Friday, July 29, 2011

Alley Cats

My cousin was worried that I was putting cat food out just for the raccoons and other critters, but I assured him that I was also putting it out for the neighborhood cats.  We have lots of cats in our mobile home park.  Some do belong to people that live in the park, but many more don't seem to belong to anyone.  We have the organization Paws Watch that have done wonders by taking the cats in, spaying and/or neutering them and then returning them to the park.  If it wasn't for them, we would have so many more.  Some of the cats are not truly feral because you can pet them and they are fairly tame.  Others you can't really get close to and will avoid you if you approach.

My cat Tanya (see my 'Tantalizing Tanya' post) that I took in was part of a litter of five cats that were born and lived under my shed for a while.  This a picture of her mom.

They look almost identical.  She's been in the neighborhood for years and my neighbor across the street call her 'The Grandmother'.

Then there are the Three Musketeers.  These three almost always hang out together - one male and two females we call Romeo and Juliet and Miss Kitty.

The black and white cat in the foreground is Romeo.  The black cat in the back is Juliet.  Those two are so loveable with each other - always snuggling and rubbing against each other, hence their names.  The gray and white cat is Miss Kitty.

Then there is One Ear.  When the cats get spayed or neutered a tip of their ear is clipped so just by a quick glance you can tell if they've been fixed.  One Ear (I like to call him Van Gogh) either had an ear clip go horribly awry or most likely he lost part of his ear in a cat fight or maybe even frost bite.

Then there's Droopy Eyes.

Don't know if you can tell by this picture why she got her name.  She is an older cat and I don't think she can chew very well.  I sometimes take some dry food and add water, let it soak for a bit.  She seems to appreciate the softer food.

Then there's an orange tabby we call Tang.

There's a long haired cat I call Fluffy.

There's a very mottled calico whose name is Sarah.

She's a real character and likes to get up on top of my neighbor's house and chase the birds.

And, last but not least, is the newcomer Sammy.

At first he seemed to get along fine with the others until someone (something?) bit him in the butt and now he seems to fight with everyone.  He spent a few days at a vet's office recovering and when he arrived back in the park he seemed like a different cat.  We're hoping he will calm down again.

There are several of us in the park that make sure they get food and water.  My neighbor that takes care of my cats when I'm out of town enclosed her porch and puts a heating pad in a big chair for them in the winter.  She also takes care of them and makes sure they get medical attention if they're hurt or injured.  The same organization pays for that as well. Somehow they make it through.

They are a familiar and welcome sight in the neighborhood - to most of us anyway.  They all seem to get along with the squirrels, woodchucks, raccoons and other critters.  The birds are another story!  But I would definitely miss our 'alley cats' if they weren't around.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shaggy Sloth Bear

The anteater is also known as the ant bear.  But the real ant bear is the sloth bear - a shaggy anteater indeed.

Source:  Wikipedia

The sloth bear lives in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh, although the Sri Lankan sloth bear is considered a subspecies with shorter hair and a slightly smaller build.

The bear's main diet is ants and termites - very small prey for such an impressive looking animal.  The bear's claws look lethal, but are perfect for tearing apart termite mounds.  The bear's mouth is also specially adapted for sucking up insects.  The extra hair around its face may protect its face from the biting insects.  Its diet includes fruit, such as jack-fruit and mangoes, and flowers.  It also has a sweet tooth like most bears - it loves honey.

Source:  Wikipedia

The sloth bear has a great vocal range making over 25 different growls, snorts, grunts and snarls.  They are mainly nocturnal and solitary.  The female usually has a litter of two cubs in an underground burrow.

For a short video, click here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Yellow, Something Blue

I guess I put up my 'Butterfly Bush Buddies' post a day too soon because Saturday I had two more unusual visitors.

The 'something old, something yellow' was a rare visitor from last summer that I saw for the first time this summer - a yellow warbler.  They come not for the bird seed in the feeder, but for the bugs on the butterfly bushes.

(I know - not such a great picture, but since I took it from inside my house without a telephoto lens...)  They are supposed to be fairly common, but I had never seen one until last summer.  Here's a closer, better look courtesy of Wikipedia.

Source:  Wikipedia

Yellow warblers also like fruit as part of their diet and have a wide distribution across the mid and northern U.S. and Canada during the breeding season.

And the 'something new, something blue'?  Later on Saturday there was a beautiful yellow swallowtail butterfly on my butterfly bush when I went to get my mail.  Of course, by the time I got my camera it was gone.  But then I noticed a beautiful blue bug on the sidewalk and took its picture instead.  When I first noticed it, there was a cricket along side it.  The blue bug kept getting on top of the cricket and I wasn't exactly sure what it was trying to do!

The cricket was almost as big as the bug.  It must have finally gotten it in the right position and balance because then it picked up the cricket and flew away with it.  Funniest thing - turns out it was a cricket hunting wasp!  These wasps (Chlorion aerarium) enjoy the flower nectar, but the females also hunt crickets, paralyze them with their venom and then carry them back to either a burrow or hole.  They lay a single egg on the cricket and when the egg hatches the larvae eats the cricket.  They can either put several eggs in one hole or give the egg and its 'host' a burrow all to themselves and then plug up the hole.

I had noticed something dark flying very erratically around the butterfly bushes, but they hardly ever seemed to land.  They are basically solitary wasps and the males are smaller than the females.  Like in a pride of lions, the females do all the work!  They do their cricket hunting on the ground - also making very quick darting movements as they hunt in cracks and crevices and grass for their favorite prey.

They can be very aggressive if disturbed so I tried to keep my distance while trying to get the second picture.  The successful wasp with the cricket was too preoccupied, I think, to be too concerned with me.  (That was also before I had identified it as a wasp!)  Very interesting species.  And I know my neighbors were entertained if they were watching me trying to capture its image!

For a video, click here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Butterfly Bush Buddies

My two butterfly bushes are now in full bloom and threatening to take over my yard.  I was lazy this spring and didn't prune them and they are now taller than my house!  I did have to prune around my sidewalk because I kept having to move them out of the way in order to get to my mailbox.

I always love to see all the different 'visitors' that also thoroughly enjoy the deep purple blooms.  Of course, there are the butterflies - monarchs, red admirals, and both black and yellow swallowtails like this gorgeous beauty.

And they are beautiful, but I always look for the more unusual visitors.  Like the snowberry clearwing moth, also known as a hummingbird moth.

The clearwing doesn't have as many scales on its wings as other butterflies giving them a transparent look (as you can see in the second picture), hence its name.

And this little guy that visited last year - it looks some kind of moth, but it is unusual in the way its wings are folded.  All moths and butterflies have two sets of wings, but they normally are folded in such a way that it looks as though it's all one piece instead of two.

Do you see the two coming out at the side and the two sticking up in the air?  There's the occasional dragonfly.

And, of course, there are the bees.  I have smaller (maybe) honey bees?

But I love the big bumble bees.

There's the occasion butterfly chase - one butterfly chasing another, but there are plenty of blooms to go around.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Froggy Went A Courtin'

In my 'Mutual Admiration Society' post I talk about several different species of creatures that benefit from each other's presence - a phenomenon known as mutualism.  I was watching a program a few weeks ago and discovered another unusual inter-species pairing between some frogs and some tarantulas.  Normally large tarantulas will eat small frogs, but certain species have figured out that there are advantages to NOT eating them.  Not only do they not eat them, but they share burrows.  The frog eats ants and other small insects that prey on spider eggs, and the tarantula's presence protects the frog from potential predators such as snakes and other large spiders.

No, this tarantula is not eating THIS particular frog.  Narrow-mouthed frogs are the most common roommate of tarantulas and there are about 450 species.  Some do have toxic skin which may be how this relationship began. The tarantula has figured out how to identify certain frogs by chemical analysis.  The dotted humming frog of Peru was the first documented case (the species of tarantula involved might be up for debate).

Just another example of two species cooperating.  To see a video, click here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Woodchuck Woes

There was high drama in my back yard Friday morning as I awoke to the sound of my back yard neighbor saying, 'Git'  'Go on.'  'Get out of here.'  I immediately went out (in my pajamas even) to see what was going on.  The neighbor behind me was out by his shed kicking his trash can and when I looked more closely there was one of the baby woodchucks stuck under the chain link fence that separates our two yards.  With all this going on it was obvious he WANTED to get out of there, but couldn't.  I thought at first that he just didn't have enough room to move and tried to dig a bigger hole under the fence.  But soon it was clear that his head was actually stuck in the chain link!  I didn't have any wire cutters or bolt cutters; other neighbors weren't home and my next door neighbor also didn't have anything that could cut the chain link.  I finally went to the mobile home park office to see if the owner had anything.  She found a small pair of wire cutters, but they weren't going to do the job.  I needed some heavy duty cutters.  She went to her shed and let me look around and I finally saw what I needed.  I brought them home and with the help of my next door neighbor we went to work.  Not without many protests from the woodchuck though, and a concerned woodchuck mom that stuck her head out from under the shed to see what all the commotion was about.  Even baby chuckies have some sharp teeth and a couple of times it grabbed onto the cutters and wouldn't let go.  We literally had to stick the cutters between the chain link and the woodchuck's neck.  We also had to make sure that there wasn't a woodchuck walking around with part of a chain link fence still around its neck.  A few strategic snips and the chuckie was free.

I was too busy being concerned to get a picture of the woodchuck actually stuck under the fence, so I guess I'm not a very good documentarian.  But in this picture you can see where we had to cut away the fence to free my little chuckie.

I have no idea how long he'd been stuck there.  Hopefully only a few hours.  As soon as it was free it made a mad dash for the hole under my shed as fast as its little legs could go.

I'm hoping the stress of the experience didn't have any ill effects.  A tough lesson for a baby chuckie.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Weird Wasps

I bought a new 'outside' broom to sweep up all the sunflower seed hulls that had collected on my patio from my bird feeder.  I went to put it in my shed which I hadn't been in for a few weeks and was met by a strange sight.

Some industrious little wasp had started to build a nest on the handle of the can of stuff I use to fix leaks in my roof! (I lent some of the 'stuff' to my neighbor a month or two ago and there was definitely not a wasp's nest on the handle then!)  Only a very small area is actually attaching the nest to the handle.

Other wasps have built nests in my shed that are in a more sensible location - on the roof.

The little one on the handle is actually an interesting feat of engineering and kind of beautiful in its geometricness.  (Is that a word?)  It looks like a flower seed pod.

I haven't moved it yet.  I also have yet to see any actual wasp working on it or entering it, so I don't know if it's a 'live' nest or whether whoever started it had second thoughts about its location.  I'll continue to check on it and see if it gets any bigger.  Hopefully, I won't have any leaks in my roof anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Raising Cane

Cane toads - everywhere!  Literally millions of them.  That's the problem that northeastern Australia is having.  In the 1930s cane toads were deliberately introduced in areas where cane beetles were destroying sugar cane crops with the hopes that the toads would go after the beetles.  Turns out cane toads couldn't reach the areas in the sugar cane where the beetles hide; using the toads as pest control was a total bust.  Not only a bust, but it has turned into an environmental disaster.  Cane toads are very prolific and one female can produce thousands of eggs twice a season.  The cane toads started killing all kinds of would-be predators due to their toxic skin.  And not only are the adults poisonous, but its eggs and tadpoles are as well.  Now endemic species, including native frog and many other species that the toads eat, are in danger of being wiped out, and all kinds of schemes have been and are being hatched to get rid of the toads.

Photo by Tim Laman   Source:  National Geographic

In its native Central and South America, some natural predators have evolved to become immune to the cane toads poisonous glands on its back, keeping its numbers under control.  But in areas where the toad has been introduced, predators such as snakes, dingos, and even crocodiles are dying because they have not yet had the time to counteract it.

Cane toads have been responsible for the death of pets, also by poisoning them.  And the toads that will eat almost anything have been known to go after pet food left outside.  However, the tables have been turned as scientists have discovered one of Australia's smallest natural predators is able to kill young cane toads - carnivorous meat ants.  Dollops of cat food are used to attract the ants to areas where the baby toads are coming out of ponds.  The ants then swarm the baby toads and kill 70% of them.

Another unexpected natural predator is the crow!  The crows haven't become immune to the poison, but they have learned to grab a leg, flip the toad over on its back and go for the soft underbelly, thus avoiding the poison.  Magpies have also been seen using a similar procedure.  I told you in my 'Birdbrain? Balderdash!' post that birds are pretty smart.

Source:  Wikipedia

Some good news, if you can call it that, is that cane toads are literally eating themselves out of house and home - some starving to death because they've wiped out their food sources.  Populations of some endangered species have been moved to islands to protect them from further decimation from the toads.

The moral of the story - don't mess with mother nature!  Introducing one species to wipe out another, sometimes does more harm than good.  For a video, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Success 2

I talked about my beautiful little house finch in my 'A Little This, A Little That" post.  At the time I said that I hadn't yet seen the female, and, of course, there is one and I have now seen it.  But it's the male naturally that stands out and continues to bedazzle.  Saturday morning he was sitting in the sun at my bird feeder and the bright raspberry color on his head just glowed.  Here are just a few pictures I wanted to share with you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Charming Chipmunks

A while back I was outside and happened to notice that one of the 'outside' cats (will be doing a post on them soon) had something cornered by a pile of loose bricks by my shed.  I shooed the cat away and picked up one of the bricks to see what the cat was so interested in - it was a little chipmunk.  I had never seen any around before this so was surprised at my find.  I put the brick back and walked away hoping to give it a chance to get away.  I came back a little later and it was still there.  I got a few seeds from the bag of birdseed and sprinkled them around in case it was hungry and again walked away.  I'm assuming that it did finally escape, because that evening I checked and it was gone.  I then took care to stack the bricks a bit more strategically to offer better refuge from any other would-be predator.  But I haven't seen any more.  Around here we get Eastern Chipmunks.

Source:  Wikipedia

How could you not love this little guy?  This particular species has the distinction of having two less teeth than other chipmunks, with 4 toes on their front paws and 5 on their back paws.  I could understand why this guy wouldn't last around here - predators include blue jays (of which there are plenty), and raccoons, as well as hawks and cats.  They eat seeds, nuts, fruit, plants including mushrooms, and insects among other things.

We saw lots of chipmunks in Colorado, especially around my parents' house in Estes Park.  The Colorado chipmunk looks a bit different than the Eastern variety with more distinctive stripes around its eyes.  And the Least Chipmunk, the smallest and most widespread in the U.S. has perhaps the most striking of all.

Colorado Chipmunk  Source:  Wikipedia

Least Chipmunk   Source:  Wikipedia

Both their diets are about the same as the Eastern variety.  All three have a maze of burrows that is used for both sleeping and food caching.  Chipmunks don't actually hibernate, but go into torpor or very slowed activity for the winter.

Also in Colorado we had lots of golden-mantled ground squirrels.  I actually enjoyed them even more than the chipmunks.  They seemed to have more extroverted personalities as well as being larger.  They were quite photogenic and seemed to enjoy posing for their 'close-up'.

Its diet and lifestyle are very like that of the chipmunk.  But UNlike the chipmunk, the ground squirrel does hibernate in the winter.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel took too long to say, so I used to call them all 'chippies' even though I knew the difference, but it used to drive my mother crazy.  Whether chippies or ground squirrels, as long as you aren't inundated by them they are charming indeed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baby Alert 3!

Tonight I heard some crunching under my window.  I looked out expecting to see the raccoons, but what I saw was a baby opossum.  It was not that small, but definitely not an adult.  Mom was not with it, just one lone youngster.  Somehow they're much cuter as babies than adults.  Of course, it was way too dark for a photo.  To see pictures and a story about an orphaned baby possum, click here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Brief Encounters

Last Monday I was working a temp job in Cumberland, RI.  The place had a beautiful setting - lots of evergreen trees as well as deciduous trees and open spaces.  I arrived early and sat in my car eating a granola bar before starting work.  I had allowed extra time because it was the first time I had worked there and didn't know whether I would have trouble finding it or not.  As I sat there, a beautiful male bluebird flew in and landed on the back of the bench that was right in front of my car.  I don't ever see bluebirds around my house, so this was an unexpected treat.  It flew into a tree nearby, but then came back to the bench several times as I sat there.  I didn't have my camera with me, although I did have my cell phone, but never thought of taking it out.  I brought it the next day hoping to get a photo, but, of course, that day I didn't see it.

Source:  Wikipedia

Bluebirds are in the thrush family and are insect and fruit eaters.  They will eat seeds in the winter when insects are scarce, but they much prefer a juicy grasshopper or crunchy cricket.  They will also eat snails on occasion.

Photo by Richard Day/Animals Animals  Source:  National Geographic

Saturday I was sitting in my easy chair contemplating what my next blog post would be about :-)  and happened to glance out the window just in time to see a large bird flying overhead.  I could see the long legs dragging behind wide outspread wings.  I'm pretty sure it was a Great Blue Heron.  I do live somewhat near water, but not that close.  I have seen them before a couple of times; it is not a common sight, but a very welcome one.  It was flying away from the coast, but in the general direction of a large reservoir.

Source:  Wikipedia

Great blue herons live in North and Central America as well as some island groups.  There is also a population of great white herons that are found in southern Florida and the Caribbean. These herons are mostly fish eaters, but will eat crabs, insects, small mammals, and other small birds.

Source:  Wikipedia

It's always lovely to take a few moments out of an average day for one of nature's surprises.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Maned Things

I was going to do a post on the maned wolf.   I went to Wikipedia to look up some information, typed in 'maned' and all these other maned things came up.  A maned rat?  Maned owls?  Maned ducks?  Hmmm.

Also after reading about the maned wolf I realized that the information sounded vaguely familiar.  Yes, I talked about the maned wolf in my 'Mutual Admiration Society' post.  So this post will be about all the OTHER maned things.

First, the maned rat.  It's also called the crested rat and lives in east Africa.  It sort of resembles a large rat with a mohawk.

Source:  Wikipedia

With its striped coloring though you might mistake it for some weird looking skunk.  It eats leaves, fruit and other plant material, but will also eat insects.

The maned sloth is endemic to Brazil and only lives in the Brazilian coastal rainforest.  It is of the three-toed variety, and looks like a regular sloth except for a dark 'scarf' around its neck.

Source:  Zeke's

For more information on sloths, see my 'Slinking Sloths' post.

Now about those maned ducks.  They are also known as the maned goose, but I don't see a mane.  Do you?

Source:  Wikipedia

Also called the Australian Wood Duck, they are obviously from Australia.  Here's the female.

Source:  Wikipedia

Maybe Fuzzy Headed Duck would be more accurate.  Their most unusual characteristic?  They don't swim all that much.  They graze the grasslands in flocks and nest in tree cavities.

Next on the list is a maned blenny.  The Webster's New World Dictionary definition of a blenny is "any of various small marine percoid fishes with a long, many-rayed dorsal fin and a tapering body covered with slime."  What a lovely description.  Here's what it looks like.

Photo by J. E. Randall  Source: Fishbase

Isn't it cute?  This particular blenny is found in the shallower waters of the Indian Ocean.

When you think of a mane, fish don't normally come to mind, but there is another 'maned' fish, the maned goby.  It has three or four other names including the long-finned goby and the small-scaled goby.  Gobies are small spiny-finned fish whose "pelvic fins are united as a suction disk that clings to rocky surfaces." (also Webster's).  This goby is found in the Western Pacific.

And last but not least, the maned owl.  Endemic to Africa it prefers rainforest canopy, not regular forest, for its home.  Not a lot is really known about it, including (again) why it's known as a maned owl!  To see a photo, click here.

As far as I'm concerned, I was a little disappointed with all these so called maned things. So to make up for it....

Photo by Chris Johns   Source:  National Geographic

Yeah, baby!  Now that's a mane!