Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Indoor Wildlife

While ensconced on the melamine throne this morning I happened to glance in the tub and noticed that I was not alone.

My erstwhile companion was a stone centipede, so-called because normally they live outside where they scamper around at great speeds under rocks. In these rocky domains they are top predators, chasing down woodlice, worms, springtails, grubs and other likely prey. Their phlattened physiques allow them to squeeze into tiny crevices to avoid being captured by curious naturalists and other potential predators.

If you look closely at the head of this arthropod, you will see flanges to either side. These are actually poison claws, which are in the retracted or resting position. When in hot pursuit of food items, these claws are ready to open up (like a blade on a jack-knife) and grab the prey before it gets away. For a pretty good image of these claws, visit . Actually, if you look really closely at the left-hand flange in my photo, right up near the antenna, you can see the tip of the claw - it is partially open. Pretty cool, eh?

The burning question, however, is how did it get into my bathtub? They apparently enjoy hanging out in rocky streams, where moving water and lots of hidey holes provide good foraging opportunities. Did it, therefore, come up from the drain? If so, how did it get into the drain in the first place? Its presence there would suggest a hole somewhere in the drain...this does not bode well. I suppose it could've crawled up the side of the house, lifted the window screen (apparently they are quite strong) and fell into the tub. I have my doubts, though, since they prefer to be in dark tight places, and the side of my house is neither. Could it have crawled into the house and up the side of the tub, only to fall into the tub's interior? Considering the struggle it was engaged in trying to crawl up the slippery sides of the tub while I watched (and for all I know it is still doing), I suspect this option is a no-go, too. This brings us back to the drain. I'm not really liking the implications here. Hm.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Ramble in the Rain

On my way home yesterday from The Big City (Glens Falls), I stopped at the Ski Bowl in North Creek for a quick ramble in the rain. The Ski Bowl is the town's local park, complete with a beach (next to a tiny swimming hole), a playground, a pavillion, a ski hill (hence the name), a nature trail, and the town landfill. It's an interesting combination.

The reason for my stop is that I'm leading after school nature hikes for some of the local kids once a week for the next four weeks, so I needed to scope out one of the possible locations: the nature trail that runs through this park.

I'd made sketchy plans to meet a friend there, but our paths never crossed (although both of us were on-site at the same time). We'll try again Wednesday, thank goodness, for I lost the trail and found some plants I didn't know!

This little gem is Sand Jointweed (Polygonella articulata), a new plant for me. Evelyn told me to keep my eyes open for it, and it was all over the place, blooming in the sandy slopes behind the landfill. It reminds me of a cherry tree figurine my mother has from Japan.

This plant is a mystery. I've been unable to key it out with my Newcomb's Field Guide. Hopefully Evelyn will recognize it tomorrow. Update: it is Silverrod (Solidago bicolor), which I have only seen a couple of times in my life and that was a few years ago. Thanks, Jackie!

I encountered a large (and growing) patch of Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum).

While trying to get a good close-up of the sporangia, I discovered this very small spider and it's web. Try as I might, I could not get a good close-up of the spider. It had very large, dark pedipalps, and I think it was trying to eat a meal, being very patient with my failing photographic efforts.

But I was able to get a good close-up of the sporangia. If you can click on the photo, you can see all the little white hairs that cover the outside of the structures. And, did you know that some native peoples would shove these sporangia up the nose to induce bleeding? Why, I don't know, but I came across this factoid while researching clubmosses for tomorrow's article for the Adirondack Almanack blog.

Raspberry poope (pronounced poo-pay) - bear scat. Now, you know I couldn't pass up a scat and not take its picture!

This is one of the first non-vascular plants I learned as a child: British Soldiers. British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) is a lichen, and here it is mixed with Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia mediterranea) known by most folks as reindeer moss, but it's not a moss, it's a lichen, so let's call a spade a spade, shall we, or, in this case, a lichen a lichen. The red part is the spore-producing part of the lichen.

Someone found this deer skull and stuck it up on a fallen tree. It was rather strange seeing it there, but also kind of cool. I wonder how many people walk past it and never see it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wee Newt

I found this little guy creeping across the driveway this morning. Those are centimeters he's sitting on, and those gigantic pinkish things in the background are my fingers. This has got to be the tiniest red eft I've ever found.

Red efts are the terrestrial stage of the red-spotted, or eastern, newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), one of our native salamanders. They remain in this juvenile stage for two to seven years, after which they return to the water, change into adults, and set about reproducing. This second change is what sets them apart from most other salamanders, which change once, from larva to adult. When the eft returns to the water, it developes a thinner and less toxic skin, regrows tailfins, and must revert to suction-type feeding.

A question I'm often asked is "what is the difference between a salamander and a newt?" - and the answer I give is that all newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts; in other words, newts are a subgroup of salamanders. The physiological differences are small and don't apply to every case. Newts in general have less-slimy skin, and most must return to the water to reproduce. There may also be greater differences between the outer appearances of the sexes with newts than with salamanders, and newts may display more elaborate courtship behaviors.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And We Have Lift-off!

I was trying to capture this little metallic green fly on the aster,
but it launched just as the shutter released.

Also, Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus)
are now fruiting profusely. Must be the recent rain.

This wee little mushroom (note how tiny by the magnification
of surrounding mosses/liverworts) was sprouting on a log in the woods.

Cooperative Dragon

I love it when a dragonfly sits still for a portrait!

This lovely one was catching a brief respite on a rock by our butterfly garden. I believe it is a female Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa). My book only has a photo of the male, which looks similar but has blue markings on the abdomen. The female is noted as being "duller, with yellowish markings."

I was trying to capture the bright blue that was reflecting off her eyes, but without much success.

The shadow darner breeds around slow-moving (sluggish) streams and lakes (we have that), but are often seen flying over upland clearings and woodland roads - I think our driveway meets that criterion. They are one of the last dragonflies seen flying around our northern areas.

A bit about the name: Aeshna is Greek for "ugly" or "misshapen." HM. Well, apparently the dude who named them back in the 1700s thought he was naming them "spear", which is Aechma, but the printers goofed. Members of the genus Aeshna are known collectively as Mosaic Darners, which refers to the intricate patterns on their abdomens.
And umbrosa means "shady". This and the word shadow in its common name both refer to the insect's preference for dark and shady habitats, as well as its tendency to fly late in the day as light is fading (although it was about 2:30 on a bright and sunny afternoon when I captured this one "on film"). They have even been known to fly around after dark. Hm. I wonder if these are the ones I've been seeing flying over the streets and parking lots in the evenings as I walk the dog. It's possible - they are known to sometimes engage in feeding swarms.
Here's another interesting tidbit: the females lay their eggs not in water, but in wet, decaying wood!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Killer Frost

Monday morning I woke to a world of white. But the sun was rising, melting the frost with great alacrity. I grabbed what photos I could before the sun wiped the slate clean.

It may have been a killer frost (just ask the zucchini vines), but isn't it beautiful?

Monday, Monday

In the world of science, the equinoxes and the solstices change dates from year to year. I, however, tend to think of the first of each new season as beginning on the 21st of its appropriate month. It may not be technically correct, but I like it that way. So, for me, the first day of Autumn was 21 September, not the 22nd.

That said, I spent my first day of Autumn 2009 at the car dealer's getting an oil change, new tires, and an inspection (well, my car got the oil change, new tires and inspection; I just paid for it all). Then I grabbed my groceries and headed back north, stopping at the Lake George Wild Forest in Warrensburg for a quick stroll along the Hudson River (why is it not the Warrensburg Wild Forest, or the Hudson River Wild Forest - afterall, it's not even near Lake George). My goal was to check out the Ice Meadows that "everyone" has been visiting. I've been here before, but didn't know that's what I was viewing. The folks in charge of this little park should really invest in some interpretive materials.

So, down the Blue Trail I went, through the very open woods, and then down the cobbly herdpath to the Hudson River.

The shoreline was full of plants and mud, and the river glittered bluely in a fair breeze. At this point the river is really quite shallow.

I found a new plant to me: Canadian Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis). The flower head struck me as a type of grass gone to seed, but it wasn't. And the leaves struck me as rose leaves, but the flower was definitely not rose-like. Well, it turns out that Canadian Burnet is in the rose family! A more northern species, it is fairly common along the Hudson, at least the northern reaches of the Hudson. I know Woodswalker has seen it down her way, too.

I watched several damselflies flitting around, finally catching up with this lovely male American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana):

and then a female of the same:

Isn't it interesting how different the coloration can be between male and female dragonflies and damselflies? It's actually more dramatic, in my humble opinion, that the differences between male and female birds of the same species. It can make ID interesting. Here I thought I had found two different damselflies, but they turned out to be the same species. I have also found that damselflies tend to be much more cooperative with photographers than dragonflies.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moxham Pond Paddle

Sunday couldn't have been a more glorious last day of summer if it had tried. We had frost overnight, so the morning was brisk, but by 11:00 AM things had warmed up nicely. I drove to the Farmer's Market in Keene Valley to pick up some grassfed beef (and baked goods - Mmm), and in the afternoon I joined my friend Evelyn for a paddle at Moxham Pond.

Moxham Pond is a privately owned bit of real estate that I drive by when I make my weekly trip to the city for groceries. It is famous for its cliff, a rock face that sloughs off slabs of rock every so often. From the road you can see the cliff, and you can see the wetland, but it isn't until you get in a boat that you can really appreciate this spot. How lucky the people are who live on its edges and can enjoy it every season of the year!

(this is a poor view of the cliff from the side)

We walked down the rickety dock and launched. Our destination was the bog on the far shore.

Evelyn is an amazing botanist. Self-taught, she fits the definition of the traditional botanist. She knows every plant, from moss to liverwort, grass to sedge, flower to tree, and all by their botanical names. Because I work mostly with the public, I've left scientific names by the roadside and instead I learn the common names. Unfortunately, common names change greatly, from location to location, which is why scientific names were developed in the first place. So, going botanizing with Evelyn is a real treat. I feel as ignorant as any new student. It can be quite the learning experience.

One of my favorite plants is cotton-grass (Eriophorum spp). Evelyn told me that we have two species up here, one that blooms early (around June) and this one, which blooms later. The former is very white, whereas the latter is more tan. It also turns out that cotton grass is not a grass at all, but, rather, a sedge. Now, I think she told me this is tawny cotton-grass (Eriophorum virginicum).

The bog was filled with the downy heads, each swaying in its own direction as the wind sighed across the mat.

Mosses, as you can imagine, are quite prolific on a bog mat. Sphagnum mosses, primarily, although we were really hoping to find some Splachnum, a rare moss in these parts that grows on old scats. (We didn't find any.) Many of the mosses were bright red, a condition, Evelyn said, that apparently helps keep the plants from getting sunburned. When the same mosses grow in the shade, they are mostly green. Okay, so here are the four sphanum species we found:

Sphagnum magellanicum , a large-leaved variety and very common.

On the right, Sphagnum rubellum , a narrow-leaved variety.

It's next to the first one for comparison. It likes very acidic environs.

Sphagnum cuspidatum, also known as drowned cat because it likes very wet areas and when it is good and soggy all its leaves are plastered down, like the fur on a very wet cat.

Sphagnum papillosum - a very large and very juicy sphagnum.

Sphagnum mosses are the stuff from which peat moss is made. Y'know - that fluffy stuff that you mix into your garden or your potting soil to improve drainage, or to increase acidity. It is "mined" from bogs, where in some places it extends many, many feet down. But, such mining is, obviously, destructive to the habitat. It takes hundreds and hundreds of years for peat mats to get that deep, and only a few moments to destroy the ecosystem. Thank goodness peat mining never caught on in the Adirondacks! Bogs are terribly unique habitats, full of wonderous plants and animals. I'm glad we've had the foresight to protect them in our Park.

We encountered some small mushrooms:

as well as this flattened one, which was pinkish along its stem when Evelyn tugged it from the moss mat. It was very slimy.

Bog Rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla) was quite common. I loved the white racing strip that ran up the center of each leaf.

We had our eyes open for cranberries. Evelyn was especially interested in finding the small ones, (Vaccinium oxycoccos), which bloom earlier in the summer and should be producing ripe berries by now. While we did find a few berries, most of the plants were berry-less. The larger cranberry (V. macrocarpon) was also starting to ripen.

Dragonflies were everywhere, especially some enormous bright blue ones. They refused to perch, so getting a photo of them was very very difficult. Using the best of the poor images, I think I have determined that they were Canada darners (Aeshna canadensis).

Farley, the German shepherd, met us when we returned to the dock. He wrapped his toes over the edge and looked for all the world like he was going to join Evelyn in her boat. Luckily, he stayed on the dock.

All in all, it was a perfect day. Thank you, Evelyn, for the treat!

Monday, September 21, 2009

International Rock Flipping Day

I missed it - yesterday was Rock Flipping Day. Initiated in 2007, the idea is for people worldwide to go out and turn over a rock. Record what you find below it. Kind of a nice (and simple) way to get in touch with nature.

If you missed it, too, go out today and flip a rock.

(Just remember to flip it back, for that rock, and the space below it, is home to things that perhaps you and I will never see, and we don't want to turn their world upside-down.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Scat Indoors

Okay, call it obsessive. I, however, prefer to think of it as intense curiosity. Yes, I went back out last night and collected the mystery scat. I brought it in to work this morning and have just finished dissecting the thing. Here are my findings:

1. It was mostly fur. I picked through every bit of it, looking for a clue of some sort that might suggest "whodunnit". The bits that I thought at first were wood chips turned out to be bits of dried grass and plant stems.

2. I'm 95% sure the victim was a fisher. This is based on the type, and color, of fur, and the claws.

3. I'm still clueless as to whose scat it is. The diameter of most of the pieces, and their overall shape (tapered ends), suggest canid to me.

The quantity and the large bits that presented themselves on that first day suggest it might be something else.

The fact that most of the scats I've found along this stretch of trail have been bear, suggest that this might be bear, although I've never seen a bear scat with this overall shape. Most bear scats I've seen (or seen in photos) are either log-shaped (and filled with berries, apples, etc.) or puddles, like cowpies. Some photos of grizzly scats come close, but we don't have grizzlies here (should we start a rumor?).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Large Mystery Scat Revisited

Yesterday evening I returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Vince needed more information than I could remember, so after inhaling a quick dinner, I grabbed my camera and a ruler, and Toby and I returned to the trail. I was surprised to find a new deposit right next to the old.

The original scat was greatly reduced in size, either thanks to the weather over the last week, or thanks to the vehicles that had driven through the area, or thanks to both.

Unfortunately, it was closing in on 7:00 PM when I reached the item in question. Although out in open areas the sun was still bright and visible, at this spot the sun was behind a mountain/hill/clump of trees, which meant lighting was poor. Photos taken sans flash are all dark and blurry (it's difficult to hold a camera and a dog steady at the same time). Photos taken with the flash didn't turn out much better. I think my next camera purchase will have to either be an external flash, or a macro lens. Hard choice. But I digress...

Here is a close-up of one of the new bits of scat. As you can see, it is filled with wood chips and coarse black fur.

This photo shows a good-sized clump of fur - almost like the tip of a weasel's tail in winter. I use this comparison simply for description, for the following images will prove that the food item was much larger than a weasel.

See? It's a claw! I found this in the original scat. Using a stick, I started to pick apart the largest bit of the old scat, the bit that in the original photos looked like a football with two sausages stuffed inside.

Further picking through the scat yielded a second claw. And since I had a ruler, I could demonstrate immediately just how big the claws are.

Now, I still don't know whose scat this is, but it looks to me like it ate a fisher. Why fisher? Well, the coarse black fur is one clue. The claws are a second clue. As previously stated, the claws are too big to be that of a weasel (as in short- or long-tailed). They are even too big to be from a marten (and the fur is the wrong color for a marten). Fur color might suggest mink, but not that coarse, and not with claws that big. We have a stuffed fisher here at work, and the claws are about the right size for that.

But, just to prove that I have an open mind, let's consider other options. What else could have coarse dark fur and large claws? A bear? Maybe a young bear. Coyote and fox and bobcat are eliminated because the fur is all wrong; these three animals have lighter colored fur. Yes, they also have black fur, but had it been any of those, there would very likely be evidence of some lighter fur, which there wasn't.

So, we have a rough idea of what was eaten, but not who did the eating. What would eat a fisher or a young bear? This would likely depend on whether the prey was killed and eaten, or if it was scavenged. This I cannot tell.

Unless the bits of wood are a clue.

I think I'm still leaning towards coyote as the predator and thus the depositor of the scat, albeit a very large coyote. It could be a bear, too, I suppose, but the formation of the scats just seem too canid-like to me. Our handy-man here at work, who has a background in wildlife management, is leaning toward bear.

I welcome the opinions of other scatologists and trackers.