Sheer, unmitigated gall

15 February, 2015           Sheer, unmitigated gall

Before I continue – earlier this week I began a new section in the black bar at the top of this page. It’s calledMy favorite pictures and you can click on the link in this sentence or at the top of the page. It currently has what I regard as my seven favorite pictures on this blog (including one beauty taken by my friend Ethan). Watch for it to evolve over the coming months. But those first seven are wonderful. Have a look. You won’t regret it.

Now. On to my sheer, unmitigated gall. On the first of this month I put up this picture with this caption:

Poorly identified sparrow - can't even tell you the gender - sorry. I think that's an egg case of some sort below it on the stem.

Poorly identified sparrow – can’t even tell you the gender – sorry. I think that’s an egg case of some sort below it on the stem.


In the caption I wrote “I think that’s an insect egg case of some sort below it on the stem.” In my first blog entry of 2015 (Happy New Year!) I wrote:

“I’m learning about animals in the winter. The Wildlife Center of Virginia has an online book club. I just learned about it this week. Their next “meeting” is on Wednesday, 4 February, 2015 at 7:00 PM. The book they’re reading is Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. I’m reading it now. And watching the animals in Pony Pasture prepare to survive the winter. ”

And in that book I recalled reading about galls. So I read up on them again and it turned out that “insect egg case of some sort” is a Goldenrod gall! Winter home of a Goldenrod Gall fly larva!

As it turns out, that “poorly identified sparrow” is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia); the Cornell Lab of Ornithology refers to it as “one of the most diverse and widespread songbirds in North America.” So hardly a surprise to see it. Also – I think that there’s no way to distinguish gender in that picture. If I find out, I’ll put it in a future post. Always learning – I never knew before about Song Sparrows. Even a “common” bird like that. The Cornell Lab went on to say that Song Sparrows are “Often regarded as the most polytypic passerine in North America (Miller 1956) and vies with Horned Lark (Eremophilus alpestris) and Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) as most polytypic bird species worldwide.” Learn something new every day – I didn’t know what “polytypic” meant! I googled it (if you hadn’t noticed I am an obsessive googler) and I still didn’t understand! So I fell back on my trusted American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition:

polytypic also polytypical adj. Having several variant forms, especially subspecies or varieties.

That I understand. Anyway, please pardon my extended lexicographical digression, I’m writing here about galls, not ornithology or lexicography. Galls – this is so cool – contain an animal that cannot exist without a plant. How great is that? I’ve been writing about and photographing “Every living thing” in Pony Pasture and breaking it down into “Pony Pasture Flora” and “Pony Pasture Fauna” – and I discover Pony Pasture Flora and Fauna in one place! Fauna that can’t exist without the Flora! It’s a tiny example of the big web of everything that can’t exist without everything else.

See the bulge in that plant stem just underneath the sparrow? Bottom center of the page? That is a gall. The plant is a Goldenrod. The gall is called (unimaginatively in my opinion) a “Goldenrod gall.” Inside it – continuing with unimaginative naming – is a “Goldenrod gall fly larva.” The moniker is bland, but the insect and its life cycle are fascinating. Read about it here, courtesy of the Fairfax [Virginia] County Public Schools: Goldenrod Gall Fly

Here’s a picture of a Goldenrod gall I took at Pony Pasture this week. Amazing I never knew this:

A goldenrod gall - with a goldenrod gallfly larva inside - if a bird hasn't already eaten it!

A goldenrod gall – with a goldenrod gallfly larva inside – if a bird hasn’t already eaten it!

Here’s a little patch of them:

Goldenrod galls in a patch at Pony Pasture

Goldenrod galls in a patch at Pony Pasture

Anyway – I apologize – not a lot of color or fascinating stuff in this post, although that whole Goldenrod gall thing is nothing short of amazing. And the “My favorite pictures” link has terrific beauty in it. 

I am also learning – slowly – about what animals eat in the winter. Because I’ll tell you this, there’s not much. Here’s a pine cone from the edge of the woods:

A delicious (possibly) loblolly pine cone. There just HAS to be some calories there!

A delicious (possibly) loblolly pine cone. There just HAS to be some calories there!

Some of these leftover seeds, like acorns and walnuts and hickory nuts are still around. But as this deep, dense cold sets in I become more curious about where these animals are getting their calories. We’re in the beginning of what could easily be a seven day stretch when the temperature never goes above freezing – not even once. It’s going to take a lot of energy (calories) to maintain body temperature in those conditions. Where do the calories come from? I have a lot of birds on my feeder right now! And beginning in around 24 hours we’re supposed to get several inches of snow. Yikes! Keep your bird feeders full! And enjoy the snow! I’ll do both! Have a great week,


PS There are mallards bunching up in the canals. This pair was in the middle of a group of around a dozen:

A pair of mallards, dabbling. Seriously. That's the verb for what they do to find food - "dabble."

A pair of mallards, dabbling. Seriously. That’s the verb for what they do to find food – “dabble.”

And that same morning I was standing beside a little tree and a male downy woodpecker landed practically on my shoulder:

Male Downy woodpecker. He's a sharp looking little dude isn't he?

Male Downy woodpecker. He’s a sharp looking little dude isn’t he? 

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Insects, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sheer, unmitigated gall

  1. kouten07 says:

    I am beginning to hike and bike more. Hopefully kayak a bit too. Have always loved nature and photography. Glad I found your blog. Look forward to reading of your experiences and seeing your photos. 🙂

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