Monday, December 31, 2012

A Look Back

I was walking along a field lane and I turned to look back at where I'd been.
I saw this old wooden fencepost and barbed wire fence...
old wooden fencepost with barbed wire
...and this lovely country scene took me on a trip down memory lane.
   You see, I'm a country boy, and old barbed wire fences have long been part of my life.  I've crawled over and under many old barbed wire fences.  I've mended many a fence.  I've built new barbed wire fences. I've even helped patch up a prize cow that cut her jugular on barbed wire. 
   I reminded of one of my favorite spots at Grandma's house... the fencerow.
   An old barbed wire fence ran along their yard, from the road down past the Mulberry tree, past the orchard, past the hay field, past the woods, across the creek, and up the hill.
    Of course, I enjoyed the orchard, the bees, the trees, the cousins, and the garden tractor... but  probably not the garden.
   Near the house was a big clump of lilacs right beside the fence.
I would sit under the lilacs.  There was a fencepost right there... and it was similar to the memory-jogging one in the first photo in this post, except it had a big rotted-out knot hole that held sparrow nests, etc.  I would watch Meadowlarks sing as they sat on the top of the fencepost.  Often a row of curious cattle would watch me from the other side of the fence.

   I noticed some things in the recent fencerow photo that I've posted about on Nature Posts...  Teasel, cattails, thistles, and lichen.
   Since this is New Year's eve,  I'll mention some future posts I see in this fencerow photo.
barbed wire fence
In the foreground, and to the right of the fencepost, is a Chicory stalk and some Foxtail.
To the left of the fencepost is some Queen Anne's Lace.  I believe I see some Dodder, some asters, and various grasses along the fence as well.
barbed wire fence
   This old fencerow could be a lively, interesting place and would make some good subjects for future Nature Posts.  Unfortunately, this particular fence is far from home.  Perhaps I'll watch for an old barbed wire fence closer home.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Caught! Birds Eating Snow

Some Mourning Doves stopped by to visit our bird feeder but settled with eating snow.
  I don't think the boldness of the Chickadees and Cardinals kept the doves from the feeder... the doves were just thirsty.
birds eating snow
   Now, birds eating snow to quench their thirst is nothing new, but it is the first time I caught it on camera.  I was also pleased to see the snow-eating birds because not long before I spotted them I saw the boys licking snow from their mittens.
eating snow
We were shoveling snow from the driveway and there were observations like, "It looks like we are shoveling powdered sugar",  and, "... fluffy, good-tasting snow". 
  Oh, you probably remember taking a lick of snow from your mitten... and the tingle of the cold, melting snow on your lips, cheeks, and the tip of your nose.  If so, you can relate to the left dove in the photo below.  Somehow the snow clings to other places besides the tongue.
birds eating snow
    I will say that it is a bit odd that the birds were eating snow instead of drinking water since the river is right there in the background of the picture.   Some of the doves did flutter down to the river, but I suspect the deep snow hindered their efforts of getting a drink for they were soon back to eating snow off of the branches.
snow-eating birds
Snow, a cool, refreshing drink?
At least if you have plenty of food to digest to use to make the heat to melt the snow.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Maracas For Mice

   I can imagine what mice do in the winter under the snow.  Perhaps they play percussion music with the square seed pods of Seedbox.  The small, hard seed capsules are filled with many small seeds and would make good mouse-sized maracas... at least if the small holes on the lid were plugged.
nearly square seedbox seed pods
    Some folks call this plant Rattle-box. Others call it Square-pod Water-primrose.  I call it Seedbox.  These are all good names for the riparian plant, Ludwigia alternifolia... as is easy to see in the photo (below) showing seeds pouring from a Seedbox's unique, squarish seed capsule.
    Later in this post, I'll show some pictures of Seedbox's four-petaled yellow flowers and also show an experiment we did with the seed capsules.
seedbox seeds also called rattle-box
  Each seed capsule has a small hole in the lid from which the seeds disperse as if from a salt shaker. squarish seed capsule of seedbox or rattle-box
 I suppose the seed dispersal happens when the plant is shaken by the wind or when jostled by passing creatures (I know I've spread some seedbox seeds just in passing). 
square seed pods of seedbox -  Ludwigia alternifolia
The small, nearly square seed capsules remain on the dead plant stalk during the winter.  There is plenty of time for windy days to do their duty of seed dispersal.
Seedbox - a winter weed
   We did a little experiment with Seedbox seed capsules.  Our hypothesis was that the seeds would be more easily shaken out of the seed pods on the branch tips and therefore emptier than seed pods farther down on the plant.  We poured out the seeds from three seed pods from each location to compare the results.
small seeds from seedbox -  Ludwigia alternifolia
   Here is a photo of the results of our experiment.  The three seed capsules on the left were from the tip of three different branches.  The three Seedbox capsules on the right were from lower down on the plant.  Compare the seed contents of the groups.
We think the reason for the lower seed content in the outermost seed pods is because they can swing more wildly in the wind and therefore more seeds were shaken out of the pod.
Oh, by the way, the seeds float.
   Seedbox likes to grow in wet areas like river banks and lake shores.  Here is a photo of a Seedbox's four-petaled yellow flower I found while on a riverside ramble.
four-petaled flower of Seedbox -  Ludwigia alternifolia
Here is a link to another site with a lovely photo of a seedbox flower.
four sepals on square fruit of seedbox
After the four petals fall off, the four sepals remain on the fruit for awhile and take on a reddish/fuchsia tinge.  
The long, thin alternating leaves also take on a bright, reddish, fall color.
Maracas in the making?
...Well, at least alot of little rattle-boxes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Frost On The Blueberry Gall

   Look! A frost-covered blueberry gall with a receding hairline.
frost crystals on a blueberry stem gall
On this frosty gall, the balding forehead was a fleeting, momentary thing since the morning sun was quickly reducing the frost crystals to beads of sweat as we watched.
   This post is about some frosty moments we've had this season since it seems winter has been tip-toeing around and leaving some clues that it is planning on coming soon and staying for awhile.
frosty blueberry stem gall
We expect this blueberry stem gall contains quite a few overwintering larvae... see my earlier post about what hatched out of a blueberry stem gall.
    The same frosty morning the boys discovered some needle ice or frost pillars under the roots of a windfall.  They promptly stomped on the needle ice and brought some chunks over to show me.  They (little geomorphologists in training) remembered how needle ice lifts particles of soil and contributes to soil creep.
needle ice lifting soil particles

Today it started snowing.  I snapped a few pictures of snowflakes that were clinging to some moss and other weeds for a fleeting moment before they melted.
snowflake
 The snow fell other times this season, but didn't stay very long.
melting snowflake
 This time the delicate snowflakes started to accumulate and will likely remain as decorations for the winter.
fresh snow on the first day of winter
 Brrr... these frosty moments were our introduction to winter, eh?  The kind of moments a collector of moments would "love to borrow" for her blog... I know, because she just now told me.
snowflakes
Winter has finally settled in for awhile here in North Central Pennsylvania.  Today was fitting day for winter to "decide" to stay... it was the first day of winter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bear Trees

   It's not every day that a person can go out in the woods and see a Black Bear, but you can easy go out and see evidence that they are around.  Some readily found bear sign are territorial marking trees.  The other day, I took the boys on a side-excursion to show them a "bear marker tree", which in this case was a powerline pole.
Bear marker tree - a scratched pole
Black Bears bite, or claw, marks on certain trees and poles, apparently as some form of communication.  The topmost scratches on this pole must be close to 7 or 8 feet high.
   The bears also rub against the marker tree as evidenced by the snagged bear hair the boys spotted.
 Here is another pole bearing bear sign.  You can see there are even chunks of wood ripped out of the pole.
Bear sign - claw or bite marks on pole
I thought seeing those scratched-up poles on top of the mountain would add some "joy in the journey".
I figured that seeing those bear markings will fill the woods with bears in the boys imagination.
Let's see... our little excursion was a few days ago...  "Hey, boys, are there any bears on top the mountain?"  One says, "Oh yeah there is!"  The other says, "Those are some pretty big bear!"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Porchlight Visitors In December

We have had a few porch-light visitors this December.
The weather has been somewhat mild, but even so, most insects have disappeared from the scene.
However, quite a few winter crane flies came to dance under our artificial sun...
winter crane fly
You might remember I recently posted about winter crane flies dancing in shafts of sunlight.

Many midges visited our outside lights... not surprising... in the past I've posted pictures of some midges crawling on the snow.

I was a bit surprised to see a green lacewing this time of year...
green lacewing in December

...and even a battered moth.

Winter is closing in, but I expect we'll see a few tough insects that are out and about on mild winter days.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tasty Leftovers On A Squirrel Stump

I should clarify that title... the squirrel's leftovers look tasty. 
No, not the acorns, but the little bits of Wintergreen berries left among the debris on the squirrel's favorite feeding rock.
squirrel feeding sign
I noticed this squirrel's feeding stump, (well, rock) where it likes to perch and feed on acorns.  From the looks of this squirrel's (or chipmunk's) leftovers, I think it likes to top off its bitter acorn meal with a bit of Wintergreen for dessert.
squirrel feeding sign on a rock
The feeding sign of squirrels and chipmunks is easy to spot on the occasional stump or rock... and can be educational and even entertaining.
wintergreen berries among debris of squirrel feeding sign
Whatever was chewing on this Wintergreen berry didn't take much...  maybe it was just a breath-freshener.  Can you imagine acorn breath?
Wintergreen berry and acorn debris
This squirrel who likes the taste of Teaberry lives nearby the wintergreen patch where I took the photos for a previous post about Wintergreen.
Oh, and I noticed that something else daintily sampled this wintergreen berry... perhaps a shrew?
something nibbled on this wintergreen berry
... makes me wish I would have sampled a few Wintergreen berries as well while I was out walking my camera.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wormy Acorns With Silk-curtained Windows

   Here and there among the fallen acorns scattered on the forest floor you'll find a few acorns with sealed holes - acorn windows... at least that's what I call them.  These windows are spun of silk by the caterpillars of Acorn Moths.  They cover holes made by other acorn insects.
acorn with sealed hole
Acorns with silk-curtained windows.... hmmm, very curious.
   I've already posted about what made the holes in these acorns, so now let's take a real close look at sealed holes and then the caterpillar that made the windows.
acorn with sealed hole
Notice how the "window" looks like some kind of membrane, or plastic, covering the pin-head sized hole.  You'll see later that the seal is many layers of of fine silk webbing.
acorn moth caterpillar's sealed hole
There seems to be an additional substance coating the silk webbing... perhaps wax that acts as waterproofing.  I launched a half of an acorn shell which has a sealed hole in the bottom... as you can see the seal lets no water in.  The acorn boat has not taken on water for an hour or two. 

   I don't know that the function of the seal is to keep out water... I suspect that the main purpose is to keep out unwanted guests.  There are plenty of other insects that will invade an acorn, so perhaps the window encourages them to seek out other acorns 
   This photo shows a microscopic view of the material that was used to cover the hole in the acorn.  I used oblique lighting to highlight the silk strands that seem to trend in one general direction - perhaps one layer?
Actually there are many criss-crossing layers of silk strands...see this next photo of a microscopic view (at very high magnification) looking at the silk window.  acorn moth caterpillar silk window
The Acorn Moth caterpillar's job of spinning its curtains looks similar to what paper or cloth looks like under the microscope.
Here is another photo of the Acorn Moth caterpillar's silk creation... taken with oblique lighting to accentuate the layering.acorn moth caterpillar silk window
   In our experience, this time of year the acorns with the sealed holes were occupied by a small, white caterpillar - the larva of the Acorn Moth, Blastobasis glandulella.  Here is a photo of a cut-away of an acorn showing the Acorn Moth caterpillar on its frass pile inside the acorn.
acorn moth caterpillar, Blastobasis glandulella in acorn

Here is a photo of the Acorn Moth caterpillar.
acorn moth caterpillar, Blastobasis glandulella
Acorn Moth Caterpillar

Here is another photo of the Acorn Moth caterpillar - one that refused to stay on its feet for the picture.
Acorn Moth caterpillar, Blastobasis glandulella

   This photo shows a cut open wormy acorn.  The Acorn Moth caterpillar is visible near the top center of the acorn... it is partially sticking out of one of its tunnels.
wormy acorn with Acorn Moth caterpillar
Notice the caterpillars tunnels in the acorn as well as the webbed frass pile.
wormy acorn
   I suppose the caterpillar does its best to keep a tidy house there inside of its little capsule.  This is probably going to be its home this winter and until it turns into a moth, so why not?  Oh, and how did the caterpillar get inside this acorn in the first place?  Remember that this hole was made by an exiting acorn weevil?  Later, an Acorn Moth layed an egg in the hole and, well, soon enough there was a wormy acorn with silk curtains.
Acorn Moth caterpillar's silk seal
The round window reminds my son of a window in a Hobbit hole...  reminds me of a port hole.
 
All seriousness aside, let your imagination drift through the oak forest at twilight...
Its fall, and the forest floor is blanketed with leaves and peppered with many fallen acorns.  Many of those nuts have tiny, silk-curtained windows.  I like to imagine the acorn dwellers turning on lights inside their snug abodes.
a silk acorn window
Well, aren't well-lit windows rather appealing during a cold, darkening evening?   Too bad they can't leave a light on for us.