Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Belle Isle on the last Sunday in September

It was birdy at Belle Isle on the last Sunday in September but all were hidden in the still thick leaves and, although I had some close chances, no real photos ops.

Above and below:  worn common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis).  It's been quite awhile since I've seen one and, as discussed this summer, I am out-of-practice with my skipper identification.

Above:  Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)* a native perennial of wet woodlands, swamps and floodplains - all three describe the woods of Belle Isle well.  Initially I called this bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a non-native perennial*.  I may have made this error because of the variability of L. siphilitica, and I did not check enough sources for bittersweet nightshade.  Its flower actually bears no resemblance to the flower of great blue lobelia.  Look at the name siphilitica.  In days of yore when we did not have effective treatments, this name comes from the mistaken belief that the alkaloids in the roots could cure syphilis.   Actually the alkaloids in the roots can cause vomiting.  Toxicity is also a feature of bittersweet nightshade's alkaloid roots - hence its name.  Nevertheless, both are beautiful

Spicebush berries are thick and numerous in may spots now so there is plenty of food for thrushes, waxwings and others.  Swainson's thrushes were heard in a couple of spots thick with spicebush berries.  At one point a fresh Spicebush swallowtail flew over the path.

I don't know what these berries are.  I found them in only one spot and I was tempted to try them. Hanging in clumps they looked like concord grapes.

*Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide by Stan Tekiela, Adventure Publications, pages 23 and 125.  (A handy and portable little guide for novices like me.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dead common shrew

This evening, when walking along my small paver path between the garage and a tiny urban woods I created to pick some basil for dinner, I found a dead common shrew (Sorex araneus).  I was so surprised.  I don't recall ever having seen a shrew. But there it was, lying on the path, dead.  How did it get there?  How did it die?  I picked it up and after carefully looking it over, I could only think to do what I always do - take photos.  

Up close I could see that it was one of the cutest darn things.

Sometime during the early to mid-summer the neighbors who live kitty-corner behind me inquired if I had an orange cat.  I did.  They commented further that my cat had been coming around to their house because my cat liked their cat.  Really?  Quite a feat since my cat does not go outdoors.  I said as much.  Oh no, it must surely be my cat.

In addition, I found out that their cat was an un-neutered male and that, for my neighbors, this was because it was against their religion to neuter a cat.  And, it wouldn't be fair to keep their cat indoors.  My heart fell into my stomach.

Right about this time my yard and my pond were full of birds; robins teaching fledgings to hunt for food, a failed cardinal nest, blue jays, cedar waxwings and robins coming to the pond for bathing and, a real pleasure in my neighborhood, a carolina wren singing from another nearby neighbor's yard as if on territory.

I explained the situation with a heightened level of concern to my vet. Was there any recourse?  No.   And to another indoor cat friend who commiserated but, of course, could suggest nothing.  Though I worried briefly when I hadn't heard it for a couple of days, the carolina wren continued to sing throughout the summer.  In fact, I found it at my hummingbird feeder one afternoon and I heard it just the other evening when walking back from the post office.

I checked with friends at work.  Was it true that, for religious observance, a cat could not be neutered?  No.  Their cats were neutered and indoor cats.  Why?  Because of the birds.  Made me feel better.

In this final photo, though not easily seen, there is one perfectly round puncture wound just above the shrew's left lower leg.  The white puncture scars are easily seen.  A cat killed this common shrew.  Was it my neighbor's cat?  There are other outdoor cats in my neighborhood and it's impossible to know how many birds and other creatures they kill.  But this time it was not the Carolina wren who paid the price. Rather, it was a tiny common shrew that I didn't even know I had.

I wish I could explain to my neighbors that all cats should be neutered and that all cats belong indoors.  Unfortunately, this seems impossible.   

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Finally, perched Tramea lacerata

All summer long I have seen flying and hovering Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerate) over fields, ponds and even lakes if I can count Sherwood pond as a lake.  I never saw one perched.  Finally, this morning, I startled one as I was walking on a narrow wetland trail in the man-made wetland of Rivard Plaza in downtown Detroit.

I watched as it flew back and forth and around the wetland.  It approached the spot from where I had startled it and so I backed off a bit and stood perfectly still.  That seemed to do the trick because it flew in and settled in the same area.

Thinking it would be flighty I took a couple of distant shots and continued to move forward slowly.  In this photo the long cerci are easily seen.

I kept thinking it would fly and was surprised when I was able to get right up to it - so close that I had to back off with my camera.

I think this dragonfly is an immature male.  *Paulson describes abdomen black, often showing yellow squares on S7 indicative of immaturity.

Being able to get these photographs was thrilling and the black saddlebags did not disappoint.  Its size, pattern and shape of its saddlebags and the long cerci reveal it to be a spectacular creature.

Grasshopper found a sunny perch off trail.

This T. lacerata is a different individual that perched in a drier area closer to the river.  None of my photos were as nice perhaps because of the brighter sun and the kind of vegetation selected for its perch.  In all, I saw three black saddlebags at this relatively contained location. There was a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) flying around too, but absolutely no chance for photos.  The only others were Sympetrum sp.

Monarchs were migrating through the park in large numbers.  But, this is a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) that stopped to nectar on a large white aster clump that also had a lot of honey bees.  

Rivard Plaza is part of William G. Milliken State Park.  The man-made wetland here definitely deserves attention especially in migration seasons.  But it may be not suited to all birders or naturalists.  You will share your searching with skaters, bikers, walkers, runners and, everyone's favorite, dog walkers.  The area in the photo above must be the meeting spot for a group dog walk.  There were twenty dogs in the area at the time of this photo and others still arriving.  Later I saw them all walking together in a large group in another part of the park.

When I finished at the wetland I drove down to the marina.  A single Pied-bill Grebe was diving here.    I missed my best photo of the grebe when I saw it surface beneath a pile of green weeds.  I got greedy with my advance and it dove again before I could get the shot.

As a bonus I saw a guy near the marina who looked like he could be playing Pokemon Go.  So I went up to ask and he was.  I got a little tutorial on how one catches Pokemons.  After 3 misses with some muttering between his throws, "don't leave, don't leave," he finally, using a curve ball, got the one I was watching with him.  For a quick follow-up he then easily caught another that looked like a fish.  I'm not a gamer, but I can understand how Pokemon Go could be completely addictive.  Like photographing birds or dragonflies - "don't leave, don't leave."

* Paulson, Dennis,  Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, Princeton University Press, 2011, page 510. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Another mosaic

My second mosaic dragonfly in September; actually my second ever and my first in Michigan.  My photo views are limited, but I had help from Darrin O'Brien to clinch the identification.  

Above and below:  I've learned the mosaic dragonflies are best identified from photos with a side view which I was unable to get of this perched dragon.

Above and below:  later in the morning I found this mating pair and it was actually the photo below from which Darrin was able to make the ID.

Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta)

I found the email comments from Darrin below helpful.  Just goes to show how tricky dragonflies can be to identify and how careful one must be.  

The male claspers are paddle-shaped which eliminates some of the more confusing Aeshnas.  This would be much easier to see with a side view.

The pattern at the top of the hind area of the thorax would lead me to believe it's a Lance-tipped Darner (A. constricta).

The abdomen is also constricted, but I don't always find this helpful.

Many times a side view of the thorax is best for ID, but this isn't foolproof.  In this case, if you have a side view of the thoracic stripes, it should clinch the ID.

With many dragonflies, even dorsal, lateral, and ventral photos aren't enough for ID.

I found these Lance-tipped Darner's at Lake St. Clair Metropark along the path between the nature center and the boardwalk area on Sunday, September 10th while leading a DAS birding trip there.  They seemed numerous flying over the path at the start of the walk around 8:15 am - 9:00 am.  When the walk ended around 11:30 am or so, I went back and saw hardly anything.  This is when the mating pair showed up and perched.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

My northern Idaho birding spot

When attending an out-of-state wedding and staying in a motel, it's easy to get up and out before the wedding activities start up.

So this is where I did my birding in northern Idaho - Tobe Way teed into Plato Drive.  Both were untraveled dirt roads behind the motel (the building with the long green roof) that ran through wildflower, weed and coniferous woodlots.  I don't know when this google photo was taken but the conifers seemed much denser than shows up on this satellite map.  At the end of Plato Drive is Homestead Loop Drive along which I also walked.  

I don't know why I'm describing my little patch in such detail.  Frankly, I didn't see much on my three mornings of birding here.  Of course, being in a northwestern state I was looking for birds I would not see at home.  On this score, I saw three species for sure that met this goal and, with good guessing, maybe a 4th.

On Friday morning, with overcast skies and a lot of haze in the air, I saw this actively hunting Merlin.  

A bird tops on my list for seeing is Lewis's woodpecker which, over its big range, is very localized.  On any western trip I'm looking for one. On wedding day Saturday morning I had a little more time.  I stepped out from the motel grounds on to Tobe Way and, from a distance, I saw the perfect profile of Lewis's woodpecker.  I thought, no, too easy.  I kept my hopes up as I slowly crept closer and closer.  Still closer and less backlit, I finally got close enough to see a Northern Flicker - red-shafted, of course.  Otherwise, looks and sounds the same as our yellow-shafted. 

I saw a square-tailed dove perched on a utility pole along Homestead Loop Road.  It's startling to see how extensively Eurasian-collared doves now occupy the U.S.

Along Homestead Loop Road

Handsome horse.

Pine siskens were present and heard almost everywhere all weekend.

Couldn't resist chicken crossing the road.

Above and below:  what is this?  A little narrative is required.  All three mornings I saw feeding  chickadee flocks of about a dozen or so birds and from which I was able to pick out mountain chickadees from the mostly black-capped.  As always they were continuously moving and this situation is always going to be difficult for me with my kind of camera.  I spent many frames making poor photographs of moving chickadees hoping that one of the photos would be a mountain chickadee.  When I got home I had time to focus on my photos.  I came across these two.  What in heaven's name?

Red-breasted nuthatches were also common all three mornings.  I don't recall seeing or hearing white-breasted nuthatches, although according to range maps they are here.  I never saw one, but chestnut-backed chickadee is also found in coniferous northern Idaho.

So, what is this bird?  I'll never know for sure, but I am thinking chestnut-backed chickadee and nuthatch hybrid.  And which nuthatch? Again, will never know, but maybe white-breasted.  I included the photo below because the chestnut flank is well seen as well as is the bird's largish bill.  Also, in the top photo, look at how the bird is holding a seed in its bill.  Nuthatch-style.  Comments invited.

This is the closest I may have come to photographing a mountain chickadee.  Sibley describes the white supercilium as being unique but sometimes indistinct. 

I saw mountain bluebirds along the fence line of an agricultural field. To my dismay too far away for photographs.  On my final morning, a robin-sized bird with an upcocked tail flew low into some underbrush. I guessed spotted towhee.

A not uncommon sight in northern Idaho.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


When you go with non-birders to northern Idaho for a wedding - well, let me just say that birding does not get done. 

Kootenai NWR was only about 8 miles from our motel.  So I had family members drop me off ... that is, me and my 15 year old niece.  Shall I say that her chief interest in life is boys and not much else.  Normal, of course, but a drag when she was with me at Kootenai.  Within 30 minutes she was bored.  To say that my visit was truncated would be putting it mildly.  

Fortunately, Kootenai is a place of great beauty that even a recalcitrant teenager cannot upend.

Above and below:  unidentified dragonflies.

Above and below:  horribly backlit photos of the first spreadwing I've ever found.  Will remain unidentified.  

All weekend long, the sky and clouds were spectacular.

Twelve-spotted skimmer

Savannah sparrows

Close-up of large ant hill

I was surprised there would be an ant hill of this size in Idaho, i.e., so far north.  Seems almost central or south American size - whatever that means.

Purple berries.  I saw these in several places and wondered if birds eat them.

Kootenai River

Savannah sparrow on the road

Cormorant - has to be double-crested.

Architecturally very beautiful barn.  Though I didn't know when I saw it for the first time and took this photo, it turned out to be the property where my nephew's outdoor wedding reception was being held the following evening - on the property of his new wife's parents home.

Here it is again the following evening when we were at the reception. My nephew's wife's grandfather, originally from Sweden, built the barn.  

Taken the evening of the reception perched in a tree across the road from the barn.

We parked our cars in a harvested wheat field.

View from the bride's and groom's wedding party table.

Just down the road from the entrance of Kootenai NWR, this was probably the nicest wedding reception I have ever attended.