Sunday, March 20, 2011

Going Batty!

I was enjoying a warm spring day in Wildwood last Saturday, walking along the bike path when I saw a bird flutter across in front of me. "That bird sure has a "fluttery" way of flying," I  thought. Then it landed on a tree trunk, and I saw that it was small and brown - "maybe a brown creeper," I thought.

The "bird" didn't move - seemed stuck to the tree, and suddenly I realized that it was a bat! I moved closer to the tree and began taking photos, getting a closer look at the tiny, furry creature. Its head stayed tucked into its feet as it clung to the bark. Its fur was shiny in the sunlight, and its ears were even shinier.

I sent the photo to Gary Cote, the webmaster for the Wildwood website and Biology professor at RU. He forwarded it on to Karen Francl, the bat expert at RU. She says that it is a Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus). She also said that the bat looked very healthy and that it isn't unusual for bats to go foraging for food on warm days although we usually consider them to be nocturnal animals. I guess they enjoy the warm spring weather as much as we do!

The bat had chosen a tree that was directly across from Adams Cave , which is probably is its home. The cave overlooks the south end of the park, and the creek runs below it, providing a source of water and insects for food for the flying mammals. A few days later, I again saw a bat flying near that same area. As it flew against the bright sky, I could see the outline of its bones through its wings and could also see the silhouette of its tiny ears and nose. A magnificent sight that I had never seen before - isn't Wildwood  wonderful!  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Coltsfoot - how's that for a wildflower's name!
The name is actually a description of its leaf 
which does not appear until after the flower blooms.
Do you see how the leaf is shaped like the hoof of a small horse or colt?

Coltsfoot is blooming now in Wildwood and is bright enough and large
enough to be easily seen.
Do you see a flower that is trying to hide behind a leaf in the photo below?

You might mistake coltsfoot for dandelion which will be blooming later.
However, if you carefully take a look at the backside of coltsfoot, you will see that it
is a reddish color and not at all like a dandelion.

Colstfoot will try to fool you again when its seed puffs form in April.
It tries to look like dandelion again. How do you think the seeds might spread?

Look for coltsfoot the next time you walk though Wildwood.


Persian Speedwell

One of the first signs of spring in Wildwood is often overlooked.
It is tiny and underfoot.
A close-up photo makes you think that it is large but,
don't let the camera fool you!

Persian speedwell (Veronica persica) is a ground cover that is plentiful in Wildwood.
It blooms along the bike path, in grassy areas, and almost anywhere there
is enough sunshine for it to flower. Another speedwell that is similar to it 
is called ivy-leaved. You have to take a close look to see the differences between them.
(Be sure to notice the leaves.)

Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia) will soon also be flowering.
When looking for spring flowers, be sure to take a close look at the
tiny flowers as well as the showy ones.
Carry a magnifying glass with you!

Scarlet Cups

Scarlet cups are a new spring organism for me in Wildwood.
They are very small - about the size of a dime when they first appear,
and they don't just pop up, you have to gently move a few leaves
to find them. That's probably why I had not seen them.
The cups are rather shallow, and although they look as if
they are filled with a shiny red liquid, they are actually dry inside.
While getting up-close photos of them, I realized that there were
tiny, gnat-sized insects crawling on them called springtails.
I had not ever seen those, either!

When I returned to the site about a week later,
I found that the cups had grown and some were almost
as large as half dollars, and they were much easier to spot.

These are sometimes called scarlet elf cups and it's easy to imagine
that pixies and fairies might have tea parties in the woods where they grow!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Winter Firefly in Wildwood

Photograph © 2011, John Ford
I know that when someone mentions fireflies most people automatically think of balmy summer evenings with children chasing little sparkling lights around the yard squealing with glee whenever they manage to catch one. However, some of the members of the firefly family (Lampyridae) have different ideas about what constitutes a good time to be out roaming about.

I spotted this little guy (a Winter Firefly - Ellychnia corrusca) sunning himself in the early afternoon on February 6th on the west side of a relatively mature Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava) in Wildwood Park in Radford, Notice the relatively large cracks and bark scales in the bark; these are characteristic of mature trees of this species. They make great shelters for small critters that over winter here. Adults over winter for a single season in these protected areas on trees which are generally a foot or more off the ground and may be reused by subsequent generations.

Another thing that makes our little friend different than our summer fireflies is that he (or she) is a member of a group known as Diurnal Fireflies. These insects are active during the day rather than at night and spend their day light hours searching for food and mates. This is because while the larvae, pupae and newly emerged adults are capable of producing light; that ability is lost soon after emergence. Adults use pheromones to locate potential mates rather than the species specific rhythms of blinking lights which their nighttime cousins use.

By John Ford