Friday, June 29, 2012

June bugs

What: Just in time for the end of June, I heard this June bug (Polyphylla sp., poly = many + phylla = leaf referring to the many "leaves" that fork out at the tips of its antennae) before I spotted it. I finally found it tucked into the ground, head up, butt half in. When I rediscovered the same individual it was again nearly vertical, but this time more submerged with its abdomen in the ground and head barely above. The beetle itself is rather large, about an inch long and almost half that around. Its elytra (hard coverings beetles have over wings) were a dullish brown with irregular speckling that seemed more from wear and tear than genetic programming. When it made its noise, it sounded more like a wounded baby mouse than an insect. It made the sound in response to my footsteps and when provoked (i.e. poked with a blade of grass) it repeated the noise. Seems like an odd defense, and made me wonder what other defenses it had to back up the aggressive noise. A little research unearthed some anecdotes of pets going after these large insects then requiring vet visits for swollen faces. So the sound must be some sort of deterrent rather than mate attractant.

I watched the beetle to figure out how it made the noise and it appears as though it makes it by puffing out its abdomen and then sucking it back in, rubbing the top of it against its wings as it does to make a scratchy noise. Pretty wild.

Ecological notes: Males have very robust enlarged feathers on their antennae for picking up whifs of the female pheromones. This one, with much smaller antennae was most certainly a female. Most of the beetle's life cycle is spent underground as large white larvae with yellowish to orange heads - hard to miss. The females lay their eggs in the soil, which makes me wonder if the defensive posturing of the female was her actually defending her egg-laying territory from an intruder (me).

Where: My backyard (maybe yours too?)

Other notes: Heard my first cicada of the year today!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bird poop

What: I was hauling a 5-gallon bucket of water in to Crow's Path on Sunday in prep for our first day of summer camp, when I spotted this little guy. It only caught my attention because it was soooo white. It looked exactly like a pile of bird poop. Even the head has black ridges that mimic the stool part of bird droppings (the stool is coiled and green/brown/purplish, depending on diet).

I apologize for the blurriness of the photo - for a better detailed image google "beautiful wood nymph moth" or "Eudryas grata". I met up with Zac and about an hour later we came back and the moth was still there (we took the photo with his phone). I finished getting the site ready then went for a run. At the end of my run it had started to rain and when I checked in on the moth it was gone. I spotted this individual the edge of a field. According to my research, the most reliable indicator of where you'll find this species in our area is the presence of grape and Virginia creeper, both of which are hosts to the caterpillar.

I'm a bit perplexed by its latin name, Eudryas grata. "Eu-" as a prefix means good, pleasant, or normal (as in the base condition). Think euphonic (pleasant + sound), eutrophic (well + nourished), or euphemism (good + speaking, or using a pleasing word in place of a less ominous/offensive one). Dryas comes from the Greek for wood nymph. Dryads were hard to find woodland critters that one only caught brief glimpse of. Grata indicates "acceptable".

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Paddling the Winooski River


Adult turkey vulture about to take offWhat: A couple of days ago, Fish and I paddled the 10 miles from Salmon Hole down to the Winooski's mouth at Delta Park. As the sun set we heard more and more beavers slapping their tails at us. The birds were out, but the heat made everyone a bit slower. This turkey vulture was standing on the bank and didn't seem to mind until I was downstream.

Our last few miles we paddled in the dark before setting up camp along the beach, with a sky full of stars over head. We woke up Friday morning to a pair of baby ravens making a ruckus, and then paddled to Burlington, ate breakfast at Skinny Pancake, and then leisurely made our way to the south end of Shelburne Bay, rounding out a 22 mile trip. The weather was hot, and the mosquitoes and deer flies were hungry and irritable. It hasn't rained in forever, so the Winooski River was about as slow moving and low as I've seen it. Good luck set in while on the lake, where we enjoyed a strong, favorable tailwind blowing out of the Northeast, and we were probably paddling faster on the lake with the wind than on the river with the lazy current.

Ecological notes: I was picking up a lot on different signs of old high water lines. We found a bank burrow from a beaver that was about 2' higher than the water. A beaver would only dig a den below where the water line would consistently be to ensure that the entrance was always concealed. Maybe a young one that wasn't expecting the water level to drop so much had made the bank earlier in the spring.
Silver maple seedlings along Winooski River
Other signs included debris lines of branches strewn along the banks at different heights and sand bars that were exposed on the downstream side of islands. One of my favorite signs was all the silver maple seedlings sprouting up at distinctly different terraces along the bank as in the photo above that shows two such terraces. My guess it that they correspond to two rain events. The upper "terrace" of seedlings being deposited first in a big rain storm. Rains could have washed loads of the seed crop into the river as it swelled. Seeds were deposited at the edge of the river, particularly on the inside of the river's turn (called a point bar, or erosional area, as opposed to the outside of the turn where water moves quickest, called the cut bank; cut banks usually have steep slopes as opposed to the slow sloping banks of a point bar).

Water level subsided and the seedlings germinated. Another smaller rain storm could have brought the water level up again, but not quite up to the level of the first surge. The next batch of seedlings are much smaller, many of which still had the dicotyledons (the first leaves that look more like bananas than maple leaves), the upper level seedlings had two to three pairs of mature leaves and thickening stems.

Where: Winooski River near Ethan Allen Homestead

Thursday, June 21, 2012

¡Más Grackles, por favor!





Qué: "Hey, what's that bird over there?" "Which one?" "That one that kinda looks like a Grackle?" "Oh, se llama 'Pichón Prieto' o... , un Grackle!" That was the conversation I was having in Spanglish on one of my first days in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico (actually, the conversation was in even more Spanish than above, but I figured it would make a little more sense for readers this way...). So, the medium-sized noisy black bird with a distinctly yellow eye was in fact the Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger)Even though I am about 3,000 miles south of where I live in Burlington, I am still greeted every morning by the ceaseless cackling of these gregarious birds. Only this time I am serenaded (maybe not quite the right verb) by flocks of the southern cousin of Quiscalus quiscula, about which Teage has been blogging so much recently. Even though I am in the Caribbean, known for the more sexy and showy specimens like the Puerto Rican Tody or Parrot, these Grackles immediately provided me with a connection to my home in the north, and I am now fond of them. 




          
Notas Ecológicas: This is an adult with a juvenile that have been hanging around the rooftops adjacent to my apartment. You can tell the young one by the slightly ruffled look of its feathersand the fact that (as you can see in the above photos and the videos below) it was squawking and opening its mouth, crying out for some food. See videos below for the actual feeding event! One thing you can't notice in these photos (but I welcome you to Google search other images of them) is that when they land and are walking around, their tail feathers seem to cluster together and fan upwards like a little rutter instead of laying flat. It was really noticeable at first, and if I can get another photo in that position, I will add it to this post. There is an endemic subspecies of Grackle in Puerto Rico (Quiscalus niger brachypterus), but I have no way yet of knowing if this is what I am seeing. Like many other islands in the Antilles, each tends to have a number of endemic species - for birds, they tend to be subspecies, but in the case of terrestrial reptiles and amphibians, the amount of endemics is very high, because of the geographic isolation of each island - which, of course, is less of an obstacle for birds. It is interesting to note that in several lists of bird species for Puerto Rico, there are about 350 observed. Vermont, by contrast (which is about 3x larger, but certainly not as bio-geophysically diverse) has around 371 observed.

video


Dónde: Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. I see them nearly everywhere - perched on the rooftops around the apartment I am staying in, foraging on the ground, accosting people hanging out in the central plaza, and eating everything from insects to crumbs, and discarded papas fritas from the fast food joints.



Otras notas I have been noticing a number of birds that resemble our Vermont. When I say things like - "Oh, that looks like a Peewee" or as "Is that a vireo singing?" the answer is normally "Yes - that's the Lesser Antillean Pewee!" (Contopus latirostrus). I've also come to love the "Julian Chiví" - or Cuban Vireo (Vireo gundlachii) - which is the conservation symbol of the organization I am working with for master's project down here, Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas. In fact, every February when the Julian Chiví migrates to Puerto Rico from its wintering sites in Venezuela (oh, pobresito), there is a big festival celebrating its return. One of my other favorite vireos is the "Bien-te-veo"(Vireo latimeri) which makes the classic basket-looking Vireo nest that we all know and love, and sings a nice little song that can be easily interpreted as a doling out of pleasantries to us passers-by ("Bien te veo!" means "Nice to see you!"). Another familiar bird that I am working with (in the sense that the conserved area is key habitat for this species) is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus venator - so called for its Puerto Rican subspecies, or "Falcón de Sierra." While it is common in North America, this rare subspecies is found only in five isolated forested mountain areas and is on the federal endangered species list. (I am currently creating some very impressive looking GIS maps showing the predicted habitat and observed occurrences for the Falcón de Sierra in the protected forest area I am working in). But for now, I'll keep communing with the Grackles... 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Update on my little grackle friend

Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to get a video of the grackle feeding. I've been experimenting with different ways of feeding it to try and make as similar as it would be in the wild. I took the box with the grackle outside as the morning light was quite nice. Once outside, I propped open the lid to get the camera angle right . I had a feeling that this would happen so the spot I chose is a little patio that's built about 3.5' into the ground with a little stairwell going out. I figured if Chaiet got out, it probably wouldn't be able to fly high enough to get out of the patio. Boy was I wrong. As soon as I opened the lid just wide enough it popped right out. 

It took about two hours of trying to catch it before I finally was able to get it back in the box. I felt really terrible because I had put more importance on getting a video of the grackle than I did on the grackle's safety. With photography I often face the choice of getting a photo or directly engaging with the plant/animal I'm photographing. I'm always frustrated when the medium gets in the way, becoming a filter rather than a tool. This was definitely one such moment and the bird almost escaped. While it was really wonderful watching it fly and exploring its surroundings. I particularly enjoyed watching it perched on a branch that was gently blowing in the wood. It only has one good leg, so it was constantly shifting its weight and moving its wings and tail to readjust. It reminded me of watching a kid on a playground versus watching the same kid out in the woods. Out in the woods there's so much more variability in stimuli and the brain just gets working in all these different ways. I feel bad keeping Chaiet in captivity, but I also don't feel like it's ready to be released. When I'm back in Burlington I'll try feeding it lots more bugs and try and get a little portable chicken-tractor type set up so it can forage on the ground.

Lessons on how to feed a young, fledged grackle:
Initially I was putting chicken pellets I had soaked in water on a spoon and then feeding it to the grackle on that (watch this video to see grackles soaking their food). The grackle seemed more prone to taking the food, however, when it was on my finger rather than a metal spoon. It also prefers to take food out of my hand when I pinch the food rather than just put it on my finger (perhaps the pinched fingers more closely resemble its mother's beak?). While the grackle won't take food from me when I put it below its neck, it doesn't seem to prefer any particular height above that (my mom was telling me about a pelican she was helping rehab that absolutely wouldn't eat a fish unless you dangled it right above its head). The grackle would seldom pick up pieces of food that it had dropped, and it frequently dropped the largest pieces. 

What I started doing was presenting the food. At Shelburne Farms I remember someone saying that they feed the piglets all at once. If they separated them or fed them slowly throughout the day they might not eat as much. The young ones are hyper competitive against their litter mates for attention/food. The strongest get more, the runts get less. They gorge on food to get it before their siblings can. With this in mind, I would present the food then pull it away, then present it again. I found that the bird was more likely to take bites (and more of them) when I tried this method.

I would also tap its bill to induce feeding. I read that mothers will tap their baby's bill to get it to open its mouth. Chaiet seemed to respond by opening its mouth and occasionally putting its beak entirely around its finger (as though my finger would regurgitate food into its mouth). This method works pretty well. It also definitely seemed to prefer egg yolk, but if it hadn't eaten for a while or if it appeared thirsty/hot (keeping its beak open) it would go after the soaked pellets with great zeal.

Friday, June 15, 2012

More on grackles

What: The adult was off foraging when I filmed these two. Towards the end you can hear my chickens gently purring. One of our Rhode Island Reds went into the coop and found a little surprise - one of the grackles!! As soon as the grackles' mom left to forage for them, one went in to the coop to investigate and then couldn't figure out how to get out. It let out a "cluck" noise (which you can hear on the video) and the pair of young went back and forth making that contact call. At one point a blue jay arrived. I wondered how big of a bird a jay would eat. I know they eat nestlings, but a fledged grackle? It might've been too small. As soon as the jay got near the grackles shut up. I was pretty close to one of the grackles, which I think might have kept the jay away, but I'm not sure.

I pointed my camera to the one in the coop just before the mom returned with food, so I missed getting video of the frenetic begging noises they make when mom's around. The mom made a "cluck" as she was returning to her young. She returned, found just one of her babies (the other was in the coop still) and then with the one they flew off. I let the other young grackle out of the coop, and left it be in the hopes the mom would return for it shortly, which she did. You can see the downy feathers sticking up off the side of the one's head, which makes me think these guys are younger than the one I have. But then, Chaiet only just in the last hour started making those clucking noises (and they're getting more insistent).

Ecological notes: Watching the young grackle balance on the branch, watch insects fly by, and navigate a variable world made me think about how the one that I'm "helping" is missing out on learning all of these important subtle skills. I had been feeding Chaiet with a metal spoon, but I started feeding it off my finger. I'm trying to figure out ways of getting it to see a bigger world while not letting it out of the cage. I tried catching some bugs and small worms yesterday so it could see those moving around inside its cage. I want to build a larger aviary type set up so it can start practicing to fly (which it still can't really do). I've been thinking a lot about the environmental enrichment programs zoos have implemented so that the animals get to exercise a broader range of skills/senses to acquire food and interact with their surroundings. Any suggestions for Chaiet, our young grackle friend, is much appreciated.

Where: Backyard.

Other notes: So many other sounds - cars, saws, people talking - it takes a certain type of bird to be able to successfully fledge their young in such a noisy environment. Grackles are certainly curious and adaptable birds, well-suited to an urban home.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chaiet, the baby grackle

What: Yesterday, Callan, Brian, and I went for a run. On the way back Brian spotted a baby grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) tucked away in the grass. We stopped and the bird hopped awkwardly away, clearly injured. It was heavily favoring one leg and kept tripping. In a team effort, we caught the bird, whose left leg is definitely broken (appears to be broken at the femur) and dangles uselessly when it stands on its other leg. When we caught it the mom came back with a couple of other grackles and made some insistent clucking noises. I felt bad taking it away from its mother, but the bird couldn't fly and its leg hobbled it greatly. Brian and I wrapped it in a shirt and brought it back home.

This morning while feeding the grackle another family of grackles came by and I snagged the following video. You can more prominently hear a young starling begging its mom for food, but if you listen closely you'll hear the grackle on the right, which is much browner/less iridescent, begging for food. It made me sad to see our bird cloistered in its little cage, without a mom and its sibling(s), while so many of the other birds in the area are traveling with recently fledged young. I've been keeping it outside so it can at least hear the sounds of the other grackles and birds in the area.

Ecological notes: We've been feeding the grackle (of unknown gender, and we may never know its gender) chicken feed soaked in water along with scrambled eggs. Apparently, like kangaroo rats and many other denizens of the desert, baby birds get all of their water from metabolizing food (desert animals that do this are called xerocoles). The formula for photosynthesis is
Photosynthesis
Energy + CO2 + H2O --> O2 + C6H12O6,

Plants require water to produce their own energy stock (C6H12O6 is the simple sugar glucose). The formula for metabolism (whether for fats, sugars, or proteins), on the other hand, is precisely the opposite, using oxygen, O2, to burn sugars, C6H12O6. Rather than requiring energy from the sun to run the process, it releases energy:
Metabolism
O2 + C6H12O6 --> CO2 + H2O + energy

Expectedly, metabolism results in the production of CO2, which we exhale, and water, H2O, which our body can use. Mammals use heaps of water in our urine, more than is acquired by metabolizing proteins, and so need to drink. Birds birds, which excrete uric acid, can have a net gain of water from metabolizing proteins. Giving baby birds water will essentially kill them via aspiration (water filling the lungs).


Where: Burlington bike path near UVM's new track.

Other notes: My sister's middle name is Chaiet, from my maternal grandma's maiden name, and means blackbird, so I thought the name Chaiet for the little bird was a great fit. Grackle comes from gracula, the old latin for jackdaws (a type of crow), and its scientific name Quiscalus quiscula derives from the latin for quail, oddly enough. Perhaps because grackles, like quails spend so much time on the ground?


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bees in the wind


WIND: The wind was so tumultuous yesterday. It tapered by mid-day, but at dawn it was at it's strongest. I was struck by the different ways the leaves of different trees moved with the wind. The compound leaves all had this wispy graceful way of flowing with the wind, while the stout leaves of the buckthorns seemed obstinate and reluctant to bend under the wind's influence. Last year I had girdled a Norway maple, this year the tree had both leafed out and flowered, which was impressive. During the windstorm I put my ear to the exposed wood to listen to the wind strain and contort the tree's long fibers. It sounded like the achings in the belly of a large boat. When I put my ear against the part of the bole that still had bark on it, the sounds were muffled, but still echoed that deep resonant strain on the tree.
BEES: The day quickly warmed and I spent some time watching our three beehives. It was funny watching the guard bees act as bouncers to returning foragers. Each colony has its own scent and the guards would presumably tip off the others if a bee from another hive tried to enter. Most of the time there were two bees guarding the entrance to the hive. The pair was constantly vigilant and would approach each bee entering (if only for a brief moment). I'm not sure how one bee will replace another as guard (how long could a sentry keep its guard up before it started to lose focus?), but I watched a pair on active duty for about 10 minutes without being replaced. Others guards would go into the hive or I'd lose track of who was who every couple of minutes.

In the video, all the bees returning with huge yellow balls attached to their rear legs are foragers carrying pollen back to the hive. Bees collect pollen for raising brood, and it is the colonies only source of protein, fat, vitamins, starches, and essential minerals. Pollen has a slight negative charge, bees have a slight positive charge, so a bee will literally pull the pollen right off a flower's anther. Bees are covered with hairs, which increases their surface area and their for the attractive force to pollen. While out foraging they will clean themselves and pack the pollen into "pollen basket," or corbicula, on their hind legs.

Not all pollen is created equal and protein concentration can range from 2% to over 60% protein!! Plants can be pollinated by animals or the wind, and so not surprisingly, the 2%-ers are wind pollinated (anemophilous), and the 60%-ers are pollinated by insects (entomophilous) and/or vertebrates (zoophilous). I've been out in Centennial Woods checking which species the bees are feeding on and I've spotted them on most of the clovers in flower - birdsfoot trefoil, crown vetch, cow vetch, and red clover. I haven't seen them on the flowers of white clover, but I've noticed an abundance of ants on these. Turns out white clover also has one of the lowest protein concentrations of the clover family (Fabaceae). Members of the pea famliy (Fabaceae), like clover, tend to have pollen with the higher concentrations of protein. Their flowers are also highly specialized for attracting insects. I'll post soon a video of insects manipulating birdsfoot trefoil flowers to show this. Asters also tend to have pretty high concentrations of protein in their pollen.

For a great description of other activities different castes within the bee hierarchy are responsible for, check out: http://bigislandbees.com/buzz/2010/05/19/bee-hive-hierarchy/.

For more on pollen concentrations:
http://www.devonbeekeepers.org.uk/downloads/articles/pollen_nutrition_roulston.pdf

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ireland

What: I took the above photo in Glendalogh, which is just south of Dublin. There are a whole buch of amazing trails that wind up and down the slopes of the valley and lead around the upper and lower lakes. Just below the lower lake there's a 12th century celtic monastery. One of the tombstones was for a monk who lived from 1675 to 1777! 102 always sounds old, but for some reason seems improbably old in 18th century Ireland.

Ecological notes: It was pretty comforting to know that my two years in grad school were not in vain. The heads of my program always talked about how we could (or rather should) be able to get dropped off in some unknown part of the world and be able to use our naturalist skills to interpret the area's history. On the 7 mile hike, I spent most of the time piecing together the story, and was pretty happy with how close I was to figuring out the story being told in the visitor's center.

Initially I was overwhelmed with all the new species of birds, trees, and wildflowers. But I quickly started noticing all these plants that I knew from Vermont (like oxeye daisy, Japanese knotweed, burdock, honeysuckle). Then there were all the species that I knew from their North American look alikes - willows, oaks, thrushes, crows. Once past the wall of green, I started noticing lots of patterns in where they were and where they weren't. Granted Ireland's land use and geologic history are pretty similar to Vermont's, but it was sill a rich experience.

Glendalogh's history was probably the most charismatic of the places I went. There were some really clear patterns and not so subtle clues to the geologic history and human history. The valley has an elegant U-shaped carve to it. and the vegetative community changes abruptly with the transition from a micaceous schist in the lower valley to granite in the upper valley. The valley wall in the background shows an abrupt edge in forest type - remnants of old logging and then sheep pasture. You can barely see a yellow patch in the distance - a stand of the spikey gorse, which was flowering while I was there. Why build a pasture fence when you can grow one? Farmers burn the hedges every few years to regenerate the gorse and keep out other species. The spine of the mountains was covered in fir and rowan while lower in the valleys was an abundance of oak, ash, alders, and hazels. An aldery, birchy swamp bridged the low, wet areas between the two ponds, which were separated by alluvial sediments washed in from a side valley.

I wish I had gotten to spend a bit more time getting to know the trees of Ireland - it was like a new toy I'd gotten for my birthday - the rush of excitement ignoring the directions and just going for it. I'd love to go back, read the instruction manual a bit more thoroughly, and really dig in to the natural history of that place. I did spend a fair amount of time carving spoons, which I'll post pictures of when I finish those up.

Where: Glendalogh, Ireland.

Other notes: A definite highlight was spotting the rather common "wee willy wagtail".

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dragonflies and Butterflies





What: I have been seeing this beautiful, big, white-bodied dragonfly with distinct striping on its wings for over a month now in Centennial Woods. I could tell immediately that this was a dragonfly and not a damselfly (the other major group of Odonates) because of its large abdomen and broad four translucent wings that lay flat when at rest (a damselfly's wings would rise up vertically). I once worked with an ecological researcher who studies dragonfly behavior, but I couldn't remember for the life of me what this particular one was. Was it a darner, a skimmer, a cruiser, an emerald (common groups of dragonflies)? So I scoured the internet trying to remember what this very common white-tailed dragonfly was, and lo and behold, it is the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia, formally Libellula lydia). It is so common, in fact, that it is found in all of the 48 conterminous United States and most of the Canadian provinces.
            As for the butterfly, it didn't take too long to identify it using this site: http://www.thebutterflysite.com/vermont-butterflies.shtml. I took a look at the names for the different butterflies, and noticed that there was a group called "Swallowtails." If you look a the photo above, you'll see that is a fitting name for this kind of butterfly. Then I looked through the names of Swallowtails, and noticed there were two species named "Tiger Swallowtail," again, the yellow wing with black striping suggests such a name would be apt. One is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis), and the other is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). I tried to read a little bit more on distinguishing the two, but the most common trait identified was the smaller wingspan of the Canadian, which is not of much help to meet with this one fleeting photo I captured. I am happy with my Papilio classification - you can add more if you'd like!

Ecological notes: Common to members of the Odonata, the Common Whitetail dragonfly starts off life as an aquatic "nymph." You'll remember seeing dragonfly and damselfly nymphs in collections of stream macroinvertebrates if you ever did those exercises in school! This particular dragonfly nymph is tolerant to polluted waters, so it is not used as an indicator of stream health (although it doesn't mean the stream is unhealthy if they are present). Both the nymphs and the adults feed on other insects, so remember to not be afraid of these possibly intimidating insects, as they will help keep those mosquito and black fly populations in line!

Where:  I encountered this breeding male (as denoted by the starch-white abdomen) basking on the boardwalks that run through the powerline cut in Centennial Woods, close to the stream. This is really where it thrives, as it is after mosquitos and other insects that are found around ponds and slow-moving streams. This male stayed very close to one piece of boardwalk, and that is also a common behvaior, as breeding males with guard a 10-30 meter stretch of river or pond side as their territory. I saw another male Whitetail about 100 feet up the trail on the other side of the stream, most likely guarding its territory.

Other notes: It was fun to finally explore more of our charismatic minifauna, as I think these two are both beautiful and showy, albeit small in size. These are two great insects to get to know, as they are apparently very common throughout North America. Now it's time to explore more butterflies and dragonflies. Be on the lookout for the Vermont state butterfly - the Monarch - on its massive migration to feed on milkweed later in the summer!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

7 bug challenge

Goutweed flower buds
What: Several years ago I was up in Morro Bay, CA and I was looking at a salt bush (Atriplex spp.) when I started noticing all these different insects. The longer I stayed the more I saw. I can't remember the number, but it was well over a couple dozen in about 30 minutes. Since then I've often given myself a 7 bug challenge. I choose a shrub or tree and then I can't leave until I spot seven different types of insects (when I get antsy I'll include slugs and snails). This was the first time I'd tried it with an herbaceous plant.

As I was walking in to Centennial Woods this afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and felt absolutely delightful. I stopped at the trail head to sun myself and noticed a big fly sitting on the goutweed doing the same! I decided not to leave until I'd spotted 7 types of flies. I got photos of 6 and stretched it to include a Pimpla sp. (a common type of Ichneumon wasp) because I missed photographing a crane fly.

I'm probably wrong on my identifications here, so please correct me if I'm wrong (I'm using Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects). Scroll over for the name of each.
Ecological notes: True flies are in the order Diptera, which includes the bloodsuckers like black flies, green flies, horse flies, mosquitoes, gnats, deer flies, as well as more benign flies, like crane flies, bottle flies, and s. Other "flies" (e.g. dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, etc.) are not true flies. All true flies have the word "fly" written as a separate word. True flies also have a single pair of wings and a second pair of balancing rods (really small club like knobs) called halteres. They have cleft claws like the bumblebee I posted on Friday, but their feet are flat


Where: Centennial Woods. Goutweed is a common plant along flood plains and other places with frequent disturbance.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Little bug legs

Bumble bee seeking shelter
What: This little bug (well not a true bug, but an insect at least) caught my eye. I spotted a black dot from about 10 feet away then went in for a closer look. On closer inspection it appeared to be the claws of a common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens). I've always been fascinated by the forked claws at the end of the tarsus and at first that was all I could see. I'm not sure who she was (worker or queen) or why she was here rather than cozying up in her den. As I took the photo the very very first drops of rain started to fall - did she get caught too far from home to make it back? Is she a queen out looking for a new colony site? I went back this morning and she was still there (about 12 hours later). The rains look like they took a toll! Reminded me of the rain storm in the movie Microcosmos. 
Ecological notes: I was gone for about 10 days, but now that I'm back it seems like a totally new world. Everything has shot up, the new shoots on my elderberries are about 4' tall! The forest seems so much darker in the understory with all the leaves fully leafed out.

Where: My backyard.

Other notes: I'll update in a couple of days with a mystery photo from Ireland. I was happy to know that my education wasn't a waste if I decide to leave Vermont - turns out that the field naturalist skills I learned in Vermont apply to other places too!