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Chinese Chestnut To The Rescue

9-28-16-chinese-chestnutThe American Chestnut was the predominant tree species in the eastern forests prior to the early 1900’s. It was a primary source of lumber, as well as the primary food source tree for White-tailed Deer, Black Bears, Wild Turkeys, and Red and Gray Squirrels. The chestnut forest could produce 2,000 pounds of mast or more per acre. Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet tasting nuts were high in protein and carbohydrates and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.

In the early 1900’s, the importation of Chinese and Japanese Chestnut trees to North America introduced chestnut blight, a fungus to which American Chestnut trees were nonresistant. It is estimated that between three and four billion American Chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century. Today saplings can be found, but full-size American Chestnuts within their historical range are few and far between.

If you come across a tree that has American Beech-like leaves (both Chinese and American Chestnut are members of the Beech family), and bears fruit covered with spines, it could very well be a Chinese Chestnut. While its leaves and fruit are very similar to those of the American Chestnut, Chinese Chestnut is blight resistant.   Its shrubby growth, however, is not desirable, so researchers have developed a hybrid chestnut that has the blight resistance of the Chinese Chestnut with all of its other traits (including height and girth) coming from the American Chestnut. (15/16ths American and 1/16th Chinese). Humans, as well as deer, turkeys, bears and squirrels, will reap the benefit of this research.

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Beavers Especially Vulnerable

9-28-16-coyote-and-beaver-20160927_3275Little did I know when I wrote yesterday’s post about the silver lining of our low water levels that I would so quickly encounter another predator benefiting from the current drought. I have spent a considerable amount of time this summer watching three generations of beavers do their best to survive as their pond proceeded to diminish to the point of exposing one of their lodge entrances and confining them to an increasingly small body of water. The underwater entrances to a beaver lodge are vital to their protection, and predators are well aware of this.

Yesterday the importance of water as a protective barrier was made very clear to me when a coyote appeared on the opposite shore of the beaver pond from where I sat. It stood for several seconds exactly where the beavers leave the pond on their way to nearby woods to cut poplars and birches which they haul back to their pond to eat. A well-worn trail marks the spot. You could imagine the coyote, upon surveying the shallowness of the pond, telling itself to be patient, as better days were just around the corner.

Moments after the coyote left, the mother beaver got out of the pond precisely where the coyote had been standing and took a few steps before sniffing the ground and then the air (see insert). Being nocturnal, beavers have an acute sense of smell which they use for detecting danger, food and for communication with each other. It took mere seconds for the beaver to detect the scent of the coyote, at which point she turned and sought refuge in the dwindling amount of water remaining around her lodge.  May the heavens open up soon.

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Silver Lining to Low Water Levels

9-27-great-blue-heron-20160911_7746The low water level of most small ponds and streams this fall has at least one silver lining, and that is that consumers of fish and other aquatic creatures expend far less energy finding prey, for it is all concentrated in much smaller bodies of water. The few puddles of water in small streams contain a vast amount of life, as do small ponds.

The Great Blue Heron has the advantage of having a varied diet that is found in a variety of habitats, so it forages in grasslands, marshes, intertidal beaches, riverbanks and ponds. While amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and birds are all known to have been eaten by Great Blue Herons, fish are their mainstay. They often forage in ponds, where they typically wade or stand in wait of prey in shallow water, which has not been in short supply this summer and fall. While the low water level is wreaking havoc with beavers and muskrats, it provides bountiful fuel for herons, egrets, kingfishers and other birds that forage in small ponds and streams as they wend their way southward.

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Maple Leafcutting Moths

9-26-16-maple-leafcutting-moth-larva-20160910_7437Have you ever noticed one or more oval-shaped holes in a Sugar Maple leaf and wondered how they got there? These leaf particles were cut out by the larva of a Maple Leafcutter Moth. Emerging in June from the ground where it overwintered as a pupa, the metallic blue adult moths mate and females lay eggs, mainly on Sugar Maple leaves, but also occasionally on other maples, birches, American Beech and other hardwoods. When the eggs hatch, the larvae make small lines in the leaf, as they mine for food in between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf for the first two or three weeks of their lives.

As summer progresses, the growing larva moves to the surface of the leaf and begins cutting small oval-shaped pieces of the leaf and using them as shelter. It constructs portable cases, fastening the leaf disks together with silk. The larva resides inside this case, with its head poking out far enough to feed on a leaf. If you see holes in a leaf, you will probably also see small brown rings with green centers created as the larva feeds around the edges of its case. Sometimes the center of these feeding rings fall out, also leaving oval holes in the leaf.

As the Maple Leafcutter larva grows, it molts and after each molt it cuts new, larger disks from the leaf to add to its case. By the end of the summer, the case consists of multiple leaf disks. In September, the moth larva drops or crawls down the trunk of the tree to the ground, spins a cocoon and pupates.

Maple Leafcutter Moths can cause browning of foliage, usually in scattered small areas. Occasionally extensive areas are hit hard (during the mid-1970’s approximately 40,000 acres were affected in Vermont) but research shows that three years of complete defoliation by this insect are required to significantly reduce the starch content of maple roots (an indication of physiological stress).

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Female Sumac Gall Aphids Leaving Galls & Heading For Moss

9-22-16-red-pouch-gall-20160916_0115The sac-like galls found on Staghorn and Smooth Sumac are anywhere from marble- to ping pong ball-size, and usually become obvious in late summer when they often acquire a rosy pink blush. Inside the thin walls of these galls is one big hollow cavity, teeming with tiny orange woolly aphids (Melaphis rhois) referred to as Sumac Gall Aphids.

In the spring, female aphids lay an egg on the underside of a sumac leaf, causing the plant to form an abnormal growth, or gall, around the egg.   The egg hatches and the aphid reproduces asexually within the gall. Thus, all the aphids inside the gall are identical clones of one another. In late summer or early fall, the winged females fly to patches of moss, where they establish asexually reproducing colonies. At some point these clonal colonies produce males and females which mate and it’s these mated females that fly off to lay eggs on sumac leaves in the spring.

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Corrected Site Address for Video of Green Heron Using Bait to Catch Fish

9-22-16-green-heron-fish-20160921_1988My apologies!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Porp5v5lLKk


Green Herons Migrating

9-21-16-green-heron-taking-off-20160916_0785

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are small, crested, wading birds that inhabit wetland thickets throughout most of North America. After breeding, most tend to wander to more favorable foraging areas before migrating south to Florida, Central and South America. Migration begins in late August/early September and by mid-October, most Green Herons have departed.

Green Herons are among the few species of birds that use tools in order to lure fish to within their striking distance. Bread, mayflies, twigs, leaves, berries, earthworms and feathers are among the lures they have been observed dropping into the water as bait. To watch a video of a persistent and successful Green Heron fishing with a lure, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Porp5v5lLKk .

 Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go tohttp://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.