Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Caught in the Act

How brazen! Out in the middle of broad daylight! The nerve!

We suspected this was the culprit responsible for the artificially dwarfed hollyhocks, but now it was ripping its way through the hostas as though they were so much lettuce.

I must admit I felt no sympathy for it as it twitched and shook itself at the insects trying to make the it their meal. Ha - fair play. You eat our garden, and the insects can have you!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the Garden

I zipped out into the butterfly garden this afternoon for a quick break. A tiger swallowtail fluttered by (we've had lots of these this year), but didn't hang around for a portrait session. Instead, I got this little fellow.

When I went back inside, I combed three butterfly books to try to identify it. After many frustrating minutes, I found it: an Arctic Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). In Butterflies Through Binoculars it is described as "a small, but choice, gift from the north." Isn't that delightful? And it is small, measuring less than an inch high when its wings are folded. I particularly like the banded antennae.

Our garden columbines are also in full bloom. While we have some variations in color, they are all in the pink/burgundy family. I love flowers with unusually-shaped blooms, and columbines certainly qualify.

Looks like we aren't the only ones interested in peeking inside the flower!

The Painted Daisies (Chrysantemem coccineum) add a vibrant splash of color to the gardens:

And this is the first year our Baptista (False Indigo, Baptista x varicolor 'Twilight Prairieblues') has bloomed! I almost mistook it for a lupine when I walked by.

Another Batty Update

I just spoke with Carl, the DEC dude who is heading up this bat survey, and here's the latest scoop from data that are coming in.

Reports are showing lots of Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus). The theory here is that because these bats have different overwintering strategies, they are doing okay and have so far been unaffected by WNS. It seems that many Big Browns overwinter in man-made structures (attics, barns, etc.) and as such have avoided the contamination in the caves.

They are also picking up lots of Hoary Bats (Lasiurus cinereus), as previously metioned. He didn't mention if Silver-haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans) or Red (Lasiurus borealis) Bats were showing up in the data.

Additionally, they are getting few if any hits of the small myotis, that is to say, the Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus). These are the ones hardest hit in the caves, so this does not come as a surprise.

Amy, Steve and I did another bat survey route on Sunday night down in Indian Lake. Twenty-two miles that route was, along a road that was VERY rocky. We didn't get very many hits, which surprised us since the route had several bodies of water nearby. Again most of our hits occurred closer to human habitation (street lights).

We have one more route to run: Pottersville to Weavertown. Then the equipment will be sent on to the next volunteer on the list.

I'll pass along other data as they come in.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Bats

Last night was Night #2 for the DEC Bat Survey for which I am volunteering (see "Help the Bats" post on 9 April). My fellow volunteers and I have been very pleasantly surprised that we have been picking up bats with the detector/computer set-up.

Our first night (Wednesday) we drove from Goodnow Flow down Route 28N and around the research loop at Huntington Forest, an almost 22 mile route (at 18 mph). Most of the hits we got were under the street lights along 28N (no surprise there).

Last night we started up in Tahawus at the Upper Works (known by hikers as the southern entrance to the High Peaks Wilderness Area). This was an easier route to drive because it is blessedly paved! So down the Tahawus Road we went, hanging a left onto the Blue Ridge Road, completing an 18 mile route. Again, we had several hits, mostly near bodies of water, which is where we expected to find them.

The data we (and other volunteers) collect will be reviewed by DEC, the sonograms examined to determine how many bats were located and what species. While I am no expert, I do have a tape I acquired a few years back of bat calls, and I suspect we encountered at least three, maybe four species between the two nights. Without having that tape handy to compare the recordings to what we are hearing, I can't tell you which species; we'll have to leave that to the DEC folks.

New York is home to nine species of bats: Little Browns, Big Browns, Indiana Bats, Red Bats, Hoary Bats, Silver-haired Bats, Small-footed Bats, Eastern Long-earred Bats(or Keene's Myotis), and Eastern Pipistrelles. Three of these (Reds, Hoarys, and Silver-haired) are solitary tree dwellers that migrate south for the winter. So far, as far as we know, they have not been affected by White-nose Syndrome (WNS).

Of the remaining species, the Indiana Bat is already classified as a Federally Endangered Species, and the Adirondacks host the fourth largest winter colony of this species. As you can imagine, there is great concern about this species and the impact of WNS upon it. Mortality surveys, however, indicate that Little Browns have been impacted the most. Little Browns are historically a very common species, but as WNS progresses, we may witness the fastest transition from common to extinct this planet has seen.

We plan to do a second survey on each of these Newcomb routes, just to gather as much data as possible. I am also scheduled to do a run down in Indian Lake, which I will be scoping out this weekend. All we need are a few more clear nights.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beautiful Moths

Toby made a great find this morning. We were on the third leg of our morning walk when suddenly the ol' pooch perked up and made a beeline to the roadside. There in the grass, barely moving, was a lovely cecropia moth. I picked it up and set it on my shirt - a beautiful living brooch. As we continued our walk, the moth started to shiver and shake - no doubt trying to warm up after a cool night. I noticed that its left hindwing had a tear, but otherwise it looked fine. When I got home, I set it in a box where it would have a quiet, dark, secure place to sit until I got to work. Suddenly it was active - must've warmed up. I could hear all sorts of scratchings and flutterings from inside the box. After about ten minutes it was quiet again. When I got to work, I grabbed the camera and the box and went outside for a photo shoot.

As you can see, the cecropia, which is one of the silk moths, is a large insect.

How beautiful it is with that large, striped furry body!

The large feathery antennae indicate that this is a male. With the silk moths, the males emerge before the females, so they are rarin' to go when the females come out. Like many other moths, he doesn't have functional mouthparts, so he won't be eating. Instead he'll live off his fat reserves, hopefully finding many females with which to mate before the fat supply is gone.

I couldn't resist getting a close-up of the wing - the colors are just stunning.

Next we have a polyphemus, which we found a couple days ago. This male has obviously seen better days:
It was still alive, but the ants were already trying to make off with it. So, I picked it up, blew off the ants, and took it home, where I stuck it in the freezer. This is the humane way to quickly end a moth's life. Like the cecropia above, this is a male - note the large, feathery antennae.

The centers of the wings' eye spots have lost their scales and are transparent. Moths have these eye spots to help deflect the attention of predators. Hopefully the potential predator sees the eye spots and thinks it is looking at something else entirely, like an owl, for example, and leaves the moth alone.

Luna moths, another of our native silk moths, also have eye spots, but the ones on the forewings are small. I found this wing back in early May. It is in pristine condition, except for the fact that it is no longer attached to the moth. "Luna moth green" is one of my absolute favorite colors.

According to my friend Lydia, who is the moth and butterfly guru at the Paul Smiths VIC, we should be starting to see the females silk moths fairly soon. Their antennae are not large and feathery, so you can easily tell them apart from the males. Lydia says that if you find a female silk moth, the odds are very good that she is gravid - heavy with eggs. While it is possible for you to raise her young, if she is not injured you should let her go and complete her life, laying her eggs on the appropriate host plant(s).

If she is lightly injured (say with a torn wing like the cecropia here), you can place her gently in a paper bag, close the top, and set it aside in a quiet place. She will lay her eggs within the bag before she dies. The eggs should hatch about 12 days later (sooner if it is warm). You will then have a bunch of silkworms to raise; be sure you know what species you have so you can provide the right food for them. After they grow up and pupate, you can release the adults to continue their species's survival in the wild.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ellen to the Rescue!

This morning I helped an enormous snapper cross the road. (You never have a camera around when you need one.)

I could see her lumbering across the road from a few hundred feet away - she was that big. As soon as I stopped the car, however, she stopped moving - not a good sign. I didn't have my shovel in the car, so I had to improvise. I grabbed the window scraper (luckily with a long handle) and tried to coax her to the roadside. She was having no part of it. She turned to face me and continually struck out. The speed at which these animals can strike is stunning! She refused to budge.

So, I scoured the back of the car for a Plan B. Found a box. I put the box in front of her and tried to push her across the pavement. She opted to crawl into the box (sort of). With her head safely out of range and surrounded by cardboard, I grabbed the flap of the box and tugged her to the grassy verge. Getting her out of the box now became the challenge. I finally had to upend the box, and there she lay, the proverbial turtle on her back. I went back for the window scraper and flipped her back upright.

I lucked out: only two other vehicles passed during this time. The first was a commuter/tourist in the other lane, who slowed down, stared, and drove on . The other zoomed up behind my car and turned out to be the educator from next door - he gave me the thumbs up for helping a turtle and zoomed around me towards the office. I was very lucky no log trucks came by (considering I had several pass me earlier in the morning).

Well, I've done my good deed for the day! I guess I can go home now. :D

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It Came from the Bottom of the Lake

Okay, not quite, but we were looking for aquatic invertebrates in a frog pond and at the outlet of Rich Lake - close enough.

This group of seventh graders had a great day for insect dipping. First we sampled at the outlet, where rushing water and rocking rocks made dipping a challenge. Mostly we had to turn over rocks to find the critters.

Stonefly nymph cases abounded - they were on every rock and all over the grasses along the shoreline! Here is a close-up shot of one; note the crack in the back, from which the adult (see below) emerged.

Some of the kids were really into it, while others preferred the view from the shore.

After a leisurely lunch on the bridge,

we moved to the Frog Pond. What a difference: still water, lots of emergent vegetation. Frogs galore, one tadpole, and many minnows.

This scarey-looking thing is a giant diving beetle (water tiger) larva - the mouthparts are impressive:

These guys were communing on the cattails:

All in all, it was a successful outing. Chaulk another one up for insects!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hannah's Plants - Mystery Solved

First and foremost, many thanks to my friend Evelyn for positively identifying the mystery plant from last week. Hannah went back in over the weekend and got these shots of it in bloom. We then scoured the field guides and the internet, looking for a positive ID, and what we found was Spotted (or Large) Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), BUT - it blooms in July. So, I sent copies to Evelyn who promptly said that it is indeed Spotted Coralroot, and it is early.

Hannah also got this lovely photo of a Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), in the "turning pink" stage. I've never seen this up here before, so it was a real treat.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

It's a Froggy Sort of Day

I went out early this morning (in theory to dodge the blackflies and mosquitoes - ha ha) to see what was blooming. I got some nice shots of pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

and it's unintentional (?) victim:


Every flower has an interesting back story, and here's the back story of the lady's slipper. This plant produces no food for it's seeds (it's not a very good parent). Without a food source, the seeds would surely perish. In a world where species survival is considered the whole purpose for existence, this is a poor strategy, so the lady's slipper has found a loop hole: it has developed a relationship with a fungus. This fungus breaks open the seed(s) and attaches to it/them. It is the fungus that brings food and nutrients to the seed and allows it to flourish and grow.

Now, what about the bee? No, the lady's slipper is not a carnivorous plant. What has happened here is that the flower attracted the bee for its nefarious purposes (pollination). The bee is supposed to scramble in, get covered with pollen as it searches for non-existent nectar, and then brush against the stamen and deposit the pollen as it exits. Often times the bee, having little brain, just doesn't find the exit and it perishes, like the one in the photo. Many bees, however, do make it out, and, if they are stupid enough, they may enter another lady's slipper in search of nectar- only to be fooled once more. Eventually the bee may learn to avoid lady's slippers. If not, well, you can see what can happen.

From the lady's slippers I moseyed over to the old beaver pond, where the dam blew out big time this winter.

That's the big gaping hole in the middle of the dam.

I parked myself on the shore and set about frog watching. All told, I had at least nine froggy friends hanging out with me, most very obliging for a photo shoot. So here is a selection of froggy fotos for your enjoyment.

Portrait of a Green Frog.

Frog on a log.

Lurking under a leaf.

My very favorite froggy foto: a face anyone could love!

On my way out (having fed more than my share of insects), I encountered this lovely pale Jack-in-the-pulpit:

Friday, June 5, 2009

WNS Update

North Country Public Radio had a update this morning about white-nose syndrome. They interviewed Scott Darling, a biologist for Vermont State, who estimated that Vermont has lost upwards of 400,000 bats in the last two years. WNS has just now been documented in Ontario and Quebec, and from what researchers have found, they suspect it could spread as far south at Georgia. To hear NCPR's story, follow this link and listen to the audio report by Brian Mann:

Chicken of the Woods

Last night Toby and I decided to take the “sewer trail” around behind the ‘burbs for a change of scenery. About half way down the path, I saw a ruffed grouse standing up on the raised man-hole. She must’ve seen us coming, for she jumped off and headed into the woods. As soon as we drew close, she went into action, doing her “poor-me-I-have-a-broken-wing” act. Unlike the dog, I was not fooled – I knew there had to be chicks somewhere nearby. A quick scan of the underbrush, and sure enough, there was one fluffy peep dashing about the forest floor. Meanwhile, Mom was tearing headlong through the trees, body so close to the ground that she looked like she was on wheels. Her head was stretched out in front, horizontal to the ground, and her right wing drooped. Toby was all excited: he swallowed her act hook, line and sinker.

I wondered, then, what she would do if we turned back towards her chicks, so I reeled the dog in and we walked back. I could hear the soft peeps of the chicks, but their camouflage worked well – I couldn’t see a one. After a few moments, I decided we should finish our walk. As we headed back down the trail, I could see that the mother had given up her act and was returning to her brood. This time, however, she stayed still and quiet in the underbrush and let us pass. Must be she figured we were far enough away that her babies were safe.

Grouse are interesting birds. To me they are essentially chickens. They look like chickens, they act like chickens. And, in my humble opinion, they are about as dopey as chickens. Whenever I come across a grouse in the road, it just stands there, never even trying to make it off the pavement. This is why so many end up as roadkill.

But they are beautiful. Their cryptic coloration is ideal for hiding in the woods…if only they would stay still. But no…as soon as danger is perceived (real or not) they flush with a thunder of wings for the trees (makes you wonder why they stand still on roads then, where their camouflage does them no good). The males are especially stunning when they fluff out their neck ruffs. No doubt their name comes from their similar appearance to the noblefolk of Europe from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, many of whom wore large starched ruffs around their necks as well. Must’ve been terribly uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, I seem to recall reading that that the starch used for these ruffs was so caustic that many suffered from severe skin irritations, all in the name of fashion. Go figure.

Grouse are probably the most interesting in the winter. To get ready for winter survival, they grow projections along the sides of their toes, funny little scales that increase the surface area of the feet, effectively turning them into snowshoes, enabling the birds to walk across the surface of the snow. Once winter comes, and snow has drifted into deep piles, grouse will often tunnel into the snow banks for the night, like an Eskimo in an igloo. This is a great survival strategy for when the temps plummet below zero, but if the snow should develop a hard crust over night (say it rains and freezes, for example), the safe igloo becomes a tomb.

From now until the snow flies, you can expect to hear the drum of the grouse almost any time you walk into the Adirondack woods. If you are very lucky, you will get to witness this in action. The male sets himself up on a choice log, stands up tall and beats the air with his wings, each thrust making a thumping sound. The cadence starts slow, speeds up as the wings become a blur, suddenly stopping with a PRRRRRR. A couple years ago I had a front row seat to a spectacular grouse display. Two males were on the ground below a shrub, each taking turns strutting about and drumming, trying to impress the female who was perched in the branches above them. It was worth the price of admission to see.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Inscrutable Sphinx

Hannah came in this morning with a nice moth photo for us:

We feel this is a Small-eyed Sphinx (Paonias myops), which is a fairly common moth. According to the field guides, this moth prefers cherry trees, which we have in abundance. It will also eat birches, hawthorns, poplars, other members of the Prunus genus, and willows, all of which are also a dime a dozen in these parts. These are, of course, host plants for the larvae, for the adults have no mouths. Like many lepidopterans, they live just a few days and exist for one purpose only: mating. The female attracts the male using airborne pheremones. Eggs are laid on the host plant(s), where they hatch and the larvae feed. When it comes time to pupate, they head underground.

So head outside and keep your eyes peeled. From now until the snow flies (hopefully not again until fall), things will be happenin', and you just never know what you will encounter if you look!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Calling All Plant People!

Okay, all you Plant People: we have a mystery plant here and need your help in identifying it.

It was found in the moist woods along the road into Camp Santanoni here in Newcomb. The photo was taken by Hannah Lee, one of our college interns this summer. According to Hannah, it was about 8-10" tall when she took this photo, which was over this last weekend.

I suspect that part of our problem in identifying this is that the flowers are not open yet. Even so, we've looked at all the saprophytic plants in Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and none seem to match. We are leaning towards it being some kind of orchis, but can get no further.

Suggestions? Ideas? I'm counting on you, Woodswalker, to know what it is!!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

You Just Never Know About the Weather

Yes indeedy - the last day of May was one for the record books. Well, perhaps not, but weather-wise it was certainly interesting.

The day started off cool and breezy. Clouds and rain came and went. About 10:00 AM I headed into the garden to plant tomatoes. The sun was warm, the breeze cool. I filled two and a quarter veg beds with tomatoes, topping off the last one with some pathetic-looking broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.

As the afternoon progressed, the winds picked up. A neighbor stopped by for some tomato plants and mentioned that frost was in the forecast for that night, so I put additional row covers out over the tomatoes. I had to keep scrounging up rocks to hold them down for the wind was threatening to send them into the next county.

About mid-afternoon I went inside. The winds continued to accelerate. About 4:20 I decided to go out and put a row cover over the remaining unplanted tomato plants. I went only out to find they had been blown off the picnic table and were scattered (some in their pots, some out of them) on the ground! As I hastily tried to figure out which plant went in which pot (they had been labeled as to which variety they were), I heard a crack! and turned around in time to see a tree crash across the road. Quickly I shoved plants into pots and put them all under the picnic table (too bad if there were slugs), and wrestled the rowcover over the whole mess. I looked up to see it,,, snowing! The dog and I raced for the house. I stood at the back door and watched the storm - big flakes were crashing to the ground, and the wind whipped the grass (which I had just mown) like water on a lake. It was something to see.

By 4:45 the sun was out and blue sky glittered above.

Toby and I went for a walk - checked out the fallen tree (turns out there were three, and several more are leaning precariously). Someone was already on the scene with a chainsaw clearing the road.

When I returned from our montly book club meeting later that night (around 9:30), the air was calm; a crescent moon shown in a cloudless sky. Sure enough, this morning we woke to white ground: a hard (and killer) frost.

I haven't had the courage to check the tomatoes.