Monday, February 3, 2014

February Phenology

Cedar Waxwing- MDC
 Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena

The beginning of the month is a good time to think about the highlights of nature this week.  The MDC Calendar is an excellent resource, available annually at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.

Robins gather in large flocks, moving in groups of up to 50.  Cedar waxwings will cluster on female red cedar trees, picking them clean of their berries (actually miniature cones) before flying off en mass, looking for another meal.  They eat almost exclusively a variety of fruits such as hackberry in season.  The good news is that cowbird chicks reared in their nests rarely survive, unable to tolerate the vegetarian diet.

Coyote- MDC Noppadol Paothong
Coyotes begin their breeding season later this month, although they have been practicing their mating calls for several weeks above Bull Creek.  I love the sound which carries throughout the valley, and they aren't particularly discerning about their competition.  Even my pitiful call, given at full volume will start a chorus of competitors, although they may just be telling me that "this is what a real coyote sounds like."
Late in the month, spotted salamanders will be headed to breeding ponds, looking for love.  With the current Arctic air, it is hard to imagine how they'll do it with the ponds frozen over.  They have been doing it for thousands of years and we had their eggs in all 9 ponds last year, so I am sure they will figure it out.
Upland chorus frog- MDC
The salamander may well be serenaded by upland chorus frogs whose song is compared  to a fingernail scraped along a comb.  These hardy souls are the first frogs to start singing and reproducing in Missouri, one more example of the reason to appreciate phenology .....but more on that in a future blog.

Witchhazel is blooming along Bull Creek.  Its small blossoms on the leafless shrubs are easy to miss in the distance but well worth a hike to find them.

Woodcock- MDC- Click to enlarge
American woodcocks begin their courtship around this time.  For once here is a bird that even I can identify by its unique bill.  They are earthworm specialists, stomping their feet to stir up the worms and penetrating the soil with their long beaks.  Pity the poor bird working the frozen soil now.

Woodcocks on the ground will make a buzzing insect-like call, referred to as a "peent," seen here in this Youtube video.  Their camouflage blends in with the ground so your best chances to hear and see them is at dawn or dusk as with a dramatic flourish the males show off for females by giving loud, nasal peent calls and performing dazzling aerial displays.  This and other cool facts are described on
"He gives buzzy peent calls from a display area on the ground, then flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. At a height of 200–350 feet the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts to descend. He zigzags down, chirping as he goes, then lands silently (near a female, if she is present). Once on the ground, he resumes peenting and the display starts over again."
If you like to get out in nature with a purpose, there is an opportunity for citizen science starting now.  Participating in a study of the spring migration of the American woodcock simply involves going out at specified times morning or evening a few times and recording any sightings.  Go to this link for details.

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