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Archive for March, 2010

Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Seersucker Sedge

It’s hard to think of a plant that has a more appropriate common name than  seersucker sedge.  One look at its long (up to 12”), puckered leaves will quickly tell you why this is so.  Seersucker sedge (Carex plantaginea) is found growing on the forest floor, and it is just starting to send forth its dark flower stalks. This sedge is often mistaken for a species of grass. However, close examination will reveal that its stem is solid and triangular in cross-section, whereas grass stems are usually hollow, except for where the leaves attach (nodes). You may be familiar with the following ditty:

Sedges have edges

Rushes are round

Grasses are hollow

from the top to the ground.

For the most part, this verse is accurate, but if you’re trying to tell whether a plant is a grass, sedge or rush, you might want to consult the chart on this (Australian) site: http://www.murrumbidgee.cma.nsw.gov.au/downloads/fact_sheets/Grasses_Rushes___Sedges.pdf


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WOOD  DUCKS  RETURN

It’s always a good day when you can set eyes on a pair of wood ducks! Look for them in wooded swamps and ponds, where they are one of only seven species of North American waterfowl that nests in tree cavities. Their slim bodies enable them to use old pileated woodpecker holes as nest sites, and their large eyes enable them to maneuver with great skill among tree branches while in flight.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

PILEATED WOODPECKER  SCAT

Where you find oblong pileated woodpecker feeding holes in a tree, you usually also find carpenter ants inhabiting the tree. The inner wood, where the carpenter ants reside, provides structural, not nutrient, support to the tree. (Therefore, it’s possible for a living tree survive and be completely hollow.) If you find a tree where a pileated woodpecker has been working for quite some time, and there is a considerable pile of chips at its base, you can almost always find pileated scat – which usually consists of carpenter ant carcasses, and the occasional seed or two. If your curiosity is such that you enjoy discovering what an animal has eaten by examining its scat, these pileated piles of wood chips can be a goldmine.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WINTER’S  TOLL

Most winters provide us with a white blanket of snow on which we can easily find signs of animals, including tracks, wing prints, scat, tunnels, etc. These signs are not so easy to detect once the snow melts; however, early spring is a good time to look for the remains of animals that died during the winter and were buried in the snow. Some of these have not had a chance yet to be recycled by rodents and scavengers. So far this spring has revealed to me the carcasses of white-tailed deer, a red fox, gray squirrel and the pictured raccoon. Always the collector, I find it can be a bonanza for the retrieval of skulls and bacula.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

FEMALE  AND  MALE  WOOD  FROG   SIZE  DISCREPANCY

At the risk of boring readers by featuring wood frogs two days in a row, I had to share a photograph I took this morning of an egg-laden female wood frog (on left in photograph) and a male wood frog (on right) – look at the difference in size! Yet unclasping his arms from under her chin as he lay on top of her, in order to photograph them separately, was a Herculean task. And yes, I felt guilty interrupting their amorous activity, but believe me, they resumed it as soon as they had the chance!


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WOOD  FROGS  ARE  BACK

It was fun to confirm with my own eyes today that wood frogs have, indeed, started to emerge from hibernation and are heading to vernal pools and other bodies of water to begin their breeding process. I have yet to hear (this year) the duck-like “quack” that the males serenade their potential mates with, but it won’t be long before we do.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

BIG  NIGHT !

Word has it that last night spotted salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers were out crossing roads on their way to their ancestral breeding pools!


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COMMON  LOONS  BACK !

Common loons typically return to this area around the first or second week of April, but one was sighted in Lyme, New Hampshire, just across the Connecticut River this week.  The timing of their spring migration is dependent on the speed with which lakes become free of ice, and this year we’re experiencing a very early spring, thus early-arriving loons.  When returning in the spring to their breeding ponds, if and when they encounter ice-covered lakes, they retrace their flight back to open water and congregate there until warmer weather permits them to continue their migration.  Older birds return first to their territorial lakes; most juveniles remain on their wintering grounds until they are at least three years old.


Rusty Tussock Moth Eggs

I was attempting to climb a fairly young sugar maple in order to reach an old nest at the very top, when I slipped and fell.  Little did I know that my failure to reach the nest was going to present me with the opportunity to discover a mass of overwintering insect eggs, right at eye level on the tree trunk when I landed on the ground.

Last fall in a tree cranny a female caterpillar female rusty tussock moth (Orgyia antiqua) wove a cocoon in which she overwintered.  After emerging as a wingless adult in the spring she mated with a male rusty tussock moth that had flown to her, and laid these eggs on her cocoon.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

GOLDENROD  BALL  GALL RAIDED  BY  DOWNY  WOODPECKER

This is a good time of year to find goldenrod ball galls – spherical swellings on the stems of dead goldenrod stalks. These growths have provided a home and food for the fly larva that has resided inside them all winter. In the spring, an adult female lays an egg on the goldenrod stem. When it hatchs, the larva bores into the stem, and the plant reacts by growing tissue around it. The larva chews a tunnel almost, but not quite, all the way to the outside of the gall (while it has chewing mouth parts), then crawls back to the center of the gall, where it is sheltered and can consume its home throughout the winter, until it pupates and emerges the following spring as an adult, via the tunnel it chewed. It bursts through the thin, outermost layer of tissue by repeatedly inflating and deflating its “forehead” against it..


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

SPECKLED ALDER IN FLOWER

This member of the Birch family is found in wet areas and can easily be identified by the horizontal lines, or lenticels, on its bark (through which gases are exchanged). Both male and female flowers occur on this shrub, in the form of catkins. As the spring progresses, long before leaves appear, the larger male catkins expand, revealing yellow pollen which is dispersed by the wind. Above the pendant male flowers are tiny,maroon female flowers. Most wind-pollinated trees and shrubs flower before the leaves are out so as to facilitate the dispersal of their pollen.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

FREE  AT  LAST!

Depending on your elevation, you can find ice-covered ponds as well as a few open ponds in central Vermont right now. I visited one which was half frozen-half thawed, and saw my first beaver of the year (and northern flicker) enjoying the open water. For some reason it was out swimming around during the day (probably due to the joy of being able to keep its head above water and see a blue sky!). There were several tail slaps (it’s been months since beavers could slap the surface of the water, so it probably was enjoying the experience), one of which I captured in the accompanying photo.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COLTSFOOT BLOSSOMING!

This dandelion look-a-like is in bloom now in central Vermont -- several weeks earlier than I usually find it! Look for coltsfoot along gravel roadsides and banks, where its brilliant blossoms do much to brighten the scenery at this time of year. Unlike most wildflowers, whose leaves develop before their flowers, the leaves of coltsfoot don’t appear until later in the spring. When they appear, you will know from their shape (unshod horse hoofprint) where they get their name.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

LAST YEAR’S BALTIMORE ORIOLE NEST

I saw several bedraggled nests on today’s outing. The one that was in the best shape was a Baltimore oriole’s nest. They are practically invisible in the summer, due to surrounding leaves, but because they are built so well, they often last through the winter, when it is easier to spot them. The female builds the nest, usually all by herself, in about a week’s time. Building material includes hair (especially horse hair), twine or string, wool, synthetic fibers, plants fibers (especially from milkweed stems) and grape vine bark. I have usually found pine needles lining the inside. Often they suspend their nest from the tips of the outermost branches of a tree, where squirrels and other predators have a difficult time reaching the eggs and nestlings.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

BIRDS MOLTING FEATHERS

Birds periodically replace their feathers, shedding old, worn ones and growing new ones. This process, called molting, takes place at least once a year for all adult birds, and twice, three and even four times for some. Often all of a bird’s feathers are replaced during a molt that takes place after breeding. Many species have partial molts (often affecting the feathers on their head and body, not the wings and tail) that occur in late winter or early spring. These replaced feathers are particularly noticeable when they land on one of the few remaining patches of snow.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

This time of year it is possible to see signs of mole activity in the form of raised piles of earth on the ground, otherwise known as mole hills. Moles are insectivores, and devour an enormous amount of insects, spiders and earthworms. In order to find the necessary supply of food, they do a tremendous amount of digging – and do so at a rate of up to 18 feet a minute. Many of their tunnels are just under the surface of the ground (used for foraging) and are temporary, while others (used primarily in long periods of dry weather and during the winter) are considerably deeper (10+ inches) and are somewhat permanent highways. The soil that is excavated during the digging of the deeper tunnels is pushed up through vertical shafts and deposited on top of the ground in mounds of loose soil, very visible once the snow has melted.

MOLE  HILLS


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

OPPORTUNISTIC HAIRY WOODPECKER

I was out attempting to snowshoe/hike this week when I heard the distinct tapping of a woodpecker. The sound was very substantial, so I had my hopes up for a pileated, but it turned out to be a hairy woodpecker, taking advantage of a golden opportunity. The wind had knocked off a major sugar maple branch, affording the woodpecker access to the inside of the tree without having to expend much energy. After extracting his fill of insects, and perhaps having a little of the sweet sap that was flowing for dessert, he flew off.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons

SPRING HAS SPRUNG

Today at a local pond,  a robin was looking and listening intently for worms, several pairs of hooded mergansers were in full display, two painted turtles were swimming and basking in the sun, and a willow was bursting with pussy willows against a very blue sky.  Can wood frogs and peepers be far behind?


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

EASTERN CHIPMUNKS OUT AND ABOUT

I was delighted to see two eastern chipmunks scampering around collecting sunflower seeds on the ground beneath my feeders yesterday. These striped rodents recently came out of the torpid state in which they spent the winter. Having little fat reserve, chipmunks store food in their burrows in the fall, waking frequently throughout the winter to dine on the seeds and nuts in their larder. They are breeding now and will again in late June, giving birth to four or five young in April and often again in July.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COMMON GRACKLES BACK

Common grackles are back right on time! Males arrive back about a week before females, and with their yellow eyes, iridescent bronze or purple feathers and long tail, are very noticeable. If you haven’t seen one, try listening for its sharp, harsh call, or song, often described as sounding like a rusty gate opening or closing (although I think the call of rusty blackbirds sounds even more like a rusty gate). This member of the blackbird family is often disliked for its habit of eating other birds’ eggs and nestlings, as well as its reputation as an agricultural pest. However, it is a major consumer of Japanese beetles, so it does have at least one redeeming quality. Go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_grackle/id for more information and to hear what common grackles sound like.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

YELLOW BIRCH CATKINS

The flowers, and thus the seeds, of yellow birch are arranged in a pendant cluster about an inch long which is referred to as a catkin.  Male and female flowers are on separate catkins. When pollinated, the female flowers develop seeds, each of which is located on a scale in the catkin.  Over the winter the catkins disintegrate, dispersing both seeds and scales. If you see what look like little fleurs-de-lis lying on the snow, these are the scales. You can identify the species of birch from the shape of its scales. The tiny, round fruits of birches are called nutlets, and these, too, are scattered over the surface of the snow.  In the photograph on the right, a yellow birch scale is on the left, and a seed, or nutlet, is on the right.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ARE BACK! 

The old familiar “conk-la-ree” of the male red-winged blackbird was heard in several spots in town this morning. Back to claim their individual territories a couple of weeks before the females arrive, the male blackbirds cling to the cattails and shrubs of wetlands and brushy fields, raise their red epaulets and burst forth in song, an announcement of spring’s arrival, if there ever was one. It must be said that along with its territorial function, the blackbird’s song also serves to attract a mate. It is so successful in this capacity that (according to Birds of North America Online) 15 female red-winged blackbirds have been found nesting on one lone male’s territory (although it must be said that not all the nestlings were sired by the male whose territory they occupied).


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some photographs I’ve recently taken as well as some of my favorites from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WILD TURKEYS

It’s been a relatively good winter for turkeys in central Vermont. These birds run better and more often than they fly, and thus are constantly on the move on the ground, foraging largely for insects in the summer, and acorns (221 were found in the crop of one turkey), beechnuts, grass seeds, grapes, apples and other fruits in the winter. For much of the winter they haven’t had to contend with very deep snow, either to walk in or to dig through, and thus have had easier access to nuts and seeds than they usually do.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COYOTE SCAT

Scat (animal droppings) is one of the signs that can tell you not only what animal has been around, but what they recently dined on. Finding it is not much of a trick in winter, as it is so obvious against the white snow, and is often deposited on a structure that sticks up, such as a stump along a trail or at the junction of two trails. Yesterday and today I was tracking coyotes, and came upon scat which certainly demonstrated how opportunistic a predator coyotes are. One scat (found in the middle of a snowmobile trail) was filled with what I believe are the hairs of a snowshoe hare, which is not surprising, seeing as their population is booming around here, and they are a main prey of coyotes. The other scat was as dark as the snowshoe hair scat was light – close examination leads me to believe it has to be the hair of a striped skunk – a vast majority of the hairs are pitch black, with an occasional white one thrown in. I have read that coyotes will occasionally prey on skunks, and skunks are definitely out and about now – but I ‘ll bet it isn’t the meal of choice.