The resident (and very territorial) male Anna’s Hummingbird in my mother-in-law’s backyard proved to be quite a challenge to photograph. He always sat with his back to me, singing his scratchy sing-song, and he preferred to hover in front of me with his back to the sun. In fact he hovered above and around me for just seconds before dashing away to hide in the middle of the bottlebrush shrub. What a tease! You have to be really quick on the trigger (shutter) to catch these guys in prime light, and there were many more misses than successes with my attempts.
The California Bay tree, also known as the California Bay Laurel or California Laurel, and a host of other names, is one of its kind, the only species in its own genus, and quite an interesting plant. Bay trees are part of the coastal forest and unique to the California floristic province.
Their leaves are more pungent than the Mediterranean bay used in cooking. My husband once stuffed a chicken with bay laurel leaves before cooking it on a Boy Scout camping trip and found it completely inedible.
Like some other coastal tree species, California bay have a swollen base of root crown called lignotuber which protects delicate buds that sprout when the central trunk has been damaged.
The resultant growth of multiple stems emerging from the root crown makes this forest look like a dense jungle.
What a difference the microclimate of this forest makes. We wore our jackets while hiking through the dark, shady north facing laurel forest, and worked up a sweat climbing the sun-exposed hills of oak forest.
A scene from across Lake Vadnais in St. Paul called to me to get closer and try to photograph the group of Trumpeter Swans.
So I hiked around the lake trying to figure out where on the trail they might be. However, it was bow season for deer that day, and so I couldn’t stray too far off the path into the woods.
By the time I found them, this is what I saw: seven swans a-sleeping (well, one was alert).
However, road noise woke a couple of them up, just for a few moments.
I guess when you’re as big as an adult Trumpeter Swan, you don’t worry too much about photographers creeping up near by. Even the Mallards were unperturbed.
The Amur Maple forest has once again reached its full fall splendor.
Dense thickets of Amur Maple crowd out and shade out natives that might grow there — really the only thing this species has going for it (in my opinion) is the brilliant color display of its fall leaves. The ground cover beneath the trees looks like a collection of fallen leaves, but on closer inspection, it seems to be a mini-forest of Amur Maple seedlings, ready to bolt up as soon as a light gap appears in the forest overhead.
The Door county peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan north of Green Bay, Wisconsin seems to enjoy a different climate than the surrounding part of the state. Stepping back a couple of weeks from the peak fall color of central Wisconsin, trees are just barely tinged with red and gold, and the weather is balmy instead of chilled. Maybe it’s the lake effect.
We hiked along the limestone cliffs at Cave point county park on the eastern edge of the peninsula and marveled at the way the trees could seemingly grow right out of cracks in these 400 million year old rocks that have been polished smooth by glacial action.
but as always, wherever you go, life seems to find a way…
The fall harvest season is on: it’s time to pick pumpkins and apples, the last of the field corn and soybeans; and if you’re a bird and you like fruit, it’s time to feast on the berries of the eastern red cedar, commonly known as juniper. Actually to be entirely correct, these “berries” are actually just fleshy cones that surround a few seeds within. They are covered with a waxy coating, which is also digestible if a bird has the right pancreatic enzymes to break it down.
Juniper berries are the only fruit/spice from conifers we use in cooking, and of course they give gin its characteristic flavor. Beneath the waxy coating, green pulpy flesh surrounds a few seeds. Fruit-eating birds normally quickly separate the pulp from the seeds in their gut, digesting the sugary pulp and converting it to fat stores rather quickly. They then excrete the seeds as they fly off to other foraging areas, thus helping the plant spread into new locations.
But seed-eating birds might have a different strategy…
Seed-eating specialists probably have stronger gizzard muscles that can crush the seeds to extract their nutrients, and seeds typically have higher fat and protein content than the sugary, pulpy mass that surrounds them.
Whatever the strategy, juniper berries provide a useful resource for migratory as well as non-migratory birds in the fall.
And so it begins, the slow march toward another winter. But first we are gifted with the brilliant colors of fall. We traveled to the north shore of Lake Superior to get our first glimpse of this year’s color show, and weren’t disappointed.
And the hike around the trails on Oberg mountain was definitely rewarding.
With the recent rain just days before we arrived, the rivers and waterfalls were overflowing with rapidly rushing water.
This is the time of year we see beautiful and dramatic color changes in the vegetation, but that is just one of many fall transformations. Gaudy male ducks that shed those brilliant colors right after donating their sperm to the next generation last spring and became pale, cryptic versions of their previous selves have recently begun the transformation back to splendid technicolor. It’s like a before and after makeover for Mallard Ducks at the local reservoir this week.
Most ducks undergo two feather molts during the course of one year: one in the spring/summer after breeding in which they replace all of their feathers, including flight feathers (resulting in the basic/female-type plumage); and one in the fall/winter in which they replace just the body feathers to regain the colors of the breeding (nuptial) plumage.
This process of feather replacement ensures that birds acquire a new set of flight feathers before making short or long-distance migrations in fall or spring. More importantly, it ensures that gaudy male ducks, who would be conspicuous targets for aerial predators (like Bald Eagles) can protect themselves with better camouflage while they are flightless and molting a completely new set of wing feathers.
Fueling this feather replacement not only demands additional energy intake per day, but a higher quality of protein in the diet, and so ducks will start feeding on more invertebrates and less pond scum, as they drop old feathers and grow in new ones. It has been estimated that ducks need to ingest about 100 grams of protein to replace the 60+ grams of body feathers during a whole body feather molt. That means they need to ingest more than 3 grams of protein per day over the 30 day molting period, and that translates to about 31,000 invertebrates eaten over the month!!!, according to the folks at Ducks Unlimited.
The devastation caused by two back-to-back hurricanes in the Caribbean and southeastern U.S. has been tragic for the people that live(d) in these areas, but we haven’t really heard much about the impact of Harvey and Irma on the wildlife there. The massive deforestation caused by record high winds and extensive flooding in low-lying areas leaves little habitat and forage for resident wildlife, and will certainly prove challenging for the migratory birds that make their way south through these areas this fall.
High winds and storm surge swamped the Florida Keys as well, where the diminutive Key Deer live. These pint-sized relatives of the very common White-tailed Deer are endemic to the island chain, but exist there in relatively low numbers (700-1000 animals) on the Key Deer reserves on Big Pine and Little Torch Keys.
You would think their small size might make them vulnerable to being swept away in hurricane winds and/or floods, but the Key Deer have inhabited these islands for the past 13,000 years and have somehow survived the worst of inclement weather there. A story today in the Washington Post reports a sighting of 4 Key Deer crossing a local road, so at least some of the population has survived. Low population numbers is a long-term concern, however, since increased inbreeding can lead to an accumulation of detrimental recessive genes, and result in reduced fitness and resilience to cope with weather disasters like the recent hurricanes there.
Late summer flowers are attracting an abundance of bees and butterflies to residential gardens now, but by far the most attractive flowers seem to be those of the succulent Stonecrop (Sedum species) and Violet butterfly bush (Buddleya species). Late summer generations of American Painted Lady are passing through the area in great numbers, probably on their way south to warmer winter climates.
But it’s the butterfly bush (Buddleya species) that is the most popular with the butterflies. The large Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have a size advantage and might try to monopolize a flower spike,
but the fast-darting American Painted Ladies just skip around and beneath them to feed. You can tell this is a butterfly flower from the flatenned floral disk with a thin, elongate flower tube that likely has a nectar reward at its base.