Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Quick Lesson in Botany

Plants have a wonderful, predictable progression each spring and summer, and we love watching them cycle through their growing season. When you get down to the nitty gritty, it's all biology, which obviously appeals to me, as a biologist. Unfortunately, I'm not the botanist in the family, so you're stuck with my rudimentary understanding of the plant world.

Arrowwood ViburnumNew growth on the Arrowwood viburnum.

Early in the season, we see lots of new vegetative growth in our garden. Leaves emerge and stems elongate as the plants turn simple, abundant resources (sun and water) into energy.

Arrowwood ViburnumThe flower of the Arrowwood viburnum.

Soon we see flower buds and ultimately, flowers. Lots of flowers. With the flowers we see lots of insects, those that pollinate these plants. Lots of butterflies, bees, and wasps., and other unidentified critters. Also, if you look close at the above flower photo, you'll notice the leaves don't look so hot. Caterpillars and other larvae eat the leaves (in this case, it's a beetle that relies solely on viburnum: the Viburnum Leaf Beetle).

Flowers, of course, are for more than our enjoyment to observe, both by visual beauty and scent. The pollinators are attracted to do a job: transfer pollen to other members of the species to produce fruits. And, ultimately, the plants do produce fruit.

Lowbush BlueberryA surprise: we didn't really expect to get any fruits on our Lowbush Blueberry this year!
Because it's a new to our garden we figured it would take a year for the plant to settle in.

Of course, fruits are more than something tasty to snack on. The fruits are high in lipids (fats), which provide energy to any organism that eats them. We keep this in mind, but mostly we just enjoy the taste of freshly picked blueberries.

ServiceberryThe fruits of Serviceberry, or Shadblow (so named because the flowers emerge when
the shad are running). These fruits are among the most sought after berries for birds.

Birds and mammals in particular benefit from these offerings. Birds, for example, need these high-energy foods to gear up for a long migration to their wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean, or Central and South America.

And herein lies the beauty, the interconnectedness, the spiritualness. The seeds, contained within the fruits, are indigestible, so the animals that ate the fruit essentially plant new seeds when they pass through their digestive system. New plants emerge next year, producing new leaves and stems, and the cycle continues.

The cycle is complete, and upon completion, complete beauty.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Camping Trip - Stony Brook State Park

This weekend was Donna's birthday, and she let it be known months ago she wanted a weekend camping out. Since it was Reina's first camping trip we decided on an easy one: car camping at a nearby state park where we could bring more "stuff" than we usually would and we could bail if we absolutely had to. Thankfully, Reina loved every minute of it, and we had a great weekend at Stony Brook State Park near Dansville, NY.

The Gorge Trail allows plenty of opportunities to wade in the shallow creek.

True to its name, the park surrounds a stony brook, one that has been carving out its path for millenia. The resulting gorge is narrow, shaded and cool with step sides, and very tranquil. The campground is at the south end of the park, at the north end you find a "recreation area" with lots of picnic tables, a swimming hole, tennis courts, a small store with knick-knacks and ice cream, and the granddaddy of all playgrounds. The south and north ends are connected by two trails, either along the gorge, or an upland trail above the gorge.

Turkey Vultures soared high above the gorge, quickly appearing and disappearing
from the small window of sky we could see from the bottom of the gorge.

Breeding birds, with the obvious exception of the vultures, were fairly vocal. A Louisiana Waterthrush patrolled the creek below our campsite, his slurred whistled serenaded us from sun-up to sun-down. We also watched a Belted Kingfisher fish from time to time while listening to Eastern Wood-peewees, Black-throated Green Warblers, and American Robins. Along the trail to the playground we found an Eastern Phoebe hunting above the creek.

One of several stunning waterfalls with a very swimmable pool below.
There seemed to be a new one around every bend in the trail.

Although the campground was packed, we thankfully had the trail mostly to ourselves. A gorge is a narrow place, and even a couple other families or hikers would have made it seem crowded. We took our time on our walk, taking in the sounds of the brook as it continued to cut its way through the gorge.

Although the ambiance at brook-level was peaceful and picturesque,
the tall, layered walls of the gorge continually drew your eyes upward.

We didn't find many signs of animal life on the walk, though we weren't really looking. We simply enjoyed being able to explore the various features of the gorge through the eyes of a three-year old, who mostly liked splashing in the water. Admittedly, that is a lot of fun.

A Red Admiral poses on a flower-free stretch of the rocky path. There
must have been something attractive (minerals?), as it stayed put for several minutes.

Of the few animals we did see, we noticed a theme of black/white/orange coloration.

Not a typical spot to find a Blackburnian Warbler in the breeding season. Usually they're
high in the tops of evergreen trees, not bouncing along the rocks on a roadside ditch.

We will certainly be returning to Stony Brook for future trips, but we'll also be checking out new places nearby. Stay tuned for updates of our travels, whether camping or otherwise.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pleased to Meet You, HopeYou Guess My Name

One of the first things I did when I returned from my whirlwind trip to Arkansas was take a stroll around the yard to see what had changed. The very first thing, after a few minutes of reassuring the cats that I was home and I'd never leave them again (until next time), was to open up all the windows to get some fresh air blowing in the house. Then I headed to the yard.

Most everything looked just like we'd left it but more lush and green, lots of new growth. Except the Arrowwoods. In fact, the two Viburnum dentatum we planted last year looked horrible: nearly every leaf had been skeletonized, with only the leaf veins still intact. And the culprit was obvious, there were little caterpillar-looking things all over them. What in the world were these things? Nothing like I'd seen before. To the Internet!

New "growth" on the Viburnum wasn't looking too well. There is a caterpillar of
some sort stretching down from the webby-looking leaf on the left, but the more
numerous bodies were those of the fleshy thing on the leaf at the bottom-left.

A quick search on "viburnum" and "pest" brought up a Cornell University Department of Horticulture web site that introduced me to Pyrrhalta vibruni, aka the "Viburnum Leaf Beetle." Or, now that we're familiar, VLBs.

A second-instar larvae of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. Based on most
of the other leaves on the plant, this one is just getting started.

These little buggers are non-native and invasive, typically killing a plant in just two seasons. I learned that they go for a two-pronged attack: first the larvae devastate the plant, in our area usually between late-April and mid-June. Then, after pupating the soil just below the plant, the adults emerge to continue devouring the plant during late June - October (or whenever a killing frost kicks in).

I spent three hours picking off every last one I could find and feeding them all to the catfish in our pond (don't know if they ate them, but they were interested). Since we are adamantly against spraying insecticides, or -cides of any sort, and other devices like traps are indiscriminate in what they kill, I'm hoping to take care of them biologically. Ladybird beetles and soldier beetles, apparently, prey on the larvae and adults, respectively, so I'm hoping they take advantage as they can. Because ideal pupation conditions are not too dry and not too wet I plan on drenching the soil below the plants as often as I can, hopefully making conditions less favorable for survival of the pupae. With luck, we won't see as many adults around as we might have.

A terrible photo, but you can see the larvae as they do their
damage on the emerging flower buds as well as on the leaf.

Of course, all I'm probably doing is selecting for the larvae that hide the best and the pupae that are the most hydro tolerant. Sigh. More updates as the summer progresses.

Post title credit: Sympathy for the Devil (1968), The Rolling Stones

Friday, June 1, 2007

What is your Power Bird?

I found a brief quiz on the web that tells you your "Power Bird" (via CyberThrush at Ivory-bills LiVE!!). Answer a few not-so-simple questions and they present your Power Bird. My result:

Your Power Bird is a Cardinal

You believe that each day is precious, and you spend your times as best as you can.
You see the wonder in small things, and you are often content with what you have.
You live an interesting, colorful life - and you bring color to those around you.
Confident and expressive, you believe you know how to live a good life. You're living it!

The funny thing, as in "strange," not "ha, ha," is that my daughter (who is three) pegged this months ago. During the Project FeederWatch season she would sit next to me with her binoculars around her neck, a notepad in one hand and pencil in the other, and watch with me. Every time a cardinal flew in she'd jump up, drop everything in her hands, and yell, "Daddy! It's your favorite!"

I have never considered cardinals my "favorite," but I'd humor her, "Yeah! Cardinal at the feeder! Whoo-hoo!" My excitement was genuine, but purposely misplaced: I was excited she could identify a cardinal (she already knows her common feeder birds, now we're gearing up to work on those "confusing fall warblers").

Two things to mention: I don't really have a favorite bird. With a gun to my head I could probably pick one, but there are just too many interesting things about each species it's impossible to select one over the others. Also, the summary of my Power Bird seems pretty accurate, at least I like to think. I'm just glad an external source, outside of my own head, recognizes it!

Locations of visitors to this page