Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The three baby Cattle Egrets...and mama from behind

These are the same Cattle Egrets from the previous post. Mama left the nest for a few minutes to chase away a Night-crowned Heron, and when she returned, she faced the other direction, showing off her beautiful nuptial plumage.

A Cattle Egret nestling looks on as his mama jumps up to convince a Night-crowned Heron to move on to his own nest!

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Avian Architecture" and a Cattle Egret building a nest...

Let's jump all the way back to the first week of June when I was in Hilton Head, SC. Just before I had left for the trip, I had started reading "Avian Architecture; How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build" by Peter Goodfellow. Since I was headed to a heronry, I knew I'd be able to see lots of examples of nest building, and I did. I found platform nests, cup-shaped nests, hanging, woven and stitched nests, domed nests, holes and tunnels, and aquatic nests. If I had not been reading "Avian Architecture" at the time, I don't know if I would have been as intent on finding all the different types of nests. In years pasts at the heronry, I always admired and was amazed by the nests, and I had a cursory understanding of their structure, but it took reading "Avian Architecture" to really bring the engineering to life and deepen my appreciation of the building process. It's a great book to add to your birding library. I love it. Blue prints, photographs and lovely watercolors help you assimilate a lot of information quickly. It won't take long to help you understand another facet of bird life.

A Cattle Egret adds another stick to the nest. Cattle Egrets are colonial nesters and build platform nests near water, so it was no surprise to find them nesting in the heronry at Ibis Pond.

Male and female Cattle Egrets look similar and both parents participate in nest building, but often the male brings the sticks and the female places them; therefore, I'm deducing this is a female Cattle Egret.

...the nestlings seem to be saying something like, "Adding to the nest is all fine and good, but we're hungry. Feed us!"

...the perfect the perfect place.

Here are a few videos of the mama Cattle Egret arranging her nest. In the first video she's adding a new stick and in the second, she's trying to reposition an older twig that doesn't seem to want to budge. the first video you'll hear a conversation between me and Paul Krusling (the Cincinnati birder and expert herpetologist I had to travel 12 hours to meet! Click here for a previous post on Paul.)

Cattle Egret Building Nest from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Cattle Egret continues tidying her nest... from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Boston Harbor Herring Gull...and a Barking Crab...

A Boston Harbor Herring Gull from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

We came to Boston for history, staying in the North End and walking the Freedom Trail, but Matty loves seafood, so when he remembered Adam Richman (from Man v. Food) had eaten at the Barking Crab in Boston, we had to make it a destination.

The Barking Crab off Boston Harbor at Fort Point Landing--it hugs the water and has lots of personality. We had such a good time there--the waitress was fun, the people around us were fun...everything about it was a party.

...Matty standing outside the Crab. He loves old buildings, dives, and, of course, Adam Richman ate there, so this place was perfect!

...the Barking Crab was easy to get to by water taxi (we used Rowe's Water Taxis to and from the airport and around the harbor...very easy). After eating, we walked back to our hotel sticking to the harbor walk. Along the way we stopped at the Blues Barge to listen to live music (so cool). After that we saw the Herring Gull on the old piers and sat down next to him for a was a perfect evening!

The Barking Crab in Boston from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

...Matty tasting some of the fare at the Barking Crab. (I took this video with my's a great little camera too!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Boston Sparrow...and a Boston Freedom Trail Sampler

...on Sunday Matty and I planned a last-minute trip to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. Rick had to work, but we really wanted to walk through history, so we went for it, and I'm so glad we did! Boston was amazing. We stayed in the North End and walked everywhere, burning up tons of calories so we could eat tons of incredible Italian food...

...of course, wherever we are, birds are part of it, and Matty and I loved all the Boston city birds. When we first arrived, we took a water taxi to our hotel, and as soon as we set out into the harbor cormorants flew by...up close and gorgeous. Lots of gulls and a few terns were along the docks...and among the city buildings and in the parks, sweet little English House Sparrows were everywhere. This little sparrow was just a few feet from me in the King's Chapel Burying Ground...

A Boston Sparrow from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

We got home early this evening, so I thought I'd throw a Boston Freedom Trail "Sampler" up quickly. I didn't take my big camera with me, opting to travel light, so I used my little Panasonic Lumix and my iPhone. They both worked out well...

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

...Matty walks towards Quincy's Market...across from...

...Faneuil Hall...

...where that very famous grasshopper has been perched for a very long time...

...tombstone art...always a favorite of mine.

...and there's lots to go around in Boston. This design is a little different from the norm...

The Paul Revere memorial in the Granary burying Ground...

For making such a large mark on history, Revere's tombstone is remarkably modest.

"Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes..."
Bunker Hill Monument (...located on Breed's Hill where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.)

...more to come.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dickcissels at Fernald Preserve

Friday afternoon I made my first-ever trip to Fernald Preserve. It's on the west side of town about 45 minutes from my house, so it's not that far, but even as recently as five years ago I would never have considered going there. Fernald was a uranium processing plant opened in 1951, and to anyone who was a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the 60s and 70s, it was a very scary place. In the early and mid 80s, reports of radioactive leaks and environmental contamination coupled with illnesses from people living near the plant always dominated the headlines. Needless to say, at that time the word "Fernald" was never associated with anything good, but the place was closed in 1989 and became a government Superfund cleanup site. A 4.4 billion dollar cleanup project followed and in 2008 Fernald Preserve was the result. Now, sweeping meadows filled with native plants identified from an 1819 land survey of the area cover the 1,050-acre site, and grassland birds such as Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Henslow's Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows are nesting. Holding ponds dot the preserve and attract waterfowl throughout the year, and during the winter Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers are always reported. Basically, the former radioactive toxic wasteland has become a birder's paradise...

...a beautiful Dickcissel (Spiza americana) perches in the meadow near the Nature Center at Fernald Preserve. Look closely at his lower's blue!

...the meadows were filled with Dickcissels. I've never seen so many in one place.

...yellows and blacks on the front, rich browns and rusts on the back...

...his russet shoulder patch stands out nicely in the sun.

...with his pattern of bright yellow and black on his chest, it's easy to see why this bird is sometimes called the "Little Meadowlark..."

...of course his constant singing from the highest perch might add to that moniker too!

...because Fernald's reputation was so notorious in the 80s and 90s (even after the continued reports of Fernald's transformation over the past couple of years), friends wanted me to check in with them upon my return to make sure I wasn't glowing--luckily, I wasn't (except from the heat!). I will definitely go back to Fernald. I'd like to spend more time in the meadows to get closer to the Dickcissels for better photographs. I had to crop these photos down more than I like, and the quality suffers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris diffinis)

When I saw this furry little hummingbird lookalike fly up to a milkweed blossom, I at first thought he was a Hummingbird Clearing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), but when he turned sideways, I could see he was wearing a little black mask and black gloves, making him a Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris diffnis)...

A Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris diffinis) nectars on Common Milkweed.

The little black mask on his face and the black gloves on his legs give him away as a Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris diffinis). The other Hummingbird moth, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), has no mask and has lighter colored legs. Click here for a previous post on Hemaris thysbe.

While nectaring, hummingbird moths stabilize their hovering by placing their front legs on the blossom.

...such a furry little body! He looks more like a tiny flying mouse than a moth. I'm surprised he doesn't have the nickname Hummingbird Mouse...since "flying mouse" (Die Fledermaus, Bat) is already taken!

Hummingbird moths start with maroon-colored wings, but after their first flight, the scales start to drop off, creating the "clear wings" for which they are named.

This Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth was nectaring at Shawnee State Park just outside the nature center in the butterfly garden.

...the yellow bands on the inside of his abdomen cause some to worry his is a very large bumble bee, but don't worry, the Snowberry Clearwing has no stinger. He just likes to drink nectar...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Least Sandpipers along the Great Miami River...

Great Miami River? Me? I'm all about the Little Miami, but over the past week, I've jumped rivers and have canoed and hiked the Great Miami near North Bend, Ohio with Paul Krusling trying to find and photograph the ten species of turtles that live there. Paul is an expert herpetologist who has been studying and researching reptiles and amphibians for most of his life. Currently he is one of three authors writing a comprehensive book on the turtles of Ohio. How on earth did I (who knows nothing about turtles) cross paths with Paul (who knows everything)? He's a birder too, and I met him while I was birding on Pinckney Island in South Carolina. Funny how I had to travel 12 hours to meet a Cincy birder. I will have more posts on Paul and the turtles soon, but for now, here is a quick look at a few Least Sandpipers foraging in the mudflats along the Great Miami River.

A Least Sandpiper forages in mudflats along a holding lake off the Great Miami River in the Oxbow region.

...although the tiniest of all the peeps, the Least Sandpiper is chunky with a wide little belly! addition to being the smallest shorebird, Least Sandpipers are the only peeps with yellowish-green legs. he is in a characteristic posture where he is dipping forward with a sharp bend in his legs.

...a lone Least Sandpiper forages on a floating algae mat.

…it’s amazing how the glimmer of a small flock of tiny birds across the water can make your heart jump. I don't get to see these tiny birds very often, so I was really excited when they came into view. I mostly bird the Little Miami River, which lacks the mudflats the Least Sandpipers love. I really enjoyed canoeing the Great Miami River. We went all the way to Indiana, and I saw much of the Oxbow region. I can already tell I will be returning to this area a lot. Photographing birds from a canoe is fun--a lot different from the stability of land, and even though these photos aren't that great, I would never have gotten this close sneaking up through the woods!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fuzzy like a face, Queen Anne’s Lace; smooth with purple spots, cemetery plots!

One of my favorite wildflowers is Queen Anne’s Lace. The delicate white flowers sit atop slender long stems in downy clusters, swaying gracefully in even the softest of summer breezes. As a child, I knew Queen Anne's Lace was also called wild carrot. Its root looked and smelled a lot like a carrot, but I never wanted to eat it, thank goodness, because until a few years ago, I didn't know its near look-alike relative was Poison Hemlock, which if eaten is deadly enough to kill a person!

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is a familiar flower in fields and along roadsides in summer.

...the distinctive flat flower-top of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) looks beautiful in the field...or in a vase!

I think I need to back up a bit to start this story, so let's go back to June. Lots of things went on during that month...vacation, day trips, work, school, and finally our week in Shawnee, and I was hardly home, but that didn't stop all the plants and weeds in my garden from growing! Finally, July came along, and I had time to check out the yard. I always let Queen Anne’s Lace grow along the stony path and hillside that leads from our driveway to the back yard, so I’m used to seeing it there, but as I looked out the back window, I could see we had a new clump of it under the big Ash Tree beside the pool…and it was huge! The height and new location of the plant made me suspicious, so I decided to check it out. As I grew closer to the plant, I could tell the blooms were similar, but the plant was definitely not Queen Anne's Lace, so I was not surprised when I saw purple spots and blotches up and down the thick stem. I immediately went back inside and got Matty because I wanted him to see the plant. “Do you remember what was put in Socrates' drink to kill him?” I asked Matty.
“Poison Hemlock,” he said.
Pointing at the plant, I said, “That’s Poison Hemlock. The same plant that killed Socrates. So don’t eat any of it! For that matter, don’t touch it without gloves either!”

…angelic enough looking, the dainty white flowers of Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) resemble the blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace...but watch out because these flowers are deadly!

...a fly clings to the beautiful Poison Hemlock blossoms. Like Queen Anne's Lace, Poison Hemlock was introduced from Europe, but unlike Queen Anne's Lace, which was brought over for medicinal uses (and later became the genetic base of our modern-day carrot), Poison Hemlock was introduced later in the 1880s as an ornamental.

Matty asked how he could tell the two plants apart. I told him the quickest way was to look at the stem. Queen Anne’s Lace has a fuzzy stem, while Poison Hemlock has a smooth stem. Poison Hemlock usually has purple spots on it too. We started talking, and I said there should be a rhyme to help tell the two plants apart like the “Leaves of three; let it be” warning for Poison Ivy, and without skipping a beat, Matty came out with, “Fuzzy like a face, Queen Ann’s Lace; smooth with purple spots, cemetery plots!!” I laughed!
“That’s good, Matty. It's going on the blog...”

Fuzzy like a face, Queen Anne's Lace!

...smooth with purple spots, cemetery plots!

The leaves of both plants look similar too, resembling carrot tops:

…leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace.

…leaves of Poison Hemlock.

…another difference...when crushed, the leaves of Poison Hemlock do not smell very good!

We also have a native hemlock plant in our area, Water Hemlock (Circuta maculata). It looks a lot like Poison Hemlock but doesn't have the fernlike leaves. I don't have a photo of Water Hemlock. I've seen it growing at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, Ohio, but haven't actively looked for it around here. As its name implies, Water Hemlock likes to grow around ponds and lake, streams, and wet ditches. It's also deadly...