To all those interested in the natural world. Please add your sightings.

In the woods we return to reason and faith-Emerson


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12.17.11 This has been an unusual fall. What else accounts for a bluet in bloom at this time of year?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12.15.11 The absence of leaves opens a new vista in the woods. Birds are easier to spot; so are their nests. The artful weaving in this little Red-eyed Vireo nest has withstood some challenging weather. Lashed into the crotch of a beech branch with white birch bark and spider webs, the exterior is constructed of strips of white birch bark, twigs, and spider webs; its lining is white pine needles and lichens. After nest building, it is a wonder that the bird has any energy left to raise a family - and then fly to South America for the winter!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12.14.11 Polyphemus moth larvae do a wonderful job of camouflaging and protecting their chrysalis. As the larvae prepares itself for overwintering, it attaches its chrysalis inside a large (over-sized) cocoon with silk threads and wraps itself in leaves, also attached by silk; the whole apparatus is attached to two twigs of a beech tree branch resembling beech leaves that do not drop. Gentle pressure on the cocoon, as well as observing the hole into it made me confident that it was uninhabited. The strength of those silk threads was impressive. First, I unwrapped the beech leaves; then I opened the cocoon. Bernd Heinrich notes in Winter World that the pupae also have biochemical protection to prevent death by freezing. Despite all the preparation, I think the chrysalis was invaded; otherwise, the beech leaves would be more weathered had it spent all of last winter and summer since its construction. Quite a feat of engineering!

Monday, December 12, 2011

12.12.11 The weather is perfect for making ice needles. When the air temperature is below freezing and the soil temperature is warmer, moisture near the surface freezes into ribbon-like structures, called ice needles by some. The ice crystals push dirt and rocks to the surface and leave them there. Walking on ice needles can be precarious because they often give way unexpectedly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

All manner of beings come in from the cold at this time of year. I've found three Assassin Bugs in the house in the last week. They are considered "good" bugs since they prey on other insects. I wonder if they are in competition with the spiders that hide in the corners. At any rate, their coloration and pattern designs are decorative enough to provide inspiration for humans to mimic.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

12.07.11 What I've missed by staying dry on rainy days! Today I discovered that not only White Pine collect bubble masses at their base; Black birch and Maples do, too. The Black birch won the prize today for the biggest pile. Today's sample was many fewer trees, but a much higher percentage of mature pines had at least a bit of foam; only one Black birch; and two maples each had small bits of foam (by comparison).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Never seen anything like it before. A rock growing in a tree.

What appears to be the head - complete with eye and beak - of a bird is actually the tail end of a Downy Woodpecker.
The bird is head down in the hole that it is excavating for its winter roost site.

After the rain this morning, while the trees were moist and black, a few of the Eastern White Pines in my neighborhood had pools of what appeared to be soapsuds running down crevices in the bark and accumulating at their base. As soon as a breeze stirred, the bubbles were gone. Research seems to indicate that fatty acids in the bark sometimes combine with oxygen and rain to create these bubbles. I checked probably more than 100 trees, but found 'suds' on only 3.

While I was out, I was delighted to be visited by about 5-6 Golden- crowned kinglets flitting about as they fed in the pines; one perched on a branch less than a yard from my face and stayed still long enough to afford a really long look to appreciate its bright yellow cap, bordered by black, short tail, and wing bars. A chickadee that was nearby looked large by comparison.

12.06.11 On a recent frosty morning, the red berry helped me spot this Wintergreen snuggled into frost-laced green moss. There are several members of the Wintergreen (or Pyrola) family in our area. This one takes its family name as its own. The nodding waxy flower produces a shiny red seed on its drooping stem; bruising the leathery leaf produces the aroma of the familiar oil of wintergreen. Nearby the ice sculptures of Frostweed, another aptly named plant, were conspicuous with their shining white swirls in the leaf litter, moss, and dried grasses at ground-level.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

11.26.11 This morning I noticed a large circle of new wood chips on the snow underneath a poplar tree in the woods near my house. While I leaned against a nearby maple tree looking at the work, movement caught my attention. A little brown creeper spiraled up the poplar, stopped to check each of the holes the pileated woodpecker had made, then continued its spiral upward. It dropped to the ground and thoroughly inspected the wood chips as well, then went back to spiral up the tree again.
Farther along my walk, the mahogany color of this quivering Jelly leaf fungus (Tremella foliacea) glistened in the early sun.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

11-23 Old Puzzle - New Clues
After an overnight snowstorm on Dec.,30,1998 I found over 100 cutworms atop the fresh snow covering my back lawn. The following night temperatures dropped to -8 degrees Fahrenheit. Even after laying atop the snow at sub-zero temperatures these worms were capable of thawing out and resuming normal activity after just half an hour inside!
This morning the snow on my lawn was once again peppered with cutworms. Well over 100 of them. Perhaps Winter Cutworms AKA Snow Earthworms (Noctua Pronuba) which may stay active and feed even under the snow.
Winter cutworms were first introduced from europe into Nova Scotia. They were first seen in Vermont in 1989.
Winter cutworms or, as I prefer, Snow cutworms are the larvae of the Large Yellow Underwing moth.
My identification of these as Snow Cutworms is tentative at best, and I was a little hesitant to share anything about which I'm so uncertain. But, I now (after 13 years) have pictures of the worms... atop the snow!
If not Snow Cutworms, what? And why?
(One of the accompanying pictures is of a worm on the snow. The other was taken inside.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frostweed lives up to its name, extruding feathery frost confections from its winter sere stem.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chickweed is green, healthy and in flower. It will stay green under the winter snows and resume flowering next spring at the earliest opportunity.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The dark metallic blue Short-winged Blister Beetle feigns death if disturbed, falling on its side and exuding droplets of blister-causing fluids from its leg joints.
Adult Short-winged Blister Beetles eat herbaceous foliage. Larvae are parasitic on bees.
I find these beetles in the fall along woodland paths and trails.

American Larch (Tamarack) is the only conifer that loses all of its needles every year. The inch-long needles grow in tufts along the branches. All summer, Tamaracks blend into the landscape with other conifers, but at this time of year the needles change to golden yellow and for a brief time, they really stand out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rapping, rapping - first on the back wall, then on the roof; finally a little downy woodpecker came into view where he'd been testing the resonance of his drumming on a vacated bird house; when no bird came out the front door, in went the downy - to try out the sound from inside! This house provided shelter to tree swallows that raised two broods this summer. Perhaps this little bird was auditioning the house as a winter shelter.

In a nearby field, Golden Alexanders makes one last - seemingly out of season - attempt at flowering. I expect to find Alexanders flowering late spring and early summer. Finding one in November seems a bit incongruous ... but, there it is.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

White Clematis (aka Virgin's Bower) unfurls its feathery seed plumes to the fall winds.

Monday, November 7, 2011

One of the hearty and ubiquitous Sulphur Butterflies warmed to the midday sun in my field today.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I have two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, one juvenile and one female visiting my suet feeders.
For the last several years Sapsuckers have over-wintered in my neighborhood, although historically the northern extreme of their winter range was Massachusetts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

11.03.11 In spite of recent wintery weather, these Ravenel's Stinkhorns seem to be continuing to develop at the base of a decaying maple tree. The pinkish round structure is the first above-ground appearance of this fungus from its mycelial tissue - "rootlets". The cap, on its spongy-looking white stalk pushes out of the volva; spores are dispersed through the white-ringed opening in the cap. Usually, the odor rouses my awareness to their presence before I see them; in today's cold temperature, that was not so.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

As the snow melts, dandelions are opening; half a dozen brightened my lawn today.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10.23.11 Raccoons often come to my garden and yard foraging for dropped fruit and whatever else they can find. These tracks were made last night, probably on their way to look for apples.

Now the leaves are falling, the nests of baldfaced hornets are easier to see. This one, about the size of a basketball, is about 30 feet off the ground. Foxes, raccoons, and skunks looking for larvae to eat will tear apart the nest if it's near the ground. Constructed at the end of a small branch in the top of a maple tree, this nest will be protected from those predators unless a severe wind knocks it down. Birds sometimes use the nest 'paper' in constructing their own nests in the spring.

Monday, October 17, 2011

10.17.11 It's that time of year: as I walked through woods populated with many robust red oak and beech in varying stages of vigor, the ground was littered with acorn caps and the prickly burs of beechnuts, many opened in their three-part symmetry. I was thoroughly scolded by a tail-shaking gray squirrel that skittered back and forth on a high branch of a white pine. A chipmunk peered from the hole in a dead beech where it was storing nuts. We observed each other for several unblinking minutes as it tried to sneak away to get on with business. As soon as my gaze shifted, the chipmunk was gone. This beech snag is host to Tinder polypore, (Fomes fomentarius) the gray hoof-like fungus and a number of other fungi, in addition to providing a storage chamber for this chipmunk.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

10.16.11 We've been learning about and looking for Woolly Hemlock Adelgids for a couple years because their alien origin leaves them in our environment without natural predators, thus they're free to multiply and spread and cause the eventual death of Hemlock trees. The Woolly Alder Aphid pictured here feeds, reproduces, and multiplies in much the same way as the Woolly Hemlock Adelgid; however, it doesn't get out of control because it has native predators that keep it in check. Like many other aphids, this aphid is tended by ants which benefit from the "honeydew" that they produce. The sap the aphids suck from the host is primarily sugars; to get enough protein for reproduction, the aphid consumes more sugar than they need, and honeydew is produced to get rid of this excess. The honeydew is what causes the black, sooty deposit on surfaces below the aphids.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

10.15.11 Sun has been in short supply lately, so a walk into the woods in sun was irresistible. Among the fallen leaves, I noted this mushroom with its margin rolled back, filled with rain water. The warty growths on the surface gave the appearance of a gem-studded urn. I've tentatively identified it as Scleroderma aurantium; if anyone can positively identify it, please let me know! Along a noisy, leaf-littered stream, the witch-hazel shrub is coming into bloom, just as its leaves are turning yellow and dropping. Hamamelis virginiana blossoms in the fall; it is unusual in that flower, fruit, and next year's leaf buds appear simultaneously on the branches.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Closed or Bottle Gentian (G. andrewsii) is in flower along East-West Road.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This paper wasps' nest has enveloped the end of the maple limb it hangs on. Still green maple leaves bisect its outer layer, providing a bit of unintentional camouflage.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Large groups of nighthawks were on the move this evening. Between 630 and 7:30 pm about 80 passed over my house.; thirty-five in one swarm.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aphids suck the top of a milkweed dry as a Monarch caterpillar feeds lower down on the same plant.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A 1 1/4 inch long female Dogday Harvestfly hangs atop a slender Silverod stem. Dogday harvestflies are a kind of Cicada. Their nymphs which live underground and feed on "root juices" take 3 years to mature. Adults live one season, just long enough to mate and lay eggs. The eggs are laid on the twigs of trees, but soon after the eggs hatch the larvae drop to the ground where they will burrow in and stay hidden down among the roots until they reach maturity.

Friday, August 19, 2011

8.19.11 Drama in the garden! A Braconid wasp injected her eggs into this Tomato Hornworm; the developed larvae spun these cocoons, attached all over the outside of the hornworm, from which they will pupate. Left alone, a Tomato Hornworm can eat its way through a lot of foliage and tomatoes in the course of its development.
The throat of the Willow Gentian in the flower bed was the hiding spot of the white goldenrod crab spider. When the moth visited the flower last night,'the spider grabbed the moth with its long front legs, injected a paralyzing poison and digestive enzymes into the moth. After the spider's enzymes have turned the insides of the insect into liquid, the spider sucks the prey dry until only the exoskeleton of the insect remains' according to Mary Holland in Naturally Curious.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

8.17.11 Swampy areas are always enticing to plant hunters. Common Buttonbush, a shrub, may grow in 4 feet of water; today's specimen was growing in open water of unmeasured depth, accessible to me only by the zoom lens on my modest camera. The black, spatulate fungi, called Earth Tongues, were growing in the sphagnum moss at the margin of the swamp. Just a bit inland, this Earth Fan (Thelephora terrestris) was found in the undergrowth of trees.