Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Battle With Photinia

It looks benign, green like all the other plants in the forest, with ornamental white flowers in the spring and golden foliage and red berries in the fall. But Asian Photinia (Photinia villosa) has started quietly taking over Mountain Lakes. In some areas of the park, it has formed a monoculture in the understory, shading out all other plant species.

No diversity means very limited food choices for wildlife. So that other species will have a chance to grow, the Friends of Princeton Open Space began this year a campaign to dramatically reduce the Photinia population at Mountain Lakes.

This is what the woods looks like after a dense stand of Photinia has been removed by our extraordinary volunteer, Andrew Thornton. Other than a few stray ferns, there is nothing native growing here beneath the trees. The cut Photinia has been piled for wildlife habitat. The next step will be to replant the area with natives, or encourage whatever natives sprout.

One of the native species that will benefit from Photinia removal is the spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which forms energy-rich berries in the fall.

Friday, September 25, 2009

40th Anniversary Celebration Open To All, Oct. 4

Wine, hors d’oeuvres, music

and a silent auction featuring the beautiful paintings created that day.

Preserve with Paint

A Celebration of our 40th Anniversary

Oct 4th, 5:00-7:00 p.m., at the beautiful setting of Mountain Lakes House

There is no charge to attend Preserve with Paint, but please r.s.v.p. to Friends of Princeton Open Space 609 497-1331

On Sunday, October 4th, Friends of Princeton Open Space will celebrate its 40th birthday and many successful land preservation projects in Princeton. As part of this community-building event, plein air painters will come to Mountain Lakes Preserve to capture the beauty of our lakes, woods and fields on canvas.

More info at www.fopos.org

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar

It's enough to make one think that all of one's actions, no matter how seemingly scattered, are somehow connected. If I hadn't taken up the cause of saving the Veblen House in Herrontown Woods, I would never have noticed a giant caterpillar crawling on a walnut branch in front of the house.

Not knowing what it was, I googled "giant horned caterpillar", and immediately found the name.

Mark Johnson, Princeton's animal control officer, was on the scene, primarily to tell us how to get rid of a raccoon, two squirrels and a flying squirrel that have found the boarded up house to their liking. He said the lighter colored caterpillar is probably a female. The big, thick glove is for handling animals with teeth. The caterpillars, scary as they look, proved to be harmless.

I'm borrowing this quote from an Ohio State University fact sheet:

"They are enormous in size, being five to six inches long and nearly 3/4-inch in diameter. They feed for a period of 37 to 42 days on the leaves of hickory, walnut, butternut, pecan, ash, lilac, persimmon, sycamore, sumac and sweet gum. Larvae mature in late summer, wandering around searching for a place to burrow underground to pupate. Overwintering occurs in the pupal stage.

The moth (Royal Walnut Moth) has a wingspan of five to six inches and is seen in midsummer. It has a long body covered with orange yellow hair. The forewings are gray with orange veins and yellow spots. The hindwings are primarily orange with scattered yellow patches."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Struggle For Survival--Scene 1

Our camera crew spent the whole summer patiently waiting for a chance to catch this rare shot of a Cicada Killer wasp poised to seize its prey. (Figure added for scale)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A 3-Winged Monarch Learns To Fly

Monarchs usually have four wings--two on each side--but I found one on a bush at Littlebrook Elementary a couple days ago that had only three. That explained why it didn't fly away when I approached. When I presented it with my finger, it crawled on, and I noticed it had only four legs, instead of the usual six.

It looked freshly born out of its chrysalis, undamaged other than by a quirk of genetic fate. I showed it to some kids on the playground, and then called my daughter and her friend over to have a look. They adopted it instantly, and took it home, naming it "Buggie". That afternoon, during a playdate, they reportedly taught Buggie to fly by dropping it from a treehouse, and also discovered that it would follow orders. Clearly, a highly intelligent little butterfly!

Overnight, it stayed outside in a terrarium, with a squished tomato for food. The next day, it traveled back to school for show and tell in a 4th grade classroom. My daughter, though, arrived home with a sad face. After school, while they were on the playground, Buggie flew up and kept right on going, despite having only three of its four wings. Monarchs, which fly all the way to Mexico for the winter, are notoriously strong flyers, but no one had expected three-winged Buggie to soar off into the wild blue yonder.

I tried to console my daughter, who in her grief wanted to go to Petco to buy another pet. We finally headed out in search of a monarch egg or larva in various patches of milkweed I know about, but found nothing. I told her that she and her friend had done well, had fed Buggie and taught it to fly, and that now it was where it is supposed to be, with others of its kind, flying strong and far.

She wasn't quite ready to feel good about this.