Tag Archive | animal

White-Crowned Sparrow ~ Zonotrichia leucophrys

This post was a bit lost in my drafts folder… These guys were passing through last month. They, like the Juncos, like to be up North for the summer. And I mean like the Great White North! I’m also too far North to be in their Northern, Southern range. Ah, alas I am in the migration range only.

The male does most of the singing, however the female likes to belt out a few delicate, but more intricate tunes. Males learn their songs not only from their fathers, but from all of the other White-Crowned Sparrows in the neighborhood. If a male grows-up on the edges of two communities, they might sing two different songs, one from each community, you could say bilingual. 

They mainly eat seeds, however will feed insects to their young. These guys were happy to see many protein-packed sunflower seeds and peanuts on the ground, as they need a bunch of energy for their migration. These guys have been known to stay awake for two weeks straight! Not only that, the can fly for a long time without tiring. Scientist have this little guy running tread mills and other endurance tests. They are trying to figure out what keeps the little guy ticking for so long. Clearly, Scientist’s want to learn how to keep us humans working longer than our standard, 40 hours, sigh.

See you next Fall, White-Crowned Sparrow! I wish I could go with you to Mexico for the winter!!

     

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Mom! Mom! Mom!

It’s BABY BIRD time again! Nothing screams Spring like seeing all the little critters coming out. The first chicks I’ve seen this year are these three Common Starlings. They sure were a squawky bunch of kids. I heard them before I looked out the window to see them.  They are sitting on the yew that is right below the suet cage. These guys weren’t hip to landing on the swinging cage. I can’t imagine they have many hours on their pilots licenses yet, as their landings were a bit rough, especially when the branch bounces as each one lands.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Western Painted Turtle – Chrysemys bellii

I’ve written about the Eastern Painted Turtle, however the photo for that post was lacking. And, admittingly, I think it actually was a Western Painted Turtle, as the Eastern are not supposed to be in my area. Although the painted turtle is found in most of the United States and some parts of Canada, there are four different species, and a lot of inter species mingling. As you can see, Illinois has either Western or Midland or a combo of both. Miss-identification can happen sometimes.. I’m a horticulturist, Jim! Not a herpetologist 😉

One of the more interesting things I learned about these turtles is that their sex is decided by what temperature the eggs are exposed to while in the clutch. These temperature-dependent turtles lack sex chromosomes, thus relying on the temperature to decide. Low temperatures during incubation produce males and high temperatures produce females. Think Jurassic Park!!
Since Painted turtles are cold-blooded, they need to bring their temperatures up when they want to be active. Basking in the sun is the best way to achieve this. Turtles of all varieties bask in large groups on logs, fallen trees, and any object that’s just above the water. Sunning also helps rid them of parasitic leeches. Ick.
Painted turtles feed mainly on plants, small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and carrion. Young painted turtles are mainly carnivorous, possibly because they need the extra protein to grow, acquiring a taste for plants later in life. Turtles have no teeth, although they have tough, sharp plates for gripping food. Painted turtles like to eat in the water since their tongue does not move freely.

The painted turtle was designated the official Illinois state reptile in 2005 after winning the vote of the citizens of Illinois in 2004.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Mallard Ducks ~ Anas platyrhynchos

When I was a little girl…. That’s how my Grandfather would always start his stories 🙂

When my family visited my Grandparents, we had a general routine for Saturdays. We’d go to lunch at a favorite buffet location where we would stuff bread in my mom’s purse for the ducks we’d feed at the park later!

These guys are the most common and well-known duck in the world. So common, that I think I’ll just go into a story.

The wintry winds had already begun to whistle and the waves to rise when the Drake and his mate gathered their half- grown brood together on the shore of their far northern lake.

“Wife,” said he, “it is now time to take the children southward, to the Warm Countries which they have never yet seen!”

Very early the next morning they set out on their long journey, forming a great “V” against the sky in their flight. The mother led her flock and the father brought up the rear, keeping a sharp lookout for stragglers.

All day they flew high in the keen air, over wide prairies and great forests of northern pine, until toward evening they saw below them a chain of lakes, glittering like a string of dark-blue stones.

Swinging round in a half circle, they dropped lower and lower, ready to alight and rest upon the smooth surface of the nearest lake. Suddenly their leader heard a whizzing sound like that of a bullet as it cuts the air, and she quickly gave the warning: “Honk! honk! Danger, danger!” All descended in dizzy spirals, but as the great Falcon swooped toward them with upraised wing, the ducklings scattered wildly hither and thither. The old Drake came last, and it was he who was struck!

“Honk, honk!” cried all the Ducks in terror, and for a minute the air was full of soft downy feathers like flakes of snow. But the force of the blow was lost upon the well-cushioned body of the Drake, he soon got over his fright and went on his way southward with his family, while the Falcon dropped heavily to the water’s edge with a broken wing.

There he stayed and hunted mice as best he could from day to day, sleeping at night in a hollow log to be out of the way of the Fox and the Weasel. All the wit he had was not too much whereby to keep himself alive through the long, hard winter.

Toward spring, however, the Falcon’s wing had healed and he could fly a little, though feebly. The sun rose higher and higher in the blue
heavens, and the Ducks began to return to their cool northern home. Every day a flock or two flew over the lake; but the Falcon dared not charge upon the flocks, much as he wished to do so. He was weak with hunger, and afraid to trust to the strength of the broken wing.

One fine day a chattering flock of Mallards alighted quite near him, cooling their glossy breasts upon the gently rippling wave. “Here, children,” boasted an old Drake, “is the very spot where your father was charged upon last autumn by a cruel Falcon! I can tell you that it took all my skill and quickness in dodging to save my life. Best of all, our fierce enemy dropped to the ground with a broken wing! Doubtless he is long since dead of starvation, or else a Fox or a Mink has made a meal of the wicked creature!”

By these words the Falcon knew his old enemy, and his courage returned. “Nevertheless, I am still here!” he exclaimed, and darted like a flash upon the unsuspecting old Drake, who was resting and telling of his exploit and narrow escape with the greatest pride and satisfaction. “Honk! honk! ” screamed all the Ducks, and they scattered and whirled upward like the dead leaves in autumn; but the Falcon with sure aim selected the old Drake and gave swift chase. Round and round in dizzy spirals they swung together, till with a quick spurt the Falcon struck the shining, outstretched neck of the other, and snapped it with one powerful blow of his reunited wing.

Do not exult too soon; nor is it wise to tell of your brave deeds within the hearing of your enemy.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Pyrus calleryana ‘Glen’s Form’ ~ Chanticleer pear

Semen Tree

Another name for the Bradford Pear, and ornamental pear tree. Characterized by greenish-white flowers which smell like a cross between old semen, dirty vagina, and rotting fried shrimp. Common throughout the South, these trees are pleasantly located near eateries and other fine establishments.

“Oh darn, there goes my appetite, for the semen trees in front of the South Campus Dining Hall are in bloom.”

I love Urban Dictionary! It teaches me how to communicate with the yutes these days…

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Common Name: Bradford pear, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear.
Family: Rosaceae (Rose family)
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 25′ to 35′ feet
Spread: 13′ to 16′ feet
Growth: Starts very upright and pyramidal, aging into an oval.
Bloom Time: April to May – before the leaves emerge
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium – Can tolerate drought after established.
Tolerate: Clay Soil, Air Pollution
Salt Spray:  Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: Intolerant
Flower: Showy
Leaf: The leaves are alternate, simple, 2-3 in. (5.1-7.6 cm) long, petiolate, and shiny with wavy, slightly toothed margins. Good Fall
Fruit: Small (1/4″ / .5 cm), green bunches of fruit which are hard until softened by frost. After which, birds eat and disperse the seeds in their droppings.

Popular Cultivars and their differences:
Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ (Chanticleer callery pear):
Narrower habit, foliage has a red-purple fall color.
Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’ (Aristocrat callery pear):
Leaves have a wavy edge, less prone to branch breaking, however more susceptible to disease, fall color is inconsistent.
Pyrus calleryana ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Autumn Blaze callery pear):
Good, early fall color, more cold hardy, susceptible to fire blight, consistent good red-purple fall color.
Pyrus calleryana ‘Redspire’ (Redspire callery pear):
Fall color more yellow than red, oval form, less prone to branch breakage, however very susceptible to fire blight.
Pyrus calleryana ‘Jack’ (Jack callery pear):
Shorter and more narrower than species, yellow in fall.
Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ (Bradford pear):
Upright, fast growing, sterile cultivar. Fast-growing causes many branch failures, which can contribute to failure of the tree eventually.

imageI’m actually not particularly a fan of the pear, although I do love the true fruit kind. Pyrus communis ‘Williams pear’. I have a gnarly, old one, too tall to pick from in my yard. Occasionally, a squirrel will leave one on the ground and I’ll get to eat it.

Sadly, this ornamental tree is one of my boss’s favorites. We plant it in droves. Frowny face. He likes to line the driveways, flank patios and front doors with them. Yes, they are pretty, however there are many alternatives to white blooming, spring trees (Read Below) When these pears are in full bloom, many folks notice a foul smell. Even famed Horticulturist Dr. Michael Dirr calls the smell “malodorous”. Others have described the smell as rotting fish, chlorine or semen.

In 1858, a French missionary named, Joseph-Marie Callery (1810–1862), collected this plant in China and documented it’s existence. In the early 1900’s, the U.S. was having problems with their common fruiting pear (pyrus communis) succumbing to fireblight. In 1917, Callery pear seed was brought in from China aimed at developing a fireblight resistance for the species. It wasn’t until the 1950’s, that the Callery pear was perfected and marketed in U.S. as a promising, new ornamental tree, leading to monumental landscape plantings. During the 1980’s, concerns about its structural weaknesses and its escape into our native forests began to surface.

Callery pears are remarkably resistant to disease and blight, imagealthough they are regularly killed due to their naturally excessive growth rates causing them to be weak-limbed. Strong winds, ice storms and heavy snow are the chief culprits of pear deaths. Some cultivars, such as ‘Bradford’, are particularly susceptible to storm damage.

Many states now dealing with escaped invasive pears include Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. (Invasive.org is a great source for invasive species information in your area)

The reason they have become a problem in states like mine is the vast amount planted by landscapers and although folks think these pears are sterile, they really aren’t. In general, the various cultivars are unable to produce fertile seeds when they are self-pollinated, or even cross-pollinated with another tree of the same cultivar. However, if different cultivars of Callery pears are grown within an insect’s pollination distance (300′ ft – 100 m), they can produce fertile seeds, which birds will efficiently disperse. In addition to the previous method, fertile pear varieties are commonly used as the rootstock for grafting ornamental varieties. If the grafted crown is damaged, the fertile rootstock will grow out, producing fertile fruit. These two factors, among others, have contributed to the pear spreading into natural areas and becoming an invasive problem.

Here’s a list of wonderful alternatives to planting a pear:

Red horsechestnut ‎- Aesculus x carnea

Serviceberry – Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’

American hornbeam – Carpinus caroliniana

Redbud – Cercis canadensis ‘Alba’ (a white variety)

Yellowwood – Cladrastis kentukea

Dogwood – Cornus kousa, Cornus racemosa, Cornus alternifolia

Ironwood – Ostyra virginiana

Blackgum – Nyssa sylvatica

Chokecherry – Aronia melanocarpa

Blackhaw viburnum – Viburnum prunifolium

American fringetree – Chionanthus virginicus

© 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

 

 

A great visit to Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah

A few weeks before our trip to Savannah, Georgia, I was looking through the things to do and came across the Oatland Island Wildlife Center. Sadly, when I went to their website, I learned that hurricane Mathew had been very mean to them. Many habitats were damaged. Thankfully, these were the animals day areas, and their nighttime digs were safe, as were all the animals.

Lucky for us, they opened the day after Christmas, with only the wolf exhibit being off limits. So, off we went!

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Many of these animals cannot be returned to the wild, for one reason or another.

Many of the birds cannot fly. On the cages, they have signs that inform you that birds that cannot fly like the security of the small space.

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It was almost low tide here, the water was slowly getting lower, exposing the oysters.

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Hey look! It’s BOB!

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Bob-Cat!

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Hello, hello, hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there any one at home?

The red fox was supposed to be in here. Maybe in the little house.

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WHO!

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Thee were two bald eagles in here. There was a long tree trunk that went from the ground to this high roost.

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Bison bison.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl