New Moon Challenge: Bark Moon

Today is the new moon and thus the end of my Bark Moon Challenge. Nearly every day since the last new moon, I observed and photographed the bark of various trees. In the following bark gallery, most species are represented by two or three photos to show differences in younger vs. older trees. Somewhere in the mix, see if you can find Asian Bittersweet, a yellow fire hydrant, and an upside-down heart. If you were a tree, what kind of bark would you have? (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Winter Tree ID: Cherry Birch

The phrase "birch bark" likely brings to mind white sheets of loose bark, like that found on Paper Birch, but some birches have outer bark that is neither white, nor exfoliating.

Photo of Cherry Birch bark

Cherry Birch (Betula lenta) has dark bark (the species is also known as Black Birch), accented with horizontal dash-like lenticels, or breathing holes, through which the tree can exchange gases with the atmosphere. Young trees (above) start out with mostly smooth bark, which over time develops vertical cracks. These stretch marks become more numerous as trees age, eventually leading to bark that breaks into thick plates (see the progression in photos below).

Photo of Cherry Birch buds

In winter, aside from examining the bark, look up to see the twig pattern of Cherry Birch. Notice how on older twigs the leaf buds occur atop a stack of leaf scars that form a sort of spur branch. If you find a tree with twigs you can reach, you might try nibbling on one to enjoy the wintergreen flavored inner-bark.

Note that Yellow Birch (B. alleghaniensis) has similarly flavored inner-bark but can typically be told from Cherry Birch by the presence of exfoliating, lighter-colored outer-bark (though young trees can be similarly dark-barked). Luckily, a twig of either species makes a pleasing trail nibble.

Finally, look at enough Cherry Birch trees and you might find one that is host to Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), as shown below. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Meet the Pines: Jack Pine

When I ventured to eastern Maine last month to see a rare sparrow, a roadside pine in the town of Winter Harbor caught my attention. I'd long heard about Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), but until that moment had never introduced myself. Native to northern New England, Jack Pine has two short needle-leaves per bundle and distinctly asymmetrical seed cones -- no other New England pine shares this combination of characteristics. The following photos show various parts of the tree, including the paired needles (with a comparison shot of the needles of Scotch Pine), resinous winter buds, old male pollen cones, seed cones of various ages, and bark. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Not sure how to identify the other pines of New England? Check out my previous posts covering Eastern White, Pitch, Red, and Scotch Pine.

Life List Bird Game: Recap

When I wrote the intro to the Life List Bird Game series, I'd just seen my 300th bird species (a pair of Redhead). In the three months since, I've met six new bird species.

#301 was a single Cave Swallow who spent part of a mild November day flying around East Point Sanctuary in Biddeford Pool. It takes strong winds, typically in the month of November to escort this southern species (of Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean) to New England, and I was grateful when other birders shared their sighting so that I could witness this feathered traveler at one of my favorite nature spots.

Photo of Cave Swallow
15 Nov 2015 | East Point Sanctuary, Biddeford Pool, ME

#302 was a Yellow-breasted Chat who I glimpsed on Christmas Day while taking a walk with my mémère along Timber Point Trail in Biddeford. Less than a month later, I observed another Yellow-breasted Chat in Rockland.

Photo of Yellow-breasted Chat
25 Dec 2015 | Rachel Carson NWR -- Timber Point Trail, Biddeford, ME

#303 was a Yellow-throated Warbler. This species is rare in Maine any time of year, but an early January record is exceptional. The bird frequented a yard in Bowdoin from December 30th to January 8th.

Photo of Yellow-throated Warbler
8 Jan 2016 | Litchfield Rd., Bowdoin, ME

#304 was a Maine MEGA rarity, a Black-throated Sparrow. This species is typically found in southwestern parts of the United States and parts of Mexico, but for unknown reasons, one bird decided to spend January in a neighborhood in eastern Maine. The bird was spotted during a Christmas Bird Count on January 1st, and I eventually made the trip to Winter Harbor to see the bird on January 18th.

Photo of Black-throated Sparrow
18 Jan 2016 | Barnacle Ln., Winter Harbor, ME

On my way back from seeing the Black-throated Sparrow, I stopped at Owls Head Harbor to see life bird #305, a Mew Gull.  According to record keepers, there have been less than 10 documented sightings of Mew Gulls in Maine. Wow! The bird was found by another birder the day before my planned sparrow trip, so I lucked out with two life birds in one day!

Photo of Mew Gull
18 Jan 2016 | Owls Head Harbor, Owls Head, ME

And just yesterday, I ventured beyond Maine for the first time this year to meet my latest life bird, #306, a Red-headed Woodpecker. This immature bird has been hanging out along Town Farm Road in Ipswich, MA since late November of last year.

Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker
31 Jan 2016 | Town Farm Rd., Ipswich, MA

Now that you're up to speed with the birds I've seen, let's get back to exploring other aspects of the natural world. For starters, there are a few trees I'd like to introduce you to.

Lastly, if you enjoyed the bird game, please consider supporting my birding endeavors by contributing to my Spotting Scope Fund. Thanks!

Life List Bird Game #30

Identify the birds in the following photographs, all of which were taken by me in New England. This gallery of untitled photos is randomly arranged and includes more than one photo of some species. If you get stuck, the 10 possibilities (in my Life List order) are provided below. If you're reading this post via e-mail, visit the blog to view the full-size images.

The Birds of Life List Bird Game #30

291. Cory's Shearwater
292. Great Shearwater
293. Western Sandpiper
294. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
295. Bay-breasted Warbler
296. American Golden-Plover
297. Clay-colored Sparrow
298. Dickcissel
299. Stilt Sandpiper
300. Redhead

Hint: You can use the photo filename to check your guesses. For example: 008grca.jpg corresponds with my 8th Life Bird: Gray Catbird.