CLUES OFFERED BY A BROKEN EGGSHELL

              If you are like me, each year you find a number of broken eggshells in your yard.  When you make such a find, one of the first questions you often ask yourself is, “I wonder if this egg successfully hatched or was broken by a predator?”

       Today I found the eggshell shown in the photo accompanying this blog.  I found in lying on the driveway beneath a tall loblolly pine.  Based on its size and color, I suspect it is a mourning dove eggshell.  

       The first thing to look for when you discover  a shell is whether or not it looks like it was broken open along a jagged, line near the center of the shell.  If that proves to be the case, more than likely a young bird made this cut using an egg tooth attached to its upper bill.  Shortly after the bird hatches, it loses this handy tool.  If this cut extends around the circumference of the egg, more than likely the young bird successfully hatched.

       If, however, the shell appears crushed, has yolk attached to the inside of the shell, or displays puncture holes, the egg was the victim of a predator.

       From the looks of this eggshell, it appears my yard is home to at least one hatchling mourning dove.  I hope the other eggs in the nest successfully hatched too.

RUBYTHROATS LOVE THIS RED SALVIA

     There are literally hundreds of varieties of salvias. With so many available, it is difficult to choose which one you need to plant in your yard.  If you want salvia that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies such as the cloudless sulphur, I have just the one for you.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the salvias are native to Mexico, Africa, South America, Eurasia, and elsewhere, the one I am recommending is native to parts of the Southeast, including Georgia.  Like so many of the salvias, it is called red salvia or scarlet sage.  However, the one I am referring to bears the scientific name Salvia coccinea.

RED SALVIA - Blog - 15 July 2017

This plant grows one to two feet tall and blooms from late spring into the fall.  Bright red blossoms are borne on tall slender stalks.  If you take a close look at a flower, you will find it is tubular in shape.

It grows in a wide range of soils ranging from sandy to clay-laden. It will grow in gardens situated in full sun as well the shade.

Scarlet sage plants can be established from both seed and seedlings.  Seedlings are readily available at many nurseries.  It can also be easily grown from seed.  In fact, once it becomes established it usually reseeds itself year after year.

My wife and I have grown it in large pots, patches and mixed in with other butterfly and hummingbird nectar plants.  The versatile plant has done well in all situations.

Since the numbers of hummingbirds has increased dramatically during the past week or so, we have been enjoying watching hummingbirds visiting the bright red blossoms of red salvia and the other hummingbird nectar plants that are currently blooming in profusion in our yard.

Although have been seeing more butterflies in our backyard lately, cloudless sulphurs remain scarce.  As such, cloudless sulphurs have yet to be seen at our scarlet sage blooms. However, I know that, as we move toward autumn, the cloudless sulphur population will explode and ruby-throated hummingbirds will then be vying with cloudless sulphurs for the opportunity to nectar at our red salvia.

I have purchased plants purported to be red salvia that were far from hummingbird and butterfly magnets. Perhaps they were cultivars of Salvia coccinea that simply don’t produce as much nectar as the true native red salvia.

If you find and plant the right one, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

 

BUTTERFLIES AND AIRPLANES WARM UP BEFORE TAKING TO THE AIR

 

Recently while I was taking a morning walk before the temperature began to soar; a female eastern tiger swallowtail slowly flew in front of me.  In fact, the large butterfly seemed to glide more than fly.  When she did beat her wings, they flapped slowly.  As I watched, the butterfly landed on the leaves of a nearby shrub.  She chose to land in a spot that was bathed by the light of the rising sun.  Upon landing she kept her wings outstretched and remained motionless for quite some time.

This butterfly was warming up.   This something each butterfly does every day of its life.  Like an airplane, before it can fly efficiently, it must warm up.

The butterfly is a cold-blooded animal.  This means that it cannot control its body temperate such as warm-blooded animals like you and me.  Consequently a butterfly’s body temperature reflects the air temperature.  In comparison, our body temperature remains constant at all times.

The next time you are out and about on a sunny, cool morning be on the lookout for basking sites.  Once you find one, you can often find butterflies there day after day,

In the case of the butterfly, most are not seen flying about when the temperature dips below 55˚F.  In fact the ideal temperature for butterflies to be winging about is roughly between 80 and 100˚F.

When the temperature is below this zone the insect’s flight muscles are not capable of contracting as quickly as they are when temperatures are high.  In addition, butterflies expend more energy moving their flight muscles when it is colder.

Since butterflies need to start moving about as quickly as possible to escape predators and find food and mates, it behooves them to take to the air as soon as they can each day.

One way they are able to do this is to take advantage of the warming effects of solar energy.  The butterfly that drifted to a nearby bush in front me was doing just that.  She positioned herself to maximize the amount of solar radiation striking her wings and body.  This would allow her to begin daily activities much sooner than would have been possible if she perched in the shade.

Dark butterflies, such as the female eastern tiger swallowtail, are able to fly sooner in the day than butterflies that are lighter in color.  The reason for this is darker colors absorb more solar energy than light colors.

As you can see, one of the best times to watch or photograph butterflies in your backyard is early in the morning.  During this special time of day if you find a basking butterfly, it will often remain motionless longer than it would if you found it in your garden later in the day.  As long as you do not disturb a basking butterfly, you can take pictures of it to your heart’s content.

You can create additional butterfly basking sites by placing large, flat, dark-colored stones about your garden and yard.

 

 

HOW TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF AN ORCHARD ORIOLE IN YOUR BACKYARD

       If the truth were known, the orchard oriole is far more common around Georgia backyards than most people think. 

       I believe three of the reasons for this are that this colorful, small oriole rarely makes an appearance at bird feeders, most people are not familiar with its song, and finally, far too many folks do not maintain a birdbath.

       My wife and I are fortunate that orchard orioles annually make their spring and summer home in our backyard. In fact, throughout the spring the song of the orchard oriole can be heard throughout the entire day.  Consequently, when we hear the birds singing, we focus our attention on the trees or shrubs where the calls are coming from.  Often we are rewarded with seeing one of the birds suddenly burst from the foliage and fly across the yard.

       One of the best ways to learn the song is by listening to it on one of the many online sites that allow you to listen to recordings of the various birdcalls. 

       Once you becoming familiar with the call, you may discover that you are already hosting orchard orioles. 

       Some say that they are able to catch a glimpse of orchard orioles visiting their hummingbird feeders.  We have never been that lucky.  If you want to try it, here is a suggestion that may work.  Hang up a hummingbird feeder that is equipped with large feeding portals.

       The reason I mention this is last winter a Baltimore oriole fed at a hummingbird feeder that has large feeding portals.  When I replaced it with a feeder with normal-sized feeding portals, the bird would not use it; obliviously they were too small.  Perhaps this approach will work with orchard orioles too.

       By far, we get our best views of orchard orioles at our birdbaths.  Orchard orioles visit these watering holes daily.  With that in mind, keep your birdbaths full of fresh, clean water.

       If orioles are not regularly using your birdbaths, it may be because they are too deep.  Orchard orioles are not large birds.  As such, they will not wade out into water a couple of inches deep.  Ideally, a birdbath should have a gently sloping bottom that provides birds of all sizes with ideal bathing conditions.

       If you are successful in catching a glimpse of an orchard oriole or two using one of these tips, please let me know.

 

THE PEARL CRESCENT IS A BUTTERFLY SUCCESS STORY

I recently participated in the annual Fourth of July Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count.  Some 64 different species of butterflies were seen during the survey.  Out of the kaleidoscope of species seen by the 18 volunteers taking part in the count, the butterfly spotted most often was the pearl crescent.

       Seeing the name of the pearl crescent atop this list came as no surprise.  The pearl crescent is one of the most common butterflies seen throughout the state.  The success of this medium-small butterfly (1.25-1.60″) is closely linked to the fact it is a generalist.  By that I mean it prospers in a wide variety of habitats including forest edges, fields, roadsides, clearcuts, and open woodlands.  In addition, this butterfly does well in both urban and rural habitats.  As such, chances are excellent that the pearl crescent might very well be one of the most abundant butterflies in your backyard too.

       I usually see my first pearl crescent in my backyard in late March.  However, depending upon where you live in the state, you might see one as early as February.  Once you spot your first pearl crescent in the spring, you could easily see them into November.

       The pearl crescent will nectar on a variety of plants.  In my backyard, I often see it nectaring on black-eyed susan blossoms. In fact, it seems to feed there more often on these stunnng yellow blooms than other butterflies.

       In your backyard, male pearl crescents can often be seen flying about looking for females.  You will also see pearl crescents perched on leaves or the tips of stems with their wings outstretched basking in the sun.

       One of the things I always look for when I first spot a pearl crescent-sized butterfly from a distance is whether the butterfly is repeatedly opening and closing its wings.  If I see this behavior, invariably the butterfly proves to be a pearl crescent.

       Asters serve as the pearl crescent’s host plant.                 

       The next time that you spot a pearl crescent take the time to closely study it.  If you do, I am sure that you will discover the orange and black pattern displayed on its wings truly beautiful.

THE BLUEBIRD EGGSHELL MYSTERY

Have you ever wondered what happens to the shells left after bluebird hatchlings peck their way into the light of day?   You do not see them in the nest nor on the ground beneath a nest box.  Since you know they do not simply vanish into thin air, there must be a logical answer to this age-old mystery. Actually, one of two things can happen to the shells.  Most birds, including the eastern bluebird, carry the shells some distance from a nest and simply drop them.  This is why, as you walk about your yard, you sometimes stumble across wild bird eggshells in places where no nests are in sight.  Many bird experts suggest this behavior makes it more difficult for a predator to locate a nest full on young, helpless birds.  If the eggs were simply dropped out the entrance hole, a predator would have a much easier time finding a nearby nest. In the case of the bluebird, parents sometimes eat the shells.  Nobody knows why they do this.  It is thought that perhaps it is done to obtain the calcium found in the shells.

DOWNY WOODPECKER VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

If you feed hummingbirds sugar water, you know that hummingbird feeders attract a variety of other critters. 

       Right now my wife, Donna, and I are chagrined because house finches seem to be eating more than their share of the nectar contained in a feeder hanging in our backyard.  To add insult to injury, the voracious finches also chase away any hummingbirds that fly in for a quick meal.

       This past winter a Baltimore oriole fed daily at a feeder hanging in our backyard.  Although we tried to coax it to eat grape jelly, this finicky bird showed nothing but distain for this often-reliable oriole food.

       From time to time, we have see butterflies at our feeders.  Most often these infrequent visitors are red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs.

       Gray squirrels also raid our feeders from time to time.  As you might expect when they try to rob a feeder they end up with more sticky nectar on their bodies than in the mouth. 

       Once while we were a church,  a squirrel visited a backyard hummingbird feeder and chewed up a portion of the artificial flower surrounding the feeding portal.

       Folks that live in North Georgia sometimes have black bears try to drink from their hummingbird feeders.  When this happens, often the hungry behemoths leave behind a damaged feeder.

       The other day Ron Lee told me that for the past several days he and his wife had been enjoying watching a downy woodpecker regularly visit their hummingbird feeder.  When I told Ron that I had never seen a downy at a hummingbird feeder he promptly sent me a picture to document this apparently rare occurrence.

       If woodpeckers have ever visited your hummingbird feeders, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I will keep my eyes on my feeders.  Perhaps I will lucky enough to see a downy woodpecker fly in for a meal.  If one does show up, I hope it does not try to chase the hummingbirds away.