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Hummingbird adventures

A few days ago as dusk approached I discovered a large moth — no, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird — trapped on our sunporch. No time for a photo shoot, just a quick snap with my ever-present camera while I considered what to do and confirmed what I was seeing.

Hummingbird on wrong side of the window

Hummingbird on wrong side of the window

First, remove the cat, who fortunately was snoozing. Next, hang the nectar feeder in the open doorway, hoping to entice the hummingbird to freedom. No luck. It stayed high and on the far side of the room, repeatedly buzzing against the highest panes of glass, occasionally perching on a rail or on the ceiling fan.

Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles, but still they seem like such tiny, fragile things. I was afraid to try to trap it.

Next, a cornhusk broom held high to block its view encouraged it to the other side of the room. Progress, but it was still flying at windows too high to find the doorway.

Then the unexpected happened. The hummingbird landed on the upright broom! I carried broom and bird outside, and away it flew.

Another hummingbird was flying high nearby and would have been within view from inside.

A happy ending.

Hummingbirds are feeding heavily this week on liatris and other flowers and at nectar feeders as they prepare for their fall migration. The flowers and feeders are well away from the sunporch, so the visit remains a mystery.

Here’s a juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird fueling up for his first migration south. I wonder if he was the visitor.

RTHU feeder sip RTHU feeder RTHU takeoff

ETST top crop

Hillside meadow

I enjoyed a couple hours on a beautiful August day exploring a sunny, breezy hillside meadow and native plant garden at The Howard County Conservancy in central Maryland.

Here are some sights, in no particular order. As always, click on a photo for a larger view.

Pearl crescent

Pearl crescent butterfly

Meadow

Meadow

Monarch

Monarch

Bluebird feeding young

Bluebird feeding young

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar

In the garden

In the garden

Known to millions as Miss Jean from Hodgepodge Lodge

Known to millions as Miss Jean of Hodgepodge Lodge

Pickerel-weed and other water-loving plants in the garden

Pickerel-weed and other water-loving plants in the garden

AI dangling seed

Assateague marshside

Assateague Island National Seashore is prized for its herd of wild ponies and its wide, beautiful, undeveloped Atlantic beach. Take a short walk across this barrier island to find treasures along the coastal bay side.

On a windy morning, only a Great Egret was seen in the marsh. And, overhead, a pair of ospreys calling to their young for a fishing excursion. No photo; just a memory.

Great Egret foraging in the grasses

Great Egret forages in the grasses

There was more to see on a calm morning. A Little Blue Heron hunted in the marshy shallows, quietly, furtively, then racing to another spot.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron …

Taking a closer look

… takes a closer look

Other avian, reptile and insect beauties.

Diamondback Terrapin swimming in the coastal bay

Diamondback Terrapin swims in the coastal bay

Laughing Gull appreciating the calm

Laughing Gull reflects the calm

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly female shows off her bold stripes

Sitting across the causeway on the coastal bay shoreline, the visitor center’s native plant flower beds also support local wildlife. In my opinion, all public buildings should adopt a native plant first policy.

Zabulon Skipper butterfly on Buttonbush

Zabulon Skipper butterfly on Buttonbush

Monarch on Ironweed

Monarch on Ironweed, Assateague Island National Seashore Visitor Center

A little birdie told me

CACH kitchen c2015

This Carolina Chickadee perched right outside my kitchen window between visits to a feeder filled with safflower seed. Chickadees, cardinals, bluejay, tufted titmice, house finches, mourning dove, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and even a catbird have been visiting the feeder, freshly filled now that many birds need extra energy during molting season.

My bird-friendly yard provides shelter, water, native plants bearing berries and seed, and loads of insects and larva for birds to feed their nestlings. The rewards are many, but a close-up visit like this one is a rare treat.

monarch closer

Piedmont wildflowers

One of the joys of regularly walking trails and monitoring bluebird nestboxes at a local park is seeing a succession of wildflowers emerge as the seasons change. Here’s a slideshow collection of wildflowers I’ve seen during the last few years’ rambles in Oregon Ridge Park, a 1,000 acres of woodland, streams and meadows in Baltimore County, MD.

Click here to see the slideshow. (Note: It will open in Smilebox and run about seven minutes.)

Eastern tailed-blue on clover

On gossamer wings

Eastern tailed-blue on clover

Eastern tailed-blue on clover

The family of butterflies that includes Azures, Blues and Hairstreaks are called Gossamer-wings for the sheer appearance of their wings. These are our smallest North American butterflies — abundant, but not as conspicuous as larger, showier butterflies like Monarchs and Swallowtails. By small, consider that the Eastern Tailed-blue pictured above is perched on common white clover.

Gray hairstreak on mountain mint

Gray Hairstreak on mountain mint

Summer Azure on milkweed

Summer Azure on milkweed

Bring them to your yard. Many nectar on common composite flowers — those flowers that pack so many tiny blossoms in the center that they look like one blossom. Think asters, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, goldenrods and zinnias. Legumes such as clover are a favorite host plant for Gossamer-wing caterpillars, so let it grow.

Buzzing back

Hummingbird Clearwing moth on bee balm

Hummingbird Clearwing moth on bee balm

The Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) featured last week is just too amazing not to bring back for another visit — this time with video!

Click here to watch one nectaring on native bee balm.

Like so many beautiful and fascinating butterflies, pollinators and songbirds, Hummingbird Clearwing moths need native plants and meadow to feed and breed. You can help! Add native plants to your garden and support the protection of meadows in your favorite parks.

Just humming along

On a sunny Sunday, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths hovered above flowers rich with nectar.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth nectaring on bee balm

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth nectaring on bee balm

This Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) found a patch of bee balm at Oregon Ridge Park. Just two inches across, darting from blossom to blossom with wings nearly invisible, it’s easily mistaken for a hummingbird. Unlike most moths, hummingbird moths are day-flyers. They feed on a variety of flowers. Like other moths and butterflies, their caterpillars need to feed on certain host plants like wild cherry and hawthorn to survive.

Here’s another view. And, yes, you can hear their wings hum.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth dorsal view

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth dorsal view

And in the backyard garden, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Hemaris thysbe) found a hanging planter of lantana, a bit of showy fast food in an otherwise native plant garden.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The speckling on the throat and emerging red spots tell us this is a juvenile male. When full grown, he will have the species’ distinctive ruby throat.

Speckled throat of juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Speckled throat of juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

And off he flew.

Of the two, the hummingbird moth is easier to observe and photograph, feeding for several minutes within the same patch, often joined by several others nectaring on the same plants.

Chickadee success

In the four years I’ve been helping to manage the park’s nestbox trails and 50+ nestboxes, we haven’t had a successful Carolina Chickadee nest — until now. Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds and House Wrens are our most common nestbox users. The few nesting attempts by Carolina Chickadees in recent years have been thwarted at the nest-building stage, usually by House Wren takeovers.

This year we replaced a long-forgotten nestbox off a wooded edge of the nature center’s parking lot. Its last known occupant was a flying squirrel.

Remember me?

Remember me?

In late April, the nestbox contained the distinctive sign of a Chickadee nest — a base made of moss.

April 26: Deep base of moss

April 26: Deep base of moss

The most common Chickadee in Maryland’s Piedmont is the Carolina Chickadee. I admit to difficulty distinguishing a Carolina Chickadee from a Black-capped Chickadee. The two are known to hybridize in the region, so I guess the difference isn’t too clear or too important to them either.

The nest continued to progress with the addition of soft material to form a cup.

May 1: Soft nesting material added

May 1: Soft nesting material added

This is when things have fallen apart with recent Chickadee attempts, so when four eggs appeared we were thrilled. And took steps to protect the nest by adding a wren guard — a simple sheet of plastic parallel to the front of the box — to hide the opening from avian predators. With eggs in the nest, the Chickadee adults were committed to the nest but we watched to confirm that they would maneuver around the guard. On the third try, the female did just that and returned to the nest.

May 8: Four Carolina Chickadee eggs

May 8: Four Carolina Chickadee eggs

After the normal 11-14 days of incubation, all four eggs hatched and nestling growth proceeded.

May 20: Four one-to-two day old Carolina Chickadee hatchlings

May 20: Four one-to-two day old Carolina Chickadee hatchlings

May 24: Five day old Carolina Chickadees with feather tracks emerging

May 24: Five day old Carolina Chickadees with feather tracks emerging

May 29: Ten day old Chickadees, almost fully feathered, but no black caps yet

May 29: Ten day old Chickadees, almost fully feathered, but no black caps yet

The wren guard was removed a few days before the projected fledge date so fledgling exit wouldn’t be impeded. Nesting extended longer than the typical 13 to 17 days, likely due to heavy rains and unseasonable cold. Lots of watching and waiting. The Chickadee parents fed the young at regular intervals and fussed noisily at the nestbox monitor and oblivious park visitors. There were no signs of the parents coaxing the young to fledge, so all appeared normal. No photos of nestlings from the final checks; just quick peeks to prevent early fledging.

This is what a successful Carolina Chickadee nest looks like.

June 6: Carolina Chickadee nest within hours of four fledglings leaving nest

June 6: Carolina Chickadee nest within hours of four fledglings leaving nest

June 6: Side view of the depth of the moss base

June 6: Side view of the depth of the nest’s moss base

Happy day!

As always, photos were taken in the course of normal nestbox monitoring without flash.

To learn about nestbox design from an expert, visit this site’s Nestbox Blueprint page.

Catbird went a courtin’ (and Starling did too)

I heard a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) singing even more vehemently than usual. Atop a neighbor’s shed, a male was singing, displaying and dancing to attract the eye of a nearby female. Imagine a fluffy hokey pokey — dipping and turning itself about.

Gray Catbird in courtship dance

Gray Catbird in courtship dance

Catbird M3

Catbird M4

It looks like we may see a nest!

Gray Catbird pair

Gray Catbird pair

These charming native birds are always welcome at Elev. 401. According to Cornell’s Ornithology Lab, Catbirds are “often frugivorous,” a technical way of saying they eat fruit along with all manner of insects. There’s dogwood, winterberry, blueberries, elderberries, sweetbay and blackhaw viburnum growing for them here.

Meanwhile, in a sycamore across the road, a European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) has been flapping its wings and calling to attract a potential mate to a nesting cavity it has claimed. So far, no takers.

European Starling

European Starling

EUST syc2

Starlings are a non-native species, brought to North America (some say specifically to Central Park) in the late 19th century so that the birds of Shakespeare’s works could be enjoyed on this continent. Yes, really. A misguided deed. Starlings are now invasive, one of our most numerous birds and a common predator of other cavity-nesting birds. Bluebird and even Wood Duck nestboxes are designed with Starling deterrence in mind. Still, Starlings are clever, entertaining and beautiful — getting by on looks and personality as they out-compete native birds for food and habitat.

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