Welcome to the Wild Burlington Newsletter
The (mostly) weekly newsletter covers a wide range of natural history topics. You’ll discover the wild world around you with the help of professional naturalist, Teage O’Connor. So if you’re interested in tracking the changing seasons, connecting to your local landscape, and learning more than you ever wanted to know about twigs, then this is the newsletter for you!
Plus, you’ll also get nature quizzes, notes on upcoming events (like the Wild Burlington Lecture series), contests, and awareness activities that will engage you with the wild world. And it’s all delivered right to your inbox.
The newsletter is the perfect learning tool for naturalists of all abilities!
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The Wild Burlington Archives
You can also check out the blog for more natural history and the natural history section for field guides, essays, and other explorations of Vermont’s natural history.
How To Change Colors
Oh, but isn't the fall bittersweet. I can feel the warm glow of summer fading as the sun keeps setting earlier and earlier and the first frost curl back the dying Norway maple leaves. The plants are expressing their preparations for the impending end to the growing season and the pale yellows of striped maple and purplish reds of staghorn sumac are now the dominant colors. With each passing year I feel like I get a little more cued into the timing of fall foliage, the color palette of each species, and the pattern of how trees change colors.
How trees cope with parasites
I try to keep the newsletter in tune with the changing seasons, but with my focus on Lymantria dispar moths I felt like I couldn't quite keep up, like they had come and gone so quickly that by the time I was starting to see their patterns and how they fit into the larger picture, all the doom and gloom of a leafless July canopy already seemed like a distant memory. To the keen-eyed naturalist, evidence of their early summer binge fest still peppers the land, from clusters of egg masses on the underside of branches to the rotting corpses of mated adults littered at the base of trees (see image below). So how did we get here, from bearing witness to the apocalyptic demise of our oaks to a seeming return to baseline? Read on!
Burlington Free Press Archives
I went back to St Marks in Burlington last week to rephotograph the once defoliated, now green trees and get a couple detailed photos of the egg masses with the fuzz removed - interestingly someone had already scraped away most of the fuzz on the egg masses. As I was taking the photos an older fellow came up to me and told me about growing up in Burlington in the 50s when there was another Lymantria dispar outbreak. His father had encouraged him to gather up the caterpillars, douse them in gasoline and light them on fire. He also told me that there was about an outbreak back in the 50s and the city of Burlington paid to spray trees to control the moths. I was curious for details on past outbreaks so I did a search through the Burlington Free Press Archives and found some fascinating details.
Adult Lymantria dispar moths
I often return to Martin Prechtel's idea of each species having its own eloquence that manifests at some peak moment during the year. It's a pretty anthropocentric way of viewing the life histories of other organisms, but it captures quite nicely those incredible moments during the year when the staghorn sumacs turn a brilliant purple, the barred owls singing in the dark winter skies, sap staff flowing, amphibians migrate to their breeding grounds and so on. Well, for Lymantria, the time is August when the caterpillars pupate and the adults emerge in a torrent of fluttery reproductive frenzy. Here we look at adult Lymantria dispar moths.
Thoughts on Invasive Species
During the height of the Lymantria dispar outbreak this summer, I was out at our Hobbit-themed summer camp playing games, singing songs, eating blackberries, and looking at the parasitic plant, pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) with happy kiddos. The "fuzzy nibbler" moths are particularly abundant at our base camp, which is shaded by a canopy composed mostly of mature red oaks (with a few big-toothed and quaking aspens sprinkled in along the edges). For those kids unfamiliar with the moths at the start of camp, by day 2 they had already forged strong opinions. And it broke my heart to hear the way many of them were talking about the "heartbreaker" moths, such strident malice directed towards the fluttering males, stoic females, and bristly caterpillars coming from 8 and 9 year-olds.
The Lymantria dispar moth
A couple weeks I was teaching a professional development course on Vermont’s Natural History based out of St Mark’s church here in Burlington. On our first day, we were outside working with compasses when someone pointed out all the dead oaks in the parking lot. When I looked up, I was shocked at the barren canopy. The surrounding neighborhood seemed totally oblivious to whatever had plagued the dozen or so white and red oaks lining the property.
Contest: Renaming Lymantria dispar
As part of the Better Names Project, the Entomological Society of America is actively working to rename insects with names that are offensive. Let's help them out by coming up with our own name for the moth, Lymantria dispar
In like a lion, eh, Spring? The weather has been totally fantastic here in Burlington. We've got garlic shoots coming, grackles moving through in big numbers, house finches with nesting material see image below), and buds starting to green up on our lilacs. But of all the spring phenology events, my favorite is amphibian migration. My friend Ian sent me photos from some Eastern newts and spotted salamanders moving last night by North Beach. And it looks like we could be in for another early Big Night this year. The weather looks perfect at this point for a big movement of amphibians tomorrow night (Friday, March 26)!! Read on for more.
Ducks in the winter
Over the past 205 years, the lake has frozen over 162 times and remained open 43 times. Though the 43 open years aren't even distributed - 65% of these have occurred within the last 50 years, 90% in the last 100 years. And this has had a significant impact on our resident birds. For many birds that depend on wetlands for food and shelter (herons, egrets, bitterns, rails, ducks, terns, sandpipers, etc), the impending freeze up of their habitat in the fall signals that it's time to migrate to more favorable habitats either on the coast or farther south. This is particularly true for shore birds that rely on the shallow parts of rivers, ponds, and lakes which freeze up first and more reliably. These birds tend to be more synced up with the calendar (day length change) than the weather for coordinating migration times.
Generally speaking, animal-pollinated (zoophilous) flowers are more effective at effecting the transfer of pollen than wind (anemophilous) because they rely on animals to take pollen directly to another - and hopefully - receptive flower rather than relying on chance. But with all mutualisms, there's a trade off, and flowers must produce enough nectar to entice pollinators into spending enough time buzzing around their flower to pick up stray pollen grains. They then walk, fly, or buzz directly to another flower, often of the same species, bringing pollen right from plant A to plant B (interestingly, most plants have individual flowers or entire individuals within the population that cheat the system and are entirely nectarless). To advertise that nectar is present and ripe for the taking, flowers are often bright, showy, and/or fragrant.