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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

November 28, 2006

Woolly Bear Caterpillars are Everywhere!

Chip with Wooly BearsBy Sandal Cate
NBNC Staff Educator

The staff at the North Branch Nature Center have reports from folks seeing lots of Woolly Bear caterpillars this autumn! The most recent sighting was one at the Nature Center on November 27. (That's Executive Director Chip Darmstadt in the photo welcoming a few.)

This seems to be a banner year for Woolly Bears, which are seeking good outdoor habitat for wintering over. Woolly Bears feed on plantain and other local vegetation, but they don't bother any valuable plants. So, even if there are a lot of them in your yard or fields, they won't cause any problems. Their biggest problem is getting from one side of a road to the other, so anything you can do safely to help them along is welcome!

Woolly Bear caterpillars will form a cocoon in the spring and then emerge from it as the Isabella Tiger Moth. Their life cycle starts all over at that point. Folklore hints that the amount of black banding will tell how hard the winter ahead may be. However, the black banding actually indicates the relative age of the caterpillar. Younger ones have more black than older ones.

Some insects like the Woolly Bear will often have a peak in their population. According to Dick Dearborn, a retired Maine Forest Service scientist, Woolly Bear numbers increase to a high point about every ten years. Perhaps warmer winters also help them survive into the spring. So if you continue to notice them, just realize they're headed for a protective log, leaf pile or building foundation to snuggle up for the winter. Don't we wish we could do that ourselves sometimes?

Meanwhile, with warm temperatures persisting, several plants are still in bloom at the Nature Center, including Fall Dandelion, Johnny Jump-ups and Scarlet Trumpet Honeysuckle (on the front porch).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November 18, 2006

Painted Turtle

A relatively warm fall week kept a few noteworthy birds and bugs active at the Nature Center and around Montpelier. A few moth species were still flying at NBNC on November 17 (no butterflies). We also noticed a Painted Turtle!

On November 15, pre-schoolers visiting the Nature Center discovered a Short-winged Blister Beetle. (Very cool!) And on November 14, we noticed four Cedar Waxwings and three Common Grackles. We also had reports of a Carolina Wren on Elm Street in Montpelier and a Northern Cardinal from Culver Hill Road in Middlesex.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November 14, 2006

November 14

Chip Darmstadt and Bryan Pfeiffer are back from guiding a group of teen birders to the coast of Maine -- a perfect retreat from stick season in Vermont. Highlights included Harlequin Duck (pictured here), Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Northern Gannet, Snow Bunting and all the other usual coastal delights. Watch the NBNC web site for additional news about additional programs for teen naturalists.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

November 12-13, 2006

A lone Common Grackle lingered at the nature center on November 13. We also noticed Golden-crowned Kinglets as well as a White-tailed Deer on the North Branch trail (during deer season!). And, of course, a Wooly Bear Caterpillar was crossing the trail as well. It's a good fall for Wooly Bears! (So why does the Wooly Bear cross the trail, anyway?)

On November 12, Common Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers were on the Winooski River behind the Capitol Plaza and a bit farther upstream as well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November 1, 2006

November is off to a splendid start! In fact, it was so nice out that NBNC staff had lunch outdoors (for the last time this year?). A stroll around the property turned up some “last gasp” wildlife sightings.

Black-capped ChickadeeIn the avian department:

Black-capped Chickadees and American Goldfinches feeding on sunflowers in the community garden. A goldfinch was also looking for seeds in a Virgin’s Bower seed head.

Three female Wood Ducks cruised upstream, heading north.

Few other birds around – White-throated Sparrow, Common Raven, American Crow, Blue Jay, Golden-crowned Kinglet and a drumming Ruffed Grouse.

And a few entomological observations:

Two dragonfly species! A Yellow-legged Meadowhawk and a darner. There were quite a few meadowhawks sunning on the footbridge, the path, and logs in the beaver pond. The one Chip managed to catch was a female Yellow-legged Meadowhawk, with its distinctive spout-like ovipositor. The darner was just a silhouette in the distance. Perhaps a Common Green Darner?

A recently emerged adult caddisfly, species unknown.

And the last butterfly of the season? One Clouded Sulphur nectaring on Johnny Jump-ups in the community garden.