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Friday, April 03, 2009

Weekly Species Highlights

As a new feature, each week I will post a selection of animal and plant species highlights. The choices focus on some of the seasonal changes for that week. The following are for the first week of April:

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) - As seasoned birdwatchers await the arrival of colorful neotropic songbird migrants another, more modestly plumed species has recently made its presence known around our area. Over the last week, my cycling through different Brooklyn neighborhoods has gotten noticeably noisier, but in a good way. As an ear-birder, I always try to identify birds by their vocalizations when I'm on my bicycle. Last week I heard, what I assumed was, a Tufted Titmouse in Ditmas Park. The source of the call suddenly morphed into a robin, followed by a kestrel, followed by a Blue Jay. New York is within their northern range and most migrate south during the winter. Suddenly these talented mimics have returned and they are everywhere. Over the next week, if you are awakened at 3am by a noisy bird on a neighbor's roof, it's a very good chance your night bird is a mockingbird. To help lull you back to sleep, try to identify all of his vocalizations, don't be surprised if you hear a car alarm or a truck's back-up warning.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) - These butterflies are generally the first species seen in the northeast in the Spring. They are one of the most common species of butterfly in North American and their populations seem to be safe. Unlike many other butterflies, Mourning Cloaks prefer tree sap to flower nectar and can be found feeding on the sides of trees. I spotted the individual in this photograph in Prospect Park the other day and was able to coax it onto my hand for a portrait.

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) - As the temperature warms and daylight hours increase, these turtles can be seen around the edges of our city's ponds and lakes. Native to southern North American, their expanded range is due, primarily, to the pet trade and people releasing them into the wild. Unlike their relatives in warmer climes, turtles around New York City need to hibernate when the temperature drops. They can sometimes be seen basking on rocks or logs during unseasonably warm winter days but don't begin their breeding cycle until March or April.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) - In the moist, rich soils around Prospect Park the first blooms of the year are Snowdrops. Those white flowers are then followed by Spring Crocus. As the crocuses begin to wane, the squills suddenly emerge. The first photos I took of this Eurasian wildflower included a pair of Honey Bees feeding on its nectar. When I enlarged the images I realized that the bee's pollen basket, which is normally golden yellow, was heavy with blue pollen. I wonder if a hive fed entirely on Siberian Squill produces blue honey. While this wildflower is not native to North America I checked the website "" and it does not list this as an invasive species. Too often I discover a beautify botanic around New York City only to learn that it is one of the "bad" plants taking over the country.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) - Within the next week or two magnolia trees around the city will bloom in an explosion of color and fragrance leading the way to Spring's preeminent event. The first of the species to bloom is the Star Magnolia. Cherry trees will follow in quick succession, unfortunately, overshadowing these magnificent trees and relegating them to yesterday's news. Don't let that happen. Get out to your local botanic gardens as soon as possible!


Monica said...

Great stuff Rob!

Bluebird of Friendliness said...

A great post for a rainy night!

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

I love my Mockingbirds, but the Catbirds are my favorites. They're so elegant, and their calls just as varied.

And thanks for the id of the Mourning Cloak! I photographed one at BBG last Tuesday and didn't know what it was. I thought it was a moth, not a butterfly.

The turtles at BBG's Japanese Pond are up and active, too.

Rob Jett said...

Here's a quick ID list for moths and butterflies (with few exceptions):

Butterfly - Rounded clubs on the ends.
Moth - Thin or often feathery.

Butterfly - Thin and smooth.
Moth - Thick and fuzzy.

Butterfly - During the day.
Moth - During the night.

Butterfly - Colorful.
Moth - Dull (some exceptions, such as, Luna Moth).

Butterfly - Held vertically when resting.
Moth - Held flat against body when resting.

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

What I saw had a fuzzy body and held its wings out flat. But maybe it was just sunning itself and still wearing its winter coat. :-)

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