Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tagging Monarch Butterfiles

Update 03/01/2011: so far there has not been any feedback on the location of these butterflies. Sometimes, information does not become available for as long as two years after tagging. I will follow up with an update if any information becomes available.

In my most recent butterfly count in Montgomery County Texas, our count team had the privilege of tagging 14 Monarch butterflies before their migration to Mexico. This year, there is a shortage of these insects due to cold conditions in Mexico last winter. It is a special year for tracking these beautiful creatures.
First we had to find and catch them. This attempt was successful. The Monarch was in flight about to land on this wall of flowers where it was captured.

Then a tag purchased from the NABA was carefully placed on the outside of the wing in a specific place. Each of us had the chance to tag a butterfly. I successfully tagged one. You have to be very careful not to harm the insect.
Tagged Monarch
The tag is uniquely numbered, so it is cataloged with the location, sex, and other pertinent information to enable an accurate record of its migration and/or ultimate destination if and when someone spots the tag and records the butterfly whereabouts.  You can see the tag more clearly if you click on the photo.
Then the butterfly is put into a white mesh container which would eventually be opened to release the insects back into their habitat.
Don DuBois
Our group leader, Don DuBois, organized this activity. He is a big local butterfly enthusiast.
On completion of the task, the tagged butterflies were released. We had two casualties of the 14 captured butterflies in the process. Well, actually one was given a splint in the hope it could make its journey, but the other will probably remain local and not survive the winter.
Monarch preparing to resume normal life

A few just hung around for a while, not particularly anxious to fly off, but eventually got their wings and disappeared. Now we hope to hear the outcome and see if any are actually spotted in Mexico.

Link to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA)
Link to the local chapter of NABA: Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas - B.E.S.T.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Identfying Butterflies in Montgomery County Texas

Each year, there are a number of butterfly counts sanctioned by the NABA (North American Butterfly Association) in Southeast Texas. This article is provided to help the novice identify common species in Southeast Texas. Identifying butterfly species is fulfilling but not exceptionally difficult.; in one outing, you may see the same species many times. It helps if you have some experience, but as a novice, you can identify species in these counts, even though you actually know little. Believe me, there must be an expert in the group to be able to count them efficiently and accurately, but every person available to assist in the process is appreciated. I know! I went cold turkey out in the field last year and found I could be a big help. I am a member of the local chapter of  BEST, the local  chapter of NABA, which organizes such activities in the Houston area. These counts are normally based only on observation; catching these insects in a net is normally undesirable and unnecessary.  Those who have sharp eyes for subtle differences can see a butterfly at a distance and identify it as a specific species or subspecies. I am simply amazed at how they do it, but there are some rules of the road. Those who know their butterflies very well, know what species to expect in what ecology. So if we are observing these insects in an open field, a species is more likely to be seen than another that might like the shade of forest. Another way is to understand species of host plants and know what butterflies are attracted to which species. So it helps to know what species of plants are normally found in a particular location and conditions.

All photos in this article were taken on this one butterfly count in Montgomery County, Texas, just northwest of The Woodlands. Well-planted butterfly gardens will have abundance of the insects but other natural areas this year were much less abundant than last year. I am noting some late comers though on the open pond close to my home.   

On this particular day, our group would also be catching Monarchs and tagging them. So we set out with nets and a cage to hold them. Our primary mission was to find how many species we could identify and in what abundance at benchmark locations. Our secondary mission was to capture Monarchs, then tag and release them for their subsequent journey to Mexico, where their discovery is recorded.

For all of North America, there were only 50 counts conducted in the Fall of 2009. Several of those were conducted right here by BEST. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in these events. This one was in our backyard, literally. A count covers an area having a diameter of 15 miles. Our area was north of FM 1488 and west of FM 2978.  

I will give you some photos of common butterflies that were identified on this count. First a little background. There are six families of butterflies.
  1. Swallowtails - generally large with distinctive prongs on their wings as "tails", e.g. Black Swallowtail
  2. Brush-footed - generally has two pairs of legs. e.g., Monarch
  3. Whites and Sulfurs - soft distinct colors with colored markings, six legs, often seen "floating in the air". e.g., Orange Sulfur Butterfly
  4. Gossamer-winged Butterflies - medium to small butterflies which tend to shine in the sun and have colorful patterns on their wings. e.g., Gray Hairstreak Butterfly
  5. Metalmark Butterflies - not often if ever seen here. They are a tropical variety and beautifully colored. 
  6. Skippers - quite different from other butterflies, there are many species. They are short and stubby looking and move quickly about when they feed,  "skipping" from flower to flower. e.g.,Fiery Skipper 

Gray Hairstreak
This Gray Hairstreak is abundant and widespread throughout this continent. You are likely to find it in the sun amidst a home garden such as this one.
Gray Hairstreak
 This Gray Hairstreak was spotted in another location , appearing a bit different in different light.
Southern Cloudywing Skipper

  The Southern Cloudywing Skipper uses the same plant for a host as the Gray Hairstreak, Bush Clover.
Fiery Skipper male
The Fiery Skipper was the most common butterfly in all in our counts. Gardens were simply swarming with them. Several varieties of grasses serve as hosts, especially Bermuda.
I have added this because what may appear as a butterfly, can easily turn into being a moth. There is a distinct difference between the two. The wing structure is totally different so they fly differently.
Common Buckeye
The Buckeye is quite common all over the United States. I saw a few of these this trip but in Trinity County, saw many. They love the sun will utilize several types of plants as hosts.

Duskywing Butterfly
This butterfly looks very plain when its wings are folded back but when spread out, it comes alive in brown colors. 
White Stripe Long-tailed Skipper
A readily identifiable skipper that has a tail on its wings similar to the Swallowtails.
White Striped Long-tailed Skipper

Northern Broken Dash

Note the small white marks on the wings. It is best to have a pair of binoculars when  identifying butterflies.  No one could identify this except one person in our group.  We had an expert of the skipper family with us on this outing.
Clouded Skipper
This photo provides better markings of the Clouded Skipper and a view of the wing structure of the skipper family.
Orange Sulfur
 The Orange and Little Sulfurs are similar. One typically sees the Little Sulfur on the ground but the Orange Sulfur stays on the plants. 
Little Sulfur
Cloudless Sulfur

Great Purple Hairstreak
Not so common is the Great Purple Hairstreak, but we found several in one backyard that we visited.
Gulf Fritillary female
This butterfly is often called the Passion Flower Butterfly, because its host is the Passion Vine. There is a native species of the plant, but you will often find another variety sold at nurseries. The native species lays close to the ground. Their leaves are very similar, but their flowers and climbing characteristics are different.
Gulf Fritillary male
One of the amazing features of the Gulf Frit is its underwing. It is elaborate and shiny, resembling a masterpiece creation of the orient, such as with inlaid oyster shell.
Tawny Emperor
Another beautiful creature but less brilliant than some of the others. As you might guess by looking at it, it prefers the woody areas, especially on the edge of the forest where it blends into its habitat quite safely. It feeds more on sap and fruits, rarely on flower nectar. Its host is the Hackberry Tree.
I know; it looks like a Monarch. Well, although related, the Queen is smaller, darker and very beautiful. 
American Snout
One of the woody butterflies.  This one normally blends in with its habitat by perching on tree limbs. I caught this one on a leaf, so that it could be seen clearly. It is a little blurred but you get the idea of this unusual butterfly. They migrate in mass in the fall, similar to the Monarch. Their host plant is the Hackberry tree.
Common Checkered Skipper
    Moderately common here. Prefers sunny warm habitats. Host is Shepherd's Needles among flowering plants.

This may be the one butterfly that almost everyone knows and can readily identify, except they get it mixed up with the Queen and other relatives. The Milkweed plant is its host. There is a fear that this butterfly will be extinct in 30 years due to illegal logging in Mexico and the dwindling habitats north of Mexico. Our reality is that the population will decline but not be quite as threatened as some conservationists believe.
Butterfly Count Team left to right:  Steve Abbey & Z Anglin, Carol & Ken Fraser (Back row), Randy Scott, Pat Lee, Farrar Stockton, Ednelza Henderson, Diane Cabiness, Hugh Wedgeworth, Diane Milano.

Results of the count 
Total species: 52
Total individuals: 842
Pipevine Swallowtail 13 Red-spotted Purple
Polydamas Swallowtail Viceroy 1
Black Swallowtail 1 Goatweed Leafwing 1
Giant Swallowtail 5 Hackberry Emperor 7
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 4 Tawny Emperor 15
Spicebush Swallowtail 2 Northern Pearly-eye
Palamedes Swallowtail 8 Southern Pearly-eye
Cabbage White Creole Pearly-eye
Checkered White Gemmed Satyr
Great Southern White Carolina Satyr 1
Falcate Orangetip Little Wood-Satyr
Orange Sulphur 3 Monarch 34
Southern Dogface 1 Queen 9
Clouded Sulphur Silver-spotted Skipper
Cloudless Sulphur 70 White-striped Longtail 12
Orange-barred Sulphur Long-tailed Skipper 1
Large Orange Sulphur 1 Southern Cloudywing 1
Little Yellow 18 Northern Cloudywing 3
Sleepy Orange 10 Confused Cloudywing
Dainty Sulphur 3 Glassy-winged Skipper
Great Purple Hairstreak 2 Juvenal's Duskywing
Soapberry Hairstreak Horace's Duskywing 3
Banded Hairstreak Funereal Duskywing 1
Striped Hairstreak Wild Indigo Duskywing
Northern' Oak Hairstreak Common Checkered-Skipper 18
Henry's Elfin Tropical Checkered-Skipper 6
Eastern Pine Elfin Laviana White-Skipper
Olive' Juniper Hairstreak Turk's-cap White-Skipper
White M Hairstreak Swarthy Skipper 1
Gray Hairstreak 16 Julia's Skipper
Red-banded Hairstreak 3 Neamathla Skipper
Dusky-blue Groundstreak Clouded Skipper 37
Ceraunus Blue 3 Least Skipper
Reakirt's Blue Southern Skipperling 2
Eastern Tailed-Blue Fiery Skipper 249
Spring' Spring Azure Whirlabout 5
Summer' Spring Azure 1 Southern Broken-Dash 3
American Snout 2 Northern Broken-Dash 1
Gulf Fritillary 60 Little Glassywing 5
Zebra Heliconian Sachem 4
Variegated Fritillary Yehl Skipper
Silvery Checkerspot Broad-winged Skipper
Texan Crescent Dun Skipper 21
Phaon Crescent 5 Lace-winged Roadside-Skipper
Pearl Crescent 1 Common Roadside-Skipper
Question Mark Celia's Roadside-Skipper
Eastern Comma Eufala Skipper 11
Mourning Cloak Twin-spot Skipper
American Lady 10 Brazilian Skipper
Painted Lady 3 Ocola Skipper 15
Red Admiral
CommonBuckeye  130

Online Resources 
1. Identifying Bugs - I like this site but it needs some more depth
2. B.E.S.T. - Houston Butterfly chapter of NABA 
3. North American Butterfly Association

Related Commentary Articles:
1. Tagging of the Monarch
2. Trinity River National Wildlife Park (2009 butterfly count)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk : an amazing inhabitant of our forests

Its a B-52! No, it's a huge bird! The shadow of a large winged creature in the evening made this neighborhood in The Woodlands Texas, in the East Texas forest system, stand up and pay attention. The bird swooped down to about eight feet off the ground, so I ducked. What in the world was going on? Our neighborhood had been attacked by this squirrel hunter? It came in for a landing, but the question is, was it looking for a squirrel or the pet rabbit across the street? Maybe my little Toy Terrier?
In flight to reach the position he seeks in a tree
    So majestic, so swift, so powerful! This bird of prey is a natural inhabitant of our forest. He chases a Grey Squirrel up a a tree by going to a limb below the squirrel. The squirrel escapes by going up the tree, seeking refuge from this feared enemy. That is exactly what this bird wants the squirrel to do. On a large Pine Tree, the squirrel moves up and so does the hawk. This happens repeatedly until the squirrel has no place to go. Then this hunter goes in for a swift capture in his talons.
About 60-70 feet high overlooking his domain
The Red-Tailed Hawk is a beautiful bird and a welcome resident of the forest. He is welcome here as well, on a residential street of The Woodlands. Yes, he casts a large shadow with his 3.5-4.5 foot wingspan. Just think! His wings stretch out the height of a human. He lives for 20+ years, so he is our neighbor and friend for much of our life if we stay here.
Mated Red-Tailed Hawk adults

On this day, we saw no prey being taken, but there were suddenly two birds i the tree. I have reason to believe they have been nesting nearby in a tall Pine.  I particularly like their hunting ability of rats and mice. We need them as well as Coyotes and Owls to control the tree rat population here. They will also feed on rabbits and any small creature. They are not likely to be hunting cats or dogs. If you see one close to you, you are quite lucky. One landed on our fence once. The photo turned out poor so I never show it. I am very thankful on this day for this observation of such a beautiful creature. I wish I could have given you better photos, but this will have to do for now.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer - time to catch a giant fish!

David lives in Glenloch Farms near The Woodlands, Texas. On this Saturday, his dad brought him out to do a little summertime fishing. Sure it is hot, but the fish are in the water, and the water has not yet reached the temperatures to push them to the cooler depths. I heard David yelling in excitement. "Dad, this fish is huge!". His pole was bent over and he was struggling to keep the fish on his hook. His dad brought the net and held the rod while David reaped the fruit of his labor. Now this was a prize and I just happened to be there to photograph the event. Thanks to these visitors to The Woodlands, I am able to show what is happening today on our ponds.  Congratulations on a nice catch!

Ponds in The Woodlands, like the other ponds in Southeast Texas, usually contain Large Mouth Bass and Blue Gill perch among other varieties. Sometimes, there will be catfish and crappie also. The food chain is typically mosquito larvae, bugs, mosquito fish, worms, perch, and bass. Crayfish and frogs also play a role in the food chain, especially for bass. 

Like fishermen usually do,this boy gladly followed the rules of the park system and returned this fish to its home, hopefully to spawn next spring or even be caught a few times more. Fish get smarter after being caught, more wise in what to eat and what not to eat.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

Down on the pond - the jewels of the forest

Have you ever given any thought to being a dragonfly watcher? Here in The Woodlands, like almost anywhere there is water, summer is dragonfly time!  People talk readily about the popular outings of bird watchers, but you don't hear too much about Butterfly or Dragonfly watching. Dragonflies are interesting creatures. If you have the imagination of a child like I sometimes do, you know that this creature can be seen in a mysterious light. Check my story for children on the topic. It's not for children, it is for us too. We need to let our minds be open. Adults really do not need children to unlock their brains. I can definitely say however that children have been a key ingredient in my life to allow to see what I have lost over time, the ability to see the truth and beyond in nature.

Damselflies are usually less seen. Look at the wings placement that gives it the unique characteristic, readily identifying it. I looked for one today and found it quickly, but staying more in the background and away from the shore. 

Have you ever imagined why the Dragonfly is just sitting there overlooking the water? Have you watched what they do with territorial struggles? Do you know why they are near ponds? Clue - it's summertime. These jeweled creatures hunt mosquitoes. In metamorphosis, they start their lives hatching from eggs on plants above the water and are first creatures of the water. During this stage, they eat mosquito larvae. Also they are a natural food source for baby fish. After the metamorphic change, they become creatures of the air, with jeweled wings that move independently. A Dragonfly can move what seems to be faster than a bullet, certainly faster than the human eye can detect. The Damselfly is a close cousin but cannot fly as well.

If a male mates a female in another males territory, the dominant male can remove the sperm of the intruder to ensure his offspring is only his offspring. He also usually plays a role in making sure the female deposits her (his offspring) eggs in his territory.

There are a number of varieties and colors on our ponds. Take time to observe them and seek them out. Taking your children out on a Dragonfly hunt is a great deal of fun. Listen to them and their questions. Read the article at this link and read this story that I wrote a couple of years ago. Then put your own story together. Be imaginative. That is what your children will do.  Enjoy the moment. I guess I am just a child at heart, aren't you?   

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Big Brown Bat - our neighborhood night flyer

I ran across a Big Brown Bat on the street last night, right at dusk. It had apparently escaped the talons of an owl, punctured in the chest by a talon. It soon died on the street after trying valiantly to recover and fly off. I feared it could have rabies, like many residents tend to do, so I ran home and got my camera and some gloves and something to carry the animal. On my return to the site, it had already died, looking more like a glob of mud on the ground than a mammal. I did retrieve the bat, placed it in a bag and took it home. 

After calling agencies to find out the appropriate action I should take, it became apparent that no one of authority was concerned about rabies nor was there any advice except to bury the creature. Rabies is not as prevalent in bats as we might think. That is what makes the news, but the risk is not so much a reality. So after calling,  I took a few photos and buried the creature.

The Big Brown Bat does not have prominent visible teeth like some bats. It is a very common bat species. It can number 1000 in one forest group. Here, there is no telling where its family might be, only that it should be very close-by, considering the time of day that I found it. I know of one home in this neighborhood that has a bat house attached to it. Maybe that was its habitat.

Our forests are amazing. They contain a large diversity of animals and plants.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Magnificant Eagle downed by man's neglect to care

This story by Annette King Tucker touched me deeply. I hope it reaches you in the same manner as I. The next time I am trying to rid my home of tree rats,  I will be more cautious! Will you?

What an honor it was on Saturday November 7th to be called upon by State authorities to care for one of our Nation's greatest treasures. This majestic bird was not only impressive to look at, but his presence actually seemed to change the climate in our wildlife clinic. It became "sacred ground" for awhile, and I could not have been more humbled to have been handed such a trust. I have never touched an Eagle, and here I was examining his massive body, running my fingers along his wing bones checking for breaks, opening the impressive beak looking for evidence of problems. I was shaking. The pressure to save his life was tangible, and the responsibility was overwhelming.

After finding no physical injuries, I clearly felt this eagle was fighting an internal battle. His breathing was slightly labored and he was somewhat thin, but in relatively good flesh. The thought of a poisoning came to mind, and struck a familiar chord of fear in me. Animals who ingest other animals dying from rodent poison fall victim to the same fate, but a far slower death would come. It would be too late to save this eagle if that were the case. From the tattered state of his tail, he had been on the ground for a few days at least. I had hope that I was wrong and this was a lung infection and nothing more.

"Spirit" as we called him, began to recover immediately. Although he was rejecting food, we continued to treat him for an infection and for a crop that had clearly shut down and had become rancid. We gave him some medication, and the listless bird turned around for us overnight. The treatments were working, and he began standing strong with his wings tucked away properly. He began to drink water on his own and was vocalizing from time to time. We gave him privacy and avoided handling him except for necessary cage changing. He was extremely cooperative with me for all of his treatments. I kept him confined so that I could medicate him quickly and avoid undue stress. He was an ideal patient, until yesterday.

Although he had passed all inspections for progress yesterday morning, by afternoon something had gone horribly wrong. Spirit was suddenly gasping for breath, and he was distressed. We didn't hesitate. We immediately took him to our veterinarian, Doctor Lesleigh Cash of Hooves Paws and Claws in Claremore.

Life support was given to no avail. His decline was sudden and unstoppable as his body began to shut down. Spirit had been showing the tell tale signs of rodent poisoning and was treated for such, but his progress had given us hope for a miracle. This condition is always fatal for wildlife as we do not get them until the toxins are well absorbed and the animals are unable to avoid being captured. People who use poison for rodents do not realize that they do not die immediately. They are likely to wander aimlessly for hours, becoming easy prey to hungry wildlife and domestic pets. I have cared for dozens of poisoned wild animals in my 14 years as a wildlife care specialist. I've saved none of them.

Last night I brought our beautiful bird back to my wildlife clinic, his empty cage standing before me, his lifeless body in my arms. Ceremoniously, I wrapped him in an American flag and lay my head on him with tremendous pain and regret. I thanked him for allowing me the hope of his recovery, and for fighting with us, as hard as we did, even though recovery was impossible. I apologized to him for the tragedy of his death, and the cruel contribution from my own species to his suffering. What an incredible animal! What Spirit! He will be picked up by a Federal wildlife agent soon and handed over to a Native American eagle feather program who will use his feathers with great respect and honor.

We at Wild Heart Ranch dedicate our lives to improve the lives of thousands of our original Americans, the wildlife with whom we share space. We feel this is part of our responsibility as the dominate species, to assist those creatures who are helpless against the infringement of people into their lives, and without care when tragedy finds them. We ask that out of respect for those who have no voice, that the use of poisons be rethought when dealing with rodents. There are other ways to cope that create no other victims. I would have rather never touched an American Eagle, than to have had one die in my arms yesterday. This could have been avoided, and I feel it is our duty to change our ways to avoid such a needless and devastating loss.

We thought of our soldiers away from home in the bold and revered Spirit of an eagle that for a few brief days, touched the honored few who shared space with him. God speed. We are forever changed. We wish we could have released him to honor you all.

As I look for ways to expand our facility to provide more suitable and substantial means to care for these animals, I will take with me each day the motivation I felt to save just one; the eagle that didn't fly. He represents all of them to me, as well as all of us. It is time for change, and it is time to do more for others and to be better Americans, even if it just means opting for mouse traps instead of bait.

A few photos were taken at the few times we handled Spirit. They are now my treasures. I wanted to share his majesty and his story. I couldn't allow him to go without leaving something behind for us to learn.

God Bless.
Annette King Tucker Wild Heart Ranch Wildlife Rescue

If you find a fawn ...

The grass is turning green, the flowers are starting to bloom and in the Montgomery County area, babies are being born to wild creatures.

Friends of Texas Wildlife is a non-profit organization that rehabilitates orphaned and injured wildlife. It is often called upon to help what appears to be an orphaned fawn when, in actuality, it’s not orphaned at all. Fawns are often left alone for several hours while the mother is looking for food. Here are some tips to help you recognize if a fawn needs help. If a fawn is obviously ill, lying on its side, kicking, crying or is covered with fire ants, pick it up and place it in a box or animal carrier. A light cloth placed over the animal's head will sometimes calm it. Keep it away from pets and all human activity. Petting the fawn, talking to it or holding it does not comfort it. This is a wild animal. Human voices, odor and touch only add to the stress and will cause additional harm. DO NOT FEED THE FAWN ANYTHING. Call Friends of Texas Wildlife at once for help.

If an uninjured fawn is seen, leave it alone and leave the area. The fawn would not be there if the doe were not nearby. You will not see her mother. She will return for the fawn only when there are no humans near. If you have removed the fawn from its resting spot, TAKE IT BACK AT ONCE and walk away.  The doe will be searching for her fawn and will accept it even with human scent on it.

In general, it is not a good idea to make a wild animal your pet. Not only is it not fair to the animal, it is against the law. According to Chapter 63, Section 63.002 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, no person can possess a live game animal (deer are game animals) for any purpose not authorized by their code. The first offense for illegal possession of a live deer is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 plus court costs. There are similar laws for possession of other animals such as raccoons.

The picture you see was taken in someone’s yard in the Lake Windcrest subdivision off of FM 1488. Apparently, someone thought this fawn was abandoned and decided to make it their pet. After it was collared and leased, it escaped and was seen running throughout the subdivision. Its chances of survival in such incidents are extremely slim unless captured and turned over to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator.

If you have questions about what to do if you find an animal in your area or even in your attic, call FRIENDS OF TEXAS WILDLIFE at 281-259-0039 or check their website at www.friendsoftexaswildlife.org.

My neighbor once found such a fawn here in The Woodlands.  He brought the animal for all to see in the cul-de-sac. It was found in a green area on the other side of his fence. It did not move when his dog kept barking at it. So my neighbor reached over the fence and [picked it up. It came alive and fought back. It was only obeying its mother to stay there until she returned. I asked him to return it, as advised by Friends of Texas Wildlife.  We never knew the final disposition of the creature, but I suspect its mother returned to fetch it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Baby Eagle - wild and free from the start

An Eaglet is wild from the start. Think a second about its life. It hatched in January, about the coldest time of the year in this nesting territory. It is a carnivorous creature from day one. At the start, the parents kill the creature it brings to the nest, but after a while, doesn't bother anymore. An eaglet tears the meat with its sharp beak and claws, then gulps it down.

Although I do not have a photo of that process, I have witnessed it. The meat is tossed in the nest and the eaglets feed off of it for a fairly long period of time, if its food is of any significant size. For example, it could be eating possum, rat, fish, cat, rabbit or dog for dinner. The parent can pick up and carry a 10 pound animal to the nest.

This baby bird is about 4 weeks old in my estimate. It is very interested in what is found outside of the nest, inquiring on everything that is happening in the forest. He is aware that I am near; his parents have warned him. The glow in his eyes seem to indicate his desire already to leave the nest and fly free. Freedom rings in the Eagle. His posture is exactly that of a grown bird - one of astuteness, overseer, ruler of the forest, serious and highly perceptive, with far reaching eyesight.

I think it is worth an extra click to see the full size photo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cedar Waxwing just passing through Southeast Texas

Birds are in a hurry, but old man winter is not cooperating. It is migration time again, and we still have two more weeks of winter. The Yaupon do not wait however. Their berries are ripe, perfect for the Cedar Waxwings and Robins to eat. However, the squirrels were the early bird this year. With the drought last year, the berries were more important this year than normal to the squirrels. They have been eating them like crazy! Nevertheless, there are enough berries to go around. The arrival of the masses of this species is exact every year, about Valentines Day.

Amazing enough their arrival is always coincident with the first blooming and little noticed elm tree. Using photographic equipment, we are able to see the two wonders of nature singing in concert this year for spring time! It is not quite time to nest but time to bloom! Waxwings have the itch, you might say but they take their time getting back home. They dilly dattle around on their way up north, in no hurry, partaking as they go. No food? Move on! Eventually they will reach their nesting sites, but they move as slow as Spring moves, but start very early. 

These birds are very social and chat or fuss at each other while feeding.  They are accompanied by a hoard of  Robins. And no, I have not seen the Robins after worms. Robins do search for berries on the ground under the Yaupons, trying to eat the crumbs left behind.  I have plenty of worms in my backyard, but have yet to see one Robin in the spot where I raise the worms.

Eating berries in a tree is not an easy job, even if your body is made for it. The berries are in the most awful difficult places to reach, like on the very end of a branch. A squirrel will just cut the end of the branch off, but the birds must pluck each berry from the branches.
If you are persistent and play the game right, you are rewarded with the fruit of your labor.

Now for the unusual habits of this bird. Yes, they are very active and they eat fruit, especially well known for their affinity to the berries of cedar and thus their name,  they often are tipsy and a maybe little drunk to boot! After all, fruit ferments when the temperature warms up. Right now, the berries are rich in sugar and on warm days, expect them to contain fermented alcohol as well.The birds may fly into windows and do other "silly" unexpected things as a result of this phenomena.

These birds are fun to watch. Take some binoculars and watch them closely. These masked silky lively colored birds are out to have a good time in the forests of The Woodlands right now. They will soon be gone. Not cold lovers, they have been hesitant to move on north. These guys seem to be keeping warm today, all fluffed up in the north wind and looking toward the horizon for what is coming next. Bad news - arctic air will arrive again in just a few days.
Although some will migrate as far south as Costa Rica, most go no further than South Texas for the winter. That way they are closer to returning back to their summer home and can take the first flight home. To heck with the old saying about the Robin! Last one's home is a rotten egg! Thanks for the berries Woodlands! See ya at happy hour again next year! Meanwhile, on to the next bar down the road.