A Summer Hodge-Podge

Please consider the images to be copyrighted and ask permission to use or reproduce them. Thank you. DEClapp

I have several pictures of a cute little Gray Tree Frog (or Treefrog) – or at least that’s what got me started this evening. I can’t find the image. The frog is a woodland species that is found throughout the eastern United States from central Maine down to northern Florida and then west into the central states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. This particular individual would climb up under the cover to the barbecue grill and spend the day in the warmth and darkness that it provided. I would look for it as I opened the grill each evening. And, there it was crouched, compactly on the edge of the grill tray waiting for evening when it could descend to the deck and partake of the insects that would be attracted to the house lights.

Well, I can’t find the darn Treefrog pictures – maybe next time. But, I grabbed a few images from the past week and will post them with captions (and with very little thematic sense) and maybe they will let you have some idea of what is happening here as summer begins to wane and the animals begin to get set for the fall and its ultimate change to winter. It is time to fatten up and get ready to migrate or hibernate; as a matter of fact that is visible in both plants and animals right now in what most humans see as the middle of summer.

It is always nice to have a bird bath in the yard. Occasionally an American Robin will bathe but mostly it serves as a drinking spot for Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmouses (or is it Titmice), and American Goldfinches. But it seems that Cooper’s Hawks like to bathe as well. We have seen this hawk splashing in roadside puddles all summer – but we haven’t had rain for weeks now. So, the bird bath was a real draw – and quite a surprising treat for us. The Cooper’s Hawk is an Accipiter, a bird-chaser related to the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Goshawk. The former is smaller and the latter is larger. The Accipiters are a group of forest birds found throughout the Americas.
Speaking of Mourning Doves – here is one. There are about 350 species of doves and pigeons in the world. They are found everywhere excepting Antarctica. They have small heads and sort of bob as they walk. There are seed-eaters and fruit-eaters. Some species have acclimated to humanly occupied areas and can be found in cities and towns as well as on farms or in the forest. They are widespread but about one-third of the species have been impacted severely by habitat change and introduced mammalian predators (human pets that is). Most pigeons/doves do not migrate but often travel long distances to and from food sources. They have a well developed homing instinct and are very strong fliers.
Searching for a segue here is a bird that is an abundant migrant through Oklahoma each year. It is a Mississippi Kite and the population nests almost entirely in the south central and perhaps the southeastern part of the US. I say almost because it is a species that occasionally does weird stuff – for instance there are at least three nests in New Hampshire several hundred miles from any place you’d expect to find the birds. It is a bird of prey but not what you might think – they eat and feed their young cicadas, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and beetles. They catch dragonflies in flight and are very skilled fliers. They are long distance migrants and leave the US in late August headed for Paraguay where lots of them seem to winter. They are also found in northern Argentina and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. It was quite a treat to see this bird (at a nest) without having to drive to any of the south-central states.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still around. Like all of our birds they have finished nesting and are rebuilding in preparation for a long migratory flight. These tiny birds will fly south to the salt water and then across the Caribbean to eastern Mexico (the Yucatan) to even northern South America. These birds are so small and so light that is takes about 6 or 7 to weigh an ounce in total. Sugar water is similar to what they look for in flowers but they also spend time picking small flying insects out of the air and off screens.
The Yellow Jacket, Vespula maculifrons, is one of several wasps that frequent the east coast and share the sweets with the hummingbirds. They often, perhaps usually, nest in underground tunnels that are excavated to hold the colony. They will kill insects to feed the large but do enjoy a sweet drink on occasion. These are the little gals that hover around, and occasionally descend into, your picnic beverages – especially sweet sodas; but trash cans and outdoor eateries are also frequented. The colony is mostly female as the males die after mating and the queen is usually a singular animal. The first frosts will kill the colonies up here in Massachusetts but some can over winter in the warmer southern states. As summer ends and fall approaches the colonies will “make” new queens that will over winter and start new hives next year.
Most of the plovers and sandpipers nest further north. Many are tundra nesters and migrate quickly through as they head north in May and then return on a less hasty schedule in the summer and fall. The adults will nest, laying rather large eggs, and hatching precocious youngsters. This allows the young to forage and feed themselves which in turn allows the adults to feed themselves without having to share or offload food to the babes of the year. This system allows the adults to start southward as soon as they replenish the body mass lost during nesting. Hence we get many adult sandpipers heading south by the end of July. The youngsters eat and grow and deport about a month later. So we (sort of) get two flurries of migratory birds along the coast. All that being said – the bird above is an (Eastern) Willet, a species that now nests rather commonly in our salt marshes. Twenty years ago it was a special occasion to see them around here but now they are the voice of the spartina marsh lands.
One bird that we don’t have nesting here is the Whimbrel, the old name was Hudsonian Curlew. This is a migratory bird that also frequents the salt marshes as its favorite food, the Fiddler Crab, is found in the marshes. This is a tundra nesting bird, mostly in northern Alaska, but also in a few spots in northern Canada. It is not an uncommon migrant here in the northeast but birds that we see in our salt marshes have already flown more than 2000 miles southeasterly to reach us from (mostly) their Canadian nesting grounds. Some will depart from the Canadian Maritimes or New England in a single flight of 2500 miles to northern South America where they will spend the winter.

The lead image is a small sandpiper called Least Sandpiper. It is shown in a rather nice brown plumage; its breeding attire. These birds will migrate south until they are in the Antilles or even northern South America. A chubby Least sandpiper still won’t weigh one ounce and often they are only much lighter. They nest in the northern regions and migrate throughout the country. They are the most common “peep” (small sandpiper) in the central part of the US and are expected on wet grasslands as well as river, lake, and pond shorelines.

When I find the Gray Treefrog images – I’ll get them posted right away ….

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