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.