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June 14, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The moment I found the hive, I had a hunch. And while I’ll never really have conclusive proof, I still have my suspicions and some interesting new natives in my backyard.
The story goes like this:
I have several plum trees, and they have flowered for several years now, but each year the number of plums the trees produced was a pittance. On our best year, I think we got four. The same goes for my cherry tree.
All of a sudden this year I noticed that the trees have scads of small plums hanging on most every branch. I thought the reason was that the trees had matured to the point where they were able to produce fruit, but I was mowing the lawn and came up with another possible answer.
I was mowing beside a birdhouse that hangs on my fence. I turned off the mower and to my surprise I could hear the birdhouse humming.
My instant reaction was, “Oh no.”
I looked in the hole on the front of the birdfeeder and saw what looked like little bumblebees, but a little more than half the size of the ones I grew up with in the Midwest. They had coloration fairly typical for a bumblebee with one striking difference, their butts were deep orange.
With some help from the Internet and Scott Black, Executive Director at The Xerces Society, my “Oh no” turned into “Excellent.”
June 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM
This post will be short and hopefully sweet, just like this little frog.
With so much being written in recent years about the decline of frog populations both around the region and around the world, I was just happy to see this Pacific treefrog, Pseudacris regilla, on a recent hike.
There is nothing quite like watching a spring sunset while listening to the sweet song of the male Pacifics as they attempt to serenade a mate. It’s my guess that this was likely a female based on the fact that she was more than an inch and half long, on the bigger side for Pacifics.
She was fairly patient with me, letting me get close enough to get a decent photo. Despite being called a tree frog, you usually find them on or near the ground.
In a world where scientists occasional question the survival of some amphibians, the numbers on Pacific treefrog populations are mostly good news. It’s listed as having a stable population, and that bodes well for forest diversity and future sunsets.
May 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM
If you like the outdoors, there are a lot of reasons to like spring. One that would be near the top of my list is the fact that spring hikes often coincides with emergence of the butterflies.
The Pacific Northwest has so many. Admittedly, I’m not so good at knowing them by name, so for our readers with butterfly expertise, please feel free to chime in in the comments with common names, accounts and the Latin names if you know them.
And while my identification skills might be lacking, I sure do like seeing them flutter by as I walk. We did our best to get photos but it takes a photographer with a better set of lenses and more patience than me to catch quality images. The ones in this post come from a recent hike near Cashmere.
In terms of descriptions, I might as well start with the butterfly that is almost always first on my list in terms of being seen, the Mourning Cloak butterfly.
With chocolate brown wings edged in white, the Mourning Cloaks make up for their lack of splashy color with motion.
Despite there somber common name, my wife calls them the flamenco dancer butterfly. Wary and quick, they alternate between flapping their wings with furious rhythm and gliding and quick dramatic circles. The barely passable picture on the right marks my best of countless attempts to get one to sit still long enough for a shot.
For roughly the first three miles of our hike there was constantly at least one Mourning Cloak in view along with numerous other butterflies.
There were big bright tiger swallowtails and all sorts of medium-sized brown spotted butterflies, and occasional hordes of the small blues that always seem to cluster where water and lupines can be found together.
One dramatic butterfly we kept seeing in multiple locations and never sat still long enough for us to photograph was what I think may have been the Stella Orangetip which has cream-colored wings that appear to have been dipped in bright orange on the tips where the wing widens at the top.
There were more that flitted away too quickly to be mentioned. In all, they were a wonderful addition to the hike. So if you get a chance to get out this weekend, keep an eye out for butterflies and, if you’re lucky, maybe you can slow down long enough to just spend some time looking at them and their vast variety of color.
April 25, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Sometimes nature can wow you, often at an unexpected moment.
Most outdoors lovers have a story about a surprise display of natural action on a hike, a fishing expedition or a mushroom hunt.
But in the Puget Sound area, with nature surrounding the metropolitan footprint, sometimes that unexpected moment can happen right in your front yard. That’s the way it was for me and my cat, Harley, earlier this month.
To tell the story I need to give you a little front-yard geography. I have a smallish bamboo thicket on the north side of my driveway and my neighbor has a tall hedge in front of his house. There is a constant burble of sparrows going back and forth between the two. It happens so often that I rarely notice the movement anymore.
But in this case I was carrying Harley down my front steps. And being a cat, Harley noticed the sparrows fly over our heads and into the bamboo. In that natural bit of instinct to follow the eyes of another, my gaze followed his. We had yet to notice the predator gliding in just over our heads.
The Peregrine falcon started out as little more than a blur until it slowed itself for the bamboo. I’m sure the sparrows thought they were taking cover. I would have thought the sparrows could have darted behind branches and beyond reach in there, but it didn’t work out that way. The falcon waded into the bamboo with little if any hesitation
It emerged with a male sparrow basketed in its talons and gracefully sailed away. I looked at Harley and it appeared as though his face was reflecting what mine was, near disbelief with what we had just witnessed.
I had long carried an image in my mind of Peregrines diving from the sky to rake some hapless pigeon trying to escape. This display of tearing into the bamboo after prey was out of the context of my knowledge. It was shocking and added a layer of fierceness to my understanding of falcons.
Harley, who fancies himself a bird catcher, seemed more than a little humbled. He was not the only one in the neighborhood in a bit of shock.
For the next half hour, my neighborhood was under a cover of radio silence for all birds. No sparrow chatter, no robins chirping out spring, no flickers hammering on the chimney caps. Even our ubiquitous crows, which are constantly cawing out territorial messages of one type or another, were dead quiet.
Bigger raptors, eagles and red tails, pass by through our neighborhood all the time and the crows are out, instantly full of noise and harassment. But not for the Peregrine. The crows came down off their high perches. Instead they found places under eaves or in large trees right up against the trunk.
Like the samurai of the bird world, Peregrine’s have honed their technique and weapons to an intimidating perfection.
The circle of life has sharp edges, and those sharp edges can carve out amazing scenes, even in your urban front yard.
April 18, 2013 at 11:48 AM
In my last post I challenged people to identify this unusual red-fronted spider, and many readers were familiar with it.
According to Rod Crawford, the curator of arachnids at the Burke Museum, this spider is likely Dysdera crocata. It goes by one of several common names all related to its main source of prey, the woodlouse. If you’re not familiar with woodlice, you probably are by another name, pillbug, sowbug, potato bug, and armadillo bug just to name a few.
The woodlouse spider is relatively new to our area and appears to be moving north from Oregon as our local climate warms. The species is native to Europe and was introduced to North America sometime in the 19th century.
It made its way west to Portland by the 1930s but has been slower to move north. It didn’t cross the river into Vancouver until the 1980s. According to Crawford, the time it took to move north is pretty good evidence that its spread was being limited by climate.
Beyond the wagon-red color, which immediately called the spider to my attention, I noticed its long nasty chelicerae, which is a term I must admit I just learned. Before I would have called them “fangy things.”
Those fangs appear to have given the woodlouse spider a reputation for being venomous that it doesn’t really deserve. They are long and strong to puncture the exoskeleton of its main prey, but apparently the strength of bite is where the nastiness ends as far as humans are concerned. If you want to read more about it, see a clearer picture of Dysdera crocata and read about spider danger myths, Crawford has a good page devoted to it.
Crawford’s whole site on debunking spider myths is a very good source on local spider information.
I’d also like to congratulate Christina Wilsdon, who was the first Times reader to correctly identify our mystery spider. If you have a good photo of some interesting biota from our area, send it our way and it might end up here in Field Notes.
March 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM
It’s often the new or unique that stand out to us. Paired with its red head and odd shape, that was certainly the case for this spider. I found it while digging in the familiar territory of my yard garden recently and, as soon as it turned up, I knew it was something I hadn’t seen before.
The photo is a bit blurry but not for lack of trying to get a clearer one. Found at or perhaps even below the ground level while moving compost, the spider seemed very determined to get back there. Though not speedy, it seemed oblivious to my efforts to slow him (or her) down and turn it around for a clearer shot. Also it had a talent for tucking itself up into tight places to hide. By the time I could check my phone to see if I had gotten a good shot, it was gone.
Have you seen one like it before? Can you identify it?
If so, toss your answer into the comment thread or email me if you prefer. We’ll update the post later in the week with the best guess — you’d actually need a specimen for more accuracy than that — of Rod Crawford, the Curator of Arachnids at the Burke Museum.
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