Can you see him? In the middle? Cute, no?
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Can you see him? In the middle? Cute, no?
My daughter found this monster caterpillar in our yard, halfway between the grape vines and an apple tree. It was moving faster than you’d think a caterpillar could move in grass, but I managed to catch up for a photo. The markings (“green, orange, pink or cinnamon with pale white to yellow spots enveloping abdominal spiracles” and “generous peppering of minute black dots”) and the proximity of grape vines make us fairly confident it’s a Pandorus sphinx moth caterpillar. And since this particular cat had a button on its rear (instead of a “tin and coiled horn”) we’re pretty sure its in its final caterpillar stage. (This explains its quick jaunt through the lawn: it was most likely searching for a safe place to pupate.)
The Princeton Field Guide CATERPILLARS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA, from which quotes above were taken, suggested we throw a sheet on the ground beneath the grape vines, because then “the presence of hornworms will be revealed by an accumulation of elongate, deeply furrowed, fecal pellets.”
Honestly, who needs a TV?
This past weekend, MassAudubon sponsored its annual Focus on Feeders bird census. My kids and I managed to spot fifteen species of birds over the course of the two days. Most were at our feeders, but a few, like the crows and the red-tailed hawk, just happened to be flying overhead while we were counting. I was thrilled that one of our resident red nuthatches showed up and posed for a photo, and completely stoked that my son Ben was ready with the camera. (If you are into birds, you can compare this red nut to the white-breasted cousin from this recent post.) Here’s our full species list:
Don’t worry if you missed the fun; Great Backyard Bird Count is just two weeks away! I’ll be counting with kids from my local elementary school. How about you?
More seaside wildlife this week, direct from our vacation on Mount Desert Island in Maine. This was a decent-sized hermit crab, though you’d never know it because we forgot to put something in the photo for scale. Anyway, he was discovered on the sandbar connecting Bar Harbor and Bar Island, just as the sun was setting on another gorgeous August afternoon.
I hope you had some wild in your Wednesday!
I had to pull out my trusty butterfly field guides in order to ID this fellow. See that white marking on the hind wing, the one that looks like a question mark on its side? That was the key.
I hiked through my local MassAudubon Sanctuary this week and came across this guy snacking in the middle of a trail. I took some pictures, sure he’d take off as soon as he heard the shutter click. When he didn’t, I moved in closer, shooting all the while.
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
“Are you deaf?”
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
What choice was there? I took the long way back to the car.
I’ve been noticing gray-white moths like the one in this photo on the side of my house for weeks now. And I have been meaning to pore over my field guides in search of an ID for just as long. But you know how that goes: so many insects, so little time. What luck, then, that the good people at MassAudubon tweeted this link yesterday. Winter moths. Of course.
Maybe I need to spend more time on Twitter?
This past weekend we set out our bird feeders; I’ve been staring out windows ever since. The usual fellows are visiting: tufted titmice, chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers. And white-breasted nuthatches, like the one in the image above. I’ve always loved the tidy nuthatches, so sharp-looking in their crisp gray and black feathers. But on Saturday, I spotted a pair that didn’t look quite right to me. They were scruffier than usual. Buffier in the breast. Wearing strange eye patches. Wait a second …
I’ve not seen red-breasted nuts at my home feeders in more than fifteen years of watching. We’ve not added a new-to-us species to our birding journal since this sharp-shinned hawk stopped by last year. And I’ve not felt so grateful for a bird since this little brown creeper cheered up the winter of 2010.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary in life,” Rachel Carson once said. This weekend, her words rang truer than ever.
Happy Wednesday, friends. I hope it’s a wild one.
My husband was working quietly at the kitchen table this week when a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk snatched a dark-eyed junco out of mid-air, skidded across the kitchen window, then landed on the ground nearby to eat its catch. By the time I got home an hour later, soft gray feathers still clung to the window glass, and a light snow had settled on the bloody murder scene.
Some days are wilder than others, you know?
On Sunday I watched this honey bee, most likely living in the hives my neighbors keep, work our sedum plants. In fact, it’s possible that I watched her collect nectar that will end up in my tea–in me!–come winter. Humbling.
Yesterday Ellen Harasimowicz and I tagged along as Dr. Maya Nehme went out into the wilds of Worcester county to check the Asian Longhorned Beetle traps we’d watched her set earlier this summer. (You can read about that adventure here.) While snapping photographs, Ellen managed to spot a small antler in the grass. Just as I was saying, “Keep your eyes open, because I read somewhere that deer usually shed both antlers at the same time …”, I stepped on a second antler! I’m not sure who was more excited: Ellen, me, or my daughter, who posed for the photo above as soon as we got home.
Have a great and wild Wednesday!
I found this strange musrhoom growing at the edge of the front lawn. It’s a stinkhorn, and I now know where the name comes from; they really stink! The over-sweet smell is distinctive, and designed, I’ve since read, to attract flies, which land on the slime-coated tip of the mushroom, muck about, and fly off with spores stuck to their legs. Stinky, but clever.
Happy Wednesday …
We’re moving. If you have ever moved, you can probably relate to how I’m feeling these days: harried, overwhelmed, excited, and sad. The sad part has to do with saying goodbye to a place that has been Home to my family for a decade. For ten years, we’ve worked the soil here, and trampled the grass and climbed the trees and lived with the wildlife. We know this place in a way that no one else does, and it is very hard to let that go. Those trees up there, for example, are two of a dozen or so shagbark hickories that we have come to know. The new owners will surely love them as much, but when they wonder why the one on the right has no shag at the bottom, who will tell them? Who will describe the little boys who grew up playing under that tree? Little boys who one day ran their chubby hands over those tags and strips of glorious hanging bark and couldn’t help but pull. And pull. And pull. I’m sad that this story will come away with us, and that the lovely, generous, naked-at-the-bottom-shaggy-at-the-top hickory will not.
On Saturday, we central New Englanders saw the first true snowfall of the winter. Where I live, we got about five inches, just enough to strap on snowshoes and head out into the wild. My family and I explored the woods near our new house, tracked a neighbor dog, brushed flakes from hearty mushrooms, and stumbled into an area that had, moments before our arrival, been a resting place for four deer. I took photos of the woods and the tracks and the mushrooms and the deer beds, of course, but none of them pleased me as much as the image above. Is there anything as exciting as the rush into untrodden, new-fallen, long-awaited snow?
Happy Wednesday, friends!
If you press that link, scroll down, hit the play arrow on the audio file labeled “mew call”, and repeat for an hour or two, you’ve got the soundtrack to my Wednesday.
This photo arrived by email over the weekend, along with a note from the fifth grader who snapped it. “Today I was working in the yard, and I saw a butterfly,” he said, “so I went to go check it out .. I am pretty sure it is a Spicebush Swallowtail …”
He thought I’d like to see it, and he was right. (Thank you, Bob!) In one of those fun happenings that fuels my school visiting, a teacher at Bob’s school independently sent me photos of a froglet she found in her backyard.
Look closely at the world around you, friends. There is so much to see.
(Read that last sentence every morning and you won’t even need me to come to your school. Although if you’d like me to come to your school, you should check out the School Visits page of my website. I added my first 2012-2013 school year events to the calendar this morning!)
I found this moth dazed under the porch lights one night last week and was struck by its size and bright markings. It was fairly easy to identify it (through my favorite online insect field guide, bugguide.net) as a tiger moth. I followed up with my trusty handheld field guide (Caterpillars of Eastern North America, by David L. Wagner) and was surprised with this tidbit: “Adults, when gently squeezed, may bubble generous amounts of their yellow “blood” out of the front corners of the thorax …”
Eww. I did not try it.
My daughter and I made our first observations for MassAudubon’s Big Barn Study yesterday. We had seen barn swallows around the yard and suspected they were living in our big, old barn. What we didn’t realize was that they were entering the barn through the garage. (These doors are closed much of the day. Should we leave the garage doors open? Will they abandon these nests if we don’t? Will we be allowed in the garage once eggs are laid?) Or that they were building nests in not-so-safe places. (Like on top of a live electrical outlet.) As usual, closer observation has piqued our interest, and we’ve got a lot to look into.
We also learned that barn swallows are very hard to capture on film. We never saw one rest or perch, and trying to follow one in flight was a dizzy-making exercise. Luckily, we saw a lot of other birds while we were observing the swallows … including this yellow-bellied sapsucker. We’d seen the strange holes on this tree (a Japanese mountain ash), but weren’t sure who was responsible. Now we know.
Favorite fact for this bird, mined from iBird Explorer North: A group of sapsuckers are collectively known as a slurp.
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Not sure what to call this bumbler or its bloom, but I adore them both.
Can you see them up there? They’re nesting in our barn and have been lovely tenants. (I am a bit worried, however, that once the babies come we will have to park our cars somewhere else.)
Anyway, our barn swallows are wishing you a Happy Fourth of July …
… a day filled with friends and family and finery. And a little wild, too.
You know I love the wild in my own backyard … but this summer I had the chance to venture outside of it and explore another wild place: Acadia National Park.
Oh, my. It’s a spectacular place!
On one of my favorite adventures, we found this baby turtle sunning and stretching its legs (if you look closely you can see the stretching) on a pond not far from Eagle Lake on Mount Desert Island. If pictures came with audio, this one would feature the croaking of frogs, the chattering of squirrels, the squawking of crows, and the gentle rain of wind moving through the surrounding forest. Heavenly.
Spotted salamanders are famous for their springtime congresses, when males and females migrate in huge numbers from the woodlands where they’ve spent the winter to the vernal pools in which they will mate. I’ve spent many a warm and rainy spring evening hanging out around the local vernal pool with a flashlight strapped to my head, hoping for a good show. (No, I’m not the only whackadoo that does this sort of thing; for a sense of what draws us out there, read this. Or this.)
Anyway, I have never, ever seen a spotted salamander outside of that spring migration. But on Saturday, a day before Hurricane Irene crashed through Massachusetts, my husband unearthed this little fellow in the garden. He was kind enough to pose for a picture.
Here’s to some wild in your Wednesday …
On my bedside table at the moment is David Arora’s MUSHROOMS DEMYSTIFIED. I’m not very far along yet, which may explain why I can’t tell you what kind of mushroom I’ve captured in the image above. I can tell you that mushrooms were plentiful in my part of New England this past Saturday; I saw dozens of species on a single trail at the Trout Brook Reservation in Holden, Massachusetts. And couldn’t ID a single one. Guess I’ll keep reading David’s book ….
Have a wild Wednesday!