Monday, June 30, 2014

Cute Blob Monsters!?

I was moving some plants around on my porch yesterday when I noticed these weird blobby things on a small leaf. What in the world??

OK, so despite what appear to be puppy-like eyes and noses, I guessed these weren't actually tiny blob monsters. Since I didn't see any legs or movement, I figured these things were probably eggs of some sort. And indeed, after a little online searching, these "creatures" turn out to be the eggs of a Leaf-footed Bug, probably the species Acanthocephala terminalis, which I see around the yard pretty frequently. From some angles, you can even just make out the little bug nymphs all folded up inside the eggs:

Well that was an unexpected and delightful discovery! Insects never cease to amaze.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Monarch on the Sand, Punky Cedar Waxwing, and More

I saw my first Monarch butterfly of the year yesterday morning on the beach at Silver Sands State Park. And I do mean on the beach. I would've expected to see this creature on the milkweed plants that were blooming just a little ways away, but instead it was sucking up what must have been some good nutrients in the damp sand:

I'm always glad to see a Monarch, especially since this species' numbers have been declining steeply in recent years. And what a treat to see such vivid color on the beach (and from something other than washed-up garbage):

The clouds over the Long Island Sound were super dramatic pretty much all morning, with so many different layers and shapes and shades happening at once:

My iPhone's panoramic mode was able to capture some of the epic-ness of this scenery, and I think the result looks pretty cool (even if it's still not quite the same as being there, and the beach comes out all weird and curvy):

Two Willets were hanging around in the marsh (maybe working on a nest?). These medium-sized shorebirds are quite attractive with all their subtly barred feathers:

But their most distinctive features are their dramatic black-and-white wings. It's so cool to see these guys fly through the marsh:

A mother Mallard was shepherding her sizable brood of teenaged babies at the shore:

That duckling on the left looks smaller than all the others.... I wonder if it could've somehow joined this group from another clutch? Hmm.

Immature Herring Gulls were all over the beach. They're not the most handsome birds with their mottled plain-brown costumes, but they do cut some very impressive figures in flight:

Among all the handsome birds we have around here, not many do it better than Cedar Waxwings. These guys are just beyond sleek:

I don't actually know what's going on in this next picture, but what a pose! Cedar Waxwing, you are just cool:

 (The pose in this picture actually reminds me of the time I saw a Northern Mockingbird spitting out seeds. Maybe that's what's going on here, or maybe the waxwing is just being extra punky and/or action-hero-ish. Either way works for me!)

Hooray for beautiful and interesting creatures!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Some Assorted Garden Residents

Whenever I can remember to do it, I like to bring my camera with me out to the garden. There's always something interesting hanging around, and so many of these little creatures are just amazing when you look at them up close. Here's a small sampling of the creatures I've met in my garden over the past couple of weeks!

Cabbage White butterflies (an introduced species) are basically always hanging around, especially with all the cabbage-family plants I'm growing this year. These butterflies are quite pretty, but their progeny would quickly eat all my kale if I didn't regularly pick them off:

Here's said progeny on said kale, just before removal; tiny ridged eggs:

And fat fuzzy caterpillars:

Sorry guys, you're not allowed here; I want to eat some of the kale, too.

Several of these small and intricately-costumed cobweb spiders (possibly Theridion frondeum) have shown up under the kale leaves as well, and I'm happy to have them stay:

Another spider species currently maintaining webs in several spots in my garden, however, takes the prize for most beautiful arachnid. I can't get over the colorful mosaic on the underside of this Orchard Orbweaver (Leucauge venusta):

I thought at first that this visiting butterfly was a Silver-spotted Skipper (a common species around here), but it turns out to be another skipper entirely, a Hoary Edge (Achalarus lyciades):

That white patch extending to the edge of the hind wing is a distinguishing feature for this species. Cool! Thanks for stopping by, new-to-me butterfly.

This Ornate Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus ornatus) lit up a recent cloudy day with its shiny gold costume, and it did a pretty convincing wasp impression when it flew:

A couple of these funny-looking treehoppers (genus Ceresa) have been prowling around on the pea plants. Nice eyes and horns, little bug!

When I was out in the garden about a week ago, a couple of bold Black-capped Chickadees came right down to pluck bits of twine from the pea trellis. Of course I didn't have my telephoto lens with me, so even though they were just feet away, a wider photo will have to do:

I guess they were building a nest, and I'm happy to contribute materials!

Finally, I think this little Greater Angle-wing Katydid (Microcentrum rhombifolium) nymph hatched from the eggs on my porch while I wasn't looking. I often see these creatures in our yard in the summer, but I've never seen one so young before. What a lovely and delicate little thing, with antennae so long they won't even fit in the frame:

I'll keep watching for other interesting local creatures as the summer continues. It's a lot of fun to see who's living in your yard!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Piping Plover Babies!

Thursday afternoon's visit to Silver Sands State Park featured a special sight indeed. When I checked on the Piping Plover pair and their nest just east of the park, I was excited to see that their eggs have successfully hatched! So along with the two adults, there were four tiny baby plovers running around on the beach! Here's Dad, looking handsome as usual, with one of the new arrivals in the foreground:

I loooooove these little guys! It was such a treat to watch them scuttle around across the sand:

Hello baby plover, with your little cotton-ball body and tooth-pick legs:
Adorable as these guys are from the front, I think they might be even cuter from behind! Look at that little tail!

Plover chicks are precocial -- isn't that just the coolest word? -- which means that (like baby chickens, ducks, geese, etc., but unlike, say, robins) they're up walking and foraging for themselves almost as soon as they hatch. (I also just love how much "precocial" sounds like "precocious," which is absolutely a fitting description for these little guys.) These four babies were certainly handling themselves well, motoring around from spot to spot:

And snatching up food from the sand, just like Mom and Dad:

But even though these chicks were running around and feeding themselves, they still ran back to Mom every few minutes for some cuddle time:

Oof, four babies is a lot to fit under you!

There we go, all tucked in (more or less):

I read recently that only about 50 Piping Plover pairs are currently nesting in all of Connecticut (roughly the same number as in recent years). I'm so happy this plover family has made it to the hatching stage, and I just hope all four of these chicks grow up safely. Stay close to your parents, guys, and hopefully you'll be fine!

Here are a few other sights from my visit to the beach. The Killdeer pair is still tending eggs, but these babies should also be along soon:

A Fish Crow sat long enough for a quick portrait:

And some Glossy Ibises looked spectacularly rusty in the very last light from the setting sun:

What a great beach day!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Windy Day Beach Birds

When I visited Silver Sands State Park yesterday afternoon, thick gray clouds were threatening rain and the wind was strong enough to work up lots of waves. I don't usually get to see the shore like this!

The Piping Plovers were still sitting on their nest near the park. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there will be little plover chicks wandering the beach in the coming weeks!

A Great Egret was hunting in the shallow water close to shore. I've been looking at a lot of pictures from my friend's wedding recently, and I can't help seeing a white gown in this bird's shape:

Also, it turns out that egrets look absolutely ridiculous from the front (although they're still elegant from the neck down):

Finally, while no Piping Plovers have set up nests in the specially fenced-off area of the park's beach, at least someone's taking advantage of this space: a Killdeer pair!

These birds (another plover species) don't blend in with the sand quite as well as the smaller Piping Plovers do, but they seemed pretty secure in their exclusive spot:

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Killdeer chicks as well! Yay, eggs on the beach.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pennsylvania Pit Stop

On Saturday, Paul and I were driving through Pennsylvania on our way back from visiting the place we'll be moving to in August (hint: it's on the other side of Pennsylvania) and we decided to break up our trip with a short walk in the woods. So we stopped at Ricketts Glen State Park, where we found deep old-growth forests, lovely waterfalls, and several cool creatures along the path, including this adorable little Red Eft (photo courtesy of Paul):

Also trundling along the path was this astonishingly large millipede (probably Narceus americanus):

I'm guessing I haven't ever lived within this creatures' range, because I'm sure I would've remembered meeting such a monster in the woods before. And here I thought giant millipedes were tropical things! Of course, after I picked this creature up, I read that it can secrete a fluid that discolors and/or irritates human skin when threatened. Well, we both parted ways unscathed, and I'm certainly glad I got to admire this millipede up close. Look at all those wavy legs! (Again, this next photo is courtesy of Paul.)

At one point on our walk, the liquid calls of several Veeries rang out all around us. These birds are quite handsome with their tawny spotted throats, and their song is amazing. I have no idea why I didn't try to record a video of this fellow, who was obligingly performing right above our heads:

As it turns out, I'm fine with a whole day of driving, as long as there's a rejuvenating woods walk in the middle!