Friday, January 28, 2022

Wild Side

Wild Side: To feed or not to feed

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Longtime readers know my ambivalence about the practice of feeding wild birds. By concentrating birds around an unnaturally rich food supply in a human-modified setting, birdfeeding alters bird behavior, elevates risk of disease, exposes...

Wild Side: Making a strong showing

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The 62nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held amid drizzle, fog, and an incredibly high tide on Sunday, Jan. 2. My own effort, counting birds from West Chop to Vineyard Haven...

Wild Side: House finches

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Perhaps the strongest trend evident this fall among the birds frequenting my yard in Oak Bluffs has been a resurgence in the number of house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). House finches in our immediate neighborhood...

Wild Side: White-throated sparrows

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An endless source of mirth among birders is the way common names for birds often ignore obvious traits and focus instead on obscure markings. The eponymous tinted tummy on a red-bellied woodpecker, for example,...

Wild Side: Wolf spiders

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“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” urges the poet Dylan Thomas. The target of his petulance, I expect, was mortality. But as a bug enthusiast, I feel the same way about winter....

Wild Side: Farms as habitat

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In addition to pecking out Wild Side columns for the MV Times, my working life includes roles with BiodiversityWorks and the Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation. Both entities share my interest in sustainability...

Wild Side: The buzz on bumble bees

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Everybody knows what bumble bees are: big, hairy, black-and-yellow insects flitting from flower to flower. At least eight species occur on the Vineyard, with two others known from historical records and a couple others...

Wild Side: Fuzzy fly mystery

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A typical field season generates more questions than answers for me, producing a lamentable sense of backward progress: As the years go by, questions accumulate, and I feel like I know steadily less about...

Wild Side: Island bees

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Everybody has received the basic message about native bees: they are ecologically vital, and populations of at least some species have declined markedly, often without an obvious explanation. These are good reasons for learning...

Wild Side: Non-native earthworms

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A down-Island gardener just brought me a surprise: a pail of compost containing worms the gardener had correctly identified as Asian jumping worms, one of several species in the genus Amynthas that have become...

Wild Side: Cicada killer wasps

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The most common type of question I get in early August has to do with wasps: Big ones, sometimes described as frighteningly large, black and orange with white banding, often seen as “aggressive” because...

Wild Side: Butterfly milkweed

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If there is a particular plant worthy of being named the Vineyard’s National Wildflower, it is surely butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. It’s a plant everyone on the Vineyard has seen, and it’s one that...

Wild Side: East Coast grasshoppers

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As interesting as I find grasshoppers to be, I have to admit that as a group, these are not particularly colorful insects. In keeping with the benefits of staying hidden while perched on stems...

Wild Side: How long will it stay?

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The past couple of weeks have been fine ones for me, replete with interesting wildlife sightings and opportunities to explore new or inaccessible areas. It’s hard to pick one single discovery as the high...

Wild Side: Leafhoppers

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Insects are currently enjoying a moment of mostly positive media attention, thanks to the remarkable mass emergence of periodical cicadas in parts of the Eastern United States. As a bug-lover, I’m delighted to see...

Wild Side: Breeding birds

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As the month of May winds down, the bird breeding season peaks. Here’s a report on the nesting activity in and around our yard in Oak Bluffs. The yard is a modest one, a scant...

Wild Side: Dung flies

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In the natural world, everything is a resource. Even the most trivial or improbable niche has its occupier. Perhaps the most glaring example of this principle would be astonishing fecundity of life supported by...

Wild Side: Elegant field sparrows

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I have a weakness for sparrows, those “little brown jobs” that are the bane of beginning birders due to their apparent absence of any real field marks. With practice, sparrows actually turn out to...

Wild Side: Mysterious fly

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As a student of insects, I spend a lot of time contemplating the daunting slopes of my personal Everest of ignorance. The class Insecta comprises 30 orders, roughly 1,000 families, and upward of a...

Wild Side: Pygmy grasshoppers

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The most favorite of my many favorite insects is surely the crested pygmy grasshopper, Nomotettix cristatus. It’s probably the smallest Orthoptera occurring on Martha’s Vineyard, with adults ranging between a quarter and three-eighths of...