View from the top

IMG_5195Here’s a really neat image of a bobcat kitten photographed at Red River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters Unit near Bossier City, Louisiana this past Sunday (26Jul14).  Now bobcats aren’t rare by any means, but they are not something I see very often at the Refuge, usually one or two sightings a year, if I’m lucky.

I’ve been concentrating on documenting dragonflies and damselflies at the Refuge this summer. That effort has been pretty successful, but is a story for another day.  Sunday was going to be another dragonfly day.  The temps were supposed to be hot (what do you expect for the end of July in northwest Louisiana?) and I was just going to do a reasonably quick survey and be back to the Visitor Center before it got too hot.

The Chickasaw plums are pretty much done for the year.  Only a few plums left and you have to look hard to find those.  But the trees (more like a tangle of thick bushes) are fully leafed out.  Looking across the open fields most of the plum trees are about the same height.  As I walked along the Orange trail I noticed something brown in top of a plum tree about 30 yards away.  That’s kind of strange.  Probably a bird.  As I got a little closer I could tell it wasn’t a bird, but rather some kind of mammal.  A kitty cat sleeping in the tree?  What would a house cat be doing sleeping in the top of a plum tree.  On occasion I see house cats on the Refuge, but these have always been much closer to the residential areas, which are a good ways off from the Orange trail.

I still couldn’t tell for sure what was in the plum trees, so I took a few pictures and zoomed the viewfinder all the way in.  Looks like a kitty cat.  So I approached closer to get a better view, took a few more pics, studied them, and then realized what it was.  There were actually two bobcat kittens in the top of the plum tree.  Most likely the mom had left them safely tucked away while she went off hunting for some breakfast.

An excellent plan.  The kitties will sleep until mom gets back and then they’ll all have some rabbit. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.  One kitty stayed in the plum tree and just stared at me trying to get some decent images.  The other kitty disappeared, but I could see branches still moving, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Then I see this kitty climbing onto a taller tree.  The kitty just had to get a better view of this strange large animal taking pictures.   So we stared at each other for a few minutes, with my snapping plenty of pictures.  The kitty didn’t seem the least bit scared, but more curious than anything.

We said our goodbyes, and I continued on the trail looking for dragonflies.  The two bobcat kittens seemed content just waiting around for mom to return.  I never did see her, but found out later that others had reported seeing the mom and her two kittens together in recent days.

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Alien Bug?

IMG_0802Imagine this creature being 6 feet long, lurking in tall vegetation, just waiting for some unsuspecting animal (like you) to come wandering by.  Before you know it that spike is raised and then quickly thrust into your body.  There’s no escaping.  You are a goner in a matter of seconds.  Sounds like something out of Starship Troopers.  In reality, this is a bug known as a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus).  Shown here is a nymph that is maybe 1″ long.  The adults are more of a light brown/white combination, and just behind the head will be a semicircular protrusion that resembles a wheel.  This type of bug is part of a larger family known as assassin bugs, because that is what they do to other, often larger, prey.  I found this little one in my backyard last week.  I’d never seen one before and it took awhile to finally figure out what it was.  But if it were really 6 feet long-watch out!

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Henry’s Elfin

IMG_6951An interesting find on the Redbud.  This is a butterfly called Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici).  They are a type of hairstreak butterfly-quite small like all hairstreaks.  Usually unnoticed, as they don’t have the bright orange flashy colors associated with many butterflies.  The intricate scale pattern is very attractive.

I was looking over the Redbud blossoms, watching the numerous honeybees and bumblebees and just happened to see this insect slowly moving along the Redbud branch.  They are early spring fliers and Redbud is one of their host plants.

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Spring is Here

IMG_6842Spring is here!  The signs are everywhere.  Trees are greening out and flowering.  The May Apples are up, the dogwoods are just starting to leaf out.  Winter birds such as the Cedar waxwings are still hanging around waiting on the bountiful supply of berries from fruiting bushes and trees.  But early spring migrants are arriving.  A White-eyed vireo was spotted high in an oak tree.

Shown here is a bumblebee on a flowering redbud.  The redbuds are a sure sign spring is here to stay.  This image was taken in my backyard on March 9th.  Whenever the redbuds are in full bloom, the dogwoods will soon be showing off their white bracts.  The warm days, although not quite consistent yet, will bring lots of photo opps for insects.  Time to start looking for damselflies and dragonflies.

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Duck Out of Water

Duck Out of WaterDucks are supposed to be swimming in the water-right?  Well, not all ducks stay in the water all the time.  We just have a picture in our mind that ducks should be swimming around in a lake somewhere.

The fine specimen here is a male Wood Duck.  He’s standing on a large branch from a pecan tree.  The trees are often used as roosts.  The image was taken at Red River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters Unit.  Wood Ducks frequent the pecan orchard next to Lake Caroline.  A female was nearby.  In fact, I wasn’t even aware she was there until they flew off together.

Male Wood Ducks in breeding plumage, as in this image, are perhaps the prettiest of all ducks in North America.  Wood Ducks can be found on the Refuge in northwest Louisiana all year round.  Wood Duck boxes have been places around the lake.  The Refuge staff collects data on each box.  A banding program during the summer months has also been very successful.  I’m always on the lookout for banded ducks (and any other birds for that matter).  Occasionally a band is visible, but I have yet to get a good image.  Just a matter of time.

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Fish for Breakfast

Pied-billed GrebeWhat better way to start off the day than having fresh fish for breakfast.  Now if you didn’t know better, you’d think this little bird might have gotten a little ambitious in catching that rather large perch.  How does he expect to eat that big fish?   It just barely fits in its mouth.  But don’t be fooled.  That little bird is a Pied-billed Grebe.  They aren’t related to ducks, but they are found in water.  Usually by themselves, they tend to hang out in the shallows, often diving down in search of food or just trying to quietly leave without being noticed.  If you keep your eye out, they’ll  surface about 20 feet away.

Occasionally, as is the case here, they will come up with a prized catch such as this perch.  Yes that little bird will eat the entire fish.  It is just a matter of technique.  That fish is only going down one way.  Head first is the first rule.  For obvious reasons, those fish fins and scales just don’t go down very smoothly against the grain.  The second rule is the fish has to be turned sideways-i.e. the bird’s mouth will open up top to bottom only so far, but side to side will expand a great deal more than what you might think.

I took a whole sequence of images from the time the bird surfaced with the fish until the fish was completly swallowed, except for the tips of the tail.  Looking back at the time stamps on the images-40 seconds for the whole process.  Now that is pretty impressive.

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Vesper Sparrow

Vesper SparrowVesper Sparrows can be found in northwest Louisiana during the winter months.  This bird was photographed at Red River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters Unit.  A Savannah Sparrow was on the same dead tree as this Vesper Sparrow.  Seems like Savannahs are plentiful, but not so with the Vesper.

Many sparrows tend to look alike [the proverbial LBJ (little brown jobs)].  Slowly, I’m starting to notice that while many sparrows have similar markings, there are distinguishing characteristics, such as the white eye-ring of the Vesper.  Photographing sparrows can be quite challenging.  They aren’t always perched on the end of a dead branch surrounded by an open field.  You might find them on the ground, in dense cover or feeding in tall grass.  Sometimes by themselves, or maybe with a small flock of the same species, or even in a mixed flock of several different bird species.

Next time you are out walking around during the cool weather, see how many different sparrows you might find.  They are not all always the same species.

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White-crowned Pigeon

White-crowned PigeonHere’s another lifer bird.  This is a White-crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala).  They are common in the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida Keys and even found in the southern Florida tip.  This particular image was taken in Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas at a little nature park called Ardastra Gardens.  The bird was not captive.  As is the case with a lot of cruise onshore excursions, all we had was one hour to walk through the gardens.  While this was sufficient to at least walk by all of the exhibits, there wasn’t much time for lingering.  Even in that one hour, I did manage three life birds that were not captive.  So I guess it was an OK stop.

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Cuban Grassquit

Cuban GrassquitOne of several new life species encountered on a recent trip to the Carribean.  This bird is a male Cuban Grassquit (Tiarus canorus) and was photographed in the capital city of Nassau on the island of New Providence, Bahamas.  The Cuban Grassquit is a native to Cuba, and is a non-native introduced bird to the Bahamas.  These birds have also been found in Florida.  Perhaps a result of cage releases or even wind blown from nearby Cuba.  This particular bird was photographed near the top of the Queen’s staircase in a tree next to the parking lot.

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The Charmer

The CharmerWhat’s there not to like about this guy?  Looks sharp decked out in his flamboyant orange outfit.  The spikes down his back are definitely an added bonus.  That big wart-like spot on the side of his face…well you can overlook some things.  He’s obviously out on the prowl, trying to put the charm on some nice cute little iguana.  He’s even smiling.  The icing on the cake has to be the flower he has tucked away on the side of his mouth.  I’ll bet he normally has a fat cigar there when he’s not on the hunt.

Ran into this little charmer down in Key West, Florida last week.  Not shown in the picture is the little iguana he was trying to impress.  She didn’t seem too interested, and the big guy moved on.

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