Pelican. Pelican? In your yard?

•April 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, not in our yard, but flying over our yard (which still counts) was a small flock of White Pelicans.

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Unfortunately it was well after sunset with dusk well under way and the lighting was poor. At first we thought they were sandhill cranes, but with the zoom on the camera I was able to get a good view and notice the missing trailing legs that sandhills would normally have. In the limited light I was just able to make out the horn on the beak.

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Each year for the last 3 or 4 years now they would stop over on their northern migration at a nearby lake and apparently they were coming in for their first visit to the lake this year. For many years they have stopped at Nelson Lake Marsh in Kane County (Nelson Lake Marsh). Only in the last few have they also been using the nearby lake. A few years ago I got some shots of the flock on the lake, those images are shown below.

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The Pelicans breed in interior North American migrating to the south and the coasts during winter. Some make it as far as South America to over winter.

Their wing span ranges from 8 to 10 feet and, in North America, is second only to the California Condor.

Only during breeding season is the horn on the beak present. They are the only species of pelican that exhibits this horn and shortly after the eggs are laid the horn is shed until the following breeding season when it grows back.

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Spring is here. Yeah! Spring is here. Boo!

•March 30, 2014 • 1 Comment

Spring is finally here. Deep blue sky, bright and sunny, temperatures in the 60s and you could hear the sandhills flying over on the northerly migration. The most definite sign, however, is the first flower of the year.

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We had three crocuses blooming today.

So why the boo? Don’t I like spring?

Certainly! But the one part I don’t like is seeing what we do to the planet. Part of our nice spring day included cleaning up the yard. Here is just a sampling of the trash in our yard.

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The sad part… this is nothing. Insignificant. Not even noticeable when you start looking along the sides of our major streets and highways… or looking in retention ponds and wetland areas near strip malls. You hear people complain about goose droppings. I don’t think I’ve ever heard these same people complain about the droppings of our society and consumerism.

Ok, enough venting for today. Get out there and enjoy the nice weather while it lasts… and maybe pick up a few pieces of trash too. Wildlife will thank you.

Tracking Wildlife in Winter

•March 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

The snow provides a great opportunity to track wildlife and see where it goes, where it comes from and where it might be living.

Our first example is a rabbit hole. Perhaps a warren, perhaps just a sheltered area that it goes to. The round dark area slightly below the middle of the photo, while more pronounced a few weeks ago, is still obviously a hole tunneled into the bottom of a brush pile. With the large pile (approx 15′ x 5′ x 5′) covered in a thick layer of snow the inside becomes a nicely sheltered area for wildlife. A rabbit was witnessed emerging from this hole on more than one occasion and a distinct trail in the snow leading up to it was visible.

 

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Another part of our yard had a very distinct well worn trail in the snow. Occasional footprints of lighter critters, like squirrels are visible in the right of the photo but the trail on the left had been regularly traversed. By what I could not tell but I’m suspecting possibly skunks, opossums and/or raccoons.

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The trail led straight to our shed, then along the front of it before turning right into it plunging down through the snow to go underneath it. The clear signs of digging help solidify that something has taken up residence under there.

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Other parts of our yard have clearly displayed vole trails, bird tracks, wing marks where a bird took flight and other signs that wildlife is coexisting in our backyard habitat.

Frosty the Window ?

•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Last summer I built a couple of cold frames that would hopefully allow us to get a jump on starting seedlings. We were able to grow cat grass (wheat berries) in them through almost all of December. A month earlier everything in the yard had died but the micro climate in the cold frames was sufficient to keep the grass, in small pots, growing.

Sadly, we still have way too much snow and sub zero temperatures still going on so starting seeds this year will have to wait.

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I walked by them last week to check on the snow melt around them and was greeted by an amazing display on the glass.

 

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The frost patterns had a very organic vine like shape to them, even to the point of appearing to almost have frost leaves growing on the frost vines. Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version of it.

Eat (and be eaten)

•February 23, 2014 • 1 Comment

At the bottom of our feeder it looked like someone had taken a feather pillow and busted it open before shaking it around. Feathers were all over the place.

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Upon closer inspection, some of the feathers had blood on them. Never a good sign.

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Soon “innards” were discovered along with the feathers. Obviously something had met its demise here. Now, seeing the aftermath, we were curious as to the what it might have been.

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Early guesses would eventually prove to be true when we found a few feathers with a distinctive curl at the tip. These feathers are commonly found on a particular species of water fowl along with green iridescent feathers at the head. A bit of additional searching produced the feathers, that when held to the sunlight a certain way flashed green.

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And the former owner of these feathers was a male mallard duck. Near as we can figure it landed at the base of the feeder where some cracked corn had been sprinkled. Either a hawk or coyote was able to catch it by surprise. Hawk is our first choice as we suspect a coyote would have carried it off while a hawk would be more likely to pluck all the feathers and eat what it could right then and there. Since no carcass was found, perhaps the hawk flew off with the remains or perhaps a coyote arrived and absconded with the remains.

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Rest in peace ducky.

Japanese Beetles

•October 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) is not a problem in Japan where natural predators control it but here in the US we’re not so lucky.

Single beetles do a bit of damage to leaves and flowers.

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Large numbers, however, can eat so much of a plant that they become threatening to the existence of the plant. We’ve seen entire mature trees nearly completly defoliated by them.

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While many methods are available to help control them, incuding poisons, pheremone traps and even hand removal (dumping them into a bowl of soapy water to eliminate them), the ones you miss will happily make more.

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Over the years we’ve witnessed some preadtors start to go after them and floating row covers can protect plants or garden crops until they are large enough to withstand some beetle damage. Some sources say they are especially attracted to soy plants and one year a nearby farmer planted hundreds of acres of soy. The following year we were especially inundated with them. Coincidence?

A Tale of Three Butterflies

•September 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The month of August has been interesting in terms of butterflies and September is looking promising too.

Our first tale involved an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). We noticed it on our butterfly bush and that it was moving strangly. It turns out that something else was actually moving it. The butterfly had already passed on and was well over half consumed by a Praying Mantis.

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Within moments of the above photo, the wing dropped off of the body as the last bits disappeared into the mouth of the hungry predator.

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Tale number two has a happier ending for the butterfly. A neighbor had found a small number of Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars and had them in a cage. They soon attached themselves to branches and made their chrysalides. She gave us a branch with two on there. We cared for them which pretty much involved making sure they were out of reach of our cats until they first one emerged.

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The one above is clearly a male as shown by the large amount of yellow and small amount of blue coloration.

Within minutes of taking it outside to release it, upon which it almost immediately flew off, our neighbor came by with another swallowtail (tale #3) that had just emerged for them.

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In the shot above you can clearly see it is a female as designated by the large amount of blue and minimal yellow.

This one actually hung around for a few hours before flying off affording many opportunies for addtional photos.

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As of these photos we still had one swallowtail yet to emerge. In the photo below you can see the empty chrysalis above and the lower one still holding the transforming butterfly.

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Finally here is a close up on the chrysalis. The background is unaltered although I did heavily photoshop the color levels on the branch and chrysalis in order to bring out the colors better (the strange yellow border surrounding them is an unfortunate result). You can see the little piece of silk sling they use to suspend the chrysalis closer to the branch.

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The other one did finally emerge and flew away. Just recently a monarch caterpillar was located and put in the cage. Within 2 days it had already formed a chrysalis and sometime in September it is expected to emerge.

 
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