Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Merganser With The Mumps?

Oh, yes!  Since we live by the river, we get to see some very odd things.
This, my friend, is a Red-Breasted Merganser.  Seriously! 
Red-breasted Merganser
Check your bird guide if you don't believe it.
You would believe it if you would see the other photos of this Red-Breasted Merganser that I took on this occasion.  (Coming soon)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Snowy Owls in Pa

   We have been hearing about Snowy Owl sightings in Pa.  After numerous visits to the area with the hopes of seeing one, I finally was able to spot the Snowy Owls with some timely tips from a friend.
   While on a previous trip to spot the owls, I told my son that I wanted to get a photo of a Snowy Owl as it sat on the snow with some cornstalks in the foreground and from a perspective that was looking slightly up at the owl.  Well, here is my photo of a Snowy Owl that is close to the one I dreamed of snapping... is just isn't as sharp as I would like.
snowy owl in Pa
... it was a quick shot and was slightly blurred by my unsteady hands.  I wish I would have added to my dreaming that I wanted a sharp photo of the owl.
   The experience of seeing these large white owls from the far north was spectacular, even though my photos didn't turn out to be anything great.  Just look at the wingspan on that large owl as it flies low across the snow-covered fields.
snowy owl flying low across a snow-covered field
The owl's wingspan must be close to 5 feet.
snowy owl flying across a snow-covered field
One of the Snowy Owls took a break from pretending it was out on the tundra and perched on the roof of a shed for a few minutes.
snowy owl sitting on a shed roof
That's a big owl!  You can see some truck tires leaning against the posts of the shed and use them to give some scale to the picture .
snowy owl sitting on a shed roof
Here is a photo of a very white Snowy Owl sitting on a fence post.
snowy owl on a fence post
Here is a photo of  Snowy Owl winging off over the hill...
snowy owl
... to hopefully be seen another day.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Horned Larks Face The Cold

I spotted some Horned Larks facing the cold the other day.
Horned Larks in the cold
 What do these birds eat during the winter?
Horned Lark
 The larks I saw were happily eating weed seeds at the edges of fields and along the roadsides.
Horned Lark feeding on weed seeds
  In the photo below, the Horned Lark was feeding on seeds that it had just shaken loose from the tall weed above its head.  I missed the shot of the lark jumping up to grab hold of the weed stem with its beak and tugging on it to shake out some seeds.  The bird's quick tug scattered the seeds on the snow where it was busily feeding when I finally was able to snap a photo.
Horned Lark feeding on weed seeds
 In this next photo, a Horned Lark has left a scatter of seeds in the far right of the photo.
Horned Lark eating weed seeds
So many weed seeds, so little time...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Frozen... Well, You'd Think Cattail Moth Caterpillars Would Be Frozen Solid During The Winter

   Why did we stop by the pond in the cold?  We wanted to to visit the caterpillars that were hiding in the cattails all winter.  Cattail Moth caterpillars spend the cold winter hidden in the cattail fluff, and amazingly, those caterpillars remain unfrozen despite sub-zero temperatures.  What we like to do with a cattail moth caterpillar is pull it from the fluff, and hold in our hand... seconds later it will start crawling around (see the video below). 
cattails by the pond in the winter
   Some fluffy cattail seed spikes remain over the winter looking rather ragged and weather-beaten.  The cattail's fluff looks like this because the cattail moth caterpillars have sewn up the fluff with silk to hold their home in place.
snow-covered cattail fluff
By gently tugging apart a cattail seed head, we find many of these cattail moth caterpillars. 
cattail moth caterpillar
These small, white caterpillars with brown stripes and dark heads blend in well with the cattail down.
cattail moth caterpillar
 Watch this video of a cattail moth caterpillar as it is pulled from its winter home and soon begins to crawl around on a warm hand.
video
In this next video, watch as seconds after the caterpillar was removed from its winter abode, it began to crawl around, despite the fact that the overnight temperature was well below zero only a couple of hours before.
video

You would think these caterpillars would be frozen solid, incapacitated, or even dead with how cold the winter has been.  But, no, these caterpillars are designed to avoid freezing - and while they are at it, they help make a winter nature walk interesting.
snow-covered cattail
Cattails by the frozen pond during a cold, snowy winter hold a secret, don't they?
Cattail down is the winter home of the cattail moth caterpillar
A secret hidden under the snow-covered downy fluff.
Cattails beside the pond in the winter
Yes, finding cattail moth caterpillars spending the winter hidden in the cattail fluff is one reason we stopped by the pond in the cold.
I posted about overwintering cattail moth caterpillars once before.