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Archive for April, 2010

Mystery Quiz #3 – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

MYSTERY QUIZ #3

It’s not often that you see the tracks of this particular mammal in the snow, but occasionally, when it snows in the early fall and spring, you can find them near ponds. Hint: their hind feet are a lot bigger than their front feet. (Tracks will be identified in tomorrow's blog.)


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

JELLY FUNGUS

There is a group of fungi referred to as jelly fungi, due to the fact that when it rains (or, in this case, rains and snows), their dry, shriveled fruiting body softens and becomes rubbery and gelatinous, appearing much like jelly. They don’t have a regular shape, and come in several colors. The orange and yellow forms are sometimes referred to as “witch’s butter.” Look for jelly fungi on rotting logs and stumps.


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

Many of the images and much of the information in this blog can be found in my book, Naturally Curious, which is being published this fall.

LAND SNAILS

Land snails are gastropods, whose members also include aquatic snails (including marine snails) and slugs. The name gastropod means stomach-foot, which is well-deserved, as members of this group all get about by gliding on a muscular structure on the bottom of the abdomen, called the foot. A close look at a snail reveals two sets of projections, or tentacles, on the front of its head. The two longer ones on top reach up, whereas the two shorter ones beneath them tend to reach down. The top, longer tentacles have light-sensitive organs at their tips, making them the snail's version of eyes, although they only perceive light, not images. The shorter tentacles below them feel, taste and smell the environment in search of food and water and possible predators.


Marsh Marigold/Cowslip – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Marsh Marigold/Cowslips (Caltha palustris)
Although this plant is not a true marigold, part of its common name is accurate — you find it in marshes and other wet areas. As a member of the Buttercup family, its gold sepals look wet and shiny, like the petals of many buttercups. They reflect ultraviolet light from all parts of the flower except for the very center, providing a nectar guide for pollinating insects. Thoreau observed that Marsh Marigold has little scent, but “speaks wholly to the eye.” It also speaks to the palette of some, who, after several boilings, consume the young, iron-rich leaves, said to surpass the taste of spinach. Raw, the leaves of Marsh Marigold are toxic.


Wild Oats Visitors -Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

SPRING POLLINATORS OF WILD OATS/SESSILE-LEAVED BELLWORT (Uvularia sessilifolia)

This diminuitive member of the lily family appeared irresistable to a wide variety of insects as I recently sat on the forest floor observing a patch of wild oats. Perhaps flies, bees and other insects can smell something I can’t.


Snapping Turtles Mating –

 SNAPPING TURTLES MATING

Our largest turtle, the snapping turtle, is breeding in the shallows of ponds right now. I came upon two mating snappers in a nearby pond, and just as I was going to photograph the consumation of this reptilian activity, my labrador couldn’t resist the thrashing going on in the water, and leapt in to join them. The female submerged and the male exhibited a startled look indicating that this interruption was perhaps not appreciated. In a month or two, female snapping turtles will be climbing out of the water and onto land, seeking sandy soil in which to lay the eggs that result from this month’s mating.


Emerging Red Tree Leaves – 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.

YOUNG TREE LEAVES OFTEN RED

Have you ever noticed that young leaves emerging from tree buds in the spring are often colored a shade of red, and that this redness disappears as the leaves mature? While there is not a complete understanding of this phenomenon, studies have shown that these young leaves have less damage from herbivores (plant eaters). It is possible that the pigment anthocyanin, which produces the red color, makes red leaves less discernible to some insect herbivores, or makes insect herbivores more discernible to predators.


BIRD NESTS RECYCLED -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.

BIRD NESTS RECYCLED

Most songbird nests, like this red-eyed vireo nest, after being battered all winter by wind, rain and snow, begin to disintegrate, and their remnants often end up on the forest floor. The material that remains in these nests is often recycled and used again in the construction of this year’s nests (not necessarily by the same bird or even species of bird). Bark, fibers, hair, rootlets, lichen and pine needles often withstand the elements and are an easily accessible source of building material for the current year’s weavers of these amazing egg-and-nestling-filled incubators.


Field Horsetail – 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.

FIELD HORSETAIL – fertile stem

Most people know this plant as field horsetail, or Equisetum. In Latin, “equis” means horse and “seta,” a bristle, referring to the resemblance of its green, vegetative stem to a horse's tail. Horsetails are considered one of the oldest members of the fern family. Like ferns, they reproduce via spores, not seeds. This particular species, Equisetum arvense, is unusual in that its fertile and sterile (vegetative) stems are separate.The fertile stems appear now, bearing cones of spores at their tips (a light tap can often produce a cloud of spores), and will soon disappear. The green, branched, vegetative stems of horsetail will appear shortly, and remain throughout the summer. Muskrats dig down and eat the tubers of Equisetum, and black bears eat the young stems in spring and early summer.


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

Young ferns are often referred to as fiddleheads, due to the similarity of their shape to the curled scroll on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a fiddle.  The furled young fern is often referred to as a crosier by botanists, who liken its shape to that of the curved top of the staff, or crosier, that bishops often use.  It is possible to identify ferns even before they have unfurled their fronds, as the shapes, sizes, colors and textures of different fern species vary.


Common Mergansers – 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 MERGANSERS

This large, fish-eating duck has returned to central Vermont and can be seen on rivers and ponds with some regularity. The bold, white breast of the male distinguishes it from its relatives, the Hooded Merganser and the Red-breasted Merganser. As is typical in the bird world, the male's plumage is much flashier than the female's. A distinctive characteristic of mergansers is their long bill, which has tooth-like ridges along its edges to help them to hold on to their slippery prey. Common mergansers have begun nesting, and the females are currently sitting on eggs inside tree cavities.


Coyote Remains – 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.

BIRTH AND DEATH OF COYOTES

Recently I came across this skull of a coyote. Two or three months ago I snowshoed in the location where I found the skull, and there was obvious evidence (tracks, trail, scat) in the snow of serious coyote activity. I would be willing to bet that there’s a den nearby, where a litter of five to nine pups may have recently come into the world, or are about to.


Spring Ephemerals – 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 EPHEMERALS

Spring ephemerals refer to the wildflowers that bloom early in the spring, produce seeds and then die back to their underground parts for the rest of the year.  This strategy allows them to take advantage of the sunlight that reaches the forest floor before a majority of the deciduous trees leaf out.  Pictured are some of ephemerals in bloom right now (a bit earlier this year than most).

Left column, from top to bottom:

Wild Ginger(Asarum canadense), Trailing Arbutus/Mayflower (Epigaea repens),  Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Red Trillium/Stinking Benjamin/Wake Robin (Trillium erectum).

Right column, from top to bottom:

Trout Lily/Adder’s Tongue/Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium americanum), Sessile-leaved Bellwort/wild oats (Uvularia sessilifolia), Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla).


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.

BEAVERS OUT FROM UNDER THE ICE

Many nesting ducks. basking turtles and courting frogs have the beaver to thank for creating the habitat in which they dwell. Finally, New England’s largest rodent is free to enjoy the sunshine, no longer confined to a damp, dark lodge night and day. Signs of fresh cuttings and newly repaired dams are evident as beavers once again patrol the open waters.


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.

HOVER FLY POLLINATING WILLOW

Most of our early flowering trees share several characteristics: they are wind pollinated, most flower before their leaves are out (leaves would interfere with dispersal of pollen), many of their flowers are small, lack petals and have no scent (no need to attract insects) and the male flowers produce large volumes of pollen (pollination by wind is more of a game of chance than insect dispersal, thus more pollen grains means there is a greater chance of a pollen grain landing in the right spot) . 

Willows, early-flowering shrubs, are an exception to this rule, in that structurally they appear to be designed for wind pollination, but they also attract many insects, such as this hover fly.


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.

AMOROUS TOM TURKEYS STRUT THEIR STUFF

During the breeding season, it is particularly easy to distinguish the male (tom) turkey from the female (hen), for during this period the male’s forehead is white, his face bright blue, and his neck is scarlet, whereas the female’s smaller head in partially feathered and lacks these dramatic colors. For the past month or more the males have been attempting to impress females by gobbling as well as “strutting” -- fanning their tails, lowering their wings while dragging some of the primary feathers on the ground, raising their back feathers, throwing their heads back and gliding along the ground when a female appears. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to witness this behavior twice, in two different locations, but at a distance in the woods, where a clear photograph was next to impossible.


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.

BLUE COHOSH (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

This April-blooming, deciduous woods wildflower is easily overlooked, as its flowers are quite small compared to its large, blue-green, tulip-shaped leaflets. Called “squaw-root” by Native Americans, it is known to have been used as a medicinal herb to induce labor as well as ease childbirth. Later in the summer look for its blue berry-like fruit, growing one to three feet above the forest floor.


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 RED-BACKED SALAMANDER

Eastern red-backed salamanders are one of our more slender salamanders, and usually have a reddish-brown stripe down their back and a whitish salt-and-pepper belly. Some redbacks at lower elevations lack the brick red stripe and appear all gray. These salamanders are terrestrial year round, and are not seen that often, due to their habit of staying under cover. Look for them and their eggs under stones or rotting logs (which should be carefully replaced after lifting). They recently emerged from hibernation (but not from under leaf litter, etc.).


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.

FIRST SPRING AZURE OF THE YEAR

Spring Azures (Celastrina ladon) are one of nature’s most beautiful ways of announcing the arrival of spring. Their wings are pale blue on their underside, but a much brighter sky blue above, as their name implies. Unfortunately, this individual didn’t open its wings while in my presence (until it flew away), but there is a hint of azure at the tip of this butterfly’s abdomen. Classification is a work in progress, as there are many forms (and perhaps species) of Spring Azures.


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.

BLOODROOT BLOOMING

Bloodroot is a true ephemeral, gracing us with its blossoms for a mere two or three weeks in early spring. As a member of the Poppy family, bloodroot has a colorful, staining juice which Native Americans used as a dye for baskets and clothing, as well as an insect repellent and facial paint. The alkaloid it contains, sanguinarine, has been used commercially as an anti-plaque agent for toothpastes and mouthwashes! I have fond memories of decorating my daughter Sadie’s young cheeks with bloodroot juice many moons ago.


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.

LODGED  PORCUPINE  QUILLS

A porcupine’s coat consists of five kinds of hairs:  woolly underfur (insulation), coarse guard hairs (sensory, insulation, rain-shedding), whiskers (sensory), stiff bristles on the under side of its tail (climbing support) and up to 30,000 quills (stiff, modified guard hairs used for defense).  Microscopic, backward-projecting barbs cover the free ends of each quill, allowing the quills to work their way into the body of any predator that comes in contact with a porcupine.

 While a few quills may fall out when a porcupine shakes or slaps its tail, for the most part you have to come in contact with a porcupine in order to get quills in you —  they cannot “shoot” them at a predator.  I have inspected many trees that porcupines have climbed repeatedly, either to eat foliage or to seek shelter in a den, but I’ve never found more than nail scratches on the bark.  This week, for the first time ever, I found quills literally sticking out of the bark of a tree, between the ground and a cavity where a porcupine has a den.  Although there are quills on the belly of a porcupine which would necessarily come in contact with the trunk of the tree it was climbing, there are many fewer than on other parts of its body, and they are usually not erected , as this would interfere with its progress; accordingly, they rarely become lodged in the bark. In addition, the quills on a porcupien’s underside  are not as large as those pictured.  It makes me wonder how and why these quills came to be where I found them.

 

 


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 BEAUTY

It’s hard to say which spring wildflower is the most striking, but certainly spring beauty’s matching pink stamens and stripes puts it right up at the top of the list! This diminuitive early flower, appearing after hepatica blooms and often at the same time as bloodroot, is found on moist florest floors. If the weather is sunny, blossoms will be open; at night and on cloudy days they close.


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.

A CONGRESS OF AMPHIBIANS

On the first warm (mid-40’s and up), rainy nights of spring, certain amphibians emerge from beneath the ground where they have been hibernating all winter and head for their ancestral breeding pools.   Amphibians breathe through their moist skin, and thus rain and darkness during these migrations above ground are imperative. Last night was such a night – in two hours’ time at one location along a fairly busy road,  I assisted over 50 spotted salamanders, easily twice than number of wood frogs and many peepers as they attempted to cross the road. Unfortunately, many had perished prior to when I happened upon this “hot spot.”  Next year I’ll be there before darkness falls!

(From left to right:  wood frog – spring peeper – spotted salamander)


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.

WHOSE SCAT IS THIS?

Today while investigating an abandoned porcupine den in a hollow tree I discovered that someone else seems to have moved in. This particular mammal often has a latrine (multiple scat in one location) near its den. The scat is roughly ¼-inch in diameter, and like the scat of all members of its family, is rope-like, with pointed ends and quite dark when fresh. Hint: The tree is not far from a small stream.