Halt! Who Goes There?

“There is no waste in functioning natural ecosystems. All organisms, dead or alive, are potential sources of food for other organisms. A caterpillar eats a leaf; a robin eats the caterpillar; a hawk eats the robin. When the plant, caterpillar, robin, and hawk die, they are in turn consumed by decomposers. “
— G. Tyler Miller, Jr.

 

Can you identify this strange object resting on a satsuma leaf?

Bird poop            Snake              Caterpillar

Well, if you thought the object was bird poop or a snake, you have been fooled by Mother Nature. This little creature is the larva of a giant swallowtail butterfly.  As a form of protection, many caterpillars resemble bird poop during some stages or instars of  growth as larvae.  The giant swallowtail mimics bird poop through all five instars. You have to admit this specimen does not look very tasty!

In order to  avoid spoiling someone’s lunch, let’s end with a gorgeous picture of a female giant swallowtail at  a tropical milkweed lunch counter.

Learn more about giant swallowtails by clicking the University of Florida web site.   

Give a citrus tree as a Christmas gift this holiday season and the lucky gift recipient  will not only enjoy citrus fruit but giant swallowtails as well. (Satsumas and kumquats do well in the Mobile area.)

 

 

 

A Bargain

“When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the
bluebirds, daffodils and thrushes; as little did I know what
sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Carolina Wren 

One doesn’t need a farm to secure a bargain. A bird feeder in the backyard is quite a bargain and much less expensive.

Learn more about the Carolina wren at All About Birds.

Garden Experiences

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while
I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more
distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any
epaulet I could have worn.” 
Henry David Thoreau

Don’t expect this northern cardinal to land on anyone’s shoulder.

But, don’t be surprised when one lands on a old hand pump in the garden.

Male cardinals are donned in brilliant red and females  are predominantly light brown with touches of red.  What the female lacks in color, she makes up in song. While most female birds do not sing, the female cardinal shares a lot of songs with her mate and even surpasses the male in this endeavor.  Now, does that sound familiar?? 

Learn more about this common backyard friend at All About Birds.

Water Beauties

 

“That was the thing about Levantin: he loved the birds, but he really loved the places they brought him. When you spend your career in the confines of a gray suit, the pipits at dawn above timberline are even more wondrous.”
― Mark Obmascik, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

 

  Hooded Merganser  Males

On a winter’s day, a quiet canal on Fowl River summons a flock of hooded mergansers.  Heed the summons from  daily toil, exchanging the “gray suit” for jeans and comfortable shoes, and enjoy the serenity and beauty of the natural world.

Learn more about the hooded merganser at All About Birds  and then grab the binoculars and camera and go! Take plenty of pictures, identifying them later or not….. Just relax and enjoy.

“Alright Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

“This being the only living world we are ever likely to know, let us join to make the most of it. ” — Edward O. Wilson

 

House Finch?

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are ‘many, varied, and unusual’ visitors at feeders, making identification sometimes challenging. This photogenic visitor is probably a house finch. However, it is often confused with a purple finch.  Try your hand at identification by visiting All About Birds.

 

Tufted Titmouse

“The term ecology comes from the Greek word oikos, and means ‘the household.’ Ecological responsibility, then, begins at home and expands to fill the entire planet.— Jeremy Rifkin

“There is no waste in functioning natural ecosystems. All organisms, dead or alive, are potential sources of food for other organisms. A caterpillar eats a leaf; a robin eats the caterpillar; a hawk eats the robin. When the plant, caterpillar, robin, and hawk die, they are in turn consumed by decomposers. “— G. Tyler Miller, Jr.

 

Tufted Titmouse 

 

 

 

 

A relative of the chickadee, the tufted titmouse is a common visitor to bird feeders. This little cutie pie is holding a sunflower seed between its feet in order to crack the shell and extract the seed. It may consume its prize or hide the morsel for a later treat.  Learn more about the tufted titmouse at the Cornell Lab website, All About Birds.

 

My Little Chickadee!

 

“Birds … are sensitive indicators of the environment, a sort of “ecological litmus paper,” … The observation and recording of bird populations over time lead inevitably to environmental awareness and can signal impending changes.” — Roger Tory Peterson

 

 

 

Carolina Chickadee

 

 

 

 

These tiny little cuties, year round residents  and  common feeder visitors, delight in eating black-oil sunflower seeds.   Quickly making  seed selections, they depart to the security of a branch to eat their treats.  Feeder placement near trees and shrubbery will help attract these and other vulnerable species .  The Carolina chickadee diet is not limited to seeds. The petite cavity nesters also consume insects and spiders. Listen to their call and learn more about Carolina Chickadees by clicking here.

Avians and Acrobats

“Birds are indicators of the environment.  If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.”  Roger Tory Peterson

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

While one may want to call this feeder friend, a red-headed woodpecker, that name is already taken. The angle of the camera shot does not reveal it’s actual name,  red-bellied woodpecker.  Red-bellied woodpeckers can be attracted to feeders by suet, peanuts, and as in this feeder example,  black-oil sunflower seed.  A year round resident and cavity nester, this predator uses its sticky tongue to extract prey from bark crevices.  Learn more about this colorful avian at All About Birds,  hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

 

 

 

 

Raccoon raiding bird feeder

This little hairy acrobat, as well as squirrels, are frequent visitors  to backyard feeders. Baffles are often recommended as deterrents and sometimes work.  While Wild Bird Unlimited offers a cleverly designed feeder to deter the little raiders, it is a little pricey. However, it does  come with a lifetime warranty. For those who have seen enough acrobatics, this feeder may be of use. Click here to investigate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

More on Monarchs

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” Stuart Udall

 

Monarch female extracts nectar from a tropical milkweed. The female can be identified by the thick black lines on either side of the abdomen.

Most insects, including monarchs, go through a four stage life cycle.  The monarch female deposits eggs on  milkweed host plants and upon hatching, the larvae or caterpillars feed upon the leaves of the milkweed for about five days. Unlike most caterpillars, monarch caterpillars have few problems with predation.  Toxins in the milkweed  are transferred to the caterpillar and remain in the monarch’s system throughout its lifecycle.  Therefore,  birds and other predators avoid the monarch.  Viceroy butterflies, as  a means of avoiding predation, mimic the coloration of the adult monarch.

Learn more about milkweed by clicking here.

Monarch caterpillar munches on the leaves of a tropical milkweed.

Caterpillars go through five molts or instars in their development. The colorful caterpillar pictured, is in the fifth instar and will soon  crawl  as much as thirty feet away from the host plant.  Finding a suitable object on which to  attach, the quick little crawler will transform  into a beautiful jewel-like chrysalis.

A monarch chrysalis hangs from a railing.

This darkened chrysalis reveals the transformation process.  When the ten day process is nearly completed, the new adult can be seen through the transparent chrysalis.

Allowing its wings to dry, the newly emerged adult hangs near the tiny compartment that represents the third stage of  its life. Learn more about the life cycle of these remarkable monarchs by clicking here.

 

Plant And They Will Come – The Next Step

Host Plants in the Landscape

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir

 

The next step in attracting pollinators is planting or maintaining the presence of host plants. These are the plants, pollinators such as butterflies and moths seek, when depositing eggs. Upon hatching from the egg attached to a leaf, the caterpillar consumes the egg case and  proceeds to a readily available source of food,  the leaves of the host plant. Its mother flies from plant to plant, using the sensors located in her feet to “taste”  leaves to find the correct plant for her offspring.

A variety of host plants in the local landscape will attract a variety of pollinators. Many host plants are actually  considered weeds by most people.  Resisting the impulse to remove all the wild spaces in the landscape will help pollinators and other wild creatures. Intend to “untend.”

A Gulf Fritillary caterpillar crawls on its host plant, a native passion vine,  Passiflora lutea.

                                              

 

Common in moist, wooded areas, this passion vine grows profusely, climbing trees and fences.  Support the Gulf Fritillary by allowing this host plant to remain in the landscape.  It is also the host plant for the Zebra Longwing butterfly.  Learn more about Passiflora lutea at the USDA website.   Click here to access the site.

 

Adult Gulf Fritillary on a nectar plant, the zinnia

The Alabama Butterfly Atlas website is a good source of pictures of the host plant, Passiflora lutea, as well as this gorgeous coastal butterfly.  Click here to access the site.

 

A Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar rests on a Sassafras leaf.

Native trees, including Sassafras, Red Bay, and Swamp Bay are host plants,  suffering from  Laurel wilt. This disease is caused by a fungus transmitted by an invasive red bay ambrosia beetle.    Laurel wilt threatens the Spicebush swallowtail and other pollinators.   Learn more about controlling this  disease at the Alabama forestry commission website . Click here to access the site.

 

Adult Spicebush swallowtail on a nectar plant, commonly called  butterfly bush,  scientific name, Buddleia davidii

The University of Florida  has extensive information concerning the four stages of the Spicebush’s lifecycle. Click here to access the site.