Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Persistent Spider

Cross Orbweaver (female)

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines persistence as:
  1. quality of persisting: the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties
  2. act of persisting: the action of somebody who persists with something
  3. long continuance of something: continuance of an effect after its cause has ceased or been removed
  4. ZOOLOGY resilience of organism: the ability of a living organism to resist being disturbed or being altered

The Cross Orbweaver (Araneus diadematus) living on the side of my chicken coop certainly exemplifies the definitions of persistence described above. She has continued to carefully reconstruct her web each evening along the side of the coop in hopes of capturing an unsuspecting arthropod. Her attempts to do so have been mostly fruitfull during the few mild evenings recently. And despite the rain and colder temperatures the last few nights, she continues to complete her evening ritual in hopes of a meal.

The Cross Orbweaver, also known as the Garden Orbweaver or Cross Spider, is a native of Europe but can be found throughout most of northern North America. The common name comes from the pattern of white spots on the anterior (front) of the abdomen that form the shape of a cross. Overall color patterns may vary from very light individuals to very dark individuals, though nearly all have a diagnostic "cross" on the abdomen.

Like many other orbweavers, they create intricate webs that sometimes span large distances in an attempt to capture prey. The spider is usually seen sitting face down in the middle of the web. Hungry spiders will eat their prey right away after quickly wrapping them into a bundle with their silk. Satiated spiders will wrap their catch and leave it attached to the web for later consumption.

With this species and similar species, the web is torn down and reconstructed every day. The valuable silk is not simply thrown away, but, like all things in nature, it is recycled. In this case the spider reingests its silk to save the valuable proteins and nutrients the silk contains. These ingredients will be reused for the next evening's newly reconstructed web.

I know one evening soon I won't see this pretty spider anymore. She will have accumulated enough energy through her nighttime meals to lay her eggs. Once she's completed this task, her life will soon be over. But until that time, she remains forever persistent.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Remember Fall?

Does anyone remember Fall? You know, Fall? When the leaves shine crimson, orange, and yellow against a crisp blue sky? Cool, brisk morning temperatures are slowly warmed into comfortable afternoons? The sound of dry, rustling leaves underfoot while walking the trails? You know, THAT Fall? Anyone seen it lately?

Well, just in case you forgot, or like me, you are yearning to see it return, here are some photos I took during October 4th's Lost Pond Lunch Hike.
This spider was putting the finishing touches on her new web a few feet above the trail in a strong, warm beam of sunlight.


These White-flowering Dogwood fruits were gleaming in the light of early morning, beckoning Catbirds, Veery's, Swainson's Thrushes, and others to eat. These berries will nourish a variety of songbirds on their journey south while distributing the seeds in their feces across the forest.


The airspace above Lost Pond was full of Meadowhawk Dragonflies. This one perched on the bench between foraging flights and chases with others of its kind. There were many pairs mating and distributing eggs which will hatch and become next years population of Meadowhawks.


There were still a variety of Bullfrogs and Green Frogs moving around the edge and on top of the lily pads of Lost Pond. Dragonflies and other insects moving about in the sunshine could quickly turn into one of the last meals for these two frogs before hibernation begins.


White Ash trees were ablaze with yellow color amongst the still green tones of the other forest trees.


A variety of birds like this Common Yellowthroat were fueling up on insects in our gardens, forests, and fields during their migration.


And now we have this. Cold. Rain. And snow. We got it all this weekend. But there's hope on the horizon. Weather reports generally look optimistic. Slowly warming temperatures and sunshine will hopefully make our acquaintence again this week. Keep your fingers crossed.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wildlife Sightings: Breakfast with the Birds

Saturday morning's weather was less than ideal for finding and viewing birds. The damp and foggy conditions created difficult lighting conditions for clear viewing of birds in the confines of the understory, but forest clearings and the area around Bechtel Lake provided sufficient levels of light.

There was a lot of activity from migrant species in various locations. Near the beginning of Easy Loop, in the clearing designated as Nichol's Field, there were Gray Catbirds, Veerys, and Swaison's Thrushs, and Robins gulping down the ripening "fruit" of the Dogwood trees. Zipping back and forth in the same area were a few of Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Further along on the Catbird Trail, the first clearing was full of actively foraging White-throated Sparrows and a Magnolia Warbler. More Gray Catbirds and Robins were moving about the grape vines in the back of the clearing.

Along the rest of the Catbird Trail, feeding flocks of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse moved through the mixture of Black Birch, Oak, and White Pine trees. Northern Flicker and Red-bellied Woodpecker made vocalizations indicating their presence in the viscinity as well.

The intersection of the Catbird and Chickadee trails gave a glimpse of Bechtel Lake where two Wood Ducks were paddling around. Moving toward the lake, a White-breasted Nuthatch flew over the trail.

After turning onto Easy Loop and traveling parallel with the shore of Bechtel Lake, a group of Wood Ducks (about 10 total) exploded off the water into the air and flew off into the forest. Traveling further down the length of the lake toward the boat house, there were more White-breasted Nuthatches, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Eastern Phoebe.

Among the fragmites around the end of the lake were Song Sparrows and more Gray Catbirds. There was a Northern Cardinal and Eastern Towhee vocalizing from the Red Maples beyond the fragmites. Cedar Waxwings made a pass over the lake and disappeared over the towering Tulip Trees.

Working my way up the hill on Easy Loop, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers moved through the canopy.

23 species in total were observed. Not an overwhelming diverse crowd of species, but there were lots of individual birds to been seen and heard on this morning.

Join me November 1st for the next Breakfast with the Birds. We will observe birds visiting our feeding station from the comfort of the museum. We'll also discuss how to participate in various citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch, Christmas Bird Count, and Great Backyard Bird Count.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist