I Sleep with the Windows Open

It was my turn to write the newspaper article this week. Here’s what I submitted:

I Sleep with the Windows Open
by Jennifer Schlick

After my brother was born, dad and the neighbors transformed the attic into a bedroom for my sister and me. Tongue and groove knotty pine boards on walls and ceiling created an atmosphere of rustic log cabin. The men also created a built-in table that served as both desk and vanity, a big double closet, and even a little sewing nook with built-in cabinet storage and a top big enough for laying out and cutting the fabric. Twin beds were placed on either side of the south-facing window, each with its own reading lamp. It’s a sweet space that I use to this day. I’m typing this article at a computer I’ve set up on that built-in desk.


Katydid: “Katydid! Katydid!”

Being just under the roof, the temperature of the room varies widely with the season and the weather. The heat of a summer night can be mitigated by a window fan placed in the north window, blowing out, pulling cool night air past the beds. It works brilliantly on all but the hottest and most humid nights. The cold of winter can be managed by leaving the door at the bottom of the stairs open and opening a floor vent that allows heat to rise from the 1st floor furnace. But I like it cold and I like wearing sweaters, so I rarely resort to these measures. In fact, I only close the windows when an unruly wind blows the rain in, or when the winter temperatures are truly frigid.

I realized recently what an intimate relationship I have with nature in my neighborhood as a result of those open windows, an intimacy that goes beyond an awareness of seasons and weather brought to me by variations in temperature and humidity. That realization started with a scritchy-scratchy noise outside the south window, just under the roof. It didn’t take me long to decide it must be a bat. The next day, when it was light enough to see, little “chocolate sprinkles” attached to the screen added evidence to support my guess. Guano. I was pretty sure. It was months before I finally saw the dark silhouette of a bat in flight swooping from under the roof just after hearing the scritchy-scratchy noise.


This is not the Screech Owl I heard outside my window. At least it is doubtful this is the very one.

One morning, awake and procrastinating the start of my day, the sound of bat’s return coincided with the whinny of an Eastern Screech Owl, and that got me thinking about the soundscape outside my window. I began a mental list of the dusk-night-dawn animals I know are out there because I’ve heard them. In spring my lullabye might be the high clear peeps of Spring Peepers and the elegant trill of American Toads. In summer I fall asleep to the chirp of crickets and katydids calling out their own names. There are times of year when I don’t need to set an alarm because the dawn chorus coincides exactly with the time I wish to awaken. Robins, phoebes, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, crows, and others sing me awake, or a Red Squirrel might chatter in the boundary line of spruces. The soundscape might include the non-animal conversation of winds, sometimes gentle and sometimes aggressive, rain or hail on the roof, long low rumbles of distant thunder, sudden explosions of nearby thunder, or a muffled snowy quiet.


American Robin: “Cheer-up! Cherio!”

Odors come through the windows, too: that fresh air smell that doesn’t have a name, the smell of rain that does (petrichor). A skunk went through the neighborhood more than once over the years. And let’s not forget that humans are a part of nature: the smoke from summer campfires tells tales of friendly gatherings and is often accompanied by guitar music, songs and laughter. The winter fireplace smoke is quiet and feels warm and cozy.

When I’m outside during the day, I favor my sense of sight and neglect my other senses to a certain extent. When I’m in my room, sight takes a back seat, but isn’t totally useless. I awoke at 1:00 a.m. a fews days ago thinking I had overslept. A glorious full moon was flooding my room with light. And I love to put sleep aside and don my glasses during a thunderstorm so I can get glimpses of lightning bolts.


Full Moon

I work at an organization whose mission is to connect people with nature. To that end, we often implore you to get outside. Today, I invite you to connect with your backyard by sleeping with your windows open.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon Community Nature Center. ACNC is located one-quarter mile east of Route 60 on Riverside Road between Jamestown, New York and Warren Pennsylvania. Visit auduboncnc.org or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.


(Green) Stinkbug

Well, I wasn’t going for the bug.  I was going for the hips – the red fruit of the rose – in this case Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora).


As I shot through the tangle of branches attempting to capture “red” I noticed quite a few insects, including this one:

bug, true bug, nymph, insect, black with yellow and black stripes on abdomen

After a bit of searching, I decided this is a nymph phase of the Green Stinkbug (Acrosternum hilare). According to the entomology department at the University of Florida (which, by the way, lists the Latin name as Chinavia halaris (Say)), nymphs normally take about a month to grow into their adult form. From their pictures, I’d say this fellow is fifth instar, meaning it’s next molt will bring adult shape and colors. Given the cold temperatures, that may not happen until spring. Young stinkbugs at this time of year will find a place behind bark or under leaf litter to wait out the winter.

There are great pictures over at the University of Florida website of all phases of development, from egg right on through to adult. Check it out: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/bean/green_stink_bug.htm.

They also have this cool picture of peaches that show evidence of stinkbug feeding. I always wondered what caused those weird shapes!

Catfacing on peach caused from feeding by the green stink bug, Chinavia halaris (Say). Photograph by Russell F. Mizell, III, University of Florida. (Click photo to go to website from which this photo was borrowed.)

No surprise:  The Purdue website is more concerned about the damage this bug does to soybeans:  http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/fieldcropsipm/insects/greenstinkbug.php.


The hot weather is not my favorite. But it’s good for dragonflies!

There were tons of Meadowhawks in the field near the bird banding station.

Also in the field were Slender Spreadwings… so delicate!

Over on the bridge at Spatterdock Pond I spotted Eastern Pondhawks. It is easy to tell male from female by color. The males are blue and green, the females green and black.

There were also Dot-tailed Whitefaces. This one’s hind wing is a little tattered.

I also saw Common Whitetails, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Blue Dashers, and Common Green Darners… but none of them would sit still for a portrait.


I’ve heard from many about a dearth of butterflies this season. While at Audubon for bird banding, I put the long lens on the camera to see who I could find. I was pleased to find several species!

I kept watching to see if this Monarch (Danaus plexippus) would lay some eggs on the swamp milkweed. A closer look leads me to believe it is a male, however…

A Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) also visited the Swamp Milkweed, though it never turned around for a proper portrait.

Over in the grasses and cattails of Spatterdock Pond I found this Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela):

I kept hoping it would pose with its wings open… best I could get was this out-of-focus shot:

Speaking of out-of-focus shots, this was the best I could get of this Skipper. I tried to key it out using Kaufman’s Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. I think it might be a Little Glassywing (Pompeius verna), but if someone out there wants to dispute it, I’m wide open! I’m only just now starting to try to know the butterflies!

There was another skipper over in the meadow which I think is a European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) – only because Kaufman says its larva eat Timothy and other grasses and that’s what I found it on. But again, if you know for sure, please leave a comment! There are SO MANY skippers and most are orange.

I found I had a better picture of it from last year!

Speaking of lots of similar orange butterflies, you should take a browse through the Fritillary section of a butterfly guide! The markings on this one look most similar to the Silver-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene).

We saw their caterpillars this spring, and now the adults are emerging everywhere at Audubon. The Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) has to be one of the most photograph-able species I’ve seen. They were just sitting – posing, “I’m ready for my closeup.” Even when I had to move away some grasses and leaves to get a clear shot, they just sat there waiting.

The underside is really pretty, too.  Look at this one playing hide and seek; you can barely see him behind the grass. (Ha!)

And one last species for the day – a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). This one teased me by landing first on my pant leg, then on my shirt. Eventually it flew off to a spot on the other side of the field. I followed and found it clinging upside down.

Tiger Swallowtail

One year when we attended the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage, it was impossible to pass an entire hour without seeing a Tiger Swallowtail.

Tiger Swallowtail

I’ve been seeing them around here for a couple of weeks now, so I anticipate there will be lots at Allegany State Park where the pilgrimage is held every year on the weekend after Memorial Day.  Since the naturalists are expected to know everything about everything (hahaha) I thought I better read up on this beautiful species.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The females aren’t always yellow!  They can arrive in a couple of different color morphs.  The picture at right is from Wikipedia and shows several color variations.

Wikipedia also suggests that the dark morph protects the female from predation because it resembles the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail, which probably doesn’t do it much good up here in the northeast.  The Pipevine is a southern species!

Speaking of protection from predation, the early instars of the caterpillar look like bird poop.  Who would want to eat that??

This photo by Todd Stout can be found over at the amazing website devoted to butterflies and moths of North America. Click the photo to go see!

Later instars get all green and bulky and have spots that resemble eyes. The last instar just before pupation is brown. Check out this photo by Tom LeBlanc:

Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar – late instar – by Tom LeBlanc

The caterpillars eat tree leaves from several species of trees including black cherry and willow among others. Adults sip nectar from flowers. There will be two broods of these lovelies up here in the north, three down south. The chrysalis is the part that overwinters.

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterfly pupa

Tiger Swallowtail chrysalis – photo by Dean Morley

I’m sure I’ll have no trouble spotting adults at the pilgrimage. But now that I know so much about the other life stages, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for them! Wouldn’t it be cool to come across a cat or chrysalis?

Read more:

Attack of the Gypsy Moths

Late last summer, I hiked the Beehunter trail with friends.  It was weird and creepy.  When we stopped, it sounded like it was raining.  The trail was littered with bits of leaves – like the schnitzels of paper after children have been practicing with scissors.  Normally, when you look up into a tree, you can see distinctive leaf shapes and recognize which trees are maples or oaks.  Not on this day.  The leaf shapes had been altered.

What sounded like rain was frass – caterpillar poop – falling on the leaves.  And it was these very same caterpillars responsible for the misshapen leaves and leaf fragments on the ground.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar

During subsequent hikes, I also noticed a high density of egg masses on the trees – far more than normal.  Normal.  Ha.  Before 1869 normal would be zero.

Brought here by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot from Europe to Massachusettes with the intent of breeding a more robust silk worm, the Gypsy moth caterpillar escaped the laboratory and became a part of the northeast landscape.  Over the years, it has managed to spread as far west as Wisconsin, north into Canada, and south to Virginia or North Carolina.

Gypsy Moths overwinter as egg masses.  In spring – late April and into May, the caterpillars emerge and begin eating.  By late June or early July, they will reach their final instar and pupate.  About two weeks after pupation, the adults emerge.

gypsy moth laying eggs bug of the day
Left: Female laying eggs by Jeff Tome. Right: Male by Jenn Orth

Females are flightless.  Males will find the females by “smelling” pheromones with their large, feathery antennae.  After mating, the female lays approximately 500 eggs.  Because the female is flightless, the egg masses are found on trunks along with empty cocoons.

Gypsy Moth caterpillars will dine on over 500 species of tree leaves, both deciduous and evergreen.  A serious infestation can defoliate a forest affecting the trees’ mortality.  The New York State Park system defines an infestation as serious enough to treat when there are 1,000 or more egg masses per acre.  Last fall, teams surveyed the trees in high use areas of the park and found an AVERAGE of 5,700 per acre with some areas having in excess of 14,000 masses per acre.  Concern in these high use areas is for visitor experience in the park.  Camping and hiking is unpleasant when frass falls into your food, or you slip on caterpillars as you walk.  Yes, they are that plentiful in some places!

Gypsy moth pupae and egg sacs
Egg masses and empty cocoons – by John B.

Of bigger concern to me is impact on the ecosystems, in particular the old growth areas of the park.  Survey teams in the these areas found densities of egg masses ranging from 1,990 to 16,430 per acre.  It would be such a shame to see the huge old hemlocks affected by these voracious caterpillars, which will devour hemlock needles in their later instars.

To combat the infestation, the park is spraying Gypchek – a virus that targets the gypsy moth species, but is reportedly harmless to humans, pets, and other species of wildlife.  One dose was applied last week.  Another will be applied sometime this week.

I haven’t been to the park yet this spring.  I’m a little nervous about it.  Guess I’ll know soon enough when I attend the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage!

I found these files on the internet:

ASP – Day 3

For my last hike of the vacation at Allegany State Park, I picked an even, wide path – France Brook Road.  There were still blockades across the road, so I parked where Limestone Run Road meets ASP 2 and walked out as far as the second bridge and back.  Spring peepers and Wood Frogs were making a racket.  I found evidence of some “gentlemen callers” in the puddles and ditches.


I only saw one egg mass:


There were several caterpillars on the railing of the bridge. (If you can figure out what kind they are, let me know!)


I got caught up in photographing the bark of a fallen Scot’s Pine:




Oh, and there was this leaf… in a puddle…


It was just a meandering kind of morning. Birds and frogs singing. The world alive. The only thing that dampened my spirits was knowing that this was the last of this vacation. I would have been happy to stay for another few weeks!

Wooly Beech Aphid

I learned about Wooly Alder Aphids a long time ago and wrote about them here.  I learned this week that Alder is not the only tree that has its very own aphid.  Beech trees can play host, too, to another species of wooly aphid.


Like all aphids, this variety has a piercing mouth part which it uses to get beneath the surface of the plant in order to suck juices.


Like other woolies, this variety carries waxy threads on its body.


According to one source, it is rare that an infestation is severe enough to do any real damage to the tree. I question that as it concerns our beech, already under attack by Beech Bark Disease (caused by a fungus introduced by a scale insect).

I’ve walked this woods frequently for a lot of years and never noticed this aphid before.  I will be curious to see what happens.

Learn more:

Can you see me?

Took a little walk-about at Audubon this morning. Look who I found all tucked in a bed of moss:


Not sure of the species. Isn’t it cute?

UPDATE:  My very knowledgeable friends tell me it’s a striped flea beetle.  Still not sure of species, because apparently there are several varieties of striped flea beetles.


I took a hike on Saturday along the Chautauqua Rails To Trails – the Nancy B. Diggs Nature Trail section from Hannum Road to Route 430.  It was quite a day for butterflies.  During the drive to the trailhead and all along the trail I saw dozens of migrating Monarchs.

Monarch - Wingspan 3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches

So large when flying, I have sometimes mistaken them for small birds, Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are pretty easy to identify.  Most people know about their amazing life cycle, munching on milkweed as caterpillars, creating the most beautiful chrysalises of all the butterflies, then emerging as a large, sturdy adults.  Those born early in the spring may migrate north or stay put.  If the adult emerges late enough in summer, it will attempt a very long migration south to Mexico.  Several generations of Monarchs are produced in a year and somehow that last generation “knows” its way to Mexico.  Blows my mind.

When the trail took me into the woods, another orange and black butterfly caught my eye, not as large as the Monarch, but also a strong flyer.

Eastern Comma - wingspan 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches

Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) produce two generations in a year.  The adults we see at this time of year will hibernate through the winter, then emerge to fly and lay eggs in spring through the end of April.  From these eggs comes the summer generation.  These adults will fly from May through September and will lay eggs that become the winter form.  Caterpillars dine on all members of the elm and nettle families.  Adults eat rotting fruit and tree sap.

I was almost back to my car when I saw the third and smallest black and orange butterfly.

Pearl Crescent - wingspan 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 inches

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) produce several generations throughout the summer months.  As winter approaches, third stage caterpillars will enter hibernation.  Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of wildflowers.  Caterpillars munch on asters.

In preparing this post, I found a wonderful website – Butterflies and Moths of North America.  Check out these links: