Archive for the 'Fieldnotes' Category

Shaggy

Carya ovataShagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is one of the great trees of the eastern forests. This distinctive peely bark makes them easy to distinguish from most of the other species of native North American hickories. However, the Shellbark (C. laciniosa) is also known as Bigleaf Shagbark; its uncommon in rich bottom lands in the arteries of the Midwest, the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.

The hickories make strong, durable wood: I have a hickory hiking stick. And not for nothing was Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson so nicknamed. He was one tough SOB: sword-slashed and bullet-ridden from youth on, as an old man he helped subdue the first attempted Presidential assassin. Pity he was so genocidal.

Hickory nuts are a major food source for wildlife, and most are edible to humans (except the warningly named Bitternut [C. cordiformis]), but among the hickory family only the pecan (C. illinoinensis) is cultivated.

Breaking: Monarch Sighted in Brooklyn

Danaus plexippusI saw my second Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of the year today. This was my first in Brooklyn; in Brooklyn Bridge Park, feeding on Joe-Pye Weed (Spotted JPW, I believe, Eupatorium maculatum).

As you probably know, we have done quite a number on this spectacular species, through deforestation in Mexico, reducing its food crops further north in the U.S., and poisoning its habitat everywhere; such blows make them even more susceptible to external pressures, like severe weather, in particular the drought in Texas (“external” if you don’t count our carbon-dirty hands in disrupting traditional weather patterns through global warming).

Here are some graphs of the shocking declines and here’s an interview with a biologist whose entire professional career has been about them disappearing. There’s nothing personal, of course, in this drive to extinguish one more species; we’ve done it to the whole planet, and even ourselves.

Can you do anything to keep this remarkable animal, which has a multi-generational, continent-spanning migration, around for your grandchildren? You can plant milkweed, stop the wide-spread poisoning of the environment through herbicides and pesticides, and drive less.. say what? The field-to-field cropping of corn to meet the ethanol demand means that “weedy” edges have been plowed under. We must all change our lives.

Here Come the Collared-Doves

eucdOr at least one of them. Eurasian Collared-doves (Streptopelia decaocto) were released in the Bahamas in the 1970s. They soon made their way to Florida and then spread out through North America, except for the Northeast. But it’s only a matter of time. An outlier has been hanging around Chelsea Piers in Manhattan for a week or more. You can just see the black line on the nape of the neck that makes the “collar” — it doesn’t go all the way around. Otherwise, this bird is rather similar to the native Mourning Dove, if a bit larger. Its white tail feathers and dark wing-tips in flight also help differentiate it.

Insects of the Weekend

IMG_6273A mess of these sand wasps (Bembicini) were trying to dig into the little beach along the Hudson by Ossining train station. Sand seemed too loose, though, for their nest chambers.harvestmanMoth Night at the Greenbelt Nature Center with the Staten Island Museum on Saturday meant more than moths. This harvestman (Opiliones) has little red mites attached to its legs. Orthosoma brunneumBrown Prionid beetle (Orthosoma brunneum), I think. About 1.25″ long.IMG_6329A camel cricket, family Rhaphidophoridae. Not one of the noise-makers, this tree cricket is a great jumper; we found several on trunks (I rotated this image; the cricket was facing down initially). Its antenna are nearly three times the body length.Epimecis hortariaIt’s National Moth Week, which may be something of a hard sell. Most moths, after all, are modest studies in gray. The showy ones, like the Luna, are few and far between, especially in the city. A white sheet with black lights was set up, as was a trough of “moth bait,” a gooey sludge of banana, booze, and brown sugar allowed to fester in the sun for a while. Both of these attract different species. The Tulip-tree Beauty (Epimecis hortaria) above didn’t come directly to either, but roosted in the area.Lomographia vestaliataWhite Spring Moth (Lomographia vestaliata).moth1Toothed Brown Carpet (Xanthorhoe lacustrata). There are some 12,000 know species of Lepidoptera in the U.S. & Canada; less than 800 of these are butterflies; the rest moths, and I guess they ran out of common names…

Leggy

OpilionesDaddy-, or Granddaddy-longlegs… but wait a minute. There are only six legs here. The Opiliones order of harvestman are related to spiders and have eight legs. What’s going on? OpilionesIt looks like the first joint to the right of the face is missing a limb, so presumably is the other side. Missing that joint, too, it looks like. This one could still move pretty well, though. There are over 5000 species of these critters in the world, with 235 known in North America (these numbers from Evans, who pictures two of them; so many bugs, so little time!). They aren’t venomous, and don’t have fangs so they don’t bite. The dark nob on top is an eye. As I was getting the lens close, I felt another on my camera hand, smaller bodied and lighter colored. I blew gently on it to get it to reverse course.

Snouty

Chelydra serpentinaA young Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) tests the air. Neither a wizened old warrior the size of a European subcompact nor a silver dollar-sized baby, this one was about 4″ long. Chelydra serpentina

Green June in July

Cotinus nitidaI saw this flying fairly low and slow, and waited a while to see if it would land. Waiting may be the essence of natural history observation. As it flew, my thought process was thus: too small for a cicada, too wide for a wasp. Once it landed, Japanese Beetle came to mind; but although similar, this is larger, and lacks the grooved elytra and the tufty bristles of that pest. This turned out to be the Green June Beetle (Cotinus nitida). Another foot soldier in the empire of beetles, the true earthlings (the rest of us just live here, wantonly slaughtering everything that moves). The Latin nitida means shiny, bright, handsome. Cotinus nitidaSeveral days later, I found another in a different borough.

An unhappy birthday for the sea turtles

IMG_3609Balloons are potent killers of sea turtles. Filled with helium, they drift off into the ocean and are swallowed by turtles because they look similar to jellyfish. Rubber balloons will break down (eventually), but long after they’ve done their damage. The shiny ones, made of mylar, are particularly pernicious, because they last forever.

I find it hard to believe that people still celebrate with balloons; I doubt most children would want a balloon if they knew they were helping to kill sea turtles. And other animals: including dolphins, birds, domestic animals and pets; the balloon blocks the throat and/or stomach, the animal dies of starvation. Or it’s choked to death. Or it becomes entangled in the strings and dies that way, trapped.

Releasing a balloon is littering. It’s also killing.

Crawly

Papilio glaucusOne must really keep the eyes peeled and rolling in a fine frenzy. Look out! Down on the sidewalk, a little under 1.5″ long, easily mistaken for a turd or cigarillo butt. Papilio glaucusBut, actually, it’s the larva of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), that gloriously large yellow and black butterfly. Early instars, or stages, of this caterpillar look like bird droppings (that old camouflage trick!); the last before pupation will look like this, complete with the false eyespots, but be a vivid green. Tuliptree, magnolia, and black cherry are among the food plants for this species; this was next to a Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), which is an unusual street tree here. Like all caterpillars, it is a machine for eating, powering up for the biochemical alchemy of metamorphosis. Papilio glaucusShazam! I mean, shit into gold, the alchemical dream right here.

Green Heron Junior

Butorides virescensMy eyes were intent on the edges of the pond, alive with damsel- and dragonflies, so I didn’t see this young Green Heron (Butorides virescens) until it darted away on foot. It didn’t go very far, though. I watched it for a long time as it stalked back and forth along the pond. Butorides virescensThe heavy streaking on the white breast is characteristic of a young bird’s plumage, but the real giveaway here is all the downy fluff still blowing about on the head. Butorides virescens Where was the nest? The parents? Was it already on its own? It hadn’t developed much fear of humans yet; I was about fifteen feet from it, another civilian walked by as I stood there. It was working on its hunting skills:Butorides virescensGrabbing an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) from the air.

***
The Prospect heron nest we were watching last month failed. I heard there were several young one day and the next nothing. Raccoons or rats may have gotten to them. It was a very low nest, not as high as they usually build them. As always, the city is a tough neighborhood to raise your young.


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