What You Can Do
National Audubon
Blog Archive
Tuesday
Mar232010

make your birding count!

We are pleased to announce Rutland County Audubon has joined five other Audubon chapters in Vermont in sponsoring eBird. For those of you not familiar with eBird, this is a great time to learn more about it and consider participating by submitting your bird sightings.

What is eBird and what does it do? Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon, eBird is an online, real-time checklist program that collects bird sightings across the country. Vermont eBird is administered by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), who, along with other environmental organizations in the state, sponsor the site.

How can you help? Your sightings, whether in your backyard, on your favorite hike, or at one of Rutland County Audubon Birding Hotspots, can make a difference. Sightings from all our RCAS field trips are entered into eBird. The sightings provide scientists with information on the distribution and abundance of bird species.

For those of you that keep bird lists, eBird has the added bonus of keeping and sorting data, whether it’s a life list, a state list, or a yard list. Want to know when the first hummingbird of the season might be seen in Vermont? eBird can tell you that. Planning a trip to a state or national park this summer and want to know what birds might be seen? eBird can give you that information too.

Spring is around the corner so what better time to get started? Click here to check out eBird and what’s happening in the bird world!

Tuesday
Mar092010

book review: Summer World by Bernd Heinrich

In Summer World, Bernd Heinrich completes his inquisitive survey of seasonal adaptations that he inaugurated in Winter World (reviewed in fall 2008 newsletter).

Upon opening the pages, one’s sense of touch is aroused by the unusually softly textured paper. How perfect, I thought, for those of us with a bent to cozy up for a winter’s evening reading and dreaming warmer climes and times. Whether this will also be true of the paperback edition coming out in April, I cannot say. The back cover flap says it’s also available as an e-book. Sorry, no sensual accompaniments there!

Although it is entitled Summer World, Heinrich’s observations do not begin at the summer solstice (June 21), but rather in February, when he first sights a raven pair building a nest. He points out that, though we tend to think of winter, with its test of severe cold, as necessitating months of preparation, the few truly warm weeks of summer are a limited time for successfully mating and raising young. American RobinSo birds, insects and amphibians, all get as early a start as possible to take advantage of the warmest days. Also trees, for one might say they are “obsessive” about preparation, since they flush out early, complete their yearly growth shortly thereafter, and by July, have developed buds for the next year.

I found his further discussion of tree budding particularly enlightening. Many of us have found mid-winter bud identification workshops and field trips quite frustrating. Now, to make it more perplexing, Heinrich alerts us that many northern forest trees have separate buds for leaf and flower. There is a logical utility for this. Wind-pollinated trees flower a month before leafing out, when they can be more easily pollinated because there is less blockage of wind carrying pollen over leaves. On the other hand, bee-pollinated basswood is pollinated a month or so after the leaf buds have opened, when, in late summer, the bee population has peaked.

BloodrootAs in Winter World, the author relates his ingenious yet practical methods for evoking nature’s secrets. Using garbage can lids, he studies crocuses’ response to light, and to consider Bloodroot’s blooming relation to temperature, he puts them in his refrigerator.

A large part of the book is given to discussing insects. He delves into great minutiae on the distinct nests and unique behaviors of various wasp species and wonders, “Aside from the mystery of how wasps can do so much with so little, there is the mystery of how what they know, is passed faultlessly from one generation to the next.”

Seemingly instinctual behavior of some moths and butterflies can appear positively perspicacious. Their caterpillars chip off the petiole of the leaf they have just partially consumed, allowing it to drop to the ground. Heinrich calls this “covering their tracts,” from buds on the lookout for caterpillar activity.

However, I found the author occasionally spotty on the lucidity of his explanations. For example, a seven-page dissertation explores red and black ant colonization, emigration and social interaction. Yet,Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillar in a subsequent chapter, in one paragraph, he describes a sphinx moth caterpillar that overnight became “covered with 91 white braconid wasp cocoons, its skin covered with little dark puncture wounds.” There is a rather ghastly photo of this phenomena, but not explanation. Had the caterpillar ingested wasp eggs during prior days when Heinrich had been watching it casually munching leaves? For someone who is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont, the answer is probably something he considers quite commonplace.

The author redeemed himself, in my estimation, by providing an answer to something that struck my curiosity this past fall. On many golden leaves of a neighbor’s poplar, I noted a dime-sized deep green splotch, at the base, near the mid-vein. Heinrich put similar spotted areas under a microscope and found feeding “leaf miner” caterpillars with trails of black fecal pellets.

As distinct from Winter World, in Summer World Heinrich takes more excursions off course into philosophical speculation. In sequential chapters, he hypothesizes on the possibility of life on other planets, presents a diatribe on global working that leads into the necessity of a “spiritual imperative,” and theorizes how man evolved from a “hairy” ape into a “naked” human.

All in all, I was less enamored of this book than Winter World, even though the text is accompanied by beautiful and clarifying drawings and watercolors, which I always consider a plus. On the contrary, entomologists and other insect enthusiasts would be enraptured. Perhaps this is because, despite being so numerous, insects are more inconspicuous, often considered a nuisance, and requires time, patience, and close observation to understand the intricacies of their lives.

Sunday
Feb282010

bats in the balance!

NOTE: This program was originally scheduled for March 16, but will be held on March 30.

US Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

In February 2006 some 40 miles west of Albany, New York, a caver photographed hibernating bats with an unusual white substance on their muzzles.  He noticed several dead bats.  The following winter, bats behaving erratically, bats with white noses and a few hundred dead bats in several caves came to the attention of New York Department of Environmental Conservation biologists, who documented white-nose syndrome in January 2007.  Hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats have died since.  Biologists with state and federal agencies and organizations across the country are still trying to find the answer to this deadly mystery.

Sick, dying and dead bats have been found in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines from Vermont to Virginia.  In some hibernacula, 90 to 100 percent of the bats are dying.

While the bats are in the hibernacula, the affected bats often have white fungus on their muzzles and other parts of their bodies.  They may have low body fat.  These bats often move to cold parts of the hibernacula, fly during the day and during cold winter weather when insects they feed upon are not available, and exhibit other uncharacteristic behavior.

Despite the continuing search to find the source of this condition by numerous laboratories and state and federal biologists, the cause of the bat deaths remains unknown.  Recent identification of a cold-loving fungus could be a step toward and answer. 

Scott Darling, a Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist, has been directly involved in seeking some understanding of the causes of white-nose syndrome and with developing certain countermeasures.  Scott will speak on “Bats in the Balance” on Tuesday, March 30, at 7:00 p.m. at the Rutland Free Library.  Plan to attend! 

Tuesday
Feb232010

can spring be far behind?

On January 17, I clipped some branches from bushes in an open field to use for drawing studies ofby Renee Warren dormant buds. After completing my studies, I left the branches in a jar of water and then pretty much forgot about them. So I was very surprised to see them sprouting little green leaf shoots on Feburary 4. I presume this is a response to the warmth of the house. Although the branches were in a southwest facing room, they were out of direct sunlight and certainly were receiving less light than they would have in the open field. What a welcome early sign of spring!

Coming soon: my review of Summer World by Bernd Heinrich.

Saturday
Feb132010

change in date for March bat program

Please note that the date for the program Bats in the Balance has changed from March 16 to March 30. The time and place (7 PM, Rutland Free Library) remain the same.