Journal archives for March 2017

March 14, 2017

Another Puzzle Piece

To begin I assumed our big streetside elm was an American Elm, not really giving it much thought. Then over the years two people have suggested it was a Red Elm and I began to suspect they were correct. I've never taken a close look at the buds or the flowers or the fruit to confirm which species, until today. After yesterday's snowfall and the windstorm earlier in the week a couple branches snapped off in the high canopy giving me an opportunity to take some macro photos of the buds. Another puzzle piece helping to complete the picture. Comparing photos from a few websites, I'm fairly certain this is an American Elm. The final puzzle pieces will be filled in later this spring: the flowers of the American Elm are stalked, those of the Red Elm are not.

Posted on March 14, 2017 01:31 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 07, 2017

Early Moths and Tornadoes

Yesterday evening, following a day of warm temperatures, the warmest day so far in 2017, a line of thunderstorms swept across the state. In some places the storms also brought the first hail and the first tornadoes. The tornado that touched down near Anna Lake, west of Zimmerman and near several natural areas I visit most summers, was, according to the news, the earliest tornado on record for Minnesota by about two weeks. I later learned that this same tornado, touching down a few miles further north, vacuumed the ice off a section of Little Elk Lake.

After the thunderstorms pushed through Northfield (thankfully no tornadoes here), I collected the first Spring Cankerworm Moth which had landed by the front door light. Always one of the first moths of the year, this is the earliest date I've recorded. Last year the first was observed one day later, on March 8th. In 2015, the first observation was on March 16th. And the year before that, when I was obviously less vigilant, the date I first saw the moth was April 12th (probably not an accurate early date). Only the males of this species have wings. The females are flightless and kind of look like midget walruses.

In the afternoon, I attended a volunteer appreciation meeting for the Wasp Watchers Program, a biosurveillance program for the detection of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. While not an official volunteer to the program, I had submitted an observation after finding a Cerceris fummipennis nest in Northfield which was enough to make the invitation list since it's the wasp being watched. The meeting was held at Hodson Hall on the University of Minnesota St Paul Campus. To start things off, three entomology graduate students shared their 'outreach arthropods' with us—Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, Death-feigning Beetles, Darkling Beetles and larvae, giant millipedes, and a Rose Tarantula, providing lively accompaniment to cookies and coffee. Jennifer Schultz, director of the Wasp Watchers program, led the meeting, summarizing the previous year's results.

After Jennifer's presentation, we visited the U of MN insect collection and met the curator, Robin Thomson. This is a large collection, rows and rows of metal cabinets, nearly floor to ceiling. Each metal cabinet contained many wooden drawers filled with pinned insects. How satisfying to finally visit this collection. Many friends and odonatologists had spent time working here and I had missed several chances to help them. The wonder of looking at the insects in the collection intertwined with nostalgia for those long-ago student days when I spent many many hours in the nearby Entomology Library, around thirty years ago now..

From the U of MN, I drove south to give a slide presentation on wasps and bees and dragonflies to the Red Wing Master Gardeners. Curiously, many of the people were up-in-arms, out-of-sorts, and bent-out-of-shape about the recent discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer in a tree on Barn Bluff. Several people complained about the stupidity and irresponsibility of local residents who must have broken the firewood quarantine and introduced the beetle locally. Of course this was a possibility, but they seemed to forget that these beetles can fly and might have arrived there on their own.

Posted on March 07, 2017 15:46 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 22, 2017

Cold Sunshine

A cold walk. Cold sunshine, wind out of the north, a raw early February feel hardly fit for a spring day, the temperature only a few degrees above freezing.

The small pond in the woods, now nearly clear of ice, has a few migrant ducks sailing the open water—the flashy white of male Buffleheads, the artsy decoy-like shape on Northern Shovelers. It's my first sighting of both of these species this year. They are joined by Canada Geese and Mallards and a single Ring-necked Duck.

In the adjacent woods, a male Cardinal hunches against the cold on a low branch and belts out its song as though it could raise the temperature a few degrees just by singing.

Posted on March 22, 2017 03:59 by scottking scottking | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 13, 2017

Ceiling Runner

After a slow trip home from a day of volleyball, twenty five miles and three inches of new snow, we arrived home after dark. Turning the lights on I catch sight of a small black spider with a white stripe on the living room ceiling. Then I do what all good housekeepers do, I captured it alive, took a few photos, and released it back to the wilds of our living room.

A Parson Spider, a common and recognizable inhabitant in our home, though I have on several occasions encountered it outdoors also. Both its common name and scientific name derive from the shape of the light-colored stripe on its abdomen resembles the fancy necktie, a cravat, worn by eighteenth century clergy.

In its natural habitat this species hides beneath stones and logs. When encountered indoors this ground spider transforms into a notably ceiling runner, a contrarian of sorts. But then, who’s to say they don’t race along upside down on those low ceilings, the underbellies of stones and logs.

Posted on March 13, 2017 03:57 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2017

The First of the Wind Birds

I visited the pond in the afternoon, with the hope of spotting more migrant ducks. Each day this week as I've felt better and better after a recent illness, the weather has gotten worse and worse. Today, a nagging wind out of the southeast but as cold as any wind from the opposite point of the compass, low thick clouds, with rain beginning before I'd finished hiking the loop around the pond. And the temperature stuck in the mid 30s.

All the ducks on the pond are Mallards. A single pair of geese fly in and land, honking and barking as if they thought they might suddenly take possession of the place. As their raucous entry subsides another sound is heard, winging back and forth above the pond a Killdeer, the first of the wind birds encountered this year. Then on the far side of the pond, the second wind bird, a Wilson's Snipe nearly unnoticeable at the edge of the shore. Amazingly, this small lump of a bird (a near match for the clod of mud it is stationed next to) in flight reaches speeds of 60mph.

Here's a passage from Peter Matthiessen's The Wind Birds: Shorebirds of North America, a beautiful introduction to these interesting birds: "The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of wind, as 'wind birds'. "

Posted on March 24, 2017 02:49 by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 10, 2017

"Brightsun Love"

I drove to the local pond where the ice was going off yesterday only to find that it had frozen over anew. So for the second day in a row there were no migrant ducks or shorebirds to see. One of these days. Before leaving I took a photograph of the dried fruit of the Wild Cucumber, resembling to some degree a small pufferfish. One end blown open, it's four large seeds shot and fallen to the earth.

A very pleasant gift arrived in today's mail, a book by Floyce Alexander entitled Sundown, over two hundred pages of selected and new poems. Browsing it I encounter many old favorites and sample several new poems. There can be few poets more human, more personable, more erotic, or more honest than this poet. Especially now, after the cold celibacy of winter, after months of snow fall and thickening ice, these poems are welcome as would be a little of that "brightsun love" he mentions in the poem 'Blood Rivers.'

"Lakes of blood rising high as watertable,
overflowing in early spring, becoming rivers.
Your fingers, your twining legs, your lips and their salt
against the eyes of my closed lids, your brightsun love."
— Floyce Alexander, from the poem 'Blood Rivers'
Posted on March 10, 2017 03:20 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 17, 2017

Two Servings

While it is difficult to do much of anything when one has the flu, I find writing to be particularly difficult when one has no energy. Add to that a fever and medicines and one is lucky to get more than a blurry word or two. A visit to the doctor, today, revealed that I had two servings of sickness: strep throat and the flu. And the thought of missing out on a spring day doubled the misery, even if the weather was rather runny and cold.

Posted on March 17, 2017 02:23 by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2017

Go! . . . Ball! . . .

Today I set off for the wooded pond on a utilitarian endeavor, that is to procure some benthic invertebrates as food for a dragonfly nymph I’m rearing. On my way I walked by the St Olaf ball fields where the college men’s team was practicing. One group repeated an infielder’s drill where a coach shouts “Go!” and two players sprint away, then “Ball!” and the players look back for the thrown baseball and one calls it and makes the catch without breaking stride. For most of the time I’m out I hear these calls repeated. “Go! … Ball! . . . . Go! … Ball!”

At the pond, the first scoop through the shallow water yielded dozens of Phantom Midge larvae or Chaoborus (also widely known as Glassworms). A few more scoops yielded more of the same, but eventually a few other creatures are observed as well: several leeches, a diving beetle, snails, and a damselfly nymph. I collected about a dozen Chaoborus and turned for home.

My first encounter with Chaoborus occurred while in college during a visit to the Trout Lake Research Station in northern Wisconsin. One night, I volunteered to help some biologists sample larval perch. This involved going out well after dark and using a push-net in front of a boat. In addition to the nocturnally active larval perch the nets captured masses of wriggling, clear jelly, a concentration of thousands of Chaoborus. I’d sampled this same lake during the day on numerous occasions and had never seen this insect. I was amazed.

One of the world’s most common insects and yet one of the least observed due to its diurnal migration from sediments during daylight to the surface at night. Right away I admired the scientific name, how the word “chaos” was bundled into it. And I was mesmerized many times watching the springy way the larvae moved, how they would be absolutely still then suddenly coil into something like the letter “C” then just as suddenly straighten back into the long lowercase letter “l” and glide away.

Seven years ago, in 2010, I made the following observation at the same pond on nearly the same date: “I stopped at the edge of the pond to have a look at the welcome sight of open water. After walking and covering a lot of ground, it takes a few minutes for the body and the eyes to adjust to being still. Eventually I begin to see movement in the shallow water, snails, zooplankton, a few small water beetles. And then a procession of phantom midge larvae appear, of course they were there all along, their slender transparent bodies are nearly invisible until betrayed by the pairs of air sacs that look like black segments of an orange located at the front and back of their bodies. They move in a most surprising manner, gliding like tiny pike then spastically they double themselves up and unfold, launching themselves like an arrow on another glide.”
Rice County Odonata Journal: Volume Three (Thistlewords Press, 2013)

Posted on March 31, 2017 02:51 by scottking scottking | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 23, 2017

Crab Spiders

Today, while my daughter had a training session, I had an hour to walk at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage. Because of the weather—cold, overcast, windy—very few people were out and nearly all that were ran dogs in the dog park. I had the trails to myself. A few geese on the lake, a few chickadees in the trees, other than that not much going on. I had to resort to lifting bark.

Examining a small dead tree, still standing but with most of its bark fallen away, I found a Running Crab Spider stuck flat against the inner side of one of the remaining sections of bark, flat as a wall-hanging. Under the bark of fallen tree, I found a bark crab spider. This spider was so cryptic and so flat I wasn't certain it was alive. Small, dark, and stout it resemble, almost, a dog tick.

Running Crab Spiders, family Philodromidae, are recognized by the longest legs being the second pair of legs. The Crab Spiders, family Thomisidae, the first two pairs of legs are of nearly equal length. Spiders from both families have been given the name of crab spiders because their flat bodies and wide-spread appendages resemble the sidling posture and form of ocean crabs.

Posted on March 23, 2017 02:50 by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 25, 2017

Thorny Chalices

Motherwort, a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, is a common plant of shady waste areas, trail edges, farmyards, and other disturbed woody locations. This plant originated in Eurasia and probably was introduced to North America through cultivation because of its reputation as a simple. It is now naturalized here, and often considered an invasive.

The smell of Motherwort, distinctively more astringent than the more pleasant mints, brings to mind vivid images of the lane and pasture and feed lot around our family's small dairy barn. Despite its prevalence then, I did not know the name of this plant until recent years. Where I live now, it is noteworthy as being among the first green leaves one sees every spring.

Today I took a close look at the dried, overwintered remains of the flowering plant. Each calyx, after the flower is gone, resembles a thorny chalice (the five spines a sharp abstraction of the five-petalled flowers). Inside each calyx are four nutlets containing each a single seed. The nutlets are obpyramidal in shape, two millimeters in length, with a pubescent top. No doubt these spiny constructions are meant to catch in animal fur and disperse their seeds when and where they drop off their carrier. Equally obvious is the success of said design given the world-wide distribution of this plant.

Posted on March 25, 2017 02:52 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment