Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Common Grackle Invasion

We've been getting some really big flocks of Common Grackles here recently (I'm talking more than a thousand birds at a time), and the flock that visited today might have been one of the biggest yet. I was away (silly work!) and missed it, but Paul was on top of things and he took this video of so many grackles streaming through the woods behind our house:

 

I'm glad the house didn't get swept away in that flood of birds!

(Thanks to Paul for making the video and letting me share it! For more stuff from him, check out his blog about weird things at yard sales, Yardsaling to Adventure! It's awesome and hilarious and I'm not just saying that because I'm married to the author.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Snakes

I was just thinking how strange it was that we hadn't seen any snakes in our yard yet, and then yesterday afternoon I opened our front door and a tiny Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) tumbled off the step and into the flower bed. I found it curled up as perfect as could be under a fallen leaf, and it was nice enough to stay still for a portrait (with a quarter for scale):
 

What an adorable little creature!
 

I covered the little Brown Snake again with its leaf, and when I checked the spot a few minutes later, the little creature had moved on.
 
Later that same afternoon, we uncovered a second snake -- an Eastern Garter Snake this time -- under a wood pile. Something seems to have nibbled on this snake's tail at some point, but it was a very handsome creature nonetheless:
 

This snake was quite patient with me and my looming camera lens:
 

But this guy eventually wandered off as well. I'm glad to count these awesome creatures among our neighbors!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Things that Crawl on the Ground

It's getting downright chilly outside now, but last week's weather was wonderfully sunny and warm, and I came across several cool creatures while exploring the woods next to our house. After some rain and warm weather, this place turned into salamander paradise. This wonderful Jefferson Salamander (or perhaps it's a salamander in the quite confusing unisexual complex that involves genes from this and other species) was hiding out under a piece of bark on the forest floor:
 

Salamanders are always awesome, and I just love the handsome blue speckles on this guy. (I haven't yet figured out the best way to take pictures with my actual camera in the dark woods, so my iPhone's camera will have to do for now.)

A few Red-backed Salamanders (smaller and sleeker than the blue-speckled fellow) were nearby:
 

This next Red-backed Salamander was particularly active and surprisingly fast. I wouldn't want to be a bug with one of these creatures after me!
 

A big Groundhog was prowling the edge of the forest behind the house the other day, walking along drainage pipes and digging into the leaf litter:
 

It even went partway up a tree at one point. I didn't know Groundhogs could climb!
 

I thought this big orange sphere on a fallen leaf must be some sort of gall, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a species of orb weaver spider (Araneus iviei). Spiders are so weird!
 

I actually saw this last creature a couple of weeks ago, but it's too strange not to share:


What looks like a giant ant (maybe close to an inch long) is actually an oil beetle (genus Meloe). The small coverings (elytra) on its abdomen pointed me toward the beetle family, and some internet searching did the rest.

Here's hoping the cold weather doesn't come in too fast.... I'm going to miss all these cool creatures when they go away!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Late Summer Yard Birds

It's the first day of fall already! How did that happen? Here I am still getting to know the summer birds in our yard, and fall migration is now well underway, so it's hard to know who's been here all summer and who's just passing through. Eastern Bluebirds light up fence posts:
 

Black-capped Chickadees are all over the place (and adorable as always):
 

Just like at our old place in Connecticut, the Tufted Titmice were the first birds to discover the window feeders we put up:
 

And now the titmice and chickadees come in for seeds all day. We're up to three feeders and these guys empty them every few days! Titmice are so brave and adventuresome, I'm glad they're around to figure out that we're leaving food in these weird plastic things:
 

Other birds are finding food around the house as well. I loved seeing this tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird drinking from some hosta blossoms right near a window:
 

And the American Goldfinches keep coming in to feast on seeds from the purple coneflowers at the front of the house:
 

Acrobatics are sometimes required to get these seeds, but finches are good at that sort of thing:
 

Mmm, seeds:
 

This Northern Flicker was stretching and showing off its super fancy costume the other day; those yellow shafts on its wing feathers really are amazing:
 

And I never noticed the Mickey Mouse silhouettes on this bird's tail before:
 

It's always worth admiring Flickers from below:
 

We have a whole host of woodpeckers besides Northern Flickers in our yard as well. Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are regulars, and I was very excited to hear heavy, deliberate hammering the other day and look up to see a Pileated Woodpecker hard at work on a tree next to the house. Living in the woods is amazing!
 

A small flock of Swainson's Thrushes has been hanging around recently, giving me the chance to admire these lovely birds with their freckled breasts and beige spectacles:
 

These small thrushes (smaller than a robin, anyway) have been cleaning the berries off of a dogwood tree near the house:
 

Yes, I'm just watching you, bird; keep eating:
 

I was able to admire a Swainson's Thrush up close under very unfortunate circumstances recently, when we found a dead individual under one of our windows facing the woods. It was such a beautiful creature, so small and perfect (the feathers on its belly practically glowed, they were so white), and so horribly sad. We've put static-cling decals on the windows, to try to help the birds see the glass. No more window strikes please!

With all the bird activity around here, there are many more happy sightings than sad ones. The warblers have been moving through in their kaleidoscope of muted fall costumes, but they haven't been very cooperative for my camera. Here's a bright American Redstart tail, does that count?
 

Huge flocks of Common Grackles -- hundreds of birds at a time -- have been sweeping over the trees around our yard in recent days:
 

So many grackles!
 

Now that fall's officially here, I'm excited to see what other creatures will show up in the weeks to come. Ohio is quite the adventure so far!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Few Yard Amphibians and Insects

I still haven't had a chance to explore any of the parks near our new home, but I also haven't really felt the need to, because there are already so many things to see right here. We're getting used to seeing adorable little American Toads hopping out from underfoot whenever we walk through the yard:
 

And I was super happy the other day when one tiny fleeing amphibian turned out to be a Spring Peeper:
 

Hello wonderful creature! Sorry about the flash for this next picture, but I needed to admire the lovely pattern on your back:


The insect life around here is wonderfully varied, with lots of cool creatures to meet. I already shared pictures of the big Northern Walkingstick and Luna Moth that showed up in past weeks, and the big bugs keep coming! This large ornate dragonfly (possibly a Shadow Darner, Aeshna umbrosa, or another darner species) was hanging out at the end of a recent day (yes, we have blueberries in our yard):
 

This dragonfly was either injured or just really tired, because it let me pick it up for a closer look (and to admire its size) before it flew away:
 

Smaller brilliant red dragonflies (a meadowhawk species, I think) cruise around our house, staking out posts mostly at the tops of flower stalks:
 

Although my car's antenna apparently serves this purpose just as well:
 

Cicadas frequently call from the trees, and we spotted this one handing out under a wooden sign:
 

A stand of milkweed near the road is currently feeding a horde of Milkweed Tussock Caterpillars, fuzzy little things that will eventually grow into moths:
 

A Painted Lady butterfly let me take its picture the other day as it visited the flowers around the house. These wings are so bright and pretty on top:
 

But I absolutely love the intricate patterns on their undersides:
 

I'm definitely learning to bring my camera along whenever I'm outside, because you never know what might show up next!