Thursday, July 24, 2014

Insect Biodiversity - small and big, in and out, up and down...

Since March I have focused a lot of attention on local biodiversity, both dead and alive, and both inedible and edible.  When you least expect it, you can see something intricate, interesting or gorgeous.  Here are some of the things I have seen in the last 6 months, as a small sample...

Clymene moth Haploa clymene IMG_2798
Clymene moth, seen one evening in July from our porch
Harmonia axyridis (Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle) IMG_6593
An Asian lady beetle (not a nice ladybug) is hiding inside a flower umbel of Queen Anne's lace.

Photinus _firefly P6220560
Firefly showing off its bottom end, the one that blinks at night. Fireflies are beetles, not flies. 
Tetraopes tetrophthalmus (Red Milkweed Beetle)red beetleP6220536
This unreal-looking long-horned beetle is called red mikweed beetle - I love the dots and the bent antennas.

margined leatherwings (Chauliognathus marginatus_beetle_P6220529_cropped
These mating beetles have to be careful so they don't get stuck with their snouts in the milkweeds' intricate pollination systems.

All of these are from my backyard and I didn't have to look very hard to find them.  Living things are amazing, indeed.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I know it's a weed but...

Isn't it pretty? A bit unusual with the pink eye. Åkervinda is the swedish name and the scientific name is Convolvulus arvensis L.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What is out there? Bioblitzing's amazingness...

A week ago I participated in a Bioblitz, a biodiversity inventory, at the old Doris Duke estate Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey (USA).  Her large working farm, park, and mansion has now been transformed into a sustainable natural area with large untouched forests, giant wildflower meadows, and bike trails and a science activity center.  It is a great place to visit.

A bioblitz is a concentrated biodiversity inventory by a group of people, experts and the public usually together, that takes place usually during one day or 24 hours. We were out for 6-7 hours during a hot and sunny June day, but spent the most time in the shady forest.

My group was going to look for plants that not yet had been found.  That might sound strange, but since there already was a long list of plants, we were going to look for the missing things, the gaps, and also go to some of the special areas that are inaccessible to the public to look for new species.  Of course, if we saw other cool non-plant things, then we should take note of those too.  So, what did we find?  Lets look!

Bioblitzing in wetlands P6280555

We walked into a floodplain forest that often gets flooded during heavy rains.  The grasses and other plants reached our shoulders, and it was moist like the tropics.  Not many new plants, but a lot of animal life.

katydid nymphP6280571

A katydid nymph, very colorful and tiny.  I saw it first because its long antennae sparkled like thin metal wires in the sun. It is some kind of meadow katydid, but too early to tell what species it will become when it grows up.

Carex cf grayi P6280545

This is a sedge, probably Carex grayi or a closely related species.  The inflated 'bottles' contain the fruit inside.  They look like green stars in the vegetation, and each sedge head is about 2 cm in diameter.

Amber snail maybe, P6280551

Lots and lots of snails were eating the skunk cabbage, and this one had a translucent shell.  I think it might be an amber snail, but I can't find any good book on land snails for northeastern USA.  Too bad, because that would be fun to learn more about.

Appalachian Brown Satyrodes appalachia

This butterfly has an appropriate name - Appalachian brown (Satyrodes appalachia).  It was sitting on the same plant as the katydid nymph.  I have just started to look at butterflies and they are so different from the Swedish ones.  The names are weird too - like 'brown', 'comma', and 'question mark'.  Very descriptive, but unexpected. Or maybe not :).

Eastern comma Polygonia comma P6280594

And here, this is an Eastern comma (Polygonia comma), a butterfly.  On its underside of its wings (which you can't see here) it has a white mark that looks like a comma, thereby its name.

Rattlesnake weed, Hieracium venosum_P6280543

Didn't we see any plants?  Yes we did, but they were less fun to photograph!  Here is one that you can identify by its leaves only, which is always nice... no need to look for hairs on fruits or count petals!  This is rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum - those veins sure look like filled with blood!).  It is in the sunflower family and related to dandelions and such. And it is a wildflower, not a weed.

Exomala orientalis (Oriental Beetle) P6280540

Some species are not native to this area but are very common exotic newcomers.  This is oriental beetle (Anomala orientalis or Exomala orientalis) has its ancestor in Asia, but now is common in this area.  I have seen it on our porch several times, attracted to the porch light in the evenings.  It loves garden plants!

Vanessa virginiensis - American Lady P6280528

This ferocious-looking butterfly caterpillar will grow up and become an American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis). It is eating a pussy toe plant (Antennaria) we found in a small area on sandy soil near huckleberry bushes.  I found one ripe huckleberry to taste, and they are very similar to American blueberries in looks and taste.

hardwood forest with storm damage

Here is the forest, which after the hurricanes we have had are more open with light gaps from fallen trees, and the invasive Japanese stiltgrass is thriving.  Forests around here have a lot of oaks, maples, and hickories.  Sometimes also tuliptrees.

Lonh-horn beetle, Graphisurus fasciatus P6280515

Long-horn beetles are always fun!  This is a female Graphisurus fasciatus, with a egg-laying tube at the back.  In the hand it sat very still, but as soon as we put it back on the tree trunk it scurried off very quickly.

Lucanus capreolus P6280470

This was probably the coolest animal we saw!  A 4 cm long stag beetle (Lucanus capreolus).  They are said to be very common, but I have never seen one before. 

Hickory gall midge Caryomyia P6280519_closeup

Weird fuzzy golf balls?  No, tiny galls on the underside of a shagbark hickory leaf.  Inside each gall is a tiny developing larvae of a fly or wasp, in this case a small fly.

Winged Euonymus P6280504

Some invasive plants are really cool, but people don't like them even if they have fascinating characters.  This is burning bush, also called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Look at those cork lists along the stem!  How can you not love that!?

Aralia spinosa P6280500

Spiny aralia (Aralia spinosa) has a suitable name.  These spines are on the leaves.  I wonder who it is trying to scare off? 

baby wood frog P6280492

One of several wood frog babies we saw.  Don't worry, it is not getting crushed.

skullcap, Scutellaria integrifolia P6280482

A new species for me, a skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia).  Look at the flowers, the top part looks like a cap you can put on your head.

Elderflower collecting P6280582
Towards the end of the bioblitz we saw a big flowering elderflower bush (Sambucus nigra/americana), and I was allowed to pick some of the fragrant flowers in the only thing I had with me, my hat.  The flowers ended up in a jar with lemon peels and vodka and now we have Swedish-style elderflower akvavit in our freezer! Yummy!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sweden is getting hotter

.....but not the weather. It's the food. My favorite mustard is made by Johnny's, and look what I found in the store!

Mustard with mango & habanero, mustard with chipotle & black pepper, ketchup with habanero and hamburger sauce with red onion & bacon. 
I will have to try them!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Skogspromenad - A walk in the Swedish fir and spruce woods.

Yesterday I took a walk in the forest, and I felt so relaxed. High and strong stood the fir trees and mosses and lingonberries were growing below. On the spruce forest floor the blueberry bushes were light green and the berries were on the way, almost ready to pick. I had a pre-taste, since I found a few blue ones among the green, not yet ripe, ones. I love the Swedish woods, despite the fact that it has pretty few species; I think fir and spruce stand for about 80 % of the trees growing in the Swedish woods.

Over it all were the white fluffy clouds and blue sky, and you could hear a raven call out.

A old saying comes to mind:

Lyss till den granens sus, vid vars fot ditt bo är fästat.

[translation:  Listen to that spruce's sound, by which feet your home is tied.]

Only two or three generations away, all Swedes were living close to the nature. Not so much today.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

10 years!

Ten years ago on this date PP and I got married, right here in our garden.  During the wedding party in the evening some balloons came flying by, right over our party, and here is one of them.  Thanks PP for ten great years! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stamp of the Day: American Songbirds

I am back!  After a brutal spring when it comes to teaching loads, I am now back blogging.  There is lots to report; fun things I saw in Sweden in March, the species counting competition (our personal bioblitzing) and all the amazing things I saw as part of that, and a garden that right now is exploding with growing greens.  For now, here is a set of new US stamps with some of our great, beautiful birds.  Of these, I have already seen these year: scarlet tanager (unbelievable red), rose-breasted grosbeak, american goldfinch (they seem to be nesting on our property), white-throated sparrows (which now have left for more northern places I think), and of course the circus-like and flute-sounding Baltimore oriole.  Ah, birds are truly wonderful.  Having so colored birds around you makes you think you are in the tropics.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy Birthday LS!

Here is a Birthday bug for you!

Chrysomela populi

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring is in the air!

This week has ended with lots of sun and warm air. All plants are stretching and pushing themselves up and into the air. Next week I will welcome my sister again. Längtar!!!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Stamp of the day: Foxes and coyotes

This morning I saw a young red fox that had been run over by a car. It was laying dead on the road.  Such a waste of a good life.

A few days ago LA and I saw an equally disturbing sight - along a rural road on a snow covered field an animal much larger than a fox was running.  It was a coyote, with big ears.  But it was so emancipated and its fur so thin that it looked more like a greyhound, and its tail was thin, thin, thin.  Mange, scabies, rabies, who knows, but something was afflicting it severely and you wondered how long it would survive.

We have had living visitors here too in the last week. A fat, ugly and white-faced oppossum occupied our porch for an hour one night and refused to leave.  They really do play dead if threathened.  It finally went away after LA stood on the outside of the porch railining poking it with a stick, hard and repeatedly. 

Racoons you mostly see dead too here in New Jersey, run over at night.  Grey squirrels do their thievery at the bird feeders or look for their hidden nuts that they can't find in the forests.  I saw another interesting thing today, an emu!    It is at a farm just a few kilometers from here. 

Deers are the absolutely most common wildlife mammal here, both dead and alive.

During 1 March to 15 May I am part of a personal bioblitz effort and challenge, where we will try to see as many species as possible of any living thing on Earth.  It started this morning and my first species was of course, Homo sapiens.  Second - blue jay, out the window :)

Happy Birthday, KV!

We have known each other and been friends 3/4 of our lives now.  :)

Here is a special flowering plant for you!

Bixa fruits, the lipstick plant

It is the fruit of the lipstick plant, Bixa orellana, also known as annatto. And yes, it is added to lipsticks for color.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Proud to be Swedish!

Sometimes the collective (hive) mind works, all over Sweden there where shouting and cheering when the 4x5 km (ladies) and 4x10 km (men) cross country skiing was on TV this past Saturday and Sunday.
Our cheering must have been heard all the way to Russia and Sotji, and both men and women teams from Sweden were able to secure gold!

A fantastic achievement, and a glorious day to be Swedish!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Riding trains in Norway

In Norway they know how to make something solidly real. Norway, with is mountains, fjords, and trains in gorgeous places.

Here is a clip from a 10-hour riding-the-train-through-the-seasons movie (thanks PP):

A giant miniature train place

When EH and her family were here last year we visited Northlandz, an amazing model train museum here in New Jersey.  Now there is a little movie about it and how they photographed it. Watch it.

Here are some photos from this great place.  Visit Northlandz if you have the chance, even if you have never liked model trains. (More photos from our visit here.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Homemade Jewelry 2014 part 1

The last few days I have dived into my pearl and bead storage. Many I have bought myself and many are sent to me from LS. A few are picked up on my travels, in Bologna, Italy, in NY, USA and on local markets in Sweden and other countries. (I have some black Icelandic lava from the past summer trip, but it has not revealed itself yet, I don't know what I will make out of it.)

So, beads are made of clay/ceramics, shell, plastic, acrylic, wood, minerals and glass. These shown in the pictures are mostly glass, colored jade and colored magnesit (often called synthetic turquoise) and metal alloys.

 Turquoise-colored magnesite

 Citrine (?) earrings and painted (plastic) seashell
 Owls from NJ, US and Russian dolls from Stockholm
 Rose quartz and hematite
Sometimes my handmade jewelry have names. This one is called Blue China. Another one is called Gone fishing.....I´ll show it some other day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Stamps of the Day: American Records

A few years ago the US Postal Service issued a series of 40 stamps highlighting the places, animals, and plants in the US that were the largest, loudest, tallest, deepest, fastest, oldest, etc., called Wonders of America.   They also made a puzzle featuring the stamps (in larger than natural size, of course), and it is one of our favorite puzzles here at home.  Tonight when I sat and looked through some of my stamp images to decide which one to pick to write about, I realized that it is actually amazing how many of these record places and organisms I have seen or been to after living in the US for nearly 20 years (yes, it has been that long, incredible).  

So, here it goes, the list of American records:
You can see these in Central Park these days, the peregrine falcons are back!  But one of the best observations I had was in Yellowstone National Park.
(FASTEST BIRD - Peregrine Falcon)
There is nothing like bumping along an old railroad track in the American west over vast sage brush areas (Colorado to be precise) after a vintage steam train and look out the window and see a couple of pronghorn staring at you.
Ancient ruins at the mesas in New Mexico, such as Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, makes me wonder what kind of threats made people live like this - with the whole village only accessible by ladders.
Oh, Mississippi - I love the name of that river.  4 s's, and 4 i's and 2 p's.  And a single M, alone in the beginning.  The delta at its mouth might be as large as half of Sweden, or something like that. 
And New Orleans is of course set in the middle of it.
(LARGEST DELTA - Mississippi River delta)
Just a bit south of where we live, a few hours, is a giant bay along the Atlantic coast... the funny sounding Chesapeake Bay, once full of oysters, blue crabs and fish, but now overpolluted and overnutrified. It is still gorgeous, but it needs to get healthier again. 
(LARGEST ESTUARY - Chesapeake Bay)
Oh, the bullfrog's noises in the night wakes you up in the early mornings around here on the mountain... It is like a giant toad, fat and fleshy, and rather pompous in its behavior.
(LARGEST FROG - American Bullfrog)
Buffalo, bison, same thing.  I have only seen wild bison in Yellowstone, and there we saw them really close, actually too close for comfort when they suddenly changed direction and went straight in among the parked cars where we stood photographing them crossing the road.  I had to jump into the back of a minivan.  Nobody was hurt, but it gives you a lot of respect for these animals. 
(LARGEST LAND MAMMAL - American Bison)
Alligator meat is not bad.  It is lighter-colored than beef, a little fishy in texture, but not taste, more like chicken.  They can move fast too - I have seen 8-feet alligator lay still for 20 minutes and then be gone in 3 seconds with a giant splash down the bank to the water. Never trust a reptile :)
(LARGEST REPTILE - American Alligator)
I have only visited Rocky Mountains in bits and pieces, here and there.  New Mexico (oh Taos!), Colorado (wow, it was incredible), and up in Yellowstone, of course.  But this summer I think we will see the real thing when we visit Idaho and Boise.  This is something else than the Swedish mountains called 'fjällen'. A bit taller, steeper, fiercer, and younger. 
Speaking about mountains, the ones on the East Coast are the sister mountains to the Swedish mountains, same age, formed at the same geological time, and even if maybe taller in the US with the same feel of a bit worn-down, eroded landscapes, and with sequences of ridges and peaks blueing in the distance.  
(OLDEST MOUNTAINS - Appalachians)
In Hawaii, the mountains are so young they don't exist yet.  They are being formed, right now, tonight and tomorrow.  I have stood and looked at the spouting lava at the Kilauea crater in Hawaii, using binoculars since you weren't allowed very close.  Magic magma, lovely lava, and deadly.  
Here is a manmade record piece, which is something you see if you arrive in New York by boat from Europe - the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connects Staten Island with Brooklyn over the narrow sound (The Narrows) that leads into New York City.  They are starting to grow oysters again under the bridge.  In the past there were lots of oysters here, more than people could eat, but then they disappeared because of pollution.  Soon we might have New York oysters again! 
(LONGEST SPAN - Verrazano-Narrows Bridge)

No records without the most amazing geysers of Yellowstone.  When I was a kid I used to look in books at my grandfather's house, and he had a book on Yellowstone.  I couldn't imagine the hot water spouts, sulfuric ponds, or bubbling mud pits, but they fascinated me, and I hoped that one day I would be able to see this crazy place.  Geology in action, of the most severe kind.  Well, volcanos might be a bit more severe, but Yellowstone is actually a giant volcano, and it is about to erupt at some point... About ten years ago I got the opportunity to visit Yellowstone during a workshop, and it was as crazy a place as I had imagined, or worse.  It is like a place out of a movie.  Moose grazing grass next to hot water springs that are deadly.  Geysers spouting giant fountains of water and steam on schedule.  Day and night. Incredibly.  I need to go back! (My grandfather's Yellowstone book is now in my house too.)
(TALLEST GEYSER - Steamboat)
When we drove up on Mount Washington in New Hampshire in June or July, they still had snow on the top.  It is the windiest place in America, this curved tip of an Appalachian mountain, and it felt like it.  It reminded me of the Swedish mountains, except our mountains in Scandinavia doesn't have giant weather stations on them.
(WINDIEST PLACE - Mount Washington)
And finally, another manmade thing, and this one is of utter impracticality and uselessness.  It just exist because someone had an idea, made it happen, and now everybody comes to see it. (Brilliant tourist marketing!)  I have never been up in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis by the Mississippi, but I have seen it from a distance.  You can take a little elevator inside to go up to the top, but if you are claustrophobic and or afraid of heights it is better to stay on the ground and look up.