Moths are among the most unappreciated backyard inhabitants. Although many are just as beautiful as the most gorgeous butterflies, we rarely see them since many primarily fly at night. A good example of one of these nocturnal beauties is the banded sphinx (Euromorpha fasciatus).
Kim Walton (the administrator for this blog) recently found one of these moths lying on the ground in her garage one morning as she was about to leave. Although the moth was alive, it did not attempt to fly away.
The banded sphinx is a large moth (3.4 inches). It lays its eggs on a number of host plants including water primrose, grape, and Virginia creeper.
It is a nocturnal feeder. While we are asleep, it is flying about nectaring at a variety of plants.
Since the banded sphinx ranges across the entire state, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might find one of these strikingly beautiful moths in your yard too.
During the past few days, the number of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting our feeders has noticeably decreased. Whereas less than a week ago clouds hummingbirds were constantly swirling about backyard feeders, now a handful of birds are visiting them. Indeed, the hummingbird migration is in full swing.
When most of the birds vanish at the same time, it is easy to believe they migrate in flocks like robins, ducks, geese, and a host of other species. However, the truth of the matter is each bird migrates on its own. This means a rubythroat raised in your backyard this year does not have an older and more experienced bird to guide it on its first migration flight to its wintering ground in southern Mexico and Panama.
How is this possible? Biologists have still not unlocked this secret. Consequently, the best way to explain it is that hummingbirds migrate by instinct.
Each year a pair of chimney swifts nests in our chimney. We are never sure when they begin building their nest or begin incubating a clutch of anywhere from two to seven eggs. In fact, throughout most of their time with us, aside from seeing them flying into the chimney at dusk, we would never know they were roosting and nesting in our chimney. In fact, it is only after the young have hatched do we begin hearing twittering sounds coming down the chimney.
In spite of the fact that chimney swifts live in close proximity to humans, we know very little about them. This is large because they spend their days flying about catching insects. In addition, they nest in chimneys that are often difficult to monitor.
For that reason, it is not surprising that my wife and I do not know when they begin nesting. If the birds that nest in our chimney are typical, both the male and female build the nest, incubate a clutch of two to seven eggs, and feed the young. At times, an unmated adult will serve as a helper.
The eggs are incubated anywhere from 16-21 days. When the young hatch, they grow rapidly. When the youngsters are around 20 days old some tend to get a little rambunctious and flap their wings while standing on the edge of the nest. Some will even crawl out of the nest and hang on the inside of the chimney.
Finally, when they fledge and leave the safety of the chimney, they form small groups of other fledglings and adults, which eventually form larger flocks before migrating to South America.
The only time we know the young are in our chimney is when the parents return to feed them. On such occasions, they begin rapidly twittering. These sounds increase in volume as they grow. Sometimes we will even hear them begin chattering when we hear a loud clap of thunder during the night.
The sounds are never annoying. In fact, it is pleasing to hear these sounds of nature filtering down our chimney rather than the loud sounds made by vehicles passing in front of our home.
Consequently, when we stopped hearing the twittering of the chimney swifts this past week, we knew they had fledged. Each day since, we have listened in vain for their calling. We now realize we must wait until next summer to be the proud hosts of another family of chimney swifts.
When they departed, I wish they could have taken some of the highway noise with them.
I am surprised that more Georgians are not familiar with the sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). Since it bears some of the most fragrant blossoms of any of our native woodland shrubs, you would think that most folks would want it growing in their yard.
The sweetshrub’s blossoms are maroon in color and produce a pleasing aroma that my wife and I are convinced smells like apples. However, some describe the scent as smelling like spicy strawberries. Others inhale the shrub’s pleasing aroma and say it reminds them of a mixture of pineapples and bananas.
Regardless of how you interpret the pleasing odor, the vast majority of us love it. In fact, some people think so highly of it they plant sweetshrubs near their outside doors. This allows them to lean over and take a whiff of the flowers before heading out for the day.
The sweetshrub is also a pollinator plant. Although Sweetshrub blooms generate pollen used by native bees and butterflies, sap beetles are the plant’s main pollinator. However, since sap beetles are small (1.4-inch) and nondescript we often overlook them.
The way in which these beetles pollinate sweetshrub blossoms in a little strange. The fragrant flowers draw the beetles with the scent they emit. Once the beetles land on the blossoms, they crawl down inside the bloom and begin gathering pollen. Here is where this gets odd. When the beetles are ready to leave, they have a difficult time exiting the flower. As such, they often remain there until the flower matures enough for its petals to fold back enough for them to depart. Once they are on the wing, they fly off carrying granules of pollen. When they land on another sweetshrub blossom, they inadvertently pollenate that flower.
Sweetshrub is easy to grow from seed, transplants, and cuttings. While there are cultivars on the market, I have never planted any of them. If you want to be sure you are planting sweetshrubs that produce beautiful maroon blooms, a pleasing apple scent, and pollen relished by pollinators; you cannot go wrong buying plants from reputable nurseries that deal in native plants.
If you are looking for a birding activity that is fun, can involve the entire family, takes as little as 15 minutes of your time, helps bird conservation efforts, and is free, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) may be just what the doctor ordered. The 2022 GBBC will take place February 18-21.
The GBBC was launched in 1998 in an effort to determine the status of wintering bird populations across the United States. In 2009, the survey area was expanded in include Canada. Then in 2013, the survey went global.
This bird survey depends on the voluntary participation of folks living around the globe. Without their efforts, the survey could not succeed. I am sure that the success of the organizations that sponsor the event (The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada) must be astounded to see how the public has embraced this project. Look at these figures: in 2021, approximately 300,000 men and women living in 190 countries submitted sightings of 6,436 species of birds
If you have never taken part in a GBBC, why not do so this year? To participate, all you have to do is select an area you would like to survey. Although the count’s name suggests each survey must take place in a backyard, you can actually count birds wherever you like. For example, if you are a teacher, you and your class might survey the school grounds. Others tally the birds they see in their neighborhoods, in city and state parks, national wildlife refuges, or state wildlife management areas. Others prefer to conduct their counts while leisurely walking along the ocean.
After you have made your selection(s), all you have to do is count all of the birds you can identify within your count area for a minimum of 15 minutes. You can do this once or each of the four days of the count period. You can also conduct multiple counts at several locations. I know folks that routinely survey six to eight areas each day throughout the 4-day count period. Once you have completed a count you then enter the data online. It is a simple as that.
If you think this might be something you would like to try, visit the GBBC website (birdcount.org). Here you will find a wealth of information concerning the count, and instructions on how to register as a member of the 2022 count team. The site also tells you where you can download a checklist of the birds you are most likely to encounter, as well as directions on how you can follow worldwide participation in the count in real time.
Last year 6,922 checklists were received from Georgia. These checklists were enough to earn Georgia 13th place among the 50 states. The only Southeastern states that ranked higher is participation were Florida (5th) with 12,892 lists, and North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, a total of 10,335 checklists earned Georgia’s neighbor to the north 8th place.
If you take part in the count for the first time this year, chances are you will look forward to the GBBC for years to come.