Flying Feats

Look closely at the winged creatures around us and you’ll see many have extraordinarily athletic abilities, some of which we are trying very hard to copy with the latest mechanical drones.  Did you see the amazing formation flying, amid the regular fireworks, of lights carried by perhaps more than a hundred drones at President-Elect Biden’s victory speech on Nov 7?

 

Last season’s Eagle nest, nearly ½ mile away to the North on Audubon Island, is gone.  It was good for at least two years and two sets of young birds, but now it is nowhere to be seen.  We last saw it on May 1st when the leaves opened and hid it, with the two young ones who were almost ready to fly, from our view:


The tree is bare now in November and with the summer leaves fallen we can see that the nest has gone without a trace.

To our great good luck the parents seem to have decided to give Garden Island, just 150 yards away, another try. An effort there 2 or 3 years ago failed miserably.
This time, in just one month, they’ve built a nest up from nothing.  Seems that one (the male?) collects a branch in less than 5 mins and brings it back. The other (the female?) then repositions it, while he’s gone looking for another stick.  (Everyone know that men can’t properly load a dishwasher!).

The eagle prefers branches directly from a tree. (A few years ago I temptingly laid out a dozen good branches on the river bank and none were taken by any nest builders.)  Occasionally the bird clasps a tree branch which won’t break off and he is left dangling precariously, upside-down.  I was lucky enough to have the camera (iPhone) running when he came to the walnut tree right outside.  Look carefully and you’ll see the eagle first snaps off a twig.  Could it have been testing the wood to see if it was brittle enough to break easily?  If so, then the answer was ‘yes’ – he jumped onto and grasped the branch which broke under his 10 to 14 lb. weight, dropped, spread his wings and flew back to the nest.
The new nest is holding up well even though there was a 37 mph wind this week:

 

Other very fine fliers are the Big Brown Bats.  Twice this summer they crept into the house through a very small hole under the balcony screen door.  Alice and Pinot quickly tell us we have an early morning visitor:

I close all doors but one, leaving a rectangular loop for their flight: down the corridor, through the bedroom, and into the other end of the corridor.  At one end of corridor the balcony door is open, but at that point they are turning on their circuit.  No combination of indoor and outdoor lights on and off will induce them to turn the other way and leave.

Alice watches it fly round and round, never bumping into me or the walls, until we are all exhausted and a bat finally lands on a wall.

At that point you can easily pick them up in a towel and take them out before Pinot closes in.  I know: I should wear gloves and a bee suit, but it is 3:00 am.  The good news is I can see no sign of the ‘white nose syndrome’ which is badly hurting so many bat species.

 

A beautiful late summer sight is the vertical flight of a bunch (sometimes hundreds) of miniscule gnats who swarm on a warm evening, presumably in a wild mating dance?  Also hard to photograph, but watch carefully and you’ll see individuals rising and falling.  Even a gust of wind only temporarily disturbs the flying formation.  How do they navigate?  Pheromones may be attracting them back to the spot, even though wind must surely carry away any scent.  How do they navigate in 3D?  I never see them bump into each other.

 

One day on the Portage River we found a 2D version of the 3D gnat swarm.  These magnificent water striding bugs were having their pre-start maneuvers to a regatta like no other.  Turning and swerving, hardly making a dent on mirror smooth water, they somehow gain traction for accelerating and braking without penetrating the surface tension skin of the river.  I switched the movie to slow-motion but can hardly see a ripple in the water from their feet.  What is their rhyme or reason?  Perhaps they’re just having fun?

 

 

Holes In My Garden

A fresh hole appeared in the ground down the back near where I saw a beautiful 6 ft. long fox snake last year.  Unfortunately there were no visible paw prints to help identify the hole’s occupant(s), so I put a CritterCam on it for a few days.

Animal curiosity soon prompted a picture:

First out, not surprisingly, was the Groundhog who keeps many of our plants trimmed down.

But a minute later out came another, smaller one.

The next day the hole was visited by what seems to be a Raccoon.

I’ve no idea what transpired down the hole but on the following day who should enter the hole but a black cat, with distinctive white paws (any neighbors recognize it?)

It did not stay long. A minute later it came out

and ran off.

Perhaps the cat is related to our rescue stray – Pinot – who is only allowed outside on the 3rd floor balcony.

That height does not stop her from looking longingly at the animal action below, but she has yet to find a way down.

I don’t know what transpired down in that hole in the garden but I might have to investigate it with my 3ft long fiberoptic view-scope?  It has been good at finding the honey in the hollow Catalpa tree out by the front door, stored last year by swarming bees who have since disappeared.

Now that is honey that can only be accessed by cutting down the tree, or by simply using it to tempt the next passing swarm of bees to move in, stay and enjoy it. Here they are in action:

 

Finally, I have to find the hole(s) where the bats live.  They are putting on a beautiful evening display these days, eating the bugs missed by the passing Warblers.

Here is a great free Cornell U. website to show you where you might see the various little yellow marked warblers on their migration from South America to NW Canada. It combines weather forecast data with bird spotting observations:
https://BirdCast.info/
Looks like Wednesday – Thursday should be good, when the cold spell passes.

Why I Grow a Native Garden

“Sir, your garden is full of weeds!” – “My friend, the native birds and bees are all delighted to feed on our local Butterfly-weed, Ironweed, Jewelweed, Joe-pye-weed, Milkweed, Pokeweed, and other native foods familiar to their genetic history, which are happily growing in my garden”.

Initially I naively thought that native plants would look after themselves and one could a have an idyllic, self-maintaining, riverside forest glade needing nothing done to it but the making of initial plantings.

The plants native to this area do grow readily here but they were not the ones that were growing when I arrived.  In Perrysburg, Ohio, we have traces of nearby ancient Black Swamp fertile humus over clay. A few miles distant are the Oak Openings sand ridges with a completely different flora and fauna.  These two soil systems support unique and tempting plants but neither system immediately describes the clay of our site where the river has washed away most of the fertile top soil, and the construction of: houses, an old and abandoned ‘hydraulic canal’ and buried sewer pipes has removed the ‘remnant’ earth of ancient days from before the arrival of us current ‘invaders’.  Such ‘remnant’ soil, if it were only available, would be ideal for the re-establishment of the original flora and fauna of the old savannah.

I was surprised to see that the widespread alien English Ivy and Japanese Honeysuckle offered no nutrition to our native Ohio caterpillars, and yet the many foreign English sparrows and Japanese beetles here happily fed on the Ohio native plants. I later read that butterfly larvae are picky eaters and look for familiar food, while plants are slow to evolve the bitter tasting protective juices needed to resist many beetle invaders.

I manually pulled out the aliens – the Asian Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus) were the biggest challenge. Sadly their good looking companion Ailanthus bugs went with them:but the rotting Ailanthus stumps are producing some interesting mushrooms. 

So, after vainly trying many different native species, I started listening to what the plants were telling me and began to grow: River Oat grass, Meadow Sunflower, Jacobs Ladder, Ferns, Jewelweed, Nine Bark, Pussy Willow and other natives,with good success. But not before being seduced by the Ohio spring ephemerals:Bloodroot (above), Spring-beauty, May-apple, Trilliums, Trout-lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Wild-ginger, all of which can now make the exciting announcement that winter has finally ended in our back garden.

These early spring successes did not tell me they needed protection against the later seasonal invasion of the aliens: Myrtle, Indian Strawberry,Ground-ivy, Garlic-mustard, escaped Yellow Archangel, etc., etc..

We are still seeking the perfect native plants which will come later in the year and protect the spring ephemeral sites without overwhelming them.  Poke-weed, and Goldenrod:do grow well but seem to be too aggressive. Wild Senna, Snakeroot and Wingstem also flourish in the hard clay but even they might not leave enough room for our precious ephemerals?

To my great delight I found the native plants were starting to support a zoo of native animals: Monarch butterflies and a wide variety of weird and wonderful caterpillars:

Fox Snakes, Mink:

and many birds including migrating Warblers (below in a Redbud tree),

White Pelicans, Sandhill cranes, and even an uncommon pair of Red Headed Woodpeckers

The smaller ‘bugs’ have been most fascinating when one stops to peer at them closely:

These Striped leaf-hoppers:love the Jewel-weed plant (it has a water-shedding leaf: rain drops bead up on it and roll off like water from a duck’s back): 

Hiding under its leafy canopy is a beautiful flower:

Realizing that this location is one small step on two unofficial wildlife corridors: one running NE to SW, parallel to the Maumee River, as taken by the Monarch butterflies travelling between Quebec, Canada and Mexico, and the other taken by Warblers migrating between the Caribbean and NW Canada, I am now trying to entice them all to stop over for dinner on edible patches of native plants and bugs, hopefully visible from the air.  The latest effort has been a transplant of 40 Milkweeds, complete with their long horizontal roots, down to the river bank, from out front by the street where air turbulence from traffic tumbled the poor Monarch butterflies.

So I have learnt to plant natives, extirpate aliens, and never use any poison insecticides, herbicides or fungicides.  The results continue to amaze. One only has to learn to observe properly.

Meanwhile I hope that this small effort, by deed and example, can help a little to stem the current loss of so many species in our rapidly changing world.  Are you old enough to remember when a car windshield was heavily smeared with dead bugs after a short summer evening drive?  That does not happen now.  Why have those bugs gone? And what can we do to save the handful that are left?