So the winner for today’s entry in the photography challenge is a pair of prairie skinks that I noticed crawling around on one of our wood racks the other day.
These skinks are actually quite secretive and are usually only seen out and about during their breeding season. We usually have skinks along the creek side of the yard (numerous insects and small arachnids for them to eat), and occasionally in the garden area closer to the house during the spring to fall months. The one that I usually see running around is probably the more common five-lined skink (which I will be on the lookout for this year).
There are actually eighteen different lizards that can be spotted within Oklahoma, and I’ve probably only have seen two to four of them (and I’ve lived in this state most of my life). A goal now is going to be trying to get a picture of each of the different lizards (especially the Texas horn lizard–or the horny toad, as we called them when I was a kid).
Do you have lizards running around in your yard? What species?
So this is a double post–an entry into the photography challenge (slightly late–but day 3), and an announcement of an additional woodpecker page.
Last month I managed to get a couple pictures of this woodpecker at the small suet feeder, and I think I noticed it several times before (but never had my camera on me). As I mentioned on the page–I spent a month thinking it was the hairy woodpecker, because it was larger than a downy woodpecker, but alas it turns out to be the yellow-bellied sapsucker instead.
While it is a winter resident within Oklahoma, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time I’ve seen one up close and not on a tree.
As their name implies–they prefer to eat the sugar rich sap of certain trees, but in some cases they can be found eating at suet feeders. It looks like they prefer the more ‘lardy’ suet to the ones that are caked in seeds.
Since it wasn’t showing a bright red neck, I’m pretty certain that this was a female yellow-bellied sapsucker that was getting a meal before possibly starting her trek north to her breeding grounds.
While I know that I won’t be seeing these birds again until winter–I’m hoping that maybe I will also be able to spot a male at the suet feeder as well. We do have a maple tree in the front yard, so I will be keeping an eye out to see if any decide to start ‘tapping’ it for its sap.
With the addition of the yellow-bellied sapsucker, I’ve gotten pictures of 6 of the 23 species that can be spotted within the US. One goal is going to be trying to get a picture of the hairy woodpecker (for real), I know that it is larger than the downy, and that their bill is longer than the downy’s bill at some point this year.
I have noticed that the red-bellied woodpecker and the downy woodpecker are back (though in truth–they never left) at the feeders, it will be interesting to see what other woodpeckers come through this year as well.
So this weekend, when I put up the umbrella on the patio table I noticed that there was a rather large caterpillar slowly crawling around on it.
I managed to get one or pictures of it, and noticed that it was extremely fuzzy and had a distinct alternating series of bristles. Since these types of caterpillars usually have nettle hairs (that usually are hidden)—and can causes rashes if they come into contact with skin.
I’ve noticed over the years that my skin has gotten a little more sensitive to certain things and that it doesn’t take much for me to break out in a rash (luckily the rash disappears within a couple of hours)—therefore I just let this particular caterpillar make its own way off the umbrella.
Since there are quite a few different species of moths and possibly a few butterflies that have hairy caterpillars—I can’t say for certain what the ‘adult’ version of this caterpillar is. Though it probably is a member of the Lymantriinae subfamily of moths (belonging to the family Erebidae). These are large moths, and while the adults don’t feed (they only breed and then die), the caterpillars are known to be pests and are considered pests as they have a broad range of host plants (including trees and shrubs to vines, herbs, and grasses).
It will be interesting to see in the spring what type of large moths I see around the yard and if I can then match a picture of the moth to those online and hopefully also match it to caterpillar. But since it is late in the year—I’m going to hazard a guess that this is the caterpillar of the pale tiger (or banded tussock) moth.
So the winner of today’s photography challenge is the ruby-throated hummingbird.
I’ve always been intrigued by hummingbirds—they’re small, quick, and they beat their wings constantly.
Lately, I’ve also been trying to remember that when I was younger I felt a little like a hummingbird.
In that I could dive into a subject, immerse myself, learns as much as I could and then move on.
I did this for class projects: there was the paper over the Culture of India (and I covered everything from architecture to music to philosophy), to diving into the history of Peru (though I don’t think I ever wrote a paper over this—so that may be something to go back to) and medieval England.
I’ve always been fascinated with birds—I have quite a few bird encyclopedias in my storage unit, plus numerous articles that I had clipped out of the papers as I was growing up to make a scrap book on them.
So what does fascination with birds, culture and history of other countries, and everything else have to do with hummingbirds?
When I had taken the Clifton Strength Assessment test back in both 2017 and 2019, my top strength was learner.
This trait fits people who have a love of learning (though they have to be drawn to the topic), love digging into new things, love researching topics and ideas and gathering information.
These individual have been likened to hummingbirds in that they will deeply investigate on subject before moving on to another—similarly how hummingbirds will investigate flowers for their nectar before going to the next flower.
Until I took the test and saw the top strength as learner—I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed learning, reading, investigating, and putting the information together in some format.
Getting my undergraduate degrees took awhile—because I was ‘bouncing’ between ‘flowers’ (aka different subjects)—but I did manage to get my two degrees and minor (though now looking back, I should have taken that last six hours of sociology to get that minor as well).
Graduate school, allowed me to dive deeply into a subject that was still fairly new and I was learning different techniques and systems. The first postdoc was where the love of learning started to dwindle—while the topic was slightly different from grad school—what I was being taught really wasn’t, and therefore I got bored (only realizing now, exactly why I was getting bored so early—if I had realized it then, things might have gone differently had I asked for either another project or figured out a way to strike up a collaboration with another lab).
The second postdoc allowed me to dive into another system and I learned quite a bit—though I didn’t like being told to read up on other things in my spare time. I learned in both staff positions—more so in the first (only because I was working with undergrads in several different labs on several different projects) than the second. It has taken about ten months of self-reflection to realize that one of the problems that I had with the last position—I was bored; while I had been told I could ‘collaborate’ with other labs on projects, the only labs I could think of would have required me doing experiments and those aren’t something that you can schedule to only take 1 to 2 hours a day.
As I now move forward—I have to remember that I’m like a hummingbird, where there needs to be ample ‘flowers’ around for me to sample; I may hang around one or two longer than others, but at least I won’t get bored.
This is something that I will keep in the forefront as I start looking towards either my industry transition or freelancing/working for myself–I need variety to keep busy–so for me (at least mentally) it is better to be both a jack-of-all-trades and a ‘specialist’.
Have you taken the Clifton Strength Assessment Test? What was your top strength?
The winner of today’s photography challenge is a little jumping spider that I noticed around the pond this summer.
I had decided last year, that I was going to try and branch out in photography subjects—therefore not just photographing birds, but looking for the smaller things as well.
In this case, it was a little jumping spider that was moving around the leaves of the decorative grass.
Now I’m not really a insect/arachnid/snake type of person (and I just realized I put the phrases of the things that I ‘avoid’ down—since I don’t mind butterflies, turtles, or lizards (can’t think of an arachnid that I ‘like’).
But I do find the smaller spiders to be somewhat cute—especially when I’m far enough away from them that I know we won’t be getting in close contact with each other.
So this spider is the bold (or daring) jumping spider, and is found throughout the United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico, and introduced to Hawaii. I assume its name came from the fact that jumping spiders hunt their prey—running them down & if needed ‘jumping’ on them. This is a juvenile spider since the spots are tinted orange/red—as the adults usually have white spots.
So it’s nice to know that there are ‘nice’ spiders in the backyard trying to keep the insect pests in check—though, yes I know that if it bit me I could get a rash/welt. But, I’m never going to get that close to any spider to have it be able to bite me.
While I don’t like spiders–I wonder how many other types I can (or have already) gotten a picture of? Are you a spider person? If you are–which spider is your favorite?
So I’m basically going to be a day behind in the photography challenge, unless I manage to do a double photography post at some point.
The winner for today’s entry is the honeybee on the chive flowers.
The honeybee (and actually all of the bee clade) is actually only native to Eurasia, but humans took them to four other continents (Africa, Australia, South & North America).
In terms of recognition—there are eight species recognized, but with a total of 43 subspecies. These subspecies are populations of bees that living in different areas and have different morphological characteristics. Out of those species—two have been domesticated for honey production and/or crop pollination—the eastern & western honeybees. Other bees may also produce & store honey—but not to the extent that the eastern & western honeybees manage.
One way to help these insects is to plant bushes, flowers, veggies, herbs, and other plants that are native to the area (or at least not totally invasive) that can attract the bees and help them survive.
We have numerous bushes in the yard that flower (crepe myrtles, rose-of-Sharon, wisteria, clematis, flowering quints, and others), in addition we also have various herbs planted, though the only one that really flowers is the chive.
Chives are a flowering plant that produces edible leaves and flowers (though we leave the flowers alone so that the bees, wasps, and butterflies have something to also feed on). They are also related to common onions, garlic, shallot, leek, scallion, and the Chinese onion. These are one herb that once you plant; they will come back up for a couple of years (unless there is a really cold snap, and I’d guess less than 0 degrees).
This year I’ve managed to get the picture of bees, flies, butterflies, and wasps all resting/feeding on the chive flowers. A new goal for next year—record and see how many of which species land on the flowers.
Do you like chives? If so–what is your favorite recipe for them? Another thought–maybe once I have my own place, I can become a part time beekeeper. Are you (or someone you know) a beekeeper? Have you ever thought of becoming one??
Well, I’m a day late with the photography challenge. So the winner for yesterday’s installment of the photography challenge is the Downy woodpecker. I think this one comes in at number three in terms of which bird has the most pictures taken of it this summer (number one is the ruby-throated hummingbird, and number two is the red-bellied woodpecker).
This is the smallest woodpecker in North America, and can be found throughout the continent, where it’s range stretches from Alaska down through Canada and into the lower 48 states. There are only portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where they may be considered uncommon birds.
The diet of downy woodpeckers consists of mostly insects that it forages for along the branches and trunk of trees (including beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars), along with berries, acorns, grains, and being seen at suet feeders in people’s backyards.
Since they’re small in size (basically the size of a nuthatch), it isn’t uncommon to
see them also feeding in a mix group of birds. Unlike the red-bellied woodpecker that really doesn’t like other birds being on the suet feeder at the same time—the downy woodpecker doesn’t really care.
In terms of their coloring and markings, they are rocking the black-and-white checkered feather/back look. The males also have a small red patch on the back of their heads. When looking at them at either feeders or in the wild, they can be confused with the hairy woodpecker (who is larger then the downy)—but they aren’t that closely related (the two woodpeckers split off from a common ancestor about six million years ago). These two species look similar, but that is just a matter of convergent evolution (which is the independent evolution of similar features in species of different periods or epochs in time).
Photography goal: Get a picture of a hairy woodpecker, and if possible a picture of both at a feeder (that way I can work on trying to distinguish between them).
Today’s winner for the photography challenge is the yellow jacket wasp, also just known as the yellow jacket.
This is a predatory social wasp that is common to North America. These wasps live in a colony that contains worker wasps, queens, and drones; the colony is annual with only fertilized queens survives the winter and starts a new colony the coming spring/summer.
This queen will then spend the spring and through the summer into the autumn the queen spends the time laying eggs within the nest. Depending on where the queen builds the nest, the size of the colony can range from ~4000 members to larger numbers (upward of say 10,000 members and numerous eggs cells).
The diet of the yellow jacket wasp varies depending on either the stage of life or the position within the nest. The larval diet consists of proteins derived from insects, fish, and meats. The workers (drones) collect, chew, and basically regurgitate the food before feeding it to the larvae. The larvae feed the workers by secreting a sugary substance, and when there aren’t as many insects to feed to the larvae—the workers will go foraging for sugar sources outside the nest. The diet of the adult yellow jacket wasp consists of fruits, flower nectar and tree sap—plus the sugar water from hummingbird feeders.
Sometimes the nest/colony of yellow jacket wasps are very noticeable, other times they aren’t (as some are built behind/below steps and logs—hidden from sight). I actually remember one summer, when on vacation my dog found a yellow jacket nest—it was built behind a wooden step going down to the lake (after that—she totally hated any small flying insect that came near her—she had gotten stung several times in the snout).
I notice the yellow jackets coming out in the late summer (usually end of July through mid-September) at times feeding at the hummingbird feeder. Usually we don’t have that many issues with them—unless they keep flying around the patio table.
Unlike other insects—I don’t think I want to figure out where the yellow jacket nest is (not willing to risk getting stung); these are insects that I’m not scared of and realize that they are beneficial to have (as they do hunt other insects)—but I’m also not sorry if I don’t see them either.
Have you or your pets ever been stung by a yellow jacket wasp?
Today’s entry into the photography challenge is the cicada killer. This is a large wasp that hunts cicadas—though they don’t eat them (the adults feed on nectar and sap)—the female will lay her eggs on a paralyzed cicadas allowing the wasp grub to feed on the cicada as it goes through several larval stages.
Within the US they’re found in the throughout the country (divided between being the Eastern cicada killer and the Western cicada killer)—and since OK is almost central, I’m going with just cicada killer, and then south into Mexico and Central America.
In terms of size—the female cicada killers are larger than the males, only because they cart their ‘prizes’ off to their nests. I have no idea if this one is a male or a female—I’m going to guess female.
These wasps are actually burrow wasps—the female will dig her nest in the ground, and will have ‘egg cells’ off the main burrow. Within each cell the female will deposit one or more paralyzed cicadas and then lay an egg on the cicada. When the female lays a male egg—it goes on top of a single cicada; if the egg is female there may an addition cicada in the cell as well. Each cell is then closed off with dirt, and the female will continue digging cells as needed.
Once the eggs hatch, and after they go through their larval stages, the young will winter in the pupa stage underground and emerge the follow spring. There is only one generation per year.
I think a new photography goal will be trying to get a picture of a cicada killer carrying a cicada off to her nest, or possibly getting a picture of a cicada killer emerging from the nest in the spring.
I’ve never really been afraid of cicada killers—I always seem to have to ‘remind’ them that I’m not a cicada—as they seem to have really weird flight patterns. But we do get quite a few of these around the backyard in the summer.
Question: which would you prefer seeing a lot of during the summer—cicadas or cicada killers?
Today’s entry into the photography challenge is the Silvery Checkerspot (or the Pearl Crescent) butterfly. I am not an entomologist by any stretch of the imagination (actually more often than not—I’ll send a picture of a bug to my cousin [who is an entomologist] for identification purposes. Though I am slowly branching out from doing straight bird photography and trying to get pictures of butterflies and other insects as well. As I get better at photography and slowly expand what I’m taking pictures of, I’m find the names of some of the animals interesting.
Take this butterfly for example—it’s an orange and black butterfly, and is either the silvery checkerspot or the pearl crescent butterfly. I’m assuming that the name is coming from the whitish edges and the bar pattern on their antennae. The pearl crescent should be a little smaller and lack the white dots (and since this one didn’t show any white dots—hard to tell; as some checkerspots might not have large white dots).
We’ve had quite a few of these butterflies through the backyard this summer. As with all butterflies and moths, these butterflies go through their lifecycle near their host plants. Their range (either the silvery checkerspot or the pearl crescent) stretches from Canada downwards towards Mexico (though not seen in the western part of the country), and then eastward.
Since the pandemic and self-isolation started I’ve realized that I do turn to taking the camera out to the backyard and looking at things through a different lens. One photography goal now is to try to see how many different butterfly/moth caterpillars I can get a photograph of during the spring/summer/fall months starting in 2021.