Nesting Lesser Goldfinches

We have just about every type of bird feeder in our backyard — tube feeders, sock feeders, platform feeders, house feeders, hummer feeders. The one that the birds don’t really pay much attention to are the suet feeders. I have spent a lot of time trying to get them interested, but no luck.

So I have taken to stuffing the hair I get from grooming the dogs into the suet feeders. That, the smaller birds pay attention to. They use it to build their nests.

Last week, it was a female lesser goldfinch who came to fill her beak with as much hair as would fit into it.

Goldfinches are some of the last birds to nest. That makes sense — they have to get the eggs laid, hatched, and the nestlings fledged, all while there are enough late-blooming sunflowers to feed them.

Gathering the hair often involved some contortions. It didn’t bother the goldfinch, though, they are used to hanging upside down to get seeds from sunflowers, and similar plants. Goldfinches at lunch

But it didn’t take her long to get enough to fill her bill, and she flew off. She made a lot of trips to the suet feeder/dog hair dispenser, so I’m hopeful that she nested. I can hardly wait to see the fledglings!

Butterflies

Usually, butterflies are hard to photograph. They are wary creatures, and when you turn the big eye of your camera at them, they take off, flying erratically away.

But this week, I’ve been lucky to get some photos of butterflies I’ve never shot before — in some cases, I’ve never heard of before.

This Weidemeyer’s Admiral has seen better days.

Case in point is the Weidemeyer’s Admirial. I’ve probably seen it before, but never actually identified it. Turns out that Admirals are an entire group of butterflies.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral on rock next to a stream.

Weidemeyer’s Admirals like stream habitats, which is exactly where I found this one. It fits, then, that they eat stream side plants like willows, aspen, serviceberry, chokecherry, and cottonwoods.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtails also like streams, but also venture into open grasslands. Their caterpillars eat the leaves of trees and shrubs like cottonwood, birch alder, chokecherry, willows and wild plum. The adults, like many butterflies, drink nectar. https://amylaw.blog/2018/07/18/swallowtail-butterflies/

Common wood-nymph

Common wood-nymphs are butterflies of the open country, where their caterpillars eat grasses. I didn’t know any caterpillars ate grasses! https://amylaw.blog/2018/08/08/butterflies-galore/

I would dearly love to meet an uncommon wood-nymph.

Monarch on milkweed.
Monarch with bee on milkweed.

I posted about Monarch caterpillars a few weeks ago. https://amylaw.blog/2020/06/15/monarch-caterpillers/ We never actually found the chrysalis for the caterpillars, but we may have seen the butterflies themselves. We’ve had a couple of them hanging around our milkweed patch, eating nectar and otherwise getting ready to migrate north.https://amylaw.blog/2018/07/04/monarch-butterfly-migration/

Waved Sphinx moth

Finally, this is a waved sphinx moth that landed on our porch. You know it’s a moth and not a butterfly because the wings are held horizontal, not vertical as butterflies do most of the time. The white dot on it’s wing helps identify it as a waved sphinx. It’s caterpillar eats the leaves of tress, but the adult doesn’t eat at all. It lives to mate, and lay eggs.

Websites I used to gather information about these butterflies and moths include: https://coloradofrontrangebutterflies.com/butterfly-families and https://www.insectidentification.org/insects-by-type-and-region.asp?thisState=Colorado&thisType=Butterfly%20or%20Moth

Monarch Caterpillers!

For years, my husband and I have nurtured milkweed in the lost corners of our yard. “Remember the Monarchs!” we chant, as we carefully work around the tall milk-sap plants.

While Monarch butterflies eat nectar from a bunch of different plants, the caterpillars eat only milkweed as they grow. The milky sap of Milkweeds is toxic to most animals, but not to Monarchs. In fact, in’s all that Monarch caterpillars eat. What’s more, the Monarch caterpillars incorporate the toxins into their own bodies, and use it as a chemical deterrent against predators.

In spite of this incredibly cool adaptation, Monarch populations have been declining for decades — between 50-90% loss since 1991. Habitat loss has been a major problem in the United States, especially with the introduction of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans so that herbicides can be sprayed on them to get rid of milkweed growing between the rows. In Mexico, where they overwinter in just a few select spots in upland forests, they are vulnerable to illegal logging operations, cold snaps and hurricanes. Car strikes are also a surprising big killer of Monarchs in Mexico — up to 200,000 killed in just two locations near their over-wintering spots! Monarch Butterfly Migration

There’s not a lot we can do to alleviate these problems. But we can grow milkweed to give as many Monarchs as possible a good start in life. Through the years, we’d been rewarded with a few Monarch butterflies. But no caterpillars.

And lately, we’ve become aware that the decision to grow milkweed is itself a trade-off — native milkweed is attractive to European honeybees, but it can be a deadly trap for them, too. Bees and Butterflies.

Bees are already having a hard time from colony collapse disorder, where the bees just disappear. After years of research, nobody knows why. It’s a major problem with honey bees, one that’s not getting better. I was beginning to feel that if the Monarchs weren’t using the milkweed, we should rip out the it and replace it with something more bee-friendly.

And then, for a real treat …

… my husband found two tiny yellow, white and black caterpillars happily gnawing on our milkweed.

Maybe the milkweed will stay after all.

Hummer in Blue Spruce Tree

After an intense fast moving rainstorm yesterday, I happened to look out my front window to see something I’d never before seen — a female broad-tailed hummingbird zipping among the branches of our blue spruce.

Although she stopped at the end of new spruce buds momentarily, she never stayed in any one place for very long. Between the low light, and her constant movement, the photos are not the quality I usually like to put up here. But her behavior was so unusual, I decided to go ahead and post them.

The thing is, I have no idea what she was going after. At first I thought maybe she was getting some sap from the newly opened blue spruce buds.

But when I went out to confirm my hunch after she left, there wasn’t anything there — no sap, no water droplets, no tiny insects. Just newly opened blue spruce buds.

I’ll keep watching that blue spruce and see if she comes back.

New Friends

We’ve had some new friends in the yard this week!

A charming flock of chipping sparrows stopped by! I don’t remember seeing them before, but I suspect that is merely a reflection on my lack of recognition.

Their name comes from the “chip! chip!” sound they make, which is the entirety of their song.

Chipping sparrow with a rust brown head and white and black eye-brow streaks. Males and females look alike.

Imagine a dozen of these little guys bobbing around in our rather dandelion-infested back yard, looking for food. I couldn’t get a good group shot because they were so far down in the grass, except when they’d hop up for a moment. It was like avian popcorn!

Chipping sparrows eat mostly seeds, but will take insects, especially in breeding season or when feeding their chicks. My husband has vowed never to dig up another dandelion so that these little chippies always have plenty to eat. He is always looking out for wildlife.

Chipping sparrow with its beak full of dandelion seeds.

They are migrating to the mountains, where they’ll nest and raise their families in open grassy forests from the ponderosa pine to the tundra.

Once the little ones have fledged, they’ll feed up on seeds before heading back to southern Texas and Mexico.

They are welcome in our yard to eat dandelion seeds anytime.

Nectar Eaters on a Cool Spring Day

It’s a cool May day, and that has made animals cold and hungry.

White-lined sphinx moths are big, with flat triangular wings and a “white” line running from behind their heads to the corners of their wings.

My husband and I found a white-lined sphinx moth on the sidewalk as we were out walking the dogs this morning, slowly beating its wings as it tried to warm up. Once he gets airborne, he’ll be looking for nectar.

You can see a hint of pink on the body. If he were to open his wings, it would be a large pink wing patch.

And we saw our first hummingbirds! As usual, we heard their ringing zip first. Only the males make this sound. It is produced by special tail feathers. The males are heading into the high country to stake out territory before the females arrive.Spring storm brings cold, wet; hummers come to feeder

Male broadtailed hummingbirds have a red “gorget” or throat feathers. The feathers on their backs are iridescent green.

The problem for both these animals is that the very hard freeze we had a month ago killed a lot of early flowers.

We’ll have more flowers soon, but they need food NOW. I’m doing what I can to help by putting out my hummingbird feeders — 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, NO red food coloring — poured into hummingbird feeders that have been cleaned with boiling water. Hummers in Snowstorm

Hang in there nectar eaters! More flowers are on the way!

Glitter-glam golden dragonfly

I went out to get the mail during the heatwave last week, and saw sparkles in the air. Then I realized it was a dragonfly. I was sure some six-year-old girl must have dusted it with golden glitter. Further inspection revealed that this was an all natural glitter-glam golden dragonfly, known to scientists as a meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum sp.

A meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum sp.

Honestly, it was more sparkly than this — I just couldn’t capture how much this dragonfly winked with gold.

The meadowhawk dragonfly glitters in the hot July sun.

Gotta love how nature surprises and delights! I don’t know anything about dragonflies, but now, I want to learn!

Bald Eagle Egg #1, Day 1

The Bald Eagles at the St. Vrain Power Plant in Platteville, Colorado laid their first egg of the season sometime last night or early this morning.

When I checked in on them around 10:00 this morning, one of the eagles was sitting in the depression they had carefully created in the nest.https://amylaw.blog/2019/02/10/eagle-cam/

This eagle is exhibiting typical brooding behavior — sitting in one spot for long periods of time.

I wasn’t sure she had an egg there, but she didn’t move for a very long time.

Just as I was getting ready actually get to my work, the eagle stood up. I was able see the egg just to the side of her tail.

Newly laid bald eagle egg to the left of eagle’s tail.

Moments after she stood up, the other eagle returned, with a branch in it’s beak.

The stick needed to be placed in just the right place.

I was surprised at how much they dragged that stick around, and that they didn’t hit the egg.

Excel has two cameras on the eagle nest at St. Vrain. The rest of these images are from a different perspective, because I switched to the other camera.

The stick was repositioned several times, and some of the branches trimmed with a quick snip of the beak. Finally, it was in a good spot.

Stick is in the right place

The eagles touched beaks, and one, presumably the male took off. I have no idea if the beak-touching is a frequent thing, or was just for Valentines Day. Sorry. A little anthropomorphizing.

Eagles touch beaks before one flies off.

The remaining eagle fluffed the nest a little, rolled the egg, and settled in

Parent eagle fluffing the nest.
She rolled the egg…
… and settled in.

Most of the egg-brooding is done by the female. She has 35 days to go before this chick hatches out. Bald Eagles lay between one and three eggs, so we’ll have to keep watching to see if more eggs appear.

A Little Housekeeping…

My husband and I were in the back yard recently, and saw our resident black-capped chickadee family checking out a gourd bird house we put out for them.

black-capped chickadee-1

First, they enlarged the opening a touch.

black-capped chickadee-7

Then mama chickadee checked out the inside.

black-capped chickadee-4

She brought some bedding in to see how it worked with the decor.

black-capped chickadee-3

It was good, but something about the gourd just wasn’t quite right. They abandoned this nest, and have set up housekeeping somewhere else.

But it was fun to watch them check it out.

Aspen on Mt. Evans

We love our quaking aspen in Colorado, and never more than at this time of year. They are turning now, and they won’t last long.

I took a drive up to Evergreen last week and found a little meadow ringed with quakies, some of which hadn’t turned yet.

aspen-meadow-4

Aspen are in the cottonwood family. You can see this in their round -yet-pointed, saw-tooth leaf shape. Aspen leaf.jpg

But you can tell aspen from other cottonwoods because of their white bark, and the unique “eye-shaped” scar that forms when they drop a branch. As a child, I used to worry that aspen were watching me. Not paranoid, though. Not.

aspen-meadow-7

I saw these trees on the way down from Mount Evans, one of my favorite places to go when I need to get to the high country (Alpine flowers on Mt. Evans, Tundra Fall).

aspen-from-mt-evans-01

Now that the mountain pine beetle infestation (BioBlitz 2012 — Climate Change in the Soil) has burned itself out, aspen will have an opportunity to fill in the open spaces left by dead lodgepole pine. Aspen reproduce mostly by suckers, and so don’t have the dangers associated with being small and vulnerable for years. The slopes that were covered by rust colored dead pines will in a decade wear a mantle of pale green in the summer and gold in the fall.aspen-from-mt-evans-05