Monday, January 25, 2021

Wild Side

Wild Side: Insect IDs

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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....

Wild Side: Robber flies

Among my favorite groups of insects are the robber flies, the predatory members of the family Asilidae. Ranging in length from a half-inch or so to well over a full inch, these formidable hunters...

Wild Side: Fledgling season

However screwed up the world may be, certain things keep chugging reliably onward. Pandemic? Protests? Birds don’t care. Their focus is elsewhere, and their lives proceed in a totally predictable way. Mid-June is fledgling season....

Wild Side: Oystercatchers

American oystercatchers have an interesting history on the East Coast. Originally, they probably occurred across much of the region, from the Gulf of Mexico possibly as far north as Maine, where John James Audubon...

Wild Side: Summer tanagers

Spring migration is a hit-or-miss proposition for a Vineyard birder. It never brings the sheer volume of birds that fall migration brings, and to a large extent, it takes the unexciting form of the...

Wild Side: Bee happy

As the weather starts to warm in April, one of the first and most obvious groups of insects to become active are the bees. The earliest species are already on the wing; in the...

Wild Side: Hawks and doves

As usual for this time of year, the production of more mourning doves is in full swing in our small Oak Bluffs yard. But it’s not going well. Things did get off to a great...
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