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Archive for April, 2011

Solitary Sandpipers

After wintering in the tropics, solitary sandpipers are currently passing through New England on their way to their breeding grounds in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Unlike most sandpipers, which migrate in flocks, the solitary sandpiper migrates alone (hence, its name), stopping along the banks of ponds and streams for insects to fuel its long flight. One of the more unusual behaviors of this shorebird is its tendency to lay its eggs in the tree nests of several different song birds, including the American robin, rusty blackbird, eastern kingbird, gray jay and cedar waxwing. Of the 85 sandpipers worldwide, only two are not ground nesters. Unlike most tree-nesting birds, its young are precocial, and are able to leave the nest as soon as their down dries.

False Morels

Most of us have heard of the fungi referred to as morels, and what a delicacy they are. Bear in mind that there are several species of false morels in New England, as well, some of which are very toxic, even deadly. Some species of false morels that are potentially edible resemble toxic false morels so closely that the only way to distinguish them is by examining their spores. Thus, be very sure, if you are a consumer of wild mushrooms, that you are able to tell a true morel from a false one!

Spotted Salamander Spermatophore

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It goes without saying that readers of Naturally Curious are well informed and
very observant!  This is, in fact, a
sperm packet, or spermatophore, of the spotted salamander.  Males usually arrive at vernal pools before
the females, and gather in groups called congresses, ranging from 4 or 5
salamanders to 100 or more.  When a female approaches a congress of males, she pairs up with a single male, and
they do a courtship dance in which they circle and nudge each other.  Eventually the male walks away, slowly
wiggling the tip of his tail.  If the female is sufficiently stimulated, she follows. He then deposits one or more
spermatophores onto a leaf or twig.  The female picks up the sperm packet into her cloaca, or vent. In a day or two, the
female lays 30 to 250 eggs, often in an oval mass anywhere from 2 inches in diameter up to the size of a baseball.
It is surrounded by a relatively firm gelatinous matrix (wood frog eggs, which are similar, lack this surrounding gelatinous envelope, and therefore
appear quite lumpy). The spotted salamander’s egg mass is attached to a stick or vegetation under the water; the eggs will hatch in 4 to 8 weeks, depending
on water temperature.  The half-inch long larvae have feathery, external gills; in 5 to 10 weeks they will leave pool as
2 to 3-inch salamanders.

Mystery Photo

Can you identify this object? All guesses welcome. Big hint: it's found in vernal pools this time of year. Answer will be posted tomorrow.

Glossy Ibis

A wayward glossy ibis touched down in Woodstock, Vermont this week, much to the delight of local birders. A flooded hay field provided enough insects and worms for this rare visitor to linger several days, constantly probing the earth with its long, decurved bill. During the 20th century, the glossy ibis has gone from a rare and local Florida species to a locally common coastal breeder as far north as Maine. Rarely, however, does land-locked Vermont get to see this magnificent, metallic bronze wading bird.

Mystery Photo – Apple Cedar Rust Gall

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Mystery Photo:  Cedar Apple Rust

David Fontaine, of Ferrisburgh, Vermont, submitted a mystery photo of a cedar-apple
rust gall that overwinters on cedar trees and is caused by a fungus which
requires two hosts, eastern red cedar and apple trees, to complete its life
cycle.  When the galls get wet from spring rains, orange, spore-filled fingers or horns, called telia, emerge from pores in the gall. As the horns absorb water, they become jelly-like and swollen. When
the jelly dries, the spores are carried by the wind to apple trees, where they
cause a brownish mottling on apples, referred to as cedar apple rust, which
makes apples difficult for growers to sell, even though it doesn’t affect the
flavor or texture of infected apples. The rust produces spores on the underside of apple leaves in late summer,which, if they land on eastern red cedar trees, cause galls to form, thereby continuing the cycle.  Spores produced on apple do not infect apple, only cedar; spores produced on cedar infect only apple.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

We are in the peak of the yellow-rumped warbler’s migration north to its breeding grounds (northern New England, Canada and Alaska). While its winter plumage is quite dull, its breeding plumage is very colorful. If you don’t spot one or more of these warbler flying from a branch to snatch an insect in mid-air, you might well hear the male’s softly whistled warble or trill. ( To hear the song of the yellow-rumped warbler, go to The myrtle race is most common in New England.) Yellow-rumped warblers often inhabit coniferous woods, where they build nests that are frequently lined with ruffed grouse feathers.