Another mixed bag

Summer is a dull time for most nature stuff around here. The birds are either further north or just starting to head south. They are through singing and are now and have been restoring themselves after the rigors of the breeding season. The plants are a bit stressed due to the high heat levels and lack of rain; and are feeling the peak of insect and fungal attacks. The ponds are low and the algae is thick. There are some butterflies and dragonflies and the yellow jackets are around all the sweets. Even the whale numbers seem low despite there being large forage fish numbers. But as the weather cools and the days shorten things will become more active for both humans and wildlife. The shorebird migration has started and the land birds are starting to appear as well.

Here are a few things that popped up this week that might be kind of fun to look at and think about.

We have a few bird boxes around the yard. The Eastern Screech Owl use the larger one and we hope for Great Crested Flycatchers in the others. There is one smallish nest “box” made from 4″ round PVC pipe, that looks like a birch log, that Black-capped Chickadees use. The boxes for Great Crested Flycatchers get looked at each year and sometimes a nest looks likely – but in general they are not used. However a few months ago as we tried to move a box a Flying Squirrel ran down my extended arm and then glided over Fran’s head to escape the intrusion on what turned out to be their nest box. We have since assumed that the fliers were still in the box but it wasn’t until yesterday that we saw one in the day time. They are smaller than chipmunks and much smaller than both Red and Gray Squirrels. I am sure they visit the sunflower feeders every night.
Here is a shot of a Great Crested Flycatcher starting a nest in the box. They brought lichens to the box and seemed to be pleased – but they left for a better location, location, location; as they say.
The Eastern Screech Owl comes in both a reddish and a gray form (morph). This is obviously a red morph bird (probably the female) in a box just a bit smaller than a box made for Wood Ducks. It is a very common owl of the northeast with populations (sub-species, race, types, or populations) found throughout the Americas. The female in our box raised two gray youngsters last year and one reddish young this year.
In the last blog post, I mentioned the Eastern Gray Tree Frog that we found in the grill – Diane, here it is! Small, gray, and seemingly nonplused by the grill cover being removed. We found this fellow on three different occasions and put it in the woods each time. I have no idea why it returns to the grill.
It is a nocturnal amphibian and one that makes a loud musical (to some ears) trill. It is common throughout the eastern half of the US. They average 2″ in length (nose to butt) and are rarely more or less that half-an-inch off the length. The other common night noise in the eastern woodlands is the call of the katydid – or perhaps a cricket. The katydid makes a sort of grinding staccato noise. The males call to let the females know they are around and that they are cool.
As I mentioned the shorebird migration has started. Adults have a four egg clutch and the young are precocious – walking and feeding within a few hours of hatching. Thus the adults are able feed themselves; regaining strength, weight, and vigor. The adults then migrate south on their own, leaving the now- teenage young to finish growing and then migrate on their own later in the summer. This bird is a common migrant along both the east and west coast; a Ruddy Turnstone (RUTU).

The Ruddy Turnstones used in the lead picture (at the top of the blog post) includes a banded bird (YJ=). At the moment I don’t know where or when it was banded, but I’ll check into it and post the information. There are several studies being done on these long distance migrants; I mean shore birds overall, not just turnstones. Many of them nest in northern Canada and Alaska and winter in Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. There are also species that nest in Siberia and winter in New Zealand and Australia. Amazing stories….

At the same time that the turnstones are migrating through our area we often see piles of Horseshoe Crab exoskeletons. Many people think these are dead crabs and wonder what is going wrong. In fact these are shed skeletons and the animals are alive and well in the water with a new outer layer. When very young the Horseshoe Crabs will shed several times a year. An older one, 6-12 years or so, will shed maybe once a year. The shell opens (unzips?) along the front arc and the crab walks forward and out of the old shell. A new shell is in place and is expanded with water and soon hardens.
The hummingbird feeders are still active. We have at least two female and two male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Yesterday a male sat in the sun and sparkled – as you see in this image. The color is a structural or mechanical feature — as you can see below.
The same bird, same stick, and only a second after the first image. it turned its head and the color was gone. Hummingbirds have a layer of air bubbles, tiny air bubbles, that reflect light in different ways as the light hits and bounces from the feather surface or the bubble (air) layer. Color can be fleeting and the sparkle of an iridescent gorget is both remarkable and surprising. It is not really the feather color we are seeing in the little gems. but the reflected wavelength of light that is dependent on the angle and intensity of the light that reflects back to us. A similar example would be if there is oil on a puddle and when you walk around the puddle the colors will change based on the same features (the angle of reflection mostly) —this is pretty much how a hummingbird shows its colors.

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