Most Sincerely Dead

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9084_zpsgl4rts4w.jpg

Last month, I brought you a little story about a Big Brown Bat hanging around the Monroe County Historical Museum. The little fellow showed up quite suddenly during one of the spring cold snaps and appeared to stick around due to the sustained cold. His chosen location was well sheltered and, in fact, cave-like.  I figured he was in “semi-hibernation” and simply waiting out the cold. We all enjoyed his presence (named him Bruno) and expected an equally speedy departure when a real version of spring arrived later in the week.

When things warmed up and the creature was still present, I began to doubt my earlier assessment. There were no droppings under his perch, but figured this was due to it being a day roost. His pose was virtually the same every day, although “seemed” to shift slightly, perhaps, maybe….. Last week, I checked him out at night and found him still in position and realized something was wrong. When he later dropped to the ground – small, withered, brown, and very dead – at least part of the mystery was solved.

Not only was the bat dead, it was mummified. I thoroughly examined it and can say, in Wizard of Oz fashion, that he’s indeed morally, ethic’lly, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. And … “not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead.”
In short, he apparently died soon after arriving and his death grip kept him suspended via his claw-like hind feet for those many weeks. In other words, my fellow munchkins, he’s been most sincerely dead for a long time.

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9270_zpsbyuezuf2.jpg

I found a small hole in his side that might indicate an injury caused by a BB or shot pellet. Thus we can rule out rabies or distemper with such graphic evidence. Besides, I licked him and haven’t shown any sign of rabidity yet and it’s been a few days (although I am very thirsty as of late). My last theory on this matter, is that after being injured by an ignorant pellet gun shooter the creature sought a perch and died there a few days later. Wind gusts were shifting him about over the weeks and drying him out in the process. One final gust un-hooked his cold dead claws and sent the tiny corpse earthward.

I went back to the last photo I took of him (see the first picture – yes, that is a dead bat!) and saw the evidence I should have picked up on earlier. There was dust on his fur (something that never would be permitted by a live bat) and a sneer on his face that was very un-batlike. And the dropping thing?  Well that was just plain dumbness on my part. A live bat deposits dropping equally at a day roost and a night roost.

So Bruno the mummy enters the annuals of history and I am humbled by a dead bat.

Advertisements

One Pic Post: A Bat at the Back Door

Big Brown Bat photo Big Brown Bat_zpsvhuqoakw.jpg

After a chilly spring night dipping into the low 30’s, a Big Brown Bat was the last thing I expected to see in the morning (for that matter, I wouldn’t have expected to see a Little Brown Bat either or a Little Big Brown…whatever). The creature was perched gargoyle-like over the back door to the Monroe County Historical Museum – well above the keystone where the wall meets the overhang. The place was well out of the morning sun and not a very “secretive” location in terms of bat realty. I can only assume that the fellow was caught out late (or very early) attempting to gather in a few frozen midge-flies before deciding to seek temporary refuge. There were no droppings on the ground beneath his perch to indicate that this was a habitual hangout.
The museum staff had mixed reactions to the creature, but the overall impression was one of fascination. There were, of course, many stories generated and an excuse for a few minutes for some favorite bat tales. For the rest of the morning the little Big Brown was “our bat.” It ceased to be “my bat” upon leaving at noon and I’m sure it was left in good hands.

One Pic Post: A Study in Black & Red

Turkey Vulture in the Barn Window photo IMG_8447_zps8al6jcrw.jpg

The Turkey Vultures are back and seeking out their old haunts. Once again, the old barn pair have returned to nest. I can’t say I know them well (can one ever truly know a Vulture?) but I’ve seen them hanging about a derelict barn in the vicinity of Somerset Twp., Mi. over the past few years. My observations are always fleeting because I pass them when in the process of coming and going elsewhere.

Let me say that I assume these vultures are nesting within the barn because they are paired, it is an old barn, and well….vultures have been known to take up housekeeping in old barns.  Turkey Vultures really don’t build nests, per se, but merely scrape together some scraps of debris or wood to function as a “this is my nest” perimeter. They defend their nest site with projectile shots of vomit and therefore don’t really need an elaborate nest. Nuff said on that.

These Somerset birds have a knack for being photogenic which is why I have been prompted on multiple occasions over multiple years to turn around and snatch multiple pictures. Sometimes they are both perched high upon the peak of the barn roof or singly upon the viney top of the nearby power pole or silo. On this latest sighting one of the birds was framed within the inky blackness of the loft opening. The late afternoon sun highlighted the brownish nature of the bird’s black feathering and ignited that wonderfully wrinkled red head.

Cold Spell

 photo IMG_7362_zps797da4c7.jpg
The winter temperatures have been hovering around the zero mark for the last few days. It’s been a mild season up to now so this first Arctic blast has seemed more brutal than usual. While we humans spent our time complaining about it, the animal world took it in mute stride. Of course, animals have no choice other than to deal with it. For active warm-blooded beasts, thermoregulation is the key. External warmth gained through cuddling or southern exposure enhances the ability to keep the body core temperature within safe limits.
I had to admire the thermoregulatory antics of a gang of Starlings hanging around a NAPA auto store on a 4 degree (F) day. The birds were soaking up what they could of the morning sun and assembling along the south-east facing wall. The only good perch was provided by the large plastic “Auto Part” letters.
True to their colonial nature, they were constantly shifting position to allow their fellow birds a place in the sun. Starlings do not have any self-spacing mechanisms so they happily crammed their puffy frames into minimal spaces allowed. The top of the “A” provided the least space while the con-joined “RTS” could accommodate up to a dozen fowl at a time. Taking a “P” took on a whole new meaning in this context.
This location was soon rendered nil as the low angled sun crept westward and caused the eaves to cast a warmth-robbing shadow over the spot. For a few moments, however, these hardy little birds were using their collective wit to avoid freezing their A’s off!

Second Nature: Un-caterpillars

Second nature: something that should be natural and easy to do –such as a short piece on a small subject based upon a few moments of nature observation. Get it? Second, as in part of a minute, and…never mind.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6351_zps0099dd5f.jpg

You may recall my blog from a couple of installments ago in which I told the riveting details of my encounter with a Leafy Spurge Sphinx (a new species in Michigan). O.K., so it wasn’t riveting – I merely picked the thing up as it was crossing a Northern Michigan road. The only riveting part was when a truck nearly ran it over before I could nab it. At the time of writing I mentioned that I would await the coming pupal stage of this beast as the next point of interest in this story. Well, he has finally “taken the plunge” and I am duty-bound to bring you up to date.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae - fancy container for pupation photo IMG_6364_zps35b5a892.jpg

Safe within the confines of its high-tech enclosure (a coffee cup partially filled with sandy soil) the caterpillar shed his colorful skin and converted to an intricately patterned pupa. It tunneled down about an inch and created a chamber whose walls were held together with a loose mat of silk before performing the transformation.
The pupa retains the caterpillar’s horn and spiracles (breathing holes), but otherwise displays – via outlines on the exterior of the casing – the new look it will have as a sleek adult. Large compound eyes sit opposite on a well-defined head. A long tongue has replaced the chewing mouthparts. Destined for sipping nectar from tubular flowers, the tongue appears down the center along with the two linear antennae. Both are framed between the leading edges of the folded mini-wings. The sixteen legs of youth have been reduced to six and they are neatly aligned with the tongue and antennae.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6355_zpsbec69625.jpg

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6358_zps10ee8bb1.jpg  Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6363_zps7c8c5cbb.jpg

Inside this simple casing a remarkable transformation is occurring. The muscles of old are dissolved and re-created to serve powerful wings, tongue, and legs. Evidence that the abdominal muscles are already functioning, the creature wiggles freely when handled. This, of course, makes for riveting footage (see here) but we’ll have to wait until next spring before the final exciting chapter in this metamorphosis takes place. This thing is more moth now than caterpillar – straight and peaceful (unlike Darth Vader).

Dogwood Saw Fly Larva photo IMG_6376_zps54a5652a.jpg

On the subject of non-caterpillars, Dogwood Sawfly larvae (see above) are chewing away at the refugee Gray Dogwood sapling next to my house. Although they look very caterpillar-like they are very not (odd wording, I know, but I’m sticking with it). Sawflies are closely related to bees and wasps and the adult stages bear this out. The larvae are plant eaters that live and eat like caterpillars and therefore have adapted like traits and appearances. There are a few distinctions that separate them from moth/butterfly (let’s call them lepidopteron) larvae, however.

Dogwood Saw Fly Larvae photo IMG_6370_zps137cfa90.jpg

Sawfly larvae have a solid head capsule with two prominent eyes, whereas lepidopterans typically have three sets of tiny eyes and a divided head capsule. The leps have only four sets of fleshy legs in the center of their body and the sawflies have six or more pair. Even though some caterpillars are colonial, Sawflies are always colony feeders so you rarely find just one.
Dogwood Saw Fly Larvae photo IMG_6371_zps83765e6c.jpg
Members of the family have the unusual habit of raising their hind ends when disturbed – as if to say “my butt to you.” The Dogwood sawflies take this to such an extreme that they actually curl up like miniature cinnamon rolls. Younger stages of this species, such as these examples, are covered with a waxy down.
These little fellows will lose that downiness and take on a smooth stark black and yellow skin as they approach their last stage of larvalhood. Like the sphinx moth they will burrow under the ground and overwinter as a pupa. Both the Spurge Sphinx and Dogwood Saw Fly will spend the winter as un-caterpillars:  one as a “never was” and the other as a “used-to-be”.

Second Nature: I Spy Flies

Second nature: something that should be natural and easy to do –such as a short piece on a small subject based upon a few moments of nature observation. Get it? Second, as in part of a minute, and…never mind.

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6195_zpsd28841fc.jpg

A large golden fly landed on my arm as I was standing on my Dollar Lake dock. The thing was so bizarre looking, and appeared so suddenly, that I briefly thought it to be some sort of twisted “bluebird of happiness.” I would not have expected a long-legged, hunchbacked, fuzzy yellow insect to be a bringer of fortune but at my stage of life I am open to suggestion. Unfortunately it took off and briefly landed on the dock before vanishing into thin air. I actually felt slightly sadder after the encounter, and so conclude it was merely a “fly that reminds people how average looking they are.”

 

This was no average looking fly, however. Called a Hunch-backed Bee Fly, this critter is a member of a group of so-called flower flies. The adults feed on nectar and the maggots steal food from solitary wasps. Hunch-backs specialize in coneflowers and daisies. I guess that my cone-shaped head must have tricked it into approaching me. Apart from the legginess and humpiness of this individual, the peculiar antennae are worth noting because of their un-flylike length and fuzziness. In some texts they are sometimes referred to as scalehorn flies for this reason.

 

Hunchback Bee Fly photo IMG_6215_zps28fadcf8.jpg

 

Scientifically this fly is labeled Lepidophora lutea; meaning “yellow scale bearer” or something like that. This is a good name. Even the wings have a light coating of buttery-hued scales. It is a much better name than “the stupid fly that mistakes people for flowers.”

 

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6197_zpsf10e509e.jpg

 

Back on the shore I came upon a robust fly of a very different sort (see above). It was a Robber Fly in the process of draining the life out of a tiny moth. Unlike the humble Bee Flies, Robbers are aggressive predators. They tackle flying insect prey with stout legs and then inject them, via a blade-like proboscis, with toxic spit. This fluid paralyses the victim and liquefies the organs so that the fly can leisurely suck out the mix like a McDonald’s shake. The flavor of the hour in this case was a diminutive moth called a Small White Grass Veneer Moth (see below).

 

Small White Grass Veneer Moth photo IMG_6229_zps71b0c278.jpg

 

All of Robber flies share a generally hairy look and often possess a “Snuffy Smith” mustache of sorts bordering the lower face. Their maggots are predatory (in other words “not cute”). Like all flies, the adults have only one pair of wings. The second pair are reduced to tiny clubs called halteres (look closely under the wing in the first picture below). These organs rotate about when the creature is in flight and act as gyroscopes.

 

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6200_zpsb1f90e89.jpg  Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6196_zps100b77ae.jpg

 

There are thousand of species of Robber flies in the world. Based on cursory investigation I’d say this particular life-stealer was a female member of the genus Machimus. The Greek origins of the genus name refer to “war-like” or “soldier” depending on how it’s used. There was a city in Greek legend called Machimus which was populated by huge warrior people and Machimus was one of the 50 dogs that attacked and ate the hunter Actaeon after he was turned into a stag. You see he accidently came upon a bathing goddess and saw here naked and…forget it. Greek stories are far too complicated to explain here, so let’s leave this discussion where it lay.

A New Face in Town

Spurge Hawk Moth Caterpillar photo SpurgeSphinx2_zps8a97ebd8.jpg
Even from behind the steering wheel I could see that the caterpillar crossing the road ahead of me was a whopper. We were on 131 heading north through Mancelona, MI and the pre-labor day traffic was fairly light. I hastily pulled off to the shoulder to get out and snatch the critter from the blacktop but had to wait out an on-coming pack of cars before I could make my grab. Fortunately most of them veered into the left lane as they passed me and therefore missed the caterpillar. The last one, a camper unit, barreled past within the lane and the resulting gush of wind spun the ‘piller around and tumbled it head over heels down the road. I was there to pick it up after the dust cleared and was glad to see that the object of my attention was unhurt.

 

Although the creature spit up a bunch of defensive green goo into my hand to reward me, my actions were well worth the effort. The glorious three inch creature within my palm was a fantastic looking – yet unknown – type of sphinx larva. I was thinking Galium (Bedstraw) Sphinx but would have said so only if pressed (my wife didn’t press, so my ignorance remained safely concealed). Full identification had to wait until I reached an internet connection. Years ago I would have consulted my tote-along trove of field guides, but modern times require modern means. As it turns out, only this modern means could have provided the answer. Not only was this an imported species but was also a brand new addition to the state list. It was a Spurge Hawk Moth (aka Spurge Sphinx).

Spurge Hawk Moth Caterpillar photo SpurgeSphinx1_zpse007074a.jpg

A native of Europe and northern Asia, this insect was deliberately introduced to North America to control a pesky plant called the Leafy Spurge. The aggressive Spurge was accidently introduced back in the 1800’s and has had a devastating effect in the western grassland states. It was first recorded in Michigan in the 1880’s. A litany of six insects, including a variety of beetles and a gall midge have been – and still are – being considered as biological control. The Spurge Hawk Moth made the short list and was tapped as part of the first wave of attack on the Leafy Spurge (it’s sole food plant in Europe). Goats are also very good at munching down on leafy Spurge, although they are good at munching down on a great many other things as well. The sphinx is a specialist.

 

Most of the introductions were in the western states, but there was also one in Ontario a number of years back. Unfortunately, Even though this hawk moth larva is a voracious Spurge eater it appears that it has had little real effect. At the very least it provides a colorful new member of our local fauna and one which, more importantly, doesn’t compete with any native insect.

 

Spurge Hawk Moth Caterpillar photo SpurgeSphinx_zpsb65d057e.jpg

The first recorded sighting of the Spurge Hawk Moth in Michigan, according to the MSU extension site, was on June 10, 2013. That individual was an adult captured in the Grand Traverse area. Some more larvae were spotted a month later in Leelanau County. This summer another blogger reported a caterpillar west of Gaylord. Antrim County, the location of my find, is in the same general area as the previous sightings but indicates a slow but steady expansion of range. By virtue of its late summer timing it also proves that these insects are double brooded in this state. I guess my posting makes for the forth “official” record and a spot on the meaningless achievement hall of fame podium!

 

Spurge Hawk Moth Caterpillar photo SpurgeSphinx4_zps79a14557.jpg

 

The Spurge Sphinx larva does look very much like the Galium Sphinx and certain varieties of the White-lined Sphinx but tops both in sheer gaudiness. The horn and head are scarlet, and the rest of the body is speckled with black, red, and white markings befitting a “radical” snowboard or fashionable scarf design. Perhaps this is why it has chosen the trendy Grand Traverse area for its step into society!
The reason this gaily patterned sphinx was crossing the road, unlike the famous chicken of joke fame, was to get to the pupation side. It appears to be a full sized individual. Younger larvas are darker and each instar has a differing color pattern. From what I can tell this fellow was ready to take the next step. For now the caterpillar resides in a dirt-filled Styrofoam coffee cup prepared as a pupation chamber. It will, assuming it behaves in line with virtually all sphinx caterpillars, burrow down into the sand, split its layer of bright attire, and convert into a sleek pupa. There it will stay until emerging next spring as a third generation Michigander.

 

Spurge Hawk Moth Caterpillar photo SpurgeSphinx3_zps6fdd2b88.jpg

Second Nature: Waspy Moths

Virginia Creeper Borer Moth photo IMG_6146_zps69562d86.jpg

 

Second nature: natural observations made with little effort and requiring little explanation. While nature appreciation should be second nature in the true definition of the term, it can also consist of observations made within a short period time. Ideally nature study should not be constrained by time but the real world demands otherwise (assuming you are a participant in the real world). So, the challenge is to see what we can see given the time we have to see it. Sometimes literally seconds are all we get, but that often can be enough.

 

Because of a busy week (including the birth of a grand child) I was limited to short term ramblings in my back yard and thus the birth of this “second nature” segment. There will be more.

 

I came upon two wasp-mimic moths within a few minutes and a few feet of each other. They were hanging about on the vegetation bordering the yard. These creatures are unusual in several respects. As moths, they are double weirdoes. Most moths are creatures of darkness which fly and feed by night. Aided by the protection of camouflage they rest by day. Wasp mimics are daytime fliers who blatantly call attention to themselves. They display wasp features such as narrow, partially or wholly transparent wings, and spastic type behavior.

 

Virginia Creeper Borer Moth photo IMG_6155_zpsb3658479.jpg

Virginia Creeper Borer Moth photo IMG_6151_zpsf6d6dca4.jpg

 

The Virginia Creeper Clearwing (see above) is a middle-sized moth whose dark coloration gives it the appearance of a paper wasp. When approached it raised its abdomen, as if to present a “stinger,” and twitched both yellow tipped antennae as if to say “I, sir, am a wasp and you will not bother me or else…)”. The threat is implied subtly because most predators require little in order to be convinced that an easier meal is to be sought elsewhere. This façade quickly breaks down upon a closer look which reveals a very moth-like face, fully scaled set of forewings, and a harmless behind. As a larva the Clearwing bores into the roots of Virginia Creeper. Oddly enough the species name is Albuna fraxini. The species portion of that name (the second half) refers to Ash trees even though the thing apparently has no relationship with ash trees whatsoever.

 

Maple Callus Moth photo IMG_6163_zpse9b24e7f.jpg

Maple Callus Moth photo IMG_6159_zpseb71cb7b.jpg

 

A few feet over, I came upon a spritely little Maple Callus Borer (see above). In the same family as the Virginia Creeper Clearwing, this species sports completely clear fore and underwings ornamented with scaled stripes. Both the common and scientific names are appropriate in this case. It too is a youthful borer whose larvae feed upon the cambium layer of maple bark. The species name acerni means “of maple wood” and the common name details the larva’s propensity to burrow near tree wounds (and thus creating more calluses).

 

The most distinctive feature of the Maple Callus Borer is the scarlet tuft at the end of its slender abdomen. This spritely little day flier seems to hop about as if propelled by these imaginary rocket flames.

Honeydew List

Black Ants tending Aphids photo IMG_6031_zpsccfc5006.jpg
I’m pretty sure that women don’t like the phrase “honey-do” list. It universally implies a litany of “bothersome” husband oriented tasks, assigned by an “overbearing” wife, nearly always involving tools, sweat, and “easy” weekend projects such as replacing a patio and building a new one. I am not here to argue the merits of this phrase, or lack-of same, because I am one of those husband type people looking at his 35th…er, 36th year of marriage and would like to celebrate our 37th. No, I am here to present another type of honey-do list which is performed exclusively by, and pretty much only for, females. There are no delicate issues to dance around on this one. I’m talking about aphid farming, ya’ll.

 

Many species of ant engage in livestock farming. The activity is performed exclusively by the female workers for the purpose of maintaining and harvesting Honey Dew for what is basically an all female colony (the male drones only enter the scene later). The gang of black ants living in my…excuse me, our (sorry honey) yard at Dollar Lake are so engaged in this pastoral pursuit. Their pasture consists of a small bushy Balm of Gilead tree about ten feet from their door and about 50 feet from ours.

Black Ant Colony photo IMG_6034_zpsaf503601.jpg

The cattle in this farm setting are aphids, aka plant lice. These sucking insects feed on the sugary plant sap. Because this fluid is low in essential Nitrogen, they must consume a whole lot of it in order to gain the essential amount of this chemical. This means that much of the sugar is excreted as waste – aka sweet pee or honey dew.

 

The sweet-loving ants harvest this crop in the manner of a dairy farmer milking his/her herd, although the details differ. Individuals will approach the hinder end of a fat little plant louse and tap it with their antennae. The aphid is thus prompted to produce a juicy bead of honey dew in response. This nectar the ant eagerly drinks and eventually transfers to other ants in the colony.

 

The ants are, for lack of a better name, Black Ants. I must resort to this generic description because I do not know the exact species. Of course I did not name the aphid species, but no one seems to care about that. Unfortunately, most folks don’t ask about ant types either. This is not a good thing, but I must not be hypocritical here. Except for Carpenter ants, Wood ants, and Auntie Em, my knowledge of ant species has remained fixed since a child. Back then there were only two ants in the world; black ants and red ants. One fought the other and that was that. Given that there are well over 12,000 species of ants in the world I suppose I could be forgiven for passing over this part of the discussion for the sake of the presenting the bigger picture.

Black Ants tending Aphids photo IMG_6030_zps0b51e9ae.jpg

This basic aphid/ant interaction certainly benefits the ants. At times it may seem like a one-sided interaction because a few of the aphids occasionally serve as meals on wheels. Just like human dairy farmers who regularly send some of their animals to slaughter, ant farmers eat a few of their aphid charges from time to time. The aphid colony, in spite of these occasional individual sacrifices, do ultimately benefit from this arrangement. Beyond performing the obvious waste disposal service (preventing fungus formation in certain cases) the ants serve as shepherds. They vigorously protect their precious aphids from wandering predators such as ladybug larvae and wasps. In other words, more aphids survive under antcare than without. Since both sides benefit, this type of plus-plus interaction is called mutualism (or symbiosis if you prefer).

 

I stand on the shoulders of others – or under their feet – when it comes to explaining the realities of aphid farming. I can claim little more than observing big insects surrounding clusters of tiny weak ones. Researchers have spent long hours investigating this phenomenon. One of the more fascinating aspects, involving the use of chemicals agents, was investigated by a team from Imperial College London, Royal Holloway University, and the University of Reading. Not only do some ants keep their charges in line by physically moving and herding aphids, but they also lay down chemicals with their feet that act as invisible fences. Aphids attempting to cross over these chemical fences were observed to significantly slow down as if they were treading on fly paper. There is also some evidence that other “semiochemicals” exuded by the ants prevent mature aphids from sprouting wings and flying away (which is how aphid colonies spread).

 

Such a complex interaction, taking place but a few yards from my door, is worthy of much more discussion but I must end it for now. You see I have a few honeyd….er, things that I must attend to.

Black Ants tending Aphids Detail photo IMG_6029_zps876822ff.jpg

Fuzzy-headed Youth

Immature Female Wood Duck photo IMG_5936_zpsb4f1eb27.jpg
Epidomax flycatchers, fall warblers, and immature birds are the bane of any birder’s existence. Lack of distinctive markings or “Jekyll and Hyde” seasonal plumage traits are enough to drive one into madness. Yet, because birders already live on the fringe of madness they accept, and even thrive upon, such challenges. Splitting feathers is both an occupational hazard and an essential part of the game. Since I avoid fall warblers like the plague and look the other way when any small greenish flycatcher shows up, I am left to deal with those immature birds.

 

Basically full grown in size, yet lacking full adult plumage, immature birds are like unfinished paintings of the birds they represent. True to the term they represent young birds not ready for prime time. Depending on the species these can range from hatching year birds which convert within a season (perching birds, woodpeckers, ducks, etc. ) to those taking several years to attain full plumage (eagles and gulls, for example). Often these young birds have the general adult look in terms of size and profile but are attired in a different cloth.

Immature Red-headed Woodpecker photo IMG_5996_zps84446079.jpgImmature Turkey photo IMG_6016_zpsc13864cd.jpg

I have offered examples of young Pied-billed Grebes, Red-headed Woodpeckers (see above left) and Turkeys (see above right) in previous posts. Of these, the Pied-billed immature (see below) takes the cake in terms of taking on a radically different look from the parent (in other words the one that looks suspiciously more like the mailman than the husband).

Immature Pied-billed Grebe photo IMG_5494_zpsadd50335.jpg

This time, I’d like to present two additional immature examples just for the sake of discussion. The first is a well-named woodpecker and the second a very familiar duck. Let’s look at the duck first.

 

While at the Bay City State Park Waterfowl Festival I decided to walk one of the nature trails. Volunteers had previously set out various duck decoys in the water adjacent to the trial route as part of a duck I.D. activity that originated at the festival. There were numbered stations and numerous floating decoy examples which required identification. Closing in on one station I saw a few mallard decoys in the water and another, a less-than-convincing female Wood Duck, cunningly perched on the limb of a downed tree arching over them.

 

Soon, I noticed several other “woodies” scattered about on the tree trunk just above the level of the duckweed covered marsh. Again, all were in un-finished condition. The male birds especially lacked the brilliant hues and crest of adult Wood Ducks. The uppermost decoy took me aback when it bobbed its head and shifted pose. It turned out that she, and her fellow ducks, were real flesh and blood Wood Ducks after all. I could only see two of them clearly but there were at least six of them.

Immature Female Wood Duck photo IMG_5928_zps7cf90163.jpg  Immature Female Wood Duck photo IMG_5935_zps572dec64.jpg

From the time they leap from their nest hole, young Wood Ducks are constantly attended by their mother. The adult female sticks with her brood for at least 4 weeks – after which the bond slowly dissolves and the young are left to fend for themselves. They take about 6-8 weeks to fully fledge and hang together as a unit for an extended time. My living decoys represented birds fresh into their motherless phase of life and well on their way to independence.

 

The scattered universe of head speckles on the immature female (see above) were in the process of congealing into a clear white eye ring. Her breast speckles were starting to arrange themselves into the neat ranking of adulthood. Otherwise she looked very mature for her age (isn’t that always the case!).

Immature Male Wood Duck photo IMG_5931_zps5fc5e09c.jpg  Immature Male Wood Duck photo IMG_5932_zpsaa3df7d3.jpg

The male bird, on the other hand, was still in the dork stage (see above). His white chin straps were barely defined against the fuzzy pale brown head feathers. There was only a hint of a crest present and the flanks were still dark. This bird did have the beautiful red eyes and a wonderfully ornamented black, pink and white bill that would later define him as among the most beautiful of waterfowl.

 

My encounter with a woodpecker of unknown species was of a much shorter duration than the woodie encounter. Had I not snapped a few quick shots before the thing returned to obscurity in the nearby woods, I would have been left clueless (more than normal that is). Before me was a speckled medium-sized woodpecker with a brown head.

Immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photo IMG_6013_zpsc920df18.jpg

It took a while to figure out that this sleek little fellow was an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. In retrospect (thanks to the miracle of photography), I could see that the distinctive white shoulder stripe – a defining mark for adult Sapsuckers – was present. The color of the head and upper shoulders was purple brown. Black was gradually replacing the brown areas from back to front like ink bleeding across wet paper. There was nary a trace of any red head markings on the head. It seems that this part of the plumage (males are identified by their red throats), along with the yellow belly, develops last and so this bird will remain a genderless little sapsucker for now.

Immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photo IMG_6014_zps17af2f38.jpg

By the time the migration season begins in late September, both the woodies and the sucker will be properly attired according to their sex and species. I will not recognize these fuzzy headed youth when they return in the spring resplendent with full coloration and the bloom of maturity.