Sunday, July 31, 2016

Wanted: Dead But With Life

Kimberly Writes: In my last post I encouraged everyone to leave dead trees standing whenever it's safe to do so. Dead trees provide important habitat and add visual interest to an area - when you look at them through the right lens!  =) But what to do if you don't have any dead trees in your yard? 


When a big dead limb broke off our maple tree, Kenn helped me bring it back to life! And we didn't have to wait long for a sense of satisfaction: a Downy Woodpecker came to check it out right after we put it up! (Not a bad way to mask a satellite dish either, eh?!) 

Our dead tree given a second chance at life!
See the Downy checking out the hole at the top?!
It didn't take long for a Downy Woodpecker
to drop by for an inspection!
Helloooo in there..there...there.... 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Kimberly Writes: Masked marauders are forcing us to take all of our bird feeders in at night. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it. The most recent reward is watching our adult male Red-bellied Woodpecker teaching his kid the ropes. Male and female RBWOs often divide the parenting duties once the young have fledged, so you'll often see just one or the other with part of the brood. We're happy that one of the adults selected our yard for his kid's training grounds!

He has an affinity for oranges...

 ...and peanuts!

So, of course, the kid learned how to exploit these two offerings first. 

The kid's first attempts were awkward and comical,
but now it's feeding like a boss!

And while it's figured out the bird feeder gig, dad is still teaching it how to search for grubs and other goodies in our dead ash trees.

Dad delivers a juicy snack to the youngster, 

providing some incentive for the kid to search on his own.

I hope you're enjoying wonderful observations like these in your yard too. And please remember: always leave dead trees standing whenever it's safe to do so. The woodpeckers and many other birds will thank you!

Learn more about Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the Audubon website.…/bird/red-bellied-woodpecker

Friday, July 29, 2016

From Kenn's Drawing Table: Brandt's Cormorant

From Kenn's Drawing Table: Work in progress - Brandt's Cormorant

Kenn Writes: I've finished a first pass on some of the easy parts, and now I'm about to attempt the subtle greenish and bluish gloss that shows up on well-lit parts of the black head and neck. Oil on illustration board. Brandt's Cormorant is common along the Pacific Coast of North America, from Mexico north to British Columbia, with a few in southern Alaska.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lifecycle of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly

An album depicting the lifecycle of a Black Swallowtail - from egg to adult!

First, the egg...

Plants in the carrot family (Queen Anne's Lace, and herbs like Parsley and Dill) are the host plants for Black Swallowtails. The adult butterfly laid the egg in the photo above right in front of me! I'm struggling to describe the feeling of seeing something like this tiny pearl of life happen right before my eyes. I wish this feeling for all of you at least once in your lifetime. And I love the fact that the first thing the itty-bitty caterpiggles do is eat the egg shell! I watched this happen under a microscope once and it was remarkable!  

Speaking of caterpiggles...

Here's a tiny early instar. See that white "saddle" in the middle of this caterpiggle's back? Well, apparently, that white saddle is "due to uric acid deposits that may function as antioxidant to protect larvae from phototoxic chemicals in the diet." (Timmerman & Berenbaum 1999).
                  Below are various stages of caterpiggle development known as "instars."

This fully grown caterpiggle is preparing to pupate by
spinning a silken harness to secure itself with. 

And this is what it looks like just after pupating.
You can see the caterpiggle's shed skin wadded up
below the chrysalis. 
The chrysalis darkens as it hardens. 

Oh, and I just had to include an image of the bizarre "osmeterium." 
The osmeterium is a gland and you only see it when the caterpillar feels threatened. It also emits a very strong odor that acts as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. (I still can't decide if I think it smells good or awful!) Because just when you think these doggone things couldn't be ANY cooler ... BAM, they pop fleshy, wet looking, really smelly, orange horns out the top of their head. 
And here's the end result of all this effort and transformation: the stunning adult Black Swallowtail

It's hard to believe these things are even real, isn't it?! Nature seems more like magic than reality sometimes. I hope you're providing host plants for butterflies and moths in your garden, so you too can have the remarkable experience of watching this process happen right before your eyes! 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Bathing (Bird) Beauties: Brown Thrasher

Here in northwest Ohio we've had an extended period of hot, dry weather. The super dry conditions are creating challenges for farmers and gardeners, and we've been carrying lots of water to the dozens of native plants we planted this spring.

Hot, dry conditions are tough on wildlife too. So, we've set up six different bird baths and they've all been very busy. Raccoons, Eastern Cottontails, and loads of birds have been using them every day. I love watching birds bathe and preen, so it's a bit of a bright side to the extreme weather.

Today, a Brown Thrasher stopped by for a dip in my favorite bird bath, given to me by Maureen, an elderly woman who I cared for for many years. It's probably at least 50 years old, and although it looks like it isn't clean, I assure you that it gets scoured and cleaned at least once a day, and sometimes twice a day! (It's so very important to keep bird baths and feeders clean!) What you see is the lovely patina that it's developed over all these years of well water and hosting bathing critters. I cherish it!

Here's a video of our bathing Thrasher! Watch as he's a bit tentative at first, but shifts into full-throttle bathing mode within a few seconds. I imagine a bath feels pretty darn good!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Backyard Nature Discoveries: Midland Painted Turtle

From Homebase in Oak Harbor, Kimberly Writes: When we began the project of converting 1/2 an acre of grass into a prairie, we knew it would be a lot of hard work. But we never lost sight of the benefits, both to wildlife - and to us. We knew it would be better than mowed lawn, but this little dab of habitat has brought more joy and discovery to our lives than we could have ever dreamed of. For example. . .
On one of our evening walks through the prairie recently, Kenn reached out and gently stopped me. Pointing to a spot several feet ahead of us along the trail, he whispered,"Well, look at that!" And there, in the mowed trail through our little prairie, a female Midland Painted Turtle was gracing us with the honor of laying her eggs.

 We watched for several minutes until her work was completed...

...and we followed her from a safe distance as she made her way back towards our pond. 

It was shocking to see how far she'd traveled in order to lay her eggs in a spot she felt safe. Kenn stepped it off, and it was at least 150 feet.If you look closely in the photo below (L), you can see Kenn standing on the edge of the pond. Our little turtle started from there, came all the way down this section of the path...
...and all the way to the spot in the distance where you can see the circle of chicken wire protecting the nest. Quite a feat for a small turtle!

An fascinating fact about reproduction of many Ohio turtle species is that the sex is determined by the temperature at the time the eggs develop. Warmer temps produce females and cooler temps produce males. Within the same nest, the warmer eggs at the top can all hatch out as females, while the cooler eggs at the bottom will be males.

The incubation period is 10 - 11 weeks, so we'll keep tabs on them and hopefully we'll be able to share some images of the hatchlings as they make their way to the pond.