Tag Archives: nature

June in the Daks, part 2

Daks: Paul Smith VC Lake

daksThe Adirondacks is more than birds. It’s also dragonflies and butterflies. I was very excited to see some “life” leps and odes (my terms for Lepidoptera and Odonata) on my NJ Audubon trip to the Daks. The first odonate we saw were Ebony Jewelwings, Calopteryx maculata,flying in the shady areas of a little bridge in Bloomingdale Bog. Not a life damselfly for me (they are fairly common in New Jersey, just look in your nearest drain ditch!), but this beautiful damselfly was a lifer for many people in our group. This isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken of Ebony Jewelwing, but it gives you an idea how lovely it is.

Daks: Four-spotted Skimmer

I spotted this Four-spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimaculata, on the second day of the trip. We had stopped on the road in  search of American Bittern, and, as is my wont, I wandered from the group and found several interesting odes by a brook. This wasn’t the first time I spotted Four-spotted Skimmer (or Four-spotted Chaser, as it’s known in Europe) during the weekend, but it was definitely the most cooperative, perching in front of a blue background and allowing a sliver view of its face. Another dragonfly I spotted here was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface shown below. Just goes to show what you can find on a random stop by the road!

Daks: Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted CorporalLadona julia, was the most common dragonfly we saw, especially around Paul Smith’s College Visitor’s Interpretive Center. (That’s the lake in back of the VIC above.)   They tend to inhabit acidic lakes and marshes and beaver ponds. Are beaver ponds acidic? I guess so.

There are several whiteface dragonfly species in the Adirondacks, genus Leucorrhinia. These are small black dragonflies with bright white faces and yellow or red markings, found in northern states and Canada. This can be a tricky id, so I double checked all these photographs with the dragonfly experts at the Facebook Northeast Dragonflies page. (Once again,  Thank you, Ed Lam!)

Daks: Crimson-ringed WhitefaceCrimson-ringed Whiteface, Leucorrhinia glacialis.

Daks: Hudsonian Whiteface female Hudsonian Whiteface, Leucorrhinia hudsonica.

Daks: Frosted Whiteface, female Frosted Whiteface, female, Leucorrhinia frigida.

Dragonflies are predators. Beautiful predators. Fred, a member of our group, pointed out this dragonfly to me Saturday afternoon, on the trail of Bloomingdale Bog south. I’m not sure what this Dusky Clubtail, Gomphus spicatusis eating. Some kind of beetle? He was enjoying it so much, I think I could have picked him up and he still would have been chomp-a-chomp.


Daks: Dusky Clubtail 1
Daks: Dusky Clubtail 2

This is Lancet Clubtail, Gomphus exilis, the distinguishing detail being the pale tip. Most of the clubtails I see anywhere have slender clubs. For once, I would like to see something like Skillet Clubtail, you know, a dragonfly with one BIG fat club.
Lancet Clubtail

Still waiting on the definite word of this dragonfly. I’m guessing Beaverpond Baskettail, but feel an urge to just label it Ol’ Google-eyes….Oh wait! Breaking news! This is a Racket-tailed EmeraldDorocordulia libera! Just got confirmation from three experts on FB Northeast Odonata, including Ed! I thought is was a baskettail because of the yellow spots on the abdomen, but the consensus is that the spots are a reflection. “Emeralds are shiny,” to quote one of my experts. I am a very happy dragonfly-lover right now, because Racket-tail Emerald was on my list of odes I wanted to see before I die.

Daks: Canadian Tiger SwallowtailI know, I know, where are the butterflies? We didn’t see as many as I expected, and I don’t know if that is how the Adirondacks is at mid-June or if it is part of the scarcity of butterflies I had been observing in New Jersey and New York. We did see many Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio canadensis. Just like Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, but smaller. A  life butterfly for me. I think the flower is Blue Flag Iris, a wildflower that grows in Heron Marsh, behind the Paul Smith’s College VIC, where this photo was taken.

And, another lifer, Arctic SkipperCarterocephalus palaemon.  I saw several in Bloomingdale Bog, which made me almost as happy as viewing the Black-backed Woodpecker. Arctic Skippers are small, 29-32 mm, which is an inch and a smidge.
Daks: Arctic Skipper

Northern CrescentPhyciodes cocyta, was not a life butterfly, but it was only the second time I’ve seen one. A cousin of the Pearl Crescent seen everywhere in New Jersey fields. It feeds on asters, so I’m not sure what it was doing here.
Daks: Northern Crescent

And, here is a non-bird surprise that was one of the favorites of the group, a female Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, laying eggs. We saw mama Snapper on Sunday, a rainy cloudy day. I am not a Snapping Turtle fan (once you’ve seen one pull a Wood Duck to its sad death, it’s hard to root for them), but I have a lot of respect for moms who don’t let anything, including the weather, stop them from doing their generational duty.
Daks: Snapping Turtle Laying Eggs in the Rain

The biodiversity that makes up the Adirondack bogs and forests is limited. This is not an environment where a wide variety of creatures can live. But, as I said in Part One. the birds, dragonflies, butterflies, plants, trees, and, yes, even the snapping turtles that live there are wonderful and unique. I am so happy New Jersey Audubon offers this trip every June. Scott Barnes and Linda Mack are fun, knowledgable leaders, and the rest of the group, who ran the gamut from very experienced to novice birders, were great company.  So, next June, get thee to the Adirondacks! Black flies possible, but not probable.

Daks: Purple


June in the Daks, part 1

Daks: Bloomingdale Bog
It was time to go back to the Adirondacks. I had a yearning to see bogs and wildflowers, boreal birds and unusual dragonflies. So, I joined Scott Barnes, Linda Mack, and a very interesting group of people on New Jersey Audubon’s annual Adirondacks van trip in mid-June. I was looking forward to this trip for several reasons:
– The itinerary involved areas of the Daks I had never been to before;
– It was a VAN trip, which meant I did not have to drive;
– During the years (all too few years) I was a volunteer at the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory, I had signed people up for this trip with a great deal of envy since my schedule always conflicted, usually with a work thing;
– I had heard fun stories about the trip from my friend Laura, Somewhere in New Jersey.  The stories usually involved black flies, lots of black flies, but I figured that if Laura was covered with  biting bugs and still had a good time, then this must be one hell of a trip.

Daks: Bog!
We zipped up north to the Saranac Lake, Franklin County area on a Friday and headed immediately for Bloomingdale Bog. Boreal bogs are the cornerstone of Adirondack birding, nutrient-poor wetlands that accumulate acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material. Because of the lack of nutrients, the number of plants and creatures that grow in boreal bogs is limited, but those that do are very special, living things that can live in harsh conditions and often no place else. Places like Bloomingdale Bog take hundreds of years to form, and are too easily destroyed. So, I was happy to be in this special place.

Daks: Scott Proceeds with Caution

We walked down Bigelow Road, a dirt road at the northern end of the bog. (I’m a bit confused about the relationship between Bloomingdale Bog and Bigelow Road. They seem to be the same but separate places.) And walked. And walked. It was late afternoon and not very birdy. But, there seemed to be a purpose to our walk, and finally Scott told us that he had been told about a Black-backed Woodpecker nest in the area. Right past the big puddle. Oh. Since Scott had gotten these directions a week ago, there was much discussion about whether the puddle would still be there, and what constituted a big puddle. But, soon the well-eared amongst us (not me!) heard the sound of young woodpeckers, and there was a Black-backed Woodpecker feeding young at a fairly large hole in a tree near the road.

Daks: Blackbacked Woodpecker
I was lucky, I got a good look before the bird flew away.  But not everybody did, the greenery blocked a straight-on view for many in the group. So we waited, and soon the mama woodpecker was flying in. We couldn’t see the baby birds, deep in the nest hole, but we could certainly hear them chittering away in joy as mama arrived. And, a few feet down the road we found an excellent viewing site where somebody had clipped the greenery down to eye level. Aha! A much better marker than a puddle (which actually was still there). And, everybody got to see these beautiful, striking woodpeckers. Life bird for some, a good bird for all. An excellent start to the weekend!


On the way back, we encountered our second boreal species, Gray Jay! These birds are irresistible–gregarious, curious, and totally adorable looking. An interesting change from the imposing Blue Jays I’m used to. I had first seen Gray Jays out in Colorado, where we would throw them chips and then try to photograph them as they ate the chips and flew away. These jays were no different. When we encountered them again the next day, Cathy volunteered to share her peanuts with the jays, and she quickly became the most popular birder in the bog!

Daks: Cathy and the Gray Jay

It wasn’t always easy to photograph the Gray Jays, they moved very quickly to and from Cathy’s hand, flying to the top of a tall spruce when the peanuts ran out. But, they were a lot closer than many of the other boreal species we saw that weekend. Yellow-belled, Least, and Alder Flycatchers and Lincoln’s Sparrow were all seen best through the scope.

Daks: Typical Flycatcher View in the Adirondacks

Daks: Birding in the RainI was extremely happy that the other boreal species we saw naked-eye in your face close was Mourning Warbler, Geothlypis philadelphia. We encountered this songbird on a rainy Sunday, first on a roadside where only a few of us saw it well, and then, wonder of wonders, at the Azure Mountain trailhead. This handsome, vigorous bird was singing loudly when we got there, and just a hint of its song brought it into our sight immediately. He did not leave the area until we left, though he spent most of his time in the brush and leaves, as they are wont to do. This was definitely my favorite bird of the trip.

Daks: Mourning Warbler Rules

Daks: PinkThere are many natural wonders to enjoy in the Adirondacks in addition to birds. I am clueless when it comes to the striking plant life, so I’m going to quote from the excellent Paul Smith’s College Visitor’s Interpretive Center web page:  “This habitat is a nutrient-poor, acidic wetland dominated by sphagnum mosses, sedges, and shrubs and evergreen trees rooted in deep peat. The two main trees found on Barnum Bog are Black Spruce and Tamarack. Tamaracks, which are also known as the Eastern Larch or American Larch, are coniferous (cone-bearing) trees which behave like a deciduous tree; the needles of the Tamarack turn a golden yellow in fall and drop to the ground, appearing again in the spring. Tamaracks thrive in the acidic environment of bogs.”  The photo on the left is a Tamarack, Larix laricina, close-up. Yes! Those are cones, in this case young female cones. The male cones are yellow. 

Daks: White
The flowers are pretty too. 

Daks.A Little History

I’m going to write about the dragonflies and butterflies of the Daks, and a surprise non-bird creature, in another blog post, June in the Daks, part 2.  To end this post, here are some photos of the view from the last stop on our trip, Whiteface Mountain. I did not get the life bird view of Bicknell’s Thrush that I was hoping for, but I did hear it. (In a way I’m happy I didn’t get the bird, because that means I still have a life bird in New York State to look forward to.)  I also got an interesting lesson in attitudes towards the environment in 1929, when the building of the Whiteface Memorial Highway was first proposed. “A few spots should be left for those who enjoy the out-of-doors on foot.” Well, I tend to agree with preserving land, but I’m happy they built that road. Climbing 4,867  feet is not my idea of birding fun. The road enabled us to drive almost to the top, with the remaining  267 feet achieved through an elevator reached through a tunnel into the mountain. Even on a cloudy day, the views were a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the Daks.

Daks: Whiteface Mt. Under the Gray

Daks: Whiteface Mt. view 2Whiteface Mountain

The Bugs of Negri-Nepote

I am not a bug person. Except for dragonflies and damselflies. And butterflies. In my mind map, Odonata and Lepidotera are not bugs. I do occasionally take photographs of insects, especially when I am walking through Negri-Nepote, the grassland preserve near my central New Jersey home. Here are some of the insects I’ve seen this past spring and summer.

Phantom Crane Fly
NN: Phantom Crane

There is a small brook in the east wooded area of Negri-Nepote, really a trickle of water. I don’t get there often. One morning in early July I realized the brook might have some interesting odonates, and while I was photographing my life Great Blue Skimmer I saw motion. Not a bug, not anything material, just a wave, a wisk, a movement. Eventually, I saw the very thin creature with thread-thin legs making its way along the stream bed and took a photo before it became pure movement again. I thought at first it was some kind of dragonfly, but when I looked at a cropped close-up realized it was something different, I had no idea what. Fortunately, I have very nature-smart Facebook friends who immediately put me on to Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes of the family Ptychopteridae. Phantom Crane Flies fly with their thin legs perpendicular to the ground, which means that when you look at them straight-on they seem to disappear. I wasn’t even sure it was a biological creature!

Spheccid Wasp Negri-Nepote: Wasp, SPHECID

There are just a few clumps of butterfly weed at Negri-Nepote and on the best days you can find wonderful things on them. I observed this wasp crawling in and out of the milkweed’s flowers in mid-July, one of four. They were quite large, almost 2-inches in length, and stunningly beautiful. I was almost disappointed when I realized they were wasps. I don’t like wasps, they sting. I think this is a Sphecid or Thread-waisted Wasp. Genus Ammophila of the Family Sphecidae. There are a lot of species in Ammophilia, over 60 in North America, and based on the best Internet research I can do late at night, I’m going to say that this is Ammophila procera. Corrections welcome. BugEric, an authoritative insect blogger, says that Ammophila procera are “shy or gentle in nature”. Right. Still not going to pick one up.

Hummingbird Clearwing, Hermaris thysbe
NN: Hummingbird Moth 2

Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis
NN: Hummingbird Moth 3

Ahhhh, Hummingbird Moths! I saw these two species along the path to the blind. As usual, my Facebook friends helped with identification, and I learned that there are more than one species. I love the way the tongue, or proboscis, rolls out. The U.S. Forest Service has a good article about Hummingbird Moths. It explains that like all Lepidoptera, hummer moths have scales on their wings. These two clearwing species are “clear” because the scales have fallen off in certain areas.

Geometrid Moth
NN: Geometrid Moth

Here’s a different kind of moth. The closest I could come to identification was that it is a Geometrid Moth. It was flying during the day, like the Clearwing Moths. I really like the shape, a juxtaposition of squares and polyhedrons, and the blacks and grays. (Alas, I wanted to write “shades of gray” but that term has been co-opted.)

Negri-Nepote: Cicada

I don’t remember ever seeing Cicadas before. I know I’ve heard Cicadas. This one flew past me and buried itself into a bush. I’m thinking that that is the mouth feeding on the stem? According to the website Massachusetts Cicada, “Cicadas have a unique mouth part for feeding known as a beak. It is a stylus-type protuberance used for piercing” plants for water and minerals. There’s also an interesting website called Cicada Mania, written by Dan Mozgai of New Jersey of all places(!), which talks about the 17 or 13-year lifecycle cicadas versus the annual 2 to 7-year life cycle cicadas. I would guess that this one is an annual, since New Jersey isn’t due for the Magicicada (that’s the 17/13 year species name) till 2013. The annual cicada is also called the Dog Day Cicada, I guess because it emerges during late August, the dog days of summer. Species name is Tibicen canicularis.

Carpenter Bee
Negri-Nepote: Bee

And, finally, here is a Carpenter Bee. I think. I posted the photo on Flickr, labeling it a Bumblebee, and was quickly corrected by a bee person. If there is one thing I hate worse than wasps, it’s bees. Some bad bee experiences in my past, I won’t talk about them here, be assured, they were traumatic. So, I don’t like taking photographs of bees. But, I didn’t feel like I could write a blog about the insects of Negri-Nepote without including at least one bee (in addition to the one wasp.) Because there are an awful lot of bees at Negri-Nepote. So far, they have allowed me to explore the fields without a sting, but I do keep my distance. I respect the fact that without bees the whole ecological system of the grassland will fail. So they tell me.

Ten Reasons Why I Love New York City

A couple of weeks ago I brought chicken soup to a Facebook friend sick and miserable in a motel outside of Kennedy airport. Julie has tons of Facebook friends, and when she wrote about my soup delivery they showered me with thanks. It was a bit overwhelming. I was surprised that a lot of them said they would and could never live in New York City (or any city). One woman said she did get a different picture of the city from reading my blog, which made me realize that I actually don’t have a lot here about birding in the city.

So, here are some of the reasons why I love living in NYC, especially Queens. I’m drawing on photos I’ve taken over the past few years, so I can’t show Every Reason. I don’t have photos of the theater and I can’t convey the energy I feel when I walk around the East Village or people watch in Bryant Park. If you’re not from New York City, I hope you’ll see how possible it is to live here and still be very much a part of the natural world. You just may have to take the subway to get there.

1. Snow Geese Flying over Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. A few miles from JFK Airport as the goose flies.
JRWR: Snow Geese in Formation

2. Pink-footed Goose at Meadow Lake, a 12-minute walk from my home. Much better view than the one I got in Iceland.
Meadow Lake: Pink-Footed Goose

3. Snow. And Cardinals in the Snow.
Central Park: Northern Cardinal Stuffing Face

4. A Robin nesting in a traffic light. Shown to me by one of Central Park’s best nature photographers (thank you again, Cal).
Central Park: Robin & babies at red light

5. Great Horned Owlets almost every year in my neighborhood park. Alley Pond Park: GHOwlets

6. Family. Three generations (including me, the photographer) enjoying music in Central Park. Then, I force them to look at the birds.
Music in Central Park

7. Meadowhawks at Little Alley Pond, Queens. When you look at them, you can’t hear the cars whizzing by on the Parkway next door.
Alley: Meadowhawk

8. Monk Parakeets Building a Nest in Whitestone, a mile from where I grew up.
Whitestone: Monk Parakeets Enjoy Winter Berries

9. Bridges. Ways out, ways in. And, some of them are home to Peregrine Falcons. Brooklyn: Verrazano Bridge

10. Jamaica Bay sunsets. Look closely and you can see “the city” on the other side. This is my constant source of wonder, the juxtaposition of the natural against the man-made. Jamaica Bay NWR: Terrapin Trail, sunset