It’s that time of the year again, when the bugs and the deer discover all the tasty plants in my garden. While the Japanese beetles ravage the leaves of the apple trees and raspberries, the deer fawns chow down on the wildflowers. I don’t mind them, though, they are pretty cute, and very shy.
The usual suspects have returned to the back yard this summer, but one of my favorites is still missing, the pretty little red foxes. So, here’s a glimpse of their visit to the backyard last year.
June 30, 2017: What a delight to see my favorite canids lounging in my Minnesota backyard this morning.
In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.
And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.
I watched these two foxes for several minutes, but can’t figure out if they are a male-female pair, or two youngsters, or what. Male foxes are usually noticeably bigger then females, and these two seem to be identical in size. They do seem a bit small and skinny, so maybe they are younger, but this year’s kits would not be this big yet, having been born in late March, and just out of their den in early May. It’s a mystery.
Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —
This is a tale of “if at first you don’t succeed”, keep trying. Mr. and Mrs. Robin decided to build a nest above a light fixture on our garage.
It’s a very unstable platform, and every stick added seemed to fall between the lights to the ground.
But gradually, after a few sticks held in place, and with the addition of some critical flexible, long leafy material, a platform began to take shape, and the nest cup was added on top.
I hope it’s strong enough to hold the weight of several growing chicks.
Looking for bees in the garden the other day, I came across an insect that looked a lot like a honeybee or small bumblebee, but something was not quite right.
It’s the eyes — they’re too large and round, and the antennae are too short. It must be a bee mimic fly.
I think my bee mimicking fly is a Narcissus bulb fly, and if so, my iris, lillies, and chives are in trouble. Adults feed on the nectar and pollen of a wide variety of flowers.
But their larvae infest the soft tissues of the bulbs of these perennials. Females lay from 40 to 100 eggs at the base of a leaf of bulb-forming plants, and the larvae crawl down into the soil and burrow into the bulb, eventually hollowing it out completely as they feed and mature to pupal stage. Lillies, iris, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, etc, are all susceptible to infestation.
There doesn’t seem to be a good way to control these pests, introduced from Europe, probably along with bulbs, in the late 1800s. Their strong bee mimicry makes most insect predators leave them alone. Apparently, if you grow bulb-bearing plants in your garden, you’re very likely to have these destructive pests present.
The purple flowers are blooming in my garden: spiderwort, weedy creeping charley, iris, bellflower, mountain cornflower, and lovely blue wild indigo. And there are a few bees around, doing their best on the limited amount of nectar and pollen available so early in the summer.
Lady Bumble made the rounds of the newer flowers at the top of the raceme, working her way from oldest at the bottom to newest opened at the top, and then on to a different spike of flowers. But the small solitary bee working these flowers had an entirely different strategy.
My neighbor called to tell me there was a big snapping turtle on his patio, so I went over to make friends. It was indeed a big one, maybe a female looking for a soft garden spot to lay some eggs. I decided to get down on turtle level to take some photos.
They are called snapping turtles for a good reason. Those toothless jaws can produce a powerful pinch, strong enough to tear flesh. And if they can’t nail you with a vicious bite, snappers will put a nasty gouge in your skin with those long, sharp toenails. Beware of picking one of these up!
Once the turtle got tired of watching me, it moved off the patio toward the garden, raising itself up on its toes to step over a hose. How does a beast whose eyes are at the top of its head know where it’s feet are in relation to an obstacle on the ground? Obviously, snapping turtles have a wider visual field than you might think.
Iceland may have an impoverished bird fauna, compared to what one can see in the U.K. or Europe, but it more than makes up for it with great numbers of the species that are present. For the bird photographer, this makes it easier to get some good photos.
A really good place to see seabirds is at the cliffs at Arnarstapi on the southern side of the Snaefellsness peninsula.
Down on the shoreline below the cliffs were several species of shorebirds, foraging in the sand and rocks right at the edge of the water.
Also foraging along the shoreline at other points along the Iceland coast were Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers, and Red Shanks. These species were exploring the seaweed that had washed up on shore, and the crevices between rocks along the shore, turning things over or probing into sand to find small invertebrates there. They will all fly on from here to their arctic breeding sites in Europe and Russia.
The highlights of our bird sightings was finding a breeding pair of Red-throated Loons and Horned Grebe on some of the small lakes that dot the Iceland landscape. Brilliant colors of these birds light up the infamously gray, cloudy, rainy landscape here.
so many birds, so many photos…
Springtime in Iceland is a mecca for bird photographers, as arctic breeding species return to find a mate, build a nest, and perpetuate their species. The road next to our river hotel in Hella is particularly rich with Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Oystercatchers, and Golden Plover. The bird fauna here is dominated by shorebirds, with few representatives of other orders, like the songbirds (passerines).
Handa Island off the northwestern coast of Scotland has some of the most beautiful sea cliffs. Their base is 3 billion year old gneiss rock, on top of which are layers of sandstone, and finally quartz. They have weathered and eroded just enough for seabirds to find niches for their nest sites.
Just off the coast from Scourie, on the northwest corner of Scotland, Handa Island presents some prodigious cliff faces that are very attractive to breeding sea birds. A small boat dropped us off on the island, volunteers from the Scottish Wildlife Trust met us to explain the rules for navigating the island trails, and we set off on a 4 mile loop hike.
The Great Skuas were not at all shy, and one sat completely still while at least 6 of us passed by at close range.
Skuas are about the size of a large Herring Gull, but with a larger breast, long tapered wings, and powerful and speedy forward flight. This bird is an intimidator, using its size and aggressive behavior to harass other sea birds into dropping their catch of fish. They are the breeding sea birds’ nemesis!
Great Skuas will probably not make anyone’s top 10 favorite list because they have some rather unpleasant habits: robbing other birds of their prey, grabbing the wings of sea birds and pulling them out of the air, harassing penguins into deserting their carefully protected egg or chick and then killing and eating them, even invading sea bird colonies at night to prey on roosting adults.