Saturday, August 31, 2013

Not A Hummingbird

If you’ve seen this creature or a variation of this creature flitting around your garden recently, you may think it's a visiting hummingbird.  

At first glance it’s natural to think you are looking at a real live bird, but in fact it is an insect…a moth.  It is the adult of several species of moths all grouped under the general term hummingbird moths.

In its caterpillar stage, we call them hornworms; plump greenish caterpillars about the size of your little finger with a wicked looking, but harmless, horn at one end.   

Sampling blossom after blossom for the minute amounts of nectar in each, the Hummingbird Moth mimics a hummingbird, but there are real and noticeable differences between the two. 

First, the bird has two legs…the moth has six.  The moth has a flexible proboscis which is inserted into a flower whereas the hummingbird has a stiff bill and a long tongue to lap up the liquid.  As small as a hummingbird is, it is still twice as large as the moth.  Moths have antennae, hummingbirds do not.  You might think you’re seeing a baby hummingbird, but baby hummingbirds don’t fly. 

One nice characteristic of the Hummingbird Moth is its approachability.  The moth seems less fearful of human presence.  If you maintain a respectable distance the moth is likely to continue feeding in your company…hummingbirds less likely.  If you have a good supply of flowers and nectar, the hummingbird moth may remain long enough for you to get a picture.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Green Heron, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve

Catching a fish is an acquired skill, even for a Green Heron.

When I turned around, this juvenile Green Heron was marching up the boardwalk towards me. 

I was at the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, north of Milwaukee, south of Port Washington and along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

Unaware of me when he landed, he began patrolling the edge of the boardwalk intent on catching something good to eat in the water. Green Herons have a surprisingly long neck when it's not tucked into a football-sized compact body.

Being a juvenile, he may have not yet figured out how he was going to land a fish or a frog from the boardwalk. I'm not sure he'd thought this through, as this would present a new challenge for him.   

Never mind, strolling the boardwalk is easier.

He occasionally peered over the edge, excited by movement in the weeds and water.  Whatever he was looking at  was well out of his reach, so he may have just been reacting on instinct or testing out his stalking techniques for use later.

Stepping along the boardwalk he’d replay the same stop and stare stance over and over, contracting his neck each time in reconsideration.  I suspect this was an exercise somewhere between practice and play.

Meanwhile, an adult Green Heron was hiding behind a nearby tree.  I have no knowledge of these two Green Herons' relationship, but I’d like to think it could be an adult parent still keeping an eye on an offspring.  It’s an observation and a reasonable speculation, but totally unfounded.

Someday junior here will share the blue, green and wine colors of adulthood, but for now he’s still in his adolescent plumage.

More camouflaged than colorful, this may be a 1st year individual.  His camouflage would serve him better if he weren’t strutting down the boardwalk though, but he'll learn someday.  He looks to be well-fed, independent and somewhat capable of fishing on his own. 


Monday, August 26, 2013


Not all birds fly south in winter.  The hardy birds stick around.  The nuthatch is one such sturdy bird despite a wispy appearance.

While maintaining a pair bond and a home territory the nuthatch is a twelve-month resident of Wisconsin.  This necessitates the pair spending long hours gathering enough food to last throughout the winter.  After the first hard frost all the tasty insects will be gone.   There will be lean pickings for them if their seed stores aren’t adequate until spring.

The nuthatch is not a picky eater.   Under the loose bark of slowly departing trees he’ll find all sorts of creeping, crawling critters including ants, beetle larvae, spiders, caterpillars and millipedes.  After the insect life is frozen out, acorns, berries, corn and the kindness of bird-feeding humans get this Red-breasted Nuthatch through lean times.

Black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts seem to be the hands down favorites for the White-breasted Nuthatch.  I have yet to see one carry away a different seed unless it was wrapped in a suet cake.

With continual forays to the backyard feeders, the White-breasted Nuthatch is always looking out for tomorrow.  There is no way a White-breasted Nuthatch can remember the location of the thousands of seeds he’s hidden during the summer, so an abundance is crucial.
The seed snatching and storing goes on all day, everyday, with the goal of always having plenty.

Given the possibility many of his seeds are plundered by passing squirrels, good hiding spots are important.

The southbound migration through Wisconsin has started for many bird species already.  Soon only the winter residents will remain.  Make the effort now to supply seeds to the nuthatches…small investment.  They may fill your trees with seeds, too, and provide you with a little kitchen-window entertainment for the winter. 


Friday, August 16, 2013

Migration Story

The northbound birds that migrated through Wisconsin this spring have long since passed.   The southbound migration from Alaska and Canada has barely commenced. We only have our summer resident birds to enjoy now.

This new 1st year Cedar Waxwing still looks warm and fuzzy.  He’s attained some degree of self-sufficiency in his short life, but he still needs his parents. He looks to be healthy and able to migrate, but he needs to learn the Cedar Waxwing migration routes yet.

Two juvenile Tree Swallows wait to be fed along a branch .  They weren’t catching their own insects over a nearby pond, nor did I see them being fed, but someone is still caring for them.  Just barely out of their downy feathers, they depend on their parents for nourishment.

A pair of Eastern Kingbirds lingered in a tree as I approached. They didn’t fly away as I expected. They had something to protect. Just barely visible in the branches below was the nest they were guarding.

Eventually they responded to my intrusion by taking to the air.

They hovered above to persuade me to leave. 

Wanting to stay, but needing to go, 
I left.

Another somewhat older, but still  juvenile Eastern Kingbird perches at the top of a tree in Cedarburg, waiting to be shown by an adult which way to fly .

Appearing insecure, curious or maybe a bit cautious, this Baltimore Oriole might be an adult female or a 1st year juvenile.  Baltimore Orioles are summer residents in Wisconsin.  They will leave soon.

Another summer resident, the Red-winged Blackbird, is well known for his scolding, harassing and  in your face attitude that can get annoying.  Aggressive and protective of his territory, a Red-winged Blackbird could draw blood from the top of your head if you came across a particularly mean one. 

Besides having your hair rearranged by a Red-winged Blackbird, another danger of summer is stepping onto a bumblebee nest. 

I was a half-second away from stepping onto what I thought was a bare patch of ground in an otherwise tall field of grass.  

Not so…bad mistake...I diverted my foot just in time…no harm, no foul. I departed quickly.

The American Goldfinch is a permanent Wisconsin resident. Still in his spring breeding colors, this male was keeping his feathers clean. Males and females will take on a paler appearance during the winter months. Easily attracted to a backyard seed feeder, you could have American Goldfinches  eating outside your window throughout the winter.

The goldfinch’s colors are not the only colors in transition in mid-August. Treetops are changing too and  birds get to see the colors change up close.

The out-migration will begin soon.  Thousands of birds will be passing through Wisconsin and not just the big Canada Geese. The southbound songbirds will be less colorful and somewhat weather feather worn at this time of year, but a recognizable resemblance of their springtime selves.  

Think of the fall migration as another chance to see these beautiful birds in a different light.  
The show is free.  Just look up!