Friday, August 30, 2013

Window Feeder Birds

Since Paul and I put a bird feeder up on our window last fall, we've gotten tons of entertainment from this little thing. It was slow going at first, with only the occasional Tufted Titmouse patron over the first few months. But then we moved the feeder to a window with more tree cover -- it's actually now next to the Red Cedars, which get tons of bird traffic by themselves -- and the explosion of activity at the feeder this summer has been incredible. Black-capped Chickadees are by far the most common visitors, and I absolutely love being able to see these personable birds so close. And I do mean close. A few times a day, our local group of 5 or 6 chickadees will stop by and take turns picking seeds out of the feeder, and Paul and I can stand with our faces literally inches away from them. They just go about their business, no problem!

Because I can -- because they let me -- here are some pictures I took yesterday of one of our chickadee visitors. Unlike every other bird picture I ever take (including the pictures later in this post), I actually didn't use my telephoto lens here. It's just me and my camera inches away from this awesome little creature:

Sooo cute!

Here's a cropped version of that last picture -- all those tiny, intricate feathers are just amazing:

Along with the chickadees, we also often get Tufted Titmouses at the feeder, and a White-breasted Nuthatch shows up every few days as well. Now that I see these birds so frequently and at close range, I've actually noticed that chickadees and titmouses aren't really the same size, as I've always assumed. On this small feeder, the titmouses look like hulking tanks compared to the dainty chickadees. How strange!

Speaking of titmouses, one of our local birds has been acting very strangely recently. (I'm assuming it's the same bird, but it could be multiple birds as well.) Several times over the past few days, a Tufted Titmouse has perched on the window near the feeder, tweeting loudly and peering intently at (or perhaps past) the glass:

Then it starts flapping its wings and pressing against the glass and just generally trying really hard to do something... but I'm not sure what!

What do you want, little bird?! This could be an attack-the-reflection thing, but from our end it looks an awful lot like the bird is trying to get through the glass and into our house. Good thing we don't leave the windows open without screens, because I think we'd have a titmouse in here pretty quickly!

Just don't hurt yourself, adorable creature!

In the past couple of days, some new birds have started to figure out that there's food on our window as well. A House Finch spent some time chowing down on seeds on Wednesday. Then a Downy Woodpecker showed up, but it didn't quite seem to know what to do with the feeder:

It spent some time trying to get at the seeds from below by tapping on the bottom of the tray:

It even reached its tiny tongue into the feeder's drainage holes, but strangely enough the little woodpecker wasn't having much success with this approach:

OK, there you go! Although that big tail makes it a bit hard to balance here:

Even better! Problem solved.

Well done, Ms. Downy. Enjoy!

One of these days I'll have time for a nice long woods walk. But until then, I'll just enjoy all these wonderful creatures right at home. :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Growing Up Cardinal

This juvenile male cardinal showed up outside our windows yesterday, and I just love his patchy red suit! I wonder, could he possibly be the baby cardinal I saw in our yard earlier this spring?

Keep growing those bright feathers, Mr. Cardinal!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hawk and Snake

Wednesday was my last regular visit to Silver Sands State Park in my official capacity as a volunteer Piping Plover monitor for the year. No shorebirds nested here this year -- same as last year, unfortunately -- but I've had a lot of fun on my shore-side trips nonetheless. The many active creatures on Wednesday morning made for an awesome beach day to round out the season!

I have lots of things to share, but this hawk definitely stole the show:

I'm not totally confident in my juvenile hawk identification skills, but I'm about 95% sure this is a young Red-shouldered Hawk. (It had pale crescent-shaped patches on the tops of its wings, which is apparently a good indication of that species, and it was missing the dark leading edges under its wings that a Red-tailed Hawk usually has.) Anyway, a few seconds after I noticed the hawk in its tree, it flew down and flopped onto the ground:

I guess wings aren't very useful on the ground among woody stalks, but the hawk soon got its appendages under control. It seemed very interested in something at its feet:

After a brief tussle, the hawk was off into the air again, now with a meal in its talons:

Oh! It's a snake!

I caught up with the hawk again later, and by that time the snake was already half gone:

Poor snake. (I wonder what kind it was.) The hawk seemed happy with its prize, though.

A crow was hopping around and calling nearby, but the hawk didn't share, and the snake was gone pretty quickly anyway:

Well hunted, young hawk!

An American Kestrel -- a much smaller raptor -- was hunting in this part of the park as well:

These little predators are just too cute, with their big eyes and tiny beaks:

In another area of the park, dozens of Barn Swallows made a cool sight as they preened and chittered to each other, all lined up on electrical wires:

A Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly looked especially striking with the sunlight shining through its stained-glass wings:

And of course, now that I've emphasized (in my last post) how unusual it is to see Clapper Rails in the open, I've seen these birds up close on each of my last three visits to the park. Well, I'm not complaining! I guess late summer is just a good time to see these cool, funky-looking birds:

The shore has definitely been a great place to visit this summer. And now that my volunteer duties are finished, I'm hoping there will be more time soon for some woods walks!

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Very Rail-y Beach Day

There are Clapper Rails in the marshes at Silver Sands State Park. I know they're there because I've heard them calling almost every time I've visited this summer, and I even caught a couple distant glimpses earlier this year of these secretive birds.

Or, I should say, normally secretive. Twice last summer I happened to see Clapper Rails (including two babies) up close and outside of the tall grass where they usually hide. This past Wednesday morning was apparently another weirdly bold days for the rails, because I saw seven (!) of these birds out in the open in different parts of the marsh. The first rail I saw, though, definitely gets the prize for boldness. It stood on this spot right next to the boardwalk -- with plenty of people (and dogs) walking by -- for several minutes, calm as could be. You might think that's a discarded hat in this picture, but no, clearly it's a Clapper Rail perch:

After standing for a bit, the rail settled down for a rest. How nice of some person to leave this perfectly rail-sized wicker seat here in the marsh!

I couldn't tear myself away from this awesome -- and let's face it, hilarious -- bird. A few passing people stopped to admire it, too, and to wonder what in the world kind of bird it was. (A duck? A plover?) So I got to share some information, and everyone seemed to agree that this bird was both cool and cute. Yay, Clapper Rail, you gathered admirers!

After the rest period, it was time for a thorough grooming session:

With some major feather fluffing:

And a big stretch or two (boy, that hat is good for all sorts of activities):

Finally, the rail hopped down into the mud:

It spent some time foraging in the shallow water:

And then it made its way back into the thick marsh grass (this view is much closer to how I usually glimpse rails, when I see them at all):

So that was awesome, and way more rail-time than I ever expected. But then later in my walk, on the other side of the marsh, I noticed some fuzzy black creatures wandering across the mud...:

Oh my goodness, baby Clapper Rails! And wait, are there three babies here? No! Four! (Do you see them all in this next picture?)

An adult wandered out after the babies (I'm not sure whether this is Mom or Dad, since males and females look the same, and the internet tells me that both parents take care of the growing chicks):

The parent was trying to forage for food, but that's kind of hard to do when one of your babies just wants to cuddle:

These baby rails were in such an exploring mood! Where are you going, little guy?

I love that white-paint-dipped beak, those huge pale ears, and those tiny wings. You are one cool little bird!

So yes, there are definitely rails at Silver Sands State Park, and every once in a while you actually get to see them! :)

The rails were the highlight of the trip, but there were several other cool creatures around, too. This small Green Heron was stealthily stalking food in a pond:

A juvenile Fish Crow was trailing after its parent and begging for food (it's the bird on the right in this picture, with pink at the corners of its beak):

The young crow stayed mostly away from my camera, but an adult Fish Crow let me get some close views:

I usually see Fish Crows at the beach and at our local supermarket's parking lot; around our apartment, we get mostly American Crows. The two species look basically identical, so I have to wait until they make some sounds before I can identify them. These guys kept talking to each other, so Fish Crow it is! What a handsome bird:

Hey, there are flowers at the beach, too. These Partridge Peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) were lighting up the beach's sandy borders:

Toward the end of my walk, I came across a trio of Willow Flycatchers, which (like the Fish Crow) look pretty much exactly like a few other species, and so they usually need to call before I can identify them. These guys were silent, but since I've seen and heard Willow Flycatchers in this spot every time I've visited the beach this summer (and they were probably breeding here), I feel pretty confident giving this creature a name. Willow or not, though, you have to admit this is one adorable little bird:

So many active animals, and such wonderfully cool weather! Yes, it was definitely a great morning at the beach. :)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Garden Creatures: Predators, Pollination, and More

I think of my backyard garden as its own little ecosystem, and I'm constantly amazed at the diversity of creatures that choose to make their homes there (usually because they want to eat the flowers or leaves, or because they want to eat the things that eat the flowers or leaves). Here's a small sampling of the creatures (mostly insects) I've noticed in the garden over the past two weeks. It's a jungle out there!

Flowers are a big deal in the garden, and there are always plenty of bees around. This bumblebee has its head buried in a bean flower and the pollen baskets on its legs are brimming full of collected pollen (I just learned about this part of bee anatomy, and I think it's super cool):

In addition to the flowering plants I actually put in the garden on purpose, a huge Pokeweed plant has sprung up in one shady corner, and I let it grow because I think it's quite attractive. Lots of flying insects apparently like it, too. This very small wasp is enjoying the Pokeweed's little white blossoms:

And this much larger wasp (probably a Four-toothed Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens) is browsing over the Pokeweed blooms as well:

In the leaf-eating camp, several leafhopper-type bugs make their homes here (in small numbers, so I'm not worried about them damaging the plants). This fancy leafhopper (Graphocephala versuta, I think) is very pretty in subtle green/blue/yellow stripes, and as I watched it, it seemed to be exuding some sort of liquid and collecting the droplets with its legs. Weird!

I see these Citrus Flatid Planthoppers (Metcalfa pruinosa) pretty frequently, and I quite like their powdery gray outfits:

Baby leafhoppers look super strange. This leafhopper nymph was showing off its weird semi-translucent body on a bean leaf:

This stocky planthopper nymph (possibly genus Acanalonia) was eying me warily:

This next leaf-eater I am definitely not happy to see, as it takes huge chunks out of my bean leaves. Go away, Japanese Beetle, I don't want you here:

A few times now, I've noticed a strangely symmetrical bit of dried leaf, and then realize... oh, it's a moth! This is an Omnivorous Leafroller (Archips purpurana), I believe:

And speaking of leaf-like creatures, this Greater Angle-wing Katydid nymph (Microcentrum rhombifolium) does a fantastic job of blending in with these soybean leaves:

This creature isn't quite full-grown yet, but it's still pretty big -- about the size of my thumb. I've seen it several days in a row in the same spot, and I have to admire it every time. I love its mottled green skin, and those tiny baby wings are sooo cute:

When I saw this katydid most recently (I'm 99% sure it was the same individual, with that same missing leg and the same pattern of dots on its back), its little wings were bigger! Grow, baby katydid, grow:

Other cool creatures include this little cricket with antennae so big I couldn't fit them in the frame (they're about two or three times longer than this picture shows):

And this tiny adorable jumping spider who couldn't decide whether to focus more on the giant camera lens looming over its head...

Or the huge pink blob (i.e., my finger) that had invaded its home leaf:

The little spider was probably keeping an eye out for a meal, and there are tons of other predators all over the garden. Long-legged flies are particularly prevalent, little sparkling jewels in green, blue, and orange that cruise around looking for even tinier bugs to eat:

Mmm, this one got something!

But the long-legged flies can become meals, too.... This one wasn't very lucky, but I bet the spider's happy with its catch!

Robber flies are common predators around here, too. This one was hanging from the Pokeweed stem and munching on a nice fat beetle:

Finally, speaking of predators, I was very happy to find an American Toad living in the garden. I took this picture with my phone (I clearly need to always have my camera with me) in early July, but I saw the toad again last week, so I'm hoping it's sticking around:

This individual has just the most wonderful deep brown/maroon color, the likes of which I don't remember ever seeing on a toad before. I think it's a gorgeous creature, and I love that it's been out there on bug/slug patrol. Eat away, lovely toad!

Whew, so many things to see, and I don't even have to leave my yard! Summer is such a lively time, and I'm looking forward to meeting more cool creatures in my garden as the season continues.