Thursday, June 25, 2020

Monarch Update

Butterfly #2 hatched this morning as expected and was transferred to the enclosure for a couple of hours in the sun to dry and warm up/strengthen its wings.  #1 was still in there as it was too late to release it yesterday.

Both of them were successfully released this afternoon and immediately flew away!

#3 is still in its chrysalis, but we managed to successfully transfer it out of the plastic container and into the butterfly enclosure so I no longer have to worry about it not having enough room to spread its wings after it hatches.  The chrysalis is already turning dark so I imagine we'll see it sometime in the next day or two.

After'll be a couple of weeks before the next wave is ready to hatch.  I've got one brand new chrysalis that just formed a couple of days ago and one caterpillar that looks big enough to become a chrysalis any day now.

I certainly never thought a simple request for ONE milkweed plant would lead to all of this LOL!  Be careful what you wish for!

Here's a few photos of #1 & #2 hanging out prior to release:


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Monarch Saga (, I'm not dead)

I've been looking for the time and content to re-start this blog.  A global pandemic seems like as good a time as any :-)  I had a big long post partially drafted about where I've been and what happened to me, but then I decided, why not just skip to what's actually happening now. 

I've been working INSANE hours from home since California shutdown began in March (sure, take a job in crisis management for your restaurant company - it'll be a hoot!).  Although I've been logging 12-15 hour days including weekends & holidays, since I am working from home, I've had more oversight of what's been going on in my back yard.  This led to the observation of a couple of Monarch butterflies hanging around one day and I thought "hmmm...I should get a milkweed plant for them."  Milkweed being the only plant that they will lay their eggs on and the Monarch population being in serious decline...seemed like a good idea at the time.


I thought we'd a attract a couple of butterflies and maybe end up with a caterpillar or two.  Boy, was I wrong.  So, so wrong.

I mentioned the idea to my mother and she kindly gave me a pretty, flowering Butterflyweed (species of milkweed with yellow flowers) plant as a Mother's Day gift.  I set the pot out in the backyard and didn't think much about it although I did observe a Monarch land on it and it appeared to be laying eggs.

A few days later...we had not one or two, but about 7 caterpillars!  They very quickly ate their way through this plant and I had to go grab another from my mom's house that she had bought for herself since we clearly needed an emergency food source.

After a few caterpillars disappeared and, after I did some hasty on-line research, I learned that they deliberately leave the plant when they are ready to make a chrysalis.  I have no idea what happened to those first few, but since a determined search turned up no chrysalises anywhere nearby, I was determined to ensure the rest of them survived to become butterflies if I could.  To this end, I quickly ordered a mesh butterfly habitat online figuring it would arrive about the time the next group of caterpillars was ready to make a break for it.

The day the enclosure was supposed to arrive, I woke up to two pieces of news.  One was a "sorry to inform you" notice from Amazon that the enclosure was damaged in shipping and had to be returned to the vendor.  Two was the next caterpillar in line had left the plant and was slowly crawling up our outdoor garbage can.

Now, the garbage can did not seem like an ideal place for a chrysalis so I quickly grabbed a plastic container and some milkweed leaves and put the caterpillar and leaves inside of it.  I then went online to order another enclosure.  When I went back outside, caterpillar #2 was crawling across the brick patio and looked like it was about to be lizard lunch.  I found another container and in he went.  Before the emergency enclosure order arrived, I had to repeat this process with a third caterpillar/container.

Once the enclosure arrived, I moved 2 plants with remaining baby caterpillars on them into the enclosure.

I've spent the last 2 weeks with 3 containers on my kitchen counter...each with a chrysalis in it.  By the way, watching the caterpillar morph into the chrysalis is a fascinating and yet kinda revolting process.  I always thought they spun a cocoon (probably because I raised silk moths once when I was a kid), but noooo.  The caterpillar hangs upside down in a "J" shape, then its skin splits up the back like a zipper and this wriggling green chrysalis emerges.  It's weird.

Somewhere during all of this, I also had to go on a hunt for more milkweed plants given that we had way more caterpillars than I ever planned on and they'd already reduced the first two plants to nothing but stalks.  Trips to Green Thumb & Home Depot proved futile as they were totally out.  I had to order plants online and then finally also found some at Roger's Gardens.

So, now I have 8 milkweed plants (two mostly eaten), 2 butterfly/caterpillar enclosures (because the original one eventually showed up after the emergency order arrived), and 3 plastic containers of chrysalises.  One enclosure is empty and will house the butterflies after they pop out but before they are ready to take off.  The other enclosure has the remaining plants with caterpillars and one new chrysalis that was just formed last night.  Oh and there are still more caterpillars that just hatched LOL.

Finally today, after all that, our first Monarch butterfly hatched out of its chrysalis!  This was the one I rescued off the garbage can.  I expect #2 to hatch tomorrow as it was about 24 hours after the first one that it formed its chrysalis.  They'll spend a few hours in the butterfly enclosure to dry and strengthen their wings and then I'll release them.

See, I told you it was a saga :-)


P.S.  If you're interested in having your own Monarch saga, here are a few helpful links:

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

WBW - Meet the Bluebirds

I took a much longer blog sabbatical than I intended.  Between work demands and my son starting high school, time has just flown by.  I've been able to get out and about with the birds and the camera, but have lost the time to process, organize and write about the photos :-(  Hopefully, I can turn that around.  The below story actually took place in 2015, but I never did get around to posting about it.
I used to follow the saga of some Western Bluebirds at my son's old elementary school.  Although there's been a concerted effort in recent years in this area to hang nesting boxes in the local parks for these birds, this particular pair found an unusual and innovative solution to the "where to put the nest" question.  They found an opening in the side of a metal soccer goal frame and used it to (successfully - based on the increased number of bluebirds I've seen at the location) raise their babies.
Mr. Bluebird came in first...

...he scoped out the location...
...tested the access...

...thought about it for a while...

...tested it some more...

...and then invited Mrs. Bluebird to come and check it out.

She remained skeptical at first and soon flew off. 
He attempted to lure her back in with a tasty snack.

Being partial to worms, she agreed to give the potential digs a test run.

She checked the access...
...and invited her girlfriends over to get their opinions.

This almost proved to be a disaster when one of them tried to kiss Mr. Bluebird behind Mrs. B's back!

Mrs. B flew off to the playground to think things over.

Mr. B was banished to the wood chip pile.

He watched from afar using this fencepost as a vantage point.
I like to think they eventually learned to ignore those pesky House Finches and raised a nice brood of Bluebird babies!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wild Bird Wednesday - Townsend's Warbler

Warblers frustrate me...sigh.  As a relatively new birder, I have a tough time even FINDING them (the ubiquitous Yellow-Rumped Warblers being the exception).  But, if I am lucky enough to see one, I then have the even more frustrating task of trying to get a decent photograph as they hop about in constant, hyperactive motion like they've just had a double espresso at Starbuck's. 

Still, every once in a while, I get this day in October when I found some Townsend's Warblers hopping around this sycamore tree in the parking lot at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.  I didn't get as good of a series of shots as I would have liked - I'd just gotten out of my car and was still making some adjustments and taking test shots when I first spotted them.  Then, all too soon, another car pulled in and parked between me and the tree (and it was an open convertible so I KNOW the guy saw that he drove right through my shots LOL) and the birds took off.  Haven't seen them there since.

Here's what I did manage to get...

These guys were definitely good at hiding amongst the leaves.

Just love those facial markings - so pretty!


I think he sees me.

One last look before he was gone...
That was it - my one and only exciting warbler encounter for 2016 that I managed to capture in photos.  Maybe my skills will improve in 2017 - Spring Migration is not that far off!  In the meantime, I'm still processing photos I took over Xmas break.  Birding was not as easy as I'd hoped since we did finally get some longed-for rain.  In spite of that, I managed to add two lifers:  Long-eared Owl (but no photos!) and American Bittern.  I'll be sharing the Bittern in a future post.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Wild Bird Wedneday - Reddish Egret

There are approximately 3-5 Reddish Egrets that can be found fairly consistently at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.  I've found they are most active at low tide - especially if you want to catch shots of their strange sideways, hunting "dance" as they search for small fish in the shallow water.

This past May, I was also lucky enough to catch one in it's mating plumage - check out that tri-colored beak!  I though frosted blue eye shadow and Pepto Bismol Pink lipstick went out of fashion after the 80's, but these birds make it look good!

That hairdo also has a distinctly 80's feel to it!

The perfect pose!

Darn - I JUST missed him snapping up a fish, but you can see the water droplets falling from his beak!

In position for another strike...

And then it was time for the dance...

Step 1...

Step 2...darn no fish.

I had to return later in July to capture the full dance.  Notice that the bright beak colors from May are gone.  

Step 1...

Step 2 - some freestyle maneuvering...

Step 3 - Ballerina Pose...

...and the dance concludes successfully with a fish...

...unless you like to play with your food and accidentally drop it...

...but skilled performers know how to make a quick recovery!

And then take a bow!
Hope you enjoyed the dance of the Reddish Egret!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Western Tanager...and a Surprise!

These photos were taken this past May at Laguna Niguel Regional Park.  It's a great local birding place that has even grabbed the attention of an unusual migrant or two the past few years. 

Lately, it's suffered some unfortunate environmental impacts, though.  The park includes a large lake which attracts lots of waterfowl including multiple duck and goose species, terns, herons, egrets, killdeer, spotted sandpipers, ibis and more.  An outside contractor used to manage access to the lake which required purchase of a special fishing permit and additional costs to take out a boat (vs. fish from the shore).  This past year, control of the lake reverted to the County park system so there is no more boat fishing and the only requirement for shore fishing is a California state fishing license.  This has been great for the fishermen (much lower cost), but as a result, the entire bank area where I used get great shots of herons, ibis and egrets are now full of fishermen no matter what time of day I go.  The birds have either left or re-located to the far side of the lake where there's no bank access.

In addition to the fishing issue, the sycamore trees in the park are under assault from a fungal disease caused by an insect that bores into wood and leaves the fungus behind.  The trees' main defense to this is their sap, but that has been affected by our terrible drought.  Many of the trees have already had to be removed in hopes of preventing the spread of the disease. 

I don't think the fishing issue is going to improve any time soon, but we have had some rain this fall so I have hopes that perhaps we'll start to make a dent in the drought (although we'll need several years of good rainfall to really make up for it).

I took the below photos before they started removing the sycamore trees in this area and got lucky to see my first ever male Western Tanager.   Such gorgeous colors - they remind me of my favorite popsicle - Cherry-Pineapple Big Sticks:

I was first alerted to this gorgeous bird by a flash of bright yellow high up in this tree.

I kept hoping he'd come out from the leaf/branch tangle so I could get a better shot... I followed him pretty relentlessly as he hopped around inside this huge tree.

No such luck.

This was probably the best shot that I got - at least he doesn't look like there's a twig sticking through his head.
It was at this point that the park had a little surprise for me.  Have you ever been so focused on something that you only realize later that you were actually hearing or seeing something else happening in the background, but that your brain filtered it out so you could maintain your intense focus?  Kind of like when the alarm goes off in the morning, but doesn't wake you all the way up until you realize that you've been hearing music in the background of your dream...that is really coming from your radio?
As I was focused on the tanager and firing away with my camera, I finally realized that I'd been hearing a repetitive noise for a few minutes off to the side.  As I turned my head to figure out where it was coming from, I suddenly discovered a VERY pissed-off Red-Shouldered Hawk diving RIGHT AT MY HEAD!  I quickly dropped to the ground and she passed close enough to ruffle my hair with the air from her wings!
Apparently, I'd been so focused on the tanager that I hadn't realized that WAY UP HIGH in the top of a nearby (and very, very tall) tree...was a hawk's nest.
Um...oops!  I felt terrible and backed off to where my car was parked in the lot nearby.  She continued to sit on a nearby branch and scream her displeasure at me...and everyone else (to be fair - this is a VERY busy park and I was not the only person wandering near the trees - there were people playing tennis and basketball on the nearby courts, kids playing soccer on the grass, people walking dogs on the path through this same group of trees, and cars driving by on the nearby road).
Here is Momma Hawk - still screaming.  I'm now inside my car with the door shut and am shooting at the full range of my SX50 through window that's open just a crack.
She did calm down eventually.  I really love these hawks - such gorgeous colors and patterns on their feathers.
Because her nest was so high up, I couldn't see what, if anything was going on in there that day.  I went back to the park a few weeks later and was able to take a more circumspect approach to the tree and maintain a proper distance now that I knew where the nest was.  On that occasion, I was rewarded with these shots:
Here's mom on the actual nest.
And a few minutes after she flew away...Junior popped up and showed himself.  He's still got a few fuzzy baby feathers along the top of his head, but he looks ready to fledge soon. 
I learned a valuable lesson about not getting so focused on a particular bird that I completely tune out what's going on around me.  I've had mockingbirds in our front yard who will dive bomb anything that comes near (making it difficult to get to the car in the driveway sometimes), but that is NOTHING compared to having a full-grown momma hawk try to scalp me.
Not a lesson I will forget...ever.