Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 21, 2016

A Magnificent Specimen

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:12 pm

A Magnificent Pea Fowl Poo photo IMG_4342_zpswc0rlglf.jpg

On a recent trip to a country dairy farm with my grandson my eye was captured by a piece of natural art. It was an exceptionally well-formed bird dropping perched atop a fence post.  In an attempt to keep my young charge focused on the animals I did not direct his attention to the miniature piece of crowning perfection before me.  I wanted his “s” and “p”memory words, the ones he would proudly report to his mother,  to be standards such as sheep and peacock and not their fecal equivalents.  As an adult, I could not deny the thing before me so I present this feature to you for a totally non-scientific review. As surely as art can be nothing but poo, poo can sometimes be art.

Farms, by their very nature, are places of perpetual poo. The stuff was everywhere – mostly distributed unevenly across the ground or rolling about like marbles. As much as I tried to ignore this category of sightings on our farm visit, this specimen was highlighted by the low afternoon light and demanded attention.. The separation of the white from the solid material (the pee from the poo as it were) indicates that this was a bird dropping. But dropping is hardly the word to describe this product. It wasn’t dropped, it was placed and delivered like a whipped topping on a pumpkin pie. An extended point at the apex accentuated the form and elevated it to a work of near beauty. It transcended feces and appeared like a sculpture of a pensive snow white snail crawling about with a granular swirling shell upon its back.

The artist was undoubtedly a large bird. No House Sparrow or Pigeon could have survived such an act.  None of the chickens are capable of reaching such a high perch either, so it must have been “expressed” by one of the proud Peacocks or Peahens that roam about the place. One knows now why the Peafowl crows! Theirs is a world of feathered beauty but in the end it is also a world of earthy charms little respected by the world in general. Pea Fowl are Poo Fowl as well. I appreciate what you have done and some day so too will my grandson.

August 2, 2016

Broad Hawk Down

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 1:10 pm

Immature Broad-winged Hawk in the Water photo IMG_3798_zpsanfzcpus.jpg

There are many things I expect to see when I walk out onto my Dollar Lake Dock.  I am usually content with the verdant green vista offered by Lily pads, Green Darners, and Green Frogs. I always anticipate something out of the norm, however, and this is what drives my repeated mini-ventures to the end of the crooked pier. This past weekend a splash and movement of brown caught my immediate attention and I anticipated that the local muskrat was making his rounds. When the subject displayed a fan of tail feathers it took a quick reassessment to conclude that I was looking down at a small hawk. The bird was floundering among the lily pads north of the dock. Spread winged and groping for support, it could not make any headway and appeared trapped and fatigued.

I grabbed a hand net, dragged my kayak to the water’s edge, and paddled out to the hapless raptor. The bird offered no resistance when I scooped it out. Rather than set it down on the boat’s bottom (between my legs, I might add) I opted to hold the net up with one hand and operate the kayak paddle with my other hand. Negotiating the thick vegetation cover, my efforts resembled those of a two-legged daddy longlegs and I felt for the struggles of the bird I now held captive.  My wife was able to pull me in the final paddle length to the dock and the clumsy rescue was completed.

Apart from being very wet and exhausted, the hawk seemed to be un-injured. An occasional spurt of liquid issued out of its mouth, indicating that it had swallowed some water, but still I hoped for the best. A quick dry off, assisted by a blow dryer, restored the fluffy down feathers and the overall form of an immature Broad-winged Hawk emerged from the sodden mess. The only remaining thing for me to do was to set it down in the shade of a Red Maple and give it time to recover. Three hours later it was dead.

In a Disney world, this story would have ended with a full recovery and a tearful goodbye. Instead, I was merely witness to a real world fact of life -which is death. Nearly 80% of young raptors die within their first year of life. Few of us are present during nature’s grim reaping process and must take solace in seeing the lucky 20% fly overhead. Upon leaving the care of the adults, the youngsters are subject to a steep learning curve where they have to master the combined arts of hunting, flying and decision making. A small error can be fatal.

Immature Broad-winged Hawk in the Water photo IMG_3803_zpsi2gklede.jpg

This Broad-wing was probably a product of a brood raised this past spring in the woodland on the opposite shore of the lake. These small bodied forest hawks frequent habitats near water and feed upon a wide range of prey. Amphibians and rodents make up a large part of their diet, but they will consume small birds and insects at will. It is my guess that it was a tasty green frog that lured our unfortunate youngster into the drink by my dock. The frogs typically slip out of the shallow water and sit upon the pads like so many garden ornaments. The field of lily pads is continuous in the zone within twenty feet from shore and it appears like a solid mat from above. Upon missing the mark, the hawk likely found itself ensnared in the greenery as each pad acted like a trap door.

The unfortunate bird probably would have been dead within the hour had I not arrived – sinking to the bottom and serving as food for countless bullheads and turtles. I merely delayed and shifted the final resting place to a patch of shaded ground where flies and raccoons will process the remains.

Green Frog photo IMG_3822_zpsljg7gdzv.jpg  Frogs 1  Hawks 0

June 30, 2016

A Crocus Moth on a Summer Eve

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:19 pm

Crocus Geometer Laying Eggs 1 photo IMG_3578_zpsdhvzhs7i.jpg

The night air was just settling in after the sun dipped behind the oaks and pines lining the opposite side of Dollar Lake. A group of Green Frogs were performing their syncopated “ga-lumping” and the last dragonflies of the day were hovering about the Spadderdock. I was standing on the dock waiting for the muskrat to re-appear. This particular individual had an unusually large pair of ears – odd for an animal known for very small appendages in this regard. I’d taken some pictures of the rabbit ‘rat earlier in the day but wanted another crack at him. I’m sure he was less anxious for a re-meet and was deliberately waiting for the disappearance of the human at nightfall. I was about to give up, seeing that the light was dimming fast, when a movement in the brushy willow to my left caught my attention.

A fluttering yellow moth was treading among the narrow leaves. The critter decided upon a single dangling leaf and momentarily hung motionless. Although it was located about ten feet away, I noticed that it curled up its abdomen in the manner of an egg-laying female. A view through my zoom lens revealed that it was a Crocus Geometer Moth depositing a new generation.

The view was obstructed, and the light was poor, but in the absence of Peter Muskrat this nature scene would have to do. The satiny green eggs were planted on the leaf surface near the mid-rib. Her extended ovipositor placed each egg so that it was paired with another. The activity proceeded at a slow deliberate pace and I ran out of light before seeing how many she laid (nor could I located the leaf the next morning due to the long-distance nature of its placement and the fact that all willow leaves look pretty much alike!). I counted at least nine by last light.

Crocus Geometer Laying Eggs 2 photo Crocus Geometer Xanthotype sospeta_zpskigqm3xl.jpg

Crocus Geometers are members of a group of moths better known as inchworms. It just so happens that my previous post was about a larval inchworm and you might get the impression that I am a bit of a geometer geek. I am not, but will happily bear the mantle for the time being. Perhaps I will spot some of the larvae after they hatch out this week but I doubt it because these caterpillars are also twig mimics!

One last comment concerning this small natural event. There are several species of Crocus Geometers which are virtually identical, so my identification of this one as a “Crocus” Geometer is admittedly tenuous (there are False Crocus Geometers etc.). It takes an expert making a detailed examination of the genital parts to tell them apart. I offer it up to anyone wishing to enlarge these images in order to confirm the particular species. I, for one, am satisfied just witnessing one of nature’s small miracles.

June 5, 2016

Sticking Around

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:58 pm

Twig-mimic Inchworm in Mimic mode photo IMG_3420_zps4uaiw7ik.jpg

There are over 1,200 species of Geometridae moths in North America – a group better known by their so-called “Inchworm” larvae. Because there are so many I feel justified in not identifying the particular inchworm pictured here. The exact name really doesn’t matter in this case anyway. This group of larvae are well known as twig mimics and this individual was such an incredible example that I felt compelled to bring it to your attention right away (in other words – hang the I.D.). Whatever it is isn’t as important as whatever it isn’t!

Upon prepping some twigs for a recent campfire I came upon this tiny inchworm clinging to one of the branches. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all if my disturbance hadn’t prompted an un-planned movement on the part of the caterpillar. Upon regaining composure it resumed its perfect twig imitation and once more vanished before my eyes.  The camouflaging skill of this fellow is successful due to two levels of mimicry.

Like all inchworm larvae, this one is typified by a long slender body and a distinct lack of legs at mid-body. There are three pair of prolegs next to the head, two sets at the hind end, and a long legless gap in-between. Most inchworms are cryptically colored to blend into leaves, bark, or twigs. This one is patterned in twig mode with mottled gray speckling and a clever set of fake bud scars located about a third of the way down the body.

Twig-mimic Inchworm photo IMG_3418_zpsuojnnw1d.jpg

This color pattern alone would serve well enough but an additional behavioral step improves the ruse to the point of near perfection. Make-up is only part of an actor’s skill. Upon disturbance, the caterpillar stiffens out and holds its body at a low angle away from the twig. The prolegs are gathered tightly into a bundle under the head to give the overall impression of a terminal bud and the creature remains frozen in place.

One might be tempted to believe that a green leaf might spring from the head of this living twig which isn’t.

May 16, 2016

Squirrels in the Hood

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:46 pm

Baby Red Squirrel 2 photo IMG_2953_zpskcd4w5uc.jpg

For the three people that occasionally read my blog, you may recall that I have a thing about Red Squirrels. I may appear un-naturally interested in them because I’ve featured the little red devils in several blog postings. Be advised, however, that my interest is forced -they have done everything possible to disrupt my life. I, on the other hand, have done little to stop them. In fact I have consistently forgiven them for transgressions such as filling my riding lawn mower with walnuts, nesting within the engine compartment of aforesaid lawnmower and cutting all the wires, shredding every storage box I own, and removing the entire insulating layer under my truck hood for nesting material. I have every right to wish famine and plague upon them, yet I am drawn to them like a hapless moth to flame.

Recently our paths crossed once again under the hood of my truck. Badly needing a muffler job…I said BADLY NEEDING A MUFFLER JOB, I….er, I parked the vehicle in the driveway for just under a week until I could get an appointment at Midas. On the day of the appointment I drove the truck five miles to the muffler shop for repair and returned at the end of the day to pick it up for another 5 mile trip home.

Walking up to my vehicle, parked at the far side of the lot, I spied a reddish-brown lump on the pavement under the driver’s side. “It looks like a baby squirrel,” I thought to myself, “but must be a squirrel-shaped leaf.”  Upon closer approach the lump turned out to be a squirrel-shaped baby Red Squirrel – so young that it could never had made it to that location under its own power. Deducing that the creature must have come with me as a stow-away in the engine compartment (no one else is plagued by Red Squirrels like I am), I corralled the feisty critter into a bag and returned home.

Baby Red Squirrel 1 photo IMG_2949_zps3uuf4owi.jpg

My plan was to plop it out into the yard and wait for the negligent mother to pick it up its long lost youngster with no questions asked. I never left one of my children under the hood of a vehicle, but who was I to judge? I placed the tiny orphan in the back yard next to the squirrel-infested lawn mower shed.

Hours later, I spotted the Red Squirrel baby in the driveway under my truck. The distance was a good 50 feet from where I had placed it. That would, indeed, have been an incredible journey for a barely mobile squirrelet had it of been the same animal but it was not! The original baby was still laying where I put it by the shed. No, this was baby Red Squirrel No. 2.  They were now issuing from the truck like manna from heaven. I put the two nest mates together and they immediately snuggled for warmth.

I banged on the truck hood with frustration and was answered by a muffled chatter from within. Either my oil filter was talking to me or there was a more realistic explanation. Popping it open, I espied yet another youngster of the Red Squirrel kind laying in the space under the air filter. This was baby no. 3.

Baby Red Squirrel 3 photo IMG_2954_zpsyq1ljnxh.jpg

Finding the third subject inside the engine compartment confirmed that the other two must have originated from the same spot. None could have climbed into that place on their own. Mother Red Squirrel undoubtedly brought them there for temporary placement while seeking a new nest hole. I must add that my truck is red, but can’t say if that was a factor in her decision.

Imagine the horror within her peanut-sized brain upon discovering that her children had been taken for a 10 mile joy ride. Imagine my horror upon realizing that Red Squirrel litters are usually larger than three individuals! (In other words how many of them dropped out along the way?)

I left the one baby in the engine compartment for the night and placed the other two on the ground nearby. They were all gone by the next morning and I can only hope that their mother removed them to safer surroundings. A raccoon may have feasted upon the ground babies but the lack of an engine baby points to a natural removal.

You might say that I missed a golden opportunity to rid my yard of three future Red Squirrels. It would have been so easy to hurl them into the creek and be done with it, but again I failed.  These little ones will grow up to be slightly larger ones and continue their legacy as chaos machines. I am a human moth and they are the flame.

Curious Young Red Squirrel photo IMG_2905_zpswjnwaa2i.jpg

April 22, 2016

A Shameful Case of False Advertising

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:21 pm

Cow Seeds photo IMG_2646_zpsq5lqu1px.jpg

I knew it was my moment. I purchased a pack of Cow Seeds at a garage sale. The package looked a bit worn, but thought the black & white contents might still be viable. The 10 cent price tag was ridiculously low, given that they could potentially produce 5 full grown Holsteins and, although I didn’t know exactly how much they were worth, I did know that cows were very expensive items. Keeping cool and poker-faced I boldly negotiated the price down to 5 cents and smugly walked away knowing I had bested the seller (Jack was his name – a beanstalk of a fellow who obviously didn’t know beans about value).

Because the season was late, I waited until this spring before actually planting the bovine seeds. Even though the instructions clearly stated that cow seeds did not need manure, (because they produced their own), I opted to throw them into a patch of manured ground on a small farm located west of Mackinaw City. I had no idea who owned the farmland, but thought that immaterial. My decision was hasty, but not udderly without thought. I’d return soon after and claim my animals – citing accidental planting and exhibiting the torn empty package as proof. I’d offer the farmers a few dollars for their time, feed and care of my stock and drive off with my cows in tow. Good sound reasoning, yes?

I even had it figured out that I could tap the animals for milk every few days using my left-over maple syrup spiles and buckets. If, by chance, any bulls turned up in the bunch they would have to be butchered for market using my Swiss Army Knife tool array.  But, since this package was clearly labelled Cow Seeds I doubted such a thing could happen. If it did then there would be a clear case of false advertising and the courts would back me all the way.

In retrospect, my naiveté couldn’t have been more profound. I could only have wished to deal with a simple bull issue! I suspect now that they were not, and never were, Cow Seeds but instead deliberately doctored knock-offs made to look like Cow Seeds. These seeds did not produce cows, or any sort of bovine – heck, you’d expect an errant pig or two in the mix but the trouble was much darker. Snow Buntings sprouted from the frozen manure when they were planted. Yes, Snow Buntings.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2509_zpsfu2res6r.jpg  Snow Buntings photo IMG_2488_zpsdqbnfzsw.jpg

I’ll take some minuscule blame here. I’m not a completely ignorant. Perhaps it was a bad idea to plant the seeds on a bitter cold April day. There was always that slight risk that the resulting cows would turn out to be Yaks or Musk Oxen if the temperature was on the cool side. Perhaps Mackinaw wasn’t the smartest location either. They could have emerged as ready-tanned tourist Moccasins for sale in one of the main street shops.  Even cow birds would be on the list of expected potential unlikely outcomes, but for God’s sake who’d expect a flock of tiny flighty Snow Birds.

Trying to make root beer out of the lemons handed me, I started to snap off pictures of the birds. Not only would these be valuable proof in the ensuing law suit but I really hadn’t been this close to live Snow Buntings before. Most of these temporary winter residents were gravitating back north to their high tundra breeding grounds by this time. The males were decked out in their glorious black and white courtship garb.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2505_zpsadqw8euo.jpg

Snow Buntings don’t molt into breeding colors. They achieve the phase through feather wear. Earlier in the season most of the body feathers were tipped in yellow brown – in which case the males looked like the females. The feather tips deteriorate over the season and leave only the stark contrasting shades intact.

Now, don’t get the idea that just because I got some good photos of these birds that I am not fuming about the whole thing. The ungrateful visitors took off like a gust of winter breeze and vanished before I was done shooting. I was left with a pile of frozen dung and deep regrets. My Five cents was gone just like that. Never again, I said to myself as I snapped the lens cover back on and trudged through the drifting snow to my car.

I will get my comeuppance. I recently purchased some Red-winged Blackbird Seeds at the Farmer’s Market and plan to sell them to Jack as Scarlet Tanager Seeds. Yes siree, he’ll wish he’d never crossed me.

Red-winged Blackbird Seed photo IMG_2650_zpsxvqb0235.jpg

April 20, 2016

Dipsy Doodle at Mackinaw

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:48 pm

 photo IMG_2372_zps5vgf1o6m.jpg

My recent spring trip to Mackinaw turned out to be winter visit. No one should expect the first weekend in April at the Straits to be like Daytona Beach, but three inches of snow and teen-degree weather was a bit extreme. Nothing looks quite so desolate as a summer town in winter. Expansive empty ferry boat lots were blanketed in un-tracked whiteness and the giant wiener atop the closed restaurant on the west edge of town was dusted in a fine coat of sugar. No one puts sugar on a hot dog or goes to Mackinaw in the winter unless they have a reason.

What, you may ask, was my reason? I was invited as a presenter at the first annual Mackinaw Straits Hawk Watch Festival. This is a newly developed spring hawk-watching site and the festival was intended as a coming out party of sorts. Well, the events themselves went very well and the attendance was terrific because the planning was impeccable (and everything was indoors). One of the hawk-watchers later told me on Saturday night that the actual hawk migration count that day was negative 14. “Yes, he said, “all the hawks were heading back south!” Oddly enough, one of those birds was a Black Vulture, which is a southern bird with no business being there. It apparently turned south upon encountering the bridge fee. The Turkey Vultures never warned him of that.

I spent my spare time making tire tracks across the ferry lot. Without interference from pesky tourists, I was able to drive my car right up to the edge of the seawall. Safe and warm inside the heated car compartment I was able to lean out the window and observe the congregation of waterfowl clustered in the blue-green waters of Lake Huron.  The birds were fairly tolerant of my car because it was white and blended well into the spring, er…winter backdrop. The single Red-breasted Merganser swimming before me was a special treat.

 photo IMG_2370_zpseu2dmqif.jpg   photo IMG_2378_zpsi9tmjofr.jpg

Aptly called “Hairy Heads,” the raggedy plumed Red-breasted Mergansers sit squarely in the middle of the saw-billed clan.  The males challenge the bold patterns of the smaller Hooded Mergansers and are close in size to the plainer Common Mergansers. I don’t see them nearly as often as these other two. When I do, I am reminded of the vivid portrait of this species executed by the artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes- an artist of near Audubon importance (see below). One of his specimens was drawn in late March 1909 at Monroe, MI, so naturally his painting is near and dear to my artist/naturalist heart.

 photo Red-breasted Merganser - Fuertes_zpspgqmanio.png

Watching the bird cruise about the near shore beach, it appeared to be engaged in fishing but was, none-the-less, distracted. Repeatedly dipping his head below for an underwater view it often craned its neck as if looking for something and only dove under once or twice. As I clicked another shot, the fancy bird quickly revealed what was really on his mind. He performed a superb “salute-curtsy.”

That aptly named maneuver may sound like something Dick Button would say as part of his Olympic skating commentary, but it is actually a courtship move.  It is intended to impress female Red-breasted Mergansers rather than a panel of judges. It was a 10 (although the Russian judge only gave it a 6). As the photo shows, the bird stuck his neck out at an angle, opened his mouth (thus highlighting the bright orange mouth lining), dipped his chest into the water, rose his rump up high, and folded his tail straight down. The magnificent crest was lowered in this case to streamline the salute – like a saber being thrust in to the air.

 photo IMG_2377_zpsytzsy22o.jpg

Now, I’ve never seen this move except in books or on videos and surprised to see it here for there were no females about. The bird was solitary, as in completely alone, and without anyone to impress except the freezing naturalist in the white car. The only conclusion I can draw is that this individual was practicing. His mind was on courtship and no doubt getting ready for the big show.

I know the action was not intended for me, but this singular maneuver did put me on notice. In spite of the snow, wind, and cold it was actually spring according to the calendar and the bio-clock. Soon enough the sugar will melt off the dog.

 

April 10, 2016

One Pic Post: Air Mail

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 2:57 pm

 photo IMG_2302_zpsnlqqad6v.jpg

Although few and far between this spring, a scattering of nice spring days have bubbled up to the surface. On such days, the sun takes the edge off the cool winds enough to call them refreshing – as opposed to the de-fleshing blasts of unfriendly days. Newly hatched spiders, blossoming maples, swelling cottonwood buds, and short-wearing youth clad with heavy coats signal the return of reasonable weather.

It would normally be my preference to focus on the cottonwood or maple flowering part of the season, but since I’ve already addressed them in the past it was a choice of youth or spiders. So naturally I gravitated to youthful spiders. Actually it was trip across the road to get the mail that prompted this post (my first in half a year due to an onset of “authoritus” – meaning the writing of a book and not writer’s block).

Astride the top of the mail box, a tiny spiderling barely 2 mm across scrambled to the highest point. There it paused before assuming a tripod stance and lifted his abdomen high into the air whenever a gust of wind fluttered by. It was attempting to deliver itself as air mail unto the mercy of the postal breezes. I was struck by the ironic mix of duty and place.

Unseen to my naked eye, and to the camera lens, the potential pilot sent out a series of two or three long radiating silk threads from its spinnerets at the tip of the abdomen (thus the stance).  These lines will be grabbed by the wind and eventually lift the tiny cargo aloft. Scientists call this method of travel “ballooning.” It is a primary means of dispersal for young spiders. We are not sure what the spiders call this procedure, although the fictional Charlotte would have been able to write it out in her web. Like the babies in “Charlotte’s Web” my micro-arachnid was seeking new ground via the magic of free air.

Ballooning is a risky means of travel since the spider has little control over its fate once pulled into the air stream. After all, we all know the story of the hapless professor who started his balloon in Kansas and ended up in the Magical Land of Oz. Most spider flights take the passenger a few dozen yards – enough to get it away from its fellow spiderlings and onto new hunting grounds.  Frisky gusts, however, can take a spiderling for miles horizontally or vertically and turn them into what has sometimes been referred to as aerial zooplankton. Certainly some end up tangled in maple flowers, upon swelling Cottonwood buds, and even onto the purple hair of a short-wearing youth clad in a heavy coat.

I do not know the fate of my spiderling because it failed to launch after several attempts. To spare it further embarrassment I left it alone and now imagine that the wee spider ended up in Oz.

August 25, 2015

Whale Watching for Loons

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 8:39 pm

Common Loon photo IMG_0780_zpsq9tvnw9b.jpg

Lake George is a sizable body of water located just south of West Branch, Michigan. Like many small northern lakes it presents two faces during the summer. It becomes a boiling pot of motorboats and Jet skis during the weekend, thanks to the public launch, and a slew of private residences populating half of its shores. The other half of the lake is bordered by wild lands, however, and for most of the week it is calm and serene.

Two of the lake’s residents, a pair of Common Loons, are tied to this wild side and are the epitome of wildness themselves. It is hard to image how the birds put up with all the hub-bub – perhaps they leave for calmer waters during peak activity and then return after the last wakes die down. One could imagine that such birds would be a bit on edge.  Imagine my surprise when a recent encounter with these Loons was both up close and personal.

When my wife and I first pushed out into the Lake George water with our kayaks there was no sign of life.  The weekend boaters were gone and the lake surface was as glass reflecting a clear blue summer sky. As if entering the world for the first time, a loon magically popped up out of the water immediately ahead of my kayak. It eyed me severely and I expected it to immediately disappear from whence it came – never to be seen again. Indeed it did dive again but bobbed back up in the same place. It continued to do so as if we were not present.

Common Loon photo IMG_0639_zpsy0dkmrzp.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0659_zps4xxe2jai.jpg

Another bird soon joined in, also appearing to ignore our presence, and the two cavorted about, around, and under our kayaks for well over 20 minutes. Both birds were actively fishing and engaging in completely normal behavior. Swimming with their heads dipped under the surface they eyed the depths for quarry before taking a plunge. Every now and then one would open up it’s wings and send a spray of golden water droplets into the air.

Common Loon photo IMG_0625_zpsynsd5jmq.jpg  Common Loon photo IMG_0651_zps0coc9lww.jpg

It was impossible to tell where they would pop up again after a dive and, more often than not, they’d surface even closer than the point at which they disappeared.  The only wildlife viewing experience I could equate this to was whale watching off the coast of Maine. Although the scale was dramatically different, the quality was in the same category. Upon re-surfacing they even audibly expelled air! And frankly, there really is nothing to compare to the look of those fiery red eyes with mere pin-prick pupils.

Common Loon photo IMG_0789_zpsbc7oyy3r.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0787_zpsc7y3ghtl.jpg

At the time, the event seemed a “once in a lifetime” thing and we were willing to accept it as so. Upon returning to the lake a week later, however, the sequence repeated itself and the only limiting factor turned out to be our available time on the water. We were the visitors to this lake and the loons, well, were residents operating within the limitless bounds of wildness.

Common Loons astride a Kayak photo IMG_0617_zps0ggipkdh.jpg

July 23, 2015

Flight of the Sphinx

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:17 pm

Spurge Sphinx pupal skin photo IMG_0090_zps65so1n5y.jpg

Last summer I brought you some incredible views of a Spurge Sphinx caterpillar from Northern Michigan. Later in the month, after the leathery burrowed into the soil to complete its third stage of metamorphosis, I peeled back the moss to reveal the equally fascinating pupa at the end of the tunnel. The adult emerged last month, after a long frigid winter at the bottom of a dirt filled coffee cup, and it was worth the wait.

I was afraid of missing the moment and came close to doing so. One can never tell when the moth will emerge after months of non-activity. There was even the possibility that the winter would prove too much – especially given how low the thermometer plunged at times– and that the pupae would perish. Let’s just say that it was an incredible relief to finally peel off the lid last month and see the empty pupal skin (see above) and its former occupant clinging to the side.

Spurge Sphinx Pupal Skin photo IMG_0082_zpskyy9za97.jpg  Spurge Sphinx Adult photo IMG_0076_zpswxewsx8r.jpg

I missed the actual emergent moment by a day or so and could see that the moth had been out for at least one night of activity within the container. Many of the scales were worn off the back of the thorax and the ends of the wings were slightly worn, but it was in pretty good shape otherwise. Spurge Sphinxes, like most of their clan, are subtle beauties to behold. The rosy flush evident on the body and undersides was especially magnificent on this individual.

Taking it outside for a better look in the low evening sun, it began to vibrate its wings in preparation for takeoff. Moths need to raise their body temperatures up to near human levels in order for the thorax muscles to work and they do so by shivering. This one began with a staccato flutter of the wings (see movie here) which evolved over the course of a few minutes into a blurry all-body tremor (see second movie here).

Just before takeoff, the thing was shaking so much that it was perpetually out of focus – or appeared so. With a final wipe of the eyes and a twist of the head it rose off my finger and flew off (see final departure here). Yes, it did seem to motion with the foreleg, as if giving a wave, but I won’t go there. I’m the one that eventually waved, saying “it’s been good knowing you.”

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