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

In the woods we return to reason and faith-Emerson


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Utah Gray Partridges in a Spruce tree

Greetings all!   No pear tree, but. . .  Seen through a cloud of thick gray fog this morning, 10 Gray Partridges were huddled underneath a Blue Spruce tree in the back yard.  As the fog lifted, they ventured out to feed in the snow.  The lone male has large dark patches on his breast; the females' breasts are gray and white.  The rusty heads and barred sides are similar in both sexes.  This is probably the same family that I observed in the area over the summer; their numbers are reduced from 13, but I never observed a male with them.  Gray Partridges were imported from Europe; I've heard them referred to as "Hungarian Partridges."   The bird feeders are now up, but we've observed only two goldfinches taking advantage of the free provisions.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A few Myrtle blossoms still grace the corner of Hague Rd. Myrtle is a hardy garden escape, an alien, yet any flowers are welcome now!

Friday, December 21, 2012

At dawn many winter cutworms - and the occasional earthworm - were crawling atop the snow!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cave Crickets (Ceuthophilus maculatus) survive the winter in our spring house.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Two common lichens, British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) and Pyxie Cups (Cladonia pyxidata) add a touch of color to the fall landscape.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

At least 4 Bluebirds have been foraging under my bird feeders. They appear to be gleaning crumbs of suet dropped by other birds. They may also be eating some millet. And they are learning to go directly to the hanging feeders for food.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In sheltered spots a few Witch Hazel blossoms can still be found. These fertilized flowers will not start to form seed pods until next spring and the seeds will mature late next summer. When the mature seed pods eventually dry out, tension builds within the pod until it pops open explosively, casting seeds away from the parent plant.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The dried heads of Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) stand ready to spread seeds on the November wind. John

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Today during my ramble I picked up this decapitated but nevertheless rather pretty snail shell along the shore of a pond.
Perhaps a Chinese Mystery Snail (?) so called because the species gives birth to live young rather than laying eggs in "normal" snail fashion.
Mystery snails were imported into the US by the aquarium industry and are quickly spreading nationwide.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Frost Flowers" graced the West River bike trail this am. Frost flowers form when moisture is wicked up the dried stem of a Frostweed and freezes as it's extruded through splits in the stem, forming frothy ribbon-candy shapes.
 Frost flowers can also form on a wide array of other woody weeds. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

11.01.12 Utah: bison, jackrabbit and owl

11.01.12   Antelope Island, a 28,000A island in The Great Salt Lake, is home to one of the largest public-owned bison herds in the U.S.  Managed by the Department of Wildlife Resources, the 500-700 animals are rounded up annually (this year they used horses to herd them in), given a health inspection, vaccinated as needed; and to maintain a balance of gender and ages, a number of animals are selected out for auction.  Some will go to private ranches to increase their herd; others will use meat.  Proceeds from the sale go to support the island's herd.   We watched as some of the animals were taken into the corral for their check-up.  The auction was held the following day.   The older, larger males were not part of the round-up; one of these is pictured.

            Startled from  feeding on Gray rabbit brush, the jackrabbit hopped across the sagebrush and rabbit brush-covered terrain right in front of me.   A pair of Great horned owls that nested at Garr Ranch were spending the day high in the branches of two of the scarce trees on the island.   Coyote,  Pronghorn antelope, a couple of immature bald eagles, and a Harrier completes the day's sightings at this unique site.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Utah: Tiger salamander and Praying mantis

10.13.12   Yesterday and last night we were treated to an unusual event: rain!  This morning we noticed a mole running around and around in the base of the 2.5 foot sunken trampoline base in the back yard.  When we went out to rescue it, this somewhat dehydrated 8-inchTiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) was also trapped.  The only salamander to live in Utah, according to nationalgeographic.com, it is the largest salamander on Earth, sometimes attaining a length of 14 inches.  It emerges from its 24-inch burrow at night to feed on insects, worms, and small frogs.  Like salamanders in Dummerston, it is at peril on the "big night" in spring when it has to cross roads to reach its spawning site.  Perhaps I'll start a salamander crossing escort service!

        In the past couple of months, we've spotted several Praying mantises; insects are attracted to lights at night; these predators find the hunting easy in lighted areas.  The tan one was on the garage door in September; the (female) green one, abdomen heavy with eggs, was on the cement driveway just before the first heavy frost.  Yesterday I spotted two egg cases attached to the western exterior wall underneath an overhang where they would receive some protection over winter.  The adults probably expired in the recent 20-degree temperatures, but the eggs will overwinter and hatch baby Praying mantises in the spring. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Utah 10.04.12

Red tailed hawks are year-round inhabitants of this area; since the Swainson's hawk left, I see them much more frequently.  Recently, I've seen two of them have been perched together in various trees; the larger appears much more wary than the lighter one.   When I went out for my walk,  I observed this Eastern racer in the path.   The puncture wounds on the belly seemed consistent with talon wounds.   I didn't have my ruler, but my best estimate is that it was 22-24 inches long.  They grow to more than 4 feet in length, so this must have been a fairly young one.

     Near the reservoir where the White pelican continues to spend much time, the pair of Red-tails flew from the snag they both occupied and soared around the area.  I wonder if one of them had something to do with the abandoned snake.   

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Utah sightings

9.30.12  On a recent morning I spotted this 16-inch Night Snake, the unfortunate victim of road kill as it crossed from an alfalfa field to weedy waste ground.  Aptly named, this poisonous snake is rarely seen and little studied because of its nocturnal habits; it spends days under rocks or plant litter.  The enlarged grooved teeth that deliver venom to its frog or lizard prey are located near the back of its upper jaw.  It is not a threat to humans.
         Elder (Sambucus cerulea) are hanging with large clusters of light blue berries and are a-flitter with small birds that are taking advantage of the tasty fruit.  These 10 - 15 foot shrubs that grow near aspen trees have long been valued for various medicinal properties as well as for making juice, jam, and wine.  Note that it is advisable to remove the seeds before processing the berries for consumption as the seeds can contain mildly toxic substances.(Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West).

         Native to Utah,  Bigtooth Maples  grow in a variety of challenging terrain and provide welcome contrast to rock, aspen yellows, and the dark green evergreens with their orange-to red foliage. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

9-21 Slug Sex - Each slug has both male and female reproductive organs. This pair will exchange sperm and both will become pregnant.

The luminescent blue blob is their entwined male organs. John

Utah Insects, White pelican, and hawks 9.20.12

     Insects are getting ready for winter and trying to find warm places to spend the winter.  (Too bad they don't migrate like the birds!)  Colorful Box elder bugs that feed extensively on Box elder (Acer negundo) seeds were sunning themselves on the southwestern side of the house today.  Much like ladybugs, they try to find cracks in the siding or window casings; when possible, they will come into the house in great numbers.  The predacious Ground beetle is a good one to keep around as it feeds on other insects.  This one was walking down the hall toward my room last night.  On a recent walk, the bright red Velvet ant was engrossed in feeding on something at the edge of the road.  Not an ant at all, it is a wasp that resembles an ant.  This female has no wings; only females sting.  Reputedly, they are sometimes called "cow killers" because 'the sting hurts bad enough to kill a cow.' 
       The White pelican has been seen nearly daily at the local reservoir.  Canada geese are there sometimes.  Today the pelican was alone, but a high-flying skein of honkers suddenly broke ranks and about 15 abandoned their companions to join the pelican. 

       Around noon, a kettle of hawks was gathering over a nearby hillside.  At first sighting, there were 9 flying in a tight circle; as I watched, more and more hawks came flying in low over my head and joined the round dance.  At last count, there were more than 25. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Utah birds and a flower

9.19.12   Smoke from numerous forest fires in Idaho has been so thick the past two days that I didn't go out for my morning walk.  Today the air was much clearer, and we headed out.   The melodious song of the Western Meadowlark stopped me in my tracks.  It took a minute or two of scanning the weedy bank with binoculars before I found the songster.  This male is still in his breeding plumage.
       A small flock of Pine Siskins were gleaning seeds from Musk thistle and also from Common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).  They usually scatter when I approach, but today they were so intent on gathering seeds, they paid no attention.  While I observed their adept maneuvers, a Red-shafted flicker landed on a low branch nearby, the coppery-red underside of the wing making identification easy.   I was pleased to find these birds as last week's departure of the Swainson's Hawk and  Barn swallows that provided so much entertainment created a void.

     The Dalmatian toadflax was untouched by last night's frost, our first.  Flowers are fast giving way to seed pods, and shades of tan, umber, blonde, and brown predominate. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Utah Seed dispersal strategies

9.11.12    Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) first caught my attention with its 1/2 inch yellow flowers on a meandering vine in a dry vacant lot.   Its innocent appeal soon faded when I noted the seed pods that could be a model for primitive warfare.   Literature notes that it is notoroius as a cause of flat bicycle tires, livestock injuries, and damage to sheep wool; while it has not made the state list of noxious weeds, Morgan County (where I live) has listed it.   Redstem filaree aka Storksbill, a member of the geranium family with 3/8 in. pink flowers and lacy foliage, has  beaked fruits more than one inch in length that split at maturity into five, one-seeded sections with coiled appendages.    Russian thistle is a densely branched annual with red-striped stems that grows to 2 - 3 feet tall.   Small hollyhock-like blossoms, each accompanied by a pair of spiny bracts, are borne in the leaf axils of upper leaves.  At maturity, the plants break off at ground level and seeds are scattered as the tumbleweed is blown about.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Utah 9.04.12

     Rocky Mountain maples are in full fall color at 5000 - 8000 feet, but their reddish-orange foliage doesn't match the brilliance of Sugar maples or Red maples in Vermont!   Although daytime temperatures are still in mid-to upper eighties, with humidity levels 17 to 20%, temperatures drop quickly when the sun sets. 

      This morning the reservoir was heavy with mist when this American White Pelican was feeding.  Some of these big (L62"; WS108") birds come north to raise young at bodies of fresh water.  This one arrived in the area very recently, but it seems to find the fishing to its liking prior to heading to the Gulf of Mexico for winter.  Wilson's Warblers have been hanging out in willows around this reservoir, too.  I haven't experienced a need for insect repellant, thanks to all the birds that patrol the air nearly constantly.  I rarely look out the window without seeing a few Barn Swallows dipping and cruising; Western kingbirds were still carrying food to begging fledglings last week.  Bearing little resemblance to their Eastern counterparts, their breast feathers are pale yellow; their tail has light-colored feathers at the outside edge much like the dark-eyed junco. There's an American Kestrel that often uses the leader on the blue spruce in the back yard as a lookout.  It's entertaining to watch this feisty falcon with its patchwork of many-colored feathers.