Audubon Guides

Attractive Nuisance

September 10th, 2013
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron in the Trash © Jungle Pete

Attractive Nuisance

I watched a Great Blue Heron systematically survey the remains at each picnic table and garbage can in a county park in central Florida. It pulled out Styrofoam plates and disposable utensils. It poked and prodded at beverage containers. The treasure here was ironically a chicken wing that it tossed back and choked down. The bird shook its head from side to side. Clearly the bone wasn’t going down easily. When the bird stood erect again, it looked back into the garbage can for another “easy” meal. I shooed the bird away and dejectedly notice monofilament line wrapped around its foot.

There are a variety of things wrong with this situation.

  • We are a disposable society. I would estimate that nearly everything in that garbage can was used once and thrown away. Much of it – plastic cups and aluminum cans could have been recycled.
  • None of the garbage containers in the park had lids which meant that raccoons, opossums, birds and a variety of other wildlife had free access to human waste.
  • Wind could blow the garbage out. Wildlife could pull it out and from there the garbage blows elsewhere and becomes a problem for more wildlife.
  • It’s unsightly.
  • The heron was entangled by fishing line that was discarded, possible with a fish on the end of the line. If the line tightens further it could cut off circulation resulting in the loss of the limb or an infection resulting in death.
  • Herons eat, fish, frogs, baby gators…They aren’t built to swallow chicken bones. They can choke or be impaled internally.

A woman approached the garbage can and yelled at the bird, waving her arms at it as if the bird was the nuisance. She piled her garbage on the over flowing mound and walked away. Most of it stayed in the container. Until someone recognizes the problem a simple garbage can is causing, it will remain an attractive nuisance to wildlife.

Want to take a tour of the Everglades with Jungle Pete?  Visit his website for more information: www.ecosafari.com

Misunderstood Moths

July 26th, 2013

 

Pictured Tiger Moth

Pictured Tiger Moth © Leroy Simon, Visuals Unlimited

In the lepidoptera family, butterflies are royalty. They’ve even got royal names like Monarch and Viceroy.

Butterfly gardens are popular attractions around the world. If you want, you can even order boxes of live butterflies, Monarchs and Painted Ladies, that can be released at your wedding or other festive occasion.

Can you imagine anyone releasing moths at a wedding? Guests would be horrified. They’d run screaming to the hills. You might just as well release bats. How about a commercial moth garden? Think it would attract many customers? Not on your life!

If butterflies are royalty, moths are the underclass…Lepidopteral Peons.

They’re night creatures. Most of us only see the “ugly” grey or dusky brown varieties. They flutter menacingly around your porch lights to no apparent purpose. And if you touch one, a creepy kind of dust comes off of it. And, of course, they hide in your closets and snack on your best shirts.

If Bart Simpson were to yell “Eat my shorts!” at a moth, some of them would reply “Gladly!”

But moths are victims of stereotyping. True, some of them are pests — not just to damaging clothing, but also wreaking havoc on forests and grain storage.

There are over 135,000 different varieties of moth in the world, and 13,000 in North America from over 70 families. Ten to fifteen times more moths than butterflies.

Some of them are dazzling, and people usually confuse them with butterflies. Many of them have wonderful names — like Blinded Sphinx or Confused Eusarca or Vagabond Crambus or Darling Underwing. How can you dislike creatures with names like that?! For beautiful moths, check out the Ornate Tiger Moth or the Spanish Moon Moth. Or the Zigzag White Banded Noctuid, combining impressive name and impressive color and patterns.

Io Moth

Io Moth showing eyespots © E. R. Degginger, Color-Pic, Inc.

Some butterflies look like moths (especially the skippers), and some moths look like butterflies. How do you tell the difference? It’s all in the antennae. Moths have feathery, thickened, comb-like or threadlike antennae, not hooked or knobbed like butterflies. And moths usually fold their wings in, like bees.

National Moth Week is not a joke. Check out these misunderstood fluttering wonders and share your sightings on NatureShare.

Species Spotlight: Luna Moth

July 21st, 2013

Species Spotlight: Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

If you’ve ever walked out your door in the morning and encountered a Luna Moth clinging to the underside of a light or on the screen door, you know what a delight it is to see these large, lime green moths. The Luna, known as the “moon moth,” is perhaps the most famous among giant silkworm moths. Its 4 ½-inch wingspan, together with the delicate wing coloration and the added grace of its tails, make it a striking creature to see. It ranges east of the Great Plains.

Facts:

  • When the Luna hatches its first instar is 6 – 8 mm (.23inches) and grows to 65mm (2.5 inches) before pupating.
  • Luna Moths are only found in North America and is quite common throughout its range
  • Female Luna’s release a potent perfume by contracting muscles in the abdomen.  It is almost undetectable to humans, but the scent is detected by a male Luna up to a half a mile away.
  • Female Lunas prefer to deposit their fertilized eggs on hickory, birch, sweet gum or persimmon trees.
  • Luna’s deposit their eggs on trees where other species of moths have laid their eggs, making stiff competition for the caterpillars.

Giant silkworm moths are hard to spot because they prefer to fly high in the trees. The caterpillars are lime green with yellow bands, and red and silver tubercles (small, knob-like or rounded protuberances that sometimes bear a spine).

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Celebrate Moth Week 201 by sharing your Moth sightings on NatureShare.

To find a Moth Week event near you visit Moth Week.

Throwback Thursday: Celebrating Independence in Style

July 3rd, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Celebrating Independence in Style by Josh Haas

Originally Posted July 4th, 2012

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Josh Haas

There is nothing more majestic than a Bald Eagle soaring above its river territory.  I think it’s safe to say that every American is in awe of this majestic Raptor and no matter the age, the background or ideological preference, most will agree this mighty bird not only represents our country well, but represents America in style.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Josh Haas

So why has the Bald Eagle been our country’s totem for all this time?  The sheer power, beauty and courage the Bald Eagle represents have been clear descriptions of our Nation’s history since inception.  The survival of the Bald Eagle from the 60’s forward also shows the struggle and triumph of not only a bird, but a country willing to take a step back and re-evaluate the importance of harsh chemicals and our use of the land.  Many of our readers can relate very strongly to the words, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”  These historical words were spoken by Neil Armstrong in 1969 shortly after landing on the moon.  Many traits of this dark bird sporting a white head and tail clearly represent our great Nation but the joy and privilege each and every one of us have as we live our daily lives is represented by freedom.   Freedom allows our friends and family to join together for something as simple as a cookout.  Freedom allows our children to enjoy indoor things, outdoor things, and choose different paths in life.  Freedom is the core behind our Nation.  As Bald Eagles soar and hunt in the wild, they represent the freedom all of us are lucky enough to have.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Josh Haas

This Fourth of July, I hope all of us can take a moment and think about the daily freedoms we have and the great sacrifice our service men and women give for us.  I for one and extremely thankful for what each and every one of them does for us.  Also be on the lookout near rivers and lakes for the mighty Bald Eagle.  Enjoy the sighting if you’re lucky enough to find one and think about what that bird represents to you.  Here’s to wishing everyone a safe and happy Independence Day.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Josh Haas

Discovering the Lek of the Prairie Chicken

June 28th, 2013

 

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken, adult female © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Birding is not just about finding birds and ticking them off your life lists. It’s about the replenishing experience of being outdoors, the other kinds of fauna and flora you see, and even the wacky and wonderful people you meet.

To get that full-value birding experience, you have to go to Colorado to see the Prairie Chickens. These birds are among the great, eccentric performers in the world; the scenery there is magnificent; the wild animals (pronghorns, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, etc.) are not terribly difficult to find; and you’ll meet some memorable folks while you’re at it.

Fred Dorenkamp is one of those memorable characters. He’s been monitoring Lesser Prairie Chickens in the vicinity of his Lamarr, Colorado ranch for many years. They’re endangered grassland birds, and if they survive, it’ll be because of Fred and people like him.

Lesser Prairie Chickens have been dancing on ancestral leks for eons.

These leks are the bird-equivalent of 70s singles bars. They’re places where horny, amped-up young males assemble to impress the few hot young females who show up. They usually outnumber the females about 5 or 6 to 1. Sometimes more.

To see these prairie chickens you have to arrive at their leks well before dawn in March and April. That means getting up at 4:00 am and meeting Fred for a ride through pitch darkness to a grassy field in the middle of nowhere. You ride in a bouncy school bus that’s only somewhat younger than Fred (he’s in his 80s). It’s uncomfortable and full of people, parkas, backpacks and spotting scopes.

In a growly, nasal voice worthy of a cartoon character Fred presents his rules: keep quiet and keep still. Any noise or movements will spook the birds.

After an hour of anxious waiting, the lek is bright enough that a few dark shadows appear. The performances are already underway.

The males strut around, they stomp, they scurry, they bow and shuffle, they jump up and down, and they fight. They puff out their gaudily-colored throat patches, they erect their head feathers so they look like horns, and they rattle their wings. If you can get close enough, you can hear them cackle and coo.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken adult male, displaying © Greg Lasley/VIREO

The females hardly seem impressed. But they eventually find suitable mates.

After an hour or so, the birds all fly off, and we head back to Fred’s ranch. His cattle dog Bella greets us, and we are ushered into a low shed where his wife Norma has prepared a full ranch breakfast.

The room features a stuffed prairie chicken and a large color photograph for those days when the real live birds don’t show up. You can’t add a taxidermist’s work to your life list. Nor is the experience quite the same.

Later that day Fred was to hitch his horses up to a buckboard and transport a coffin to the local cemetery. He’ll probably go out the same way. But I hope he has many good years before then — to help protect the prairie chickens and shepherd birders to their leks.

Throwback Thursday: Flowers for Father’s Day

June 12th, 2013
wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Throwback Thursday: Flowers for Father’s Day by Jungle Pete

Originally Posted June 18th, 2012

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a nine-mile long, third of a mile wide, linear strand of forest in Fort Myers, Florida. I assume the name “Nine Mile Cypress Slough Preserve” had already been taken. The 2500-acre preserve is home to a remarkable diversity of plants and wildlife, many of which can be seen on a two and half mile boardwalk.

My dad and I came out here years ago and while others were quick to speed around the circuit we stopped and sat on a bench. We watched Green Anoles flaring their dewlaps in a reptilian show of dominance. We watched a Yellow Rat Snake glide between cypress knees. We spotted a female Northern Cardinal flitting from branch to branch and we listened to a Carolina Wren belt out an unimaginably loud call for such a small bird. A couple of people walked by at a brisk pace and dejectedly remarked that there was nothing to see here. I’ve heard this complaint repeated many times through the years no matter where I go. I’m hoping they’re referring to the wildlife and not me.

I spent Father’s Day at the Six Mile Cypress this year. The rains have yet to fill the swamp and I found myself saying how little there was to see. Thinking about my visit with my father, my wife and baby stopped and took it all in.

wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Clinging to a Pop Ash, about ten feet off the dry swamp floor was a beautiful Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis). This bee pollinated epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) gets its name from the way the flowers dance in the wind like butterflies. The relatively common orchid blooms from May through August from central Florida south through the Everglades. The plant is not parasitic but does get support from the tree and nutrients and water from its heightened position.

We spotted five different flowers in the preserve today which is five more than I’ve seen before here. It helped to have beautiful yellow flowers cast about in the breeze but I might have missed them had I not stopped to look up and around.

I couldn’t be with my father today but here are some flowers for Father’s Day.

wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Throwback Thursday: Buffet Mixer

June 5th, 2013

Throwback Thursday by Jungle Pete: Buffet Mixer

Originally Posted June 2011

Buffet Mixer © Jungle Pete

There are a variety of benefits to doing things in groups. Consider the last cookout you attended. Someone else bought the food. Someone else cooked and cleaned up. There was less risk of being eaten by a predator. Communal roosting makes sense too. Eating and roosting together makes sense for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.

More ears and eyes means predators are at a disadvantage during a sneak attack. While roosting, huddling can conserve warmth for those with the best spots in the roost. The downside is when you head out for breakfast in the morning everyone follows. The older and experienced birds tolerate social parasitism in exchange for safety in numbers. There is a pecking order and bigger birds can dominate others in the flock.

Finding food is also easier with many eyes looking. Once located, the buffet commences. Here a flock of Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets and a few White Ibis have found a high concentration of fish and frog eggs to feast on.

Around the outskirts of the buffet are Little Blue Herons who are exhibiting commensalism. As the Egrets and Ibis stir things up, the Little Blue Herons feed on what the rest of the birds are not interested in. Essentially commensalism is when one species feeds among others and benefits without harming or benefiting the main species. In this case the Little Blue Heron is the guy that came to the party with the friend you invited. Little Blues are twice as successful when feeding commensally as opposed to individually.

May marked the end of the dry season in Florida which generally runs from December through May 15th. As the wetlands begin to fill with water and prey species re-colonize the marshes and swamps, many of the wading birds will rely less on communal feeding and venture out to forage solo. After a long day of hunting, it’s back to the communal roost for an evening of preening and sleep. Party on.

Throwback Thursday: Baby Bison

May 29th, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Baby Bison by Jack Ballard

American Bison

American Bison by Jim Peaco

For North American hoofed mammals, the month spanning a couple of weeks on either side of Memorial Day is the height of the birthing season. Most elk calves, deer fawns, and bighorn sheep lambs are born during this time. Moose and pronghorn also birth their young after spring is well underway. However, there is one hoofed mammal of the American West that births its babies sooner. American Bison (bison bison) may begin calving as early as April, sometimes dropping their young to an earth that is still covered in snow.

While some young ungulates such as pronghorn and mountain goats appear much like miniature adults, baby bison look quite different than their parents. Their coat is reddish brown or golden, much lighter than the dark brown and nearly black hair found on adult bison. Baby bison lack the curving horns found on adults of both sexes, although a close inspection of a newborn bison’s head by an expert can reveal the tiny buds from which its horns will grow.

Healthy, adult bison are essentially immune from predation. However, wolves and grizzly bears will readily attempt to catch newborn bison. If a bison herd stands its ground against a potential predation attempt by wolves, the young are normally safe. If the herd panics and young bison are separated from the adults, they are much more easily taken by wolves.

Impressive and powerful, it’s not likely that anyone would describe an adult bison as “cute.” But for the first couple months of life, their babies certainly fit the definition, perhaps an odd descriptor for little ones that may one day weigh a ton.

Peregrinations

May 23rd, 2013
Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrinations by Gene Walz

We’ve had a drearily long winter in Manitoba. Six months of freezing temperatures. Even for wintry Winnipeg this is L-O-N-G. It’s May, and big piles of snow still lurk in some shady places. AAARRGH!

The cold and the long-lasting ice and snow (not just in our province but in the Dakotas south of us) have delayed bird migration here. Everything is at least two weeks behind schedule.

Disruptions from routines, even the tardy arrival of spring, can have some very beneficial effects.

Until this year we never suspected that more than a handful of Peregrine Falcons migrated through Manitoba. Then, on April 25, 22 peregrines passed the raptor migration watch at Windy Gates, Manitoba on the North Dakota border. The next day, an astonishing 46 peregrines were recorded. Wow!

Less than 50 years ago, there was only one peregrine sighted in all of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Now we have scores zooming through Manitoba in a matter of weeks!

Because we so often hear of declining bird populations, these numbers are both amazing and heartening.

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

A peregrine recovery program started here in the late 1980s. Since then up to four pairs of these gorgeous raptors have nested in two southern cities in Manitoba every year. With cliff sides and now tall buildings as their favorite nest-sites, few of us thought much about the possibility that other peregrines could be passing through.

Thanks to hawk-watches and the internet, we now realize that the Pembina Valley is a major flight path. Peregrines that breed in Nunavut and Nunavik in the territories north of Manitoba commonly fly through here on their way north to arctic-nesting sites at Rankin Inlet (on Hudson Bay), Igloolik (on the Melville Peninsular), Steensby Inlet (on Baffin Island) and elsewhere.

Peregrines are nesting north of the Arctic Circle in places with few cliffs and fewer skyscrapers. Who knew?!

Throwback Thursday: Ocelots in the Sky Islands

May 15th, 2013
Ocelot

Ocelot © C. Allan Morgan

Throwback Thursday: Ocelots in the Sky Islands by Sheri Williamson

Originally Posted May 23rd, 2012

A little cat has been making big news in Arizona. Back in November 2009, a remote camera in the Huachuca Mountains, placed by volunteers with Tucson-based Sky Island Alliance, captured a blurry but recognizable photo of an Ocelot. This was the first solid evidence for the species’ presence in Arizona in almost 50 years.

Tantalizing to be sure, but anyone who spends time in the wild knows just how rare it is to see even the relatively common Bobcat. That’s why it was so exciting to hear on February 8, 2011 that dogs had treed an Ocelot in the Huachucas. The animal, which appeared to be a healthy adult male, was allowed to go on its way unharmed after photo and video documentation. It was much grayer and shorter-nosed than the more familiar tropical subspecies, as befits an Ocelot of the colder, more arid Southwest.

Four months later, the Monument fire swept through the southern part of the Huachuca Mountains, causing many to fear for the life of this very special feline neighbor. The story recently took an optimistic turn in late April, when a private citizen’s remote camera captured new Ocelot photos in the Huachucas. These are being examined by biologists with the Arizona Game & Fish Department and compared with the 2011 photos. Whether or not the spot patterns match, we know that there is still at least one Ocelot roaming Arizona’ssky islands.”

Less than 40 miles as the raven flies from the Arizona encounters, other remote cameras at El Aribabi Conservation Ranch in Sonora, Mexico have recorded multiple Ocelots and at least one Jaguar in addition to Bobcats and Mountain Lions. The bigger felines can no longer travel freely where the border fence has been completed, but I’m glad there’s room for the Ocelot to slip through.

-Sheri Williamson