Sunday, April 11, 2021

Wild Side

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...

Wild Side: Killdeer plovers

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Three species of so-called “banded plovers” occur regularly on Martha’s Vineyard. Of these, the piping plover, an intensively managed species that nests in modest numbers on our beaches, gets all the press. And the...

Wild Side: Winter ants

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In a recent column about feeding wild birds (bit.ly/30c79CX,) I pointed out that food you put out for birds often ends up feeding other types of wildlife. At the time, I was thinking mainly...

Wild Side: Harlequin ducks

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Waterfowl — and about 40 species of ducks, geese, and swans have been recorded on Martha’s Vineyard — may seem to be a boring group. Some species are abundant, at least seasonally, to the...

Wild Side: Start small

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It’s the time of year when I receive many inquiries about feeding wild birds: Is it ecologically helpful or harmful? Should I feed birds, or not? In classic “Wild Side” fashion, I always respond...

Wild Side: American kestrel

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While snowy owls and a remarkable invasion of finch species have dominated the attention of birders over the past few months, an attractive and interesting bird has quietly set up shop in Edgartown, amid...

Wild Side: Insect IDs

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Twenty years ago, it would have been nearly impossible for an amateur naturalist like me to study insects with any success. A few groups, to be sure — butterflies and dragonflies, for example —...

Wild Side: Cooper’s hawks

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Cooper’s hawks are good-sized birds, distinctly smaller than a red-tailed hawk but about the size of a crow. Compared to either of those familiar species, though, a Cooper’s hawk creates a distinctly different impression...

Wild Side: The great fly hunt

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“Think like your prey,” say the hunters and fisherpeople. It’s good advice for naturalists, too. I can’t say it has helped me with fishing. The average striped bass, I’ve reluctantly concluded, is smarter than I...

Wild Side: Fungus gnats

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Nearly everybody has at least a vague notion of what a fly is. To a biologist, “fly” means a member of the insect order Diptera, unique among insects in possessing only one pair of...

Wild Side: Lapland longspur

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On Sunday, Nov. 8, I took advantage of ridiculously fine weather for a quick birding and bugging trip to Katama. In addition to the usual suspects, I was lucky to come across one of...

Wild Side: Listen for chirping

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As we move into November, there is almost always a dramatic shift in the weather on the Vineyard, and with that, a shift in what wildlife is around. We can no longer pretend that...

Wild Side: Pine siskins coming to feed

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One of the more exciting types of avian events is a finch irruption — a large-scale movement of one or more finch species south of their usual range, usually in fall or winter, and...

Wild Side: Changing seasons

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As autumn progresses and the natural world begins shutting down for winter, I like to play a game of “the last X of 2020.” The last chimney swift. The last meadow katydid. The last...

Wild Side: Predatory beetles

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While I have my favorite places to look for insects, I’m always alert for habitats that look like they might hold something interesting. This tactic recently took me onto a vacant lot in Edgartown,...

Wild Side: Long-winged katydids

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The straight-lanced meadow katydid, Conocephalus strictus, is a very common insect on Martha’s Vineyard, inhabiting dry habitats with a mix of grasses, other herbaceous plants, and, often, low shrubs. In favorable habitats, I sometimes...

Wild Side: Katydids

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A green insect with very long antennae and long hind legs gets posted on social media with a request for identification. “Katydid” is inevitably a quick reply. It’s usually an answer that is both right...

Bee happy, they’re flower lovers

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The wasp genus Philanthus is blessed with an appealing name: it means “flower lover” and refers to the fondness members of the genus have for feeding on flowers. They’re not unique in this, of...

Wild Side: Counting butterflies

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Perhaps the type of wildlife inquiry I receive most often is about abundance: “Butterflies (or birds, or dragonflies) seem especially scarce (or especially common) this year. Are their numbers declining (or increasing)?” These are fair...

Wild Side: Metamorphosis

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Most everyone knows the basics of insect metamorphosis: It’s the way a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. We don’t often think, though, of how thoroughly the fact of metamorphosis governs the lives of insects....
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