Saturday, February 28, 2015

16-Jul-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 14, Massachusetts

Sample site location
Hurrah, another cones-on-the-beach sampling site!  I do love a sampling site with a view.  This day's site was located on the opposite side of the reservoir from the previous week's beach site.

Bluff face in morning shadow
After parking by Pine Grove Cemetery and slipping past Gate 14, I emerged from the twilit forest onto the wide sandy beach located at the foot of Scar Hill Bluffs.  The northwest-facing bluff and beach were still largely in morning shadow when I arrived, but the sun soon topped the bluff-top trees and the beach was awash with light.

This cone laying on sand contained...
...egg sacs, an exuvium & dead ants.
The cones that I sampled had fallen from the eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) growing on the bluff face and the forest above, and had rolled downhill to the foot of the bluff or further onto the flat of the beach proper.  Litter and wrack were almost non-existent here, so there would be no litter sample to compliment these cones.  The cones were all resting directly on sand or on very meager bits of debris.

From this sand-encrusted refugium...
...came this gorgeous salticid.
Tapping 55 cones, I collected 24 spiders.  Half of them were microspiders TBD, but I also collected a number of dictinids and a handsome female jumping spider whose refugium was encrusted with sand.  I wonder whether she had added the sand deliberately, or whether sand encrustration is just an unavoidable fact of life for silk-spinning beach spiders.

Spider wasp
Red-spotted purple
I wasn't the only one out in search of spiders on that beach.  A spider wasp (Pompilidae) was actively hunting spiders to provision  her nursery burrow.  On the hike back to the car another blue and black insect captured my attention.  This red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis) seemed to be making a territorial circuit which included the forest path I was walking.  An irresistible photo op!
Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) in the morning sun

Friday, February 27, 2015

9-Jul-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Kendall Cove, Massachusetts

Site locations
Another week, another pair of sampling sites.  But my first site of the day would be something new: pine cones on the beach!

Site A
Site A was located on the western shore of Tahanto Point in Kendall Cove, where I found numerous eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) cones on the sand and pebble beach.  Some appeared to lay where they had fallen, while others had clearly been moved by wave action and now rested in the beach wrack.

Site A cone and wrack
Tapping 55 cones, I collected 8 juvenile spiders and 1 adult microspider TBD.  The ribbon of wrack, comprised mainly of pine needles, was long but not very thick.  I was only able to collect half a load of it, and from that, only one juvenile spider.

Site B
Site B was situated on high ground in the woods just northwest of the head of Kendall Cove.  Mature eastern white pines and younger sugar maples (Acer saccharum) dominated the overstory.

Fifty tapped cones yielded 7 spiders (not to mention a cricket and a moth), but only 2 identifiable species.  Guess what they were?  Yes, "the regulars", Phrurotimpus alarius (Phrurolithidae) and Neon nellii (Salticidae).  I suppose that sifting the ample maple-pine litter would have produced a nice batch of specimens, but I decided not to delve in due to the ubiquity of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) in the area.

"We were here."
A dragonfly has emerged
An old stone wall at Site B, together with the nearby place names of Sholan, Tahanto and Kendall, were reminders of the thriving communities that once inhabited the now-quiet reservoir and surrounding forest.

A toad metamorph on the beach, less than an inch long!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2-Jul-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 38, Massachusetts

Site location
The triangle of forest that lies between Route 110 in Clinton and the reservoir's North Dike was my destination this day.  Site A was located on the hillside just opposite the gate.  The stand I chose was almost pure eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) in composition, but there were oaks (Quercus sp.) and maples (Acer sp.) nearby, as the composition of the understory reflected.

Site A
Site A cones
Tapping 55 cones at Site A, I collected 12 spiders from at least 4 species.  The needle litter produced 6 spiders, mostly juveniles, but adults from 2 microspider species were present.

Site B, arborvitae trunk in foreground
Spider incorporating a Site B
cone into its web
Site B was located on the inland (downstream) slope of the dike.  The forest here was comprised of eastern white pines growing among an old arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) plantation.  Unlike Site A, Site B's understory was quite sparse, comprised of blueberry (Vaccinium sp.), ferns and pine and oak seedlings.

A trail tunnel through dense
arborvitae near Site B
I tapped 50 pine cones at Site B and collected 13 spiders, all juveniles but for one female Phrurotimpus borealis (Phrurolithidae).  A load of needle litter yielded 14 spiders, again all juveniles except for 2 linyphiid females TBD.

About a month after I took my samples, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority removed close to 4,000 trees from the North Dike as part of a safety and maintenance program.  Happily, according to news reports, the stands that I had sampled were probably left intact.
American coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) were plentiful on the grassy top of the North Dike

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

26-Jun-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 25, Massachusetts

Site locations
After a 1-day rain delay, I was back in the field to tap cones and sift litter.  The day's festivities occurred at two sites just inside Gate 25.

Site A was located on a trailside hill just east of Gates Brook in a richly mixed forest of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and oak (Quercus sp.).  This was my only collecting site in the Wachusett reservation where the litter contained beech nuts.

Site A
Site A cone and litter microhabitats
I tapped 50 pine cones at Site A and collected 12 spiders from at least 6 species.  A load of pine needle and oak leaf litter produced 28 spiders from at least 4 species.  Most of the litter specimens were microspiders.
Have egg sac...
...will travel.
Often I can't see cone spiders in situ, and only know they were present after tapping them from a cone into my net.  But several were visible this day due to the silk structures they had created.  I found two sac spiders (Clubionidae) in the silken retreats that they're named for and had placed on cone scales, and a female crab spider Ozyptila distans (Thomisidae) guarding her egg sac.  At first glance the crab spider's egg sac appeared to be attached to the cone scale.  But when the spider retreated deeper into the cone, she carried it off with her!

Site B
Site B cone and litter microhabitats
Site B was another eastern white pine "colonnade" near the shore with lots of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) growing beneath.  I was able to find 50 ivy-free cones to tap, but they only produced 3 spiders from two species.  The pine needle litter was likewise relatively unproductive, producing only a juvenile lycosid and salticid.
View of reservoir through rushes. Site B "colonnade"in upper right corner.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

19-Jun-2012 Quabbin Reservoir Gate 5, Massachusetts

"The MWRA Water System"
(Credit: Massachusetts Water Resources Authority)
I wasn't new to pine cone spider collecting, but I was new to spider identification.  When working previously with Rod Crawford in Washington state, he had IDd all the spiders I collected.  But here in Massachusetts, it was just me and my copies of Spiders of Connecticut, Spiders of North America and a dissecting scope.

Sample site locations
Spiders are, in fact, very delicate creatures.  It is easy for unpracticed hands to accidentally puncture or dismember them under the microscope.  So before I started working with important specimens from my Wachusett Reservoir study, I wanted to practice on some similar but less-important specimens.  Pine cone spiders from Quabbin Reservoir seemed to be ideal for this purpose.

The Quabbin is the western-most reservoir in the same drinking water system that includes the Wachusett Reservoir.  I collected from two pine stands located in the southwest corner of the Quabbin Reservoir reservation along Old Enfield Road (which is now a gated service road).

Site A
Site A cones
Site A was a stand of red pine (Pinus resinosa) growing on a roadside berm 50 to 100 feet from the shoreline.  I tapped 50 cones that I found on the berm face and got 4 spiders.

Site B
Site B cones
Site B was a stand of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) located about 1500 feet from the shoreline.  Tapping 50 cones from the top and face of the roadside berm, I collected 8 spiders from at least 3 species.

Water snake
Painted turtle
I had happened upon a major reptilian basking session during the hike in.  Where the old asphalt-covered road bisects a wetland, I found two big northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) and a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) soaking up the midday heat.  The turtle was camera-shy and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth, while the water snakes started moving into striking posture.  I backed away and left them to resume their heat-sponging.

As often happens on my spider collecting trips, I didn't see a soul during the working part of the day.  But this time, out of curiosity (and looking for easily accessible pine cones, of course), I did visit the second final resting place of the 7,613 souls whose graves had to be disinterred and moved to higher ground during the reservoir's construction.  I didn't find any cones, but I did find this massive, intriguing door beneath the pines that looked like it fell right off of a page of fantasy fiction.
A door into the hillside at Quabbin Park Cemetery.

Monday, February 23, 2015

18-Jun-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 7, Massachusetts

Site location
The Sawyer Bluff peninsula is one of the more frequently visited sections of the Wachusett Reservoir reservation, due no doubt to the presence of an actual parking lot by one of its gates.  My cone & litter sample site was in the pine-dominated forest on the north end of the peninsula, which, true to the landform's name, ended in a bluff about 10 feet above the shore.

Sampling site with a view
"Tufted" male Maevia inclemens
Fallen eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) cones were plentiful here, and most were well opened.  Finding the plenitude irresistible, I tapped 101 of them.  The result was 16 spiders and at least 8 species, among them a male Dimorphic Jumper, Maevia inclemens (Salticidae).  The specimen I collected was the "tufted" morph.  Click here to see a photo of the gray morph, which is zebra-striped!

Clubionid in refugium
Egg sac on cone scale
Spiders had created numerous silk structures in and on the cones at this site, including refugia, egg sacs and sheet webs.  In addition, an exuvium indicated that at least one spider had used a cone as a molting place.

Cone & litter microhabitats with
wintergreen (Gaulthera procumbens)
The litter was thin, comprised of pine needles and a few deciduous tree leaves, but still it produced 15 spiders of at least 3 species.  However, the big surprise I got while sifting the litter wasn't the spider fauna, but the weasel (Mustela sp.) that zipped past me to dive down a game trail that transected the bluff face.  Now that was a special treat!

Wild blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) were common in the understory

Sunday, February 22, 2015

11-Jun-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 29, Massachusetts

Sample site location
No parking at the gate and waltzing directly to my sample site this time.  Gate 29 is placed inside Saint Luke's Cemetery, which is replete with no parking signs.  The church across the street was no less forbidding.  The nearest public parking I found was on a side street 1/4 mile from the gate.  My destination, the northeastern base of the peninsula ending in Sholan Point, was another 3/4 mile beyond the gate. Well, no matter, any day is a fine day for a walk in the woods.

Sample site
Fallen cone and litter microhabitats
The sample site was located immediately behind the arborvitae curtain in an oak-maple forest dotted with eastern white pines (Pinus strobus).  Ferns and pine, oak and maple seedlings made up the understory.

The cones here were mostly well opened.  From 50 cones I tapped 9 spiders from 5 species.  Half of the specimens were microspiders TBD.  "The usuals", Phrurotimpus alarius (Phrurolithidae) and Neon nellii (Salticidae) were also present. The litter was thin, made up mostly of oak leaves, but it was rich in spiders: 30 specimens from at least 5 species.

Little wood-satyr
(Megisto cymela)
Eight-spotted forester
(Alypia octomaculata)
Maybe I was tired, or maybe I let myself get too distracted by all the wildlife, but the trails on the hike out were more confusing than on the hike in.  I was glad I had my gate map and compass.
Dramatic skies over Wachusett Reservoir