Archives

Baltimore Oriole ~ Icterus galbula

This medium-sized passerine measures 6 ½” to 8 ½” long and 9” to 12 ½ ” across the wings. They have a longish tail, fairly long legs and a thick, pointed bill. Their body weight averages 1.2 oz.

Baltimore Orioles love ripe fruit. Hang cut oranges from trees to entice orioles into your yard. There are special feeders that hold sugar water for them (like a hummingbird feeder). They also love grape jelly, which can be placed in a small bowl and hung from a branch. If you plant dark-colored, bright fruits and nectar-bearing flowers, such as raspberries, crab apples, serviceberry, tupelo, and trumpet vines… They will come! If your feeders are set-up perfectly for them, they will teach their young to come to them.

These photos were taken last fall, while we were camping. These feeders were hanging on the Camp Hosts site, which was right next to ours. He fed them sugar water and grape jelly. They would wait in the trees for him to fill the feeders!

Baltimore Orioles use their slender beaks to feed in an unusual way, called “gaping”. They stab their closed bill into soft fruits, then open their mouths to cut a juicy swath from which they drink with their brushy-tipped tongues.

Female orioles are just a tad lighter than the males, however they do tend to get darker with age, possibly even reaching the brightness of a male.

Baltimore orioles also forage by making short flights to catch insects. One of their favored prey is the tent caterpillar moth, which they typically eat in their larval stage, which can be a nuisance species if not naturally regulated by predation. The larvae caterpillar are beaten against a branch until their protective hairs are skinned off before being eaten. Gotta love these guys!!

The female oriole is the nest builder. She creates a tightly woven pouch consisting of plant or animal materials, and is usually located on the end of a branch. She likes to build in tall trees like elms, cottonwoods, maples or willows are usually selected. The female lays three to seven eggs, with the norm being around four. The eggs are pale gray to bluish white with an incubation period of about 12 to 14 days. Once the nestlings hatch, they are fed by both parents and brooded by the female for two weeks.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Chippy Chipmunk ~ Tamias striatus

These guys are my adorable little bird seed removers. No one likes weeds  under the feeders 🙂

The genus name of Tamias is Greek for treasurer, steward, or housekeeper, surely because of how this little critter cleans up all the seeds on the ground, storing them for winter dining. The common name may have been spelled chitmunk from the native Odawa (Ottawa) word jidmoonh, meaning “red squirrel”.

Their average size is 2-6″ inches long, with a 3″ inch tail and weigh less than a pound. Chipmunks will live to an average of 2 – 3 years in the wild, however can easily double that in captivity. Sadly, these cuties are on the bottom of the food chain. Chipmunks will gather food along the ground, most times staying out of wide open spaces. They prefer areas with underbrush, evergreens, and downed trees, where they can hide from predators like bird of prey, foxes, coyotes, and snakes.

        

Clearly, this is a little boy chipmunk 😉  ||  A group of chipmunks is called a scurry.

These little engineers like to dig two types of burrows: shallow burrows for fast get-aways while foraging, and deeper burrows where the entrance can be up to 20′ feet long, where they nest, store food and hibernate. Chipmunks rarely venture further than 1,000 feet from their burrows at any time.

They feed on insects, nuts, berries, seeds, fruit, they also eat other creatures such as insects, baby birds, frogs and bird eggs, which they stuff into their stretchy cheek pouches and and bring back to their burrows to store.

I used to hear these chirps and think they were birds.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

 

 

Squirrel McDonald’s 

It’s another dreary day here in the Midwest. The clear, bright, new windows we had installed don’t make it look any more friendly outside. It’s February… In Illinois… what do I expect?

Although the day is dreary, I do enjoy watching the gray squirrels taking care of business in the front yard. There are many spruce and large trees in my area, which allows for a large population of these furry, funny entertainers.

February is an exciting time in a gray squirrel’s life… It’s MATING SEASON! Woo hoo! Time to frolic, play, tease, fight, love, share, chase, eat and all other forms of craziness!! You can easily identify the sexes without seeing their undercarriages during this time. The female is in the lead, with a dominate male directly behind here, if there are any other following in line, they are young, subordinate males… waiting for their chance.

Males will fight for dominance when there are no females around to chase. You’ll hear the “Chu-chu-chu” noise or see the squirrel stomping its feet and swishing its tail as a form of war dance! To adorable.

**Click here to learn how smart squirrels are**

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I have many bird feeders and perch areas to feed the wildlife at work. At my home, not so much. I do have a suet holder and otherwise, I only toss ‘left overs’ out to the wildlife I share my space with. Left overs can vary from bread to nuts to fruit to seeds, nothing I think is dangerous to the wildlife, nor anything I want out there that attracts unwanted wildlife, like skunks or ‘possoms. All approved items get thrown on the front lawn at dawn. The front lawn is devoid of crazy Border Collies and if thrown out at dawn, all trace of food will be gone by mid-day, thus won’t be attracting any nightlife creatures of the stinky variety.

As I know I might catch some flack from feeding the wildlife anything but proper foods… I did consult the ALL KNOWING INTERNET to back or deflate my decision to give my furries bread. Seems there are as many pro’s as con’s out there for feeding any type of wildlife (ducks, birds, squirrels…) bread. In my opinion, and how I try to live my life (mostly)… It’s all about moderation. Going to McDonald’s twice a year isn’t going to kill you, in the same as giving wildlife bread will kill them. I don’t share it that often and they seem to enjoy their Squirrel McDonald’s!

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

 

Juvenile Male Cardinal ~ Cardinalis cardinalis

Happy Valentines Day!

I though today would be a great day to write about cardinals.

Cardinals are monogamous birds whose relationships with their spouses are harmonious, romantic and musical. The male and female sing duets, calling similar songs to each other. Native American lore says if a cardinal crosses your path or attracts your attention, and you’re single, there may be a romantic relationship in your near future. If you’re already in a relationship, you may experience renewed romance and courtship. If you or your partner have been unfaithful, monogamy is the cardinal’s message

     

Cardinals make a distinct ‘chirp’, that my ears pick-up quickly. I was home writing posts, when I heard the call. This little guy was under the suet puck I have hanging from a shepherd’s hook. Mr. Squirrel was up on the puck, gobbling and dropping a lot of crumbs. Perfect situation for Mr. Cardinal! I crept up to the window and looked down, hoping not to spook him. The cardinals at work are very skittish. Any movement at all has them flying off. This guy here had no fear. As long as the crumbs rain down on him, he was happy and not worried about who looked at him.

Cardinalis cardinalis is what’s called a tautonym: zoological names of species consisting of two identical words (the generic name and the specific name have the same spelling). Such names are allowed in zoology, however not in botany. Clearly, like I’ve said before, botanist’s are EVIL!!! Click here to see the long list of tautonyms available from the Wiki. Some of my favorites: Bison bison, Chinchilla chinchilla, Iguana iguana, Gorilla gorilla. 😉

My gift to you on Valentine’s day; a romantic Native American legend.

The Red Bird

A Choctaw Legend

Once, when time was not quite old enough to be counted, there lived a beautiful Indian maiden. This was a special maiden. She could do all the work that needed to be done to keep her lodge in order and to satisfy her mate. But this maiden did not have what she longed for — her mate. As she sat under the large tree one day, she heard the Red Bird.

“Red Bird, is it so strange for me to wish to have someone to care for, who will care for me?” asked the maiden. “If it is not so strange, why have I not found that one meant for me?”

The Red Bird had no answer for the Indian maiden, but he sat and listened to her because he could hear the lonely in her voice. Every morning for the passing of seven suns, the Red Bird came and listened to the maiden’s story. As each day passed, the loneliness felt by the maiden began to fill the Red Bird.

One day in the Red Bird’s far travels, he came to a handsome Indian brave. The brave saw the Red Bird and called him to him. As he began to talk, the Red Bird felt the loneliness in his voice that the maiden had shown. Soon the Red Bird began to see that these two lonely people had the same wish, to find another who would love and care for them as they would care for their mate.

On the fifth day of listening to the brave, the Red Bird became as a bird that is sick. The brave became concerned, for the Red Bird had become his friend. As the brave walked toward him, the Red Bird began hopping, leading the brave to the lodge of the Indian maiden. Because the brave was wanting to see if the Red Bird was alright, he did not notice that he was going from his home. The Red Bird saw the Indian maiden sitting outside of her lodge and when he came very close to where he knew the brave would then see the Indian maiden, he flew away. The brave saw the Indian maiden and realized that he had wandered far from his home. He went to the Indian maiden to ask where he was.

The Red Bird sat in the tree and watched the brave and the maiden. At first the brave was shy and the maiden would not talk, but they soon were talking and laughing like old friends.

Red Bird saw this and thought it was good. He had done as he could and now it would be up to the brave and the maiden. As Red Bird flew to his home he thought of how Great Spirit had known that someday the two would find each other. Now it was good, thought Red Bird, that maiden had someone who would see for her and brave had someone that would hear for him and that they finally had someone who would care.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

House Finch Eye Disease ~ Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis

wp-1479044731726.jpg

House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (MC) was first noticed in 1994 in the New England area. The disease later spread to states along the East Coast, and has now been reported throughout most of eastern North America, as far north as Quebec, Canada, as far south as Florida, and as far west as California.

Birds infected with this disease have swollen, red, runny, or crusty eyes. In extreme cases, the eyes become swollen shut and the bird becomes blind. While infected birds can recover, many die from starvation or predation.

Although infected bird’s symptoms show in the eyes, the disease is primarily a respiratory infection. It is caused by a strain of the MC bacterium, Mycoplasma gallisepticum. The bacterium poses no known health threat to humans.

MC has affected domestic turkeys and chickens for a long time. The disease also inflicts several other wild bird species including, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak.

There are treatments out there for this disease, however it is illegal to posses a wild bird. The best way to reduce the potential spread of MG and other feeder-bird diseases is to observe the following guidelines:

  • Clean feeders and bird baths every two weeks with a 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Use fresh seed, and keep the ground area around the feeder as clean as possible. During the summer, rake the area to remove accumulated seeds/shells under the feeder. During the winter, shovel fresh snow over the area.
  • Use nonporous plastic, metal, or glass feeders that are easy to clean, and offer ample feeder space to reduce crowding.
  • Keep platform feeders clean and only offer a day’s worth of seed.

image


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

This is a 4 mile, drive through wilderness preserve. How cool is that?! There are alligators here, so staying in the car was just fine with me.
This area was originally used to grow rice. Settlers cleared the area of trees, and built levees to control the water.
The water here is what is called brackish, a mix of saltwater and fresh. There is a delicate balance going on. Not too much salt, not too little.

image

This channel of freshwater from the Little Back River was made by the US Army Engineers. The area was getting too much saltwater up from the Port of Savannah as modern needs enlarged the port. The USACE  diverted freshwater (very salt free)  from farther up the river to balance out the ecology.

image

Unknown butterfly. Folks stop to see what I’m taking photos of, and after they see is not a gator, they pass by, all pissed off. 😛
The speed limit was 20, however hubby just allowed our truck to idle at about 4.5 MPH. There are limited areas to pull over to let folks pass. We pulled over often as folks just flew past us. Why go through such a beautiful area so fast?! Gators were the main attraction. Folks wanted to get to the next gator and didn’t care about anything else.  When a gator was found, a “parking cluster f**k” would occur. No one understands what pull off the road means. And what is it about leaving doors open? You’re not a cop requiring a shield, an escaped fugitive or a standing start racecar driver. Close your dang door!
I didn’t bring two important things on this trip… binoculars or a charged real camera. I left my charger at home.. Illinois home. Gaaaa! So sorry you have to deal with camerone photos.

image

Alligator Alley is a common name for roads down here!

image

Yellow-bellied Sliders! My hubby has a great eye for finding things in the brush. It also seemed all the good stuff was on the driver’s side. I ended up getting in the back seat on his side for awhile to not miss anything!

image

Tree tunnels. Love them! These are ‘Live Oaks’ (Quercus virginiana) covered with Spanish moss. They call them live oaks here because the new leaves push the brown ones out, thus they are never really leafless or ‘dead’. Over the pond, they have evergreen oaks…. these are different.

image

Snowy Egret. Another snow bird! These guys live by me in the summer and take the long flight down here seasonally. They were everywhere!

image

Here’s what everyone came for! Mr. Crocodile! 🐊 We spotted this guy about 20 feet away from the road. My guess is he’s about 15′ long. The cool temperatures (50F-70F) keep them kinda sluggish and they generally only come out to sun themselves.

image

Unknown bird. This guy was right on the side of the road. Not afraid of me at all, hence I was able to get a few closer shots.

image

Another tree tunnel.

image

A beautiful line of oaks.

image

Another beautiful, unidentified  butterfly

image

Liverleaf Hepatica / Hepatica americana… I think! It looked like beautiful shamrocks.

image

Not as big as the last one, however still a gator! A fellow tourist pulled up along side of us standing outside taking pix. He asked us in very broken English, “Cross?” And motioned across the road. I think gators were new to him! We nodded no and I made a sleepy type motion to him and he understood. He was safe.  Ha!  Just remember… I dont need to outrun the gator, I just need to outrun you!

image

Such a beautiful area… I wonder what it looked like with when all of the trees were still here…

Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Red Breasted Nuthatch ~ Sitta canadensis

image I started offering peanuts to my feathered & furry friends about a month ago. Word must have gotten around as now I’ve got a few new visitors! Not only do the Blue Jays and Crows love the new treat, I’ve got a Red-breasted Nuthatch now. I’m so excited to see him!

 

His identity had me a bit confused. I swore he was some kind of sparrow. I have White-breasted Nuthatches around and they really don’t have the same body shape. I think the Red-breasted is shaped and sized more like a Chickadee.

I was also hoping for a better photo than these  😉 Boy, that little guy is fast!

Facts:

The Red-breasted Nuthatch’s diet changes throughout the year, as their southernmost areas may actually be quite far north. In summer, they eat mostly insects, while in the winter, they switch to seeds. At feeders, they like sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet. In true Nuthatch fashion, they wedge nuts in tree bark and hatch the fruit out by hammering it with their beaks. They also like to stash food for winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches nest in tree cavities that they excavate themselves. Both parents will work on the nook, and it can take up to eight weeks to dig it out. The nest is primarily built by the female and she uses, grass, moss, shredded bark, needles, and rootlets.

One of the coolest things the Red-breasted Nuthatch does is to collect resin globules from coniferous trees and attach them around the entrance of their nest hole. The resin may help to keep out predators or contenders. The homeowners avoid the resin by flying directly through the hole.

They have an enlarged hind toe and a short tail, which allows them to move in all directions on a tree trunk, along with the undersides of branches. They don’t need their tails to move on the trunks like woodpeckers do.

image             image

image    image    image

He’s not picky at my feeders! Sunflower seeds, niger seed, peanuts or suet work for him =-)


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Bee in Flower

imageI was sad to see this little cutie becoming sluggish from the cold. I gave her a pet, a few hot breaths and left her in a flower near our shed that has many carpenter bee holes. These guys do hibernate. Many folks aren’t too happy about these guys drilling holes into their woodwork. I don’t mind. They make my flowers happy by pollinating them.


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Skipper on Agastache

I love Skipper Butterflies!! They are always very friendly and will land on an outstretched finger. Maybe only for a moment, as their energy level is so high, they must skip on to the next flower. The Agastache (Hyssop) I was planting that day had these guys going nuts for the nectar, as there wasn’t much still blooming at the time.

Although the skipper had me thinking cutie thoughts, This post is really about this amazing plant.

image       image      image

Agastache, also known as Hummingbird Mint, is essential to a pollinator friendly garden. Agastache plants are not on the menu for browsing deer and rabbits. Sometimes known as Hyssop, Hummingbird Mints are a showy, fragrant group of perennial herbs that as their name suggests, attract hummingbirds. Perhaps best of all, they offer color to the garden in late summer and early fall, when many gardens are winding down and getting a bit dull.

Hyssop are an easy group of plants to grow and are native to the United States. They are in the mint family, thus they have square stems. They can take most exposures, if water is adequate, although they do not like wet soils. They grow to about 3′ and can bloom for a very long time, from July through October.

Other facts:

  • Bees are attracted to the late-blooming flower which results in a light, anise-scented honey.
  • In traditional folk herbal medicine, hyssop tea has been used to help assist digestion. Native Americans also used hyssop as a medication to cure wounds, fevers, cough and diarrhea.
  • Hyssop is also effective in relieving pains in the chest, due to excessive coughing. It can help expel mucus, making it ideal for treating colds.
  • A poultice prepared with the leaves and stems of the hyssop plant may be used to heal burn injuries.
  • Put fresh or dried anise hyssop leaves in cheesecloth and hang from the tub faucet, letting the water flow over the herbs.  The scent from the hyssop will help calm agitated nerves.
  • Along with mental calming, it can also provide pain relief to sore muscles via a warm bath.  Hyssop is also supposed to curb nightmares.
  • Aside from therapeutic uses, hyssop is also used for culinary purposes. Fresh leaves and flowers can be added to salads and fruit salads as well as use it in the form of a garnish. Alternately, you may use fresh or dried up leaves with chicken, lamb, salmon as well as some vegetable dishes like peas.
  • Hyssop leaves can be used as a substitute for anise or mint.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl