Category: nature

The holly bush has flowered: photography challenge day 57

The holly bush has flowered

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.


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The state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher is back in town. Photography Challenge Day 56

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).

Male scissor tailed flycatcher sitting in the tree…..

What are some cool facts about the scissor-tailed flycatcher?

Other names include: Texas bird of paradise and swallow tailed flycatcher.

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 & shaded).


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International Plant Appreciation Day and Photography Challenge Day 55

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 wildflowers.

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.

Flowering Creepy Charlie

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 it out.

The white flowers of another “weed” in the yard.

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 behind.

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Fishy Friday: The lionfish, photography challenge day 54

Today’s #fishyfriday post is the lionfish, brought to you by one of my many visits to the New England Aquarium.

Lionfish swimming in the tank at 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 establish themselves).

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.


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Common Grackle: Photography Challenge Day 53

Grackle in the bushes

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 as well.

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).

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The wisteria is flowering: Photography Challenge Day 52

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.


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Photography Challenge Day 51: The almost perfect shot

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.

Mallards starting to take off

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).

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Photography Challenge Day 50: The cormorants are still in town.

So the topic of today’s photograph series are the cormorants. These guys are still in town and hanging around on Goose Island in the middle of Boomer Lake.

Cormorants sitting in their tree

So there were a good dozen or so, sitting in the one tree at the edge of Goose Island, though I saw others sitting in some of the other trees on the island as well.

Then there were the ones swimming out in the lake.

First there were two..
Then there were four….
Then there were six….
And then there were quite a few more….

Then they started swimming back towards Goose Island, taking turns on who was popping up out of the water when–or they were taking turns feeding under water as well.

I will miss these guys whenever they do move on to their summer range–they are such great animals to photograph.

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A rare sight: Migratory Common Loon. Photography Challenge Day 49

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.

Common loon swimming on Boomer Lake.

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.

And then it dives away……..

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.


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Photography challenge day 48: red-winged blackbirds and goldfinches

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.

Red-winged blackbird sitting on the grape arbor.

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.

Female red-winged blackbird feeding at the suet feeder

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.

Red-winged blackbird and probable goldfinch

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.

Molting goldfinch

They are “strictly” vegetarians—if they eat an insect it is solely by accident.

They inadvertently 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.


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