Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November Phenology

Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena

Yellowjackets - Vespula maculifrons
Insects are starting to cluster up in protected areas for warmth.  Box elder bugs are everywhere, individuals along the south side of our house and clusters in the early morning chill.  We found this tightly packed bunch of yellowjackets under some leaves at the base of a tree, more protected than our Master Naturalist field trippers in the morning wind.

Jumping bush cricket-
The  cricket chorus is slowing down for the winter.  The last voice to be heard is Jay's jumping bush cricket whose brief buzzing call announces the beginning of winter.  They don't recognize daylight savings time, so you still have a chance to hear it just after dark.

Stick insects are now clinging to the sides of our house.  After spending the summer feasting on the leaves high in the trees, the wind, falling leaves and temperatures are dropping them to the ground where they optimistically start climbing up again.  Earlier in the fall they would be found clinging together in a reproductive embrace.  Now they are simply putting off the inevitable, as the adults die in winter, leaving the future to the eggs they deposited randomly last month on the forest floor.

Time to get out the bird feeders.  The best of the berries are already starting to disappear and available insects are rare.  Birds will appreciate the alternate food source, especially high energy sources like peanut butter/seed wads and suet cakes for the woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the occasional crow.

Frost flowers have already appeared twice in Bull Creek valley where cold air drops earlier. This year they "blossomed" again on the morning of the WOLF school field trip. They will continue to bloom unless the ground freezes hard.  In 2001 we saw frost flowers on 40 mornings.  Look for Verbesina virginica, white crownbeard, the best source, along roadsides and fields early on a freezing morning before the sun reaches them.

Bald-faced hornet nest - Wikipedia
The next few weeks will be the best time to look for bird nests as the leaves fall off the trees.  Later in the winter, weather will take its toll on many.  Check out nearby forests for the best trophy, a bald-faced hornet nest.  They tend to wither in winter if someone doesn't take potshots at them.  All the hornets die in winter except newly fertilized queens that fly off and spend the winter underground.  If you are brave or foolhardy you can take the nests down and preserve them with polyurethane spray.  No harm done, unless there are sill hornets defending it!

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