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!