First Day of Camp

I love Day Camp.  Today our group found about a bazillion things.  The five best things were:

  1. The Short-headed Garter Snake.
  2. The Giant Waterbug that was eating a Water Boatman.
  3. The Red fungus with the yellow underside that turned bluish-purple when you poked it.
  4. The mink that ran across the trail ahead of us.
  5. And this amazing Leopard Frog that is missing a front leg:

Leopard Frog

A rose is a rose is a rose…

A rose is a rose is a rose… Or is it?

Sometimes, I make a stab at understanding botany.  Sometimes my efforts result in ah-ha moments.  More often, though, I end up with Huh? moments.

RosesMy latest kick is to try to learn some of the major plant families, taxonomically speaking.  I like being able to group things by common characteristics.  It’s satisfying to (metaphorically) toss items into the correct boxes.  And learning the unifying characteristics can often help later in getting to a specific identification…  “Hmm… I don’t know what species this is, but surely it must be in the Rose Family because of…”  It makes you sound smart, too.

I worked on the Mustard family first.  (Click here for mustard post.)  That was pretty easy…  4 petals, 6 stamens – 4 tall, 2 short…

Common BlackberryAfter taking pictures of a few flowers in the rose family, I decided to work on that one… How hard could it be?  Oh dear…  Well, it starts out looking simple:  5 sepals, 5 petals, numerous stamens (usually), oval serrated leaves (except sometimes).  It’s the “usually” and the “except sometimes” that will get you!  For example, nothing pictured here has more than 5 petals.  But a domestic rose has lots more!  According to one source, these extra petals were bred from stamens…  (How do “they” do that, I wonder…)

Raspberries and Blackberries are roses.

Purple Flowering Raspberry

All the Cinquefoils are roses.Rough-fruited Cinquefoil


Strawberries (Barren and otherwise) are roses.Barren Strawberry Closeup

Strawberry Blossom Reverse Lens Macro

Agrimonies are roses.
Woodland Agrimony Closeup

Avens are roses.
Rough Avens

Even apples are roses.
We Want to Be Apples When We Grow Up

 Worldwide, there are 3,000 species that fall under the Rose Family. How many do you have in your backyard?

Cut Short by the Rain

A misty, warm morning that promised rain… Not the best for bird banding… Still, Tom opened the nets at 5:40am as scheduled.  The first net check was delayed by a drizzle.  Once that passed, we got back on schedule.

Just after the first net check, a small group arrived from Audubon to look on as Tom and J quickly processed several birds.  The Cushmans from Michigan arrived shortly after that.  Here are a few highlights:

Blue-winged Warbler:
Blue-winged Warbler

And the Closeup:
Blue-winged Warbler Closeup

Judy Releases the Warbler:
Judy Releases the Blue-winged Warbler - Denny watches

Field Sparrow Youngsters:
Field Sparrow Youngsters

Linda and Judy release the sparrows:Linda and Judy Release Sparrows

Song Sparrow:
Song Sparrow

Tom Takes an Avian Bird Flu Sample:
Taking the Avian Flu Sample

Gray Catbird:
Gray Catbird

By far, the most exciting catch of the day was a new warbler for me, the Canada Warbler.

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler Range MapAccording to the Cornell All About Birds website, this bird is one of the last warblers to arrive on the breeding ground in the spring and one of the first to depart in the fall.  We are in the southern part of the breeding range.

Isn’t that a pretty little bird?


Tom watched the storm approach on his Blackberry and decided to call it quits at around 9:30am.  Here’s what the radar looked like by the time I got home:


The red bits of that storm blob over Cattaraugus County must have hit the banding station just moments after we were safely packed into our vehicles and heading home.  As I type now, it is sunny and fine…  Gotta love weather in Western New York!  I’m sure if we had been able to stay, that Scarlet Tanager that was flitting around in the trees would have made it into one of our nets!  Maybe next time…

Thanks, Tom, for another great day of banding!  Click below for Tom’s version of the day:

Relatives (again)

Blue FlagThe Blue Flag Irises are slowly finishing their bloom cycle. You can still find a few down by the pond where the dragonflies are active… But slowly, slowly, they are setting seeds and the flowers are wilting away…

Not to worry… Another from the Iris family is just starting:  Blue-eyed Grass. I was kind of surprised to learn that this “grass” is really an iris! But when you look closely, you can see, of course it is:

Blue-eyed Grass

Iris family members have flowers with parts in multiples of three and leaves that occur in a  single flat plane at the base of the plant.  Blue-eyed Grass meets this criteria.

It’s a small plant – far smaller than Blue Flag – so look carefully amongst the long grasses to see it – during the day, as the blossoms seem to close up when evening comes.

The USDA Plant database lists 41 species.  Click here to see which variety lives near you!

Dragon Hunting

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of leading Phyllis and Justin on a Dragon Hunting adventure.

Justin and Phyllis - Dragon Hunters

They were in town from Oregon… quite a long way from here!  Originally, they had signed up for an Elderhostel intergenerational program we offer, but the June offering had to be cancelled.  They were the only ones signed up, unfortunately.  Not easily deterred, the adventurous pair did not cancel their travel plans.  So, off we went… the hunt was on!

Our first find (other than the ubiquitous Eastern Forktail) was a pretty little Slender SpreadwingSlender Spreadwing
Spreadwings are a kind of damselfly.  The Slender Spreadwing male is quite lovely: blue eyes, greenish shoulder stripes, lemon yellow under his thorax, metallic bronzy-green abdomen.  With spreadwings, to provide positive identification for the NYS Survey, you need to photograph the terminal appendage.

Slender Spreadwing Terminal Appendage

Justin learned quickly the safe way to handle these beauties, Justin Investigates Slender Spreadwing
and it wasn’t long before he got the knack of capturing them in his aerial net.

For most of the other species we found the NYS scientists require nothing more than an observation because the field marks are so distinctive it is difficult to confuse them for anything else. We captured them and photographed them nonetheless, just for fun.

Blue Dasher (male)
Blue Dasher

Eastern Pondhawk (male)
Eastern Pondhawk Male

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (female)
Twelve-spotted Skimmer Female

Common Whitetail (male)
Common Whitetail Male
This is the third year of the survey. I’ve seen plenty of Common Whitetails in a variety of habitats. I have never been able to net one, nor had anyone in my group that has netted one. But Justin did! Way to go, Justin!

Dot-tailed Whiteface (male)
Dot-tailed Whiteface

Face to Face with a Dot-tailed WhitefaceIt was a great day and I will file two official datasheets, as we visited two separate sites on the Audubon property.  I will also (eventually) log the two site surveys at my Odonata blog, which you can see by clicking here.

Dragons weren’t our only finds…

Check out this awesome caterpillar that Phyllis found.  I think it’s one of the Checkerspots:


I kept spotting little grasshoppers when I was looking for dragons:Little Grasshopper

We stopped to check out the owl pellet and found this tiny jawbone:
Tiny Jaw Bone

It was great spending a couple of hours with this curious pair of visitors.  Justin, it was great to meet you.  You are a very delightful person and you have a really cool grandma.  Phyllis, it was great to meet you.  You’re doing a great thing with your grandkids.  I can STILL remember a trip I took with my grandma when I was but FIVE years old.  I didn’t get to meet Emily, but if she is as grateful as Justin, it must be a joy to spend time with her, too.

Happy travels!

Quiet, Slow Walk…

Dawn and DewThis season can be really crazy for a naturalist.  Everybody wants a walk in the woods… You run from one group to the next.  Or you run to check bird boxes, or mist nets, or ponds with dragons flying…  As my boss once said, “Too much of a good thing is still too much.”  So it seems…

Today when I got to work, I just couldn’t stand the idea of getting immediately into the work flow…  Camp registrations, walk confirmations, program preparations…  I decided I really just needed a walk.  Alone.  With camera.  Slow.  Without purpose.  So relaxing.  So that’s what I did.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.  I was ready to accept whatever nature tossed my way.  A muskrat.  A daisy.  A feather.


What is it about morning and dew and Green Frog songs that can melt the stress away?

Bird's Foot TrefoilI looked for patterns and color and good light.  I photographed the familiar.  And the unfamiliar.

Mystery Insect

I watched a Muskrat swim across a pond and an Oriole fight off a Crow.  I watched birds flit among branches catching food for themselves and for babies.  I startled a deer and heard it go crashing through the pond snorting.  I noticed dew dripping from sunlit flowers.  I saw a spider by an egg sack.


Enter HereThe woods invited me to explore.  Shadows and sunlight.  Trees and vines.  Ferns, ferns, ferns…

Ferns ferns ferns



ButtercupWhen I returned to the office, I was met by a colleague with a serious face.  It seems our boss’ husband had been in a serious accident and was still in ICU.

They say that nature restores and heals.  I send all these images and sensations to you, Paul.  They restored me.  May they restore you.  You are strong.  You will pull through.


Two warblers have been doing their best to confuse me over the last few springs…  They are both fairly common around here.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler Closeup

Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler Closeup

Now you may look at those two pictures and think, “This WinterWoman person is crazy.  Those two birds don’t look anything alike!”  You may be right about the crazy part, and I do recognize the field marks of these two species… when they’ll let me see them.  The Yellow Warbler is a little less shy and will flit before me when I walk the trails at Audubon.  I almost never see the Chestnut-sided.  Most often, though, I hear them first and see them later – if at all.

The Yellow Warbler’s song is often described with the phrase “Sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet, I’m so sweet!”  Listen to it by clicking here (from Cornell).

The Chestnut-sided Warbler’s song is described as, “Pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha!”  Listen to it by clicking here (from Cornell).

Pretty similar.  Pretty frustrating to a reluctant birder who is just trying to get it right…  It took me a few seasons to add habitat clues:  Near water?  Probably the Yellow Warbler.  Shrubby woods?  Probably the Chestnut-sided.

I finally got around to reading accounts of these two birds after catching and banding both at Tom’s SWAT banding station.  I was delighted to find that even the experts find the songs to be very similar.  In fact, look what it says at the Cornell website:

Recent DNA-based studies indicate that the Chestnut-sided Warbler is the closest relative of the Yellow Warbler. Both sing similarly phrased songs, and Yellow Warblers regularly sing songs nearly identical to those of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.  (source)

Ha!  No wonder I was confused!

Learn More:

Bird Banding at SWAT

I groan as I turn off the alarm.  It takes me a few seconds to remember why it is set for 3:45 a.m.  I crawl out of bed and head for the shower.  Another day of bird banding experience…  Don’t want to be late.  Somehow I manage to check the radar, make a thermos of coffee, and eat a bowl of cereal before heading out.  Despite having to stop for gas along the way, I make it to the banding station two minutes before Tom and Jordan.  As we head out to open the nets they explain why today will be a busy day:  several families will attend to observe and participate.  (Click here for Tom’s post about the day.)

Tom and Jordan with Swamp Sparrows
Tom holds an immature and Jordan holds an adult Swamp Sparrow…

These two guys goof around a lot, but they are both great teachers.  Even though there were a lot of people today, I got quite a bit of experience handling birds and am feeling much more confident.

Of all the birds we banded today, I find the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to be the most interesting.  Ironically, I didn’t handle this bird at all.  Hee hee.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Long before I had read a word about this member of the Woodpecker family, I observed it in action at Girl Scout Camp over the course of several summers.  Yellow Bellied Sapsucker HolesThere are two White Birch trees outside Bellinger Lodge where the girls wait to enter the dining hall at mealtimes.  Both of these trees are riddled with holes…  holes made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling sap wells and licking the sap that flows from them.  One summer, I watched a pair fly back and forth from these two birch trees to another behind the lodge – near where the trading post is now located.  It took a little patience, but eventually I discovered the nest in a much larger hole in the trunk of that tree.  When I listened carefully, I could hear the babies peeping a greeting when the parents entered the cavity.

Hummingbird at Sapsucker Hole - by Jeremy MartinA few years later, I took my education staff to Timbercrest for a working retreat.  We worked under another tree that sported Sapsucker holes and watched several species take advantage of the running sap.  Small insects buzzed around the hole, as did hornets.  What fascinated us most, though, were the hummingbirds.  (Were they eating the insects, sucking the sap, or both?)

Last Christmas, I received Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Trees in my Forest.  He has a fascinating chapter entitled “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi” that describes in more detail what I had been observing over the years.  He introduces the chapter with this familiar quote from John Muir:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

This is particularly true of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which is referred to by both Heinrich and the Cornell All About Birds website as a “keystone species,” a species which, like the keystone that holds a stone arch in place, plays an essential role for the overall ecosystem in which it lives.  Not only does it provide food for insects and hummingbirds, it’s abandoned cavities provide nest sites for smaller birds such as chickadees and tree swallows.

I could go on and on.  But instead – just click on the Cornell link below for more details!

Trees in my Forest BookLearn more:

Hmm… That was quite the tangent… You just never know where a post is going until you start typing… I’ll have to tell more bird banding stories in future posts, I guess…

Greystone Nature Preserve

We are blessed to have so many wonderful volunteers at Audubon. Take our trail guide volunteers, for example. Peace Pole at GreystoneThis spring there were thirteen folks who donated their time and expertise to help us guide thousands of children from dozens of schools and organizations along the trails at the sanctuary. A Discovery Walk is designed to introduce children to the natural world in a safe and informed way. We like to do this in small groups of 8-12 students, but with only 3 fulltime naturalists, that would be impossible. There were some days when we had as many as 80 children at the sanctuary at one time!

To make sure they all know how much we appreciate their work and their dedication, we offer a Thank You Field Trip at the end of each spring season. This year, we visited the property owned by two of our trail guides: Bill and Diane, pictured here with their dogs Little Bear and Holly.

Bill and Diane, Little Bear and Holly

In our tour of the property, it took us a long time to get past the house and the yard… so many interesting things to see. Bill and Diane are building this place with the help of some very talented local craftsmen and women.

Tour of Greystone

Inside and out, every effort is made to be as green as possible. The fish/frog pond was built to be a sanctuary for wildlife, as well as to provide water for the gardens. Rainwater from the roof is collected in a giant cistern underground.

Frog and Fish Pond
Green frogs and toads sang to us from this pond…

Circles are the theme… Even the gardens will be planted in circles around the Peace Pole. Nest boxes were in use by tree swallows and bluebirds. Even the strawberry patch concealed a nest!
Bird Nest in the Strawberries

Greystone Nature Preserve got its name from an enormous grey stone that now sits in a stone garden graced by a Peace Pole.
The Grey Stone at Greystone

The rock garden is filled with many, many unusual stones, some from an old collection belonging to Bill’s dad, and others that were wedding gifts to Diane and Bill. Wedding gifts? Yup. Bill and Diane told wedding guests that they didn’t need another toaster and encouraged each person to bring a special stone to add to the collection. There are awesome stones in that circle!

Wisdom Stones
Diane explained that stones like these with holes were Wisdom Stones to the Native Americans.

One of the contributions to the Stone Garden was an Inukshuk:

An Inukshuk is built in the image of man – two strong legs, a pelvic stone, shoulders, and a head. Read more about them by clicking here.

Grape Vine TreeWhen we could finally tear ourselves away from the features near the house, we wandered trails that took us past fields and forest. There were plenty of signs of Bill and Diane’s hard work. This property had once been a grape vineyard. In most places, they had gotten the vines under control, removing them from trees to release them to the sun… This one, however, they left for the turkeys. Have you ever seen a grape vine towering 20-30 feet in the air?

Around the bend to arrive at the teepee:


And here we are inside:
Inside the Teepee

Are you wondering what they are all looking at? Here it is:
Teepee Resident
A little Red Eft in Sarah’s hands. (P.S. Can’t wait to see how Jeff’s photo turns out…)

The property also affords a cool walk in the shady woods and down to a fine little creek.
Into the Woods

By noon, we were ready for our potluck lunch:
Trail Guide Luncheon
Staff and Volunteer Trail Guides (Sadly, not all were able to attend…)

We had fine food, conversation and laughter, sharing many stories from the busy walk season. We were all somewhat reluctant to leave and many of us have plans to go back when we can.

(Cross-posted at Audubon’s blog:

Crab Spiders

When I was little, I couldn’t abide spiders.  I couldn’t even bear to look at a picture of a spider in a book.  Certain (big hairy) spiders still have that effect on me.  Still, I’ve learned to appreciate their beauty and complexity.

Crab Spider on Oxeye Daisy

Crab Spider on Queen Anne's LaceThe common name “Crab Spider” comes from the fact that the spider looks somewhat crab-like, and/or the fact that it can move like a crab – frontwards, backwards, or sideways.  There are several species given this common name and they fall into a handful of spider families.  One common feature is leg length; the front two pairs are quite a bit longer than the back two.

Crab Spiders don’t make webs, nor do they wrap their prey in silk.  Instead, they lay quite still and ambush insects that come too close.  Several species are colored so that they can hide on flowers to await pollinators such as bees, flies, and butterflies.  With strong venom, they can paralyze prey bigger than they.

Gary Dodson of Ball State University discovered that males of the species Misumenoides formosipes drink flower nectar.  He is devising a study to try to find out if nectar gives the males an advantage in fighting or mating success.  Fascinating.

Crab Spider on Clover

Most Crab Spiders live only one summer season, laying eggs which will overwinter.

Learn more: