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.