Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Big Antennae on a Small Moth

This White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) showed up on our porch last night:

The pattern on its wings is pretty enough, but not really anything to write home about (or to write a blog post about, as the case may be). But the things that struck me most about this little creature were its super furry legs and, of course, its big hulking antennae. I bet those things can pick up some serious pheromones! (And they're kind of adorable.)

Here's a fun/strange fact: White-marked Tussock Moth females don't have wings. They just wait for the males to come to them, they mate and lay eggs, and then they die. Meanwhile, this male is out cruising around, putting his big antennae to good use. Insects are so weird!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Brings Some Familiar Faces

I arrived at Naugatuck State Forest early this morning, just as a light rain had finished falling, making the woods moist and cool. (Chilly, actually.) Despite the rainy start, this turned out to be a great day for a woods walk!

Soon after I entered the woods, I turned around and was surprised to see big, dark shapes melting out of the damp forest to cross the path behind me:

I really just never see deer in this part of the woods, so this was a cool beginning to the day. Two deer emerged, looked at me, then went on their way.

Fall has officially begun, and the woods are filling up again with the creatures we'll see through the winter -- this morning, I saw Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows for the first time since spring. I've missed the White-throated Sparrows' funky clown-painted faces, and I'm glad to have these birds around again:

Tons of warblers were moving through the trees, most of them too high up for me to identify (let alone get pictures). A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers came down to my level, though, and I was happy to see them -- I've missed these dainty birds and their yellow butts during the summer, too:

Several woodpeckers made an appearance this morning, including a group of raucous Northern Flickers, flashing their bright yellow tails:

And a handsome Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was hopping around as well -- I think this is a young male, whose red cap and throat feathers haven't quite all grown in yet (I'm reminded of a scruffy adolescent goatee):

While I was watching the woodpeckers, a Red Squirrel took up a post on a nearby tree and started chittering at me:

At that point I heard another sound behind me, and I turned to see a second Red Squirrel, just a few feet away and staring me right in the face:

This squirrel kept skittering from one side of the tree to the other and peering around at me, clearly agitated, and trying really hard to find a way past this annoying human standing in its path. I finally got the hint and walked away, so the squirrels could stop scolding. (Also, it looks like someone's been digging in the dirt -- clean your face, squirrel!)

There were a few more cool creatures around, including this Green Frog with its stylish yellow leaf hat:

And a small snail wandering around -- I see snails only rarely, actually (much less frequently than slugs), and I'm not sure why that is:

Here's hoping for a long stretch of lovely fall walks like this one before the weather gets really cold!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Next Up in the Migration Parade...

Perhaps "caravan" would be a more suitable word, but either way, the stream of south-bound birds passing through our yard just keeps going, and today brought some very cool new visitors.

A juvenile Red-eyed Vireo (its eyes are still brown, so it's not yet an adult) stopped to search the Red Cedar branches for tasty bugs, and we got to look each other over:

And in the vireo's wake was a pretty little Magnolia Warbler:

Magnolia Warblers are strikingly marked with black, white, and yellow in the spring, but even in its more subdued fall outfit this bird was amazingly bright! (This next picture provides a better representation of the bird's colors in real life.)

I never get to see vireos so close up, because they're usually high in trees while I'm far below, and Magnolia Warblers only pass through Southern Connecticut in the spring and fall, so both of these birds were pretty awesome to see. It feels positively luxurious to be home and have such a wide variety of creatures come to me. What a fantastic time of year!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Birds on a Late Summer Woods Walk

Well, they've finished filming that giant-fish-eating-people movie at Naugatuck State Forest! I made my return to those woods this morning, and except for a few tire tracks, you'd really never know a film crew was set up there for weeks. I was pleasantly surprised at how unchanged the place was, actually. Go film crew!

Anyway, the place was just as awesome as always, with lots of wildlife out and about. That thing happened where I got stuck standing in one spot for half an hour, because a constant stream of various birds just would not stop passing through. This time, that spot was on a little bridge over a stream, with tall conifers on one side and small leafy shrubs on the other, and birds were going crazy all over.

Among those birds was this sweet little Northern Waterthrush -- a type of warbler -- who sat bobbing its tail in the brush over the stream and chirping at me:

I've seen Louisiana Waterthrushes in these woods a few times before -- they look very similar to Northern Waterthrushes, but have brighter white eyebrows and an unstriped throat -- but this is my first time seeing this species. The close view made the encounter extra cool.

And another awesome bird was climbing up and down the tree trunks nearby -- a Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Red-breasted Nuthatches appear year-round in Connecticut, but they're much less common than White-breasted Nuthatches, and I'd never seen any around here at all until I happened to spot a few passing through the trees in our yard a couple of weeks ago. I'm so used to seeing White-breasted Nuthatches, and these birds are quite dainty in comparison -- they're just as talkative, though! And after years of never seeing Red-breasted Nuthatches, of course, I saw them several times during today's walk. :P

Update 9/13/12: According to this post from the Connecticut Audubon Society's blog, we're currently experiencing an irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches in Connecticut, meaning that (for whatever reason) there are many more of these birds in the area now than there have been in previous years. That would definitely explain why I'm seeing them now when I'd never seen them before!

I'm kind of in love with these birds, actually, and I wish I could meet them more often. I think their stripey heads are very cool looking, from any angle:

I hope to see you around again someday, little bird!

While watching the birds in this spot, I got distracted by some other things in the trees, too. This moth was doing a pretty good job at camouflage, and I think it's a type of underwing, so it probably could've broken its cover pretty dramatically if it had wanted to:

Higher up, an active paper wasp nest hung from another tree -- I could see the wasps going in and out, and I was glad that I was down on the ground:

I have one last sight from today's walk to share. Is that rock moving?

This location for the film suddenly seems appropriate, because there's definitely something lurking under the water. Two somethings, in fact!

It'd better be two, actually -- not even considering the two heads in the previous picture, I'd rather not consider the possibility of a Common Snapping Turtle this big:

(Really, though, I'm pretty tickled by these two snapping turtles hanging out together. They seem like such solitary creatures, and I love the idea of snuggling snappers.)

Hooray for a fun woods walk, as summer comes to a close.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Blue Jays Are Weird!

I already knew that Blue Jays make lots of funny sounds -- we hear frequent screeches and screams and creaks through our apartment windows -- but I had no idea, until this afternoon, that these birds also look hilarious when they make those sounds. This Blue Jay sat outside our window for several minutes this afternoon, calling its weird call and bobbing enthusiastically at the same time (sorry about the tree branches in the way):

Blue Jays are such entertaining birds! I promise someday I'll get some decent pictures of these fancy creatures onto the blog -- they're not only entertaining, but gorgeous as well.

Speaking of pictures, I'll leave you with this Black-capped Chickadee to fill your cuteness quota for the day:


Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Moth With Hidden Colors

There exists a group of moths called "underwings." These creatures have typical moth-y gray/brown-patterned forewings, but then when they fly or stretch, they reveal starkly contrasting hindwings, usually with super bright colors. The effect is almost more butterfly than moth, and totally unexpected!

I'd never seen an underwing moth before the following creature showed up at our porch light a few nights ago -- it's an underwing called (I believe) The Penitent (Catocala piatrix) (really, the names people come up with for moth species are just incredible sometimes):

Is that a cool moth, or what?? Some other species of underwings have bright pink on their hindwings, which is maybe even more shocking, but I like the way orange looks on this creature. Very pretty!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Exploring Long Beach

After a whole summer of visiting the beach once a week, I've gotten quite attached to the shore environment. So this morning, I decided it was time to go to the beach again, but this time I went someplace completely new: Long Beach in the town of Stratford. This turned out to be quite a cool place, basically a 1.5-mile bit of land jutting out into the Long Island Sound, with beach on one side and marsh on the other. It was an overcast day, and the place was pretty quiet -- there were no people out walking besides me, and only a couple other birders hanging out at the entrance. I saw hardly any shorebirds (I was expecting to see lots), but there were plenty of other fun things to see instead.

I watched a group of American Kestrels hunting over the marsh -- I just love these dinky little raptors:

One of the kestrels caught a dragonfly -- it was a big dragonfly, but the comparison still shows how small these birds are:

Yum, dragonfly! (And could the color on this bird's tail be any prettier?)

Some bigger raptors were around, too. A Northern Harrier cruised by me a couple of times, close enough that I got a good look at its lovely streaming tail:

When I saw the harrier again later (or possibly a different individual), it flew even closer, and I got to see its white-rimmed face, so strange for a hawk:

A few warblers were passing through, resting in the low bushes growing out of the sand, including this bright Common Yellowthroat:

And Double-crested Cormorants dried their wings on nearby rocks:

Some of the plants on this beach were really cool, too. I was totally impressed by the Rugosa Roses with their bright pink flowers and big fat rose hips -- this is a non-native species, but they made a pretty sight nonetheless:

Also amazingly impressive was the large number (and size) of Prickly Pears, a species which is listed as "special concern" in Connecticut, and which I've never actually encountered in the wild before:

As I was leaving the beach, I got completely distracted by fiddler crabs. They were feeding in a stretch of mud near the path, and when I sat down on a rock to watch, they just wandered closer and closer to me, like I wasn't even there. (Until I stood up, that is, at which point they all immediately streamed back into the safety of the marsh grass.) Crabs are just the funniest little creatures, whether they're females with two small front claws:

Or males with their single hulking appendages:

One of the male crabs I saw must have been a different species from most of the others, because his big claw was particularly huge and yellow, and he held it up shield-like the entire time, effectively blocking his body from view:

So it was a great visit overall, and Long Beach was a fun new place to explore. And just so you can benefit from all the time I spent watching the crabs, here are a couple videos I took of these hilarious creatures in action. (I can't help feeling a little sorry for the males, actually -- the females get to transfer food to their mouths with two arms, while the males have to use only one.) Enjoy!

Monday, September 3, 2012

American Redstart

And the parade of small birds outside my window continues. This afternoon, the star of the show was a bird I'd never seen in our yard before: an American Redstart!

And here I thought the chickadees and titmouses were hard to photograph... this little redstart (a type of warbler) just did not want to sit still! It was fluttering all over the place, snatching food from the branches of the Red Cedar and moving almost as soon as my camera focused on it. (To be fair, though, the redstart was traveling with a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo, and those other two birds stayed pretty much entirely hidden in the foliage. So I guess the redstart was fairly obliging, by comparison.)

Male American Redstarts in the spring are dressed in stark black and orange, but even this more subdued individual (a female?) was amazingly brilliant, flashing patches of bright yellow here and there through the leaves:

I guess the hunting was good in these trees, because this little bird scoured the branches for quite a while, giving me plenty of views from different angles:

You're so pretty, little bird!

OK, last picture:

I love seeing new visitors in our yard during migration. Keep on coming through, guys!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ever Want to See a Katydid's Mouth Up Close?

Several times over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed something really weird outside our windows at night. I'll look over, and a male Greater Angle-wing Katydid (Microcentrum rhombifolium) will be sitting on the window, slowly chewing on the screen:

Or, I should say, he's not actually chewing on the screen itself, but rather he seems to be methodically going over the screen's surface, picking up whatever bits of food are on there. As far as I have been able to find out, katydids are primarily plant eaters, so I have no idea what this creature is finding to eat on the screen. Whatever it is, though, it must be really delicious. (I also once noticed a katydid doing the same thing to the windowsill, so maybe there's something interesting all over the outside of our windows, and the screen's just the easiest surface to cling to.)

In addition to being totally perplexing, this behavior has also has given us a fantastic opportunity to watch a katydid's mouth at work, from right up next to the katydid's face. And I've learned an important fact: Katydid mouths are weird! There are so many mouth parts! Also, these creatures are just really cool to watch.

So if you want to see a katydid's mouth in action, here's a video I took of this creature on Friday night. (Thanks to Paul for letting me use his camera.) We've named the katydid "Karl," although of course I have no proof that it's the same insect visiting our screens on multiple nights.

Interestingly enough, in doing a quick search for "katydid on screen," I found another YouTube video of the same behavior. So our katydids aren't the only ones doing this. I'd love to eventually find out why this is going on, but for now I'll just stick with the "hey, cool" reaction. Insects are so crazy!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Panting Chickadees

It reached 90 degrees yesterday afternoon, which is not all that hot, really, especially considering the sorts of temperatures we were getting last summer. But it was apparently way too hot for our local Black-capped Chickadees, who showed up in the Red Cedar tree outside our apartment's window yesterday, panting.

And of course, I couldn't help taking pictures of these adorable birds trying to keep cool. (Consider this a companion post to the Tufted Titmouse photo shoot from the other day.)

It's so hot!

Well, you do what you can, right? (Right!)

Poor fellows. But at least they seem to have picked up a meal on their way through the tree, and it's always fun to watch punk chickadee antics. :)