Tag Archives: Bird-watching

Snow

Paper birch in my front yard.

Snow fell in big, soft flakes this past week, swirling around this river birch tree (Betula nigra) in my front yard. I love the way the bark cracks and peels. So many textures, and the snowflakes add another dimension.

Red Cedar in my back yard.

This red juniper (Juniperus virginiana) is flourishing in my backyard. According to one of my botany professors (long ago), the red juniper (also known as red cedar) is the only evergreen conifer native to Kansas, where I live. Another evergreen fact: Kansas is the only state in the continental United States, plus Alaska, that has no native pine trees, according to my professor. I thought Hawaii also had native pine trees, but thanks to Ed Darrell, I discovered that pines were introduced to Hawaii, as were so many other species. I don't know whether pines will propagate themselves in Hawaii. They don't seem to in Kansas.

 

a cardinal grabs a snack in the snow at the bird feeder outside my kitchen window.

A cardinal grabs a snack in the snow at the bird feeder outside my kitchen window.

 

I didn't venture far to get this photo of snow on a holly bush in my backyard.

Holly berries! After three years of no berries, I thought the original owner of my house had planted only males. What's the point of that? But there were three holly princesses, after all. A holly prince was tucked in a corner (Who needs to see him? He doesn't have berries!) to pollinate this holly harem. I don't know why the romance took so long to blossom.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Environment, Gardening, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Science

Batty About Birds, Bees and Butterflies

Soon after it was hung, hummingbirds appeared at this feeder at the Grand Lake of the Cherokee, Oklahoma, in mid-September.

Several ruby-throated hummingbirds appeared at this feeder almost as soon as it was hung at a waterfront home at the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, Oklahoma, in mid-September. Hummingbirds are territorial so they all fought to make it their personal feeding station.

 

In 2007, there weren't many bees in my garden, but this year they've swarmed to my basil plants. I have both honey bees and carpenter bees.

In 2007, there weren't many bees in my garden. This year, a "swarm" of honey bees appeared, along with carpenter bees, in my basil plants.

My enthusiasm for bees sky-rocketed last year when I discovered that I wasn’t getting any squash, because I had no bees to pollinate them.  I had to do the job myself with an artist’s paintbrush.  My harvest? Ten squash.  I’m a terrible match-maker! It’s easier to attract bees to do the work.  They know what they’re doing. They’re like match.com for fruits and vegetables. 

Pollinators are essential to our food supply, and not just in our backyards.  Eighty percent of the world’s food crops depend on some kind of pollinator.

I already miss the ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies that passed through our yard or made it their home this summer and early fall.   The bees are still busy in the basil flowers, so I’m waiting to cut the plants for pesto.  I’m also lazy. 

My husband took down the hummingbird feeder a few days ago after not seeing “our” ruby-throated hummingbird for more than a week.  The tiny bird has left Kansas City and is on his way to southern Mexico for the winter.  Adios!  I loved watching him come to the feeder at the window.  Occasionally, a visiting hummingbird would stop at the feeder, and there would be a “dog fight” in the air as the resident bird dive bombed and chased the intruder.

I didn’t see as many butterflies this year as last.  We had a colder, wetter spring, which reduced their numbers.  Hopefully, their numbers will bounce back after our lush, wet summer resplendent with flowering plants. 

A male carpenter bee on a basil flower.

A male carpenter bee on a basil flower.

What I really want to show you are my photographs, including those below.  Don’t miss them!  Be sure to click on them to get a better look. For my other posts and photographs on ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies, caterpillars and bees, use my search box.

Here’s a list of useful websites:

A Monarch butterfly fid nectar in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

A Monarch butterfly finds nectar in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

A Zebra butterfly flutters in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  I saw a Zebra flt through my yard this year. It flashes by so quickly I almost thought it was a hallucination -- or at least wishing thinking.

A Zebra butterfly flutters in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. I saw a Zebra flt through my yard this year. It flashed by so quickly I almost thought it was an hallucination -- or wishing thinking.

There are 3,500 species of skipper butterflies, and they seem to be be everywhere.  They're not very flashier, however, so you might not even notice them.  This mating pair of skippers is making a spectacle of themselves, however, so you have to take a look.  This took place in front of the Monarch Watch building at the University of Kansas.

There are 3,500 species of skipper butterflies, and they seem to be be everywhere. They aren't very flashy, though, so you might not notice them. However, these mating skippers are making a spectacle of themselves in front of the Monarch Watch building at the University of Kansas. You can't not look!

I was so excited when this female hummingbird stopped by our backyardfor a few days to visit the cardinal flowers I planted to attract her.

I was so excited when this female ruby-throated hummingbird stopped by our backyard for a few days to visit the cardinal flowers I planted to attract her. She and butterflies pollinated these flowers, which are already forming seeds that I can plant next year to continue the cycle.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly is just a blur on an aster as it flits from flower to flower in the native prairie on the Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas.  Sixty percent of Sprint's 240-acre campus is devoted to green space, including 60 acres of prairie grass and wildflowers and seven acres of ponds and wetlands.  It's a wildlife paradise.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly is just a blur on an aster as it flits from flower to flower in the native prairie on the Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. Sixty percent of Sprint's 240-acre campus is devoted to green space, including 60 acres of prairie grass and wildflowers and seven acres of ponds and wetlands. It's a wildlife paradise.

Here's why this beautiful flowering shrub is called Butterfly Bush.  These butterflies are int he butterfly garden at Powell Gardens in Lone Jack, Missouri, east of Kansas City.

Here's why this beautiful flowering shrub is called "Butterfly Bush." These butterflies are in the butterfly garden at Powell Gardens in Lone Jack, Missouri, east of Kansas City.

Text and photographs by Catherine Sherman, all rights reserved, October 2008.

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Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Science

A Flock of Hummingbirds

In September 2006, Abigail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana, trained these hummingbirds to feed from her hands.  These were hummingbirds that had been visiting her hummingbird feeder.  I'm envious, but I definitely don't have her patience.

In September 2006, Abigail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana, trained these ruby-throated hummingbirds to feed from her hands. These hummingbirds had been visiting her hummingbird feeder. I’m envious, but I don’t have her patience. These are Alfano’s photographs.

My friend Jane knows I like hummingbirds so she emailed these photographs to me of a woman hand feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I immediately suspected photoshop!  And not just because I didn’t believe hummingbirds would feed from a woman’s hand  —  hummingbirds are territorial and don’t “hang out together.”  I guess they do when they’re migrating.

I immediately searched for a snopes.com article on hand-feeding hummingbirds, and amazingly it’s true.  These hummingbirds live in Louisiana, where the motto is the Cajun term laisse le bon temps rouler, let the good times roll. Here, they hang out on their own Bourbon Street before they head onto southern Mexico for the winter.

Peaceable kingdom in Louisiana.  Usually, ruby-throated hummingbirds will fight off rivals at the feeder, but there they not only are hanging out (or should I say hovering about?) but also overlooking the fact that a human is literally handing out the treats, a cup of suagr water.

Peaceable kingdom in Louisiana. Usually, ruby-throated hummingbirds will fight off rivals at the feeder, but here they are hovering together and also overlooking the fact that a human is literally handing out the treats, a cup of sugar water.

To see my less-impressive (although I was pretty proud of myself) photographs of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (one at a time) at my feeder go to  Ruby-throated Hummingbird Moves into the Neighborhood  and Ho, Hum, Another Hummingbird

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Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Humor, Louisiana, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science

Ho, Hum, Another Hummingbird

Is it our resident ruby-throated hummingbird, a male, or a female intruder? I can't tell.

Is it our resident male ruby-throated hummingbird, a juvenile male or a female intruder? I can't tell.

I’m not bored with the hummingbird at our feeder, but he does come often enough that I’m starting to take him for granted.  My husband calls out, “Hummingbird.”  Sometimes, I don’t look up.  I should.  The hummingbird will be leaving soon, and I’ll miss him.

Sometime in mid- to late September, most ruby-throated hummingbirds will begin a long journey, including a nonstop flight over the gulf to southern Mexico for the winter.

Is it a male or female ruby-throated hummingbird? You tell me.

Is it a male or female ruby-throated hummingbird? I'm guessing it's a young male, taking his time at the feeder, daring the older resident male to run him off. What do you think?

Another hummingbird has dashed in for drinks now and then, but it’s not a friendly cocktail party here.  The cock chases the tail of the intruder.  It’s one hummingbird to a territory!  I took some photographs this week of what may be a new hummingbird.  It didn’t look like our resident ruby-throated hummingbird. In the photograph, I don’t see any red at the throat, which is the sign of the male, so it might be an invading female. Or it could be a juvenile male that doesn’t yet have a red neck. The females have a rounded tail with white tips, the male’s tail is forked with no white. The males and females meet up for mating, but after that they don’t get along.  Both males and females have beautiful iridescent blue green backs.

My previous post on “our” hummingbird is here.

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Filed under Biology, Environment, Humor, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Moves into the Neighborhood

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

Sometimes, the littlest things can get me excited — like spotting a hummingbird at our feeder.  And they truly are little, as well as elusive. They barely weigh more than two ounces at the most and are about three to four inches long.

In May, we take down the seed bird feeder and put up a hummingbird feeder. Actually, my husband does all of the work, but I’m an enthusiastic observer.  The feeder is outside of our breakfast nook, which is at tree level, so we have a good view.

We spotted a hummingbird a few times at first, and then the feeder sat full and unvisited, it seems, for all of June and most of July.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

After an autumn, winter and spring of lively activity by the seed eaters, who mobbed the feeder and fought one another for perches, it got awfully boring waiting at the window, staring at the red liquid that never seemed to drop. Occasionally a wasp would land for a sip. Ok, maybe I didn’t watch that much, but I did glance up from my newspaper every now and then.

Our conversation was sparkling each day.  “Has the level gone down at all?”

“I don’t think so.”

Dutifully, my husband changed the untouched nectar every week.

Then one day, my husband called out, “Hummingbird.”

I looked up.  Nothing.

“You missed it,” he said.  

This happened several times in a week.  I never saw anything.  I was beginning to think he was hallucinating.  It couldn’t just be my bad vision.  

Finally, just this week, a male hummingbird appeared. This time, when my husband said, “Hummingbird,” I actually saw one hovering at the feeder.  He said that he’d seen a female earlier.  Females are slightly larger, more brown-looking and have a whitish throat and a longer beak.

The next few days, I stood at the window off and on with my camera at the ready. That’s why I’ve included so many photographs.  I’ve got to make my vigil pay off in some small way.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds that breed in the eastern half of the United States.  They range as far north as Central Alberta over to Nova Scotia.  They are territorial and very feisty, particularly in late summer and early fall when they are fattening up for their long nonstop flight in September across the Gulf of Mexico to their winter quarters in southern Mexico and Central America.  They are solitary birds and don’t pair up the way cardinals do. After courtship and mating, the female hummingbird is left to do the child-rearing herself, including nest building.  She will repair an old nest.

A description of the nest sounds like something from a fairy story.  The female chooses a small tree branch where she builds a nest of thistle and dandelion down, held together with spider web and covered in lichen. She lays two eggs smaller than jellybeans.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

At our previous house, about five miles north and also in a wooded area, we had several hummingbirds descend upon our feeders in late summer. They fought, divebombing and squeaking at each other.  When that happens, put up two feeders that are not within sight of each other, if you want to keep the peace.

The male has an iridescent red throat and is smaller than the female. The birds can beat their wings 55 times per second when hovering and even faster when moving backwards and forwards.  Nectar from flowers is its main food, but hummingbirds also will catch insects on the wing and snatch spiders from their webs.

 For more information on ruby-throated hummingbirds, go to www.wikipedia.org or to this site at Cornell University.

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide

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