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.

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First, they enlarged the opening a touch.

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Then mama chickadee checked out the inside.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

Hummer colors

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you’ll know that hummingbirds make frequent appearances. I love those little guys. Even more, I’m amazed by them. How they fly, how they hover Hummers Are Back, how they eat Eyelashes and Hummingbird Tongues, the fact that they have to eat constantly when they are awake Hungry Hummer Can’t Wait. They are just generally cool.

One of the most interesting things about hummers is that the iridescent colors of their feathers aren’t created by pigments, but rather by the way the light shines through them.

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The red “gorget” on this male broad-tailed hummingbird is so intense that it is hard to believe that it isn’t a pigment.

Instead, iridescent feathers are built like prisms that only let red light through, and only from certain angles.

Here is the same bird when he turned his head:

 

male broad-tailed hummer-7_edited-1

All that changed was that this guy turned his head to give me a nice profile shot. But when he did, the angle of the light changed.

When this male broad-tailed hummer turned his head, the angle of the light changed, and his gorget showed that it had no pigment in it at all! It’s all just a pigment of your imagination! (Sorry, bad joke.)

Many hummingbirds have iridescent feathers on their backs tuned to green.

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Female broad-tailed hummingbird.

The calliope hummer in Eyelashes and hummingbird tongues had a gorget of magenta, but I could never catch the light coming in the right way, so it looks like a ragged black collar.

This ability to show us colors without using pigments is a trait shared by a lot of birds. Blue then Black Magpie follows me on the trail.

Interestingly, although some dinosaurs may have iridescent (Microraptor Was A Glossy Dinosaur), no mammals ever developed the trait.