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BANDED SPHINX MOTH FOUND

        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.

BACKYARD SECRET—HUMMINGBIRDS MIGRATE ALONE

        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.

 

THE CHIMNEY SWIFT YOUNG HAVE FLEDGED

       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.

      

      

JOIN THE GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT

       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.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–NOT ALL EASTERN TOWHEES HAVE RED EYES

       When we are watching the birds living in our backyards, are we REALLY looking at them?  For example, the eastern towhee is a common backyard resident throughout the state of Georgia.  In spite of the fact that we are likely to see the bird scores of times over the course of a year, more than likely most of us do not know the color of an eastern towhee’s eyes.  This is because we rarely take the time to look at a common bird long enough to note any of its subtle features.

       The truth of the matter is throughout most of Georgia eastern towhees have red eyes.  In comparison, those towhees that reside in extreme south Georgia have white eyes (sometimes referred to as yellow eyes).  In fact, white-eyed eastern towhees also abound in Florida and south Alabama.  Towhees displaying both red and white eyes inhabit the vast area between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina.

EASTERN TOWHEE with red eyes

       Ornithologists believe that the first white-eyed towhees originated in Florida during the Pleistocene era. At that time, Florida was a large island.  When the seas began to retreat Florida was no longer an island.  This allowed populations of towhees with white eyes to move northward.

       If you live in extreme south Georgia, or in that portion of Georgia located between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina, take a closer look at the towhees feeding on the ground beneath your feeders.  Who knows, towhees with white eyes may have been dining on your food offerings for quite some time and you did not even know it.  If you live elsewhere in the state, there is always a chance to you might see a towhee with white eyes too.

       As for me, I live in an area where I have a reasonable chance for seeing a towhee with white eyes.  Although I have been looking such a bird for decades, I have only seen towhees with red eyes.  Perhaps 2022 with be the year I will spot both. I hope so.

WHY DO BLUE JAYS MIMIC HAWKS?

       One of the first things beginning birders learn is when they hear what they are sure is a red-shouldered hawk, they cannot be certain the call is that of a red-shouldered hawk.  The reason for this is blue jays often mimic the call of this well-known predator.

       Recent research has revealed much about the mimicry practiced by the blue Jay.  For example, we now know blue jays do not just mimic red-shouldered hawks.  The truth of the matter is they also mimic other predators such as the osprey and Cooper’s hawk.

       It is apparent that blue jays mimic the call of the red-shouldered hawk in an effort to warn other jays living nearby that a predator is in the neighborhood.  However, some ornithologists believe that blue jays may also mimic the call of a hawk in an effort to scare other birds such as grackles enough that they drop their food as they make a hasty flight to cover.  Once the bird leaves, the blue jay can fly down and consume the acorns or other food left behind by the startled birds.

       If you have a theory that helps explain why blue jays mimic hawk calls, I would love to hear it.

WILL ANY NEW BIRDS VISIT YOUR YARD FEEDERS THIS WINTER?

       We backyard wildlife watchers have good idea what birds we will likely see at our feeders each winter.  For example, the lineup of resident birds that I expect to see at my feeders includes year round residents such as chipping sparrows, downy woodpeckers, house finches, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, eastern towhees, northern cardinals, and mockingbirds.  In addition, the winter residents that typically make an appearance at my feeders are ruby-crowned kinglets, as well as both song and white-throated sparrows.  Most years I never see a pine siskin or purple finches.  During those times when large numbers of pine siskin’s and purple finches invade the south, I might see them every day. 

       However, if you are like me, you are always on the lookout for a visitor that you have never seen in your backyard.  I know my chance of spotting one of these rare birds is slim.  However, according to an analysis of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count data, if this trend continues, our chances of seeing a rare winter warbler in the southeastern states might be increasing.

       For example, during last year’s Christmas Bird Count, a number of warblers that typically spend the winter outside our borders never left the United States.  This list of warblers these unusual winter residents includes the prothonotary, chestnut-sided, blue-winged, American redstart, yellow and Tennessee.

       This report has bolstered my hopes that one of these neotropical migrants will decide to spend some time in my yard.  However, even if one does not show up, I know I am going to have a great time watching the regular diners at my backyard bird smorgasbord.

GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS TO BE HELD AUGUST 20-21, 2021

       If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.  This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.

       This will mark the third year the census has been conducted.  Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey.  Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.

       The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part.  There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time.  Most counts are held in yards.  However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds. 

       The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.  Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (beckgri@uga.edu).

       The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.

       For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org).  When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.

      

WHERE CAN I FIND AN OFFICIAL LIST OF THE BIRDS THAT HAVE BEEN SEEN IN GEORGIA?

       Once people begin watching birds, there is a natural tendency for them to try to find out as much as they can about the fascinating feathered creatures that bring them so much joy.  If you find yourself in this category, it is only natural that you would like to know how many different species of birds have been seen in Georgia.  However, if you begin looking for this information you might find surprisingly difficult to locate.  However, this blog will lead you directly to the right place.

       One might think that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is the logical place to begin your search.  Such is not the case.  The organization that is responsible for maintaining the official list of birds seen in Georgia is the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS).

                            This bird is on the official list of birds found in Georgia

       This private nonprofit organization was established in 1936.  It is dedicated to the conservation of birds in the Peach State through preservation of habitat, promoting scientific research, printing bird-related publications, and education.  One of their goals is to maintain the official list of Georgia birds.

       Before a species is added to the list all available information regarding a sighting of a new species is carefully scrutinized by a select group of experienced birders.  Currently, 361 species of birds are on the list.  You can download the list by visiting the GOS website at https://www.gos.org Once there select Birding.

       When you visit the site, take the time to check out all of the great things that the GOS is accomplishing.  After you have done this, I would not be surprised if you decide to join this great organization.

A TIGER SWALLOWTAIL NECTARING ON ROCK FLOWERS?

      Today when I stepped out of my garage, I flushed a male eastern tiger swallowtail from my gravel driveway.  Later when I returned to the house, I found the handsome male tiger swallowtail had returned and appeared to be actively feeding on what might be described as rock flowers. 

       The answer to this question is obviously no.  Although we often see butterflies seemingly feeding on moist sand, soil, pavement, and rocks, they are definitely unable to extract calorie-rich food from these lifeless surfaces.

       The butterfly illustrated in the accompanying photo was actually using his long, coiled proboscis to sip much-needed sodium and other minerals found on the gravel. Often these minerals originate from the materials themselves.  In other cases, they originate from the unseen residues left behind by dead plants or animals.  Family pets or wildlife that urinate or defecate on the hard surfaces can also deposit the minerals.