MLMP Site Visit August 9

My last catch up post from my past few visits at my MLMP site in Weybridge. After the disappointment of the previous week, I was very surprised to have found two second instar Larva and a fifth instar! That means I definitely missed eggs and larva in my last visit. Give the age and location of the 5th instar, it could be the first or second larva I found I the site this year, and in my defense, it the plant it was on was in a particularly grassy area, which might make it harder to find. This means the graph on the MLMP site won’t have a very good progression to it, but with the low density of monarchs there, that isn’t entirely surprising.

Also interesting was finding a pair of Swamp Milkweed plants growing on the shore of the river. It’s the first time I have ever seen them at this location and I have updated my site data accordingly. Next to Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed is probably the prettiest milkweed plant, but with it’s many small leaves it is kind of a pain to search for eggs and larva on. For aesthetic purposes I do hope they spread, but this will cause me a lot of additional work.

The Osprey were still hanging around the nest site at this time, though I only see two juveniles at a time. I hope nothing untoward happened to the third, but it’s possible it is just hanging out out of site further up or down the river.

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MLMP Site Visit August 3

Another catch up post. This was a very disappointing day at the MLMP site in Weybridge with no eggs or larva found at all.  I did manage to get a good picture of a Common Green Darner dragonfly and found some cool Stinkbug eggs. Also a Derbid Planthopper that I initially misidentified as a fly on iNaturalist, but was given a good ID for later. Also neat was a pair of Common Yellowthroat that were acting very agitated around me as I was doing my survey. I believe they has a nest nearby but I didn’t investigate further not wanting to disturb them more than I already was.

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MLMP Site Visit July 26

Computer problems have made it difficult to keep up on my blogging, so here the start of some catch up from my Monarch Larva monitoring over the last few weeks. Highlights of this vist were a 2nd Instar larva and another egg found. Also newly hatched Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars devouring common milkweed. The mortality rate of those guys must be extremely high as the large mass of them I found is usually wended down to one or two by the time they big fuzzy black and orange.

Other big news at the site was that all three Osprey chicks have successfully fledged. At this point they were still hanging around the nest, flying back and forth to nearby trees as they waited for their parents to make food deliveries.

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Fun with Hairstreaks

Something I forgot to post from the past…

On July 2, visiting the Hurd Grassland I came across a group of Hairstreaks that were jousting and wheeling with each other for perching positions in the trees and shrubs in the verge between the upper and lower fields on the property. Getting pictures was tricky, first because they weren’t initially landing in convenient places, either too high or deep in prickly ash. When they did land close, they often didn’t stay long before taking flight to chase another Hairstreak around. Looking at the pictures after the fact revealed that they were probably Hickory Hairstreaks. The key marks being that white both in front and behind the bands on the wings, and the blue mark on the hind wing extends into the post-median band. However, this is one of those muddy areas of butterfly taxonomy. Getting other opinions on my picutues, some agreed with me, some said one was Hickory and one wasn’t, and it was pointed out to me that there may be a third similar species that is close to being described.

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We have larva!

Due to weather and schedule issues, it took me well over a week to get back to my Monarch Larva Monitoring Project site in Weybridge, a less than ideal situation. But it didn’t take long into my search to get a hint that this was going to be a fruitful visit. After completing a small isolated section separated from the rest of my plot by a small stream, I spotted an adult female Monarch resting in some shrubs. Unfortunately it didn’t let me get close enough to get a good picture before it took off to examine the almost ready to bloom Joe-pye Weed. If I am recalling correctly, this is the first time I’ve ever spotted an adult Monarch at my site.

That gave me hope that eggs and larva would be found quickly at hand, but it wasn’t until I was starting to get crestfallen over a hundred or so plants later that I suddenly found a 1st instar Monarch larva munching away on Milkweed. And not too many plants later I found an egg as well. And that was it. One adult, one larva and one egg. But the presence of the female is a great sign that more will be found on my next visit.

Other cool things I found this week were lots of Haploa Moths, a Plume Moth and an interesting brown moth with bluish eyes. A very neat looking bee-mimicking fly too. I’ll try to put more specific IDs on all of those when I get the chance.  I very much enjoyed getting a good up-close picture of a Calico Pennant dragonfly, even though it too quite a bit of work chasing it around to do it. Out of range of my camera over the creek, there was an active group of Dancer damselflies flying in tandem ovipositing in the water. And I found my first Ambush Bug of the year using it’s perfect camouflage to lie in wait for prey on a milkweed plant.

You may recall last time out I found a Caddisfly that ripped off its own leg to escape the sticky pollination mechanism of Common Milkweed. Well this time I found an American Copper butterfly which wasn’t lucky enough to make an escape and had died in position on the flower. As I was taking it’s pictures I saw ants breaking down the body.

I also wanted to mention the most abundant thing I find on Milkweed while searching for eggs and larva are ambershell snails. Some plants shelter dozens of them from the sun throughout the day.

And just quickly, an Osprey update. All three chicks look healthy on the nest and transitioned almost completely into their flight feathers. Mom was sitting guard on the nest the whole time I was there, but her complaints were aimed at a fisherman who was closer to the nest than I was this time. The male made one food delivery while I was there.

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Monarch Larva Monitoring visit #2

This past Saturday I did my second run through my MLMP site in Weybridge. The weather was absolutely perfect for doing it. Sunny but cool, dry and a little breezy, making it easy to get through most of the Milkweed plants at the location. However, there was nothing to report on the Monarch front. If the egg I saw the previous week hatched, I couldn’t find the larva, and no new eggs appeared since my last visit either.

Plenty of other interesting stuff was to be found. My favorite was a very cool looking Eight-spotted Forester Moth larva which is almost as stunning as the adult of the species I found on the site last year. Also cool were Ladybird Beetles in various stages from larva to beginning metamorphosis to ones nearly ready to emerge as adults. And I found a Caddisfly stuck to the pollination mechanism of Common Milkweed which, after I took it’s picture, managed to escape by pulling off its own leg!

I was happy to get pictures of two of the Eyed Brown Butterflies that I missed last time. I find it interesting how locally catholic they and their Appalachian Brown cousins are. I never seem to find both species in the same place though I know spots for both of them within a half mile of each other. It probably has something to do with which sedge species is present, but getting down to the nitty-gritty of identifying genus Carex is not something I plan on putting time into any time soon.

While I was there the Osprey parents were still going about the business of feeding their chicks. I saw the male make two food deliveries and t looks like the mom no longer has to butcher the fish for the kids anymore and they are able to take them apart themselves. Also interesting was  an attempted piracy mission by an Osprey from another nest somewhere nearby. It flew down to the complaints of the mom and almost landed on the nest to take kids meal away from them before mom jumped at it talons first to run off the intruder.

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Weybridge Ospreys

In my last post I said I would go back to the site to check on the progress of the Osprey nest across the river. I did so tonight and I am happy to report three healthy looking chicks that I was able to watch being fed by mom.

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The Monarchs are back

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Monarch Butterfly egg

My plan for doing the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project this year was to wait until the first adult Monarchs were reported in Vermont before going to my plot to search. After last year’s absolute futility, which you can read about on my Google+ Page if you are inclined, I just wasn’t up for what seemed like pointless spring searches. Well this morning, I decided that the wait had gone a bit too long, and that there was a possibility that Monarchs had been around and hadn’t been reported by anyone. Also, I kind of missed the activity and all the other little arthropods I find while searching. So I began getting my kit together for the project around lunch time, and low and behold, not minutes after I had printed out a set of data sheets, my friend Sue posted a picture of an adult Monarch she found in Pitsford on the Vermont Butterflies Facebook page!

With that added impetus, I went double quick to my spot on the banks of the Otter Creek in Weybridge and began looking. And surprisingly after checking only 20 or so plants I found an egg! Slightly disappointingly, it was the only one I found on my plot today. One egg in two-hundred-thirty Common Milkweed plants. TWO-HUNDRED-THIRTY! That’s way too many plants! My highest ever count on this site was in the one-hundred-sixty’s. I don’t know what it was about this year that made them do so well, but that is going to be a lot to deal with over the summer. It has me thinking about switching to the transect protocol which has me walk a line across the site, but the place is so narrow, any line I chose would take me past the bulk of the plants.

As for all those other arthropods I was missing, there were plenty to be found, most resting in the shade of Common Milkweed leaves, nature’s parasol. Aphis Nerii was a big find, since searching for that is part of the MLMP protocol. Also I was very happy to not have missed the flight of the very pretty and cool aquatic Petrophila moths that are around for about a two-week window every year. I was bummed I wasn’t able to get a picture of a Red Admiral that was flying around the site and I also saw a Satyrodes Brown, but wasn’t able to see whether it was Appalachian or Eyed. Other things of interest to me can be seen in pictures below.

By the way, my entire time there was spent listening to the dulcet tones of the Osprey’s alarm call. Sometimes solo and sometimes duet when the male stopped by to deliver food to the nest across the river. It seems they are doing well this year so far. I plan to try to check the status of the offspring in the next few days if I can.

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That’s not a leaf, that’s a life butterfly

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Walking into town this morning, I almost walked right past a butterfly-shaped leaf without stopping, but luckily turned I around after passing it and got my first ever look at a Striped Hairstreak. It was mineraling on the sidewalk, its proboscis to the ground picking up whatever it is they get earth, rock etc. It was so absorbed in doing so, it didn’t react at all when I walked up to it, past it, or when I shoved my camera in its face. The Vermont Butterfly Survey lists the earliest reported flight for these guys as June 23, so this guy is likely brand spanking new.

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Sorry salamander, and was that a bear?

This morning at the break of dawn, my friend and I were out doing a transect for a forest bird monitoring project in Bristol Cliffs Wilderness. Five points in deep woods spending ten minutes at each one counting all the birds I can see and hear. Things were going well when we came up to point three and I stepped on a rotted log and saw an Eastern Red-backed Salamander skittering away from the destruction I had caused. I quickly reached down trying to block its escape with my hand, but it was too quick and I accidentally ended up pining its tail against the wood at which point it decided that dropping the tail was preferable to being picked up by a big primate. I’ve of course often heard of the ability of of some salamanders to drop their tails when threatened, I’ve even found some tailless ones in the past, but I never wanted to be the cause of it happening. The dropped tail was very actively squirming around after the rest of its owner got away, giving an obvious target, and a small meal to whatever predator was after it. Of course I didn’t eat its tail, I just ended up feeling bad about it. The tail will grow back, but the salamander is going to have to dedicate a lot of resources to it that it otherwise wouldn’t have had to for that process. Also, its now temporarily lost that defense mechanism making it more vulnerable to a real predator.

Completing all the transect points for the morning, there were no real surprises on the bird front at all. The biggest revelation for me on the was learning the Rose-breasted Grosbeak alarm call. If the bird hadn’t been doing its “basketball sneaker” squeak call along with it I might not have figured out what it was.

On our way back I was taking the lead, and since I unconsciously tend to favor going around obstacles on the left side, our path ended up going left of where we wanted it to. And this time I went even further left because I spotted a neat little vernal pool that we briefly explored before my buddy pointed me in a direction that would get us back on track. About fifty yards later we were stopped by something that sounded like the whining of a dog about ten feet in front of us. I then saw something not much larger than a cat skittering through the hobble bush, but couldn’t make out any details of it. Shortly after that it started making a louder, more urgent distress call. We had a quick discussion about what it was, and my buddy suggested a Black Bear cub! Of course, that had us worried, because where there are cubs, moms aren’t far away. We made a quick decision to backtrack the way we had come a few hundred yards, then circumvent it to the south a few hundred more yards away. And nothing more was seen or heard of it after that. We’re not 100% certain that it was a Bear cub, but hey, better safe than mauled.

Our diversion did come with a bonus, though. A couple of Pink Lady Slippers, still very pretty even past their prime.

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