Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is it the little things?

When this young Chipping Sparrow hopped up and looked right into the lens, I was thinking that it was the little things that really counted. His Dad had been attempting to get him to swallow seeds whole. Therefore instead of giving the seed a bit of a crack first with his beak, Dad had been poking whole seeds into this little guy's mouth. The seeds then proceeded to fall right back out onto the ground every time. Suddenly the fledgling, after yet another sequence of drops, hopped right over to the glass door, and stared into the lens as if to say---"And you're looking at...?" It was one of those little moments that are very nice.

Which got me thinking about "the little things". For instance, here we have Great Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica. What makes it recognizable as one of the lobelias are little things-the lobes. It has two on top that stick up like ears and three on the bottom rather like a lip. Therefore it's a Lobelia--the little things.

I was then reminded once again about "the little things" when I failed to get a photo of the other leaves of this plant. A little thing that has kept me from being able to identify it.

Then there is what I think of as a lovely little thing, the way rain remains droplets on a Mourning Dove's back.
By the way, the Mourning Doves are flocking. Friend and Doorstep are now almost always seen with their three youngsters from this season. The youngest was shunned there for a little while as he insisted on continuing to crowd everyone in hope of handouts. Usually members of the dove family once they leave the nest must learn to eat immediately or else. There is very little regurgitative feeding once they become quite mobile. Well in this case, the adults would hop at him and then chase him out into the yard away from the group. He'd stand out there and watch and perhaps think about the matter and eventually he got the message. Now that he's developed manners and doesn't beg, he gets to hang out with everyone else.

Then as I was standing out in a rather wet day, thinking about the little things, suddenly the Gulls began to do it again. Exactly what "it" is I've yet to figure out.
Suddenly, usually in late afternoon, a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls,(I think, I haven't gotten a good look at an adult yet), perhaps 70 of them, will appear above the ball fields in the park circling and calling. I thought perhaps garbage collection? But, no, that's not it.
Then today I realized that the adult gulls seemed to be pressing the immatures to land on the tops of the field lights in a kind of herding action. If the young fly off again, they are then "herded back on". ??? Interesting.
5:21:83 PM So out came the magnification.

5:22:04PM A group of five immatures, all pointing in the same direction, with four actually looking in the same direction. There is still a certain amount of herding going on with other lighting pole perches.

5:22:20 PM The gull cries continue. Adults swoop and circle. Number four is still looking my way, while two and three are thinking about where the other stands in the pecking order.

5:22:48PM I notice the Gull calls have almost completely stopped. One through Five are all looking fixedly at something. Unfortunately I can't tell what it is but I'm getting the feeling that what I'm seeing is some kind of youth training session. The adults are doing something that they insist the youngsters see.

5:22:57 PM One and Three are having attention span problems but Two, Four, and Five are still watching whatever it is.

5:23:05 PM Then everyone recovers their focus until Two loses hers. (Sorry about the raindrop on the lens.) Two is watching one of the adults fly off. The Gull cries begin again, the adults begin to wheel and disperse.

5:23:31 PM One takes off after an adult and within seconds all the others do as well. Now here's a case where I was watching the little things and whatever the big thing was got away. Though perhaps if I hadn't been watching the little things I might never have known that the big thing existed.
Next time: The Big Thing.
Just what were the adults attempting to have the immatures see and possibly emulate? Whatever it was it didn't take long. At least not nearly as long as a training session for a young Red-tail. A good thing too, as these immatures haven't nearly the attention span of a young hawk in training. But then again, being flocking birds, perhaps they don't need to have a long attention span. And in fact being gulls perhaps a long attention span isn't even a good thing considering their foraging habits.
Donegal Browne

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not an Urban Red-tail

Driving on Highway 59, I always look for him, particularly towards evening when he tends to sit on the lines to watch for rodents. And today there he was, foot up, relaxed, scoping the edge of the prairie created by the Tall Grass Restoration Project. I decide to try him again.

You see I'm okay 100 yards away. The truck is okay 100 yards away--but the photography equipment is definitely not okay.

8:28PM There he is. I do a quick turn around and then trundle down the opposite side of the road on the verge. He doesn't care. He's still watching the prairie edge. I get out of the truck, still okay, I poke the camera rode the truck's cap, he's still ignoring me. Unfortunately from this angle there's a big wire in front of him. I edge a bit further out, put my eye to the camera--no hawk. He's leisurely flapping off towards the oaks and disappears into the trees.

8:30PM See him? There he is--five acres away in an old oak.

8:31PM Preening. Completely relaxed, just far, far, away.

Now he's watching the edge of the soybean field for dinner.

He watches a Crow cruise by, looks down, goes into a swoop, and crashes through the soybeans. Then he's up with something in his talons and truly disappears into the trees this time. A country hawk who protects his privacy and doesn't choose to include us as part of it. I miss that inclusion here, spoiled by hawks that see us as no more than part of their usual landscape.

Time to go anyway, the clouds have gone orange.

And the sun over the adjacent trees has gone purple over the prairie. The cars speed by going 70MPH, without a pause. too used to having all this to even notice it.
Donegal Browne
(For more recent posts, click on palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ground Squirrels vs Rattlesnakes, a Hell Bug Update, and Safe Parrots

This is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

This is a California Ground Squirrel.

This is what a California Ground Squirrel does when she sees a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

The noticeable move is a bushing of her Chipmunk-like tail and a flagging move. The tail remains upright while "flagging" back and forth to left and right.

A large part of the diet of Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes and Gopher Snakes is Ground Squirrel pups so everyone always feels sorry for the poor squirrel because how could she possibly win a confrontation with a snake. Particularly a rattler?

Well, it turns out that the squirrel, not only has defensive moves such as throwing dirt at the snake, or in a pinch biting it, she also has a secret weapon. One that belongs in the nothing-stranger-than-nature category.

When a CA Ground Squirrel runs across a rattler, not only does her tail flag, but new research finds that her tail heats up far above normal. Her tail heats up? That's right. And it works. Rattlesnakes have heat sensors and being an ambush hunter they will become defensive if a tail just flags at them. They've been busted and therefore their chances of surprising prey and hunting success is drastically lowered. But if the flagging tail sends a waving infra red signal the rattler becomes super defensive and will take off.

And besides that, the Squirrel only heats up her tail when a rattler appears. If the other predator snake of Ground Squirrel young appears, the Gopher Snake, only flagging occurs.

That is remarkably specific. Good old adaptive evolution strikes again.

And hey, how do they know for sure with multiple modulations that the rattlesnake's change in behavior is being caused by the super heated tail anyway.

You can't just run up during a squirrel vs rattlesnake confrontation and clip a thermometer to the squirrel's tail to check on whether it's hot or not. Neither the snake nor the squirrel is going to continue normal behavior even if you could convince the squirrel to stand still long enough to have her tail temp taken. Which they must have done at some point in order to know that the Squirrel tail gets hot in the first place, but poof goes the rest of the confrontation every time.

The Answer: They created Squirrel robots whose tails would flag and heat up with the push of a button. Therefore the different reaction of the snake to heated and non-heated flagging tails could be monitored.

I like that a lot.

Then we get to the Bugs from Hell, who I don't like a lot. This morning the vegetation above was a perfectly lovely squash blossom, by afternoon it had turned into something that tends to make me itch when I look at it. A Bugs from Hell Nursery.

(They've now begun to land in mass on my laundry when I hang it outside. I've begun to think of how one would feel when a cloud of locusts appears.)

Remember how I was going to make a Sage spray and try that as a repellent? Well the Daddy Long Legs knew something I didn't when he was laying in wait on the Sage. I went out today and the B from H's had started on the Sage.

Karen Anne Kolling emailed and suggested making some Red Pepper spray. So that's on tomorrow's menu. That is if there is anything much left to spray it on. You can see how locust thoughts might come to the fore.

And Good News passed along by Peggy M--Brooklyn Parrots reports that the Dustbowl Parrots--( nickname of the Leif Ericson Park ball field) survived the recent tornado.

Donegal Browne

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finally the machine is out of the shop: Barn Swallows, The Bugs from Hell, and a Substrate Walkway.

Hirundo rustica chicks in a nest under a raised walkway.
Two young Barn Swallows nap on the edge of their nest.

And why are they perched on the edge instead of snuggled down into it?

Because it's 90 something degrees outside and their mud daub nest is situated on the top of a light fixture which is illuminated 24 hours a day. Their mud nest is somewhat insulating of course and they aren't panting so the edge perch must be doing the trick.

A few weeks ago I glanced at a little bug on one of my vines.

A few days later, I noticed a couple of bugs on the broad leaves. I looked a little closer and passed on.

A few days later, there were literally thousands of them and they were really doing a number on the garden.
Time for a little soapy water spray to get them to move along. Any thoughts on what they are. None of the local gardeners have noted them before this. I've sent a photo on to the state agricultural department but no news yet.

Eeeeek! They must relish soapy water and they don't seem to be very picky about which leaves they eat. They are non-specific in a major way. Munch, munch, munch, munch. There are thousands of them. They fly, they hop, they run; they're every where. And they are very bad bugs to have in one's garden.

They also mosey. La de da, la de da. They do love Okra and it doesn't even have to be rolled in egg and cornmeal and then fried. The Bugs from Hell eat theirs straight.
Plan two, time for a little manual squashing. No headway, and I've nabbed dozens upon dozens of the slow ones.

Okay, plan three...sticky fly paper. Nah na na na nah. These are wiley bugs, they only land on leaves.

The predators are out. Yea! But do
Daddy Long Legs eat these critters? So far I haven't seen him go for one.

Plan four, look at the life cycle. The breeding female adults go to the blossoms, eat pollen and then lay eggs inside the blossom. What happens with the pupa I haven't seen yet but the young matures seem to be burrowing their way out of the blossoms. Or is it the females? Whoever they are their mandibles are at the ready they begin their terror-to-leaves eating spree.
So why aren't there any bug eating birds hanging around having a feast when you need them? Lack of habitat?

And as to Mr Long Legs, I've my doubts about his appetite for bad bug eating. He's on the Sage, one of the few plants so far that has escaped the infestation. Looks like Sage isn't a favorite. Smell or flavor possibly repells them?
Super! The Lady Bugs are out. At least I think that's a Lady Bug. Though it 's not the type I'm used to, it's a lady bug. But as there are 350 kinds in the U.S. I've not discovered as yet which one. Actually it looks like your reasonably common lady bug wearing a Japenese Noh Drama mask. Hmm, I wonder it it's doing a tragedy. Probably because though Lady Bugs eat other bugs. The other bugs they eat are aphids. Not my current problem. Look up right in the photo. Guess who?

This used to be an okra plant. Looking on the bright side? It's now vegetative lace!
I wonder if I put Sage in a food processor, zapped it, put in some kind of oil perhaps so it would stick, and sprayed the other plants if the bugs from hell would go somewhere else. It certainly would be worth a shot as my usual remedies are useless.
Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters

No Pirate the Squirrel is not praying, thanking the universe for suet, though he is stuffing himself with it . Pirate is blind in one eye. I saw him in midwinter and worried that he might not survive. But there he is, sleek as can be, gobbling suet, in August yet. If he isn't careful it will be high cholesterol that gets him, not lack of vision on one side.

What have we here? There is tunneling under the substrate of the grass clippings. The tunnel begins under the leaves of the flower bed.

Then does a straight shot for a few feet, and not only is the substrate parted, but the path seems well used enough that there is also a depression in the dirt. Could it be Midnight the Northern Short-tailed Shrew and his friends? That's my bet.

The straight a way then splits into three raised substrate areas. What causes the arch?

Multiple exits/entrances depending on which way they are going to hunt or coming back? I'll keep an eye peeled ant let you know.
Donegal Browne