If you are lucky enough to spot a blue-gray gnatcatcher, it might seem next to impossible to identify before it quickly vanishes. Actually, if you know what to look for, is easier to recognize than you might think.
The blue-gray gnatcatcher is one of the smallest (4 1/2″ long) that you are likely to see in your backyard during the summer. It is quite slender, bluish gray on top, and whitish below. A thin, white ring encircles the bird’s eyes. Its tail appears quite long for a bird this small. The underside of the tail is mostly white. The topside, however, is black and highlighted by white outer tail feathers.
The bird’s behavior will also help you make a positive identification. This bird acts very nervous as it constantly moves from spot to spot looking insects and spiders. Often it will cock its tail as it forages. While most its food is captured as it flits from branch to branch, it will also make short flights and capture food in midair. Such attacks are often launched high in the treetops.
Although the bird is quite vocal, its high-pitched call, which sounds something like spee, is often beyond the hearing range of many of us.
From spring to fall, the blue-gray gnatcatcher can be seen in yards with shrubs and mature trees throughout the entire state except the higher elevations in the mountains. Although the vast majority of the birds winter in Mexico and Central America, some are uncommonly seen in during this cold, harsh season along the Georgia coast and in the Coastal Plain. Rarely are the birds spotted during the winter elsewhere in the state.
Be on the lookout for this tiny bird in your backyard. If you don’t see one soon, you will have to wait until next spring for another chance to make the acquaintance with a bird that may be more common in your neck of the woods than you think.
RED-BANDED HAIRSTREAK NECTARING AT LANTANA BLOSSOMS
If are looking for a plant that will attract both hummingbirds and butterflies it would be hard to find a better plant than lantana. It is a hummingbird and butterfly magnet, prolific bloomer, withstands dry conditions, and requires little care.
From the time they begin blooming in late spring to well into the fall, lantanas produce a seemingly endless crop of flowers that contain nectar prized by ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies alike.
Believe it or not, there are more than 150 species of lantanas. These hardy plants are native to both the African and New World tropics. Some are shrubs that reach a height of six to 10 feet; others trail across the ground. However, one trait they all share is that they have woody stems.
Throughout much of Georgia, lantanas are considered perennials. Although their leaves and stems are killed by frost, their roots are often able to survive and sprout a new crop of stems and leave each spring.
With such a dizzying variety of lantanas to choose from, you are probably scratching your head trying to decide which is the best lantana for your yard. While I have tried a number of varieties, the one I prefer is Miss Huff. This variety can survive winter temperatures as low as 0˚F. During the past four decades, the Miss Huff lantanas growing in my Middle Georgia yard temperatures have survived temperatures as low as 4˚F. Other varieties do not do well at all when the thermometer dips into the 20s and below.
Miss Huff is a shrub. The largest Miss Huff that I have ever seen grows in front of the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section office in Forsyth. Each summer this giant reaches a height of five feet and measures more than 35 feet in diameter.
In late August, it is not uncommon to see 12-24 rubythroats dividing their time between the feeders hung around the porch of the office building and the lantana growing nearby. At the same time, a couple of dozen butterflies are usually nectaring on the petite lantana blossoms.
Miss Huff sports orange and pink flowers arranged in tiny bouquets measuring less than two inches across. Like most lantanas, its flowers change color as they age.
Other varieties of lantanas display blossoms that range from white and purple, yellow and orange, pink and magenta and rose and gold to solid colors like yellow, white, red and pink.
Plant breeders have developed a number of new varieties adorned with blooms in a kaleidoscope of colors. Here is a short list of some of these newcomers: American red, confetti, cream carpet, gold mound, Irene, new gold, patriot rainbow, radiation and white lightning.
I should mention that, while some new varieties grow no more than two feet tall, they produce far less nectar than some of the older, taller types such as Miss Huff.
One thing that makes them a favorite among gardeners is that they require little care. About all that you have to do is trim back the plant’s dead stems prior to the next growing season.
Lantanas are not plagued by a host of insect pests or diseases.
In addition, they require little water or fertilizer. In fact, if they are watered them too frequently and/or treated to liberal doses of fertilizer, they tend to produce more leaves and stems and fewer flowers.
Lantanas will grow in both direct sunlight and partial shade. However, these hardy plants do best in open sunshine.
One of the few negatives associated with lantanas is that, in some places in South Georgia, some varieties will escape into the wild. With that in mind, ask your county cooperative extension agent, or other gardening expert, which varieties should not be planted in your neck of the woods.
Whether your yard is large or small, lantanas deserve a place in your landscape. Once they become established, sit back and enjoy the beauty of the lantana flowers and the hummingbirds and butterflies that will frequent the nectar-rich lantana flowers.
A couple of days ago I received a call from Nancy in Habersham County. She contacted me to report that she spotted an albino hummingbird at one of her feeders on July 18. This was the first report of an albino hummingbird that I have received this year.
Albino hummingbirds are among the rarest of the rare birds.
Bird banding records indicate that less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all birds are albinos.
Since I began keeping up the sightings of these beautiful birds more than 25 years ago, I have never received more than a half a dozen reports of them in a single year. All of the birds reported to me were seen during the summer.
A bird does not have to be totally white to be considered an albino. If white feathers are displayed in an area where you would typically see colored feathers, it is an albino.
Biologists recognize four different types of albinism. The rarest form is called total albinism. To be considered a total albino, a bird cannot display any dark coloration on its skin, feathers, bill, legs or feet.
The most common form of albinism is called partial albinism. Partial albino birds have varying amounts of white feathers somewhere on their bodies.
If an albino hummingbird shows up in your backyard this summer, please let me know. There may be more of these rare birds in the Peach State than I realize.
This distinctively marked moth can be seen flying about our backyards from March – August.
Clymene moths fly during both the day and night throughout the state of Georgia. During the day it can be seen perched on leaves. At night it is often attracted to outside lights.
This 2-inch moth can be easily identified. Its forewings are cream-colored and marked with partial dark brown borders. When the forewings are closed the dark markings atop the moth’s forewings form a cross.
The clymene moth’s hindwings are orange yellow.
Although this moth can be seen in practically any backyard, your chances of seeing this handsome moth are best when your home is located near a hardwood forest or fields.
The caterpillar host plants for this moth are willow, oaks, plants in the genus Eupatorium, and others.
Here is a butterfly that you are likely to see in your backyard. Although, from time to time, you might spot it visiting flowers, it much prefers to feed elsewhere. In fact, its feeding habits do not seem appropriate for such a beautiful butterfly. This is because it will dine on dead animals as well as animal droppings, rotten fruit and the sap produced by a variety of plants.
The red-spotted purple is often found perched on wet driveways or bare patches of soil in our gardens. When located in such settings it often slowly raises and drops its wings as it drinks mineral-laden moisture.
I most often spot this butterfly either perched or flying close to the ground. However, I have also seen it basking in the morning sunlight on tree leaves some 30 or more feet above the ground.
At first glance, the red-spotted purple is often mistaken for a dark swallowtail. However, when you take a closer look at this magnificent beauty, you will quickly realize it doesn’t have any swallow-like tails. In fact, its hindwings are squared off.
I have long considered this fairly large (3-3 1/2 inch wingspan) flying jewel to be one of our most beautiful butterflies. From above, the red-spotted purple displays a combination of black forewings, accented with reddish-orange spots located near its wingtips, and deep iridescent blue hindwings.
Interestingly, lepidopterists (those that study moths and butterflies) consider the red-spotted purple to be a mimic of the poisonous pipevine swallow. Supposedly, this helps deter birds and other predators from eating the nontoxic red-spotted purple.
The list of larval host plants for this butterfly includes cherry, deerberry, hawthorn, cottonwood and poplar.
Although the red-spotted purple can be seen from March through early November, it most often graces yards across the entire state during the summer.
When we work outside on a sweltering hot, humid summer day, within minutes our skin and clothing are wet with sweat. Sweating helps keep us from overheating.
Since birds do not have sweat glands, they must rely on other means to keep their body temperature from reaching dangerous levels. One of the main ways they are able to accomplish this is by panting.
If you closely watch the birds moving about your backyard when temperatures soar, you are apt to see one or more pant. When a bird is panting it holds its bill open longer than it normally would and increases its breathing rate. This greatly increases the flow of air across the moist, warm surfaces of its respiratory tract. This helps dissipates the bird’s body heat.
As you might expect, you are most likely to see this behavior during the hottest parts of the day.
Over the years, Ron and Jennie Lee have been transforming their McDonough backyard into a haven for wildlife.
Since they live in the shadow Atlanta, some would say that they have been wasting their time. According to these naysayers, if you want to attract wildlife to your yard, you need to live out in the country.
Ron and Jennie’s success in inviting wildlife to their yard is a shining example of what can often be accomplished in some of the most unlikely locations. The variety of wildlife that regularly visits their yard is truly astounding.
For that reason, I was not surprised when Ron recently sent me a picture of a couple of his latest backyard visitors. I hope you enjoy the photograph as much as I do.
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (adult male w-charcoal throat)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (adult male)
Once summer arrives in Georgia, the activity around our hummingbird feeders dramatically increases. If you look closely at the birds visiting your feeders at this time of year, it may appear that three different species of hummingbirds are dining on your sugar water offerings. More than likely these seemingly different birds are all ruby-throated hummingbirds. These visitors are adult males, females and juvenile males.
Although there are a number of often subtle differences between them, here are a few simple tips that will help you tell them apart.
Adult Male – The adult male rubythroat sports a gorgeous red throat (gorget). Since this gorget actually changes color depending on lighting conditions, identification of a male ruby-throated hummingbird can be confusing. In direct sunlight, the gorget can appear ruby-red and then suddenly become charcoal-black when a cloud slips in front of the sun. For this reason, a male ruby-throated hummingbird displaying a dark gorget is often mistaken for a black-chinned hummingbird.
Juvenile Male – During its first summer, the juvenile male rubythroat has a clear, pale throat marked with lines of dark dots.
As the summer progresses, a few red gorget feathers will appear. I have seen anywhere from one to 18 or more of feathers adorning the throats of young birds before they disappear from my backyard by late summer.
Females – Both adult and juvenile female ruby-throated hummingbirds have light-colored throats. As such, it is next to impossible to tell a juvenile from an adult unless you have it in your hand and can carefully examine and measure the bird.