These are previous "Pictures Of The Week" on WildlifeTheater.com. You can click on each photo for a larger image.
"WHAT'S IN THE MULCH?" 1/13/08
One day last spring I came across this in some flowerbed mulch. My first thought was that one of our dogs had thrown up. But I've seen lots of dog vomit (lucky me), and this was something else. On the bottom right, you can see where it turned red after I disturbed it with a stick. So I started searching the Internet. Ironically, the common name turned out to be Dog Vomit Slime Mold. I'm not making this up. Apparently lots of people had the same first thought I did. Others have described it as looking like scrambled eggs. The scientific name is Fuligo septica. It's common to find it on decaying organic matter like mulch after heavy rains. This slime mold can radically change in appearance through the course of one day in size, shape, texture, and color. It's not harmful, although I've read that in some areas it spreads over lawns which probably makes the homeowners feel like they're next on the menu. Once your yard dries out the slime molds will disappear. You can find more information on this type of mold and a wide variety of fungi HERE.
I was going through some old photographs and found this one from Spring 2003, before I had ever thought about making this website and before I got a digital camera (I scanned the photograph on a not-so-great scanner; sorry for the quality). A large Red-Eared Slider had somehow squeezed under our fence and into our yard. We're fortunate that the lakes in our neighborhood attract wildlife like this we might not otherwise see: geese, ducks, toads, nutria, great blue herons, etc.... Chance, as always, was fascinated with this turtle. We brought Chance inside for just a little while, and when we came out again the turtle was gone. In this VIDEO, a baby Red-Eared Slider in our yard has aroused Chance's curiosity.
WARNING: DOGS CAN KILL OR INJURE TURTLES. I WOULDN'T LET CHANCE GET THIS CLOSE TO ONE UNLESS I KNEW HIS GENTLE NATURE. PLEASE BE RESPONSIBLE WITH YOUR PETS AROUND WILDLIFE.
"RED-EARED SLIDER" 1/20/08
I've posted photos and videos of these moths before, but this was the first time I'd seen one resting (taken on 8/12/07). The blue on the wings is just a reflection of the light, so don't expect to see blue markings when you come across one. These moths are regularly mistaken for very small hummingbirds because of the way they look when they're hovering and darting from flower to flower to get nectar. There's a photo of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth in flight on Pictures Of The Week Page 1 and a photo of Clearwing Moths mating in Photo Gallery 7.
Another moth, the Nessus Sphinx moth, is often mistaken for a hummingbird also. The wings of the Nessus Sphinx are not clear, and the first time I saw one I thought it was a bumblebee. You can see the Nessus Sphinx using its proboscis to get nectar in this VIDEO and this VIDEO.
"HUMMINGBIRD CLEARWING MOTH RESTING" 1/27/08
"CROSSVINE IN WINTER" 2/3/08
This is what Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) looks like in the winter. Its leaves turn deep burgundy and green. If you hold the mouse arrow over the image you can see what it looked like last spring. This vine is almost evergreen, losing its leaves for a very short time just before the new growth starts in the spring. With its trumpet-shaped blooms, this is a great vine for attracting hummingbirds . The only thing I don't like about this vine is that the leaves are mostly towards the top of the vine, so you have bare areas at the bottom. Crossvine (sometimes written as Cross Vine) is native to North America and does well in the Southeast U.S.
Sometimes we put bird food on our patio table. In this case we have peanuts, some thistle seed, and some safflower seed. Unfortunately we can't control which birds come to eat, so our most common visitors are invasive English Sparrows, also called House Sparrows. This is a female, and these sparrows really like the peanuts. Once they have one in their mouth, other sparrows start gathering around them. If the peanut gets dropped, another sparrow snatches it up and runs off with it. Then the cycle repeats. It seems like they burn more calories trying to protect the peanut than they get from actually eating it. Sometimes Mourning Doves will come to the table to eat the thistle, and we've seen a Carolina Wren come to get peanuts. You can also buy special peanut feeders to try to target certain birds. In this VIDEO, you'll see a Downy Woodpecker eating at a peanut feeder designed specifically for woodpeckers.
"PEANUT TIME" 2/10/08
"UNICORN CATERPILLAR" 2/17/08
Last September I found this on one of our Serviceberry trees. I thought it was a chrysalis of a caterpillar I'd never seen, but it was gone the next day. Recently I came across a matching photo in the book "Caterpillars of Eastern North America". It's a Unicorn Caterpillar, named for the protrusion on its back just behind the green area. The website www.bugguide.net says "they can eject a stream of formic acid for up to several inches from a gland in the hump". I believe the white object you can see on the left side of the caterpillar below the prolegs is the egg of a Tachinid fly, which parasitizes caterpillars. Once hatched, the maggot will burrow into the caterpillar and feed on it, then eventually exit the caterpillar once it has matured into an adult fly. It's a little disgusting, but parasitic wasps and flies keep caterpillar populations from getting out of control and decimating vegetation.
"NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD" 2/24/08
The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Tennessee, as well as many other Southern states. It's one of the more common birds in the U.S. and in our back yard. There's not much they won't eat. I've seen them eat berries on our Serviceberries and American Beautyberry. They eat peanuts and seeds. When we put live mealworms out to try to attract Bluebirds, Northern Mockingbirds devoured the worms. And they eat insects. It's common to see them wing flashing, where they walk on the ground and quickly spread their wings out, presumably to scare insects out of the grass so they can catch and eat them.
"FEMALE NORTHERN CARDINAL" 3/2/08
Even though the male Northern Cardinal gets most of the attention for its brilliant red coloring, the female is quite distinctive too. Northern Cardinals are common in our yard, but they're shy and don't come near the house very often. Since food is scarce right now, they'll occasionally venture to our patio table to grab a peanut or seed and fly off with it. Northern Cardinals are finches, and you can see the similarities in the way they fly. Somewhere I saw it described as flying on "invisible rollercoasters". In the 1800's Northern Cardinals were kept in cages as pets, a consequence of our choice to live as if we have dominion over Nature, rather than choosing stewardship of Nature.
It's been years since we've had a good snowfall, but we got a few inches Friday. Just a week earlier we had seen temperatures in the 70's, and it fooled some plants like the Forsythia on the left into blooming. Generally speaking, non-natives (like the Forsythia, which was in our yard when we moved in) are more easily fooled by a "false Spring" than native plants are. This means they're more likely to be killed when a late snow or frost occurs. In the picture on the right, what looks like a cotton plant is just snow that's accumulated on the seedheads of Swamp Sunflower. Most of the snow is already gone -- we're at almost 60 degrees right now and could be back to 70 on Wednesday.
"SNOW SURPRISE" 3/9/08
Clover is not bad for your lawn. In fact, it used to be a main component of lawns. Why? It's a very tough plant (which you know if you've ever tried to get rid of it), and it's a nitrogen fixer. That means it pulls nitrogen out of the air and puts it into the soil as fertilizer. It's also the host plant to many types of butterflies, and the flowers will attract bees, which will help pollinate your flowers, bushes, and trees. So why do we see it as a "weed" that should be eliminated? Because lawncare/chemical companies have done a really good job of convincing us that clover is bad. I fought the war against clover for a long time until I found out the facts. Now I've surrendered to it and let it spread as much as it wants in our yard.
"THE TRUTH ABOUT CLOVER" 3/16/08
"ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER NEST" 3/23/08
This is the third or fourth year that a kildeer (killdeer, kildee, killdee) has made a "nest" in the mulch in our front yard. The nest is just a shallow depression carved out of mulch or gravel. You can see 3 eggs in the photo, there are 4 now. The eggs have to be incubated for about 4 weeks, twice as long as most birds' eggs, because when kildeer hatch they're up and running. None of the nests in our yard have ever made it the 4 weeks without the eggs being eaten by a predator, probably a snake, skunk, or fox. I've considered putting some kind of protective covering around the nests, but all the experts say that would just attract even more predators. You can see video and photos from last year's kildeer nest HERE, and a story about a baby kildeer that fell into a storm drain and had to be rescued HERE.
"MOURNING DOVE EYELID" 3/30/08
One of my Pictures Of The Week in January was a photo of the light blue eye-ring that Mourning Doves have. I recently stumbled across this photo where I just happened to catch a Mourning Dove blinking, and as you can see its entire eyelid is that color. This is a new discovery for me, and I can't find this documented anywhere else, but these birds are so common I know it must be. The blink may be so fast that the human eye can't see the eyelid...I don't remember ever seeing one. Birds (and some other animals) have a third eyelid, known as a nictitating membrane, which is translucent and helps clean the eye like a windshield wiper. I don't think that's what this picture shows, however, because I believe the third eyelid closes from the side rather than the top, but I'm not a bird expert.
Here's a photo from 2002, when we hadn't been in our house for very long. A female Mallard Duck made a surprise appearance under one of our bird feeders to look for birdseed.
I came home from work one day last week and found this pair of Mallard Ducks in our front yard. The one on the left is the male, the one on the right is the female. The female has her head turned around backwards so she can nestle into her back. They both have dead grass around their bills from where they were poking around in the lawn for food, probably insects. Because of the lakes in our neighborhood, it's not uncommon to see them in people's yards. Usually they're splashing in a puddle that's collected on the sidewalk. I almost always see a male and female together, except during mating season, when the female is being followed and harassed by several males.
"MALLARD DUCKS" 4/6/08
"PLANTS FOR HUMMINGBIRDS" 4/13/08
Many of the plants that hummingbirds like have tubular-shaped flowers. Clockwise from the top left are Trumpet Honeysuckle, Crossvine, Wild Columbine, and Swamp Jessamine (Jasmine). These are all in bloom right now in our yard, coinciding with the northward migration of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, the only kind of hummingbirds I've seen in our yard because they're the only ones that nest east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. Because the Jessamine is partially hidden in our yard, I can't claim to have ever seen hummingbirds at it, but I have read that it attracts them. You can find detailed lists on the Internet of vines and flowers that will attract hummingbirds. Just make sure you use plants that are native to your area, and avoid invasive plants like Japanese Honeysuckle (unless you're in Japan). You can see a map of the northward migration of Ruby-Throats HERE.
"ABANDONED KILDEER NEST" 4/20/08
This is the first year that Kildeers have abandoned their nest in our front yard. Ironically, it's the first time the eggs have made it the entire four weeks without being eaten by a predator. It's been probably 2 weeks since we've seen a bird on the nest. I don't have any idea why the parents abandoned it. Maybe they could sense the cold spell coming about two weeks ago and knew the eggs wouldn't survive it. I'm still leaving the eggs alone in case, by some chance, the Kildeers are able to start incubating them again.
"LADY BEETLE PUPA" 4/27/08
It was about a year ago that I saw my first lady beetle pupa and made it my picture of the week. I found this one yesterday on the leaf of an Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart. Just like caterpillars, the larva of lady beetles form a hardened pupa, from which the adult lady beetle will emerge. If you've never seen the larva of a lady beetle, go to Pictures Of The Week Page 1 and scroll down to 11/12/06. It's hard to believe that those weird, alligator-looking things turn into the cute lady beetles everyone knows.
"ROBIN FLEDGLINGS" 5/4/08
There were three American Robin fledglings in our backyard today following their parent around and crying to be fed. The photo on the left is a rollover image -- put your mouse pointer over it and you'll see the difference between the fledgling and the adult. You can click on the two photos on the right for larger images of the fledgling being fed. I had to dig two long trenches this weekend to try to drain water from our backyard to the storm drain in front of our house, and the adult Robin couldn't have been happier. Dirt that's been dug up means easy access to worms, and he followed me around finding easy meals.
"STINK BUG EGGS?" 5/11/08
My wife discovered these eggs today on the underside of a tulip poplar leaf. There are actually two types of eggs -- the pale green eggs laid singly on hairlike strands are Green Lacewing eggs. The mass of eggs was a mystery. The far right photo shows a profile of the eggs, and you can see that they're striped. My best guess right now is that they are the eggs of some type of Stink Bug. The website Bugguide.net had some similar, but not exact, photos. I'll also ask the folks at whatsthatbug.com if they recognize them. Green Lacewings and some Stink Bugs are considered beneficial insects because they prey on caterpillars and other "pest" insects. Some types of Stink Bugs suck the juices out of plants and can be destructive to crops. I'm surprised either type of eggs were laid here, because the only "food" I've seen on the tulip poplar is an occasional Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar. I wonder if the Green Lacewing eggs were laid there so the larvae could feed on the Stink Bug larvae, or vice versa? I'll let you know if I find out anything definitive.
The Iris is the state cultivated flower of Tennessee (the Passion Flower is the state wildflower). This is a bearded Iris. The beard is the fuzzy-looking structure in the close-up on the right. I think its purpose is to give pollinators (insects) something to grab on to so they can climb inside to find nectar. Not all Irises are bearded, in fact the number of varieties and names for the different flower parts is quite complex. I planted Irises for the first time last year, but this is the first year they bloomed. They seem to be blooming based on their color. The yellow ones bloomed first, then the cream ones, now these multi-colored ones. I think the purple ones are getting ready to bloom. I've been told they multiply quickly and can be divided regularly. You can click on the photos to see larger images.
"BEARDED IRIS" 5/18/08