Recent Butterfly Sightings at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The up side of the recent heat wave is that butterfly activity has increased.  This gallery shows some of the butterflies I’ve seen recently at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, near New Hope, Pennsylvania.  The Sleepy Orange, a butterfly not regularly present this far north, has returned for at least the third year in a row, possibly encouraged by the presence of its caterpillar food plant, Wild Senna.  Young Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars are also in evidence.

The Preserve is sponsoring its first butterfly count July 21, as part of the national effort spearheaded by the North American Butterfly Association.  The Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow in Solebury, Pennsylvania is also participating in this event, and we have volunteers covering several New Jersey sites, too. 

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Juvenile Downy Woodpeckers Learn to Forage for Food

For the past week or so I’ve been watching a family of Downy Woodpeckers in my back yard.  My first glimpse was of an adult female feeding an insect to one of her offspring.

Since then, Mom has made herself scarce, and Dad seems to have the assignment of teaching the kids how to eat convenience food from our feeder.

The male flies to the feeder for a seed, then to the trunk of a Flowering Dogwood tree where he uses the hollowed out space of a knothole to mash the seed, repeatedly pecking at it with his beak to prepare it for consumption.  Sort of like using a mortar and pestle to make a paste.  Once the food is properly prepared, he feeds his offspring, occasionally having a bite himself.

Initially I saw the adult male with just one other bird who was flying pretty confidently, so at first I thought I might be watching a mate feeding ritual between an adult male and female.

Then three Downies appeared together, an adult male in the company of two birds that were lacking the signature red patch on the back of the head that distinguishes the adult male Downy from the female and juvenile Downies.  The adult male fed both of the other birds, and there wasn’t much squabbling, so I had to take a more careful look to be sure of what was going on.

On closer inspection, the birds that are being fed have black plumage that is somewhat duller than the adults, the white streak above the eye is broader and ends toward the back of the head with white speckles, and there are white speckles just above the beak, characteristics of juvenile birds.  Mystery solved!

So two young Downy Woodpeckers have just about successfully fledged.  They’re still looking for handouts from Mom and Dad, but they’re learning to feed themselves.

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Mid-Spring in the Sourlands – Hidden blossoms, dazzling critters, and a bounty of ferns

A recent walk in the Sourland Mountains revealed Violet Wood-sorrel (Oxalis violacea) with its clover-like leaves mingling with violets and Virginia Creeper, bright white Dewberry blossoms, large leaf blades of Wild Comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum) topped with delicate sprays of pale blue flowers, and a last glimpse of Showy Orchids (Galearis spectabilis) before they fade for the season, hidden among ferns and fruiting Bellworts (Uvularia sp.) under arching branches of Spicebush.

Brightly colored snipe and robber flies dashed about to catch their meals, making their living by eating other insects.  Meanwhile spiders waited quietly for a snack to come to them.  In contrast to their name, Scorpianflies are so benign that they feed on insects that are already dead, including leftovers from spider webs.

Ferns spectacularly line the trails, many of them invisible a month ago.

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Early Spring, Sourland Mountains, West Amwell, NJ

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Spring was early this year, and the bloom period was very condensed as a result.  In case you missed it, here are some of the wildflowers blooming at Rockhopper and the Alexauken Wildlife Management Area.  Continue reading