Tuesday, June 17, 2008
June 14-15 week-end notes (Catherine Marsh and Horseheads Marsh NY)
On Saturday, I lead a trip to look for odonates and lepidoptera to Rock Cabin road, along Catherine Marsh. Nine people joined the trip.
It was a cloudy and occasionally sunny day. Therefore, when insects were not visible we concentrated on birds. Actually, at our first stop we were treated by a gory scene, a Red-tailed Hawk had caught some bird and was tearing it apart, when Baltimore Orioles, do not know if he/she had picked up one of their babies. Meal was a quick fare; in few bites, victim bird was gone.
There were many Yellow-throated Vireos singing, one was kind enough to come out and sit on an open branch and sing for us. Some of us got very good looks at it. We also heard several Carolina Wrens doing variety of songs.
Other interesting birds were Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrush, Wood Ducks, American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, and Great Blue Herons etc.
We had several species of butterflies. Initially it was very slow, but around noon, after a short rain, sun came out and many butterflies showed up. We were almost ready to give up on emperors, when the sun came out. I saw a first emperor zigzag around and sit very briefly on me. Then we found another on Sumac. Then soon we saw lots of them and all seemed like fresh specimens. They sat on everyone, some on caps, on shirts, binoculars and others on pants and eagerly sucking salts on these clothing. We only saw Hackberry Emperors, may be about 20 or so! Then came Angled wings, we must have seen some ten insects at least on a short stretch of the road. At least two I identified of them as Question Marks and others were too quick to identify. There were several hundreds of freshly emerged European Skippers. We also saw first Monarch of the year. A few Little Wood Satyr, Cabbage Whites, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, two Black Swallowtails, (one we observed lay an egg on the flowers of Pastinaca sativa, Wild parsnip) Peck’s Skippers, a Little Glassywing, Eastern-tailed blue and an unidied hairstreak were other species that were seen.
We also observed a female Eastern Pondhawk chomp on Eastern Forktail male. We observed behavior of male Whitetails when the female arrived. Overall, it was a nice a day, until the rain approached around 3.00 PM.
Sunday morning, I spent three hours working in the garden on the Freese Road. While pulling weeds with vengeance, I listened to birds. There were fewer birds than in the previous years. Interestingly, there are at least five Baltimore oriole territories. Currently they are all singing somewhat similar phrases something like “your shoes are dirty” but I realize how they differ slightly. At least four of these birds are with distinct boundaries and sound something like this to me. 1. “your shoes are dirtee” 2. “shoes are silveree” 3. “shoes are still dirtee” 4. Fourth seemed to be more worried about teeth rather than shoes so he sings, “your teeth are dirty” and some variations on that”. To add to it all confusions the Scarlet tanager decided to sing “ Great, your teeth are great”. The unattended garden plots, including part of my garden are filled with Barberea and another species of mustard plants that are flowering right now. There was continuous background hum once the sun came out from the fog. There were hundreds of Honey Bees humming. At one point, I was thinking wow how fun this place would be for Bee-eaters and unfortunately, there are no bee-eaters here. As if as an answer to my thoughts, within a few seconds an Eastern Kingbird landed on a pole near me and swooped over the flowers. Often came up with nothing, but occasionally he found something which probably he swallowed it quickly. There were also Bank Swallows that are nesting on the banks of Fall Creek, chirping and twittering flying low over the fields. One interesting observation in recent times is that I have found Bank Swallows hunt in groups of threes or fours, while Tree Swallows can hunt individually. I was wondering why there is difference in behavior. I was hoping to hear some cuckoos but I heard none.
In the afternoon, I wanted to do some odonates. I wanted to explore some large creeks or rivers for Cruisers. Hence, I looked up Yahoo maps and decided to do Horseheads Marsh and Susquehanna River. However, later realized I won’t have much of time, so decided to stick to Horseheads Marsh and stop on the way back at Connecticut Hills. Here is the map of Horseheads Area.
I was going to explore both those water bodies. I found out that access to the largest water body was restricted, as it seems to belong to correctional facilities, so I explored only the marsh along railroads, that too only a small portion of it as I spent a whole lot of time observing behaviors of odonates.
The large marsh on the east of the railroad was filled thousands of dragonflies and major insects were Bluedashers. Also in good number were Halloween Pennants, Widow Skimmers, Eastern Pond Hawks, Dottail, Eastern Forktails and a few of Skimming Bluets, Hagen’s Bluet and an yet unidied bluet.
I had some fun observing the behaviors, I was photographing a male Halloween Pennant, and he was keeping watch on me while adjusting to his wings to sunlight. First a Cedar Waxwing flew over his head, I could see his head tilt upwards immediately to watch the waxwing. Then a little later a second one passed, again he tilted his head to look upwards. I could clearly say these were responses to flying Cedar Waxwings. I watched another Halloween Pennant catch an insect and chomp it down while making crunchy noises.
Nearby I found a female of Eastern Forktail with a male Eastern Forktail in her mouth. It was strange to see two heads looking at me. She had managed to find a male and start eating from his body end. I wanted to know if she would eat the head or not. I disturbed her with my movements while I was trying slowly to get different angle to photograph and she took off and I could not relocate her. While I was photographing her, I felt something is watching me, so I turned around to see a Canada gosling looking at me soulfully. I found his left leg was injured, either in an attack by a predator like may be a snapping turtle or got hit by a car and was bleeding, but looked like it had stopped bleeding and he was sitting there hidden hoping to heal the wound. With his eyes, he looked like pleading me to do something for him. I felt so sorry as I did not know what I could do. Once I found an injured deer in my driveway. So when I called the authority to do something about it. His response was to shoot it, so I did not want same thing to happen to this gosling and decided let nature take its course and not humans. Who knows his injury will heal in couple of days and he may be able to join his group again.
I watched oviposition (egg laying) behaviors of odonates. There were several species that were in either wheel or in tandem. I found at least three different pairs of Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerate), several Halloween Pennants, Blue Dashers, Pondhawks, Widow Skimmer coming to lay eggs.
I spent time observed egg laying behavior of two pairs of Black Saddlebags. They flew over open portions of algae covered pond, and would fly in short jerky flights, as if like a galloping horse and would dip down towards water to lay eggs. When female was laying eggs, male released her for few seconds and grabbed her again once she finished laying eggs. First time I observed this, I thought she slipped away from his hold. Then later I found it was a regular behavior. I watched one pair do this six times in about 10-12 minutes. Therefore, I got curious and watched another pair to see if all Black saddlebags do this. Sure, enough, that seemed to be typical behavior, I was intrigued and was speculating why should he behave like this and came up with a couple of hypotheses. At home, I checked in the literature to see if such behaviors have been reported. Sure enough, it was mentioned for Tramea Carolina.
I also watched Halloween Pennant’s oviposition behaviors. The pair will fly around together and male seem to be directing females as to where to lay eggs. While flying if he found (I presume suitable habitat) he would fly down towards water and force female to turn her abdomen. Most often female curled and laid eggs by dipping her abdomen, while he remained attached to her and hovered. What a contrasting behavior between two of these similarly sized dragonflies. Why male of Saddlebag is so selfish as to not get eaten by the predator, while Halloween remained attached. Would be interesting to study the dynamics of these two insects.
There were so many Blue Dashers on the pond, may be in thousands, there was hardly any aggressive behavior between males or females I observed. Occasionally one would chase away other, but most of the time they sat side by side and flew close to each other over water. I had read about competition between males and harassing females by these species, but here on this pond it looked like there were plenty of females and males and I guess lot of suitable spots for everyone to raise their young, they did not need to fight with each other.
By about three PM, it started getting very dark in the west and heard some loud thundering, so decided I need to pack. As I reached my car, large drops of water came down and then it rained, so it was good timing. It was great fun watching the behaviors.
Here in this slide show you can see some of the behaviors I have described!