Owl


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

“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017

 

May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area

 

Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.

 

Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.

 

Pamm Cooper

Great Horned Owl HopiakCLO photo

Recently while visiting my daughter in Massachusetts, I heard the hooting of an owl breaking the silence of the night inside the house. Out on the deck, his call could be heard much more clearly. Her house abuts a large wetland filled with tall pines and maples. I looked up owl calls on the internet and identified the call as coming from a Great Horned Owl. Listen to several different owl calls at this link. owl calls

Great Horned Owls are plentiful in New England. They are known to eat around 250 different species of mammals , fish and reptiles. Lizards, frogs, fish and salamanders are wetland prey the owl I heard was probably seeking. Raccoons, squirrels and rodents are not safe from Great Horned Owls during their nocturnal hunts either. Other foods sources are large insects, crayfish, scorpions, centipedes,  worms, spiders, and road killed animals. The Great Horned Owl will regurgitate pellets of indigestible parts of animal six to ten hours after eating. Naturalists and scientists look for the pellets to dissect giving them clues to the owls’ diet.  I remember doing just that in an elementary school science class many years ago, and sparked my curiosity of owls.

The most recognizable feature of the Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, is the tufts of feathers looking like horns or ears, called plumicorns. They are neither ears nor horns just longer feathers. The name plumicorn comes from the Latin pluma meaning feather and cornu meaning horn. The Great Horned Owl is a large bird 18 to 24 inches tall and can weigh over 5 pounds. They nest in hollow trees and cliffs or the abandoned nests of other large birds, preferring not to make their own. Mating season for an owl couple is January and February annually. The female will two or three eggs that will hatch in about four weeks. Both the mother and father will sit on the eggs and feed the owlets. Baby owls will venture out of the nest by hopping between one and two months old. They learn to fly around 10 weeks old. There is only one generation each year.

-Carol Quish

Owl Pellets, sfjc.edu