Thursday, January 12, 2012

The grackles are near

Grackles in Quakertown, NJ (photo by Marty Campanelli, borrowed from the Hunterdon County Democrat)
I have an unexplainable fondness for grackles. The massive flocks that came by my yard last fall didn't show this year. A smaller flock made a brief appearance in September, but no real "megaflocks" despite plenty of "waste" corn in the fields. And so far only a fraction of the snow geese of last year too - only fly-overs. It could be the weirdly warm winter keeping most of them farther north. Regardless it feels like something's lacking. No ridiculously huge flocks to make my backyard feel exciting. But wait...

Thanks to the avian desk at the Hunterdon County Democrat I know that there is a massive flock, 30,000-50,000 strong, just 20 miles south of me in Quakertown, NJ. I'll be keeping my eye out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Berry Go Round #46

One-seeded burr cucumber (Sicyos angulatus L.) in New Jersey after the first hard freeze.
Welcome to the 46th Berry Go is the month of November when most of the plants die of exposure where I live (New Jersey, USA).  But not all of the plant dies of course.  If some part didn't live through the winter (dormant stem, root, fertilized embryo) the species would cease to exist. Well, on that note...

Luigi at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog has been pondering the origin of broom corn...and tracks down some historical, oddly-shaped grapes...

Mike at Nature Hermit has been contemplating the existence of native cucumbers and their seeds... 

The Phytophactor has been thinking about Spanish Moss as a commensalist...dashing our perceptions about Cycads...and attempting to explain a Lotus...

Roberta at Growing With Science shows us some cool Texas Mountain Laurel beans...

Emily at No Seeds, No Fruits, No Flowers introduces us to Dryopteris ludoviciana...and gives us a peek down under at Australia's ferns...

Jessica at Moss Plants stresses out some sperm...

Julie at Net Results provides a well-researched debunking of the buckthorn diarrhea myth...

Anybody Seen My Focus? checks out some lily beds on the Cahaba River, Alabama...and shows us some fall wildflowers and finds a blooming witchhazel in Georgia...
Happy November!

No gleaners yet

 The combine, late October.

Turns out the first swarm of grackles I saw back in September was a fluke.  I haven't seen another all month, despite their being plenty of leftover corn in the field.  I could easily collect a 55 gallon drum of full corn cobs in a few hours of picking. (I do pick up the occasional cob as supplemental sheep feed.)  Last year the megaflocks were a regular occurrence in November and December.  But then again we had a harvested sunflower field last year which is essentially a gigantic birdfeeder.  Corn isn't as choice to a blackbird, I'd imagine.  But it is to snow geese, which should be showing up en masse next month if last year is any guide.

Cucumber update

The burr cucumber on the garden fence stayed green way past the first frost (early October), all the way until the first hard freeze (early November), and got hit by a number of small frosts in between. The seeds have set and I looked closely at them.  They basically look like cucumber seeds but a little fuller and harder (and darker). There is no fleshy fruit, but the pods are covered with spines that actually stick into your hand (burrs I guess).  As far as I know the seed isn't edible.  I bit one and chewed a taste.  I spit it out.  I wonder what disperses such a weird seed.  Not easily searched for online.  I think there should be a huge list or database somewhere that tells you whether each plant is an annual, perrennial, biennial, etc. and how its seeds are dispersed.  Alas, I don't feel like making it!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

I got a trail camera...

...and now I know that one or more raccoons walked along the north bank of the Musconetcong at 3:54 and 4:12AM this morning!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spider time

Retro-looking photo of a Spined Micrathena (taken August 24, 2011, near the Musconetcong River, Mansfield Twp, NJ).
August is the month for getting spiderwebs stuck to your face. They seem to pop up all of the sudden between every shrub in the woods. Around here they mainly belong to the Spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis). A few weeks ago I also found this fancy-looking Arrowshaped Micrathena (Micrathena sagittata) down by the river. It's web was only two feet off the ground, apparently typical for this species (NWF insect book). Also from the book, both species live in open woods and "brushy areas" east of the Rockies.

The less common Arrowshaped Micrathena (taken August 24, 2011, near the Musconetcong River, Mansfield Twp, NJ).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Jersey cucumbers

Fresh and inedible. Fall seems to be the time for native wild cucumbers, of which there are two types in New Jersey according to Karl Anderson's list. They have recently become conspicuous, becoming greener as other vegetation begins to fade away. They are still blooming in mid-September, and still growing fast...high up into trees and up and over shrubs. The tendrils and leaves are really cucumber-like (it's in the same family, Cucurbitaceae) and are really picturesque. I somehow never came across these plants until living at my current house (northern NJ) where they are ubiquitous. The most common species is Bur Cucumber (Sicyos angulatus), but I also came across one specimen of Prickly Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) down by the river.

Bur Cucumber growing up the wires of my garden fence, quite close to his domestic cousin.

Bur Cucumber Flowers.

Bur Cucumber Fruit (quite bur-like).
Bur Cucumber growing high up in a black walnut.

The rarer Prickly Cucumber. This is the only individual I've found so far, and I can't remember where exactly! Somewhere along the Musconetcong River in the WMA. It has longer petals, more finger-like leaves, and a neat-looking spiky oblong orb of a fruit. I have no idea what eats such bur-like and prickly cucumbers and disperses their seeds, but apparently not humans.