Sunday, August 9, 2020

Mid-summer Sights

July and early August this year have been suitably summery, with warm days and temperate nights, some rain but not too much, plentiful vegetables from the garden (we've been eating really well), and lots of interesting summer-time animal sightings around our property. Here are some assorted highlights from the past several weeks!

The trail camera in the woods has continued to gather some fantastic glimpses of our local wildlife, including more videos of Bobcats and Ruffed Grouse -- I'm still astonished and thrilled that these animals have been such regular visitors in our woods this year. The following video compiles a few clips from the trail camera: (1) A bobcat walking on the trail during the day (our first daytime sighting!) on July 14. (I love this big cat's beautiful colors, and those white patches on the backs of its ears; and after a Blue Jay calls and the Bobcat turns back around toward the camera, I think it even opens it mouth and makes a tiny sound!) (2) Our resident Ruffed Grouse family of an adult and two growing chicks on July 11, settled down for a grooming session on the sun-soaked path. (It's too bad this video got a little over-exposed... but I still think it's really cool.) (3) A group of Wild Turkeys -- at least two adults and several partially-downy young -- foraging along the path on July 16. (4) A family of Northern Flickers foraging on the ground and making soft noises on July 30:



Speaking of Northern Flickers, on August 3, I found one of these birds' beautiful feathers on the woods trail. "Yellow-shafted" indeed:
 

Our Eastern Phoebes successfully raised their second brood in their traditional (at least four years running now) spot above our front door. Here's one of the little phoebe faces appearing over the edge of the nest on July 12 (at 10 days old):
 

The phoebe parents did a great job of keeping these babies fed, even throughout a particularly trying few hours one day when a group of people were doing some excavation work in our yard. The phoebes made it clear that they weren't happy about people in sight of their nest, but they were very bold, and they persevered. Here's one of the parents making a food delivery on July 13:
 

These phoebe babies proved to be tenacious, too: A few days before they were ready to fledge, the nest suffered a major structural collapse (I don't know how this happened), yet the three babies stayed put in their partial-nest for the remainder of their nestling time. These are such good birds! Here they are on July 18:
 

Amazingly, we had a third Eastern Phoebe brood this year as well. I wasn't looking out for any more phoebe breeding attempts, so I was shocked to notice on July 20 that a fresh crop of fuzzy babies were jostling around in the same first nest the phoebes built this year (in the small shed on our property). These babies looked like they were about a week younger than the second brood (porch) babies, so the two nests must have been incubated at the same time, which I think must mean that we had two female phoebes nesting on our property at once. The Audubon Field Guide suggested a single male Eastern Phoebe might sometimes hold a territory with two mates, so perhaps that's what happened this year. What drama! Unfortunately, I think the third brood failed, because I wasn't able to see the baby birds again before they would have been old enough to fledge. :( Well, two broods of phoebes -- and eight new birds total -- is still pretty great!

In other nesting news, an American Robin built her nest in a tidy nook on the front of our house, making her next-door neighbors with the phoebes. This nest also failed, but it was nice to have a robin family nearby while it lasted. Goodness, nesting is rough! Here's the mama robin on her nest on July 18:
 

More happily, a pair of Gray Catbirds successfully raised a nest full of babies to fledging in the thicket of forsythia that monopolizes a corner of our property, and Cedar Waxwings have an active nest in the maple tree above the small shed. The House Wrens also have a second brood in the same nest box they used earlier this year. This place does a good job of producing baby birds!

This male Common Yellowthroat was keeping a close eye on me on July 20 while his young family foraged nearby:


Eastern Garter Snakes have been hanging around our yard quite a bit this summer, including this beautiful reddish individual who was lounging on a flat rock next to the house on July 13:
 

This has been a great summer for Red Efts (juvenile Red-spotted Newts)! Several times in the past couple of weeks, I've seen one or more of these awesome amphibians hunting in the flower bed right next to our front porch, where rain plus compost seems to attract a nicely eft-appropriate buffet of insects. I'd never seen efts actively hunting and eating before -- I usually come across them just walking from one place to another -- and I tried to capture this activity on video but ended up with footage too shaky to share. Oh well! Here are some still pictures of two efts in our flower bed on July 23 instead:
 


On the night of July 27, I noticed a small frog on the railing of our back deck. Expecting a Spring Peeper, I went to visit the little creature up close... and it wasn't a peeper, but rather a very young Gray Treefrog! Ahhh, so wonderful!! The two adult Gray Treefrogs who showed up on our porch this past May were the first of this species I'd ever seen, and it's so cool to get to see how small these creatures start out. I love this little frog's green patches and its round clinging toes:
 

Here's a Common Wood-Nymph butterfly feeding on blossoms of (I believe) Wild Basil (Satureja vulgaris) on July 20 in the meadow:
 

And a Hummingbird Clearwing moth visiting Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) on August 3 -- these awesome moths have been particularly common this year, which makes me very happy:
 

On the night of July 14, I decided to see what would happen if I set up my camera in the meadow with a really long (30-second) exposure time amid the fantastic firefly shows we were getting during that part of the summer. I didn't try to do any fancy processing with these photos, but I think these haphazard results look pretty cool. I love how the fireflies and stars overlap in this picture:
 

And I really like seeing the dotted trails individual fireflies make as they fly and flash across the camera's view:
 

Finally, these strange tracks appeared in looping trails all across our pollen-covered lawn mower in mid-July. Comparing with other pictures online, the best I've been able to figure out is that these are probably marks left by a snail or slug as it fed. So weird!
 

Summer is certainly an interesting time!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Spring and Early Summer Highlights: Part III

OK, here's one more post catching up with April, May, and June around our house!

Yet More Birds

The trail camera in the woods made several videos featuring cool birds this spring. The following video compiles a few especially exciting clips: First, some deer triggered the camera while a Barred Owl happened to be calling nearby -- I've heard a pair of Barred Owls calling individually and together a whole lot this year, and I suspect they've been nesting somewhere in the woods surrounding our property. Next is a video of a Wild Turkey foraging in the underbrush; it's always neat to see these big birds up close. Then, there's another deer-triggered video that captured a Wood Thrush's amazing song; I hear Wood Thrushes only occasionally around here, and getting to hear this song so clearly is such a treat. And finally, incredibly, there's a video of an adult Ruffed Grouse and two tiny chicks foraging at midday. I'd glimpsed Ruffed Grouse in our woods only a couple of times before, and then this family group wandered past the trail camera on three different days. I love Ruffed Grouse a whole lot, and I'm so happy to know that we have them as neighbors.



Amphibians and Others

I've known for a few years now that Gray Treefrogs live around here, and I suspect that they're fairly common, because I hear them trilling every year in May, June, and July. I'd never actually seen one of these mostly arboreal and well-camouflaged amphibians, however, until this year.... On the night of May 22, with warm temperatures and heavy rain -- wonder of wonders -- two Gray Treefrogs appeared right our front porch. Oh my goodness!
 

Paul was admiring these frogs with me, and he pointed out that their skin is all bumpy and mottled, a lot like a toad. But their shape is so treefrog-y, all low to the ground and spread out, and with those big round suction-cup toes.

These two treefrogs were very active -- we'd turn off the light and go inside, and then we'd look out onto the porch again a few minutes later and they'd be in entirely different spots. One of the treefrogs perched on top of our door frame, like the world's most adorable gargoyle:
 

The other treefrog ended up clinging to a window, which meant we got to see a treefrog belly. :)
 

The Gray Treefrogs were the stars of the show, but tons of other amphibians also kept showing up near our porch on that warm rainy night. This little Spring Peeper was adorable and bold:


And here's a Red Eft (juvenile Red-spotted Newt) with an American Toad hulking behind:


Amphibians are awesome!

I'll close this summary with a couple more sights. There have been many interesting insects around, but here's one that's entirely new to me: A male Glowworm Beetle (possibly Phengodes plumosa) who showed up in my garden on June 5. Apparently female Glowworm Beetles look like larvae, and both the females and the larvae are luminescent -- amazing. I'm really impressed by the antennae on this male. What a weird bug:


And finally, the Wild Lupine we planted in our meadow a few years ago put on a fantastic show in June. I love looking at these thick stands of purple and blue flowers:
 

Whew! OK, we're all caught up! Now onward to the rest of summer. :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Spring and Early Summer Highlights: Part II

Here's a continuation of the previous post, with more highlights from April, May, and June of this year. And it turns out I still have too many things to share, so this will actually have to be three posts, not two!

More Birds

Spring was very slow to advance this year, with freezing temperatures and occasional snow all the way through mid-May. (Our last snow was on May 12.) The migrating birds still showed up in early May as usual, though, which led to some strange sights, like this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak amid falling snow:


A flowering quince shrub in our yard bloomed fairly early in May despite the cold weather, and its blossoms were a big draw for some nectar-seeking birds. Here's a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird enjoying these blossoms on May 17:


Bare branches on another nearby shrub made great perches for little hummingbird feet in between trips to the flowers -- I love how sassy she looks in this photo:


A male hummingbird was hanging around, too, and actively courting the female. I didn't get any pictures of his fancy dives, but he was also nice enough to perch for a couple of photos in between trips to the flowering quince:


In this next picture, I love how the light bouncing off of his feathers has turned the underside of his beak red:


Baltimore Orioles were also frequent visitors to the quince blossoms; here's a brilliant male from May 16:
 

The number of bird species we've seen or heard on our property has continued to climb. Birds #107 and 108 (I still can't believe we're in the 100s!) were the two cuckoo species: Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Black-billed Cuckoo. In previous years, I've suspected that I was hearing cuckoos calling occasionally, and this year in early June I finally learned and confirmed these two species' calls. Confirmation of these species by ear was about as much as I thought I could hope for, but then a day or two afterward, both species each flew out into clear view and showed themselves. I didn't have my camera handy for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (a bird I'd only seen once before, way back in 2011 in Connecticut), but here's a distant and partially-obstructed picture of the Black-billed Cuckoo, a totally new bird for me:


I managed to wander outside and look/listen for migrants nearly every day in May this year (a definite benefit of working from home). Ruby-crowned Kinglets were common and surprisingly loud visitors. Here's one of these cute little birds on May 1:


Black-and-white Warblers are so fancy, and I saw them fairly frequently this spring (and at least one pair has stuck around over the summer and is probably breeding somewhere out there). This male was foraging on a fallen tree in the woods on May 2:


And here's a male on May 16 showing off his gravity-defying tree-climbing skills:


These birds are gorgeous, but I think they look really strange when viewed head-on:


A flock of male Yellow-rumped Warblers lit up the still leafless woods on May 10:


A male Cape May Warbler foraged in a pine tree next to our driveway on May 17:


And on May 15 I felt extremely lucky to come across a male Black-throated Blue Warbler foraging right at ground level in the woods, and near the path. I suspect this is the closest I will ever get to one of these handsome birds, and is that not the most perfect color of slaty-blue on his head and back?
 

That's enough for now, but we're still not done catching up with spring and early summer! Stay tuned for Part III!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Spring and Early Summer Highlights: Part I

I'm starting to figure out that April, May, and June are some of the busiest months of the year around here! Between work (especially in April and early May), gardening (yay!), and other time-sensitive outdoors tasks (the Garlic Mustard battle continues...), this is the third year in a row when I've let nature sightings accumulate on my computer for most of these months, which means I end up making a big summarizing blog post after spring has finished. So here we go!

After three years living on this property, I'm getting a pretty good sense of what's normal around here in terms of wildlife. So instead of providing a comprehensive summary this year, I'll share some highlights of especially exciting or new-to-me sightings in our yard, meadow, and woods. There have been a lot of wonderful surprises in the past few months! (Even with just the highlights, this is going to have to be two posts!)

Mammals

The trail camera has continued to provide an amazing glimpse into the goings-on in our woods, including views of several mammals that we almost never (or actually never!) get to see otherwise. One of the coolest results from the trail camera this spring was the first confirmation that we do indeed have Bobcats in our woods! It's so exciting to see a wild feline up close (even remotely) as it traveled our trails, and the wild canines (Coyote and Gray Fox) that also made close-up appearances on the trail camera are super amazing, too. Sightings of a Virginia Opossum and a troupe of Raccoons were nice bonuses. :) Here are some cool mammal video clips, all from April and May:



Birds

Several birds have made their homes on our property this year, and there's been plenty of nesting drama. Our Eastern Phoebe pair is going for two broods again (same as last year), and they're doing a fantastic job so far. After starting a mossy/muddy foundation for a nest above our front door in April, the female Phoebe changed her mind and built a nest in the rafters of an old shed on our property instead. Here she is bringing nesting material to her construction site on April 24:
 

This shed is pretty run-down, and it's not really weather-proof, but I suppose it keeps enough of the rain away to protect a nest. We were worried about birds hitting the windows in this shed, so we hung up some branches and other random items to block the glass, and that seems to have worked. It was cool to see the phoebes swooping through this doorway, making themselves at home -- I'm glad someone's making good use of this old building!
 

The first Phoebe egg appeared on May 3, and by June 8 the five (or so) babies were looking alert and just about ready to leave the nest:
 

While the first brood was still in the shed, the female phoebe went ahead and built her second nest over our front door. Feeding and incubating two broods simultaneously must be a lot of work, and these two birds sure seem to make a great team! Here's one of the parents (probably the male) feeding two still-needy youngsters from their first brood on June 27 on top of a trellis in my garden:
 

And here are the new arrivals in the second nest on July 3 (that third egg hatched sometime after I took this picture):
 

Yay, phoebes!

A pair of Black-capped Chickadees claimed one of our nest boxes (which are theoretically for bluebirds) and built a lovely nest of moss, grass, and fur by the end of April. Here's one of the prospective chickadee parents peering out of the box on April 24:
 

But then in early May, a male House Wren arrived and pulled apart the chickadees' nest, emptying out the box for his own use. Sigh, poor chickadees. I saw chickadees working on nests in a couple of spots in tree limbs around the property later on, but I don't know if any of those other spots have been successful either. Being a cavity-nester seems like a really rough time! Here's a chickadee at one possible nest hole in the woods on May 10:
 

I wasn't especially happy about the male House Wren's arrival, even apart from his destruction of the chickadees' nest. House Wrens are native birds, and they're really cute and gregarious (plus, they're a species that I hadn't seen breeding on our property yet)... but I've also read that House Wrens are very aggressive, and they sometimes attack other birds' nests in their territory, even when they already have a nesting spot of their own. I was worried that the House Wren would hurt the Tree Swallows who were starting to nest in the other box right nearby. Here's the male House Wren depositing tiny sticks into the now-empty nest box on May 17 -- I love how these birds always approached the nest hole from above, swinging down over the rim of the roof:
 

For several days, I tried to deter the male House Wren -- or at least keep him busy -- by removing the twigs he kept bringing to the box. But he was very persistent, and soon a female House Wren joined him, and then an egg appeared in the box, and that was it, the box was definitely theirs. They ended up with eight little speckled eggs in their nest:
 

On June 19, those little eggs started producing tiny proto-birds:
 

And here's the whole fuzzy family at four days old, on June 22:
 

The adult House Wrens always kept a very close (and noisy) watch whenever I checked their nest box:
 

Close enough for a portrait, even:
 

Meanwhile, the Tree Swallow pair built their lovely feather-lined nest and raised their babies in the other box. Here's the male keeping watch while the female brings nesting material to the box on May 17:
 

I love having Tree Swallows as a consistent presence in the yard while they're nesting. Also on May 17, I was able to grab some pictures of these beautiful birds while they hunted for flying insects (and kept an eye on me) against blue skies over the meadow:
 


Everything seems to have turned out OK, and the House Wrens and Tree Swallows have all fledged successfully. I'm glad these two bird families were able to be amicable neighbors, and I'm happy that our nest boxes helped to add a dozen or so insect-eating birds into the world this spring. The Tree Swallows have now departed, but the male House Wren is still hanging around and singing, even though his nest is empty.... I wonder if there's still time for a second brood this year. (Going into next year, I'll need to decide whether I'm going to try to deter House Wrens from using our nest boxes again. There are a few other things I can try, so we'll see how it goes.)

This spring's nesting season has brought a couple of other complete surprises as well. Field Sparrows usually pass through our property every spring, but this year a pair of these little birds stuck around and raised a nest of babies somewhere under the vegetation in the meadow. I never saw the nest, but I saw the adults carrying food and acting agitated when I was nearby. I've read that Field Sparrows usually avoid nesting in areas near human habitation, so I feel super lucky that these two birds chose our little meadow for their family. Here's one of the adult Field Sparrows on May 16:
 

And, wonderfully, a pair of Great-crested Flycatchers decided to build a nest in a cavity in the old apple tree next to our driveway. Again, these are birds who have passed through our yard only occasionally in past years -- usually at treetop level -- so it was amazing to see them around nearly constantly, hunting in my garden, and so on. Here's the female flycatcher with a beakful of nesting material, ready to deposit it into the cavity on June 17:
 

And here's her mate keeping watch:
 

These seem to be tough birds. On June 27, I saw one of the flycatchers sitting on a power line in the rain, and a Mourning Dove landed practically on top of the flycatcher. There was a tussle, and the flycatcher came away with one of the dove's feathers:
 

Tough as they are, though, the flycatchers' nesting attempt didn't work. On July 1, I watched as a chipmunk emerged from the flycatchers' cavity and dropped an egg to the ground. Ugh. Nesting in cavities really seems to be a rough situation, and incredibly risky. Honestly, though, I'm surprised the flycatchers made it so far into their nesting attempt in the first place, since I see chipmunks and squirrels in that tree so frequently. The Great-crested Flycatchers left our yard after that. I hope they're able to find a new and better nesting cavity somewhere else. :/

There's more to share, but that's enough for one post! More coming soon.