SPIDER ALERT

        I know that you are going to be elated to learn that a new spider has taken up residence in Georgia.  This large colorful arachnid is the joro spider and is native to China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.    

       According to University of Georgia biologists, that spider was initially located in Hochston, Georgia in 1983.  The current range of the joro spider in the Peach State includes Hall, Jackson, Gwinnett, and Madison Counties in Georgia’s northeast quadrant.  The spider has also turned up in Greenville, South Carolina.

       While nobody knows how it made its way to the United States, Richard Hoebeke, curator of the University of Georgia’s Museum of Natural History believes that the showy spiders probably hitched a ride to Georgia on shipping crates transported on container ships from ports in Japan and China.                        

 

JORO SPIDER photo submitted by D. Kizlowski/UGA

       The joro spider is not a spider that lurks in the dark corners of old barns or haunted houses.  While in has been found living in plain sight in woodlands; it also seems to prefer to live near humans.  The first indication that joro spiders are living nearby is often the appearance of a large orb-shaped web.  When the light catches these webs just right, they take on a golden sheen.

       The female joro spider has a body that measures 0.68-0.98 inches in length.  In addition, when spread out, its eight legs span anywhere from three to four inches.

       Many folks are afraid a spider will bite them.  Fortunately, the joro spider is not aggressive.  However, for some unknown reason if a joro spider bites you, unless you are highly allegoric to its venom, the bite will give about the same amount of discomfort as a bee sting.

       Based on how far the joro spider has expanded its range in well less than a decade, it appears it will continue its range expansion unabated.  Meanwhile, the UGA biologists working at the Museum of Natural History are requesting our help in plotting the spider’s marc across the state. 

       With that in mind, if you spot what you believe to be a joro spider, take a picture of it, and send it to Richard Hoebeke at rhoebeke@uga.edu along with the date and location of your sighting.  

A SIMPLE TIP THAT WILL HELP AVOID BEES AT HUMMER FEEDERS

        There are a number tactics folks employ to deter bees, yellow jackets, and wasps from their feeders.  Here is one you may not have considered: avoid using feeders decorated with yellow features. 

       Most often, yellow is used to decorate the artificial flowers surrounding feeding portals.  I am not sure why manufacturers go to so much trouble to include yellow in the color scheme of a feeder.  Perhaps they feel yellow flowers look more realistic, or attractive.  Who knows?  One thing we do know is hummingbirds are attracted to the color red found on such places as the feeder base and top.  As such, using yellow on a feeder does not enhance the chances that hummingbirds will use it.            

       When yellow is used to decorate a feeder, it simply makes the feeder more appealing to bees, yellow jackets, and wasps.  The reason for this is honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets are attracted to the color yellow.  Consequently, in theory, feeders that do not feature the color yellow should not be visited by these insects as often as feeders without the bright color.

       However, if red feeders are coated with sugar water that has sloshed out of feeder portals, squadrons of these stinging insects will most assuredly show up.  In addition, these flying insects are capable of finding a source of food regardless of whether it has any yellow on it or not.  I know this is true as just last week I was stung by a yellow jacket as I tried to refill one of my red feeders.

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       Using feeders without yellow will not solve the problem of hummingbirds having to share nectar with hornets, honeybees, and yellow jackets.  However, it just might help alleviate the problem.

BACKYARD SECRET–THE BILLS, FEET & LEGS OF AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES CHANGE COLOR

     The American goldfinches that we see at our feeders right now (August) are in their breeding plumage.  However, as we all know, the American goldfinches that visit our backyards in the winter appear to be totally different birds.  This is because after the close of the breeding season the birds undergo a feather molt.  As a result, a dull and somber winter plumage replaces their bright and beautiful breeding plumage.  However, it is not commonly known that the color of the goldfinches bill, feet and legs change along with the feather molt.

       At this time of the year, they are pale yellow.  However, outside of the breeding season they are grayish brown.  This change can best be appreciated if you compare the color of the feet, legs and bills of the American goldfinches you are currently seeing, with those of the bird in the photo (taken in winter) that accompanies this blog.  The difference is truly remarkable.

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.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD DOES NOT NEED TO DRINK WATER

       I am sure you have noticed that you never see a ruby-throated hummingbird drinking from your birdbath.  Well, there is a reason for this.  It seems the ruby-throated hummingbird consumes all of the moisture it needs from the nectar it obtains from our flowers and feeders.

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.

THE JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK CAN BE SEEN IN OUR BACKYARDS

       The juniper hairstreak is one of our more elusive butterflies; in spite of the fact, it ranges across most of the state except in portions of Southwest Georgia.  This is unfortunate because this small (wingspan roughly one-inch), butterfly possesses unique beauty.  When you see a juniper hairstreak, the thing that jumps out at you is the jewel-like olive green color that covers most of its wings. 

       Juniper hairstreaks are often difficult to find anywhere, let alone in backyards.  However, last summer I saw more juniper hairstreaks in my yard than I had seen in my entire life.  My good fortune is appears linked to my transplanting mountain mint plants in four locations in my backyard.  During much of August 2020, I could consistently find juniper hairstreaks nectaring at the mountain mint’s tiny blooms.

       Prior to last summer, I would only occasionally find juniper hairstreaks nectaring on the blossoms of white clover in my backyard.  However, I would often go a year or more without seeing one.

JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK ON MOUNTAIN MINT

       I did not understand why this is the case since several large red cedars grow in my large backyard.  Red cedar is the juniper hairstreak’s host plant.  It seems juniper hairstreaks do not venture far from the trees, preferring instead to spend the majority of its time in the trees aromatic foliage. 

       In fact, I have often read that the best way to see a juniper hairstreak is to flush one by shaking a limb or tossing a dead branch in the into the canopy of a red cedar.  Although I have tried this trick many times, it only worked once.

       The juniper hairstreak nectars on a variety of flowering plants, although for some reason, I have never seen a juniper hairstreak feed on any of the large array of nectar-bearing flowers in my yard.  That is until I planted mountain mint.

       If you long to see a juniper hairstreak and red cedars grow nearby, you might want to plant mountain mint in your yard.  The native is hardy an easy to grow.  If you do add this plant to your yard, set it out in a place where it will not compete with other nectar plants, as it will spread.

       Once you spot the first juniper hairstreak in your yard, you will wish you had made its acquaintance a long time ago.

TURKEY VULTURES CAN SEEMINGLY GLIDE FOREVER

       There are no hard and fast rules as to what can be included on a person’s yard list.  I have friends that count every bird they can see while standing in their yard.  Others list only those birds that land on their property.  I am one of those that list all of the birds that either land or pass through the air space above their yard.  Consequently, although I have never seen a turkey vulture land in my yard, it has earned its way on my list because it routinely flies through the air space above the Johnson homestead.

       However, to say it flies above my yard is like saying Ted Williams was a baseball player.  The truth of the matter is Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time.  By the same token, the turkey vulture’s ability to glide above the ground seemingly forever is unmatched by any other Georgia bird.

       Ornithologists tell us that the turkey vulture can actually glide for up to six hours without once flapping its wings.  During this time its shadow can pass over 200 miles of the Georgia countryside.  Sometimes the bird flies low enough over our backyards for us to see its distinctive red head.  At other times, it can soar above the clouds at elevations of 20,000 feet or more.

       These are amazing fetes for a bird with a six-foot wingspan yet only weighs up to four pounds.

       I cannot count the number of times I have stopped working in the yard just to watch a turkey vulture glide over holding its wings in a shallow V above its head.  Often when this happens, for a brief moment, my imagination takes flight and I find myself wishing that I could soar like a turkey vulture.  Then reality sets in I return to the reality that I will forever remain earthbound.     However, in my mind, any bird that can take me on a flight of fancy without ever touching down in my yard deserves to be on my yard list.

FEEDING BROWN THRASHERS

       Attracting brown thrashers to feeders is a difficult proposition.  However, as tough as it is nowadays, during the early 20th century, sighting brown thrashers eating at feeders was an extremely rare event.

       One of the difficulties we face trying to entice the birds to our feeders is brown thrashers prefer to feed on the ground.  In fact, they rarely visit hanging feeders at all.  However, they will sometimes feed on feeding tables and platform feeders.

       The birds that do show up at our feeders seem to prefer dining on mixed seed and millet scattered on the ground.  Occasionally they will also dine on the likes of black-oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and wheat.  Recently I saw a brown thrasher fly off with a small piece of bread.

           BROWN TRASHER AT BIRD PUDDING

       The one food that the brown thrashers in my yard favor above all others is a bird pudding laced with peanuts and peanut butter.  In fact, I would so far as to say that well more 90 percent of the times I have watched brown thrashers visiting my bird feeding area they fed on this greasy food. 

THE REST OF THE WOODPECKER BACKYARD SECRET

       After reading my latest post concerning how much force a pileated woodpecker can endure without harming itself a fellow blogger chastised me for not explaining how this is possible.  In hindsight, I indeed did leave a major part of the story untold.

       There is no simple answer to this question.  The truth of the matter is a number different factors work together to enable a woodpecker is able to hammer a tree with a force some 1,000 times the force of gravity without injuring itself.  To begin with, the woodpecker’s brain is oriented in such a manner that it is better able to absorb force from the front.  In comparison, the human brain is far better able to cope with forces from below.  The woodpecker’s brain also fits tightly into its cranium.  This prevents the brain from easily moving about.  The woodpecker’s aspect of the woodpecker’s hyoid bone also plays a critical role.  This bone actually loops around the head of the woodpecker and helps dampen the force exerted on the bird when it hammers into the wood of a tree.  A number of “spongy” plate-like bones found in different spots in the skull help spread out the force of a hammer-like blow.

       The design of the bill is also important.  Upon close examination it is obvious that the lower bill is a bit larger that the upper bill.  Why is this important?  Since the upper mandible is shorter than the lower mandible the force of the bill striking the wood passes through lower jaw before it reaches the bird’s skull.  Whereas the force exerted on the upper bill is cushioned by spongy bones found at its base.

       The fact that the woodpecker’s chisel-like bill is self-sharpening is also an important asset.  Since is bird’s bill is always sharp the bird can hammer into wood using less force than would be required if its bill was dull. 

       It is also important that the woodpecker make every attempt to strike its bill directly at the wood.  This helps ensure that the force of the strike originates from the same direction.

       It is also important that woodpeckers possess strong neck muscles.

       Research conducted by Chinese scientists was able to quantify how successful the complex design of the woodpecker’s head is in muting the extremely high forces it has to withstand.  Their findings demonstrated that these modifications are so effective in transferring forces down the woodpecker’s body the head receives only 0.3 percent of the initial force of a blow.  That is remarkable.