Thursday, June 19, 2014

Red hot poker attracts orioles‏

We usually choose flowers for our yard that are known to attract birds or butterflies. For example we have in our yard coral honeysuckle, fire pink, cardinal flower, and red buckeye, all native and liked by hummingbirds.  Last year, however, we planted a red hot poker (Kniphofia species)from South Africa based only on its striking beauty, but much to our excitement it turns out to be absolutely loved by orchard orioles.The male (adult and juvenile) and female orioles come to the flowers many times daily and drink nectar from the open flowers at the bottom of the flower head. Goldfinches have also come to the flowers. Apparently there are different species of poker that can greatly extend the flowering season, as can dead-heading the flower stalks to prevent seed formation.
I believe that it is more beneficial in terms of nutrition to feed birds in this way, with flowers bearing nectar, than to provide artificial nectar with sugar water. I certainly find it appeals to my sense of "ecological correctness" even though the flowers may be exotic. 

Bill Dunson 

Mink Alert‏

As a kid I remember seeing a mink fur wrap in my Aunt's closet and being perplexed about the whole situation of elderly ladies wrapping themselves in the skins of small predatory weasels.  The real live minks I saw along the nearby creek in GA were so much more interesting.  But there have been no minks in my life since then until we moved to a farm in the Blue Ridge of VA with many small creeks and marshes.  Now we have minks living around us but we rarely see them.  Every now and then one comes out from under the smoke house or is seen along the edge of the marsh.  

But recently we had some wonderful views of this elongate, mercurial predator in our yard.  An adult was foraging in the grass next to the marsh in our front yard and then a half grown young one was actively and somewhat desperately foraging all around our house late one afternoon.  Their beautiful fur definitely looks better on them as they search for small prey in wetlands or nearby uplands.  We have too many mice and lots of frogs so I assume they are well supplied with food.  I would prefer that they not eat birds but I am sure that ground nesting species are fair game.  But I am attempting to take a "hands off" attitude towards our natural predators and let nature rule our little portion of paradise.  

Bill Dunson
Galax, VA

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Strange moth resembles bird droppings‏

Here is an interesting moth I found in my yard- a beautiful wood nymph Eudryas grata, a noctuid.  This species occurs from Nova Scotia to FL.

The peculiar colors are believed to mimic bird droppings and thus escape the detection of bird predators.  It is also good disruption camouflage.

But the orange flash colors displayed when the moth is disturbed may either advertise toxicity or mimic the similar warning colors of some tiger moths, such as the salt marsh moth.

Bill Dunson

The remarkable nest of barn swallows‏

After spending years unsuccessfully trying to attract barn swallows to various structures placed up under roof overhangs, a swallow recently built a nest on our front porch.  In the process it made a big mess of mud everywhere but we are happy to encourage this female to raise a family.  

The nest of barn swallows is built of pellets of mud with some embedded grasses.  You can see in one photo how the bird attempted to stick the nest on a number of locations before settling on one successful site.  This species breeds throughout most of N America.

The major bane of swallow nests seems to be climbing predators, especially rat snakes which can reach almost any location.  Thus barn swallows seem most particular in that they build in the most inaccessible areas.  This nest does not fit that criterion except that the closeness to humans may inhibit snake predation.  Yet I found a large rat snake in a bush 10 feet from this the area of this nest recently.  So luck and timing may determine the success of a nest site.  

Bill Dunson