Monday, June 29, 2009

The Rains Are Gone!

I've been kinda busy the past few days, so haven't been able to get on here for a new entry. Thankfully, the rains have ended and I've been able to get out for some dragonflies though!

Sunday morning was spent chasing down Banded Pennants at Pouch Camp, along with Jarred Sutton and Paul Lederer. Paul had been to the lake the day before and discovered that the pennants were active. Banded Pennant are a southern dragonfly who are only found in a few locations in New Jersey and downstate New York. This small population is one of two that we have on Staten Island.

We were delighted to find at least 3 female Banded Pennants ovipositing and another pair flying in a wheel. Numerous exuvia were noticed on the bottom side of pickerel weed leaves, presumably they were all Banded Pennant. Two were collected for specific identification.

The other interesting note were many Cedar Waxwings hawking insects over the lake. This behavior was also observed at almost ever other pond I visited this week. It's time for the waxwings to start nesting, so I guess they adult are actively hunting in preparation?

Sunday was actually my birthday, so natural history was limited to the morning... well, I did count dragonflies at the softball field I visited for friends' game that afternoon!

No one was around to join me for the daily adventures, so I flew solo. My hopes for finding my first Widow Skimmer drove me to visit Wolfe's Pond Park. The sun was alternating between hiding behind the clouds and showing fully, but no look was had with the Widow Skimmer. Nature also entertains though, and today's spectacle was the abundance of Eastern Amberwings (photo on Right) and Blue Dashers acting very territorial as they hovered over the surface of Wolfe's Pond. Just as they had been the day before, the Cedar Waxwings at Wolfe's Pond were busily hawking insects over the pond and perching on the trees along pond's edge.

Another goal of the day to capture photographs of dragonflies, and any behaviors I might be so luck to witness. From Wolfe's Pond I traveled back towards Tottenville to hit up some ponds in Long Pond Park. There was great dragonfly activity around Short Pond, but some where along my path I whacked into something and didn't realize it! I finally saw what happened when I looked down and saw blood covering my shin and foot... ooops...

Not fully satisfied with my haul of photographs, I decided to head over to Blue Heron Park for a visit to Butterfly Pond. After watching some of the more common species of dragonflies, I was oft excited when my "life" Dot-tailed White-face came flying into view! Luckily, he hung out for a while allowing for some photographs (on the right).

Wednesday's post is in the works......

Happy Wandering...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Windy Wednesday

Death of a LapTop! Unfortunately, my laptop has finally died, so I don't have any photos to include today. I am hoping to remedy this situation ASAP! Sigh.....

The weather decided to thwart my plans for finding dragonflies once again! Seeing how windy it was when I went to get my morning coffee, I decided to spend the morning inside reading Corbet's Dragonfly behavior and ecology textbook. Around 9:30am Jarred started texting me which prompted me to get out and see what might be around despite the wind. He wanted to see my extender (teleconverter) with extension tube mounted on a long-lens set-up, so I quickly put it together and was headed to the Conference House Park.

The wind was blowing pretty hard, and indeed dragonflies were not to be found. But, as always, nature provided us with some worth while observations. The recently restored Bluebelt waterway is one of my favorite places to look for insect in the whole park. The densely vegetated edge of the stream/marsh and the tall grasses lining the roadway attract a great diversity of all types of wildlife! Today's highlights were the Red-winged Blackbirds busily going about their lives in the tail phragmites and from the tops of the shorter trees poking above the grasses.

After spending a few minutes observing some frogs from the bridge, we decided to visit the water's edge to investigate what creatures might be hanging around. Upon first glance we both noticed a large school of baby Killie fish so close to land, and in water so low that their backs were almost breaking the surface! A heron or egret would have had a feast!

Closer inspection revealed the presence of multiple damselflies resting on the duckweed floating on the water's surface. A Belted Kingfish came flying in and alighted on a tree across the wetland for a moment or two before letting loose her rattling call as she took off again towards the saltwater.

When we first arrived at water's edge, I took note of a brown object plastered to the top of a pickerel weed leaf a few feet from shore, but distracted by the damselflies didn't take a closer look. Over the course of about 15 minutes I could discern a small change in the size and shape of the brown object. Crouching down and balancing carefully lest I slip into the water, I could see that the brown object I'd taken for a leaf was actually a DRAGONFLY! Seems that an Eastern Amberwing had began to emerge and somehow got its wing stuck to the leaf. The d-fly could be seen gasping for air to inflate its wings and abdomen. Unfortunately, as the left-set of wings got longer, the more deformed and folded its right-set of wings.

Photo of me setting up a shot of the teneral amberwing. Photo by Jarred Sutton.

The time of emergence or transformation from nymph to adult is possibly the most risk filled hours of a d-fly's life-cycle! The compacted, soft bodied adult which is enclosed in the shell of the nymph breaks out and starts to gulp down air to expand out it's body. At this time, their exoskeleton is soft, and the wings have to expand. If there is some type of a obstruction as the wing expands it will become misshapen, and rendered useless! This was unfortunately what we were watching happen to the Amberwing.

After a few more moments at Conference House Park, Jarred and I made a quick stop at Long Pond before heading over to see Claire at Clay Pits Pond Park. At Clay Pits, we took a brief walk to Sharrotts Pond where once again the wind was just too much for dragonflies to be around. There were a good number of tree, barn and northern-rough winded swallows hawking insects over the pond! A number of Eastern Forktails and an unidentified species of Damselflies were hovering low in the spadderdock!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Staten Island Year of Birds

For the past year and a half, I've been posting a single photo of each species of bird that I've been able to capture when out birding around Staten Island to my Flickr account. Balancing time look for "good birds" and time looking for the "good shot" are in direct opposition to each other, and at heart I'm a birder before a photographer, so only about half the species seen each year were photographed (~103/233 last year and 64/209 so far this year). Of course, the "best" birds are always get their photos taken! :-)

I do continue to update this year's gallery when a new species is photographed, so check back every now and then.....

Last year:
2008 Staten Island Bird Gallery
This year, so far....
2009 Staten Island Bird Gallery

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Overcast and Windy Tuesday morning...

Today's goal was to survey and photograph Dragonflies for the Staten Island Dragonfly Atlas (SIDfA), a project that I am coordinating through the Section of Natural History at the Staten Island Museum. In particular, I was hoping to find Common Baskettails and Widow Skimmer.

The weather forecast was calling for rain or showers most of the day, but as fate may have it today is the first rainless day in over a week! Despite the lack of rain, the clouds were still blocking the sun and the wind was steadily blowing resulting in only a few dragonflies being active. As always, other notable creatures were observed along the way...

My quest started by meeting fellow nature photographer Jarred Sutton on the beach at Wolfe's Pond Park where he was waiting to photograph nesting Killdeer using a remote trigger system. Before heading over to chat with Jarred my attention was called to large group of Laughing Gulls and Common Terns hanging out in the tidal zone. I searched through the flocks for a few minutes in hopes of finding something exotic, but without luck. It was interesting to note the number of young Common Terns being fed by adults!

At one point some of the terns decided to herass a lonely Herring Gull picking at dead Dogfish shark(photo on right).

Upon walking up on Jarred, I noticed this Great Egret hunting along the beach just 30 feet away! The bird stayed with us while we stood around observing the gulls and waiting for the Killdeer to do something interesting. After about a half hour of standing around on the beach, we decided it was time to head to Long Pond Park in Richmond Valley for Dragonflies.

The wind wasn't any less in the woods than it had been on seashore, so hopes were faded for finding a good diversity of Dragonflies, but we were on a mission! Paul Lederer, local Dragonfly expert, reported a Common Baskettail had been seen along one of the WPA roads that run through Long Pond Park. This being a species I've never seen before, and my first chance to searching this species, I was not going to let the poor conditions lessen my determination!

One things about nature studies that you can always make interesting observations even if your target is not around! Well, today's discovery was a good number of young male and/or female Meadowhawks (Sympetrum) in the low weedy vegetation along the dirt roads! Meadowhawks are generally thought of as a later-season species, this is why the early date is worth noting.

Sympetrums are almost impossible to identify by sight when they are young or female. Specific identification of usually require microscopic investigation of the secondary genitals of males. I am still thinking about how SIDfA will handle this group.

Birds, Birds, Birds! The woods were filled with family groups or adults very actively foraging in the dense understory in certain area of the park. As we stood looking over South Long Pond, I noticed an adult Yellow-billed cuckoo foraging in the button bush and gray birch on the opposite side of the pond! The bird afforded Jarred some great looks at his life cuckoo!

A second cuckoo was calling in the distance as first continued to hop with the dense foliage. Moments later an immature cuckoo appeared in the button bush across from where we stood. We watched as it teetered on the branches over the pond, wondering if it might fall in! Alas, it made its way back towards land based vegetation.

The next family of birds we came across were Eastern Towhees. We had been hearing many calling as we walk along the dirt roads, but they were mostly staying well concealed in the understory.

Finally, as we were walking down one of the more grassy roads I heard something rustling in the poison ivy and out flew a very young towhee. The bird alighted on a nearby branch and reminded me a starling that had fallen from its nest, but differently marked. I was shocked that the bird could even fly!

The dragonfly activity picked up again as we approached our cars. The meadowhawks were the first species seen, shortly followed by some common whitetails. One the latter appearing to develop some white at the base of his abdominal segments. No baskettails or clubtails but a wonderful morning altogether!

Monday, June 15, 2009

1st Posting


My name is Seth Wollney. I am life long Staten Islander, and have been an vivid observer of Staten Island's Natural History my whole life thanks to the prompting of my father and grandfather. Growing up, my interests mainly focused on reptiles, pond life, seashore life and local history. Much time was also spent learning about the basics of local geology, plants and the Lenape Indians. In my late teens, I begin leading walks at Blue Heron Nature Center and shortly after that starting my work at the Staten Island Museum, I quickly found out about birds! Over the past 8 years my love of birds has taken me to Canada, New Hampshire, California, Arizona and North Carolina, in addition to many day trips around New York State and New Jersey.

Thanks to multiple influences I have taken up the study of Staten Island's insects! This newly found interest is greatly aided by my recent dive into nature photography.

I created this blog to post photographs and some notes about the wildlife and plants from around Staten Island, NY and further afield once in a while!