..Then Autumn Slowly Glides In

I live where seasons are distinct and vibrant. Winter is introduced by shortened days that beg for hearty soups and the annual search for mittens and wool hats. Just as the gray, dreary days begin to consume winter’s snowy enchantment, Spring arrives with tender budding of crocus and daffodils as it explodes into the lushness of regrowth. Summer slithers into Spring until its intense heat leaves no memory of the refreshing revitalization of April. And then… Autumn slowly glides in with the hint of of chilly evenings and dry air and brilliant blue skies dabbled with billowing clouds.

Autumn is definitely my favorite season. Although it was nearly ninety degrees yesterday, a cold front arrived overnight bringing the crispness that is the cornerstone of pumpkins and apple cider.

Here are some of the first hints of the change of season that I’ve captured recently.

At the edge of our land, large stands of corn are beginning to dry and announce their crop.

The pear trees in our young orchard have produced fruit for the first time.

Goldenrod, a vibrant yellow wild flower, has burst into bloom attracting many nectar seeking insects. It looks like some of them are not just on a hunt for food!

A lovely moth (which I was not able to identify), is taking advantage of nectar from an autumn blooming wild flower. I believe this is White snakeroot. Check out the big, green eyes on that moth!

I found these next couple of pictures to be an interesting example of how images burned into our brains from social media can transfer over to our view of the natural world. My first thought when I looked at these files (since I don’t often see the little details of insects when I am filming) was, “Hey, check out how the moth has two body guards!” Don’t judge me – I’m just sharing my first impression.

Dried wild flowers are consuming the landscape as Autumn slowly glides in. I love this time of year.

Predator

I have mentioned in the past that I enjoy filming the flycatcher species of birds because they make a photographer’s job fairly easy. It’s not uncommon for a bird to sit on a wire (usually in a fairly open space) and wait for a bug to enter its range. The bird flits down towards the ground, nabs the insect, then very often returns to the same spot on the wire or fence post from where it first took off. It’s not just the flycatcher-specific species that present that behavior. Here are a few photos of a Mockingbird I filmed atop a fence, sitting quite still. After a spell, it dropped to the ground where I was able to catch it grabbing a small meal. Then, it returned with its quarry to the top of the fence, again. It repeated that behavior a few times, until the very late afternoon sun dropped behind a tree line and made it challenging to capture.

When the bird activity is scant, I sometimes turn to filming the wildflowers, like these yellow sunflower-ish varieties.

Here’s an image of thistle plant that escaped Robert’s attempt to reduce their invasive ways.

I also enjoy filming insects that happen into my space. Butterflies are a favorite, but they are not easy to catch as they flit about. Here’s a Monarch butterfly feeding on the Iron weed flowers.

An insect that is easier to film is the Dragonfly. Like the fly catching birds, I have noticed that they remain still on a twig or stem for plenty of time to focus in on their beauty. Then, after flitting off, they often return to nearly the same location.

The only bird I saw yesterday was “Stubby” the Song Sparrow. Apparently, he had just taken a dip in the pond and was drying off in a small tree along the bank.

I turned my lens to the dragonflies that were landing along the edges of a mowed grass path. Here’s a guy that clearly has seen better days. His wings are quite tattered.

To be totally honest, all the while that I am filming dragonflies, I don’t really think very deeply about them. I’m going to attribute that to the fact that filming dragonflies is a side diversion in which I engage when there aren’t any birds around to photograph. However, my attitude about snapping a shot of a dragonfly changed when I began looking through the shots I took, yesterday. This next guy was acting predictably – hanging on the thick stem of a weed plant, then flying off, and returning to the same spot on that plant.

The third time I captured him hanging on that same stem seemed just like the first two until I looked more intently. This dragonfly had what appeared to be a small moth in his jaws and he was busy consuming it! I had actually never contemplated what dragonflies eat. But, looking at his mouth, which protrudes forward tell the story of how this insect makes a living.

Although I had never thought about it, the dragonfly behavior is very similar to the fly catching birds! They perch waiting to spot their next opportunity for a meal. They often return to the perched spot, just like the birds. I’m amazed that I never made the association, but I’m happy that I finally had a reason to connect the dots!

I consider myself quite fortunate to have caught these few photos. Although I was looking for birds, I found another gem. It’s a wonderful gift that I’m happy to share.

‘Scuze me, Just Got Out Of The Bath

As I sat filming the half dozen or so butterflies feeding from the wildflowers that thrive at the the north end of the pond, I began hearing the chirp-chirp of a Common Yellow-throat. Yes, it’s a common bird – I hear them in many areas of our property. But, it’s as difficult to see as it is common. Until I was able to distinguish its vocalizations, I wasn’t able to recognize how common it truly is.

The Common Yellow-throat is a warbler. I’m not sure why it doesn’t have the warbler designation in its name. Most of the other warblers have monikers like Kentucky Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler etc.. But it is a warbler, and that means it’s small, likes to hang out in the shady undergrowth and when it does show itself it doesn’t stick around for long.

Here’s a photo I took earlier this year (6/16/21) of a male Common Yellow-throat that chose to remain both in the sun at the top of a tree, and for a good long while – versus typical warbler standards.

As I sat filming the butterflies, my attention was drawn to the chirping, but the low brush was quite dense from which the sound was coming. I figured I might never see the little bird, but it didn’t stop me from turning my gaze towards the dense bush to my left every time I heard it.

Finally, I spotted movement and aimed my camera. I apologize for the lack of focus. It was a quick moment in time, shooting into the shadowy underbrush. Even though he was quite wet, which I assume was from having taken a quick bath on the bank of the pond, his yellow feathers were obvious. Although the pictures are clearly out of focus – as the lens captured the limb of the bush, rather than the bird, I still think it’s worth sharing these photos because; yeah, how often do you get to see a Common Yellow-throat, and even more so how often do you get to see one that just stepped out of the bath?

Let It Be Native – Please

First, purple is my absolute favorite color. Let that be known.

There’s a wildflower which grows around our property that blooms at this time of year. It has the most interesting pineapple inspired buds that burst into brilliant purple blooms which look like an amazing fireworks display. Since the birds haven’t been very abundant lately, I have had to turn to other lovely creatures like the butterflies that flit about as I wait for a special bird to pop out of the brush. These incredible purple flowers are quite attractive to the butterflies that are working hard to consume nectar at this time of the season.

The Monarch butterfly – Illinois’ State Butterfly – is easy to spot with it’s deep orange hue bordered with black, stained-glass-window like sections. The yellow butterfly I filmed is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. It’s just as beautiful as the Monarch, even if less easy to remember by name. Truly, tigers aren’t yellow! But, the Monarch butterfly sure looks like a tiger!

When I decided to create this post, I thought it would be prudent to determine the actual name of the plant which explodes in my favorite color, but I was worried. I feared I would discover that it was an invasive species that should be eradicated for its lethal strangle of some other indigenous species. I love these purple blooms so much that I actually found myself chanting, “please, please let it be native.” I also engated in the head-talk, “even if it’s not endemic, I’m not going to dig it up. I love it!”

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to learn that this favorite prairie flower of mine is called Ironweed and it is native to my area – and many other locations. It gets its name from its very tough stem.

The color opposite purple on the color wheel (an artists’ tool to understand color pairings) is yellow. Even if yellow and purple didn’t complement each other in such a formal way, my eye has always appreciated the pairing of the two hues. Perhaps, that’s why I appreciate that the ironweed and bright yellow wildflowers bloom around the same time. Here’s a few photos of a stand of black-eyed susans that grow wild on our property.

There are also tall stands of sunflower-like blooms around our pond at this time. Here are a few images of those plants, which I have not been able to identify, yet.

The ironweed, which by the way has many varieties (Missouri, Giant, Smooth etc…) is a perfect compliment to these cheery, sunflower like plants, and it feeds the winged jewels, too!

I’m so pleased that this purple beauty is a native species. I actually found that it’s considered a cultivar, as well. If you want to add some to your garden and attract butterflies and other nectar loving insects, look for it at your local or on-line nursery.

Here’s Stubby

Except for the dozen or so Ruby-throated hummingbirds that are consuming about 6 cups of nectar every day as they attempt to put on sufficient weight for their outrageously long migration coming up, it’s been very quiet here regarding bird activity. I saw a large, white heron-like bird fly over the pond a couple of days ago, but it didn’t land. Based on its size and the list of what it could have been, I’m assuming it was a Great Egret. I saw it about a week ago, as well. It was the same time of day (an hour before sunset) and the bird was flying in the same direction. I suppose it fishes somewhere south of our property and roosts for the evening north of here. Perhaps, I will be fortunate enough to capture it in the view finder of my camera one day. I’d be thrilled if it landed for a bite to eat in our pond.

I still here Indigo Buntings, Bell’s Vireo’s and Common Yellow-thoats singing, but I haven’t laid eyes on them. Two days ago, the EBird app was “almost certain” that I recorded a Yellow-breasted Chat, but it was a brief vocalization and I still haven’t seen that bird. Blue Jays and Crows are beginning to vocalize more. That makes me think autumn, but it’s 95 degrees outside and due to more rain than usual this summer, it’s lush and green. It hardly seems like fall is on its way. But, the lack of bird sights and sounds tells me otherwise.

After a couple of weeks when I couldn’t get out due to a golf-cart break-down, I was excited to to see what was going on. But, I was a bit disappointed. The Tree Swallows that came early in Spring and were successful fledging one or two nests-full of chicks, are gone. The Bluebird couple which had started brood number four the last time I checked, had fledged and all I found were hundreds of ants crawling over the box. Yuck!

I was excited when, as I sat quietly in a patch of shade on the north side of the pond inlet, I saw what I thought might be a new bird – one I may have never filmed before. I was hoping it was a unique species for my list of birds that visit our property. It landed at the top of a small tree and flicked its tail like a wren. But, I knew it wasn’t a House Wren. It clearly wasn’t a Carolina Wren. Those were the only wrens species I’ve seen here. Maybe it was a Marsh Wren! I have never seen one of those – but, it is a species that can breed in this area.

Due to a vision issue in my right eye, and the fact that birds move far too quickly for me to execute much more than and aim-focus-shoot strategy to capture an image, my process to determine a bird’s identity requires that I wait and download the photos to my office computer where I can view them on my large monitor. So, I stuck to my process and took as many photos of the possibly-new bird as possible.

Lucky for me, it stuck around at the top of the tree long enough for the sun to come out from behind a large cloud. After a short interval when it flew across to the south side of the inlet, it returned to perch on a lower branch of the same tree. And, then it flew to the ground, and albeit in the shadow of later afternoon, it hunted long enough for me to get a couple of decent shots (good enough to identify the bird, for certain.)

Then, I remained as patient as possible until I traveled back to the house to view what I had filmed. Well, it wasn’t a Marsh Wren. It wasn’t a wren at all. Although, if you look at these couple of photos and envision that I couldn’t really see the bird’s markings from where I was sitting, you might understand why I made the mistake.

This is a Song Sparrow. Although they are abundant around our property, this is a very special, little individual. This is “Stubby.” I have filmed him before in the exact, same location. But then, he appeared to be in very poor condition. His tail feathers had been ripped from his body and his flesh was still raw from whatever nearly ended his life. Perhaps it was a Cooper’s hawk or many the neighbor’s cat.

On June 29 (nearly two months ago!), I took these photos of the bird. Although not in optimal physical shape, he was still singing his little heart out!

I spotted and filmed him again on July 14. H was still looking a bit tattered, and it appeared he had lost his single remaining tail feather.

The reason I thought the bird I saw yesterday was a wren, and not the Song Sparrow he turned out to be, was not just because of the way he held his tail feathers, but because of the way the bird flew. I didn’t recognize “sparrow” when he took flight across the pond, or down to the ground. That’s because he can’t fly right without all his feathers! Still, even though he bobbles in the air, apparently he can thrive. I was excited beyond belief to see that Stubby was catching grubs – lots of them – far more than he would consume on his own. I believe that he is likely feeding chicks! It may seem late in the summer for such activity, but what I have read is that when a season is abundant with resources, the species can produce four or more broods. I’m glad that Stubby was able to secure a mate that enjoyed his song, even though he was was a bit plumage-disabled! He’s clearly tenacious and that has to be an admirable trait.

Enjoy a few more photos of this cute, little survivor!

Levels of Ruby

Only the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has the distinctive ruby throat. On occasion, I have been confused by a male that is holding back displaying his iridescent red feathers – thinking the bird was a female. Depending upon the light and the way the bird holds the feathers on his neck, the ruby color can be brilliant beyond belief or pretty darn drab.

Here are a few examples of that phenomenon.

Here is a second male Hummer that likes to perch on the garden fence.

The Birds & The Bees

Earlier I posted a couple of photos of the Bumble Bees that have been taking advantage of the nectar we offer to the Hummingbirds.

I was able to get some photos of Hummers feeding in the presence of the bees. They truly don’t seem to mind that the bees are hogging some of the feeders. I suppose the fact that we have numerous feeders available helps that situation.

Here’s a female that seems to have a little summen’ on her beak. I have read that hummingbirds eat spiders or the insects that are caught in their webs, which is why I sometimes film them with spider webs on their beaks.

It’s Hot!

This little House Wren was panting quite a bit when I encountered him in the late afternoon. At first I thought it was a recent hatchling and he was open-jawed awaiting a feeding from his parent. Then I captured him singing. I’m pretty sure that’s an adults-only activity. So, I think he was just quite hot.

He offered up some interesting poses!

Bumble Bee Sugar-Fest

I’m not exactly certain why we have so many bees visiting the nectar feeders this year. It’s outrageously more than in previous times. I believe that these are Common Eastern Bumble Bees.

As I try to determine the reason for the bees’ apparent need / desire to get nectar from our hummingbird feeders, I can think of a few possibilities. This is the first year that we’ve hung many, small feeders, rather than a few larger ones. One side effect of this strategy is that the male hummers cannot hang out and defend a single source of food. I’ve seen two males perched fairly close together in the general area of the nectar carousel and the additional mini-feeders on the small deck platform just ten feet away. Perhaps, without a male hummingbird chasing off other birds, the bees also feel more secure hanging out on the feeders.

The mini-feeders happen to have a yellow plastic flower at the opening. I have considered that the yellow flower is more attractive to the bees.

Perhaps the natural nectar source has been depleted compared to previous years. This brings up a struggle that I have with our own land management. When we moved here twenty years ago (OMG I can’t believe it’s been that long!), most of the 50 acres had been used for cash crops. To support our flock of sheep (which we maintained in order to train our Border Collies for herding endeavors, as well as host herding trials and offer herding lessons) we planted pasture grasses and red clover. When our life’s mission moved from livestock herding to other ventures, we sold the sheep but kept the fields in the prairie grasses that had naturalized over the years. However, to reduce the invasion of shrubs, we contracted a local farmer to cut hay off the fields. It was our best way to maintain the “grazed” condition of the land.

The second cutting 2021

However, we cannot control the Hay Guy’s schedule or weather that he uses to select the timing for hay production. This year, we have had a lot of rain. The Hay Guy needs a few consecutive days of dry weather to produce hay. Rain on yet-to-be-baled hay can introduce mold which can actually be quite harmful to the animals that consume the hay during the winter months. The second cutting of hay happened quite early, when there were many flowers in bloom (like the red and white clover, as well as other wild flowers.) There are still many hedgerows that were not cut, and due to the topography, the Hay Guy doesn’t cut around our pond. We also have permitted a couple of two-to-three acre parcels to go “shrubby” to encourage some wild bird species. For that reason, many wild, flowering plants still remain. However, I wonder if the bees were left wanting for a good nectar source, so they have turned to the hummingbird feeders.

And, finally, perhaps there is just a spike in the population of the Common Eastern Bumble bee species this year. Who knows? Well, yes, somebody knows. There have been many reports of declining numbers of bee species across the country. I found one reference that suggested that the Common Eastern Bumble bee may have an “expanding range” but that doesn’t mean the population is increasing. HERE is a reference that briefly describes the declining numbers in bumble bee populations.

Curiously, the Hummingbirds do not appear to be ill affected by the large numbers of bees on the feeders that we offer. I suppose that is because we have sufficient feeders, and the birds can simply move to the next option.

I do wonder if the fact that the bees are securing nectar from this artificial source if it might have an adverse effect on their ability to pollinate the plants that depend upon them for that service. I suppose if they are feeding from our feeders because they can’t find enough wild flowers, that wouldn’t be an issue! What I do know is that keeping in touch with nature, if even simply via hanging a flowering plant or hummingbird feeder on your back patio, can provide a myriad of thoughts and perspectives on life, which can take out outside of our own ego-driven point of view. I believe that is a good thing.

Doe, A Deer

This white-tailed deer was on the other side of the hedgerow, in the neighbor’s soybean field. I was sitting in the middle of our recently cut hay field when I noticed the movement, but wasn’t sure what I was observing. Then, rather than stay on the other side of the fence when she noticed me (which seemed like the safer option from a deer’s perspective – I would think), she decided to jump the fence into the hay field. She was probably 175 feet away from me.

The lovely creature began to saunter slowly across the field, while the bright sunshine illuminated her beauty. When she stopped dead in her tracks – rather than continuing to move on across the field and back into safety – I suspected that she probably had a fawn with her.

Indeed, she not only had one youngster, but two fawns. She paused for a moment and looked over her shoulder. Once she was aware that the babes were free of the obstacle, she began to pick up speed as she trotted across the field and then down what I call the “corridor” near the old house.

The fawns were a good fifty feet behind her, so I was never able to capture the threesome in the same frame. I kept my focus on the easier, larger target, and snapped these couple of images.

I think the doe looked very fit and healthy; her tawny coat was so shiny in the sunlight. It was a nice surprise!