from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
June 24, 2001
Earlier this week I was using binoculars a lot.
For one thing, among the birds it's one of the most interesting times of the year because now is when parent birds of many species start thinking that they have been feeding their fledglings long enough -- that now the fledglings should begin catching their own bugs and worms. But of course the fledglings prefer for their parents to continue plopping food right into their mouths with no effort on their part at all.
So how does the parent convince the fledglings to begin finding their own food? The binoculars show that it isn't an easy task. Sometimes the parents are bringing food as always but then suddenly it's as if it occurs to them that now they deserve a rest. They gulp down the food themselves, and they simply stop on a tree limb and rest. The moment they stop, however, the fledgling assumes it's because the parent has found a caterpillar for them, and flies to the parent begging and fluttering its wings piteously. Sometimes the parent ignores the little beggar but other times it just hauls off and pecks the kid.
Sometimes the young bird not only is shocked by this behavior but also clearly has its feelings hurt. Sometimes it sulks. Sometimes it just keeps begging and gets another peck. Sometimes the parent looks confused and upset by its own behavior, and quickly flies off to get more free food for the kid.
In other words, all the main dynamics of parent/adolescent-child relationships are being played out right now among the birds and sometimes it's hilarious to see. Sometimes you even see the fledgling after one of these pecking episodes suddenly stop its whining and wing-fluttering, which has gone on for days, and with a first-time burst of independence fly straight away like an adult with a mission. It leaves the clear impression that we have just seen the fledgling stop being a fledgling and become a grown bird. Now it is flying into the unknown to begin its own life far away from these awful adults...
Naturalists are not supposed to anthropomorphize -- to see human emotions in other animals -- but I challenge anyone who observes these dramas to avoid it.
SIX BUTTERFLY SPECIES
My binoculars were also useful earlier in the week because the butterflies were just wonderful. I'd step from my trailer and find myself in a cloud of them.
So I pulled out my butterfly identification book and began identifying them. Here are the first names I entered into my notebook:
The identification process is a real pleasure, for you must thrust your mind into all kinds of colors, designs and functions. Also, with butterflies you become more aware of what plants are around you because often a species' caterpillars feed on just one kind of plant, or a few closely related species.
For instance, I was having trouble identifying the Silver-spotted Skipper but then I saw a
female suddenly dart to beneath the leaf of a Tick-trefoil weed, genus Desmodium, and
begin laying eggs. My identification book cross-references butterfly species with
their host plants, so I looked for a skipper whose caterpillar feeds on Tick-trefoil, and this instantly led me to the Silver-spotted Skipper.
Binoculars are surprisingly useful in butterfly watching, especially the small, lightweight ones which can focus close by. In general, the less powerful they are, the closer they can focus and the better they are for butterfly watching. Probably the best butterfly-identification book is Robert M. Pyle's National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies . If you want to review this book and perhaps buy it online, go to my Web page at http://www.backyardnature.net/buttrfly.htm and click on the book's name in the second paragraph.
There are so many butterfly-oriented Web sites that if you want to confirm a butterfly's identification just go to the Google Search Engine at http://www.google.com, write the butterfly's name into the search box, and more than likely you'll find that someone someplace has posted a great picture of that species.
I said I was watching birds and butterflies during the first part of the week, not the latter. The reason is that since about Wednesday the mosquitoes have been murderous, apparently because of the rains brought two weeks ago by Tropical Storm Alison.
Outside I must wear winter clothing and my beekeeper's hat with a veil. This serves me well until about 9:30 AM but then the heat forces me inside where I can strip. These mosquitoes simply swarm in clouds. I can't even take a good pee because if you stop moving for more than a second you are covered.
I was curious about which species these are because I wanted to see if they carry diseases. On the Internet at http://wrbu.si.edu/www/projects/cdvik/cdvik.html I found a mosquito-identification program. I downloaded it, installed it on my PC, and it's great. You answer its questions while looking at its fine explanation-pictures, and you end up with the mosquito's genus name, maps showing its distribution, and notes on diseases it carries.
So, it appears that the mosquitoes here are in the genus Psorophora, and that they carry St. Louis Encephalitis. Its larvae develop in temporary rain pools, and tend to prefer cattle to people so when they bite me I don't even have the pleasure of knowing that I am their first choice. Around here their main food is surely deer.
WILD TURKEY & THEIR POOP
Regularly I have been seeing Wild Turkeys. The group consists of 3 adults and about a dozen half-grown ones, which can fly quite well. Often I hear them near my camp. It's clear that two or more families have joined to form this group. There's an interesting Web site dealing with Wild Turkeys at http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/nathis/birds/turkey/life.htm. One thing I learned there was that the poop of male Wild Turkeys, or gobblers, is J-shaped, while the hens' poop is curled...