Friday, May 10, 2024

Shadbush Spring

Many years ago, Barb replaced a Bradford pear with a downy serviceberry tree, aka. shadbush. It is the native tree you see in our woods with white flowers like a Bradford pear but with smaller blossoms.  In our yard it provides shade for a field of violets which the Barnharts are feeding to their voracious Regal Fritillary caterpillars, destined to repopulate our Missouri Prairie Foundation prairies with this threatened species.

This time every year we are visited by a flock of cedar waxwings which come to feast on the early ripening serviceberries.  I watched as flights of 10-20 waxwings suddenly swooped in, shaking the tree branches as they gorge on the berries for 3-5 minutes, then just as suddenly take off as though they heard a starter gun.  Their coordination is remarkable.  It is as though they had a little earpiece where they hear an announcement, "Taking off in three, two, one, NOW"

At one time I estimated the multiple incoming flights totaled over 80 birds on the tree, jumping around like they had too much coffee. You can watch the party on this Youtube link.

Cedar waxwings are known to occasionally become intoxicated from eating overripe fermenting berries of other tree species.  They maintain their frugavore habit in the winter by eating cedar berries.  They are also unique in feeding berries to their young.  I can hear them now saying "Now eat your veggies so you can learn to get high when you are older!"




A few more days and the feeding orgy will be over and they'll be eating petals and sap of shrubs and trees as well as plenty of insects during breeding season, providing extra protein for their growing young.


Wednesday, May 8, 2024

MSU Hawks

I was at Strong Hall on the MSU campus last week. When I walked out the front door I encountered this red-tailed hawk in the shrubs across the drive. After it watch me for a minute it took off as seen below. 


I found an article on the Campus Hawks in the MSU Standard Newspaper and contacted Taylor Hires of the MSU Bird Club. He says that there at least a pair on campus and there are reports of three hawks circling above campus at a time. Here is his further report:

"As far as I've seen, there are several hawk nests visible on campus - these nests were either abandoned before they were fully built, used in previous years, or are currently active.  Two of the nests are in the quad outside of Carrington Hall. Look for them in the row of dawn redwoods on the north side of the quad - one nest is in the redwood closest to Carrington. (I believe they built that nest last year.) The other is a few trees away next to the parking lot.  I've talked to Becky Swearingen (a member of GOAS, Greater Ozarks Audubon Society) and she believes one of these nests may be in use, since the hawks have been very active in the quad.  I have also noticed that you're much more likely to see the hawks on the south side of campus, in the library/football stadium/quad area."

The hawks are well-loved by students on campus! I've heard so many stories, mostly from non-birders, about weird behaviors they observed from the campus hawks. I've been told that some marching band students unofficially adopted the red-tailed hawks as mascots because they can often be seen circling overhead during band rehearsal in the football stadium. I personally like to watch them antagonize the campus pigeons. I think it's really cool that we all get to see wildlife up close on a day-to-day basis, and I was excited that they had generated enough interest to warrant an article in the student newspaper!" 

It is nice to know that when you are a busy student on campus and can't get away, some nature comes to you.  Becky Swearingen filmed a hawk dining outside her office window on campus.  You can see it here on Youtube.

Click to enlarge
There is more bird life on campus.  Chris Barnhart shared this photo of a "cranky kestrel on campus."  Kestrels are the smallest and most colorful North American falcon species according to MDC as described in this link.

Thanks to Taylor Hires. She is the President of the MSU Bird Club and a research assistant in ornithology.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Spring has Sprung

False indigo shrub (Amorpha fruticosa)

There was no doubt it is spring in the mind of these tiny bees that are swarming our false indigo in the back yard.  It is hard to see the individual flowers but the golden pollen is visible when you get up close. You can see the bees in action in this video.  Over 40 of them were crawling all over the flowers and each other. Their little legs were soon carrying golden saddlebags of pollen.

These are Western Honey Bees, Apis mellifera.  According to Wikipedia:

"The western honey bee or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common of the 7–12 species of honey bees worldwide. The genus name Apis is Latin for "bee", and mellifera is the Latin for "honey-bearing" or "honey carrying", referring to the species' production of honey."

According to the MDC Field Guide, the honeybee was made Missouri's official state insect in 1985.  This is a great honor as it isn't even a native species!  It is thought to have originated in Africa and then spread on its own to Europe. It is one of the first insects to be domesticated, and is now found on every continent except Antarctica.

Unlike other bees, honeybees collect pollen carry pollen in basket-like structures on their back legs.  These are referred to as "saddlebags." These allow them to carry pollen back to the nest, at times weighing up to 30% of their own body weight!!  Note to self- don't complain about carrying the groceries into the house!

Recent studies have shown how they managed to package the pollen load.  They have long hairs on their legs that hold on to the pollen.

"The researchers then tugged on some of the pollen pellets using elastic string. They found that the pellets, though seemingly precarious, were firmly attached: The force necessary to dislodge a pellet was about 20 times more than the force a bee typically experiences while flying."

The scientific tools we now have are amazing.....almost as amazing as the Apis mellifera!