NEBRASKAland December 2018

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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DECEMBER 2018 • NEBRASKAland 19 NEBRASKAland Visitor Ending Last issue's winner of the Visitor drawing was Cheri Rychly of Bennington, who found the arrow- shaped micrathena spider on page 54. This will be the last Visitor for NEBRASKAland. The Visitor started back in 2009 and this was the 89th Visitor. Perhaps we will have another contest in future issues. The arrow shaped micrathena spider is a brightly colored spider found in most states east of the Rocky Mountains, including Nebraska. This spider is an orb weaver spider, related to the common garden spider. The spider's common name comes from its triangular abdomen, which on females includes several sharp spines. Females are very colorful, with yellow, black, red and white markings. Males are smaller in size and mostly black. These spiders overwinter in the egg stage, hatch in the spring, and spend the summer and fall eating small insects that get caught in their webs. The spiders inject a toxic venom into their prey that liquefies the interior of the insect, which they then consume. While these spiders are excellent predators of small insects, they pose no real risk to humans. Special thanks to Julie Van Meter, State Entomologist, Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The Red Crossbill By Joel Jorgensen The red crossbill is a distinctive finch whose crooked beak usually catches one's attention. Rather than being a deformity, the odd beak is an adaptation that the bird uses to extract its preferred food source – seeds from the cones of conifers such as pines, spruces and firs. Although its specialized beak may give the red crossbill an advantage in foraging on its preferred cone type, its relationship with conifer cone seeds is a double-edged sword that in many ways defines the species' entire life history. A bumper cone crop influences if and when the species breeds, and poor cone seed production may force individuals and populations to undertake nomadic wanderings across the continent in search of food. The close relationship between bird and seed has also resulted in the evolution of different populations that are referred to as "types," not unlike the way tropical hummingbirds have evolved unique bill shapes and lengths as their preferred flowering plants evolved. Crossbills belonging to different types are biologically- isolated from each other. Overall size, beak shape and call notes differ among types. Only one type of red crossbill can generally be found year-round in Nebraska in the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills. This type of red crossbill is adapted to extracting seeds from the cones of the common conifer found in these regions – the ponderosa pine. Occasionally, red crossbills occur anytime of the year in other extensive areas of ponderosa pine, such as the middle Niobrara River valley or planted forests at Bessey or McKelvie Nebraska national forests, as well as in cemeteries and at backyard feeders. Other types of red crossbills can occur anywhere in Nebraska on occasion during years of poor cone crops of their preferred conifer species. When large numbers appear suddenly such an event is referred to as irruption. A major red crossbill irruption occurred in Nebraska in October 2017 and included red crossbill types that breed in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. This irruption was short-lived, though, and it is virtually impossible to know when the next one may occur. Individuals who maintain bird feeders may get lucky and occasionally attract red crossbills. Otherwise, the bird feeders at Wildcat Hills State Recreation and Nature Center often host this species where crossbills and their peculiar beak can be appreciated at close range. ■ PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAAG Make sure to see the all-new look of Nebraskaland Magazine with the upcoming January- February issue.

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