Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ox-Eyed Daisy

Daisies have long been my favorite flower. While not colorful and flashy like some flowers, there is something so delicate and innocent looking about a daisy that makes them very appealing. This particular daisy is the Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). They are an introduced species to the United States and are found all over Missouri. While some consider them weeds, I for one love them. They are finding favor with gardeners throughout the Country as an accent plant. Planted next to coneflowers, coreopsis, or bee balm it makes for a showy display that butterflies and other insects will love. Look for them along roadsides, in open fields, meadows, rocky glades, etc. They are hardy and can be found in most any environment or habitat. I remember as a little girl picking a daisy and pulling the petals off one at a time, while reciting "he loves me, he loves me not". After all what better way to find out if the little boy you had a crush on was "The one". Needless to say many daisies sacrificed their petals to my innocent game before I finally married. Summer, sunshine and Daisies...it doesn't get any better than that!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tiny Snake- Big Attitude

Ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus) are one of my favorite snakes. They are tiny, harmless and great at insect/ worm control. Growing to about 14 to 15 inches in length they are one of the smallest snakes in Missouri. There are many species of Ringneck snakes throughout much of the United States, and they are probably more widespread than any other species of snake. They are dark gray, black or even tan in coloration with a bright yellow-orange belly and ring around their neck; as their name indicates. Two subspecies exist in Missouri, one is the Prairie Ringneck Snake (punctatus arnyi (pictured here). The second subspecies is the Mississippi Ringneck (Diadophis punctatus stictogenys) The Prairie species will be found throughout Missouri; the Mississippi species is found in the Southeast portion of Missouri. They can be found in most any habitat, but seem to prefer prairie habitats or wooded areas, that contains rocks, wood or logs for them to hide under. They are a secretive species of snake and will hide at the first opportunity if they sense danger nearby. While secretive by nature they are commonly seen crossing roadways, typically at night. Their diminutive size makes them an easy target for would be predators, but they are not without their own set of defenses. Notice in the last photo how the snake is curling his tail showing the bright orange coloration. This is a form of distraction to predators, it is used as a lure so that the tail gets attacked and not the head giving them a chance (even if slight) at survival. Their number one predator is the Yellow-Bellied Racer or Blue Racer as it is often called. They are not prone to bite, but even if they did, because of their small stature they would be unable to inflict any pain. Breeding take place in the spring or fall. The females who are bred in the spring will lay eggs in July or August. The females who are bred in the fall can delay fertilization, and will lay eggs the following spring or early summer. The tiny offspring look identical to the adults. They are around 3 to 4 inches long when born. From birth they are on their own, and it is a perilous time for these babies and they face many predators.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Purple Coneflower

The pretty flower is the Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). They are native to the Eastern United States. Considered a prairie flower, they are now finding favor with gardeners everywhere. They are extremely drought tolerant. They are very forgiving of harsh weather conditions, and it doesn't get much more unpredictable than Missouri weather. It has always been said, if you don't like the weather, wait a day and it will change. These daisy-like flowers are a beautiful accent to nature landscapes. They grow to around 3 feet in height, but heights of 5 feet are also possible, which makes them great for the backside of the garden. Once established they will spread exponentially. Many hybrids have been created, and I admit to loving them as well. I added one this year called "Tomato Soup" and it is supposed to bloom red. I hope it establishes itself with as much stamina as the purple variety. As you can see by the second picture they can be quite showy in large numbers. This is a photo from my backyard garden near our pond. Once they start blooming it isn't long and the butterflies show up. They are a favorite among many species of butterflies. The genus name of Echinacea comes from the Greek word echino which means "hedgehog". This is in reference to spiny center globe of flower. The flowers of this species is ground down to make an herbal tea. This tea is reported to have properties that help build the immune system. You can now buy it as an herbal supplement in pill or liquid form. They transplant well in early spring or in the fall way before or after blooming. Or you can keep the seeds and plant them the following spring. I recommend these flowers highly, they offer a lot of impact in the garden, and attract many wonderful insects as well as birds like American Goldfinches which favor the seeds. Some control may need to be implemented should they take over as they have in my garden. I dig them and move them to other areas. I also plan to sell some next spring.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red-Headed Woodpecker

The Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is unmistakable in appearance. It is the only woodpecker in North America with a completely red head. They are a fairly large bird reaching lengths up to 9 inches and wingspans up to 16 inches. They are gregarious and aggressive. They are true omnivores and will feed on most anything. They are also one of only four woodpeckers that hoard food. They will hide food away insides cracks or crevices in trees, fence posts or under leaf litter. They will even tuck away live grasshoppers in cracks so tight that the unfortunate individual cannot escape. It has been reported that red-headed woodpeckers will invade duck nesting boxes and peck holes in the eggs. They will also enter other nesting sites and push out the eggs or the offspring of other birds. They defend their territory aggressively, effectively chasing off any competition. Their populations have declined in much of their original breeding territory. Largely due to the loss of forest edges. As forest mature the birds will seek other areas more to their liking. Where there is expansion of beavers these birds thrive and are growing in population. Beavers "cut" down trees and create more flooded areas with dead snags that the woodpecker prefers. They nest in holes in dead trees or large dead branches. They prefer the snags mentioned above, that are often times striped of bark.

They will fly out and "grab" insects and return to the perch from whence they came to eat. They also drill into bark and dead trees for insects. They will sometimes come to feeders to eat peanuts, dried fruit and sunflowers, like the one pictured above. According to many field guides they are supposed to be in NWMO year around. However I only see them in the spring and summer. I enjoy it so much when they return, their colorful plumage brightens the landscape and their antics at the feeders are fun to watch. As long as it isn't me they are coming after with that attitude and sharp beak!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Barn Swallow Fledglings

These adorable little faces are the recent fledglings of some resident Barn Swallows. We've been watching the busy parents carrying food back and forth for several weeks now. Yesterday was the first day I actually was able to see the babies. All four of them were sitting at the edge of the nest. We actually laughed at their expressions. The one on the far left must be the outcast, the one in the middle of the three is the ring leader, just look at that face, he looks like he is daring anyone to come near. The one at the far right has the cutest little slant to his head and such mean look, it is almost as if he is saying "Hey, whatchoo lookin at!!" I was able to take two pictures before all four of them left the nest and flew away, much to the irritation of their parents I may add. As soon as they took flight the parents frantically followed, only problem was with four babies heading in four directions and only two parents they didn't know which offspring to follow. What made the whole situation even funnier was the fact that at the exact moment they chose to leave the safety of the nest we had storms rolling in. So high winds were hitting us, and those birds. The wind caught them and sent them flying (Pun intended!). Flapping was going to do them absolutely no good, the wind was simply too strong, they had no choice but to go where the wind took them. I can imagine their thoughts at the time. "What the Heck did we just do" or perhaps "MOMMMMMMY"
Barn Swallows have long been a favorite of mine they are so pretty with their iridscent blue back feathers and those rusty colored breasts. They consume untold amounts of insects. They aren't beyond attacking our wayward cat when she gets too close to the nest. Which makes for some interesting entertainment. Each year they build a nest on the back of the house above our dining room window. We also have another family that build on the front of the house above another window. My husband gets completely irritated when they chose the front of the house for their nest. So the rule is.....no eggs and the nest can come down....eggs and it stays! So he made sure this spring to knock it down as soon as nest buidling started. This prompted them to head to the barn and to the back of the house. I am so very glad to see all four babies healthy and ready for flight. Soon egg laying will begin again and we will have a second batch of babies to enjoy. Usually by the end of summer we have as many as 20 of these lovely birds showing off their aerial acrobatics in our yard. With any luck this year will prove to be the same.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Red Mulberry

The Mulberry's are ripening quickly, and I've already sampled a few. Soon it will be time to pick them for cobbler.
The Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) is native to the Eastern United States. They are common here in Northwest Missouri, and all too often can become invasive. I know of many people that pull the young saplings as soon as they are found. Often I hear people groan about how birds eat the berries then proceed to evacuate all over sidewalks, cars, laundry hanging on clothes lines and anywhere else you would not want to find bird feces tainted with a lovely shade of purple. This purple color will stain most anything it comes in contact with. Even your hands as you pick them from the tree. I fear I am one of a minority that happens to love Mulberry's. The shape of the tree is pleasing to the eye, the plump ripe berries are beautiful to look at, and even better to eat. With a mild sweet/ slightly sour taste they are true treat once the summer temperatures begin to rise. I will even share the bounty with our chickens, who absolutely love them. It creates a feeding frenzy as I throw berries into their outdoor enclosure.
In Canada this species is endangered which is so hard for me to comprehend when I look out in my backyard and I have several mature trees all producing berries, as well as tons of them coming up voluntarily throughout all my flower beds, which I have to pull or cut them out. In many areas where Red Mulberry trees and White Mulberry trees both exist they will cross pollinate and create a hybrid. The White Mulberry is native to China and was brought to the United States to culture Silkworms. They naturally cross pollinated and now are threatening the native Red Mulberry in much of it's range. Mulberry's are wind pollinated and therefore do not need insects or other trees close by for pollination. Do you have allergies? If so, and some days seem worse than others perhaps Mulberry's are the culprit. My husband suffers from allergies and through the process of elimination we discovered Mulberry's were the likely reason for some of his bad days.
Mulberry's have been used throughout history for its medicinal properties. The juice is used as a gargle for the relief of sore throats. The juice can also be used as a laxative. The bark was used to expel tapeworms. In our modern times the berries are used as a coloring and flavoring agent in medicines.
Try them in recipes, they are easily substituted for Blackberries or you can try this recipe which I find to be quite tasty.

Mulberry Cobbler

1 quart Ripe Mulberries*
1 cup white sugar
1 cup sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick melted margarine
3/4 cup milk

Preparation: Mix all of the above ingredients by hand. Heat about 1 quart of mulberries (sweetened to taste) on the stove but be careful not to scorch them. Pour half of the batter into a greased 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking dish. Add fruit, then pour the remaining batter over the fruit. Bake in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 40 minutes or until brown.

*Be sure that your Mulberries are very ripe or they will have an acid taste.

All-in-all I love Mulberry trees and happily take the good with the bad. I do not mind sharing them with birds, and even putting up with the colored leavings on my sidewalks isn't too bothersome. To be able to go outside in my yard on a warm summer evening and pick berries off the tree and enjoy the sweet taste as the berry pops in my mouth releasing all those tasty juices is a treat indeed. Mulberry's and Summer go hand in hand!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The adorable little bird is the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). I look forward each year to their return. Their beautiful song brightening up the landscape (picture 3). We have numerous bird houses throughout the yard and we are never disappointed. Early in the spring we start noticing the male busily going from house to house carrying with him various nesting supplies. Soon after Jenny Wren shows up and does an inspection of each abode. She will decide which one meets with her approval then she finishes the nest and later will lay her eggs. The one pictured here built in a bird house designed for larger birds (Picture 1). Unfortunately her eggs we eaten by a garter snake which was able to enter the hole on the front. I was relieved when I noticed the male resume nest building and this time they chose an actual wren house on the end of the clothes line. No snakes allowed! She must have babies now, as I've seen her making numerous trips back and forth with juicy insect pieces. These tiny birds have the heart of an eagle. They are quick to scold anyone or anything that dares to get too close to the bird house (picture 2). They can be very aggressive towards other birds. All of this intimidation must be necessary when you are so diminutive in size. Kind of like the Chihuahua who thinks he is a Great Dane!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Baby Blue Jay

This darling little baby is a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). They are native to the United States and seem to be spreading their range each year. Many people do not like these aggressive, gregarious birds. Mainly for their tendency to "rob" nests of other more gentle, pleasant song birds. Blue Jays are opportunistic feeders, they will eat most anything that won't eat them first. Insects, seeds, berries, eggs of other birds, as well as baby birds themselves. They are a fairly large bird, reaching lengths up to 9 inches from the tail to beak. Their wingspan is roughly 17 inches. These birds are unmistakable, and can not be confused with any other species in the Midwest, with bright blue, black and white coloring and that lavender/ blue crest, and a black ring around their neck. No other species looks anything like it. While we have many blue species of birds in Missouri like, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and Indigo Buntings, none have the size or distinct coloring of the Blue Jay. This blue coloration is actually caused by light refraction, just like all other birds with blue wings. If the wing were to be destroyed or crushed the blue coloring would disappear. The vocalization skills of Blue Jays is only limited to each individual. They use many different calls and songs. They are even capable of mimicking human speech. These birds are typically the sentinel, warning other birds in a given area of danger. They call loudly in a squawking fashion. I know from hiking in the woods, that as soon as Blue Jays know you are nearby they begin calling loudly for every bird within a mile radius to hear, announcing to each one your presence. So much for bird watching! So while all these charming traits can make for one aggravating bird, I can't help but like them. I have several pairs that nest each year in our trees. They come down to the feeders and while the other birds are quick to leave, I've not noticed any untoward behavior on the Jays part. As soon as the Jay moves on the smaller birds return and all is well again. Their coloring brightens the landscape and often times their antics are fun to watch. The other night one was chasing and scolding our dog Lila. It landed on the picnic table, wings out, squawking loudly and running at the dog. For a second or two I couldn't figure out why this bird was attacking our dog so ferociously. Then I noticed the baby that Lila had under her paw. I rescued the baby (pictured), and put Lila in her pen so that the parent Jay could return to her baby and ease her worries that her offspring was fine. Fortunately Lila didn't damage the baby in any way, she merely scared the tar out of it. I then discovered that three babies had fledged the nest and were bouncing all over the back yard. The poor adult Jays had their work cut out for them keeping track of these darlings. Each one bounced off in a different direction. Kind of like raising teenagers!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

compost brings surprises

In one of our cow lots there is a small pile of composted cow manure and hay. While I was walking through the lot I noticed something growing from the top of this pile. Upon closer inspection, it was several "somethings". Fungus to be exact. Three different kinds of mushrooms, or toadstools. The top picture was about 2 inches tall and all white. The cap was bumpy, reminded me of a golf ball.
This image was a cluster of ink caps of some sort. Various sizes from barely 1/2 inch to 2 inches tall.
This last group is my favorite find of the day. These were a lovely shade of burnt orange. The smallest one was barely 1/4 of an inch, and the tallest was about 1 inch or so. Just goes to show you never know what a pile of poo will produce.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Moles Exposed

This crazy looking creature is the Eastern Mole (Scalopus aquatiens), It is the only mole native to Missouri. They occur statewide and are quite common. Growing up to 9 inches in length and covered in soft dense fur that can be dark brown or a shade of gray. The fur is tipped with silver. The hair will lay flat in any direction which allows the mole to move more easily through its underground home. They have large paddle like front paws that are ideal for digging. After all Digging is what a mole does best. The mole pictured here was dug out of our front yard by our dog, Lila. We heard her barking relentlessly. We finally tore ourselves away from the lawn chairs long enough to see what the commotion was about and discovered she had unearthed a mole. It was kind of humorous in a twisted sort of way. Lila was half afraid of this little thing but she was not about to let it escape. I think it might have bitten her nose at one point so she was very cautious. She didn't hurt it, but she sure liked making it squeak. I laughed at one point when I figured out what she was doing. It was her own personal live squeak toy. After a few minutes we took it away from her. This completely upset her. We've had a lot of damage to the yard from these little tunnellers. My husband disposed of the troublemaker. In some respects moles are kinda cute. Just like most things covered in fur they have a certain charm about them. Then you take a closer look and the absurdity of their appearance becomes apparent. Just look at that long thin nose and those impossibly sharp pointed teeth. Those large flat front paws and stub tail. They look like a mishap at the body shop.
Those large paws are no mistake though, moles can use those large paddle-like paws and sharp claws to "Swim" through the earth. They are capable of digging up to 150 feet of tunnel per night. Their diet is varied and consists of earthworms, beetle grubs, snail larvae, spiders, other small arthropods and various types of vegetation. In fact moles are digging their tunnels in part to search for food. Moles require a lot of food to survive, they have a high metabolism and could die if deprived without for as little as 12 hours. They eat half their body weight per day...that would be like us eating up to 50 hamburgers a day! Many of the tunnels that are in your yard are travel tunnels and may only be used a few times before they are abandoned. Deeper tunnels are dug as resting places during the cold of the winter or the heat of the summer. These deeper tunnels are also used as nurseries during the birthing season, which is from March thru May. Females give birth to as many as five tiny hairless babies. While helpless at birth they grow rapidly and are ready to leave the nest in 4 weeks. They may live up to 3 years, wrecking havoc where ever they go. Their digging habits are actually beneficial to the soil by providing aeration, their constant digging mixes deeper soil with surface soil creating a more nutrient rich mixture that help plants thrive. Exceptions to this will be when they invade yards, golf courses, gardens and parks. their unsightly tunnels and raised mounds of dirt cause significant damage to the frustration of home owners, and golf course managers everywhere. Some of the damage attributed to moles may actually be caused by voles, mice and shrews. These small mammals use mole tunnels to travel under ground and feed on plant roots, seeds and bulbs. Moles do eat some vegetation, approximately 15% of their diet is plant matter, they rarely eat bulbs or seeds. Although because of their digging nature they are prone to turn over grass roots as well as plant roots exposing them to the air and causing them to dry out which can damage or kill the plants or grasses. Homeowners begin waging war with these tiny little critters each spring as soon as signs appear that they have taken up residence in their yards. Many methods are used, trapping, poison baits, insecticides to control or kill their food source. Insecticides need to be used sparingly, they kill beneficial insects or micro organism residing in the soil. Birds can even be killed or made sick by consuming insects that have ingested poison. If they become a problem, trapping is the safest and best method to use. If you can tolerate their tunneling, and the mounds of dirt mysteriously appearing over night in your yard it is best to leave moles alone, they do aerate the soil, consume untold amounts of harmful insects which is hugely beneficial to the environment. Moles are considered blind, they can see shades of light and dark and that's about it. In the picture above of the closeup, shows their reaction to bright lights. The camera flash freaked him out and he went completely rigid and squeaked loudly. They have short stubby tails that work as a bumper of sorts. While they tunnel underground they sometimes feel the need to back up, their tail will act as a feeler to let them know where they are going. They are capable of turning around in their tunnel by doing a partial somersault or turning back over on itself.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Plains Leopard Frog

This is the Plains Leopard Frog (Rana Blairi), occasionally it is referred to as Blair's Leopard Frog after noted zoologist Dr. W. Frank Blair. They can be found near permanent water sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. The one pictured here was located near the Hundred and Two River in Savannah at Happy Holler Conservation Area. It was in some tall grasses not far from the water. These frogs will reach lengths of 2 to 4 1/2 inches. Typically brown or greenish-brown in color with spots along the back. A noticeable stripe runs down the length of the body. The eardrum will usually have a distinct light colored spot in the center. It is this spot that distinguishes it from the similar Northern Leopard Frog. In parts of their range where these two species of frogs overlap they will interbreed and create hybrids that are hard to identify to species. These frogs range throughout the Great Plains States, hence their name. Their populations are stable if not common throughout their range, with exception to Indiana and Colorado where they are listed as a species of conservation concern. The culprit for the decline in these two States is most likely the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Frogs are indicator species, meaning scientist can use frogs to determine the health of a given area. If frogs are disappearing then it is a pretty good "indication" that something is wrong. Frogs are super sensitive to changes in their environment.
Breeding males call out to females with a series of low "clucks" followed by grunting or chuckling sounds, each calls lasts about 2 seconds. In Missouri breeding typically takes place from April to June. In other parts of their range breeding times vary. After mating, females will deposit clusters of eggs, usually containing several 100 in each mass on vegetation in shallow water. Adult frogs generally begin appearing in July from these eggs laid in the spring. Leopard frogs are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat most anything that they can overpower, including insects, spiders, other small arthropods and occasionally small vertebrates. Leopard frogs have many predators to worry about, mostly snakes, especially garter snakes. They are also preyed upon by humans, fisherman use leopard frogs for bait. Now I am all for fishing, and I enjoy a good fish fry. I just can't bring myself to kill such a cute critter as a frog. Besides plastic frogs can be found at any bait and tackle shop. I enjoy listening to them calling in the spring, and I look forward to the first signs of new frogs in the early summer months. They for me are as much a sign of summer as Backyard cookouts and trips to the lake.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Garter Snake

This is a common garter snake in the genus Thamnophis. There are many different species of garter snakes worldwide, and in the United States they are probably the most prevalent genus of reptiles. Completely harmless to humans, but they can be testy. Without a doubt they are very defensive and quick to try to bite and defend themselves. I've been bitten by this species of snake more than any of the other snakes I've handled combined. They will shake their tail in dry leafy vegetation to mimic a rattlesnakes rattle. They will emit a strong musky scent that is very offensive, especially if you are sensitive to smells. While they are consider no threat to humans and are listed as non-venomous it has been recently discovered they do in fact have a type of venom. It is a very mild neurotoxin. It is harmless to humans because of the low amounts of venom that is produced and their inability to deliver a bite of any importance. They do not possess fangs like other venomous snakes therefore they cannot release copious amounts of the toxin into our bloodstream. Instead the venom is delivered in a "chewing" fashion. The toxin may cause mild itching, swelling or irritation but rarely anything more severe. The secret to their success in numbers is due in large part to their ability to adapt to many different habitats and to human encroachment. They are also an opportunistic eater, they will eat anything from eggs, insects, frogs, toads (pictured), slugs, earthworms, small lizards, spiders, leeches and small mammals. We had one enter a birdhouse this year and eat two wren eggs. A testament to their survival skills is one particular garter snake (T. sirtalis) which is the only snake found in Alaska. In the western portion of the United States garter snakes tend to prefer watery habitats. The Eastern variety are less particular. They will be found most anywhere, even in our homes. I have found several of these in my basement over the years. We presume they come up the outside drain. Garter snakes vary little in their pattern, but largely in their coloration. Patterns will always include, one, two or three longitudinal stripes down their backs, these stripes will be white, red, yellow, blue or orange. These stripes are where they get their common name. Individuals felt their stripes looked very much like the garters worn by women. In between the stripes will be rows of blotchy spots. These blotches of color can vary greatly even among members of the same species. They rarely reach lengths over 3 feet, average size is 2 feet. They may live up to 6 or 7 years. While they are adept hunters, sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted and these snakes must overcome many obstacles in the wild, including hawks, owls, raccoons, mink, crawdads, shrews, large frogs and fish as well as other snakes, especially snakes in the King Snake family which all like to dine on these snakes. They also face pollution of many aquatic areas as well as collection by humans for the pet trade. In spite of all this they are still quite common and their populations seem to be stable throughout their range with the exception of one species in the west called the San Francisco Garter Snake which has been listed as endangered since 1967, and another, the Narrow Headed Garter Snake (T. rufipunctatus) is in peril due to the predation of crawdads. Garter snakes use pheromones as a way of communicating and locating other individuals of their species. Males and females each emit a different scent and they are able to locate mates by following scent trails. In some cases the males are able to give off the same scent as the female, they are so effective at doing this it commonly fools other males and you will find males trying to mate with males. These "She-males" have been recorded as receiving more attention than that of the actual female counterparts in the breeding balls that form during mating season. About two weeks before mating they will stop eating. This prevents any food that may remain in their stomachs from rotting; this phenomena is known as brumation. As soon as they come out of brumation mating will begin. Males will mate with several females. Males appear first, and as soon as females begin appearing from their dens males will surround them. The female pheromone is very intoxicating to the males, in fact it is not unheard of for up to 100 males to surround a single female all intent on mating with her. Males will typically "fight" each other. Once she is mated she will leave the area and seek food and a place to deliver her babies. In the case of garter snakes they give "live birth". They do not lay eggs like most reptiles and many other snakes do. She may give birth to as many as 50 young snakes. These newborns are independent from birth and do not rely on any care from their mother. Good thing too, because does not offer any. We have so many of these snakes around our farm that they are a common sight. They hang around our goldfish pond and hunt the frogs and toads living there. We find them in the flower gardens, and near the vegetable garden. They are a beautiful snake, but best left alone. Of course I say that, and at the next opportunity I will be nursing another bite because I can't resist the temptation to catch one for a closer look.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Boreal Chorus Frog

This super tiny adorable little frog is the Boreal Tree Frog(Pseudacris maculata). Boreal means "Northern" and Chorus is a "group of singers" So this little frogs names translates into "Northern Group-Singing Frog". These frogs are native to the United States, with scattered populations. They reach a maximum length of 1 1/2 inches. Usually they are around 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. The one photographed here was a little less than a 1/2 inch as you can see on my fingernail.
Typically these are the first frogs to become active in the spring, even found when snow and ice are still on the ground. They call quietly with a distinctive "breeeekk".The call is said to resemble the sound made when fingers are ran across the teeth of a comb. This species has a very soft croak unlike most frogs which croak very loudly and proudly. Because of their tiny size and cryptic coloring they are very hard to see. They are tan, gray or reddish with darker broken stripes along their back. An additional stripe runs through the eye. Found low to the ground under vegetation they blend in well with their surroundings and unless you happen to see one hop you probably won't notice them. Commonly found near temporary bodies of water. The one pictured here was not alone, he had many cousins, siblings, friends, etc... with him. All told there were probably a hundred or more. When I first noticed it from a distance I thought it was an insect of some sort, it wasn't until I was able to get close to one that it became apparent it was a frog, and he had lots of company. We have an old pond that is holding water thanks to all the spring rains. It usually goes dry by the middle of summer.It was in the tall grasses near this pond where they were hanging out. They will also be found in roadside ditches, flooded fields, river back waters, lakeside edges etc. After mating, the female will lay a clusters of up 100 eggs on the leaves or stems of vegetation near water. I've read a couple of different accounts as to how long it takes for the eggs to hatch. One article claimed 3 days and still another claimed as many as 18 days, so we will say that from 3- 18 days the young will emerge from the eggs. It takes about 40 days before they go from tadpole to adult size. They will complete their life cycle sometime in July. These new adults will be very small at around 1/2 inch, like the one pictured here. I am assuming this one and its companions either overwintered at this size or a bunch of these little frogs reached their maturity at the same time and came out before July.
Their diet consists of tiny insects, like mosquitoes and other small arthropods. Boreal Chorus frog have many enemies and live life trying to stay one step ahead of hungry predators like, snakes, other frogs, larger insects like praying mantids, mice, rats, birds and other small mammals. While these frogs are not commonly seen they are one of the most common frogs in their range. Look for them in forests, forest edges and tall grasses near water. Remember not every tiny little creature that moves low in the grass is an insect, sometimes it is a delightful surprise like this little creature.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Severe Weather Warnings--Missouri tornado

It has always been said that if you don't like the weather in Missouri...wait a day and it will
change. Today began as hot and sunny. Joey and I mowed and weeded the yard. Around 2:00 this afternoon it came across the radio that there was a chance for thunderstorms, and they may be severe. Around 6:00 the clouds darkened and the lightening streaked across the sky. Thunder could be heard off in the distance. Weather radio stated that Andrew County (where I live) was under a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning. My son Joel called his friend Daniel and they set out after the storms. Seems many people had the same idea. Vortex from Texas was here, as well as many other storm chasers from across the Midwest. The storms passed through Savannah. Where we live in the eastern portion of Savannah we had a lot of rain, and some very high winds. In some portions of the county they had baseball and softball sized hail. The storms headed to Union Star. It was after the weather tracked in that direction that things got really interesting.
Tornadoes were spotted near Union Star, the hail and wind were damaging. We heard one storm chaser had his car window busted out by a large piece of hail. In our own backyard Joey and I were watching the skies. We had weird wind rotations overhead. We could see clouds moving in a northward path, then more clouds moving in a southwest fashion. They were converging overhead and creating a rotation unlike anything we had ever seen. We kept speculating whether or not a tornado would suddenly fall from the sky right above us. Suddenly the wind picked up speed and gusted through the yard. Trees were bent sideways. The temperature raised to about 90 degrees, it was like stepping into a blast furnace. This was really strange because the temperatures were in the lower 80's until the storm hit, then they dropped to the low 70's. The wild wind brought HOT air. It left as quick as it came. Very strange indeed. My son returned home around 9:15.
He said it was exciting near Union Star where he and Daniel were. At one point the hail hit his truck so hard it scared them. the rain was pelting down so heavily that he couldn't see to drive and had to pull off the road to keep from hitting anyone. He said there were about 50 storm chasers up there. Red Cross was there, as well as many of the armored storms chaser vehicles, and a helicopter flying over. We saw them drive by our house headed to Union Star. He said it rained so hard at one point they watched a dry field turn into a lake in about 10 minutes. No tornadoes were spotted by them, and they decided to head home instead of continuing on to Amity, MO where the storm was headed. He said the rain was too heavy and he just couldn't see. The pictures here were taken by my son in Union Star. The one at the gas station shows how dark the sky was at 7:00 PM. The first picture shows the rain coming down, if you look close you can see the top of the trees bent over in the wind. Right now as I am sitting here I can hear thunder rumbling again. perhaps round two is on its way? Never a dull moment in MO.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gray Catbird

This pretty gray bird is the "Gray Catbird" (Dumetella carolinensis)
They are medium sized bird frequently found across most of North America. I've encountered them at our farm near the pond on a few occasions but this is the first time I've had one in my yard. I kept hearing an unusual song coming from a bird in the cherry tree in our yard. He stayed on the inside branches making it very difficult to see him. Then he flew to the elderberry bush. I literally chased this bird all over my yard before finally getting a good look at him. He flew out of the elderberry bush and sat for a few seconds on our split rail fence (pictured) I managed to take 2 photos before he flew off again. Their coloring is all over gray with a black crown and rusty underparts near the tail. There is nothing spectacular about their appearance, yet they are somehow very beautiful. He was singing his little heart out, I assume looking for a mate. At one point yesterday evening I could have swore I spotted a second one. So perhaps all his singing paid off and he found that special someone. He seems to be hanging close to the elderberry bush so with any luck maybe they will nest in there. They can set up a homestead next to the indigo bunting that is currently nesting there. Catbirds are often mistaken for Mockingbirds. Like Mockingbirds, Catbirds will mimic other bird songs. Unlike Mockingbirds who repeat their borrowed songs in three concurrent sequences, Catbirds repeat each song only once. The Mockingbird is larger and has white on its wing and tail feathers. When alarmed the Catbird will make a sound that very much resembles a "meow". I assume this catlike call is where they earned their common name. Many males, of other species, when seeking a mate will find a prominent spot perched on a pole, fence or treetop from which go sing. Catbirds prefer to "hide" within dense bushes and thickets and call out. Which is exactly the behavior observed with this particular bird. After locating a mate, the female will build a nest low to the ground in a dense bush or shrubbery. In this case I hope my elderberry bush. The female will lay up to 5 light blue eggs. The adults are very aggressive and will defend their nest by attacking anyone or anything that gets too close. Cowbirds often parasitize their nest, but the smart catbird will have none of that, he pecks a hole in the egg and destroys it. They are shy birds, but not easily intimidated. Catbirds are typically ground foragers, they eat insects, berries, wild grapes, elderberries (YEA!), cherries, poison ivy berries, etc. I am so pleased to have this lovely little bird stop off in my yard, my hope is that he decides to call it home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prothonotary Warbler

This pretty little songbird is the "Prothonotary Warbler". They were named after clerks in the Roman Catholic church whose robes were bright yellow. They were known in many parts of their range as the "Golden Swamp Warbler" which is also a fitting name. These birds will be found near water; swamps, ponds, lakes, flooded bottomland areas, etc. They feed on insects that they generally glean from the bark of trees. These birds are one of two species of warblers that nest in cavities (the other is Lucy's Warbler). They breed in forested areas near water. 75% of all nesting is along water usually low to water surface. Which results in nest loss due to flooding. They will sometimes use old downy woodpecker holes in trees. The male will build several unused nests in a given area, the female will build the actual nest that is used for rearing their young. The males are a vibrant yellow, with an orangish-yellow head, dark wings and bright white on the underside of their tail feathers. Their beak is somewhat long and black, their legs are also black. The immatures and females are duller in coloration with lighter yellow feathers. Measuring at 4.75 inches they are a relatively small bird, and absolutely striking in their coloration. They have a very melodious song (Sweet sweet sweet sweet) that is very beautiful to listen to. While these birds are not listed as a species for conservation concern in the United States, they do face difficulties. They are declining (estimates are 1.5 % per year) in numbers in many parts of their range, mostly due to habitat loss. They are also parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, and compete heavily for nesting sights and often times are crowded out by the more gregarious house wren. In Many parts of Canada they are listed as endangered. In the fall these birds migrate to Northern South America, and Southern Central America. Their highest numbers tend to be in Costa Rica, Panama, and Northern Columbia. They return to our area in late April or early May. These photos were taken at Happy Holler lake in Savannah, MO while Joey and I were kayaking. We heard him singing in the trees, then saw a flash of yellow as he landed in a tree near the water. I was able to row the kayak to within about 8 feet of him. He groomed his feathers and every little bit would belt out a beautiful song. Something about his presence made him seem almost happy, you couldn't help but smile.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Great Blue Heron

These large wading birds are the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). They are a common sight near lakes, ponds and slow moving bodies of water. Their long legs standing in the water near the shoreline waiting for passing fish. They will stand perfectly motionless, then with a speed seemingly unbelievable for such a large bird they will pierce the fish with that long sword-like beak. They gobble the fish down whole, letting it slide down their throat. They are very wary of humans and will fly away at the slightest disturbance. This makes it very difficult to get a good picture. These pictures were taken at Happy Holler Conservation Area fishing lake yesterday. Joey and I were kayaking around the lake and spotted several of these birds standing along the shore. I tried several times, quite unsucessfully I might add to get photos of these skittish birds. Finally I was able to approach one that seemed a little more tolerant of my presence and I captured two photos before he flew off out of sight around a bend in the lake. While these aren't perfect photos, they are good enough to show their beauty and gracefulness.