Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring to Summer

It seems like we've made a sudden leap from temperatures in the 50s and 60s to the mid eighties in one weekend.  Right now I'm listening to the fireworks going off at the baseball stadium a few blocks away.  Memorial Day's tomorrow so summer must really be here.  Today I got one air conditioner in the window in the living room and it will definitely be on tomorrow.

My garden is going great guns with all the rain we had this spring, but with this heat I may have to water tomorrow.  The columbine is all in bloom. I have white, blue, pink and purple blooms.

The rhododendren that I planted last fall is also now in bloom.

I have a late blooming azalea that is also full of blossoms . .

as is my clematis.

The blossoms are huge this year.

And the raccoon continues to drop by.

Right after I took this picture the raccoon heard a dog barking pretty ferociously and it took off for the tree in my backyard.  As soon as he reached the tree though it was very relaxed and just sort of draped itself over the branch as you can see.

The fireworks is over and a cool breeze is finally coming through my windows.  Wishing you all a safe Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tantalizing Tanya

You've met all of my cats now except for number seven - Tanya.  She was my last 'acquisition' - one of five kittens born under the shed behind my mobile home.  Of the five kittens there were two gray ones and three black ones.  I was actually trying to catch one of the black kittens I thought was so cute.  I put food in one of my cat carriers and was hoping I could coax one in and just close the door.  That was exactly what happened except that Tanya was the one who walked in, so I guess you could say she chose me.  I would say that I've saved the best until last except my other cats might get jealous.  But I have to say that Tanya has personality with a capital P.

And she is a very smart cat.  When she was still a kitten, she would play peekaboo with me.  She would hide under my bed and I would sit at the end of the bed and say 'Where's Tanya?  Where's Tanya?'  and suddenly she would pop her head out from under the comforter.  I'd say 'There she is.'  And she would go back under the bed and we would start all over again.  She seemed to know exactly what the game was.  She also likes to hide under the slipcover on the sofa.  Sometimes though she gets a surprise because one of the other cats will see movement under the slipcover and pounce on her!

She also invented her own game.  I have heat vents in the floor and when I used to put paper under the litter boxes sometimes the cats would scratch the paper and little bits would get torn off.  Tanya would take the scraps of loose paper and push them with her paw towards the heat vent and watch them fly up in the air when the heat was on.  Of course that game only works in the winter!  And now that I use plastic under the litter boxes, she has to really scrounge for her 'paper airplanes'.

She was named Tanya because she looks like a Russian Blue except for her yellow eyes.  And if she's sitting in the sun you can see faint tiger stripes on her tail.  Her favorite play thing now is a toy mouse and she loves to carry it around by the tail like it was real.  Doesn't she look like a true predator in this picture?

She also knows how to push my buttons!  She'll do something she knows she's not supposed to do.  I'll tell her no, and then she'll look right at me and do it again!  Now I'm trying to ignore her when she does things like that.   She's just like a two-year-old doing naughty things to get your attention.

She definitely thinks she's the one in charge.  I keep trying to let her know that I'M the boss, but so far I don't think she's convinced!  She's a real trip.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Melodious Mockingbirds

Saturday afternoon I had the windows open because we actually had some sun after 5 or 6 days straight of rain and clouds and was treated to a concert by one very prolific Northern Mockingbird.  It sat on top of a telephone pole across the street and sang its little heart out going through every song in its repertoire several times.  Of course, it not only sings its own songs, but sings the songs of other birds that its picked up which is why it's called a mockingbird.  It could be that he was as glad to see the sun as everybody else, but more likely it was a male looking for a female.

Source:  Buckley

Female mockingbirds also sing but not as insistently.  Even though they are called Northern Mockingbirds, they are more commonly found year around in the southeastern U.S., although they can be found as far north as southeastern Canada in the summer months.  Their diet consists of insects and fruit. They do eat some seeds, but don't seem to frequent bird feeders, or at least not mine. But they are highly territorial and may chase other birds away from a feeder just for the heck of it.  In identifying a mockingbird, their most recognizable feature are their striking white wing bars.

Source:  Duncraft

Very intelligent birds they can not only imitate bird songs, but other animal sounds, as well as things like car alarms.  I would have to say, if MY mockingbird started sounding like a car alarm, I wouldn't find him nearly as endearing.  As long as he sticks to bird songs he can sing as loudly and often as he likes.

To hear what a mockingbird is supposed to sound like, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Freaky Fossas

While we're on the subject of Madagascar (see two previous posts), I wanted to introduce you to one more of the island's oddities.  Madagascar doesn't have bears or wolves and no really big cats like lions and tigers.  So what is the island's largest predator?  Something that sort of looks like a cat, but isn't - a fossa.  The fossa is actually in a class by itself and more closely related to the mongoose.  Its body is similar to a cat and has semi-retractable claws, but has a head that looks too small for its body.  Take a look.

Photo by Ran Kirlian  Source:  Wikipedia

Males are generally larger than females, adults weighing in at 15 to 20 pounds with bodies around 30 inches long.  Fossas do climb trees and, in fact, move through the branches with ease using its long tail for balance.  They have a varied diet which, unfortunately, includes lemurs, as well as tenrecs, rodents, lizards, and birds.  Litters of pups can be as many as six and in captivity fossas can live up to 20 years.

Photo by Luke Dollar   Source:  National Geographic

Fossas are mainly found in forested areas and is listed as 'vulnerable' due to habitat loss.  It is active both during the day and at night.  To see a video, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One Sticky Wicket

Besides the tsingy (see previous post), another unusual and totally unique Madagascan desert-type ecosystem found in the southwestern part of the island is known as the Spiny Forest or Spiny Thicket filled with several species of baobab trees and large succulent trees, that look somewhat like a cactus, called Alluaudia.

Source:  Wikiinfo

Alluaudia ascendens  Source:

The baobab's huge trunk stores water with a small 'crewcut' of leaves on top to help conserve energy and water.

Besides these and many other plant species which are endemic to this region, there are lemur species that manage to survive here too including the white-footed sportive lemur and the gray-brown mouse lemur.   Another mongoose species, the Grandidier's mongoose, is also only found in this area.  It looks a little bit like a huge chipmunk.

Source:  Wikipedia

A couple of species of tenrec is also found here.  What is a tenrec?  Good question.  Their closest relatives are the golden mole and the elephant shrew, but depending on the area of Madagascar they are found, they can look very different from each other.  The species found here are the large-eared tenrec and the lesser hedgehog tenrec.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Conservation Report

I think you can tell which one is which.  Two tortoises are also found here - the spider tortoise...

Source:  Wikipedia

and the radiated tortoise.  Doesn't it have a beautiful shell??

Source:  Wikipedia

There are many species of birds that call this area home as well, like the Red-shouldered Vanga..

Photo by Pete Morris  Source:  BirdQuest

Archibold's Newtonia...

Photo by Pete Morris  Source:  BirdQuest

and the Long-tailed Ground Roller.

Photo by Simon Harrap  Source:  BirdQuest

Madagascar's Spiny Forest is truly an amazing place!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Treacherous Tsingy

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and lies in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa.  Besides the main island, the Republic of Madagascar also includes some smaller surrounding islands.   At 227,000 square miles, the main island encompasses some of the most diverse and unique environments anywhere, including desert, mountains, rainforest, and an area on the western coast known as the tsingy.  There are actually two tsingys - the Great Tsingy and the Little Tsingy.  Two parks - the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and the Tsingy de Bermaraha Strict Nature Reserve - combine to create a UNESCO World Heritage Site because there is no other place like it on the planet.  The tsingys are a 'forest' of limestone spires, some as sharp as razors.  Once a limestone seabed, even in this harsh environment there are both plants and animals that manage to survive here, that also exist no other place on earth.

Source:  Wikipedia

Like the Grand Canyon, erosion from rain and a deep river valley, in this case the Manambolo River instead of the Colorado, has also formed areas of more gently sloping hillocks and plateaus besides the formidable limestone pinnacles.  In the southern part of the Little Tsingy there are waterfalls in the Manambolo Gorge along with small areas of forest.  In the northern section of the Nature Reserve there are even a few lakes and a mangrove swamp.

I've already done several posts on Madagascar's lemurs (see Accolades for Aye-Ayes, Minnie Mouse Lemurs, and Springing Sifakas) and may well highlight other species at some point, so will mention that there are at least eleven lemur species endemic to this area, including Decken's sifaka, red-fronted brown lemur, grey mouse lemur, and fat-tailed dwarf lemur.  Right now I will concentrate on other critters unique to the tsingy.

There around 100 species of birds that call this area home, including the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle (there may be as few as 200 of these birds left)...

the crested ibis...

Photo by Eric Savage  Source:  Wikipedia

and the Giant Coua.

Photo by Dan Guthrie   Source:  Claremont Colleges

There are also around 40 reptiles and amphibians including the Madagascan Collared Iguana...

Source:  Wikipedia

and the Antsingy Leaf Chameleon.

Photo by David d'O

Besides the lemur, mammals include the Madagascan Flying Fox...

and the Ring-tailed Mongoose.

Source:  Wikipedia

Another treasure found in this area is the Madagascan Sunset Moth.

Source:  Wikipedia

The tsingy is truly unique.  I can't NOT include a lemur picture, and one that really emphasizes the limestone spires.

Photo by Steven Alvarez   Source:  Daily Sloth

Stay tuned for mire unusual Madagascan landscapes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Rugged Rodents

And speaking of rodents (see the Saucy Squirrels post), have you ever heard of a jerboa?  It is Asia and Northern Africa's version of the kangaroo rat (native to North America).  It generally lives in a desert environment and because of the desert heat, it sleeps in its burrow during the day and hunts for food at night when it's cooler.  Perhaps the most unusual looking of the 30 some species is the long-eared jerboa which lives in northwestern China and southern Mongolia.

Source:  Mongabay

Very aptly named, I must say.  Some species like the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa even 'hibernate' during the hottest months and rely on the moisture in its food rather than water to survive - a very gutsy little critter that lives in some of the harshest climates on the planet.  Even though its name suggests otherwise, this species is found across northern Africa.  And even though Wikipedia claims that this is the best known of the group, they only have a few sentences about this guy.

Source:  Mammal Watching

Jerboas in general live in burrows with several entrances and also maintain escape burrows to evade predators.  They generally eat any plant material they can find, including seeds and grasses.

Found in the Middle East, the Euphrates Jerboa also lives in dry lowland grassland habitats.

Their long hind legs help propel them through their environment, with their tail helping with balance.  As cute as they are, these are tough little critters.  For a video, click here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Little This, A Little That

I've noticed in the last week or so visits from a male house finch.  I haven't seen the female that I know of, but, of course, like cardinals the male is much more noticeable.  The finch has been very interested in the feeder that is filled with safflower seed.  I got some finch seed mix at the store and had just added it along with more safflower seed to my little feeder and was ready to take it outside.  When I opened the door, there was the finch on the wire attached to my larger feeder.  He kept looking at me and then at the empty space where the small feeder normally hangs and back at me again, as if to say, 'Hey, where's my safflower seed?'  He looked so beautiful with the sun shining on him - the rosy streaks on his head almost looked iridescent.  I wish I had gotten a picture, but I was so caught up in just enjoying the view I didn't even think about getting the camera until I'd hung up the little feeder.  He had flown away, but quickly came back.  Then when I tried to get a picture he took off.

I think House Finch is such a nondescript name for this beautiful little bird.

And the Purple Finch is misnamed too since it's not purple.  Who named these birds anyway?

 Source:  Wikipedia

Maybe they should be called the Rosy Finch and the Rosier Finch.  Yeah, you're right - that needs a little work.

Besides the finch, the signs of spring continue.  My creeping phlox is in full bloom.

My next-door neighbor's lilac bush is as well.

The little variegated azaleas I planted last fall are sporting their first blossoms.

Sometimes things just start growing in my yard.  Because of the spring rains, we have tons of little wild violets, which I absolutely love.

These oak leaf ferns just showed up.  They fit right in with the other ferns I planted in the same area.

Unfortunately, some things show up that just can't stay.  I always have tons of little cedar seedlings sprouting up in my backyard.  This little tree is also flowering right now, but it started growing right up against my neighbor's house and it will have to go, which is a shame because it has very sweet-scented flowers.

I wish I knew what it was and how big it will get.  I might try to transplant it somewhere.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Saucy Squirrels

The other morning I heard the pitter patter of little footsteps on my roof.  Knowing that it was probably a squirrel, I went to investigate.  Usually when I hear squirrels on the roof, it means that they are about to raid the bird feeder or suet which hangs from the edge of the awning over my patio.  I arrived in the living room just in time to see the squirrel hanging precariously from the bird feeder.  I quickly opened the front door and the squirrel made a flying leap off the bird feeder, but not before it had grabbed a peanut.  It then proceeded to sit on my steps looking right at me while it ate the peanut it had just stolen as if to say, "Yeah, so whataya gonna' do about it."

I regularly put out birdseed and peanuts on the ground both for the birds and the squirrels with the hopes that it will prevent the raiding, but to no avail, although this particularly morning I hadn't yet put out their daily rations.  The squirrels love sunflower seeds sometimes even preferring them over the peanuts.  I watch them eat their fill and then start burying treasures around the yard for future consumption.  But they never go to those stashes while there is still food in the feeder.

I have to say that the squirrels are pretty good about sharing, especially this past winter when we had so much snow.

I was looking through a catalog last night at garden 'things' and one of the items was a metal silhouette of a cat which was supposed to help scare away the squirrels.  No, that definitely wouldn't work here because the cats and the squirrels get along too well.  While the squirrels do keep an eye on the cats, the cats are more likely to play with them than have more sinister intentions, and the squirrels seem to know which ones to be wary of and which ones mean no harm.

I just see the Eastern gray squirrel around my house, but occasionally we would Abert's Squirrels when I lived in Colorado.  Quite a treat with their tufted ears and darker fur.

Source:  Wikipedia

Squirrels are considered rodents, and they can be pests at times.  But I still love to watch their antics and they certainly keep me entertained.