Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Smooth Sumac in Kentucky

...but first a quick update! A lot of you have written me to ask where I've been because I haven't posted since August! I'm here and well, but I was knee deep in a house remodel. We've redone our first floor...all the wood floors were stripped, sanded, stained, etc., walls were knocked down, a staircase pulled out and a new one put in, and finally painting. During it all my library/home office has been packed up, and my computer hauled to work. There was so much to do that poor little Red suffered. Yesterday we were able to put part of my office together, so I thought I'd try to write a quick post. (My cousin, Curg, wrote me earlier today that he is sick of seeing the hummingbird in the previous post. He needs new nature material, and he needs it now, so this one is for you, Curg!)

Autumn color for us, and winter food for the birds...
Last week when Matty was on a short fall break, we headed down to Blue Licks State Park in Kentucky. The trees were gorgeous, the weather was perfect, and it was incredibly relaxing to be out in the woods. I didn't bring my camera with me because everything was packed up, but I was able to get a few nice shots with my cell phone. Nothing beats the reds of autumn...

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) berries glow red in the field. 
A colony of Smooth Sumac was growing in an open field along the Savannah trail, and the bright red leaves and the deep red berries (drupes) were eye catching, so we stopped to take a closer look. I posted on Staghorn Sumac last November, which looks very similar to Smooth Sumac. A clue to telling them apart is in their name. The branches on Smooth Sumac are smooth, while the branches on Staghorn Sumac are furry like the antlers on a stag when "in velvet." Smooth Sumac is a little smaller as well, and its range extends further south. In Ohio, we have both. I love seeing any type of sumac in the wild, because I know winter birds will have emergency food waiting for them this winter. (Click here for the post "Staghorn Sumac is for the birds..." to learn how these plants help birds survive the coldest days of winter and early spring when other food is scarce.)

Both Smooth and Staghorn Sumac are native to Ohio, and both offer stores of food for the birds in the dead of winter when the "tastier" berries have all been consumed.

Smooth Sumac brightens any field, especially in fall when its leaves turn a brilliant red.

Smooth Sumac, like Staghorn Sumac is not Poison Sumac. It is a wetland species and has white berries and smooth leaves. Click here and here for more info on Poison Sumac.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hummingbirds and sunflowers...

We often think of hummingbirds sipping nectar from red, tubular-shaped flowers, but if you've ever spent any time around sunflowers, you know they are a favorite of hummers too...

A juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from a disc floret on a sunflower.
...and there is a reason hummingbirds love sunflowers. If you look closely at the center disc of a sunflower (or a black-eyed susan, zinnia, or any other daisy-like flower), you'll find hundreds of tiny tubular shaped flowers (called florets). These little florets are perfect flowers that each contain drops of nectar.

Hummers have precise eye-bill coordination to be able to hover and drink from such a tiny cup!
A happy hummer!

What is a composite flower?
A composite flower looks like one big flower, but it's really an inflorescence (or grouping) of hundreds of tiny flowers called florets. Daisies, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, zinnias, asters, dandelions, etc., are all composite flowers.  There are two types of florets in a composite flower:

Ray florets - are located along the perimeter of the flower head and form what look like petals that "radiate" out from the center (which is why they are called rays). Ray florets contain only a pistil (the female reproductive organ).

Disc florets - form the center disc of the flower head. Disc florets have a stamen and a pistil, so they are considered tiny, perfect flowers. Hundreds of disc florets create the flower head.

("Perfect" flowers contain both reproductive organs--a pistil (the female reproductive organs) and stamens (the male reproductive organs; the anthers contain the pollen). Lilies, daffodils, petunias, etc. are perfect flowers.)

Cross-section of a composite flower
When you realize that a composite flower is made up of hundreds of florets, all of which are tiny tubular flowers filled with nectar, it's easy to see why hummingbirds love sunflowers!

When the florets are finished blooming, and the seeds ripen (in the ovary of the pistil), American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals take over...

An American Goldfinch eats sunflower seeds in the late evening light.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Female Baltimore Oriole

I saw this Baltimore Oriole on May 14, 2014 along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. A male Baltimore Oriole was much higher in the canopy of the tree flaunting his brilliant orange feathers, but this little female, understated in faded orange, was just as sweet, and she came in closer…

Female Baltimore Oriole, Magee Marsh, Toledo, OH (5-14-2014).

A female Baltimore Oriole studies a caterpillar before gobbling it up. Orioles also eat berries and even drink nectar from fruit blossoms.

I think it's hard to tell juvenile and female Baltimore Oriole's apart. Since this was early May, and most Baltimore Orioles don't return to Lake Erie until the first week of May, I assumed this was a female. Nest building starts soon after they arrive, and most babies fledge in late June and early July. 

Females build beautiful hanging nests. If you're in Cincinnati, you can often find a nest at Lake Isabella. I've seen nests there, and in the autumn, when the leaves fall from the trees, you can find the remnants of the summer's nesting activities! Click here for a photo of an oriole's nest.

This post is for Aunt Diane and Curg, whose spark bird was a male Baltimore Oriole they saw at Armleder Park (aka Armendinger Park) in Cincinnati, OH.

p.s. I'm enjoying our cooler weather. It was 49 degrees this morning, and I just had to go in and get a fleece-lined flannel shirt so I could continue sitting outside while I write this post.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Great Crested Flycatcher along the boardwalk...

With a sunshine-yellow belly and a loud, cheerful call, the Great Crested Flycatcher represents summer well. I don't get to see them often, though, because they like to hang out high in the canopy, so I was happy when one came into view along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh…

The famous lemon yellow belly of a Great Crested Flycatcher is always a welcome sight on a summer day.

Great Crested Flycatchers don't have much of a crest when they are at rest!

The little "whiskers" around the base of the bill are called "rictal bristles." They have a sensory function to help flycatchers snatch insects from the air.

...there's the start of the crest!
...and it's back down.
...and there we have it (not as "great" as a cardinal's crest, but pretty none-the-less). 

About rictal bristles...
Rictal bristles are modified contour feathers (the outer feathers you can see). Contour feathers have a central rachis (also called a shaft) from which the vanes (the feathery part) attach. A vane is made of individual barbs (filaments). A rictal bristle is a feather without the barbs…just the rachis.

Flycatchers have rictal bristles around their bills to help them sense flying insects, but rictal bristles can also be protective by helping to keep insects out of a bird's eyes, or in the case of woodpeckers, by helping to keep wood chips out of their eyes. If you want to learn more about feather structure, click here for info on Cornell's "All About Birds" site.

I saw this bird at the Biggest Week in American birding on the Magee Marsh boardwalk back in May.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Tis the season for baby birds...

Rick spotted this newly fledged American Robin in our front yard this morning. It was about 7:15, and the grass was still wet with dew. The little bird was sitting in the grass pecking around in the ground, looking like he was not at all happy with the prospect of digging his own worms for breakfast...

A small clump of dirt clings to this fledgling's bill, evidence of his recent attempts of being the early bird getting the worm.

...gotta love the little downy "hair tufts" still clinging to his head!

Momma Robin was nearby in the tree keeping an eye on the fledgling.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A whole bunch of cute...

Our little office Killdeer chicks (from this post) hatched Monday—our first successful brood! Larry spotted the babies running in and out of the rocks and up and down the grassy banks in the early afternoon. I went home to get the camera, and by the time I returned a mowing crew had descended. Drama for the chicks! Within a few hours of hatching out of the safety of their eggs, a mighty iron beast was chasing them around Seapine's north green. What an introduction to the world!

Clover blossoms tower over the tiny Seapine Killdeer Chick #1.
I flagged down the lawnmower man, and pointed out the chicks to him. He promised to keep the lawnmower crew away from their nesting grounds. These fluffy little chicks will spend a good portion of their lives watching for and escaping from predators, they didn't need to spend their first few hours scurrying away from a lawnmower. Three of the four eggs in the nest hatched, and all three chicks are still doing well. I watched them running around outside my office this afternoon. Adorable!

Seapine Killdeer Chick #2

Seapine Killdeer Chick #3

Precocial chicks are up and running within hours of hatching. These chicks are just a few hours old.

After hatching out of their shells and waiting for their feathers to dry, precocial Killdeer chicks are ready to run around. They quickly start pecking at the ground, learning to look for insects and other food. Even though they can run around, they can't fly yet and are not completely self-sufficient. They still need their parents for protection. If you get too close, the parents will call out a warning, and the chicks will freeze and hunker down. When the parents feel all is well, they give the all clear with another call. I was seated on the ground fairly far away (these photos are heavily cropped), so the parents didn't perceive me as a threat, and I didn't get to see the behavior.

...balls of fluff with legs.

Killdeer couples can have 1-3 broods a season, so since their first brood was successful, there is a chance they will nest here again after this brood. Killdeer chicks will stay with their parents for about a month, then they fledge and move on. If we're lucky, we will get another go around with these cute birds!

Go Seapine wildlife!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wood Ducks in a tree...

…when you hear a noise, look up, and see a male and female Wood Duck perched in a tree above you, you can't help but smile (or even, as in my case, laugh out loud). It is fun seeing these dignified and beautiful birds romping around in a tree. It shouldn't be surprising though—they nest in cavities in trees, but if you're not used to seeing "ducks out of water," it can take you by surprise...

Male and female Wood Ducks perch high above the boardwalk at Magee Marsh (near Toledo, OH).
Male Wood Ducks are such dapper fellows, impeccably groomed with a flair that surpasses all of their other ducky cousins. Their outrageously colorful plumage complements the female's understated and elegant markings, and they both possess a sophisticated charm that belies their ability to perch in trees!

When you see those little webbed feet wrapped around a branch, you have to smile!
Wood Ducks have small claws on their toes that enable them to climb in trees and perch easily, which comes in handy when choosing a nesting cavity! Since Wood Ducks don't have the ability to drill out their own holes like a woodpecker, they often use abandoned woodpecker holes (or man-made nesting boxes). They can use cavities with entrances as small as four inches, and they often prefer the smaller size because it helps keep out predators (source: Cornell, All About Birds). When baby Wood Ducks venture out of their nest (only a day after hatching), they truly make a leap of faith. Mama Wood Duck whistles for them below on the  ground or in the water if the nest is above water, coaxing them out of their safe, warm home. They fling themselves clear of the entrance and fall...and fall...and fall to the ground or water below. They can endure tremendous falls, bouncing like balls when they hit the ground or bobbing like corks when they hit the water. I've read reports of drops from 50-60 feet up to 290 feet (Cornell). Their fluffy feathers and the fact that their bodies are still mostly composed of cartilage instead of bone keeps them safe.

For a few videos showing baby Wood Ducks dropping out of their nesting cavity, click here and here.

...the head-on view of our Woody's face. I love the red eyes, red bill and green forehead and crown from this angle!
Woodies live in wooded swamps, in woods along rivers and streams, and in bottomland forests, which is why I see them any time I canoe the Little Miami River in the summer. Click here for an earlier post of an encounter Rick and I had with juvenile Wood Ducks on the Little Miami River.

I took these photos on May 13, 2014 while I was at the Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh in Toledo, OH.

In the Cincinnati area, it's easy to find Wood Ducks along the Little Miami River. Click here to learn more about the scenic Little Miami.