Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What's the Scariest Thing in the Forest?

I commonly start a nature hike by asking the participants this question.  The answers range from wolves, bears, snakes, etc.  Take a look at the picture below and you will see what I consider the thing to most avoid on any walk in the woods, backyard, and schoolyard.

Well, do you see it?  No, not the black and white furry thing.  That is inconsequential.  We will probably  discuss he/she at a later date.  The scary thing is the plant he is walking through.  Poison Ivy!

There is a ton of confusion and falsehoods when it comes to this native plant. It has red and shiny leaves is a common misnomer.  Or, "I have never gotten poison ivy, just poison oak".

Let's try to clear all this up.  First, poison ivy grows east of the Rockies.  Poison oak grows in the Western United States.  Poison sumac is a small tree that almost always grows in swampy water, so it would be highly unusual for a person to come in contact with it.  Second, poison ivy is a vine that can grow along the ground, up trees and fences, and occasionally will grow in a bush form.  Third, poison ivy leaves are not usually shiny and red.  This occurs when the leaves are first emerging in the spring.  Very soon they become green and not shiny like most of the other plants.  The plant leaves will turn a beautiful bright red in the fall just before they fall off.  For most of the growing season the leaves are green with no shine.

On the right is a picture of our friend walking amongst some poison ivy and another plant that is commonly confused with poison ivy.  Mnemonic rhymes are very helpful when it comes to remembering things like how to identify poison ivy.  The best ones are "leaves of three, let it be", and "hairy vine, no friend of mine". The poison ivy is above Mr. Stinky's head and back. The plant in the foreground has five leaflets and is virginia creeper.  It is the only harmless thing to touch in the picture!
On the left is a picture of the aerial rootlets or "hairs" that are key in identifying the plant in winter.  I can't tell you how many times I have seen these hairy vines growing up the fences or trees around playgrounds and peoples homes.
What happens when someone comes in contact with poison ivy?  Take a look at my arm below.  I am highly allergic to the urushiol oil that is found in all parts of the plant.  This case is probably from hugging my dog, who constantly runs around the edge of my yard where poison ivy can commonly be found.

There are studies that predict poison ivy is becoming increasingly prolific as a result of global warming and climate change.  Its urushiol oil is becoming more potent and growth more robust.

So, lets have a final test to see if you can identify poison ivy and stay away from it.  Here is a picture of Mr. Stinky amongst more poison ivy, virginia creeper, and various other green nondescripts.  Can't pick it out?  Well, the other most important thing to remember when hiking is to stay on the trail.  Especially if you are wearing shorts!

Mr. Stinky says, Thanks for visiting the Westmoreland Sanctuary Blog!  Come back soon.
Stephen Ricker-Director

Monday, June 21, 2010

Injured, Orphaned, or OK?

Each spring our phone rings with a local resident wanting to know what to do with a baby bird or a lonely deer fawn found in the corner of their lawn.  These phone calls are pretty common for us, but the experience for the caller is always new, and the welfare of the wildlife species they've found is usually uncertain.  Without being present, it is difficult for us to assess whether the animal really needs someone's assistance, or perhaps it might be best left alone.

So what do you do if you find a young wildlife species?  Its important to determine if the animal might be injured, orphaned, or OK.  A fledgling bird, a young squirrel, or an "abandoned" fawn may not really need our help.  They may simply be struggling to learn how to use their newly formed and awkward bodies as they explore the great big world around them.  Here are a few things to consider when determining if a young animal may be injured or orphaned:
  • If you have to chase it, it doesn't need your help.
  • A fawn curled up in the lawn is not abandoned but left alone for short periods of time so the mother may forage to maintain her strength between bouts of nursing.
  • A young bird that is fully feathered and hopping on the ground or clambering in the bushes is likely a fledgling, not an orphan.
  • Many small mammals like rabbits and raccoons nurse their young for short periods of time, but then leave the nest to avoid attracting attention from predators.
Please seek help from a wildlife rehabilitator, local veterinarian, or nature center if you see the following:
  • An animal brought home by your pet cat or dog.
  • Signs of bleeding or other trauma.
  • Shivering.
  • A featherless or nearly-featherless bird on the ground.
  • Evidence of a dead parent nearby.
For more information about how to assess the need for help of young or injured wildlife, please visit http://www.animal-link.org/ or the NYS DEC.  These informative websites have resources about how to deal with potentially injured or ophaned wildlife, what to do if help is needed, and how to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  And at all times, please consider you and your family's health and well-being before attempting to rescue injured or abandoned wildlife.  Though you have good intentions, wild animals usually don't know they are being helped or rescued and may react aggressively regardless if they are healthy or truely injured/abandoned.  When in doubt, please remember this saying: "If you care...leave them there."

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Attracting Hummingbirds

Wish you could see a hummingbird in your yard?  Check out this post from last summer, which describes a bit of the life history and food preferences of these magical little birds.  A few carefully selected flowers and a hummingbird feeder will go a long way in attracting our region's Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, June 14, 2010

Woodboring Beetle

I found this woodboring beetle recently near the Naturalist's cottage.  This creature is a Dicerca sp. beetle belonging to Family Buprestidae, which includes at least 134 species in North America according to the Kaufmann Field Guide to Insects of North America.  Beetles belonging to Genus Dicerca generally breed in decaying hardwood trees according to BugGuide.net.

With all the storm-damaged trees lingering throughout the forests of our area (thanks to winter and spring storms), we're likely to encounter a number of these types of beetles this summer.  If you find an insect and are unsure of its identity, snap a picture and match it with the many submitted and identified pictures at BugGuide.net.  If all else fails, you can submit your photo with an ID request on the site, or send us the photo and perhaps we'll have a clue as to which variety of insect you've found.  Be sure to include an object (coin, pencil eraser, etc) in the photo that lends a clue to the insect's size.  The grid paper in my photo indicates increments of 1/4th of an inch.  You can find our email address by clicking our website link to the right.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist