Before winter made a reprise performance here in Maryland, I was able to do quite a bit of exploring.

At Lilypons Water Gardens, I spied this unusual looking bird. It is a bit smaller than our common mallard ducks, with nearly black head and red eyes. I identified it as an American Coot; a common waterbird that often spends the winter in my area. I found it to be very shy and had trouble getting photos.

American_coot

Want to learn more about birds? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the best places! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search/

Maybe I’m a bit odd, but I find the sound of frog calls truly joyful!

Folks have asked about the timing, thinking these frogs are singing very early. However, many frog species do their mating in late winter and early spring, so this year’s frogs don’t seem to be particularly early.

This year, it seems that the Wood Frogs are the early ones out. We (my daughter went hiking with me) found hundreds in the spring ponds off the C&O Canal. Here is a picture of wood frogs mating (the female is the larger one on the bottom) and an audio clip of their calls.

Mating_Wood_FrogsWood Frogs Sing

I hope this inspires you to keep your eyes open for our amphibian friends!

 

It seems everyone knows that the Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico, avoiding our colder winters. But what about other butterflies?

And the answer is a wonderful “it depends.” Different species deal with winter weather in different ways. So, I’ll split my answers into parts. Today’s part is about the species of butterflies that manage to survive our winters in adult form.

In many areas of the US with cold, snowy winters, we have several species that manage this feat. Here in Maryland, we have three species: Mourning Cloak (known as Camberwell Beauty in Britain), Question Mark and Eastern Comma.

If you were to find them hibernating, they look dead – they are absolutely still and stiff. But once they warm up, they can come out of hibernation.

All three species often hibernate in wood piles. So if you are burning wood this winter, please check to make sure your logs don’t have any winged friends on them before you put the log in the fire!

mourning_cloakeastern_comma

While the winter months bring me plenty of joy looking through the year’s pictures, there’s nothing like planning for hot summer days and nights!

So, I was quite excited to see National Moth Week announced for 2017. https://www.facebook.com/NationalMothWeek/ It will be July 22-30.

Why a week for moths? Well, because they are so overlooked and yet there are so many species and more being discovered. There are over 1000 species of moths in Maryland alone!

clymene_mothhummingbird_moth

polyphemous_moth

 

Pictured are: a Hummingbird or Clearwing Moth, a Clymene Moth and a Polyphemous Moth. The most unusual picture is of the Clearwing moth; these usually hover at a fast pace near flowers. This was one of the only times I’ve seen one land and sit still.

Here is a wonderful website compiled of Maryland moths: http://www.marylandmoths.com/index.html

I hope everyone is having a great start for 2017.

Did you make any resolutions or goals for the outdoors this year?

Last year, I joined the 52 Hike Challenge. http://www.52hikechallenge.com/ I didn’t do such a great job keeping a log of my hikes, but I hiked most weeks and made at least 100 hikes through the year.

I started off 2017 on the right foot – with a First Day hike at Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia. I was thrilled to see the parking full, with many people out on the trails. We had good weather (for winter), with plenty of sun and temperatures reaching near 50.

I went on a guided hike. Our park ranger described many historical features of the property and traditions from holidays of the Victorian era (when the property’s home was occupied). In addition, a volunteer naturalist accompanied us, adding commentary on birds and wildlife. We saw and heard quite a few species of bird. I didn’t get a picture of a Red-Headed Woodpecker we saw, but I did spy these songbirds (a mockingbird and sparrow). mockingbird and sparrow

Much of the country now has wintry weather. Here at home (Maryland), we’ve had a bit of snow and temperatures down to the teens. Needless to say, the butterflies aren’t flying.

But, many species of birds have made their migrations. And for some of the Arctic birds, the Mid-Atlantic area makes for a warm winter!

Snowy Owl - Schnee-Eule.jpg  Ever seen one of these beauties? It’s a Snowy Owl, which occasionally makes its way to Maryland.

What else can be found? Well, think about joining a Christmas Bird Count (which take place from mid-December thru mid-January)!

Learn more about these great activities at:

http://www.audubon.org/join-christmas-bird-count

Happy holidays and happy bird watching!

open winged monarchMonarchs are famous for their migration. Rightfully so – they weigh in at under one gram, yet travel up to 3000 miles, each way!

Most of the Monarchs of North America (not all – the Western ones migrate to Southern California) make southward migrations following trackable paths to Mexico. The first ones arrived to their winter site in central Mexico on November 1, The Day of the Dead. In Mexico, the arrival signifies the return of the spirits of their ancestors. In March, they will leave Mexico, repopulating much of North America.

The magic of the Monarchs has entranced so many that we have wonderful researchers sharing information on great websites. Learn more at Monarch Watch http://monarchwatch.org/tagmig/index.htm , Journey North https://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/index.html , and Xerces Society http://www.xerces.org/.

Keep an eye out for the Monarchs in spring as they return. I’ll post my sightings; usually the first fly through Maryland in late May.

I was recently in Florida. And you may know that Florida is famous for “gators.” That is, the American Alligator, which is our largest reptile and can grow up to 15 feet long and weigh up to 1000 pounds.

Given that gators are carnivores and fast, it makes sense that there are signs all over telling people not to swim in water with gators or to feed the gators.

Yet, I not only saw people feeding the gators, they offered me cookies to toss to the gators. Two bad ideas in one. (Well, three, if you count wasting yummy cookies!)

Number 1 – cookies are not appropriate food for alligators.

Number 2 – It teaches the alligators that people will provide food and are safe to be around.

Wildlife experts in the South have learned that gators tend not to attack humans, except when they have become habituated to humans due to people feeding them. They suspect that the gator that killed the toddler at Disney World may have been fed regularly by visitors.

But it isn’t just gators that shouldn’t be fed. Please don’t feed the squirrels, the deer, or other wild animals. Let wild animals be wild.

No feeding gators

So similar, yet two different species with radically “lifestyles.”

On the left, a Monarch, probably preparing for its long migration to Mexico.

On the right, is a Viceroy, which doesn’t migrate at all!

It has long been argued that the Viceroy is  “mimic” of the Monarch. Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed plants, which contain chemicals that make birds (and many other creatures) sick. The adult Monarchs also contain those chemicals. So, birds learn not to eat them and somehow communicate that information to other birds. Birds also do not eat the Viceroy. Biologists taught us that it is because the Viceroy looks so much like the Monarch. But the newest information is that the Viceroy also doesn’t taste good to birds (even if it doesn’t make them sick), so birds’ avoidance of the these striking orange butterflies is confirmed by both species.

So, take a closer look. Can you tell these butterflies apart?

monarch-vviceroy-v

September MonarchEvery year around this time (for the mid-Atlantic states), Monarchs begin their journey to Mexico. Monarchs are not our only migratory butterfly, but they make the longest and most famous journey.

There has been a great deal of concern about the decline in Monarch population. With such awareness, more people are planting Monarch waystations and watching out for the Monarchs. And the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been leading Federal efforts. That is all great news.

This year I am personally observing many more monarchs than I have seen in at least 20 years! I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky with some of the locations I’ve visited or if it’s part of a trend (hopefully!)

One way to learn about the migration, check other observations and log your own is JourneyNorth  JourneyNorth even has an app!