Sunday, May 26, 2013

Amphibians, Foxes, Butterflies and a Very Strange Gall - Also Some of the Latest Blooms

A happy American Toad joins the singing chorus at his favorite pond
The extended period of dry weather looked to be bad news for some of the preserve’s amphibians – particularly the ones that rely on our vernal pond. That small woodland pond had shrunk to about the size of a puddle and the Wood Frog tadpoles were crowded together in a last ditch effort to survive. These little guys had just barely begun developing back legs and were clearly not capable of surviving outside of water. One more day of hot dry weather would've sealed their fate, but the rains came just in the nick of time and most of them were saved. As of yesterday this pond was filled to the brim again.
Mating can be a pretty  raucous affair with Toads

American Toad tadpoles gather in the shallows
The American Toads are partial to breeding in another pond – fortunately one which isn't so reliant on rainfall for maintaining its levels. Last year an early spring warm spell effectively scuttles the toads' breeding season. I recall that the toads had begun converging at the pond a full month earlier than usual, but then more seasonable (cold) temperatures returned and that abruptly halted their breeding activities. Consequently few eggs hatched and toad tadpoles were scarce  By contrast this year a quick survey of the pond's shallows revealed thousands of tiny toad tadpoles swimming in the shallows. They appear to be more than making up for last years losses.
Red-spotted Salamander or "Red Eft" moves slowly through the forest
Lately the Efts are very common in the old woods
Red-spotted salamanders were also in the same pond where presumably they too are spawning. More notable has been the number of them encountered in the woods. Clearly they've been taking advantage of the recent rains to disperse into their woodland habitat. Of all the salamanders, the Red-spotted or Red Efts are by far the most commonly encountered in our region. Unfortunately they have a tendency of lingering on the foot paths and they are not good about getting out of the way of foot traffic. Lately when I take those paths I need to really concentrate on the ground before me – to avoid stepping on them.
The Salamander returns to the pond to spawn - they look quite different at this stage
The male Red-spotted Salamander grasps the female to make sure that she doesn't  mate with another
Butterflies have been showing up in various different habitats. The other day, Hobomock Skipper and Juveniles Duskywing where seen in one of the meadows for the first time this year. Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars were also found in our iris meadow. All of the checkerspot larva were feeding on the young turtlehead plants that grow among the irises. Like many butterflies, the Checkerspots over-winter in their larval form. They wake up in the spring, just in time for their main food-plant to appear.
The Hobomok Skipper is usually the first skipper butterfly to emerge in the spring
Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly caterpillar
The adult Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly
Other butterfly newcomers have been the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Pearl Crescent and Questionmark. For the Tiger Swallowtail the nature preserve has become a much more welcoming place since we've included that species’ main food-plants in our reforestation fields. Of course, Tulip Trees and Black Cherry Trees have other reasons for being in those fields, but the fact that their leaves can be utilized these magnificent insects is a great bonus.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Pearl Crescent - another recent butterfly
At both the preserve’s bird feeders and at our house's feeders we've had female Gray Foxes coming around every day to partake of corn and peanuts. Due to the frequency of her visits, we think its likely that our yard fox has a den nearby. It has been fascinating to watch her interactions with the other wildlife in the yard. Hen Turkeys, which also likely have their own nests hidden in the nearby woods, often walk by the fox while she’s feeding. Obviously these birds don’t consider the Gray Fox to be such a great threat, but that will change once the turkeys have clutches of chicks to watch over.
A Gray Fox stands in our large bird-feeder at the nature preserve
Lately this is typical scene in our backyard - turkey and fox coexisting
Galls of various shapes and sizes have been showing up on a variety of different plants and trees around the preserve. Many of them show up on oak tree leaves and are caused by insects – primarily wasps. However, the strange orange galls that I found the other day were on Red Cedar trees and they are caused by a fungus. During its different generations, Fungal Apple Rust alternately infects Red Cedar and apple trees. The bright orange galls that develop on the cedars have spore baring tentacles, which make it resemble some exotic sea creature. The spores produced in the tentacles will next infect apple trees.

Fungal Apple Rust looks like a sea creature when its on Red Cedar

The procession of blooming plants continues at the nature preserve. Here's a sample of what we've been seeing:

Woodland Geranium 
Yellow Ladyslipper
Blue-eyed Grass - a member of the iris family
Dwarf Delphinium
May Apple
Apple Blossom
Hawthorn Blossom

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