Archive for category nature watch

Bet you’ve never seen this before: A deer in the ocean

The animal safely made it ashore Friday in Belmar.

BELMAR– New Jerseyans are accustomed to deer turning up just about anywhere these days — along major highways, in suburban ba…

Can toads really give you warts? | Nature Watch

The warm weather has breeding toads sounding off their 30-seconds-long calls.

The weather has finally gotten hot, and when I wrote this my office windows were open for the first …

Christmas bird counts give memorable moments | Nature Watch

While doing bird counts in unfamiliar areas, we expect the locals to stop and ask us what we’re doing so they know we respect property lines and propriety.

It was sure nice to see the sun on New Year’s Eve morning after all the previous overcast, rainy, and/or foggy days. And even though the sunshine disappeared behind clouds off and on all day, at least you could see the sky.

The previous day I had done my fourth Christmas count of the year in south Tamaqua when the fog was so bad you couldn’t even see into the fields along the roads. Those conditions meant that the only way to find and count birds was to have a really good knowledge of their calls.

When the weather is like that, birds don’t move around a lot. So our count team spent most of the day making pisshing sounds trying to call them out or at least get them moving, but we didn’t have a lot of luck.

For the most part, though, it was still an enjoyable day. It was, as my friend Kathy likes to say, another adventure. The seeking out of birds in a given area, especially an area that you don’t frequent, always makes for some memorable moments. They may be good experiences or bad ones but, for me at least, the allure of experiencing something different is part of why I do so many counts.

Warm weather fools winter animals

Because of the day’s miserable conditions, we weren’t able to see much of anything, but in years past in that area we’ve seen coyotes, foxes, buffalo, lots of livestock, and even some penned up elk. I have no idea what the situation with the elk was, but the following year they were gone.

Last year on that count late in the afternoon at one spot, Stephen Kloiber was walking the road along an overgrown area while Kathy and I stayed in the car. Then suddenly he called out something and we quickly moved, thinking he had said “shrike,” but what he actually said was “shrew fight.” He had heard squeaking and leaves rustling and then two battling shrews came out into the open.

The closest we came to seeing anything interesting this year was when a guy in a truck slowly drove past us as we were walking along a public road. Both Kathy and I smiled and waved to show we weren’t doing anything wrong and he saluted us back with his middle finger.

When the locals see unfamiliar people walking around with binoculars, it’s perfectly normal for them to stop and ask what we’re doing. In fact, we hope they do so we can assure them that we respect property lines and propriety. But that doesn’t always happen when a really rare bird shows up out of its usual range.

Recently and bizarrely, a crested caracara — a big, dark white-headed member of the falcon family indigenous to south Texas — was found in western New Jersey not far across the Delaware from our Northampton County farm.

And not surprisingly, birders from all over are coming to see it, so I hope they behave themselves.

Arlene Koch is a freelance writer. Find lehighvalleylive on Facebook.

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Nature Watch: Return of the dreaded stinkbug

It’s mid-September and it’s warm, which means adult stinkbugs will be out and about looking for places to hide.

When I walked across the deck on a recent afternoon, I smelled the unmistakable odor of a brown marmorated stinkbug. It didn’t surprise me, though, because it’s mid-September and warm, and now is when the adults are out and about seeking winter shelter.

Their numbers are variable, and I have no idea if there will be many of them around these parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey this fall. But I do know that since they were first discovered in Allentown in 1998, they’ve now spread to more than 40 states.

It’s believed that these bugs arrived with packing material from the Far East.

Another packing material import from the Far East is the highly invasive plant Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum). It’s been here since the early 1900s and now seems to be everywhere. Its flowers are small, but if they’re allowed to mature, an individual stem may spread up to 1,000 seeds.

Stilt grass can grow to be more than 6 feet tall, but it’s easy to identify and get rid of when it’s much smaller. Its 3-inch-long leaves have a silver stripe down the middle and it pulls out easily because its small roots are weak.


MORE: Dragonflies, broad-winged hawks plentiful in the sky


When stilt grass is all over the place and stinkbugs become bothersome, the first red leaves begin to appear on many hardwood trees. The small shrublike staghorn sumac trees, however, have been showing red leaves here and there for a while already.

Staghorns (Rhus typhina) don’t grow big enough to be valued for their wood, but their clusters of red berries are a great source of food and cover for wildlife. They’re common around here, but they get a bad rap because people incorrectly think that they cause skin irritation like poison ivy does. That distinction belongs to a different sumac, the one aptly named poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) that grows in wet soil.

Poison sumac is in the same genus as poison ivy and poison oak, and you need to be careful around it. But that’s easy to do because it’s habitat-specific and it has loose bunches of gray berries, not upright red clusters.

As fall approaches and my husband David brings naturally fallen trees down from the woods, he also often bring things for me to identify. Recently he handed me an acorn and an odd small reddish ball-shaped growth that he said was lying next to it.

I identified the acorn as coming from a red oak, and I figured the round object was a gall because it was soft. So I cut it open and found a tiny white worm, or larva, in its middle.

This gall, or abnormal plant swelling, is formed when certain kinds of wasps inject chemicals into the tree that change its normal growth. The egg laid inside the deformity as it forms will eventually mature to adult stage and then a wasp will emerge.

Arlene Koch is a freelance writer. Find lehighvalleylive on Facebook.

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Nature Watch: Monarch butterflies and a giant swallowtail visit the yard

Giant swallowtails fly all year round in the South, but only occasionally come this far north.

The grass was wet with dew as I walked around the yard at 7 a.m. Thursday, another…