Friday, August 14, 2020

Big-billed Birds at Bird Runner: Buntings and Grosbeaks on McDowell Creek

 The creek is a magnet!   Here is an immature Indigo Bunting having a bath, while an adult Indigo Bunting sings overhead:

Adult male Indigo Buntings, unmistakeable in their iridescent blue, come to feed on the weeds that spring up along the creek.  Here an adult male feeds on Green Foxtail, Marestail, and Barnyard Grass:

The female and immature Indigos have brown feathers designed to blend in.   Here the male is shadowed by a cryptically colored female or fledgling:

A juvenile Painted Bunting also comes to bathe in the creek:

Meanwhile, a female Blue Grosbeak, accompanied by an immature or molting male, is drawn to the creek:  

A first-summer male Blue Grosbeak practices his chip call and little bit of song from the weeds along the creek.    Here he exercises his voice from the Jerusalem Artichoke and the Giant Ragweed that grew up on the gravel bar after the high water receded:


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Goldfinches at McDowell Creek

 McDowell Creek has been a magnet for Goldfinches this summer--male Goldfinches, that is.  They come every evening to sing a little bit and drink from the creek.

The females are sitting on nests and don't leave until the youngsters fledge.   The males feed their mates with partially digested seeds.   I hope to see the moms and the new ones later in the summer or early in the fall.   

Monday, August 10, 2020

Butterflies Imbibing Minerals by McDowell Creek

What are you seeing on your walks in nature?  Send comments, photos, or videos to   Here are some things we're seeing:

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Local Musicians Find Refuge at AOK Legacy Sanctuary

During the hottest days of summer, McDowell Creek has been a refuge.   Local musicians, looking for a safe outdoor space to get together, came to Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge to play and sing next to (and in some cases in!) McDowell Creek:  

Local musicians jam while dusk falls on McDowell Creek, July 30, 2020.

But these Homo sapiens aren't the only singers on the creek.   Dickcissels sing constantly, sometimes from the electrical wire above the creek.  Here a male Dickcissels belts out his song, accompanied by flowing water:

You can hear the Dickcissels singing as these American Goldfinches come to drink.  But the goldfinches also sing, sometimes from the same wire:

It would be a first for Bird Runner if expert birders are right.  They think this singer in a tree by the creek is a Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

All musicians at the creek in July are accompanied by the original percussionists, chorusing frogs!   Here Blanchard's Cricket Frogs lay down quite a beat:

It's the season of songs!   Let's store up the music to last us when the blustery winds of winter are what we hear instead.  

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Tiny Body, Big Voice--And Oh, Those Legs!

If you thought these little guys were loud in the spring, you should hear them now!   Here are Blanchard's Cricket Frogs on the shores of McDowell Creek:

They make a lot of racket for frogs that are no bigger than a quarter:   

Blanchard's Cricket Frog on Algae-covered Rock by McDowell Creek
Their vocalizations are part of what's called a "breeding chorus."

But there is a lot of mystery surrounding breeding choruses.  For one thing, they can occur separate from breeding.   

Sometimes the males just gather and sing, no females allowed.   And the male Blanchard's Cricket Frogs do a "leg display."

But what's the purpose of these all-male displays?  Famed herpetologist Joe Collins wrote that sometimes the frogs gather "for unknown reasons."  So we can observe and speculate.  The little guys don't appear to be defending territories or establishing dominance.   In fact, their interactions are more congenial than aggressive.  They even appear to take turns sitting on top of each other and showing off those gorgeous hind legs.  

If you have any ideas about what the adaptive advantage could be that impelled the evolution of leg-displays, share it with!

"Breeding" takes place outside the frogs' bodies.   Females deposit eggs underwater, and the males then fertilize the eggs externally.  
All photos and videos were taken at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, an AOK Legacy Sanctuary in Geary County.  Photos, videos and text by Margy Stewart.   

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Summer Damselflies

Summer is the time for procreation!   Here "dancer" damselflies (Argia spp.) are laying eggs in McDowell Creek.   The pairs have mated, and now the females are placing eggs in underwater vegetation or other substrate.   The males are "mate-guarding"--hanging onto the females and keeping other males at bay.

That clicking noise you're hearing is the breeding chorus of Blanchard's Cricket Frogs--also abundant near McDowell Creek.

The males have little grabbers on the end of their abdomens which fit exactly into slots behind the females' heads.  The exact fit means they can hang onto the females of their own species but no other.  

Here the males appear to be pushing the egg-laying females down into the water.  But don't worry--the females grab a bubble of air and keep breathing, even under water.     

Soon the eggs will hatch into aquatic larvae, called "nymphs."  Both the adults and the nymphs are great predators, feeding on mosquitoes and other insects in the air and in the water.   

Damselflies hate pollution, so their presence indicates a healthy stream.   These Dancers love streams with limestone bottoms, such as McDowell Creek.

Damselflies don't go through a complete metamorphosis--there is no pupal stage.  Instead, the aquatic nymph molts and grows and finally climbs out of the water to molt one final time.  The exoskeleton splits open and out comes a gorgeous damselfly, a beautiful adult with wings!

Damselflies are in the same family with dragonflies but they are smaller and thinner, and when perched they hold their wings upright, whereas dragonflies spread out their wings. 

Damselfly holding wings upright.  See how thin he is
compared to a dragonfly?

Dragonfly holding wings outspread.  See how hefty he is
compared to a damselfly?

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Diving Beetles and Mayflies: What's the Connection?

This video is of two separate diving beetles on two separate days, each attached somehow to a mayfly-form.   The second one turned loose of his mayfly and I snagged it out of the water: it was more like a shed skin than a dead fly with substance--not much there to feed a beetle.   

What are the beetles doing with these mayflies and why do the beetles seem so unintentional?  They seem to be more drifting than directional. 

They seemed so passive I wasn't sure who had ahold of whom! 
McDowell Creek, Geary Co., Kansas, June 2020.

I hope someone can help me understand this scenario!

--Margy Stewart
Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge