Wednesday, December 30, 2009


BIGBY, which stands for Big Green Big Year, is a newly developed idea in birding. BIGBY is similar to a normal Big Year that many birders participate in, but with BIGBY, the only means of transportation are things like bikes, walking, canoes, etc., hence the green part in the name.

I decided to add up the list of birds I have seen within walking distance from my house this year, and came up to a total of 145. I also had a Big Green Big Day, which was my Big Sit day where I found 70 species in my yard (you can read about that here:

Happy (almost) New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Bird Counts

This weekend I participated in two Audubon Christmas Bird Counts ( The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual event that birders across the eastern hemisphere get involved with. From Alaska to Antarctica, birders have established CBC circles in which they count birds in every year. Each of these circles has a radius of 7.5 miles. The birders then divide up the circle and make sure that people cover all areas of the CBC area. The date of CBCs differ from circle to circle, but they are required to fall between two weeks before Christmas to two weeks after Christmas.

In the Lehigh Valley area, there are several counts to help out with. Two of these counts, the Lehigh Valley Count (mainly Allentown area) and the Bethlehem-Hellertown-Easton (which, as the name suggests, covers Bethlehem, Hellertown, and Easton) are centered around the Lehigh Valley. Two others, the Wild Creek-Little Gap and the Merrill Creek CBCs are not centered in the valley, but are in the vicinity. The Merrill Creek count is mainly in New Jersey, but a small section stretches into PA. The Wild Creek-Little Gap is mainly north of the Kittatinny Ridge (Blue Mountain), and stretches from Beltzville to Kunkletown.

Dark-eyed Juncos, like this one, are always numerous during the winter months, and today was no exception.

This year, I participated in the Lehigh Valley and the Wild Creek-Little Gap counts. This was my fifth year for the LV CBC and my third year for the WC-LG CBC. The LV count has many more participants (last year,45 compared to 12), but similar number of species to Wild Creek.

Yesterday, December 19th, the Lehigh Valley CBC has held, despite the threatening weather report. My "team", which for most of the day was Terry Master, Barbara Malt, and me birded around out area. We saw very few birds, and we finished early, around 2pm when it began to snow.

Today was the Wild Creek-Little Gap count. For this count, I count birds in the Kunkletown area, which includes my house. This morning, there were 5 inches of snow on the ground when I got up to call for owls, and the temperature was at 19F. Despite my efforts, the only owl response I got was an Eastern Screech-Owl. Around 7:00, when the sky began to brighten, another screech-owl tremoloed from across the field and White-throated Sparrows began chirping.

I walked around the house a bit, but other than several juncos, birds were absent. Around 7:40, my dad and I got in the car and traveled to some local birding hotspots, which included a housing development and a grocery store parking lot. Well... we did find some Ring-billed Gulls in the parking lot and the housing development has a small lake, which held lots of Canada Geese, Mallards, and 4 Hooded Mergansers. The real hotspots today were the grassy fields around the area. While driving around, we found several with lots of juncos, but the one across from my house was the most productive with Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, 8 American Tree Sparrows, and 110 Dark-eyed Juncos.

American Tree Sparrows, a cheerful winter bird, were hanging out with flocks of juncos today.

Later in the day, I took a walk in the woods by my house where I found 2(!) Brown Creepers along with several more American Tree Sparrows. I finished up at 5pm, having birded for 12 hours. I ended up with only 29 species and 1453 individual birds. Here is the day's list:


Hooded Merganser-4

Canada Goose-779

Ring-billed Gull-4

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Eastern Screech-Owl-2

Mourning Dove-12

Belted Kingfisher-1

Red-bellied Woodpecker-5

Downy Woodpecker-10

Hairy Woodpecker-1

Eastern Bluebird-3

Hermit Thrush-1

Northern Mockingbird-5

Blue Jay-14

American Crow-91

Black-capped Chickadee-18

Tufted Titmouse-13

White-breasted Nuthatch-8

Brown Creeper-2

Carolina Wren-3

European Starling-98

Song Sparrow-4

American Tree Sparrow-15

White-throated Sparrow-12

Dark-eyed Junco-195

American Goldfinch-6

Northern Cardinal-17

House Sparrow-7

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outdoor Christmas Tree

For the past few years, my family and I have been putting a small spruce tree on our deck. In the past, we have used this tree as a "bird tree" but stringing popcorn, fruit pieces, suet bits, and other bird food on the tree. With a tree full of food, lots of birds fly right on to the deck to feed. Many species of birds visited the tree when we had food on it, including chickadees, titmice, bluebirds, and nuthatches. This year, I have not had the time to put food on a bird tree, but today I did go out and get this year's outdoor Christmas tree:

In the south-eastern section of the property, there is a stand of old Norway Spruces, most likely planted many years ago, marking the edge of a field.

Today, these huge trees, although non-native, are home to an incredible number of organisms. In the past few winters, when the winter finches have come into Pennsylvania, the seed-filled spruces fed Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and White-winged Crossbills. For most of the year, Red Squirrels can be found munching on the cones, and during the winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are almost always present among the spruces.

Since the trees are tall and thick, they block much of the sun's light from reaching the ground. This, along with a small spring (which often dries up during the summer), keeps the ground damp and cool. This habitat is home to many species of mushrooms. The dampness also attracts several species of plants which do not occur elsewhere on the property: jack-in-the-pulpit, lopseed, and several wood fern species.

While the seed-bearing trees are beneficial, they are also creating a problem. The area north of the spruces is a grassy/sedgy area with several interesting plants (swamp milkweed, three dogwood species, and giant ragweed). Since the spruces produce so many seeds, there are several small to medium spruces popping up in the grassy area. So, for my outdoor Christmas tree, I use one of these little Norway Spruces.

The search for the perfect outdoor tree is always a fun excursion, and involves practicing tree identification. Although the majority of the trees in the area are spruces, there are also some other species.

I have to be careful no to cut down this...

...the needles are much longer than spruce's and are in groups (of five), where as spruce needles are not in groups, making this an Eastern White Pine.

I have to watch out for this Scot's Pine:

again, needles are long, and in groups or "packets" (of 2)

Hey, this one has short needles that are not in packets...

...but the needles are more or less flattened and are only on two sides of each branch. Also a look on the underside of each needle would show two parallel white lines, making this tree an Eastern Hemlock.

What about this one...

...although it has needles on all sides of the branch... this Eastern Redcedar has a much different shape and look than a spruce.

Here we go!

Norway spruce

Here are a few Norway Spruces which are fairly close together. By taking two trees that are close together, I am just doing what nature will eventually do by crowding out one of the trees.

So now I have my tree, but no time to put bird food on it... maybe I will get some on before the Wild Creek-Little Gap Christmas Bird Count next Sunday, which includes my house.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Open House

Today the Lehigh Gap Nature Center ( held its annual Holiday Open House. The afternoon started with an activity led by Bill and Loraine Mineo. As organic farmers, the Mineos prefer to grow plants naturally and make things out of natural materials. At the open house, the Mineos taught the open house attendants how to make wreaths.

The Mineos brought several types of evergreens to make the wreaths:

Branches of white pine and cedars were then woven through twisted grape vine to create a base for the wreath:

Wreath-makers also had the opportunity to add decorations to their wreaths:

After 45 minutes of weaving branches, beautiful wreaths started to emerge:

After making the natural wreaths, a few participants created bird feeders using peanut butter and gray birch logs:

Thank you to everyone who helped out and brought things (especially the cookies) for the open house.

As I write this, there are three inches of snow on the ground and the flakes are still falling...

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 16, 2009

holding on

The daylight is getting shorter and shorter, the temperature only reaches the 40's, even though the sun shines all day long. Starting about a month ago, the reasons mentioned above kept most of the flying insects away. I thought that October would be the last time that I would see the butterflies until late March when the bravest lepidopterans would emerge once again. But yesterday proved me wrong, the butterflies and dragonflies were flying about!

While the diversity was not nearly what one might expect in July or August, I was quite surprised by the insects. Several small red dragonflies, Autumn Meadowhawks (also known as Yellow-legged Meadowhawks) were sitting on a south-facing side of the house and in nearby trees, warming up from the sun.

And at one point some butterflies, an Orange Sulphur and an Eastern Comma, joined the party:

I got a treat before the long, hard winter begins.

I can't wait until spring.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

winter birding

Here is some information about winter birding...

Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast basically says that no big irruptions will occur this year. Which means no large numbers of these:

Pine Siskins

or these:

Christmas Bird Counts are always enjoyable and I encourage birders to get involved with them, as well as other counts.

Here is a list of some winter birding events through the end of the year in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas:

-Lehigh Valley Audubon Christmas Bird Count (centered around Trexlertown)-December 19

-Wild Creek-Little Gap Christmas Bird Count (centered around Kunkletown)-December 20

-Bethlehem-Easton-Hellertown Christmas Bird Count (centered around Bethlehem)-December 26

-Merrill Creek Christmas Bird Count (centered around Merrill Creek, NJ, but encompasses parts of Pennsylvania)-December 27

And finally, I thought I'd share the incredible sunrise we had in Kunkletown recently:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October birds

For the past few days, the fields here in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania have been filled with sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Most of the sparrows are Song, White-throated, and Field, but there have also been Chipping, Lincoln's, and Swamp Sparrows.

Swamp Sparrow

There have been about 50 Yellow-rumps throughout the field across from the house. These cheery, drab warblers are, unfortunately, a sign of the end of the year. Although most other warbler species have left, there are still a few stragglers including this Nashville Warbler that popped up today:

There were also good numbers of raptors today. Lots of Red-tailed Hawks starting to move, as well as many Sharp-shinned Hawks. Happy October and enjoy the fall colors!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Big Sit!-- The Kunkletown Kingbirds

Here is a description of the big sit I did in my yard:

On October 10, at 11:50pm, after a few hours of interrupted sleep, my dad and I headed out the Kunkletown Kingbird’s big sit circle in the field on our property. We got to the circle at midnight, and listened intently for any migrants, owls, or whatever might be calling. Not long after arriving in the circle, we heard the first bird of the day, a Chipping Sparrow. During the next few minutes, we heard several more flight calls from these sparrows. About 10 minutes in, the second bird of the day, a Swainson’s Thrush called while flying overhead. As with the sparrow, once the one called, many more started calling.

By 12:30, the lights in the neighbor’s house had gone out, and a disrupted Northern Cardinal chipped for a few seconds. Between for the next hour and a half, migrants were streaming overhead, calling frequently. Several common species were calling, but the best birds were Savannah Sparrow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and American Bittern. AMERICAN BITTERN!!!!! This guy called several times while flying to the SE of the big sit circle. It sounded as if he was following the ridge rather than heading straight south. The bittern was a new bird for the yard.

Just before 2 o’clock, owls started up. I heard one Barred Owl, several Great Horned, and an Eastern Screech. That’s all of the expected owls. By 2am, the list stood at 12 species. The birds quieted for a bit, but a distant pack of Coyotes started up. Throughout the rest of the morning, more species called while flying over, including one unidentified bird making a duck-like “ehk”. Just before the sky started to brighten, the owls started up again, this time with 7 Barred, 7 Great Horned, and 3 Eastern Screech. When the Barreds started up, the dogs down in the valley started barking, but a series of gunshots from somewhere in the woods quieted the dogs, but not the owls.

The Big Sit!

Once the sky became ever-so-slightly lighter, a Saw-whet Owl made a drawn-out whistle from the field edge. Not long after the owl, an American Woodcock flew over, marking the beginning of the dawn chorus. Although the chorus was created mainly of common species, a few unexpected species sang or called, including a Brown Thrasher, Common Raven, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow. The Lincoln’s Sparrow was singing from atop an Eastern Redcedar. During the migration it can be hard to see these guys amongst the grasses, much less see one sitting on the top of a tree singing!

As the first sliver of the sun appeared over the mountaintop, a dense fog quickly rolled in. It hung over the field for close to an hour and a half, hiding any birds and muting their sounds. The heavy fog, mixed with the frigid air made for uncomfortable conditions while participating in The Big Sit!. Fortunately, when the fog lifted, the birds were still very active. Throughout the morning I (my dad had left sometime in the predawn hours) checked off species as they appeared. The birding was good until around 11:00, when the day got an early start to the afternoon lull.

Sharp-shinned Hawks darted past, most continuing south, others diving into the trees near my circle. At some point, a large flock of sparrows flew at me from across the field, and landed in the autumn olives directly behind me. The flock was mostly White-throated Sparrows, but there were also Song, Field, Chipping, and two unexpected White-crowned Sparrows. The sparrows hung out for about 30 seconds before disappearing into the brush.

The sun warmed up the air, which started up the raptor migration. Many more sharpies flew past, as well as Merlins, and Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks. A Northern Goshawk flew directly south over the ridge I was situated upon, but turned SW to follow the Kittatinny Ridge. Small kettles of accipiters and Turkey Vultures formed throughout the day, but only lasted for a few minutes.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The afternoon was slow, new species continued to appear, but at 30, 45, or even 60 minute intervals. Occasionally, a new raptor would show up, most flying among the masses of Sharp-shinned Hawks. I was able to find Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, and Bald Eagle, but could not manage to find any buteos other than red-tails. At one point, I was watching a kettle of Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks when a large bird flew into the view of the scope. I followed the bird as it lost altitude and flew closer. It turned out to be a Herring Gull that for some reason was pretending to be a southbound raptor for the day.

The late afternoon brought a final rush of birds, including many warblers that I had probably missed in the foggy morning. Pine, Nashville, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers hung out around the field for a while, until disappearing into the sunset. The Blackpoll Warbler was the final bird of the day. I headed inside and retired around 9:00 and tallied up the list before heading to bed. I had ended up with 70 species, not bad considering my previous yard record had been 49.

The full list:

1. American Bittern*
2. Great Blue Heron
3. Turkey Vulture
4. Canada Goose
5. Mallard
6. Osprey
7. Bald Eagle
8. Northern Harrier
9. Cooper's Hawk
10. Northern Goshawk
11. Sharp-shinned Hawk
12. Red-tailed Hawk
13. Peregrine Falcon
14. Merlin
15. American Woodcock
16. Herring Gull
17. Mourning Dove
18. Eastern Screech-Owl
19. Great Horned Owl
20. Barred Owl
21. Northern Saw-whet Owl
22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
23. Downy Woodpecker
24. Hairy Woodpecker
25. Northern Flicker
26. Pileated Woodpecker
27. Eastern Phoebe
28. Red-eyed Vireo
29. Blue Jay
30. Common Raven
31. American Crow
32. Tree Swallow
33. Black-capped Chickadee
34. Tufted Titmouse
35. White-breasted Nuthatch
36. Carolina Wren
37. House Wren
38. Golden-crowned Kinglet
39. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
40. Eastern Bluebird
41. Swainson's Thrush
42. Gray-cheeked Thrush
43. Hermit Thrush
44. American Robin
45. Gray Catbird
46. Northern Mockingbird
47. Brown Thrasher
48. European Starling
49. American Pipit
50. Cedar Waxwing
51. Nashville Warbler
52. Blackpoll Warbler
53. Yellow-rumped Warbler
54. Pine Warbler
55. Palm Warbler
56. Eastern Towhee
57. Chipping Sparrow
58. Field Sparrow
59. Savannah Sparrow
60. Song Sparrow
61. Lincoln's Sparrow
62. White-throated Sparrow
63. White-crowned Sparrow
64. Dark-eyed Junco
65. Northern Cardinal
66. Common Grackle
67. House Finch
68. Purple Finch
69. American Goldfinch
70. House Sparrow

*a new species for the yard

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Big Sit! has started

I started The Big Sit! at midnight. Not long after midnight, my dad and I heard the first bird of the day, a Chipping Sparrow giving its flight call. Not long after, we heard a few more Chippies and a few Swainson's Thrushes giving their flight calls. Looking at the radar, the birds are moving in massive numbers, which hopefully means the birding will be good today.

I'm off the the circle again, after this 10 minute break... and don't expect to hear from me until tonight.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Big Sit

On this coming Sunday, I will be participating in the The Big Sit! (, a birding competition where birders across the world sit in their own 17-foot diameter circles and count all of the birds they can find. This year I will be counting from a 17-foot circle in my yard. The yard record for The Big Sit! is 49 species, which I achieved last year.

I'll be sure to post more about this after the sit!

Here is the bird list from two years ago:

1. Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
2. Canada Goose Branta canadensis
3. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
4. Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
5. Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
6. Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
7. Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
8. Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
9. Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
10. American Kestrel Falco sparverius
11. Merlin Falco columbarius
12. Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
13. Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
14. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
15. Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
16. Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
17. Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
18. Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
19. Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
20. Common Raven Corvus corax
21. American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
22. Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
23. Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
24. Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
25. White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
26. Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
27. Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
28. Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
29. Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
30. Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
31. American Robin Turdus migratorius
32. Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
33. European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
34. Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
35. Tennessee Warbler Vermivora peregrina
36. Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
37. Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus
38. Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
39. Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla
40. Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
41. White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
42. Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
43. Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
44. Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
45. House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
46. Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
47. American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
48. House Sparrow Passer domesticus
49. Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus (not sure why this is at the end of the list...)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

some photos

I thought I would share some recent photos from around eastern Pennsylvania:

Eastern Fringed Gentian

Milbert's Tortoiseshell

Banded Tussock Moth caterpillar

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

squeezing in a bit of birding

School has been rather time consuming, but I did manage to get a bit of birding in once I got home this afternoon. The yard was filled with Black-throated Green Warblers and Eastern Wood-Pewees. There were also several Scarlet Tanagers and a Northern Parula. The best bird was a Philadelphia Vireo which seemed very interested in me. It is only the second time that I have found one of these in the yard.

Philadelphia Vireo

Sunday, August 30, 2009

School starts soon :( and some migrants

Well, I go back to school on Wednesday. Ignoring the fact that I will be bored out of my mind starting in a few days, quite a good number of migrants have been popping up in my area. This morning I got up early, but as a result of the rain, very few birds were migrating. The only nocturnal flight call I heard was that of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The lack of songbirds was disappointing, but several Barred Owls were calling, putting me in a slightly better mood. To top of the predawn chorus of the owls, katydids, crickets, etc. was a bunch of "singing" Pickerel Frogs, which sound like someone snoring. These awesome amphibians called until almost sunrise.

This morning, I was at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center ( for some birding. There were a few flocks of migrants, including one large flock that contained American Redstarts, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Prairie, and Cape May Warblers, and several Red-eyed Vireos. Large, sorry, HUGE flocks of Chimney Swifts and swallows (Tree and Northern Rough-winged) flew north (shouldn't they be headed south???) through the gap. Several raptors were also on the move; a kestrel, an Osprey, and Sharp-shinned, Broad-winged, and Red-tailed Hawks were seen. The only other "good" bird was a Double-crested Cormorant, which, unexplainably, was flying north like the swifts and swallows.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cecropia moth caterpillar

This afternoon I found a Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) caterpillar sitting on some lowbush blueberry beneath a few gray birches. I thought I would share some photos:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Veery flight call recording

This morning, I posted the flight call count from my deck in Kunkletown, PA. I have also been doing some recording for my sound field guide, which will appear on the Lehigh Gap Nature Center's website ( I have mainly recorded Veery calls, so here is an example of the call and spectogram.

Veery large numbers

This morning, I slept in, and did not get up until around 5 to listen for migrants. Before I heard any songbirds, a Barred Owl called from the creek at the bottom of the ridge. My final counts for flight calls were:

Swainson's Thrush-2 (low compared to other days)

I conducted a bird survey at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center ( this morning and found lots of migrating Eastern Kingbirds. A male Blue Grosbeak was singing in the grassland.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

more migrants

This morning I counted 54 Veery calls and 15 Swainson's Thrush calls. I also heard a Barred Owl and and Eastern Screech-Owl.

Monday, August 10, 2009

migration has started

This morning I got up at around 4:20 to listen for any early migrants. As I let the dog out, I heard the characteristic peep of a migrating Swainson's Thrush! I decided to sit out on the deck for the rest of the morning. Between 4:20 and 5:30, I heard 62 Veery calls, 10 Swainson's Thrush calls, and a bunch of other zips and zeeps.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Halloween has come already...

As I write this, I can hear the dog-day cicadas outside my window, a sure sign of mid-summer. As I walk through the field, I can smell the Monarda, the milkweed, and the goldenrod, which has just begun to bloom. I love the sound of the meadow katydids, clicking and buzzing, somewhat reminiscent of grassland sparrows.

While walking through the field the other day, I came across a colorful dragonfly...

Halloween Pennant

...the Halloween Pennant. I love the butterfly-like flight of these guys, as well as the way they sit, never completely opening their wings.

I have not had a lot of time to go birding during the past few mornings, but I have seen some birds around the house. Lots of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have been in the apple trees. The other day, there was even a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the fruit trees, a rare bird in the summer. Post-breeding Dispersal ;)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Backyard wanders and wonders

This afternoon, my dad and I took a stroll through the field on our property. We were both armed with cameras and macro lenses. My dad was more interested in the blooming wildflowers like black-eyed susans and milkweeds, while I was trying to photograph the numerous insects flying through the grass.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

While stalking a great spangled fritillary, I ventured off the mowed path into the field filled with wild bergamot and goldenrod, neither of which have bloomed yet. After a failed attempt at photographing the butterfly, I continued through the meadow. About two steps from the mowed path, I almost fell over from trying not to step on a plant I had just noticed. I rested my knee on the ground to get a better look at the plant, which upon inspection was an orchid. The head of flowers, all of which were white with wiry looking petals hanging downward, identified this as a fringed orchid, or fringed orchis as some say.

Ragged Fringed Orchid

When I reached the house, I opened up my trusty Plants of Pennsylvania to find that my special flower was a Ragged Fringed Orchid, a plant of wet meadows much like where I had found it. This awesome plant is the second orchid on my property. The first, helleborine, is a common woodland orchid, which is native to Europe.

After spending 14 years here in Kunkletown, this place still manages to amaze me...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monarch caterpillars!

At my home, I found a couple of Monarch caterpillars on common milkweed. I have seen several adults flying around, but these are the first larvae that I have been able to find this year.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Regal Fritillary

Here are some photos from today's Regal Fritillary tour at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

Regal Fritillary

The Regal Fritillary, a butterfly of open prairies, has experienced an extremely sharp decline in the past century. It used to inhabit most of the north eastern and north-central United States. With the loss of habitat, as a result of building and reforestation, this butterfly has left almost all of its original range. It now lives in the Great Plains and in a few places in the east. Fort Indiantown Gap is one of these rare places, the only one of its kind in PA.

Regal Fritillaries use violets for their larval foodplant. In Pennsylvania, the fritillaries use mainly Arrow-leaved Violets (Viola sagittata). Across the country, these butterflies use many species of violets including Birdsfoot Violet (Viola pedata). While rearing caterpillars, experts have discovered that that the caterpillars will also eat close relatives to the host plants such as Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) and Pansies. Although these plants can be used in a controlled environment, the female butterflies in the wild will never lay their eggs on these plants.

Fort Indiantown Gap is also home to many other grassland organisms, such as this Grasshopper Sparrow and Purple Milkweed:

Grasshopper Sparrow

Purple Milkweed

Fort Indiantown Gap is a National Guard training facility, so it is not open to the public. To see these butterflies, butterfly enthusiasts must go on special guided tours.


I also saw some other butterflies at the gap, including American Copper, Great Spangled Fritillary, Aphrodite Fritillary, Monarch, and a bunch of other butterflies. What an interesting and incredible place.

Monday, June 29, 2009

my fave...

During the past two years, I have started leading more and more bird walks for little kids. At almost every walk, I am asked, "What is your favorite animal?" I usually answer by saying I don't have one, but then the little four year olds pester me until I give an answer. I usually end up saying something like Red-tailed Hawk or Monarch, although neither of those really strike my fancy.

But recently I have been pondering over that question; what is my favorite animal? I came to the answer two days ago, while photographing some dragonflies in a meadow near my house:

Calico Pennant

Wow, ain't she a beauty...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Banded Hairstreak

With the temperatures as warm as they are, more and more butterflies are emerging. I recently found one of my favorite butterflies, a Banded Hairstreak at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

Banded Hairstreak

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Damsels and Coral

As the temperatures have gotten warmer and warmer, I no longer hear the incredible dawn chorus of Alder, Willow, and Great Crested Flycatchers, multiple warbler species, Purple Finches, orioles, and my wake-up call, the Pileated Woodpeckers. The dawn chorus has diminished to only a select group of singers, mostly wrens and Song Sparrows. But the drought of birdsong marks the beginning of a new time of year, "almost summer". This time of year is punctuated by the first humid air, although the temperatures stay in the 70s. This is when many wildflowers bloom, the butterflies emerge, and the dragonflies begin to patrol the skies above the abandoned fields.

Today, the vegetation surrounding my pond (mostly meadowsweet, gray birch, and random sedges, rushes, and grasses) was filled with damselflies. Most of the damsels today were bluets, but there was also several spread-wing damselflies.

Bluet sp.

Eastern Forktail

And the best part about damselflies, their eyes!

Bluet eyes

Before today, we had a good amount of precipitation, which means that the butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies have stayed hunkered down and out of the rain. But the mushrooms and wildflowers seem to enjoy it!

Whorled Loosetrife

Coral Fungus

Blue-eyed Grass

Last April, the forests and a meadow on my property were burned by a brush fire of unknown origin. At first it appeared that the only thing that would grow back was greenbrier (Smilax glauca and S. rotundifolia). But as 2008 rolled along, the entire meadow was filled with meadowsweet (Spirea sp.), a shrub and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a grass. This year, the grass is still very evident, but the meadow is beginning to fill in with native forbs. The most common are Rough-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), Whorled Loosetrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) as well as shrubs such as meadowsweet (Spirea sp.) and Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), which is actually a shrub, not a fern.

Today, as I was walking through the burned forest (which is now mostly Greenbrier (Smilax) and Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), both of which outcompete other plants) I came across an Ovenbird nest, which had three or four babies inside. As I was walking away from the nest, I found some Indian Cucumber-Root (Medeola virginiana). Indian Cucumber-Root is a common understory plant in Pennsylvania, but my property, which is devastated by deer overbrowsing, has almost no undergrowth. In the woods here in Kunkletown, the only plants that grow (other than greenbrier, ferns, and trees) are Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and False Soloman's-Seal, also known as Soloman's Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). As a result of this little diversity, I was extremely excited to find this plant!

Indian Cucumber-Root

Well, I guess after what I found today, the lack of bird life is not necessarily a bad thing; it is just a sign of Mother Nature opening the doors to a new season. A sign of a change where the smaller, often unnoticed beauties can shine.

Happy almost summer!