Monday, September 29, 2014

All sewn up, part two

A few days after first observing the strange affliction of the hydrangea leaves, I managed to find a set of leaves that were only partially sealed.

Hydrangea leaves partially woven together.
Lines of silk laced back and forth between the leaf margins, leading up to the weaver itself: the aptly named hydrangea leaftier.

A hydrangea leaftier (Olethreutes ferriferana) moth larva.
Weaving the hydrangea leaves together is a big -- and very slow -- job for such a small caterpillar.  Here is a brief clip showing the weaving process up close and then zoomed out to show the extent of the task...

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

...and here is a longer clip, played at 32x actual speed, to illustrate how the leaves are pulled together by the caterpillar.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Friday, September 26, 2014

All sewn up, part one

While checking for insects on the plants around the garden, I noticed that many of the new hydrangea leaves seemed glued together.

Hydrangea leaves tightly stuck together.
Several of the leaves were even deformed from continuing to grow without the room to expand.

More hydrangea leaves stuck together.
Something had tied the leaves together and was hiding inside, but what?  Unlike rolled leaves, there was no opening left between the hydrangea leaves for the occupant to exit through -- or for me to peer through.  To be continued...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Flying into the fangs of danger

Damselflies are nimble predators of other insects, but even predators can become the hunted if they are not careful.  The damselfly pictured below appears to be suspended in flight...

A slender spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) hanging in mid-air?
...because it is suspended -- from the spider web it had just flown into.  As usually happens when something becomes tangled in a spider's web, the spider quickly approached to secure its prey.

A spider approaches the damselfly caught in its web.
The damselfly was not about to be taken without a struggle, however.

The damselfly attempts to evade the spider.
By beating its large wings, the damselfly was able to force itself free from the web just in time.  A similar encounter must have occurred between the dragonfly and spider pictured below, but with a very different ending.  Apparently, having strong wings is not always enough to escape becoming a meal for a spider.

A giant lichen spider (Araneus bicentenarius) with a dragonfly in its web.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The early bee and the flower, continued

Though a few bees collected nectar from the peony buds, the flowers had much more to offer once they were fully open.  In addition to nectar, the flowers produced large quantities of pollen, which was a big attraction to visitors such as the leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) pictured below.  Unlike bumble bees and honey bees, which pack pollen onto their hind legs, this leafcutter bee is collecting pollen on the underside of its abdomen.

Pollen was not the only thing waiting inside the flowers, however.  One of the peonies contained an unpleasant surprise that threatened to make any visiting bee permanently late.

A crab spider (Misumena vatia) ready to ambush visitors to the peony.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A lazy Sunday afternoon

The foxes seemed to be active at all hours.  I saw them at dawn, throughout the day, and after sunset.  From hearing their eerie calls, I knew that they were up late into the night as well.   However, the foxes had to take breaks from eliminating the local gray squirrel population every once in a while.  One afternoon, we spotted a fox resting in a shady spot in the middle of the lawn.

The fox resting in the shade.
To see the fox napping -- and what interrupted its nap -- watch the video below.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The early bee and the flower

When is it too early for a bee to visit a flower?  You might guess that bees would not be interested in visiting a flower before it has opened.  However, if the flower in question were a peony, you would be wrong.

A two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus) visiting a peony bud.
Even as buds, peony flowers produce nectar from glands on the sepals (the modified leaves surrounding the petals).  In addition to opportunistic bees, this extrafloral nectar is likely to attract aggressive ants that would attack anything attempting to eat the flower itself.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The early bird and the fox

One morning I took my camera out onto the balcony to photograph the sunrise.  My plan was quickly revised when I noticed something moving on the ground below the balcony.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) that appeared below my balcony.
It was one of the foxes, prowling around the house.

It was a very handsome fox!
After pausing almost directly below me, it took a quick detour through the bushes.  It then reappeared a bit further down the lawn, where it seemed to catch the scent of something.  I hoped it was at most a very small rodent...

The fox picked up some accessories on its trip through the bushes.
 ...since one of the alternatives was another of our favorite backyard visitors.

The groundhog taking a break from eating clover to look around.
The groundhog had just made its first appearance of the summer a couple of days before, and the fox was searching very near the groundhog's burrow and favored grazing areas.  However, the fox did not catch anything, large or small, and was soon loping on its way again.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fox hunting, part three

I don't know what happened to the gray squirrel being chased in the video.  It may have escaped on that occasion.  However, I doubt that it survived for long unless it left the neighborhood altogether.  It seemed like every couple of days there was fresh evidence that a squirrel had been caught by the foxes -- and that was just in our yard.  Most of the times, all that was left of the squirrel was its tail.

On two occasions though, we found the entire squirrel.  The first one was buried for later consumption.

A gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that wasn't vigilant enough to evade the fox.  The rest of it is buried under the soil.
Although I checked on it periodically, I missed the fox coming to retrieve it.  With the second squirrel, I was luckier.  I had startled the fox into dropping the squirrel and running for cover.  Once I was out of sight again, the fox returned to carry off its meal.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fox hunting, part two

The crows were not the only ones to raise an alarm that a fox was about.  At least one American red squirrel occasionally joined in with its high-pitched voice.

A young American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus).
Together, the crows and squirrel would make such a clamor that it would have been difficult to ignore even if I hadn't already become attuned to the crows.  Hearing the alarm, I would grab my cameras and rush to the nearest vantage point -- in this case, the balcony:

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

I watched the video several times before I noticed that it features not one, but two squirrels.  There is the American red squirrel calling noisily in the background, as well as a much less vigilant gray squirrel behind the ferns.  If you watch the top of the video very closely, you can see can see it moving towards the fox. Once the fox gets to the edge of the ferns, the gray squirrel turns to escape and the fox takes up chase.  To be continued...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fox hunting, part one

A few days after I arrived in Maine this summer, I heard that there were foxes in the neighborhood.  Since I had heard about the foxes before -- but failed to find them -- I wasn't very optimistic about my chances this year either.  However, my expectations could hardly have been more wrong.  I saw one of the foxes the very next time I went outside!

An early encounter with one of the neighborhood foxes.  When I yelled out "fox!", it startled me by turning back and taking several steps toward me.
Moreover, encountering the foxes became a regular occurrence.  At first, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  But then, I discovered how to locate the foxes with high reliability -- by following the sound of the crows.

* To see this video in high definition (1080p), you may need to: 
(1) click "YouTube" to watch on the YouTube website
(2) change the settings at the bottom of the video screen

Usually, the crows would 'caw' just three or four times before pausing.  Therefore, when I heard them calling continuously (and harshly even for crows), I went to investigate.  The crows were perched up in a tree looking down at tall grass.  A few moments of scrutinizing the grass revealed a fox gazing back at me.  When the fox dashed off, the crows flew after it, still cawing.  After that, the crows became my fox alert system.  They nearly always led me to a fox, although there were a couple of easily forgivable false alarms triggered by a bald eagle flying overhead and a falcon chasing a baby squirrel around a tree.