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Dragonfly Mystery Photo

7-23-14  dragonfly mystery photo 020Do you know what is happening in this photograph? All guesses welcome. The answer will be revealed tomorrow!. (Photo: male Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly, Libellula julia)

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Spreading Dogbane Flowering & Attracting Dogbane Beetles

7-17-14 dogbane & dogbane beetle190The tiny, pink, bell-like flowers of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), emit a smell reminiscent of Lilacs. Like its milkweed relatives, Spreading Dogbane has milky, white sap and is poisonous to many species (hence, its name). Monarchs occasionally lay their eggs on its leaves, but the larvae do not mature. Associated exclusively with this perennial is its namesake, the Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus). A combination of iridescent greens, blues and gold make Dogbane Beetles one of the most striking beetles found in New England. They avoid some predators by giving off a foul-smelling secretion when they are touched. Dogbane Beetles are a third to a half-an-inch long and are often found in the process of mating at this time of year.

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Bobolinks Fledging and Preparing to Migrate

7-14-14 bobolinks2  234Between their striking black and white plumage and their long, bubbly song, male Bobolinks are hard to miss if they are inhabiting a field. The female’s plumage is more subtle, with lots of browns so that she blends in well when on her ground nest. The Bobolink’s most notable accomplishment is its annual migration between breeding (northern U.S. and southern Canada) and wintering (northern Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia) grounds — a round-trip distance of approximately 12,500 miles. According to Cornell’s Birds of North America Online, one female Bobolink known to be at least nine years old presumably made this trip annually, which would mean that in her lifetime she flew a distance equal to traveling 4.5 times around the earth at the equator.

Grassland birds such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Upland Sandpipers and numerous sparrows, which have been in decline for decades, populate New England’s hay fields, meadows, and pastures. Many of these birds build their nests on the ground, raise young, and forage for insects and grains in summer months. If you own or manage a hayfield that hosts Bobolinks (or any other grassland species), consider delaying mowing until after mid- July to allow these birds the opportunity to fledge their young and get them ready for one of the longest migratory flights of any North American songbird. (Photo: male Bobolink on rock, female on grass.) (Thanks to Jeannie Killam and Terry Ross for photo op.)

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Common Loons: Nest-building

6-30-14  Loons #1 - nest building 496Naturally Curious posts for the next four days will be devoted to Common Loons. They are nesting now, eggs are hatching, chicks are swimming, parents are feeding – life is good on ponds and lakes in the north woods, and I would love to share this magical time with you.

Both members of a pair of Common Loons contribute to nest-building in May or June. Their ground nest is often built on the sheltered side of an island, facing the mainland. It is usually within just a few feet of the water, eliminating the necessity for the loons to walk very far. (The position of their legs far back on their bodies is advantageous when it comes to diving and swimming, but makes walking very challenging.) Both male and female share the building of the nest, throwing submerged vegetation from the water onto the nest site or pulling it from the water while sitting on the nest. Material continues to be added to the nest throughout incubation. Nearly two feet in diameter, a nest can take a week or so to build. Successful nests (those that produce chicks) are often re-used from year to year.

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Gray Treefrogs Calling

gray treefrog 021At this time of year, bird-like trills are often heard in wetlands, where male gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor) are calling to potential mates. The chorus ramps up at night, but the songsters can be hard to find during the day, when they often hide in tree cavities or high up in the canopy. (Their large toe pads produce mucous which allows them to adhere to smooth bark.) The colors of a gray treefrog vary with the colors of its background and environmental factors such as season and humidity, but shades of gray are most common, with black blotches on the back. Variations of brown, green, and pearl-gray colors have been noted, with green being more prominent during the breeding season. Warm, humid weather seems to elicit calls from these well-camouflaged amphibians. To watch and hear a calling gray treefrog, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kd5c4p8-0M. (Thanks to Rachael Cohen for photo op.)

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Warbling Vireo Warbles on Nest

6-4-14 warbling vireo on nest 226 As a rule, male birds do not sing near their nest. When they approach their nest, whether to take their turn incubating eggs, brooding nestlings or delivering food, they are apt to be silent, or sing much more softly than usual, so as to avoid bringing attention to the nest. There are exceptions to this rule, however – male Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Hermit Thrushes, Black-billed Cuckoos, Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles and American Goldfinches have been heard singing not just near their nest, but while sitting on it! Warbling Vireos are by far the most persistent nest singers. When the male Warbling Vireo is incubating, he sings at all times of the day, as many as 20 bursts of song during one spell on the nest. Listening for the Warbling Vireo’s song and locating the songster can often lead you to its nest. One wonders what function the song has that makes it worth drawing this kind of attention to the nest.

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Only the Mass of the Raindrop Determines Distance Miterwort Seed Travels

email-miterwort pollinator 197 In the interest of accuracy, I am going to risk boring readers with a clarification of what determines the distance that a Miterwort seed travels. Jim Block, an outstanding nature photographer, obviously has a greater grasp of physics than yours truly. I attributed the distance traveled to the size of the raindrop and the distance it had traveled, but as Jim so clearly explains, only the the size of the raindrop effects the distance the seed travels.
Here is his explanation: The distance the seed travels is likely dependent on the mass and the velocity of the drop when it hits the seed. But the velocity of the rain drop is only dependent on its mass, not the distance it falls. That is because after it falls a relatively short distance it no longer gains speed since the air drag balances gravity and the drop moves at a constant “terminal velocity”. So in effect the distance the seed travels is dependent only on the mass of the drop. All drops of the same size arrive at the same velocity.


Different Colored Ducklings

mallard & ducklings-quacking 552The difference in the coloration of the Mallard ducklings is not gender related. The darker ones have the typical coloration of Mallard ducklings. Mallards are the ancestors of most, if not all, domestic ducks, and they do interbreed with them, so a wide range of coloration can show up in their offspring at any time.


Porcupette Clarification

porcupine3 IMG_3065Naturally Curious blog reader Catherine Fisher provides a more complete and more accurate description of the relationship between a porcupine and its offspring.

Uldis Roze, who has spent a lifetime studying porcupines, describes a lactation period of, on average, 127 days – or slightly more than four months. While it is true that, from birth on, mom leaves her youngster alone during the day while she rests nearby, she nurses the the porcupette at night and, as for its first six weeks her youngster is too weak to travel far and is unable to climb, she never travels far . Once the porcupette is strong enough to travel and climb, it spends three months following mom and learning where food trees are located. After three months, mother porcupines and porcupettes begin to spend occasional evenings apart, and by December, separation is complete, leaving the young porcupines to, as Roze describes it, “set out energetically to survive the biggest test of their lives: their first winter alone.”


Spring Azure

spring azure IMG_8425I inadvertently stated that Celastrina lado was the scientific name for Hobblebush. It is not! Hobblebush is a Viburnum, Viburnum lantanoides and Celastrina lado is the scientific name for the Spring Azure, one of Hobblebush’s pollinators. Thank you, readers, for catching this!


Muskrats Mating

4-29-14 mating muskrats2  099 Muskrats breed year round in southern U.S., but in New England ice-out usually determines when they first breed. These largely monogamous rodents take to the water to copulate after a mad chase that often lasts several minutes. Successive breedings take place all summer. By the time one litter is weaned and independent (about four weeks), the mother is about to give birth again. Several litters of five or six young are produced each year, with the mother caring for her young up until they are weaned, and the father then taking over.

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Today’s Promethea Cocoon Post

I mistakenly wrote Cecropia instead of Promethea in the last line describing the host plants that Promethea caterpillars eat and make their cocoons on. My apologies for the confusion!

4-22-14  promethea cocoon 478When a Promethea Moth caterpillar, one of our giant silk moths, is ready to pupate at the end of the summer, it strengthens the stem, or petiole, of a leaf on its host plant with silk and then attaches the silk to a nearby branch, assuring that the leaf will remain attached to the tree. (Imagine having the instinctive foresight in your youth that this caterpillar had!) The caterpillar then curls the leaf around itself and spins its cocoon inside the curled leaf. The cocoon dangles from the host plant throughout the winter and in early summer the moth emerges. Now is the perfect time for finding a Promethea Moth cocoon, as last year’s leaves are gone on most trees, and this year’s buds have yet to open. Look for a tree or shrub that has just one dead leaf hanging from one of its branches. (Promethea caterpillars favor black cherry, poplar, ash, maple, oak and willow leaves, among others.)


Promethea Moth Cocoon

4-22-14  promethea cocoon 478When a Promethea Moth caterpillar, one of our giant silk moths, is ready to pupate at the end of the summer, it strengthens the stem, or petiole, of a leaf on its host plant with silk and then attaches the silk to a nearby branch, assuring that the leaf will remain attached to the tree. (Imagine having the instinctive foresight in your youth that this caterpillar had!) The caterpillar then curls the leaf around itself and spins its cocoon inside the curled leaf. The cocoon dangles from the host plant throughout the winter and in early summer the moth emerges. Now is the perfect time for finding a Promethea Moth cocoon, as last year’s leaves are gone on most trees, and this year’s buds have yet to open. Look for a tree or shrub that has just one dead leaf hanging from one of its branches. (Cecropia caterpillars favor black cherry, poplar, ash, maple, oak and willows trees among others.)

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Belted Kingfisher Snags, Stuns & Swallows Prey

4-23-14 b. kingfisher & crayfish 147Watching the hunting antics of a Belted Kingfisher can be highly entertaining. They often swoop down from a branch to grab prey which is near the surface of the water and they are also one of few birds capable of hovering– beating their wings while staying stationary long enough to focus on prey in the water. Once they’ve grabbed their prey, which is mostly fish, but also crustaceans, frogs, snakes, young birds and small mammals, in their pincer-like bill, the fun really begins. The kingfisher flies to a nearby perch with its prey in its bill and then proceeds to pound the prey against the perch with repeated sideways movements of its head. The kingfisher does this in order to stun the fish (or other prey) so that it can eventually turn it and swallow the fish head first. The kingfisher in this photograph was giving the crayfish it just captured a real beating before devouring it (head first).

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Snowy Owls Headed North

4-21-14 flying snowy 046The record number of Snowy Owls that spent the winter in New England are turning up in all sorts of new locations now that they are on their way back to their breeding grounds on the open tundra and stopping to refuel along the way. Although many were young birds, and won’t breed this year, the adult owls will when they reach the Arctic in a few weeks. First, the males perform aerial and ground displays. After mating, the female selects a nest site. In addition to having a sufficient food supply, the site must be snow-free, not subject to flooding, and command a view of its surroundings. The latter is achieved by making their nest on a hummock, or slightly raised surface of bare ground. The female scrapes a shallow depression in the earth with her claws, twirling around to make a form-fitted hollow. No insulating material is added to this depression – no vegetation, no feather lining. Eggs and nestlings are totally dependent upon the mother’s warmth, transmitted via the large, featherless, pink patch of skin on her belly known as an “incubation patch.” The female alone incubates the eggs and broods the young chicks while the male provides food for his entire family.

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Determined Spotted Salamanders

4-17-14  spotted salamander in snow117It’s rare to get a glimpse of a Spotted Salamander – these secretive amphibians spend most of their lives hidden under rocks or logs or in the burrows of other forest animals, emerging only at night to feed and during spring mating. In central Vermont, the annual mass migration of Spotted Salamanders to their ancestral breeding pools began two nights ago, when the rain-soaked earth and rising temperatures signaled that it was time to emerge from hibernation. Unfortunately for the salamanders (and frogs) that answered the calling, temperatures dropped relatively early in the evening, and the rain turned to snow. Undaunted, these stout salamanders continued their trek through the woods, plowing their way through new-fallen snow, all in the name of procreation.

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Link to Brown Creeper’s Song

My apologies if the previous link didn’t work. This one should! http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/brown_creeper/id 4-11-14 brown creeper2  025


Spring Runoff

4-4-14 spring runoff 004With snow rapidly melting, spring runoff is very apparent everywhere you look. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey studied the timing and volume of river flows for 27 rivers in New England several years ago. Although this year may be the exception, they found that in the last 30 years the peak flow date has advanced by one to two weeks. Snowmelt runoff has the most effect on spring rivers flows, and these peak flow dates correlate with the change in last-frost dates, lilac bloom dates, lake ice-out dates and spring air temperatures, indicating that these New England spring geophysical and biological changes all were caused by a common mechanism — temperature increases.

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Cedar Waxwings Turn to Highbush Cranberry As a Last Resort

3-28-14 cedar waxwing 159The primary food of Cedar Waxwings is fleshy fruits that have a high sugar content. Because these birds rely on ripening fruit to feed their nestlings, they are among the latest birds to nest in the Northeast. During the winter they tend to be nomadic, wandering from one sugary fruit supply to another. In the past, juniper berries have dominated their winter diet, but waxwings are increasingly turning to ornamentals such as non-native honeysuckle. (Occasionally waxwings with orange, not yellow, terminal tail bands are seen; this change in color has been attributed to their change in diet.) The fruit of Highbush Cranberry, being consumed in this photograph, is quite acidic and has a low sugar content. It is eaten by most songbirds, including Cedar Waxwings, only towards the end of winter, when sweeter fruit is in short supply.

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Cavities Provide Shelter for Birds in Winter

3-27-14  pileated hole with bird droppings 045Birds often seek protected places to roost or sleep at night, especially in the winter. Dense vegetation found in thickets or the interior branches of evergreens serve as a windbreak and conceal the birds from predators. A few species of songbirds – the ones that nest in tree cavities or bird houses – will also roost in cavities in the winter. Research has shown that these shelters, through reduction of wind speed, can increase the temperature by 40°F. Energy savings in one study ranged from 25% – 38% for birds roosting in cavities and resulted in an increased fasting endurance of six to seven hours in winter. Sometimes more than a dozen birds will pile into a single box or cavity to conserve heat. This may well have been the case in this pileated woodpecker cavity, given the amount of bird droppings found in it, or perhaps one lone chickadee took up residence night after night. (Judging from the droppings usually found in such cavities, mice use them for shelter even more than birds.)

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Many Beavers Still Locked Under Ice

3-20-14 beaver on ice IMG_3980Although there have been sightings of beavers this spring, precious few beaver ponds have openings or ice thin enough for beavers to break through in order to procure fresh food. This photograph was taken one year ago, and one can only hope, for the beavers’ sake as well as our own, that temperatures rise soon. The winter supply of food beavers store under the ice in the fall may well be as low as many people’s wood piles are this spring, in which case, many beavers’ lives depend on the ice thinning soon.

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Opossums Scrounging

3-19-14 opossum2  021Within the last century the Virginia Opossum has extended its range northeastward and now occurs sporadically throughout most of New England. Its adaptability to a great variety of habitats and its omnivorous diet (is there anything an opossum won’t eat?) have enabled this marsupial to live in much colder climates than it initially inhabited. As long as food can be found,the opossum’s greatest challenge is dealing with New England’s cold winters. Lacking much hair, the ears and tail of an opossum often suffer from frostbite, turning black at the edges (ears) and tip (tail). Look for signs of this nocturnal scavenger under bird feeders – in the winter it can even be seen foraging in the daylight, as the opossum in this photograph was earlier this week. (Thanks to Dotty Cummings for photo op.)

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Usnea Photo Mis-identified

email-possible Usnea 036Thanks to the readers of my blog, more knowledgeable than I, who made me aware that the photograph of the lichen in today’s post is of a lichen in the genus Ramalina. While Usnea does bear a resemblance to Ramalina, Usnea’s rounded branches are more thread-like than the flattened branches of Ramalina. Thanks to Tom Stearns, Peggy Willey and Jean Bergstrom for their sharp eyes. (Photo: Usnea (circled in red) is surrounded by Ramalina.


Usnea – Old Man’s Beard

3-18-14 lichen 014This lichen, and other members of the Usnea genus, can often be found growing on the branches of less than healthy trees in the Northeast. The algal component of these algae/fungi phenomena takes advantage of the lack of leaves on dying trees by using the available sunlight to photosynthesize. Usnea, also known as Old Man’s Beard, grows in little hair-like tufts and has a diagnostic pale yellow, elastic central cord. In addition to being an indicator of air pollution (its size is greatly decreased if there is pollution), Usnea has been used by herbalists as an immune system tonic for hundreds of years.

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