08 August 2008

Barn Swallow Nestlings

We went to James Dorton Park in Concord this morning to take advantage of some sub-90 degree weather, just planning to play and get some exercise. The birding at the park is typically pretty good, but I decided to leave the binoculars behind and just spend some time playing with the girls.

That lasted all of 3 minutes.

Lily wanted to finish her post-gym snack at one of the picnic tables under the pavilion. I saw no reason to object, and as we approached I thought to myself, "Self, this would be a good place for structure-nesting birds to build a nest." 30 seconds later I heard the begging peeps of nestlings coming from above, and I looked up to the rafters to find these cute little Barn Swallows. I of course headed right for the car and grabbed the bins.

They examined us briefly and were quiet again, although very alert. They are quite obviously almost fully developed and I can't imagine they're overly comfortable in that nest.

They looked around for their parents for a few minutes, and occasionally they would preen and scratch themselves.

In an act of unparalleled courtesy, I watched the middle bird do a 180-degree turn, stick his little bird butt out of the nest, and promptly poop on the pavilion floor. This is apparently S.O.P.

Uh oh! Mom's coming! Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!

"Ooh, is it my turn Mom?"

Mom never landed. She flew in with lunch presumably in her mouth, hovered noisily, and in a lightning-quick instant passed the food on to the young. With the camera set to take numerous shots in succession, I could never get more than two frames with the adult bird in them in succession.

My last observation and then I'll leave you to click and enlarge the photos . . isn't that nest cool? It's centered on that bolt and then presumably just stuck to the wood with mud. What craftsmen those swallows. Ha, another new cliche . . "Crafty as a Barn Swallow".

07 August 2008

Freckle-faced Kid

Mandi asked me the other day to try to get some close-up photos of Lily's face full of freckles. I kept putting it off, thinking I'd wait until I could do it outdoors in the natural light. Well it's been 3 or 4 days, and the feeling that I was procrastinating was weighing heavily on me. I am, after all, a list-checker-offer. Give me a list of stuff to do, I want it done an hour ago. So, while she was eating her lunch today I snapped a couple of shots. Ok, so I took 14. Sometimes quantity is the only elixir for a fidgety subject.

Taking a bite of her sandwich. "Why are you taking pictures Daddy?"

"Can I finish eating please Daddy? Can I see the pictures Daddy?"

"Please can I eat Daddy!?!"

Interesting Names and Cliches That Should Have Been

I find some of the names given to things found in nature to be very dull. House fly. Earwig.

Some, however, are marvelously interesting. Take this dragonfly that I captured for my specimen box. How cool a name is "Halloween Pennant". Somebody put some thought into that name. The name was no doubt derived from its coloration, very orange and brown. It could just as easily been named a Fifteen-spotted Pennant . . but why settle for boring when something like "Halloween" is available? It's kind of like signing up for a new YouTube account . . you try the most interesting usernames first just to see what's available. Kudos to the scientist who went bold with this guy's name.

Although this Cicada Killer wasp earned its name for its behavior rather than its appearance, it's a cool name nevertheless. There have been a half dozen or so of them swarming around the stairs leading down to our neighborhood pool, and they send Avery into a tizzy every time she sees one. I've always insisted they wouldn't hurt her, although I didn't know that for certain. This week I decided to figure out what they were once and for all, and it turns out I was mostly right. Cicada killers are said to "very rarely" sting humans, with their primary interest of course being the killing of cicadas to feed to their larvae. How uniquely specialized.

And I know this is random, so please forgive me, but I wondered yesterday why herons haven't ever been ( to my knowledge) the basis for any sayings or idioms relating to their behavior. I watched a Green Heron forage for almost half an hour yesterday, and the patience of these birds amazes me. This particular bird was slowly and deliberately hopping from branch to branch in a willow tree that was growing in a small marshy area. With every hop he'd get closer and closer to the single branch tip where a dragonfly was perching repeatedly. Then, after 10 minutes or so, he got close enough and made his lunge, snagging the dragonfly.

What came next really surprised me. The heron did not eat the dragonfly. Presumably having either paralyzed or killed the bug, the heron flew down to a spot near the edge of the water and stood among the reeds. He took 2 or 3 steps over the next 10 minutes, still holding on to the dragonfly. Then all of a sudden he dropped the dragonfly on to the water and watched as it lay there still. A moment later he struck at the water next to the bait and emerged with a small green frog in his bill. Talk about resourcefulness! And patience to boot. So why is it then that nobody's ever been called "As patient as a heron"?

05 August 2008

The Dog Days

As hot and humid as it's been lately, there haven't really been a lot of opportunities for nature walks. I did get down to the Moss Creek Nature trail yesterday early in the morning, and the diversity of species was as good as ever. I spotted a Great-crested Flycatcher, as well as an Acadian Flycatcher, both firsts for the trail. I got a nice up-close look at a Green Heron that was hanging out on one of the bridges, and Yellow and Prairie Warblers were around as well. There are oodles of baby birds around, most notably the Northern Mockingbirds. There are large stands of fruit-bearing plants that these rowdy mimids are thoroughly enamored with. I did not take the camera with me yesterday, but I've got some other good pictures to share from the last few weeks.

I imagine this picture will get me a scolding comment from my sister, but oh well. I was outside pulling weeds the other day and the neighbor's 12-year-old son was mowing his grass. I had my iPod on and was fully immersed in a podcast when I heard him address me from the other side of the fence. When I finally found the pause button and removed an earbud he was mid-sentence, and I had to ask him to repeat himself. He did, and his query made me smile. He asked me if I could tell him what kind of spider he'd found near the side of his house. I have to admit that the fact he'd ask me for some kind of identification (I've otherwise never said more than 5 words to the boy) was flattering in a way, but on the other hand I may have just been the only adult nearby and I was his only choice. Either way, I trotted over and checked out the spider. I did not know what it was, but you can understand why I told him that I was going to run and get my camera.

I held my phone up next to it to try to offer some perspective on its size, which I'd estimate at approximately 2 inches (or half the length of my Motorola Razr). I told the boy that I didn't know what it was (egad!), but that I'd find out for him. A few keystrokes later I'd come up with a name (and more than a few nicknames) . . it's a Black-and-yellow Argiope, otherwise known as a Garden Spider or a Writing Spider. The cool design in the web is no doubt what earned it the last nickname. It's completely harmless to humans, so if you see one in your yard please just admire it and leave it alone. "Spiders is good, they eats the cockroaches."

Then, after the thunderstorm that passed through right after this exercise in Arachnology, I peered out the kitchen window and saw this curious fellow dangling from the crepe myrtle. I know bumble bees are slow movers, but this guy seemed to be suspended in time. Turns out he was, although not in a cool sci-fi kind of way. How do you think a bee just dies in a position like this?

The butterfly bushes in my yard have not had great blooms this year, but the plants themselves are thriving. This particular one was transplanted to a corner of the kids' play area last year after it outgrew its spot near a living room window. Its prospects looked grim throughout the winter, as it did not take off as butterfly bushes typically do, but the spring and summer have been good to it, as it is now filling out nicely. The ultimate test is its attractiveness to the Lepidoptera, and this Tiger Swallowtail apparently is pleased. He was not deterred by my presence, as I was within 4 feet of him while taking this shot.

At the nature trail, these pretty red and white flowers were everywhere. If you know what they are, please feel free to tell me. Whatever they are, the hummingbirds love them.

Speaking of the hummers, I don't have any good new photos of my local hummers. It's just too darned hot in my back yard to stand still and try to capture battling ruby-throats at my single feeder. There are between 6 and 8 birds that battle for the nectar every day now, including 2 adult males and at least 2 juvenile males. As much as it seems like they never get a chance to drink for all of their confrontations, they're going through about 1 cup per day lately. This young lady was from our trip to Cayuga Lake last month.