Saturday, August 15, 2020

Wild Side

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...

Wild Side: On the road

Breaking a decades-old tradition of wallowing in seasonal affective disorder and grumbling about late-winter weather on the Vineyard, your intrepid Wild Side columnist and his better half spent the first week of March in...

Wild Side: Wintering with us, the hermit thrush

On Friday the 21st, I surprised a hermit thrush as it fed on multiflora rose berries next to the building I work in. The next day, I spotted one as it darted across Lambert’s...

Wild Side: Phormia regina

Winter, naturally, is a slow season for insect observation, with only a modest variety of particularly hardy or specially adapted species active. Some of these, though, can be plentiful, especially in mild winters like...

Wild Side: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day might be my favorite holiday. It’s not that I have any particular fondness for rodents. And the six more weeks of winter business is, of course, utter nonsense. But the start of...

Wild Side: A new perspective

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a human being. As such, while there are exceptions, you’re likely more than five feet long and weigh more than 120 pounds. With the exception of decent-size white-tailed...

Wild Side: Unsolved mystery

Ah, there are few things better than a natural history problem solved! A tough ID nailed down, a droll bit of ecology revealed. Such a feeling of accomplishment! About the only thing better is an...

Wild Side: Belted kingfishers

A bit larger than a blue jay, belted kingfishers are chunky birds with a scraggly crest on their head that gives them their regal name. Blue-gray above and white below, males are marked by...

Wild Side: Short-eared owls

I could never pick just one favorite bird. But surely on the short list would be the short-eared owl, a crow-size, brownish bird of tundra, rangeland, and grassland. Once a well-established species in our region,...

Wild Side: Low on the food chain

A high percentage of the meadow voles that I see are in a difficult situation indeed: dangling from the talons of a red-tailed hawk or a northern harrier. Small rodents about the size and...

Wild Side: Stranded leatherback

On Wednesday, Oct. 30, word of a dead leatherback turtle beached on Cape Poge turned up on social media. I was one of several who passed word of the find onto Massachusetts Audubon’s turtle-stranding...

Wild Side: Blue jays

When it comes to migration, the blue jay, among our most familiar and recognizable birds, plays by its own rules. By and large, the species is a permanent resident of most of its vast...