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WELCOME TO A PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS, WOODS, AND MARSHES OF NEW ENGLAND

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my award-winning book NATURALLY CURIOUS

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Red and White Baneberry Fruits Maturing

8-16-18 red and white baneberry-1While the flowers of Red (Actaea rubra) and White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are quite similar (the flower head of Red Baneberry is more globular than the elongated head of White Baneberry), their respective fruits, the color of which gave them their common names, quickly distinguish these two species from each other.

White Baneberry produces white fruits commonly called “Doll’s eyes” due to the persistent remains of the flower’s stigma, which leaves a black dot on each fruit.  Red Baneberry’s shiny red berries also have these black dots, though they are not as apparent. All parts of both species are poisonous, with the berries being the most toxic part of the plant.

Seed dispersal is carried out by animals that have enough tolerance to feed on the berries. These animals include various mice, squirrels, chipmunks and voles, as well as a wide variety of birds and White-tailed Deer.

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Young Common Gartersnakes Appearing

8-3-18 garter snake 081Seventy percent of the world’s snakes lay eggs (oviparous). The rest give birth to live young (viviparous). Oviparous snakes tend to live in warmer climates, where the substrate they lay their eggs in is warm enough to incubate the eggs.  (Most egg-laying snakes deposit their eggs and then depart, relying on the substrate to incubate the eggs.)  Viviparous snakes tend to live in cooler regions, where the ground is too cold to provide incubation.

There is a distinction between egg-laying snakes.  The majority of snakes that lay eggs do so outside their body, in a protected area such as a rotting log.  These snakes are known as oviparous. There are also egg-laying snakes that retain their eggs inside their bodies until they’re ready to hatch. These snakes are called ovoviviparous. Ovoviviparous snakes, such as the Common Gartersnake, appear to give birth to live young, but they actually don’t. Unlike viviparous species, there is no placental connection, or transfer of fluids, between mothers and babies, because the developing young snakes feed on the substances contained in their individual eggs. The snakes emerge from the mother when they hatch from their eggs, giving them the appearance of “live” births. The gestation period for oviparous snakes is generally longer than those of ovoviviparous snakes and vary from a few weeks to a few months in length. (Photo: very young Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, consuming an earthworm)

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Young Wolf Spiders Dispersing

8-10-18 wolf spider 076Earlier in the summer, you may have glimpsed a spider carrying its white egg sac around with it, clasping it with the spinnerets at the end of its abdomen.  When the spiderlings hatch they crawl up their mother’s legs onto her abdomen, latch onto special knob-shaped hairs, and ride around with her for several weeks (see inset).  Only wolf spiders carry their egg sacs and offspring in this manner.

After molting, which occurs mid-summer, the young spiders disperse.  Eventually the mother is free to hunt for prey without the encumbrance of hitch-hiking offspring.  If you look closely at the pictured wolf spider, you may be able to make out the last lingering spiderling located at the junction of the wolf spider’s cephalothorax and abdomen.

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Hard-boiled Eggs & Lollipops: American Caesar’s Mushrooms Forming Fruiting Bodies

8-8-18 American Caesar's mushroom_U1A5159

This is not the first Naturally Curious post on American Caesar’s Mushrooms, nor will it probably be the last.  Every August the forest floor is bursting with the beautiful fruiting bodies of these fungi, and I find the urge to photograph them as well as the desire to celebrate their beauty with you irresistible. Pardon the repetition.

American Caesar’s Mushroom (Amanita jacksonii), a member of the Amanita genus found in New England, differs from most Amanita species in at least two ways. It is one of the few edible Amanitas (most species are poisonous, so consumption is discouraged unless an expert identifies the fungus). Secondly, unlike many other Amanita species, American Caesar’s Mushroom does not usually have any warts or patches on its cap.

The common name of this mushroom traces back to the fact that its close relative, Caesar’s Mushroom, Amanita caesarea, which grows in Italy, was a favorite of the emperors of the Roman Empire, the Caesars. Both of these species of Amanita are mycorrhizal, forming a symbiotic beneficial relationship with the roots of certain trees. Look for American Caesar’s Mushrooms under pine and oak. (Main photo: American Caesar’s Mushroom rupturing through its protective white membrane, or universal veil, as it matures, leaving a remnant white cup, or volva, at its base.)

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American Kestrel Chicks Fledging

 

8-8-18 A. kestrel_U1A3940

The American Kestrel is the smallest, most numerous, and most widespread North American falcon. Roughly two months ago these birds (formerly known as Sparrow Hawks) were mating and laying eggs in nesting cavities (natural tree cavities, woodpecker holes, nest boxes), most of which are located near open fields with low growth (to facilitate finding insects to eat).  The female kestrel does most of the incubating of her four to five eggs (one month), and all of the brooding (one month).  The male rises to the occasion and feeds the newly-hatched chicks for the first 7-10 days, and then the pair shares the feeding.

After 26 – 28 days in the nest, American Kestrel chicks are ready to fledge.  Their first flight, consisting of alternate fluttering and gliding, can be quite short or as long as 200 yards, and typically ends with an awkward landing.  After the chicks have fledged, the parents continue to feed them for up to 12 days. During this period young American Kestrels have been observed returning to their nest cavity to roost.

(Photo:  Male American Kestrel nestling, roughly 22 days old. Note feathered “eye” spots on back of head (serve to ward off predators) are already showing. Thanks to Joan Waltermire, John Douglas, David Merker, and Sebastion and Carter Lousada for photo op.)

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Robber Flies Active

8-3-18 robber fly with butterfly2_U1A3399

You may well have seen a robber fly (also known as an assassin fly) and not recognized it as such.  Big eyes, pointed mouthparts, a hairy face and a fondness for insects are robber fly characteristics to look for.

Robber flies are among our largest flies and are predatorial ambushers.  They tend to perch for minutes at a time on the tips of leaves, or other sunny viewpoints, where they keep a lookout for unsuspecting prey.  Once they spot an insect they lose no time in darting after it.  With their beak-like mouthparts they spear the insect and inject a mixture of nerve poisons and enzymes that liquefy the tissues of their victim.  They then drink the innards of their prey.

Note that there is a prominent “beard” or tuft of bristles (mystax) in the front of the pictured robber fly’s face.  All robber flies have this tuft which serves to protect the face and eyes of the predator from the struggling prey as it dines.

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Shorebird Migration Well Underway

7-30-18 greater yellowlegs 286Contrary to what it’s called, the “fall” migration of shorebirds has been underway since early July, and is in full swing, peaking in August. Vermont is home to only a few breeding shorebirds (Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock).  Most of the shorebirds we see this time of year are those migrating south after nesting in the Arctic.

Shorebirds move south relatively early compared to many migratory birds, in part, because the breeding season in the Arctic is quite short. In addition, those birds whose first nesting attempt failed tend to migrate soon afterwards rather than attempt a second nesting, due, once again, to the brief Arctic summer. Also, in several species one member of a pair often leaves before the young are full grown, sometimes even before the eggs hatch, leaving the remaining adult to raise the young.

The young of most shorebirds migrate later than the adults.  There can be as much as a month between the peak passage of adults and that of juvenile birds. (Photo:  Greater Yellowlegs)

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