Sunday, January 12, 2020

Winter Plums, Winter Wildlife: Part I (Birds)

Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge,
from McDowell Creek, looking west.  Winter
is settling in!  

I used to feel sad when the "growing season" ended, as it meant the end of blossoms and pollinators.  

But I am learning that winter just means a different kind of growing.

For example, plum thickets in winter are Life Central!  

A plum thicket along McDowell Creek
after an ice storm, January 2020
Birds newly arrived from the tundra overwinter here and love to roost in the reddish branches of Prunus americana, American Plum, and Prunus angustifolia, Sandhill Plum.  (Both species grow here.)

The plums host Harris's Sparrows:

 Tree Sparrows:

An occasional Lincoln's Sparrow:

And our year-round resident Song Sparrows:

The thickets provide protection from the cold and from predators, such as this female Merlin:  

She sits above the plums and would love to grab a sparrow-meal.  

If she succeeds occasionally, the remaining sparrows are still numerous.  They crowd noisily into the plum thickets as the sun sets.  Their chatter and whistles as they settle in to roost are among the loveliest sounds of a winter dusk.  That clear whistle is coming from the Harris's Sparrows.  But all the species are cheeping and chirping!

Many thanks to Tom Ewert for confirming bird identifications.  All photos and videos by Margy Stewart, unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Winter Plums, Winter Wildlife: Part 2 (Invertebrates)

Plum thickets blend with the grasses on the edge of the Creek Field, a restoration of bottomland tall grass prairie.  

Once most of the plum leaves have fallen, so many signs of life appear!

Here is the egg sac of a Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), suspended from plum twigs.

The tiny spiderlings inside are waiting out the winter.

A neighboring Garden Spider was even more prolific.  She produced two batches of A. aurantia: 

A. Aurantia egg sacs, attached to plum twigs.

While spiderlings grow strong inside some egg sacs, inside others they become food for predators.

Here is an egg sac of A. aurantia ripped open by some hungry bird, possum, or raccoon (thank you, Betsy Betros, for explaining the scenario):

A preyed-upon egg sac attached to plums.

Chinese Mantises also attach their oothecas (egg cases) to plums:

The ootheca of a Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis) on a plum twig.

But woodpeckers love to snack on the eggs and nymphs of Chinese Mantises.   Here is the tell-tale hole drilled by a woodpecker:  

An occasional bagworm appears on the plums...

...along with the cocoon of a Promethea Moth or a Tussock Moth (the experts at think either could be a possibility):

The cocoon is carefully wrapped in a plum leaf, just like a cigar, and firmly attached by silk to the end of a plum twig.    

This rather tattered cocoon attached to a plum twig and leaf might have been made by a Polyphemus Moth, according to entomologist Dick Beeman (thank you, Dick! ):

But other signs of invertebrate life are harder to identify.  I found the following in the plums and submitted photos to my expert friends, Kansas Arthropods, and bugguide, but so far no one has confirmed an ID.  If viewers of this blog can help, your assistance would be welcome!

Among the mysteries were various combinations of silk and leaf attached to plum twigs:

And there was a strange, disk-shaped egg case, smaller than a dime and deposited on a plum twig, that sported three yellow eggs on the surface:
An egg sac on a plum twig with three yellow eggs on the surface.

Was this the product of one species or two?

For the moment, these invertebrate signs remain unidentified--perhaps to declare themselves at a later time.

Even when encased in ice, the plums are interacting with  with winter wildlife--both the kinds that are familiar to us and the kinds that are still mysterious.  

All photos were taken in the Creek Field at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge along McDowell Creek in Geary County, Kansas, in December 2019 or January 2020, and are by Margy Stewart unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Celebrate Juneteenth! Cook-out and Wildflower Walk, June 16, 2019

The Juneteenth season came to a close in Geary County with a cook-out and wildflower walk at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, on June 16, 2019.   The event was co-sponsored by Audubon of Kansas, Flint Hills Prairie Bison Reserve (which donated the bison-burgers), Junction City Juneteenth Community Association,  McDowell Creek Community Association, and Prairie Heritage, Inc.    Audubon of Kansas's sanctuaries preserve and restore native ecosystems.  They are intended to be people-friendly, as well as wildlife-friendly.  The Audubon of Kansas Sanctuaries Initiative is designed to create an archipelago of sanctuaries across the state of Kansas, so that Kansans will have a nearby location where they can experience their local ecosystem.  "Every child should have a chance to play in a creek," according to board chair Margy Stewart.   AOK is off to a good start at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, a legacy sanctuary in Geary County.   Here are some photos from recent events:



Saturday, May 11, 2019

Red Admirals: A Burst on McDowell Creek

So many Red Admirals in early spring here on McDowell Creek!   They were all over the apricot blossoms in late March/early April--and then all over the wild plum blossoms in mid-April.  

A Red Admiral enjoys the profuse blossoms
of a wild plum on April 15, 2019.
Riparian Buffer, Creek Field
Prairie Restoration, McDowell Creek

A Red Admiral rests on an elm trunk next to the apricot tree where
he and his species mates are nectaring.  Back yard orchard, 
McDowell Creek, April 8, 2019.

They did a good job of pollinating, because by the beginning of May the trees and shrubs were loaded with starter-fruit.

A Red Admiral nectars on Wild Plum on
April 15, 2019.  

And nettles were coming on strong too, providing lots of places for Red Admirals to lay their eggs and food plants for new Red Admiral caterpillars.

But then a hail storm came through on May 6, 2019, knocked most of the fruit to the ground, and flattened the new nettles against the earth.    

A few apricots and plums still cling to branches here and there.   Let's hope a few nettle plants will spring back up and some Red Admiral eggs and caterpillars will survive and grow.  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shield Bugs on Common Buckeye

Shield Bugs on Buckeye
Riparian Buffer, McDowell Creek
Creek Field Prairie Restoration
April 15, 2019
 We have many Western Buckeye trees along McDowell Creek, on the edge of our Creek Field prairie restoration.  This spring, every cluster of Buckeye buds had a Shield Bug on it!   The wild plums, the Golden Currants, and the choke cherries were also budding, but no Shields for them!  This year these bugs were Buckeye lovers.   

Nice Shield!

Shield Bugs are also called "Stink Bugs"--but what an insulting name.  I didn't notice an aroma--the spring air was sweet all around--but I did notice their impressive "armor."  "Shield"--a much nicer name.    Their family is Pentatomidae, a division of True Bugs.  

Add caption
Buckeye Bistro--a great place to meet someone!   More Shield Bugs may be arriving soon....

Next year--will we see Shield Bugs on Buckeye again?  Or will any tree or wildflower do?  Why are they just on Buckeye this year? tells me spring is when Shield Bugs hatch and form larval aggregations.   Yet here on April 15, they were already into their adult forms and adult behavior.   So did these adults overwinter on Western Buckeyes?  Or were they early hatching eggs just a few weeks before?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Winter Visitors at Bird Runner!

We were so pleased to host artist Zhang Hongtu and videographer Fang Xin at Bird Runner in February! Winter storms came to greet them as well, along with Bobcat, Night Coyote, Raccoon, Deer, Rabbit, and Day Coyote.

               Bird Runner Trail Camera, West Side
                                   Looking West
                                  February 2019 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Noshing on New Jersey Tea

The beautiful larva of a Haploa moth munches
on a leaf of New Jersey Tea.
McDowell Creek, Upland Prairie
May 18, 2018
The drought year of 2018 was a great year for New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) in upland prairie.  It blooms early (these photos are from May 6-16, 2018) so it had set seed by the time the dry spell really hit.  Besides, shrubs seemed to do well this year:  The shrub islands expanded during this drought, whereas in most drought years they contract. 

A friend of mine who is doing research on this species asked me to keep an eye out for the invertebrates that visited it.          

Here are a few that I happened to notice:   

A crab spider hopes to dine on a diner.
Some beautiful fungi showed up amid the flowers.

The fungi were orange and hot pink/

These are Scriptured Leaf Beetles
genus Pachybrachis.  
What pretty markings!

This handsome guy was enjoying a leaf
of New Jersey Tea.   Bugguide. net 
identified him as Oncerometopus nigriclavus 
in the family Miridae (Plant Bugs)

But by far the most noticeable were the
tiny black Dermestid beetles 
everywhere on the flowers of New Jersey Tea. 
Dermestids are carrion-eaters, but some of
the smaller species feed on nectar and
pollen, which is what these little guys
were doing.  
Note the paddle on the
end of the antenna. Dermestid beetle.
Family Cryptorhopalum.

A "Bush Katydid" nymph on New Jersey Tea.

"Bush Katydid"
Impressive antennae!
Genus Scudderia