be happy to provide some space in ours...

8-point Buck in the company of several does Quabbin 11-22-2009

Everyone should be reminded to wear blaze orange clothing whenever venturing out in the woods over the next month. Some form of deer hunting will continue through the rest of the year (excluding Sundays in Ma) and we should allow folks to persue this New England tradition.

Autumn Meadowhawks still flying 11-22-2009
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

We're not done yet - Autumn Meadowhawk still flying

Often by November 15th we have put away our nets and generally spend less time searching for insects and take more notice of the birds which have suddenly appeared at the feeder. The temperatures today reached the mid 50's and a walk around the yard found this Autumn Meadowhawk Sympetrum vacinum perched on one of my "snake boards" taking in the afternoon sun.

The leaves are gone From the trees, cleaned off the lawn and even out of most of the gutters now the the color of the day seems to be red... Besides the meadowhawk the berries of Winterberry (below), Crabapples and Cranberry bush Viburnan really steal the show... It has been our pleasure this year to spend a good deal of time planting wildlife friendly food plants around the yard and seeing them fruit the first year gives us a lot of satisfaction. Not a lot of berries yet but they will only get better as the shrubs and trees age. The most interesting thing we happen to see today was a large bat flying south in the twilight of a great sunset... I don't know much about bats but with all the concern for our bat populations any sighting is worthy of note...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Orange Airport

Its great to live in a small town full of people who enjoy natural history as much as I do. Not much gets by this crew. This morning at 9:00 AM Jeff Johnstone called my cell to report a young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was hanging out on the fence at our local Orange Airport.

By the time I arrived there was a cadre of birders already on scene and more were on the way as word spread. The bird was most cooperative and hawked for insects around the area of the hangers.
Thanks to Jeff Johnstone for getting the word out so quickly
and holding on to the bird for us all to enjoy
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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Pond Continues to Surprise

The afternoon sun made long shadows on the back lawn that had just this morning been covered with a dusting of snow. As I sat in my home office checking e-mails I caught a flash of white against the green lawn... A Great Egret glided to a landing and headed directly to the shore of our small pond.

This is the second heron species to visit the pond in its first year. The Great Blue Heron in August had a lot more tadpoles to choose from but at this late time of year the few remaining Green Frogs didn't hold the Egret's interest for long and it quickly moved on. I only got a couple quick pictures with my small camera. Just enough to document the sighting. The construction of the pond this last April has been the best addition to the yard we could have made... Build it and they will come...
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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Eastern Hognose Snake - part II

 Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos
Illegal to harass, kill, collect or possess in MA.

The sun broke through the early morning clouds as Kiana Koenen and I searched the ground for signs of the young snakes discovered the day before by friends Mike Phillips and his wife Anita. Six Eastern Hognose Snakes were found sunning themselves along this well traveled Quabbin route. We knew at least one of the tiny snakes had been inadvertently struck and killed by a passing bicyclist or pedestrian. The snake’s cryptic coloration and habit of freezing to hide make them susceptible to human movement and any of a host of potential predators. We had returned to the area early to see if the young snakes were using the road’s heat to warm themselves and if there was something we could do to prevent additional fatalities.

Searching closely through the roads shoulder they suddenly came into focus 3 young snakes perhaps 6 inches in length were slowly moving in the patchy grass. Carefully looking into the grass at the edge of the shoulder making sure our feet were on the roads edge where we could continually watch that we not step on an unsuspecting Hognose we counted 5 snakes within several square feet. We searched up and down the shoulder and when finding no other snakes we returned to the spot and now counted 7 snakes.Pulling a couple 5-gallon plastic pails for seats from the back of the pickup, we stationed ourselves on the road and waited to see where these snakes were coming from. A movement in the grass showed yet another tiny snake pushing its way in the morning light. The sand encrusted skin is evidence of its sandy birthplace.

We sat and chatted watching the unfolding spectacle. A call to update herpetologist and friend Peter Mirick at MassWildlife helped enlighten us about some of the behavior we were witnessing. We sat and watched the clouds overtaking the sky bringing a chill to the air. A few minutes later a patch of blue regained the day beaming bright morning sun on the roadside and us. Almost immediately movement caught our attention as another snake appeared from below ground, than another and another. Fourteen in all! We watched as they moved in fits and starts out into the undergrowth shedding their skins along the way.

Could our young Hognoses be the offspring of this adult observed within 200 feet of our location in August 2001? We may never know but we hope that this is a good start for this generation of snakes. I have seen in these last 2 days 20 Hignose snakes which more than triples all the sightings of this species I've had in my lifetime. Thanks again to Mike and Anita for the timely phone call.

This young snake looks ready to take on the world

I would be interested to recieve images and location information on snakes in the Central Massachusetts. Hognose Snakes Heterodon platirhinos is of particular interest as they are now hard to find in many historic locations. Remember to always report observations of state listed species to MNHESP

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Emerging Eastern Hognose Snake - Heterodon platirhinos

Thanks to Mike Phillips from Orange for calling me and telling me about the emerging Hognose snakes he discovered today while walking in Quabbin. I have seen more Hognose snakes today than I've seen in the last 20 years. Four!

Stay tuned for the rest of the story

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wall - Moth season winds down

For the last 2 summers I have been operating my Mercury Vapor light on most any warm night where I have the chance to check it through the evening. Moths being night beasts they often are showing up long after I should be in bed. But the lure of discovering something new outweighs the logical impulse for a full nights sleep.

The season for moths evolves like it does for many taxa. I admit to only focusing on the larger or more colorful well marked species. Spring and early Summer are filled with nights of Giant Silk Moths soon followed by Sphinx moths named for thier various food plants: Laurel, Virginia Creeper, and Northern Pine Sphinx.

The group that has really tickled my fancy this year are the Underwing Moths of the genus Catocala These guys somehow eluded my discovery last year and have been high on my "want to see list" all year. First of all they don't seem to fly until August which this year coincided with the first dry nights of the summer. Second they have a tendancy to not show up until after the Red Sox have completed a 12 inning night game...
8801 Catocala ilia - Ilia Underwing

But they are worth the wait with such common names as: Inconsolable, Dejected, Widow, Sad, Graceful, Wayward, Girlfriend, and Once Married they certainly have caught the imagination of early entomologists. We are fortunate to have the leading expert on this genus living right here in Massachusetts. The definitive work on the group is:  Legion of Night: The Underwing Moths by Theodore D. Sargent (Dec 1976). I first saw Ted in 1970 or so at UMass where Mass Audubon held the conference "Focus Outdoors" a weekend of  talks on all sorts of natural history subjects. At the time I was still pretty much following birds but was drawn to the engaging talk where I learned of some different uses for Dad's stale beer. Underwings can be attracted not only by lights but by an aromatic concoction of stale beer (actually yeasty micro brews are best) some brown sugar, Bananas, and other over ripe fruit, left to get pretty well fermented then smeared on tree trunks to await the evening moths...

Well so far my baiting for Moths has been less than productive but I have seen a half dozen species of Catacola so far. My latest is: 8805 -- Once-married Underwing Moth -- Catocala unijuga

It may be near the end of the moth season for us here in Athol but I'll still check on those warm Indian summer nights just to see what might show up.

For another look at Catacola's in Massachusetts see bill Oehlke's web site. Bill has been invaluable in helping me identify not only Catacolas but many of the Sphinx moths. Always if trying to identify moths from your pictures try the Moth Photographers Group and of course BugGuide for more help. Now time to go check the "Wall" one last time before hitting the rack... I may be back

The Betrothed - Catocala innubens
No sooner had I hit the "Post" button and headed out for one last look at "The Wall" when I spotted this interesting speciman. The Betrothed! I will hate to see the hard frosts ahead as they will end my fascination with "The Wall" for this year...

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Smooth Green Snake

Friday was one of those magic fall days. The foliage of Red Maples showing subtle shades of pink and yellow around wetlands. Clear bue skies dotted with occasional fair weather clouds hide the distant shapes of Broad-winged Hawks and Accipiters.
   Over the last couple years I have placed a few cover boards, 2' X 4' pieces of plywood in managed fields at Quabbin. These boards have been used by researchers to monitor many species of vertebrates including snakes and salamanders. These boards for the most part are great for attracting crickets and ants, fun for some of us, but a pain for budding herpetologists. One board out of all the ones I have placed has been a gold mine of snake encounters. Snakes including Common Garter Thamnophis sirtalis, Ring-necked Diadophis punctatus and Brown Storeria dekayi have all been found under this particular board in 2009. This time lifting the board produced the awesome sight of this Smooth Green Snake Opheodrys vernalis.

It has been a couple years since my last sighting of this species. Growing up in Royalston I encountered them often around the yard at Tully Dam. I would see them in the overgrown lawn when mowing and the pattern of the cutting would show the swerve as I moved to miss these little guys in their escape. Intensive mowing, domestic animals, and general habitat loss have taken their toll on these beautiful creatures and now I am thrilled to find even one of these emerald jewels.

I would be interested to recieve images and location information on snakes in the Central Massachusetts. Hognose Snakes Heterodon platirhinos is of particular interest as they are now hard to find in many historic locations. Remember to always report observations of state listed species to MNHESP

There are still warm days left and time to have our last looks at our reptile friends before they disappear for winter.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Summer passes in The yard

Its been really great to watch the yard mature over the summer. The pond I originally thought was a vernal pool, when constructed last April, has blossumed into thriving mini ecosystem. Tadpoles of all forms, diving Beetkles Whirlygigs, Odonates laying eggs in the newly planted Pickeralweed... A lot of fun to watch... All the rain was hopefully abnormal and next year it will perhaps be a vernal pool. But no complaints here.
The hundreds of Gray Tree Frog tadpoles have matured. Many have succumbed to the visiting Great Blue Heron or the Blue Jays and Crows that spent time near the waters edge. Now the survivers can be seen on any day one spends the time to look. The tiny green metamorphs slowly taking on adult coloration and growing noticably each week.
One of the great things about deciding to leave a section of the back yard unmowed is seeing the late summer asters, goldenrods and other wildflowers overgrowing the grasses. The second much more plentiful, brood of Pecks Skippers is flying. American Copper, Great-spangled Fritillary, and American lady butterflies are all taking advantage of the combination of planted ornamental and the wild flower patches. All this life has brought along a few predators as well. No less than 5 Argiope aurantia - Yellow Garden Spiders grace the patches of tall flowers, while wasps of many species including the a female Velvet Ant were observed this past Monday as friends Lynn Harper, Eric Eaton, Jen Carlno and Nancy Goodwin cruised the yard with Shelley and I. (all of us "Entomologist Mimics" as Jen would say) Striped Garden Caterpillar - Trichordestra legitima (above) was observed feeding on Asters as were several Cucullia asteroides - Goldenrod Hooded Owlet caterpillar (below). It never ceases to amaze me what wonderful new animals we can find so close to home
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Watching Whales

One of the best things about New England is the proximity of so many varied habitats. This summer has been one for cloudy skies interspersed with torrential rains... At least that is how it seemed. As August turned to September the skies have cleared and fantastic warm dry weather has prevailed. Time to get out and enjoy it!
One of the summer adventures Shelley and I had been hoping to take part in came to pass this Friday, a trip to Stellwagen Bank. My sister Diane and nephew Sean arrived from Virginia to visit and joined by my other sister Ruth and husband Wayne we all embarked on a noon Whale Watch out of Long Warf in Boston.
The speedy catamaran ferried the 300 passengers to the edge of the Bank in less than an hour where a fleet of small fishing boats were observed. Among the small vesseles there were several Humpbacked Whales basking near the surface and lazily rolling in the quiet waters.
Of course I was also interested in any pelagic birds I could glean from vast waters and was not dissapointed as Greater Sheatwaters, Northern Gannet, Wilson Storm Petrals and several terns past by the boat as we searched for more Whales. We observed more than a half dozen different Humpbacked Whales and the much smaller Minke Whales also made appearences.
This was a great way to spend a family outing, enjoying the views of Boston and her harbor Islands, seeing a great show of the spectacular marine mammals and an assortment of birds, and catching up with family matters in the warm sunshine... But not the least of all was a post trip stop at Legal Seafoods for some great local cousine. The Bluefish and Grilled Scallops was wonderful supplemented with a nice Sam Adams Octoberfest. I want it on record that I actually left the comfort of Central Massachusetts to look at something other than insects... And enjoyed it immensly. Maybe next time I might even venture west of the Connecticut River...

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tigers in the Sand

Almost imperceptible at first, the tiny wisps of sand exploded from the sand. A few seconds passed and other wisp of sand sprayed from the hole... After a few minutes the worker poked her head out to survey the project. Our first glimpse of the wasp excavating a nest cavity
Saturday August 22, 2009; Friends Eric Eaton and Lynn Harper joined me for an exploration of a powerline cut through a sand barren in the DCR Ware River Watershed in the town of Oakham. Not quite the sands of Death Valley or Sahara but it is our own little window into life in the world of sand.

In New England we think of our native landscape as forested and full of trees... Left to its own devices the trees become old and tall. Disturbance of hurricane, fire, or flood can reset the sucessional clock but the process is predictable. Humans mimic these processes when they harvest trees for lumber to build their homes or firewood to heat it. We clear fields for farming and abandon them for nature to reclaim. We mine the landscape for sand and gravel leaving behind a moon scape. I have long been fascinated by this less obvious habitat type the plant free world of sand and the organisms adapted to this harsh environment.

Tiger Beetles long legged predators in the order Coleoptera are a fascinating lot. Able to quickly run down their prey of ants and other small insects and take flight quickly to evade capture. Netting these beetles is difficult, unlike most insects trapped under the net who fly upward they burrow under the rim of the net and quickly escape. Photographing these predators is a challenging event but stealth and patience can be rewarded.
The Festive Tiger Beetle Cicindela scutellaris (left) and Big Sand Tiger Beetle Cicindela formosa (Above) were present in good numbers at this sight.

The Tiger Beetle at left does not meet the species descriptions in my various sources my best guess is Cicindela rapanda but it will remain unnamed at this point. I'm just pleased to be able to observe these interesting insects in their world of sand