Thursday, June 25, 2015

What has four legs and flies?

Here is a riddle to start your day:

(Q.) Which CRITTER has four legs and flies? 
(A.) The classic answer is "a horse, of course!" (And we don't mean the mythical Pegasus)

If you answered that it was this male Julia heliconian butterfly as it prepares for a landing on a Lantana flower, you would have been wrong. Its proboscis is already extending in anticipation of the sweet taste of nectar, and its landing gear are down. 

Count those legs-- four! But why is this the wrong answer? Stay tuned to find out.

Julia on approach 20150103

Another answer might be pairs of two-legged creatures with wings. Maybe this is cheating because the riddle implies that it seeks the identity of a single creature. Anyway, here are a few couples who, arguably, meet the description. Can you distinguish the males from females?

Mottled Duck males tend to be bigger and have yellowish mostly clear bills:

Mottled Ducks 3-20130209

Pileated Woodpecker males have a red forehead and mustache streak, but both are gray or black in females:

Pileated Woodpecker 20120930

Pileated Woodpecker 2-2008_12_04

The red on the nape and head of male Red-bellied Woodpeckers extends all the way to the forehead, but the female's forecrown is light gray:

Red-bellied Woodpeckers pair 20140427

Least Tern sexes are similar and best determined by behavior.  Males (in the foreground) usually seem to have a brighter yellow bill:

Least Tern pair interactions 05-20140410

Bald Eagle males are noticeably smaller than females and their gape usually extends no more than halfway under the eye, while that of the female (in foreground) may reach past the center of the eye:

Bald Eagle face comparison 20150312

We happen to know that the male in this pair of Burrowing Owls looks as if he has a beard. He also seems to have a deeper "frown," but these are individual characteristics. Normally the female is darker during breeding season because the slightly larger male stands guard outside the burrow and his feathers are more exposed to the bleaching effect of sunlight:

Burrowing Owl pair portrait 20131114

In these Mew Gulls it is anybody's guess as to which is the male. Both have brightest yellow bills during breeding season. This photo was taken in June, 2011 in Denali National Park, Alaska:

Mew Gulls (Larus canus) 2-20110619

From their behavior, we know that the Killdeer on the left is the male. He repeatedly expanded the upper ring on his neck as a courtship gesture:

Killdeers courting 20110412

Mallards-- no problem finding the colorful drake here!:

Mallard Pair 20090427

House Finches-- who wears the brightest coat?:

House Finch pair 20130115

The sexes of Green Herons are very similar, but we think the one presently incubating the eggs is the male because its legs were bright red, not described as a reliable indicator. This pair is exchanging incubation duties:

Green Heron pair exchanging incubation duty 20120325

Male Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are said to be slightly larger than females, but this is a toss-up:

Yellow-crowned Night Heron pair displaying 91-20120304

The male Mourning Dove on a FENCE is all puffed up:

Mourning Dove Pair 2008_08_01

These Purple Swamphens share four legs (not counting those  in the REFLECTION) but sexes are similar:

Purple Swamphens 01-20141030

To be concise, the riddle should have asked: "What has six legs, two wings but only four feet?" That might have been a real puzzler, keeping you on the edge of your seat to hear the answer. The Julia heloconian indeed fits this description.

Top MACRO view, male Julia:

Male Julia Heliconian 20090321

Top view, female Julia:

Julia female 20111217

Side view, male also shows four legs...

Julia heliconian male 20140824

As does this side view of a female:

Julia Heliconian female 20120808

The Julia belongs to the group of brush-footed butterflies or four-legged butterflies. Many species are brightly colored but their under-wings are often dull and may look like dead leaves, as in the case of this species.

In adults, the first pair of legs are much shorter than the other four legs, and are not used for walking. The front legs do not have feet, just little brushes of hairs that are used for smelling and tasting. Like parts of their mouth,they can be so small as to be practically invisible.

Rain Clouds moved into the SKY over the lake a little after sunrise:

Clouds over lake HDR 20150415

A bonus photo-- we have just returned from a rail trip in Canada. This is the view of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta. It is taken from the window of our room in the Fairmont Chalet. The sun is breaking through the clouds. The Upper Victoria Glacier is visible in the background. The Lower glacier extended well into the lake in the early part of the 20th Century, but now has retreated up and to the right of the mountain.

Lake Louise 1935PM 20150619

As the lake is fed by outflow of the glaciers, it takes on an emerald color, due to the suspended "glacier dust"  or "rock flour" which is scoured from the limestone as the ice moves down. Depending upon sky conditions, the water may appear any color from gray to deep blue or green.

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Green Herons nesting

With so much to do before running off to Canada I have accumulated an unprocessed  backlog of Florida photos. As I write this, Summer Solstice is two weeks away, but south Florida has already settled into the rainy season pattern of sporadic showers and frequent afternoon rainstorms.

Cirrus clouds over the wetlands herald a change in the weather:

 West Miramar Water Conservation Area HDR 20150530

A morning walk is cut short by the appearance of looming cumulus clouds:

Miramar Parkway HDR 20150601

This is the view from our back patio on May 6. "Red in the morning, sailors take warning:"

Monaco Cove sunrise2 HDR 20150602
Although the variety of birds in late spring has decreased, there have been interesting developments in the devastated heron rookery. The Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, of which at least 8 pairs nested there last year, did not return. However, it was populated by at least three pairs of Green Herons, almost the same number as have bred there before. Somehow they accommodated to the dead and dying trees that border the herbicide-treated canal. Perhaps their smaller size and less inclination to build their nests directly over the water worked in their favor.

I found two of their nests, both out in the open and fully exposed to the elements and predators. As reported in my last post, I discovered the first on May 25. It was located very near or perhaps on the site occupied by a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (cataloged as herbicide treated location #6.1). It held single nestling, not old enough for its first flight:

Green Heron nestling 2-20150525

Two days later, that nestling is still present, and I find two older fledglings roosting on a tree limb. Their flight feathers are nearly fully developed but their caps are adorned with tufts of natal down:

Green Heron fledglings 20150529

This tree limb had broken off and fallen into the canal. It serves as a convenient fishing platform for the juvenile herons. One casts its reflection in the still water:

Green Heron juveniles interacting 5-20150601

Although I could not find the older nest, I was surprised when movement in the foliage directed my attention to another Green Heron nest (herbicide treated location 7.5) . This flimsy nest contains two very active youngsters, perhaps a few days older than the one in the first nest:

Green Heron nestlings nest 7.5 20150605

One of the nestlings is particularly adventuresome, walking about in the dead branches that surround the nest:

Green Heron nestlings nest 7.5 2-20150605

Green Heron nestling nest 7.5 20150605

It tests its wings vigorously, with feet clinging fast to a branch:

Green Heron nestling trying wings 7-20150605

Green Heron nestling trying wings 4-20150605

On the wetlands lake, one of the adults rests on a rock:

Green Heron 20150529

Some of the most common birds are uncommonly beautiful. I like to include them in their habitat instead of always trying for "field guide" photos. This Northern Cardinal really stands out when framed in greenery:

Northern Cardinal 20150605

A Blue Jay takes a typically high perch in a leafless tree along the path, its color complementing the somber sky:

Blue Jay 2-20150605
Nearby, two juvenile Loggerhead Shrikes wait to be fed...

 Loggerhead Shrike juveniles 20150601 one of the adults looks on:

Loggerhead Shrike adult 2-20150601

A Blue Jay harasses a Red-shouldered Hawk:

 Blue Jay attacks Red-shouldered Hawk 3-20150601

Blue Jay attacks Red-shouldered Hawk 4-20150601

At nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve, another Loggerhead Shrike perches on a chain link fence...

 Loggerhead Shrike 20150602

...and an oversize Raccoon thinks it is hidden in the rushes:

Raccoon HDR 20150602

On the home front, a Muscovy Duck leads her 11 ducklings across our lake:

Muscovy Duck and Ducklings 20150415

A Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoys one of our last Mangoes of the season. Our two small trees borne over 100 pounds of fruit, most harvested by our neighbor (with our permission) while we were away in Illinois:

Red-bellied Woodpecker eating my mango 2-20150526

Mango 20150526 

A small butterfly attracts my attention. It is almost black below and has an interesting pattern of wing markings. It is a Horace's Duskywing:

 Horace's Duskywing - Erynnis horatius 4-20150605

This is a "robo post," but I will get back to you as soon as I get back to a desktop. Since I will be on the road, I may not be able to post my theme photos to these favorite memes, but please visit the links to see many beautiful images on display:

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Back in Florida

The arrival of spring in our Florida neighborhood was almost a non-event. There was no burst of floral color, and the dry mild weather changed only gradually into the summer pattern of afternoon showers. Spring migration here, 18 miles inland from the ocean, had not been spectacular.

Thunderheads creeping in from the coastline blocked the morning sun:

Sunburst HDR 20150525

The parallel rays of the sun appear to widen as they pass overhead, and then converge at a vanishing point on the horizon opposite the sunrise. This gives the illusion of a second (false) sunrise. A breeze ripples the surface, softening my hoped-for mirrored effect:

Harbour Lake to west mirrored sunrise HDR 20150526

As spring approached, changes in abundance of land birds had been mostly gradual. Among the more common winter residents, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and  Painted Buntings disappeared by the end of February, Belted Kingfishers lingered into mid-March, and American Kestrels, House Wrens, Palm Warbler and Gray Catbird numbers decreased unevenly into mid-April.

The Carolina Wrens, permanent residents, had abruptly stopped singing in mid-April, probably because they resolved their territorial boundaries and were suddenly occupied with raising their families. Their morning songs resumed in early June.

Carolina Wren 20150310

Before we departed for Illinois on April 18, the Common Ground Doves were paired up and cooing their love songs. They favored two grassy spots along the road where I hoped they would nest:

Common Ground-Dove2 HDR 20150417

We had also flushed a pair of Common Nighthawks from the grass, near where we found their eggs in past years:

 Common Nighthawk FOS documentation 20150414

At the lake, two similar sandpipers of different species provided a nice comparison of their identifying characteristics. A Solitary Sandpiper was on the left, while a slightly smaller Spotted Sandpiper posed next to it.  Note that the Solitary has a conspicuous eye ring while the Spotted has a white brow line. The latter also shows how the white of its chest extends up in front of its shoulder. Both of these features are more helpful in the fall and winter, when the Spotted Sandpiper loses its spots:

Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers 20150416

After spending an enjoyable (but cold, wet and windy) six weeks in Illinois, we returned to Florida on May 24 to find midsummer-type weather. On our first morning we got out before sunrise to walk into our local wetlands. Offshore storms created a colorful sky as we exited the gates (and fence) of our subdivision:

Monaco Cove entry HDR 20150526

I was disappointed to see that the grassy shoulders of the gravel road into the wetlands had been freshly mowed. This time of year the nighthawks and ground-doves should be sitting on eggs or tending to newly hatched  broods. That little blue dot on the road is Mary Lou, now about 1/4 mile ahead of me on the way to the heron rookery.

Miramar Parkway grass on shoulders has been mowed 20150525

A Common Nighthawk rose up from the edge of the road. If it had eggs or young they almost certainly were destroyed by the grass cutters. Perhaps it will try to nest after all:

 Common Nighthawk 20150526

Ground-doves persisted along the path near their old nesting area:

Ground Dove 2-20150526

A Killdeer ran across in front of me and fell to the ground as if injured, attempting to distract my attention away from its nest site:

Killdeer HDR 2-20150527

Killdeer distraction display 20150527

The Killdeer spread its bright orange tail feathers and uttered a shrill call, encouraging me to follow it away from its eggs or young:

Killdeer display HDR 20150527

A White-winged Dove looked on:

White-winged Dove 2-20150526

A male Northern Flicker alighted in a small tree next to the path:

Northern Flicker 2-20150529

A bad photo, but this illustrates why the eastern subspecies  is called "Yellow-shafted" Flicker, as opposed to the Red-shafted form in the western US:

  Northern Flicker bad shot 20150529

At the rookery, I found only one nest, that of a Green Heron. It contained one nestling:

Green Heron nestling 20150529

There were at least two pairs of Green Herons present, but I initially failed to locate any other nests. One adult, in breeding plumage kept vigil nearby:

Green Heron 20150525

Two days later I returned and discovered that another pair had already successfully raised at least these two fledglings:

Green Heron fledglings 2-20150529

The little nestling was now exploring the branches around its home. I watched from a secluded spot for about a half hour, hoping to see a feeding, but had no success and gave up. Just as I was leaving the area an adult flew directly to the nest, but by then I was too far away to get any photos of the event.

Green Heron nestling 20150601

I liked the way the back-lighting turned the baby heron's fuzz into a halo: 

Green Heron nestling 5-20150601
On the way home, I saw a Great Egret roosting on a rock in the lake. I had to sneak up through the high grass to get a photo, but it saw me and immediately took flight:

Great Egret 2-20150529

Great Egret takes flight 20150529

Great Egret takes flight 2-20150529

Butterflies were about, including this male Julia...

Julia heliconian male 20150529

...and a Zebra heliconian, Florida's State Butterfly:

Zebra heliconian 2-20150529

There were decent reflections on the lake the next morning, with a still wind under an unsettled sky, in this view from the back patio of our home:

Monaco Cove sunrise HDR 20150530

A better view of the entrance to our subdivision, on the way back home:

Monaco Cove gate HDR 20150601

Today is our 55th Wedding Anniversary and Mary Lou and I plan to be taking an extended trip, which will limit our access to the Internet. I do appreciate your visits and will do my best to visit all of your posts, but I may be a bit slow in catching up for the next couple of weeks.

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display