Monday, December 31, 2012

The Recycling Bird

Birds are known to use all types of materials for their nests. My boys found this one on the ground. In addition to the typical natural nest building materials, this particular bird chose to use some strips from plastic bags. Perhaps he wanted to protect himself better from the elements. :-)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

First Snow

Last year we received no snow, which was a great disappointment. The temperatures this fall and winter have consistently been 10 degF above normal so I was not optimistic about snow this year either. However, on Christmas night, a blizzard was predicted for our general region. 

Some areas were predicted to receive well over 12 inches, and we were predicted to receive 4-6 inches. The prediction was quite accurate and we did receive around 6 inches. Friends in Southern Illinois confirmed the much higher snowfalls with one receiving 13 inches. The temperatures were in the upper 20's and the snow was heavy and wet.

White Spruce


Compost Piles

Squirrel Tracks

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Sluggish Thanksgiving

This morning I almost stepped on a marsh slug (Deroceras laeve) in search of a Thanksgiving Day meal.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Quick Fossil Hunt

We visited my childhood home in the suburbs of St. Louis last week and we took a 10 minute detour to a creek that I frequently played in as a boy. I have many stories and fond memories of this creek and the surrounding woods. 

One characteristic that not many local folk are aware of is that the creek bed is rich in fossils. When I was 11-13 years old, I spent many a summer day with an equally enthusiastic friend, sitting on the gravel bars scouring the rocks for fossils. 

The vast majority of the fossils are coelenterates, bryozoans, brachiopods, crinoids, and very rarely, arthropods. Trilobites were considered the Holy Grail. Over a two year period, I found only one trilobite and it was small and incomplete. Later, whilst in college, I was telling a fellow biology student about this creek and he was quite skeptical. One afternoon, we made a visit and he was happy to find some nice specimens. Below are few that I found during my 10 minutes there. I really need to set aside an afternoon in the summer to do a more extensive survey of the area.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cedar Waxwing Feast

I watched cedar waxwings quietly blanketing a black tupelo tree and devouring the ripe, blue fruit. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Leave No Leaf Unturned

Thanks to Chris Rawlings at Invertebrates & More, I have been paying much closer attention to what is on the underside of leaves. (It always seems to come back to the importance of observation.) Here are some opened egg casings on a willow oak leaf. Probably from moth or butterfly larvae.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Green Brains

Green brains.....that is what my children call hedge apples. This time of year it is common in Kentucky to find the osage-orange trees (Maclura pomifera) dropping their hedge apple fruit. The fruit was named hedge apple both because of the large round shape (4"-5" diameter) and the fact that most osage-orange trees can be found along hedge and fence rows, and that is precisely where I stumbled upon this particular example.  

 As I cut open the fruit, it oozed a white sap quite profusely. This liquid dries very quickly into a sticky pitch-like substance which will not wash off with soap and water and would make a very effective water-proofing substance. I had to resort to mineral spirits to clean my knife. In the days of yore, hedge apples would be placed under beds to keep the spiders away. Scientific studies have shown that the sap of the fruit does indeed contain a substance which repels several insect species as effectively as our synthetic DEET insect repellent. However, you won't find me slathering the sap on my skin or clothing!

Dixon Springs

On Saturday, we visited Dixon Springs State Park in Southern Illinois. (I originally posted on Dixon Springs back in 2008.) It was a balmy 72 degF, and the fall colors were at an ebb which was a bit surprising given that just 45 minutes to the south in Kentucky, we are still enjoying a strong display of foliage.

The creek had still not recovered from our severe summer drought as there was no water in the creek above the dam in spite of recent rains. The spring was still producing a slight trickle which kept the pools from becoming stagnant. 
We did our usual hike down Ghost Dance Canyon. The path was covered with recently fallen leaves which obscured much of the moss and a plenitude of hickory nuts.

I am always in awe of the distances a tree will send out its roots in search of soil, In this case, an eastern red cedar.

Here is an unidentified rather amorphous fungus. It reminds me of crack sealing expanding foam.

A sun-illuminated northern red oak.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First Hard Frost

 We had our first hard frost of the season. It was 26 degF at dawn.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Fifty Bird's Nests

Here are some stunning photographs of bird's nests and their eggs. These are taken from Sharon Beals' Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds That Built Them. I am certainly adding this book to my wish list!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sleepy Mr. Toad

Whilst digging-in some leaves into my garden beds, I unintentionally woke this american toad up from his hibernating nap. This happens quite often this time of year because these garden beds are chock full of worms and mulch, providing a nice cozy soporific haven. I took a few pictures and carefully placed him under some mulch. Sweet dreams Mr. Toad!

Crisp Morning Fog

There was a crisp autumnal fog this morning. Temperature was right at the freezing mark.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Finally...Stream Sampling

Due to the severe drought, and no flowing water in our stream, we did not sample in either May or July. I have never seen the stream stagnant, even in previous droughts. Finally, with a few rains in September, we had just enough of a trickle of flowing water to sample. Shallow as it was, we were very careful to ensure that we sampled flowing water without disturbing the detritus on the stream bed. Having had no flowing water since March, the majority of the stream bed was covered in vegetation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Week of Box Turtles

I was heartented to see old Scarback. I had not seen him all summer and was concerned that maybe he was not able to find water during the severe drought. In fact, he was in the vicinity of our air conditioner when I spotted him, so when I released him, I placed him near the puddle of water that forms under the condensate drain.

Then, a few days later, I spotted another eastern box turtle that I had not seen before. The notch in the anterior marginal scute of his carapace will make it quite easy to re-identify him should he return.

Then, a few days later, a female showed up, and again, one that I had not seen before. Oddly, she also has some damage to the anteriror cervical and adjacent marginal scutes of her carapace that, in addition to her rather bright carapace markings, will make her easy to identify in the future.

Why did I see three turtles in the spand of one week? I do not know. It is too early for them to be searching for a place to hibernate. Perhaps it is drought related.

(Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus 1819)

Habits of the Box Tortoise by Alfred Goldsborough Mayer ~ Popular Science Monthly, November 1890

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fourth Clutch of Bluebird Eggs!

I was surprised to see these two eggs in the bluebird nest this late in the season. I have never had four sets of fledglings raised in a season...usually two and sometimes three.

Update: By September the eggs were still in the nest but no sign of any parents. There was no evidence of fowl play (pun intended) so I wonder what happened. The mother could have come to some misfortune outside of the vicinity of the nest but I am curious whether there could be some other explanation due to the lateness in the season. Four nestings are unheard of.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Baby Skink

The boys spotted this baby five-lined skink and were able to successfully capture him long enough for us to take a few pictures and then release him back into the ivy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bluebirds - Third Clutch

Four new eggs in the nest.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cozy Treefrog

I spotted this Cope's gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis), in the garden nestled in the center of a zucchini squash leaf. He seemed very content and relaxed.  

Gray treefrogs are able to change their color from gray to green based upon their immediate environment. The common gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) found in more northern climes is not found in my region of Kentucky though it is physically indistinguishable from the Cope's gray treefrog. They can be distinguished by their calls, with the Cope's gray treefrog being shorter and faster. And quite interesting is the fact that the common grey treefrog has an extra set of chromosomes, which means that the two species can not hybridize.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

More Bluebirds

I have been remiss in checking the bluebird house and low and behold, a second set of three fledglings were well along their way.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Road-crossing Kingsnake

I spotted this black kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus) on my afternoon constitutional. He was about 3-1/2 feet long and was looking for a place to cross the road. I used my walking stick to keep him at bay in the vegetation on the edge of the road in order to take a picture. He kept slithering further along the edge of the road and was quite intent on crossing. After 3 or 4 attempts to slow him down, he finally stopped long enough for this picture. Black kingsnakes are known to vibrate, hiss, and strike when cornered but this chap was not apparently annoyed sufficiently by my interruptions to his travels to do so. Right after I took the picture he scooted ahead of me and across the road. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Watershed Watch Training

My oldest son and I have been volunteer water samplers and habitat/biological assessors for Four Rivers Watershed Watch for five years. My son will be going away to college in the fall so he is passing the torch to son no. 2. Providentially, the organization is implementing enough changes to the procedures and criteria that re-training was deemed necessary for all samplers, so it was very timely for son no. 2. The lecture part of the training was held at the local community college. We then went to a local stream for some hands-on biological sampling as well as habitat assessment. It was unseasonably warm and we found many examples of dragonfly, mayfly, and stonefly nymphs. This creek is unusually low for this time of year but it did make it easier for the training.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bat Houses

I had a purple martin house for at least 10 years and nary a single purple martin. This year I decided to take it down and replace it with two bat houses. It isn't that bats eat more mosquitos than purple martins as some have asserted, since research of the stomach contents of both has found that neither consume many mosquitos. Rather, I regularly see bats flitting about around dusk so I know that they are already in the area. The habitat surrounding our home is quite diverse including forest, open fields, creek, wetlands, and a pond within 100 yards.

I used these plans from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife as the basis for my houses. I placed them back-to-back on one post with one house oriented South and the other North. This will allow the bats to choose a warmer or cooler house depending ambient temperature fluctuations.

I made the bat house largely from Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for two reasons. First, I wanted the rough surface on the interior to provide gripping for the bats and second, it is inexpensive.

For the post, I joined together two 12 foot long 4"X4" treated timbers using a scarf joint and two 3/4 inch bolts. With 3 feet of the bottom post buried below grade, that places the bat houses around 20 feet off of the ground.


On the interior boards, I sawed shallow horizontal grooves equally spaced in 1 inch intervals. This is to provide additonal gripping points for the bats. I dyed the interior boards with a dark brown stain.

I made some small shingles from larger asphalt shingles to protect the roof of each house. I also placed a finial on top of the post for purely aesthetic purposes. I sealed all of the joints with caulk and I painted the exterior of the house with three coats of exterior latex stain. Bats like the interior of their summer roosting house to be between 80-100 degF. Your geography will determine whether you paint it a light, medium or dark color. Based on our location, I chose a medium color. In addition this should protect the wood and it is certainly more pleasing to the eye than the unpainted OSB.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First Bluebird Clutch

Over the winter, I repaired the entrance hole to the bluebird house as the original hole had become somewhat enlarged over the years.

Our first eastern bluebird fledglings, their four heads buried, probably one or two days old.

And five days later.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Luna Moth

 This rather lethargic Luna moth (Actius luna) was hanging around the rear of the house this early this morning. The left hind wing was slightly damaged but it did not appear to affect his flight later in the day. It should do for his vaporous one week life.