Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lichen...nature as art

Have taken on lichen as newest "wildlife" challenge. These plants are extremely colorful and come in one of four growth "forms": foliose, fructicose, crustose, and squamulose. Just future blogs will dive into detail. Have gotten great book to unravel all things lichen, Lichens of North America by Brodo, Sharnof, Sharnof (2001). Book is as heavy as the rock lichens grow appropriate! Finding out these plants are very difficult to identify without a lot of work...then again need challenge and something to do. Check out this photo taken at Bass Creek, Bitterroot Mountains on large boulder:

Several lichen species...easy to find, photograph and appreciate...a bear to identify

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Red-shafted Flicker winter feeding

Red-shafted flicker, a northern flicker subspecies, Colaptes auratus (1st described by Linneaus), is a colorful and fairly large woodpecker. Name in part may have come from its call, an onomatopoeia "flicka, flicka, flicka..." Like all birds it spends much of its day searching for food. Dietary research published by Arthur Cleveland Bent (1939) revealed stomach contents that contained 40% vegetable matter and 60% animal matter. Majority of animal matter consumed was ants (75%). Most of the vegetable matter consists of fruits and berries.

Red-shafted flicker looking over the berry selection
In the winter ants are not readily available. So much of the search for food now consists of searching nooks, crannies for other arthropods (insects, centipedes, spiders, crustaceans). Arthropods overwinter in four forms, from most to least in number: egg, larvae, pupa or adult. Each form has advantages/disadvantages to surviving the winter. Moore and Lee Jr. (1991) described cold hardiness of aquatic and terrestrial insects. A fly larvae of Eurosta solidaginis withstood -55F winter temps in a goldenrod gall. Further research suggested that insects specifically choose sites for wintering on the basis of: size, shelter, position, and moisture content. Waldbauer (1998) calculated that one square mile of airspace from 20 feet above the ground to 500 feet up contained 32 million arthropods. Abundance increases closer to the ground. So, flickers and most birds, likely have a lot to food to find, albeit small.

The TwitPic photo posted shows two flickers searching my neighbor's brick chimney for wintering arthropods. Seems like a difficult way of living...geez these animals are incredible and tough. CX7K4Z9RYUGY

Monday, January 3, 2011

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's solitaire visited our yard yesterday. Myadestes townsendi was named by Audubon for naturalist John Kirk Townsend. Townsend and Thomas Nuttall undertook a western US expedition in 1834. Both collected many plant and animal specimens undescribed to science. Nearly a seventh of the bird plates of Audubon's Birds of America were from Townsend's collection efforts. Though considered a genius and well skilled, circumstances of life prevented Townsend from attaining the ornithological notoriety of John James Audubon. An account of Townsend accomplishments can be found in Audubon to Xantus: The Lives of those Commenmorated in North American Bird Names (Barbara and Richard Mearns 1992).Townsend did publish a humorous, historical account of the expedition in 1839 that sold out in three weeks. J.K. Townsend died 11 days after Audubon passed away.

Townsend's Solitaire is a frugivore, most pronounced in the winter time. A favored fruit are juniper berries. The wax coating on these berries is an important nutritional component. A short essay in The Birders Handbook (Ehlich, Dobkin & Wheye 1988) outlines this and the importance of wax substances for many bird species. I especially found the explanation for the expression "whole ball of wax", way cool. Wax is a major structual component of many marine species, especially shrimp, which seabirds eat. Young seabirds keep a ball of wax in their stomachs to draw nourishment from, between extended periods of adult feeding :-)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stevensville Christmas Bird Count

Had a good time doing the 2010 "Stevi" CBC. Did Lee Metcalf NWR with the help of Sherry Ritter. Temps started out in single digits and much of the open water on the refuge was frozen...not typical. 

Lee Metcalf NWR...looking northeast...Sapphire Mountains in background

Found 33 species by mid-day. Morning highlight was immature northern goshawk that whooshed by us only to perch in a nearby tree...opportunity for digiscoping. Go here to see cropped image: 

The afternoon objective: finding waterfowl species here-to-fore unseen, e.g. gadwall. Started out well...scads of ring-necked duck, then discovered 2 Virginia rail skulking along outlet channel. Then a marsh wren vocalized followed by 2 others. Noted a pied-billed grebe (unexpected) in open water channel...whoa 2 more American coot...3 trumpeter swan and the coup de grace, a ruddy duck. Finished the day with 45 species, about 5 species less than normal. Great day to be outside connecting with nature.