Monday, January 19, 2009

Opossum in the daytime

At around 2pm this afternoon, we saw an opossum in our yard. It seems to be living under our shed. We were surprised to see it out and about in the daytime because we thought they are nocturnal. However, from Stan Tekiela's book, "Mammals of Wisconsin: Field Guide," we found that they are nocturnal, but "can be seen during the day in the coldest part of winter." Stan Tekiela also says, "This is the only marsupial found north of Mexico," and "it does not hibernate." We enjoyed watching it in our yard today. Seeing opossums in the daytime is a nice treat this time of year!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coldest day in 10 years!

A friend let me know today that it is the coldest day in Madison since our kids were born (mine in 1999 and 2004, hers in 2000)!

Despite the cold, Dan heard a chickadee sing "fee-bee" on his way to work at 9am! It has been really cold the past few days too, and I also finally heard a chickadee sing "fee-bee" on Jan 13th (at 9am also!). I had been listening for them, but I didn't hear a chickadee sing that song from Dec 27th to Jan 13th. Maybe they only call at 9am? I will have to listen for them at that time more often. Please let me know if you are hearing them sing these days.

What I want to know is why do chickadees singing their spring courtship song so early? What about today could possibly make them think of spring! My research on the internet revealed that chickadees will infrequently produce their courtship song at other times of the year too. So to make this a meaningful phenological data point, I probably need to record how often I hear their song during all the months of the year, and see if around Jan 17th (the date on the Aldo Leopold Foundation phenology calendar) is when the frequency of their singing increases. They don't nest until May, so January seems rather early to be singing. Maybe they are just practicing, or maybe they are getting a headstart on establishing their territory, or maybe it's not a courtship song at all. Whatever their reason, I do like to hear them sing, so I am glad they do so in January!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Goldenrod Galls

We went out in our yard yesterday to look for goldenrods. Unfortunately, I cut most of the dried stalks this fall in an uncharacteristic bout of brush clearing. I will stay in character next year to have a greater variety of galls to look at!

We did find a few stalks that I overlooked in my brush-cutting bout:

And we found a gall on the stem of one:

My daughter Maynie (who is the official Blog Photographer) brought the stem in. Here she is with her little sister Meera posing with our find:

We opened up the gall, and here is what we found:

It's hard to tell from the picture what we saw, but it looked like the skin of a pupa. After doing some research on the internet, I found out that this is the empty pupal case of a Goldenrod Gall Moth (Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis). This kind of moth comes out of its pupa in the fall.

From what I read on the internet, there are three types of goldenrod galls, all caused by different insects. Our gall was an elliptical one. The round ones have a larva that overwinters by having antifreeze in its body fluids. I would like to find that one next year. It would also be fun to try to see all the different insects that live in goldenrod galls at all stages of their life cycle. Maybe something to attempt starting in the summer when our goldenrods grow back again.

Here are links to the three websites where I got most of my information on goldenrod galls:
They’ve got some gall
NNZ-Goldenrod Gall Fly

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What happens in January?

We have two Wisconsin phenology calendars, one from the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, and one from the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton. They are both great calendars.

Here is the Pheasant Branch's list of what to look and listen for in January:

Crows in large flocks
Squirrels mating (note chasing games)
Goldenrod galls
Jelly fungi on wet logs
Snow fleas
Great horned owls calling

The ALF calendar's January list:

Black bear cubs being born
Black-capped chickadees begin spring courtship song
Red foxes, wolves, beavers, Canada lynx and Fox and Gray Squirrels begin mating
Great horned owls begin courtship activities

The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold talks about a January thaw and skunks taking a break from their hibernation during it.

We will be looking for these things over the next few weeks and plan to write about what we find. We would also love to hear about what you find.

Birds and Plants

I still have no phenological events to report, so I thought I would try to remember why it was that I wanted to do this!

My interest in birds and their behavior started at Dan's grandma's birdfeeder. She would comment on all the different birds there, and I was fascinated by how many different types of birds were there, and impressed that she knew what kinds they all were. She lives in the country, so I assumed that the variety was because of that. But then I started looking in the city, and was amazed by how many different birds there are here too.

I love the country but don't like to drive, which means we have to live in the city. So discovering that such diversity and abundance of wildlife exists in Madison in the form of birds really enhanced the joy of the city for me. The return of the birds that migrate south in the fall in the spring feels like greeting an old friend. I also find new kinds of birds every year that I've never noticed before, and feel greatly enriched by this too.

My interest in plants originated from more practical reasons. I am a lazy gardener and am always delighted to find wild plants that are edible and that require no work. Then I found that my older daughter Maynie, who is the pickiest eater I have ever met, actually is not as picky when it comes to wild edibles. She turns into an adventurous eater, and even enjoys food when she is out foraging! So learning about wild edibles became an obsession for me to provide nutrition for her. This led to a lot of learning about all plants in general because that is what one has to do to learn about the edible ones. A knowledge of phenology is incredibly important for wild edibles because the seasons can be short, and one can miss an entire year's eagerly awaited treat by not knowing when to look for it.

I am still learning, and always look at unidentified plants with the hope that they might be another tasty treat! The other pleasure I've found with plants is the discovery of the incredible diversity of them even in the city (especially in our overgrown backyard!)

I have inconsistently recorded a phenological event here and there for the past two or three years. Through this blog, I hope to record more and also put the data in a database. I am also hoping to get my daughters to take pictures to post so that every year I don't have to look through all the identification books again to try to remember what I already figured out the previous year. Let's see how well I am going to be able to keep up with recording with the onslaught of phenological data come spring!