Birds of Quivira – An Assortment

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail

A few birds to share from Quivira tonight…

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Franklin's Gull
Franklin’s Gull
Forster's Tern
Forster’s Tern
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Another Robberfly

Dioctria sp.
Dioctria sp.

In keeping with the flies, I thought I would share this photo of a Robberfly (Asilidae – Dioctriinae – Dioctria sp.) that we found and photographed at Shaw Nature Reserve this summer.

A Few Flighty Flies

Robber Fly
Robber Fly

I find the flies to be one of the more interesting groups of insects and I was constantly on the lookout for new species to photograph this summer.  There is such diversity in the flies, from size to form and function.  There is still so much to learn about some flies, including some rather common species that researchers have still not described where or on what the larval forms live.  To start, here is a closeup of a true giant of the flies, a Robber Fly (Family Asilidae).  The Robberflies are true predators, with an intimidating beak that they use to inject neurotoxic and protein-dissolving cocktails.

Trichopoda pennipes
Trichopoda pennipes

The photograph above showcases a fly that should be a favorite of gardeners and farmers.  Flies in this family (Tachinidae) parasitize a number of different insects and this species specializes in many of the plant-feeding true bugs like Stink Bugs and Leaf-footed Bugs.  The generic name can be translated from Greek to mean “hairy foot” and the specific name “pennipes” means feather.  This namesake feature can be seen on the rear legs of this fly in the photograph above.

Thick-headed Fly
Thick-headed Fly

The Thick-headed Flies are extremely interesting and a joy to watch.  These guys not only mimic bees and wasps, but they also parasitize the hymenoptera by depositing their eggs on the stinging insect, sometimes attacking the host to place their egg.  The eggs hatch and the larvae become internal parasites of their host.

Geron Bee Fly
Geron Bee Fly

The minuscule Bee Flies in the genus Geron parasitize moth caterpillars.  The adults of these flies feed almost exclusively on yellow-flowered Asteraceae.

Scorpion Fly
Scorpion Fly

Don’t be threatened by the sting-like structure that this Scorpionfly (Family Panorpidae) has arched over its back.  This is simply the male genitalia and is quite harmless.  Scorpionflies primarily make a living by scavenging on dead insects, and like many flies, exhibit elaborate behaviors to attract mates.  These flies will perform various dances in front of females and will often provide a ripe insect carcass as a prenuptial gift.

So Long!
So Long!

Finally, here is a rather different view of a Greenbottle Fly.  I hope this helps to describe some of the fascinating diversity in form, function and behavior that can be found within the Diptera.  These are but just a few of the easier to find and photograph!  I hope to continue my exploration of these fascinating insects next year.

-OZB

An Autumn Trip Down the River

American Mink
American Mink

Steve and I just returned from five fun filled days in which we spent some great time floating the upper Current.  Of course, I will be processing images for some likely months, but I wanted to share a couple now.  We found five American Mink along the banks of the river during our first day.  They were mostly unconcerned with our presence as we floated along, following them as they fished and foraged.

American Mink
American Mink

We were fortunate to find most favorable weather during this break.  The nights were cool and clear and the days warm and blue for the most part.  We were able to find and follow a number of forest friends and I’m looking forward to sharing them.

-OZB

Timber!

Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake

A recently born Timber Rattlesnake was “found” by Steve during an outing we had in Cape Girardeau County.

Timber Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, and young are usually born in September or October.  This little one was not long out of mom when we came across it.

Timber Rattlesnake - IMG_5483

In the photo above the heat sensing pits that give pit vipers their name are easily seen.

Timber Rattlesnake - IMG_5460

Finally, the little nubbin of a rattle that these guys are born with.  Typically, rattlesnakes will add a rattle every time they shed their skin, which this guy has not done yet.

-OZB

It’s Not Easy Being a Pollinator

Crab Spider
Crab Spider

Tonight’s post all share a theme of the challenges of being a pollinator on prairie wildflowers.  The first photo above shows a lovely-colored, ambush predator known as a Crab Spider.  Crab Spiders do not spin webs, but lay in wait, often on a flower for a pollinator to visit.

Ambushed
Attacked!

This Assassin Bug has captured a syrphid fly and is having himself a meal.

Ambushed!
Ambushed!

In the image above, this goldenrod flower came to life to ambush a Honeybee.  I find that Honeybees are the most often caught in traps like this.  Native bees seem to be constantly on the move and much more defensive, most likely due to the fact that they are solitary and there would be nobody to care for the brood if they were more care free like the honeybees.

Ambush Bug
Ambush Bug

The creature is actually called an Ambush Bug.  What an interesting face this one has!  I can imagine the potential conversation.

Robberfly
Robberfly

Finally, this gigantic Robberfly is finishing off some small prey.

Day Three in Southwestern Puerto Rico – Maricao State Forest (Elfin Woods)

Elfin Woods
Elfin Woods

My third and final day to myself in southwestern Puerto Rico would be quite memorable.  I placed myself within the center of the Elfin Woods of the Maricao State Forest.  I arrived at ~ 06:30 and did not leave until ~19:30.  The AM weather was spectacular, with cool temps and some steady breeze and partly cloudy skies.  I stayed the entire day in a little recreation/biological station that was about 1/4 of a mile long.  It contained nice bathrooms and covered picnic tables.  This was a good thing because the rains came onto the mountain at about 13:00 and stayed mostly through the time that I left.

Kilometer 16
Kilometer 16

On mountain road 120, look for this sign.  This is one of only a likely two spots on earth to have a good chance of seeing the Elfin Woods Warbler, one of the endemic bird species to the island and one I had little hope of finding.

CCC at Maricao
CCC at Maricao

There were a couple of those old CCC signs here as well.

Elfin Woods - Tourist Style
Elfin Woods – Tourist Style

I had read bits and pieces that there were trail heads here and others scattered throughout this small forest preserve, but I could find no signs of those anywhere.  Ultimately, I doubt I missed much.  The ~1/4 of a mile I had was split mostly between the birds and myself.  All it took was some patience, or, lots of patience as the birds came and went into the thick vegetation that rose or dropped steeply on one respective side of the road or the other.

Antillean Mango
Antillean Mango

Many species of tropical hummingbirds are known to occur within a narrow range of altitude.  The Antillean Mango can be found throughout the rainforest habitats of Puerto Rico, up to the highest peaks of the island.

Puerto Rican Bullfinch
Puerto Rican Bullfinch

The Puerto Rican Bullfinch is not a finch at all, but a Cardinal.  It has a song that is quite reminiscent of our Northern Cardinal.  I found these guys, like so many of the birds on the island, to be a bit shy and tricky to get a clear view of.

Puerto Rican Tanager
Puerto Rican Tanager

The Puerto Rican Tanager is another endemic bird of the island.  The cloudy skies made photography quite challenging.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher
Pearly-eyed Thrasher

After this Pearly-eyed Thrasher had its fill of the water-apple, I made sure I got my two or three as well… 😉

Exotics
Exotics

While this stretch of mountains is a dream for the botanist (more than 250 species of trees), several of these are imports from other tropical locations.  Similar to the El Yunque forest on the eastern side of the island, several exotic tree species have been introduced here from Australia.  While several of these species seem to have a small or even neutral effect on the native ecosystems, some have become quite problematic, like these invasive eucalyptus.

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

The Todys were here as well!  And I was in for quite a surprise.

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

One of the several highlights of the day was finding a PR Tody nest cavity in the side of a mud bank.  These guys are in the same family as the Kingfishers, and build a similar nest cavity.  I happened to be walking by as a bird hopped to the entrance and darted within feet from my face while giving me a terrible scolding.  I backed off a bit, hoping it would come back for a great photo opportunity.  After 20-30 minutes no birds came, so I pushed on, not wanting to be the reason a youngster was not getting a meal.  I would walk by the cavity a few times over the course of the day, but never had any luck.  I don’t think they spend a lot of time within sight of the nest cavity, it being a quick in and out operation.

Puerto Rican Tody Nest Cavity
Puerto Rican Tody Nest Cavity

Although I was able to find a couple of the PR Woodpeckers the day prior at Cabo Rojo, I was not able to get any photographs.  Thankfully a group came through the area and I managed a couple of mediocre shots.  Spectacular birds, as are most Woodpeckers.

Puerto Rican Woodpecker
Puerto Rican Woodpecker

Finally, the quintessential bird for this most Tolkienesque of forests.  The Elfin Wood Warbler.  I was able to watch a small group of these quite mobile darts move in and out of the dense, roadside wall of the forest canopy.  Only described by science in 1972, it has been estimated there may be as few as 1800 of these birds left on the island.

Elfin Woods Warbler
Elfin Woods Warbler

Human modification and destruction of these mountain forests are having major detrimental effects on these habitats throughout the tropics.  In Puerto Rico this habitat is being lost to communication arrays and the roads to service them – one of the costs of global connectivity.  I was appalled by some of the views I had of antennas being stacked as thick as trees on some of the mountain tops in this Forest.

Coffee is king here and some of the oldest and largest coffee farms are found within Maricao.  I was able to speak with several folks on the island who worked as, or were part of families associated with farming coffee.  Not one of them practiced or had any plans to practice shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee.  Although it certainly is not the perfect answer in protecting these endemic mountain species, purchasing shade-grown coffee is an important practice in enabling conservation in these areas.

As the light waned and the rains began to lighten, I sat listening to the coqui frogs and other pieces of the night symphony begin their warm up.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I heard what I had hoped to hear – the Puerto Rican Screech Owl.  This bird gave me a total of 17 of a possible 18 endemic bird forms for the enchanted isle.  The only miss was the Puerto Rican Parrot, which is only found in small patches of El Yunque to the east.  I can only hope that these birds can continue existing in their present forms long after I have not.

Thanks for visiting…
OZB