Thursday, October 1, 2009

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: October in the Piedmont


Birds.− October brings a number of winter residents back to the Piedmont, but also expect diminishing numbers of broadwing hawks, chimney swifts, most swallow species and ruby-throated hummingbirds. Migrant warblers continue to pass through North Carolina as they head towards the neotropics for the winter; they can often be found with vocal winter residents such as Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice.

The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), an active and expressive songbird in the tit and chickadee family (Paridae), is a common resident of the eastern United States. This chatty bird demands attention as it darts through trees, searching for insects and caterpillars in spring and summer, and nuts and berries in winter and fall. In fact, titmice will often hoard food from bird feeders in winter and fall, usually stashing their stores within 130 feet of the source. Tufted titmice nest in the cavities left behind by woodpeckers and favor deciduous or mixed forest and suburban yards. Birdwatchers recognize the tufted titmouse by its prominent gray crest and dark eyes.

Butterflies.− Butterfly watchers can expect a decline in butterfly sightings this month, with the exception of some of the sulphurs and whites (family: Pieridae). Monarchs continue to migrate southward this month to their winter residence in Mexico.

Remember: The Carolinas are home to five families of butterflies: the skippers (Hesperiidae), gossamer wings (Lycaenidae), brush-foots (Nymphalidae), swallowtails (Papilionidae) and the sulphurs and whites (Pieridae). Each of these families can be divided into a number of sub-families, each having distinct identifying characteristics.

This month, we will consider the spread-wing skippers (subfamily: Pyrginae). Members of the Pyrginae are normally plain and dark brown or black, and some have light spots on their forewings. A number of species land with their wings open or half open. Female pyrgines take nectar from flowers, and males often obtain salts from mud-puddles and animal droppings. Caterpillars in the subfamily Pyrginae often live in shelters constructed of rolled or webbed leaves. Most pyrgines are found in the neotropics, but a number of species can be found in North Carolina, including Hayhurst’s scallopwing, dreamy duskywings (mountains only), southern cloudywings, mottled cloudywings and northern cloudywings. Larval hosts include birches, bush clovers, lamb’s quarters, milk vetch, New Jersey tea, poplars and willows.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− Continue to keep an eye out for snakes and turtles. Although you may still hear frogs and toads calling this month, large choruses won’t start up again until January.

Other Insects.− This month, the work of twig girdlers (Oncideres cingulata) becomes evident in the form of neatly broken twig ends littering the forest floor. In late summer, female twig girdlers – large, dusky beetles – lay their eggs at the tip of a branch, and girdle the twig so that eventually it falls off, allowing her offspring to overwinter in and eventually feed on the twig and surrounding debris. Also, expect a decline in spider sightings, but keep an eye open for garden spider and praying mantis egg cases. Also, dragonfly numbers are declining this month, although you may see some species migrating to winter territories.

In Bloom this Month.−
Be on the lookout for some striking October flowers:

In Bloom:
WINGSTEM – Actinomeris alternifolia
BLUE MISTFLOWER - Conoclinium coelestinum
COMMON SNEEZEWEED - Helenium autumnale
SCARLET ROSE-MALLOW – Hibiscus coccineus
BLACK-EYED SUSAN – Rudbeckia sp.
GREAT LOBELIA – Lobelia siphilitica
DOWNY LOBELIA – Lobelia puberula
ROSINWEED(S) – Siphium spp.
GOLDENROD(S) – Solidago spp.
IRONWEED(S) - Vernonia spp

In Fruit:
HEARTS-A-BUSTIN’ – Euonymus americanus
MUSCADINES – Vitis rotundifolia

Historical Anecdote: American Beech – Fagus grandifolia
“[The] Beech is identifiable by the gleam of its wondrously smooth bark, not furrowed even by extreme old age. Here it will be free of branches for full half its height, the sturdy boughs then gracefully down-sweeping. The gray bole has a further beauty in the way it flutes out at the base into strong feet, to the shallow, wide-spreading roots. And the luxuriant growth of mosses on the north side of such a tree, together with the mottling of lichens, add to the look it ears of wisdom and serenity.” – Donald Culross Peattie, 1948, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America

Wildlife Profile.− This month’s wildlife profile is the LADY BUG (Family: Coccinellidae), in honor of the many lady bugs that you might find in your home at the end of the month, trying to survive the winter. Ladybugs are tiny, domed insects (ranging from 1 mm to 10 mm long) with bright red or orange wingcovers and black wingspots, legs and antennae. Some species are entirely black or brown.

Over 450 species of lady bugs, also known as Coccinellids, are found in the United States. Most of these beneficial insects are predators that feed on common garden pests, such as scale insects and aphids, and they are often used as part of integrated pest control programs. Many Coccinellids have developed curious mechanisms for warding off predators, including bright red coloring (indicating to predators that they taste bad) and “reflex bleeding.” Reflex bleeding occurs when ladybugs are handled and results in the excretion of a toxin through the joints of their legs.

Did you know?
• The number of spots on the back of a lady bug sadly does NOT indicate its age.
• Some lady bugs are herbivorous and introduced species can become major pests.
• Many ladybug species overwinter as adults, but some, especially species in California, are known to migrate!
• Ladybugs beat their wings an average of 70 to 90 times per second.
• A female ladybug will lay more than 1000 eggs in her lifetime.

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