Category Archives: Animals

Animals

Vosburgh Swamp (NY DEC) 25 April 2015

Vosburgh Swamp is a Wildlife Management Area administered by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation [NY DEC] and the entrance is literally within stone-throwing distance of the right/west bank of the River Hudson, just north of Athens, NY.

The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp
The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp

I first found out about Vosburgh from the 1981 book, ‘Where to Find Birds in New York State’, by Susan Roney Drennan and published by the Syracuse University Press.  The book had been in print for over 20 years when I bought a copy at exactly half of its then-$25 cover charge, but despite it being ‘long in the tooth’ I got a great bargain!

In the book, the location is referred to as Vosburgh’s Marsh and was described back then as being “entirely on private land” and that “there [was] really no public access to the area.” Clearly, the change of ownership since that time is just one more thing for which we should thank the NY DEC. (See my recent post about Five Rivers, for example.)

EWr-T3i-150425-001_TreeBud_(600px)©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

It also states that the marsh/swamp “is an especially good place to bird in spring, when one can see and hear Great Blue, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons, Least and American Bitterns, a large variety of duck species, several rail species, Marsh Wrens, and marsh-breeding sparrow species.”

Perhaps surprisingly, virtually none of the bird species listed above were evident but I would certainly anticipate seeing and photographing at least some of them within the next few weeks.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

One migrant that was very visible during my latest visit, though, was the Palm Warbler, always an enjoyable bird to watch as it returns north each year.

This was my first visit back to the swamp since all of the ice and snow melted in March and early April, and now, of course, spring is starting to show itself, especially in the form of tree buds.

Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

A few Rue Anemones were in flower, some with their green leaves still unfurling despite the flowers being wide open.  A good clue to their identity is the three-lobed tip of each leaf.

During the walk, I saw my first Spring Azure butterfly of the year (but not close enough or static enough to get a shot of).  I did, however, manage to get a shot of a tiny, fast-flying micro moth that was considerate enough to pause for just a few seconds, within range of my lens.

A micro moth
A micro moth

As much for fun and a challenge as for the potential images, I also enjoy photographing the insects that Americans call water striders and the British call pond skaters. The ones I found at Vosburgh were members of the Gerris genus (of which there are about 20 species in North America).  The one in question had what appeared to be an olive- or green-coloured thorax but beyond that fact I have no idea of its precise identification. (Anyone who can put me right, please submit a comment, and the same request applies to the above photo of the micro moth, too.)

A Gerris sp. 'Water Strider' with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby
A Gerris sp. ‘Water Strider’ with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby

Water striders, being insects, have three pairs of legs although from a distance it looks like just two pairs.  The front pair are kept tucked up, beside the head, almost praying mantis like, and as this pose suggests they are used to grab and hold the smaller insects that form the striders’ prey. The middle pair of legs are used to ‘row’ the strider along and the hind pair are used to steer.  The speed at which they can catapult themselves forwards and change direction has to be seen to be believed.

A 'Water Strider' (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus
A ‘Water Strider’ (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus rubbing it’s 2nd and 3rd right legs together.  Was it cleaning them?  Or maybe it was performing some type of ‘stridulation’ to send a vibrating message across the surface of the water.  Does anyone know the answer?

Also present in some of my Water Strider photographs were what appeared to be dark grey springtails (Collembola sp.), which are hexapods, not insects.

Photographically-speaking, I am also getting more used to the Canon            equipment I’ve recently added to my armoury: A 7D Mk2 camera together with the newly redesigned 100mm-400mm zoom lens and a 180mm macro lens, all of which are performing brilliantly.

Tree Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To end my afternoon at Vosburgh, I couldn’t resist a shot of a rather pleasing reflection of trees.

Eddie

Dastardly Deeds on the Delaware River?

THE MYSTERY OF THE DEPOSIT DEPOSIT!

A few days ago, I met up with my Swedish fly fishing buddy Peter Bjorkman, at Deposit, New York, for a day’s fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware River.  On this occasion, though, I had left my own rods at home and took my cameras, instead.

After a morning fruitlessly ‘swinging a streamer’, Peter switched to one of my own favourite techniques, that of ‘Czech nymphing’, and started to have success.

The 'scene of the crime' - The West Branch of the Delaware River, at Deposit, NY. All of the bodies were in the bottom-right corner of the photo!
The ‘scene of the crime’ – The West Branch of the Delaware River, at Deposit, NY. All of the bodies were in the bottom-right corner of the photo!

In the meanwhile, I was moving along the bank and occasionally in the shallow edges of the river, and while doing so I spotted the waterlogged body of what appeared to be a cormorant, floating among grasses.

The neck and skull ow what I believe to be a cormorant were bare bone but, as shown here, the body and feathers were just below the surface
The neck and skull ow what I believe to be a cormorant were bare bone but, as shown here, the body and feathers were just below the surface

Having gone closer, to take a look, I then found an equally sodden duck’s wing nearby.  And then some relatively dry, breast feathers from a lighter coloured bird — possibly also a duck.

The green 'speculum' on the dead duck's wing
The green ‘speculum’ on the dead duck’s wing

All of this was in an area no more than 12 feet in length, and it seemed too much to be coincidence.

Feathers, apparently from a third 'victim'
Feathers, apparently from a third ‘victim’

I changed my search and started looking for signs of a perpetrator, and almost immediately I got what I presumed was a result.  On a rock a few feet out into the water was some scat (about 1½ inches in length).

“That’s not otter,” I thought (though I’m only aware of what Eurasian otter scat looks like, not their American cousins, and I merely presumed it would be similar).

Scat on a prominent rock - typical behaviour for riverside hunters
Scat on a prominent rock – typical behaviour for riverside hunters

“Maybe it’s mink,” seemed like a reasonable conclusion, so I took photographs of all the bits of the various birds and of the scat, so that I could check my animal tracking books when back home.

My sleuthing didn’t pay off though, because according to my books the scat looked absolutely nothing like that of otters or mink, or of any other riverside predator I could think of.  If anything, it looked most like that of the humble musk rat — to my knowledge not a creature that’s likely to be inclined or able to kill and eat large birds.

If any reader happens to belong to that elite group of people who can recognise creatures by their after-dinner deposits, could you kindly let me know what the scat might have belonged to and thereby hopefully solve the question as to whether this was likely to have been murder most ‘fowl’ (sorry!) or simply a coincidental gathering of body parts.

Peter with a beautiful, very light coloured Brown Trout (which was immediately returned to the water, unharmed - 'catch-and-release' fishing)
Peter with a beautiful, very light coloured Brown Trout (which was immediately returned to the water, unharmed – ‘catch-and-release’ fishing)

And as for my friend Peter, he just kept on fishing, not at all interested in whether or not I had discovered the crime of the century. (And I can’t say that I blame him really!)    {;-)

Renewing acquaintance with the excellent Five Rivers NYS DEC wildlife preserve

Back in 2012, while living in Albany, I was able to visit the Five Rivers EEC/preserve several times and came to like it greatly, so now that we are back in the Capital District I’ll be renewing my acquaintance with this delightful location.

One of Five Rivers’ greatest advantages is its broad mix of environments – from grasslands and scrub, to pine and deciduous woodlands, the seeps and streams, and – last but by no means least – a variety of ponds.

My first photo, here, is simply a snapshot that I took with my cell phone to use on Twitter, and it’s a view of one of a cluster of the smaller ponds – a great place for Belted Kingfishers and Green Heron.

Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve - April 2015
Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve – April 2015

At the above pond, a large Snapping Turtle was basking on the sloping bank until a couple of people nearby spooked it and it launched itself back into the water with a tremendous splash.  Plenty of Eastern Painted Turtles were out basking, as well, but a gaudy interloper in the next photo looks to me like an entirely different species (unless it is just in mating colours).  It’s front legs had yellow stripes on a blackish background. It eventually gave up trying to get onto the ‘sun deck’ and slipped back into the water, so I never got a look at its upper side.  Can anyone help me identify it for certain, please?  My books aren’t helping!

Eastern painted Turtles basking, but what's the one that's pushing in?

Moving on from amphibians to reptiles, the only snake I saw was a tiny, 7-inch-long juvenile Garter Snake, and he was too far under a thorny bush for me to want to go crawling after his portrait!

A dead oak literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers - April 2015
A dead oak leaf,  literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers – April 2015

For those with botanical interests, all was visibly starting to stir.  There were still a few dead leaves left on some branches but there were also plenty buds in various stages of development and – for me – the first flowers of spring: the delightful Coltsfoot.  (Yes, I know that sadly this is one of many introduced species, here in North America but for giving us the first bright glow of spring, I still can’t resist it.)

So who can resist or ignore the sights and sounds of spring?

Bud Light!
Bud Light!

 

Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers - April 2015
Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers – April 2015

On slower sections of the streams and in among dead cattails on the ponds, Water Striders were busy whizzing around, looking for other insects trapped in the surface layer.  These fascinating creatures of the genus Gerris use their short front legs to grab prey, their middle pair of legs to ‘row’ at great speed, and their back legs to steer.  If you want a lesson in patience and frustration, try getting a sharp, close-up photo of them!

A 'Gerris' species of Water Strider - insects that we Brits refer to as 'Pond Skaters'
A ‘Gerris’ species of Water Strider – insects that we Brits refer to as ‘Pond Skaters’. Five Rivers.

 

 

The last photo I’m posting here is of another creature that often will not stop still long enough to have its photograph taken, but this time it’s the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) a tiny (4¼-inch) bird which, along with its North American cousin the Golden-crowned Kinglet, is closely related to the very similar Firecrests and Goldcrests in Europe, in the same genus.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers - April 2015
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers – April 2015

 

Here the ‘ruby crown’ is deliberately hidden away by drabber feathers on the top of its head, but when it has cause to display, just watch the dramatic change!

As for Five Rivers, I’ll be back… as often as I can!

Eddie Wren

Spring’s Top 10 Wildlife Spectacles in the USA (The Nature Conservancy)

“Looking for an excuse for a road trip, or maybe just an afternoon at a local park? Here are ten top must-see natural spectacles that you can catch each spring….”

Eddie adds:  The good news is that events in at least three of the ten categories (four, if you are a fly fisherman) happen here each year in the North East USA, so check out the suggestions in the above link, from The Nature Conservancy!

The world is losing bees at an alarming rate. What will happen if they go extinct?

Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list. They are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.

That’s only the start. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. Which means a world without bees could struggle to sustain the global human population of 7 billion. Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables.

It gets worse. We are losing bees at an alarming rate….

To read the full article and view a video from the BBC, click on this sentence.

Dragonflies — Demonic to their Prey but Delightful to the Eye

Make no mistake, if you were a flying insect dragonflies would represent a brutal threat to your existence, and in earlier stages of life, dragonfly nymphs — in their months or years underwater — make the ‘Aliens’ of movie-fame look like wimps!

Go back in time and they were even more fearsome. Meganeuropsis permiana, which was related to the present-day dragonflies, had an estimated wingspan of almost 28 inches, and this is the length of a big man’s arm, all the way from armpit to outstretched fingertips.  As its species name shows, Meganeuropsis lived in the Permian era, and the fossils showing its size were found at Elmo, Kansas.

The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon).  Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon). Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Many people may see butterflies as being more attractive than dragonflies — although some of us would disagree with that — but when it comes to evolutionary excellence the dragonfly is surely a candidate to be the king of the insect world.  Their eyesight is astonishing and their flying abilities must surely leave helicopter and fighter pilots envious!

Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Dragonflies (Anisoptera) and their cousins the damselflies (Zygoptera) together form an order of carnivorous insects called the Odonata (a.k.a. odonates, or simply ‘odes’ in everyday conversation).

Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Philip Corbet & Stephen Brook, in their ‘New Naturalist’ series book, ‘Dragonflies,’ (2008, UK), go one step further in recognising the amazing hunting skills of dragonflies when they suggest that true Anisopterans perhaps should be known as ‘warrior flies’.

Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

To quote the British Dragonfly Society[BDS], “Dragonflies are good indicators of the health of a habitat, so any variation in distribution or population size can indicate changes on a wider environmental scale.”  And in this day and age, that aspect alone is a serious reason for us taking interest.

Here on the west side of the Atalantic, there are a couple of key organizations:

  • The Dragonfly Society of the Americas [DSA] was organized during 1988 by several US Odonatists. Its purposes are to encourage scientific research, habitat preservation and the aesthetic enjoyment of Odonata;
  • The Xerces Society — nothing to do with Persian kings! — exists for the conservation of all invertebrates, odonates included.

In addition, and with strong support from both of the above, there is the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership [MDP], and as soon as time permits, I will be adding another page on this blog about the MDP ‘citizen science’ training day I attended (and greatly enjoyed) in New York State, in April 2014.

Female Calico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Female Callico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Last but by no means least, there is Odonata Central, an excellent resource for anyone wishing to identify dragonflies or damselflies that they have encountered.

Eddie Wren

 

Salamanders — tiny predators doing good things for the planet!

My father-in-law Bob kindly saved an article from yesterday’s Buffalo News for me, under the heading of ‘Peewee predators’.  (Science Page [page H6], Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014).

It originated from the New York Times and focuses on recent research which rather surprisingly describes how useful salamanders are at helping to combat greenhouse gasses!  Who would have thought it!

Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]
Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]
By far the best write-up on salamanders that I have ever encountered is spread through what is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the very best natural history books I have ever read, namely The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, in Tennessee.

One small excerpt rather dramatically covers the ‘peewee predator’ aspect mentioned above, as follows: “Salamanders are the sharks of the leaf litter, cruising the waters and devouring smaller invertabrate animals.  Evolution has discarded Plethodon’s lungs to make its mouth a more effective snare.  By eliminating the windpipe and breathing through its skin, the slamander frees its maw to wrestle prey without pause for breath.”

Last but by no means least, I’m going to mention the Woods, Walks and Wildlife blog I came across, from Connecticut, which includes some really pleasing photographs of red-spotted newts and efts (the same species at different stages of life).  Check it out!

Eddie

21 April, 2014