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dew on dandelion


Dew on dandelion

January 18, 2013, Page PAGE


By Annie Reid
Westborough Community Land Trust

Try the annual Nature Notes quiz

What’s in store for us this winter, in the usually frigid months of January and February? Will we get an overabundance of roof-crushing snow, as we did two years ago in 2011; or an unbelievably mild winter, like last year; or perhaps a regular New England winter, somewhere in-between?

Only time will tell. So far we’ve had some cold and snow in December, and a mild January thaw. Extremes are typical of New England weather, and they generally tend to balance out over time – record-low temperatures balancing record-high temperatures. So how can we tell if global warming is really taking place?

Some scientists have recently figured out that a clear imbalance between the number of record-low temperatures and record-high temperatures is a clue – or even evidence – that the climate is shifting in the direction of the greater number. In other words, if we get many more record highs than record lows over time, that’s evidence that our climate is warming. And vice versa, of course. As it turns out, in 2012 in the United States, record hot days outnumbered record cold days by 5 to 1. This imbalance suggests that the climate is warming.

But no matter what the weather, many plants and animals respond to light, and the days are already getting longer. The lengthening days stimulate plants and animals to produce hormones, which bring about changes in them. Are your houseplants growing more vigorously now? Did you hear a cardinal trying out its spring song early one recent morning? In a few months, we’ll be seeing dandelions.

Prepare for the awakening of nature in the months ahead by taking our annual nature quiz to jog your memory about our local plants and animals. Below you'll find short descriptions of Nature Notes topics from 2012. See if you can match these descriptions with answers from the alphabetical list that follows.

Choose your answers from the drop down lists. Check your answers by clicking the "Show Answers" button. The answer page will contain links to the 2012 “Nature Notes” columns so you can re-read them as a way of preparing to enjoy nature in 2013.

Let us know if all or almost all of your answers are correct! Email us your name (or your group’s name if a class or scout troop or other group is answering the quiz) at NatureNotes@westboroughlandtrust.org. We'll be pleased to congratulate the top scorers in a future issue of the Westborough News.

Match these descriptions with possible answers from the list below:

1.   This nighttime bird of prey has keen hearing and good night vision and nests in winter. These birds frequently become patients at the Wildlife Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton after being hit by a car while hunting or feeding along roads at night.

2.   These “early birds,” which tend to sing earlier in the morning and to nest earlier in the season than most other songbirds, are famous as a sign of spring when they start to hunt earthworms on our lawns.

3.   This large, shiny black beetle with white spots and long antennae is an invasive species that feeds inside maple trees and other hardwoods (in its larval stage), and has been found in Worcester and some surrounding towns, including nearby Shrewsbury.

4.   This small, early woodland wildflower has cream-colored bell-like blossoms that appear before the trees leaf out, and has a name that makes us think of our morning oatmeal.

5.   These woodland shrubs bear drooping clusters of small white bell-shaped flowers that attract bumblebees in the spring, and then in summer produce sweet, nutritious wild berries.

6.   These large plants come up in damp areas in May, growing leaves or fronds that are 3-5 feet tall and bearing spores (rather than seeds). On has spores on long spikes that look like cinnamon-sticks, and the other has them on dark leaflets that interrupt the regular leaves.

7.   Best known as a game bird, this chicken-like native bird burrows into deep snow on cold winter nights, and on spring mornings males make a muffled drumming sound with their wings to advertise their territory and attract mates.

8.   June and July are good months to look for these small, mostly gray butterflies (but with blue, orange, black, and white patterns on the undersides of their wings) at milkweed blossoms as well as shallower flowers that are easy for them to dip their short “tongues” into.

9.   This native plant has spikes of purple blossoms that grow right out of shallow water along shorelines, and its leaves and fruit were food for Native Americans and colonists and are still eaten by ducks, muskrats, and deer.

10.   This non-native plant of poor soils has soft, fuzzy, gray-pink flowerheads that are fun for kids to find, and its name calls to mind a popular animal of childhood stories.

11.   These two mushrooms – a purple one and a shaggy one – grow on the ground in woods with oaks, where they form a mutually beneficial underground “fungus-root” connection with tree roots.

12.   This climbing native vine produces blazing red foliage and dark blue berries in the fall, clinging to tree trunks and fences with tiny, sticky disks on its tendrils.

13.   These mushrooms with a pleasant-sounding name grow in clumps on hardwood trees, and eventually kill the trees.

14.   These little birds, heavily streaked in brown, occasionally appear in Westborough – south of their usual range – in years when seed production is skimpy in the pine and spruce forests farther north.

Possible answers:
- American robin (Turdus migratorius)
- Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis)
- Barred owls (Strix varia)
- Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium corymbosum)
- Cinnamon fern and interrupted fern (Osmunda cinnamomea & Osmunda claytoniana)
- Hairstreaks – gray, banded, and striped (Strymon melinus, Satyrium calanus,& Satyrium liparops)
- Honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea)
- Pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata)
- Pine siskins (Carduelus pinus, Spinus pinus)
- Rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense)
- Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus)
- Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
- Viscid violet cort (Cortinarius iodes) & Old man of the woods (Strobilomyces floccopus)
- Wild oats (Uvularia sessilifolia)

Nature Notes is printed in The Westborough News on behalf of WCLT (Westborough Community Land Trust). Report your own local nature sightings (or check out what others have seen) on WCLT's Facebook page! Find more information about enjoying nature in Westborough, including trail maps and a calendar of events, at the WCLT website

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