Sunday, June 22, 2014

Recent Butterflies and Other Bright Things

Hobomk Slipper on Blue Flag
Will this be a good season for butterflies? It's hard to tell. Last year at this time we were experiencing torrential rains and historic flooding. One of the results of the deluge was to depress populations of our early summer butterflies. I suspect that this season's numbers will be down as a result of poor breeding success from last year, but again, it's hard to be sure. Butterflies can be quite resilient - and since a single butterfly can produce hundreds of eggs, favorable weather conditions this year can result in high survival rates for hatchlings. 
Hobomok Skipper can be found in forest clearings and wooded edges
The Common Ringlet has been around for a couple of weeks
Long Dash Skippers are just starting to emerge
Long Dash Skipper on Red Clover
Silver-spotted Skipper feeds on nectar of Tufted Vetch
Recently emerged Silver-spotted Skipper on newly opened Indian Hemp flowers
Silver-spotted Skipper
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The White Admiral Butterfly imbibes water from the muddy driveway
White Admiral Butterfly - Its underwings are decorated with reddish spots
Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillar 
Viceroy Butterfly on a willow sapling
A female Common Yellowthroat with a beak-full of food for her young
The Common Spring Moth on Multiflora Rose
Foxglove Beardtongue began blooming in the meadow this week

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Woodchucks at Home and at Large

Currently around our reforestation fields and even near the beaver ponds, woodchucks have been seen alone or with young in tow. The species is often vilified by those who don't appreciate their taste for backyard cultivars and their penchant for excavating holes under outbuildings or porches.  For many years now there have been woodchucks in residence in my yard and we've learned to tolerate their munching and digging habits. For us it seems an equitable price to pay to be able to observe them.
Mother Woodchuck with 2 kits in tow
Many times in this blog I've lauded the habitat making ability of beavers. I've described how beavers are capable of creating opportunities for many other species to live in an area. Woodchucks also help other species. The tunnel openings they create are utilized by many other animals that may commandeer an entrance-way as a safe place to spend a few nights; or they may use it as a den to raise their own families. Foxes often do this. It certainly saves them a lot of digging, which is a task the woodchuck is much better suited to by nature. Would the foxes and woodchucks coexist? No. Although - believe it or not, a mother woodchuck is capable of chasing off a hungry fox. However, her young would be in definite jeopardy. Typically if a fox makes her den at the opening of a woodchuck hole, that entrance-way is abandoned by the woodchucks. Fortunately the woodchuck's tunnel system is extensive and may stretch for hundreds of feet under fields and forests. There will surely be other access points that will not have predators residing in them.
Another mother woodchuck with her kit at a popular hillside tunnel entrance
Following mom down the hillside
Time to go home now
Starting to explore on their own
Venturing far away from mother and the den
When something startles the kits, they all run back home

Another important task that woodchucks perform in the environment is the turning over of soil. Over the course of years, woodchucks at the nature preserve have turned over hundreds of tons of soil! This is especially important in former agricultural fields which have been robbed of their nutrients by many years of farming and by erosion.  After the woodchucks do their work, the land will be much more capable of supporting the many native trees that we've planted. 

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Gray Foxes often use the entrances of woodchuck holes for their dens

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Recent Orchids & Other Late Spring Blooms

Pink Ladyslippers in conference
This season's bloom of Ladyslippers was generally a good one around our region. At the Pitch Pine Bog in Rome we found a great number of Pink Ladyslippers - all at the peak of their power. Other amazing Adirondack type flowers were on display there. Closer to home at the nature preserve, our own Yellow Ladyslippers lasted for a long time and provided a great highlight in our woodland shade garden. They managed to survive a hail storm in May that unfortuanately shredded the leaves of our May Apple and Twinleaf plants.
Pink Ladyslippers were on display at the Pitch Pine Bog in Rome

Our own Yellow Ladyslippers at the nature preserve

The native variety of Columbine is red with a yellow center
Water Hyacinth 
False Bishop's Cap or Miterwort in our woodland garden
Wild Geranium
Indian Cucumber Root
Bunchberry was one of many Adirondack-type flowers in bloom at the Pitch Pine Bog
Pitcher Plants blooming at the edge of the bog
The season's last Painted Trillium found still blooming at the Pitch Pine Bog

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bluebirds and Other Recent Nesters - Also, The Crow and the Woodchuck Tail (or Tale)

This Bluebird mother vigorously defends her nest area
The male Bluebird feeds the nestlings while the female waits her turn

Did you know that a mother Eastern Bluebird can be pretty tough when she needs to be? Lately one of our breeding pairs has been quite aggressive around the nest area - especially the female. Every time I walk down the trail adjacent to her nest box she swoops down at me and gives me a good scolding. Who ever said these birds were shy? Well that was probably me that said that in a previous blog. Regardless, this particular pair is anything but shy. The last time I checked inside the box she had six eggs; now, fully 3 weeks later, the young are ready to fledge and the parents are even more defensive. When I last went by the box I was really taking my life in my hands. The female Bluebird came down on me with a vengeance. She swooped at me several times and then landed on a locust branch above my head where she began chattered away. Amazingly, I survived to tell this tale.

The female flies in to feed
Note the gaping mouth of a nestling in the entrance-way 
The male is feeding now, but the female is flying in right behind him
With 6 mouths to feed, both parents are kept very busy hunting up insects
The first fledgling out of the box is protected by its fearless parents

The Bluebirds aren't the only ones breeding at the nature preserve; nests are popping up everywhere. In the forest I found a Wood Thrush that was just in the finishing stages of forming her nest. She didn't have any eggs in it yet; she was just trying it on for size. Nearby and just beneath the tree canopy, a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were nesting. I knew they had to be in there somewhere since I had seen a female with nesting material only a few days before. Interestingly, it was the male sitting on the nest incubating. With the neotropical songbirds, males don't often take on this role. It's said that the grosbeak will even occasionally sing while sitting on the nest. That's probably not the best idea if you are truly interested in keeping nest predators away, but I'll let you tell him that. I've never heard a male grosbeak sing on the nest before, but I saw a Warbling Vireo doing this exact thing just the other day. I guess that is one way to entertain yourself while incubating.
A Wood Thrush sitting in a freshly finished nest - trying it out for size
This Warbling Vireo was singing while sitting on eggs
The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak incubates eggs - only his tail and head are visible over the nest rim
Yesterday one of our crows became a little put out when a Woodchuck wouldn't budge off of her favorite feeding area. I watched the crow hop up to the Woodchuck several times and try to shift the animal, but it was no good. That chuck wasn't about to leave a good thing. Finally the crow came all the way over to the Woodchuck and yanked its tail! Most surprisingly of all, there was absolutely no reaction from the Woodchuck! It was as if this kind of thing happens to him everyday! The crow tried it again, and again there was no reaction from the chuck. What's the fun of being a notorious trickster if no one is going to acknowledge the trick? A squirrel witnessed the entire thing and didn't even come close to chuckling, which would have been the appropriate thing to do in this instance.
The crow first tries to shift the Woodchuck by cawing at it, but to no avail
What's that bird up to now?
That crazy bird is about to pull that crazy chuck's tail - And there's a Gray Squirrel for a witness