I’m so glad I spent some time at home this afternoon. This gave me the opportunity to find the first Red-breasted Nuthatch that I have found visiting our backyard feeders. I so wanted to some how tell this little one that I would have seed available all winter long as it consistently went back and forth from the big oak to the feeder, each time carrying a sunflower seed to hide in the bark. I am pretty certain that this bird visited the feeder more than 50 times in the couple hours I watched.
I have been given a lot inspiration lately by a number of Facebook friends to photograph the great birds that visit our feeders, or to put it another way, make these models work for their supper. On a recent birding trip, Sarah and I collected some great drift wood that I turned into horizontal and vertical branches in the backyard, not too far from the feeders and our sun-porch.
I drilled a few extra holes towards the rear of some of these to act as unseen cavities to place my homemade bark butter. It only took the Juncos a couple of hours to find their favorite food. These guys go crazy trying to figure out how to get to this stuff. I made sure to place a few feeding spots near horizontal perches that they could access without too much difficulty as they cannot grasp vertical perches very well. These guys are so tame that they were my primary subjects, other species being a little more timid to visit the close perches and seed deposits that I sat close to.
For a first attempt, I’m pretty pleased. These were shot hand-held in mixed lighting with my 100-400 mm lens and I shot through the not-so clean windows of the sun-porch. I tried sitting behind the open windows, but this must have made me much more conspicuous. I sat for an hour or more with few birds coming in to feed. Within seconds of me closing the windows, the Juncos came to the feeding stations.
I’m a little concerned that my resident Downy Woodpeckers might have a little too much of the rich food I am providing. They now have access to the peanut and tree nuts in the no-mess mix I provide, beef tallow suet blocks, and now the bark butter. But, I suppose it would take a lot for a wild bird to over indulge.
Anyone who feeds their wild birds and has an interest and access to photography should give this a try. I’m looking forward to more cold mornings spent outside trying my hand at this.
It has been a while since I’ve shared some photos from Wilson’s Promontory National Park, along the southern coast of Victoria, Australia. This is definitely one of my favorite places I have ever visited and today I want to tell an ecology story of a special plant that I had no idea existed until making this trip in December, 2017.
The Banksia are a highly adapted plant that are found along a number of coastal habitats surrounding Australia. Wilson’s Promontory has four recorded species, two small to medium tree type forms, Banksia serrata and B. integrifolia and two smaller brush/shrub forms, B. marginata, and B. spinalosa (1). The most abundant species on the Prom and the only one I had sense in taking photographs of is the sawbank banksia, B. serrata.
Banksia are easily identified by their bottlebrush-shaped spike inflorescence, which can contain hundred to thousands of of tiny flowers. Typically, only a few flowers will produce a hard and woody follicle that may hold the seed enclosed on the inflorescence “cone” within the canopy for as many as ten years. Although hard fires will cause the death of established Banksia, it is a necessity for most Banksia to remain stable in their habitat. Wild fire causes the woody follicles to dry and allows the opening of the hinges that releases the seeds within and promotes their germination (2).
The photo below shows a very old “cone” that is still being held on the plant despite the seed having been released due to fire-induced desiccation.
The Banksia are well-adapted to fire as the next photo attests. Collin and I found this recent cut along a trail access. The thick and furrowed bark helps to keep fire from destroying living cells underneath.
There is a great case for describing Banksia as mutualist keystone species. Nectar produced at the base of the flowers was used by original native peoples, the Gunna and the Boonwurrung, to sweeten their water. This nectar also feeds a wide variety of important insect and bird pollinators during the day and mammals, like the eastern pygmy possum, at night. Birds such as Spinebills, Wattlebirds and Lorikeets have tongues adapted with brush-like tips that helps them specialize in feeding primarily on nectar and pollen (2). The photo below shows a Rainbow Lorikeet that I was able to capture in the act of feeding.
Only the largest of seed-eating birds, like the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, can use their strong curved beaks to break into the woody seed pods of Banksia to feed on the seeds within.
B. serrata and B. integrifolia are among the tallest of trees in heathlands and similar habitats where they are found in the Prom. Because of this, they are important architecture for perching and nesting birds as well as providing shelter for small mammals. This male Fan-tailed Cuckoo is one of a few birds we found using the Banksia.
Until next time, have a good day, mate.
Part three of a three-part series documenting the progression of a RTHU nest.
Part two of a three-part series documenting the progression of a RTHU nest.
I was busy for several weeks this summer observing and photographing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and her nest. I collected a lot of behavioral data and took way too many photos and video. Here is part one of what will likely be a three to four part video that summarizes the experience.
The WGNSS Nature Photography Group met on September 1, 2018 at Don Robinson State Park in Jefferson County, MO, with the goal of finding slug moth caterpillars and whatever other macro subjects of interest we could find. Overall, I think we had good fortune on this hot and muggy, late-summer day, finding quite a few interesting caterpillars. The slug moth caterpillars were a little scarce, but we did find a little something extra special – the pin-striped vermilion slug moth (Monoleuca semifascia) (Hodges # 4691). In four summers of looking for slug cats, this is the first one I have seen. It is a southern species and I assumed it would need to be found in the south-western part of our state where the open barren woodlands and savanna type environments this species prefers are more common.
This is the 14th of 15 species of slug moth caterpillars that are found in Missouri that I have been able to see and photograph. One more to go!
Slug cats can be found on virtually any species of woody plant in the state. Although oaks and hickories seem to be the preferred host plants, this animal was found on an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
I hope these photos make it obvious why hunting these cats can become quite addictive.