What You Can See on March 15
Submitted by Ted Williams on Wed, 03/15/2006 - 08:57.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Desert Starbursts The deserts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States hoard their beauty for months, then emit it in bursts as bright and brief as meteors. One magic night in June, desert shrubs and trees will suddenly be hung with fallen stars five inches across and still glowing. They are the white, silky blossoms of the night-blooming cereus, known in Spanish as reina de la noche, or queen of the night. This otherwise inconspicuous, finger-thin cactus needs the supporting embrace of a “nurse plant” such as creosote bush or mesquite so that it may grow high enough to lure night-tripping pollinators, notably sphinx moths. To efficiently attract these insects, most plants unfurl their blossoms at the same time. The scene is something out of A Midsumer-Night’s Dream -- big moths hovering in a blur of wingbeats, dipping into moonlit flowers, then buzzing into the night. At first light the flowers vanish for another year. Lords of the Dance As the ice recedes north, usually in May, the lords of the dance fly in from southern and coastal waters to breed on lakes in the American and Canadian West. Often you first perceive them by their splashing as they race across the surface, wings back, white breasts protruding, long necks curved, bills thrust above their ruby eyes. There can be two or more dancers, of the same or different sexes. After the dance, partners sometimes pluck weeds and shake them in each other’s faces. Such is the elegant courtship of the western grebe and the Clark’s grebe, which overlap in range and are nearly identical save for the latter’s brighter yellow bill and smaller black cap. Like anhingas and herons, these birds spear fish with their long bills. They build nests by anchoring aquatic plants to reeds; and when there are 100 or more pairs in a colony the nests can form a floating island.