animals


Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

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Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

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There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

rainbow

Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

mountain laurel

Native mountain laurel blooms in June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

–  Al Bernstein 

June is the month where green has become the main the landscape color with flowers and some early fruits sprinkling a bit of color in gardens and wild landscape. It is a cheery time for me as the best is yet to come. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects are everywhere now and provide a little bit of interest as they go about their daily lives. I stop by the woods early in the morning to listen to wood thrushes, veerys, vireos, grosbeaks, catbirds, tanagers and so many other birds of the forest that sing so sweetly at this time of year.

veery

Veery

common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat carrying an insect to its young

Wandering in my yard this week I found a little surprise- an enchanting Clytus arietis wasp beetle resting its little self on a fern. This diminutive, long-horned beetle has striking yellow markings on a dark brown to black narrow body and it has cricket-like back legs. Its larvae live in warm, dry, dead wood, favoring birches and willows. Adults can be found during the day from May- August resting in the open on low vegetation.

clytus arietis wasp beetle

Colorful Clytus arietis wasp beetle

Maple eyespot galls are brightly colored circles of red and yellow that appear on the surface of red maple leaves in early June. Caused by the ocellate gall midge Acericecis ocellaris, this tiny fly deposits eggs on the underside of red maple leaves, which causes a chemical response in the leaf at each spot an egg was laid. The larva hatches and feeds on leaf tissue within the small disk- shaped gall that was formed.

maple eyespot gall on red maple

Maple eyespot gall

Ebony jewelwing damselflies Calopteryx maculate are easily identified by their  metallic iridescent green/blue color and totally black wings. They can be found near streams and rivers, but are especially common found near shallow streams in forests. This damselfly is unlike other jewelwings because it is the only one that sometimes rambles far from water.

green damselfly Ruby fenton

Ebony jewelwing damselfly

White-tailed deer fawns are generally born from late May to June and can sometimes be seen trying to keep up with their mothers early in the morning. They often get exhausted doing so and collapse to rest, sometimes in unusual places. Fawns are generally left alone during the day and the doe will return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn and sometimes move it along to a safer place.

fawn lying in grass beside a brook 6-3-2020

fawn tired from following its mom

Blue-eyed grass and orange hawkweed are blooming in the wild now, as are wild geraniums, beautybush, viburnums, bearded irises, Carolina spicebush, mountain laurels, tulip trees and raspberry. Grape should be flowering soon as will catalpa trees. Catalpa flowers are pollinated by several species of sphinx moths, who visit flowers mostly during the night.

blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium albidum is not a grass but a member of the iris family

orange hawkweed II

Orange hawkweed

Butterflies and moths are more abundant now as we have warmer weather and plants that have leafed out. Giant silkworm moths like the beautiful luna moth emerge from mid-May through summer. Many are strongly attracted to lights and are often found resting on the sides of buildings where lights are left on all night. These large moths do not feed, but live off of stored food until they mate, perishing soon after. Red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails are just a couple of butterflies that visit my property and lay eggs on some black cherries planted a few years ago.

luna moth

The fabulous Luna moth, one of our native giant silkworm moths

red spotted purple June 5 2020

Red-spotted purple butterfly seen June 5 2020- the first of the year for me

Walking through a woodland path at a nature preserve I heard a buzzy high-pitched call above me and saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher sitting on her eggs in a nest. The nest was well camouflaged with a coating of lichens so it blended in perfectly with the lichen encrusted branches all around it.

P1210067

A blue-gray gnatcatcher nest is barely visible in the crotch of this tree

There is so much going on in the outdoors now wherever you happen to go. There are so many flowers yet to bloom, and so many young animals and birds just getting to know the world around them. As I watch bees and butterflies, and listen to the birds sing and the tree frogs trilling away day and night, I think Aldo Leopold got it just right when he wrote “ In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.”

P1200217

A little surprise

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

bloodroot

Native bloodroot started to bloom March 26 2020

 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

– Anne Bradstreet

This year, the winter here in Connecticut was warmer than usual and had little snow, but plenty of rain. Plants like star magnolias, forsythias and hellebore started to bloom early- here on the UConn campus a Hellebore bloomed the first week of March. A small snowstorm on March 23 brought two inches of snow in central Connecticut and was followed by enough rain to melt any snow cover off by the following day. Bloom progress on the star mags and forsythia came to a halt, but it should resume as flower buds were generally not damaged.

march snow 2020

March 23 snowstorm

Resident birds like turkeys are making their presence known as they go about the serious business of attracting mates. Their fanning of tail feathers and stomping around makes them hard to miss. Woodpeckers are also drumming to attract mates, and red-bellied woodpeckers send out their familiar call advertising what they deem the perfect nesting holes for potential females to check out. They often are inside these holes, just poking their heads out to call.

male turkeys fanning

Male turkeys fanning

Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have laid their eggs in vernal pools and they should be hatching any day now. Wood frog eggs tend to float to the water’s surface, while the salamander eggs are stuck on underwater stems. Both the eggs of wood frog and spotted salamander are sometimes invaded by certain symbiotic algae whose cells are transferred to the hatching generation of their amphibian hosts.

wood frog eggs floating on the surface of a vernal pool March 19 2020

Wood frog eggs masses on the surface of a vernal pool in March

An Eastern garter snake was encountered yesterday deep in the woods. This native snake can mate in March- early May and gives birth to live young in late June- August. This snake can tolerate cold weather and is commonly seen where there is an abundance of most vegetation where it will feed on toads, frogs, worms and other creatures.

garter snake in deep woods near a strem MArch 26 2020

Eastern garter snake in the woods

Lichens are an example of a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an algae or a cyanobacterium. The fungal part depends upon the other component to survive. The rock tripe is a lichen that resembles dead leaves and is found living on rocks. Umbilicaria mammulata is the most common rock tripe. Soft and pliable like leather in moist weather, when conditions are dry these leaf-like lichens will shrivel and become quite brittle.

rock tripe lichen Umbilicaria

Rock tripe lichens on a boulder in the woods

Bracket fungi, or shelf, fungi comprise numerous species of the Polypore Family in the class basidiomycete. These fungi obtain energy through the decomposition of dead and dying plant matter. The visible fruiting body can be long- lived and hard like wood adding a new layer of living fungal matter at the base of the structure every year. Fungal threads are within the dead or dying woody host where they obtain nutrients.

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungi on decaying tree trunk

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungus are hard like wood

Wooly bear caterpillars, Colletes ground nesting bees and mourning cloak butterflies are a few insects that are active in March. Often seen crawling across lawns in late March, wooly bears are looking to pupate soon, while the Colletes are looking for pollens and nectar sources to provide food for their young, which hatch singly in nesting chambers that resemble ant hills. From the ground level.

Early flowering plants are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees. These include the Japanese andromeda, native bloodroot, spring flowering witch hazel native spicebush, willows, daffodils, crocus and dandelions.

spring witchhazel flowers

Spring flowering witch hazel

As you hike about, check out stalks of plants and small branches of shrubs for mantid eggs cases. These eggs masses resemble tan styrofoam and Mantids should hatch by mid-May, depending upon weather.

mantid egg case keeney st pl March 22 2020

Egg case of a praying mantis

Native sweet ferns, Comptonia peregrina, are blooming and leafing out. These aromatic small shrubs are members of the bayberry family and can be found in dry open woods where there are sandy, acid soils. They are a good spreading plant for difficult dry soils and slopes, and they are one of the host plants for the gray hairstreak butterfly.

sweet fern flowering and leafing out March 22 2020

Sweet fern catkins and new leaves

 

The days are warming up and soon the landscapes will be full of color. But even when it is not so bright and cheery outside, as Charles Dickens wrote ‘ Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”

 

Pamm Cooper

 

mouse in seed pail

Mouse feasting in bucket of stored grass seed. P.Cooper photo.

Mice are seeking places to spend the winter and actively moving from outdoors to just about any protected area, including our homes, garages, shed and cars. They need shelter from the wet and cold weather like us and prefer to take advantage of areas humans have already created. Any dry and relative warm spot with access to food or an area to store scavenged food will do nicely. Car engines are another favorite nesting spot as they are sometimes warm and provide great protections from predators and weather. Mice will chew on wiring and filters under the hood causing considerable damage and cost for repairs.

House mice can live outdoors in good weather, but some will live in houses year round. They can have 8 litters of young per year with 5 to 6 babies each time. That is a lot of mice! Nests are usually made with 3o feet of a food source to keep the mother in close range with her young. Most often mice are active during the night.

mice in bird house must be evicted when old enough

Mouse family nesting in a birdhouse.

First line of defense to keep mice out of houses is to be preventive by sealing up or blocking points of entry. Seal cracks and crevices with spray foam around foundation where the sill plate attaches the frame of the home. Make sure doors and windows fit properly and use weather stripping. Mice can flatten their skeleton and cartilage to fit through a ¼ inch gap. They commonly squeeze through small gaps around wires and pipes entering the home. Mice are great climbers of trees and sides of buildings to gain access to attics and wall spaces. Trim overhanging tree branches, and prune back foundation planting from touching the house. Keep grass, brush and vegetation away from foundation. Inside the home, eliminate clutter which serves as hiding spots and nesting material. Attic and dryer vents can be covered with hardware cloth and caulk the edges.

Eliminate food sources for mice. If you are feeding the birds, you are also feeding the mice. Spilled seed on the ground attracts mice and other animals closer to the house. Cat and dog food left out all day in a dish for on demand feeding for your pet offers mice an anytime buffet, too. Store dry animal food, including dog biscuits in a hard, metal container.  Mice can chew through very hard plastic containers with their gnawing teeth.

Repellents are available which claim to keep mice away. One type emits a high-frequency sound humans are not likely to detect but animals do not like. Caution should be used as pets may not like either. Some versions are made for use under car hoods to keep mice out of engines. Scented mouse repellents are available containing various mixtures of peppermint, cloves, hot pepper capsaicin. Planting mint around the foundation is reported to work as a deterrent. Some folks claim mothballs will repel mice, but this is not a legal use of the product, and in practice mice have been known to relocate the stinky orbs out of their area.

Mouse control will be needed if your find activity or signs of mice inside the home. Sometimes you can hear them chewing on the wooden structure making up the house. Finding the tell-tale black droppings which look like a small grain of rice, only black, is means for action in that area.

mouse trap

Mouse trap places with the snap end against wall.

Control options are traps or poisons. Traps should be placed where you find the droppings. Mice prefer to run along the edge of the wall rather than out on the open floor. Place set traps butted up against a wall. Peanut butter is a great bait to use to attract them to the trap. There are many different traps on the market from the old-fashioned wooden base snap traps to battery operated traps with a metal plate which electrocutes the mice. I saw a new one which uses a funnel system and extremely small and strong rubber bands which snaps over their head causing a quick a death. There are also humane live traps where the mouse enters, the door closes behind it, and then you take the trap and mouse outside to release it still alive, just take it far away from your house.

Poisons are rodenticides regulated by the federal government. Always read and follow label directions. Mouse poisons can affect other non-target animals by directly eating the poison, or up the food chain if another animal or bird eats a mouse that ate the poison.  Also mice do not always leave the building after ingesting the poison, sometimes dying in the walls creating an odor as they decompose in an inaccessible site. Insects can find the carcass to assist in the decomposition process which brings another problem of bugs or flies into the home. Once the dead animal is completely decomposed, odor and insects should go away.

-Carol Quish

Dawn before the storm November sunrise Pamm Cooper photo

Dawn before a November storm

 

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

-Albert Camus

November is the time of falling leaves and bare trees, perhaps a first snow, woolly bears and the arrival of northern birds that come down to stay for the winter. Geese fly overhead in their v-formations, remaining autumn fruits are visible on trees and shrubs and the weather is definitely shifting toward the colder end of the spectrum.

wooly bear in November 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Woolly bears travel late in the year and the amount of rust or black is only indicative of its stage of development, not the severity of the coming winter

Most northern birds that migrate here for the winter typically arrive in late September or early October. This year many stayed in the north until recently as temperatures there remained warmer than usual and food was abundant as well. The first juncos I saw arrived on October 30, but that is just in my area, but it is the latest arrival of that species since I started keeping track of such things.

cowbirds on fall migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

Cowbirds on migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

This past October was one of the warmest on record, and anyone with some annual flowers in their gardens may still have some blooms now in  November. I had Mandevilla vine, Thunbergia, salvias, Cuphea ( bat-faced heather), Mexican heather, Tithonia sunflowers, Cosmos, balloon milkweed, ivy geraniums, fuschias and several more annuals still blooming  on November 5. Native witch hazels and some perennials like Montauk daisies, butterfly weed and some hyssop varieties are also blooming. As of today, though, with temperatures in the low 30’s, most annuals should fade away into the sunset.

fuschia still blooming November 3 2019

Fuschia still blooming on November 3, 2019

Mandevilla vine in bloom November 3 2019

Mandevilla vine still blooming on November 3 2019

geraniums blooming November 2 2019

Geraniums still blooming in Manchester on November 3, 2019

October being so warm, many trees still have some leaves, although oaks, dawn redwood and Bradford pears are the main ones with leaves right now. Some sugar maples slow to turn color this year are fading, but many Japanese maples are still full of colorful leaves.

maples

Sugar maple on left and Japanese maple on right

old-house-with-bittersweet-and-japanese-maple-rte-154-november-13-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Old house with bittersweet and a Japanese maple in full autumn color

This is the time of year when it becomes evident where paper wasps built their nests. According to farmers in earlier times, perhaps mostly by experience and observation, the position in height of these nests was an indicator of the amount of snow to come during the winter. The lower the majority of wasp’s nests, the less snow, and vice versa.

paper wasp nest in chute of wood chipper November 2019

Paper wasp nest in the end of a wood chipper chute

There are many plants that are great to use for fall interest. Fothergillas has a wonderful orange-yellow leaf color into November, and Carolina spicebush has a nice yellow color right now. Several viburnums, winterberry, many Kousa varieties and native dogwoods have fruits that are of  interest for fall and even winter color. Red osier dogwoods also have red twigs that are a standout in the winter landscape if pruned periodically.

cranberry viburnum berries

Viburnums can add colorful interest in the landscape for both fall and winter

blueberry fall color

Blueberry fall leaf color

Honey bees and some syrphid flies are still active as long as food sources remain. Witch hazel is valuable as a food resource for many late season pollinators. Also, the American oil beetle, a type of blister beetle, can sometimes be seen crawling over lawns in early November on its way to find a suitable spot to overwinter. Stink bugs and other insects are still out, but soon should be seeking shelter for the winter as temperatures drop. The invasive brown marmorated stink bugs seek shelter indoors, while native species remain outside.

honey bee on Montauk Daisy

Honey bee on a Montauk daisy

syrphid fly on Cosmos November 2019

Syrphid fly visiting Cosmos flower November 2019

Animals like deer and coyotes may sometimes be seen out and about on sunny fall days. Deer will eat crabapples and acorns, as well as smorgasbord items like Arborvitae hedges and other plants that pique their interest and taste buds. Sometimes they will nibble on young crabapple twigs and those of other small trees and shrubs. If this is a problem, consider wrapping lower branches loosely with bird netting or something else breathable for the winter. Squirrels have been known to clip off the flowers of hydrangeas and cart them off to line their nests.

coyote hunting during the day in fall 2019

Coyote hunting for voles and chipmunks along a small brook during the day

When autumn leaves are just a memory, sunrises and sunsets can provide a spectacular display of color during the fall and winter months. Sometimes there will also be a pre-glow red or orange color in the sky that will light up trees and houses just before dusk. The color will only last for minutes and changes can get more brilliant as the sun settles down over the horizon. In the morning, colors are at their peak just before the sun arrives over the horizon.

pre- sunset December glow 12-3-15

Orange glow just before fall sunset

The warm weather is retreating into fond memories, and the cold and bare landscape is coming to stay for a few months. As Clyde Watson wrote in his poem-

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows…”

Pamm Cooper

Male red-winged blackbird

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.  Doug Larson

Following a relatively mild winter, this spring has been a bit of a chiller so far. Forsythia in the north a yellow bud and central areas of Connecticut barely have yellow flower buds showing and star magnolias are just starting to show a few blooms. Spring may be slow to start, but at least it isn’t winter.

Spring peepers are singing, and have been for about three weeks. These harbingers of spring provide a cheery chorus for those fortunate enough to live near ponds. They were joined a couple of weeks later by wood frogs, who have a more throaty but equally welcome spring song.

Spring peepers live up to their name

Painted turtles, the first of which I saw in February on a 60 degree day, can be seen on warmer days sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and rocks. Spotted salamanders have already laid their eggs in vernal pools, and wood frogs should be doing the same now. Check out vernal pools for the eggs of these amphibians, plus you may see some immature salamanders swimming around before they develop lungs and venture onto land.

painted turtle stretching

Painted turtle stretching out

 

Spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, have a single brood, and flight may occur any time between late March and early June here in Connecticut. This is one of our first butterflies to emerge from its chrysalis, and can be seen obtaining nectar from early spring flowers such as bluets and violets.

spring azure on bluet May 19 2016

Spring azure butterfly on a native bluet flower

Another early flying butterfly is the Mourning cloak, easily identified by the upper sides of its large, chocolate brown wings that are edged with cream borders and lined inside that with lavender to blue spots. Imported cabbage white butterflies are arriving from their southern living quarters. This butterfly lays its eggs on members of the brassica family, which includes the wild mustards, including the invasive garlic mustard.

Mourning cloak early spring

Mourning cloak basking in early April

Migrating birds are slow to arrive, but the red-winged blackbirds have been back since early March, although some were even here in late February. Males arrive way ahead of females, which gives them plenty of time to select the best nesting sites in advance. Some warblers may fly through just before invasive honeysuckles leaf out. Palm and black and white warblers are some of the earliest to arrive. Palm warblers flick their rusty tail, much as phoebes do, and they move on northward to their breeding grounds. Many black and white warblers remain here to breed in woodlands.

palm warbler on migration in April pamm Cooper photo

Palm warblers sometimes migrate through before most plants have leafed out

Forsythia and star magnolias are just starting to bloom -later than normal this spring in northern Connecticut, but bloodroot and violets should be blooming any time now. These are important flowers for our spring pollinators. Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, has been blooming in some places since late March, and this is also visited by early spring flying bees. Along with pussy willows, this is a great plant for Colletes inaequalis, the earliest ground nesting bee which is active around the time  native willows start to bloom.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese andromeda flowers in late March

Check out streams for marsh marigolds and watercress, and dry sunny, woodland areas for native trout lilies that usually start to bloom in late April or early May. Red trillium, Trillium erectum, sometimes has an overlapping bloom time with bloodroot, depending on the weather.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress blooming in a woodland brook

 

Raccoons, foxes and many other animals may have their young from early spring through June. Some birds, including great horned owls, may have their young in late winter. Sometimes these owls use the nest that red-tailed or other hawks used the previous year.

baby raccoons June 2

Two week old raccoons in a sunny spot in the woods

 

While the central portions on the United States are having bomb cyclones this week that are bringing heavy snows and severe wind gusts, we should have snow here only in the form of a distant memory. I can live with that.

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

barred owlin oak UConn campus 2014 - Copyright Pamm Cooper

A barred owl rests in an oak

A thousand stories come together as you observe all of the life associated with oak trees

One of my favorite things to do is to take a lightweight three- legged folding stool out on hikes and sit down for a while in areas that show a promise of something good to come if I can simply wait a bit. It is always a surprise to discover all the activity going on that I would have missed because of a failure to employ the railroad method of outdoor walking: “ stop, look and listen “.

doe sleeping in backyard winter under oak

Doe sleeping under an oak in the winter

Oaks provide a great opportunity to observe all kinds of life, as they are a major food source for many caterpillars, cicadas, katydids and other species of insects.. Holes from feeding insects, leaf shelters containing caterpillars and leaf or twig galls are just a few things you may notice. But a closer look will prove that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Tiny creatures seen crawling along twigs and leaf undersides may be the nymphs of some sort of tree hopper insect. Caterpillars might dangle down on silken threads, spiders may have woven webs among the branches and mushrooms arise from duff underneath the trees. Oaks provide nesting sites for many birds and animals, and food in the form of leaves, twigs and acorns.

spider webs on oak trees October 2016 foggy morning

Spider silk dangling from an oak on an October morning

Early in the spring when oaks are just beginning to show swollen buds, catbirds normally are back. And as leaves begin to unfurl, look and listen for scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles in the top of the canopy of mature oaks. There must be caterpillars there because you will see them poking around and under the newly opened leaves. Male red- bellied woodpeckers advertise the fact that they have constructed a fine nesting cavity suitable for any females in the area. The males can be hard to spot because they sit inside their hole and poke only their head out and sing sporadically all day. Because of past storms, many oaks have dead vertical limbs that are just what red- bellies like for drumming and excavating.

red belly in hole

Male red bellied woodpecker sings from inside his newly created nesting hole

Oaks have the distinction of being the host for many gall insects. While most are not a threat to the health of the tree, they can occur in large numbers. One of the most common galls familiar to many people are those formed by the oak apple gall wasp. These are large and are a smooth with a limey green color. Neatly tucked inside is the larva of the wasp, safe and sound from predators. A gall of the wool sower wasp is associated with white oaks and it looks somewhat like a toasted marshmallow.

wool sower gall

Wool sower wasp gall on white oak

Oaks are also the host plant for over 500 species of moth caterpillars, which makes them the champ when it comes to supplying bird food in Connecticut. From spring until fall, check out oak leaves for any caterpillars that may be there. Late in the summer, walking sticks might also be found on oaks.

 

afflicted dagger on oak

Afflicted dagger caterpillar on an oak

yellow-based tussock moth caterpillar on oak

Yellow-based tussock moth caterpillar on white oak

Butterflies such as the spring-flying Juvenal’s duskywing, banded hairstreak, striped hairstreak and red-spotted purples also use oaks as host plants for their caterpillars. If these butterflies are seen, check out any nearby oaks for the caterpillars.

Juvennals duskywing

Juvenal’s duskywing butterfly uses oaks as a host plant for its caterpillars

Several weevils are associated with oaks, among them the acorn weevil. The female lays an egg inside an acorn by chewing out a hole with its mouth and inserting one egg inside the developing fruit. Look for acorns in the fall that have a small round hole. This is evidence that the larva that was feeding inside has exited by chewing its way out. Sometimes squirrels can be seen turning acorns around in their paws as they look for these holes, or feel the weight of the acorn. They will not waste valuable time opening an acorn that will not supply a sufficient supply of food.

female acorn weevil Pamm Cooper photo

Female acorn weevil on red oak

New York weevil found on oak May 2017

New York weevil on oak

A few years ago, there were lacewing eggs everywhere on the undersides of all kinds of oaks. The next year- hardly any on oak, but there were a lot on cherries. In late summer. Lacewing larvae move about on the top of oak leaves with old molted exoskeletons and other debris piled on their backs. They look like little mobile fuzz balls.

 

lacewing eggs

Lacewing eggs under an oak leaf

Deer and turkeys rely on acorns for food during the fall and winter. Sometimes you can see the places under oaks where deer have dug through the snow looking for acorns. Gray, red or flying squirrels will also eat acorns and may also nest in the trees as well. Once year a pair of young flying squirrels were out during the day because their nesting hole was damaged by a fallen branch.

flying squirrel near nest hole

Young flying squirrel

The next time you see an oak, imagine all that may be happening on, around and under that tree. Look a little closer and see what you can find. And enjoy its shade at the same time.

 

Pamm Cooper

tree frog common gray on tree trunk

You have to look close to see the gray tree frog on this tree trunk

In my blog of October 11, 2018, I shared images and some information on various flora that are found on Bermuda and promised to talk about some of the species that have become invasive. You may wonder why invasive species on Bermuda might be relevant to us in Connecticut. Islands as small as Bermuda or as large as Australia may have species that are unique to their location and that have fewer defenses against introduced plants, animals, fungi, or microorganisms. These places are great concentrated studies in the effects of introduced species.

We have seen many invasive species become hot topics as they moved from other parts of North America or even other places on the planet into non-native locations in the Northeast. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists over 80 plants that are currently problems, some of which moved into our region in just the course of a decade. Transported wood that is infested with the Emerald ash borer or the Asian longhorned beetle has enabled these insects to move easily from state to state.

Japanese barberry image, UConn Plant Database, EAB image, CT DEEP

The isolated volcanic islands of Bermuda were not subject to invasive species for most of its history. There were only 165 species of vascular plants, 5 species of bats, a species of skink and another of turtle on the islands when Bermuda was discovered. Over the next several hundred years thousands of plant and animal species were brought by ships to the islands, sometimes intentionally but more often not. Some came as stowaways as seeds in hay or soils, on ocean currents, as insects in food stores, or in the bilge water of the ships themselves.

Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana), Bermuda maidenhead fern (Adiantum bellum)

Until Bermuda was visited by the first Europeans in 1505 there had been no human-related importing of flora or fauna to the archipelago so it is a great microcosm of the effects of species introduction. When settlers come to a new place the first thing that they attempt is to make it ‘home-like’. The introduction of rabbits to Australia in 1788 by British penal colonies. Within ten years they numbered in the millions and ate enough vegetation to cause widespread erosion issues.

5 Rabbits Australian National University

Rabbit around a waterhole, image from 1938/Australian National Museum

One of the first species introduced to Bermuda were the pigs that were released on Bermuda in the late 16th century. By the time a European settlement was established in the early 17th century the pigs had become abundant and feral. You may wonder why pigs were released in the first place. It was because the islands were used a place to replenish food and water, kind of a 17th century truck stop by ships. The pigs did untold damage to seabird and turtle breeding colonies.

Cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, came to Bermuda as egg cases in the bilges of a ship in 1621. Wireweed, Sida carpinifolia, was already a rampant invasive in 1669 when then-governor John Heydon was calling for tenants to pull it up by hand.

6 Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org

American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) egg case image

Many of the introduced species were brought in to control other species. The Jamaican anole, Anolis grahami, arrived in 1905 to control the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, and has since become naturalized. A beneficial introduction came in the form of honey bees, Apis mellifera. A beekeeping record dated May 25, 1617 stated that “The bees that you sent doe prosper very well.”. The Bermuda palmetto (Sabal bermudana), a native plant, is one of the main nectar sources for these bees. The giant Cane toad, Bufo marinus, an introduced species, was brought in to control garden pests but unfortunately consumes a lot of bees.

Honey bee, Bermuda palmetto, Cane toad

The Indian laurel, Ficus microcarpus, an ornamental garden tree was not considered an invasive species until the 1980s when a pollinating wasp was introduced to the island. Known as a strangler fig like its cousin the banyan, Ficus benghalensis, the Indian laurel can crack through walls and water tanks. It is a primary food source for the starling, an introduced species that does a lot of damage as they spread invasive seeds from the Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolia, the asparagus fern, Asparagus densiflorus, and the Indian laurel.

Indian laurel &  banyan trees

Casuarina, Casaurina equisetifolia, over-shades native plant species and causes soil erosion. It was introduced from Australia in the 1940s as a windbreak but no plants grow beneath it. Kudzu, Pueraria montana, is familiar to Connecticut gardeners as it is also on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list.

Casaurina & kudzu

With 23 of the top 100 invasive species in the world, Bermuda is still at risk of additional invasive species as most of their food and consumer goods are brought in by ship. Visitors or traveling Bermudians also bring plants, fruits, and seeds on to the islands. When you travel anywhere in the world and see warnings about bringing back fruits and plants or prohibitions against moving wood, visiting farms, or petting livestock it is for the good of all to heed that advice.

Susan Pelton

snow and tree

As I sit here inside, watching the cold wind blow and snow pile up outside the warmth and safety of my little writing spot, I wonder just how all those living beings outside are surviving. Trees are swaying in the wind, and birds trying to visit the feeder are forced to alter flight plans while sporting ruffled feathers. The only animals I see are hunkered down squirrels. And just where did the insects go?

A little research tells me all of the annual plants are dead. They completed their life cycle in one year going from germinating a seed to producing seeds which are waiting winter out to make new plants in the spring. In my vegetable garden I call them volunteers. You know those tomato seeds that germinate from last year’s rotted tomato fruit that dropped to the ground and its seed volunteered to grow where I didn’t put this year’s crop. The seed survived through the winter, not the plant. Annual weeds drop seed in this manner, too.

IMG_0877default

Perennial plants are a different story, although their seeds can do the same overwintering as annuals, the existing plant can live through the winter to grow another year, hopefully for many years more. Trees and shrubs are woody perennials that have woody above ground structures and roots that overwinter. Herbaceous perennials overwinter their roots and crowns only. The above ground portion of the plant dies back, but the crown and roots are alive at level or below ground. Perennial plants go dormant, living off of stored food until warmer weather returns. Storage organs of plants are the thick roots, rhizomes and bulbs. Just how they prepare themselves to make it through the winter happens at the cellular level long before freezing temperatures begin.

Plants are triggered by the amount of light and the amount of dark they experience, and lower night temperatures signal to get ready for winter rest and dormancy. Different species have varying light and temperature levels signals. Deciduous trees and shrubs must begin the process of losing their leaves by first stopping the production of their food. We notice it in slower growth and in the leaf color. The leaves are the food factory of the plant where photosynthesis happens. Carbohydrates are made then stored in roots and woody parts of the tree or shrub. Lots of light and water results in good growth and food storage, but when light amount lessens, leaves slow down production. Chlorophyll is also produced during photosynthesis, giving the leaf a green color. Once the leaves stop working, no more chlorophyll is produced and the other plant pigments of red and yellow are exposed now that there is no green chlorophyll to cover them. This is when we see beautiful fall foliage. The next change happens in a specialized layer of cells at the point where the leaf stem (petiole), attaches to the twig called the abscission layer. These cells enlarge and harden to choke off water flow to the leaves and the leaf slowly dies and falls off.

tree in fall

The next cellular change is called cold hardening. It happens within the vascular system containing the plant juices and water. If water inside the cells freeze, it will rupture the cells, permanently damaging the plant. The cold hardening process increases the sugar content of the water, and makes other protective chemicals, lowering the freezing level of the plant liquid. Basically the plant makes its own antifreeze. Cell walls are also changed to allow water leakage into spaces just outside the cell so if crystals do form, damage will be avoided. The acclimation of all these changes makes the plant able to tolerate below freezing temperatures. Fall pruning or fertilizing with nitrogen during August and September stimulates new growth interrupting the cold hardening process.

Evergreen trees and shrubs have thick leaves with waxy coatings to prevent moisture loss. Some broadleaved evergreens have gas exchange openings called stomata on the underside of the leaf. In very cold weather the leaves will curl as the stomata close to prevent moisture loss. Rhododendrons are a good example. Evergreen plants will continue to photosynthesize as long as there is moisture available, but much more slowly during the winter.

rhododendron curled in snow

Animals and insect have the ability to move, unlike plants. They can migrate, hibernate or adapt to winter’s cold. Certain birds migrate to warmer areas and better food sources. Hummingbirds, osprey, wood ducks and song birds fly south, and some birds from far north in Canada come south to spend the winter here. Juncos, snowy owls and bald eagles summer at a higher latitude and spend the winter nearer to us. They go where they can find food.

Some animals go into a winter dormancy or hibernation. This phase consists of greatly reduced activity, sleep or rest, and lower body temperatures while their bodies are sustained from stored fat. Bears, woodchucks, skunks, bats, snakes and turtles all have true hibernation, not waking until light levels increase and food sources begin to be available again. Bears and bats find caves, woodchucks, and skunks dig tunnels, snakes and some turtles burrow into soil and leaf litter, all in protected sites.

woodchuck at entrance to tunnel

Woodchuck at the entrance to his tunnel where he will spend the winter.

Other animals such as chipmunks have underground burrows lined with stored nuts and other food. Beavers do the same in lodges they build just above water, and line with stored logs to feed on during the winter. They sleep for long periods, only waking to eat and if maybe take a short walk above ground before returning to their den. Fur bearing animals will grow a thicker winter coat to help keep them warm, and may be a whiter color to provide camouflage in the snow.

Voles are active all through the year. In winter, they will tunnel through the snow, just on top of the ground looking for plants material to eat. They will strip the bark off of young trees and eat the roots. Voles store seeds and other plant matter in underground chambers. Mice are active and breed year round, living in any protected nook or cranny they can find, including our homes. They store food in hidden spots away from human and predator activity. Check for mice tracks around your foundation after a freshly fallen snow to see if mice are using your house for their winter quarters. Moles are active deep underground, below the frost line, in an elaborate array of tunnels. They feed on soil dwelling insects throughout the winter. I guess you could say they go ‘south’ in the soil profile during cold weather of winter.

Squirrels do not migrate nor hibernate, they adapt. They are active all winter, raiding bird feeders, and feeding on stored nuts. They grow a thicker coat of fur and fat for winter. Squirrels make great nests high in trees, well insulted with leaves. Several grey squirrels will share a nest to keep warm. They are often too quick to get a close up photo!

squirrel tail

Insects as a group are very large and diverse. Some migrate in their adult stage such as monarch butterflies and some species of dragonflies. Others overwinter in pupal stages like the chrysalis’ of spice bush swallowtails or cocoons of Cecropia moths.  Others adult and immature insects, depending on species, enter a state of diapause, similar to hibernation in animals, to overwinter during the winter. Diapause is a dormant semi-frozen state for some insects.  And like plants, changes at the cellular level occur, too. These insects produce an alcohol-like chemical and added sugars to the moisture in their bodies to prevent freezing, just like vodka will not freeze when placed in our home freezers. Insects will first seek out a protected place in the soil, leaf litter or under lose tree bark or rotten logs.

The brown and orange woolly bear caterpillar burrows into the forest floor to spend the winter as in its larval stage. In spring it will come out of its dormancy to pupate, later becoming an Isabella tiger moth.

woolly bear

Other insects lay eggs singly or in mass groupings, which are equipped to live through the winter and hatch when conditions are good again. Gypsy moths spend the winter as egg masses, tolerating down to -20 F temperatures. Crickets are another insect group which lays eggs in the fall on the ground that will provide a new generation of night songs for us to enjoy the next summer.

Gypsy moth egg cases, p.cooper photo

Gypsy moth egg mass will overwinter on this tree bark. Hatch will be in late spring.

-Carol Quish

tulips

 

 

 

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