Friday, September 16, 2016

Two Trips to Fields and Wetlands

As it turns out, I've not only landed in a place that's beautiful and amazing and full of cool wildlife, but I'm also lucky enough to have met people here who love nature and are willing to go on adventures with me!

During Labor Day weekend, I got to visit Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge -- a swampy area at the north end of Cayuga Lake that's especially important for migratory birds -- with one of my new colleagues and his wife who happen to be very experienced local birders. Montezuma was wonderful, with plentiful habitat for shorebirds and other water-loving creatures, and with my companions' help I was able to pick out new-to-me birds like Pectoral Sandpipers and Stilt Sandpipers from among the flocks of other similar-looking species milling around the fields and ponds. (The real test will be whether I can identify those birds again on my own later! We'll see!)

A Ruddy Turnstone was drawing a small crowd of admirers as it foraged near the road (apparently these birds are relatively infrequent passers-by in this area):


A Greater Yellowlegs was foraging nearby, looking positively lanky next to the primarily smaller shorebirds in the area:


We saw quite a few juvenile Common Gallinules on the water:


And I couldn't resist this image of a preening Great Egret with a Double-crested Cormorant drying its wings in the background:


A pair of Sandhill Cranes apparently nests every summer at Montezuma, and I so wanted to see these birds (if they hadn't yet left for the year). I have practically no experience with cranes, which makes them almost mythical creatures as far as I'm concerned. Well, we were driving by some fields near the refuge, and then there were four tall gray/brown figures moving through the grass, like deer but not:


The parents are the gray birds with red masks, and the juveniles are the browner ones with plain faces. And now I know that baby cranes are called "colts," and it is the most wonderful thing:



The Sandhill Cranes were a highlight, but the whole trip to Montezuma NWR was awesome. It's a bit of a drive to get to this place from Ithaca, but I'm sure I'll be back to experience Montezuma in its various seasons!

Then last Sunday, I went on a walk with a small group of colleagues at the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve, a Finger Lakes Land Trust preserve just south of Ithaca. We were absolutely the only people in this place the whole time we were there. We walked in woods, around ponds, and through the most perfect, rolling, goldenrod-filled fields, and it was wonderful:


Beavers had flooded an area of these woods in recent years, leaving a big swampy stand of dead trees:


We saw a bunch of Wood Ducks swimming among the skeletal trunks and brush, but they stayed well away from my camera's reach.

I have missed Red Efts a whole lot in my year away from the east, and I was so happy to find them here in these rain-dampened woods. We counted 11 of these wonderful creatures just along the path; how many more were out wandering through other areas of the forest?


A fancy Scalloped Sallow moth (Eucirroedia pampina) sat in what looked like a headstand on a milkweed leaf:


I started feeling a hint of Fall during that walk (!), and I'm happily anticipating the cool, crisp weather and wonderful Fall sights to come. I'll close with my phone's view of the goldenrod fields at Lindsay-Parsons, all blue sky and yellow flowers and a ribbon of green (soon to be orange/red/yellow!) trees:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Here are the Turtles

Up until this past Saturday, it had been probably over a year since I last saw wild turtles. We never saw the one species of turtle in northwestern California while we were living there, and despite many walks around ponds, wetlands, and streams since moving to New York in July, there's still been a surprising lack of turtle sightings. But on Saturday morning, I visited the Cornell Plantations Arboretum, and apparently the ponds here are where all the turtles live.

Some children and their families were there tossing what looked like cereal into the water, and dozens of turtles were eagerly snatching up the food right along with the fish. There were lots of Painted Turtles, and, crazily enough, two huge Common Snapping Turtles right in the middle of it all:
 

I've never seen snapping turtles acting so much like fish, or like other turtles for that matter. What are these monsters doing casually swimming around in the light instead of lurking in some corner?


Easy food is a powerful motivator I guess. In any case, I loved getting to see these creatures' algae-covered faces:
 

Yikes, what a wonderful monster:
 

The Painted Turtles were also lovely, of course, with their beautifully patterned shells:
 

While the turtles fed in one area of the pond, big tadpoles in another part of the pond kept swimming up to the surface (to grab a morsel of something while the pond's predators were otherwise engaged?) then diving immediately back down into murky water. Those tadpoles were too quick for my camera, but some young Bullfrogs perched on waterlily pads were easier (and very handsome) subjects:


I was sure I'd find turtles sooner or later, but I'm glad I got to see such an impressive group before summer starts to wind down!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Myrmarachne formicaria

On Thursday, I saw an ant walking around on a houseplant in our kitchen. Ants are not generally welcome in my house, so I carried the plant outside to deposit the ant there, and somewhere during the walk from the kitchen to the door I realized... that's not an ant:


The mimicry was really excellent, but it was definitely mimicry. Not an ant, a spider! This is an ant-mimic jumping spider, Myrmarachne formicaria:


This is actually a non-native species, first introduced and observed in Ohio a decade or so ago, and its range is gradually expanding (it's obviously made it as far as central New York by now). And I don't know for sure what benefits this spider gets from looking so much like an ant; perhaps this disguise helps protect it from predators, or perhaps it lets the spider get closer to the creatures it hunts. Either way, I'm super impressed. Only the large quasi-iridescent mouthparts gave it away as not-ant:


And oh yeah, spider eyes!


Here's a brief video of this spider, because it was so amazingly ant-like in its movements, even waving its front legs around like a pair of antennae, completing the illusion:



So that was a cool surprise! How many more mimics can I find around my house?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two Visits to the Park Preserve

I visited the Roy H. Park Preserve a couple more times in recent weeks in order to explore the northern part of this small, quiet, and absolutely lovely place. The preserve's northern trail winds through meadow and wetland, and along the forest's edge (another trail branches off into those woods, which are part of neighboring Hammond Hill State Forest). I'm thoroughly enjoying this preserve, and I found lots of interesting sights during my recent visits.

When I visited the preserve one morning in the last week of July, a (young?) Green Heron was hunting small fish:
 

The heron didn't appreciate that the trail brought me so close to its perch, and it soon flew off to find a new hunting spot:
 

A male Common Yellowthroat foraged next to the water:
 

An American Robin was chowing down on the berries of what I presume is an invasive bush honeysuckle:
 

Another robin landed on a perch just above my head, and I took the opportunity to admire this handsome bird up close:
 

A perfect little butterfly (some sort of crescent) sat on a perfect Queen Anne's Lace cluster:
 

A Muskrat passed quickly through the water near the boardwalk:
 

When I came back to this same part of the preserve this past Sunday, the Muskrat appeared again, this time pulling a large flowering Joe-Pye Weed stem through the water after it; the Muskrat dove underwater, and the plant went down as well, presumably into a den to be munched on:
 

I was very happy to see Red-spotted Newts swimming in the water; I love these little guys!
 

A juvenile male Rose-breasted Grosbeak made a brief appearance (again, in a honeysuckle), showing off its still rather patchy pink breast and black head:
 

A set of neat tube-like structures in a dry stream bed posed a bit of a puzzle, although my guess is that these are the work of a wasp or some other insect that's good at building things with mud:
 

So now I know that the Roy H. Park preserve is wonderful throughout, and the trail into Hammond Hill State Forest's woods was very inviting. I have a feeling I'll be back and exploring more soon!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Squash Vine Borer

I spotted this creature in my garden yesterday on -- where else -- some young squash plants:


This is a Squash Vine Borer (Melittia cucurbitae), and it's a moth, although it's certainly a strange-looking one. I've done battle with this creature's larvae in my past garden in Connecticut -- the squash plants died after that encounter, the insides of their stems eaten away -- but I've never gotten a chance to examine one of the adult moths up close before. I won't be too upset if these particular squash plants end up dying; they were wimpy things, planted too late, and anyway people keep offering me free zucchini because it's that time of the year. And so now I get to check out this really very cool moth, which walked so obligingly onto my finger and stayed there for an extended photo shoot. (In retrospect, I could have picked a more natural stage for this creature than my finger, but oh well.)


This moth is a wasp mimic, and it does a pretty convincing job. (It even carries itself in a a wasp-like way when it flies.) The bright orange is very striking, and I love those fuzzy back legs:


There's a lot of iridescence going on in the sunlight:


This is one fierce-looking moth:


I like my garden, but I also love moths, and this creature is just so strange and cool. I guess I'll just need to come up with some creative ways to keep its eggs and larvae off of my squash plants in the future!