Posts Tagged ‘habitat’

A Yard Possibility

I get excited over the some of the strangest things. Here’s a good example.

Buffy and I took the kitchen scraps to the compost pile this morning.

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I walked up to this first. It was completely dry, which was odd because it rained all day yesterday and until almost 10 p.m. last night.

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A second “bundle” was next. It contained fibers, hair, synthetic batting and other “stuff.”

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And the third contained more of the same. Then I noticed Buffy smelling along the side of the barn that’s above the ground.

We went in, and I started studying in my Mammals of Illinois book. To shorten the story:

Our habitat isn’t right for raccoons.

 It’s too early for groundhogs. They don’t breed until late February or in March. I only saw a fox in the yard twice last year. A groundhog lived under the barn for 2 months, at least. It would stick its head out in the evening and watch me working in my flower gardens.

This leaves foxes. They are monestrous — meaning they have only a single estrous cycle per year. They breed late January and February. Gestation lasts about 51 days. So the young are born late March or in April here in southern Illinois. Today is January 12.

I figured the hair and fibers etc. in the pictures were remnants of when the groundhog was under the barn, and a fox removed them.

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Here’s two pictures of when they had their den under the barn in 2012. There were 4 kits.

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So, now I wait and hope they’re going to raise their young under the barn again.

This Is a First

These pits may not be overly showy or impressive for a photograph. They are interesting, though, in what the nymphs do.

Antlion pits aren’t a first for me; they’re a first for my yard. This shows how dry our summer’s been, when I find them in our front yard under the arborvitae tree. This isn’t their normal habitat.

Antlions are usually found in dry, fine-grained soil that’s protected from rain. This could be places like under rock overhangs and eaves of a house.

I photographed these on a hike. There usually aren’t this many in one place, and this picture doesn’t even show all of them.

 Antlions over winter in larval stage. Then in the spring each creates a pit in sand or loose dirt, some up to an inch in diameter. The nymph remains under the bottom of the pit. Any insect, like these small black ants, fall/slide into the pit. The loose dirt prevents the them from climbing out. The nymph grabs its prey from below.

There was a teeny caterpillarin this pit. I orginally found 11 pits under the arborvitae. A storm reduced the number to 5.

I usually don’t disturb anything holding my interest. I did use a spoon, though, and scooped out what I thought would be deep enough. I didn’t find anything and then felt guilty. Pictures show the nymph with 6 short legs, a segmented body and pinchers on its head. The adult resembles a damselfly. Damselflies hold their wings closed over their back, and antlions hold theirs outward. Antlions also have 1/4-inch antennae, which damselflies lack.

Assassin Bug

This assassin bug’s dark color made it easy to spot among the goldenrod flowers.

  I took picture after picture because of the low evening light and a breeze. The assassin bug didn’t much like that and kept moving around. Then I noticed it was feeding on prey. Assassin bugs wait patiently and ambush their prey. Its long beak then injects the victim with a lethal toxin that dissolves its insides. The assassin bug then sucks out the “juices.”

The assassin bug was feeding on a moth caterpillar, called a camouflaged looper (Snychlora aerata). These caterpillars attach small plant pieces to their body, so they blend in with their surroundings.

Since I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the caterpillar, I’m including one taken during a previous summer.

Isn’t it impressive … and convincing in its floral attire?  The caterpillars like open habitats and mostly composite flowers. Black-eyed susans and salvias are a favorite of theirs in my gardens.

Young Red Foxes

Today’s May 9. On May 1st Buffy and I went out in the backyard early in the morning. As we approached the gardens, she took off for the barn. I saw a young fox. Buffy got it around its middle. It yelped. I yelled and Buffy dropped it. This all happened so fast. Thought I caught glimpse of another young one too. The one I saw, right before Buffy got it, was tannish brown and held its tail straight out the back. I hoped Buffy hadn’t injure it.

After that encounter I assumed the foxes wouldn’t stay in the yard. I have seen foxes walk through on rare occasions. They’ve never denned here before that I know of. There wasn’t any sign of activity until the 7th when a faint unpleasant odor came from under the barn, and I found 4 bluejay feathers.

Then last night, while working in the yard, I noticed feathers scattered around out from the opening. All were white, most were small and a few might have been from a wing. The odor was much stronger.

Entrance to den under the barn

Evidence of dinner

Then this afternoon I went out to cut rosemary for zucchini bread and made a loop over to the barn. An animal gave a quick deep growl. I came back in the house. Luckily, I got a phone call a little later and walked in here to the picture window. There was activity at the barn!! ( Please excuse the quality of the picture. I took it through a double-paned window at a distance of 48 yards.)

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Two young red foxes came out to survey the area. They didn’t wander any farther for some reason. Since dens are used mainly while raising young, I have no idea how much longer they will remain here.

An adult fox’s body only measures 22-25 inches long. In Illinois Red foxes breed late January and in February, with the young born 51-52 days later. They usually have 1 or 2 other dens  in case they have to move their young. Their habitat includes open grasslands, ditch banks, unmowed field edges, and brushy areas adjacent to wooded areas. Besides birds (mostly chickens) they also eat small mammals, insects, carrion and fruit. The young will stay with their parents until fall.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way I can do my housework from here at the picture window.

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Well, I didn’t get this posted yesterday as planned. I walked in this afternoon to check for foxes, and one was out of the barn! It only stayed out long enought for one picture… and, darn, I left my garden cart where it was between me and the fox. The picture has better quality because I didn’t zoom in as much and then cropped the picture. Not to mention that yesterday I was practically hyperventilating. Now I’m going to wear a path from the kitchen to the picture window!

Isn’t it cute?

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern kingbird

This afternoon was partly sunny, with strong west winds blowing at 17, gusting to 28. I did a loop drive to take pictures of the “mountains” for a future blog. Buffy and I ended up at Ingram Hill to do our usual loop walk around the cemetery.

A male eastern bluebird perched on the wire, a mockingbird perched on a tombstone, and an eastern kingbird on a shepard’s hook. Eastern kingbirds are in a family of birds known as flycatchers. Flycatchers perch on bare branches and fly out to catch flying insects.

We have 9 species of flycatchers here in southern Illinois; 5 of them stay here during the summer and the other 4 that migrate through during spring and fall. The kingbirds began returning in mid April and will migrate south the latter part of September.

I mostly see kingbirds perched on fence posts along country roadsides. To me they look like they’re wearing a tuxedo with their dark wings, back and tail. They have a white belly and white band across the end of their tail. They are 8″ long from end of beak to tip of tail. The white band is usually quite distinctive, except the shadows hide it my picture.

Perterson Fieldguide to Eastern Birds lists their habitat as wood edges, river groves, farms, orchards, roadsides, fence rows and wires.  Their breeding range covers roughly south central Canada to Gulf of Mexico and east to the coast. They winter from Peru to Bolivia.

It always amazes me how birds can migrate as far as they do — how an 8-inch bird can fly almost to the middle of South America! I wonder how long that takes?