Galls

You may know of my fascination with galls, the structures created by plants in response to insects. In the Botanisk Have in Copenhagen and in the Alnapsparken at Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, the Swedish agricultural college, I found these lovely knopper oak galls. They were growing on acorns of Quercus robur, the great oak of Europe, which we usually call the English Oak (cf. hearts thereof), but when in Rome, or more specifically Sweden, it’s skogsek. It is, of course, thanks to a Swede, one Carl von Linne — the family name comes from the lime (linden) trees on the family estate — who is better known as Linnaeus, who codified the binomial naming system that is supposed to be universal. So the full binomial for this oak is Quercus robur L., the initial standing for the namer, yup, Linnaeus. One of L.’s students was the founder of the precursor institutions of the SLU.A gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis, causes these oaks to form these when they lay their eggs on the emerging acorns. These wasps need Turkey Oaks (Quercus cerris L.) to complete their life cycle, so finding them in botanical garden settings makes a lot more sense then finding them out in the “wild,” where these other oaks are a lot less common (Q. cerris is native to southeastern Europe and Anatolia/Asia Minor).

Galls like these are full of tannin, a gallic acid which has been used for centuries as a component of iron gall ink. The Magna Carta, Beowulf, and the Lindisfarne gospels were all written in this stuff, which is made from the galls (Oak Apple galls in these cases), iron sulfate, and water.

Birds in Hand

We attended a ringing demonstration at the Falsterbo Fågelstation. Karin, a volunteer at the observatory located at the Falsterbo fyr (lighthouse) also works there, reporting the weather every three hours. She has a molting Robin (Erithacus rubecula), or Rödhake in hand.
Largest size ring here is for swans. A rather smaller one goes on the ankle of a Robin…A Great Tit (Parus major) also messy looking because of molting. Talgoxe in Swedish.Common Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, or bofink.As you probably know, songbirds are very lightweight. Two Blackpoll warblers add up to less than an ounce, for instance. But this doesn’t mean they’re weaklings (you try flying to South America from here). Karin asked for volunteers to feel the bite-strength of this bird’s bill. I offered my finger. The grip belied the bird’s size.

It was a rainy day, so the pickings in the mist nets, strung around the woody garden surrounding the lighthouse and in a couple places outside it in tiny copses, were slim.This was a coup de théâtre, though. It’s a nest of the Eurasian Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus), pungmes, woven together from the fluff of cattails. These birds are studied for their reproductive strategies; they obviously put a lot of effort into these nests — Karin demonstrated that the Swedes think they look like human male genitalia — but both males and females are sequentially polygamous and one or the other or sometimes both will abandon their nests, even with young inside.

A Cacophony of Corvids

Malmö’s landmark Turning Torso, with Hooded Crows, Rooks, and Jackdaws on the fence. Add the Magpie, and even urban areas in Denmark and Sweden are well represented by the members of the Corvidae.A Rook (Corvus frugilegus) — råka — with some leucristic feather action.Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), gråkråka, and Magpie (Pica pica), skata.One of the large stick confabulation nests of the Magpie. Santiago Calatrava designed the twisted sister building, but really, does he have anything the Magpies’ don’t?Jackdaw (Corvus monedula), kaja. Molting is a mess…Jackdaws and Black-headed Gulls mooching in the park.

The Butterfly International

Was it my imagination or where the (Red) Admirals in Sweden redder? Vanessa atalanta is found all around the northern hemisphere and is often the last butterfly seen flying in the fall.This birch sap leak was attracting them all at the edge of the ljung (heath).

We also saw our old friend the Cabbage White in its native continent, too. But it paid to look closer: this one on inspection turned out to be Pieris napi, the Green-Veined White, Rapsfjäril.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx…This Monarch was having some trouble, dragging her wings like a wet prom dress. She didn’t seem to be able to fly and was crawling around the leaves as a wasp harried her. The wasp actually took off a piece of wet, damaged wing.Nearby, a caterpillar was at the start of pupation. Also in the NYBG, this Calastrina genus blue was quite obsessed with a small bird turd, coming back to it repeatedly and allowing me to get my phone in its face. One of the “Spring Azure” complex, rather late in the year?Green-Wood, meanwhile, was busy with Painted Ladies and several other species, including this skipper slurping up some nectar. And a Monarch caterpillar was still growing strong.

Bufo bufo

The Common Toad of Europe, I think. Vanlig padda in Sweden, where we found these two on a path near lake Krankesjön. Sweden has 13 species of amphibians (including two vattensalamander) and six species of reptiles.Being in the land o’ Linnaeus, we kept coming across the doubled binomial: Porzana porzana, Buteo buteo, Anser anser, Ciconia ciconia, Vanellus vanellus

Raptor Wednesday

This is the all-Swedish edition. We saw twelve species of raptors on our trip. Here are some of the highlights:

Tornfalk or Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). These were seen every day, often in multiples. For instance, one morning there were five over fields with a scattering of cattle who had clearly whirlwinded up some insects for the cloud of (Barn) Swallows around them and the Yellow Wagtails at their feet. Larger than our American Kestrels, the Eurasian Kestrel is Hopkins’ Windhover, the “dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon” that seems to hover in place as it matches the force of the wind with its wingbeats and scans the ground below for prey. I delayed a short walk with long observation of two hunting from fence posts in a marsh; one put a Snipe to flight.

Havsörn or White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). The southwestern portion of Falsterbo is a sandy cape called Måkräppen. It’s had a varied career over the years and ocean currents: some maps show it as a separate island. It’s a seal preserve now, closed to people except during winter. At the cape’s top, the landmark above seems to have something to do with navigation; it is also the local eagle hang — we saw eagles perched atop it on three different days. Once, I was looking at one of these big birds standing on the beach next to a blubber of harbor seals way out on the point. A Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) wandered onto the scene from the right, putting the eagle to flight and scattering at least half the seals, although I don’t see how a fox could have threatened a healthy adult seal.

Lärkfalk or Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo). This is a long-winged falcon with no equivalent in our part of the world. The birds are fast enough to prey on swallows and swifts. We saw two taking big mosaic darner dragonflies over the dunes, swooping down upon their prey and then devouring them in flight, dropping off the wings and other inedible bits before making another pass. Elsewhere, in the face of a good stiff wind, an adult and juvenile zoomed over the ruins of a 13th century castle hunting for dragonflies. Another notable sighting had one of these falcons plucking a song bird (several observers thought it was a Blue or Great Tit) in the air, the feathers fluttering away as the falcon flew back and forth.

Sparvhök or Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). Another daily sight, often spotted flying extremely low over the ground as they attempted to surprise prey. Lots in the air during our one big sunny day (394 in the official count that day; I randomly looked at a more recent day, 9/17, when over 2000 were counted). This species is not dissimilar from our own Accipiters, but don’t let that big Goshawk-like supercilium (“eyebrow” line) fool you; these are bigger than Sharp-shinned and smaller than Cooper’s.

Other species in order of frequency: Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, and Red Kite. We also had single sightings of Peregrine, Hen Harrier (now split from our Northern Harrier), and Pallid Harrier. That last was a scope-view as he hurried along off the coast. Such movement in the air! While weather bollixed much of the anticipated migration, we had one good day at the Skanörs ljung or heath preserve, where birder’s line up to see migrating raptors swirl up in kettles and/or coast along in their quest for the south. Birders there had spotted the Pallid Harrier first and gotten word to the also-crowded scene at the lighthouse, where we saw it, generally found further east, powering southwards.

Snigel

We had wet weather in Sweden, and slugs like nothing better. Rather more so than birds, that’s for sure. Arion vulgaris was everywhere. These seem to be the invasive — “the Spanish slug”– but it gets complicated.
Arion lusitanicus has also been used for this species. This journal article suggests it’s actually native to Central EuropeAre we on firmer ground with this one? Arion ater, the black slug (although it also comes in colors ranging from white to red…). A little more on the confusing Scandinavian slug scene (bet that’s not in most guide books).
And is this one, a good 6″ long, a variation on Limax maximus, the leopard slug?

(Snigel seems to mean both snail and slug. Correct me if I’m wrong. There will be snails…)


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