Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flip Some Rocks on September 2

Dave of Via Negativa has called for September 2 to be designated International Rock-flipping Day:
a day for everybody to go outside — go as far as you have to — and flip over a rock (or two, or three). We could bring our cameras and take photos, film, sketch, paint, or write descriptions of whatever we find. It could be fun for the whole family!
I've spent so much time this year looking into flowers for spiders, looking at butterflies, looking into foliage for caterpillars and yet I haven't looked under a rock even once. So I'll be there, September 2, looking under some rocks. And apparently there is even a prize being offered:
The grand prize goes to anyone who can get a picture of a non-human critter, such as a bear or a raccoon, flipping a rock on September 2. (I don’t know what the grand prize will be yet, but trust me, it’ll be good.)
Bear-flipped rock

I found this flipped rock last year, so it won't qualify. Oh yeah, and the bear had already gone when I snapped the picture. But I'll be on the lookout.

To find out more about International Rock-flipping day click here. Or read Bev's post at Burning Silo, here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Giant Swallowtail in Thomasburg

I first saw this butterfly on a couple of occasions a couple of weeks ago--"what a big swallowtail that is," I thought to myself, "Not a tiger swallowtail either, and look at that strange yellow body..." Surely such a big swallowtail must be a Giant Swallowtail. But the Giant is a southern species, not known, I thought, in Canada, beyond the Carolinian region. I didn't get a photo then, but I checked the guides, and wrote to the Eastern Ontario Nature List. The Giant in the guides looked like my butterfly I thought, but I wanted to see it again to be sure. And the response I got from the List was that there were records for Prince Edward County (well, sure, that's pretty Carolinian in its way), and for Belleville (Belleville is a mere 25 km south of Thomasburg, and aside from being on the shores of Lake Ontario, not terribly different zone wise). Another post to the list this morning reported many sightings of Giant Swallowtails this past weekend on the south shore of Prince Edward County.
Finally, today, another giant swallowtail, again at mid-day, again on my mother's beautiful buddleia (beloved of butterflies). And this big butterfly was indeed the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Papilio cresphontes on Buddleia

Food plants for the larvae of this butterfly include Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) and Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum). We have a couple of specimen plantings of Common Hoptree (aka Wafer Ash), a species at risk in the small range of Ontario where it occurs naturally (here's a range map). We are growing it outside of its range here--but so far, so good. In more southern regions the Giant Swallowtail larva feeds on citrus, and is known as the Orange Dog, not well-loved by citrus growers. The leaves of the hoptree are said to have a citrusy smell when crushed. (I'll have to go check when I'm done here.) The Prickly Ash is very "citrusy" in a number of ways. They both come by it honestly, being members of the Rue family (Rutaceae) along with oranges and lemons etc.

Fruit of the Prickly Ash

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Hornworm

I found this on a baseball cap that was lying on the floor on the porch. On disturbance it started motoring along the concrete floor towards the wall of the house. That didn't seem good, so I encouraged it to climb onto a maple leaf also lying there and moved it into the garden. Then I went into the house to try to find out what it was--it was gone when I returned.

Hemaris diffinis
Pretty caterpillar, on a leaf not of its own choosing

I knew on sight that it was a hornworm, but what kind? I consulted BugGuide.net, of course, and scanned through the hornworms there. Turns out, it is most likely a Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) larva, not entirely of the brown form, nor of the regular green (see this page showing different colour phases of this caterpillar). It has the yellow at the base of the horn, and around the "neck," and the black dots that seem to define this species. Interesting because I've never been sure whether I've seen diffinis, or whether all the clearwings I've seen have been the very similar Hemaris thysbe. And now I have good reason to believe that the Snowberry does come around here.

Join us on the Friday Ark!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Birder's Blog Meme

This week John (of New Jersey) of A DC Birding Blog tagged me with a birder's meme (originated by Cogresha of Earth House Hold, a new blog to me, and worth checking out). The form is simple, just seven easy birder questions:

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?

This is the question that grabbed me. Not so easy when I started to think about it. The coolest bird. When I'd been in Thomasburg for just a short while, before I'd gotten involved in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Project, and got serious about the birds, I was sitting on the front porch when an Indigo Bunting flew in to perch briefly on a house plant on the porch with me, not much more than a metre away. I'd never seen such a stunning bird at such close range. The sun was hitting it just right--the blue of it was amazing. The coolest?

During the Great Gray Owl irruption of 2005 I got to see crows roust one of these magnificent birds out of a dead tree at the back of the yard. Not a great look at the bird (I did get a good look that winter, described here) but what a sight to see that impossibly tall owl lift off and fly away. Pretty darn cool.

But what about the Northern Shrike that came and landed in the snowball bush at the front of the house one winter afternoon--to the great consternation of the feeder birds? The Northern Harrier that perched in a dead tree at the back and let me walk up to within about 20 feet? The annual late-summer flyover of the Nighthawks?

Then there was the visit by a flock of Pine Grosbeaks, never before seen here by me, never before seen so far south by me. Very cool.

But no, the very coolest bird is none of these. It's the Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Vireos of all kinds pass through here regularly in the spring, and the fall often brings one or two to the yard, but this year was different. I noticed in the spring that I was hearing a Red-eyed sing rather more than I was used to, day after day, on and on. And call too, that strange scree. (There were days that I thought I'd go mad.) Gradually I realized that there was a nesting pair here. And then I noticed that there was another pair--two nesting pairs where I'd never seen even one before. The Red-eyed vireo is a very common denizen of mixed and deciduous forests (in this range), but what was it doing here, in this yard?

I've been here ten years now, and in that time the trees in the yard, some mature when I came, some just babies, and the shrubs, have all grown, until finally this year I realized, with the help of the vireos, it is quite a different place. It's a forest now. Sure, there are a couple of fields around that are mowed, but the yard, and the hamlet itself is much more forest than not compared to what it was when I first saw it. And the far field? I'll have to start capitalizing that: Far Field, a place name, no longer a description of that place that used to be a field with a partial cover of a planting of young conifers. Now its a young forest, as willows and poplars (for the most part) have filled in between the conifers, and grown into real trees. This year I finally noticed that when I stand in the spot now where I stood six years ago at the north end of the far field and watched a bear bound into the cedar bush at the south end, all I see is green, a screen of trees, no distant vista at all.

So, gradually this place has been turning into a very different kind of place, and the Red-eyed Vireo made me see it. What could be cooler than that?

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favorite list and why?

The only real listing I've done is data collection for the Breeding Atlas and Christmas Bird Counts. Of those the Breeding Atlas is my favourite, because it was an accumulation of breeding evidence over five years, a growing picture of the area. I do wish I kept a yard list though--I just can't seem to make myself really do it.

3. What sparked your interest in birds?

My first interest in the natural world, one of my earliest interests, was fostered by my mother and my paternal grandfather, laying the groundwork for a life-long study. The attention it's received has waxed and waned depending on where I was living, and what I else I was doing. Why birds? Birds are the vertebrates that are most accessible, which is why I enjoy them so much. Unlike mammals, most of them they live much of their lives in daylight, right out where you can watch. The Breeding Atlas experience gave me the structure I needed to take my knowledge of the birds to a whole new level.

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life where would it be and why?

It would be right here. There is so much more to learn. And now that I have a heightened sense of habitat change, thanks to the vireo, even more than I used to appreciate. I like birding places I know well. I like birding the breeding season, the season when one can return to a good spot and be reasonably assured that one will learn something more about birds already noted. I like birding successive seasons in the same spot, so I can ask myself questions such as, "Why no Kingbirds nesting here this year?" And come up with an answer: "Because it's not a field anymore."

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?

The Snowy Owl jumps to mind, but really if I were willing to go to it (i.e., travel roughly 75 km to the known good spot some winter day), I'd probably have seen one by now. I want one to come to me. (See answer to question 4) If I'd been asked before this summer I might have said the Ovenbird, so often heard, and yet never seen, by me. But this season one popped up very kindly and let me have a good look. I guess I'll have to get a new one.

6. Who is your favorite birder? and why?

Not sure how to answer this. Like John I usually go out alone, but I have enjoyed the people I went out with on all the Christmas Bird Counts I've done. And I was helped a great deal by some very experienced birders I met through the Breeding Atlas, particularly John Blaney, with whom I spent a very productive morning in Vanderwater Conservation Area a few years ago. Then there's Terry Sprague; I haven't been out with him, but have gotten lots of help from him over the years in narrowing down identifications, etc.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder? What do they say to you when they find out?

I don't know that I've said to anyone that I am a birder. But lots of people know, one way and another, at least that I watch the birds. When it comes up, they either say little or nothing, "Oh, yes?" Or they ask me about a bird they've seen.

Thanks, John (and Cogresha). Good questions--got me to try to articulate some of the things I've been thinking about lately. So now to tag: Crafty Gardener, Duncan, and Granny J. I really want to know what the coolest bird you've ever seen from home is, and why.

Earth House Hold is keeping a list of links to everyone who catches this meme.

But also, be sure to check out the 56th Edition of I and the Bird, over at Big Spring Birds for more birder talk, bird stories, and to get ready for summer's end.

I and the Bird

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Spider

Now that the goldenrod is blooming I've been looking for a yellow goldenrod crab spider doing what its name suggests it should. This morning I found one, mature, yellow and working the goldenrod--just in time to board the Friday Ark.

Misumena vatia and prey
If it hadn't been for the fly in her jaws I probably wouldn't have seen her.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sphinx Moth!

I was out in the backyard the other night with a flashlight in my hand when a really big moth flew by in front of me and landed on the edge of a garden bed. Early in the season I saw a big sphinx moth of some kind (judging by the shape of the wings) feeding on petunias in hanging baskets on the front porch on several occasions, but I never had a flashlight handy (kept forgetting about it until I saw it again), so never got a good look. This time, by sheer accident, I was all set.

Pandorus Sphinx

The moth buzzed its wings as it lay on the ground for a bit, then quieted, letting me get a very good look, and take this not so good picture. The moth wasn't in either of my mickey-mouse guides, and a search of the web didn't turn it up, or at least produced lists of images of possibilities so long that I didn't have the patience to wait for each to load so that I could compare them. So once again I turned to the BugGuide. And I wasn't disappointed. Within the hour I had my answer: Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus).

This is a very beautiful moth, with a quite stunning caterpillar. There are better images at the Moth Photographers Group here. The caterpillar feeds on Wild Grape and Virginia Creeper, which we have in abundance around here--grape for ever, and Virginia Creeper starting to catch up (because of the warmer winters perhaps). Another caterpillar to keep my eyes open for.

The moth was motionless on the ground when I left it, and gone by morning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Walkingstick

This pretty creature visited the porch the other day, and happily walked all over my hands. If only macro shots of my hands were more flattering I'd post one here. Instead, here it is walking on the edge of the arm of a Muskoka chair (called south of the 49th parallel an Adirondack chair).

Much more delicate than the brown Northern Walkingsticks (Diapheromera femorata) I posted about last year (Walking Stick Love), when I coaxed this one into some foliage in the front garden it disappeared into it, its colour and shape being such excellent camouflage. Not so much a walkingstick as a walking blade of new grass, or walking stem.

Based on this page at BugGuide, I think this is probably an immature Diapheromera femorata. Based on that and on the fact that there aren't very many species of walkingstick this far north, and this is the most common. Interesting the difference in colour between this and the adult form--suggests to me the possibility that diet changes as life progresses, taking the insect into different habitats.

I hope its cryptic colouration will keep it safe on the Friday Ark.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My First Butterfly

Everyone seemed to be doing it this year, so I gave it a try. I collected a couple of Monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus), and a few eggs and brought them in to watch them develop, and take them out of the predator-rich world. The largest of the ones collected turned out to be in its final stage as a caterpillar, and after a few days of rather voracious eating formed a chrysalis.

By sheer luck I got to see it turn from caterpillar to chrysalis. After a quiet period of about a day in the "J" formation, where the caterpillar hangs from its chosen spot (attached to the screening over the container where it spent its final days as a caterpillar) looking like a J, there was some vigorous wiggling, then the skin burst, and rolled up to reveal the chrysalis beneath. The skin soon dropped off--movement ceased, and within a few hours the gold necklace and spots appeared on the chyrsalis. That was the morning of July 25. On the morning of August 5 the chrysalis was transparent and the butterfly within was clearly visible. Then, when my back was turned, the butterfly emerged.

As soon as I noticed I took the container outside and watched the butterfly pump up its wings for a while. Then took the screen off and hung it up on the patio so it could rest relatively safely, and leave at will.

Getting ready

The whole process, from eclosing to flying free took about two hours. It spent the entire time preparing for flight on the screen, first clinging on right by (or on) the shell of the chrysalis, then later walking about a bit. I missed the takeoff, saw a Monarch flitting about the garden by the patio, then noticed that my new butterfly was gone. It was a great relief to me that it all worked out--I'm pretty ambivalent about taking critters out of the wild, being a let-nature-take-its-course kind of nature watcher, but this has been very interesting. I just have two more. One formed a chrysalis on Aug 2, and the other is sitting in a "J" as I write.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Traffic and the American Dagger Moth

A few weeks ago there was big news (something about a client list) in the DC Madam case--a legal case involving a woman of a different name who ran an escort agency with the rather familiar name of Pamela Martin & Associates. Everytime something happens in the case I get a lot of visitors--oddly enough to the post Happy Birthday, PZ Myers!!

Well, I haven't posted for a while, and nothing new has broken in the case, and usually when that happens my traffic drops off. But not this time. Why? The page ranking tells the tale. Hits on American Dagger Moth have exceeded hits on the homepage for days and days. Once again, I learn something from the searchers--look for American Dagger Moth caterpillars. I've actually only seen one so far this year, but elsewhere in North America these caterpillars must be legion--or at least touching peoples' lives in a whole new way. I've had a couple of recent requests for info on the post--and have responded by email as best I could. No, not poisonous. And, I don't know what can be done for an injured caterpillar but let nature take its course. Meantime, enjoy a jigsaw puzzle: Dagger Moth Caterpillar Jigsaw Puzzle.

Since I know that there are caterpillar fans dropping by, let me suggest that when you move on, move on to Words and Pictures for the most recent staging of the Circus of the Spineless, the blog carnival dedicated to invertebrates. Caterpillars, yes, but so much more!