Thursday, April 30, 2009
You Just Never Know What You're Gonna Find
The big find of the morning (and of course I had no camera, seeing as how I was picking up trash and didn't think I'd need it) was colonies of busy little bees flying in and out of their nests in the ground. They were small fuzzy bees, and their nests were pencil-sized holes centered in small mounds of sand - very much like anthills. I hunkered down next to them to watch, and our volunteer stood nearby taking it all in. I suspected these were some sort of solitary ground dwelling bee, and as such no threat.
When I came back inside, I hopped online to scour the ether for any information I could find to ID these bees. I believe they are miner or digger bees. The best information I could find was at: forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/bees/msg0314292022043.html.
Digger/miner bees are solitary, building single cell nests in loose sandy soil that has little vegetation. Several of these bees may be nesting in the same area. They come out on sunny days (like this morning), foraging for pollen and laying their eggs. They are beneficial pollinators, and they are apparently fairly docile (translation: they don't sting unless highly provoked). If you have them in your yard, you want to keep them around for the benefit of your gardens.
I was going to grab the camera after work and snap a couple shots, but it's clouding over now and is supposed to rain. I'll try to get photos the next sunny day we have that I can escape the office for a few moments.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Not sure if they were last year's left-overs (if possible after the winter's snows and all that shovelling), or new this spring, I decided to wait and see.
Today I noticed there were more! YES! We have bats!! I took the bat detector out, just in case I could pick anything up, but it really is designed to pick up bat echolocation calls, not their relaxed-at-home chatter, so I wasn't disappointed to get no signals. I may have to come back one evening this week and take a listen!
Remember last year we did a baby bat rescue out front (me climbing a ladder with a box in one hand)? This is the same spot. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus). I wish we had the wherewithal to mist-net them and check their condition, but we don't. None-the-less, it is great to have them back in these uncertain bat survival times.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I also found red maple flowers:
Don't they remind you of fireworks?
And, as I gazed across one of the coves, a whirlwind of yellow dust swirled above the marsh. A veritable pollen tornado. Of course I had to go see what had been the source. This is what I found:
This marshy area is full of buttonbush, so immediately I thought that was it, but buttonbush flowers don't look at all like this, and it's not a male buttonbush flower opening first, because the buttonbush flower we all know and love isn't around until mid-summer, and if those are the female form, then the pollen being released now wouldn't do them any good. [inhale] So, I need to figure this one out. It's a woody-stemmed shrubby thing, alternate branching, thick as thieves in the wetland. And, of course, no leaves yet. Sweet Gale? Could be - has catkins over winter which open into golden-brown staminate (male) flowers. I know there's sweet gale (Myrica gale) in this wetland. Yes, I'm going with sweet gale. Unless there are other suggestions...
The wind is blowing like mad out there - felt quite good (despite the falling debris, branches and even trees). And the dragonflies were getting quite a ride from the gusts. Yes, dragonflies - Common Green Darners (bright blue abdomen, green thorax and head) - Anax junius. This is about a month early for our first dragonfly sightings of the year, but there they were, zooming all over the marsh, even a couple in the mating clasp. I tried to get photos, I really did, but they were too fast and too far away for any of my shots to turn out.
The warblers are back, too - many were in the trees, zipping out to nab insects that were taking advantage of the warm air above the marsh. I have yet to master warbler songs (beyond the obvious beer-beer-beer-beer-beez of the black-throated blue and the zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee of the black-throated green).
Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum) - rues have such lovely scalloped/lobed leaves that are easily identified, but check out these splendid flowers! Each of those dangly bits are the stamens, the anther being the fat bit at the end. The stamens dangle like so much fringe, reminding me strongly of a belt my mom had in the '70s.
Shadbush (Amalanchier sp.) - there are so many varieties of shadbush/serviceberry/shadblow (pick your name) that in college we just lumped them all together as Amalanchier sp. - a good collective name. As you can see, the shad is in full bloom down below. I'll give it another couple weeks up here. The names come from folklore: shadbush/shadblow referred to the coincidence that this tree came into bloom as the shad were running (shad are a large fish that lives in the Hudson - it's fisheries are not doing well these days - commercial fishing has overtaxed the native stock and it is in decline); serviceberry refers to a more solemn event - when the tree came into bloom the ground was soft enough to bury those who passed away during the winter.
Insects abounded. While flowers were our main target, some insects joined the photo shoot. I have no idea what this is, but it looks freshly emerged. It had bright red eyes, too. We saw giant bumblebees, assorted flies, and I even picked up my first tick of the season - luckily a wood tick, not a deer tick.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Spring Creeps into the Woods
Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) has beautiful flourescent pink buds!
And check out the bright pink female flowers of the
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Peepers and Snowflakes
This morning in was snowing in earnest. Big, fat flakes whirling about in furious storm. The mini-blizzard only lasted a very few minutes, but even so, snow is snow. Spring is full of weather contradictions.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
How Fast Does Spring Move Northward?
Well...here's the scoop.
Spring moves northward at about 16 miles per day, or about 100 miles per week. This only applies on ground level (say, the Great Plains). Spring moves uphill at about 100 feet per day. [Mountains - that's why we are so far behind!]
So, for example: Take two locales, City A and City B.
* A is 100 miles north of B;
* Plant X blooms in B on 1 April;
* Expect X to bloom in A about 8 April;
* However, if A is 800 feet higher than B, add antoher eight days: X will bloom in A about 16 April.
Patience...it's a virtue.
In the meantime, we will enjoy our coltsfoot, daffodils and crocii.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
It MUST Be Spring Now
These attractve brown and orange butterflies overwinter as adults and are often the first butterflies seen when the sun warms the earth in the spring. By June they have reproduced and the next generation takes over. (Photo: http://www.rlephoto.com/)
The larvae are light green and sport black spikes, and may be found feeding on their favorite foods: aspens, birches or willows. By July they have pupated and turned into adults, which will flutter about until fall temperatures send them into hibernation. (Photo: www.flickr.com/.../804881190/in/set-1103532/).
This butterfly is in the family commonly called Brushfooted Butterflies (Nymphalidae), which apparently refers to the fact that the first set of legs are either small or greatly reduced. Why this is thus "brushfooted" I'm not sure, and so far I haven't found out. If anyone out there is a butterfly enthusiast and knows, please share!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Apples, much as we may think they are totally American, actually originated over in the Middle East! Over the centuries they have worked their way around the world, with many many varieties found and lost.
Found and lost? Yes, indeed! These days there are only a handful of apples that are regularly found: red and golden delicious, macintosh, pink lady, etc. The typical grocery store varieties. And these have mostly been bred for size, visual appeal, and staying power on the shelves. Forget taste!
Nope, if you want really good, and interesting apples, you must seek out heritage strains. Apples with names like "Dudley Winter," "Cox's Orange Pippin" and "Dutchess of Oldenburg." There are nurseries out there that strive to save these heirloom strains of apples, and it is well worth finding and patronizing them! I've gotten my heirloom apples from Fedco (in Maine) and St. Lawrence Nurseries (up in Potsdam).
Not only are these ancient apple types interesting, many have good insect and disease resistance, as well as hardiness for cold zones like here in Newcomb!
So, let's hope that planting apple trees means I will be around here long enough to see them produce fruit. Seeing as how four of my five new trees are basically sticks, that means several years. Here's hoping!
This website/blog covers many things Adirondack, from politics and economics to humor and the environment. It's a good source for finding out the latest scoop on what's happening in the North Country. Check it out.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
A Little Ray of Sunshine
Friday, April 10, 2009
And yesterday evening Toby and I saw our first flicker of the season.
Spring, even though it comes every year and is more or less predictable, still leaves us all excited as each "first" of the season comes along: first frog, first flower, first robin, first pussy willows, etc. I suspect this is an ancestral thing, when the people from hundreds, or even thousands of years ago greeted spring as another winter survived and the return of life all around. Sometimes it still feels this way.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Help the Bats!
Carl Herzog is one of the DEC's biologists working on the whole White-nose Syndrom problem. I went to a talk he gave last spring about WNS and left my name as a contact should any volunteers be needed to help out with anything batty. Today I received an email from him looking for volunteers. If you are interested, here's what Carl sent me:
Here's a very quick overview of the project:
You probably already know about the White-nose problem for the bats. It affects bats that spend the winter in caves and mines and this study will help us keep track of them. NY also has three other species that fly south for the winter. Unfortunately, these three are the ones that get killed regularly at wind turbine sites. Another goal of this study is to determine if these losses to the migratory bats will have an affect on their populations.
When bats fly, they emit high frequency sounds that we can detect with special equipment. Most of the time we can tell which species made the sound. Our plan is to attach this equipment to the roof of a car and drive pre-planned routes, recording the bat calls we encounter. Each car requires two people, a driver and a navigator/equipment operator. We are looking for volunteers from all across the state to fill these two roles.
Between training, preparation, driving the route, and submitting the data, total time commitment can be as short as 3-4 hours. Some folks will want to do more and we can definitely use the help. The routes take about an hour to drive and will be run shortly after sunset during June. The attached map shows how the routes are distributed.
Requirements to participate and not stringent. A team of two obviously needs at least one licensed driver. Use of the equipment requires some basic knowledge of Windows-based computers: following software installation instructions, saving and copying files, etc. The equipment itself is actually pretty easy to operate and we can teach participants all of the details.
We will supply all of the specialized equipment and software, of course, but we are hoping that most of the volunteers already have access to a laptop computer that can be used. Most any laptop manufactured in the last 5 years will work. If you don't have access to a computer, we can probably match you up with someone who does. We also have a few that we can loan out.
That's probably enough information for now. Do you think you might be able to identify folks who could help out with this?
State Wildlife Grants Biologist
NY State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 BroadwayAlbany, NY 12233
Office: 518-402-8908 Cell: 518-461-4582
fax: 518-402-8925 http://www.dec.state.ny.us/
This is the map of the routes. Is there one near you?
If you are still interested in helping out, you can either contact me or Carl.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Small Mammals 101
* The deer mouse’s fur is very soft and luxuriant, which the white-footed mouse’s is not.
* Deer mouse fur tends towards grey on the upper parts, uniform in color or possibly with a faint darker stripe down the middle; white-footed mouse fur tends to be more of a reddish- or orangish-brown, not grey, with a dark strip along the middle of the back from head to tail.
* The deer mouse’s tail is dark above and white below (bicolored), is longer than the combined length of the animal’s head and body, and has a tuft of white hairs at the tip; the white-footed mouse’s tail is shorter than the head and body length, is pale below but not white, and does not have a white, tufted tip.
Note the large ears, as well as large eyes (or, in this case, eye holes). We’ll leave the jumping mice for another day.
The Adirondacks are indeed home to Star-nosed Moles, (Condylura cristata), which are noted for the eleven “tentacles” that sprout from the tip of the nose. These tentacles are believed to detect vibrations or electrical signals of prey under ground or under water. Yes – the star-nosed mole is a very capable swimmer and over 75% of its food comes from an aquatic source. Sadly, I didn’t find a specimen of this creature at the AEC, but if you ever have the chance to see one, it is a must.
Then there are the shrews, which are not rodents. Shrews are in a category all their own: insectivora. The most common shrew is this fellow here – the Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda):
Blarina is a hefty shrew (most shrews tend to be fairly small), most noted for its venomous saliva. Yes, Blarina is a deadly predator, which actively hunts other small mammals, even those larger than itself, savagely biting them and “injecting” them with its toxic spit, which is a neurotoxin that shortly paralyzes the food item, enabling this small predator to haul it off without a struggle. According to D.A. Saunders, this shrew’s poison gland contain enough toxin to do in about 200 mice. This is a serious predator.
In the Adirondacks one can also find Water Shrews (Sorex palustris):
Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus), Smoky Shrews (Sorex fumeus), Long-tailed or Rock Shrews (Sorex dispar), and Pygmy Shrews (Sorex hoyi). I’ll try to get photos of these fellows at a later date and do a blog on shrews. Note that all shrews have the long pointy snouts – a good clue to look for.
Monday, April 6, 2009
The Newcomb Vole Preserve
The thing that stands out the most in the yard this spring is the VOLE activity. I think every vole in Newcomb took up residence in my yard this winter! I had left all the trimmings from my apple trees and from the cut down honeysuckles neatly stacked in various locations. The voles nailed them all - no bark left on any branch that was tender and tasty. Maybe this spared my other plants, like the lilac, which they nailed last year. The yard is covered with vole tunnels, and a lot of the mulch in the flower beds has been relocated (voles being #1 suspect).
What is a vole? A vole is not a mole (although many folks think they are the same). A vole is a small mammal with a short tail, small ears, and smallish eyes. It is about the same size as a mouse...maybe a bit larger. I knew one person who said "if a mouse is a hamburger, a vole is a quarter-pounder." Or, as I always put it, a quarter-pounder with fleas. Hee hee.
Anyway, the critter many people refer to as the "meadow mouse" is actually a meadow vole! They are very common, and can often be seen scampering across the road. These are the ones who leave the open-topped tunnels all over your yard when the snow melts. They also leave bundles of grass in fields - these are often referred to as nests.
Additionallyk, we have the red-backed vole, which is usually/most often found in the woods. These are lovely small mammals with an orangish-red strip (quite wide) down the back.
A mole is almost entirely fossorial (lives its life underground). It has no external ear flaps, wee-itty-bitty-almost-invisible eyes, and very large, spatulate front feet that are used for digging. These guys leave the humped up mounds of dirt in your yard. Up here we have mostly commonly hairy-tailed moles. I'll have to look it up when I get to work, but I think we also have star-nosed moles in the Adirondacks, but I'm not 100% sure (I haven't seen one in ages).
"They" are calling for more snow by tomorrow: 1-5". Well...it is only early April. And even if we get the entire 5", it won't last. That's the great thing about spring: the weather may be lousy, but it won't last.
Friday, April 3, 2009
After unwrapping the trees (which mostly are sticks with a few roots on one end), I set them in a bucket of water – optimistic that I could get them all planted that evening. In reality, only five made it into their permanent holes; the rest have been heeled in until I have time to dig seven more $500 holes – maybe Saturday morning before I have to leave for the cheese-making workshop.
$500 holes? Yep – you shouldn’t just dig any ol’ hole and stick your tree in and refill it. Oh, no. That would be too easy! No, you have to dig a hole at least two feet across (three would be even better) and one-and-a-half to two feet deep. The sod goes in one pile, the topsoil in a second pile and the subsoil in a third. THEN you put the sod back into the hole, root side upwards: this will provide food for the new tree roots. Then you add the topsoil (and the tree, so its roots are now getting covered). Once the topsoil is in, add two to three gallons of water. Now everything is swimming. This is topped off with the subsoil. By reversing the soil layers, you have put the nutrients down at the base where the roots can access them. If you are really diligent, you will also add compost and such to the top soil, making a really rich food base for the tree. My compost is still iced in, so the trees are going to have to make do with a little peat moss instead. Once everything is in place, you stomp (gently) on the soil (which may be floating, thanks to all that water, if it hasn’t been absorbed yet), packing it in place and forcing out any air holes. This also serves to anchor the tree.
So, what am I using to replace the alien invaders? I have two hawthorns, one nannyberry, two pin cherries, two staghorn sumacs, two red panicled dogwoods, and three serviceberries. All native, all good berry producers for the birds. When they finally get some height to them, they will make a good “hedge,” once more providing a barrier between my land and the neighbor’s (besides the dog fence).
When the dog and I finally got out for our walk, we were graced with the presence of woodcocks! This is the first I’ve heard them this spring, but this is also the latest we’ve been out in a few weeks. With the mild weather we’ve been having, it’s very possible that the woodcocks have been back for a bit.
First, you hear the peent! Next to peepers, it is one of the best audio signs of spring. Then you hear the twittering as the male flies upwards in an ever-climbing spiral, eventually disappearing into the gloom above. When you’ve pretty much lost the bird, it starts its downward plunge, tumbling back to the earth with a popping, squeaking sort of sound. Suddenly the sound ends, and the bird, if you can find it, lands on its patch of ground and begins peent-ing again.
I could’ve stayed and watched for a while, but the dog was not impressed (although if we had gotten really close to the bird, he would’ve become very interested), so we moseyed along back towards home.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Signs of Spring
The river is finally “up.” We had over half an inch of rain over the weekend and at last this has made the Hudson rise. All the ice is now gone at the pump house, too (and it was still iced in on Saturday), so it now looks more like spring conditions.
Last night the skies had cleared a bit, and soaring overhead were three turkey vultures (the first of the year), followed shortly by a merlin zipping by (another first for ’09).
We still have no wildflowers blooming, nor any frogs singing, but perhaps these will be early firsts this year, too.