Young Is In The Air

As you most surely have noticed it is spring and it seems there’s much work being devoted to procreation. There have been several sitings of juvenile turtles making their way towards water. Some of these youngster have been in the nest for 250, 260, 270 days or more, first as eggs and then as hatchlings to finally emerge from their underground chambers and hightail it for the wetlands.

If turtles hatch late in the year they will remain in the nest until the following spring. That’s what we’re seeing now, turtles from last year’s nesting season.

Yellow-bellied slider, no bigger than a half dollar.
Here’s an adult yellow-bellied slider heading out of the water to search for a suitable nesting location (4/28/18).

Speaking of reptiles, I typically see one species of lizard here at the museum, ground skink. Last week I spied a five-lined skink on top of the Cob Hut in Into the Mist. Though there’s good skink habitat here at the museum, I’ve only seen one other five-lined skink in my ten years of walking the grounds.

Five-lined skink.

In the just passing through category, I noticed activity near a group of small hollies while climbing the stairs leading from the Butterfly House. It was a little band of cedar waxwings exploiting what was left of last years crop of holly berries before heading off to points uknown.

Cedar waxwings attack holly.
Cedar waxwings.
Always neat and trim.

While visiting with the red wolves, you may have noticed a small brown bird with a caterpillar in its beak, shucking and jiving back and forth in front of you on the wolf enclosure’s wall or fence as you gazed upon the wolves. That bird, a Carolina wren, along with it’s mate had built a nest in the back side of the video monitor.

The eggs had successfully hatched and the birds were feeding the young during some of the busiest of human visitation times. The bird, reluctant to enter the nest with so many human eyes watching, bounced back and forth from perch to perch looking for an opening to quickly and secretly enter the nest to feed the nestlings.

The good news is, the birds have now fledged and all is well, no more stress for the parents.

From the wall…
To a branch…
To the fence…
A juicy caterpillar for the nestlings.
The site of the nest.

I’ve heard and seen many of our local breeding birds arrive home in the last few weeks. Birds like blue-gray gnatcatcher, great-crested flycatcher, gray catbird, summer tanager, and wood thrush among others. It’s good to see and hear them again among the rapidly leafing out trees.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Another very familiar local nester was found sitting on eggs in Explore the Wild by our Landscaping Supervisor Christian Britt as he was planting a tree.

Female northern cardinal in nest.
Four cardinal eggs.

Dragonfly nymphs have been emerging from the water to morph into adult dragonflies in increasing numbers. April is a prime time for many skimmers to emerge, like the common whitetail below. Some crawl up onto a wall to perform the conversion.

dragonfly emerging from nymphal skin.
From above.
The end result.

Speaking of dragonflies, I’ve been seeing swamp darners along the paths here at the museum. Their emergence seems to coincide with the swarming of termites. The darners can often be seen flying through the swarms picking off the insects as they go.

Swamp darner perched on wax myrtle between aerial assuallts on termite swarms.

Another flying insect eater is the northern rough-winged swallow. I often see them dipping and diving over the wetland’s water hawking airborne insects. They’re quite aerobatic and fun to watch. Later in the day is prime viewing.

N. rough-winged swallow.
aerobatics is a swallow’s trade.
Insects is what they’re after.

An old standby in our wetlands, and one that may offer good views, is the green heron. They often sit quite still for extended periods, so you may have to look carefully for a bird perched on a low branch over the water, or in the water itself, while they hunt for aquatic prey.

Green herons can sit stills for long periods of time waiting for prey.
As the heron walks by, a quick glance up at me while I take its picture.
The heron spots something in the water.
It looks like a dragonfly nymph!

An finally, one of my favorite local songsters, wood thrush.

Wood thrush sings along path near entrance to Dinosaur Trail.

See you out there!

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