Monday, June 27, 2011

Tracking Quiz

Can you identify the animal sign in this photo?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hazel, milkweed, and iris

I was thrilled to find an American hazel, Corylus americana, loaded with nuts.  This common understory shrub never seems to have many nuts when growing under the forest canopy, but this one in full sun at the edge of a beaver pond, was packed.  The photo is a close up of a single nut in its involucrum.  I'll be heading back to the swamp come late summer, to see if I can get a few before the squirrels eat them all.

Next is poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, a relative of common milkweed.  While the latter seems to do fine in poor soil, the one pictured above needs richer soil, and is said to be somewhat uncommon in MA.  This was growing near the same beaver pond.

Finally, the blue flag, iris versicolor, showing off its beautiful veining in the morning light.

Three wetland arrow heads

Janet writes: I have been spending much time learning about the flora of New England, these days.  Yesterday I identified 3 plants, all with leaves shaped like arrow heads, and all growing in a beaver pond and along its margin. 

I hope the photos appear in the order I intended.  If so, the first is arrowhead, the one with the edible tuber, sometimes called duck potato.  The genus is Sagittaria, named for the arrowhead leaf shape which is known to botanists as sagittate.  The species shown here is, I think, latifolia, the larger leafed of two closely related ones.  The smaller species is Sagittaria cuneata, listed as threatened in Massachusetts.

The second photo is arrow arum, Peltandra virginica, but its plump tubers are said to be toxic, if eaten raw.  The experience of eating them has been likened to swallowing a mouthful of needles.  Kind of makes me wonder how anyone could eat enough of it to get sick.  Some folks claim that cooking it makes it edible, but others say it made them sick even after it was boiled for 20 minutes.  I won't be trying this one any time soon.

Finally, the leaves of pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, are said to be edible if picked in early summer before they have unfurled, and the nut-like fruit gathered and eaten in late summer.

I found it curious that 3 distinct pond plants all evolved with "sagittate" leaves, a shape rarely seen in uplant plants, so I asked a botanist friend if he had an explanation.  He suggested that the shape allows water to drain off quickly, an advantage if leaves get submerged from time to time, since otherwise sediments could collect on the surface.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Life of An Urban Coyote

Here's a peek into the life, courtship and hard times of urban coyotes, growing up on the rough side of Chicago. Lars

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Otter Behavior

Lars posts an interesting view of the social nature of otters.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bufo Americanus: Our Humble Toxic Toad

I'm seeing clouds of tadpoles these days in the nearby pond, which prompts me to post a few photos I've taken of the toad life cycle. The start of it all - once the familiar spring trilling of the males has lured in the females - is in the first picture: Amplexus (Latin for "embrace"). The second shot shows the strands of eggs, which take a few days to a couple of weeks to hatch. The third pictures what's going on right now: thousands of tadpoles, which morph over the course of a month or two into toadlets. Those are the most difficult, I think, to capture photographically; they are very active once they leave the water. Though none of these stages are particularly tasty - thanks to their "bufotoxin"-producing glands - there are definitely predators out there, just waiting. Take a look back in the Animal Trackers of New England archives (Apr. 22, 2010) to see one.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Maple-leaf Viburnum in bloom! Get out in the woods and enjoy them close up!

Phoebe and Freeloader

Janet was snooping around in central MA this morning, and discovered
this nest plastered to the wall of a cliff. This was well of the beaten
path, and the cliff wall faced a large wetland. As you can see, the
outer part of the nest is made of moss and other fibers, and lined with
fine grasses. I believe the nest and white eggs belong to an eastern
phoebe, and the speckled ones were left by a brown-headed cowbird.

Phoebes often build their nests on human made structures: under bridges,
on rafters, trestles, etc. Natural sites like you see here have become
fairly uncommon, according to what I read, so I was excited to find it.

I've also learned that, like this one has been, phoebe nests are heavily
parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, and the phoebes often dessert the
nest and begin anew, when they discover those big speckled eggs.
However, these eggs were quite warm, so I think someone has been setting
on them. I must have frightened her away without realizing it.