Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Misunderstood Moths

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Friday, 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.

Discovering the Lek of the Prairie Chicken

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Friday, 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

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Wednesday, 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

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Wednesday, 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: Ocelots in the Sky Islands

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Wednesday, 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

Spring Wildflowers

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Monday, May 6th, 2013

Spring Wildflowers

What I’m looking forward to this spring…

On my two acre wooded lot in Woodstock, Vermont, the spring time treats me to three of my favorite wildflowers – Purple Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Wild Columbine.  The Wild Columbine is distinct from the Red Columbine of the west and prefers rocky, wooded, or open slopes and parts of my woods is perfect habitat.  Jack-in-the Pulpit prefers damp woods and grows in two spots.  Purple Trillium has a special place in my heart.  My dad transplanted several plants from the Adirondack Mountains in our backyard and they bloomed every spring for as long as my parents lived in the house (over 50 years) and I imagine that they are still blooming 20 years later in memory of my parents and brother.  I also love the regional names we have for this flower in the northeast, Wakerobin and Stinking-Benjamin.  I wonder who Benjamin was and why he was honored, having his name associated with this lovely wildflower. (Or was it his smell.)

Purple Trillium

Purple Trillium © Charlie Rattigan

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Charlie Rattigan

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine © Charlie Rattigan

Great Blue Herons are Back in Manitoba

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Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, adult © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Great Blue Herons are Back in Manitoba by Gene Walz

Those birds brave or foolish enough to return to Manitoba this week shine in the sky as if they are lit from within. And lit with a 500 watt bulb.

The snow has not melted here yet. Still a 2-foot mattress of white in many places. The sun reflecting off the snow turns raptors and geese into shining bird-ghosts, their white undersides brighter than bright.

Even birds that don’t have white undersides look white. A Great Blue Heron flew over me, and it shone so brightly that for a second I thought it might be a white morph (Great White Heron) or an intermediate (Wurdeman’s). A closer look revealed its silvery blue feathers shining like a brand new quarter.

Great Blue Heron, adult white morph (Great White Heron)

Great Blue Heron, adult white morph (Great White Heron) © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

Great Blue Herons look so relaxed, so laid-back when they fly. The wings beat slowly and steadily. The long neck coils back on itself in a kind of lazy slouch. Not determinedly stretched out straight in front like cranes or geese.

I have no idea how this intrepid heron is going to find food. The rivers are still frozen two feet thick. (Ice-out usually occurs on April 1.) Marshes and streams  may not thaw for a month. It’ll be a while before the fish and frogs and slugs and bugs that suit a heron’s palate will make an appearance.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Once the ice melts and the heron’s food supply make an appearance, this bird stalks its prey with the proverbial patience of Job. It stiffens into a feathered statue, its bill and long neck poised like a javelin. Then it springs!

But that’s for later. If a heron were to try that now, it would shatter its bill into splinters and end up with a very sore neck. I hope it’s got a good reserve of fat from its warmer wintering ground. It’s still winter up here.

The Birds of Hawaii

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Thursday, April 11th, 2013
Nene

Nene © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The Birds of Hawaii by Gene Walz

Hawaii is not the place to go if you’re intent on adding to your Life-Bird list. There just aren’t that many unique native birds left on the islands.

Since “civilization” reached Hawaii about 200 years ago, over 30 native bird species have gone extinct.  Recent evidence seems to suggest that more species were killed off by the original islanders; bird plumage played a huge role in their costumes and decoration.

When I was in Maui in January, I did see about three dozen species of birds. But most of them I could have or had seen elsewhere. Cardinals, skylarks, mannikins, white-eyes, the usual Euro-trash, some common shorebirds and waterbirds from the Americas, and others.

There was even a colony of Peach-faced Lovebirds thriving in south Kihei – so new that they aren’t yet in the bird guides for the island.

I take delight in finding and identifying all kinds of birds. But it’s actually disheartening to see non-tropical birds on tropical islands. Especially if they are contributing to the demise of the native birds, the endemics.

One of the last places to see Maui endemics is in Hosmer’s Grove, a canyon near the top of the extinct volcano Haleakala on the east side of the island.

I went there twice and managed to get long, satisfying views of the Apapane, Amakihi, Alauahio, I’iwi — all bright, active, wonderful bird finds. But I missed the Maui Parrotbill and Crested Honeycreeper, two high-priority target-birds that are rapidly disappearing on the island. A huge disappointment.

Nearby I found several NeNe (Hawaiian Goose), and in the shallows at Kealia Ponds I easily spotted Hawaiian Coots, Hawaiian Ducks, and many Hawaiian Stilts.

I went to Maui for the whale-watching, the seafood and fresh fruit, the beaches, and the warmth. It would have been great had I been able to tick all the bird species I targeted. I guess I’ll have to go back. Damn!

Javelinas

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Monday, March 25th, 2013
Collard Peccary

Collard Peccary © G. C. Kelley

Javelinas by Gene Walz

Big Bend National Park is a magnificent place – a desert full of mountains of every size, shape and color. If it were closer to civilization, it would be much more popular. But you have to drive through the rest of Texas to reach it. Not many people want to. So, it’s one of the least frequented of the national parks.

That’s great! The fewer the people, the more natural the experience.

I went camping there with my dog Buddy in February without knowing a single thing about the place. Buddy and I both wished we’d done some preliminary research.

For instance: it gets bloody cold in the west Texas desert! Usually around freezing or below at night (once it went down to 14 Fahrenheit), and “the wild Texas winds” that Marty Robbins sang about can make it feel colder.

For instance number two: the west Texas desert is full of too many spiky, thorny, prickly things that stick in a dog’s paws and fur. That makes it a bad place for dogs. I had to inspect and groom Buddy daily; invariably prickly things came off of him and stuck to me.

Also: several wild things that like to mess with dogs. We kept seeing notices about mountain lions, bears and javelinas. The signs warned that dogs must be kept on short leashes and never left alone because of them. That made it tough on both of us.

We never did see bears or mountain lions. (We heard wolves and coyotes.) But javelinas were our constant companions.

Javelinas (aka, Collared Peccary – Pecari tajacu) don’t look particularly dangerous.

They’re less than two feet tall and look like black, furry pigs with skinny legs and big heads. I heard a dunderhead call them “cute” and approach them for a photo. Bad idea! They have sharp tusks and bad tempers. They can gore and gut a dog in seconds. Probably a tourist too.

Collard Peccary hoof prints © NatureShare

Collard Peccary hoof prints © NatureShare

In Big Bend, Texas and nearby they are habituated to tourists. They hang around campsites and slake their thirsts in easily accessible areas of the Rio Grande (actually Rio Puny!).

Another example of wild things adapting. They hardly seem wild!

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk

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Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk by Josh Haas

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Josh Haas / Glances at Nature

I’m betting the last time you saw a Red-tailed Hawk, you didn’t give the bird a second look. When birding and creating lists for the day, there are species that tend to get boring. As one of the most prevalent hawks in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk fits this category for many birders. But I’ve found the bird is worth a closer look.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – midwest © Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

This raptor is a dynamic hunter that tends to go after small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and more. It’s opportunistic nature is one reason the bird is so pervasive and, hence, boring to birders. One type of prey missing from the list is small perching birds. And while it’s true they’re not necessarily built for hunting this type of prey, once while hawk watching at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory I saw an individual display the power and versatility needed for the task. Flying at tree-top level with a strong steady wing-flap, the bird suddenly fanned its tail in such a way so as to flip sideways and nab an unsuspecting Northern Flicker off a dead tree. My binoculars came down, a smile came over my face, and for me the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting. More recently, during a Detroit River Hawkwatch count, I saw a beautiful Northern Harrier circling above the count site when a Red-tailed Hawk unexpectedly stooped into view in pursuit of the Harrier. Enthusiasm soared among the onlookers as the Red-tailed Hawk continued after the Harrier. The aerial battle demonstrated to all who had seen it that this large-bodied Buteo could not only keep up with other agile raptors but maneuver like a Merlin as it dipped and raced around the skies. Yet another experience where for me, the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Range Map © NatureShare

These are just two quick examples of how the Red-tailed Hawk is more than a modest soaring bird living around our highway systems. The large hawk is nothing short of amazing. With its large powerful feet, snappy wing flap, and keen hunting techniques, this adaptable bird can adjust easily to many habitats and situations. My hope is the next time you find yourself viewing a Red-tailed Hawk through your binocs, you’ll linger a bit longer. It might just do something for which the bird becomes a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Dave Haas / Glances at Nature

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit www.glancesatnature.com.

Blog tour logoThe Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan will be available April 2013.  The book covers thirty-four of North America’s diurnal raptor species (all species except owls), 101 stunning color plates–including thirty-five double-page layouts, species information and more!  Be sure to enter to win the ultimate Crossley ID Guide Sweepstakes to win some cool prizes including the Audubon Birds app!