Some Outdoor Goings-on

Top Photo: Two adult red-tailed hawks silhouetted against the clouds as they soar above Butterfly House. Note that each bird is molting.

The two red-tailed hawks above successfully nested on the museum grounds. They’re regular nesters.

I rarely see eastern cottontails on our 84 acre campus, until this year. I’ve seen more this spring and summer than I have in perhaps the last 14 years of hiking the museum’s trails. Predator numbers must be down.

Eastern cottontail.

Besides the red-tailed hawks above, and the resident nesting red-shouldered hawks, there are many local creatures who would eat eastern cottontails including gray and red fox, coyote, barred owls, mink, raccoons, skunks, snakes (young cottontails) and even feral cats.

The water level in the wetlands is going down. It’s noticeably lower on a daily basis. Each morning I see more mud, less water.

Lower water levels make for easy spotting of aquatic prey for some of our local hunters, it tends to concentrate prey into ever shrinking pools of water. The green heron pictured here spied a movement in the shallow water and went in for the kill. The heron caught what at first looked like a frog, dangling from its spear-like bill. But there was something odd about this “frog.”

Stretched to the limit in order to see the available underwater creatures.
A quick dive in to retrieve what looks like a frog.
Something odd about this “frog.”
Notice how the “frog” droops in the bird’s bill.

A closer look, an enlargement of one of the images in the sequence, revealed not a frog, but a crawfish, a floppy crawfish but a crawfish none-the-less. It was a soft-shell crawfish, a crawfish that had just molted and hadn’t yet developed its hard outer shell, a very vulnerable time in a crustacean’s life. What was this crawfish doing out in the open during its molt?

Enlargement of above image reveals a soft shell crawfish.

It looks like the local red-shouldered hawks have been taking advantage of the shallow water too. I found a pair of crawfish claws atop a post on the boardwalk leading into Explore the Wild.

Left over from red-shouldered hawk meal.

Through past experience, I’ve learned that red-shouldered hawks eat the body and tail meat of crawfish, typically leaving the claws on the rail or posts of the boardwalk.

Hummingbird moths are diurnal. They fly with rapid wingbeats visiting flowers for nectar. They’re commonly called clearwing moths. Two of these sphinx moths look remarkably like hummingbirds as they hover, wings a-blur, at flowers to sip nectar. The one pictured here resting on a leaf, the hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe), and the snowberry clearwing are fairly common in our area.

Hummingbird moth.

Eastern yellow passion flower is a native vine. It’s easily overlooked due to its small, pale yellow-green flowers which are in bloom now. The three lobed leaves are shorter than they are wide.

Passion flower.
Closer look at the modest flower.
Distinctive leaf of passion flower.

Paw paw fruit is ripening, though they won’t be ready to eat until late summer to early fall

Paw paw fruit.

The seed pods of pipevine are swelling but won’t be ready to harvest until fall. You can’t eat the pods or seeds within but you can plant them and grow your own pipevine which in turn may attract pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

Pipevine seed pod.

Two garter snakes have made a retreat out of a bundle of rip rap next to the Train Station. The snakes are off the path and out of public view (sorry).

Two garter snakes take up residence in rip rap bundle (center of image).
Attractive and diverse garter snakes.

The two snakes are both garter snakes though they differ in color, one black, yellow, and green the other with browns and yellows.

Acadian flycatchers nest on the property. One can often be heard and seen on the back side of the Dinosaur Trail and sometimes on the backside of the main outdoor loop behind the Lemur Exhibit.

Acadian flycatcher on Dinosaur Trail.

Hackberry emperors are butterflies which closely associate with hackberry trees. If you’re walking through the woods in the vicinity of a hackberry tree you may be lit upon by one of these butterflies. They’re attracted to your sweat and may probe you with their proboscis.

Hackberry emperor.
A glimpse at the upper surface of the wings.

And finally, two great blues.

Great blue heron.
Great blue skimmer. (male).

If you’ve been putting off going outside because it’s hot, a little humid, and the dew point is somewhere in the 70s, DON’T. All this stuff and more is out there waiting for you, but you have to be out there to see it.

So, what’re you waiting for, get out and have a look around!

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