Thursday, May 30, 2013

They're coming!

After several days of hearing and seeing a few periodical cicadas around the yard, the warm, muggy night of the 29th provided the perfect conditions for many more to emerge. This is what we found in the yard:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Maine Snaketail and other dragons

While attempting to photograph Indian Skippers on the property this afternoon (I did not succeed thanks to the strong wind), I noticed that there were quite a few dragonflies and damselflies out and about. Most of the damsels were bluets in the Northern/Vernal/Boreal species-group, which are not identifiable in the field. Although I was unable to identify them, I enjoyed watching them nervously fly between swaying blades of grass and occasionally perching on a sunny leaf or twig.

The most common dragonflies this afternoon were Common Whitetails, which will likely be the most abundant species throughout the summer months as well. It was slightly tricky to spot other species among the throngs of whitetails, but I managed to spot this Ashy Clubtail thanks to his flight style.

While I was observing the clubtail, he was dive-bombed by a Juvenal's Duskywing, a butterfly that seems to feel no fear when defending its territory against other butterflies, predatory insects, and even people! Although the clubtail disappeared after the incident with the butterfly, the pesky duskywing alerted me to the presence of another dragonfly that was perched just a few feet away:

This gorgeous odonate is a Painted Skimmer, a species that is fairly common this time of year in damp meadows. Its color and pattern is unique and definitely makes it stand out among the duller species! Unfortunately, Painted Skimmers tend to be skittish. I was only able to take a few photographs before he took flight and was out of sight.

Just as I headed back towards the house, I flushed another dragonfly off its perch. It flew different and looked strange compared to the others I had previously seen, so I followed it for a bit until it landed on the tip of a small greenbrier stem.

This gorgeous yellow, green, and black dragonfly is a Maine Snaketail, a new species for the yard. Typically, this species is found along streams, not ridgetop meadows. I can only imagine that this individual was engaging in "hill-topping," a mate-seeking behavior demonstrated by many insect species that often takes them out of their typical habitats. In fact, this is not the first time I have observed this behavior in this same meadow. Last May, I found an Uhler's Sundragon (a relatively rare species) in almost the same place as this year's snaketail.

A less-than-desirable photo of the Uhler's Sundragon I found in 2012

The fact that I found both of these species so far away from their typical stream habitats suggests that naturalists should always keep an open mind and be on the look-out for unexpected species. Who knows what is out there!

A Maine Snaketail that I found in 2011 in a more typical "northern" stream habitat in Sullivan Co., PA (State Game Lands #57)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wilson's Warblers

The Wilson's Warbler is a relatively uncommon migrant warbler species in this region of Pennsylvania. In addition, their aptitude for staying in dense brush can make them difficult to find. I have discovered that the brushy edges and water sources in the yard provide excellent habitat for migrating Wilson's Warblers. Of the seven I have observed in the yard (including three this spring!), five have been from the same overgrown patch of greenbrier, spicebush, and highbush blueberry that shades a small muddy spring near the house.

male Wilson's Warbler staying hidden in the brush

the edge of the yard where I find the Wilson's Warblers
As I mentioned, this was an excellent spring for Wilson's Warblers, as I found three in my yard and another at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center in Carbon County. Maybe the relatively high number of this species has something to do with the weird migration this spring... who knows! Nevertheless, I don't mind having a few more of these singing in the yard for a couple days during migration.

This brushy area is also where I frequently find related species, such as this Canada Warbler. Like the Wilson's, it is unusual to find a Canada away from the dense brush. This bird popped up for no more than two seconds before disappearing back into the tangles.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Double-check your sparrows!

Be sure to take a careful look at any sparrows you find during the migration season. When I saw this bird hopping around the garden and bathing in the bird bath, I figured it was a Song Sparrow. What a surprise when it turned out to be a Lincoln's Sparrowan uncommon species in this area!

Saturday, May 4, 2013


My posts to this blog have been few and far between thanks to my busy schedule as I finish my senior year of high school. Today I finally had a chance to spend quite a bit of time outside and to enjoy the wonderful weather. Migrant birds--vireos, flycatchers, warblers--are beginning to return from their southern wintering grounds. A few new species showed up in the yard this morning, including Red-eyed Vireo and Baltimore Oriole.

A number of butterflies were also out enjoying the sunshine. Among the throngs of Juvenal's and Sleepy Duskywings, I found this lovely Cobweb Skipper, a species that can only be found for a few weeks each spring!