Monday, May 5, 2008

Field Work Sightings

I've spent the last few days checking the local creeks and my almost 30 artificial nest sites for Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). I have no activity in any of my nest sites so far, and its starting to get worrying. I still have 1-2 weeks before the swallows should be egg laying, so I've still got my fingers crossed.

One problem I've encountered is wasps. Five out of seven tubes in one stretch of creek were occupied by these guys, which I cleared out to make room for the birds. I only hope the birds weren't turned away by the wasps and will still investigate the tubes for nesting sites. Eric Denemark ID'ed these as Paper Wasps (Polistes). I'm sure it was amusing to watch me clear out the tubes. I would gingerly open the tube until I could access the nest, then jab it with a stick and run like hell. Luckily, these things aren't really aggressive. It was also on the cooler side that day and they may just have been slow.

Check out the eggs
When not engaged in battle with wasps, I did manage to generally enjoy myself hiking along the Ithaca creeks. Heralding the beginning of may, I found my first Mayapples of the year, along with a few other wildflowers:

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum; thanks for the ID, Amy)

Part of the appeal of these stretches of creek - to both me and the Rough-wings - is the high amount of erosion. Especially impressive are the 100-foot eroded cliffs of Monkey Run, which seem a lot less impressive captured in a photograph:

The low banks where I place my tubes see constant erosion, too. Sometimes you see things like this, where two whole trees have recently collapsed into the creek:

Can you find my wasp-filled tubes?

Belted Kingfishers are abundant along the creeks. I found several burrows this weekend. I measured one to be approximately 40 inches deep - they are not insignificant accomplishments by the Kingfishers!

My attempt to use my cell phone to mirror light down the burrow:

This weekend, I only managed to find one Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), a young one, but I did actually get a photo of it before it swam into the creek.

My last few sightings are Lepidopteran.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

This was weird. I was walking down the sidewalk of Rt 13 south of Ithaca, when I suddenly had a bunch of caterpillars crawling on me. I looked up, and witnessed many dozens or even hundreds of Tent Caterpillars suspended by silk in the air around a young Red/Black Oak, hung in the wind over Rt. 13. I've seen caterpillars blowing in the wind before, but the magnitude of this event was unreal. Unfortunately their small size made it difficult to photograph, but I tried:

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