The holly is the general name for the Ilex plant genus (and this is the only living genus in the plant family Aquifoliaceae). The members of the this genus are evergreen trees, shrubs, and climbers (vines) that are found from the tropics to the temperate areas worldwide.
These plants are usually dioecious (where the male & female flowers are different plants)—hence I’m not really sure which plant that I took the picture of (male or female). These plants have glossy leaves with a spiny leaf ridge.
These bushes provide food and shelter for numerous different birds, and even insects. The tropical species are the ones that currently at the most risk due to habitat destruction and being overly exploited.
The winner of today’s photography challenge is our state bird: the scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus). This beauty is back in the state through fall (yes, our state bird is a migratory bird that is only in state from about late March through early October).
What are some cool facts about the scissor-tailed flycatcher?
Other names include: Texas bird of paradise and swallow
They can be found in the south central US down to northern
Mexico. They winter in southern Mexico & Central America.
Their diet consists of primarily insects (grasshoppers, crickets,
and beetles), being supplemented with fruits in the winter.
The female builds the nest & incubates the eggs (usually
3-5), but both parents handle the feeding of the young. The young are able to
leave the nest usually about two weeks after hatching.
The adults are monogamous for the current breeding season,
but might not pair together again the following year.
They will also defend the area around their nest from any
intruders including other birds such as: mockingbirds, mourning doves, hawks
(red tailed & Swainson’s), grackles, sparrows (house & Lark), crows,
blue jays, and loggerhead shrikes.
They can possibly lose their nests to severe weather during
the summer (tornados and severe thunderstorms), as they build their nests in
trees or shrubs (usually in a spot that is sheltered from the wind &
So today is international plant appreciation day, so I’m
taking time to appreciation some plants that most people get rid of in their
yards—the misfits, the unloved, the weeds or more appropriately the
Some people consider wildflowers to be weeds because they
pop up wherever they want—not necessarily where humans would like them to be,
and not all of them actually produce pretty flowers—some do, but others do not.
They also can spread throughout a yard as well, at times out competing the
grass for nutrients and that is one reason why people don’t like them.
So one of the plants that we allow to grow within the backyard is Creeping Charlie, though we do try to stay on top of it and pull about half out every other week, so we have ground cover, but it isn’t totally taking over the yard.
Creeping Charlie has several other names that it goes by
including ground ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoot, catsfoot, field
balm, and run-away-robin. It is a member of the mint family, and is a perennial
(meaning it will come back year after year) evergreen creeper.
The flowers of Creeping Charlie can range from blue to
bluish-violet to lavender and usually flowers in the spring. While the plant
can be considered an weed, there numerous insects that feed off of the plant
including several different species of bees—so to help the bee population—don’t
get rid of the Creeping Charlie in your yard.
The other photo is of pretty white flower of another yard
“weed”. This one has been a little harder to identify because if you google “weeds
with white flowers in Oklahoma” you get pictures of weeds with flowers—but only
about ten to fifteen percent of the flowers are white, and then none of them
look to be the same shape as the one in my picture.
So this one will remain unnamed for now until I can figure
So in terms of plant appreciation day—if it weren’t for
plants there wouldn’t be life on the planet. They are the ones that fix carbon
dioxide and release the oxygen that we breathe—so it is important to make sure
that there are plants (especially trees) around to do this—or no life. They’re
also important part of our diets, and we use them to provide shade, help reduce
noise, provide privacy, use in erosion control, modify temperatures, and help
reduce wind damage.
So remember even when life gets crazy to stop and enjoy the
beauty of the plants around us—because if they disappear—we won’t be far
Today’s #fishyfriday post is the lionfish, brought to you by
one of my many visits to the New England Aquarium.
Lionfish are native fish to the Indo-Pacific oceans, but are
now an invasive marine species along parts of the US coast—specifically along
the southeast coast, the Gulf of Mexico and then down to the Caribbean. It’s
speculated that humans no longer wanting their lionfish in their saltwater
aquariums dumped them into the closest saltwater they could find. Since there
are no native of the lionfish found in the Atlantic and Gulf waters, they have
managed to establish themselves.
Marine scientists are studying the lionfish in the Atlantic
and Gulf areas to help determine the exact impact they will have on the native
plants and animals, since it is almost impossible to get rid of introduced
marine species after a prolong period of time (i.e. after they manage to
What are some other interesting facts about the lionfish?
They have a large appetite, where their stomachs can expand
to up to 30x their normal size after eating.
They reproduce year round—meaning a mature female could
release approximately 2 million eggs a year.
They have spines that once they puncture someone (or
something) with them, the pressure of the puncture allows for toxin to be
released from the venom gland on along their backbone.
If one removes the spines of the lionfish—they are then safe
to consume (as they are venomous and not poisonous).
There is no anti-toxin for a lionfish sting—you would need
to remove the spine & soak the wound in hot water (~114F), and the pain
hopefully will go away within a few days.
Research has been done to show that the toxin of the lionfish seems to target nerve cells that relay pain signals. The scientists now want to look at the toxin at a molecular level so they can determine how the native predators of lionfish are able to eat them and not suffer any side effects, in addition to trying to figure out an antidote for the toxin.
One thing I do know–I’m also going to pay more attention to the signs about what fish are in what exhibit–I have a lot of cool pictures, but I have no idea what species of fish they are–but I’m going to work on identifying them. Will have to see what I manage for next week’s edition of Fishy Friday.
Today’s photograph is of the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), that I spotted
sitting in a bush close to the waters of Boomer Lake.
The grackle is a large blackbird that does appear black from
afar, but once you get closer to them—the males have glossy purple heads, and
their bodies have an iridescent look to them. They also have bright golden eyes
These birds typically nest in small colonies, and even when
they’re foraging/feeding they’re usually in small groups. They are omnivorous—feeding
on insects, spiders, minnows, berries, grains, and acorns (just to name a few
things). Plus they will eat at feeders—though they typically prefer feeding on
the ground compared to sitting on the feeder (though I’ve seen quite a few of
them hanging from our small suet feeder in the backyard).
They typically raise four or five young (the female
incubates the eggs), and then both parents handing the feeding (which is
primarily insects). The young grackles leave the nest usually a little over two
weeks after hatching.
Grackles are found basically east of the Rocky Mountains,
and within that range there are the areas that they can be found year round,
and then the areas that they are only seen during the summer/fall (or breeding
seasons). For those that might migrate during the year (breeding in the
northern parts of the US & into Canada), they probably winter down in Texas
and then potentially intermingle with local groups of grackles in other states
(so we might have migratory grackles coming through, but wouldn’t notice since
we also have grackles that live here year round).
Today’s photograph is of the blossoming wisteria in the backyard. Luckily I backed up quickly before taking this picture–as there as a wasp climbing around on the flowers just a few moments ago. I’m not scared (or allergic) to them–but I also don’t want to irritate them. Now back to the flowers.
The name wisteria encompasses a genus of flowering plants that are actually members of the legume family—Fabaceae.
This genus of plants expands by twining their stems around
available support—other plants, power lines, fences, and so forth. While the
main stem can provide initial support, as the plant grows, its limbs start
twining around sturdy non-moving objects in the immediate vicinity.
Other interesting facts about wisterias:
Flowering can be either from early spring (for some Asian
species) to mid to late summer for some of the American species.
The seeds that are produced in the late fall, are in
pods—but like numerous plants are poisonous to those who ingest them.
They can grow in poor quality soil, but will take off in
fertile, moist, well-drained soils. The best areas of the yard are those that
can get full sun at least part of the day.
They don’t need extra nitrogen added to the soil, due to
their symbiotic relationships with bacteria in their roots (they house nitrogen
fixing bacteria in nodules in their roots). The bacteria get a “safe” place to
live, and the plant gets some extra nutrients from what the bacteria generates.
Depending on how the plant was grown (seed, taken as a cutting, or grafted) will also impact on how long it will take for the plant to reach maturity for flowering; this can be anywhere from a few years to a couple of decades.
So I’ve decided that since I’m trying to get better at doing photography–I should also be sharing some of the pictures that are decent and good in addition to the ones that I think are great. The only ones that probably won’t be shown are the ones that are totally blurry and I can’t even tell what I was trying to take a picture of.
Today’s picture is of a couple of mallards that I saw at the lake, and they thought that I was getting to close so they decided to head towards the water. The first male was just launching himself up while the other was gaining speed when I snapped the picture. By the time I refocused on them–they were in the water, gloating that they got away from the photographer (me).
I do try to keep a good distance between me and the wildlife–but when you’re both in the same approximate area, someone is going to get nervous before the other can move away (and still hopefully get a good picture out of the deal).
So on today’s walk I managed to actually see and get a picture of a migrating common loon (Gavia immer). I thought I’d heard one yesterday–but hadn’t planned on walking all the way around the lake. Today I didn’t hear one–I was lucky to actually see one.
This particular loon is already starting to show it’s summer colors of having a black and white spotted back. They are on their way back to the northern part of the US and Canada for the summer—which is where their breeding grounds are.
What are some interesting facts about loons?
They have solid bones, which make them better at diving than other birds. They can dive quickly and swim fast underwater. They are also able to slow their heart rate underwater to conserve oxygen.
The loon forages by swimming underwater, where their diet
consists of mainly fish, but they also eat crustaceans, insects, leeches,
frogs, and mollusks. They will supplement their diets occasionally with
pondweeds and algae. Loons reach sexual maturity at about three years of age.
Both will build the nest, which is usually near the water. They have usually
two young a year.
The young start moving around the surround areas within a
day or two of hatching, and can swim and dive by the third day. The young can
be seen riding on their parents back during the first few weeks. They are able
to fly about two and half to three months after hatching.
The young once they migrate to the coasts will stay there
for about two years—during the third year they will migrate back north. Though they
may not mate for several more years (three years is the minimum age—that is
when they start to migrate back)—it is usually still another year or so before
they might take a mate.
These majestic birds will probably lose some of their habitat
(namely in the north, where they have their breeding areas) to climate change,
and their numbers could start decreasing.
The oldest recorded common loon was a female that was banded
in Michigan in 1989, and spotted again in Michigan 2016—making her at least a
little under thirty years old when spotted.
The birds in the backyard bring today’s photograph
series to you. Particularly a male red-winged
blackbird and a finch that photo-bombed the series of pictures.
Male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are very easy to spot—they are a glossy black, with red and yellow patches on their shoulders. The male red-winged blackbirds are the ones that people usually spot, as they’re constantly singing and flashing their shoulders. The females are a little harder to spot (as they’re more brown with streaks, and they stay hidden more often than not), though they may be mistaken for being a sparrow.
These birds (red-winged blackbirds) are abundant across basically all of the lower forty-eight states (though they may only be spotted in some of the northern states during breeding season). Their habitat is marshy areas (where the females will weave nests close to the water). They forge on insects and seeds, and can have a travel radius of fifty miles for feeding—but always coming back to the nest at night.
So the photo bomber is
a finch—and I’m pretty sure it was a goldfinch. Though it’s hard to tell color
wise whether or not it was in its mating colors (the brighter yellow, and
therefore male) or a slightly more drab color (which would mean it was a female
or an juvenile).
They are the only finch
species that molts its body feathers twice a year. They also breed later in the
year (towards mid summer)—when all the different plants (such as milkweed and
thistle) have produced fibrous seeds.
They are “strictly”
vegetarians—if they eat an insect it is solely by accident.
starve cowbird chicks—as brown-headed cowbirds aren’t strictly vegetarians and
the young can’t survive on an all seed diet like goldfinch chicks can.
Another unique fact
about the goldfinch—it is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa & Washington.