Saturday, March 1, 2014

Don't believe the weather, believe me!!

Spring is coming, honestly... I know it doesn't feel like it with yet another week of sub-freezing temperatures forecast, but somehow, spring really is coming. Those occasional days when the temperature creeps up a little higher are producing little flushes of insect activity. A few days ago, with temperatures almost reaching 60F at Cape May, it was noticeable that Honey Bees were getting out and about and - finally - the first butterflies of the year were recorded. The South Jersey Butterfly Log had not a single record of any butterfly in January which is most unusual, but those species that overwinter as adult insects are now just starting to get out and about - keep an eye out in sunny, woodland spots that are out of the wind.

A number of birds species are clearly on the move now too; a sudden pulse of Tree Swallows last weekend, singing Eastern Bluebirds, a few Eastern Phoebes and a noticeable increase in the numbers of American Woodcock are all good, early indicators of a change in the season. Of course, the bulk of such activities are induced by day length not by temperature and early-moving insectivorous birds like Tree Swallows can really be in trouble when we get cold spells at this time of year.

But even if it's still too cold out there for you to feel like going for a stroll right now, the very fact that spring is knocking at the door can induce a warm feeling. Take that warm feeling, wrap yourself up in it and enjoy the great outdoors!

American Woodcock are on the move northward now and in many areas will already be displaying. This poor guy flew into a window along New England Road but recovered after a few minutes and lived to fight another day. Don't forget our Woodcock Dance which is a pre-registered event and always brilliant fun - coming up next Saturday, March 8th [photo by Ed Russell] 
Mourning Cloak in Middle Township, February 22nd [photo by Will Kerling]
Eastern Comma in Middle Township, February 23rd. Both Eastern Comma and Mourning Cloak are species that hibernate as adults and are thus most often the first butterflies of the year for many folks. Perhaps a better sign that spring is truly coming is when we see the first butterflies that have overwintered as pupae and emerge as fresh adults in spring. For this you will need to wait until later in March and keep an eye out for Blueberry Azures or maybe a Small White [photo by Will Kerling].
Some insects seem to thumb their noses at the cold and get on with life - albeit at a slower pace. One or two species of moth can be seen throughout the winter months - especially Fall Cankerworm in our area - while other cold weather specialists include the Winter Firefly, shown here. This is an interesting insect that we will bring you more on... [photo by Chris Borkowski]

Despite being cold-blooded, some reptiles and amphibians appear surprisingly early in the year. This Garter Snake is one of two found taking the sun at Cape May Point State Park on February 23rd. A sizeable hibernaculum for this species once existed at the state park but seems to have steadily declined in recent years [photo by Chris Borkowski].
Some animal behavior seems to defy obvious interpretation! Will Kerling watched this Muskrat as it took naps in the leaf litter at the back of the beach and wandered along the strand on the Delaware Bayshore last weekend! [Photo by Will Kerling]