Friday, July 4, 2014

Late April to Early July 2014 - Wonders of Nature Outside My Door

The Earth abounds with natural treasures. 
 It doesn't take long to find a few of them if we are just a little observant.

The past couple months have zoomed by with only a lengthy post (Brown-headed Nuthatches) for my friend Judy who passed away last week after battling pancreatic cancer for several months.  But I was seeing lots of other things, too.  So here is my attempt to catch up.

In a nest box in the backyard I found these six newly hatched Carolina Chickadee babies in a nest of moist green moss that was lined with soft, soft fur from perhaps a neighborhood dog.

This male Crane Fly (Tipula species) was hanging out on the back door of the lab, seemingly all leggy and clumsy like I was in junior high school.  Well, now, too, except a lot fatter!

The baby Carolina Chickadees are about 7 days old and are starting to get their black caps.  Maybe they are dreaming of graduating from the nest  in 10 days or so and going on to flight school.

A nest of five baby Eastern Bluebirds at the lab (Box #2) are piled on top of each other and just two days from flying.

I found this dried out, flattened, and tailless Ground Skink in the Bluebird nest the day after the young birds had fledged.  Later in the month I found another skink in a second bluebird nest (Box #5) on the other side of the laboratory campus.  Never thought of sweet, gentle bluebirds as reptile hunters. 
 (see link)

Peggy found this Copperhead hanging out beside the house late one afternoon.  It definitely blends in with its surroundings.  It got moved down the road to a more secluded area.  Many safety precautions were taken!
(see link)

The six little Carolina Chickadees are looking like adults now.  They stayed in the nest a few more days and fledged on 5-12-2014.  They're off to flight school!

This little Eastern Worm Snake turned up in a pile of wheat straw.  Notice its two tone brownish gray above and pink below.  This is quite a gentle snake and never offers to bite.

But it will drag the pointy end of its tail across your hand as a defense mechanism.  It rather tickles!
(see link)

A pitcher plant's mouth reminds me of Kermit the Frog.  They both eat bugs!

This very small long-horned beetle showed up this morning on the back door of the State Lab.  The body is about 1/4" long and the antennae are nearly twice that.  The species name is Hyperplatys aspersa
(see link)

I found this male Yellow-bellied Pond Slider crossing the road between the Fairgrounds and Carter-Finley Stadium. Check out his very long toenails!  I like the beautiful yellow striping and his very pretty eye!

A mud dauber decided to nest in one of the bluebird nest boxes I put up at the lab.  Above it a paper wasp started her nest which hangs from the ceiling.  The mud dauber builds one chamber at a time.  It catches and paralyzes a spider which it puts in the chamber.  It lays its egg on the spider and then closes up the chamber before beginning to shape another cylinder.   

In another nest box at the lab a family of Carolina Chickadees built their mossy nest.  I provided many of the boxes with peat cups to make it easier to observe the growing babies.  The female Chickadee laid five eggs but only these three hatched.

Another moth visitor to the back door of the State Lab is this delicate looking Banded Tussock Moth also known as the Pale Tiger Moth.
(see link)
(see link to caterpillar)

This Virginian Tiger Moth is difficult to distinguish from the Agreeable Tiger Moth.  The third picture in this series shows the orange markings on the top of its abdomen that are characteristic of the Virginian.

This is a view of the Virginian Tiger Moth's underside.  It is also called the Yellow Woolybear Moth.
(see Yellow Woolybear)

This view of the Virginian Tiger Moth shows the yellow-orange markings on top of its abdomen.  

It took me a while to figure out this insect.  I searched through crickets and grasshoppers and their kin, and discovered that this is an American Shieldback Katydid.  The long ovipositor indicates that this is a female.
(see link)

In Box #6 at the State Lab the first two of five Eastern Bluebirds hatched this morning.  Ultimately only one more would hatch.  The three young Bluebirds flew from the nest seventeen days later on 6-20-2014.  At the State Lab we have had five Eastern Bluebird nestings and a Carolina Chickadee nesting.  At home we've had two Eastern Bluebird nestings, a Carolina Chickadee nesting, a Carolina Wren nesting, a Brown-headed Nuthatch nesting, and a failed nest of Tufted Titmice.

In State Lab Box # 2 Eastern Bluebirds have laid their second clutch of five eggs.

Just behind Box #2 a Killdeer has laid her four eggs right on the ground in the mulch that was piled there after clearing the ground for the State Lab.

The third Eastern Bluebird nestling has hatched in Box #6.

 The four Eastern Bluebird nestlings in Box #2 have hatched.

Back to Box #6 the three Eastern Bluebird nestlings are six days old and showing their wing feather sheaths.

A female Eastern Box Turtle ambled across the area behind the State Lab's loading dock.  Angela Truelove pointed her out to me, and we admired her beautiful colors.

After a light sprinkling of rain, the mother Killdeer's outline can be seen in the mulch where she had left her nest for a moment to distract me with her broken wing act.

A Killdeer egg with a very pointy end.

This male Common True Katydid sat for a picture on my dusty shoe this morning.

A young Tulip Poplar sapling has leaves made lacy by a horde of hungry Japanese Beetles.  A growing flock of juvenile Starlings that have fledged from the cavities in the security lights towering above the State Lab parking lot have been seen feasting on the beetles as they chase the metallic green morsels across the grassy areas and sidewalks.  Perhaps we will be audience to a murmuration of Starlings this autumn.

The four Eastern Bluebirds in Box #2 have been dining on Wild Black Cherries as evidenced by the numerous cherry pits in the nest.  Today is their last full day in the nest as they will fledge tomorrow.

In Box #5 Eastern Bluebirds have made their second nest and three of their four eggs have hatched.  The two fuzzy chicks hatched on 6-25-2014 and the "wet" one hatched today.

Randall helped me identify this flower that showed up in our front yard for the first time this year.  This is a Carolina Wild Petunia.  I had never seen or heard of it before.

Peggy found another treasure today and called me to take pictures.  This is probably a Cork-lid Trapdoor Spider, or a Ummidia species per

Trapdoor spiders build an underground burrow that is lined with silk.  The spiders fit the burrow with a cork-like "trapdoor" constructed of silk, soil, and vegetation.  They lie in wait for an insect to pass by.  Click the link below to see what happens.

Also interesting is that though this spider appears to have five pairs of legs (ten), the front pair are actually modified mouth-parts called pedipalps.  The size of these pedipalps indicated that this is a male spider.  The male spider uses these structures to transfer sperm from himself to his mate.

The spider's cephalothorax is shaped a bit like Darth Vader's head.  I have read that these spiders are harmless (that is, not venomous), but others say they can deliver a painful bite if handled roughly.  Fortunately, I must have been gentle enough.

A male Eastern Bluebird stands guard on top of Box #2 at the State Lab.  His four young fledged a few days ago and they are in the woods nearby.  This box was home to two nests of five eggs each.  All five babies fledged from the first nesting.  Only four eggs hatched of the second clutch and all four babies fledged.

A Carolina Wren has recently built her nest in an old pottery birdhouse jug from Seagrove.  She has four eggs so far and lots of plastic lining the interior of the nest.

This afternoon, I heard a couple birds behind the lab making fussy chipping sounds.  I went back to the lab for my binoculars so I could see what species of bird was in distress.  To my surprise (and delight) I found it was a male Blue Grosbeak with a juvenile male which was brown like an adult female, but had blue on its head.  As I investigated to see if their nest was nearby, I discovered the source of their agitation.  What appeared to be a Black Rat Snake or the Black Racer I'd seen in the area several weeks ago, turned out to be a convincing edge of an erosion control fabric that was mostly buried at the back edge of the lab's property.  If you look closely, you can see the frayed edge near the middle of the picture.  I'm sorry I didn't have a camera that could capture a picture of the Blue Grosbeaks.

I have seen two species of Hairstreak Butterflies.  This one is the Red-banded Hairstreak that I found at home.  

I bought this carnivorous Sundew plant at the State Farmer's Market a month ago and it appears to be adding baby plants already.  Watch out insects!

Though not a great picture, this leaf-like creature was lying beside a refuse container behind the lab this morning.  It looks to be a Large Maple Spanworm Moth.  Its larva is one of the inchworms or measuring worms.