Venturing forth on overcast days

Our area has been inundated with rain for 9 days straight now – not a big deal if you live in a region with monsoon seasons but it is not really usual for us. We also had two hurricanes and several severe storms the past 5.5 months as well as other rainy periods and the ground – much of it clay – is just not absorbing all the water anymore. My yard (which I am fortunate to have, don’t get me wrong!) currently has patches that are simply sodden mud and clay with no vegetation to be seen. Paths in the nature reserves are slick and slippery. Still, if you’re a person who gets “spiritual sustenance” by going out into nature, you venture forth on those days that might have a few overcast but rain-free hours to see what is out and about. Though I haven’t seen beavers lately, I did see their tracks in one reserve. A father had brought his children out and they made plaster casts of the tracks – a wonderful outdoor nature lesson.

Because we have also had some unusually warm days for this time of year, the flowers began budding a bit earlier than other years. Daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses are blooming profusely and a few of my neighbors have lovely flowering quince (Chaenomeles).

 

 

A winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) at one park had some lovely blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

At another reserve, an apple tree (Malus pumila) has lovely flowers emerging.

 

Unfortunately, the tree is right next to a grove of cedars that are laden with mature cedar apple rust galls (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae). When they emit their spores, they will kill the apples. I used to have an apple tree in my yard but the nearby cedars also got apple rust and now the tree has died. I’ve planted a plum tree and hope that that one will thrive and survive.

With the leaves having fallen from most trees, it’s possible to see the cocoons of some of our larger moths. So far, I’ve found three cecropia moth cocoons, two polyphemus moth cocoons and several bagworm moth cocoons in three different places. The Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis) egg cases are also showing up better with little foliage to hide them.

Getting nice shots of birds is not easy on those dull and gray days. Many of the smaller birds were huddled in bushes and trees, puffing themselves up to trap some body heat as a means of coping with the cold and wet conditions.

 

Field sparrow (Spizella pusilla)

I tried to get close to a beautiful kestrel (Falco sparverius), who kept flying just a bit further away when I slowly approached it. As I was walking back to my car, it suddenly turned and flew right by me – I swung up my camera and got one shot, which was not perfect but still a bit of a reward.

 

A gorgeous great blue heron (Ardea herodias), on the other hand, deigned to entertain me with a protracted grooming session at a local pond. S/he first perched above a couple turtles and watched them until they plopped down underwater.

Then the bird began picking at its feathers, showing off how its long neck can be twisted to enable that long beak to reach where it wants.

Note where the beak is peeking through in the photo above right! Flexible neck!

The preening activities gave me a chance to get what I considered to be a series of nice portraits.

 

The weather forecasters predicted that the rain would end, it would get very windy and the sun would shine this afternoon – they were right! They also say we will have a week of sunny days coming up – I certainly hope that that’s the case so I can exchange my muck boots for regular walking shoes again. Hope you are enjoying some pleasant weather!

 

A fruity buffet for the birds!

summer tanager profile IMG_4040©Maria de BruynIn front of a dog park in the small town of Carrboro, NC, there stands a small serviceberry tree, also known as a shadbush or sarvisberry (Amelanchier). This particular specimen has several trunks and was heavily laden with pretty white flowers in the early spring. These turned into bright red berries in late spring, forming a very bountiful buffet for the resident birds and some other wildlife, too!

The variety of species visiting this tree was delightful and led me to go back on several mornings and evenings to observe.

cedar waxwing IMG_1675©Maria de Bruyn2 rescedar waxwing IMG_2159©Maria de Bruyn res

The cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were there in pairs and groups, some of them sweetly feeding one another!

Northern cardinal IMG_4073©Maria de Bruyn2 resNorthern cardinal IMG_2078©Maria de Bruyn2 res

The male and female Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were also huge fans of this tree, returning over and over to have their fill.

Eastern bluebird IMG_4543©Maria de Bruyn reschipping sparrow IMG_2268©Maria de Bruyn2 res

A couple birds seemed only to alight in the tree, not really partaking, like the Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina). However, those sparrows, like the American robin (Turdus migratorius), might have been just checking out the wares before they dropped to the ground under the tree to enjoy a few berries. That surprised me – especially, the robins whom I have considered to be mainly insectivores and worm-eaters.

chipping sparrow IMG_1626©Maria de Bruyn2 res American robin IMG_4531©Maria de Bruyn res

One day, a trio of Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) arrived. I thought for sure that they would be stripping the branches clean but they hopped around the tree, sampling here and there. During several visits to the serviceberry, that was the only time I saw them climb into the tree for a snack.

Eastern gray squirrel IMG_2191©Maria de Bruyn2 resEastern gray squirrel IMG_2116©Maria de Bruyn2 res

Other birds seemed to visit only briefly, like the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) and the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor).

Northern mockingbird IMG_4164©Maria de Bruyn2 res tufted titnouse IMG_2122©Maria de Bruyn res

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_1633©Maria de Bruyn2 resThe red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), on the other hand, was a very frequent visitor – coloring oh so nicely with the host tree! This bird seemed to be also storing some berries for later consumption in the bark of a tree?

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_2094©Maria de Bruyn2 res

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_2007©Maria de Bruyn2 res

Serviceberries are promoted for gardens as a source of delicious fruit for human beings. They are said to be wonderful in jam, pies, ice cream, syrup for pancakes and or in alcoholic drinks. Raw, they taste a little like blueberries with a nice sweet tang.

 

They were obviously a great hit with a pair of summer tanagers (Piranga rubra). The male colored nicely with the fruit he was eating; he is an example of the only bird in North America that is entirely red!

Summer tanager IMG_1643©Maria de Bruyn res summer tanager IMG_4112©Maria de Bruyn res

The yellow female stood out as she ate berry after berry.

Summer tanager IMG_1955©Maria de Bruyn res summer tanager IMG_4041©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Cedar apple rust IMG_9380© Maria de BruynAfter watching this spectacle, I have now decided to find one of these shrubs for my own yard. They are unfortunately susceptible to cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) which I have in neighboring cedar trees; it doesn’t seem to hurt the cedars but may account for the fact that the apples in my apple tree stay very small even if I haven’t seen signs of the rust on the apple tree leaves. Hopefully, it won’t be a problem as it would be really nice to see the birds at a serviceberry buffet here at home in years to come!