What You Can See on Feb. 15
Submitted by Ted Williams on Wed, 02/15/2006 - 09:35.
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. The Gall of Goldenrod If you are a fisherman seeking live bait (a scarce commodity in winter) or just a curious naturalist, get thee to a goldenrod field, especially in the northern half of the country. Bring kids. Look on the stems for galls, bulbous growths that are the plant’s reaction to insect attack. Goldenrod hosts about 50 species of gall makers, but if you find spherical galls about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, chances are they were made by the larvae of the goldenrod gall fly. Before it pupates in spring, a larva will bore an exit hole to the edge. Split the gall with a jackknife, and you’ll see the larva, hard and immobile but protected by its own antifreeze. Bring it inside your house, and in a few minutes it will start to wriggle. If you would like to watch the fly emerge in late spring, leave the gall outside through February, since the larva can’t complete its life cycle without an extended period of cold. Mighty Ducks Long after other wildfowl have fled south—when frozen kelp crunches under your boots and spindrift glazes rocky headlands—our fastest, whitest sea duck finds winter refuge along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards or on large, open lakes. Oldsquaws (so named because they talk so much and so loudly, but now being called long-tailed ducks by the politically correct) sound like a pack of hounds dancing around a treed bear. In fact, the species’ Latin name, Clangula hyemalis, means “noisy winter duck.” Now the drakes—with the long, sharp tails—are starting their courtship displays, which include porpoising, head shaking, bill tossing, bill dipping, wing flapping, and neck stretching. Several drakes may circle a hen, gurgling, gabbling, and shouting ah, ah, ah or ow-owly, owly, owly. Oldsquaws can dive to 200 feet, deeper than any other duck, and they fly like hurricane-borne shingles. Hunters who have shot oldsquaws as they veered and twisted directly overhead have found pellet holes in their backs.