Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Things in Trees

We recently spent a lovely day at Dan and Tamara's house visiting and helping to raise some rafters on an outbuilding they are erecting.  It was perfect spring-time conditions to be outside hammering, nailing, grilling, exploring the garden, and seeing the beautiful forests that surround their house.  The dogwoods were in full bloom, so the drive there was perfectly picturesque.  Actually, everything about the day was picturesque, and I had to remind myself to show some respect for folks privacy and not totally geek out and indulge my inner tourist and blogger, so I kept my camera put away even though there were so many cool things to admire.  I mean, they have bees, goldfish, friendly dogs and beautiful gardens, served grilled lamb chops and wild mushroom bread pudding with a salad fresh from the garden, and have stained glass windows they made themselves!  Oh, and they have beautiful chickens, one of which was sitting on a nest of eggs!  It took will power, I'm telling you.  When Tamara pointed out a hanging birds nest in a dogwood bower in full bloom, and suggested we try to get a good picture, I was more than ready to play photographer.  

When I sent some of the photos of the nest to my birder friend for identification of the architect of this pretty hanging basket, he suggested either a cuckoo or an oriole.  

I looked on the interweb at pictures of nests, and I think it's more likely to be an Baltimore oriole nest than a cuckoo, although it didn't look exactly like any of the photos.  

It looks like the nest is tied to the branches and woven together with spiderwebs, so I originally thought it was a hummingbird.  After looking at photos of hummingbird nests, I realize that it is very much too large for a hummingbird.  It is so craftily constructed, that I have a hard time imagining a bird  making this with only a little beak for a tool.  Brandon recently showed me a video of a bower bird decorating his nest, which really emphasizes how advanced a birds aesthetics can be. 

Back at home, I found something hanging in my little wild cherry tree too.  Something not quite as pretty as Tamara's bird nest.  

The cherry tree is blooming, but the flowers are so small I have to get quite close to admire them.  That's when I saw it.  

Ack!  The small trunk is wrapped in a dense web which is covered in caterpillars!  Oooo....  

My initial instinct was to kill them and rip out the web before they eat the leaves of my tree.  Why are my instincts so violent?  I stood there for a few moments and watched them.  For creepy bugs, they are actually kind of pretty when the sunlight hits them.  And they are obviously very friendly with each other, considering they are all piled up like sleepy kittens.  The spots on their sides are shimmery and blue.  While I was standing there I asked google if they were native, and Wikipedia answered by telling me that they are native eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum), which are the larvae of snout moths.  Snout moths?  A very unfortunate name, right?

But, the more I read about them the more interesting they became.  Did you know that the silk tent they build acts like a little greenhouse, and they all cluster on it or in it, so they can get warm, which helps them digest?   I always assumed the sticky nest was just a good place to hide.  And, because they eat cherry leaves, they can puke "cyanide-laden juice" when they are disturbed.  I did not touch them after reading that, since no one wants that after taste. Supposedly, the trees they defoliate can recover in a few weeks.  My tree is fairly well established now, so I think it might survive the tent caterpillars, if I can bare to leave them.  The caterpillars themselves aren't very appetizing to birds, but I bet the snout moths they become are good food for birds and bats.   I left them alone, but this morning I noticed two of them eating the leaves on some potted pear and apple trees that I plan on planting at the farm.  Bad bugs!  I read that once they find a good place to eat, they leave a pheromone trail so all the others can find the good food.  Great.  

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