Saturday, August 2, 2014



The lab grounds has a cluster of "ghost trees" along the edge of a pine and mixed hardwood patch of woodland. These dead trees have numerous woodpecker holes.  This is a Red-headed Woodpecker that stopped to perch before flying on to its nest in a taller dead pine tree nearby.

The adult Red-headed Woodpecker brings a food item to the nest which is at least forty, maybe fifty feet off the ground.


Also along the edge of this patch of woods, I found this Bull Thistle (also called Spear Thistle).  Although this plant is considered a serious weed by many, it also provides food for a number of native birds, particularly the beautiful American Goldfinch (see link).  Goldfinches also use the downy part of the seed as a nesting material.


My lab colleague, Ann, came looking for me today because she had seen a large moth resting on one of the large second floor lab windows.  Soon the moth fluttered to the patio below and landed on a bench.  We hurried down to take a few pictures of this Royal Walnut Moth (also called a Regal Moth).  Its larvae is the harmless but scary looking caterpillar known as the Hickory Horned Devil (see link).  I tried to move the moth from the patio area into nearby shrubs, but it took off and flew strongly away from the lab.  At about 150 feet from the lab and about 60 feet off the ground, it was suddenly met midair by a Northern Mockingbird.  I was momentarily saddened by this turn of events until I saw that the mockingbird careened off in one direction while the moth climbed further still in the opposite direction and landed in the top of a tall pine tree at the edge of the lab grounds. This moth was too big for the mockingbird to eat or to take to its nestlings which I found a few days later.


As I walked the perimeter of the State Lab property checking the bluebird boxes, I noticed a pair of Northern Mockingbirds moving around in the top of a young bald cypress tree.  One bird had an insect in its beak. 

About 25 feet away in a small bush, I found this nest of four mockingbird nestlings just 18 inches off the ground.  I am guessing that they are about four or five days old.

As I left work in the early evening, I found a second mockingbird nest in a maple tree in the parking lot in the front of the lab.  The nest was about 7 feet off the ground and about two feet out from the trunk in the fork of a limb.  It was too high up for me to take pictures.  Both parents scolded me sharply, but did not fly at me as they often do when humans are near their nest.


The next day I visited the nest in the bush again.  After taking this picture, I moved about a 100 feet away and watched for a while. One of the parent birds hunted insects on the open ground near the nest, raising and lowering its wings to show a sudden flash of white feathers. This behavior can cause hidden insects to move or fly so that the mockingbird can find them. 


Today when I visited the mockingbird nest, I found just three well feathered nestlings.  Perhaps one of them has already fledged.


When I first peeked in the mockingbird nest today, there were two nestlings.  By the time I took the second picture, only one bird remained, as the other little mockingbird slipped out the back side of the nest and flew.  The nest was empty by the next morning.


Danny, another lab friend, came to get me today to report a stunned bird in the open patio area at the back of the building where it had struck a large window.  This beautiful bird is a female Blue Grosbeak (sometimes described as cinnamon in color).  You can see that it has a heavy beak which it uses to crack or crush large seeds.  Its beak is similar in size to the beak of the familiar Northern Cardinal (Cardinal info), to which it is related.  The male Blue Grosbeak that I saw earlier in the summer was vivid blue with chestnut brown colored wing bars. (Blue Grosbeak info)


The grandsons are coming!  So I began trying to set up a temporary moth observation area that I call the Moth Pit.  It is a space that is surrounded on three sides by a three foot retaining wall and the fourth side by a basement wall and doorway.  Above it are part of our bedroom and Peggy's study.  I tried it out on Sunday night before the kids arrived.  I did not get the white sheets put up, but I turned on my new mercury vapor lamp and a black light to attract the insects.  The few moths that showed up were perched on dark painted siding and the pictures did not turn out well.  The first customer was this inch long click beetle. When they find themselves on their back, they are known for their ability to click the two segments of their body in a way that launches them into the air and back onto their feet.  The larval stage of this and other click beetles is called a wireworm. 


Another guest was this very small long-horned caddisfly.  I don't know much about caddisflies, but this one had enormously long antennae, more than twice the length of its body.


The boys have arrived!  On their first full day, my wife and our daughter took the three grandsons out to Prairie Ridge EcoStation for a "Herp Hunters" walk.  My wife and the youngest grandson decided to attend a mud-pie making class, while the twins went on the walk with my daughter and me.  We saw a many interesting things, but no herps until Ms Mandy, our leader, turned up a couple Green Treefrogs that were hiding out in "frog pipes" that were placed in strategic locations around the pond. Notice the treefrog's sticky suction cup shaped toe pads and his yellow "racing stripe".  And his eyes are so beautiful.  Ms Mandy also had a few containers of tadpoles and froglets to share with the kids.


After the Herp Hunters walk we stopped by the butterfly garden to look around.  Right away the boys were looking for butterflies!


Soon they were treated to a beautiful Monarch feeding on a purple cone-flower!


An Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly sips nectar from a Partridge Pea blossom at the State Lab.  Their caterpillars also feed on the leaves of this plant as well as clover and other plants in the pea family.

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