Quiz #146: Bird

Identify this bird. (Photographed on January 3, 2015 in Biddeford, ME.)

Photo of Quiz #146: Bird

I’ll reveal the answer on Monday. For now, leave your guess in the comments below.

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Tree ID: Catalpa

Photo of Persisting Catalpa capsules

These long, reddish-brown capsules are persisting on a Catalpa* (Catalpa sp.) tree. Though they resemble bean pods, the capsules do not contain legumes, but rather paper-thin seeds with fringed edges. During the green season, Catalpas can be recognized by their showy white flowers (which attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds) and large heart-shaped leaves which grow in pairs or whorls of three. I'm aware of no other broad-leaved tree with leaves and branches in whorls. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*I think this is a Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa), but I plan to examine the flowers and leaves later this year to be sure.

Quiz #145: Tree

Today's tree isn't native to New England but is often found as a planted tree. The first image shows part of the tree in mid-March. The reddish-brown fruit capsules are each about a foot long.

Photo of Quiz #145: Tree

The next image shows nearby pavement littered with open pods and paper-thin seeds. Name the tree. (Photographed in Biddeford, ME.)

Photo of Quiz #145: Tree

Click here for the answer.

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Words of Wisdom: Susan Hand Shetterly

Photo of Great Blue Heron in flight

“Today I know more about birds than I did. I know about their outline and their manner of flight. I don't always get it right. I never will. But when I catch the silhouette of a bird in the air or on the water, something about it often triggers the name, as if the sight of the bird matched a template I carry in my brain, in the place that stores patterns. This knowledge is like grace, a reward I did not earn. But that's the way grace comes.”

--Susan Hand Shetterly, Settled in the Wild: Notes from the edge of town (2010), p. 144-45

Quiz #144: Bird

Identify these birds. (Photographed in Saco, ME.)

Photo of Quiz #144: Bird

Click here for the answer.

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Coastal Crabs: Green Crab

Photo of Green Crab shell

Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas) can be identified readily by the pattern of teeth on their shells: five marginal teeth on each side and three frontal teeth between the eyes. Jonah and Atlantic Rock Crabs have many more spines and grow to larger sizes (~5-6" shells compared to ~3" for Green Crab). Shell color is variable but is often dark green in living crabs. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Washed Ashore: Ocean Quahog

Photo of Ocean Quahog

In New England, a roundish black clam shell with a mahogany margin and a light-colored inner surface lacking a pallial sinus is that of an Ocean Quahog* (Arctica islandica).  The black coating -- known as a periostracum -- can flake off of washed ashore shells, resulting in countless unique designs. Ocean Quahogs are typically no more than 5" wide; the clam pictured here is about 3.5". Unlike some clams who can be dug by hand in mudflats, Ocean Quahogs live in deeper, sub-tidal waters. Harvesting is accomplished by dredging (source). Other names for this clam include Black Clam and Mahogany Clam.

Photo of Ocean Quahog inside

In researching these deep water clams, I also discovered a 2013 report which names a 507 year-old Ocean Quahog "the longest-lived non-colonial animal so far reported" (Science Direct).  I had no idea certain clams could live so long!

Photo of Ocean Quahog open

*Note: Ocean Quahogs are distinct from the more frequently eaten Quahogs (Mercenaria mercenaria) who live in shallower waters primarily south of Maine.