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

In the woods we return to reason and faith-Emerson


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.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bur-marigold (Bidens cernua), a denizen of wet habitats, chose today to flower.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sand Jointwort (Polygonella articulata) dusted waste places and roadside ditches with racemes of miniscule white flowers today.