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Early Spring Silhouettes.

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There is a period in Spring, before the grass greens and other plants become gaudy with color, when one looks expectantly at the branches wondering when buds and birds will show themselves. It is also a time to look at silhouettes – some of which also have their own seasonal changes.

This series of images, initially posted on our Facebook page, are derived from photos taken on walks near Hawthorne Valley Farm, but many of the trees are widespread in our region. How many of the trees can you recognize from their outlines before looking at the captions?

02 larch 3W5A0138

Larch

Larches are our only regional native conifer which is deciduous; that is, it loses its needles each winter. During this season, it’s easy to assume they’re a dead spruce. But keep an eye on them and you’ll see that clusters of bright green needles soon appear.

 

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Red Maple

Since the time I took this photograph (6 April) and now (11 April), these flower buds have burst, producing Red Maple’s floral fireworks. The flowers are small but look for a grey tree now hazed with red and then inspect its branches closely – these are beautiful flowers when seen up close.

 

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Red Winged Blackbird

These birds bring a splash of visual color and plenty of auditory color. They arrived back a month or more ago. This one was calling from a snag close to a nearby wetland.

 

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Ash

The stocky, opposite branches of ashes are easily noted in the canopy. Unfortunately, many of our regional ashes are dying because of the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer. The trunks of such trees are often starkly obvious as woodpeckers strip the bark in apparent pursuit of the Borer or perhaps subsequent insect arrivals to the rotting wood.

 

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Red Oak (or something close to that)

Oaks often keep their leaves in winter, providing a touch of brown tan to the grey of the forest.

 

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Aspen

The Aspen are in flower, and their long catkins are dangling down like tiny bedraggled socks. Slightly earlier in the year, Ruffed Grouse (one of which I think I heard near here this Spring) may have browsed in these branches.

 

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Grey Squirrel nest

Grey Squirrels sometimes make nests (aka dreys) out of twigs, leaves, moss and other materials. The nests serve both as nighttime quarters and nursery.

 

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Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickories exhibit what botanists call ‘Gothic Branching’. Just kidding, but the branches of Shagbark often seem to form thought-provoking webs against the sky. This one may be showing some ‘witch’s brooms’ (that IS an official botanical term) – those oddly spaced clusters of dense branching. Such structures occur in a variety of trees and can come about for a range of reasons.

 

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Sumac

Sea worms? These are the now-stripped stalks that once held the sumac’s reddish seed clusters.

 

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Red Cedar

Sun-growing Red Cedar quickly comes into old pastures, abetted by the fact that its sharp needles deter browsers. If the forest quickly grows around them, then they will often be shaded out, but Red Cedar on forest edges, such as this one, can grow long and large.

 

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Cell Tower

Rigid is the word that comes to mind.

 

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White Pine

One can almost hear the subtle swishing woosh that White Pine’s needles make in the wind. I haven’t yet found the audio guide to ‘tree calls’, but it could be useful.

 

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Alder

Alders have the male flowers in supple catkins, while the female flowers are in woody cones.

 

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Nannyberry

Purveyor of the Northwoods dates. Well, not really, but the dry, sweet fruit of this viburnum is reminiscent of true dates. It looks as if creatures or weather have already stripped this bush of its fruits.

 

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Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple has a lighter spray than Red Maple and doesn’t show Red Maple’s tiny pompoms of flower buds.

 

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Grey Squirrel in Elm

The squirrel may well have been feeding on this elm’s swelling flower buds.

 

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Grape Tangle

Unlike bittersweet, grape vines aren’t stranglers. Many are native. Nonetheless, they can form a heavy, shading load. The ecology of northeastern grape vines seems to be an understudied area of forest ecology.

 

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Willow

Willows end in wisps. Their flexible branches may help make them more resistant to damage from the floods that regularly hit their waterside haunts.

 

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Catalpa

Catalpa’s dangling pods are distinctive (however, it’s not a legume). Originally a tree of the Deep South, it has been widely planted and can grow well north of its earlier range.

 

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Elm

This appears to be a gangly, fast-growing elm. Although Dutch Elm disease killed many of our elms, they can still be common in various habitats, especially stream sides.

 

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A rip, a river, a snag.

Hard to know what tree this was during life, but elm would seem to be a possibility.

 

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Ash again.

The thick ash branches contrast with the fine whorls of seed stalks from which once hung this tree’s elongate samaras. Winter winds seem to have cleaned house.

 

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Red Maple and spruce

We have very few native spruce trees in the County; spruce’s densely packed needles are most often seen where they were planted in backyards, parks and the like.

 

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Norway Spruce

As the name suggests, Norway Spruce is not native (although Norway Pine is!). It is widely planted, and its Eeyore-like dropping branches are distinctive.

 

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Black Cherry.

Dogged. Black Cherry is another tree of young forests. Look for its dark, scaly bark. Its branches are sometimes marked with distinctive woody swellings of Black Knot fungus.

 

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Grey Birch

Grey Birch is the more winnowy cousin of White Birch. Grey Birches are common in our forests, especially in old field regrowth. Despite their name, their bark is quite whitish, but their stature and frequent clustering help identify them.

 

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Sumac again.

This sumac still has some of it dried fruits, producing a cluster of dancing seed heads in contrast to the earlier sea worms of its bare branches.

The forest will soon be turning green and the woody architecture will be hidden behind lively leaves. That will bring out new personalities in many of these trees.

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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Some Background History for the Hand Hollow State Forest.

This past Saturday we led a walk into the southern portion of the Hand Hollow State Forest in New Lebanon. In preparation for that, we did some quick historical research and created some background documentation. This post spices those documents with a few photographs from the site.

For more information on visiting this site, please see the following DEC web site: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/101433.html.

Area Map

The Hand Hollow State Forest and surrounding public lands are located in the northeastern corner of Columbia County, in the town of New Lebanon, NY, not far from Berkshire County, Massachusetts and in the foothills of the Taconics.

01 Hand HollowThe Hand Hollow State Forest is part of a mosaic of conservation lands in this New Lebanon neighborhood (which was once called New Britain). The Columbia Land Conservancy’s Hand Hollow Conservation Area is to the west, the State Forest itself stretches both north and south of County Route 34, while to the east the Open Space Institute is holding lands earmarked for eventual inclusion in the State Forest.

For more on CLC’s Hand Hollow site, see their web site: https://clctrust.org/public-conservation-areas/hand-hollow/

01b Hand HollowOn Saturday last, we walked south from the State Forest parking area north of route 34. The trail weaves its way to the pond, and follows an old public road for its southern half.

02 3W5A2733Between route 34 and Hollow Creek is a nice stand of old Hemlock. Judging by size (an admittedly risky criterion) some of these trees may well be over 200 years old. It seems unlikely that this area was ever completely opened, perhaps because it is so wet.

03 3W5A2754A bit farther along, the forest was heavily cut over in the early 2000s, but the rough topography and the presence of Yellow Birch and American Beech suggest that this part too was never completely opened for agriculture.

04 3W5A2767We soon hit the old public road, following its deeply worn, rock-bordered way.

05 Slide5This series of maps show our area starting about 1873 (a map from 1858 is largely similar). The red dot is the house foundation indicated in the second image of this series and located on the north side of what is now the open pond. Notice how the road and some of its connections fade to a dotted shadow and the historical wetland morphs to an open-water pond.

05c img003This and the next image are historical road pictures from the early 1890s in adjacent Berkshire County (both are from Picturesque Berkshire). They may give one an idea of what this road looked like. This picture shows a relatively well-kept, probably central road. Notice that the low rock ‘wall’ along the road is topped by a rail and cross posts fence, making it high enough to deter at least some animals.

05b img001This image may show something a bit closer to what the Hand Hollow road looked like – a somewhat rough and muddy track. The fence along this rock wall has apparently not been maintained.

06 3W5A2794This photo looks north along the ravine that drains the pond. Much of the late 19th century forest in this area was apparently along this untillable stretch.

07 3W5A2795The pond itself, with DEC’s handicap-accessible dock and a beaver excluder around the pond drain in the foreground. The pond appears to have been constructed in the 1960s from what was once an extensive wetland. This is a common fate of regional wetlands.

08 5 Slide2As background for what follows, it helps to quickly review forest history in Columbia County. As is true for much of the Northeast, opening for agriculture was widespread and peaked somewhere around 1875, when 70-80% of the County was open farmland.

Forest followed the reverse trajectory, bottoming out as farmland peaked, but then rebounding.

09 Slide3This aerial image from 1942, 50 years or more after maximum clearing, shows a landscape that might be about 50/50 farmland/forest. The purple lines show the approximate extent of the lands shown in the first map.

10 Slide4By 2017, farmland was the rare patch in a forest matrix.

11 Slide6According to an early map, the foundation north of the pond was the home of A. Spencer Hall. Based on census information, walls and guesswork, we have created this sketch of his farm around 1880. This would have been a wide-open landscape composed mostly of fields. The wetland was probably a meadow grazed or hayed as conditions allowed.

This map is somewhat speculative but more or less fits the census information we have. Taking the time to find and plot the original deed would probably increase its accuracy.

12 3W5A2802As one approaches the foundation from the northeast, the fact that one is walking through former fields becomes evident: flat ground surface, old-field White Pine and, although it’s somewhat hard to see here, an elevated plow terrace caused by years of plowing almost but not quite to the wall in the foreground.

13 3W5A2812Just before one arrives at the foundation, one reaches this tangle of Honeysuckle – the most evident reminder that this was once somebody’s backyard.

14 3W5A2816This is a sizable foundation with a stone-lined cellar. In the far corner, is a pile of bricks (a chimney?) while in the near corner a well hole seems to be attached to the house. Somebody familiar with the property told us that these and other bricks were made on-site. Judging by aerial imagery, the house probably disappeared in the third quarter of the 20th century.

14b 3W5A2845Just beyond the house is the crossroads where the two arms of the public road’s ‘Y’ meet. This photo looks northwest along the western arm.

15 3W5A2853Below the house, a ca. 5’ high stone bank supports the road, presumably helping to prevent it from eroding into the wetland. In this picture, one’s back is to the pond, and the road runs along the ground which is even with the top of the rocks.

17 Slide7Spencer Hall’s farm was, according to the census records, not a particularly small or poor one. It had twice the average acreage of its neighbors, nearly ten times the number of sheep, and was valued about 40% above that of its average neighbor (at ca. $172,000 in modern currency).

In 1880, he also had 2 oxen, 3 horses, 4 milk cows and 6 pigs, and raised, together with hired help, barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, rye, and potatoes. He also had a couple of acres of orchard and cut 10 cords of wood.

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This rock wall, running along the northeast edge of the modern pond, may have not only margined a field, but also indicated a property line. It may have separated hay meadow from neighboring woodlot.

Today, a walk through this landscape still reveals much evidence of the worked land that once was, although any rail and crossposts fence atop these rocks has now rotted away. We are privileged – the history of work on the land Area Mapis still quite evident in the landscape, it may well be more hidden in a century or so.

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Our New Old Fields in Three Acts.

The Line Storm by William Gibson (from Pastoral Days, 1882). Habitat along a split rail fence – place for Bobwhite, Regal Fritillary and Goldenrod.

Preconceptions are a challenge in historical ecology. After all, doesn’t the word ‘forest’ or ‘field’, even if written more than 150 years ago, conjure up some clear images in your mind? However, both culture and ecology can muddy this apparent clarity. The definition of a word can change with time and society. For example, medieval English references to ‘woods’ meant something other than what it does here and now. And even if there were general agreement on what was meant, changes in landscape ecology over time may mean that exact botanical equivalence is very unlikely.

The changing nature of our forests, while still only partially understood, has been widely described. Forest succession and other forms of forest change have been recognized and attempts made to document them. While not completely ignored by historical ecologists, the evolving identity of fields is less well understood and so is meat for further exploration.

This display, although far from comprehensive, asks ‘what did our 19th century fields look like botanically and zoologically?’ We will explore that question through illustrations and narratives appearing in 19th century books and will profile three organisms: Bobwhite Quail, Regal Fritillary, and Goldenrods (Goldenrods are actually several species which we won’t tease apart here).

In part, the motivation for this work is simple ‘natural historyitis’ – the affliction of some human beings for knowing what there is to know about the creatures and land around them, be that current ecologies or past lives. While not conclusively predictive, history can help us better understand an organisms’ current ecology and at least be alert to the potential outcomes of our intentional or unintentional interventions.

One final word – it is easy looking at these old books to imagine stodgy old men, bent over candle light, carefully turning their browned and brittle pages. This is, of course, far from true. These were once crisp, new, hot-off-the-press publications eagerly awaited by aspiring field naturalists. While it is true that not everybody was able to afford the more ornate works, the widespread interest from people who spent much of their lives surrounded by nature is demonstrated by the presence of economy editions meant to satisfy that market.

Listening for the Bobwhite.

The Bobwhite Quail was perhaps the flagship bird of 19th century fields. De Kay, in the same 1843 book that contains Hill’s illustration, wrote, that it “occurs in every part of the State, where it breeds and is a constant resident”; Edward Forbush, harkening back to a Massachusetts childhood during the second half of the 1800s noted, “During my boyhood the cheery, heartening call of the Quail was one of the most common and welcome sounds of spring and summer. The plowman resting his team gave ear to the gladdening sound and it mingled with the ring of the whetstone on the scythe.” Others spoke of Quail feeding with chickens in the barnyard. In fact, it was such a common character that its call, now transcribed as “More Wet, More Wet“, entered the lexicon of folk weather forecasting. Even in the early 1900s, it was described as a fairly common resident breeding bird of Columbia County.

Today it is rarely seen (or heard) and may effectively be extinct in New York State, with scattered sightings probably representing game farm escapees or releases. What happened? There may be no single answer. Instead, as is often the case, a maelstrom of factors may have caused its demise, these likely included the following:

  • The Decline and Sanitization of Farm Fields. These birds consumed the seeds of many openland weeds and grasses and also relied on insects, especially for their young. At the same time they needed nearby cover in the form of shrubby fencerows and edges. As year-around residents at the northern margin of their range, thick winter cover was especially important. Look at the farmland in the background of Hill’s painting or in Gibson’s A Corner of the Farm. Today, not only is the total extent of farm fields much less but few have the openland habitat diversity occasioned by premechanization haying, pasturing and fence cleaning. One author even placed some of the blame for the Bobwhite’s demise on the arrival of wire fencing and the evaporation of scraggly rock and rail fencing.
  • Weather and Reintroduction. There are many accounts of Bobwhite Quail being hit hard by severe winters, especially when ice followed snow and the birds, who apparently sheltered together on the ground, were entombed. Perhaps this was always a bird of more modest climes, which, in our region, only ventured away from the warmer coastal plain as upland farming spread. In this scenario, winter survival was perhaps always a crapshoot. However, human reintroduction attempts may have worsened this. By repeatedly reintroducing southern birds as northern birds declined, sportsmen may have brought in quail strains which were less well adapted to winter weather and thereby hastened the species’ regional demise.
  • Hunting/Trapping. There appears to be little doubt that harvesting heavily impacted this species. Edwin Kent, recollecting late-19th century life in Dutchess County, describes the Bobwhite’s near extirpation of from at least the southern portion of that county, and he attributes it largely to on-farm market trapping, which took advantage of the already-mentioned willingness of quail to enter the barnyard in search of late-season food. The bird’s social ways meant that multiple birds could be trapped at a time. Alexander Wilson, writing American Ornithology during the first decades of the 1800s, also recounts market trapping and describes the farmyard traps in detail. Shooting is also described as a major decimating factor, especially when hunters with dogs ‘cleaned up’ the few surviving birds after a hard winter.

From the Bobwhite’s perspective 19th century fields, at least during the first half of the century, seemed to have been a place of bounty. Relatively loose field management ensured both food and shelter, while abundant barnyards probably served as emergency food lots. Today, our incessant drive for efficiency and our relatively new-found mechanical prowess means what few fields are left tend to be much neater than their predecessors. Because of this (not to mention the booming house cat population), even were they to be re-introduced, Bobwhite would probably be hard-pressed to survive in our modern landscape.

 

Bobwhite Quail, two illustrations by J.W.Hill (from DeKay’s Zoology of New York, part II: Birds, 1843, and a reproduction of his 1867 Hanging Trophies from The New Path, 1985, Brooklyn Museum ). John William Hill was both an illustrator (perhaps most notably of several animal volumes in the Natural History of New York series), and, later, an artist of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  The Natural History was a mammoth, multi-decade undertaking by New York State. It produced volumes not only on various plants and animals, but also on agriculture, paleontology and geology. While other states likewise produced their own natural histories, none were so grandiose.

Bobwhite Quail by William L. Baily (from Our Own Birds, published posthumously in 1863) I have found little information on William Baily. He was apparently a writer and artist who died young. Judging by the book’s preface, he seemed to feel that popular, inexpensive children’s books on nature were important. Strangely, a few examples of this small book have some finely-colored illustrations – hardly a cost-cutting addition.

A Corner of the Farm by William Gibson (from Pastoral Days, 1882). Gibson was a wondrous illustrator whose works are worth exploring. In his day, he was widely respected as an artist-naturalist. The theme of this small image is, according to the text, a backwoods tramp gunning for Bobwhite.

Hedge Removal in Game Survey of the North Central States by Aldo Leopold (1931). Although this is not a 19th century work, Leopold was witnessing some of the same trends in land use (e.g., intensification) and Bobwhite populations (downward) as his East-Coast colleagues had some decades earlier, albeit with tractors to now drive the process. Leopold went on to write one of the first textbooks on game management and various of his essays were collected in the posthumous Sand County Almanac.

 

Regal Fritillary in Print and Life.

At about the same time that Bobwhite were winking out in New York State, Regal Fritillary was also waning. It is difficult to know how common this butterfly ever was in our region. Many more youth ventured Bobwhite hunting or trapping than took the time to note the abundance of particular butterflies, as a result, our glimpse into the butterfly past gets foggier faster. Historical records of this species exist from throughout southeastern NYS, including Columbia County. Scudder, a great 19th century lepidopterist based in Boston, described it as ‘tolerably common’ in adjacent Berkshire County, MA.

The past of the Regal Fritillary is almost as mysterious as its present: it was reported to favor wet meadows and yet apparently relied on dry field plants; it was widespread and yet rarely common; and its abundance apparently fluctuated dramatically meaning that its presence was sporadic at best. Today, its range has retracted dramatically for reasons still unclear. Once found throughout much of the East Coast, it is now gone from all but one site in the region – a Pennsylvania National Guard training area. One of the last confirmed NY sightings was in 1975. Another subspecies is still moderately common in parts of the Midwest.

Such uncertainty might be more understandable (although not necessarily excusable) were the Regal Fritillary a small, inconspicuous creature, but, at least by butterfly standards, it is not. Indeed, it is one of our physically most impressive butterflies with its relatively large size and dramatic, contrasting markings. “Fine” is how several 19th century lepidopterists appreciatively described it.

Its apparently conflicting ties to both wet and dry habitats can perhaps be reconciled if one supposes that, at least late in the season, the adults sought nectar sources that can be especially abundant in wetter meadows while nonetheless requiring drier land plants for caterpillar food. As a species of tall-grass prairies and their eastern analogies, Regal Fritillary caterpillars consume violets and some of their favored species are those of dry fields. There also seems to be a connection to native bunch grasses such as Little Bluestem, perhaps because they provide important shelter for overwintering caterpillars.

The East Coast demise of this species may yet be shown to relate to some species-specific disease, parasite or pesticide sensitivity, but more likely it was the result of a more straightforward, yet equally challenging force – habitat loss. The sporadic occurrence mentioned earlier hints at a life history based upon wide mobility and taking advantage of conditions that are patchy in time and space. This worked, so long as a sufficient number of patches appeared often enough. However, as agriculture declined and industrialization gathered momentum in the East, the species eventually fell over a demographic cliff – those populations that winked out were not subsequently repopulated and that, in turn, further reduced the repopulation pool.

Native warm-season bunch grasses are typical of dry, low-productivity pastures and hayfields. These were among the first fields to be abandoned as agriculture shrank in the East Coast. Wet meadows have probably also declined, first due to beaver extirpation and then due to draining for agriculture or excavation for ponds. As a result, except in perhaps a few special circumstances, it seems unlikely that the Regal Fritillary will again return to our landscape.

 

Regal Fritillary by C.J. Maynard (from Butterflies of New England, 1886). This book includes, so far as I can tell, relatively basic, hand-colored engravings, long a staple of natural history illustration. A black and white plate was created and then painted according to the lead artist’s instructions. The results were as impressive as the care of the painter made them. These illustrations are effective but not stunning. This is not a critique – Maynard was a wide-ranging, self-taught naturalist who circulated largely outside of natural history’s higher echelons and his goal was apparently, in part, to produce something that was more or less widely accessible. More detailed and time-consuming hand coloring would have upped the book’s price.

Regal Fritillary (center and lower right, together with several other fritillaries) from Samuel Scudder’s The Butterflies of the Eastern United States and Canada (1889). Samuel Scudder was one of the preeminent 19th century lepidopterists, and this was his life’s tome. To create the color illustrations for his three-volume masterwork, he resorted to technique that might be called the pinnacle of color lithography. These images were not hand painted, instead they were the result of an extremely precise, multi-stone printing process involving, in some cases, up to 15 separately colored and imprinted stones. The precise registry and multi-layer printing gives the illustrations almost a three-dimensional presence. So far as I know, Scudder’s work was the first our butterfly books to include range maps; his map for the Regal Fritillary shows it spreading from the Midwest, through Pennsylvania and into southern New York and New England. Compare that map to the species’ current distribution as reflected on inaturalist.

Regal Fritillary (center) and relatives from W.J. Holland’s The Butterfly Book (1898). This book was published just as color photography was entering popular publishing. Holland was an energetic individual who, aside from being a lepidopterist, was a priest, paleontologist, Chancellor of Carnegie University, and director of the Carnegie Museum. Somewhat like Maynard, but now armed with new technology, he set out to create an affordable, if weighty, butterfly field guide including photographically reproduced color illustrations. He succeeded. His book sold well, inspired many, and was reprinted numerous times. Even if the illustrations lack the vivacity of Scudders’ or the hand-made touch of Maynard’s, they did their work.

 

A Lively Account of the Regal Fritillary from John Henry Comstock and Anna Botsford Comstock’s How to Know the Butterflies (1904). While actually falling slightly outside of our 19th century purview, the account is almost assuredly based on 19th century observations. Note the reference to Goldenrod, the topic of the next section. Anna Botsford Comstock was a key mover and shaker in the Nature Studies Movement, a widespread and influential turn-of-the-century educational undertaking to promote the direct study of nature. The illustration accompanying this was a color specimen photograph similar to Holland’s; the book was dedicated to Scudder.

(For more on the 19th century world of North American lepidopterists, we would recommend Butterfly People, by William Leach, a spirited tale of that era’s ecology and society.)

 

From Road Crew to Field Crew.

Picture an ‘old field’. Likely as not your image includes a rough display of Blackberries and other brambles, Grey Dogwood, Multiflora Rose, Goldenrod and late-season asters. Yours is a rough and scruffy place that nonetheless produces ample wild flowers in the right seasons. It is probably an abandoned agricultural field of some sort – crop field, hay field or pasture – that has been left to its own devices for several years, perhaps even a decade or two. It is heading, faster or slower, towards forest.

Nineteenth century botanists did use the term ‘old field’, and it’s tempting to assume that they had the same conceptualization of it, but they apparently did not. To them, ‘old field’ seems to have meant something more akin to what we would call a fallow field. That is, a crop field that intentionally or not has laid fallow for a year or two, and sports an exuberance of crop field weeds. The long-abandoned farm field that we associate with ‘old fields’ was probably not a common component of the 19th century landscape, at least for its first 75 years or so. During that time, farmers were more likely to be opening new land rather forgetting old acres.

This does not mean that Goldenrod and its companions were not present in the landscape, but they were apparently largely elsewhere – lining roadsides and enveloping walls and wood fences (helping to provide, one might add, ample Bobwhite cover). The technology to mow (or spray) road edges or weed-whack fence lines was yet to come. Thus, ‘rough and scruff’ was more a habitat of edges than of whole fields. That said, hand-cut hay fields and lightly grazed pastures were no doubt more patchy than modern ones, and accounts do mention Goldenrod in some of those as well.

Solidago (Goldenrod’s scientific name) derived from Elizabeth Colden’s botanic manuscript in the British Museum, unpublished,1740s and 50s. Elizabeth Colden was the daughter Cadwallader Colden, a prominent colonial administrator and a some-time botanist. She began assembling (but never finished) a Flora of New York. She described and created uncolored pen & ink drawings of each species, sometimes including notes on use or habitat. She profiles several Goldenrod species. Many of her specimens probably came from around her family estate in Orange County.

Description of Goldenrod’s Medicinal Value, from Formulae for Making Tinctures, Infusions, Syrups, Wines, Mixtures, Pills, etc., published 1875 by Tilden and Company, New Lebanon. The Tilden Company, which evolved out of Shaker industries, used plants, both native and imported, as ingredients in one of the nation’s first large-scale pharmaceutical industries. Goldenrod was one of their ingredients. As they note, Goldenrods (there are several species) were common at that time but more strongly associated with fencerows than ‘old fields’.

Willow Leaved Golden Rod from Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Rural Hours, 1851. Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of the author James Fenimore Cooper, wrote this journal describing the natural history and society around her home in Cooperstown. She was an acute observer and the pages are filled with intriguing natural history. This illustrated edition used the same lithographer who produced The Natural History of New York State series, and some of the same plates, including this one, appear in this work. Her 6 Sept entry notes that Goldenrods are “lining all the fences”.

 

Pictures of Roads from Picturesque Berkshire, 1893. Most 19th century photographs are of people or single buildings rather than landscapes. While this book contains its fair share of those, it also includes many photos of roadsides and fields. The landscape is late-19th century with wire beginning to replace rock walls and split rail fences, but the landscape still contains many earlier traces, and the photographs of roadsides on this page, although they do not clearly show Goldenrods, likely show where you could have found them. Note that both hayfield and pasture are rougher lands than their current incarnations and probably left more space for diversity.

Taken together, Bobwhite, Regal Fritillary and Goldenrod hint at a landscape that is both familiar and foreign. Bobwhites sheltered in thickets that no doubt look somewhat like those along certain of today’s back roads, only such tangles were more common. Regal Fritillaries glided above fields perhaps similar to those one can still find on a few drier hillsides, only such fields were more numerous. Goldenrods, perhaps as common today as in the 19th century, have become flags of modern “old fields”, and are perhaps now less common – although certainly not unseen – along our roadsides and farm field edges. We are, I believe, moving from a landscape of messy gradations towards one of either/or, from one of either forest or tidy farm field, lawn and development. Certain forest creatures have benefited from the wood’s return, and that is worth celebrating. Less encouraging is the neat control of our open areas. I wonder if, in another 50-100 years, field Goldenrods (there are also a few woodland species) won’t be rarer organisms, not, perhaps, gone the way of the Bobwhite and Regal Fritillary, but nonetheless fading into memory.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

The Story of a Forest Stand.

Sorry to lead with a family snapshot, but there’s a story behind it. That’s me, around 1970, walking through the Red Pine plantation behind our house.

We moved to Canaan (NY) in 1970 and, as a young boy, one of my most vivid memories is of walking through a Red Pine plantation in the woods behind our house. The tall, straight, light-barked trees aligned in regular rows lorded over a clean and cushy covering of pine needles. The combination of surprising, all-encompassing symmetry and a feeling akin to walking on a water mattress made the experience other-worldly.

I did not at the time ask myself where that plantation came from nor where it might be going. Neither my parents nor I had any inkling of a ‘what should we do with it?’ sort of question. And yet, encapsulated in the history of that stand are the histories of many stands throughout the County and perhaps the region – the story of the forgotten tree plantation.

 

Land Classification Map from the 1941 “Columbia County Agricultural Survey”. The classification was apparently based on a tour of the County. Regions in “Land Class III and higher” were still in active, profitable farming; Land Class IIR was apparently borderline in terms of its farms; most farms in Land Class IR were abandoned or obviously declining. The green dot indicates the location of the Red Pine plantation mentioned in the text.

 

This map of the extent of agricultural decline across New York comes from Vaughan’s 1928, “Abandoned Farm Areas in New York”, Bulletin 490 of the Cornell Ag. Experiment Station. In most areas, the peak of farmland was around 1880.

 

Abandoned farmland reverts spontaneously to forest on a Gallatin (Columbia County) hillside in this 1935 image by Rogers McVaugh. Most of the County’s former farmland has returned to forest on its own.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, New York State land use visionaries, especially those in the eastern half of the State, had a quandary. For a variety of reasons (including the opening up of the fertile Midwest and a large-scale conversion to corn-based dairy), many former farm fields were being abandoned. For example, in 1925 it was estimated by Vaughan that New York had 4,500,000 acres less farmland than in 1880, the approximate peak of agricultural clearing. That amounted to about 15% of the State’s land cover, an area roughly equal to that of Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Sullivan, Putnam and Rockland counties combined. In Columbia County alone, we estimate that improved farmland dropped by around 100,000 acres or more than 25% during the same period.

Reforestation was one way to fill this void. As Vaughan also put it, “The vast areas of idle land in the State are not only non-productive but they have a very depressing influence on agriculture and on the State as a whole…. In order that such land be kept from [unprofitable] agricultural production and still not remain idle and unproductive, reforestation has been suggested as the logical remedy.”

Perhaps inspired in part by German forestry, creating plantations became a focus of reforestation efforts. But what to plant? For several reasons, conifers seemed the logical answer: for example, White Pine was an eager old field volunteer, reflecting the ability of pines to grow on open land; pines tended to grow tall and straight in plantations; and the oft-erroneous vision of the primal pine forest perhaps helped to convince foresters of the long-term appropriateness and ease of growing such species. The State grew and planted millions of conifer seedlings. Between 1909 and 1952, over 790,000,000 trees were reportedly distributed. The vast majority of these were conifers, with White Pine, Red Pine, Scotch Pine and Norway Spruce prominent amongst them. Eventually, Red Pine was apparently favored over White Pine because it seemed more resistant to the pests and diseases that killed or, at least, distorted White Pine thereby reducing its timber value.

 

The distribution of seedlings as part of NYS reforestation efforts from the Atlas of Forestry of New York (1958?) by Neil Stout. A larger circle indicates a larger proportion of seedlings distributed.

 

European Larch is one conifer sometimes found in plantations. Unlike our other conifers, larch are completely deciduous and drop all of their needles every winter making them resemble dead snags.

 

Norway Spruce, a relatively common plantation tree, are distinguished by the characteristic drooping of the branches evident in this photo of an open-grown individual.

 

The White Pines lining this horizon could be those of a plantation, however, closer inspection would reveal that, in this case, they are probably old-field White Pine which spontaneously grew up in a former farm field. Both spontaneous and planted stands of White Pine are common in Columbia County.

 

Red Pine plantations can be identified by the red-barked trees evident in the first photo of this posting and the long needles grouped in clusters of two. Scotch Pine, another conifer sometimes found in our plantations, also has paired needles and red bark, but its needles are shorter and twisted.

 

Although pine plantations can be relatively low in diversity, some wildlife do like to use them for shelter, as evidenced by this string of deer beds.

 

While some of these plantations were on public land, many trees were distributed free to private land owners and plantations sprang up on farm fields throughout the region. However, as one prescient former DEC employee noted in 1959,

as every plantation owner knows (including the State of New York), with the trees in the ground the work has just begun. .. These plantations have got to be thinned out, just as you would thin out a row of radishes, if you want a good crop at harvesttime. … The problem – and it’s a very big one- is how to pay for these operations…. I can’t help wondering at times if reforestation, as an economic proposition, hasn’t been oversold, or at least misleadingly advertised to the general public. I’ve seen too many plantations, all over the Northeast, put in with a burst of enthusiasm, patriotism, and great expectations-and then left to take care of themselves when the time comes for somebody else to take care of them.

– Pieter W. Fosburgh, 1959, The Natural Thing: The Land and its Citizens.

Indeed, our landscape is now scattered with forgotten, decaying plantations. As the series of images below illustrate, my magical backyard Red Pine stand was no exception.

 

A 1942 aerial photograph, showing the future Red Pine plantation (circled) still as field.

 

In 1942 (above), the future location of that ‘home’ Red Pine stand was clearly open field, one of many in this well-worked landscape. Its microtopography suggests that, at least at some point, it was ploughed ground, not just hayfield or pasture.

 

By the time of this 1952 aerial, the plantation had been planted.

 

A landscape shot, probably from the early ’50s, with the young Red Pine plantation outlined.

 

By 1952 (above), however, the field had been planted to Red Pine, probably with funding from New York’s Forest Practice Act of 1946. The thick ‘head’ of trees suggest the seedlings had already been in the ground for a few years when that photograph was taken. An oblique view taken around the same time emphasizes how densely the trees were planted.

These trees continued to mature, and, by 1971 (below), they had formed a well-developed stand. The initial photo in this posting was taken at about this time.

 

A 1971 aerial of the stand at about the same time that the first photo of this posting was taken from within the stand.

 

In 1981, the plantation appears to have been generally intact, although a few holes are evident in the pine canopy.

 

A decade later (above), much of the stand was still intact, although holes had begun to appear. During the 1990s, a storm or storms tore apart the stand, breaking off many trunks. I don’t recall the exact meteorology but I do recall that, over a relatively short period of time, the stand collapsed, a startling glimpse of landscape mortality. By 1995 (below), most of the inner pines had evidently died, resulting in a configuration very similar to today’s.

 

A false-color image from 1995; the loss of mature trees from the core of the plantation is evident.

 

This 2017 image, taken during leaf-off, clearly shows that much of the former plantation is now composed of deciduous trees.

 

The mere ring of remaining pines in today’s stand (above) outlines a deciduous core. This too was a surprise to me. I had come think that pines begat pines, because their needles so acidified the soil as to rule out other sequences. However, if I were to have looked around me while walking through that 1970s stand, I should have grown suspicious – there were, in fact, no young Red Pines waiting to take their place in the slow-motion relay race of tree generations. Once the adult pines began to topple and light reached the ground, a flurry of deciduous trees started to stretch skyward. Today if one looks into the same stand where the initial photograph was taken (below), it requires imagination to believe it was ever a pine stand. True, a few incongruously tall and skinny Red Pines remain, but they are rapidly being enveloped by Sugar Maple and Black Cherry, together with lesser amounts American Beech, Red Maple, Hop Hornbeam, White and Red Oak, White Ash, and a couple of Hickory species.

 

A photo taken in the Red Pine plantation in early 2018. The main ingredient is no longer Red Pine, although a few of the edge trees are visible in the distance.

 

This should not have been a surprise. Red Pine is not a common tree in our area; McVaugh’s flora (digitized version courtesy of the NYS Museum), researched during the 1930s, described it as ‘rare’. It is a tree of dry sandy or gravelly soils, not of the loamy soils typical of our Canaan forest. As is true of many plants, that doesn’t mean that, given a head start as this plantation was, Red Pine can’t briefly prosper on a site, but it does mean that, without further human intervention, it will soon lose out to other species which are better able to persist. As a result, barring many new plantings, it is likely that Red Pine, despite its massive inoculation into our flora, will fade away over the coming decades. In fact, we are not sure we have ever found natural Red Pine in Columbia County, although, with a native species like Red Pine, distinguishing natural from planted is not always easy. Not all plantations are set in tidy rows that declare their origins. Aside from checking the soil beneath your feet (is it sandy/gravelly?), a glance at the ground cover may give a hint – according to Fergus (in Trees of New England: A Natural History), a plantation has the typical, pine-needles-only ground cover, whereas a natural stand will likely have populations of acid-tolerant plants such as Star-flower, Blueberry, and Canada Mayflower.

Many stand biographies similar to that outlined here likely exist in the County. We regularly come across fading plantations. They are bittersweet – on the one hand, a dilapidated plantation represents a plan and work that went unrealized; on the other hand, the determination of wild forest to dominate and slowly erase some of our handiwork is encouraging. The mixed forest that emerges will probably be home to a greater diversity of plants and animals than the mono-culture plantation.

And yet, we continue to use wood for paper, fuel and timber. Where should that wood come from?

While it is inconspicuous in some of the above aerials because of its deciduous trees, the plantation lot is bordered to the east by a much older forest that might help inform those questions (below). That adjacent stand had mature trees in the 1942 aerial, and its topography and botany suggest it was never completely cleared. A rocky creek runs through it, springing into being where a gentle dip in the field above it meets the forest land. This is an example of what we call ancient forest – forest that, while some of its individual trees were likely logged, was probably never completely cleared by humans.

 

A grove of mature trees is evident just to the east of the future location of the pine plantation in this 1942 image. That area remains in forest up to the present day.

 

A LiDAR image of the topography of the plantation and the adjacent forest. Note how the rocky stream bed ’emerges suddenly’ from the ploughed field north of it. Perhaps such a stream bed once wove all the way down the hillside but was erased by farming.

 

Looking up the rocky creek just east of the plantation; the ploughed field is visible in the background.

Ancient forests can contain relatively rare soil conditions and an unusual ground flora (although, to be honest, the narrow patch beside the plantation has few documented rarities). Although they are now embedded inconspicuously in a matrix of young, post-agricultural forest regrowth (below), such ancient forests deserve to be identified and given conservation preference. In our region, few if any ancient forest stands are primary or old growth forest, indeed many owe their persistence in the landscape to their role as farm woodlots. As such, some careful, continued use might be appropriate, although especial care should be taken to minimize soil disturbance and avoid the introduction of invasive species. However, the primary focus of wood production should be elsewhere in the landscape.

 

The greater landscape of the Red Pine plantation in 1942. Note the patches of mature forest (together with some evidently young forest).

 

The same landscape in 2015 – finding ancient forest fragments in such an extensively reforested landscape can be a challenge.

 

We believe that logging should be directed towards areas of post-agricultural regrowth and away from ancient forests and other ecologically sensitive areas. Today, plantation planting is relatively rare, and most timber management focuses on guiding natural regrowth. Managed timber stands are, by selective cutting, often shifted towards the production of high-quality Red Oak. Whether from plantation or managed stand, local timber production can help satisfy our demand for lumber and fuelwood, a demand that would otherwise require cutting elsewhere. However, this urge to be globally responsible (and, perhaps, to profit from our forests) should not be an excuse for ignoring the land’s history and ecology. In this context, I now regret that, while that Red Pine plantation was still healthy, we did not ask how it might be managed or harvested.

As illustrated by the story of this particular forest stand, we believe a community vision is needed for our land use. Without it, we can neither accomplish the local production that goes with being responsible for our own needs nor take the integrated, landscape-scale approach that is necessary for successful conservation. We cannot build the long-term commitment which forest management requires. The current composition of our landscape – its productive areas and conservation resources – is a largely accidental pattern, the product, in many cases, of individual hard work but not of an overall vision. There are important exceptions: the State and Federal governments make plans for the management of their lands and, to some extent, for their acquisition; some local municipalities having zoning statutes that reflect a basic vision of their communities; and land trusts like CLC and Scenic Hudson actively try to be strategic in the use of their resources relative to nature conservation, productive lands, and recreation. While such state and federal land purchases, land trust holdings, and zoning regulations all have an important role to play in shaping our landscape, the use of much land remains outside of the direct influence of these actions.

Alternatives exist for motivating (rather than enforcing) coordinated actions on private properties. For example, the New England Wildlands & Woodlands program, with its regional conservation partnerships (including one that encompasses Columbia County), seeks to encourage the formation of a regional vision and the orchestration of its fulfillment. More focused initiatives, such as the Bobolink Project, strive to link those physically capable of fulfilling a particular aspect of a vision (in this case, farmers managing grassland bird habitat) with those capable of incentivizing it. Such approaches may or may not have value here, but they illustrate the type of creative thinking and community-wide connections that could produce an effective approach.

The roughly 3.5 acres that encompassed both my magical childhood plantation and the adjacent area we came to realize was ancient forest are trivial in terms of their individual contribution to any larger vision as are my personal ties to the haunts of my youth. And yet, it may only be by gluing together actions across many such small lots and by helping individual land owners link their own memories and dreams with larger aspirations that we can assume greater responsibility for our own needs and for the conservation of the nature with whom we share this space.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Book of the Year – 1907: Water Wonders

How can it be possible for such exquisitely beautiful jewelled crystals to fashion themselves in the vast spaces of the heavens, among the clouds!

Jean M. Thompson, Water Wonders Every Child Should Know (1907).

(photo by Wilson Bentley)

The most important and profoundly human act of exploration is not its execution, but its conception; it is the dream of knowing.

The turn of the 19th century brought landmark advancements in the science of technology – the study of electricity, of flight, of automobiles. One could be pardoned for thinking that natural history, that grand pursuit of the 1800s, had become passé. However, even if eclipsed in scientific headlines, the exploration of nature still occupied many and, in fact, had flourished, if not in the ‘lab’, then in the backyard and farmyard.

Water Wonders Every Child Should Know by Jean Thompson was part of the canon of the Nature Study Movement. A popular educational movement pioneered in the 1890s, it focused on insuring that, in the age of industrialization, children did not lose sight of the nature around them. The Every Child Should Know series, for example, included books on birds, trees, wild flowers, and earth & sky. The book’s subtitle, Little Studies of Dew, Frost, Snow, Ice and Rain, illustrates the movement’s emphasis on getting out and looking (i.e., exploring). Like Jean Thompson, many figures in this movement were women at a time when professional scientists were mainly men. The Movement would dwindle as the century progressed, but it helped make the popularization of science a respected calling.

What brings this book to the fore at this time of year is that it is illustrated with photographs by Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer also known as the Snowflake Man. Much of Water Wonders is devoted to the ‘games’ that water can play as it freezes in snowflakes, hoar frost and other ice formations, and Bentley’s black and white photographs provide clear, sometimes dazzling, examples of those patterns. Jean Thompson visited him several times in Jericho VT and his ideas apparently permeate much of the book.

He was a country bachelor, she was an affluent NYC divorcee, and the visits were something of a local scandal. She explicitly juxtaposes their two worlds as she invites the reader into the snowy landscape,

Most of us have given little time or very serious thought to the study of the snow, and the marvelous detail which goes to fashion the individual snow crystal. In fact, if we live in crowded city, we are inclined to look upon a heavy snowfall as something of a nuisance…impeding pedestrianism and traffic, and thoroughly undesirable until cleared away.

But once outside in the open country we are inclined to gaze forth upon the pure expanse of snow-covered hill and plain, resplendent and dazzling as it stretches afar under the pale winter sunshine, with a more kindly, tolerant mood…

The book is a call to scientific reverie, to the devotion of time and thought to snow, for she continues, “when you have … studied for yourself the marvellous phenomena and detail of snow-crystal formation, you will doubtless ever after.. in watching the fluttering, swirling flakes as they descend, exclaim: Oh, the wonder and mystery of it all!”

While Thompson does an inspiring job of invoking the mystery, Bentley spent much of his life actively wondering about snowflakes. He not only pioneered snowflake photography but, by keeping careful notes on climatic conditions, began to associate particular atmospheric conditions with the formation of certain types of snowflakes (see, for instance, his 1902 paper). Each of the snowflakes pictured in the book comes with a mini-biography. For example, one photo caption reads, “These snow crystals are the product of a very great storm, and they travelled a long distance before reaching the earth. They were generated in a very high frigid altitude. When these singular snow crystals descended they fell in parachute fashion, the larger section downward.” How Bentley and Thompson knew the details of this biography is unclear, but whether or not they were 100% correct, Bentley’s observations and the ‘thought experiments’ that attempted to make sense of them opened up a new world, and Thompson realized and expressed its poetry.

Both Bentley and Thompson were “non-scientists” who, in some ways, bypassed the profession to bring nature directly to their followers.  This was not always well-received by full-time scientists and the tension is exemplified by early critics of Bentley’s photographs. Bentley took care to select flakes and even to manipulate photographs so as to highlight the most beautiful and intricate patterns. When others tried to replicate his efforts, they found that the vast majority of flakes were not fine symmetrical “jewels” but rather broken or misshapen bodies, and they called foul. In some ways, both sides were right: rather than being a random selection of flakes, the images in Water Wonders are indeed a careful, aesthetically-shaped collection of rarities, as Thompson herself noted. However, while explorers like Bentley and Thompson did have a responsibility to make accurate observations, they also had a responsibility to ‘sing the praises’ of what they saw. If it weren’t for the selection process, the images would not have been as awe-inspiring and, it is likely, many fewer people would have ventured down that first, dreamy step of snowflake exploration.

Ideas on snowflake classification and formation have evolved since 1907, but, for the most part, they are extensions rather than refutations of the book’s ideas. Current understanding holds that a snowflake begins life as a nubbin of ice on a tiny airborne particle such as a bacteria. Because of temperature differences, the air in the ‘vast spaces’ of a cold cloud can hold more water than that in the immediate vicinity of a growing snow crystal. The result is that water vapor in the cloud begins to accumulate as ice on the starting nubbins. The structure of the water molecule itself determines the shape of the initial base (a hexagonal plate), but the pattern of any individual crystal’s growth is the product of temperature, humidity and history. If the air is very dry and/or cold, for instance, the snowflake will likely fall to earth as a hexagonal plate or tube. If, on the other hand, the air is humid and only moderately cold, each of the six corners will begins to sprout a feather-like arm. As a flake travels through the clouds, it may well enter different temperature and humidity zones, each of which will cause the crystal to grow in new ways. Thawing and re-freezing may occur, and ‘rough seas’ may break flakes or glue them together. The huge diversity of snowflakes occurs because it is very unlikely that any two flakes will share exactly the same biographies during their trip to the ground.

When Jean Thompson and Wilson Bentley looked up at a snow-filled sky, they may not have seen all of this, but they saw much of it. However, exactly what they knew is, in some ways, less important than what they dared to imagine. That combination of observation and imagination, of rock and dream, is at the heart of exploration by young and old. It is as an embodiment of that, as a book eloquently beckoning children to walk into the mind of a true explorer, that Water Wonders is our nomination for Book of the Year 1907.

 

Interested in more information? Here are some likely leads:
The Nature Study Movement by Kevin Armitage, a thought-provoking book well worth reading.
The Snowflake Man by Duncan Blanchard, I’ve not read the book, but the author’s essays in the Snow Crystals newsletter are enjoyable (see especially vol. 14, the article “Jean Thompson in Jericho” for more on the scandalous visits).
For kids, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian is inspirational – in fact, this blog posting was written because Martin and Azarian’s book inspired a young boy to create a gingerbread house honoring Snowflake Bentley.
I had difficulty finding a ‘one-stop shop’ for modern snowflake information. However, Kenneth Libbrecht’s page is a great place to start. This video, while more about snow in general, is certainly a fitting, enjoyable evocation.
Aside from the first snowflake, the photographs here are our own. Advances in cameras and lenses have now made it possible to photograph ‘wild’ snowflakes. There are worse things that one can do than spending a snowy day hunting for freshly fallen snowflakes trapped in spider webs or feathery seed heads!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

A Belated Labor Day Posting – 1893/2017

This was meant to be a short Facebook posting for Labor Day 2017. Unfortunately, I was … err… working on Labor Day (fieldwork – got to ‘make hay while the sun shines’) and the blog rather outgrew the Facebook format. It remains a bit shallow for a true blog, but here it is!

Columbia County Shoe Salesman from http://oldcolumbiacounty.blogspot.com/.

 

Happy Labor Day – 1893.

In 1893, the celebration of Labor Day in New York was barely a decade old. We happened to stumble across the County’s labor statistics for that year and so now, 124 years later, in belated honor of Labor Day 2017, we present a brief glimpse of the County’s labor profile at that time.

As background, in 1890 the County had a censused population of about 45,557, with 51% women and 49% men. The workforce, having begun the century with a large majority of people working in agriculture, was now shifting more towards employment in manufacturing and services/retail. Although I don’t know how it played out in the County, ‘The Panic of 1893′ was a period of significant economic decline, with national business output estimated to have dropped about as much as during the Great Depression of the 1920s.

Employees of the Kinderhook Knitting Mill, from http://oldcolumbiacounty.blogspot.com/.

The County’s 1893 employment profile contains some intriguing tidbits – Hudson had one billiard room keeper, a Canadian in his forties; Copake had one gardener, an Irishman in his 50s; and one harness maker, a Dane in his 30s. Out of New Lebanon’s 187 farmers, only one was Afro-American and two were women. The entire County had two professional actors, one American man and one English woman, but eight professional photographers. There were more watchmen (18) than policemen (11). The county employed 61 cigar makers and three professional “billposters” but only one butler, one piano maker, one trapper, one lighthouse keeper, one gunsmith, one iron miner (a Swiss), one frescoer (a German) and one button maker (a woman).

Of the 14,541 people reporting their occupations, about half were either farmers or “laborers”, split almost equally between those two occupations. Each remaining profession accounted for less than 5% of the total work force. About quarter of all jobs could be described as some type of manufacturing (not including “laborers”), roughly 15% were in retail and services, 4% appeared to work as home/garden help of some sort, while a bit over 3% had jobs relating to transport (e.g., RR, shipping or other cargo movement). Teachers accounted for 1.4% of the jobs, and today’s ‘healthcare workers’ (i.e., physicians, druggists, dentists and nurses) totaled just over 1% of the workforce.

Only 14% of the official workforce were women, although they slightly exceeded men in the total population. (Obviously, many women were working very hard at tasks that were not, at that time, considered in tallies of labor statistics.) Women were, not surprisingly, unevenly distributed across the official professions. All reported dressmakers, milliners (aka maker and/or seller of women’s hats), seamstresses, and housekeepers were female, along with more than 99% of the domestics. Together, these jobs accounted for more than 40% of the women in the official workforce. Women also predominated in the professions of shirtmaker, cook, nurse, laundry worker, looper (a role in the manufacture of clothing), waiter, boarding house keeper, and teacher. However, several of the most common jobs were shared, at least in coarse categorization, with men. These included the well-populated jobs of machinery/equipment operator and mill employee. While women were not the majority, they were commonly working as artists (albeit only 15 people in the County listed themselves as professional artists), weavers, students, tailors, and telegraph operators. Finally, there were a few professions were men dominated, but women did appear, such as bookkeepers and clerks, bakers, merchants, farmers (out of 3290 farmers in the County, 70 were women). There was also one female physician and one female lawyer. The most common all-male jobs were “laborer”, carpenter, railroad worker, painter, blacksmith, butcher, teamster (e.g. ox driver), and mason, in that order. There were at least 45 other somewhat common professions which were also male-only.

Dutchess County farm workers, from https://www.hrvh.org & Historic Red Hook.

 

In terms of race, respondents were tallied as either “white” or “colored”. I believe most or all of the 344 “colored” people were Afro-Americans, although I am unsure how some other ethnicities would have been recorded. Chinese people were, apparently, considered “white”. The most common jobs for “colored” men were, in decreasing order, laborer (accounting for two thirds of all “colored” males in the workforce), butcher, farmer, hostler (one who took care of horses, often at inns), coachman, waiter, porter, cook and barber (of which there were five). “Colored” people were absent from most remaining professions, although they were also recorded in such jobs as clergyman, papermaker, fruit grower, carpenter and builder. “Colored” women were mostly employed as domestics, with a few also working as cooks, laundry women, housekeepers, and waiters.

Jobs also differed among nationalities. A total of around 2,350 respondents were not American citizens. The most common foreign nationalities were, in order, Irish, German and English, accounting for more than 80% of the non-native workers. Poles, Canadians, Russians, Scots, French, Swedes and Italians rounded out the top 10 nationalities. (Today, Germany, Jamaica and Poland are the County’s most common non-US countries of birth in the full population.) The most likely jobs differed somewhat amongst nationalities. For all except the Russians, laborer was the most common job; peddler was the most common Russian profession (followed by laborer). Farmer was often the second most likely job, although there were no Russian, Polish or Italian farmers recorded. In some cases, certain jobs seemed especially common for specific nationalities. These included Russian tailors; Irish cooks, policemen, saloonkeepers, and furnacemen; Chinese laundry workers (which was the only job recorded for Chinese men in the County); Polish mill operators; German bakers, butchers, shoemakers, and tailors; French wood choppers; and English spinners and brewers.

 

Comparative pie graphs of workforce composition. 1893 data is from the Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of New York (1894) and 2011 data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

I have not had time to do a detailed comparison with the modern workforce, but in 2011, the total workforce in the County was 32,161 (out of a population of about 62,000). As shown in the pie charts above, times have changed. For example, in 2011, only 3% of workers were in farming, while in 1893 that number was probably closer to one third (exact values are difficult to determine because “laborer” likely included jobs in both agriculture and manufacturing – in the figure I split laborers half/half between these two categories). Manufacturing likewise was substantially more important in 1893. Conversely, health care, which accounts for about 15% of the workforce today, officially made up only a bit over 1% in 1893. Government and retail jobs also seem noticeably more common today (although “government” is underestimated in my 1893 tally – I could not determine all the jobs which were governmental). The sex ratio of the officially surveyed workforce is much more equal today with about 52% male and 48% female.

We made the graph below several years ago from a slightly different data set, but, in closing, I think it serves to put the historical and modern data in general perspective. In 1893, as for almost the entire period between 1850 and 1950, the official County workforce was roughly equally divided between agriculture, manufacturing and retail/services (i.e., many of the remaining professions). Today, retail/services (including healthcare and civil service) predominates. This may make us less self-sufficient as a society, but may mean greater social care (e.g., health, fire, police and other such services) and, perhaps, greater buffering from local or regional impacts on food or production. It would be interesting to compare this graph to that of so-called ‘developing countries’ which are transitioning economically. But that is definitely beyond the scope of this posting!

A rough illustration of the composition of the Columbia County workforce over time from state and federal census data. Various assumptions are made in classifying historic jobs, but general patterns should be more or less accurate.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Columbia County Moths

 gr moth

 

At this time of year we have the opportunity to observe moths not only at our porch lights, but at flowers as well. A number of moths, including the American Ear Moth (Amphipoea americana) shown above, extract nectar from flowers in the light of day. However, most moth species await dusk or dark to come out from their resting places. Nectaring is not a behavior of all moth species. Some, like the famous Luna Moth (Actias luna) and other Giant Silkworm Moths, do not feed at all as adults and therefor have short lives. In Columbia County, we have just a brief period in spring where we may see the week-long-lived Luna Moth at rest in the forest, or by a porch light. Moths’ attraction to light is a bit of a mystery, but it may relate to their use of the moon for orientation. In any case, this attraction has allowed us to study Columbia County moths by using specialized lights to attract a great diversity of them.

 

luna

A Luna Moth seen June 2nd, 2016 in Austerlitz, N.Y

 

 

The Moth Tally

One would think that tallying the species of moths in a rural county in upstate New York would be a feasible task. Columbia County is about 650 square miles of land, largely composed of Oak-Hickory and Northern Hardwood (with hemlock and/or pine) forest types. Yes, there are swamps, rocky barrens, shrublands, meadows, farmland and various other habitats; and elevation ranges from about 10 ft. by the Hudson River to over 2,000 ft. at Harvey Mountain; but, it’s just another rural county in upstate New York. How many moth species can this place have?

Well, after two years of simply observing or conducting official moth surveys; asking my girlfriend to spend many a Friday night in the woods or by the house beside a moth light; the answer is that I have no idea. For now, our number is about 560 species of moths in the county (determined with the help of other accredited observers), but give it a week or two, and we may have 600 or more. Nearly every time out mothing, whether it’s a place I have surveyed before or not, I find one, two, or ten new species for our list. With no end to the tally in sight given the continued occurrence of many new species on each outing, I’m excited to see just how big this list will get and what the next survey will bring in.

 

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A starlit moth survey at an Ancram, N.Y. meadow

 

Being that moths are a very diverse group of insects, it’s no surprise that we apparently are far from determining their diversity in our county. Both moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, the second largest insect order. There are about 13,000 species of Lepidoptera in the United States, with roughly 5,000 of them residing east of the Mississippi. New York has a long history of studying moths. In 1916, there were 2,304 documented species of moths statewide. The species list was the work of many observers, including entomologists Edward Doubleday, Augustus R. Grote, and Joseph Lintner, all who made considerable contributions to our knowledge of the state’s Lepidoptera; some 26 other observers throughout the state also contributed. A later estimate put the number at about 3,300 species statewide. Neighboring New York, John Himmelman, author of Discovering Moths, notes Connecticut as having about 2,300 species of moths.

To get an idea of what our total moth diversity might be in Columbia County, we can look at the results of some moth studies from smaller regions. Work at the 318 acre Hunt-Parker Sanctuary in Westchester County, N.Y. documented 450 species of moths from 2002 to 2005. Another study in several northwest Vermont counties used surveying as well as historical records and collections to assess moth diversity. They documented nearly 1,700 species.

Perhaps the most comparable assessment took place in the Ashokan region (the town of Olive, N.Y.) of the Catskill Mountains. The study took place over the course of three summers, from the spring of 1992 to fall of 1994. Instead of looking at the diversity of all moths, the study focused on the Sphinx Moth (Sphingidae) and Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) families. The region is quite close to Columbia County, about 20 miles south west. Elevation there ranges from about 700 ft. to 3,000 ft.; it hosts a large portion of the Ashokan Resevior, but otherwise is well forested with mixed development. The area is about a tenth the size of Columbia County. These researchers documented 358 Owlet Moth species compared to the 146 we have seen in Columbia County. If we make the assumptions that they saw all of the Owlet Moths present, that we have as many such species here in Columbia County, and that the ratio of Owlet Moths to non-Owlet Moths is constant, then we can roughly estimate Columbia County moth diversity at about 1,350 species. That number may be too high, as the Ashokan region hosts a variety of rare plants and has high elevation ecoregions that are absent here. Both of these characteristics may enhance moth diversity. However, that estimate could also be too low, because our study area is 10 times that of the Ashokan region. Either way, it gives us a ball park figure and suggests that we are not even half way there in assessing Columbia County moth diversity.

One difficult aspect of determining moth diversity anywhere is the much overlooked very small moths, called micromoths. Also known as microlepidoptera, these specimens represent a majority of moth species in the United States. The caterpillars of these small moths are unlikely to be seen by the human eye as most are endophagus (they bore into, or are hatched within, a plant’s stem, wood, fruit or leaves); some even feed on dead animals, fungi, or parasitize other insects; others are aquatic, feeding on algae in streams or waterlily in ponds and lakes. Because of their small size, there is relatively little known about micromoths. There may be undescribed species of them here in New York State, or even within Columbia County. We have seen a great number of these small creatures during our surveys, and we do our best to document them, but, even with the help of macro photography, it seems impossible to identify many of them due to their size and the limited identification resources.

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This micromoth, the Orange-headed Epicallima (Epicallima argenticinctella), is about 6mm in length. Its caterpillars can be found under the bark of elm trees

 

I have to admit, before I was introduced to mothing by wildlife biologist Conrad Vispo, I knew of three types of moths: the Luna Moth, the clothes moths (the ones you fend off with moths balls) and the ‘none of the above’, which were, in my mind, all gray and nondescript. It took only a survey for me to discover their beauty and diversity. There are endless colors, shapes, and textures; although all moths are covered by scales (Lepidoptera is Latin for “scale wing”), some appear to be fury while others are smooth and glossy. Some moths have patterns that are so artistic and unique that it is hard to imagine the evolutionary paths that made them. Our program has done some mothing with students, and they have made up their own names for some species we’ve seen, including the “Dragon Moth”, the “Jet Fighter”, and the “Strawberry-lemonade Moth”.

 

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The strawberry-lemonade themed Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) is common in Columbia County and can be seen in May and June

 

 

The County’s Rare Moths

There are moth species that we see in great abundances during our surveys, like the Tent Caterpillar Moth (Malacosoma sp.; there are in fact two species in our region) and the Common Idia (Idea aemula), whose caterpillars feed on dead leaves. On the other hand, there are rare moths here as well. A moth may be rare because their larval host plant is uncommon. In the case of the Barred Granite (Speranza subcessaria), an uncommon moth here, their host plants, Gooseberry and Currant, were deliberately removed from our landscape during the early 20th century. These plants were a threat to lumber production because they were an intermediate host of a disease that affected White Pine, a once economically important tree in Columbia County. Other factors, such as environmental pressures caused by pesticides, light pollution, development, invasive species, or deer herbivory, may negatively affect a moth species and contribute to its rarity. A third possibility is that a moth species is simply difficult to survey for and is therefore seldom noticed. For example, I have seen a number of Tomato Hornworm caterpillars in our garden, but I have never seen its adult form (the Five-spotted Sphinx Moth), even though I survey for moths around my home regularly.

Below are a few examples of Columbia County’s rare moths. In our many surveys, we have seen these species just once.

 

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The Finned-willow Prominent (Notodonta scitipennis) is uncommon both locally and throughout its range. Its larvae feed on Poplar and Willow. Although these plants are certainly abundant in parts of Columbia County, it remains to be a rare moth. Seen in Claverack, N.Y.

 

 

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The Barred Granite is not a regular sight in Columbia County. The moth flies for just one month. Their caterpillars are specialized and feed only on Gooseberry and Currant. Seen in Austerlitz, N.Y.

 

 

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The wildly patterned Glorious Habrosyne (Habrosyne gloriosa) is uncommon throughout its range. What their caterpillars feed on is not known to science, but Rubus species, including Blackberry and Raspberry, are likely. Seen in Austerlitz, N.Y.

 

 

 

The Sphinx Moths

Sphingidae, commonly referred to as Sphinx Moths, is just one of many moth families; their species in our region represent only a small fraction (less than 4%) of our moth diversity. However, Sphinx Moths are conspicuous creatures. They are large, often strikingly colored or shaped; many species nectar from flowers and are able to hover in place, giving them common names like “hawk moths” and “hummingbird moths”. There are diurnal, crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and nocturnal species in our region. At 1,400 species worldwide, they are one of the best studied groups of insects in the world, partly due to their large size. In the northeastern U.S., there are nearly 40 Sphinx Moth species, of which we’ve documented 20 in Columbia County; with three subfamilies, two of them—commonly referred to as the Large Sphinx Moths (Sphinginae) and the Small Sphinx Moths (Macroglossinae)—are regular visitors to tubular flowers and can be seen nectaring during the day or at dusk. A third subfamily in our region, the Eyed Sphinx Moths (Smerinthinae), have scalloped wings and robust bodies; on their hind wings, most species have blue-filled circular spots resembling eyes.

 

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The diurnal Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), of the Macroglossinae subfamily, nectars at a Monarda flower

 

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A Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmia), of the Sphinginae subfamily, rests on goldenrod

 

 

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A Modest Sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta), of the subfamily Smerinthinae, shows its eye-like spots

 

Members of this group host the longest probosces (a tubular mouthpart used for feeding) of any moth or butterfly in the world. In 1862, after observing Madagascar’s large Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedal), Charles Darwin wrote, “In Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and eleven inches”. Darwin’s prediction was verified some 20 years after his death, when a very large Sphinx Moth, Xanthopan morganii praedicta (sometimes referred to as Darwin’s Moth), was discovered in Madagascar; it had a foot-long proboscis that pollinated the orchid’s lengthy nectar spur. The interaction between this strange orchid and its unique pollinator has become a classic example of coevolution; both specimens have reciprocally affected each other’s evolution and now rely on one another to survive.

Although there are no Sphinx Moths in our region that could pollinate such a flower, I have seen a Pawpaw Sphinx (Dolba hyloeus) in Austerlitz, N.Y. nectaring with a roughly 40mm long proboscis; impressive, but hardly comparable to that of Darwin’s moth.

 

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The nocturnal Xanthopan morganii of Madagascar uses its 12-14 inch proboscis to feed from the lengthy nectar spur of a Star Orchid

 

 

Attracting Sphinx Moths

A great way to attract certain Sphinx Moths is by providing their sought-after flowers in your garden or around your home. In my experience, the hands-down favorite native flower of a number of Sphinx Moths is Monarda fistula, commonly called Wild Bergamot, or Bee Balm. It’s native to every state in the contiguous U.S. except California and Florida, and the flower is also a favorite of many butterflies and other pollinators. The plant seems to prefer well-drained soils and a good amount of sun. If conditions are right and there is a good pulse of flowering, these Monarda patches can be incredibly active with Lepidopterans, including Sphinx Moths; depending on the species, one can observe them nectaring during the day or at dusk. Sphinx Moths like the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hyles thysbe), Snowberry Clearwing and Gallium Sphinx (Hyles gallii) will frequently visit Monarda in daylight hours. Other species, including the Pawpaw Sphinx (Dolba hyloeus), the Laurel Sphinx, and other large and small Sphinx Moths, can be seen nectaring these flowers at dusk. Small amounts of fresh manure will also attract some Sphinx Moths; they will consume liquids from the manure and extract the salts and amino acids.

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An Ancram, N.Y. Gallium Sphinx at a Monarda flower nectaring

 

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This Nessus Sphinx (Amphion floridensis) is extracting nutrients from manure at Hawthorne Valley Farm

 

 

Sphingidae Conservation

Entomologists who have been studying and observing moths for decades in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada unanimously agree that populations of the large-sized moths, including Sphinx and Giant Silkworm Moths, are collapsing. Species once present or even abundant just decades ago are now reduced or even absent from locales observed. There are various pressures that collectively are causing this decline, such as excessive deer drowsing, habitat destruction, climate change, light pollution, reduction of early successional habitats and other anthropogenic influences.

The decline of Sphinx and Giant Silkworm Moths has been occurring for a long time in the Northeast. In 1906, decades after the invasion of the nonnative and destructive (responsible for mass tree defoliation/mortality) Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar), a parasitic Tachinid fly native to Europe was intentionally introduced in our region. This fly then parasitized caterpillars not only of this invasive species of moth, but of a great number of native moth species as well. Because the Gypsy Moth’s caterpillars occur in forests for just a short while, during the remainder of the year the fly must seek out other caterpillar species to parasitize. Lepidopterists (those that study moths and butterflies) in our region from the 1950s to the 1970s witnessed firsthand the rapid decline of Giant Silkworm Moths and a number of species of Sphinx Moths due to this introduced parasitic fly.

In the 1920s and 30s, Columbia County was on the ‘front-line’ of Gypsy Moth control, many 1000s of pounds of insecticides were sprayed in hopes of managing Gypsy Moth populations. More recently, in the past couple decades, millions of acres of eastern forests have been aerially sprayed with insecticides to suppress Gypsy Moth outbreaks. Because these chemicals specifically affect Lepidoptera larvae, this spraying has had lethal impacts on various species of moth and butterfly caterpillars and is a serious threat to rare Lepidoptera in our region.

 

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An Austerlitz, N.Y. Gypsy Moth

 

 

We can get a glimpse of historical moth abundances by looking at old insect collections. The Farmscape Ecology Program was donated some preserved moths collected from Columbia County in the 1950s. There are several species in the collection that we have not seen here, not in my two years nor during Conrad Vispo’s previous surveying for moths. Two online resources that verify public reports of Lepidoptera sightings also have no reports of these moths in the county. These species include the Tulip-tree Silkworm (Callosamia angulifera), the Great Tiger Moth (Arctia caja), and the White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata). How common these moths were in Columbia County some 60 years ago is not known, but it’s a fair assumption that their populations here have either been extirpated or significantly reduced.

The most common Sphinx Moth in our Columbia County surveys by a long shot has been the Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa). It’s a very large moth (wingspan to 110mm) and has waved markings and some yellow scales throughout its body if you look closely. Their larvae feed primarily on ash trees, which face certain decline as the recently introduced Emerald Ash Borer infects a higher percentage of ash in our state each year. Although ash makes up only 6-7% of Columbia County’s trees, they are much depended on by a number of Sphinx Moths found in the county, including the Waved Sphinx, the Laurel Sphinx, the Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis), and other Sphinx Moths that may or may not reside here. There is an uncertain future for these moths in Columbia County.

 

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A Waved Sphinx caterpillar and adult

 

Columbia County, like in much of our region, has a deer problem. Whether in forests, meadows, or un-fenced gardens, it is clear that nearly everything in their reach is being browsed. This browsing is another threat to Columbia County Sphinx Moths, specifically to the Hemaris species, including the Snowberry Clearwing and the Hummingbird Clearwing. Although we see the diurnal adult clearwing moths nectaring at flowers, their caterpillars are dependent upon various woody and herbaceous plants of forests and meadows, including Viburnum, Honeysuckle (possibly native and non-native varieties), Hawthorn, and Dogbane. These are all relatively small plants. Because their larval host plants are generally low and easily reached by deer, the Hemaris larvae are more affected by these herbivores than larvae that rely on leaves of trees or taller shrubs.

When a larva’s food plant is stunted or killed by widespread herbivory, or anything for that matter, it reduces or removes a vital resource of that species, preventing the completion their life cycle. A Lepidopteran cannot successfully reproduce without access to its larval food plant, which then must sustain the caterpillar until metamorphosis; only as adults can they reproduce. It is hard to say the degree to which deer herbivory in Columbia County, which does seem excessive in certain habitats, is affecting our resident clearwing Sphinx Moths or other Lepidopterans that rely on low plants frequently browsed by deer. NatureServe, a network that assesses the conservation needs of western hemisphere species, notes that deer herbivory when in excess is a serious threat to both the Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwing. The organization reports other pervasive threats, including herbicides and invasive plants that reduce the abundance of Viburnums and other larvae food plants relied on by these species.

 

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A Hummingbird Clearwing unfurls its proboscis for feeding

 

If you are interested in learning more about Columbia County moths, visit our webpage for a photographic list that we are frequently adding to. We would greatly appreciate hearing from any readers in our region who would like to share historical observations or collections (not for our keeping of course) of moths or butterflies from our area. Additionally, if you have any current observations that you’d like to share, or any questions, please contact me (dacipkowski@gmail.com). Below, I have listed some moth field guides for our region that are relatively inexpensive and are great resources for species identification and further reading.

 

 

Works Consulted

Ardetti, J., Elliott, J., Kitching, I.J. & Wasserthal, L.T. (2012). ‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’ – Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedicta. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 169 403-42.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State Ash (Fraxinus spp.) Distribution: Percentage of Ash per Basal Area per County [Map]. <http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/71542.html&gt; (accessed August 13, 2016).

Himmelman, J. (2002). Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard. Camden: Down East Books.

Kawahara, A.Y., Mignault, A.A., Regier, J.C., Kitching, I.J., Mitter, C. (2009). Phylogeny and Biogeography of Hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae): Evidence from Five Nuclear Genes. PloS One,. 4(5), e5719.

Schweitzer, D.F., Minno, M.C., Wagner, D.L. (2011). Rare, Declining, and Poorly Known Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) of Forests and Woodlands in the Eastern United States. U.S. Forest Service, Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team, FHTET-2011-01.

Vispo, C.R. (2014). The Nature of the Place. Hillsdale: Adonis Press.

Wagner, D.L. (2005). Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wagner, D.L. (2012). Moth Decline in Northeastern United States. News of the Lepidopterist’s Society, 54(2), 52-56.

 

Moth and Caterpillar Guide Books for Our Region

 

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America

This guide book by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie is an excellent resource for getting to know moths. It includes additional information for each species, including range, if it’s common or uncommon, and the larval food plant.

Caterpillars of Eastern North American

David L. Wagner’s caterpillar guide is an essential tool if you’re hoping to identify caterpillars you see in our region. If you know what kind of plant the caterpillar was on, this guide’s food plant index makes identification very easy.

 

Additional Online Resources

www.hvfarmscape.org/moths

www.bugguide.net

www.mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu

www.butterfliesandmoths.org

www.natureserve.org

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Uncategorized