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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I was looking at milkweed tussock moth caterpillars, Euchaetes egle, last week as they were eating milkweed leaves. This is the other caterpillar commonly found on milkweeds, in addition to the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Click to enlarge.
There were a lot of them, some in groups, eating side by side and they had eaten most of the foliage from quite a few plants in the patch. As I watched, I reached out to turn over a leaf to get a better look at whatever was under there -- part of a caterpillar was sticking out. I got a big surprise when three or four of them jumped into the air simultaneously; they seemed to spread out all their tufts so they looked like big spiders as they fell into the grass (or so my mind filled in). Then they scrambled into the brush very quickly for caterpillars. I've handled more insects than many people and don't think of myself as squeamish but these guys really made me jump. Great evasive maneuver caterpillars! If I had been trying to catch you, you foiled me and lived to eat milkweed another day!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thread-waisted Wasp

Here's a wasp that seems to give new meaning to the term thread-waisted. I saw this fine example of Eremnophila aureonatata while it was sipping nectar from a summersweet blossom (Clethra ainifolia) in a park in southern New Jersey. It's a solitary wasp, and a hunter at times. When it is time to reproduce, females of this species prepare a burrow for their eggs and then capture and sting a caterpillar, paralyzing it. You can sometimes see one dragging a fat caterpillar across the ground. The unfortunate caterpillar gets stuffed into the nest for the larvae to feed upon as they grow. Unlucky caterpillar. Beautiful wasp.
Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Rabbit News

This week's post is an update from the suburbs of South Jersey near Philadelphia. There are lots of rabbits here, hopping on lawns and eating grass. Click to enlarge.
Two days ago I noticed a bare spot on a lawn, bare soil with a shallow hole at one end, and I wondered what it was. The next day I saw a rabbit in that spot with its head in the hole. As I watched, the rabbit hopped around the lawn and gathered mouthful after mouthful of dry grass, which it carried to the spot and arranged to its liking. A nest!
It's a nest that is very hard to see, even if you know it's there. In this photo it is in the lower patch of sunlight.
Note the nicely constructed grass arch over the doorway. Yesterday there was just grass inside. I cautiously inserted a finger today and felt a soft lining of fur. I've read that female rabbits build their nests a few days to a few hours before giving birth and that adding the fur lining is the last step. Mother rabbits don't sit on their nests; they visit to nurse the babies in the morning and evening. So I can peek during the day without disturbing. Watch this spot. Hopefully there will be baby bunny photos in a few weeks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Barn Swallows

The barn swallow is one of those simultaneously common yet elusive birds that I see all the time but rarely photograph because they never seem to sit still. They fly by me at high speed doing aerial acrobatics as they catch insects in the air; I see them swooping along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade all through the summer. But yesterday I was lucky enough to stumble upon a nest. The bird above is a youngster that has recently left is nest (nearby) to sit under an eave. Click to enlarge.

It is waiting for a parent to show up with food. Opening its gape to beg reveals a bright yellow target for the parent.
In a flash of wings, an adult arrived and delivered something.
At least one sibling was still in the nearby nest. Barn swallows make their nests out of dabs of mud and line the interior with grass and feathers.
The bird in the nest got a food delivery, too.
Here's an adult trying to take a rest; notice its adult beak.
But eave bird got fidgety and started begging.
And made it clear it was still hungry.
And shortly got another tasty delivery.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bobwhite!

I usually hear bobwhites but don't see them, or catch a glimpse of a boldly patterned head as the shy bird disappears in grass. The call is an unmistakable loud whistled "bob-white!" that rises in pitch on the second syllable. But during a recent visit to Cape May Point State Park I saw this unusually bold male above and equally unselfconscious female below.      Click to enlarge.
Both birds were uncharacteristically nonchalant about nearby humans and did not seem to mind me photographing them. One of the park employees told me that the bobwhites had been around for a few days, sitting on the hawkwatch platform railings and practically posing for selfies with delighted park visitors.
The northern bobwhite, also called the Virginia quail or bobwhite quail, Colinus virginianus, has experienced steep population decline across its range and is considered to be Near Threatened. For the past three years, the New Jersey Audubon Society has released 80 northern bobwhites each year in southern New Jersey as part of a reintroduction program that also includes habitat improvement.  I don't know if the pair at Cape May Point have anything to do with that program, but they are a lovely addition to an already great park. I hope they thrive there and become a permanent attraction.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Assassin!

I was poking around in the leaves at Cape May Point State Park last week and I found this saucy wheel bug nymph, Arilus cristatus. Click to enlarge.
It's an immature form of the fine adult wheel bug pictured above. See that long sharp beak at its mouth? Wheel bugs are predators of other insects. They feed by piercing prey with their beaks, injecting salivary fluids that dissolve the victim's insides, and then sucking them up. Wheel bugs belong to an insect family known commonly as the assassin bugs. Nothing makes my day like finding a wheel bug.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Happy Fourth of July!




No blog this week -- just a couple of red, white, and blue local birds: northern cardinal, great egret, and blue jay. Have a great holiday! Click to enlarge.