Monday, April 29, 2013

What Happened In The Willows...

Really, it wasn't in my plans to stop at the willow patch.
Someone had already taken the spot where I was going to park, so I kept on driving down the dirt road.  That's when I saw this patch of willow shoots by the side of the road.
Willow bushes by the road
From the car window I could easily see that the willows, and especially their catkins, were attracting quite a variety of insects.  So, I pulled over and got out my camera.
   What I saw in the willows will keep me busy for a while.
   I'll share some of what I saw in the willows.

For example;
I took this amazing photo of a metallic green Halictid bee covered with hitchhikers.
Halictid bee with hitchhikers (triungulin)
I know... it looks gross, but really, if you know what's happening it's most intriguing rather than repulsive.
   Come back soon to see some more of what I found in the willows when I post about the hitchhikers on this metallic green bee.
   Incidentally, I forgot about my original plans back the road at the occupied parking spot. Now my car might be parked at either spot.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Now That Is Camouflage! Part Two

A Woodcock is sitting on her nest.  Can you spot her?
Woodcock - a camouflaged bird
Woodcocks are well-camouflaged and they seem to know it.
This Woodcock sat on her nest and didn't blink an eye while I approached to within a few feet of her to take these pictures.
Woodcock In fact, I was almost stepping on the Woodcock before she suddenly exploded from the leaves and flew away for awhile.
woodcock camouflage
   The Woodcock's nest contained four speckled eggs the color of dead leaves.  The eggs were camouflaged with a variety of different colored splotches.  The color scheme of the eggs was just right to help the eggs blend into the surrounding leaf litter.
woodcock nest with four eggs

 I took a video of a Woodcock while it was walking along on the forest floor probing the ground for things to eat.  Toward the end of the video, notice the odd way the Woodcock is bobbing up and down... this rhythmic bobbing is what I call the "Woodcock dance".

 As you can see from the video, the Woodcock is a stocky, short bird with a long bill.  I'm impressed with the Woodcock's ability to locate its food by poking its bill into the ground.
woodcock - short stocky bird with long bill
 I'm also impressed with how the Woodcock uses her camouflage to good advantage,
woodcock blending into surroundings
 Shortly after I accidentally scared her from her nest, she came back even though she knew I was nearby (waiting to take some more photos).  She approached cautiously and she did it as something camouflaged would.... she dashed a few feet and then froze, then dashed a few more feet and froze again.  With this method of approach, the Woodcock was hard to spot even though I was watching her carefully.
Here the Woodcock is back on her nest trying to blend in to her surroundings.
Personally, I think her white eye-liner blows her cover.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Now That Is Camouflage!

I was walking along in a sunny spot in the woods looking for a certain kind of leafmine when I found this camouflaged creature.
Can you spot it?
The camouflaged creature thought itself hidden so well that it allowed me to move branches and take photos within a few feet it and she didn't move a bit.
More coming soon...
See the follow-up post about this camouflaged woodcock

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Warbler Migration Has Started

Yesterday, right on time, the warblers showed up at our place.
Yellow-rumped warbler
This Yellow-rumped Warbler stopped by to let us know that the warbler migration is on!

   Yesterday, I heard the trilling song of a Yellow-rumped Warbler when I stepped out of the car, so I ran for the camera and managed to take a few photos of the new spring arrival.  Later, I looked at my old posts and saw that the warblers had arrived on the same day of the April a couple of years ago.  The Yellow-rumped Warbler (also called the Myrtle Warbler) was the first Warbler to show up in our yard both years.
Yellow-rumped warbler also known as the Myrtle Warbler
 These small, active, brightly-colored birds are a welcome sight.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
  It's good to again hear the warbler's songs coming from the trees. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Whaaaat?!? Those things live in Pennsylvania?" Part Two

Way out in the woods...
a fairy shrimp's stalked red eyes peered up at me from its home in a vernal pool...
male fairy shrimp from vernal pool
I want to share some photos and videos of the fairy shrimps because I was mesmerized again by their unusual qualities - that happens every time I see these weird-looking critters.  Not only do they look like the whimsical creation of an artist, but they are unusually delicate and mostly translucent. Best of all, their movements are ethereal - like a silent Wood Thrush song floating through the water.

   Here is a close-up photo of a fairy shrimp.  This is a female, as you can see by the brood sac full of eggs and her lack of the extra long clasping antennae the males possess (see the other photos).
fairy shrimp eggs and lots of legs or gill-feet
This photo shows the fairy shrimp's 11 pairs of paddle-like "legs".  These swimming appendages are also called gill-feet.  These paddle-feet are multifunctional... they are used as gills, used for locomotion, and are also used for gathering food particles.

In this next video, see for yourself the mesmerizing motion of the fairy shrimp's paddle-like swimming appendages.

In this next video of the fairy shrimp, I slowed down the video part way through in order to show the rhythm, or motion, of the the beating gill-feet.
(the tiny visitor that swims up to the fairy shrimp is a seed shrimp, or an ostracod)

Notice the translucent fringes on the gill-feet in these next photos.
Fairy shrimp
This next photo has some arrows pointing to various appendages where the translucent fringes are visible.
Fairy shrimp's fringed appendeges
What a wonderful water creature! ...and to think it exists only for a short time in temporary pools of water.
    When I showed the fairy shrimps to my boys, they were enthralled.  The boys called the fairy shrimp, "THINGS", and said,  "Whaaaat?!?  Those THINGS live in Pennsylvania?"  My boys also discussed how they think these creatures look more like something that they would expect to see in an Amazon jungle.  I have taken the boys to vernal pools before, but because of all the other interesting things, failed to point out the fairy shrimps.  Somehow I missed showing them what may be the "crown jewel" of the vernal pool.
   When I was young I could go way out in the woods to Grandpa's frog pond.  Many years later I still enjoy visiting any vernal pool because of all the amazing things that transpire there before the summers heat and the thirsty trees dry up the pool.
   Here's a photo of the vernal pool where I recently took the photos of these fairy shrimp.
Vernal pool
See the big fallen log stretching across the vernal pool?  I waded into the pool and leaned over that log to peer into the water.  The shadow of the log reduced the glare on the water's surface and I saw what I was looking for - it wasn't my reflection.  I was expecting these bizarre, red eyes to be peering up at me...
Fairy shrimp
... No wonder I've had a life-long fascination with frog ponds.
May I suggest visiting your local vernal pool before the little place dries up and these unusual-looking, ephemeral creatures fade into oblivion for another year...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Whaaaat?!? Those things live in Pennsylvania?"

Seriously, I took this photo today.  All I did was lean over a log and there it was!  This creature was just kinda floating there... watching me with its alien-looking red eyes.
Now while it true that I was all alone in the forest at the time, I actually took some video for my next post.  I also went prepared to catch some, because I knew these curious creatures would be at that special spot.  I took some home to show the boys.  They said, "Whaaaat?!?  Those things live in Pennsylvania?"
Yep, way out in the woods.
See my next post about these fairy shrimp.

Spring Frog Sounds: Wood Frogs Quacking, Part Two

   As I mentioned in my last post about the wood frogs, I have some video of wood frogs as they call from the vernal pool (see the videos below).  I also have a few more photos of the wood frogs at the pool. 
   Wood frogs normally live the surrounding forest, but in the early spring they congregate at vernal pools to lay eggs. The male wood frogs float around on the water's surface as they call for mates. 
wood frog floating in a vernal pool
  The wood frog's croak sounds like the soft quack of a duck.  When many wood frogs are calling from a pool, they sound like a whole bunch of ducks quacking.  I think their calls carry very far, so I describe the frog's sound as quiet quacking.  Here is a video of wood frogs quacking at the far end of a vernal pool.
    In this next video of the wood frogs calling, you can hear the frog sounds in the background while the camera focuses on one wood frog as it floats across the pool.  The wood frog croaks, or quacks, when he gets about  two-thirds across the screen.  Notice the expanding ring of ripples after the wood frog calls.  Also notice paired vocal sacs that bulge out on the wood frog's sides as he croaks.  The second half of the video is slow motion so the bulging vocal sacs are easier to see.

   I tried to snap a photo of the frog's dual vocal sacs, but I'll have to try again for a quality photo... at least I caught the paired vocal sacs as they bulged out of the frog's sides... just behind its head. 
wood frog's paired vocal sacs
The wood frogs dual air bags are quite different than the big bubble under a spring peeper's throat.  Well, maybe next spring I can get a better photo of a singing wood frog since they seem to be about done calling for this year.
   All this calling by the male wood frogs helps the wood frogs find each other.   When a male wood frog sees a female wood frog, he jumps on her back and doesn't let go until her eggs are laid in the vernal pool.
wood frogs
Some time ago, I posted a post that has underwater photos of wood frog eggs.  May I also remind you that wood frog eggs are solar powered.... see my post about how the wood frog eggs eventually turn green from symbiotic algae.
After the eggs are laid, the wood frogs will leave the pool....
wood frog looks like it has a mask
and head back to their normal habitat... which is the forests.
The masked frogs will quietly vanish into the woods.
wood frog crossing road
Yes, the quiet quacking from the vernal pools is only a short-lived part of the spring frog sounds... Sure was a party while it lasted.!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Frog Sounds: Wood Frogs Quacking

Have you heard the frog calls that sound like ducks quacking quietly from the vernal pools?

Wood frog calls sound like ducks quacking, but their calls lack the volume of the cacophonous peeping of spring peepers.
 Here is a photo of a wood frog as it keeps an eye on me while I visit a vernal pool...
wood frog - Rana sylvatica - in a vernal pool
 .... wood frogs are very, very shy and they keep quiet if a visitor arrives at the pool.
 They will, however, slowly float over to see who came to visit them if you hold still long enough.
wood frog in a vernal pool
If you have alot of patience and sneak up to the pool, you can watch as the wood frogs call and chase each other.
   Wood frogs call from the surface of the water.  When they croak, a circle of waves spreads out from each frog.  Here is a photo of a wood frog and the spreading ripples immediately after the frog said, "quack".
spreading ripples around a calling wood frog
My guess is that those ripples are also part of the frogs communication.  What do you think?
ripples around a quacking wood frog
   The wood frogs have come down out of the forest to meet up and lay eggs in the vernal pools, just like the Yellow-spotted Salamanders.  I should say, the wood frogs have been doing a good bit of croaking and quacking, but the salamanders are always quiet about their visits.
  I suppose it's hard to watch and listen to croaking wood frogs with still images and no audio, so check out my next post... I'll post some video of wood frogs quacking from the vernal pool.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Frog Sounds: Spring Peepers

Have you heard any spring frog sounds so far this spring?  Have you ever seen the tiny spring peepers as they make those big sounds?
   Right now, spring peeper sounds are the loudest part of that chorus of spring frogs... at least in our area.  We have been hearing the spring peepers peeping for the last week.  When I hear the spring peepers call, I delight in thinking about the way they makes those calls.  The following photos of spring peepers peeping, as well as video of spring peepers, are my attempt to show how the spring peepers make those spring frog sounds.
This is a photo of a calling frog.
Spring peeper with an fully expanded throat bubble
The photo shows a spring peeper with a fully inflated vocal sac.  The frog has just made a "peep" by forcing air through its larynx and into its vocal sac.  Then the air is passed back into its lungs... that is evident in the picture below... see the spring peeper's distended belly. 
spring peeper sounds off
This passing air back and forth from lungs to throat sac saves some of the frog's energy.  What's more, this air recycling process is very intriguing to watch.
    Here is a video of a spring peeper calling.  Notice the way the frog forces air into its vocal sac as it calls and how the sac partially deflates and the frog's belly expands in preparation for the next "peep".  Keep in mind the vocal sac also functions as a resonating chamber.  

Video of a spring peeper calling.

Did you see the frog's belly lift off the twig every time he forced air into his expandable throat bubble?  In this video clip the spring peeper is joining with a chorus of frog sounds in the background.

Here is a slow motion video of the spring peeper as it sings.  

Since the frog sounds are slowed down to 1/4 speed, they sound much lower.  The slow motion video does allow a person to better visualize the flow of air from one air sac to other.
My photos make the spring peeper look too big.  They are very small frogs.  Here is a photo of a spring peeper on an oak leaf.
spring peeper on an oak leaf
Spring peepers are small enough  to sit on your thumb.
Here is a photo of a spring peeper that is taking a break from calling.

spring peeper - a cute little frog
Cute little frog isn't it?
I reckon the little frogs aren't so cute when they are all inflated with air while they are singing.
spring peeper showing off a frog vocal sac
If you have heard the spring peeper chorus but never seen them while they are calling, perhaps now you can picture what it looks like when a spring peeper peeps.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Last Night Was Salamander Night!

   Last night we had our first warm, rainy night of the spring and the salamanders and other amphibians were on the move.... that's why last night was salamander night.
Here is a photo of a Yellow-spotted Salamander crossing the road on that dark, rainy night.
Yellow-spotted salamander night
I'm sure this salamander made a safe crossing of the road because this particular road is a less traveled road and that makes all the difference... on busier roads I saw evidence of unspeakable carnage at locations where many amphibians were daring the traffic to get to the other side... Sadly, I even saw some of these large, yellow-spotted salamanders....  ok, we won't go there.
   Why were the Yellow-spotted salamanders risking their lives to get across the road?  Well, on the other side of the road from their forested mountainside habitats, there were some vernal pools where the salamanders were congregating.  These temporary pools of spring rainwater and melted snow are where certain kinds salamanders and frogs lay their eggs. 
salamander night at the vernal pool
There were oodles of Yellow-spotted salamanders swimming in the vernal pools.  I'm glad to see that plenty of salamanders made it safely to the pools. I also saw and heard spring-peepers and wood frogs nearby the pools.
Yellow-spotted salamanders in vernal pool
Yes, last night was definitely salamander night!
 See my previous post  that explains more about salamander night.