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American Crows

American Crow in grain field.
American Crow in grain field.
American Crow in grain field. Photo:Jack Dingle, PGC Photo/Public Domain.

American Crows always fascinate me. It’s their intelligence and the confident way they strut as they walk. To many peoples they symbolize transformation and change. I look into their dark eyes and wish I could hold a conversation with them. I wonder what wise things they would say. 

Who are the Crows?

American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are the most widespread of the crows. It is the species of crow I see most often here in Philadelphia. I live on the edge of the city with lawns, wooded areas, and plenty of open spaces. This is just the type of habitats crows like. They socialize in small flocks in open habitats.

There are two main species of crows in North America, the American and the Fish Crow. (Corvus ossifragus). The Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) and the Tamaulipas Crow (Corvus imparatus) from Mexico are not as frequent in the U.S. and Canada. . The other crows are visitors from Eurasia. 

The Fish Crow is common more in the south and along the east coast usually near water. The Fish Crow looks very similar to the American Crow, but is a bit smaller and the voice is different. Fish Crows has a higher-pitched single or double cah similar to a young crow’s begging call. 

Flying crows (both American and Fish) have square or slightly rounded tail tips. Ravens tails are wedge-shaped in flight. 

I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell them apart. I ‘m sure I’ve seen Fish Crows and thought it the American. 

The Crow Family

Crows and Ravens are all classified in the genus Corvus. They makeup half of the family Corvidae worldwide. All of the members of the family in North America have all-black plumage. There are members of the family with gray or white markings in the rest of the world. There is at least one specie of Corvidae in most habitats in North America.

Differences between American Crows and Ravens

Ravens (Corvus corax) are much larger than crows, with a heavier bill, and a wedge-shaped tail.  Instead of the open habitats of crows, ravens are common in forests, mountains, canyons, deserts and the coast. The Chihuahuan Raven is common in arid areas. 

American Crow in flight.
American Crow in flight.

What are their Characteristics?

American Crows weight about one pound, are 17.5 inches long and have a wingspan of about 39’ from wing tip to wing tip. The American Crow has a large head, broad wings and a short,  rounded or blunt tail. They fly with smooth wingbeats and they glide with wings slightly raised. Ravens fly with their wings flat. 

A Year Round Resident 

American Crows live in their territories year round. They are certainly in my neighborhood  all year. I see them in groups and flocks. Sometimes two or more walking along the ground of perched in trees. Their family groups range in size from 2 – 10 birds. The family groups are made up of birds of various ages. Many times they include the parents and young from previous years that help raise the current brood.  

How Do They Live?

American Crows create nests that amounts to a bulky bowl made of twigs lined with leaves, moss, or other materials. The nest is usually hidden in the fork of a tree. Generally a crow’s nest is located between 25 and 75 feet above the ground. Sometimes the nest is on the ground. 

American Crows gathering for night time roost
American Crows gathering for night time roost.

When they are not nesting and raising youth, crows gather in large communal roosts. These roosts gather in large trees and number thousands of individuals. The nesting season for American Crows in February through June. They raise one brood of 4 to 6 greenish eggs spotted with brown. The female is the main incubator. The eggs take 16 to 18 days to hatch. Between 28 to 35 days old, the young fledge. Fledge is when a young birds develops wing feathers which are large enough for flight. Young crows stay with their parents for up to four years. 

What Do They Eat? 

Crows success is due to their extremely diverse diet.They are omnivorous ground feeders. They eat small animals including fish, bird eggs and nestlings, snails, small reptiles, insects, worms, dead animals, snails, and other invertebrates.  They eat plant foods such as grains, seeds, and fruits.  Also food waste thrown out by human is on the menu. 

If you want to attract crows, particularly if you want to study these fascinating birds, put out bread scraps or corn on the ground. They’ll eat suet from a feeder if they can reach it. They will eat the fruit from shrubs, particularly the fruit the falls to the ground. 

All members of the Corvid genus store extra food. The bury it in the ground or hide it in trees. Crows will drop a nut onto a hard surface such as a road to break open the shell. See Storing Food for the Winter (How to Hoard)  

Where are They Found?

Crows live year round in small groups in the the lower forty-eight section of the US. Canada is the breeding territory for many crows. And a few areas of the southwest along the Mexican border are winter grounds probably for the individuals who spend the summer breeding in Canada.

Flock of Crows
Flock of crows

Behavior to Watch

During the winter, crows congregate in large flocks. They forage as large flocks at abundant food sources such as a grain fields,  gleaning the leftover seeds. Crows gather together at night to roost in large numbers. 

Perhaps the large groups make it easier for the birds to watch for the one of their most dangerous predator, the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) 

Early one June morning, just after 9 am I heard the husky, piercing scream of a Red-tailed hawk and the American crows went crazy. The crows nesting in the Locust tree out back, began to “caw-caw-caw”, frantically until the hawk left the area. The crows were nesting high in the trees raising their young. 

Crows, like Blue Jays will mob a predator.  By mobbing a predator they will make loud, noisy calls and dive at the predator. I saw a neighbor’s cat mobbed by Blue Jays diving and striking the cat along its’ back. 

American Crow perched in a tree
American Crow perched in a tree.

As I write this in late autumn, I hear the caw of a American Crow nearby. I see it perch on the tip of a branch high in the Sycamore tree that towers over the rooftops of the house the next street over. As the Sun sinks lower in the the late afternoon sky, I watch a crow walk across the roofs of the house across from my window. I have always liked crows. There is something special about them. 

Other Crows in North America

Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) is common in coastal areas along the Pacific coast from Alaska to British Columbia. 

Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) is a rare visitor from Europe spotted in New York and New Jersey. This crow has a pale gray neck and breast. 

House Crow (Corvus splendens) is. Rare visitor form Asian that is smaller than the American crow with gray neck. Cheeks, and breast. 

 

Works Consulted

Burton, Robert, and Stephen W. Kress. Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders & Bird Gardens. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 1999.

Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Second edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014., p. 384-385.

Sibley, David, Chris Elphick, and John B. Dunning. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Stokes, Donald W., and Lillian Q. Stokes. Stokes Field Guide to Birds. Eastern Region. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.

 

Related posts and Information

Starling Murmurations: How to Find One and When to Watch (with video)

A Murder of Crows: What does it mean?

Native American Crow Mythology http://www.native-languages.org/legends-crow.htm

 

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Nature Almanac December 2022

Winter Eastern Carpenter Bee
Sky at Winter morning
Sky at Winter morning

Here in Lenapehoking (Philadelphia)…

Most of the trees are bare. The temperatures have cooled, but it’s still not too cold. As I write this, the day after Thanksgiving, the day is dreary and cool. Thick clouds cover the sky and no sunlight peaks through.

This morning a small flock of House Sparrows hopped across the front porch joyful and chattering as they often do. The birds have beautiful songs, chirps, and sounds which remind us to enjoy and appreciate life.

The House Sparrows are back in their winter flocks. They disperse and pair off during the breeding season, but join back up as the chores of raising young come to a close. They have taken to gathering in the next-door-neighbors holly bush. The stray cats always seem tot stroll by the holly bush, glancing up and peering into the prickly leaves. The cats know the sparrows are in there but there is nothing they can do about it.

The Mourning Doves are back to visiting by backyard. I don’t see them all summer but they reappear as autumn and then winter sets in. It’s funny I don’t see them in the back driveway of my street except in the colder months. Where are they during breeding season?

The Robins have left the area. I have seen their winter flocks in trees in wooded areas. There is a woods about one mile from my house and I suspect that is where my neighborhood Robins go in autumn.

Winter Eastern Carpenter Bee
Winter Eastern Carpenter Bee probes a snapdragon

Eastern Carpenter Bees are Still Flying

I spotted a few hairy coated Eastern Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica) gathering nectar from the few flowers still blooming. I caught this bee climbing deep inside this snapdragon blossom in my backyard. I think it’s a Carpenter Bee. I saw other bees too. Bees are just phenomenal creatures.

The shadbush is empty of leaves. Not one leaf remains to dangle and twist in winter’s wind. Autumn in gone and winter is here.

What changes have you noticed in animal behavior?

Winter Afternoon Sun

Should We End Daylight Saving Time?

I’m glad daylight savings time is over until spring. Many people are talking about ending it. I’m all for it. I think it served it’s purpose.
I remember the energy and gas crisis of the 1970’s. I was tiny but I remember waiting in long lines at the gas station to fill up the gas tank of the family car. My Dad didn’t want to wait by himself so my Mom, little brother and I would make a family outing of it.

Back then many Americans wanted to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. We were energy saving by retrofit our houses, carpooling (ride sharing), and turning down our home heating thermostats. Double-paned windows and home insulation was a new thing back then. We have done a good job making home more energy efficient and extending car mileage.

Standard time just feels more natural. The days are naturally short and the nights naturally long. Do you think it’s time to end daylight savings time?

See also They need us. Environmentalists save the world.

Drawing of the constellations Taurus the Bull with the Pleiades and Orion.
Drawing of the constellations Taurus the Bull with the Pleiades and Orion. Boy Scouts of America, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Did You Know?

Red Supergiant stars are colossal stars, estimated to be about 1,400 times the mass of our Sun? Red Supergiants apparently don’t exist for very long. When supergiants die they explode. The explosion is called as Supernova.

When can see a Red Supergiant in December. The large reddish star Betelgeuse, found in the left shoulder of the star constellation Orion is a Red Supergiant. It’s 724 light years from Earth. Betelgeuse is not expected to go ‘supernova’ for another 100,000 years.

Work consulted: 2023 Night Sky Almanac by Nicole Mortillaro (Amazon.com affiliate link. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.)

WInter Trees
Winter Trees

The December 2022 Nature Almanac

Season Dates

Winter Solstice – December 21, 2022 at 4:48 p.m. EST

This month’s moon is called The Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon. The month’s moon begins with the new moon.

In Powhattan Algonquian (Virginia) languages this season is called Papnow or puppaannoh – winter.

In the Sky This Month: December 2022

Winter Full Moons are high in the sky. Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day.

November 23 – New Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon
November 30 – First Quarter Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon
December 7 – Full Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon
December 16 – Last Quarter Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon
December 23 – New Wolf Moon
December 29 – First Quarter Wolf Moon

New moon always rises near sunrise, sets at sunset
First Quarter near noon, Rises at noon, sets at midnight
Full Moon always rises near sunset, sets at sunrise
Last Quarter rises near midnight, sets at noon

Meteor Shower: December 13 -14, Geminid, prominent display, best seen all night, originating in the northeast, except 75 meteors per hour. Best and most reliable meteor shower of the year.

December 22, Ursid Meteor shower, best seen in the predawn , originating in the north, in a cloudless, rural sky except to see about 5 meteors per hour.

Prominent Star constellations: December 2022

Southern direction: Orion dominates the night sky this month. Look toward the south. Also look for Pleiades, Taurus the Bull.

Northern direction: Ursa Major (the Great Bear), the Big Dipper (part of the Great Bear), Ursa Minor (the Little Bear), Cassiopeia, Andromeda Galaxy.

December 2022 Citizen Science Events to Participate In

FeederWatch
Christmas Bird Count

 

Nature Almanac Back Issues

December 2021 Nature Almanac

November 2022 Nature Almanac

Nature Almanac Archive

That’s it for this issue. Look for the next issue at the end of December 2022.

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“Being content with what you have already is and art form; it leads to a peace that can’t be replaced by anything else.” Elizabeth Gilbert

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What Do Raptors (Birds of Prey) Eat?

birds_raptors_raptor beak
birds_Perergine Falcon
Raptor: Peregrine Falcon

Raptors (birds of prey) eat a wide variety of animals. They are at the top of the food chain on most habitats. They’re good indicators of habit health. Without sufficient food (small birds, reptiles and mammals) these birds can’t survive.

Most birds of prey are hunters, but some are scavengers. They hunt and eat rats, mice, smaller birds, snakes, lizards, frogs and fish. There is little that a raptor will not eat. The larger the bird, the larger the prey. Eagles will hunt medium-sized fish, rabbits, ducks, and occasionally fawns and lambs. Smaller hawks and owls will eat mice, rats, smaller birds, etc. The Sparrow Hawk feeds mainly on insects.

Raptors hunt during the day (diurnal) and some are active at crepuscular times (dawn and dusk). Owls are nocturnal (active at night).

Red-tailed Hawk perched on refuge sign
Raptor: Red-tailed Hawk.

Birds of prey require large home ranges, with few other raptors around. They are mostly found in open habitats of grasslands and agricultural fields.The greatest abundance of different species can be found in the tropical rainforest where they roost and nest in trees.

Flying Skills

With few exceptions, raptors are excellent fliers. The Falconidae (falcon, caracaras and allies) family are rapid fliers that take prey while flying at top speed. They catch small prey with their sharp talons and kill it with a bite on the back of the neck.

Claws and Beaks are the Main Weapons

These razor sharp claws and beaks are on a dead raptor I got a chance to study years ago at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Most of the dead birds were the casualties of window collisions. Raptor Workshop at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

birds_raptors_american kestrel
American Kestrel. Photo FWS.gov.

How Small Raptors Hunt

Small Accipitrides (hawks, eagles and allies) hunt from a perch. They make short flights to catch small prey on the ground. They squeeze prey to death with strong feet. They then take the prey a short distance away for plucking, ripping and eating.

Small Accipitrides include American Kestrel, Merlin, and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Medium-sized Raptors include Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawk, and Broad-winged Hawks.

 

mature female Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Photo taken by Donna L. Long
Mature female Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Photo taken by Donna L. Long

How Large Raptors Hunt

Larger Accipitrides (larger hawks, eagles and allies) don’t actively flap their wings but search for prey while riding thermals. Thermals are warm columns of air that rise from the ground to high in the sky. By riding the thermals these birds can glide for long distances. These thermal-riders do not hunt until the air warms up and when the thermals are created several hours after sunrise. This enables these birds to soar effortlessly for many miles while searching for food.

These large birds tend to eat the soft high protein organs first. Any indigestible material (fur, feathers and bones) is regurgitated in a pellet through the bill, 16-18 hours later.

Large birds of prey include Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, and Gyrfalcon.

Very Large Accipitrides include Eagles (Bald and Golden) and Osprey. Vultures are raptors but they scavenge rather than hunt.

The sizes are my personal opinions.

More Information on Raptors and Hawks

Bird of Prey Facts – What Makes a Raptor, a Raptor?

Fall Raptor Migration: What You Need to Know (with video)

Raptor Identification – Best Field Guides

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Hibernation is Suspended Animation

A hazel dormouse or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) during hibernation
A hazel dormouse or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) during hibernation
A hazel dormouse or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) during hibernation found in a bird box (central Germany).Zoë Helene Kindermann, CC BY-SA 4, Wikimedia Commons

Hibernation is how many animals spend the winter.

During the cold winter months it is quiet outdoors. Most of the summer birds have flown south to warmer climates. Frogs, turtles and bears have disappeared. Both warm and cold-blooded animals retreat to burrows, dens and winter shelter.

There are many animals which pass the cold months in a sort of suspended animation. This suspended animation is commonly called “hibernation”.

The more I learn about hibernation the more I realized it is a continuum of behavior. A sliding scale seems to exist of how deeply animals hibernate and when. Some animals hibernate deeply for days, weeks or months. Some animals hibernate in winter and others during the hot, dry days of summer.

Here we will focus on hibernation in winter.

Hibernation in Winter

Hibernating during the winter helps the animal to survive cold weather when food is scarce. Hibernation describes “deep hibernators” such as chipmunks and groundhogs.

Body Changes

Hibernating animals spend relatively little time asleep. During hibernation, an animal lowers its’ metabolic rate and need for energy. The heart rate and breathing slows down greatly.  The body temperature drops to nearly that of the surrounding air.

This suspended state also protects the animal from the cold and reduces the need for food. During this suspended state, the animal’s body doesn’t need energy for growth. Growing stops during hibernation. But, the body does need energy for maintenance and to stay alive.

Staying Alive

Since the metabolism has slowed down, little energy is needed for body functions.

Most warm-blooded animals that hibernate eat large quantities of food in the fall. Fat is stored food. Energy from stored body fat is enough to keep the body functions going.

This energy from stored fat keeps the heart pumping , the lungs breathing and other body functions working.  This is why animals such as groundhogs and bears eat so much and grow so fat before winter sets in. An animal enters hibernation in the autumn very fat. It emerges in spring much thinner. All that stored body fat produces energy to stay alive.

Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) hibernating
Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) hibernating

Cold blooded animals are unable to produce any significant amount of heat in winter. Their body temperatures rise and fall with the temperature of the surrounding environment. The falling temperatures of autumn cause these animals’ bodies to go into hibernation. These animals bodies fill with an anti-freeze like substance. Cold-blooded animals will leave hibernation when their body temperatures rise enough to heat up its body.

How Do They Do it

Researchers still don’t understand how natural hibernators put themselves into hibernation or how they bring themselves out of it.

From experiments there maybe a biochemical basis that triggers this suspended state. Experiments done on the blood of hibernating animals shows at least one of the triggers is present in the blood.

How This Can Help Humans

Scientists have noted that when an animal’s body approaches the freezing point, they bleed very little and feel little pain. This knowledge is used during surgery. Surgeons chill the body by packing in ice to lower the body temperature. This reduces the need for replacement blood. The need for aesthetics is also reduced.

Being able to hibernate would also help in space travel. Astronauts could be placed in a state of suspended animation for long space voyages. They would need little energy to stay alive. And during long months of space travel not need food or water. They could wake up toward the end of a long journey.

Who are the Hibernators?

Ground squirrels, woodchucks, bats, snakes, turtles and frogs. Bears hibernate but are light sleepers. See Bears Hibernate In Their Own Way

Autumn in the Natural World by Donna L. Long

Learn how plants and animals prepare for winter’s cold. Available in pdf and paperback.

 

Related Posts

Bears Hibernate In Their Own Way

A Chipmunk’s Winter Sleep (Torpor and Hibernation)

How Can Moose Stand in Snow and Their Feet Not Freeze?

How Cold-Blooded Frogs Survive the Winter and Emerge in Spring

 

Works Consulted

“Hibernation”, by R. Baird Shuman. Magill’s Encyclopedia of Science: Animal Life (2002), vol. 12, p. 761-764.

“Perchance to Hibernate”, by Ben Harder in Science News, January 27,2007, vol. 171, p. 56-58.

 

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Nature Almanacs and Calendars for 2023

Branch of Yellow Autumn Leaves. Shallow DOF

Slowly 2022 is winding down. Autumn is the time of year the new nature almanacs and calendars for published for the next year. Each autumn I buy an Old Farmer’s Almanac, a calendar, and a astronomy almanac.

If you are at a loss of what to give as gifts, nature calendars and almanacs deliver smiles and good feelings all year long.

These links are Amazon.com affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.

 

Nature Almanacs


Old Farmer’s Almanac

Famous for its year-in-advance weather forecasts. the Old Farmer’s Almanac includes tables on tides, eclipses, meteor showers, visible planets, planting by the Moon’s phase, phenology calendar, and interesting articles. Old Farmer’s Almanac on Amazon.com.


Night Sky Almanac Astronomy: A Month-by-Month Guide to North America’s Skies from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

This is a simple guide for novice and intermediate amateur astronomers to understand the phenomena their viewing. The guide included sections on measuring the night sky with your hand, the movement of heavenly bodies, understanding events. Each month includes a calendar of events, a Moon calendar, and star maps. Buy Night Sky Almanac on Amazon.com


Audubon Engagement Calendar

Color nature photos grace each page of this desk calendar. Audubon Engagement Calendar on Amazon.com.


Sierra Club Engagement Calendar

Eac left-side page boosts a full page nature photo from the Sierra Club’s expert photographers. Sierra Club Engagement Calendar On Amazon.com.

 


Nature Wall Calendars

 

Old Farmer’s Almanac Moon Calendar

A wall calendar with stunning photos of the Moon as seen from Earth. Moon lore and phases are included. Old Farmer’s Almanac Moon Calendar on Amazon.com


Audubon Birds in the Garden Wall Calendar

This calendar focuses on using native plants to attract birds to your backyard or garden. Audubon Birds in the Garden Wall Calendar on Amazon.com


Audubon Songbirds and Other Backyard Birds

In addition to gorgeous photos of birds, information on species characteristics, calls, habitats, migration patterns, and more is included. Audubon Songbirds and Other Backyard Birds on Amazon.com.


National Geographic: Backyard Birds Wall Calendar

Twelve-months of stunning backyard bird photos includes phases of the Moon for each month.  National Geographic: Backyard Birds Wall Calendar o Amazon.com.


Deep Space Mysteries from Astronomy Magazine

Month after month of pages filled with dramatic images of nebulae, spiral galaxies, star-forming regions, and other mysteries of deep space. Deep Space Mysteries on Amazon.com.


Related Posts

Best Books for Nature Journal Keeping and Drawing

Choosing Field Guides (with videos)

Choosing a Hand Lens for Nature Study

Choosing Binoculars for Nature Study

Simplicity: Basic Equipment for the Naturalist

The Nature Journal 

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November 2022 Nature Almanac

deep red Shadbush in autumn
tree_shadbush
Shadbush in my garden

Here in Lenapehoking (Philadelphia)…

In Lenape Algonquian, this time is called Kilchilachqoak (autumn, time of the grasshoppers). I did see a dead grasshopper on the swiss chard leaves in my garden. Along with a dead Black Swallowtail caterpillar in my vertical planter. I think it climbed into the water reservoir and couldn’t get out. 

deep red Shadbush in autumn
Deep red Shadbush in autumn

The Shadbush’s fall color is just spectacular. The photo above is of the tree in my backyard. The last three years the tree was infected by cedar apple rust. The berries were covered with weird spikey growth of fungi that shed clouds of dust when the branches were shaken by the wind. At the tree;s sickest I was worried the tree that alert me to the times and seasons, would die and have to cut down. But she made it.

She looked so healthy this summer with just a few infected berries on the tree. And now she is back full force. She is brilliant on cloudy autumn days as raindrops glisten on the fiery orange leaves.

I’ve been finding dead insects. Dead Lantern flies, Black Swallowtail caterpillars, grasshoppers, barely moving bumble bees, etc. in my new book, Autumn in the Natural World, I explain the methods insects use to survive the winter. Not the dead adults I found but larva and eggs which are safely frozen for the winter.

The Black Swallowtail caterpillars are still around.  I haven’t seen any chrysalis, yet.

Playing Possum Virginia Opossum
Playing Possum Virginia Opossum

Not So Dead Possum

Faker. This little possum was in my garden the other morning. I think it must have panicked and went into, “playing dead” mode when it saw me. Which was just before I saw her/him. I saw it move slightly and was praying it wasn’t yet another dead animal that decided to expire in my backyard knowing that I would give it a respectful burial.

I left this little guy/gal alone. When I checked on it about fifteen minutes later it was long gone. Whew, dodged another animal burial.

 

Native Plant of the Month: Red Bud with Golden Yellow Leaves

This tree has it all, beautiful pinky-red spring buds filled with nectar and golden yellow leaves in the fall. This small understory tree will bring beauty to my front year for years to come. More on the Redbud.

Invasive Species of the Month: None, we need a break. 

Autumn in the Natural World, Now Available for Sale

The paperback version is now available through Lulu.com. The book is filled with explanations the amazing ways the bodies pf plants and animals change to survive. From chemical reactions to freezing solid to digging deeper into the mud, Mother Earth is awe-inspiring.  Available in pdf $5.99 and paperback $12.95. Get it here.

 

Did You Know?

“Insects are essentially, little bags of water. The fluid that fills that bag is called Hemolymph.  Hemolymph is like antifreeze. The substance is mainly water and transports nutrients for the body, gives support for the organs, main pressure and sometimes function as a defense aid (p.177, Halfpenny and Ozanne). Some insects can super-cool. Insects being small bags of water, are able drop the temperature of their internal water, to very low temperatures. This process is called super-cooling and has to do with freezing points of impurity-free water.” page 32, Autumn in the Natural World

 

November 2022 Nature Almanac

What to Observe, Draw, and Photograph Right Now 

  1. How many dead insects can you find? Are they adults or juvenile forms?
  2. November has three meteor showers this month. Watch one or more.
  3. There is a lunar eclipse this month. Of course it happens in the mid of the night in my night of the woods.
  4. Are the fall foliage colors brilliant or just so-so this season? What weather conditions lead to this situation?
  5. Spring buds and autumn leaves – what are the spring flower and autumn leaf colors of your local trees? The shadbush in my backyard has white flowers and fiery red autumn leaves, the Redbud has pinky-red flowers and golden yellow autumn leaves.

Citizen Science

Feeder Watch Starts November 1. It’s not too late to start. See Feederwatch.org.

Project FeederWatch Info, Tips, and Nature Journaling Ideas

Branch of Yellow Autumn Leaves. Shallow DOF

November 2022 Season Dates: Eastern Woodland

Season: “Tachquoak”  – harvest and fall of leaf” (Lenape Algonquin)

Lenape seasonal names

  • Tachquoak (fall)
  • Kilchilachqoak (autumn, time of the grasshoppers)
  • Pooxit (time of the falling leaves 

Rappahannock season: “Taquitock” – harvest and fall of leaves

Shadbush (indicator plant) in full orange/red fall foliage, leaves falling

Autumn last 90 days from the Autumnal Equinox until the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2022, 4:48 p.m. EST. Autumnal Equinox, September 22, 2022 9:04 p.m. EDT in the Northern Hemisphere.

November 2022: In the Sky This Month

November 8th – Total eclipse of the Moon visible from North America, the Moon will be setting during the eclipse for viewers in eastern regions. Moon will enter penumbra (partial shadow) at 3:01 a.m. EST and leave it at 8:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. PST)

  • Nov. 1st – First Quarter
  • Nov. 8th Full Moon
  • Nov. 16th – Last Quarter
  • Nov. 23rd – New Moon
  • Nov. 30th – First Quarter 

November 2022: Moon and the Night Sky

  • New moon always rises near sunrise, sets at sunset
  • First Quarter near noon, Rises at noon, sets at midnight
  • Full Moon always rises near sunset, sets at sunrise 
  • Winter Full Moons are high in the sky
  • Last Quarter rises near midnight, sets at noon  
  • Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day

 

  • Pleiades are in the sky
  • Nov. 9 – Northern Taurid Meteor shower in late evening from the southern sky
  • Nov. 17, 18 – Leonid Meteor shower in predawn hours, from the southern sky
  • Nov. 25-27 – Andromedid Meteor shower in late evening, from southern sky

That’s it for this issue. Look for the next issue at the end of November. 

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Next month: December 2022 Nature Almanac

Past Nature Almanacs

October 2022 Nature Almanac

November 2021 Nature Almanac

November 2020 Nature Almanac

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Space: No Longer an Option?

Planet Earth - Home
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Several years ago, a former colleague made a statement that space was somewhere humans could live. I responded that he should be sure to take plenty of provisions including oxygen, water, and food, because neither space nor any of the planetary bodies studied seem to have any. I added that space itself doesn’t have any gravity. And that astronauts said space has a ‘burning smell’. My colleague was dumbfounded. 

For some reason I happened upon several space-related articles this week Here is a round-up of my readings from the last few days.

Disclaimer: The following links lead to the articles on the respective websites or These links are Amazon.com affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.

“There’s no reason to go up there – there’s nothing there!”

Harry Hamlin, the actor,  says that’s what his rocket scientist father who was the head of the Jupiter rocket program at an aerospace company said (AARP the Magazine, October/November 2022, p.16).

Gate in the woodland garden at Newark Park, Gloucestershire.

Space: All He Saw Was Death

William Shatner of Captain Kirk fame, just released a new book, entitled, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder. Plenty of excerpts from the book and interviews with Shatner are trending on the Internet. Most if not all of the interviews and excerpts, focus on what Shatner experienced during his October 13, 2021 voyage on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space shuttle. Then 90 years old Shatner became the oldest person to travel in space. 

In the book Shatner reflects on his reactions as he looks not just at the beauty of Mother Earth but the emptiness of space. Here is a quote from the Variety.com article, “Boldly Go”.

“I continued my self-guided tour and turned my head to face the other direction, to stare into space. I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses. Stars exploding years ago, their light traveling to us years later; black holes absorbing energy; satellites showing us entire galaxies in areas thought to be devoid of matter entirely… all of that has thrilled me for years… but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold . . . all I saw was death.

I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her.

Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong.”

Impoundment pond at John Heinz NWR at Tinicum in South Philadelphia, PA.
Impoundment pond at John Heinz NWR at Tinicum in South Philadelphia, PA.

Space: A place to Escape Humanity and the Catastrophe they Created

Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires by Douglas Ruchkoff explores the inability of the richest among us to accept reality. From the books blurb on Amazon.com 

“The tech elite have a plan to survive the apocalypse: they want to leave us all behind.

Five mysterious billionaires summoned theorist Douglas Rushkoff to a desert resort for a private talk. The topic? How to survive the “Event”: the societal catastrophe they know is coming. Rushkoff came to understand that these men were under the influence of The Mindset, a Silicon Valley–style certainty that they and their cohort can break the laws of physics, economics, and morality to escape a disaster of their own making―as long as they have enough money and the right technology. 

A few weeks ago author Ruchkoff was at the Free Library of Philadelphia Author series, speaking about, Survival of the Richest. I wanted able to attend, the topic of the book intrigued me. But I didn’t want to travel all the way downtown and pay for ridiculously expensive parking.

I wonder what happens when the tech elite realize they have no where to go? Will they join efforts to repair and enhance the health of ecosystems? Will education curriculum finally reflect the reality of our human dependence on the Earth. Will capitalism be deprecated like software and deemed obsolete and best avoided? 

I wrote in a previous post about the awakening capitalists are finally having: that environmental collapse will negatively affect their business and profits. See Business Embedded in Nature.

Sunrise over the bluebell woodland at Badbury Rings, Dorset.
Sunrise over the bluebell woodland at Badbury Rings, Dorset.

Space is without Water, Food, or Air

I taught a lesson for my tenth grade students, in which I had them research how long the human body can go without food, water, and oxygen. They were often surprised just quickly we would expire without those three thngs. 

  • Without water – generally about 3-4 days  
  • Without food – generally 45 -61 days 
  • Without air – a few minutes 

It helped them to think about just how fragile we humans are. That life is precious. And to help those who have a hard time obtaining enough food, clean water, and air. And to be grateful and give thanks. 

My reading the past few days has strengthened my sense of hope. We all know some folks who are in for a rough landing when their “space dreams” of a new intergalactic home, slams into reality. At first it may fill them with despair. Next I hope comes relief. The relief that comes from releasing a heavy burden or from no longer having to keep up a facade. 

kids with good fresh food. Photo by Keith Weller. Courtesy USDA.gov.

There’s nothing up there for us. But everything for us down here on Earth

I’ve always been a big fan of both science fiction books and films. Yes, I would fantasize about what it would be like on another planet. But the planet always looked like the twin of Earth. But with healthy forests, crystal clear waters, and teeming with plant and animal life. Oh wait, that is what the Americas looked like in 1491. Maybe it isn’t a fantasy of a future world but an ancestral or previous life’s memories.

There may be nowhere to go, but we have such a beautiful, bountiful planet to pass the time on. I write about these things today to remind us that we know a truth, what so many others refuse to acknowledge, that Mother Earth is our home. We all belong here and no one’s going anywhere or conveniently disappearing in a puff of sweet smelling smoke. We are all connected. We are all related. And if my relatives do well and live well I’m safer and better for it. Peace and joy to all my relatives. 

Works Cited

Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder by William Shatner (Amazon.com link) 

Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires by Douglas Ruchkoff. (Amazon.com link)  

How long can you survive without water? bbc.com

What Happens When the Food Runs Out (bbc.com)

Can You Survive if You Run Out of Air? (bbc.com)

Other related posts

Words Before All Else

Bounded Space: A Timeless Concept for Conservation

Can We Make It to Mars?

Plan B: How to Prepare for Our Changing World

 

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Black Swallowtail Larvae, Last of the Summer Butterflies

Travelling Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae
Black Swallowtail larvae
Herd of Black Swallowtail larvae

I was surprised to see these caterpillars munching on a dill plant so late in the season. I first saw this small herd of black swallowtail butterfly larvae last week, the last week of September. Several of them have grown quite a bit seen then. Some of the larvae are actually smaller than others.  They must have hatched at different times. I wonder if they will have enough time to grow to the next stage before the cold weather sets in. Tonight is supposed to dip down to a chilly 46°F.

 

Black Swallowtails Larvae Feeding Before Winter Sets In

These brightly striped black, white, and yellow caterpillar is the larvae of the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).  The key piece of evidence to identify this butterfly is that it is feeding on my dill plant. I don’t know of another butterfly larvae that feeds on dill.

Tiny Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae
Tiny Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae

This growing season I didn’t harvest any dill because each time I went to harvest leaves, I found Black Swallowtail larvae quietly munching away on the leaves. I have dill plants in another GreenStalk vertical planter and there are tiny Black Swallowtail larvae on those plants, too. I have to plant much more dill next year.

 

Travelling Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae
Travelling Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae

Black Swallowtail Larvae Getting Ready for Winter

I’m interested to see where these larvae pupate and hibernate. I’ll be repotting my herbs this fall in another planter. I’ll have to watch out for the brown pupae case in the soil. I read that this species coordinates the color of its pupae (metamorphosis/hibernating) case with its’ surroundings.

In short-day photoperiods (now in the fall with less daylight hours) the pupae cases tend to be brown. During long-day photoperiods (like summer) the pupae cases tends will be brown or green depending on the surface its on. The pupae tends to be brown on rough surfaces, such as rocks or soil. The pupae tends to be green on smooth surfaces like plant stems. This means the pupae will most likely be brown because this time of year has a short-day photoperiod.

Among parsley Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae
Among parsley Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae

These  Black Swallowtail Larvae Will Hibernate

There is no way these larvae will metamorphosis into adult butterflies before the cold weather sets in for good. There have been a few nights when the temperatures dipped into the forties. And the next morning the larvae were back on the dill stalks munching away.

These species overwinter as pupae (hard cases) encasing larva which will turn into adults in the spring. Several generations of Black Swallowtails have been born, lived, and turned into adults in my humble backyard. This makes me happy.

 

The Butterfly Life Cycle

If you would like to learn more about the butterfly life cycle, I wrote The Butterfly Life to explain how butterflies are born, live and support the Earth’s Ecosystems.

More on Black Swallowtails

Black Swallowtails: How to Identify Them

The Swallowtail Butterfly Family

Early Autumn Butterflies in My Garden

 

Autumn in the Natural World

To learn about the fascinating and awe-inspiring ways the plants and animals prepare for winter’s cold, my book Autumn in the Natural World is available.

autumn in the natural world pdf cover
pdf cover

 

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October 2022 Nature Almanac

Harlequin Bug eggs
Harlequin Bug eggs in my garden
Harlequin Bug eggs in my garden.

September 23, 2022 – Here in Philadelphia…

Once the Earth tilts, the temperatures noticeably cool. It stayed warm for a long time. The daytime temperatures stayed into the eighties up until the day of the autumnal equinox. As the Earth tilted, I notice the winds picked up again. When it was hot there was little if any wind. No cooling breezes. Now the breezes blow and the leaves rustle on the trees.

During the dog days of July-August, garden struggled. When it’s too hot, several of the fruiting crops, will drops their blossoms. Which means their won’t be any blossoms to be pollinated and grow into fruit. The beans and tomatoes dropped their blossoms. As the heat has eased the lima beans and tomatoes have developed new blossoms, and I am now getting  lima beans and tomatoes.

Because of the dry conditions, the animals were looking for water, I kept my bird/squirrel waterer full. But the squirrels ate many of my cherry tomatoes, just the juicy insides. They have also discovered they like Asian eggplants. Last year I had so many eggplants, I gave a grocery bag of eggplants to friends. This year I got three. The squirrels like to harvest the eggplants when the fruit is small enough for they to carry away. There are two eggplants still on the plants, I doubt if I will get them.

I read several news stories and watched several videos in which gardeners and farmers were warning about the bad harvests and higher prices. The very hot, dry conditions affected gardeners and farmers in North America and other regions of the world. Having a backyard kitchen garden this year or next seems like a good idea.

Past post:  An Autumn Walk in the Woods

close up of maple leaf
A close up of autumn maple leaf (back lighting). Photo by Donna L. Long.

My Next Guide Drops in the Next Few Days

I’m putting the finishing touches on my next guide, Autumn in the Natural World: How plants, animals, and the land prepare for winter’s cold. In the guide I present the miraculous ways ponds, insects, turtles, etc. change their bodies to survive winter’s cold and freezing conditions.

The guide will be available in immediately downloadable pdf and print paperback. The pdf will be available in the next few days. The print paperback in another two weeks as I have to check the proofs from the printer.

This guide was inspired by reader’s questions and my own enduring curiosity about the natural world. I hope the information excites and delights you as much as it did me when I researched it. Watch out for the announcement coming soon.

 

Did You Know? : Phenology in Action: Baidaj Harvesting Altered by Climate Change

O’odham people of the desert southwest use natural occurrences and events (phenology) to time their harvest of baidaj, the saguaro fruit. But the harvesters see differences from the timing of the past. Listen to their story.

Original article: “Time honored harvesting altered by climate change.” on ICT.com (Indian Country Today)

 

Upbeat News

Protecting Sacred Places” on Tribal College Journal (TCJ.org) explains and defines four types of sacred places and what makes them so.

The Biggest Challenges of Buying Secondhand and How to Overcome Them” on HappyEcoNews.com – I’ve been buying almost all second hand clothes for about five years. Going to buy “new” clothes no longer interest me. I do want to restart sewing my clothes.

California’s dead will have a new burial option: Human composting” on latimes.com – I rather turn into to compost than to liquify in a sealed coffin. The thought of liquifying always creeped me out.

Small plot, big veg: city gardeners are growing food at home” on the Narwal.org – In a small Philly backyard, I grow amazing amounts of food.

 

Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.
Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.

Native Plant of the Month for October 2022

Virginia Creeper, an indigenous vine which turns lovely shades or red and orange in the autumn.

See Virginia Creeper for more info.

Horsefly on BIndweed. Credit: Kenneth Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Invasive Species of the Month: Bindweeds

Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is blooming. Which means flowers that turn into seeds, which are eaten by birds, which sit on your fence, and poop out weeds seeds, which grow in your yard. If you see Bindweed or similar unwanted plants blooming, take off the blossoms before they seed heads form.

About Field Bindweed (nps.com)

Bindweeds are a family of plants which grow along the ground until they reach a vertical structure (fence, plant) and then the plant grows up the structure and smoothers it. The flowers look like Morning Glories and are classified in the Morning Glory family.

My neighbor’s neglected yard (they know it’s neglected, no need to beat around the bush), has a Roman legion of bindweeds covering plants and fences. The vines climb over our shared fence. I remove the beautiful creamy white flowers and yank the vines from the ground and put them in the trash. I could compost the vines, but I am not feeling generous when the vines invade my garden.

Have Field Bindweed and what to get rid of it? Check this article on the University of Nevada website,  Field Bindweed: An Attractive Nuisance and Worse.

False Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium (L.) in an indigenous plant of North America. (Wildflower.org)

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) facing west in my garden in the early autumn afternoon sun. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) facing west in my garden in the early autumn afternoon sun. Photo by Donna L. Long.

The October 2022 Nature Almanac

What to Observe, Draw, and Photograph Right Now

Virginia Creeper – Try to capture the autumn colors of the plant in colored pencils or watercolors. How does the plant climb? Does it wind in a clockwise or counter-clockwise manner? Sketch the flowers, buds, and seeds. Do you see animals eating the leaves or seeds?

Bindweed – Draw the plant, its stem, and blossoms. How does it get support? How does it climb on other plants? Does it wind in a clockwise or counter-clockwise manner? Sketch the leaves, flower, buds, and seeds.

Spiders – Record the dates when you see spiders active. When do they disappear? Are your gardens and backyards full of spiders. Spiders are predators who eat pests like flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. What types of webs do you find? How many webs?

Why Do Leaves Change Color? with a Video

Why Trees Shed Leaves in the Fall with a Video

 

October 2022 Season Dates

Autumnal Equinox, September 22, 2022 9:04 p.m. EDT in the Northern Hemisphere.

Autumn last 90 days from the Autumnal Equinox until the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2022, 4:48 p.m. EST.

Season: “Taquitock – harvest and fall of leaf” (Chesapeake Bay Algonquin)

In the Sky This Month

  • Sept. 3rd – First Quarter Harvest Moon
  • Sept. 10thFull Harvest Moon (Harvest Home celebrations around this time)
  • Sept. 17th – Last Quarter Harvest Moon
  • Sept. 25th – New Moon – Hunter’s Moon
  • Oct. 2nd – First Quarter Hunter’s Moon
  • Oct. 9th – Full Hunter’s Moon
  • Oct. 17th – Last Quarter Hunter’s Moon
  • Oct. 25th – New Moon – Beaver Moon

Venus is ending its’ run as the morning star. During the heat of August, I woke early before the Sun rose and to see Venus shining bright and clear.

The Moon

  • New moon always rises near sunrise, sets at sunset
  • First Quarter near noon, Rises at noon, sets at midnight
  • Full Moon always rises near sunset, sets at sunrise
  • Winter Full Moons are high in the sky
  • Last Quarter rises near midnight, sets at noon
  • Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day

Algonquin Moon Names

Citizen Science Events to Participate In

See SciStarter.org

That’s it for this issue. Look for the next issue at the end of September.

My Latest Guide

butterfly life cover color with border

 

Butterfly LIfe: How Butterflies are Born, Live, and Support the Earth’s Ecosystems – Now on Sale 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Month

November 2022 Nature Almanac

Previous Nature Almanac

Nature Almanac for September 2021

August 2022 Nature Almanac

August 2021 Nature Almanac and Yellow Aster Disease

 

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The Autumnal Equinox and Fall Begins

Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red MapleTree (Acer rubrum) leaf. Photo by Donna L. Long.
The autumnal equinox starts the fall season. It occurs on September 22 or 23 each year. The “fall” is my favorite time of the year. The crisp cool air and brilliant colors of the leaves urges me outside with camera in hand. This season is called “fall” because leaves turn colors and “fall” from the trees.
EarthOrbit_solstices_equinoxes
The Earth’s orbit with solstices and equinoxes. Graphic by Nasa.gov.

The Two Equinoxes

There are two equinoxes a year. One in spring and the other in autumn.The spring (or vernal) equinox happens on March 19, 20, or 21.
The seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet. When the northern hemisphere experiences autumn, the southern hemisphere is experiencing spring.
On the equinoxes, the sun is directly above the Earth’s equator. Day and night are of equal length all over the planet. The world receives twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. The term equinox comes from the Latin and means “equal night”.
Illustration shows the relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. N=north hemisphere, S=southern hemisphere. Credit: Colivine, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Equinoxes and the Seasons

The equinoxes signal that changes in length of daylight, temperature, and weather are about to happen.
The seasons are caused by the changing position of the Earth in relation to the Sun. The Earth receives different amounts of sunlight during the year due to the tilt of the Earth.
The Earth is like a spinning gyroscope and always points in the same general direction. The Earth is tilted on a 23.5° degree angle and the sun shines on the planet in a particular way. The north pole is generally tilted toward the north star and the south pole tilts toward the constellation of Octans.
Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.
Autumn leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) vine.

Autumn: Cooler Days and Short Nights

The nights begin to cool around August 15th, as the northern region of Earth tilts away from the direct rays of the Sun. The air and ground begin to cool.
It takes a few weeks for the weather to change after the beginning of a new season. During autumn, there are alternating warm and cool days and cooler nights for several weeks.
The Autumnal Equinox begins the cold months. During the colder months, the North Pole is at its greatest tilt away from the sun. The northern hemisphere has colder temperatures, short days and long nights.
On the day of the Autumnal Equinox, the Sun is positioned directly over the equator.  After this day, the northern hemisphere begins to tilts away from the sun. The weather becomes colder and the hours of daylight become shorter. This culminates in the shortest day and the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice on December 22 or 23. Then the days grow longer until the Summer Solstice.
The Circle of Life continues.

Autumn in the Natural World

Autumn in the Natural World makes complex processes easy to understand, to the wonders of the autumn season. In easy to understand language the essential natural processes of the changing colors of leaves, why trees shed leaves, and how a pond can still freeze and still support life are explained. Learn the key star constellation which signals the end of summer and the growing season. Learn why the moon’s of autumn loom so large in the night sky.

Available in pdf and paperback starting at $5.99

Buy Direct from the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

collage of orange tree leaves
Autumn collage of orange tree leaves

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Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)

Juvenile Red Fox
Juvenile Red Fox
Juvenile Red Fox. Credit: Joanne Redwood, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

This is the time of the year when I often see red foxes, swiftly jaywalking across busy urban/suburban streets or unfortunately dead beside the road. I have an affection for them.  It is something about their intelligence, sleek good looks, and incognito behavior that fascinate me. And they just seem so darn cool.

 

Our Foxy Neighbors

Red foxes are found all over the northern hemisphere, from North America to the Arctic Circle to well into Central America. They are also found in Northern Africa, Europe, and temperate parts of Asia.

Foxes are often mistaken for a domesticated dog. They are in the same Canine family as dogs, coyotes, and wolves.

They don’t mind being around humans and often live in heavily populated urban and suburban areas. Several times friends have told me they watched these mammals running and cavorting in their backyards only to realize they were watching foxes not dogs. In the summer of 2022, foxes were caught on camera stealing shoes (CBS.com).

Red foxes are mostly nocturnal and also active at dawn and dusk and are rarely seen by the humans they live around. They are swift runners and swim well. I bet they have swam in deserted swimming pools.

Their super powers consist of extremely sharp senses of sight, smell, and hearing. They can hear a mouse squeak 150 feet away.

 

Red Fox Scientific Classifications

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Common name: Red fox
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Family: Canidae
Female: vixen
Male: dog fox
Young: kits

Autumn is a Good Time to See Red Foxes

At this time of year, young red foxes often strikeout to find their own territories away from their siblings and parents. They need space to hunt and feed and too many individuals in a small area often won’t find enough to eat.

Native or Imported Species?

For awhile scientists and naturalists thought that the red foxes here in eastern North America were the descendants of imported English red foxes. Apparently, Americans wanting to emulate the English landed aristocracy imported red foxes to use as prey in fox hunts.

Genetic studies confirm that the red foxes in the east are not the same strain as European red foxes. The imported red foxes died out without a trace. All the red foxes you see on the east coast are indigenous.

 

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Red Fox eating something. Credit: The Forest Vixen’s, via Wikimedia Commons.

Red Fox Appearance

Red Foxes have long rusty orange-red fur that is slightly darkened on the back. They have black ears, legs and feet, and a long, bushy, white-tipped tail.

This fox (Vulpes vulpes) is 22-25 inches in length, with an additional 14- to 16-inch tail, and weighs 8-12 pounds. Foxes look like they are heavier than these weights, an impression created by their full, thick fur.

paw_print-Red_fox_Vulpes_vulpes
Red Fox paw print. Credit: Juan Lacruz, Wikimedia Commons.

Color variations

Red foxes aren’t all red. There are many color or fur variations within the species. Dramatic color variations may occur in individuals, although these are rare and show up more often in the species’ northern range, especially in Canada.

These color variations include: the “cross fox,” with a dark stripe of hair extending from the head down the center of the back and transected by another dark stripe over the shoulders, thus forming a cross-like shape; the “black fox,” a melanistic red fox; and the “silver fox,” simply a black individual with white-tipped guard hairs giving a frosted appearance.

The red fox always has a white tail tip, no matter the color phase or shade of red fur (which also varies slightly in individual animals).

 

Things you need to know about red foxes – Youtube Video

Places to Live

Red foxes live in sparsely settled, rolling farm areas with wooded tracts, marshes and streams, parks, cemeteries, rail yards, urban and suburban areas throughout North America.

Foxes like to sleep in the open at night but during the day under vegetative cover, under a porch or in a den. In the winter they sleep out in the open with their busy tails circled over their noses for warmth.

What Red Foxes Eat

Part of the red foxes’ survival success comes from the animals ability to find and eat a wide variety of food. They are scavengers. The eat what they can find including road-killed animals and winter kills.

These canines also eat mice, rats, rabbits, woodchucks, opossums, porcupines, domestic cats, chickens, insects, squirrels, game birds, songbirds, bird eggs, fruits and grasses. The cache (store) their uneaten food by burying it in loose earth.

Storing Food for the Winter (How to Hoard)

Red Fox kit emerges from the den. Credit: Charles J. Sharp, Wikimedia Commons.

Places to Raise Young

The foxes give birth and raise young in dens in the ground. The holes they use are groundhog burrows that they enlarge. They create several entrances to their dens. They also raise young in hollow logs.

It’s quite common for the parents to rear their young in heavily populated areas. As long as the area has plentiful food and shelter.

The young kits (pups) are born after 51-day gestation period. A litter can number from 4 to 10 kits, with six being the average number.  The kits are born with their eyes closed for the first 8 to 10 days after birth. Their mother nurses them for about a month before they emerge from the den.

Both the mother and father fox feed the kits solid food. The kits are weaned from nursing at two to three months of age.

It’s in July and August that we seen the new kits emerge from their dens. The kits are taught to hunt and search for food by their parents. About September the family group disbands and the young go their own way to establish their own territories. September and October is when I typically see foxes trotting across roads.

Once the young foxes reach ten months of age they are sexually mature and ready to breed. Foxes often breed during their first winter. In late winter, foxes can be heard barking at night, making their presence known to members of the opposite sex. Breeding usually takes place in February.

mammals_red_fox
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). US Wildlife Service, Public domain.

Red Fox Conservation

Red foxes have adapted well to urban and suburban human habitats. Except for the breeding season these animals are solitary and can live very close to humans and still go unnoticed.

They can live in parks and wooded areas. Their ability to eat a wide range of food helps their survival.

Their populations are affected by availability of food, habitat suitability, coyote predation and hunting and trapping pressure.

Study Foxes using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal Method

cover_Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal

On Sale in my naturalist store

Check it out here 

Having Trouble with Foxes?

The Humane Society answers questions on, “What to Do about Foxes“, that den in your yard or if you are worried about rabies or other diseases.

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Resources Consulted

These links are Amazon.com affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.

Elbroch, Mark, and Kurt Rinehart. Behavior of North American Mammals. The Peterson Reference Guide Series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Out of print, limited availability

Rappole, John H. Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Out of print, limited availability
Wildlife Notes: Foxes By Chuck Fergus. Pennsylvania Game Commission – State Wildlife Management Agency. Out of print, limited availability

More Canine Info

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Identifying the Blue Dasher Dragonfly

dragonfly_blue_dasher
Blue Dasher dragonfly at Schuylkill Center - Photo by Donna L. Long
Blue Dasher dragonfly (male) at Schuylkill Center – Photo by Donna L. Long

I am sure I saw a cartoon with an animated dragonfly as a fighter pilot. It must have been one of those “old-timey” Popeye era ones. Since then, I have been fascinated by dragonflies.

I don’t know if it is their wickedly cool body design or their piloting skills. Probably, it’s both. Just look at some of these photos.

Identifying the Blue Dasher

The males and the females look quite different. It is the males who have the black-tipped blue abdomens, white faces and metallic green eyes. Females and immature males have brown thoraxes with yellow stripes and reddish-brown eyes.

This is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) dragonfly. Apparently, “longipennis” means “long-winged”. Thank goodness. The Blue Dasher is also called the Blue Pirate. This species is abundant across much of North America. It is classified as a member of the Skipper family.

A Dragonfly’s Wings

The intricate delicate wings are engineering marvels. Not only can they beat up and down, but all four wings can move independently. The wings can also rotate like an airplane propeller. Dragonflies can fly up, down, backwards, forwards and hover in mid air.

Sometimes the markings on the wings are useful in identifying species.

 

dragonfly_blue dasher
Male Blue Dasher dragonfly at Schuylkill Center – Photo by Donna L. Long

What do Blue Dashers do?

The males have a favorite perch which serves as their headquarters. From this perch, the males periodically fly over the pond and chase other males.  The males spend much of their time chasing each other and displaying their blue abdomens.

This male (known by the blue color of the abdomen) is perching on a plant stalk overlooking a pond. Blue Dashers  display behavior called perching. Perchers, in the dragonfly world, perch horizontally on shoreline shrubs and vegetation, many times high up from the ground. Perchers make brief flights at low (under six feet) heights over their territory. Which is exactly what this dragonfly did. Other dragonflies are “fliers” which spend long periods flying, not perching.

 

dragonfly_blue dasher
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) nymph.

 

How long do they live?

Adult dragonflies can live several years. In the larval stage they can live in the water up to two years after hatching. The female dragonfly lays her eggs underwater.

 

What do they eat?

Dragonflies are voracious eaters who are know to eat up to 10% of the body weight each day. Both the aquatic larvae and winged adults are predators who eat other flying insects. Most of their prey is smaller than they are such as tiny flies, leafhoppers, beetles, ants, moths, butterflies, etc. The large dragonflies, such as the Blue Dasher, may eat other dragonflies or damselflies.

Where do Blue Dashers live?

I spotted many Blue Dashers around a body of standing water (a pond in this case) with some vegetation. If water doesn’t have some vegetation, Blue Dashers are unlikely to be there.

Fun Facts about Dragonfly Nymphs

This is a dragonfly nymph. Dragonflies have a three-part life cycle of egg, larva (nymph) and adult. They go through metamorphosis much like other insects. When a dragonfly nymph is fully growth it climbs up a stalk, out of the water and the adult form emerges.

Dragonflies breathe through gills in their rectum. The rear end of a dragonfly functions as an extraction machine which separates oxygen from the water so the dragonfly can breathe. I think the expelling of the water is what also gives the rectum functions as jet propulsion underwater. The dragonfly must shoot water out of the rectum which creates the jet propulsion underwater. The rectum is also the end of the digestive track and performs the usually waste disposal actions. In the book Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, Dennis Paulson calls the nymph rectum a “multipurpose organ” and a “miraculous rectum”.

dragonfly_blue_dasher
Female Blue Dasher. Credit: Eugene Zelenko, CC BY-SA 4.0.

They migrate… we think

The Blue Dasher is one of the species of dragonflies that appears to migrate. I say appears to migrate because large populations of Blue Dashers are seen in midsummer along the Atlantic Coast. No one knows where they go.

Conclusion

I spent an hour watching dragonfly behavior at the pond. It was hot but I was fascinated. Since Blue Dasher are among the most common and abundant dragonflies in North America, you are bound to see one.

August is the time I see the most dragonflies. I have notice many dragonflies zooming through the air in mid-August through September. THey are going somewhere, we just don’t know where.

 

More on Dragonflies

Migrating Dragonflies

Dragonflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

Common Green Darner

 

Books on Dragonflies on My Bookshelf

These links are Amazon.com affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) by Dennis Paulson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West (Princeton Field Guides) by Dennis Paulson. Princeton University Press, 2009.

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula, Jacke Sones, and Donald and Lillian Stokes, covers over 100 common species of dragonflies and damselflies. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Dragonflies & Damselflies: An Introduction to Familiar, Widespread North American Species (North American Nature Guides) by James Kavanagh. Waterford Press, 2000.

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Butterfly Life Now on Sale

butterfly life cover color with border

 

Butterfly Life is my latest guide. It discusses the life cycle of butterflies from egg and larva (caterpillar), to chrysalis and adult butterfly.

Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) Spread-wing Skipper and Skipper (Hesperiidae) family. Photo by Donna L. Long. The caterpillar's narrow neck is clearly visible.
Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) Spread-wing Skipper and Skipper (Hesperiidae) family. Photo by Donna L. Long. The caterpillar’s narrow neck is clearly visible.

Did You Know?

  • How long a butterfly lives at each life stage?
  • How do butterflies survive the winter?
  • What is the optimal air temperature range for butterflies to fly? When are you most likely to see them.
  • What shelter can you provide to butterflies in your backyard habitat?
  • What is happening when a butterfly flies after you?

I answer these questions and present other fascinating facts about butterflies.

 

Red-spotted Purple butterfly
Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax). Photo by Saxophlute at English Wikipedia.

Buy Direct from the Author

Buying my guides and using my affiliate links are the ways you can support this website. and allows me to make a livable wage.

Publishing through a traditional ‘Big Box’ publisher often means selling all intellectual property rights to the publisher – often for ever. And author generally make very little money from traditional publishing deals. That’s why most authors have a no-writing job!

By keeping my operation small, independent, and home-based I can create the guides and books my readers ask for. It also provides me with income so I can continue to create blog posts, guides, and books on the wonders of the natural world.

I love helping people enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Each year I answer questions and publish scientifically researched answers to your nature questions. Thank you for reading this blog. Buy direct and that you for your support!

Butterfly Life: How Butterflies are Born, Live and Support the Earth’s Ecosystems. In this guide we learn the four stages of butterfly life cycles, how they navigate during migration, and ways to support conservation. PDF, 43 pages, 8½x11, immediate download. Also available in paperback. 

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Rudbeckias (Coneflowers) for Hot and Sunny Sites

Thin-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba) Photo by Donna L. Long
Thin-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba) Photo by Donna L. Long
Thin-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba) Photo by Donna L. Long

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ is blooming in my hot Philadelphia garden. Summer in Philadelphia can be very hot and steamy with temperature in the high 90s and the air is wet enough to wring out water, but Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ takes it all in stride. If you are looking for a native plant for your garden, then here is a bit of information on the gorgeous and tough Rudbeckias.

Rudbeckias: Composite Family Members

Rudbeckias are composite, daisy-type flowers with yellow petals and brown centers. Rudbeckias are classified as members of the Asteraceae or Composite family.

Rudbeckia flowers have a prominent raised central disc of tiny little flowers. The central disc comes in colors of black, brown, and shades of green, and mixed tones. It’s this raised central disc which gives the flowers the common names of coneflowers or black-eyed susans.

All the flowers have ray-type flowers which surround the raised central cone. The petals surrounding the raised central cone come in yellow, purple or white. 

The widely known Black-eyed Susan (the annual) grows quickly from seed and often flowers the first year. Other perennials may not bloom until the second year.

We can plant Rudbeckia in the autumn to bloom next summer. Look for it at fall native plant sales.

Rudbeckia and Coneflower, informal cottage garden style
Rudbeckia and Coneflower, informal cottage garden style

Rudbeckias are North American Natives

The genus Rudbeckia can only be found in North America. Many species can be found from Quebec to Florida and from New England to California.  There are many species of Black-eyed Susans indigenous to eastern North America. The Western Coneflower (Rudbeckia occidentalis) is native to Washington and Idaho to Oregon. Good varieties for the garden include: Rudbeckia fulgida, Rudbeckia hirta, and Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata).

Rudbeckia fulgida (Orange Coneflower)

Rudbeckia hirta (Gloriosa Daisy)

Rudbeckia laciniata (Green-headed Coneflower)

Rudbeckia maxima (no common name)

Rudbeckia nitida (Herbstonne)

Rudbeckia occidentalis (Western Coneflower)

Rudbeckia serotina (Black-eyed Susan)

Rudbeckia speciosa (Showy Coneflower)

Rudbeckia subtomentosa (Sweet black-eyed Susan) 

Rudbeckia triloba (Thin-leaved Coneflower)

Rudbeckias
Rudbeckias

Growing Rudbeckias in Your Garden

Rudbeckias are some of the top-selling perennials in the United States. Finding cultivated varieties bred for various colors and heights is easy. You can choose varieties which planted together will give continuous blooms from mid-summer to fall.

Rudbeckias are easy to grow from seed. If you grow them from seeds you can grow several plants for the price of one-half of one transplant. I’ve found several types of Rudbeckia at Botanical Interests. Botanical Interests sells seeds of Black-eyed Susans, Cherokee Sunset (orange flowers), Indian Summer Black-eyed Susans and other varieties. 

Rudbeckia seeds on Amazon.com and on Botanical Interests.com website. 

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' in my garden.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Growing Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’, a neat, compact with a clumping growth habit that stays need and trim in the garden. My Rudbeckia spreads and grows larger each year. So, if you plant this plant count on diving it at year or two. But, even with its expanding growth it doesn’t run and take over the garden. The straight species Rudbeckia fulgida grown up to 47 inches tall. The variety ‘Goldstrum” is shorter and more compact.

Common name: Eastern Coneflower or Black-eyed Susan

Scientific name: Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’

Family name: Asteraceae

Description: Short, compact plant with golden yellow petals surrounding a dark brown  centers. The leaves are large and coarse textured.

Height: 12 inches

Light needed: Full Sun

Soil/Moisture needed: moist

Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Bloom period: July to September in Philadelphia

Bloom color: Golden yellow

Easy to Grow from Seed: Yes

Pruning and Maintenance: Long bloom period even without deadheading. Pinching the ends of stems back will produce more but smaller, blooms. Divide the clumps when they grow too large.

Disease/Problems: powdery mildew does not affect this Black-eyed Susan.

Rudbeckias
Rudbeckias

Ecosystem Roles and the Habitat Garden

Attracts: Good nectar source for butterflies and other insects

Host plant: unknown if Rudbeckia fulgida is a host plant but the Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is a host plant for the Streamside Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

Conclusion

Rudbeckias are not only beautiful they’re hardy and well-behaved. These bold flowers are eye-catching in the summer heat. They provide nectar for pollinators and butterflies.

Grow this native perennial and and enjoy its blooms when other plants struggle through the heat.

More on Summer Blooming Flowers

Summer Blooming Native Flowers 

Summer Phlox Delivers Through Summer Heat

Summer to Fall Blooming Native Flowers

 

Works Consulted

A list of book I used for background information. The links open at Amazon.com, of which I am an affiliate. See FAQs: Buying from this website.

Cullina, William. The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada. 1st ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2000.

DiSabato-Aust, Tracy. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting & Pruning Techniques. Expanded ed. Portland, Or: Timber Press, 2006.

Gracie, Carol. Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History. 1st ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Leopold, Donald Joseph. Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation. 1st. Portland, Or: Timber Press, 2005.

Ottesen, Carole. The Native Plant Primer. 1st ed. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.

  

 

 

 

 

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Migrating Dragonflies

dragonfly_blue dasher
Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Eastern Pondhawk, Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Dragonfly migrate in the spring, late summer, and autumn. In August I often see dragonflies flying across asphalt parking lots and wonder where they are going. Now I know, it is the beginning of their fall migration and they are traveling to warmer regions where there are plenty of insects to eat. In the spring they return north to breed.

Insect Migration

Data collected from a 10-year study in the UK found that more than 3.3 trillion insects migrate above southern Britain every year especially in the spring and fall. Dragonfly migration is receiving attention.

Insects migrate or fly from place to place hundreds or thousands of feet above our heads. Most insects flying high over head use the blowing winds to carry them from place to place. The dragonflies are different. They are strong enough to journey under their own steam and wing power.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum_corruptum) male
Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum_corruptum) male. Eugene Zelenko, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Dragonfly Migration

Many of the world’s 3,000 species of dragonflies alive to today, live in the tropics. But many migrate to the warm and wet habitats where they breed. Moving from the tropics to temperate areas during the warm, wet summers is less crowded with more breeding water habitats and food.

The same generation that migrates north is not the same generation that arrives in the south or returns the following year. It takes two or more generations to complete the migration journey. The individuals that fly north in the spring are the offspring of the individuals that flew south the previous autumn and vice versa.

 

 

Studies have found that migrating dragonflies use the same flyways as hawks and falcons. Perhaps the hawks and falcons are following the dragonflies, since the insects can be a food sources for birds both large and small.

Where to See Migrating Dragonflies

Most often I see migrating dragonflies zooming across parking lots. I don’t know why this is, but staking out a parking lot and watching in a southerly direction or toward the ocean or other large body of water is a good spot.

The dragonflies I have seen fly straight toward their destination, in a straight line over buildings and trees. They fly with the same unchanging direction as migrating butterflies.

Head of the Common Green Darner.
Head of the Common Green Darner dragonfly. Photo by Mark Nenadov [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

When to Observe Dragonfly Migration

I see migrating dragonflies in September and October. And some as early as August. I saw dragonflies migrating right along with butterflies and hawks at Cape May State Park in New Jersey. See my post on Cape May and Monarch Migration.

Destination?

The study of the migration habits of the order Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies), is still pretty new. It seems there are several studies out of India. For a long time, those of us in the north didn’t know where the home habitat of Monarch butterflies was located. Now we know Monarchs migrate to conifer forests in Mexico, In time we’ll learn the destinations of dragonfly migrations, too.

 

Five Main Migrating Dragonflies in North America

In North America there are 16 species in two families (darners and skimmers) that are know to migrate. Here are the five main migrating species.

  1. Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  2. Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)
  3. Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
  4. Wandering Glider Dragonfly also called Global Skimmer (Pantala flavescens)
  5. Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

These dragonflies are known to migrate in spring and fall. Do you see any of these acrobatic fliers near you?

 

How the Green Darner Dragonfly Migrates

Global Skimmer: The Dragonfly that Flies from India to Africa (video)

 

Conclusion

I hope this short introduction to dragonfly migration is helpful. While writing this I thought of the millions of animals that high-tail-it out of North America as the cold weather approaches. Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and many species of insects we don’t even know about yet. It makes me appreciate our human ability to survive the cold.

 

Download A Free Dragonfly Field Guide

I stumbled across this colorful guide and thought I would share it with you. The brochure is provided by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP).

http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/uploads/_ROOT/File/MDP-field_guide.pdf

 

Dragonfly Natural History and Field Guides

These Amazon.com affiliate links. If you buy using these links I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson

Dragonflies and Damselflies: A Natural History by Dennis Paulson

 

Dragonfly Focused Citizen Science Projects

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership helps science track the migration of the five main migrating dragonflies.

http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/index/welcome

Odontacentral.org

“Odonata Central is a citizen science database concerning the distribution and abundance of Odonates including Dragonflies and Damselflies.”

More on Dragonflies

Dragonflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

The Blue Dasher: A Dragonfly that Zings