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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weekly Species Highlights

Here are the weekly species highlights for the third week of June:

Bird: Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) - A large, vocal "Tyrant" flycatcher, this conspicuous, easily identified bird has white underparts with blue-black back and wings. Its black tail has a white terminal band. Its head is also black, but has an inconspicuous crown of red feathers visible only when the bird is displaying. Their breeding range is from British Columbia across interior Canada to Maritime Provinces and south to northern California, central Texas, the Gulf coast, and Florida. They are common in our city parks, especially in fields and meadows close to water bodies. They are highly aggressive towards potential nest predators and larger birds and can be seen regularly attacking hawks & crows while making a high-pitched chattering sound. Eastern kingbirds are the most widespread of the genus Tyrranus. Kingbirds can be seen perched on treetops, fences, and utility poles, often feeding by flying out to catch insects and then returning to the same perch. They are important predators of insects during the breeding season. Eastern Kingbirds winter in South America, primarily in the western Amazon basin.

Insect: Daddy Longlegs (Family Phalangiidae) - This scary "spider" has an unjustified bad reputation and been subject to many urban myths. As a child I remember being told (after playing with one) that they are very poisonous, but that their fangs are too short to bite humans. Hmmmm. First of all, the Daddy Longlegs or Harvestmen isn't even a spider, but rather something related to the spiders, as are scorpions, ticks, mites, centipedes and millipedes. Spider's bodies consist of two parts, whereas, the Daddy Longleg's head, thorax, and abdomen are all fused together. Also, a Daddy Longlegs has just two eyes, instead of the spider's usual eight eyes. Unlike spiders, Daddy Longlegs do not spin silk. Finally, they are harmless as they do not produce any venom. Your average Daddy Longlegs feeds on aphids, caterpillars, beetles, flies, mites, small slugs, snails, earthworms, spiders, other harvestmen, decaying plant and animal matter, bird droppings and fungi. Birds prey on Daddy Longlegs, but they will release a stink odor as a defense against predators. There are between 100-150 Daddy-longlegs species in North America north of Mexico.

Wildflower: Lance-leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) - Also known as Sand Coreopsis, this native perennial prefers full sun, sandy or rocky soil and mesic to dry conditions. Flowering from May-July it can be found in sizable colonies (like the one in the photo) along NYC's coast in places such as Ft. Tilden. Nearly a dozen other species of perennial yellow-flowered Coreopsis are found in the East. Some insect pollinators that benefit from this coreopsis include long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, day-flying moths, and beetles. The long-tongued Coreopsis Miner Bee is a specialist visitor of Coreopsis spp. The caterpillars of the Dimorphic Gray and Wavy-Lined Emerald moths feed on the foliage. Some mammals occasionally feed on this and other Coreopsis species, including rabbits, groundhogs, livestock, and possibly deer.

Tree: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) - The Eastern Cottonwood as a highlight species seemed an obvious choice when I made a recent visit to the Ridgewood Reservoir. The cottonwood is fairly common around the perimeter of the reservoir basins. When I was there, the seed capsules of the numerous, huge trees had split open, releasing their abundant small seeds attached to cotton-like strands. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a sunny day snowstorm. This native cottonwood poplar grows throughout the eastern, central, and southwestern United States, the southernmost part of eastern Canada, and northeastern Mexico. It is a fast-growing tree reaching over 100 feet tall. The bark is silvery-white, smooth or lightly fissured when young, becoming dark gray and deeply fissured on mature trees. In natural conditions, it usually grows near rivers, with mud banks left after floods providing ideal conditions for seedling germination. They typically lives 70 to 100 years, but have the potential to live up to 400 years. It is a host plant for Mourning Cloak, Red-spotted Purple, Viceroy & Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

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