The familiar Great Blue Heron is the largest in North America. It is a large bird, with a slate-gray body, chestnut and black accents, and very long legs and neck. In flight, it looks enormous, with a six-foot wingspan. Adults sport a shaggy ruff at the base of their necks. A black eyebrow extends back to black plumes emerging from the head. Juveniles have a dark crown with no plumes or ruff, and a mottled neck. In flight, a Great Blue Heron typically holds its head toward its body with its neck bent.
Adaptable and widespread, the Great Blue Heron is found in various habitats. When feeding, it is usually seen in slow-moving or calm salt, fresh, or brackish water. Great Blue Herons inhabit sheltered, shallow bays and inlets, sloughs, marshes, wet meadows, shores of lakes, and rivers. Nesting colonies are typically found in mature forests, on islands, or near mudflats, and do best when they are free of human disturbance and have foraging areas close by.
Great Blue Herons are often seen flying high overhead with slow wing beats. When foraging, they stand silently along riverbanks, lake shores, or wet meadows, waiting for prey to come by, which they then strike with their bills. They will also stalk prey slowly and deliberately. Although they hunt predominantly daily, they may also be active at night. They are solitary or small-group foragers, but they nest in colonies. Males typically choose shoreline areas for foraging, and females and juveniles forage in more upland areas.
In 2012, a movement was launched officially recognizing the American bison as the national mammal of the United States. Organizers included making National Bison Day the first Saturday of November. The United States Senate signed resolutions yearly supporting the passage of such a proclamation. On May 9, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the law making the American bison the national mammal of the United States.
When the trees their summer splendor Change to raiment red and gold, When the summer moon turns mellow And the nights are getting cold; When the squirrels hide their acorns, And woodchucks disappear; Then we know it is Autumn. Loveliest season of the year.
The Brown Pelican is a bird of the pelican family, Pelecanidae, one of three species found in the Americas and one of two that feed by diving into the water. It is located on the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to the mouth of the Amazon River, and along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile, including the Galapagos Islands. The nominate subspecies in its breeding plumage has a white head with a yellowish wash on the crown. The nape and neck are dark maroons–brown. The upper sides of the neck have white lines along the base of the gular pouch, and the lower fore neck has a pale yellowish patch. The male and female are similar, but the female is slightly smaller. The nonbreeding adult has a white head and neck. The pink skin around the eyes becomes dull and gray in the nonbreeding season. It lacks any red hue; the pouch is firmly olivaceous ochre-tinged, and the legs are olivaceous gray to blackish-gray.
The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a North and South American butterfly in the family Nymphalidae with a wingspan of 31⁄8 – 33⁄8 inches (80 – 85 millimeters). It is orange or brown with black wing borders and small white forewing spots on its dorsal wing surface, and reddish ventral wing surface fairly similar to the dorsal surface. The ventral hindwings have black veins and small white spots in a black border. The male has black androconial scent patch on its dorsal hindwings. It can be found in meadows, fields, marshes, deserts, and at the edges of forests.
This species is possibly a close relative to the similarly colored soldier butterfly (or tropical queen, D. eresimus), in any case, it is not close to the plain tiger (D. chrysippus, African queen) as was long believed. There are seven subspecies.
Females lay one egg at a time on larval host plants. Larvae use these plants as a food source, whereas adult butterflies feed mainly on nectar from flowers. Unpalatability to avian predators is a feature of the butterfly; however, its level is highly variable. Unpalatability is correlated with the level of cardenolides obtained via the larval diet, but other compounds like alkaloids also play a part in promoting distastefulness.
Males patrol to search for females, who may mate up to 15 times a day. Male organs called hair-pencils play an important role in courtship, with males with lower hair-pencil counts being selected against. These hair-pencils may be involved in releasing pheromones during courtship that could attract female mates.
Since Kevin parked on Goat Island, we walked from the Canadian Falls over to Luna Island. And from there we hiked the trail along Hell’s Half Acre, crossing the Goat Island pedestrian bridge to get to Prospect Point/Observation Point. Kevin, Sara, and I spent a little while there before we walked back to the parking lot on Goat Island. We had lunch in Wheatfield before we got ready for the wedding and the reception.
Sauromalus ater, also known as the Common Chuckwalla, is a species of lizard in the family Iguanidae. It inhabits the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Its range extends from eastern California, Nevada, and Utah south to Baja California and Sonora.
A major change took place there about 7,000 years ago when water volume was low. The connection between Lake Huron and Lake Erie was cut off and the Upper Great Lakes drained through the Ottawa River and St. Lawrence Valley. Only the flow from Lake Erie went over Niagara Falls, and a narrow gorge and shallow Riverbed were formed.
Today, the flow of water coming from the wider upper Great Gorge is channeled into the narrow section, thus creating the turbulent Whirlpool Rapids. The violent waters of the Whirlpool Rapids flow into the Eddy Basin before entering the Whirlpool.
September 9, 2022
Kevin, Sara, and I arrived in Niagara Falls in the late afternoon. We drove to our hotel, ate something, rested for a moment and went from there to the Whirlpool State Park. We didn’t want to deal with the big tourist crowds that evening. So, we were tourists away from the tourists. We saw the falls at night five years ago. I could wait until the following day. Kevin was in Wheatfield High School in the late 80s and early 90s. He knows this area like his back pocket.
At Whirlpool State Park Kevin, Sara, and I took a little hike on the Whirlpool Scenic Trail. It was very interesting to witness how the rushing waters of the rapids flow from the Eddy Basin into the Whirlpool, where the water is forced to circle around, hence the name “whirlpool”. Kevin also discovered a groundhog on the side of the river wall. That groundhog was so used to humans that it didn’t care, we were only a foot and a half away from its burrow. The chipmunks and squirrels came much closer. We think they are being fed by visitors.
The sun hadn’t set yet. So, we chose to go to a second destination, before we called it a day.
National Hummingbird Day is celebrated on the first Saturday in September every year. Some communities celebrate this day with activities that include educational programs, hummingbird viewings, and field trips. Hummingbirds share the raising of the chicks and males live a lot shorter because they use so much energy in defending their nests. They use a lot of energy in flying and need to rest every 15 minutes, so we must make our gardens hummingbird friendly.
Nine years ago, Sara and I visited the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve for the first time. It is only seven miles away from our house. But I had no idea it existed until I looked at a park map on Google one morning. Katelynn was in school. And Sara was bored because she had no one to play with in the house. So, I decided I would take her for a hike in the park. The weather was nice and not too warm. It was perfect to see what the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve has to offer. On the way, I said to Sara: “Maybe we will see some wildlife in the park.” When we arrived at the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, we saw a lot of hikers, sprinters and runners. I told Sara to stay with me on the right side of the trail, for people who work out can pass us on the left. She did very well. We walked into the forested area. And Sara noticed a couple of squirrels chasing each other. One had a couple of pecans in its mouth. And the other squirrel wanted the first one to share at least one of the pecans. Sara and I made it all the way to the Observation Tower, where we had a nice view over a big portion of the park. After a little rest, we hiked back to the parking lot. Sara was counting the bridges, we crossed along the way. She said: “There were three bridges in total. And the squirrels were funny.” I’m glad she got entertained on this little trip to the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve. 😉
Common ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and have been so numerous in some areas that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet: they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, nesting birds, and food waste. Some notable feats of problem-solving provide evidence that the common raven is unusually intelligent. Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland, and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or godlike creature.
Mockingbirds are one of the most commonly noticed birds in the state of Texas. They are either applauded for their audaciousness or cursed for their persistence in nocturnal singing or in the defense of their territory. Insects, fruit, crustaceans, and small vertebrates make up the mockingbird’s diet. The fact that they enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables hasn’t exactly made them gardeners’ friends either, although they do eat lots of insects.
Mockingbirds are found in just about every habitat type in the state. The males’ territoriality and constant singing and displaying during the breeding season make them the most noticeable bird in Texas. Often this territoriality takes the form of early morning singing sessions or diving attacks on other animals or people!
Unmated male mockingbirds sing more than mated ones, and only unmated males sing at night. Both sexes sing in the fall to claim winter feeding territories. These areas are often different than their spring breeding territories. Mockingbirds mimic 50 other bird songs. They have also been known to imitate other sounds they hear such as rusty hinges, whistling, cackling hens, and dogs barking so expertly that even an electronic analysis could not tell the difference between the mockingbird and the original. Scientists have found that female mockingbirds are attracted to males that can make the most different sounds.
After Kevin and I were done with the greenhouse, he noticed some rustling on the hill, yesterday. Since this area is overgrown with grass and wildflowers, he couldn’t see what made that noise until a turkey came into sight. He whispered to me to come here. From my point, I could see a couple more turkeys in the high grass. And then we saw little turkeys following the bigger ones. The first turkey wanted to guide the family downhill where we were standing, but then it decided to take the route up the hill, crossing the street and trotting through the neighbor’s yard.
This morning, we saw the turkey family again. Two adults were in the yard. Another one was checking out the forest before it made some noise that everything was clear. The Jake’s and Jenny’s (young male and female turkeys) flew down from our Norway Maple into the yard. Sara pointed out the lookout turkey high in another tree. This means every turkey has a job in raising the young. One is on watch duty, while the other adults are babysitting the little ones.
World Snake Day aims to increase awareness regarding the over 3,500 snake species that exist across the world. Not all of them are as scary or venomous as we believe them to be. The fascinating reptiles are often not given the recognition they deserve just because of the bad reputation they have earned over the years. The day aims to change the negative perception surrounding snakes and promote the love for all living beings — even the ones we fear.
The Green Lynx Spider is a bright-green spider usually found on green plants. It is the largest North American species in the family Oxyopidae. This spider is common in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and many West Indie islands, especially Jamaica. The species name, viridans, is Latin for “becoming green”. It should not be confused with either Peucetia viridana, a species that occurs only in India and Myanmar, or Peucetia viridis from Spain and Africa.
Yellowstone National Park has approximately half of the world’s geysers—and most of them are located in the Upper Geyser Basin. One square mile contains at least 150 of these hydrothermal wonders, making this area the most densely concentrated geyser region in the world. Five major geysers—Old Faithful, Grand, Castle, Daisy, and Riverside are located here.
At the time, when we visited the Upper Geyser Basin. The National Park was building the new Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center. It is a museum with a store where educational exhibits such as volcanic geology are on display. There is also a big glass window, where visitors can see the eruption of Old Faithful and look over the Upper Geyser Basin on a rainy day. I just wouldn’t recommend visiting this area from 12 – 6 pm, due to tour buses being full of tourists. It reminds me of the very first episode of Spongebob Squarepants, where the tourist anchovies run into the Krusty Krab, making a lot of ruckuses until Spongebob has every single anchovy served with a Krabby Patty. We went to the Upper Geyser Basin in the morning. So, it was comfortable to walk with a stroller.
Kevin, Sara, and I made use of this beautiful morning. It was only 59℉ (15℃) when we drove for a hike to the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield. At the center, we parked the car by the Sawmill Field and walked along the Bantam River. In the swamps, we’ve heard a lot of frogs croaking, but couldn’t find one. They were camouflaged in the water. Close to the Mattatuck Trail, Kevin pointed out a snake. I was lucky enough to photograph the Garter Snake from head to tail before it disappeared under a rock. There were also plenty of wildflowers like chicory, purple loosestrife, swamp weed, and water lilies. A lot of people were also hiking and biking on those trails or kayaking down the Bantam River towards Bantam Lake. When we walked back to our car, we noticed it wasn’t even 9 am, yet.
The gangly Double-crested Cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black fishing bird with yellow-orange facial skin. Though they look like a combination of a goose and a loon, they are relatives of frigatebirds and boobies and are a common sight around fresh and salt water across North America—perhaps attracting the most attention when they stand on docks, rocky islands, and channel markers, their wings spread out to dry. These solid, heavy-boned birds are experts at diving to catch small fish.
Usually, when I go into the bathroom I always peek out the window in the morning. This is the time, when wildlife is very active on our property. I looked around the backyard. And sure enough, I saw the rearend of a White-tailed Deer. I put my shoes on, grabbed my camera and tried to be as quiet as possible walking out the patio door. When I looked at the spot, the deer was gone. Then I turned right and saw her standing in the fern eating tree and shrub leaves. I’ve couldn’t got a better surrounding as a picture frame with her. The doe kept eating breakfast for another couple of minutes, before she had enough and jumped back towards the forest. But first, she turned around to say “goodbye” for the day. Isn’t she beautiful?
Midway Geyser Basin: Exelsior Geyser Crater – Grand Prismatic Spring
The next stop was Midway Geyser Basin at the Firehole River. The Midway Geyser Basin is very famous for being the home of the Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring is famous for its size and colors. With being deeper than a 10-story building and larger than a football field, it is the thrid largest hot spring in the world. The Grand Prismatic Spring gets its rainbow colors from the bacteria that lives in progressively cooler water. And the water scatters the blue wavelenght of light, and therefore the center reflects blue back to our eyes.
The Excelsior Geyser Crater is a dormant geyser, but a steamy blue spring. It is so hot, that the runoff water is still boiling, when it hits the surface of the Firehole River. The last time the geyser erupted about 80 feet (25 meters) high for two days was in 1985. Back in the 1800s it could reach a height up to 300 feet (90 meters).
When we visited, we also could see wildlife and wildflowers across the river. We’ve seen a big male bison grassing in the meadow, a relaxing female elk, a couple of ravens, and a big Flame Skimmer dragonfly. There were also wild roses and beautiful pine trees in the area. After the Midway Geyser basin visit, Kevin and I called it a day. We all were hungry and tired for walking around. Sara needed a small nap, before we had dinner at the camp ground. That night, we went to bed early to have an early start the following morning.
The ‘Larus delawarensis’ is the most common and widespread gull in North America, especially inland, and numbers are probably still increasing. These gulls are sociable in all seasons; concentrations at nesting colonies or at winter feeding sites may run into the tens of thousands. The Ring-bill has adapted thoroughly to civilization. Flocks are often seen resting in parking lots, scavenging for scraps around fast-food restaurants, or swarming over landfills.
This evening, I walked in my yard and something jumped on my pant leg. First, I thought, a toad must have mixed me up with a tree again. But by closer inspection I saw a Wood Frog in the grass. He sat there very quietly for me to capture a photo of him. But when I tried to catch him, he leaped right under the Hosta leaves and was out of sight. His name is Bubba, and he is a good tenant catching mosquitoes.
Kevin and I went for a small hike at Echo Lake Park after dinner. He’s still recovering from last week’s trip to Dallas. The jetlag is real. The best way to get rid of it is moving around and staying hydrated. We did our little walk behind the lake. Back there we’ve met the King/Queen of Echo Lake, a nice big beaver. He/she was working on its beautiful water mansion, getting small tree branches from the lake dam. It was quite interesting watching the beaver swimming with the branch across the lake. A family across the lake was fishing. Once they saw the beaver, they were quite fascinated by the strength of the beaver as well.
Joshua met a new friend named Karmo today. Karmo is an Eastern American Toad. While Karmo leaped in the yard, Joshua kept an eye on that toad. Sara was concerned that Joshua might take Karmo in the mouth. Before it could happen, she just picked up the toad and sat it on Joshua’s back. Karmo leaped up to Joshua’s head, so he could see better. And Joshua was very gentle with Karmo. The cat let the toad sit there for quite some time. Later, we sat Karmo in the greenhouse, where he could catch some bugs.
A couple of years ago, I saw a cooper’s hawk landing in our tree, to watch some small birds eating their seeds. I was very impressed by the size of this bird. After I did some research, I found out that little birds are the main diet of this hawk. So, by filling up the bird feeders I attracted the little birds, and therefore I attracted the cooper’s hawk. Back then I could capture a couple of photos of this beautiful animal, before it flew away.
Today, I had the same scenario: I filled up the feeders for the little birds. Some mourning doves, a common starling, and about a dozen house sparrows were munching those seeds away, when a cooper’s hawk landed in one of the trees in our yard. It observed the birds. But when it saw me, it flew off into the neighbor’s tree.
Cooper’s hawks are beautiful, but very shy birds. I also read a lot of reports about cooper hawks visiting the yards around this time of the year. And today was my lucky moment, again.
Bright red with a pointed head crest and black bib, male cardinals are always a welcome sight at bird feeders. Cardinals are year-round residents in the eastern two-thirds of Texas. They prefer thick underbrush for nesting. Cardinals have been expanding their range northward.
Both male and female cardinals sing almost year-round. Common calls include “cheer cheer cheer”, “whit-chew whit-chew whit-chew” and “purty purty purty”. Cardinals eat seeds, fruit, and insects, and are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially those containing sunflower seeds.
Male cardinals vigorously defend their territory. They have been known to attack their reflections in mirrors, windows and chrome. Sometimes they will even attack small red objects they mistake for other males. Females usually sing after males establish territory but before nesting starts. A cardinal’s nest consists of a tightly woven cup of roots, stems and twigs lined with fine grass and hair.
Cardinals are colorful, tolerant of people, have pleasant calls, and are easily attracted to bird feeders. That has made them a favorite of backyard birdwatchers all over the eastern half of the U.S. Cardinals may form winter flocks of 60-70 birds. Their bright plumage brings color to our yards during the winter when many other species have flown south.
The following morning, we were ready for our first trip through Yellowstone National Park. Since our campground was in West Thumb, west of Yellowstone Lake, we had to drive all the way up north from US 191 & US 89 to make it to Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana, which is also the North Entrance of the park. That’s where we wanted to begin our journey. On the way up there, we saw our first Grizzly in the wild. The bear was making his way up the hill, before it disappeared behind the tree line.
In Gardiner, we enjoyed lunch at Rosie’s, before we looked at Roosevelt Arch and made our way back into the National Park. The distance from the arch and the Montana/Wyoming state border is exactly 3 miles.
The differential grasshopper is found throughout most of the United States, except for the northwest. Within its range, it is most often found in heavily weeded areas and grasslands, and even in vacant lots and other urban areas. This species is not migratory, but can travel a few miles to search for food.
It began to rain in the early morning. And the rain lasted until the late morning hours. While I captured photos of droplets, a Northern Cardinal fledgling got confused and almost landed on me. Once it figured out, I wasn’t mommy or daddy it made a sharp turn and sat on the porch railing.
Today, it was a cool day. However, this weekend we are supposed to get temperatures in the mid-90s (35℃). It will feel just like Texas, before the weather cools down to the 70s on Monday.
Although the Greater Roadrunner occurs throughout Texas, is well known, is the topic of much folklore, and is a very popular cartoon character, the only field research studies that have been conducted are in desert scrub or brush-grassland habitats in South Texas. As a popular multicultural iconic bird, from prehistory to modern times, it is surprising that it was one of the last bird species to be given state protection because of the mistaken belief that roadrunners were a threat to declining quail populations.
Kevin and I did some yard work this afternoon, when he saw Joshua dragging something in his mouth. Since Joshua was right behind me, I grabbed the cat and told him to drop it. A young chipmunk lay there and didn’t move. Kevin took Joshua, while I checked out the little chipmunk. It was on its back in my hands, so I immediately turned it on its belly to check the back and sides. Other than some cat saliva it seemed to be okay. Within a few seconds the chipmunk began to wiggle and bite my finger. The more I tried to pull that darn rodent away, the more it dug in with its teeth. So, the best decision was to let it go. It unlatched and ran under the riding lawnmower. Now, it was Kevin’s turn to find the chipmunk, while I took Joshua inside the house. Enough rodent hunting for that cat in one day! Kevin could get the chipmunk to run from under the lawnmower to and climb up the nearest oak tree. From there, he looked and yelled at both of us. “I guess, that’s the thanks I get for saving him from our cat.”
Thank goodness, the little chipmunk is not rabid. And I have my tetanus shot up-to-date. Today, my finger looks like nothing ever happened. But that bite from that little $#@% hurt.
A close cousin of the ground squirrel, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a heavy-bodied rodent with a black-tipped tail. Prairie dogs have large eyes, short tails and brownish-tan pelage.
Prairie dogs play an important role in the prairie ecosystem. They serve as a food source for many predators and leave vacant burrows for the burrowing owl, the Black-footed Ferret, the Texas horned lizard, rabbits, hares, and even rattlesnakes.
Prairie dogs are very social animals. They live as a group in prairie dog “towns” which range from one to over 1,000 acres. These towns are subdivided into wards that are arranged like counties within a state. Wards are further subdivided into distinct social units called coteries. A coterie usually consists of a single adult male, one to four adult females, and any offspring under two years of age. Movement between wards is uncommon; however, among family members, prairie dogs greet each other with bared teeth with which they “kiss” as a form of recognition.
Prairie dogs are strictly diurnal animals. They are most active during the cool hours of the day, when they engage in social activities such as visiting and grooming each other as well as feeding on grass and herbs. When prairie dogs are out, a sentry perches on the volcano-like ring that surrounds the burrow. Should a predator or any other danger become evident, the sentry will bark out a warning, after which the community will dive into their burrows and wait for the “all clear” call before venturing out again.
Prairie dogs are native to short-grass prairie habitats of western North America. They avoid heavy brush and tall grass areas due to the reduced visibility these habitats impose.
The Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia), a member of the Nymphalinae subfamily, is distinguished by two eyespots on the upper side of each of its forewings and hindwings and by two orange cell bars on the upper sides of the anterior portion of the forewings. Its body color is brown. Its range extends from southern Canada and the United States to southern Mexico. Adults feed primarily on the nectar of flowers, such as those of chicory, knapweed, dogbane, and aster.
Red-eared sliders are Texas’s most common aquatic turtles. These turtles get their name from a broad red stripe behind their eye and their habit of sliding off rocks and logs when startled. Older turtles are often covered with a thick coat of algae. Some red-eared sliders can live more than 30 years.
Sliders are cold-blooded and spend hours sunning themselves on rocks and logs. If there are not enough rocks or logs for all of them, they will often stack themselves one on top of the other! They bury themselves in loose soil or mud during the winter to escape the cold. When population numbers get high, these turtles move across land to other bodies of water in search of food and space. They eat aquatic plants, small fish, and decaying material.
Sliders have poor hearing but are very sensitive to vibrations. This makes it hard to sneak up on them. Their name, slider, comes from the fact that they are quick to slide off rocks, logs or the banks if danger threatens.
The Eastern Fox Squirrel is the largest squirrel in the United States, about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long and weighs about two pounds (900 grams). It has dark grey fur on its back and tan fur on its belly. The tail is cinnamon/grey colored. Their feet are tan. Fox Squirrels got their name for their fur coat which resembles that of a gray fox.
This big ‘Honker’ is among our best-known waterfowl. In many regions, flights of Canada Geese passing over in V-formation — northbound in spring, southbound in fall — are universally recognized as signs of the changing seasons. Once considered a symbol of wilderness, this goose has adapted well to civilization, nesting around park ponds and golf courses; in a few places, it has even become something of a nuisance.
The Canada Goose’s habitats are lakes, ponds, bays, marshes, fields. It uses different habitats in different regions; nests near water, winters where feeding areas are within commuting distance of water. Nesting habitats include tundra, fresh marshes, salt marshes, lakes in wooded country. Often feeds in open fields, especially in winter. In recent years, the Canada Goose has been also been resident in city parks, suburban ponds.