I’ve been watching wood frogs at a local-to-me vernal pool for more than a week now, hearing the males “quack” and watching the females arrive, observing amplexus (male frogs mounted on top of egg-laying females, fertilizing said eggs), counting egg masses. But I wasn’t seeing any signs of the other amphibian species that usually return here in the spring: spotted salamanders or spring peepers. All that changed last night.
It started raining at about 6pm, and continued most of the night. Temperatures hovered around 45 throughout. At 9pm, I recruited a few accommodating family members, hiked over to the pond, and steeped smack into the biggest Big Night of our lives.
We saw at least a dozen spotted salamanders wiggle-walking toward the pond, or already in it.
We heard (but didn’t see) our first peepers of the season.
We even observed wood frogs leaving the pool, hopping back to the woods.
Sometimes the world feels overwhelming in really hard ways, and sometimes it feels overwhelming in really good ways. The trick, I remembered last night, is to keep our eyes open for both.
On Friday I led a group of citizen scientists out into a gorgeous milkweed meadow, where we hunted for ladybugs. In a short walk that involved no sweep nets (we didn’t want to whack all the beautiful, about-to-pop blooms off the milkweed), we recorded four species of ladybugs: ursine anthill ladybug (Brachiacantha ursine), polished ladybug (Cycloneda mundi), seven-spotted ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), and multi-colored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridris).
Because we didn’t collect specimens but, rather, recorded them photographically as we hiked, our numbers of individuals within a species are not precise. There was a single mating pair of ursines (see photo), one individual polished, and one individual seven-spotted. My best guess is that we spotted at least five Asian ladybugs, but I can’t be sure we didn’t recount the same individual.
Anyway, it was a great afternoon in the sunshine, celebrating insects that live in our neck of the woods. For more information on ladybug citizen science, or to view ladybugs we and others have found over the years, click on over to the Lost Ladybug Project website.
It’s finally gardening season here in the northeastern US, and one of my favorite spring rituals has begun: watching for interesting plants that sprout up unannounced in my garden beds. Gardeners call these plants volunteers. Every year, volunteers show up in places I didn’t put them and don’t expect them to be. Sometimes they’re weeds whose seeds blew in from somewhere else in the neighborhood. Sometimes they’re plants I grew last season that managed to spread their seeds willy-nilly around the garden before I noticed. No matter how they arrived, they never disappoint.
This year, I’m particularly blessed with volunteer dill. Lots and lots and lots of it. I’m talking about a forest of dill. Which is cool, because I like dill. I’ll be chopping it and sprinkling it on salads and soups all summer long. And I’ll dry some to sprinkle all winter, too. But the real reason the forest of dill thrills me? Some of my favorite butterflies adore it.
Late yesterday afternoon, my daughter and I spotted our first-of-the-year Eastern black swallowtail in the garden. It was female, and she was flying low over a patch of dill seedlings. We saw her alight here and there, a few milliseconds at a time. We tried to get a picture, but she didn’t stay still long enough for that. We had a good idea why she might be touching down so regularly, though. We watched and waited. Once she’d flown out of the garden for good, we got down on our hands and knees in the dill. And sure enough …
Do you see it? The yellow orb in the middle of the photo? That gift, for me, is the real joy of this year’s volunteer dill plants: I’ve got myself a nursery of Eastern black swallowtail butterfly eggs, right in the back yard! Let’s spend the next few months watching them, shall we?
This gorgeous pink-spotted ladybug (Coleomegilla maculata) is the most recent species recorded in my vegetable garden, and it brings my 2016 species tally to five. This summer has been super full, though, and to be honest, all the ladybugs I’ve spotted have been by chance, while weeding or harvesting or doing other chores in the garden. There just hasn’t been time for a day in the meadow with my sweep net and a collecting jar and high ladybug hopes.
I’ve decided to change that by taking my very first social media vacation. A smacation, if you will.
I plan to spend the next few months writing, and gardening, and hanging out with my family. But I also plan to pull out my sweep net and see what ladybugs are living in our milkweed meadow these days. Things will be quieter than usual here on my blog, and on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages … but I’ll be back soon. With any luck, I’ll have some new ladybug photos to share.
This butterfly spent an hour fluttering around my garden last week. It’s certainly a duskywing, but to tell exactly which kind (Juvenal’s? Horace’s?) I’d need to get a closer look at parts of the wing I didn’t study when I had the chance. Drats.
This past weekend we set out our bird feeders; I’ve been staring out windows ever since. The usual fellows are visiting: tufted titmice, chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers. And white-breasted nuthatches, like the one in the image above. I’ve always loved the tidy nuthatches, so sharp-looking in their crisp gray and black feathers. But on Saturday, I spotted a pair that didn’t look quite right to me. They were scruffier than usual. Buffier in the breast. Wearing strange eye patches. Wait a second …
I’ve not seen red-breasted nuts at my home feeders in more than fifteen years of watching. We’ve not added a new-to-us species to our birding journal since this sharp-shinned hawk stopped by last year. And I’ve not felt so grateful for a bird since this little brown creeper cheered up the winter of 2010.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary in life,” Rachel Carson once said. This weekend, her words rang truer than ever.
I hiked through my local MassAudubon Sanctuary this week and came across this guy snacking in the middle of a trail. I took some pictures, sure he’d take off as soon as he heard the shutter click. When he didn’t, I moved in closer, shooting all the while.
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
“Are you deaf?”
Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
What choice was there? I took the long way back to the car.
There was an eighteen-inch Eastern garter snake hanging out in my yard over the weekend, bringing the total number of snake species recorded here at the new Burns homestead to two. (Remember this guy?)
In other news, there is a Great horned owl hanging out somewhere nearby. I’ve heard him two out of the last three nights. Sorta makes a girl want to head outside and look for pellets …