Last night, leaving work, several White-throats were singing and scratching in the bushes, and this morning, White-throats were singing in the back yard, which I take to mean that they are finally mobilizing to head back north. The Catbirds pulled back in last night, apparently, and were “singing” away happily this morning as well, along with both House Wrens and House Finches, which seem to come and go from the neighborhood on some sort of unpredictable basis. It’s been cool (40s at night, 50s in the day) for several days, which may or may not have anything to do with it. Goldfinches also singing and flying around this morning.
For weeks, now, every time I come out from work and don’t hear a White-throat singing or ’sweeting’ at me from the bushes, I figure they’ve finally headed north. Then the next day, there one or two are again. I have no idea if it’s the same ones or whether they’re ‘trickling up’ or what. I didn’t hear or see a single one over the weekend, so I thought along with Rocky, “This time for sure!” Naturally, coming into work this morning, a single White-throat was whistling his fool head off in the bushes. Will they never leave? Meanwhile in the past couple weeks, the oaks have _finally_ finished flowering (the downtown oaks, especially the Willow Oaks, finishing almost 3 weeks ago, now). The Red Maples have finally largely lost their repulsive flesh-toned look as they’ve shed the masses of seed-copters and leafed-out to a large extent (the other maples have sometimes had big seed loads, but nothing like the Red Maples this year). Everything has pretty much leafed out or started to (my 4-year-old Black Walnut has finally started showing some serious bud action this week, but he’s a late bloomer. *rimshot*). Around the area, we’ve had at one time or another over the past 3 weeks, a Lacewing, a Red Admiral, both Whites and Sulfurs, a Mourning Cloak, a Carpenter Bee (but no Bumblebees!) and a Leaf-cutter Bee. Also, the porch light was attracting a load of smallish pointy-ended beetles which look familiar, but I’ve forgotten the name of (Dermestids?) and a couple of what look suspiciously like Carpet Beetles. We had a couple of smallish nondescript moths as well. The few Bowl-and-Doily Spiders are full-sized, and one had a male hanging around in her web. The Tent Caterpillars are in mid-season form and almost all over the Cherries and Crabapple. In bird news, the Purple Martins and Chimney Swifts were back last week, along with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a young Peregrine. The House Wrens have left after about a week of singing, and the Carolina Wrens are back in place. The Pigeons have been doing their F-14 and V-wing displays for weeks now, so they should be popping out babies very soon if they haven’t already. The Robins are well along in their nesting, and our porch-nester popped out of the bush the other day with what looked suspiciously like a fecal sac. The Cardinals seem to be nesting well, the Cowbirds have been courting for over a week, and the Mourning Doves are finally getting serious about our porch as well. We’ve had one or more Turkey Vultures over the city most days recently, and a couple of Black Vultures last week as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if Black Vultures actually nest in the city, possibly in one of the rotten houses around the east or west side. I haven’t noticed any warblers yet, but then again, we don’t get many warblers any more. I think I had no more than 3 species in our yard last year, a real drop-off from when we moved in over 15 years ago. No thrushes, either, although they’ve always been pretty spotty (*rimshot*). It turns out that the rabbits aren’t completely gone, because I’ve had reports that there is a single rabbit still living on our block, although he can only be spotted at dawn or thereabouts. I still haven’t seen him even though I’m up and out by 7 most days. Pretty clearly predation is the factor here, because even only 5 or 6 years ago there were something like 3-4 rabbits for every three houses, and they were visible all day. Pretty fearless, too (for rabbits). The foxes don’t seem to have increased, I haven’t seen our local Redtail for weeks, and we don’t seem to have any more free-ranging dogs and cats than we did a decade ago. Beats the heck out of me what could be doing it. On the opposite side, we have apparently traded in our difficult-to-catch White-footed Mice for impossible-to-catch House Mice. The little buggers seem to be extremely trap-shy. I got one the other day by putting down a row of Tanglefoot traps across his run between the kitchen and dining room, but I haven’t caught any since then, despite seeing at least 2 different ones. I’ve even gone so far as to handle the traps only with gloved hands, and use a special “mouse attractant” in the bait, but so far no go. I don’t know – maybe it’s time to do a real fumigation (maybe get the cockroaches and ants at the same time?). We’ve used 4 different kinds of snap-traps, 2 different kinds of live-traps, the sticky traps and poison, and we seem to have reached a dead end catching these varmints. You get one, then they avoid the traps. I never thought they were that smart.
Oh, yes – the other day, driving down Belair Rd, I passed a lone runner heading south, holding a large, Olympic-type torch. “That’s funny!”, I thought; “Doesn’t that go from Greece to England this year?” I had images of the international news the next day: an accident scene a few blocks further down, with tire tracks indicating that the runner was hit by a car that travelled diagonally across the road and through a display window before swerving back onto the road and being lost in the distance. A normal Belair Rd driving event, in other words. As it happened, however, no accident made the news, and it turned out to be the other Olympics – it was the Special Olympics torch en route to the opening ceremonies of the Maryland Games. Still nice, of course. One more for the list!
Yesterday was a nice warm May day, Whites and the first Sulfur of the season out, and a nice bit of dim sum down in Chinatown (reborning) to mark my birthday. Today, Titmice, House Wrens and Goldfinches calling around the house, a Carpenter Bee (!) hovering here and there along the side of the house, and a laggard White-throated Sparrow shuffling in the underbrush. Cutting the backyard exposed the fact that the violets we used to have in front have moved to the back of the house for reasons unknown. The Female Sharpy (hybrid/Cooper’s?) had another pigeon out in her corner sometime in the last week or so (judging by the pile of feathers) and the sump is completely dry, due to the exceptionally dry spring we’ve had. Otherwise not much of note.
It’s been a spectacularly odd time so far: the winter was mostly very warm and dry, with occasional cold spells. The spring has been very warm and very dry for the most part. Our Daffodills were up in January, but didn’t flower until March. We had both White and little Blue butterflies out in February for a brief period, but none since then. I had a very large female Hogna helluo up on my porch the third week of March, during a brief rain storm, very early for the year. We’ve had almost no early flowers out (only a very few Bugleweed, for instance – too dry?), which may be why we’ve had no Bumblebee sightings so far this year. There’s a full-sized Bowl-and-Doily spider web in our flowering crabapple tree as of yesterday (a month early?), and a few Agelenopsis funnelwebs here and there outdoors. Normally at this time of year I’d be hard-pressed to find more than scattered cribbelates like Amaurobius under rocks and logs. Even though the big flies have been out for a couple weeks, no orb-weavers that I’ve noticed, but it is very early for even the young ones and the little Araniellas. A small flock of Barn Swallows (a week early?) went over yesterday, and the White-throated Sparrows seem to have headed out of town Monday night (4/3), so the migration is going on. I had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Brown Creeper on March 25, but that’s not too unusual. Meanwhile, the oaks have been in flower for over a week now, which puts them a full month ahead of the time I remember from 30 years ago, when the warbler migration in April/May overlapped the oak flowers. The Cardinals and Robins were courting and beginning their nesting season early in March, so they seem to have active nests going right now. Maybe three broods this year? Certainly the Starlings and Mourning Doves will be shooting for three (maybe four!) at this rate. The Barred Owl calling in our neighborhood back in February doesn’t seem to have stayed around, but that reminds me that something has wiped out our local rabbits. We had a thriving rabbit population for about 14 years, and then suddenly they have mostly disappeared. I haven’t seen a single one this year so far, when we used to have 1 or 2 in our yard at all times (more for a bit after the young left the ‘nest’). I doubt that the Red-tailed Hawk that moved into the area could have single-handedly wiped them out so thoroughly, and we don’t seem to have any more foxes than we always have had (fewer, if anything – I haven’t seen any sign of foxes for almost a year now). I’m not sure whether it’s disease, rat poison, lawn spraying, or simply coincidence and more predators (probably not). I’m still not sure about our female Accipiter: she seems to have characteristics at least intermediate to, if not heavily shaded towards, a Cooper’s Hawk, and the male is really small compared to her. She’s almost as big as an American Crow, and he’s barely Blue Jay-sized. Maybe it’s just extremes in action; nobody I’ve asked has had any idea of (or any interest in) the question of Accipiter hybridization (or, for that matter, the question of corvid hybridization – I’m still suspicious that the Fish and American crows were hybridizing here about 10 years ago, judging by the odd ‘mixed’ calls, which have now mostly gone away again). That will do for now.
Yesterday our local female Sharp-shinned Hawk was sitting out in the backyard noshing on something (presumably a pigeon). I watched her haggle bits off a long bone and saw some other bits nearby. When I went out to check later, however, all I could find was a scattering of down and pinfeathers. Very odd. The other interesting thing was that she is definitely a huge Sharpshin; as big as (maybe bigger than) the American Crows. Very burly, very Cooper’s Hawk-looking, but definitely the classic squared-off tail. I guess she eats well around here… Sometimes I wonder if Accipiters hybridize at all. I also still think it would be interesting to check the genetics of the local American and Fish Crows to see how much (if any) hybridizing took place in the aftermath of the West Nile decimation, but nobody I’ve talked to seems interested in it.
That reminds me, I really ought to put down the yard list, so here it is. It’s not as bad as I thought a city yard would be, and considering that I don’t have any feeders up, it’s a bit surprising:
Common Nighthawk (flyover only)
Chimney Swift (flyover only)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (visiting the Weigelia and ignoring the infestations of Trumpet Creeper!)
Carolina Wren (N)
Swainson’s Thrush (by song)
American Robin (N)
Gray Catbird (N)
Northern Mockingbird (N)
Northern Cardinal (N)
Song Sparrow (N)
House Sparrow (N)
Count = 40, with 7 confirmed nesters. I really ought to put up feeders and nest boxes; I might lure in a few more…
So, a very dry summer up until late in the season, when it turned very wet and ran into the fall that way. Butterfly sightings low; a couple of Variegated Fritillaries, a couple of Buckeyes (although elsewhere in the area, it looks like the Buckeyes had a good season), and odds and sods of stuff. I think one each of Black and Tiger Swallowtails, a late-summer Blue of some kind, and the surprise of the season was some sort of large, dark Skipper in the latter half of August; either a Sootywing or a Duskywing – my excellent Peterson Butterfly guide didn’t quite match up; the individual I had was more or less intermediate among several different possibilities in our area. We often have a selection of the smallish Skippers and almost every year at least a couple of the big Silver-Spotted Skippers, but this was one I can’t recall ever seeing before. It would seem that the Giant ‘Something-Flowers’ (I never remember their names, but they have huge, tufted, almost “furry” green stems and the occasional large flower opening up) have a strong attractive effect. I discovered this year as well that the neighbors had several Hummingbirds on their Mimosa this summer, so I guess it’s time to get the feeder out of storage for next year. Over at Loch Raven, we had a nice walk a couple weeks ago – dozens of each Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a trio of Ospreys (family group?) fishing and playing, and bounced by an adult Bald Eagle at one point. What a difference thirty years makes! Things have really changed in the city – on my way in to work a couple days ago, there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting meditatively on a streetlight near the jail, right on Monument street, and barely 20 feet past it, a large flock of Canada Geese flew low over the road, apparently heading for a landing in or near the Jones Falls somewhere nearby or downtown (or maybe in the harbor). Urban wildlife has become way wilder than when I was a kid. We have had Kingbirds nesting downtown for some years now, but this year I noticed Barn Swallows flying in and out of a decaying building in the heart of East Balto. Considering that I’ve twice had adult Bald Eagle sightings right over the hospital during nesting season in the past couple of years, and had a fox denning up in my toolshed behind the house at least for a short time (judging by the smell and the leavings), I feel like the city has become more rural by leaps and bounds.
A nice surprise this morning – a Great Crested Flycatcher making a racket down in the woody patch on the next block. Not one for the yard list, unfortunately, but very nice nonetheless. At first I had him pegged for a Mockingbird, since I wouldn’t have expected one here, but after several minutes of mixed ‘wheep!’s and ‘brrreeep!’s, I gave in. It was nice to have heard the regular nesters down in Virginia on the weekend; maybe one followed me up here..
Otherwise, not much of interest; the Bowl-and-Doilys have couple of webs up, and I saw one of the early small orb-weavers out last week (can’t recall the name offhand; Araniella or something like that). I should be seeing the little Pirate wolf spiders in the garden plot soon, and Allocosa usually turns up about now. The underbrick cribellates like Amaurobius and Callobius are out and about, and I’ve been seeing our indoor Theridiids putting up webs everywhere for several weeks. No Yellow Sac spiders yet, for some reason; they’ll be up along the ceiling edges soon enough, I expect. Also, I have to remember to check in the shed to see what sort of outdoor Steatodas we have. I remember them being borealis, but we might have grossa instead or alongside. The indoor ones are all triangulosa as far as I know.