There are not one, but two mammalian predators looking for the squirrels in my backyard. One of the red foxes stopped by the other day, furtively sneaking along the fence line between backyards, pausing under some evergreens for a look at the bird feeders, and then hiding next to a shed in my neighbor’s yard.
But the next day, a coyote lingered in the backyard, hunting along the edge between the grass and the forest for unsuspecting squirrels.
Despite having a lot of their favorite host plant (swamp milkweed) in my backyard, I have only seen the milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) a few times.
Milkweed leaf beetles are vegetarian — they prefer the leaves and flowers of just about any milkweed species. Their bold black and orange coloration warns predators to stay away from a potentially poisonous meal, but these beetles don’t sequester the toxic milkweed chemicals like the monarch caterpillars do.
This is the only species of milkweed leaf beetle found north of Mexico, and is apparently pretty rare throughout some of its range. Surprising, since its close relative, the Colorado Potato Beetle is a real pest. But one researcher found that the larvae of this beetle are highly vulnerable to predation when they occur on milkweed species growing in an old field or prairie where the vegetation is continuous. They survive much better on swamp milkweed where the plants might be surrounded by a moat of water, a barrier to the roaming predators. Well then, welcome to my garden.
The one beetle I found in the morning acquired a friend by the evening. I imagine it’s difficult to stay affixed to a large, spherically shaped, slick, waxy object when your legs are too short to get a good hold. The male continually tapped the female’s back with his antennae while trying to jockey himself into position.
“Slip-slidin’ away…You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.” Paul Simon’s lyrics seem appropriate for this couple.
I have often watched herons and egrets stalk fish or frogs along a lake shore but have never seen one hunt for prey on land. The technique is much the same, but there is an important difference in the approach.
This Great Egret was hunting small Anolis lizards along the rocky outcrops on the top of a cliff.
The bird walks slowly with its neck very outstretched, often vertical, until it spies a lizard basking on one of the rocks. Then it begins to rock its neck slowly back and forth in a sinuous curve, slowly lowering its head, until finally close enough to make a grab (Sorry, but the fence obscured my photos of all of this).
One of many Anolis lizard species in Puerto Rico, this one about 3inches in length.
This particular Egret enjoyed several tasty lizard bites before moving on to other hunting grounds.
Its graceful, upward flight allowed me to get several photos as it flew off.
Three days after I first discovered more than two dozen of them, there are only six Wood Duck chicks in the pond now. They seem bigger, but I’m sure they are still highly vulnerable to predation, even with a very alert parent on guard duty. I managed to sneak up on them again, using a lot of tree foliage and dead branches as a hide. When I first saw the ducklings, they were widely spread out in the pond, but a signal from mom when she saw me made them move over toward her immediately.
These are all of the ducklings that I saw, and the other hen was not on this pond, or the other two ponds. So, she may have lost all of her chicks and left.
This is mother Wood Duck’s attempt to hide her chicks. Now that I see how Wood Ducks use the vegetation alongside the pond, it looks like drooping branches of willow make ideal screens for protection, at least from bipedal observers. But when I circled around (quietly) behind this willow, the ducks had moved to the opposite side of the pond for a mid-morning nap and preen in the sun.
I’ll go back in a couple of days and see if any are left. I hope so. It would be nice to have Wood Ducks nesting here every year.