Thursday, May 29, 2014
We had a great time talking photography and watching numerous warblers and other songbirds move through the nearby trees. As a bonus, the cement pad at the hill's crest served as an attractant to hill-topping butterflies of many species.
The silken tents in which the animals live communally until their last instar serve several purposes. Foremost, the dense sticky silk offers superb protection from would-be predators, especially parasitoid flies and wasps. Both are prolific enemies of caterpillars. Also, most songbirds will not deal with the dense silk, so for the most part the caterpillars are also safe from the feathered crowd.
Come nightfall, and the temporary disappearance of most of the birds, flies, and wasps, the caterpillars emerge from the nest and radiate out into the tree to feed on cherry foliage. Come dawn, they crawl back into the shelter of the nest. The tent probably also serves as a sort of greenhouse, with an elevated internal temperature that speeds the digestive process of the caterpillars within. Note all of the little blackish flecks in the silk - that is all frass, or caterpillar poo.
Most birds do have trouble eating them, as the long stiffish bristles of the caterpillar will eventually clog up their digestive tracts. Most famous of the tent caterpillar-eating birds are the cuckoos, who seemingly eat them with impunity. This is because Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos can slough off and cast out their stomach linings if they become too spiked with caterpillar bristles. The bird is able to regrow its stomach lining and thus can regularly consume the bristly meals. For the most part, with at least one notable exception, it seems to be the cuckoos that are the primary avian predator of eastern tent caterpillars.
Dane, with his mega lens and skills at finding objects through blowing leaves and branches, managed a great series of shots, and he was kind enough to share them with us. In the photo above, the oriole has just alit and is inspecting the nest for victims.
We can see in the above photo that the oriole has apparently pierced the skin of the caterpillar, and is drawing out the prized innards.
Even the most reviled native animals, such as tent caterpillars, have value. Our superficial condemnation is often unjustified and all too frequently based on ignorance.
Thanks to Dane for sharing his great series of photos.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Beach-walking here is always interesting, especially for a natural philosopher such as myself. One is serenaded by various boreal warblers and other songbirds from the adjacent coniferous woodlands. Scads of mergansers, cormorants, terns, gulls and other waterfowl gad about offshore. If one is really lucky, a Piping Plover might be spotted - they nest locally.
I'll have you know that I invested a good hour of my life to make these images, and that nearly all of the dozens of images that I made were no good. It was a windy day, and the dwarf willows upon which the bees were feeding blew about like rice paper in a hurricane. To obtain any semblance of a decent shot, I set my camera to shutter priority at 1/1600, and had to use one hand to hold the willow sprig steady.
Insofar as I know, this bumblebee doesn't occur in Ohio, at least with regularity, but I will gladly accept correction on this point. At least I've never seen one, and I tend to give winged pollinators more than a casual glance. I can report that these tricolored bumblebees were the most difficult bumblebees to photograph of any species that I've encountered. Once spooked, which was easy to do, they would roar off, make a few circles, and shoot quickly out of sight. Chasing one was impossible, but fortunately a fair number of these animals were present and it only required inspecting a few flowering willows to turn up another.
Monday, May 26, 2014
The month past has been a whirlwind of travel; even more so than a "normal" May. I've been on the road for the majority of the past few weeks, including the last eleven days in northern Michigan. It's always nice to return home after extended forays, even if it means dealing with a pile of emails and various other stuff.
Chipmunks are abundant in northern Michigan, and rank high among the most valuable of forest animals. CLICK HERE for a piece that I wrote about chipmunks.
In all, we had about 21 species of mammals, including such interesting fare as porcupines, river otters, beaver, and northern flying squirrels. That pales in comparison to the 160+ species of birds racked up by our two groups, but the mammals always add greatly to the trips.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
I've been in northern Michigan for nearly ten days, most of it spent leading forays from the Nettie Bay Lodge. We've had lots of luck: huge warbler migrations, great experiences with secretive species such as American Bittern and rails, interesting porcupine encounters, and much more. My bird trip list is 175 species or thereabouts, so far.
Time for blogging has been sparse, as have good Internet connections. Sorry if you've messaged me in some way and I haven't responded. I'll try and catch up on that stuff soon.
We don't yet have the dates selected for next year's Nettie Bay trips, but it'll be sometime in late May, though. If you're potentially interested, feel free to contact me, or Nettie Bay Lodge to reserve space. CLICK HERE for info about the lodge.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Bitterns, like the Porcupine, are common here but one doesn't often see these secretive herons like we did today. We've had scores of other interesting birds, with much more to come.
Friday, May 16, 2014
The workshop will be held at the capacious and comfortable visitor's center at Caesar's Creek Lake in Warren County, southwest Ohio. This location is not far from Cincinnati, and is an easy drive from Columbus and much of the rest of Ohio and adjacent Indiana and Kentucky.
Butterflies make excellent photographic subjects, and Scott Hogsten will give a talk about photographic techniques just for butterflies.
Space is limited, so register soon. Complete details are RIGHT HERE.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
The showy little fruit dangling on pendant pedicels above are those of red maple, Acer rubrum, a common host plant of the Rosy Maple Moth. The maple fruit reach this stage in early spring, about the time that the hatch of moths commences.
New River Birding & Nature Festival at Hawk's Nest State Park in West Virginia. Rachel had noticed a Rosy Maple Moth that was clinging to a wall under a nightlight - still present from the night before. We showed that to our group, and all were suitably awed by the festively colored moth. Then we noticed that the ground was littered with fresh red maple samaras (the term for the helicopter-like fruit of maples). The light bulb went off, and we began to harvest some of the more colorful fruit, as above.
Nature is full of very cool adaptive camouflage, but this is perhaps one of the more interesting examples in our part of the world. At least, I think one could make a strong case that this explains the maple moth's showy coloration.
Monday, May 12, 2014
As is nearly always the case, I have a bounty of blog material; more than I can ever get to. But I must interrupt the irregularly scheduled programming to bring you something that is indescribably cool. I was commanding my keyboard this evening, attempting to whittle away at emails that I am hopelessly behind on (sorry if you've messaged and I haven't responded), when the inimitable David and Laura Hughes sent along some of their latest handiwork. I had to drop everything and prepare this post.
The evolution of mimicry fascinates me, and I was instantly smitten. Note the moth's gemlike markings lining the top of the hindwings. Those are the faux spider eyes. Unfortunately, being nighttime, the moth didn't do anything but sit motionless, but they certainly can animate themselves as we shall see.
While these photos are cool, and build a case for the jumping spider mimic theory, the proof is in the locomotion. Exceptional videographers that they are, the Hughes managed an incredible video of the moth in motion on the leaf's surface. Check it out below:
The quick jerky movements of the moth are amazingly similar to that of a jumping spider. So much so that even an experienced observer of natural history could easily be temporarily fooled. Resembling a fiercely predatory spider is good insurance against attack by would-be predators who might think twice about lunging at an animal that might turn the tables on them. The evolutionary fits and spurts that lead to such fabulous mimicry over eons of time is endlessly fascinating.
Thanks as always to Dave and Laura for sharing their work.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
We were just a few of the many thousands of birders who descended upon the trail, as they do every year, to bear witness to an amazing migratory spectacle. The 37-acre patch of woods and wetlands bisected by the mile long elevated boardwalk offers some of the best birding in North America. People come from nearly everywhere - every state, and many foreign countries. Perhaps 75,000 birders will visit the area from late April through May.
I spent the past three days at Magee, and spent nearly all of that time on the boardwalk. The birds were fabulous - best on Friday, but Saturday and today were also very good. I really enjoy helping new or newer birders find and identify birds, and for the most part, that's what I did. In the process I did snap some photos, of course, and will hopefully find time to share a few more of them in later posts.
If you can break away, get to Magee in the next week or so. It's well worth the trip.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Robert is a great birder, as are many others in his community. Because of the extraordinary concentration of ace birders in Holmes County, an extraordinary number of mega-rarities have been found in this area. Now we can add Rock Wren, Salpinctes obsoletus, to the rarity ranks.
Finally, a wonderful woman rushed over to us and shouted that they "have the bird!" Yes! The only problem was that the wren was down by that green-roofed building, and I was a quarter-mile or so away. I began a brisk walk in that direction, and before long saw a small throng, all of whom had their binoculars fixed at a certain point. As I moved along, I stopped occasionally to try and pick up the wren, too, by scanning where they seemed to be looking. No luck, and well before I arrived I saw all of the birders drop their binoculars and watched as they pointed to the bird as it apparently fled up that grassy slope.
No luck - I wasn't close enough to spot it.
Rock Wrens breed throughout the western half of the United States, barely extending into Canada. They are extremely rare vagrants to the eastern half of North America; there might be two dozen or so records, ever. Prior to this bird, there was only one record in Ohio: December 7-14, 1963. That bird hung around rocky riprap at Cleveland's Edgewater Park. Needless to say, very few people who are still around have this species on their state list.
"Salpinctes obsoletus is a very plain name for a bundle of fire known as the rock wren. It is heard, up on the bluffs, up in the rocks, but it is seen only by those who climb the bluffs regularly, and then it is seen only irregularly. . . . After reading even the most elementary writings of the rock wren I am shocked at society’s ignorance of this bird."
Major thanks are in order to Michael Hershberger for making a truly spectacular and utterly unexpected find. Big thanks too to the operators of Hochstetler Wood and everyone who works there. They've tolerated the birder invasion with remarkable tolerance and aplomb. Not all businesses would be so accepting of having our kind lurking around the buildings.
Oh, being as I am far too young to have tallied that 1963 Cleveland Rock Wren, this was indeed a state bird for me. #371 to be exact.