Friday, November 16, 2018

Bird Identificaiton

Sometimes, identifying a bird at your feeder can be tricky. The two birds shown below are of different species, albeit in the same family.

The bird in front is a House Finch, a year round resident.

The one in the rear is a Purple Finch, a winter visitor. While both have a red-purple head and breast, the Purple Finch looks as if it "has been dipped in grape juice"*, or perhaps red wine.

Once you know what to look for it's easy to tell them apart, isn't it?

Here a third finch, the American Goldfinch has joined the line up, in front of the other two, while a Tufted Titmouse stands perched on the feeder edge (both year round residents, as is the bird shown below).

And then sometimes it is rather easy to ID the birds at your feeder.

Especially around Thanksgiving.

πŸ¦ƒ  πŸ¦ƒ  πŸ¦ƒ  πŸ¦ƒ  πŸ¦ƒ

* In quotes because it is not original with me, but I can't recall where I first heard or read it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Winter Is Coming

Temperatures will drop.

And in inverse proportion heating bills will rise.

Do you have enough insulation?

There is still time to pick some up.

An easy do it yourself project.

Off to install ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Puzzlement

I spotted these scratches on this tree in our yard a couple of days ago.

I have no idea what caused them. A midget bear marking its territory? A tiny dear scratching its antlers? A woodpecker with a dull bill?

I posted these to an online group and they were split better a buck deer scratching its antlers, although this is a larger tree than usual for that, or squirrels eating lichen off the bark. We do have quite a few squirrels about the place.

It was suggested that I put a trail cam out there to see. So I did. And there was nothing on the memory card. Nothing. Seems the batteries died. So I replaced the them and am waiting some more. But there do not seem to be any new marks. So I may have missed it.

🦌  πŸΏ  πŸ¦Œ  πŸΏ  πŸ¦Œ  πŸΏ  πŸ¦Œ  πŸΏ  πŸ¦Œ

Above is the best image on the trail cam. A female White Tailed Deer and thus no antlers for tree scratching. I also got a an even worse image of a squirrel, not even blog worthy (and it wasn't on the tree in question).

𐂂 𐂂 𐂂 𐂂 𐂂

So that didn't help much, and the marks will likely remain a puzzlement.

The Killing of the Shrew

Despite our best efforts to control our cat's time outdoors, we can't control all of the creatures in our yard.

Sadly, this Masked Shrew suffered the consequences.

As you can see these are small animals, not much larger than a US 25¢ piece. With a black tipped tail almost as long as the body.

Also known as the Common Shrew, it is the most widely distributed shrew in North America. They thrive in moist habits. Our yard certainly meets that criteria. So there are probably many more about the place.

Small, fast, and nocturnal, so despite being abundant in the areas they inhabit they are rarely seen.

Which is true of most of the small mammals that call our yard home. Lives lived unseen. It is only at times like this we know they are here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Safety in Numbers

Not so frightening when you're with family ...

Mom, sans tail, and the three kids wander in to the feeding station.

And proceed to gobble up the bird seed, peanut butter, and whatever else edible they can find.

Uh oh, where'd everybody go?

Look behind you, they're on the triple stump.

πŸŽƒ  πŸŽƒ  πŸŽƒ  πŸŽƒ  πŸŽƒ

This is the last (?) post in the Jack-O'-Lantern series. At least for 2018.

This is the second family of Northern Raccoons, both with a mom and three young. The first family had Stumpy Jr., who we took to a local animal rehab center.

And I've also noted we've several raccoons without tails. Along with Stumpy Jr. we've also had Stumpy, who travels alone, and is likely not the Ms. Stumpy shown in this post. Who is stealing raccoon tails?

Not as Scary in the Daylight

Actually, I'm not sure which looks scarier ...

Turkeys appear to be excellent evidence that birds are dinosaurs. (Pun!)

Monday, November 12, 2018

It's Green

There's a well known scene in the original Star Trek series where Scotty drinks an alien under the table. Toward the end of the scene Scotty comes out with a bottle and the alien asks, "what is it?", to which Scotty, slurring his words, answers, "it's green".

That's kinda the best I can do when trying to identify this bee. I was able to narrow it down to the family Halictidae and tribe Augochlorini, which a gentleman on BugGuide confirmed and went further to state that it is an adult female.

And that's pretty much as far I can go.

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

     Kingdom: Animalia
          Phylum: Euarthropoda
               Class: Insecta
                    Order: Hymenoptera
                         Family: Halictidae
                              Subfamily: Halictinae
                                   Tribe: Augochlorini
                                        Genera: ?
                                             Species: ?

It's green.

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

So, never under estimate the collective knowledge of the crowd, especially when the crowd includes the guy who "... initiated and subsequently managed the American Museum of Natural History Bee Database Project." and who the very next morning after I wrote the draft of this post went and ruined the premise.

We now have:

     Kingdom: Animalia
          Phylum: Euarthropoda
               Class: Insecta
                    Order: Hymenoptera
                         Family: Halictidae
                              Subfamily: Halictinae
                                   Tribe: Augochlorini
                                        Genera: Augochlora
                                             Species: pura

It's Pure Green Augochlora

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Fun With Spiders

Ok, just one spider.

This one (click the image to bigafy):

As you can tell by the cursor and the document icon, it is on my computer monitor (it is still wandering about the monitor as I type this). And it is pretty small.

It appears to be a species of Jumping Spider, most likely Maevia inclemens, the Dimorphic Jumper.

Ok, here is the fun part, it likes to chase the cursor.* Click here for a video.


Thanks again to John Maxwell, my go to guy for identifying creepy crawly things.

* I have no idea if a spider has likes or dislikes. But as you can see, it did chase the cursor. The background music is Keith Jarrett's The Koln Concert, it just happened to be playing when I spotted the spider; excellent morning music.


A day later and the spider is still hanging about. So I got my macro lens did some more shooting.

And it still chased the cursor around.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

Swamp Sparrow

Thud! A bird hit the living room window.

"What was it?" "It seems to be ok." "It's something different, a different sparrow." So went the conversation as we left the comfort of the sofa and exchanged our morning coffees for binoculars.

There were two of them. And of course they didn't stay still. And the light wasn't the best. And they were right up agains the side of the house ... arrggghhh.

This is only the second time we've seen Swamp Sparrows in the yard.

They should visit more often.


Coincidently, American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week.


You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Last evening as I left my office I stopped to chat with one of my colleagues in the parking lot.

And then I turned around and saw this.

A gorgeous sunset with a nice red solar pillar.

πŸ“· πŸ“· πŸ“· πŸ“· πŸ“·

After missing too many such shots I now keep a pocket camera with me for moments like this (and this). My current pocket cam, which can nicely fit in my pocket, is a Sony RX 100 II (Sony's up to VI now, and a lot more $$$!).

It wasn't too long ago moments like these were seen but not shared. These days pretty much everyone has a camera in their pocket all the time, a smartphone camera. And I've taken many an image with mine, currently an iPhone 6S+.  But as good as these camera are, and the current flagship model phones are really good, sometimes you need more. 

Some photographers lament this inundation of images as the "death of photography". I think they're fools. Yes, in accordance with Sturgeon's Law, most images are crap, but most aren't meant to be good but rather fun, a memory capture, or documentary.  So keep on shooting. And sharing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


The reason we started putting out peanut butter, which attracted the Virginia Opossums and Northern Raccoons in the previous Jack-O'-Lantern posts, was for these critters.

Southern Flying Squirrels.

So while they don't find the Jack-O'-Lanterns scary, the raccoons and opossums, being larger than these squirrels, do scare them off. And then proceed to eat all the peanut butter, leaving none for the squirrels.

So it was good to see the squirrels get some.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Not Afraid of You Either!

So far in our story ...

We know that Jack-O'-Lanterns are scary.

We know that Raccoons are afraid of Jack-O'-Lanterns.

We know that Opossums are not.

And now we learn the transitive property ...

It seems that Virginia Opossums, even little ones, are not afraid of Northern Raccoons.

The Opossum sizes up the Raccoon, which seems a bit stressed.

Then it pounces (the possum actual bit the raccoon)!

And off scurries the Raccoon.


This was not an isolated incident. We've seen small Opossums lunge and bite larger Raccoons on several occasions. And this evening I watched as a Raccoon, eating peanut butter five feet up in a tree, spotted a small Opossum (one of two that came by) and immediately started climbing further up the tree. Way up the tree. The Opossum appeared to find some food on the ground and then wandered off. Ignoring the  tree with the peanut butter.

Here's a shot taken with my iPhone of the scene this evening, showing the two young Opossums, the one under the tree coming after the one in the path (between the pumpkins) and well after the Raccoon had left the feeding station and headed up the tree.

As far as I know the Raccoon is still up in that tree ...

It's Warm in There

Alistair likes warm places. So much so that Patty sets a heating pad on the sofa for him. If you look closely at the images in this post you'll see the sofa is covered with a sheet, a blanket, and a towel. Protecting the furniture from cat hair and such. The heating pad is under the towel.

Well it was time to laundry said sheet, blanket, and towel. And the heating pad is removed for the duration.

It seems our hero couldn't wait for the sofa to be redressed and the heating pad restored.

Nice and warm in there. And you can tell by that look he ain't coming out.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

False Milkweed Bug

There has been confusion as to the identity of this insect. The BugGuide page linked above discusses this confusion, between the similar in appearance Small Milkweed Bug.

Even one of my field guides seems to get it wrong (and I in turn misidentified it at first).

There are many insects that mimic the appearance of others in what is known as MΓΌllerian Mimicry. As milkweed has chemicals which are toxic to vertebrates, some insects have evolved to use these chemicals as defense against predation. The Monarch Butterfly is a famous example. Its appearance is a signal to predators to leave it alone. Other butterflies, such as the Viceroy, have evolved a similar appearance to ward off predators as well, without developing the toxic chemical defenses, a bit of insect fraud.

As animals encounter, eat, and experience the toxic effects of the poison insects, they learn to avoid such prey, including the harmless mimics, in the future. Of course, if to many non-poisonous insects mimic the poison ones, the predators will not learn to avoid them. A fascinating game of cat and mouse played out over evolutionary time.

We had hundreds if not thousands of these False Milkweed Bugs all about our side garden. As this section of our gardens has no milkweed growing in it (we have plenty elsewhere) it was a pretty good clue as to their ID.

It is November and I still see them in the garden and on our deck. And as you can see from these images, there are both adults and young in various stages. They over winter as adults, so these youngins' better grow up quickly!


You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I'm Not Ascared of You!

Not all critters are afraid of those Jack-O'-Lanterns.

Not scared at all!

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Other than it being fuzzy.

Here's a hint, it is a Facebook group.

A new use of the phrase "off the grid" that I'm unfamiliar with ...

Friday, November 2, 2018

Non-Yard Critter of the Week

Eastern Buck Moth

This is a male, in a defensive posture.

And this a female, laying eggs. Note the bright orange egg at the top, it has just been laid (as always, click any image to bigafy it).

Moments later, it has already faded. Eventually they'll all be green, appearing as lichens on the branch.

These are members of the silk moth family, in which the adult stage, the moth, have no mouth parts. They live to reproduce. And once the food reserves are gone so are they. The eggs will last the winter with caterpillars emerging in spring feeding on Oak leaves. Said caterpillars make their cocoons in the late summer and emerge as moths around September. And the cycle begins anew.


Thanks to Bernie Knaupp for showing us the spot.