Monday, August 8, 2016

Squirrel Bot Fly Parasite Documentary


Another reason besides Zika Virus to avoid mosquito bites in Florida! May be disturbing to some viewers! Bot Flies, Warbles, Wolf Worms, Mango Worms - they have many names, but they are nasty and they are back again this hot summer (Florida, late July 2016). This video shows some of the Backyard Gray Squirrels dealing with this mosquito borne seasonal scourge that they suffer every summer. Not all of the squirrels have them - yet. One poor guy has them in his shoulder, leg and testicles which seems particularly nasty. The video shows them stoically carrying on and doing a lot of scratching and biting. Last year at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orx-xLZrry0
I noted they typically fully recover especially with extra food and fresh water provided by kindly humans. It is also interesting to note that the worst off fellow appears to be eating dirt or charcoal as a way of providing essential nutrients and maybe animal medicine. There really is nothing to be done medically for them as catching wild squirrels and restraining them while trying to cleanly remove and disinfect the worm area would be very stress inducing and risk injury and infection. It is said that these type of bot flies do not transfer to humans by mosquito bites in Florida as they do in Central America, but with Zika and everything else around I try to avoid any mosquito bites - but that's nearly impossible!
  
More detailed information can be found at:
http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/flies/squirrel_bot_fly.htm
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Squirrel Bot Fly Parasite Documentary



Woodpecker Couple Inspects Nest Box



A pair of Red Bellied Woodpeckers inspect a new Flycatcher Nest Box. Its now late July and 7 baby Red Bellied Woodpeckers have hatched and fledged in two broods so far this summer so I'm not sure what these two are up to - it could be they just can't resist checking out any potential nest site and give their opinion. Mother woodpecker in particular seems to spend a long time checking from every angle. Some nights the woodpeckers roost in the various nest boxes even though its not breeding season.

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Woodpecker Couple Inspects Nest Box
Woodpecker Couple Inspects Nest Box




Blue Jays Prank Squirrels - and Humans!



Blue Jays seem to delight in terrorizing the Backyard Gray Squirrels and manipulating us humans with their false alarm calls. When I hear these loud group alarm calls I usually grab the camera and head for the door as something interesting may be up! But it doesn't really take much to trick a squirrel or myself and the Jays have learned to use their vastly superior intellect to get more peanuts by drawing me out in the morning this way. They then settle in for a peanut  party which I am too nice to deny them as I have left them alone for a month in Florida, but they do seem to have a bit of a guilty look on their faces.

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Blue Jays Prank Squirrels

Friday, July 22, 2016

Gray Catbird Singing



Unlike their classic cat-like "meowing call" the Gray Catbird sings much like a Mockingbird - a close relative. Unlike the Mockingbird the Catbird is often hidden in heavy cover and you probably hear its song more often than you know. But when you hear the "mewing call" there is no doubt of the Catbirds presence:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfWx6W7B1V0
Gray Catbirds are close relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, and they share that group’s vocal abilities, copying the sounds of other species and stringing them together to make their own song.
Male Gray Catbirds sing a long, halting series of short notes collected into "phrases," which combine to make a song. One whole song can last many minutes. Sounds include whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones. The notes often are imitations of other birds as well as of frogs and mechanical sounds. The series of sounds is random, but certain notes are often repeated. While mockingbirds tend to repeat phrases three or more times, and Brown Thrashers typically sing phrases twice before moving on, Catbirds usually don’t repeat phrases. Females sing infrequently, and when they do, their songs are sung more quietly.


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Gray Catbird Singing

Chipmunk Versus Tufted Titmouse


Tufted Titmice and Chickadees take on a greedy Eastern Chipmunk for superiority of a stash of choice bird seed - note I said "bird seed" not Chipmunk seed! Watch to the end to see who wins this Titanic Battle of wits - I'm not betting on the hairy mammal's little brain!
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Chipmunk Versus Tufted Titmouse

Eurasian Collared Dove Pair Close Up


A pair of large Eurasian Collared-Doves are rare visitors to the Backyard feeder which is obviously too small for them, but they manage to improvise. These may be a breeding couple. These doves are big and ravenous, but their size and relative slowness compared to their much smaller cousins the Mourning Dove makes them easy prey for hawks and these Doves are very nervous and easy to spook in the open. See Coopers Hawk kill a Eurasian Dove:

Introduced from the Bahamas in the 1980's they have spread far and wide, but around this area of Florida they are just too easy picking for all the raptors and their numbers are small.

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Eurasian Collared Dove Pair Close Up

Sick Pine Siskins - Bird Salmonella



Avian Salmonella. A few sick Pine Siskins show up at the bird feeders in spring, it is most likely Salmonella and time to take action to prevent spreading the disease! Narration in the video is adapted from these excellent sources of information on songbird salmonella, especially regarding Pine Siskins linked below.
If You're Seeing Sick or Dying Pine Siskins
http://wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com/the_zen_birdfeeder/2013/02/if-youre-seeing-sick-or-dying-pine-siskins.html

Fact Sheet: Coping with Diseases at Bird Feeders
http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/fact_sheets/coping_with_diseases_at_birdfeeders.jsp
The Precautions against Disease
People who feed birds cannot ignore the disease issue. Eight relatively easy steps can be taken to prevent or minimize disease problems at feeders.

1. Give them space - Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space. Lots of birds using a single feeder looks wonderful, but crowding is a key factor in spreading disease. If birds have to jostle each other to reach the food, they are crowded. This crowding also creates stress which may make birds more vulnerable to disease.

2. Clean up wastes - Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. A broom and shovel can accomplish a lot of good, but a vacuum such as you might use in your garage or workshop will help even more.

3. Make feeders safe - Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches and cuts will allow bacteria and viruses to enter otherwise healthy birds.

4. Keep feeders clean - Clean and disinfect feeders regularly. Use one part of liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of tepid water (a 10 percent solution) to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly could help more if you notice sick birds at your feeders.

5. Use good food - Discard any food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders from it.

6. Prevent contamination - Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.

7. Act early - Don't wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention you'll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.

8. Spread the word - Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go. The safest birdfeeders will be those in communities where neighbors cooperate with equal concern for the birds.

The Complete Story
Birds do get sick. Disease is one of many natural processes affecting wild species. Sick birds do show up at feeders, and other birds can get sick as a consequence.

Just because bird feeding is not problem-free does not mean that it is bad or should be stopped. It does mean you have an ethical obligation not to jeopardize wild birds. What is called for is intelligent bird feeding. Follow the precautions listed above, and you can continue to enjoy feeding healthy wild birds.

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Sick Pine Siskins - Bird Salmonella

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Green Ladybugs - Spotted Cucumber Beetles




"Green Ladybugs" honey bees and butterflies feast on thistle nectar high in the Great Smoky Mountains. These pretty green ladybugs, are not really ladybugs at all, but Spotted Cucumber Beetles! They are native and non-invasive and normally live quiet lives in the forests and meadows doing little damage, but when they invade backyard gardens and farms they become a serious agricultural pest. There really are no greenish ladybugs - ladybugs are more "rounded" and have very short antennae compared to the cucumber beetles.

Those Aren’t Green Ladybugs!
If you find little chartreuse-colored beetles that look like ladybugs
scurrying around your vegetable garden or in among your roses, they’re
not your friends! Most likely they’re western spotted cucumber beetles,
Diabrotica undecimpunctata.
Cucumber beetles are very common pests in vegetable gardens and may
also attack ripening stone fruit. The western spotted cucumber beetle is
greenish-yellow and has twelve black spots on its back. Sometimes confused with predaceous lady
beetles, they can be distinguished by the antennae - lady beetle antennae are short and stubby; while those of cucumber beetles are long and threadlike. Adult beetles are shiny with black heads; larvae are whitish and slender with three pairs of short legs; the head and tip of the abdomen are darker.
Adults feed on the leaves of many vegetables as well as on soft fruit,
shoots and blossoms. They may also spread cucumber mosaic virus or
wilts in cucurbits. Larvae feed exclusively on roots, but do not generally
damage garden plants, although corn may occasionally be damaged.
Management of cucumber beetles is difficult. Most older plants can
support substantial numbers without serious damage. The best strategy
for most vegetable gardens may be to place protective cloth over
emerging plants and remove it when plants are old enough to tolerate damage. On stone-fruit trees, early harvest may be the only option. Various general predators are known to attack cucumber beetles. http://ucanr.edu/sites/MarinMG/files/147777.pdf

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Green Ladybugs - Spotted Cucumber Beetles



Aeroplankton - Plankton In The Sky!



Look Up! The air above us is alive with billions of tiny organisms called "aeroplankton" just like the plankton in the oceans.  Hundreds of feet above the forested valley floor the nearly horizontal rays of the setting sun briefly illuminate this amazing atmospheric soup for just a few minutes. Some of this soup consists of tiny insects and spiders that bats and birds eat. It is always there carried on the air currents, but is rarely seen except under unique circumstances such as this. 
Aeroplankton (or aerial plankton) are tiny lifeforms that float and drift in the air, carried by the current of the wind; they are the atmospheric analogue to oceanic plankton.

Most of the living things that make up aeroplankton are very small to microscopic in size, and many can be difficult to identify because of their tiny size. Scientists can collect them for study in traps and sweep nets from aircraft, kites or balloons.

The aeroplankton comprises numerous microbes, including viruses, about 1000 different species of bacteria, around 40,000 varieties of fungi, and hundreds of species of protists, algae, mosses and liverworts that live some part of their life cycle as aeroplankton, often as spores, pollen, and wind-scattered seeds.

A large number of small animals, mainly arthropods (such as insects and spiders), are also carried upwards into the atmosphere by air currents and may be found floating several thousand feet up. Aphids, for example, are frequently found at high altitudes.

Many species of spiders deliberately use the wind to propel themselves. The spider will find a vantage point (such as a branch, fence or surface) and, pointing its abdomen upward, eject fine threads of silk from its spinnerets. At some point, the force exerted by moving air upon the silk threads is great enough to launch the spider into the air. This is called ballooning. Such ballooning spiders (e.g. Linyphiidae) are capable of drifting many miles away from where they started. The flexibility of their silk draglines can aid the aerodynamics of their flight, causing the spiders to drift an unpredictable and sometimes long distance.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroplankton

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Aeroplankton -  Plankton In The Sky



House Wren Song



Male House Wren has claimed a nest box and has a mate and spends much of the day loudly singing his upbeat gibberish song for all Backyard birds to hear. These are delightful little birds to have around as they constantly scold anyone who enters "their territory" while mating and raising their young. Often producing two broods a season these little birds eat a prodigious amount of insects and spiders. 

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House Wren Song