Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Black-and-white Warbler, and Other Forest Sights

On Monday morning, I went to the Naugatuck State Forest to walk my usual loop and see what sort of changes Hurricane Irene's passage had brought. Aside from a few downed trees and some very, very wet paths carpeted with fallen green leaves, however, there was no great change -- it was pretty much business as usual in the woods.

Some trees did succumb to Irene's winds, but not as many as I expected.
Several creatures were out and about, including this Black-and-white Warbler, who was happily foraging for bugs on a branch low enough for me to take some pictures (not the clearest pictures ever, but the best I've been able to get of these quick-moving birds so far):

I think the Black-and-white Warbler might be one of my favorite warblers -- they're so pretty and distinctive, and I meet them quite often in these woods. These birds can even creep vertically and upside-down on branches and trunks, almost like a nuthatch. And I just can't get enough of those dramatic stripes. This individual is either a female or an immature male, as adult males have even more stripes, if you can believe it. This really is quite a lot of stripes already.

I can't resist one more picture of this bird -- how cool are those feathers under its tail (properly called "undertail coverts")?

This medium-sized caterpillar hitched a ride on my pant leg for a little while before I noticed that it was there and relocated it to a more appropriate stick:

You'd think this would be an easy creature to identify, with those fancy jewel-like orange and white spots clustered on its back, but it actually took input from multiple people on to come up with an identification. As it turns out, it's the caterpillar of an Interrupted Dagger (Acronicta interrupta), a rather plain-looking grayish moth with subtle markings -- the caterpillar sure is something to look at, though!

On my way out of the woods, the last thing I saw was this Gray Squirrel keeping watch from his (or her) post in a narrow tree crevice:

I see you, little guy! Good luck on your sentry duties, and be safe!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seashore Sights in Irene's Wake

We got our visit from Hurricane Irene (actually more of a tropical storm by that point) on Sunday morning. There was a lot of rain and wind, but it wasn't as bad as the weather people had been predicting, and we were lucky enough to not have any lasting damage to our apartment. By Sunday afternoon, when the rain had stopped (but not the wind), Paul and I got tired of sitting around with no power, so we decided to go on an adventure... to the beach!

We chose Silver Sands State Park as our destination, even though we had heard that Connecticut's state parks would be closed due to the hurricane. Sure enough, the road into the park was blocked off when we arrived, but several other people were parking outside the gate and walking in right past a seemingly unconcerned ranger, so we did the same. This all seemed like such an insane idea -- is immediately-post-hurricane really the best time to hang out in an open space with wind and waves? As it turns out, the answer seems to be "yes"! There were so many things to see, and we had a completely awesome time.

One of the first creatures we saw was also one of the most exciting. After we'd walked only a short distance down the road into the park, we came upon this Red Fox watching us calmly from an adjoining road:

This is the first fox I've seen in Connecticut, and something about this creature gave me the impression of a teenager -- it's something in the face, I think, and in the overall lankiness -- although I couldn't say for sure whether this is actually a juvenile. The storm, it seems, was not kind to this fellow, and that looks like a pretty bad scrape on its front right leg. After a minute or so of staring at us, however, the fox bounded off into the woods, so hopefully he or she will be OK. These are such impressive creatures, and it was cool to get to see one of these guys.

I didn't see any "hurricane" birds while we were there -- rare birds that would have been blown far north of their normal range by the storm -- but I did see some cool birds that were completely new to me. (As I've said before, I don't know shore birds very well.)

This juvenile Forster's Tern was really something to watch, as it sliced its way through the battering winds with those razor wings:

There were several small sandpipers scurrying around in the sand (I still can't figure out exact identifications with these guys), and with them a few Semipalmated Plovers:

I think these birds are just too cute, so dinky and plump. They looked like they were in danger of being blown away by the wind as they rushed around on their stick legs:


Here's a wacky bird that I've never seen in real life before: a Black Skimmer, hanging out in a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. It's a juvenile, so its beak isn't quite as remarkably strange as that of a full-grown skimmer, but it's still pretty crazy-looking, with that big lower mandible perfect for snatching fish as it skims the surface of the water:

We happened to arrive at the beach during low tide, and the storm's waves had brought all sorts of interesting shells and living ocean creatures up onto the shore. Several of these colonies of what I think are Common Slipper Shells (Crepidula fornicata, is that a great name or what), for instance, dotted the sand:

For more on Crepidula fornicata and its fascinating sex life, check out this post from another nature blog, Sandy Wildlife.

There were so many colors in the sand, like this blue/purple mussel:

And this orange/red formation, which was soft and porous and suggested a sponge:

It was definitely worth braving the after-effects of the storm to go on this adventure. I'm starting to appreciate the seashore more and more, and we already have our next trip tentatively planned. Such cool things to be found in the sand and surf!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Baby Moth Explosion

On Sunday night (5 days ago), a moth laid a bunch of eggs on the outside of our kitchen window (video and pictures here), and late this afternoon, the eggs hatched. Here's a picture of the wee beasties shortly after they hatched, courtesy of Paul and his camera's awesome macro mode:

These little creatures are each about a millimeter (ONE millimeter!) long, and there are just so many of them. Here's a super-zoomed-in view of the above picture, where you can even see their tiny little legs:

I have no idea what these caterpillars are going to do next -- there are no plants nearby, which is usually the case when you're in the middle of a window pane. The only thing I can think of is that they might eat each other, and maybe that'll get them big enough to go exploring (many, many feet) and find a suitable plant to munch on.... Who knows! I'll keep an eye on them and see what happens. Nature sure is crazy sometimes!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Warblers and Waxwings and Wasps (and More)

When I arrived at the Naugatuck State Forest early this morning, it was extraordinarily quiet, and I started to worry that the animals were all in hiding and I wouldn't see much. As it turns out, I needn't have been concerned -- and how could I forget, there's always something to see in the woods.

It took a little while for them to warm up, but about half an hour into my walk, the birds exploded into activity. Standing in just one spot, I watched finches and warblers and woodpeckers (among other birds) all flitting around in the trees. I played hide-and-seek with this Canada Warbler (it did all the hiding), a pretty little bird I'd never seen before:

There were two of these birds hanging around in the area, and the bird in this picture is probably either a female or immature, since adult male Canada Warblers generally have dark black marks around their necks and faces. It's likely that these birds are just starting on their fall migration route (we're a little south of their normal nesting area), and so I wish them a safe journey!

I can't think of many other local birds that are as striking and sleek as Cedar Waxwings. A small flock of these birds was foraging in the trees by the water, and they sure are a pleasure to look at, with those black masks and yellow-paint-dipped tails:

A couple of the Cedar Waxwings spent some time inspecting a huge spider (some sort of Orb Weaver, I think) in its expansive web, debating whether to try to make a meal of it. This Cedar Waxwing actually went for it:

Nom! (That's a brave bird -- the spider's as big as its head!)

(I'm sorry you didn't make it, spider, but I have to thank you for putting your web right there -- you gave me quite the photo op!)

There were several interesting insects out and about as well. More and more, I'm coming to appreciate the beauty of some wasps, like this large Paper Wasp (genus Polistes) that was resting on a spray of goldenrod blooms:

And this next wasp is just plain awesome, with its black and white markings and iridescent blue wings:

It's a Four-toothed Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens), and it's got a nice fat caterpillar in tow. This is one of those species of wasps that lays its eggs in a protective cavity (usually in wood, or in the ground), and, generously enough, it also leaves paralyzed caterpillars in the cavity for its babies to eat once they hatch. Perhaps this wasp already had a burrow staked out in this large wooden beam -- in any case, it soon disappeared underneath:

If I had been able to reach this leaf to turn it over, I think I would have found many more of these bright orange sawfly larvae -- that's some color on those little guys!

It was also a good day for really bizarre-looking fungi, none of which I can identify. These fungal growths were each as big as my hand, and looked almost velvety:

I'm used to seeing shelf-like fungi on the sides of trees, but not this melty-runny orange stuff -- it looks like something started dissolving and didn't quite wash away:

How about this large fungus? To me, it looks exactly like a puffed-up pastry. Pie, anyone?

Here's one last sight from today's walk, the dainty flowers of Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum):

Now that I've gotten a nice long woods walk in, let the rain and storms begin!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moths and More Moths (and Moths Making More Moths)

The moths have been coming in droves to the porch light at night, which is great for me! I've always thought these creatures were cool, and I'm enjoying learning new species and seeing the great diversity of patterns and shapes on these guys. Here's a sampling of some of the moths who've come to visit over the past few nights!

First up is one of the flashiest moths I've encountered, but one that's also extremely easy to miss (and difficult for me to get a clear picture of) because it's so small. This is Suzuki's Promolactis Moth (Promalactis suzukiella), and it's only about half a centimeter long:

When I showed this picture to Paul, he said the moth looked like a Clown Fish, and I have to agree. The strange thing about this moth, though, is that it's not supposed to be here.... This is a species that people only started finding in North America in the last several years (since around 2003), and it's native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. In fact, this species is such a new arrival over here that scientists are still getting a handle on it, and its range is uncertain. As I was researching this species, I couldn't find any sources that placed its range as far north as Connecticut, so I ended up submitting my sighting to and Butterflies and Moths of North America -- it's a small contribution to science, but who knows, maybe the information will be useful to somebody somewhere!

Here's another dinky moth, Striped Eudonia (Eudonia strigalis) -- what a great polka-dotted pattern it has:

We're getting into the normal sized moths now; all the rest in these pictures are about an inch or so long. This one, with its draped-cloak wing pattern is (I think) a Master's Dart (Feltia herilis):

Here's a Baltimore Hypena (Hypena baltimoralis):

And a very pretty geometrid moth, Confused Eusarca (Eusarca confusaria) -- why "confused," I don't know:

This (probable) Forage Looper (Caenurgina erechtea) was extraordinarily active for a moth. It would stop flying and alight on the ground for only about a second at a time, almost always just enough time for me to focus my camera but not to get a picture. This picture came from one of those rare moments when the moth took a slightly longer rest:

And actually, it was entertaining to watch this hyperactive moth jumping and flitting around. I quite enjoy this picture I happened to get on on one of its many take-offs, its wings just about to grab and pull at the air:

I couldn't figure out this next moth without the help of a nice person at It had some lovely (but subtle) markings on its wings and a nice shaggy orange mane:

It turns out that this is an Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella), and it's the adult form of the much-loved (oh-so-cuddly) woolly bear caterpillar! Who knew?

Just because I could (hooray for glass doors), here's a picture of this moth's fuzzy belly:

On Sunday night, Paul and I spotted something really weird: a moth (species unknown) laying eggs on the outside of our kitchen window. This seems like such a bad idea -- what are the babies going to eat when they hatch? -- but I guess the moth probably knows what it's doing better than I do! I had a hard time figuring out how to get a good picture of this strange and fascinating process, but eventually I got the following video using a flashlight and Paul's little (but powerful) Canon PowerShot: (If you click to watch this video on YouTube, you can enlarge it to full screen and it actually doesn't look too bad.)

It looks like the moth was alternating between depositing eggs and stretching out layers of some silk-like substance to secure her clutch. I love how precisely she's placed all of those teeny tiny eggs, just so. By the next morning, the finished product looked like this:

I wonder what will happen when those babies hatch!

Update: The eggs hatched after five days -- pictures here.

It's a real parade of awesome creatures out there. Still no really big moths yet, but these small- and medium-sized ones are definitely cool, too!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Mantis in the Garden

Look who I found prowling among the green beans this morning:

With that green stripe along its side and its rather large size (a good 4 inches at least), I'm pretty sure this is a Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis, or just Tenodera sinensis). Even though this is an introduced species, everyone seems to be pretty welcoming of these guys -- I was certainly happy to see this creature, since they're such good predators of insects that would otherwise devour my garden plants. Plus, they're just so cool looking! I had a great photo shoot with this big guy, since he (I think this is a male, with that slender abdomen) followed me curiously as I walked all around him.

There are several species of mantises native to North America, but not many that live as far north as Connecticut. Strangely enough, Connecticut's state insect is another species of non-native mantis, the European Mantis (also called the Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa), which can be identified by a circular (sometimes bulls-eye-like) black spot on the upper-inside of the mantis's front legs.

I'm enjoying the sleek elegance of this Chinese Mantis, and I can only imagine the power that must be in those clasping arms.

This creature didn't catch any meals while I was there (he was too busy watching me), but there's plenty of food out there for him. Happy hunting, Mr. Mantis!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Saddest Moth Ever

I found this tiny fellow under my porch light last night, and I couldn't resist taking a picture. It's an Elegant Grass-veneer Moth (Microcrambus elegans), and you can't tell me that it isn't adorable:

So sad!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Peeper, and a Vole Reaches Its End

Every once in a while, I'll see a really cool animal, something that I almost never see, and then all of a sudden it feels like I'm seeing them everywhere. This happened to me earlier this year with owls (OMG, owls), and now apparently it's the Spring Peepers' turn. Up until last week, I'd never seen a peeper outside of their spring mating season -- as far as I knew, they might've stayed hidden the rest of the year. Then there was the peeper on my porch last week, and now this morning, on my walk through Naugatuck State Forest, I saw this fellow:

Peepers are generally nocturnal, but this one seems to have missed that memo. It was lounging casually on its leaf, its eyes wide open and its little throat fluttering. Peepers can have some variation in color, and I love the gray-brown tones on this little guy. (We do have Gray Tree Frogs in Connecticut, but this is not one -- the criss-cross pattern on this frog's back, together with its very small size, identifies it as a Spring Peeper.) Although the frog was clearly awake, maybe it was a little drowsy, because it sat perfectly still and let me walk all around it to get a closer picture.

Really, frogs are some of my favorite animals -- tree frogs especially -- and I cannot imagine a more darling little creature.

On a very different note, here's a lesson from today's walk: nature isn't always happy. On one of the paths through the woods, I found a small furry creature -- something I'd never seen before -- lying in the dirt. It was breathing and moving its legs weakly, but it was pretty clear that this little guy wasn't going to be around much longer. I don't usually like to take pictures of animals in distress, but how often am I going to get the chance to see one of these secretive creatures? There's nothing gruesome here, it's just a little sad.

After some research, I'm pretty sure this is (was) a Woodland Vole (also called a Pine Vole, Microtus pinetorum). It's got a short tail, and the small eyes and ears of a creature who spends much of its time underground. This animal is only supposed to come out of its burrows to forage on the ground at night, so I can only assume that this individual was sick, or injured by a predator, or both.

In any case, I left the little guy alone, because I didn't know what else to do. I do hope a predator came by after I left to finish the job, but I didn't stop by again to check. It was very interesting to see a vole, but I wish it could have happened under nicer circumstances.

So that's the sad part of this post. I did see some other (and very much alive) creatures on my walk, like this gorgeous male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly:

And I saw some new flowers as well. This is (I believe) Round-headed Bush-clover (Lespedeza capitata):

The best guess I have for this next plant is that it's Lance-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), albeit with much fewer flowers than I'm used to seeing on a goldenrod -- my botanically-inclined readers should feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, though:

And finally, here's something I've never seen before -- a swelling seedpod on a Pink Lady's Slipper:

I'm not used to thinking of orchids as bearing seeds, but bear them they do. Of course, of the many, many seeds this seedpod will produce, only a few will find exactly the right conditions (and the right fungus... orchids are so interesting/weird) to grow into new plants.

It seems strangely fitting to end this post with a picture of seeds-in-production. I guess today I encountered some extremes -- birth and death.... It's all one big package.