Friday, February 6, 2015

February Phenology

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

Although January marks the start of a new year, February is when new life begins to pick up.  The MDC Calendar reminds us of all the excitement in the valley.  Cedar waxwings are stripping away the last of the cedar berries as we write.

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."

Romance is in the air for lots of mammals.  Woodchucks, mink, squirrels, rabbits and opossum are all mating.  Squashed skunks are especially noticeable later in the month, found dead on the roads, either crossing in search of love or suicidal from a failed romance.

Late in the month, spotted salamanders will be headed to breeding ponds, looking for love.  The rapid temperature swings from the low teens to 70 degrees must be confusing for them, but 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 the romantic song of upland chorus frogs, a sound that has been compared  to a fingernail scraped along a comb.  These hardy souls are the first frogs to start singing and reproducing in Missouri.

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.  We reviewed our last year's survey here.  If this sounds like something you would like to try, go to this link for details and forms.

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