Quoddy Nature Notes – Spring 2013


Spring 2013

                Ah, Spring!  Did it finally get here?  I’ve already started smoothing out my dirt driveway, so I expect that Old Man Winter is grudgingly on his way out.  As I write this, the Red-winged blackbirds have been back to the Quoddy region for several weeks, and they were followed by some Grackles.  Now that the fields are getting rid of that wretched snow the Robins are being seen in increasing numbers, and they and the Song sparrows are even claiming their territories with some early morning songfests.  If you listen you may also hear a woodpecker drumming, but I have not heard any grouse drumming this spring yet. Many of the Mourning doves never migrated, and they started cooing early in March, even though there was little to coo about, except for well stocked bird feeders.  A relative newcomer to the area is the Turkey vulture, and this big black bird with its upheld wings is getting to be a common sight.  Our ravens have not returned to the nest by the house that they have used for the last several years.  I guess last year was too traumatic.

House Spider and egg sack

Sophie and eggs

There is a little activity picking up in the arthropods.  Sophie has produced an egg mass, and in a week or so I will move the whole kit and caboodle to a sheltered place outdoors.  I don’t need a few hundred baby spiders running around the house, although in a short while the numbers would decrease somewhat because baby spiders are cannibalistic. In that regard I think most of them will have more fun outdoors.  I still have lady bugs in the house waiting for our world to warm up, so that they can do some outside dining on aphids.  I think that they are mostly Hippodamia convergens, but I’m not positive, as H.convergens have a bewildering set of patterns in their clothes closet to confuse us amateur entomologists. The internet fails pretty miserably in this case to be a guide.

Lady Beetle

Lady bug Hippodamia convergens (?)

On my driveway on a recent cold morning I found a fuzzy caterpillar. It’s definitely not a Woolly Bear, which is one of the few lepidoptera that overwinter as a caterpillar, but I think it is a Parthenice Tiger moth Grammia parthenice.  According to one reference these critters like to munch on dandelions, so I planted a dandelion in a flower pot and built a little cage around it for my caterpillar.  I’ll see what kind of moth he turns into if indeed he likes dandelions.

Besides dandelions in the plant world, lots of things are showing life.  In Linda’s garden, tulips, daffodils, coral bells, day lilies and Siberian irises are starting to show growth, but the forsythia bush doesn’t look like it woke up yet.  Along the roadside, look for the silver gray of the pussy willows blossoming.  We have lots of different willows here in Maine, and the ‘Forest Trees of Maine’ states that there are upwards of 58 species of Salix here.  Not super useful now and largely considered a nuisance weed, a tea or chew made with the inner bark and leaves of willows once served the early woodsman as a pain reliever. The other common bush that is modestly blossoming with drooping catkins is the alder.  We have several species of alder here in the Quoddy region but the commonest is the speckled alder Alnus incana ssp. Rugosa.  This is a small tree or shrub that presently has little commercial use.  Alder was once used for tanning leather, a dye for cloth and leather and also had been used as a treatment for various medical ailments.  Alder now seems to be relegated to the task of clogging up old pastures, but it also fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides habitat for woodcock, and hopefully I will soon hear and see a timberdoodle.  That will mean spring is really here.