Thursday, January 30, 2014

We Stopped By The Pond In The Cold

We stopped by the pond on a cold, snowy January day.
Cattails beside the pond on a cold winter day
Yes, it was a beautiful day for a winter nature walk!

   Can you guess what caterpillar we had crawling around on our hands seconds after we picked them up and only a few hours after the temperature had been 7 degrees below zero (-7 F)?
   Join us next post to watch a video of these 'cool' caterpillars in action.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Jealous Red-Tailed Hawk

Can you guess what this Red-tailed Hawk was intently watching?
Clue: look above his head in the blurry foreground to see what else was in the vicinity.
Yes, this Red-tailed Hawk came to our bird feeder.  He sat a few feet away from the feeder and jealously watched the other birds feed on sunflower seeds.
    I was amazed that the other birds continued to feed at the bird feeder despite having this raptor as company.  I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't accidentally scared the hawk away when I slid open the window to try to get a better photo.... perhaps we would have seen the hawk hovering at the feeder to investigate what the attraction was for all the other birds.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Winter For A Scale Insect - You Might Not Want To Know

   Yes, this is a winter photo of scale insects that are overwintering by clinging to branches - exposed to the elements during the coldest part of winter.  My family was not exactly pleased to see these photos because now they can envision oak branches in the winter all covered with hordes of these "gross little pillbugs".
Oak Lecanium scale insects in the winter
   Juvenile scale insects are plentiful on the underside of many oak branches where they spend the winter right out in the cold, wind, snow, and ice.  Not a very pleasant way to spend the winter, eh?  Spring is a long way off.... will they survive the winter?
close-up photo of scale insects - juvenile oak lecanium scale
  I wonder how well the scale insects fare in freezing rain when ice covers everything?
juvenile scale insects winter survival strategy is to hold out for spring
I wonder how many of the insects succumb to the cold when the temperature drops to well below zero Fahrenheit?
   I suspect the harsh winter weather we've had has taken its toll on some of these scale insects. 
Hordes of Oak Lecanium Scale Insects survive winter exposed to the elements
   I think the lighter-colored ones - the reddish brown ones - are ones that have died.  Unfortunately for the trees it doesn't look like a very high percentage, does it?
Juvenile scale insects spend winter out in the open clinging to branches.
If that's the case, right now it looks as if this coming summer there will be another bumper crop of scale insects in this particular woods.
Overwintering scale insects
I suppose I'll find out how well the scale insects handle a hard winter when, come spring, they settle down and grow large like they did last summer.  Now, really, there are so many scale insects on some trees that more than a harsh winter is needed to rid them of these sap-sucking pests.

Oh, now I hope you don't mind the unpleasant thought of these ugly scale insects covering the branches of the bare winter trees... isn't their winter survival strategy at least a little interesting?
  See my posts about adult Oak Lecanium scale insects and some predators of the scale insects and also the scale insect's honeydew droplets covering everthing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"What Are You Looking At?" Part 3

   Out in the woods beside the cabin in the dead of winter, I found various winter insects on a post-Christmas winter walk.   This post is about the many overwintering scale insect crawlers I encountered.  These Tuliptree Scale crawlers looked like miniature pill-bugs covering the branches... and, wow, they must be tough to spend the winter exposed to the wind and cold... at times, covered in ice and snow.
Tuliptree Scale insect crawlers on Poplar branch during winter
 A few adult Tuliptree Scale remained on the twigs.
 I expect those adult scale insects are dead, having produced thousands of young late last summer.
scale insect crawlers on poplar twig during winter
Those pinhead-sized crawlers spent some time feeding on the leaves and growing before settling on the tree branches for the winter.
scale insect crawlers on branch in winter
These miniature scale insect larvae were thick on the branches and twigs of a poplar sapling that was growing near the cabin.
poplar sapling with infestation of scale insects
  Thick... prolific... abundant... what's the word to describe the hoards of crawlers covering the branches of this sapling?  The wife says, "Hideous!".
Poplar sapling covered with tiny scale insect crawlers
I pity that poor poplar sapling come spring when all those thousands of scale insects start sucking sap in earnest... sucking the life right out of the tree, perhaps causing severe dieback or even killing the tree.
Tuliptree Scale insect crawlers overwintering on twigs
 Next time it snows or we get some ice I might try to get some more photos of scale insects as they overwinter on the wind-whipped branches.
  I did a couple of other posts about scale insects: scale insects dripping honeydew and scale insect predators.  I have one more winter insect to post about from my winter walk at the cabin a few days after Christmas.... the winter-flying moths that came to the porch light.
 For other posts in this series, see:
Part 1... a post about  winter crane flies.
Part 2... a post about over-wintering inchworms.

Friday, January 10, 2014

"What Are You Looking At?" Part 2

A few days after Christmas, I showed a couple of my nieces how some inchworms spend the winter....
observing an inchworm during the winter
... certain inchworms can be found overwintering right out in the open on branches and twigs... exposed to the harsh winter weather.
A camouflaged inchworm - geometrid caterpillar in the winter
Apparently one of these inchworm's survival strategies is to try to look like a broken-off twig in concert with their excellent camouflage..
camouflaged inchworm - geometrid caterpillar in the winter
I found several of these winter weather-braving caterpillars, mostly on Birch twigs, in a small patch of woods near the cabin.  Imagine the many inchworm (geometrid caterpillars) out there on the twigs braving the wind and the bitter cold... perhaps covered in ice or buried in the snow.
Overwintering inchworm (geometrid caterpillar)
Now as you picture these twig-clinging, geometrid caterpillars populating the seemingly otherwise bare tree branches, realize that these caterpillars are out there as winter food for the Kinglets.

Click here to see Part 1... a post about us watching winter crane flies as they danced in the sunlight.
Click for Part 3... a post about how Tuliptree Scale insect crawlers overwinter.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

They asked, "What are you looking at?"

   I was out in the woods exploring the perimeter of the cabin property where we were for a family get-together a few days after Christmas.  Some little nieces were also out in the cabin yard enjoying the mild day.  They saw me exploring and asked, "What are you looking at?".
  Of course, I showed them...
watching winter insects
I introduced them to some winter insects that were also out enjoying a break from our early winter.  The most energetic winter insects I showed them were the winter crane flies which were dancing in the shafts of evening sunlight that filtered through the woods.
winter crane flies dance in shafts of sunlight
   I think the two nieces thought it was magical.  The winter so far has been cold and the snow plentiful, yet on this mild winter day these little dancing flies came out to play.
   Have you seen this magical mid-winter dance of the winter crane flies?

See some of the other winter insects we saw on our winter walk.