The three resident Red squirrels (and I do hope they are not in residence in any of my structures!) were in a noisy twit by the Sugar maple. I went to the porch for a look. It was that period of time mysteriously called nautical twilight — roughly 9:00 to 9:30 pm these days — by the website I use to check on the sun and the moon. I scanned in the dying light for the squirrels, but saw instead on a branch of the Sugar maple just off the porch the silhouette of a Great-horned owl. I could not make out his facial features, but he turned his head nearly 360 degrees, as owls can. I slipped inside for my bins but he took off before I returned exiting, as owls can, in complete silence.
His departure allowed the squirrels to go the sleep. The relative quiet of crickets and frogs singing their evening songs suited the complete silence of the June bugs. Nautical twilight and a waxing crescent moon provided enough light for a meadow stroll. Do the June bugs like certain parts of the meadow better than others, I wondered. In general, I’d say the population of June bugs is down, perhaps because I have been killing them in their grub stage as I’ve been digging in up grass to reduce the lawn. As I was coming to the conclusion they liked the less dry areas of the meadow better than the Little bluestem grassland, the Great-horned owl swooped across the meadow headed for the forest. If I had not seen him — this time just his in flight form — I never would have known he was there.
Nautical twilight was giving way to astronomical twilight, but the deck of the folly reflected the moonlight. I stopped by to reconsider the distribution of June bugs in the meadow. Now it seemed there were as many June bugs in the bluestem as anywhere else in the meadow. A deer I could not make out brayed somewhere near the wall and the stream. Time to head home.
Back in the house, it’s night. From here the sounds include moths bumping into lights, the occasional car passing, crickets and frogs calling. One night earlier this week, I woke up to the wails of distress. I must call 911, I thought, until I came to enough to remember that I was neither in NYC nor DC, and the cries were not human calls for help. Somewhere just off the porch, a creature was meeting its end at the jaws of another creature, likely a coyote or a Fisher cat. Too bad the meal wasn’t a Red squirrel, although without the squirrels, I would have missed the Great-horned owl.
It’s really too cold to work a hive (NB snow on the ground!). But both hives had live bees when I removed the covers to add pollen patties and fondant in anticipation of my departure tomorrow. The bees were mighty surprised to see me, if I may anthropomorphize.
If any Eastern bluebirds are reading this post, note you have 3 boxes ready for occupation in the meadow. You’ll find a 4th one mid March.
Pair of confused bees
Bluebird boxes for rent!
I also wish to record that I saw a American robin and a Red-winged blackbird on 16 and 17 February. The Robin has not come back but the Blackbird seems to be around. They showed up outside the times I was counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count so I have to make a note here.
The round of House fly hatching that started in the back house on the sunny days in the aftermath of Nemo earlier this month has come to a halt. What prompts these annual early hatchings? All the flies always die.
House fly graveyard
Showing their irridescent blue
As soon as the sun heats the meadow to the day’s highest temperature, the dragonflies take flight. They fly above the grasses in a zone about 8 feet deep for hours. Swooping one way, then the other, they don’t land for photos. They also don’t show up in a photograph unless the camera is pointed into the sun.
For the second year, I have breathed a sign of relief at this activity. I take it to mean that herbicide applications have not killed off the dragonflies or the insects they are eating on the wing.
The photo doesn’t capture the excitement. You have to be looking at or standing in the meadow to know the marvel of it. And it is marvelous — every warm sunny day of late summer.
The baby tree swallows fledged sometime in the past couple of days. A birder more experienced I reports that they would have left the nest all at once. I am sorry to have missed the moment. For one thing, I would have like to have known how many babies were in the nest; the volume of chirping that arose from the box suggested there were lots.
See Cornell bird ID for the Tree swallow, since I have no photo.
I hope Tree swallows don’t have a sense of smell. The now empty nest is befouled with guano. And it must have been hotter than Hades in there a week ago when the temperature hung out in the 90s.
Tree swallow nest now empty
Tree swallows were the only species to successfully raise a family using one of the meadow nesting boxes. Other species were not so lucky. I posted the tale of the Eastern bluebird family. The Carolina wrens hatched an egg or two in a nesting box but something happened. When I noticed the parents were not bringing home food any more, I opened the box to find a nest full of American carrion beetles consuming the flesh from skeletons with beaks. Wikipedia (to which I contribute, by the way) provides this taxonomy and photo. How did the beetles find the carcases so fast? I guess they follow the flies (see Wikipedia life cycle description below) but how do ground beetles do that?
American carrion beetle
Wikipedia on the life cycle of the American carrion beetle: “From spring through fall, during daylight, a few hours after flies begin arriving at a carcass, the adult beetles will arrive as well. They immediately begin eating the already hatching fly larvae, mating, and laying their own eggs. As long as the carcass lasts, the adults will remain eating competitors to give their own larvae a chance to eat and grow. Upon hatching from the eggs, the larvae will eat both the carcass and other larvae that are within it. Eventually the larvae will fall to the ground, dig into the dirt, and pupate. Overwintering is done by adults.”