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Little bitty butterflies

Eastern tailed blue crop

Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly nectaring on white clover

They’re there, no bigger than a thumbnail — dancing at your feet in the clover, flitting across the flower tops. Not as showy as Monarchs and swallowtails, these little butterflies from the Blue and Hairstreak families have their own intricate beauty.

ETB butterfly perspective

The view at your feet

Gray hairstreak milkweed crop

Gray Hairstreak on milkweed

 

gray hairstreak ventral crop

Gray Hairstreak at full wingspan, basking in coreopsis

 

Summer Azure better crop

Summer Azure on Mountain Mint

Shining through

false sunflower native plant

False Sunflower

A sunflower that isn’t really a sunflower. A coneflower that isn’t really a coneflower. Both shine in a native plant garden.

False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) are long-blooming, easy to grow, beneficial to pollinators, and widely available from native plant nurseries within their ranges.

pr coneflower and mtn mint1

Prairie Coneflower with Mountain Mint

 

prairie coneflower

Freshly blooming Prairie Coneflower

 

Wood thrush sings its song

Wood thrush

Wood Thrush

A Wood Thrush is a bird you are more likely to hear than to see. Sometimes described as reclusive, it is well-camouflaged as it forages along the forest floor in its Eastern US breeding ground. But its song — what a song — is flutey, melodious and hard to miss.

Click here to listen to a Wood Thrush in Maryland’s Piedmont on a late afternoon in June. (A new window will open in YouTube.) Enjoy!

A moment’s pause

Barn swallow pair AI

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallows swooping in the air, skimming smooth water surfaces move too fast to fully admire or photograph. This pair — first one, then the other — landed on the railing right in front of me. No doubt they were diverting attention and preparing to defend a nest I suspect is on the underside of this Assateague coastal bay marsh boardwalk.

Look at their long tails and wings and their scrawny feet and legs. Barn swallows are built to sail, not to sit.

 

King of the marsh

Eastern Kingbird AI

Eastern Kingbird

This Eastern Kingbird hunted for flying insects on a sunny June morning in the tidal marsh along Assateague Island’s coastal bay. Its striking white tail tip is an easy-to-recognize field mark.

Despite the Latin name Tyrannus tyrannus, I find Kingbirds more regal than aggressive. I’ve frequently observed breeding Tree Swallows chase Kingbirds from view of their nests.

Terrapin count

I participated in the Maryland Coastal Bay Program’s terrapin count in early June. Maryland’s coastal bays are the estuaries between the barrier islands of Assateague and Chincoteague and the Delmarva Peninsula of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The brackish waters and wetlands teem with wildlife.

DB terp 1F3M rszd

Female Diamondback Terrapins are significantly larger than males

Diamondback Terrapins emerge from hibernating in the bays’ marshes to breed in the spring. Terrapins can be seen basking in the sun. But more often, only the nose of a swimming terp appears above the water surface.

In less than an hour, I counted 40 Diamondback Terrapins from a boardwalk facing Assateague Island’s bayside.

DB terp AI 9 crop 060116

terp nose

Terp pursuit

DB terp pair rszd

terp F close

DB terp pair contrast

 

marsh lily pads

Black Marsh

The Black Marsh Wildlands area makes up more than 600 acres of Maryland’s North Point State Park. Located on the upper western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, Black Marsh is one of the most significant wetlands adjoining the nation’s largest estuary. It provides critical habitat to an abundance of resident and migrating birds and other wildlife, making it popular with birders and nature-lovers year-round.

Black Marsh

Black Marsh

Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, a Black-crowned Night Heron, Great egrets, Cattle egrets, Pileated Woodpeckers and a variety of songbirds were spotted on a recent sunny June morning.

Great Blue Heron BlackMarsh

Great Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

RWBB Fem

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Among other marsh residents.

frog

dragonfly3

watersnake

muskrat munch

Muskrat

 

 

Flower power

beetle Margined Leatherwing nasturtium

Saturday’s bright morning sun shining through nasturtium petals illuminated a beetle foraging deep within the flower.

Another view reveals a Margined Leatherwing (Chauliognathus marginatus), one of many beneficial Soldier Beetles that pollinate flowers and prey on aphids and the larva of various insects.

beetle margined leatherwing crop

Margined Leatherwing beetle

Beetle fun fact:  A beetle’s hard, visible wings — called elytra — protect the body and the concealed membranous wings that are the actual wings used for flight. Watch for the blur of true flight wings next time you see a lightning bug fly away.

 

Backyard baby birds

AMRO nestlings

American Robin nestlings

We’ve been treated to the comings and goings of several families of birds during nesting season. Most nested in our hollies and shrubs. One pair of House Wrens nested in the metal frame of a basketball backboard.

Nest sites to choose, eggs to incubate, nestlings to feed, nests to protect. Fledglings to care for now that they are leaving the nest, learning to hop, then fly, and soon to feed and fend for themselves. Spring is a busy time to be a bird.

NOCA fledge2

Northern Cardinal fledgling waits to be fed

DOWO fledgling

Downy Woodpecker fledgling

HOWR feeding

House Wren bringing food to nest in basketball backboard frame

HOWR fledge2

House Wren fledgling, minutes after leaving the nest

 All photos taken from a safe distance.

 

Spring birds at Assateague

Green heron GRHE

Green heron along Sinepuxent Bay

Spring on the marsh and coastal bay side of Assateague Island is a time to see migrating birds passing through and breeding birds that will remain for the summer. This collection is just a sampling of species that can be seen in May and June.

One day in late May there were dozens of Ruddy Turnstones in full breeding plumage lining the shore. They were resting and feeding on their way to the Arctic to nest.

Ruddy Turnstone breeding AI

Ruddy Turnstone in breeding plumage

RUTU camo

Ruddy Turnstone blends in with the coastal bay beach

Semipalmated sandpipers also stopped on their journey to the upper reaches of Canada.

semipalm sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

In contrast, the Willets, one of the largest members of the sandpiper family, will nest on Assateague. A perched Willet looks drab, but in flight Willets show striking wing bars and their noisy pip-pip-pip call is distinctive.

Willet2

Willet surveys marsh from boardwalk railing

Among wading birds, the Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons and Great Egrets declined to pose for photos. But this Snowy Egret was accommodating. The Snowy is easy to identify by its big, yellow feet.

SNEG3 yellow foot

Snowy egret

Among water fowl were Bufflehead and Common Loons. The loon in transitional plumage was tricky to identify.

Common loon

Common Loon

COLO loon transitional

Common Loon transitional plumage

The winner of the cutest waterbird award is this female Bufflehead.

Bufflehead Female

Bufflehead female

And for those hoping to spot Assateague wild ponies…

ponies BUHE F

Assateague ponies with Buffleheads

 

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