Thursday, May 31, 2012

Turtle News and the Red Admirals produce young

A large Snapping Turtle emerges from the water to lay her eggs
The Painted Turtle that was rescued from the road
This tends to be a dangerous time of year for turtles and especially for female turtles as they set out to find places to lay their eggs. They often will gravitate to gravely roadsides where they can more easily dig a hole for laying into. This habit can get them into trouble as the slow moving animals try their luck at crossing roads and highways. Their shells, which stand up well against most predators, unfortunately, can’t withstand being run over by a car.

When I left the nature preserve the other day, I saw what I thought was a parcel laying in the middle of the road. As I got closer, I could see that it was a medium sized Painted Turtle. There was too much traffic behind me to stop right away. At my earliest opportunity, I turned around and came back. I pulled over, and made my way toward the turtle, which was still near the center of the road. Oblivious to the reptile and even to my gestures to slow down, the other drivers continued speeding by –each passing only inches away from the turtle. As each car went by the turtle would retract its head into its shell. With great relief, I was able to collect the animal before it became flattened. I took her back to the preserve, where, ten minutes later, she was swimming in one of our ponds.
The released Painted Turtle swims in one of our ponds

Last week, at the Utica Marsh, I saw several Snapping Turtles laying eggs. Instead of choosing a roadside to excavate in, here they dig their holes in the gravel of the railway beds that cross the Marsh. As I approached the tracks, one large female was doing just that. The back half of her shell was covered in fresh mud and she also had some duckweed and other bits of vegetation clinging to her body. With her large hind feet, she had just dug out a pit in the gravel, and was remaining in that position to begin laying eggs. When she’s done laying, she will bury the eggs and there her parental duty will end. Raccoons are experts in located this kind of buried treasure, and so most of the Snapping Turtles offspring will not make it to the time of hatching.
The Snapper, digging out a trench with her back feet
Several years ago, one of my coworkers at Spring Farm picked up a tiny Snapping Turtle as it was crossing the road. Apparently, it had just hatched from its roadside bed, and had begun the first, and possibly one of the most treacherous journeys of its life. I named that little turtle “Gamera” and we released it at one of the wetland areas at the nature preserve. 
"Gamera", the recently hatched Snapping Turtle

At another preserve, managed by some friends, several large Snapping Turtles share the habitat with a beaver colony –which is not such an unusual situation. Apparently, Snappers are great coinsurers of apples, and when my friends give apples to their beavers, one of the turtles gets in line for his share. The beavers aren’t always overjoyed at the prospect of a reptile muscling in on their snack time.

This Snapper is emerging  in search of apples
Occasionally the beavers will take a Snapper by its shell and move it to another place in the pond. That of course, can be a potentially dangerous thing to do, but the beavers surprisingly show little concern for the turtle’s formidable beak.

Red Admiral Butterfly
The Red Admiral caterpillar uses silk to tie together its host plant's leaves
What happened to all of those Red Admiral Butterflies? Well, some of them are still fluttering through the area, but the larger portion of them continued pressing north and out of our region. They did leave behind tangible signs of their visit, in the form of their offspring. A close inspection of the Stinging Nettle plants that grow in our forest reveal dozens of the little guys chewing away on the leaves. In order to feed with some degree of safety from predators, the Red Admiral caterpillar attaches strands of silk to the edges of a leaf and cinches the sides together, thus making a protective tent for itself. 
Red Admiral Caterpillar feeds in relative safety in the tied up leaf 
 I noticed that in a few cases, there were leaves that caterpillars had rolled over, but instead of the caterpillar inside there was a spider. Whether or not the spider had killed the caterpillar before commandeering its house, I couldn’t be sure of.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Interesting Activity at the Beaver Pond

The Main Beaver Lodge at the Nature Preserve
There was lots going on down at the beaver pond yesterday morning. Unusual was the fact that several beavers were out and actively working in their pond. Beavers, for the most part, work at night, though you can sometimes see them toiling away in the afternoon. But working in mid-morning, what’s up with that? Their task must’ve been deemed particularly important to bring them to work double shifts like this. Mainly, they seemed to be concentrating on the lodge. They were dragging branches up one side of the lodge and laying them down lengthwise, so that one end protruded over the peak of the structure.
May Apple drags a branch up the side of the lodge
Why they were doing this work now and with such urgency? 2 possible reasons came to mind: first, there may have been a hole in the side of the lodge –possibly created by a predator. The second and more likely explanation has to do with the rising level of the 2nd Pond. As the beavers have increased the height of the dam, the pond’s water level rose, and this necessitated raising the level of the living chamber inside the lodge. The only way to do this is to build a higher roof.
May Apple adds a load of mud to the dam - raising the pond's water level
Over the last few weeks, the water level at this pond has noticeably risen. In fact the water is high enough so that for the first time since it was originally constructed (over 10 years ago), the lodge has now become an island. Originally, this lodge was built at the end of a peninsula that jutted out into the second pond from the 1st pond’s dam. Morton and Sarah, our nature preserve’s original beaver pair and the parents of this colony’s current matriarch, Julia, were the rugged pioneers that built this lodge.
When I heard especially loud chewing coming from the inside of the lodge, I realized that the beavers were most likely raising the ceiling of their chamber. They do this by chewing up through the wood of the old roof, while at the same time putting on the new roof and building up the floor platform. One of the beavers was seen retrieving some grass from the shore –and bringing back into the lodge. The grass will be used to carpet the floor of the living chamber.
Renovations to the lodge may not be appreciated by some of the beaver’s tenants. Muskrats, which very often live in their own chambers inside of beaver lodges, will now also have to cope with the change in water level. They may be forced to create a new chamber, or even move to another pond --perhaps into one of the currently uninhabited beaver lodges. The muskrats, as far as I know, have never paid any rent to the beavers, so they can hardly complain.

Julia - enjoying some Quaking Aspen leaves
Far from paying the beavers, the muskrats regularly take what they want from whatever beaver supplies are within reach. Beavers don’t often scold muskrats for this behavior, not unless they try to make away with the very poplar branch that they are eating at the time. And even then, they may just receive a quick swat.
Other action at the beaver pond included a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that were feeding their brood of begging nestlings. These birds chose a dead tree right in front of the lodge as their nest site, while a Flicker and a Great crested Flycatcher were using cavities in trees on the other side of the pond. The noise created by the begging Hairy Woodpeckers was persistent and quite loud. Most likely these youngsters will leave the nest in a couple of days.

The female Great Crested Flycatcher peers out from her nest cavity
The Great Crested Flycatchers were just beginning their nest. The presumed female was seen bringing some white animal hair into the cavity to use as nesting material. This flycatcher is incapable of excavating their own nest cavity, and so they must rely on woodpeckers to provide them with nesting opportunities. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Utica Peregrine Falcon Update and a Nesting Least Bittern at the Utica Marsh

 The 2nd juvenile female Peregrine seen in the Downtown Utica - Picture by D Cesari
The first juvenile female seen the previous week - picture by D Cesari
The Peregrine situation in Downtown Utica remains in flux. So far there doesn’t seem to be a single pair of these birds claiming possession of the territory. In fact, 4 different Peregrines have been seen in the vicinity during the last month. This includes 2 different immature females, an immature male and an adult male. It is now almost certain that our original adult female (named Maya) has vacated the area, and has left the habitat open for these newcomers. Of course, at this point we have very little hope that nesting will take place this year; it is already quite late in the season and juvenile female Peregrines don’t usually breed in their first year.

 Since it is quite unlikely that a new pair will accept the former nest site at the Gold Dome Bank (it’s only 4 stories high), we need to try to provide the falcons with a new site on one of the taller downtown buildings. Hopefully, during the year we will get permission from the owners of one of these buildings to install a nest box. If not, a new resident pair of Peregrines could be consigned to using inappropriate and/or dangerous sites, and any breeding success would be jeopardized.
The 2nd juvenile female again - picture by D Cesari
In the last 4 weeks, I’ve made several visits downtown along with Dave Cesari –a wildlife photographer from the Rome area. Dave was able to get some extremely close pictures of some of these falcons –even as the birds were in flight. Dave’s detailed pictures have made it much easier for us to recognize the juvenile birds, especially the 2 females.

The colorful Least Bittern peeking out from the cattail beds
Down at the Utica Marsh this week a group of 6 Great Egrets were seen among the usual crowd of Great Blue Herons. That’s quite a high number for this species for springtime –especially at this location. About the only other unusual birds sighted were a pair of Northern Shovelers. The Shovelers typically would’ve moved on by this point in the spring, but the fact that a pair is lingering this late could indicate that they may try to breed. The species does occasionally breed in the Central New York region, so this wouldn’t be an unprecedented event.

A classic pose - the Bittern straddles the leaves
While scanning the Marsh for Marsh Wrens, I happened to spot one of that location’s rarest residents –the Least Bittern. This Robin sized Bittern is actually quite brightly colored. In fact when you finally see one, you might wonder how you could've ever missed noticing such a colorful bird. But the bittern's habit of skulking about among the cattail leaves, and literally keeping a low profile in the marsh vegetation, renders them practically invisible.
The bittern’s hunting technique is the same as that employed by the larger herons –they mainly use stealth. They move slowly into position and wait to see their prey move, before making a quick stab with their stiletto-like bill. They mainly hunt for small fish, amphibians and insects.
Hidden behind a curtain of reeds - a pair of Least Bitterns stand in their nest
As I watched this individual, he eventually made his way over to a larger clump of cattails that border one of the Marsh’s pools. He climbed up the leaves to a place where his mate was sitting on a well concealed nest. There he joined her on the small platform made from bent over cattail leaves. Completely constructed from last year’s growth, the nest was the color of straw. I'm certain that if I hadn’t seen the male climb up to it, I would’ve never picked it out from its surroundings.
Hunting along the edge of the cattail beds
As the female sat on her eggs, the male gave her a snack –probably an insect. He then proceeded to preen her. I have to say that they make an incredibly handsome couple!
After this the male went back to skulking around the perimeter of the nest area. He soon found an intruder lurking in the vicinity –it was another male Least Bittern. He chased that bird off in short order.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Bird Wars of Spring

"I'm gonna rearrange your spots for ya!"
How glorious are the sights and sounds of spring. The trees have their new leaves; there are flowers everywhere; the birds are pleasantly singing; the birds are all beating the heck out of each other…What!!
It’s true; I saw at least a half dozen fights going on at the Nature Preserve yesterday morning. Wood Thrushes seemed to be the biggest hooligans. Several pairs of them were seen engaged in high speed chases through the forest understory –smashing through foliage and even rumbling on the ground. Instead of issuing their famously sweet songs, rapid volleys of sharp alarm calls came from these frenzied contenders.
" Oh yeah, how would you like to bring those fancy feathers of yours home in a bag!"
Ovenbirds were also having it out. A group of 3 males even brought their dispute outside. That is –outside of their woodland habitat and into a nearby pasture. Baltimore Orioles fought on high –their loud chattering warning calls emanated from the tree tops as the bright orange males muscled in on each other’s territories.  They too were giving chase, and even occasionally tumbling down through the branches and nearly to the ground. All this strife is a result of the various birds vying for the choice territories and for mates.
The Eastern Kingbird

The next bird altercation was an unusual one that involved an Orchard Oriole and a pair of Kingbirds. A male Orchard Oriole seemed intent on visiting the crown of a pond-side Maple Tree that a pair of Kingbirds was defending. The notoriously tenacious Kingbirds didn’t appear to be nesting yet, but this particular tree was where they had nested in previous seasons. The determined Oriole was chased off by the Kingbirds, but a minute later he returned to a different part of the tree’s crown. This wasn’t going over very well with the Kingbirds, and they let the Oriole know by taking turns diving at him. Driven off to the trees on the opposite side of the beaver pond, the Orchard Oriole finally seemed to be giving up, but as soon as the Kingbirds left, he returned to the contested territory and began singing again. This time the Kingbirds didn’t bother with him. Perhaps they thought their point had been made.
A first year male Orchard Oriole at his nest site

The Kingbird drives off a Turkey Vulture

Orioles and several other songbird species often build their own nests in close proximity to Kingbird nests. The Kingbird’s rigorous defense of the nest tree offers some degree of security to the other birds nesting in the same tree. A few years ago we had Kingbirds nesting in a Black Willow Tree at the Preserve. 3 other bird species located their own nests in the branches near their nest. I watched the Kingbirds chase away many different predators and even a few only “perceived” predators. They rather hilariously chased off a huge Turkey Vulture, even though the vulture represented zero threat to anyone’s nest.
Despite their feistiness, that particular Kingbird nest was ultimately plundered by a Red Squirrel. I saw them drive the squirrel off on a few occasions, but evidently, it kept coming back, and finally prevailed. The nearby Orchard Oriole nest met with the same fate. In fact, of the 4 nests in that willow tree, only a Baltimore Oriole nest succeeded in fledging young that year.

"Can't we all just get along"
On my way out of the Preserve on the day of the bird wars, I saw a woodchuck peacefully chewing on some dandelions in the middle of the trail up ahead of me. When he saw me, he ran off into the brambles. Next, I heard a loud altercation. I thought that maybe a fox had nabbed the woodchuck, but that wasn’t the case; the woodchuck came running back and zoomed across the trail right in front of me. There was another woodchuck in hot pursuit. They chased each other into the brush where they scuffled again.

Yellow Ladyslipper

Flowers currently blooming at the Preserve include May Apple, Yellow Ladyslipper (Orchid), Red Columbine, Woodland Phlox and Indian Cucumber Root. At least none of these “critters” were beating on each other today.
Red Columbine

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tree Cavity Nesting and the Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee nestlings
Some cavity nesting birds are fully capable of excavating their own nest holes and some aren’t. Those that can’t do the work themselves must rely on finding natural tree cavities, or more typically, on finding holes that other birds have already excavated. Woodpeckers play a crucial role in creating shelter and breeding opportunities for scores of other animals, including many mammals. Of course the woodpeckers aren’t doing this for altruistic reasons, and they are not paid contractors either (How precisely do you pay a woodpecker? Perhaps in monthly installments of beetle grubs?) Obviously, the woodpeckers are building for themselves, but when they are done nesting, their house immediately goes on the market where it will be snatched up by another animal. Given a healthy supply of both trees and woodpeckers, a habitat can be replete with cavity housing.

Flickers commonly create cavity nests that other birds and squirrels will reuse

As far as tree cavities go, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Some birds are very particular about the size of the entrance hole and the dimensions of the cavity itself, while other birds aren’t so picky  and will accept cavities and entrance holes of various shapes and sizes. A few years ago, we had a White-breasted Nuthatch nesting in a spacious Screech Owl nest box. I guess that this nuthatch family enjoyed the high ceilings.
A White-breasted Nuthatch enjoys the view from his "mansion"
Birds in our area that cannot excavate their own nests cavities include: Eastern Bluebird, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Chimney Swift, Eastern Screech Owl and Saw Whet Owl. For the most part, all of these species are relying on the kindness of strangers –meaning woodpeckers and people, to provide them with housing. Some birds like the Nuthatches, Titmice and Chickadees, most often use former woodpecker holes, but they can also make their own nest cavities.

A Chickadee with a beakfull of wood chips
The Chickadee's soft nest made largely from animal hair and moss
I recently watched a pair of Black-capped Chickadees doing just this –and it was a slow process. For their tree they selected a broken off trunk of an Eastern Hop Hornbeam. This was an interesting choice, since the wood of the hornbeam is very dense, and I imagined that excavating it would be much more laborious than if they had chosen virtually any other kind of tree. I think that what clinched it for them was that a woodpecker had already chiseled out a starter hole for them (woodpecker contractors probably don’t charge too much for this service.) Also, I suspect that the tree’s heartwood was somewhat rotted, and so the wood was likely soft enough for a chickadees’ small beak to deal with.

Red-bellied Woodpecker reuses a nest made by another woodpecker
The Chickadee pair worked on their excavation for at least several days. They took turns pounding away at the wood and biting off small beak-fulls of sawdust, which they would then release into the wind while flying to a nearby perch. When the interior of the hole was large enough, the female began to bring in soft nesting material –consisting mostly of moss and animal hair. Inside the cavity, the chickadee nest consists of a thick mattress of moss that covers the entire floor of the cavity. On top of the moss layer, a “comforter” made primarily of animal hair is laid down. The eggs are laid in a small cup-shaped depression in the middle of the comforter.
Another Chickadee pair is nesting in one of our Bluebird boxes. 7 white eggs with reddish brown spots were laid into the nest and incubated by the female. It is thought that cavity nesting may be a relatively recent adaptation for Chickadees and Nuthatches, since their eggs retain colored spots consistent with the need for camouflage. Typically, birds that nest in dark cavities have no need to produce eggs that blend into their surroundings, and so most of them lay eggs that are white and/or have no spots.
The young chickadee nestlings hatched just this week, and now both parents are engaged in feeding duties.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Spawning Time at Toad Paradise

A male American Toad sings his heart out at the Toad Pond

Every spring, the American Toads converge at one particular pond at the Nature Preserve. The males arrive first and usually at night. The song of the male is a long pleasant trill, which he produces by inflating his throat sack. It’s this call that attracts the female toads to the pond. The males are noticeably smaller than the females, and this is quite obvious when you see the male perched on top of his mate. While in this position the female lays dual strands of eggs directly into the water.
The relatively small male (on top) is clasping tightly onto his mate

These mating rituals can become very raucous indeed, as unattached males try to pry apart already attached pairs. The male of the pair continues to hang on tight as sometimes 2 or 3 other males will work to dislodge him and take his place. A seething group of toads like this is sometimes called a “toad ball”. Being at the center of the ball can actually endanger the female’s life if she is held under water for too long.

Male toads pile onto the poor female as she tries to lay her eggs
Luckily, the toad's gelatinous egg strands are very flexible, because they often get tangled up in the legs of the amorous participants. For several days, these mating rumbles continue as more toads arrive on the scene and as the spawning area begin to fill with strings of eggs.
The tadpoles hatch quickly –sometimes in just a few days, if the water temperature is warm enough. The young tadpoles form a tight colony and stay in shallow water where they remain out of reach from large predatory fish. Many fish know better than to eat one of these tadpoles, since the toxins in their skin can be potent enough to kill.

American Toad tadpoles have very thin tails
The young tadpoles develop quickly, and they leave the water as soon as their new legs can carry them. Only about the size of a medium sized beetle, these brand new toads often still retain their tadpole tails when they first venture out onto the land. They immediately head for all corners of the Nature Preserve, where they will spend the majority of their lives as creatures of the land. They will hunt for snails, slugs and insects in the forests and fields. Those that survive to maturity will quite probably return to the very same pond to partake in their own generations’ breeding rumble.
A Northern Leopard Frog at the Toad Pond

The first Red Spotted Salamander seen in the woods this spring

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Utica Marsh

Great Egret and Mute Swan visit the Utica Marsh
The premier wetland habitat in our area is the Utica Mash. Located on the north side of Utica on the Mohawk River flooplain, this New York State Wildlife Management Area is home to many species of wildlife that are hard to find elsewhere in the region. Like virtually all wetlands, it has had a sad history of destruction and abuse. For many years it was used as a dump for factory refuse. Automobile grave yards flank one side of it and are responsible for a massive amount of tires that annually “migrate” into the marsh during high water. Undoubtedly, the junkyards are the source of other contaminants that are not as easily seen as the tires. The Mohawk Valley Flood Plain Association (renamed The Utica Marsh Council) was largely responsible for getting protection for the Marsh and transforming it into a Wildlife Management Area. 
A group of female Hooded Mergansers

Great Blue Heron are common visitors to the Marsh
The Utica Marsh Council along with the DEC hosts an annual Marsh Cleanup –mostly for removing the year’s accumulation of tires. Future Clean-ups have been put on hold due to the lack of an easy access into the Marsh. Over a year ago, the bridge leading to the Marsh’s parking area was permanently closed and so the Marsh Council has been scrambling to find a new and practical way for people to gain access to it. It’s an interesting time that we live in when city bridges are condemned without even the thought of repairing or replacing them. As it turned out, some good news came with the loss of our Barnes Ave bridge. The auto junkyards adjacent to the Marsh have all been closed, and illicit dumping of trash along Barnes Ave has also been effectively curtailed.

The most common species of rail at the Marsh is the Virginia Rail
Spring is an exciting time at the Marsh; virtually as soon as its shallow pools lose their ice, a procession of migratory waterfowl begin visiting. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and Northern Shoveler are a few of the larger dabbling ducks that can be found during migration. By May, the duck migration is mostly over, and the songbird migration comes into full swing. Migrant warblers can be seen easily here as they travel through the low tree border between the main trail and the marsh.
The Common Moorhen is a bit like a wild marsh chicken

Both the Sora and the Virginia Rail breed at the Utica Marsh. The latter species is particularly vocal at this time of year, and can be heard calling from many places in the cattail beds. The Common Moorhen is mostly black and about the size and shape of a chicken. Like the rails, they have extremely long toes which act to distribute their weight and enable them to walk over thin rafts of emergent vegetation.

Another Marsh specialty is the Least Bittern, which is a colorful robin sized heron that breeds in cattail marsh habitat. The Utica Marsh is one of few places where this bittern can be reliably found in Oneida County. Currently, the biggest threat to the bittern and its marsh nesting allies is the invasive plant, Purple Loosestrife, which has been steadily expanding throughout the Marsh, and now threatens to overwhelm the last areas where these birds still breed. The 3 species of beetle which are used to control Loosestrife have been released at the Marsh, but so far they don’t appear to be putting much of a check on the plant.

The Pied billed Grebe breeds at the Utica Marsh

During my last visit to the Marsh, I saw a pair of Pied-billed Grebes begin their nest. Their nest is made on a floating mat of vegetation that is anchored in place. The advantage to this design is that the nest can handle water levels rising without flooding out. Last year when a dramatic flooding event swelled water levels at the Marsh and destroyed all of the Canada Goose nests as well as most every other marsh birds’ nest, the Grebe nests may have survived because of their unique floating design.
The most common turtle at the Marsh is the Painted Turtle

Osprey flying over the Utica Mars
Here is a link to the Utica Marsh Council website, which is in great need of an update:
Utica Marsh website

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Warbler Fallout, The Mega Migration of Red Admirals and A Red Fox Stores Her Gruesome Treats

Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler or the"fire throat"
With the start of May comes the arrival of dozens of bird species from the south. Most of them have flown in during the night and are now busily foraging for caterpillars in the tree tops. The movements of many of these colorful songbirds –particularly the warblers and vireos, are virtually invisible to most of us, since they are small birds and they do most of their foraging high in the tree canopy and under cover of the newly emerged leaves. We would hardly know that they were there if it wasn’t for their songs, and what a variety of songs they produce.
Black &White Warbler - about the size of a chickadee
On May 1st, the Blackburnian Warbler returned to the forest at our Nature Preserve, and I only knew that because I heard its extraordinary song. The song most often starts with a slow trill and ends with a single long note that dramatically ascends in pitch. That note already starts high, but reaches right to the stratosphere before ending. The Blackburinian Warbler helpfully provides human-kind with a hearing test every time he sings his song. A large number of people fail that particular test, since as we age, many of us lose our ability to hear notes in the highest frequency range.
Blue-winged Warbler returned to its nesting territory this week

Most of the warblers moving around in the tree tops are Myrtle Warblers, and in parts of the forest, the air is filled with their uneven metered trilling. The majority of the Myrtles will go to their breeding grounds in the Adirondacks and to points north, but some will stay nearby to nest in patches of spruce dominated forest that grow in upland areas. The Myrtle is also called the Yellow-rumped Warbler –named for a prominent yellow patch at the base of their tail. Though this field-mark is shared with several other species, it’s only the Myrtle that is sometimes referred to as the “Butter-butt”. This is one of our only warbler species that can sometimes be found in our area during the winter. At that time of year, they feed on the waxy berries of Myrtle, and on Poison Ivy berries. The latter being my personal favorite.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is by far the most common migrant warbler 
Sensory overload is sometimes the consequence of trying to identify the constituents of a large mixed flock of warblers. When a hundred birds are all singing at the same time, sorting them out can be a daunting task even for those who are proficient at bird song identification. It can be like trying to pick out each individual person’s voice in a noisy crowd. Believe me, with birds, this is a good problem to have. In modern times, when populations of these long distance migrants has dropped to record low levels, what we need are more 100 songbird symphonies.
The Red Admiral Butterfly soaks in the sun

The unprecedented migration of Red Admiral Butterflies continues. Lately when even the sun comes out and the temperature rises above 65 degrees, these red striped butterflies come out of hiding and resume heading north. Hundreds of them were seen at the Nature Preserve yesterday and it’s easy to imagine that millions of them are traveling through the region. Such a mass movement is bound to result in many casualties, as the Admirals fly low over busy roads and are struck by vehicles. On my way home from the Preserve, I saw scores of dead Admirals on the sides of the road, while others continued to successfully zip by.
Another warbler species: the Northern Waterthrush 
 Other species of butterfly were out as well, but not in nearly such impressive numbers. The Spring Azure is a very small blue winged butterfly that does a great job concealing its blue top wings. Whenever the butterfly is not flying, its wings stay closed over its back, but when in flight, the Azure is among the most beautiful butterfly species.
The Red Fox is a new mammal for the Nature Preserve

I came face to face with a Red Fox on one of our trails yesterday. This was unusual at the Nature Preserve, where the Gray Fox was thought to be our only resident fox. But since the Red Fox is generally common throughout our region, it comes as no great surprise that one was finally seen here. This female fox is likely feeding kits. For several days, she’s been making gruesome little food caches in the middle of several different foot trails. There was part of a mouse left on one trail, and a freshly killed Red-bellied Snake on another. She’ll come back for these later, once she has amassed enough treats for all her kits.