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Archive for May, 2010

Green Frogs Calling – 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.

GREEN FROGS CALLING

If you hear what sounds like banjo strings being plucked when you’re near a pond or stream, you can be pretty sure that you are listening to male green frogs serenading potential mates nearby. In addition to being the vocal member of a pair, the male green frog also has a yellow throat, as opposed to the female’s whitish one. The male’s eardrum, or tympanum, is larger in diameter than his eye, whereas the female’s is approximately the same size or smaller than their eye. During the breeding season, the thumbs of the male enlarge, as well, enabling him to firmly grasp the female while fertilizing her eggs as they are laid.


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

Cliff swallows are colonial nesters, building their mud nests close to one another, in clusters. While these colonies are not huge in the East, as many as 3,500 nests have been found in one location in western U.S. The gourd-shaped nests of cliff swallows are often located on buildings, cliffs and the undersides of bridges. Each lump of mud must be carried in the beaks of the birds from the puddle or bank of a stream or pond to the nesting site. A pair can bring as many as 44 mud pellets to the nest in a period of 30 minutes, according to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Birds of North America Online. It’s best to keep your distance should you find a nesting colony, if you don’t want to be greeted by noisy dive-bombers – the birds are easily disturbed, and not shy about letting you know that your presence is not appreciated.

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.

CLIFF SWALLOWS NESTING


Beaver – 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.

BEAVER’S SENSE OF SMELL

Particularly when a beaver is on land, it is very vulnerable, as it cannot move very quickly and predators such as bobcats, otters, black bears and coyotes can overtake it. The senses beavers depend on most to detect potential danger are smelling and hearing. Their sense of smell is considered to be their most developed sense; long before they see a potential threat, they smell it. For this reason, they often feed on the downwind side of a pond. It is not unusual to see a beaver with its head tilted up and its nose twitching as it takes short sniffs of the air.


Fishflies – 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.

FISHFLIES

There are many insects that spend at least one stage of their life under water. Some, including fishflyies, dobsonflies, dragonflies, damselfies, mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, spend their larval stage in the water and emerge as winged adults. The 2 1/2-inch adult fishfly pictured here, Nigronia fasciatus, is a female – males have feathery antennae much like moths. As a larva it lived in a stream or river and was an aggressive predator. Most adult fishflies have pale wings, but this species is known for its blackish wings with white markings.


Lesser Yellow Lady’s Slipper – 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.

LESSER YELLOW LADY’S SLIPPERS BLOOMING

Finding a lady’s slipper is like finding a rare jewel – you almost can’t believe the perfection of its color and design. Pink and yellow (greater and lesser) lady’s slippers are blooming right now – showy lady’s slippers bloom in just a few weeks. All species of these orchids have certain habitat requirements -- the soil must be fairly acidic and must contain a certain type of fungus (Rhizoctonia). The lady's slipper has a symbiotic relationship with the fungus -- one that benefits both the lady’s slipper and the fungus. The fungus absorbs nutrients from the lady’s slipper that the lady’s slipper has made through photosynthesis. The lady’s slipper’s seeds, which lack any food supply, obtain some from the fungus after the fungus breaks down the seed’s outer cells. Without these nutrients, the lady's slipper seeds would not germinate.


Yellow Warbler – 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.

YELLOW WARBLER

“Sweet-sweet-sweet-I’m-so-sweet” sings the male yellow warbler to his mate. These tiny splashes of yellow streaked with red (only males have the red streaks) are singing away while their mates are building compact 3-inch diameter nests and lining them with fluffy plant down. Unfortunately, the brown-headed cowbird often parasitizes yellow warbler nests, laying its own egg in the warbler nest, leaving the rearing of its young to the much smaller warbler. Unlike some host birds, the yellow warbler recognizes that the cowbird’s egg is not its own, and, rather than tossing it out, often chooses to build another nest on top of the one containing the cowbird egg (and sometimes yellow warbler eggs as well). As many as six stories have been found with cowbird eggs buried in each layer.


Dragonflies Emerging – 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.

DRAGONFLIES EMERGING

Throughout the summer, different species of aquatic dragonfly nymphs crawl up emergent plant stems or rocks, split their skin, emerge as adult, air-breathing dragonflies, pump up their wings, allow them to dry and strengthen and then take to the air to prey upon mosquitoes, flies and other insects. Their metamorphosis is nothing short of a miracle. (Yesterday's tracks were made by a raccoon (headed to top of photograph) and a beaver (headed to the right).


Mystery Quiz #4 – 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 #4

Track Detecting Hints: 1. Tracks were seen on the muddy banks of the Connecticut River. 2. There are two tracks of one mammal headed towards the top of the picture and one (hind foot) track of a different species of mammal headed to the right. 3. The difference in track sizes reflects the difference in the size of the animals that made them. 4. One is an herbivore, one an omnivore. ANSWER will be in tomorrow's blog.


Hairy Woodpeckers Fledgling – 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.

HAIRY WOODPECKERS FLEDGING

About three hours after this young hairy woodpecker was photographed peering out of its nest cavity, it took to the air for the first time in its life. For a month or so, it, along with several siblings, has been tended to by its parents, who take turns bringing food and providing necessary warmth to the nestlings. After fledging, the young woodpeckers are still dependent upon their parents for food for the next three or four weeks, during which time you’re likely to see family groups near your feeder.


Mistaken Identity – 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.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY

It’s hard to say who was more surprised – the spring peeper with whom an eastern newt was trying to breed, or myself, when I discovered this case of mistaken identity in a nearby pond!


Red-winged Blackbirds Nesting – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New England

Female red-winged blackbirds are much less conspicuous than the males, both in behavior as well as appearance. While the black males have showy red/yellow feathers (epaulets) that they display in the open, the females tend to stay hidden in the cattails or brush, and are their feathers are basically brown with streaks, so as to blend in when near or on the nest which they build without help from the males. According to Cornell’s Birds of North America, up to 15 female redwings have been observed nesting on the territory of a single male, making this species one of the most highly polygynous of all bird species (although all of their nestlings are not necessarily sired by the one male).

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.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS NESTING


Blue-eyed GrassWelcome 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.

BLUE-EYED GRASS

There are eight species of blue-eyed grasses in the Northeast, all of which have stiff, grass-like leaves and wiry stems -- but none of them is actually a grass. These beautiful members of the Iris family have six blue-violet petals, each tipped with a bristle-like point. Dark lines, possibly nectar guides, on these petals lead pollinating insects, mostly bees, to the golden center of the flower. Individual flowers stay open only for a day or less, and never open at night. They have just started flowering in central Vermont, and will continue to do so through mid-summer -- look for them in meadows and pastures. Native Americans used their roots to make a tea for treating both diarrhea and constipation.


North American River Otter – 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.

NORTH AMERICAN RIVER OTTER

What fun to see the most aquatic member of the weasel family diving and surfacing over and over in a nearby pond as it located, caught and fed on resident frogs and crayfish. It was very curious to see exactly who/what I was, and would swim over, huffing and puffing while it inspected me.


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

I visited a nearby pond yesterday to see if American toads were trilling yet (they haven’t even arrived at the pond) and discovered that the surface of the pond was alive with dense groups, or “schools,” of shiny whirligig beetles, madly dashing here and there, each swirling around in a circle when alarmed. It is nothing short of a miracle that they never seem to collide, even when zipping along in a group of a hundred or so at a speed of up to three feet a second! One of the most interesting characteristics about these dirling devils is that they have binocular vision – each eye is divided into separate halves (it looks as if they have two pairs of eyes), one looking up and one looking down. The bottom half of each eye is designed for underwater vision, while the top can see in the air – a very handy adaptation for surface-skimming insects. Predators are few, due to a secretion that whirligig beetles emit which repels fish and other insect-eaters.

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.

WHIRLIGIG BEETLES


White-crowned Sparrows Migrating Through – 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.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS MIGRATING THROUGH CENTRAL VERMONT

During the first three weeks of May, white-crowned sparrows migrate through central Vermont; they’re on their way to their breeding grounds in Alaska and northern Canada after having spent the winter south of us. Males precede females in spring migration, while females precede males in the fall. The bold black-and-white stripes of this sparrow’s crown are easy to spot as it hops along the ground foraging for insects and seeds.


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

During the winter moose coats consist of long, hollow guard hairs, and shorter underfur (excellent insulation). During the spring, they lose their winter coat and replace it with a coat of shorter, shiny hairs. Moose are not exactly their most beautiful selves during this process! Except for a few subtle differences, such as the darker face of a male, the coats of male and female moose are similar.

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.

MOOSE MOLTING


Canada Goose Goslings Hatching

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.

CANADA GOOSE GOSLINGS HATCHING

I recently came upon a family of Canada Geese marching through the woods. The size of the goslings told me they were very young, but their newborn status was confirmed by the presence of an egg tooth -- a horny knob, or projection, near the tip of the upper half of their bill, which is only present for the first few days of a young chick’s life. Breaking out of an egg is a demanding task which requires specific adaptations. Many have what is called a “hatching muscle” on the back of their head, as well as an egg tooth. The hatching muscle provides the chick’s head with the strong thrust that, with the egg tooth, finally breaks the shell, producing the”pip” in the egg that is the first sign of hatching. Gradually the chick, using its egg tooth, enlarges the hole in the pipped egg and turns in the shell while puncturing all the way around the egg, after which it can emerge from the egg. It can take anywhere from a few hours to several days (depending on the species of bird) from when the egg is first pipped until the young bird actually hatches.


Red Admiral – 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.

RED ADMIRAL

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies are hard to mistake -- no other butterfly found in this area has such bold, reddish-orange stripes on the surface of its wings, and their fast, erratic flight is distinctive. In the spring, during the late afternoon, males set up territories on hilltops or in clearings, and defend them against other males (even darting at people that enter their territory), while they search for females. Eggs are commonly laid on nettle, one of Red Admiral larvae’s favorite foods.


Hairy Woodpeckers Nesting – 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.

HAIRY WOODPECKERS NESTING – CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Woodpeckers, like many species of birds where the male’s and female’s plumages are similar, are an enlightened group of birds, in that the male and female share both the 12-days of brooding their eggs as well as the month-long rearing of their young.   As the relief parent approaches the nest, it makes a relatively soft call, alerting its mate of its arrival.  In the nest pictured, the female was on her eggs inside a cavity the woodpeckers excavated in a live poplar tree.  The male returned, called and landed on the tree, below the nest hole.  As he approached the hole, the female exited, and he proceeded to disappear into the tree.


Porcupine Newborn – 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.

PORCUPINE NEWBORN

Towards the end of April/beginning of May, porcupines give birth to one offspring. The newborn is covered with quills, but they are soft and enclosed in a sac, which protects the mother as she gives birth to her young. The young porcupine’s eyes are open, and it is fully alert. It starts supplementing its mother’s milk with vegetation after the first two weeks, but isn’t completely weaned for four months. During the day it stays hidden in a crevice or at the base of a tree near the tree in which its mother rests. Instinct takes over immediately in the face of danger, as it tucks its head down, turns its back to the predator and vigorously flicks its tiny, two-inch tail. When night falls, the mother and young porcupine reunite.


Great Blue Herons Nesting – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Even though it was snowing briefly this morning, I had the wood stove to keep me warm...not so nesting Great Blue Herons. Both members of each pair incubate their eggs for roughly 27 days and will care for their nestlings for the following two months, up to 100 feet high in a dead snag -- come rain, wind or snow!

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.

GREAT BLUE HERONS NESTING


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

Painted trillium, Trillium undulatum, is a member of the Lily family which has just started flowering in central Vermont. It is found in acidic soil and is often associated with spruce-fir woods and bogs in the eastern third of North America. This flower’s colorful design is more complex than that of many other trillim species and its bright red fruit is equally distinctive.

 

PAINTED TRILLIUM


Wild Turkeys Nesting – 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.

WILD TURKEYS NESTING

Wild turkeys are laying their eggs this month. Their nests are not elaborate -- they are usually just simple depressions in the soil, lined with dead leaves. Often they are located at the base of a tree or under brush. As with most ground nesting birds whose eggs are vulnerable to predation, wild turkeys have large clutches, laying anywhere from 8 to 15 eggs.


Louisiana Waterthrush – 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.

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH

The Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla) is actually a large wood-warbler, and not a member of the thrush family, as its common name would imply. It is one of the first warblers to return in the spring.  Look and listen for it along wooded streams – it is often seen walking along the water’s edge, wagging its tail up and down in a teetering motion (both genus and species name mean “tail-wagger.”).  The Louisiana Waterthrush closely resembles the Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis) in appearance, but you can tell them apart by their different songs.  It always amazes me that even when singing near a noisy brook, the waterthrush’s resonant, ringing song can be heard loud and clear. To hear the Louisiana Waterthrush’s song, go tohttp://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Louisiana_Waterthrush/id and click on “typical voice.”