Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bio-bits: Touch Me Not

You can find patches of the lovely native spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) thriving in the dappled sunshine along the edges of streams, ponds, swampy spots, and other moist shady places during the summer and autumn months. This succulent annual reaches heights of two to five feet while spreading its tender stems of toothed, pale green leaves. Its jewellike flowers hang delicately from long, slender stalks from July to September, attracting hummingbirds and bees to a favored nectar source.
The jewelweed’s one-inch irregular flower is an orange tubular sac with a recurved spur drooping down from the back. Two fused petals form the wide lower lip of the flower, creating the perfect place for an insect to land while collecting the nectar from the blossom. Colorful red spots splash across the spotted jewelweed’s orange surface, giving the plant its common name.
A long tongue is required to find the nectar deep within the jewelweed’s tubular flower. A hummingbird with its very long tongue has no problem. And bumblebees and honeybees also have tongues long enough to reach the nectar. But sometimes a bumblebee will cheat; it chews a hole in the back of the flower near the spur and sips the nectar from there.
Touch the ripened, elongated seedpod of the jewelweed in the fall and the seeds are propelled at great velocity as the pod splits open - hence its nickname “touch-me-not.” (Let your planters of impatiens go to seed and you will find that they bear the same type of seedpods and will explode in the same fashion. Impatiens is Latin for impatient, a reference, no doubt, to these impatient seedpods.) Jewelweed seeds are eaten by upland gamebirds, such as ruffed grouse and bobwhite, and by white-footed mice.
In the past, the jewelweed was also known as “silver leaf” – when its leaves are bathed in rain, droplets form, or when submerged in water, tiny air bubbles form on the surfaces, giving the plant a silvery appearance.
But perhaps this plant is best known for its ability to neutralize the effects of poison ivy, stinging nettle, and bee stings. Break the hollow stem of a jewelweed and rub its juices onto the infected area to lessen the pain. This amazing and beneficial plant also contains a fungicide that is used to treat Athlete’s Foot.

Submitted by Cindi Kobak
Photo: Wikimedia

Fall Field Trip

Swallow Cruise on the Connecticut River
Friday, September 19
5:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Every year from the end of August through early October, hundreds of thousands of swallows, mostly Tree Swallows, roost in the reeds of Goose Island in the Connecticut River. As the sun heads toward the western horizon swallows appear by the ones and twos from all directions. Soon 40, 50, 100 birds fly in from their daytime foraging areas – up to 50 miles away – and join a growing flight as they fly around above the river. More and more swallows gather to form a flock so large that the sky becomes dark with the swirling birds. As the swallows circle above the river, they form a denser flock over Goose Island. Then as the sun sets and light fades, at some unknown signal one or two swallows drop into the marsh and the others follow forming a tornado-like funnel that races across the island as the birds go to roost. In a minute or less all of the hundreds of thousands of birds have disappeared and the sky is clear.

Tree Swallows above Goose Island, by Patrick Comins

This spectacular event, only discovered in the late 20th century, was described by Roger Tory Peterson as one of the wonders of the bird world. And Menunkatuck Audubon Society and Audubon Connecticut have chartered the RiverQuest for September 19 for a private cruise to watch this amazing extravaganza.

Leaving at 5:00 p.m. from Eagle Landing in Haddam, the RiverQuest will cruise down the Connecticut River while we look for other birds and wildlife as we draw closer to the Goose Island. With commentary by Patrick Comins we will wait as the swallows fly in and marvel at their ability to gather in such huge numbers without crashing into one another. Then in an instant it is over.
During the cruise light refreshments will be available.
Cost for this trip is $40 per person. Space is limited! For questions or to reserve a place email Dennis Riordan at or call 203-387-2167. Upon confirmation of your reservation, please pay by check to Menunkatuck Audubon Society, Swallow Cruise, PO Box 214, Guilford, CT 06437.
The RiverQuest’s berth is at the first parking lot on the left as you enter Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam.
Take Route 9 to Exit 7 (Route 82 East). Follow Route 82 east through Tylerville Center. The park entrance is on your right just after the railroad tracks.. 
Remember! Space is limited! Book early.

Fall Festivals

Audubon Center At Bent Of The River, Southbury
Saturday, September 20 ~ Rain or Shine
2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
The family-oriented BentFest 2014 will feature picnicking in the meadow, river and nature walks, hay rides, tie-dye T-shirt creations, food vendors, kids’ activities, bird watching, raffle prizes, plus live music. The Bent of the River is an Important Bird Area with a diversity of habitat and worth the drive from the New Haven area.

Lighthouse Point Park Migration Festival
Celebrating Birds, Butterflies, and Dragonflies
Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven
Sunday, September 21 ~ No Rain Date
8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven is an Important Bird Area on the Atlantic flyway, a major route for butterflies, hawks, and many other bird species in their annual migration south for the winter months. Festival events include bird watching walks, hawk displays, butterfly observations, bluegrass music, activities for children, and the annual hawk count.

Hawk Watch Festival & Green Bazaar
Audubon Greenwich, Greenwich
September 27 and 28  ~ Rain or Shine
11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Enjoy this exciting two-day nature festival at Audubon’s sanctuary in northern Greenwich - a celebration of the annual hawk migration passing overhead at Audubon Greenwich’s “Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch”. Enjoy live animal shows, nature-themed games, environmental exhibits, and visit and learn from a wide variety of eco-friendly vendors exhibiting on-site. Quaker Ridge is an Important Bird Area.

The 2014 Meigs Point Farm Festival
Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
October 4 and 5 ~ Rain or Shine
9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Celebrating New England’s Farming and Fishing History, there will be spinning, weaving, folk songs, New England crafters, bird watching walks at this Important Bird Area, and much more. The Kerry Boys will entertain the crowds with traditional songs on both Saturday and Sunday. Connecticut’s former State Troubadour, Tom Callinan, will share tradition and original songs and shanties.
There’s sure to something for everyone to enjoy!

The Atlantic Flyway

Eastern Tree Swallows follow the Atlantic Flyway to their wintering grounds in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
From the Canadian Maritimes and northern New England the swallows will leave their breeding grounds and form loose flocks in the tens and twenties. These flocks join together to form ever larger groups. And in Connecticut they stop to rest and refuel before going on. Goose Island in the lower Connecticut River can have hundreds of thousands of swallows roosting at night. They spend several days flying as many as 50 miles away to northern and western Connecticut and to Long Island to feed on insects and berries, returning to Goose Island each evening to roost in the safety of the numbers.
Each day some of the Tree Swallows will leave the group and be replaced by ones from farther north. As the Tree Swallows migrate farther south they continue to stop in reed beds every 100 miles or so, roosting together at night and foraging separately during the day.

Bird Migration Film Epic Journeys Will Start 2014-2015 Programs

Shawn Carey
Each year millions of shorebirds make an amazing round-trip journey between the Northern and Southern hemisphere. Join us on September 10 when filmmaker Shawn Carey presents his documentary Epic Journeys which looks at three shorebird species — Red Knot, Piping Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper—and the challenges these species face during each of their monumental annual treks.
Shawn Carey is a resident of Boston, MA and has been photographing birds and other wildlife for about 20 years. He’s been teaching wildlife photography for Mass Audubon for over 12 years.
Brian Kleinman
Taped entirely in Connecticut, Connecticut Reptiles takes viewers on a video adventure that shows the remarkable variety of the state’s native snakes, turtles, and lizard, and the natural places they inhabit. On October 8, naturalist Brian Kleinman will present his film with incredible insights into each animal’s unique adaptations, lifestyles and place in local landscapes. He will also bring some live reptiles.
On November 12 naturalists and photographers Barbara and Peter Rzasa will present Iceland’s Birds, Flowers and Wildlife, a slide show of several Icelandic flora and fauna that can be found while traveling Iceland’s 832-mile long Ring Road.
Peter Rzasa
Iceland is often called “The Land of Fire and Ice” because of the many volcanoes, glaciers and spectacular waterfalls that populate the country. The country is also a noted birder’s paradise famous for its population of Atlantic puffins, ptarmigan, arctic terns and other arctic birds found along Iceland’s 3,700 miles of coast. Reindeer, arctic fox, humpback whales and seals can frequently be seen while Icelandic horses can be found roaming the farmlands. 
Climate Change is a simple phrase used to describe an incredibly complex issue. Extensive research has identified changes in weather patterns and seasonal temperatures that are affecting ecosystems and communities from our backyards to the entire planet. The effect of climate change on birds could be significant. Saltmarsh sparrows nest just
Patrick Comins
above the high tide line and are already susceptible to spring tides flooding their nests. What would climate
change-caused sea level rise mean to the survival of this species? On December 10, Heather Crawford will give us a look at the history of the Earth and human civilization, along with some simple science, so that we can better understand how we have come to our current situation and what kinds of decisions will need to be made as we move forward as stewards of our world.
Heather is an environmental educator who spent 14 years working with the Connecticut Sea Grant Extension Program and presenting programs on coastal ecosystems and land use impacts on water sources. She now chairs the Madison Conservation Commission and does freelance environmental education, including leading ecology field trips for local schools.