Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Saturday Miscellany

A fledgling American Crow eats in the yard. Suddenly another Crow, her minder, lands inches from her. The guardian is not necessarily a parent as in a Crow unit only one pair breeds each year and the others in the group are the support system for their young. (Photographs taken through two panels of glass and a screen. Any activity on my part to get to a better spot to photograph would have ended in no Crows.)

The youngster rapidly turns to the minder aggressively guarding the food comparable to a young Red-tail who hasn't learned the manners of the species as yet. The Minder is keeping an eye on two small boys who are playing in the next yard. He then attempts to snag the food, either to get a bite, but perhaps more likely to get the fledgling to him away from the area. The young Crow jumps at him, and he jumps into the air.

The fledgling watches him land on the Goodie Stump. She goes back to her meal.

The Minder's feet on the stump.
The Minder then flies into one of the Maples and calls to the fledgling, who having noticed the children herself, eventually follows afte a few more alert bites.

Coming Soon-A sequence of photographs taken in the hour and 10 minutes it took for this guy to completely emerge from his previous exoskeleton.

Look carefully and you'll see white pollen from the stamen of this Morning Glory blowing across the blue petals.

The cantaloupe vine, aka, musk melon, vine. I check as since yesterday a cloud of small greenish yellow beetles flying above it and upon examination all over it. Time for a little spray of soapy water perhaps?

The blossom of the melon.

There are scattered beetles on the petals and the far left petals sports a variety of holes.

I check the unripe melons themselves. Wait just a minute, the biggest one is missing. The beetles certainly didn't eat it completely since yesterday, did they? I look around.

There lying on the roots of a tree about 20 feet away, is my melon. Well, half a melon and bits anyway. Who has dined on my melon?

Definite tooth marks of a mammal cover the surface of the previously 8 inch diameter melon and most of the seeds are missing. Were the seeds the temptation and the pulp just something to be gotten through to get to the good part, the seeds? What mammal is big enough to carry it the 15 feet from the vine to the base of a tree. It seems unlikely that a group of squirrels or chipmunks got together and did, 1,2,3, heave! Roll!, all the way to the tree roots. Ah, perhaps a raccoon?

Speaking of mammals, suddenly Sam is urgently calling me. She's seen this little mammal. Not a mole after all as the front feet aren't paddle diggers and she's too small. Not much in the way of eyes or ears though.

Look far left to see the short tail as she hides her head under a bit of wood. After more research we think her most likely to be a Northern Short-tailed Shrew.

For scale, check out the human toes for comparison. After hurriedly snuffling about and acting as if she was trying to find something when she became aware of of. She seemed to pick up her on back trail and then with a burst of speed sped off for the cover of the Spruce tree.

Photograph by Christopher Walters.
Suddenly the female Ruby-throat is making many many trips to the feeder eacj day. Did all her other sources of nectar dry up. I don't think so as I can see many many flowers from where I'm standing. I think rather she's now feeding chicks and the feeder is trip effective. And with her multiple trips and having three people on site attempting to get at least a slightly better photo of her, Christopher Walters who spends every summer as a camp counselor in the woods of Maine, was the winner of the day.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Five in the Morning

For whatever strange reason, I woke up at five in the morning. And I mean woke up---I truly was awake. A state of being I usually don't attain until far later in the day with a number of hours between the opening of the eyes and an engaging of the brain.

Finding myself in this odd state at 5 AM, I decided to put it to good use and check out the fauna in the area at this unfamiliar, at least for me, hour.

I did begin to have doubts about the wisdom of this decision, when upon coming out the back door I petrified a Hummingbird who'd been on her way to the feeder.

And second thoughts only grew when M. Goldfinch landed on his Sunflower, saw me, gave a start, as if he thought my presence at this time of day was completely wrong and then flew off with what I imagined were visible heart palpitations.

Having gotten finally situated. I waited for more birds---and waited--and waited some more. Where is everybody?

Well, my only conclusion is that they are used to me being present later in the day, but my presence early in the day is just too strange for comfort. They'll have to think about it from afar before actually reappearing.

So not wanting to waste the supposed best light of the day, I begin looking at flora. Now their cognitive processes and sensitivity to the unusual are not all that sensitive---otherwise they'd have legs or wings to get away.
Ah, look at that. So this is the hour when squash blossoms are opening. Click.

There is a squirrel three lots away but upon sighting me, he scrambles with a sibling to behind a tree.

Here we go. Not flashy but a mature female House Sparrow and her brood of five fledglings arrive on the seed patio.
I take a photo of the little House Sparrow above, who looks to me as if she's wearing yellow lipstick and white eyeliner. I realize that I may only think I'm awake.

The little group startles up into the Maple tree. Okay, good. That fledgling looks normal and while she stares at me her siblings preen and hop from branch to branch. A dog passes by and the whole group is up, over the roof, and plunging into the Spruce on the other side.

Now what?

While I've been watching the sparrows, the young squirrel from down the way, has sprinted over for breakfast. He looks at me; I look at him. His eyes widen and he skitters over to the other side of the picnic table where the seat obscures his head. He's obviously decided that if he can't see me; I can't see him. A failure in reasoning rampant in many young humans as well.
Ahhhhh, there is the new resident baby bunny. Another little four incher only slightly obscured by the neighbor's new plastic fence. A fence which became necessary due to the new tiny baby bunny being able to slip through the current one. He looks as if he may be thinking about doing just that.

But instead, he hops over to a little patch of sun. The sun warms him and he looks as if he's just about ready to doze, though fighting it to keep an eye peeled just in case.

It's been a very dry year here but the burgeoning Blackberries are still an inch long. Summers.

Now you've all seen the Seed Patio, it's rather one giant feeding tray with a range and assortment of seeds in all sizes and shapes. (I admit it. It didn't start out that way, but the squirrels get up in the feeders and paw through for their favorites and well, you see what happens. )
But back to the thought, the Seed Patio is quite an avian seed eaters buffet but I've begun to notice that if there is a crust of bread lying around, House Sparrows, particularly the young ones always go for that first.
No wonder they adapt so well to cities and places of human habitation. They actually like and are able to live on white bread.
The young sparrow above has spied the bread and is looking with true focus. She goes for it. Grabs it with her beak, flips it around, and breaks off small beak size portions.

Ah oh, I've been noted. She grabs her crust and attempts an escape flight. First hop didn't get her off the ground. She tries again and is gone.
I'm back to no birds again.

But you know, the light truly is quite nice on the flowers at this time of day. The Black-eyed Susans look sprightly as usual. And on the left is Great Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, a native plant in Campanulaceae, the Bluebell family, its violet flowers are just about to open.

Then there is the friendly Phlox, also a native. Both it and Black-eyed Susans are nice flowers...

but somehow together they are even better.

And now my favorite of the morning, the curving warly pods of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Yes, "warly". It's the botanical name for the texture of these seed pods. Rather nice how the word sounds the way the surface of the seed pods look, don't you think?
And today's weird factoid in the Nothing is Stranger than Nature Category, it turns out that earth worms were extirpated from North American during the Ice Age. Think about it. No earth worms. Zip.
You'd dig in nice moist earth and there would be none of the little pink guys curling in and out of the earth on your shovel. What did you bait your hook with for fishing? How did you know the earth was fertile and healthy?
Geez, what about the Robins? What was their main food source? Of course there weren't all that many lawns so there weren't all that may Robins. But now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps it wasn't just lack of lawns, it could also be the lack of worms keeping down the Robins.
At any rate, if there weren't any then, how come there are some now? Well. in the 1600's and 1700's the Europeans came over. And when they came to their New World they brought their plants. And their plants lived in European soil while making the crossing and in the European soil were WORMS. Worm casings then traveled across the continent on the hoofs of horses as well as in pots and as the Europeans traveled across the continent a worm population traveled and grew across the continent as well.
How many million bijillion earthworms are there in North America? And if they all came from what had to have been a reasonably limited number of earthworms brought in only three or four hundred years ago...
Now that's some rate of reproduction.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

M. Goldfinch's Pocket and an Eleanor Tauber Wildlife Mini-Gallery

Hazy Sun
92 F.

3:33:09 PM Male Goldfinch is back and has a big fat sunflower seed. Look at the visible foot.

Here it is a little closer. We've looked at M. Goldfinch's feet before but look at that nail. Amazingly long and sharp and that is the middle toe which is a little extra long as well. I never really thought about it very much. But his nail made me think of the use of "nail" for the horny protuberance on the end of digits. It's the same word for the item you pound into wood to connect it to something else. With that foot M. Goldfinch is able to nail himself to sunflowers and other worthwhile vegetation. (And the foot has a scaly tiny little dinosaur-ish look to it.)

3:33:23 PM Wait a minute didn't he just have a big sunflower seed? Did he drop it? He didn't eat it or he'd have the usual fresh sunflower seed residue on his beak. He certainly is going for another.

3:33:38 PM Head down. Looking? Did he drop the seed again? I didn't see it drop. Why doesn't he go down and pick it up if that's the case?

3:33:52 PM There is something about this twisted position that makes me realize just how fragile and small boned and bodied this little guy really is. But nailed to the sunflower with his other foot, he's able to stay connected while going back into the amazing contortionist position necessary for digging yet another seed out.

3:34:02 PM Aha! Victory! He's so pleased that even though he sees me, he isn't undulating away.

3:34:31 PM Oh come on. I've been watching every second and he absolutely did not drop the seed. Is he like Pale Male with seemingly invisible pockets in which he hides food on the fly? Wait! Look at his beak--the very tip. It's dark. Thinking about our Pale Male joke when he arrives with prey when we didn't see it go in, gave me the answer. I just figured it out this minute looking at the photos!

Look at the very tip of his beak. See the dark point of the sunflower seed just barely poking out of it? M. Goldfinch does have a pocket. It's his gullet. He's not eating the seeds now because when he does eat them, he peels off the shell and eats the "meat" inside. He hasn't done that. What he is doing is storing them for travel!
Perhaps for Female Goldfinch who is sitting on the nest?
Look back at the sequence. He plucks a seed and then he seems to be looking down each time afterwards. He may be looking down but that isn't what he's doing. He is getting into the position to manipulate yet another seed down his throat and into his travel "pocket".
And as we can see this latest seed sticking out a little, I'd say, his pocket must be about as full as it can get.

So with at least three large sunflower seeds stored for travel, M. Goldfinch takes off. Though now that I've thought about it, perhaps not for his mate on a nest, considering the latest courtship display of berserk begging baby bird. Perhaps the Mrs. isn't quite on the nest yet. Perhaps as Pale Male brings squirrels to Lola as little pre-copulation gifts, perhaps, M. Goldfinch is bringing some fresh-off- the-flower, delicately-gullet-warmed sunflower seeds as a copulation gift to his mate? Could be. We'll watch and see.
Don't you love those moments of epiphany and discovery? One mystery leads to a discovery which leads to another mystery. And the mysteries never end and therefore the delving for an explanation always holds the hope for yet another moment of epiphany--and then, yet another mystery.
Which brings us to Photographer Eleanor Tauber, a recorder of many a mystery in Central Park. Here is her Mini Wildlife Gallery for today.

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
As she says tongue in cheek, "A regular ole common Monarch Butterfly". And what could be less common in the mundane sense about an insect, a bug for goodness sake, that migrates 1000s of miles?

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber.
A Red-eared Slider Turtle rises slowly up through the Duck Weed.

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber

Speaking of common, she's a little House Sparrow, Passer domesticus. But look at the expression on her face. She is uncommonly beautiful.

(For more recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page. D.B.)

The bunny, two brand new Doves, a close call for an RT youngster, and Mrs. Hummingbird

Remember Blaze the Bunny? Sweet little Blaze who was the impetus for the fence around the garden?

Well, this is Blaze now. He's gotten quite a bit bigger. He also currently has that "busted" look on his face. In fact in his trepidation, he's even stopped chewing his dandelion leaf for a few seconds. No, I'm not going to take after him like Mr. MacGregor but he doesn't know that. You'll also notice that no, he hasn't suddenly become more heavily brindled. He's starting to be rained on. It's just one thing after another for Blaze the Bunny.

But then again, Blaze the Bunny is no dummy. He knows that when it really starts coming down, you get a "roof" over your head.
And also because Blaze the Bunny is no dummy I may have to get a taller fence. I noticed yesterday that the first clump of parsley in the row no longer is anything but stems. But then again, I can't eat as much parsley as I'm growing anyway. Why not share?

The Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is now everywhere, adding its note of blue to the profusion of Queen Anne's Lace. And yes, it too is an alien. Chicory was used as an additive or in place of hard to acquire coffee in times of privation in the early settlement of the continent by Europeans and by residents of the south during the Civil War. In fact one still finds coffee products with an addition of chicory in shops south of the Mason Dixon Line.

Remember when I said, that Doorstep Dove and Friend were showing up separately for dinner and DD might be sitting the nest? Well, she was and this time through they've ended up with two fledglings. Two being the typical number of eggs for many species of doves and pigeons.
This is Ruffles the younger of the two. Earlier in the day, when I looked out there were two young doves having a rest just in front of the step.
Ruffle's brother looked about the usual age to come off the nest. Ruffles on the other hand must be a very precocious flyer because one only rarely sees a Mourning Dove off the nest who still has such distinct spots and the white edge to their feathers. The edging gives the feathers the look of ruffles to me and hence his name. Also notice that the skin around his eyes hasn't turned blue yet and the dead giveaway, his legs and feet. He's still a bit back on his haunches when he rests. You can tell that he hasn't been up off his haunches for all that long.

Another cue to Ruffles youth are the pin feathers at the base of his beak. Though the look he's currently displaying, has a whiff of testosterone about it.
If you look carefully at the initial feathering of young birds, you'll see that the parts that need warmth and protection first, come in first. Tops of heads, the exposed wing surface, , and upper backs are often the earliest. The body under the wings , the front of the neck, portions of the face near the beak and for birds with feathers on some areas of their legs, the back of the legs lag behind in feathering. Think about the physical posture of chicks and it makes perfect sense.

Ruffles stands and appears to be doing a Quail imitation. His body is more rounded, his stance more compacted than that of a more mature Mourning Dove.

Then he goes about attempting to eat. I first recognized him as youngster not by his physical attributes though they are obvious, but rather because I glanced out yesterday and saw a dove who every time he'd peck up a seed, it would immediately fall out of his beak and back on the ground. That was yesterday. He's gotten much better at it, only about two out of three fall out now.

Doorstep Dove and Friend watch over their youngsters from the Maple tree. If there is danger, it isn't as if they will normally fly at the problem. They cue their kids that it is time to fly, by flying off themselves.
Speaking of fledglings, today I saw a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk come extremely close to being hit by a car. She came swooping down to grab a rodent that was crossing the road just as a car was was coming into her trajectory. She saw the car just in time and came out of the swoop and flapped, just barely missing being smacked She then continued to flap slightly out of balance to a nearby tree and land. Immediately upon perching she did something many other avian species do but I don't remember seeing many RTs do for tension relief. And that was, the instant her feet were solidly placed, she quickly "wagged" her tail from side to side in a kind of "Wow, that was close" tension releaser move.

And here she is, Archilochus colubris, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She's been dropping by the feeder several times a day lately.
For the novice, how do we know she's a female? Well in this case there is that tinge of white on the right side of her neck that would be red had she been male. But let's pretend our view is a full back, no angle. In this species a female has a square tail while the male has a forked tail.
I find that fascinating. What advantage beyond recognition might that have?
So far I haven't found any explanation in the literature, but I'll keep looking. You'd think there must be a dissertation at least out there.
Okay, why? Males don't sit eggs or help in raising the young in any way so perhaps the female's square tail is more advantageous to egg sitting? But Barn Swallows who share egg sitting, both have forked tails.
Ruby-throats are extremely territorial about food sources and look to give chase and ask questions later. Perhaps if the end of what you're chasing lets you know its gender that could be extremely helpful in a decision to try courting instead of dive bombing.
Donegal Browne