Saturday, June 22, 2013

Happy Halloween Pennant Summer Solstice!

No, I don't have my holidays mixed up. This Halloween Pennant was out hunting on the first day of Summer. I highly, highly recommend many visits to Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area if you are/find yourself in Cape May County. A former golf course allowed to go to seed, with some active management thrown in; meadows, woods, freshwater ponds and everything that goes with them. Fabulous. Easy-walking paved trails, too. You can even take your bike. (Which I would, if I could wrestle it out of the depths of my shed and if the tires were still capable of holding air...)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bluet. But not blue...

Told you there was such a thing as an Orange Bluet... (Bluet is the lump sum of a group of related damselflies. Sort of like the term "sparrow" covers all of those little streaky brown jobs.) For size perspective, note that these boys are perched on the tips of a juniper (cedar) tree.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ecology: How It All Works Together.

For today's ecology lesson, we'll look at a tree, some bugs and a bird...

First, we start with the tree; a Tulip Tree in this case. (Once known as "tulip poplar" but we try not to use that name anymore as it isn't, in fact, a poplar. It's actually related to magnolias.)

Second: Tulip Tree Scale. Just like the scale that attacks your houseplants, only this not-as-little sap-sucking insect (the pinkish-orangish blobs) favors tulip trees.

A couple of summers ago, my tulip tree suffered a rather heavy infestation of tulip tree scale. "Not good for the tree," we humans would believe, but the scale insects were having a party. And what the scale excreted provided food for all sorts of nectar-eating insects such as this male Velvet Ant. (Which isn't really an ant, it's a wasp. It's the wingless female who scurries around on the ground that earned the species that particular common name.)

The tree survived very well, thank you, but it did lose the limbs that were most heavily affected by the scale. Despite winter wind and hurricanes, many of the dead branches remained on the tree. They started to rot where they were, and the outer bark started to peel away this year. Then the fun began again...

Tulip Trees are wonderfully useful to humans. Their typical tall, straight trunks were once much used for ship masts. (For trees growing close together there's competition for light, so they grow straight and tall and you don't see much branching off the main lower trunk--the leaves would be too shaded. Trees growing in the open, however, develop a different shape--more broad and branching and therefore less useful as timber.)

The inner bark of a Tulip Tree branch that is in the early stages of decay peels/can be peeled into long strips which can then be twisted into relatively strong rope. I can't say as to whether this ever achieved any commercial value, but it's fun to hand twist a bit of bark into rope for a necklace or lacing.

Animals, naturally, figured out the benefits of Tulip Tree bark a long, long time ago... First the squirrels started stripping the dead branches of my tree for stuffing to use in their late-winter nests. As the spring songbird nesting season came into full swing, the Carolina Wrens started grabbing their share.

This weekend, a pair of Cedar Waxwings were in the Tulip Tree, wrestling (with more or less success) their own fibers off the branches to be woven into their nest.

Moral of the story? Don't panic if a tree suffers an infestation; Mother Nature knows what she's doing. A healthy tree will survive, and much benefit can come out of what seems like a great harm.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Purple and native.

Venus' Looking-glass. I have absolutely no idea how or why someone would use that name for a flower (Wikipedia has failed me), but I like it.

In spite of the expected all-day rain left over from the first named tropical storm of the season, I brought the camera with me to work. I have learned better: Always take the camera, no matter the weather. As a photographer friend told me years ago, you can't beat the lighting on a gray, drizzly day...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Not a bluet...

But similar. This little guy was hanging out with the bluets of the last post and finally stood still long enough to have his photo taken... Rambur's Forktail.

And a female Rambur's, from last August: