BACKYARD SECRET—THE FALL MIGRATION IS LARGER THAN THE SPRING MIGRATION

       Trying to estimate how many birds migrate through North America twice each year seems like an impossible task.  However, Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology has taken on this task.  Using data from 143 weather stations scattered across the contiguous United States the lab has come up with the best estimates to date.

       These data indicate that an average of 4 billion birds fly south out of Canada into the United States each fall.  Some 4.7 billion leave the country heading on to their wintering grounds.

       Far fewer birds return in the spring.  According to Edward W. Rose, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Ornithology, “in the spring, 3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border.”

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.

 

BLOGGER REPORTS IMPACT OF JORO SPIDERS IN HER YARD

      Whenever an exotic plant or animal is introduced and begins expanding its population across the landscape it is often impossible to know far it will spread and what, if any, affect it will have on native species. Unfortunately, far too often foreign introductions have a deleterious impact on our native flora and fauna.

       In the 17 August 2022, I provided an update on the rapid spread of the Joro spider across North Georgia.  In response to the blog, Julie H. posted a thought-provoking response in which she described the impact the spider appears to be having on the some of the wild animals living on her property. 

I found her comments so insightful I decided to share them with each of you.  Below you will find this posting.

Blogger Julie Hemminger replied to the August 17th post…

     I completely disagree with the low key/ low threat assessment of the joro spider. I live in the Hoschton area, where they were first discovered. I have lived in this home & area for 18yrs, so I have a decent long range perspective.
   I am an avid gardener & love bugs, insects, etc. As a result, I notice all these wonderful creatures in my garden & enjoy them all. Unfortunately, *ever since* the joro spider began showing up in my wooded yard & garden, 8yrs ago, I no longer see the beautiful garden “writing/zig zag” spiders that I so enjoyed, or the cool orb spiders that would appear in the fall, or many other delightful small spiders.

     The joro spiders are highly invasive in my observation. It has been at least 7yrs since I’ve seen the garden writing spider! I’m not mixing them up either. To me, it’s very easy to tell the diff btwn the garden & the joro spider, even though many people do get those 2 spiders mixed up. The easiest way is the joro spider has a red dot on it’s underside, the garden spider does not.

     This June ‘22 summer, I killed a joro spider up in WNC, @ Lake Santeetlah, near Robbinsville, NC – when we there vacationing. I was angry to see it now in NC. I will kill every joro spider I see. They have thrown off the spider status quo in our area where they first appeared. They’re just about the only spider you ever see now & that does not appear to be a good sign at all. Everything in our environment needs balance. There is no balance with the joro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

      

      

BLOGGER CONCERNED ABOUT THREAT TO HUMMINGBIRDS POSED BY JORO SPIDER

       Recently I received a post from one of our fellow bloggers that lives in the Athens area voicing concern that spiders might pose a threat to hummingbirds.  In response to her communication, I have tried to uncover any reports of hummingbirds being caught in the large, sticky webs constructed by Joro spiders. 

       For those of you that that are not familiar with the Joro spider, this large spider is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China.  It first appeared in the United States in Hoschton, Georgia in 2013.

       This long-legged foreign invader has spread rapidly and is now weaving their large, sticky webs in at last 25 counties in North Georgia.  The spider has also been found in nearby South Carolina.

       Experts tell us that Joro spiders do not eat birds.  However, it is well known that hummingbirds are caught in the webs fashioned by a variety of native spiders.  In such cases, unless an unfortunate hummingbird can break free or rescued, it dies of either from starvation or dehydration.

       To date, I have not found any documentation of a hummingbird being caught in a Joro spider web.  However, that does not necessarily mean that this does not occur.  If you have seen and perhaps photographed such an event, please let me know.

SPIDER-JORO-2-Dorothy-Kozlowski-UGA-Sept-2021

       Since the joro spider has not been in the country very long, experts are unable to determine the impact, if any; this spider is going to have on native animals. In the meantime, Richard Hoebeke, an entomologist and curation with the Georgia Museum of Natural History, offers this advice, “Spiders are beneficial, they are feeding on insects that a log of people consider pests, yellow jackets, stink bugs, mosquitoes, other insects that people don’t want to see around the house, they would be happy to have them in their webs. And a lot of them do end up in their webs.  So, I consider them beneficial, I would just simply leave them alone. Don’t get in their way. Don’t aggregate them.  Just let them be.”

       For more information on the Joro spider, go to Search on the right side of this Blog and type in either Joro spider or Spider alert.

TAKE PART IN THE GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS

       If you want to engage in an activity designed to help conserve our valuable pollinators, take part in The Great Georgia Pollinator census. This year the census takes place August 19-20, 2022.

       The University of Georgia, Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and a number of other conservation groups sponsor the count.

       You do not have to be an expert in the identification of the state’s pollinators to take part.  The reason for this is UGA provides participants with a color tally sheet.  The pollinators are divided into eight broad categories ranging from honeybees and butterflies to flies and spiders.  All you have to match the insects you spot with photos on sheet.

       Simply select an area you want to census.  Then count all of the pollinators you see in just 15 minutes.  Once the survey is complete, upload your data and your duties as a citizen scientist are completed.

      Now that is what I call simple.

       If you would like more information concerning all aspects of the count, visit the count’s official website The Great Georgia Pollinator Count – Citizen Science at Work (ggapc.org)

BACKYARD SECRET—THE COMMON BUCKEYE’S WINGS VARY IN COLOR FROM SUMMER TO FALL

       The common buckeye (Junonia coenia) is one of the most commonly seen butterflies in Georgia backyards.  It is seen so often that even somebody that has only a passing interest in butterflies is likely to familiar with it.  However, butterfly enthusiasts often are often guilty of not paying as much attention to the colors and patterns displayed on the wings of commonly seen butterflies as those species they spot less often.

       A good example of this is the common buckeye.  Have to ever noticed that the color of the ventral side of the wings we see displayed by common buckeyes flying about in the summer is noticeably different from those of buckeyes visiting our flowers in autumn?

       During the summer months, the undersides of the buckeye’s wings are tan or yellowish brown.  In contrast, the ventral sides of the wings of buckeyes flying about in the fall are rose-colored.

       Who would have guessed this is the case?

THE HERCULES BEETLE IS BIG BUT NOT DANGEROUS

       Whenever you encounter the eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus), you may be astonished at it size and perhaps fear it might bite you. 

       The eastern Hercules beetle is indeed large, in fact, since it can attain a length of around 2.5 inches, it is probably the largest beetle you will see in your backyard.

       However, while it appears dangerous, it will not bite or sting.  It much prefers to eat rotting fruit or the sap exuded from ash trees than human flesh.

       Both male and female eastern Hercules beetles range in color from olive green, to tan and gray.  Their exoskeletons display multiple black spots. No two beetles have the same number and distribution of spots.  Consequently, researchers use the spots to identify individuals.

       As you can see from the photos that accompany this blog, males sport two pronotal horns that some described as looking like the horns of a rhinoceros. The males use these horns when fighting for the opportunity to mate with females.  Females lack horns.

       Although they are found throughout Georgia, the homeowners that are most apt to find one of these giant beetles are those have yards that feature scattered hardwood trees, especially those where rotten limbs have be allowed to remain on the ground.  Eastern Hercules beetle larvae feed on rotting wood, especially oak.

       Since eastern Hercules beetles are nocturnal, it is unlikely that most of us spot one unless it is drawn to an outside light.

       The strength of eastern Hercules beetles is legendary.  Perhaps that is the reason we sometimes refer to it as the ox or elephant beetle.  It is said that it can lift an object 850 times its own weight.  This is the equivalent of a human lifting nine fully-grown elephants.

       I hope you will have the opportunity to spot this gentle giant in your yard.  It represents one of the countless animals that are hiding in plain sight in our backyards.

        

THE RETURN OF THE GRAY CATBIRD

        For reasons I will never know, gray catbirds chose not to nest in my backyard this year. Since spring, I have been both looking and listening for this secretive bird.  Since I did not hear or see a catbird by the end of the third week in July, I was convinced I would not see one near my home this year.

        However, less than a week ago, one flew in and landed on a wire suet feeder hanging outside my home office.  I could not believe my eyes!  I immediately stopped working at my computer and watched the bird as it ate a couple of chunks of peanut butter-flavored bird pudding. I was just getting ready to snap a photo of the feeding bird when a brown thrasher scared the catbird away when it flew in the claim its share of the food.

        After the thrasher left, the catbird returned and briefly fed again.  Then it vanished.  This time it fed on the bird pudding while it was perched atop the feeder as a downy woodpecker fed while hanging on the side of the feeder.

        Over the years, gray catbirds have rarely visited my feeders. When they have shown up, they have always fed on suet.  I have never seen one eat any birdseed.  However, they are purported to eat fruit-flavored suit, jelly, cornbread, peanut butter and raisins.  They will also occasionally feed at hummingbird feeders.

        While I have not been successful attracting catbirds to my feeders, they will regularly visit my birdbaths.

        The catbirds that inhabit my yard during summers past have apparently been content to feed on berries and invertebrates.  In late summer, they feed on American beautyberries.

        I hope the gray catbird that recently made a late appearance in my yard, will hang around at least until the American beautyberries ripen.  If it does, perhaps it will serenade me with its cat-like call and long (up to 10 minutes) highly variable song.

        As you can tell, I greatly appreciate the return of the catbird.

SWEETSHRUB IS A FRAGRANT ADDITION TO YOUR YARD

     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.