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American Goldfinches Dining On Thistle Seeds

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American Goldfinches are almost exclusively granivorous (consumers of seeds/grains).  Very few insects are consumed by these birds, even when feeding nestlings.  This is highly unusual in that spiders and insects are an essential part of 96% of N.A. terrestrial bird species. At the very least, most seed-eating birds feed their nestlings insects. (Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, leaving the raising of their young up to the host bird. It is rare that a cowbird chick will survive to leave an American Goldfinch nest, probably because it cannot thrive on a diet of virtually all seeds.)

The seeds of plants in the Composite family (sunflowers, thistles, dandelions, etc.) are the preferred food of goldfinches. Thistle seeds, being high in fat and protein, are high on the list. There appears to be a correlation between the late nesting period of goldfinches (late June or early July) and the flowering of thistles.  By the time American Goldfinch eggs have hatched, there is an ample supply of thistle seed for the nestlings.

Now is the time to keep an eye on the seedheads of thistles, dandelions and other composites for the acrobatic seed-plucking antics of American Goldfinches.

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Chicken of the Woods Fruiting

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Even though Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is one of the few edible fungi that is easily identified, it’s always best to have an expert confirm its identity if you are collecting it for consumption.  The bright yellow and orange coloring of its bulky, fan-shaped shelves is distinctive. On the underside of these shelves you will find tiny pores, instead of gills, containing spores, making it a polypore mushroom.  You can find single clusters of this fungus growing on living and dead trees, as well as logs totally covered with them.

Chicken of the Woods gets its name from its taste and texture, which is much like that of chicken.  If you are foraging for a meal, you want to be sure to pick a young specimen, and eat the outermost portion of the shelves (for their tenderness).  There are several species of Laetiporus fungi; the ones growing on hardwood are preferable for eating.

Chicken of the Woods is saprotrophic – the fungus feeds on dead trees.  It is also parasitic, and kills living host trees by causing the wood to rot, and the tree to become hollow and easily topple over.

For those interested, here is a recipe that the Oregon Mycological Society recommends:

POLYPORE OMELET

3 Tablespoons butter

1 cup diced Chicken of the Woods

1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cream cheese

2 or 3 shallots, diced

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

5 or 6 eggs

1/2 cup cream or half and half

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy frying pan over low heat.

Beat the eggs and cream, add salt and pepper to taste; pour into the pan.

As the eggs start to cook, sprinkle the Chicken of the Woods, cheese, shallots and parsley over the top.

Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more until the egg mixture sets.

Fold the omelet over and remove from the heat; cover and let sit for 1 minute.

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How Webs Work

9-7-18 orb webs_U1A7834Spiders produce different types of silk for different purposes, including draglines, egg sacs, ballooning, building a web and wrapping prey.  Much of the silk spiders use to spin webs has a sticky consistency, in order to catch flying insects. It turns out that sticky silk isn’t the only reason spider webs are such efficient insect catchers.

According to scientists at Oxford University, not only is much of a spider’s web silk sticky, but it is coated with a glue that is electrically conductive.   This glue causes spider webs to reach out and grab all charged particles that fly into it, from pollen to grasshoppers.  Physics accounts for the web moving toward all airborne objects, whether they are positively or negatively charged.

According to Prof. Vollrath of Oxford University, electrical attraction also drags airborne pollutants (aerosols, pesticides, etc.) to the web.  For this reason, it’s been suggested that webs could be a valuable resource for environmental monitoring. (Thanks to Elizabeth Walker and Linda Fuerst for introducing me to this phenomenon.)

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Caddisfly Eggs Hatching

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The Mystery Photo was of a caddisfly’s egg mass which had been deposited on the leaf of a Turtlehead plant that was growing adjacent to the water, so that when the eggs hatch, the larvae will drop straight down into the water. (Congratulations to “bcottam2014,” the first person to correctly identify the Mystery Photo!)

Almost all caddisflies lay their eggs in the water, but in New England there is a family of northern case makers (Limnephilidae) whose members deposit an egg mass above the water on vegetation (see photo). After hatching and dropping into the water, these caddisflies will spend anywhere from two or three months to two years as aquatic larvae and pupae, emerging as adults with about a thirty day lifespan.

While they are larvae, most northern case-making caddisflies have silk glands with which they construct portable cases or attached retreats. Each species of caddisfly builds the same type of case, out of similar material, thus, it is possible to identify the species of caddisfly you’ve encountered from the appearance of its case.  Some species use pebbles, some bits of leaves, some sticks. Vegetative material must be chewed into just the right size and shape pieces. The caddisflies use these cases as a source of camouflage, physical protection and as a means of acquiring food.  When it comes time to pupate, they build cocoons within their cases.

Emergence of adults eventually takes place and for the next month or so they live a terrestrial life.  Like their close relatives, butterflies and moths, adult caddisflies have wings, but they are easily distinguishable from moths and butterflies due to the  tent-like slant the caddisfly holds its wings in when not flying. (Photo:  caddisfly larvae hatching from egg mass; inset – older caddisfly larva inside pebble case it built)

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Mystery Photo

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Do you recognize the spotted jelly-like blob on the lower right leaf of this Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) plant?  If so (or even if you want to make a wild guess), go to the Naturally Curious blog (www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com), scroll down and click on “Comments” to submit your entry. Look for the answer in the next Naturally Curious post.  (Hint:  Turtlehead likes its feet damp.)

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Moose & Climate Change

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If predictions for the future of our climate are accurate, and if no significant measures are taken to counter it, one of the hardest hit animals in North America will be the Moose.  While well-adapted to winter conditions, Moose start experiencing heat stress when summer temperatures get above 57°F. Why this intolerance to heat?  A highly insulative coat, thick skin and low surface to volume ratio.  When faced with very warm summers, Moose start spending more time in the shade, in cool water and in locations with cooling winds. They also frequently move to higher elevations.  When it gets really hot, they stop foraging for food during the one season they have to bulk up.

Not only will their chances of survival during the coming winter be compromised as a result of this, but successful reproduction is far less likely. In addition, heat stress can cause lowered immune response which leaves the affected animals more vulnerable to disease and parasites such as winter ticks and brainworm. Adding to these challenges, the make-up of woody plant species in boreal forests will also be affected by warmer temperatures, which in turn will affect both the browsing choices and the availability of shade for Moose.

It is theorized that within the next 100 years temperatures will rise on average 9 – 13°F. in winter and 6 – 14°F. in summer (New Hampshire Fish & Game).  On top of that, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are at the southernmost part of the Moose’s range. The future does not look bright for the largest member of the deer family in the Northeast.

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Green Herons Starting To Migrate

8-24-18 green heron2 20160916_0770Green Herons breed throughout the eastern half of North America.  After their nesting season is over they tend to wander, often to more favorable foraging areas. This dispersal merges gradually into a protracted fall migration for birds in the Northeast, beginning around the end of August, with most birds having left by mid-October.

Most Green Herons from eastern United States migrate south to winter along the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Caribbean islands, Mexico, through Central America to northern South America.   We usually see our first Green Herons returning in mid-April, earlier than other herons.  This may be due to their crepuscular feeding habits, which gives them a longer span of time to feed each day.

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