Friday, August 31, 2012

Bright Flowers and Fungi, and a Big Rodent

This morning I made a quick visit to Southford Falls State Park to fulfill my woods-walking urge. I was hoping to see lots of birds (fall migration: it's happening!), but there weren't a ton of feathered creatures around. While the tree-tops were relatively quiet, though, I did get to see some cool things, including this Ovenbird who took time out of skulking in the dark forest floor to give me a good looking-over -- I think these birds are really pretty, and it's always nice to meet one in the woods:

In the shaded, damp paths, interesting fungi were springing up. I don't know what these small orange/red fungi are, but they looked like bright lights scattered among the green moss:

And this yellow coral fungi happened to be growing in a patch of early-morning sun, making it stand out even more against the dark ground:

On the shores of the park's pond, Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) was holding shining white blooms above the water:

I didn't stay too long, and on my drive home, I decided to stop by a place on Paul's running route where he has told me he often sees a Muskrat. When I got out and looked around, sure enough, there was a big furry rodent (smaller than a Groundhog) with a long tail, munching its way through the grass:

This creature must be pretty used to people walking by its home, because it looked up at me a few times and just kept on eating:

Hello, Muskrat! You're pretty cute!

I don't know that I've ever had the chance to actually watch one of these creatures before, so that was a very cool end to my adventure for the day. (And by complete coincidence, I heard the song "Muskrat Love" for the first time yesterday. Oh dear.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Titmouse Family Outing

Tufted Titmouses are such cool, gregarious little creatures. These birds are quite common in our yard, but I don't often get to see them up close. So when a family of five titmouses decided to forage in the Red Cedar tree right outside my window this afternoon, I was more than happy to grab the opportunity to hang out with them!

These birds were apparently finding lots of delicious things to eat, although I'm not entirely sure what:

Mmm, insects maybe?

There was a lot of chattering as the birds hopped around -- they were clearly communicating with each other, and I wish I knew what they were saying!

They would fly up to our gutter for a quick bath (splashing droplets of water everywhere), and then back to the tree again for more foraging. My goodness, but these birds are just too cute!

With those crests, and big shining eyes... and are you smiling for the camera, little bird?

Feel free to stop by any time, friends -- I'm glad our tree makes you happy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rainy Wedding Weekend

This past weekend, Paul and I trekked down to Eastern Maryland to celebrate our friend's wedding, and because we're really cool, we decided to stay in a mini-cabin (read: one room with electricity but no plumbing) at Pocomoke River State Park for the duration of the trip. We convinced our friend Heather to camp out in the park with us, and even though an incredibly heavy rain/thunder storm raged through about 90% of the trip (including the wedding, which was outdoors and amazingly wonderful despite the rain), we all had a fantastic time.

There was some very cool wildlife to be seen in this lush forest on the Delmarva Peninsula, too (best name ever, by the way), and the environment looked distinctly different from anything I'm used to, even from the woods around my family's home in central Maryland. We went for a hike on Saturday morning, and the path took us through cypress swamps, something I didn't even know Maryland had until then.

It was drizzling throughout our hike, and it started to seriously rain halfway through, but there was still enough time to take a few pictures of some cool things. There were big spider webs stretched across the path every few yards (or at least, that's what it seemed like, since I walked through so many of them). Some webs had spiders on duty, but this one featured what looked like a partially-eaten katydid, and instead of a spider, a huge European Hornet (Vespa crabro) was munching away on the catch:

I don't think I've ever encountered one of these wasps before, but it was very, very large -- the katydid should give a pretty good indication of its size.

We were lucky enough to encounter two Eastern Box Turtles also out for a stroll on the path. The turtle in this picture is the first one we found -- the second turtle we had to practically leap over as we ran back to the cabin in the quickly-worsening downpour:

With the rain and low light, picture-taking conditions were far from optimal, so my photographic record will have to end here. We saw a few more creatures, though, who were completely awesome, and just far too quick for my camera: When we opened the door to the building where we were supposed to check in, a little skink with a brilliant blue tail dashed immediately into a crevice and out of sight. And amid the pre-rain congregation of birds in the trees in front of our cabin on Saturday morning, we saw -- I swear -- a family of flying squirrels gliding and scurrying around. I'd never seen a flying squirrel before, so even the brief glimpse I got through the binoculars was pretty darn awesome!

So the rain kept us from wandering around outside too much, but we got plenty of compensation: board games on the covered porch, a beautiful wedding under a big protective tent, and a restful sleep in a cozy cabin with rain pounding on the roof. This weekend was certainly an adventure, and I'm glad I got the chance to share it with family and friends!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Morning Meadow Sights

This morning, I paid a visit to the meadows at the Western end of Osbornedale State Park, a lovely place close to home that I really should visit more often. It was a misty, foggy sort of morning, and just beautiful:

I especially loved the way the pond looked decked out in floating mist:

With all that water in the air, the spiders webs became nets of dew droplets:

So basically, everything was gorgeous. Then, after a little while, the sun rose higher and the fog went away -- it became a perfectly clear day, and the meadows came to life with activity!

The Northern Mockingbirds were feasting on berries from this colorful Pokeweed plant:

And later, I came across the mockingbirds again, hopping along the path in front of me and flashing their wing spots:

I don't know if this behavior was directed at me, at other birds, or at whatever prey they were hunting, but it was cool to watch. Flash away, funny bird!

A noisy family of House Wrens was exploring a bird house that's in need of some repair -- perhaps their former nest is inside:

Down in a very shallow pond, four Green Herons were on the hunt (there's just the one in this picture):

And a Red-tailed Hawk watched from high above, on a tree that belonged to a group of Northern Flickers until the hawk arrived:

Dragonflies of many different species zoomed around everywhere. There were Common Whitetails, both male:

And female:

A battle-worn Widow Skimmer posed on a grass stalk for a quick photo:

And I met what might be one of my favorite dragonflies so far -- a huge Common Green Darner:

There were big, impressive creatures in the grass, too. One section of the meadow sported several huge webs belonging to Black and Yellow Agriope spiders (Argiope aurantia), with a zig-zag pattern above:

And a monster below:

I think these spiders are just incredibly beautiful, if a little scary in their size. All the individuals I noticed were females (the males are smaller and skinnier), and I just couldn't stop taking pictures -- these ladies are just too cool:

And seriously, how many other spiders can take on a jumbo-sized grasshopper as their morning meal? (At least, I think that's what this bundle used to be.)

Following the yellow-and-black trend, this Locust Borer beetle (Megacyllene robiniae) looked super fancy on its bed of already-bloomed goldenrod:

Not all of the creatures I met today were pretty, though, and these next two bugs have a distinct grossness factor. (Consider yourself warned.)

Where there's milkweed, there's usually Milkweed Bugs, and their larvae make colorful piles of their weird, pudgy bodies:

And speaking of pudgy, I don't think I've seen anything quite like these False Potato Beetle larvae (Leptinotarsa juncta) -- they're like grubs, but mobile and above ground:

OK, even I'm starting to get a little grossed out now, so I'll finish with another pre-adult insect, but this one distinctly pretty in its gold-embossed finery. It's not every day I get to see a Monarch chrysalis:

Late summer definitely brings some very cool things!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Woods Walk Diverted

My friend Megan was visiting today, and we've had such fun exploring the woods together before, we decided that a woods walk was in order. I hadn't been to the lakes at Naugatuck State Forest in quite a while, and there's always something cool to see there, so off we went!

But when we got to the forest, we saw several cars parked at the entrance, more than I'm used to seeing on a weekday morning. And when we actually walked into the forest, we saw even more cars... and cranes... and porta-potties... and trailers.... The whole area, which is usually very quiet, was filled with whirring engines and bustling people, and we were quite confused! As it turns out, they're filming a horror flick about a giant person-eating fish right on these lakes -- seriously! -- and they'll probably be at it for a while yet. Well, how about that. It's a pretty crazy and interesting thing to be happening, but not exactly conducive to nature-viewing!

Thus dissuaded from our original goal, but not disheartened, we changed plans and drove off to the other end of the forest, where the meadows were filled with wildlife and, critically, empty of camera crews.

It turned out to be pretty much the perfect day for a walk. We watched lots of birds foraging in the trees, including this lovely little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, who was fluttering up and down after insects and flashing the white feathers in its long tail:

I got to show Megan the Nodding Ladies'-tresses that I first found blooming here last year -- whose dainty blooms we admired on hands and knees -- and Megan sniffed out (literally, by scent!) some wild grapes for us to munch on. (Mmmm!)

A few sights were new to both of us, like this dark purple mushroom (possibly Cortinarius iodes) hiding in the underbrush:

And these bright and cheery Purple-headed Sneezeweed blooms (Helenium flexuosum):

Dragonflies of all sizes coursed over the meadows, Chimney Swifts flew in circles over our heads, and we watched a pair of American Copper butterflies flying close together to land on a plant to snuggle (will there be American Copper caterpillars arriving soon?):

So even though we didn't end up where we thought we would, an enjoyable time was had by all. I love showing off the wonderful places around here, and it's always fun sharing these things with friends. :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Creatures of the Night: Moths, Leafhoppers, and More

There seems to be an endless parade of creatures who come to my porch light at night, and whenever I step outside and look around, there's pretty much always something new and interesting to see. Here's a selection of some of the awesome creatures (mostly insects) I've met on my porch over the past several days.

I think of leafhoppers and their relatives as primarily daytime creatures, so I'm still always a little surprised when I see these guys under the lights. This Speckled Sharpshooter (Paraulacizes irrorata) is pretty weirdly shaped compared to other leafhoppers I see more commonly around here, but it's also very cool looking -- its bulky head reminds me of a snake:

Two very pretty species of planthoppers have made several appearances as well -- Acanalonia conica:

And its paler, almost ghostly cousin, the Northern Flatid Planthopper (Anormenis chloris):

Every once in a while, I get another glimpse of a Green Stink Bug nymph (Chinavia hilaris), which I first noticed on my porch a couple weeks ago. This one has its sucking mouth part stuck right in the stem of this bean plant -- mmm, plant juices!

Another stink bug, though, I definitely wasn't happy to see:

This guy is a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys), an invasive species introduced from Asia only in the last dozen or so years -- according to the internet, those white bands on its antennae are a good way to distinguish it from similar-looking native species. This is the first time I've seen one of these bugs in Connecticut, but they've been a horrible nuisance for my family in Maryland in the past couple of summers -- they get so numerous that my dad has taken to vacuuming them off the back porch, and they get pretty much everywhere (in windows, in the dog's long fur...). Not to mention the agricultural damage they cause. So yeah, it's not a great situation, and I'm not at all pleased to see them in my yard.

But there have been plenty of other, happier bugs around, too, including several very pretty moths. I'm always amazed at how even all-brown moths can have just the coolest, most intricate patterns. This Adjutant Wainscot (Leucania adjuta) has some pretty awesome stripes when you get up close to it:

Even bolder was this carpet moth (I'm not sure the exact species):

(Update: A kind person on helped identify the above moth as a Toothed Brown Carpet (Xanthorhoe lacustrata).)
And two American Idias (Idia americalis), a darker and a lighter individual, showed off some interesting variations on a striking design:

Finally, I'm not the only one benefiting from the bug-attracting qualities of the light. A few medium-sized spiders have set up webs in the corners around the door, and they seem to pretty much always have something on hand to eat:

I love expanding my knowledge of the huge variety of creatures who pass through our yard, and a porch light is a great way to get some of those creatures to come to me!