Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's That? Wednesday - Answer to last week's photo puzzle

Congratulations to Steve and Kenton and Rebecca for their correct answers to last week's "What's That?" photo puzzle.  Steve's guess of Osage Orange was right as was Kenton and Rebecca's guess of Hedge apple.  By coincidence, Steve had blogged about osage oranges the same day I posted the photo.  Read about osage oranges on his blog at Blue Jay Barrens.

The osage orange (Macula pomifera) is found naturally in areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas but has been grown in other parts of the U.S.  This particular osage orange tree is growing on the property of Mass Audubon's Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield where there are several non-native species of trees which were brought onto the property in the early 1900s when it was owned by Thomas Proctor. 

Osage orange fruit is not edible, but some animals especially squirrels and deer will eat the seeds.  The trees were often grown in rows for use as fences in prairie regions.

There's some interesting folklore surrounding the osage orange.  As Kenton and Rebecca pointed out, Hedge apples are sold to deter insects but there's no scientific proof that they do keep spiders, roaches, etc. away.

Thanks to all who answered.  No puzzle this Wednesday - will be away for the holiday.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

The Birds!

With the onset of fall, the common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are flocking in the hundreds and its a pretty astounding sight. This past week, their collective din has been so loud it drowns out the drone of local and highway traffic, heavy machinery, and any other outdoor sounds in our neighborhood. They were out traveling en masse in the mid-morning when I took this photo. First they gathered together in trees on the edge of the street, then some impetus made them fly and land in our back yard.

They pecked around in a frenzy, staying for only a couple of minutes before some other impulse made them take off for the woods. When they gather in the trees, they squeak and squawk, but when they fly off there's an eerie quiet and a sudden whoosh of wings in flight. You can hear the sudden hush in the video below.

Some flocks grow to enormous proportions, numbering over a million birds.  This 2007 article from The Boston Globe highlights such a flock which frequents an area off I-93 in Methuen.  The birds gather before migration, although not all head south.   Grackles eat just about anything and can become a problem when congregating in such large groups.  Flocks cause damage to buildings with their feces and ravage agricultural crops, especially corn.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"What's That?" Wednesdays

I thought I'd try something new on this blog - a weekly photo puzzle.  Starting today, Wednesday posts will feature a close-up view of something from the natural world.  Please try your hand at guessing and post your answer in the comments section below.  Sometimes there will be hints.  Answer to this week's photo puzzle will be published next Wednesday. Good luck! 

What's That?

Hint:  a fruit found in Oklahoma,Texas and Arkansas, not native to Massachusetts but can be found here

Monday, November 9, 2009

Caught on Camera - Black Bears

Thanks to my sister who lives in Connecticut and sent me these photos of a black bear (Ursus americanus) out for a midnight munch.  Her and her husband often set up a motion sensitive camera in the woods behind their home to get a glimpse of who's hanging around in the wee hours of the night. 

This is the first time they've caught a black bear on film.  Most visitors are deer, oppossum, racoons, and coyotes.  According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, there have been over 1,300 reported black bear sightings in the state since November 2008.  It's hard to believe that during the 1800s black bears were almost completely wiped out in Connecticut. 

Black bear are omnivores and eat anything from insects to grasses, fruits, nuts, berries, carrion and small mammals.  Of course, they're also attracted by garbage and seeds and suet put out for birds.  At this time of year, the bears are getting ready to den for the winter.  Contrary to popular belief, black bears are not true hibernators and will come out during the winter.  Bear cubs are born during the winter in January or February weighing only a few ounces. But they can really pack on the pounds. By the time they're adults, males can weigh up to 400+ pounds and females about 200 pounds.

Closer to home, a black bear was spotted in Methuen, Mass. this September checking out someone's backyard pig sty.  MassWildlife biologists have been studying Massachusett's black bear population since the 1970s.  It currently stands about 3,000.  Unlike Connecticut, Massachusetts does have a regulated black bear hunting season to help keep the population in check.  See their site for excellent information on Massachusetts' black bears.