Apples on St. Swithin's Day
A Breakfast Guest

Little Nature Stories: Birds, Bugs and Berries ...

And of course, a squirrel or two. :)

It's no secret I love taking pictures - particularly nature pictures. I snap pictures all the time because I'm hardly ever without my camera. If I go out to get the mail, fill the feeders or retrieve a lost toy from the backyard, I slip my camera in my pocket just in case. (Do they make holsters for cameras, lol? I could use one if they do.) And with each picture I take I think of a little nature story I want to share with my family and of course here with my friends in a post.

Because it's the little nature stories that I really love to share. Sure the big ones (like the ones about coyotes, vultures and huge honkin' spiders) are exciting, but those sightings are few and far between. I live in the suburbs, not the wilderness after all! I figure it's better to find joy (and even intrigue) in the little things around us than to sit around waiting for the next big thing to appear.

But then what happens is a week goes by, and I don't find the time to write up all those "little" posts (even just to update my nature notes sometimes!), and so I just let the pictures pile up ... and before long I find myself with 20 some-odd photos to share and well, you get them all in one great big lump. :)

So I hope you're in the mood for some nature pictures! I guess I'd better post these now, because I'll just have more to share this time next week. ;)

First up, odd bugs and two kinds of berries:


Here I thought I was taking a picture of the nightshade plant's berries, but when I opened up the file I realized I had two little stowaways in the frame! These berries are glossy and beautiful (they'll be red by autumn) but noxious. If you have a copy of The Flower Fairies of Autumn, check out The Song of the Nightshade Berry Fairy and consider yourself warned (obviously the bugs didnt get the memo).

Now these berries you may indulge in with no hesitation:


We have a lovely raspberry patch growing along the front fence (25 plants in all), and tucked in between the familiar red gems is a variety called Fall Gold. They are indeed golden in hue, sometimes tinged with a red blush - and so very sweet. I love how they look as they ripen - creamy and pale. Surprisingly the birds and other little creatures have not bothered the raspberries at all these past two years, and yet the hedgerow stands just a few feet from the feeder stations. Bill thinks it's because I keep the critters so happy at the feeders they have no need to bother our berries.

OK, well, there was this guy:


We have never seen the likes of him before and have NO idea what he might be. (Any guesses?) We found one in the house about a week ago and then later another on the raspberry plants. Sooo strange looking!

And speaking of strange looking ...


That weird stuff's back again!! It appears on random mornings in little plops around the front yard - by day's end it's flat, brownish and slowly sinking back into the ground. Last year we had some (posted about it here) and Theresa thought it looked fungal. Recently Marjorie had a fungal mystery on her hands ... I'll have to check out some of her links because I am ever so curious to know just what this um, stuff, is all about!

Update! Thanks to Crisanne who had some similarly weird stuff growing in her yard, I found out this is a slime mold called the "Dog Vomit Fungus." Really awful name, (accurate description though) and very interesting! Thanks, Crisanne!

Now here's a fungus I recognize:


These pop up beside the front staircase every year. They look like little fairy parasols, don't you think? I just found a similar looking mushroom online (via Google of course) and learned it is called leucocoprinus fragilissimus.

So do you know what these little red balls are?


We see these too every year on the trees behind the back fence. They are, I believe, insect galls. They are all over the leaves on this tree, and this would account for all the leaf damage. I don't know what kind of insect lays these clusters (I'm guessing a wasp of some kind). We never seem to catch them in any other state than this.

Now do you see one or two bugs in this picture?


I was actually taking a picture of the moth on the left (don't know what kind, but thought the markings were neat) when I realized there was a little green bug on the right! (Click on the picture so you can see him better.) Yet another bug we've never seen before.

(You know, it really is fun how many different kinds of life you can find in one average sized backyard! What's more, there's always something new to see!)


This is not the clearest picture, but I thought this wasp's blue wings were cool. As it turns out, he is a blue mud dauber wasp (or that's what I think after consulting the field guides) but it is decidely not cool that he apparently preys mainly on black widow spiders! And I mean "not" cool in the sense that if he's here in our yard, then it follows that so too are black widows. Yeesh.

And since we're on the subject of spiders ... you all remember that large brown spider making her nest beneath our deck table last week?


Yep, they hatched! (Click the picture open to see better - there's jillions of them!) Note the mama spider hanging out in the background, and note the deflated egg sac above.

You'll be happy to know (especially if you are my mother) that we moved the table way out to the far side of the yard. There it will stay until all little spiders have vacated the premises.

Clover dots our whole yard, and so too do the lovely little honeybees:


There's not much of a story attached, I just really liked that picture. :)

More pictures I like:


My first monarch picture ever! It landed right on the butter-and-eggs, but this is as close as I could get. Butterflies are so tricky!

Now this fella I spied as I went to get the mail. I actually didn't have my camera with me and so when I saw him resting on the lower wall I ran back to get it. Happily he was still there when I returned. He was strangely calm and let me get very close. He was slowly moving his wings up and down and seemingly at rest in a shady spot on the wall.


When he opened his wings wide, I got a better look at his markings:


I think he is a Red Admiral butterfly - the first I've ever seen, and the first to visit our yard.

More red to admire - a handsome finch sitting just outside our learning room windows:



I'm not sure if he is a male house finch or a purple finch - they're so hard to tell apart. He was sitting here listening for his mate's call and anwering her back so sweetly.

Now this next little story takes a bit of telling. Remember I told you all about the titmouse family we've been watching? Well, we have come to realize that one of their "babies" is actually a female cowbird!!

It has been very hard to capture this on film, I have only been able to photograph them close to each other, but we've watched this little bird cared for right alongside all the other titmice babies. First of all, here is a picture of the young cowbird so you get an idea of what she looks like:


Now I had remembered reading that cowbirds are notorious for depositing their eggs into the nests of other species. And it just so happened we had a cowbird couple here earlier in the spring, but I haven't seen them in some time ...

Here are a few pictures showing the titmouse and cowbird close together. Honestly, the titmouse was a wonderfully attentive parent, tending to the cowbird's every call (beak open, wings shaking) and feeding her constantly it seemed.



They were quite a pair to watch!

Now, I'm not going to apologize for this, I'm just going to post two (maybe three) pictures of the red squirrel who has returned to our feeders at long last:




Ooh, sorry one more ...


Hands-down, red squirrels are my favorite wild creatures. I am so so happy to have one back again at our feeders. But oh my, what a temper! He chases off the large gray squirrels handily.

And speaking of the gray squirrels, this one discovered our gutters to be a great source of maple seeds.


We call him the Gutter Gourmand.

Well, this was quite a long post, and if you've read all the way through, I thank you. :) Stay tuned for more little nature stories - and I hope you'll share some of yours, too!