Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

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I photographed a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus) last night in the Nescopeck State Park. My family was doing a formal photographic portrait, photos to come later on the family blog, and in the garden near the ranger station, several swallowtails were feeding on nectar. This spicebush female is identified by the blue color in the tail, while males are a bit more green. The photograph captures their unique characteristic of fluttering while feeding. Most butterflies are still while drinking nectar.

 

The name Spicebush comes from one of the host plants associated with it. However, the swallowtail does lay eggs and feed on many members of the Lauraceae family. They are found only in eastern North America, from Florida to southern Ontario. The species does not make it to my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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Queen Anne’s Lace 

I also captured this Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), or Wild Carrot. This is the wild version of the domesticated carrot. Like its cousin, the root can be eaten, but only when young. The leaves can be eaten as well in small quantities. It is native to Europe and is naturalized here in North America. Several states have labeled it a noxious, invasive weed.

Birding in the DC Suburbs

35964256756_c2ae7ed02d_cThe Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalisis one of my favorite birds. We were fortunate to have a pair nesting in the yard of our friend’s house we were staying with in Kings Park, Virginia, one of the suburbs of the Washington DC metropolitan area. Being a good father, the male was often around the nest and I photographed this proud dad in the morning. It is the state bird for seven states and two American sports teams. The striking red color gets everyone excited about birding, including my family. The females are not as colorful but have the nice crest and red accents. They range from southern Ontario to Mexico and from Texas, east, only absent from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

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The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is also a striking bird. This male was feeding on a thistle-like bush in my friend’s garden, near the nesting cardinals. The Goldfinch is found in every US state and the southern Canadian provinces. It is the state bird of three states and with the male’s bright yellow spring plumage, I can see why. They are the strictest vegetarian bird in the world, exclusively relying on seeds and fruits for its diet. Like the Northern Cardinal, they are a common backyard bird.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation does a good job of preserving ribbons of land on sides of creeks and rivers. There was a long trail of woods following a creak in the neighborhood. On my morning bike ride following my wife running, we spotted a fox, which you can see through the bushes, although my camera focused on the leaves in front of it. The fox spotted us coming at it while on the trail and after stopping for a short time to check us out, deftly it went into the bush and crossed the creek to evade us. Our friend warned us to not leave the gate open in order to protect her chickens…  This Washington Post article confirms their presence in DC.

 

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Can you spot the fox behind the bush? 

 

On my next trip to the Washington, I hope to explore a bit of the Chesapeake Bay and some of the coastal environment.

Appalachian Nature

 

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An American White Water Lily in the rain. 

 

During breaks in my studies, I explored the state parks of the Poconos. The Poconos are one of the distinct geographical and cultural regions in the huge Appalachian mountain chain. The Poconos are located just north of the Lehigh Valley, where I am studying. The Appalachians were once as high as the Rockies, but being much older, they have eroded through time. They are still beautiful and formed quite a barrier for early American settlers to cross into the rest of the country. The Poconos are full of resorts and it is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the big population centers in New York and New Jersey. I am staying in the highest borough in Pennsylvania, Freeland, and although being close to Bethlehem, it has a very different feel.

 

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An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) waits for us to leave Lake Francis parking lot. 

 

On a rainy Friday morning, I took the kids on a hike in the Nescopeck State Park. The state started buying properties in 1971 and today it is a nice little natural area, which in time will become even wilder. Without the state preserving land, the entire region would be private homes, as people have the desire to live in the country, surrounded by trees in 1-acre plots. In my opinion, I think people should live in towns, near one another so more land can be conserved as forest.

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Wild Turkeys have been reintroduced to the park. 

No blog post on the northern Appalachian region would be complete without a photo of the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). It is the dominant plant of the central Appalachians. It forms a dense understory, inhibiting other plants from growing. Rosebay maintains its foliage year-round. It is a fascinating subject of study because scientists are unsure if it is retreating or spreading due to human interference. Due to less precipitation, it is dying out in elevated areas, but due to the lack of indigenous burning, it seems to be spreading into areas that it never colonized. When there is a lack of large trees, it forms a thick mass, and early settlers called them “Laurel Hells” or “Laurel Slicks” because it was so hard to go through. They are also known as the mountain laurel, but this is also the name of a similar species.

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We also spotted lots of Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) on the trails. Only adults were found on this trip. A couple of years ago we found the “red eft” juvenile stage specimens as well.

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Getting to know the Appalachian region is stimulating in my a desire to hike the famous Appalachian trail someday…

Eastern Towhee

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In a jet-lagged stupor after a 16-hour flight, I went for a walk on some ATV trails near the town of Freeland, Pennsylvania this morning. This large sparrow, an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), caught my attention. It took me awhile, but I managed to get a couple of photos through the bushes. The Towhee was in its preferred habitat, a disturbed, successional growth area. They are found all throughout eastern North America, from Quebec to Florida.

I didn’t hear the two-part call which it gets its name, but I did record the one-note call in the video below.

Eastern Towhee

It was a nice start to my nature observations in America this summer.