Saturday, September 18, 2021

Wild Side

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...

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...
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