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Archive for March, 2012

Black bear cub

Black bear cub

From New Jersey’s Star-Ledger newspaper, dateline September 8, 1983–“The population of black bears living in New Jersey is now estimated at 100.”  This was a quote in an article titled “Wildlife biologist ‘tags along’ with Jersey bears.” The article was about Pat McConnell, a Senior Wildlife Biologist for the state at that time, and it described her work of tagging and monitoring the state’s black bears.

Fast forward 28 years to 2011–officials estimated the black bear population to be about 3300 in just the northwestern part of the state where the bears are most prevalent. Bears have been sighted in all 21 counties of the state. Keep in mind that New Jersey has the densest human population of the 50 states.

Today, biologists with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) continue McConnell’s work, using tools and knowledge that weren’t available in 1983. They also do an excellent job in educating the public on how to co-exist with the bears.

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Epigaea repens or trailing arbutus

Trailing arbutus growing under pine

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a ground-hugging evergreen shrub that has fragrant pink or white flowers in early spring. It’s also called mayflower, ground laurel, and gravel plant. It’s native to eastern North America and is a member of the acid-loving heath family, as is mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). Unfortunately, trailing arbutus is not as common as it once was because in the past it was widely gathered to be sold in flower markets (see 1895 article in The Hartford Times).

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Comptonia peregrina or sweet fern

Sweet fern clump

Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a common plant of northeastern North America that, despite its name, isn’t a fern. Rather, it’s a shrub that has leaves that look fern-like. Sweet fern also has a pleasant, spicy fragrance which is why “sweet” is part of its name. Whenever I come across sweet fern, I can’t resist pinching off a small piece of a leaf to enjoy the fragrance for the rest of the day.

Comptonia peregrina or sweet fern in winter

Rusty brown leaves persist in winter

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If you like bugs and want to learn more about their natural histories and behaviors, I recommend Broadsides from the Other Orders, A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell. It was published in 1993, and both new and used copies are available from used booksellers on Amazon. Some used copies sell for less than $5.

Dragonfly (Order Odonata) and daddy longlegs (Order Opiliones)

Dragonfly and daddy longlegs – two bugs in Broadsides from the Other Orders

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Wood frog male

First wood frog of 2012

As I posted in February, the return of the wood frogs to breed in my small garden pond is one of my favorite events of spring (or, late winter, often).

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Mourning cloak adult large

Mourning cloak butterfly (photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org)

The first mourning cloak butterfly I’ve seen this year glided through my backyard yesterday. The weather was sunny, with temperatures in the mid 60s—a perfect day for the mourning cloak to stretch its wings after being hunkered down all winter.

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Lindera benzoin mature fruit

Mature fruit (copyright Steve Baskauf http://www.discoverlife.org)

The previous post in this series explored spicebush and its faunal visitors in summer. This post will continue into the autumn and winter of a spicebush year and conclude with information on growing spicebush in the home garden.

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