KEEPING WATCH - MAINTAINING THE AIRPORT
HENRY COUNTY — 6/20/2012
Trees grow on the pond dam. I love trees, and some more than others and the Willows and the Cottonwoods are among my favorites. But tree roots can create water channels in a pond dam and the bigger the tree gets the larger its roots and the greater the risk. Trees may also make it difficult for geese and swans to come in for a landing. Therefore I cut it down. It was a beautiful young Cottonwood, thirty feet tall or better and reaching for 100. I fell it into the water.
The geese and swans appreciate the opening, especially on windy days. The Wood Ducks love the horizontal roost the fallen tree has created. The central stem or trunk runs just inches above the water where Mom Wood Duck lines her brood up for preening and waterproofing (oiling) their feathers.
With waterfowl populations artificially high in the fall and winter due to the supplemental feed we offer, a cattail does not have a chance on our pond. The only cover for the Woodies is what is supplied by trees growing along and arching out over (and eventually falling into) the water. It seems to be working. No bass in the pond and a carry away policy on snapping turtles found walking the fence help too no doubt. One hen hatched 14 downies and managed to raise 10 of them this spring and they are now becoming air borne.
So, as it turned out, maintaining the approach for the swans helped enhance cover for the Woodies which helps me feel better about that empty place where a beautiful young Cottonwood used to grow.
There was 2-7/8 inches in my gauge when I emptied it this morning.
The rain was spread out over several events allowing it to soak in with minimal runoff. Following a shower yesterday grand daughter Keira and I spent some time in a cross walk along the curb in New London sizing up the rush of water flowing in the street. I could see by her smile that she and I have something in common. First we splashed with our hands and then holding my finger she waded in bare foot and then... well I had to draw the line when she indicated she wanted to sit down. I did not realize just how much we have in common until I gathered her up to head for the house and listened to the intensity of her complaint. She is ready already for a low flow canoe adventure on Big Creek. I am just not sure her Mom is.
Most of the wetland cells ran over and I may get to skip a week of pumping. The Trumpeter Swans are still sitting. The early Wood Duck broods are on the edge of being air borne even while several late broods are still balls of fluff. Today for the first time Mother deer had her twins both with her which helps me understand the frequency with which I have been jumping one (or the other). One fawn took off to the west while Mom headed north. The other fawn stood his ground studing me and listening to my chatter until I ran out of things to say. At that point I started on down the path as he turned and bounded off into the woods to the east.
We have more Rose-breasted Grosbeak pairs at the yard feeders than ever before. I have not heard the Pileated Woodpeckers up on the hill for the last several days. It was reassuring to hear one down along the river yesterday.
The rain sunk the filamentations algae giving the duckweed a chance to spread out and get on top. I like the duckweed better because the critters can move through it more readily, at least until it gets too thick. The sunshine will kick the photosynthesis of the moss back into high gear and bubbles of oxygen will be again lifting it to the surface.
I took a pool strainer with me to gather some duckweed to feed Amos D. Goose, a Canada gosling and the brood of Woodies that earlier went to meet the Mt. Pleasant and the Fairfield 4th graders as well as some pre-schoolers and home schoolers.
Joy and Riggs picked up a dead young Badger that had been hit on the road. Seems like that is the only time I get to see one. This one was a beautiful blonde.
This Honey Bee was busy early this morning gathering pollen from an Elderberry Bush. I continue to gather pollen from the cattails.
The hilltop wetland water levels are nearly self sustaining when we get average rainfall. This year however, I am pumping water into the cells once a week.
Yesterday afternoon I noticed knee high corn with curled leaves on the hilltops. The water stress is taking its toll on this fall's harvest projections.
It can be difficult to see the difference between the female Downy Woodpecker and the female Hairy Woodpecker, especially when You are looking at them one at a time through binoculars. However, when they pose together as these two did on the suet feeder for lunch today Mrs. Hairy's larger size and proportionately larger bill are obvious.
6/12/2012 SPREADING THE MAGIC
I enjoy a quiet walk in the woods alone but I too enjoy an inspirational walk in the woods with an ace birder like Chris Edwards.
On the way home from photographing Tree Frog Tadpoles this male Widow Skimmer paused to pose at the edge of the trail. Considering how beautiful these masters of the air are and the great job they do controlling mosquitoes I decided to give this dragon fly the lead image position for today. To learn about the flight of dragonflies see: http://tolweb.org/notes/?note_id=2471
Tree Frog Tadpoles are in the gallery. Joy wanted to feature their striking red patterned tails and I wanted to let You know they are getting ready to head for the trees.
Five bats were working the air space above the wetlands last night.
I saw my first Eastern Towhee in the wetland woods today.
We put up a suet feeder for the Pileated Woodpecker that I hear most days now. He refuses to use the feeders in the yard so we hung one on a wire in the woods.
Apparently the food is good. Today there were two Great Egrets on the New London DOT Wetland. The bird Ron Osborne spotted there on the 5th must have gone home to the roost or the rockery and spread the word. The large white waders with dark legs and yellow bills are relatively easy to identify. Joy noticed they appeared to be successfully "fishing" but she thought maybe they were catching large tadpoles -not fish. When the river floods the DOT Mitgation Wetland over by Rome, stocking it with carp, and then the water slowly soaks into the ground as the river goes down, there has been quite a gathering of egrets and herons there. Egrets have also stopped in at Joy Lake on occasion. Beautiful birds!
While taking Grandma Joy to sit with Grand-daughter Keira in New London this morning I spotted a White-faced Ibis on the New London DOT Wetland at 7:00 am. These dark birds look like a monster Little Green Heron at a distance. The slight downward curvature of the bill helps cinch identification. Zooming in the pink legs and white trim around the face complete the picture. The DOT borrow pits exceed expectations once again.
Ron Osborne also observed the Ibis and watched Red-winged Black Birds harassing him until he took flight to shake them and then circled back around to land again. The return indicates the Ibis was finding breakfast. Osborne also observed a Great Egret on the wetland.
Over the last few days there have been some notable events. Twice over the last three days I have stumbled onto a very young fawn up in the hilltop meadow. Both times this guy has demonstrated his confusion as to just what to make of my intrusion into his nursery - coupled with Moms sudden disappearance.
Yesterday I noted yet another new brood of Wood Ducks on a hilltop wetland. Such late batches are usually the result of a failed nesting attempt earlier. Sometimes late or even second broods will continue to show up until the first of July. When I come upon Woody broods I give them a wide berth attempting to avoid scattering them.
The Tree Frogs seem to have their favorite wetland as one is particularly well populated with their distinctive tadpoles. They appear to hang vertically from the surface as they feed making their red markings ever more conspicuous as they grow - until they start turning green as they grow legs and absorb their tails.
The monarch caterpillar ended up being somebody's lunch - or not. Half of its mangled body remained on the milkweed leaf perhaps demonstrating the limitations of the monarch's dependency on training each new generation of insect eating birds that these guys taste terrible, thanks to the terrible taste of the milkweeds upon which they feed.
I stopped by to visit Scott Vick and he showed me some beautiful milkweed plants featured in his garden. He said the neighbor girl raises monarchs. The large globe of light pink flowers were being well visited by honey bees.
Scott also shared some Elderberry jelly with me, well, actually with grand-daughter Keira. Scott assured me the Elderberrys do a good job of boosting the immune system. He also showed me an Elderberry bush blooming beautifully in his side yard. The bushes are one of the favorite plants of the larvae of the beautiful Cecropia Moth. http://lifecycle.onenessbecomesus.com/caterpillar.htm
A single White-fronted Goose is visiting Joy Lake with a flock of Canada Geese. The geese are enjoying the pond weeds that can be seen coming to the surface on the east side of the lake. These plants are rooted on the bottom and apparently find the 5-7 foot depth on the shallow side to be nearly ideal.
The young Red-Tailed hawks that Ron Osborne has been watching along the highway just south of New London on the east bound on-ramp have fledged.
The Hummer story continues to unfold. Today, checking the status of some experimental duckweed in a hilltop wetland cell, I heard once again the hum of a Hummer. Looking up toward the sun I could not determine the gender of the bird but I could see it was working to gather some of the fluffy fibers from the dried head of a disentigrating cattail that was left over from last year. When the bird left, I again went about my business and in only couple of minutes a Hummer was again working the cattail down and this time I could clearly see it was a female. She left in the same direction as before. Maybe the nest is right there in the honeysuckles that arch out over the wetland. I know where to look so I will be Keeping Watch while taking care not to disturb or expose her.
It is a busy day with no time for birding. I was out working on an upgrade of a Wood Duck pen when I heard a low, rapidly fluctuating, buzz right behind me. I turned around and maybe eight feet away - there - right behind me - inside the large mesh flight pen with me - was an air dancing Hummer. I have often seen and listened to the courtship display of the male Rudy Throated Humming Bird but never at this range. Typically they buzz back and forth in a wide inverted arch 20 feet or more in lenght for the benefit of a sitting female who most often escapes detection. This guy was rapidly swaying back and forth in an arch just over a foot wide and there she sat right in front of him perched on the Trumpet Vine that climbs over the pen. After several passes he made his move and what ever happened next happened too quickly for me to say with any confidence what I saw.
No time for birding today.
Pausing to appreciate the call of the Pileated Woodpecker is becoming a regular occurance. These guys love Carpenter Ants and therefore large snags and large blown downs serve them well for foraging. As I mentioned before, their borings serve a large group of cavity nesters to include the Wood Ducks. Over hunting, loss of both timber and wetland habitat and the disappearance of the Pileated Woodpecker put the Wood Ducks in jepordy. It is great to watch all of that beginning to turn around. I can see the day coming when the Pileateds will once again be providing more nesting cavities than DU.
I did try some cattail pollen spike nibblin's along with some wild black raspberries out of hand and it was all that I had hoped for. Now it is time to shake enough pollen from the mature spikes to make a batch of pollen pancakes topped with Maple Syrup or Honey and some fresh raspberries. I also stumbled on a cattail whose pollen spike was unusually tasty. I need to mark that plant... if I can find it again. It should show up since it is the only one in a small patch with its pollen spike cut off. I want to dig up that plant and move it to a prime location where it can spread out.
Mom Woody lined up her brood of twelve ducklings on a branch hanging out over the pond this afternoon for our viewing enjoyment. It sufficed to pay the rent.
With mulberries and cattails yielding berries and golden yellow pollen respectively, I combined the two in hand this afternoon for a most delightful effect. Taken alone the pollen spikes are more than a bit dry and the forest variety of mulberries, at least the reddish ones the raccoons have not yet shaken from the branches, have a bit of a bite to them. Together they were superb. I am thinking – dry high protein pollen and dried high antioxidant/vitamin packed fruit mashed into something like vegan pemmican might be new age survival fare.
Cattails come in two species, the Narrow- Leaf and the Broad- Leaf. The pollen of both is golden and nutritious and mild so I wasted no time while pickin’ pollen spikes worrying about what species it was. Anyway, hybrids of extreme variability are the norm in the wetlands.
When the pollen spike is almost ready to begin shedding its abundance of pollen on the wind, but before a gentle rap across the open palm dislodges any pollen, I find the spike to be at its best for nibbling (or stripping the pollen bearing fibers off the core between the teeth). Today I added a mulberry (could have - should have been a raspberry) or two anytime my mouth got a bit dry mixing to taste as I went along. It was delicious but my mouth is still a bit dry tonight and I am wondering….?
Remember; always try any new food with caution as one man’s food is another’s poison. I think I will try the raspberries tomorrow.
I will save pollen pancakes for another day. I have very much enjoyed them in the past.
A male Bob-o-link staking out his claim up on the hill was the star avian attraction early this evening.
The Milkweeds are starting to bloom now. However in my neighborhood the bees are too busy working Yellow Sweet Clover to notice. I see the White Sweet Clover is just starting to bloom along the highways now. Dry weather with lots of sunshine is good for honey flows off these clovers as long as the soil moisture holds.
Big Creek is low, running at about 6.75 cubic feet per second compared to an average for this date of just over 50 cfs. The gauge height of 3.2 is well below the "perfect" run of 4.8 feet. Still, Mom and her brood of Wood Ducks that we saw yesterday just above the Iowa Ave. bridge south of Mt. Pleasant seem to be enjoying it.
The Avocet was nowhere to be seen this morning. There were two small broods of Mallards on Joy Lake enjoying the flowering beds of pond weed. With only two in one brood and three in the other I am suspecting Snapping Turtles may have been hard on them.
Ron Osborne reports a Wood Duck hen with a dozen little ones is still enjoying the New London borrow pit.
The Walmart Wetland has done it again! Today at 5:25 pm Jeremy Carter reported on the IOU List Serve that he had observed a American Avocet wading and feeding in the Walmart Wetland. Joy and I went to see if it was still there and were delighted discover that indeed it was. I called Ron and Karen Osborne and they came to see it as well. This is the first American Avocet I have seen and now it is also a new addition to the Iowa Ornithologist Union Bird List for Henry County. The Avocets now, along with the Black-necked Stilts that stayed for days on this postage stamp of a wetland last summer, continue to demonstate the value of small wetlands. This beautiful wader is big as shore birds go. When we left a few minutes after 8 pm the Avocet was still there. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? See: http://www.wildnatureimages.com/American_Avocet_Photo.htm
I have been inspecting Milkweed leaves on the wetland levees for a couple of weeks. This Monarch Larvae feasting in the whorl of a Milkweed plant left along the driveway is the first one I have spotted this year. It must be all of 3/8 of a inch long. See: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/ Monarchs offer all landowners large and small an opportunity to create habitat for one of nature's most awesome wonders.
I have a flying dragon sitting on my finger as I type, make that a dragonfly unless you happen to be a mosquito. On my tour of the wetlands this afternoon I saw him entangled in the filamentatious algae - that is the moss that looks like green hair and sometimes creates a mat over the entire surface of a waterbody. The Bullfrog sitting near by was most likely thinking about how tastey this guy would be for supper. His wings were spead out, waterlogged and matted on the moss. As I carefully lifted him I noticed his legs were tied up in a ball of moss. I slowly worked the moss off his legs and perched him on my finger. I expected he would shortly either die or fly but that was an hour ago and he is still perching on my left index finger.
I attempted to look him up on the internet and I was able to determine the genus to which he belongs.
Whoa!He just took off and then landed on the stapler but then tumbled over on his back.I picked him up and took him out on the deck. He surveyed the scene, caught the breeze and vanished into the blue.
He was a Male Common Whitetail. see http://www.cirrusimage.com/dragonfly_common_whitetail.htm and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the male.
These guys are both beautiful and common. Dragonflies offer significant mosquito control in the wetlands. This becomes especially evident if a small isolated puddle appears along the edge of the main water body. In a matter of days it will be teeming with mosquito wigglers. All that is required to remedy the problem is to fill it with soil or connect it to the main water body creating a channel for predatory diving beetles and dragonfly larvae. A water sample collected from the wetland proper will rarely contain mosquito larvae but one collected from an isolated puddle may hold a hundred. It is nice to know we have bats and swallows along with adult dragonflies ready to control the mosquitos that manage to become air borne.
This morning I saw a Tree Swallow with her head sticking out of the nest box Joy put up for them and last night I watched the acrobatics of a bug hunting bat. Birding in the shade of the forest this afternoon I soon learned that the mosquito eaters are not likely to starve.