Unidentifieds


The quickly moving chickadee inspires a particular affection.

Often meeting a common need in the calm between crowds at area feeders, it tends to visit, retreat, and pick the seeds at its feet on a nearly distant limb.

Then, soon, spotting others arrive, it disappears for the time up or down the creek.

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. . .

According to bird maps and guides, black-capped chickadee and Carolina chickadee ranges overlap here in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Complicating attempts to identify them, these already similar-looking birds are said to hybridize:  one might display characteristics of both.

Since I can’t confidently say which chickadee we’re seeing here on Little Crum Creek, I’m including several shots from various times and angles this winter.

Based on these, what might you say:  black-capped, Carolina, or hybrid chickadee?

And are you seeing some around your way?

[Click a picture to enlarge]

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A new planting is the perfect mixer for meeting seldom seen residents of Little Crum Creek.

Some blooming summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), for example, recently hosted several bumblebees and wasps.

Hence came Sphex nudus, I presume.  

Known as a kind of “digger wasp” for nesting in the ground, Sphex nudus is commonly called a “katydid wasp” after its typical prey.

But I’m basing our particular acquaintance solely on appearance.

Contrasted with similar-looking wasps, orangish legs distinguish Sphex nudus from the “great black wasp,” Sphex pennsylvanicus.   And the “great golden digger wasp,” Sphex ichneumoneus, would present both orangish legs and abdomen.

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Until corrected, I’m inclined to call each wasp pictured here a Sphex nudus

What do you think? Seen one around?

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Nestled delectably in the rose family, the Rubus genus numbers its raspberry and blackberry species into the hundreds.

At least one of these recently ripened from white to red to “black” berries here beside a mowed field.

By the second week of July, it was picked clean, probably by birds and other animals.

101_1599cropA101_1742cropB101_1597cropBFriends call these “wild blackberries.”   But a more specific appellation derived from minutely observed variations eludes me.

Does it matter?

In his Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Bradford Angier writes:

Although there are differences in taste, all are good to eat, so as far as the amateur gourmet is concerned, the precise identification can be a matter of no more than casual curiosity.” *

Casually speaking, then, what would you call these berries?

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*I’d be remiss in not noting this:  Angier writes that all raspberries and blackberries are good to eat.  Maybe so. But that’s certainly not the case for everything that grows among them.  Look closely at these pictures and you might discover poison ivy, something you definitely don’t want contacting your berry-picking hands & arms, let alone your food.

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Not noticing many dragonflies along Little Crum Creek, I happily spotted this large visitor perched vertically on a window screen.

Hoping to get a better look, I placed it on a pokeweed leaf in the mid-morning sun. Here it gradually wakened before zipping off into the woodland shadows.

Based on colors, size, perch, season, and apparent preference for shade and late day flight, it seems most like a female Shadow Darner  (Aeshna umbrosa). This widespread dragonfly likes the stream-side shade for hunting insects and laying eggs in rotting wood.

In fact, the dragonfly’s life cycle is a significant indicator of a stream’s health.  Hatched nymphs of many species will spend eleven months or more under water, shedding their skins several times before finally emerging for just a month or so of adult flight.

With improving streams and various species emerging at different times throughout the spring, summer, and fall, we could someday see a lot more dragonflies around here.

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This, I believe, is Hentz’s orbweaver, neoscona crucifera.

Every evening we try to avoid walking through the artisan hunter’s impressive new wheel-like web.

It spans the doorway from awning to fence and, by morning, is tattered by nocturnal hunting success.

Then, in light of day, the spider generally tucks away in the shelter of a corner window edge.

Here it ventures forth to snag and wrap a stink bug snack for later.

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The mulberry was a popular tree this spring, hosting a bevy of birds and squirrels each day in its fruit-filled branches.  Gray catbirds were most numerous.  Flitting quickly from perch to perch, they’d pluck and swallow berries as big as their beaks got wide.  Robins fed here too.

If correctly identified, three of these trees seem like a good representation of how mulberries are distributed in the southern portion of Pennsylvania.

100_5873cropHNearest the creek, one tree’s leaves are primarily lobed, feeling finely-haired on the bottom and more like sandpaper on top.  Red and purple berries hang between them.  These traits characterize our native red mulberry tree whose edible fruit was valuable to both Native Americans and European settlers. Bark and roots were used medicinally, fibers were good for rope and weaving, and its wood made good fence and boating material.

100_4960cropHA little further from the creek, at the bottom of a slope, is a smoothly oval-leafed variety of mulberry.  Its white unripe berries were one of the catbird’s favorites. But these berries also ripened to pink, red, and purple this spring.  Unlike our native red, the white mulberry tree hails from China. Entrepreneurs brought it in the 18th and 19th centuries to feed the worms and ambitions of a silk industry that never spun a fortune. The white mulberry subsequently spread so extensively that it often outnumbers the red.  Many call it a weed.

multi-colored berries, click for close-up ... hybrid tree?The white and red trees have even hybridized, making identification particularly difficult.  That brings me to the top of the hill and a mulberry with variously shaped leaves. They are not as smooth on top as the white mulberry, and not nearly as gravelly as the red. Some feel a bit hairy on the bottom. Others, not so much.  Berries turn from white-pinkish to purplish-black.  I’m not sure which to call it–a hybrid perhaps.

Whatever variety, the mulberry perfectly hosted many in its branches this year.  Its fruit came plentifully and has now gone the way of spring. The robins, squirrels, and catbirds are finding new spots to feed.

Two weeks ago, from a considerable distance, I could see several fish splash and writhe in the clear-flowing stream’s gravelly shallows.

A little later, these 6-8″ fish were swimming together in a deeper pool just above the pebbly flow, often sheltering in the shadow of a large rock or far bank in a chasing game of touch and go, sometimes swimming side by side as if attached.

The black band lining each of these fish brings to mind the blacknose dace.  But that’s a tiny minnow, up to 5″ smaller than these.

Two fisherman friends agree that these look like suckers. And the PA Fish and Boating Commission lists four types of sucker in our part of the state.  Of those, I have seen only the creek chubsucker occasionally pictured with such a stripe. [See Update at bottom of post.]

There are many smaller fish, as well, too several and quick to identify just yet.

Whatever they are, certainly all are catching the heron’s eye.

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*UPDATE*

Though my original guess here was a creek chubsucker, I have since come across other information that makes me think this fish is not a sucker at all, but a kind of minnow: the creek chub.

In a 2010 presentation at Ridley Creek State Park, Dr. Thomas Cordrey of DelVal Soil and Environmental Consultants listed several fish observed in a downstream channel of Little Crum Creek:

  • common shiner
  • blacknose dace
  • creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
  • pumpkin seed
  • green sunfish
  • white sucker

No mention of the creek chubsucker (Erimyzon oblongus).

Likewise, a PA DEP report omits the creek chubsucker from its list of fish in Crum Creek, the stream to which Little Crum Creek is a tributary.

Finally, in March of 2012, I saw a similarly behaved fish with pointed white bumps on each side of its head.

Could these be the tubercles grown by creek chubs during breeding time?

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Seen from footbridge, Little Crum Creek Park, Swarthmore PA.

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