Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Nature tidbits of late

By CHERYL KIMBALL July 06. 2018 8:14PM
On a recnt walk, our columnist found an oak leaf with an oak apple, also called a wasp gall, laying on the side of the road. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

The parking lot where I work is studded with small trees that are currently studded with small berries. I do not know what they are but the cedar waxwings do. When I park I sit for a few minutes and watch the waxwings flit from limb to limb enjoying the berries. The birds are so beautiful and delicate looking with their satiny tan bodies and heavy black eyeliner. It’s exactly the kind of urban bird watching I love.

The robin family that hatched in our dog pen/woodshed did not fare well. I put up a small exercise pen “fence” to keep the dogs away from any nestlings that might fall out of the nest. But it was fledging that was their demise. The low fence didn’t protect them when they sailed out of the nest and fluttered wherever they might land. One landed outside the door and sadly my little dog got it before I even realized it was there. Another fluttered around the floor of the woodshed (now doghouse). My dog didn’t get that one but something else did overnight. I am not certain what happened to the third baby I saw in the nest.

I am always surprised by the incredible presence that even one bird makes. Without the mama on her nest, the doghouse felt very empty. Although I had warned her from the beginning that this did not seem like a very smart location for her nest, she actually started a second brood. Whatever mystery animal got the other fledgling (a weasel?) must have climbed up to the nest because I noticed the nest disturbed, the pad of nest material that holds the eggs was tipped out. I never saw eggs on the floor, but that seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back because the mama robin has not been back. Hopefully next year she will find a different spot to raise a family and, after all that hard work, be successful.

I guess I should feel lucky that this robin was not crashing into my windows, unlike the situation that Jack of Bedford described where two robins had been crashing into windows for several weeks. Several people have told me about bluebirds doing this especially in patio door windows or car mirrors. Bluebirds and robins seem to be the usual culprits. It seems like it would only harm them but the house occupants and car owners say that they make a lot of noise and leave droppings all over the windows and car mirrors, causing those who go through it to describe the birds as “terrorizing” their houses or cars! I’ve only witnessed a short episode like this — perhaps that has to do with the fact that our 1820s Cape style house has six-over-six windows and the picture window in the kitchen has 44 panes. There is no expanse of glass in these windows. Has anyone had another species of bird do this besides the robin and bluebird?

Facebook has had fewer postings about local birds and other fauna now that the busy spring has passed and the heat of summer is settling in. But one friend posted a picture of the side of her barn with several luna moths scattered all over it. She said there were a total of 31. That is amazing! I see perhaps one a year. These moths are so fascinating not only because they are so large and beautiful, but because of their strange life cycle — the moth itself has no mouth parts. It does not eat and lives for just a week or so, its only job is to reproduce and lay larvae that are the next generation. Like most moths and butterflies, the caterpillar fills up on its favorite plant, builds a cocoon, and in three weeks the moth we love to see emerges to lay around 200 eggs from which, in around 10 days, the caterpillars emerge. It is truly a fascinating life cycle.

And lastly, while on a walk this morning, I found an oak leaf with an oak apple, also called a wasp gall, laying on the side of the road. It was perfectly intact. The leaf was still green but the oak apple had already turned brown. I see these quite often on the woods trail but this one stuck out in its lone place in the roadside dirt. An article on the Ohio State University “Buckeye Yard & Garden onLine” site says the galls are “constructed of leaf tissue that has been hijacked by a gall wasp (Family Cynipidae) to surround a single wasp larva located within a seed-like structure positioned at the center of the gall. The exact species of gall-wasp that is responsible for producing the oak-apple gall can be identified based on the gall’s structure, size, color, and oak host.” I have not figured all this out about the one I found, but I am now ready to remove it from my mud room before the wasp, one of my least favorite creatures, emerges!

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.


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