Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Front Porch Ramblings

While out on the front porch of our camp enjoying a nice cigar (Acid Maduro, if anyone is interested), a red-headed woodpecker came my way landing in the ash tree that resides out front. It's probably one of the pair that hang around here. Red-heads are less likely to peck for insects as with other woodpeckers and instead, most times, prefers to flycatch for them much like bluebirds do from a perch. This is a striking bird and has acquired many other names do to its colors: patriotic bird, shirt-tail bird, jelly coat, flag bird, tri-colored woodpecker.

They're omnivorous meaning their diet varies greatly consisting of fruits, vegetables, seeds, acorns, insects, to even the eggs and young of other birds. It is also a caches food, hiding insects, sometimes live, and seeds under bark, in cracks, and even under the shingles of roofs for winter use. This woodpecker was once vilified due to its supposed damage to fruit crops and the eggs and young of other birds. Audubon didn't talk to kindly of this woodpecker as evident in a quote from Cleveland Bent's Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers:

"I would not recommend to anyone to trust their fruit to the red-heads; for they not only feed on all kinds as they ripen, but destroy an immense quantity besides. No sooner are the cherries seen to redden, than these birds attack them." He goes on to say "They have another habit, which is that of sucking the eggs of small birds."

Others are quoted as saying:

"....I consider it a veritable butcher among our nuthatches and chickadees, driving every one away from its nesting sites, and woe to the bird that this villian can reach".

"A redhead, seeing a young lark sparrow flutter in the grass, attacked it and might have killed it, had I not intervened. He struck the young bird at one of his lores and had brought blood. I have also seen this woodpecker attack a young bluebird, on the ground, just after it had left the nest".

"His victim was too much mutilated to identify positively, but looked like a half-grown bluebird, whose head had been crushed in, the brain abstracted, and the entire rump and entrails torn out."

Crawling nearby was a red wasp that appeared to have gotten in a scuffle with something more aggressive than itself. Its wings were tattered in a way that it would no longer be able to fly.

Speaking of wasps I noticed under one of the awnings a paper nest with a small wasp on it. Odd I thought, since this is late in the year for this to be happening. A closer look revealed that the wasp was in fact dead, but yet still perched upon its paper creation.

Earlier I had checked my neighbor's bluebird house and found that something had been chipping away along the edges of the entrance hole. Usually squirrels will do this to enlarge the entrance hole of a birdhouse to facilitate an easier entry, but since I have a predator guard on it I kinda doubt it was responsible. But then again we all know how ingenious squirrels can be. One other possibility is that it could be a woodpecker.

Resident Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) are active as they usually are this time of year. They overwinter here in Texas, making it kinda weird to go outside when its 40 degrees and see butterflies flitting around. The large eyespots on each wing supposedly serve to "startle" or distract anything that might want to eat it. Its beautiful frontage was featured on the U.S. 24-cent postage stamp.

We recently had a barbed-wire fence put up along one side of our property. So far I haven't seen any use of the barbs by the few shrikes I've seen in this area. Give 'em time. But what I did find was a tuft of deer fur that had apparently been left behind as it jumped the fence.

Not far from that on the lower rung of wire I found another bit of hair that was snagged from something that had crawled under it. It was not coarse and mostly gray in color. There was one strand that had a dark band at its center band. This coloration makes me think of a raccoon.

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