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May 25, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Identifying the Birds

Cardinal May 23

Northern Cardinal

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about the Unknown Birds folder in my photography archive. The folder was over-full and impossible to navigate.

Robin May 24 1s

American Robin

I needed a better system.

Grackle May 20

Common Grackle

The obvious solution was to separate my Unknown Birds folder into a series of known bird folders.

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher

At first I tackled the problem in my usual way, with books and bookmarked websites and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren

Over time, I found that Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site was often the only resource I needed. Their “Browse by Name or Shape” page suits my learning style.

Sparrow May 3

Chipping Sparrow?

I still find sparrows, warblers, and chickadees endlessly confusing.

Unknown Warbler May 23

Blackpoll Warbler

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

Ruby-crowned Kinglet?

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But my Unknown Birds folder is almost empty.

Unknown Bird May 2

Still unknown. Probably a warbler, possibly a Tennessee Warbler?

Almost. The above bird is has defied all of my attempts to identify it. (It also defied most of my attempts to photograph it, which is why my best photo from the encounter is poorly lit and out of focus.) So I’m asking for help. Can you identify my unknown warbler? Is there enough information in the photo for a definitive identification? Please comment, especially if you can correct or confirm any of my other identifications!

Finally, the following photos are evidence of what happens when I get over-excited about a visitor in the yard and forget to check my camera settings…

Hawk April 30

There’s more wrong than right in these photos, but I kind of love them anyway.

Hawk April 30

Cooper’s Hawk?

May 11, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (and a Publication Note)

Heron May 7

I visited with friends last Saturday, sampling dishes of couscous and sweet potato frittata and chia seed pudding. After eating, we took a stroll around my friend’s yard, which slopes down to a watery area. A watery area with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

Heron May 7

My friend has seen these birds in her yard several times in the past, so we weren’t caught completely by surprise. Even so, I was very excited. (And very grateful that she had suggested I bring my camera.)

Heron May 7

We watched for a while as the heron hunted in the shallows.

Heron May 7

Then we wandered on, exploring more of the yard.

Snails May 7

Flowers May 7

Flowers May 7

When I was leaving, as we all stopped on the driveway to say our goodbyes, the heron flew into a pine tree in front of the house. To our amazement, it crept out onto a branch and settled into its nest! Right in the front yard!

Heron May 7

I’ve already packed my tripod in the car, so I won’t forget it next time I visit. The nest is too high for steady video, without a tripod…


Publication Note: My poem “Roads” posted at one of my favorite poetry sites, Poetry Breakfast, on May 9. Many thanks to editor Ann Kestner!

May 5, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Polyphemus Moth

I spent much of Tuesday dodging rain, popping in and out of the house with my camera, hoping to catch a photo of our returning hummingbirds. The hummingbirds didn’t cooperate, but the yard’s other birds were quite willing to pose.

Warbler May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

During one session of waiting and watching, a brief disturbance in the pear tree was followed by a grackle landing in the grass.

Grackle May 3

Just before I snapped the above photo, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a rather large moth disappearing down the grackle’s throat. See all the fuzz on its beak? That’s moth fur. A few moments later an intact wing (and parts of other wings) drifted out of the tree’s upper branches.

Moth Wing May 3

After I finished photographing the wing, I noticed something else in the grass. Another moth!

Moth May 3

I haven’t seen a Polyphemus moth up close since I was a child. This one seemed stunned, letting me take photos with my macro lens from every angle. I have a suspicion that the grackle had just eaten her mate.

Moth May 3

She didn’t have any visible wounds, but she was clearly unable to fly. I let her climb onto my hand, then snipped a twig from the pear tree–something familiar for her to rest on as she recovered from whatever shock had knocked her to the ground. While she rested, I took a few more photos…

Moth May 3

The Polyphemus Moth page at the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site explains the origin of the moth’s name: “It is named after Polyphemus, the giant cyclops from Greek mythology who had a single large, round, eye in the middle of his forehead (Himmelman 2002). The name is because of the large eyespots in the middle of the hind wings.”

Moth May 3

When it became apparent that my moth wasn’t interested in leaving her new perch, I propped the twig in my butterfly box and moved her into the garage.

Moth May 3

I meant only to keep her safe until an approaching storm had passed, and planned to release her after dark. (Polyphemus moths are nocturnal. Also, they don’t feed as adults. Their sole occupation after emerging is to mate and, in the case of females, lay eggs.) But my moth had plans of her own. By the time the weather cleared, she had begun laying eggs.

Eggs May 4

I didn’t want to disturb her during such important work, so I left her to it. By morning, I was the stunned one. So many eggs!

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

I’m planning to put most of the eggs back in the pear tree, when she’s finished laying.

Eggs May 4

Most, but not all. I can’t resist keeping a few. For documentary blog purposes…

Eggs May 4

Stay tuned!

April 29, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Spring Arrivals (Arachnophobia alert!)

Lantana April 13

As spring accelerates toward summer, everything is growing and blooming and nesting.

Succulent April 28

Live Oak April 17

Sun is the catalyst, speeding life along.

Hoverfly March 15

Ladybird March 16

Spiderlings March 25

Swallowtail April 19

Swallowtail Egg April 28

Swallowtail Caterpillar April 28

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Chickadee April 19

Cardinal April 20

Sometimes a shadow overhead interrupts the yard’s chirrup and flutter.

Eagle April 20

Eagle April 20

But spring resumes when the danger has passed.

Cardinal April 20

Robin April 20

Grackle April 19

Grackle April 19

Some afternoons turn sleepy with increasing heat.

Mallards April 27

Mallards April 27

Rabbit April 16

Rabbit Nest April 25

But evenings are cool and mosquito-free, perfect for exploring.

Rabbit Baby April 28

Perfect for sitting outside with a book, too. I haven’t been doing much writing, but I’ve been reading a lot, working my way through a stack of nonfiction, historical fiction, classic sci-fi, and poetry. Now I want to add a few graphic novels to my shelf. Any suggestions?

April 18, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Monarch Caterpillars, Milkweed, and a Publication Note

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 27

After our successful Monarch Butterfly experience in 2014, I spent much of last summer eagerly anticipating a new crop of caterpillars. Late in September, they arrived.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 27

Despite the fact that the milkweed was beginning to die back in anticipation of fall, the caterpillars molted through multiple instars.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 28

Unfortunately, none of the caterpillars survived to maturity. Over a period of three or four days, I found a few caterpillar bodies curled under the milkweed, but most simply disappeared.

Monarch Caterpillar Sept 28

Frustrated by this failure, I moved the milkweed into what I hope will be a healthier location. I also added seeds given to me by a friend. The seeds haven’t sprouted yet, but the yard’s old milkweed seems happy in its new surroundings. So I am once again eagerly anticipating a new crop of caterpillars.

Milkweed April 17

According to the Journey North tracking map, Monarch Butterflies have been sighted in South Carolina and Tennessee. Hopefully, by the time they get to Virginia, the yard will be ready!

 

Publication note: My poem “Metamorphosis” (inspired by our 2014 Monarchs) posted at Poetry Breakfast on April 12th. Many thanks to editor Ann Kestner!

March 31, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Swallowtail Season Begins

In mid-March the overwintering swallowtails woke from their long sleep.

Swallowtail March 24

Swallowtail March 14

Swallowtail March 23

Swallowtail March 15

I hope our early swallowtails are a sign of things to come. Maybe it will be a good summer for butterflies!

Swallowtail March 23

March 15, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Macro Views

Yellow Weed March 9

Spring makes me wish for a more powerful macro lens.

Hyacinth March 10

I want to capture all of the delicate splendor of the yard as it wakes from winter.

Pear March 11

Weed March 9

I use words like “corolla” and “calyx” in poems,

Pear March 11

Honeysuckle March 11

and name characters after weeds and wildflowers.

Purple Weed March 11

Henbit and Purple Deadnettle.

Purple Weed March 11

Speedwell March 8

Speedwell and Dandelion.

Dandelion March 8

Ant March 10

Spring is the only time of year when I truly love ants.

Ant March 11

As I follow ants with my camera, I find other treasures.

Insect March 9

Moth March 10

When carpenter bees emerge, my imagination becomes airborne.

Bee March 8

Bee March 8

I stalk our carpenter bees with both macro and long-focus lenses.

Bee March 8

Long-focus lenses let me stalk the yard’s other visitors, too.

Squirrel March 9

Squirrel March 9

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

But I always return to the macro lens, yearning to be closer.

Fennel March 10

Parsley March 11

Leaf March 8

Publication note: On March 2nd, my poem “On Losing the Old Dog” posted at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, which is one of my favorite poetry sites. Many thanks to editor Christine Klocek-Lim!

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