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Archive for June, 2010

Dogbane Beetle – 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.

DOGBANE BEETLE

Dogbane beetles rank right up there in my list of favorite insects. Like all beetles, they have specialized, hard outer wings, or elytra, which provide a protective covering for the more delicate inner pair of wings. The iridescense of the elytra has to be seen to be believed. When looked at from different angles, their metallic colors change, due to the microscopic crystals in the surface of the elytra, which split and refract light like miniature prisms. Adults feed strictly on dogbane leaves, the larvae on the roots of dogbane.


Skippers – 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.

SKIPPERS

Skippers are a group of butterflies named for their quick, darting manner of flight. Group characteristics include antennae clubs which are hooked backwards, relatively stocky bodies and comparatively large eyes. Telling the different skipper species apart can be very tricky – many are a rather drab brown or gray color -- even lepidopterists have trouble identifying them in the field. Some species produce more than one brood a summer.


Common Loon Chicks Hatching – 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.

COMMON LOON CHICKS HATCHING

After being incubated for 28 or 29 days, common loon eggs are hatching, barring any predation or flooding of the nest. The downy chicks (often two but sometimes only one) are up and out of the nest within a day of hatching, at which point they are capable of swimming and diving. They cannot, however, regulate their temperature for several days. During this time, the chicks often climb up onto their parent’s back and crawl under their protective wings, sometimes popping out to be fed, to enjoy the view or to swim next to their parent.


Toadlets – 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.

TOADLETS

If you know of a pond where you heard American toads trilling three or four weeks ago, now is the time to revisit it, as toad tadpoles are transforming into toadlets – very tiny toadlets – and coming onto land. It’s easy to miss them – you could fit two or three of them on a dime – but usually their numbers are so great that if you’re looking for them, you’ll see them. In a pond where toads have mated and layed eggs, you’ll now see hundreds of tiny, dark toadlets in the vegetation around the pond, where they may linger for days or weeks before moving away. Look very closely and you’ll see remnants of a tadpole tail and the beginning of their mottled adult coloration.


Cattails Flowering – 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.

CATTAIILS FLOWERING

While cattails reproduce vegetatively, forming clones by sending up shoots off their creeping rhizomes, or horizontal stems, they also reproduce sexually, developing seeds. Separate male and female catttail flowers form in cylindrical spikes located at the tip of a stalk, with the female flower located directly below the male. Timing is such that the male flowers tend to mature and produce pollen (which rains down on the female flower below) sooner than the females flowers are fully developed and receptive to it, thus discouraging self-pollination. However, the timing of their maturity often overlaps, so that most cattail flowers are self-pollinated (resulting in only a 50% seed success rate). Approximately 220,000 seeds per spike are produced. The male flower spike dies soon after producing clouds of pollen, leaving the seed-laden, sausage-like female spike below. Each seed has tiny hair-like appendages which aid in its dispersal. These hairs form on the outside of the spike, giving it a felt-like surface.


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

Red fox pups are roughly 6 to 8 weeks old now, and are at their most playful and curious stage. If you are lucky enough to know of a nearby den, with patience you may be able to observe some of their antics. While the parents are off hunting for food for them, the pups are interacting with each other – pouncing on, playfully nipping and chasing each other, usually within feet of the den’s entrance hole (in case a speedy retreat is necessary). They are just beginning to accompany their parents on foraging trips so that they can learn how to procure their own meals. The pup on top in the photograph is the runt of the litter, who holds his own quite nicely, as you can see.

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 FOX PUPS


Red-shouldered Hawk Nestlings are Fledging – 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-SHOULDERED HAWK NESTLINGS ARE FLEDGING

Red-shouldered hawk nests are usually located in mixed deciduous-coniferous woods, below the canopy but more than halfway up a tree, in a crotch of the main trunk. In addition to sticks, leaves and bark, the nest usually contains living sprigs of conifers. The easiest way to detect a red-shouldered hawk nest is to look at the forest floor; as early as five days of age the young birds of are ejecting their droppings out over the edge of the nest, and the ground surrounding the nesting tree usually appears to be white-washed. At around six weeks of age, young red-shouldered hawks leave their nest, but continue being fed by their parents for another 8 to ten weeks.


Painted Turtles Laying Eggs – 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.

PAINTED TURTLES LAYING EGGS

Painted turtles are aquatic and rarely seen on land except at this time of year, when females leave their ponds and travel over ground to soil sandy enough to bury their eggs in. I followed this individual across a road and into the woods, hoping to see her laying her eggs, but she chose to plow head first into the leaf litter where she remained half buried and motionless until I had to leave. Notice the hitch-hiking slug on her neck. Hopefully (for the slug’s sake) it didn’t glide too near the turtle’s mouth. Although toothless, like all turtles, this painted turtle might have considered the slug a tasty snack and snapped it up with her horny beak.


Floating Bullfrog – 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.

FLOATING BULLFROG

If you know a better way to spend a hot, humid day in June, let me know! This bullfrog has it all figured out.


Forget-me-not – 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.

FORGET-ME-NOT

I find it interesting that even though forget-me-not flowers are capable of self-pollination, they are also designed to encourage cross-pollination. When the flowers first open, the female structures, or pistils, on which pollen must land in order for pollination to take place, stick out and above the central opening of the flower. The male reproductive parts, the pollen-bearing stamens, are recessed down inside the hole. This arrangement increases the chances that a visiting insect will brush against the pistils first, depositing pollen on them that it’s been carrying, before seeking nectar or pollen down inside the hole. Eventually, as the flower develops, the stamens are pushed up until they touch the pistils, thereby allowing self-pollination to take place, in case cross-pollination hasn’t.


Slugs -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.

SLUGS

A slug is basically a snail that lacks or has a greatly reduced (internal) shell. Because of this, slugs tend to dry out quite easily and thus inhabit mostly moist environments, retreating to damp hiding places when the weather is dry. A close look at a slug reveals two pairs of tentacles on its head. The upper pair senses light and the lower pair has the ability to smell things. Both pairs are retractable, and can be regrown if damaged. A slug’s sexual organs (they are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female parts) are located under the saddle-shaped mantle behind its head. When open, the hole through which respiration takes place is visible on the side of the mantle. In the right light, it is possible to see the layer of mucus, or slime trail, that slugs secrete and on which they travel. This mucus protects the foot of the slug and also contains fibers which prevent the slug from slipping down vertical surfaces. Anyone who has picked up a slug knows that they also coat their own body with slippery mucus, which not only keeps it moist, but helps it elude the grasp of predators.


Orange Hawkweed – 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.

ORANGE HAWKWEED

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), also called devil’s paintbrush, is a perennial in the Aster family, found largely in open areas with poor soil. The seeds of this flower develop without pollination, and thus the resulting plants are exact clones of the parent plant. It also reproduces from horizontal stems that creep along the ground as well as under the ground. Thus, where you find one hawkweed, you usually find many. You often find ox-eye daisies growing alongside hawkweed, as well as several species of hawkweed that are yellow. Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit hawkweed for its nectar, even though very little is produced by the plant.


Spider Silk – 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.

SPIDER SILK

All spiders spin silk – they use it as a safety line when climbing, to wrap their eggs as well as prey in, to disperse when young (it catches the wind and they “balloon” off into the air) – but only certain species of spiders use it to make a trap, or web, in which to catch their prey. Wolf spiders are hunters, as are the crab spiders and jumping spiders that hide in flowers and other locations that are attractive to insects, waiting to surprise and pounce upon their prey. Some spiders, however, spin sticky, silken webs into which unsuspecting insects fly (such as the pictured fly), thereby usually sealing the insect’s fate.


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

The fruiting bodies of this type of fungus are erect, branched and often clustered together, giving it the appearance of aquatic coral – hence, its common name. Spores are located on the sides of the branches. Different species of coral fungus are often bright yellow, orange or red, although white, pink, tan and purple coral fungi are also quite common. Some species are edible; however, some have a laxative effect, so check with a mycologist before eating!

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.

CORAL FUNGUS


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

Red-winged blackbird chicks are born with their eyes closed and with only a few downy feathers. They have no ability to regulate their temperature for the first two to four days, making it essential that a parent, usually the female, keep them warm and dry, especially during the night and when it’s wet and cold. Within a few days, the nestlings begin to be able to control their own temperature. Although the young are initially very weak and poorly coordinated, within the first ten days, male nestlings increase their size by a factor of ten, females seven-and-a-half. Sometimes just the female feeds the nestlings, but it’s not unusual for both parents to care for their young. The nest is often parasitized by the brown-headed cowbird, which lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and leaves the rearing of its young to the host birds.

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 BLACKBIRD NESTLINGS


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

Caddisflies are insects that are closely related to moths and butterflies. However, they differ from these particular relatives in that their immature, or larval, stage is spent under water. Many species reside inside a portable case they make out of leaves, pebbles or sticks they find in the pond or stream, depending on the species. The building material is glued together with silk that they make. When the time is right, these case-making caddisflies pupate inside their cases and emerge as adults. The caddisfly pictured is a recently-emerged adult found clinging to a cattail leaf while drying its wings, which will eventually be folded over its back like a tent.

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.

CADDISFLIES EMERGING


Loons Nesting

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.

COMMON LOONS NESTING

Since their return to the north country, many common loons have paired, mated, selected a nesting site, built their nest, layed their two military-green speckled eggs and are now sharing the incubation of those eggs. Due to the position of their legs (extremely far back on their body) loons have great prowess as divers, but very little when it comes to walking. Thus, their nest sites are usually at the very edge of an island or hummock, where they can easily slip on and off the nest into the water. The 3 ½-inch-long eggs are laid in a mound nest constructed of vegetation growing nearby. Successful nest sites (from which loon chicks fledge) are often reused from year to year. Extreme caution should be taken to remain far from an active nest, as loons are easily disturbed.


Indian Cucumber Root – 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.

Indian Cucumber Root is a member of the Lily family that grows to be one to two feet tall and has one or more whorls (several leaves coming off stem at same point) of leaves. Plants that are going to flower usually put out two tiers of leaves, with their distinctive flowers arising from the second tier. The flowers nod down below the leaves, while the dark purple fruit that forms later in the summer rises above them. As its name implies, the small root tuber of this wildflower is edible, and resembles a cucumber in both texture and taste, but should be harvested sparingly.

INDIAN CUCUMBER ROOT


White-tailed Deer Giving Birth – 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-TAILED DEER GIVING BIRTH

This is a busy time of year for white-tail does, for in late May or early June, they give birth. Prior to doing so, they drive off last year’s fawns. If a doe hasn’t given birth before, chances are good that she’ll have a single fawn. In successive years, she is most likely to have twins (if there is an adequate food supply), but triplets are not all that uncommon. There are records of quadruplets and quintuplets, but they are few and far between.


Showy Lady’s Slippers Flowering – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New England

As is true for many plants this year, the local showy lady’s slippers (Cypripedium reginae) are flowering a good two weeks early. This orchid is the largest, and some feel the most beautiful, of our lady’s slippers. While they produce lots of seeds, showy lady’s slippers reproduce mainly vegetatively through rhizomes, or underground stems, and favor the soil of fens, as opposed to bogs. (The water in fens usually comes from groundwater or flowing sources and has a fairly high pH; bogs, in contrast, are filled with rainwater, which has a lower pH and is more acidic.) The showy lady’s slipper is considered “vulnerable” (rare but not endangered) in Vermont. Habitat destruction, in addition to over-picking, is a large part of the reason this flower is not found in locations where it used to grow.

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.

SHOWY LADY’S SLIPPERS FLOWERING


Green Frog Tadpoles Turning into Frogs – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New Englandes Turning into Frogs –

Right now the herbivorous, gilled, green frog tadpoles that hatched late last summer and overwintered as tadpoles are turning into carnivorous frogs that breathe with lungs. (Tadpoles that hatched early this spring will metamorphose into frogs in mid-to late summer of this year.) First the hind legs develop, then the front legs, after which the tail is absorbed. At the same time all of this is occurring, the small mouth of the tadpole becomes wider and the long intestines needed to digest algae and other vegetation shorten to accommodate the change to eating insects and other organisms.

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 FROG TADPOLES TURNING INTO FROGS


One-flowered Pyrola – Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods and marshes of New England

It’s not big. It’s not flashy. It’s quite easy to overlook, actually, but if you see a little white flower nodding towards the forest floor from a height of about 4”, stop and inspect it. This usually involves getting down on your belly in order to peer up at the underside of the flower, but it is worth doing! The intricacy of one-flowered pyrola’s (Moneses uniflora) stamens and pistil is not to be missed. There are several species of pyrola in the Northeast, but only one with a single blossom.

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.

ONE-FLOWERED PYROLA


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

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

 AMERICAN  TOADS  TRILLING

Try holding a note for 35 seconds, and you’ll have a better appreciation for the courtship song of the American toad! The singing male shuts his nostrils and mouth and then pumps air back and forth from his lungs over his vocal cords and into his inflated throat pouch, or vocal sac, which acts as a resonating chamber. When several toads are singing at the same time, you can identify individuals, as each male in a chorus sings at a slightly different pitch. You can watch one singing at http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=A6-8pC8o5fw&feature=related .


Wild Strawberries Ripening – 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 STRAWBERRIES RIPENING

One of the advantages of exploring the natural world every day is that you are constantly made aware of changes that are occuring. A recent hike through an unmowed field was rewarded with such a change -- the sight and taste of succulent wild strawberries, in all stages of ripeness! Humans aren’t the only consumers of these delicacies – ruffed grouse, American robins, gray catbirds, American crows, swamp and white-throated sparrows, brown thrashers, eastern towhees, veeries, cedar waxwings, varying hares, New England cottontails, eastern chipmunks, opossums, meadow voles and white-tailed deer also find them tasty.