Naturespeak

July 2, 2015

Woodpecker Watering Hole

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:16 pm

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0173_zpstnyihoz1.jpg

Woodpeckers will come to earth, so to speak, for the purpose of getting liquid refreshment but many of them avoid this potentially dangerous trip by frequenting tree top watering holes. Certain shallow tree cavities regularly accumulate rainwater and serve nicely as natural reservoirs. One such drinking establishment exists on a Red Maple overhanging my shed at Dollar Lake.

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0175_zpso2dwlusv.jpg

I managed to catch a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the act one fine late June morning. It spent several minutes dipping into the reservoir and raising its beak to let the refreshment obey the laws of gravity and slide gently throat-ward. Based on the obvious look of satisfaction the bird’s time was well spent. It left with a red(dish) belly full.

Such tree water probably has a strong “woody” taste in the best of conditions but this might be a preferred essence for discriminating woodhammering fowl.

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0177_zpsbltkkhsp.jpg

June 28, 2015

A Midge with Mites Upon’em

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:32 pm

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0198_zps5neiliim.jpg

A midge with mites upon ‘em

might be covered top to bottom.

Though small the midges are,

Their mites are tinier by far.

Let me start out by saying that Chironomid Midges are not Mosquitoes.  Similar looking to their blood-sucking dipteran cousins, they do not, and cannot, bite humans. I figure that knowing this will enable you to reserve your slapping energy this summer.   As larvae, midges live in the water and glean a living off microscopic plant matter and detritus. As adults they emerge and engage the world as flying beasts – seeking sap and each other.

Several of these critters landed around me one afternoon. All of them were males seeking refuge from the wind under the porch eaves. I was reading a book about making moonshine whiskey but I doubt that had anything to do with my sudden attraction.  Male Midges have hairy “plumose” antennae which make them easy to separate from the narrow-antennaed females. Heeding my own advice I did not try to shoo them away. Instead, I did the opposite and carefully observed them through the lens of my camera. When several revealed that they had passengers in the form of tiny red mites I was, as they say, “engaged.” Those ensy-weensy flies had ensy-weensier cargo attached to their legs.

Without getting into details, there are probably dozens of species of mite that infest midge flies alone. I found at least nine species over the course of my cursory review of the subject and all are members of a group known as Hydrachnidia. Like the midges, the mites are aquatic in the very first stages of life. They attach to the midge nymphs and transfer to the adult when it emerges. While attached they feed on the body fluids (aka blood) and eventually drop off into the water to resume an aquatic life. While their young are parasites (specifically ecto-parasites – which means they stay on the outside of the body), the adult mites are aquatic predators. Mites are related to spiders and possess eight legs when adult.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0194_zpsawidav81.jpg

Given the amount of mites glomming onto the two midges I photographed it is amazing that their host could fly, yet all flew with ease. The mites were concentrated on the legs and thorax and left the wings unencumbered. There is no way I could identify the specific mite species involved here because even on an enlarged image they looked like fuzzy views of the planet …er, excuse me…the planetoid Pluto. Researchers, however, have done some work on this topic and discovered that some feed exclusively on the thorax while others concentrate on the long segmented abdomen.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0181_zps8semsyz9.jpg

My small, along with their smaller, visitors would take flight after a few minutes and leave me to ponder several final thoughts. First, I assume that it is bad taste among midges to mention, or otherwise point out, the presence of mites on their fellow midges much in the same way as it is verboten to point out pimples or warts on humans. Secondly, it is imperative that these midge mites return to the water. It is their duty, therefore, to suck just enough blood out their host to live on but leave enough so that they can return to the lake. The idea is for the male midges to assemble with the females in huge midge clouds for the purpose of mating. I am guessing this is the moment chosen for the mites to drop off or forever regret their decision. There is much I do not know about midge mites, but for the moment this will have to do. Moonshine whiskey sounds a bit more fascinating for the time being.

June 18, 2015

Queen Among Snakes

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:14 pm

Queen Snake photo IMG_0135_zpssncjkewt.jpg

I was at the Huron River boat launch waiting for my group to show up and had time to kill (and no problem killing it because the rain clouds were still a half hour away). Looking over the edge of the board walk at the water’s edge I spied an interesting snake draped on the grape vines below.  It literally looked as if was carelessly tossed onto the greenery.

Small and dusky blue gray in color, the creature lacked the expected mottling or patterning of a Northern Water, Garter, or Fox Snake – the common local species of record. A creamy yellow side-stripe bordered by a chocolate stripe pegged it as a Queen Snake and a truly interesting find. I’ve only managed two sightings of this unique critter over the past 30 years or so.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0146_zpslukecwmd.jpg  Queen Snake photo IMG_0140_zps7qwvao5v.jpg

Queens are only found in southern and southwestern part of the state and are never common within their range. In fact, these water snakes are becoming a bit scarce because of their sensitivity to polluted or heavily silted waters. They specialize on crayfish as prey and seek freshly molted individuals as a way to prevent hard shells and pinching claws.

I am at a loss to completely describe the background meaning of the Queen Snake’s name and the scientific name is of little help. Dubbed Regina septemvittata, the whole thing can be translated as the “seven-striped Queen.”  Only young snakes exhibit the seven stripes of note. The adults darken in color and only display four real stripes. While King Snakes are snake eaters, and thus rule over all snakes, I can’t come up with a good generality about Queens other than they tell everyone to eat cake! In the long run, it really doesn’t matter.

The rain clouds traveled faster than expected and a heavy cloudburst eventually propelled the reptile back into the water after a few minutes. Fortunately, I got a good viewing of the Queen and was happy for the opportunity to share it with you.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0144_zpsccliya83.jpg

June 7, 2015

Red-bellied Retreat

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:00 am

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9761_zpsvv86xfzl.jpg

Sometimes life comes at you in themed bundles where things seemed related. We certainly notice this on days when nothing goes right but there are also times when a certain word pops up several times or speckled dogs are uncommonly common. As an interpreter I’m always looking to relate natural events together as a packaged unit such as a blog, article, or subject of a speech. The shore side yard at Dollar Lake recently provided me with a Red-bellied Day – sort of.

Raking away the accumulated oak leaves around the fire pit I exposed a small snake sitting upon the moist bare earth. Seeing that it didn’t immediately dart for cover I snatched it for a closer look. My initial glance pegged it as a Brown, or Dekay’s, Snake. The belly proved to be much pinker than usual for this species, however, and cast doubt upon my first impression (this is a nice way to say that I was probably mistaken).

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9763_zpsud7lzdu8.jpg

During the following photo session the little beast did something unusual. Curling its upper lips back into a sneer, it revealed a row of tiny teeth set into black gums. This was Red-bellied Snake behavior. I was looking at a pink-bellied version of a Red-bellied Snake – species whose tummy color can run the gamut from scarlet red to pale pink.  Grouped with Brown and Ring-necked Snakes, Red-bellies are worm-eating snakes only slightly larger than their chosen prey.

As if a pink-bellied Red-bellied snake wasn’t enough, one of the local Red-bellied Woodpeckers showed up on the trunk of a nearby Red Maple later in the day.  Now, I’ve addressed this subject before, but for the sake of bundling I’d like to re-mention that Red-bellied Woodpeckers do not really have red bellies. True they have a reddish “rash” about their tummy parts, but this feature is the least remarkable thing about their identity. Red-bellies (Woodpeckers that is) have a remarkable red-backed head and were it not for the well named Red-headed Woodpecker should be called Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9788_zpshjrcqzhg.jpg

The woodpecker in this case was an especially reddish individual, however, and even the tannish portions took on a pinkish or salmon-tinged glow when framed in green maple leaves. Please excuse the over use of “ish” in the previous sentence, but nature often requires it when describing creatures or flora that cannot be defined.

My Red-bellied Day, really more of a pink-bellied day, was yet another great Dollar Day on the lake.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9792_zpsbcfxdqmd.jpg

May 27, 2015

There’s a Joke Here Somewhere

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:51 pm

A Bagel photo IMG_9545_zpsugajhajz.jpg

It’s one of my few memorable jokes, or as my wife puts it, one of my three jokes. Organized jokes aren’t my forte. There’s the one about the skeleton at the bar and the human cannonball and things get thin after that. I’m more of a “make up your joke to fit the situation” and “bad pun” type of guy. But, seeing this over-eager Ring-billed Gull holding a thin-sliced bagel the other day prompted one of my organized jokes to bubble to the surface (and one I’m sure I’ve told in the blog previously, but don’t stop me if you heard this one before).

You see, it’s long been a bugaboo of mine when folks call all gulls “seagulls”. There is no such thing as a “Seagull” unless you consider Jonathon Livingston a real bird. Nope, there are Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls and even Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls but no actual Seagulls. Some of them indeed live by the Sea and could be called sea gulls, but if one continues with that stream of logic then then a gull flying over a bay should be called a bagel (rim shot).

Thus, a gull with a bagel was too much to resist.

May 17, 2015

Really Most Sincerely Dead

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:23 pm

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9084_zpsgl4rts4w.jpg

Last month, I brought you a little story about a Big Brown Bat hanging around the Monroe County Historical Museum. The little fellow showed up quite suddenly during one of the spring cold snaps and appeared to stick around due to the sustained cold. His chosen location was well sheltered and, in fact, cave-like.  I figured he was in “semi-hibernation” and simply waiting out the cold. We all enjoyed his presence (named him Bruno) and expected an equally speedy departure when a real version of spring arrived later in the week.

When things warmed up and the creature was still present, I began to doubt my earlier assessment. There were no droppings under his perch, but figured this was due to it being a day roost. His pose was virtually the same every day, although “seemed” to shift slightly, perhaps, maybe….. Last week, I checked him out at night and found him still in position and realized something was wrong. When he later dropped to the ground – small, withered, brown, and very dead – at least part of the mystery was solved.

Not only was the bat dead, it was mummified. I thoroughly examined it and can say, in Wizard of Oz fashion, that he’s indeed morally, ethic’lly, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. And … “not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead.”
In short, he apparently died soon after arriving and his death grip kept him suspended via his claw-like hind feet for those many weeks. In other words, my fellow munchkins, he’s been most sincerely dead for a long time.

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9270_zpsbyuezuf2.jpg

I found a small hole in his side that might indicate an injury caused by a BB or shot pellet. Thus we can rule out rabies or distemper with such graphic evidence. Besides, I licked him and haven’t shown any sign of rabidity yet and it’s been a few days (although I am very thirsty as of late). My last theory on this matter, is that after being injured by an ignorant pellet gun shooter the creature sought a perch and died there a few days later. Wind gusts were shifting him about over the weeks and drying him out in the process. One final gust un-hooked his cold dead claws and sent the tiny corpse earthward.

I went back to the last photo I took of him (see the first picture – yes, that is a dead bat!) and saw the evidence I should have picked up on earlier. There was dust on his fur (something that never would be permitted by a live bat) and a sneer on his face that was very un-batlike. And the dropping thing?  Well that was just plain dumbness on my part. A live bat deposits dropping equally at a day roost and a night roost.

So Bruno the mummy enters the annuals of history and I am humbled by a dead bat.

May 11, 2015

One Pic Post: Up Periscope

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 11:05 am

An Otter in Periscope Mode photo IMG_9149_zps4ohi8jdy.jpg

I’ve learned over the past few years to read the bubbles on Dollar Lake. Different patterns serve as clues to identify certain aquatic critters before they appear above the surface. For instance, a cluster of bubbles issuing from one spot indicates the feeding activity of a muskrat as he pulls up plants from the bottom. A line of bubbles advancing slowly across the surface is the mark of a turtle plowing through the underwater grassland. A procession of quickly advancing bubbles – coming up here and suddenly appearing six feet further on- is the signature of a hunting otter.

A quick line of bubbles suddenly appeared on the lake this past weekend to serve as notice that the otter was back. Actually I’m not sure if it is THE otter or if different individuals come and go (I otter know but I don’t). I do know that crayfish are typically the main menu item. I don’t know exactly what this critter was nabbing this time around but suspect that a painted turtle was part of the fare (based on the large yellow plastron-like item it was swimming with earlier). Its last dive brought up a mysterious cigar shaped item -looking almost like a small foot!

Upon spotting me on the dock the otter periscoped to get a better view. With its sleek short fur, tiny ears, large eyes, and long neck the Dollar Lake Otter looked very much like a seal. Unfortunately I never got a better look because it retreated to the privacy of the wild side of the lake’s wild side. This was about as good a look as one could ever expect so it definitely gets my seal of approval.

April 25, 2015

One Pic Post: A Bat at the Back Door

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 7:48 pm

Big Brown Bat photo Big Brown Bat_zpsvhuqoakw.jpg

After a chilly spring night dipping into the low 30’s, a Big Brown Bat was the last thing I expected to see in the morning (for that matter, I wouldn’t have expected to see a Little Brown Bat either or a Little Big Brown…whatever). The creature was perched gargoyle-like over the back door to the Monroe County Historical Museum – well above the keystone where the wall meets the overhang. The place was well out of the morning sun and not a very “secretive” location in terms of bat realty. I can only assume that the fellow was caught out late (or very early) attempting to gather in a few frozen midge-flies before deciding to seek temporary refuge. There were no droppings on the ground beneath his perch to indicate that this was a habitual hangout.
The museum staff had mixed reactions to the creature, but the overall impression was one of fascination. There were, of course, many stories generated and an excuse for a few minutes for some favorite bat tales. For the rest of the morning the little Big Brown was “our bat.” It ceased to be “my bat” upon leaving at noon and I’m sure it was left in good hands.

April 16, 2015

Delightful Divers

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 8:33 pm

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle 3_zps2ofggzir.jpg

We officially “opened” our tiny cabin for the season and I un-officially opened my lake eyes last week. Only a few weeks earlier the water was still frozen solid, but on this bright April morning Dollar Lake was coming to life.  Save for some pale Spatterdock leaves pushing up from the bottom there was very little flora visible in the dockside water. Only a sparse faunal assemblage greeted the eye. Small schools of Spot-tailed Shiners swam the shallows and a couple of water beetles cavorted among them. The beetles proved to be Predaceous Diving Beetles and, true to form, these critters were predating and diving.

One of the beetles grabbed onto an injured minnow and carried it under the cover of some floating debris. It’s not clear that it caused the original injury to the thing but obvious that it was intent on finishing it off. Adult Predaceous divers are, despite their name, more scavenger than killer.Predaceous Diving Beetle - Getting Air photo Predaceous Diving Beetle getting Air Re-charge_zpsarqelp4y.jpg

Another individual backed its hind end out of the water in order to take in a supply of oxygen into the bubble under its wing covers (see above). Although it should be no surprise, given that Predaceous Diving Beetles are air breathers, it was a bit surprising to see two of them eventually crawl out of the water to warm themselves in the mid-day sun. It was a bit like the “Predaceous Diving Beetle Show” and they were performing every trick in the little live book of water beetles.

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle 4_zpsyqf3racl.jpg

This particular species apparently has no common name to speak of, but is known as Acilius mediatus in the big book of Water Beetles.  The species name means something like “being halved or in the middle” in Latin and the genus name refers to a Roman proper name, so I guess we have to say the whole name means “Half a Roman.”  That is, of course, ridiculous but then again I never claimed to be an etymologist or even a trained entomologist.  Why not just call it “Simpson’s Bohemian Water Beetle” and leave it at that. Personally I think the “Mediator” would do the trick (it sounds sort of like the “Terminator” without the copyright infringement).

As for lifestyle there is little in the literature that is specific to this beetle. Like all members of the predaceous diving clan their larvae are voracious aquatic predators. This species prefers small forest pools with bare peaty bottoms. Dollar Lake is certainly nothing more than a glorified woodland pool, or half a lake, and would fit the habitat definition for this half beetle.

Whatever the real name, the Mediators are attractive little insects. The shelled portion of the body is very smooth and the brown elytra nicely marked with a wiggly tranverse design. Clearly displayed on the sunning individuals the back set of legs are equipped with an oar-like fringe for swimming. Short front legs are used for grasping prey (or simply holding onto half-dead prey).

I spent a half hour and took a half a dozen pictures of these beetles before the beetle show ended. A cold gust of wind rippled the surface and sent the beetles back into their element and I back into the warmth of my “half a house” to dream up a possible back story for justifying a glorious name like Simpson’s Bohemian Water Beetle.

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle_zpspfzhkg7u.jpg

April 4, 2015

One Pic Post: A Portrait in Black & Red

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:45 pm

Turkey Vulture in the Barn Window photo IMG_8447_zps8al6jcrw.jpg

The Turkey Vultures are back and seeking out their old haunts. Once again, the old barn pair have returned to nest. I can’t say I know them well (can one ever truly know a Vulture?) but I’ve seen them hanging about a derelict barn in the vicinity of Somerset Twp., Mi. over the past few years. My observations are always fleeting because I pass them when in the process of coming and going elsewhere.

Let me say that I assume these vultures are nesting within the barn because they are paired, it is an old barn, and well….vultures have been known to take up housekeeping in old barns.  Turkey Vultures really don’t build nests, per se, but merely scrape together some scraps of debris or wood to function as a “this is my nest” perimeter. They defend their nest site with projectile shots of vomit and therefore don’t really need an elaborate nest. Nuff said on that.

These Somerset birds have a knack for being photogenic which is why I have been prompted on multiple occasions over multiple years to turn around and snatch multiple pictures. Sometimes they are both perched high upon the peak of the barn roof or singly upon the viney top of the nearby power pole or silo. On this latest sighting one of the birds was framed within the inky blackness of the loft opening. The late afternoon sun highlighted the brownish nature of the bird’s black feathering and ignited that wonderfully wrinkled red head.

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