Sunday, July 21, 2024

Wild Side

Wild Side: Bee happy

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With more than 200 species of bees having been documented on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s no surprise that our bee fauna exhibits a huge amount of variation. Large and small, social and solitary, specialist and...

Wild Side: Planting for wildlife

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As environmental awareness grows among the general population, and as the benefits that can come from creating even small-scale wildlife resources grow more apparent, I’m often asked for advice on plants to use for...

Wild Side: Eye of the naturalist

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Sometimes described as the founder of American ornithology, Alexander Wilson (1766–1813) was a naturalist and painter of prodigious talent. The nine volumes of his magisterial “American Ornithology,” released between 1808 and 1814, portray 268...

Wild Side: The Discreet, Though Plentiful, Red-Eyed Vireo

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Standing on a hilltop in the woodland of the Chilmark moraine this past weekend, I experienced a single, dominant impression: Red-eyed vireo is one seriously common bird on Martha’s Vineyard. One of our later...

Wild Side: Yellow-throated warbler

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Well, he’s back again.  In one of the more bizarre episodes in the history of Martha’s Vineyard bird life, a male yellow-throated warbler is once again on territory amid the tall pitch pines of a...

Wild Side: Colletes, the cellophane bees

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My current favorite bee genus? Why, thank you for asking: Colletes! Colletes isn’t the most diverse bee genus, and its members are not the prettiest of bees. But this genus, which is fairly well represented...

Wild Side: The inscrutable dandelion

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If there’s one point I truly insist on regarding natural history, it’s that the most common organisms and the most familiar settings can be every bit as interesting as the most exotic species and...

Wild Side: The frustrating season

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Ah, early spring! Or, as we know it here on Martha’s Vineyard, the Season of Intense Frustration. Quite routinely in early April, mainland Massachusetts will have sunny days with temperatures in the 60s or...

Wild Side: Insects of water and air

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a gaping void in my natural history knowledge: the biology and ecology of insects that have aquatic larval states. This is a huge group of species, functionally...

Wild Side: The osprey cometh

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It’s hard to think of a species more beloved among Vineyarders than the osprey. This long-winged, black-and-white bird was, like many other raptors, nearly exterminated in the 1950s and 1960s by indiscriminate insecticide use....

Wild Side: Brown thrashers have become rare here

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A recent report in a Vineyard birdwatching Facebook group called to mind a species I hardly ever think of these days: the brown thrasher. It’s not that I don’t like them; indeed, thrashers rank...

Wild Side: Reconsider ducks

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The late, great Vern Laux, perhaps the best birder ever to trespass his way across the Vineyard, had little patience with ducks. Oh, he’d add them to the day’s checklist. But if a distant...

Wild Side: Shoreline bugs

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I’ve been thinking a lot about shorelines lately, and the complex mix of challenges and opportunities that the meeting of land and water poses for wildlife. An oceanic shoreline, especially, with its high salinity,...

Wild Side: Savannah sparrows

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Across its vast geographical range, Savannah sparrows show a remarkable range of variation in features such as bill size, coloration, and preferred habitat. About 28 subspecies of Savannah sparrow have been described; a few,...

Wild Side: Titmice are fun to watch

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As our excellent planet wraps up another orbit around its star, most naturalists probably reflect a bit on their activity over the past 12 months. In my case, this includes hundreds of hours in...

Wild Side: Dovekies may show up

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Since it seems to be impossible to write about alcids — that is, the auks — without mentioning footballs, I’ll get it over with. These seabirds, often described as the Arctic’s ecological equivalent of...

Wild Side: Odd ducks

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If you’re fond of odd-looking birds, you’re in luck! Late fall is prime time for viewing American coots on Martha’s Vineyard. A member of the same taxonomic family as rails, the coot is one...

Wild Side: The 3D chess of a Cooper’s hawk

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This past weekend, as I was doing some final fall chores in our Oak Bluffs yard, I noticed an elongated blob high in a huge catalpa tree across the street from our house. Without...

Wild Side: The yellow-rumped warbler

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Last Saturday, Oct. 28, saw a flurry of activity around the parking loop at the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah. Some of the activity was human: A field trip run by the Martha’s Vineyard...

Wild Side: Chipping sparrows

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October is sparrow season on the Vineyard, and indeed throughout southern New England. This is the month when all the sparrow species that occur here regularly can be found, and when the odds are...