Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 28, 2015

Captain Nemo’s Goldeneye

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 3:10 pm

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7884_zps4uocldsf.jpg

Last week I returned to my favorite mid-winter wildlife watching spot, that being the River Raisin where it flows through mid-Monroe, to see what the bear went over the mountain to see (“to see what he could see”). What I saw were a variety of ducks reveling in the ice bound patch of open water. There were only two female Goldeneyes present in the crowd but two of a kind proved too much in this case. One of them simply could not stand the sight of the other and let her know it.

For the most part the dispute consisted of short wild splash ridden chases. Guttural grunts from the Goldeneyes accompanied each act, but most of the noise was generated by the other ducks trying to get out of the way. The aggressor, let’s call her “Maxima,” came at “Minima” with a direct frontal attack. Wings were employed like oars along with foot kicks to drive the attacker forward. The attackee made no attempt to rebuff the assault and fled with similar flair – occasionally diving to escape.

Feuding Goldeneye Females photo IMG_7866_zpso8nsfjrn.jpg

Although the action was fun to watch, the body posturing preceding each attack was even more entertaining. Leveling her head out even with the water surface, Maxima swam directly toward her rival at half speed before exploding into the previously described action. Often she dipped her bill into the water so that only the upper half of her head was visible. Viewed for the front, the bright yellow eyes were used to full intimidation effect. For all the world this behavior looked like the ship-ramming scene in “Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea” where Nemo’s submarine breaks the surface and speeds towards its hapless victim -the windows glowing with a fiery anger.

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7885_zps5qkgxxup.jpg

Such aggression at this time of year probably relates to courtship. There was a male bird a short way up river, although he was not yet in courtship mode. The aggressive female was possibly having a hissy fit at the thought of this hussy hanging around just in the event that “her” man-duck decides to start the dance. The hussy never actually left the scene, however, so these attacks were merely an exercise in futility.

We tend to think of ducks as picture-perfect stamp art and it is refreshing to see them as living beings with fire in the belly and in the eyes!

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7962_zpsou2el5eu.jpg

February 21, 2015

Speedwell’s Moxie

Filed under: BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 9:34 am

 photo PersianSpeedwellFloweringinearlyFebruary1_zpsbf1a825e.jpg

It wasn’t a miracle but given the context it kinda seemed like one. There growing out of a chink in the stone wall at Audubon State Park was a Persian Speedwell (aka Bird’s Eye Speedwell) in bloom. They were tiny blooms – near microscopic, in fact – but flowers none-the-less. I should mention that it was early-February and that the temperature hovered in the low 20’s. The biting winds, accompanied by snow flurries, were dragging the wind chills down into zero territory. It was cold enough to drive any human to seek shelter. Yet, this exposed little plant was mocking the season with an unseasonable display of green growth and sky blue petals.

As stated in my last blog, Audubon Park is located in Henderson, Kentucky on the south bank of the Ohio River across from Evansville, Indiana.  This place is “southish” but not near “fur enuff to ‘spect greens to be sproutin yit.”  All of the native plants were still deep in winter mode. Even the maples where suspending any hope of running sap. Even though it is an anthropomorphic term, moxie is the only word that came to mind regarding this plant.

 photo PersianSpeedwellFloweringinearlyFebruary_zps25c58807.jpg

A weed by any other name (originally from Eurasia), the Persian Speedwell is a splendid example of what is referred to as a Winter Annual. By definition such a plant germinates in the autumn, lives through the winter, produces seed and dies the following season. It goes beyond all expectations, however, to actually bloom in the winter when early spring would do just fine.

Though hairy, the Speedwell is not especially so and what little it has provides meager to nil insulation value. No, it appears that the secret of this particular Speedwell’s ability to bloom at such a stressful time can be chalked up primarily to location, location, and something else….um, oh yes, location. Located on a south facing stone wall it can bask in the direct rays of the winter sun. The micro temperatures that surround the plant would be well above the ambient temperature on sunny winter days. The rocks would also store some of the heat and buffer the nighttime environment a bit as well. This plant took these slight advantages and ran with them.

 photo PersianSpeedwellFloweringinearlyFebruary2_zps16bfc8f4.jpg

Here is yet another example of how nature’s rules, although they can be set among stones, are not set in stone. There really are no rigid rules in the natural world. Just ask the flocks of frigid Robins hanging about Evansville on that same day. In spite of modern myth, Robins are not Spring birds but year-round birds which frequently overwinter on site. They are used to cold weather. Those birds seeking shelter in the leeward side of a holly bush, however, looked miserably cold and self-doubting. Should I have told them about that cheery little Speedwell flowering over yonder I’m sure they’d of told me exactly where to stuff it.

 photo FrozenRobinsinEvansvilleIndianaFebruarytemp20degrees_zps191d768f.jpg

February 14, 2015

A Carolina Chickadee in Kentucky

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:12 am

Carolina Chickadee photo IMG_7759_zps58243fe3.jpg

There were very few – in fact, no – human visitors to the museum at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson Kentucky the other day. This wasn’t surprising given that the particular day we chose was bitter cold, snowy, and windy. There were plenty of avian visitors flocking to the feeders outside the observation window. Titmice, Goldfinches, Downy Woodpeckers, Cardinals, and White-breasted Nuthatches were eagerly gobbling up the seed.

It was an average feeder assembly and not one worth reporting other than the presence of one species – at least for a Northerner like me. Several Chickadees flitted about this scene and dangled from the wire mesh at the bottom of the suet feeder. It occurred to me that even though these were “Black-capped” Chickadees they weren’t actually Black-capped Chickadees but Carolina Chickadees. South of the Ohio River (the actual line spans across southern Indiana/Illinois) these birds replace their northern cousins. If it weren’t for this stark geographical fact, it would be extremely hard for the average person to tell the two apart. Being average, I had to rely on the geography test.

Carolina Chickadee photo IMG_7760_zpsf73f741e.jpg

There is a real physical difference between the two. Carolina Chickadees are slightly smaller than Black-caps, and have a neater edging to their bibs. In truth, these minor traits are far from convincing or observable for that matter. Even the birds themselves can’t quite tell who is who and will hybridize along a narrow strip of territory where their borders meet. Geography makes this an elementary question, my dear Watson, but the aural test works if you live in the hybrid zone (or don’t know where you are).

Carolina Chickadees have a four note call that sounds something like “fee be fee bay” or “Phoebe Baby”. Black-caps employ a simpler two note call. If the on-line literature is to be believed, the hybrid birds utter a three note call!

I truth, the real reason I bring this topic up has to do with another question of geography. The Carolina Chickadee pictured above was hanging from the feeder at the John James Audubon museum. This great naturalist/artist once lived in Henderson, Kentucky and the park and museum is dedicated to his memory. It is a small bit of poetic justice that my Chickadee encounter took place here. Mr. Audubon was responsible for providing the first scientific description of the Carolina Chickadee and his name will be forever attached to the bird.

Audubon encountered this diminutive bird while in South Carolina in 1820 and named it the Carolina Titmouse. Today the scientific name has morphed into Poecile carolinensis (Audubon 1820).

I met J.J. later in the day at Henderson’s city park but didn’t get a chance to complement him on his discovery. He was studying a White Pelican at the time and it was too dang cold to stand around and wait.

John James Audubon Statue at Henderson, Ky photo IMG_7747_zps05e3a5bc.jpg

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