Thursday duck report

October 14, 2021 • 1:15 pm

It’s getting towards the end of duck season at Botany Pond, though the warmer weather at this time of year may be slowing migration. Still, we’re down to anywhere between 2 and 9 ducks per day, all of them familiar. There are Honey, Dorothy, and Prince Charming (their drake), Mona, a duck with only one working eye, Cyndi, a duck trained to eat out of our hands, who jumps up for food (see below), her boyfriend Charlie, and a trio of undocumented ducks we call “the sisters.”

Here’s the member of team duck who trained Cyndi (or is it the other way round?) to eat from her hand. Now Cyndi will jump and even flutter up to the hand to get duck pellets. Her swain, the drake Charlie, has learned to do the same thing by watching Cyndi.

We all love Cyndi; she is a sweet and affectionate hen who comes running when she sees her own personal staff member on Team Duck. Here she is leapiing; you can see her feet off the ground.

Here Cyndi’s getting ready to flutter up to the food:

More of her cute activity. We’ve had one “trained duck” every year (last year it was one who flew up and perched on the metal pond railing when called), but Cyndi is by far the most interactive. We will miss her.

Another video of her feeding:

Cindy on tippy-webs:

Cyndi and boyfriend Charlie. They’re a handsome pair, aren’t they?

Drake fight! One of the drakes, Drako, had not achieved full color yet. But he was a mean s.o.b, and chased all the ducks. Here he gets into it with another drake. Note how they swim side by side in between repeated attacks. I suspect they are wooing females. (Ducks pair up, I hear, before they fly south.)

Prince Charming, the chosen mate of both Honey and Dorothy. I know he will fly away with them when they migrate, but I don’t know if he’ll return with them. I have trouble telling drakes apart as they have no distinctive marks on their bill.

We mustn’t forget the turtles, who come out only when it’s warm and sunny now. They’re preparing for winter.

And so we’re getting ready to say farewell to wings, but 2022 is another year. . . . .  Every year is different at Botany Pond, full of its own quirks and drama.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos AND PHOTOS OF YOUR POLYDACTYLOUS CAT, if you have one (two photos please: cat and its paw, and please give name of cat and a few details). Thank you. The cats will be featured tomorrow.

Today’s wildlife photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose ID’s and links are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are pictures taken early in the 2020 bug season.

A friend down the street called to say their dog had a large tick on them, and would I like to have it? Yes I would! So off I went to collect it. As expected, this is the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), well engorged with its last blood meal.

I kept her around for a couple weeks, and sure enough she eventually produced an egg mass, as shown next. The eggs are crowded around the head because her reproductive opening is immediately underneath. By honored tradition, of course the entire family went down the loo afterwards.

The tiny insects shown in the next two pictures are minnow mayflies (Callibaetis sp.). The female looks pretty ordinary, but the males sport weird compound eyes that are thought to have evolved to look for females. 

A hike in the spring woods produced this lovely male jumping spiderPhidippus whitmani. The little guy was pretty restless, so a lot of pictures had to be taken—but it was worth it. 

The unpleasant looking critter shown next is a focus-stacked picture of an antlion larva (possibly Brachynemurus abdominalis). These are famous for digging a conical pit in sandy soil, and lying in wait at the bottom to trap passing ants and other small insects.

A detail worth noting here is that the reflective plastic lets you see a nice detail about their mandibles. Do you see the dark stripe on the underside of the mandibles? Those are the maxillae, which are the next set of mouthparts for insects. In antlions the maxillae are nestled into a groove under the mandible, and together the mandibles and maxillae form a hollow tube which is used to inject digestive enzymes into their prey, and to then drain them dry. 

The next picture shows an adult antlion, most likely the same species as the larva. One can well appreciate that these are commonly called long-tailed antlions! 

Back to the woods. The lovely caterpillar shown next is the larva of the copper underwing moth (Amphipyra pyramidoides). I flush out a lot of the adult moths of this species when doing yard work, although I’ve never gotten around to photographing one.

Rounding up the invertebrates is an early-season stonefly (Acroneuria sp.). These strange insects have an aquatic larval stage, and one can find large numbers of them along rivers over a brief interval in the spring.  

I rarely photograph vertebrates, but here is a very ill-tempered snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that was wandering the woods. S(he) would repeatedly turn to follow me, lunging and snapping its jaws with a definite “clomp”!  

And finally, here is a very kindly toad, possibly the eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). But getting staged pictures of this little one was a lesson in what Hobbes said in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: “They drink water all day just waiting for someone to pick them up”.  

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos, as the tank drops ever lower.

Reader Divy Figueroa and her husband Ivan Alfonso run an exotic-animal veterinary-care clinic in Florida (often going to the animals, as they treat all sorts), and also keep a number of reptiles (and two cats). Here we see one of their favorite turtles. Divy’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This is a  Malayemys subtrijuga, commonly known as the  Mekong Snail Eating Turtle, or as we call them, Snail Eaters. Guess what they eat? They are originally from Malaysia, but the story from the Indonesian locals is that they were introduced to Java and Sumatra by the Dutch to eradicate snails. Needless to say, the snails are still around, and so are the Snail Eaters, who thrived and are by now established in the area.

We took a trip to Java a couple of years ago, and got to see them in situ. Ivan wanted to study and document their habitat for a lecture he would be giving later that year, and we wanted to see if we could improve our husbandry skills and care.

These turtles are one of my favorite species in our collection. They are very docile and I love their cute faces.

After several years of infertile egg laying, we hatched three babies in a matter of months. Our firstborn hatched in October, and the second two hatched the following January.  We’ve had several successful hatchings since then, but these three little amigos are our pride and joy, and in a few more years should join the breeding group.

This is our firstborn, pipping out of his shell.

The three babies in my hand, right after the 3rd hatched. Notice the difference in size.

One of the babies begging to be fed.

The three, about a year after hatching.  The first-born will be the smallest once they reach adulthood, as males are smaller than females.

This is one of our adult Snail Eaters, and you can see that the babies are a miniature replica of their parents

A few of our adults on land.

Another pic of our firstborn as he was emerging from the egg.

A female looking to nest in her enclosure. This process can take several days—sometimes up to a week or more.

Snail-Eating habitat in Java. This picture was taken in July during the dry season, when the turtles normally hibernate-aestivate.

How did a picture of Jango get there? 😻

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 5, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send me moar photos, plz. Thanks!

Today’s batch of photos is part 2 of a contribution from from reader Mark Otten (part 1 here), whose IDs and captions are indented. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  This photo was taken by my wife Dianne.

Eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens).

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias).

Female wood duck (Aix sponsa) and 7 of her grown ducklings sharing a log with two red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta).  The adult female is the fifth duck from the right.

Canada goose (Branta canadensis) at dusk gliding toward a landing.

Silhouette of a female blue-fronted dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis).

Eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) in an amur honeysuckle shrub (Lonicera mackii).

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

We are in serious trouble with the wildlife photos. I have about six contributions in the tank, but some are singletons or just a few photos. Please send me any good photos you have ASAP. Thanks!

Today we have photos from two contributors. Their captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Our first contributor is James Blilie:

I am not the wildlife photographer in the family; but I got this one this morning (this was sent in March). A White-tailed Deer doe (Odocoileus virginianus).  She was casually walking along the edge of the pond behind our house eating willow leaves and other leaves. She was completely unconcerned with my movements 150 feet or so away.

Here is a dragonfly (species unknown) waiting on our Columbine plant for the sun to warm it up.

Seven (7) Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) on the “Turtle Island” I recently installed (anchored) in out pond behind our house.  This is the third version of Turtle Island I’ve launched (the previous two eventually sank – Minnesota is hard on floating objects). I think I have it down now:  The floats are garden kneeling pads which appear to be polyurethane foam.  Gentle ramps on all sides for easy access.  We enjoy watching the turtles basking in the sun.  We have also seen Spiny Softshell Turtles (Apalone spinifera) in our pond and common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are also very common.

Equipment:  Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III; LUMIX G X VARIO LENS, 12-35MM, F2.8 ASPH

Our second contributor is Art Williams:

Here are some shots of a bedraggled red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) that frequents the neighborhood. I hear him squawking nearly every morning and finally was able to get some decent photos. He was perched on a frequently visited dead pine tree, holding his left claw in a weird posture. When he took off, you could see his missing tail and flight feathers, as if he’d had a really rough week. I kinda feel for the guy ( I think it’s a male due to the smaller stature), with his sore feet and bedraggled appearance; hits a little too close to home.

I threw in a random shot of a Northern mockingbird (Minus polyglottos) in flight, leaping from a dense, tangled stage that seemed to amplify her mid-morning glottic reverie. They’re known to be very aggressive, mobbing cats, hawks and even postmen. I wonder if this one was off to harry the hawk.

The fawn of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was left on its own by a hungry doe as is prescribed by their DNA. The little guy curled up in our day lily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) outcropping, beside a well-traveled suburban street, and no one was the wiser.

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your wildlife/street/travel photos, please. Remember, this site is always free, ad-free, but depends on the kindness of readers.

Today’s photos are of desert animals, sent in by Charles Peterson. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

A few from the California Mojave Desert

An adult male chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater), sovereign of his realm. Herbivorous rock dwellers and the largest lizards around here.

A chuckwalla relative in the family of ‘true’ iguanids, and therefore also herbivorous, the desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis). This one posed on the edge of an old lava flow at Amboy Crater National Landmark.

A zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides), striking the same pose. These are found in flat open areas and are built for speed.

Not a great photograph, but a very cool lizard, the western banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus). One of only two nocturnal lizards in the Mojave, this one is seen here in seminatural habitat on a retaining wall in my back yard.

A portrait of an adult female desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). My personal favorite animal species and the focus of my work.

Mammal-wise, the most commonly seen denizen is the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). Dig those crazy ears.

An unfocused phone photo of one the very few American badgers (Taxidea taxus) I have ever seen. I thought there was a tortoise in that hole until this guy popped up and surprised us both.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 26, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good wildlife/street/travel photos, as I’m getting nervous again (or rather, I’m always nervous):

Today’s photos come from Matt Young, one of the founders of the excellent pro-evolution website Panda’s Thumb.  His notes and captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.


Pursuant to your request for nature photographs, here is a baker’s half-dozen that I sent to Science in honor of Nature Photography Day. I have some text that goes with them.

Additionally, could I interest you in announcing the 13th annual Panda’s Thumb Photography Contest, here?

For my 80th birthday, my son gathered some of my “favorite” pictures on some pretext or other, and presented me with a splendid casebound book, cleverly formatted with quotations, mostly by photographers. These are some of the pictures that I chose.

American avocet, Recurvirostra americana, Cottonwood Lake, Boulder, Colorado. This one was just standing there, begging to be photographed, as I biked past.

Orange meadowhawk, Sympetrum spp., Elmer’s Two-Mile Creek, Boulder, Colorado. Dragonflies are a dream to photograph, because they often return to roost in the same spot.

Rainbow Bridge,, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah, just off Lake Powell.

Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon near Page, Arizona, on Navajo land. I took a guided tour (the only way you can see it) and was lucky to get a couple of halfway decent pictures despite the darkness and the guide always at my heels.

Crepuscular rays, Niwot, Colorado. In this picture, you can see clearly that the rays are formed by atmospheric scattering, where the irregularities in the clouds are essentially projected onto the atmosphere. Also, every cloud has a silver lining (sometimes gold).

Painted turtleChrysemys picta, Walden Ponds, Boulder, Colorado. This is the western variant, at roughly its westernmost extreme, yet you can see many of them sunning themselves in Duck Pond every year.

Eclipse of the sun, Jackson, Wyoming, August 21, 2017.

And, finally, a mite too late for the book, an eclipse of the moon, just before sunrise on May 28, 2021. The moon was not visible after totality because of the brightening sky and set soon after.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send me your wildlife/street travel photos; there’s always an aching need.

Today’s photos come from Christopher McLaughlin, whose words and captions are indented. Click on his photos to enlarge them.

Rudbeckia hirta, aka Black-eyed Susan, very close up. I suppose this is the floral equivalent to conjoined twins. I include this not because it is a great photo but a bizarre subject. I would love to know what’s going on here. (Bates County, MO, Battle of Island Mound State Park.)

Satyrium calanus, the Banded Hairstreak, at least according to iNat, feeding on the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. I rely on the iNaturalist app and its users to identify many species or at least back up my hunches, so readers please correct me if I am wrong. (Bates County, MO, my backyard)

Phidippus princeps, the Grayish Jumping Spider, again according to iNat, perched upon a lilac stem. The little dude’s about the size of half a shelled peanut but brimming with personality. Just look at that punim! Adorable. (Bates County, MO, my backyard)

Terrepene ornata, the Ornate Box Turtle. . . notice the ladder and the gutter in the background and the leaves adhering to the turtle’s carapace. I found this little butthead INSIDE the gutter’s downspout, having climbed into the lower part, up the bend and then a few inches up. I had to take of the bottom part of the downspout, then climb the ladder with a hose on full blast to dislodge the adventurous little twerp. Quite the rescue effort. I only wish I had taken the photo of its guilty little butt and hind leg dangling out the bottom end of the gutter. (Bates County, MO, my gutter!)

And finally, I believe this to be Comandra umbellata, the delightfully-named Bastard Toadflax. I don’t typically like common names (even those that don’t promote white supremacy) but this one’s ok with me. (Vernon County, MO. Gay feather Prairie Conservation Area)

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

Thanks to several readers for sending in photos. I still can always use others, though, so keep this site in mind.

Today’s photos come from Andrew Furness, whose IDs and captions are indented. Click on his photos to enlarge them.

All these photos were taken in the last 6-months in South Florida. They showcase some of the wildlife of the region, including species introduced from elsewhere in the world and now firmly established. If readers are interested, I have a Flickr account where more of my photos can be seen.

A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) stretches while waiting for an easy meal on a fishing pier.

A male green iguana (Iguana iguana) bobs his head as a warning.

A pike killifish (Belonesox belizanus) lurks just below the water surface. This species, native to Central America, was introduced into Miami-Dade County in 1957 and is now established in South Florida’s waterways. It is a livebearer in the family Poeciliidae, the same family that includes guppies, mosquitofish, mollies, and swordtails. Remarkably, this single species has evolved a pike body shape and specializes in eating other fish.

Closeup of the head of the pike killifish (Belonesox belizanus) revealing large jaws and needle-like teeth.

A common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) with several leeches just above the head.

Brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota). The snake was stuck in the plastic erosion-control netting. After taking a few photos I carefully cut the netting and freed the snake.

Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) mother and her chicks. These ducks are a very common in the greater Miami area.

Black ctenosaur (Ctenosaura similis), a large lizard in the family Iguanidae introduced to Florida from Central America.

A male peacock (Pavo cristatus) spreads and waves his impressive plumage.

A male sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna) showing an impressive sail-like dorsal fin.

Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) making a foray onto land.

Close-up portrait of Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox).

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) surfacing amongst the water lilies.

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in a drying pool. The alligator, around 5 foot in length, appeared to be attempting to capture and eat schools of small poeciliid fishes swimming near the surface in the muddy oxygen-deprived water.

Southern water snakes (Nerodia fasciata) gathered at high density in the shallow waters to hunt fish.

Friday ducks (and turtle lagniappe)

June 18, 2021 • 12:30 pm

All is well and peaceful on Botany Pond, with the two cohorts (four broods) getting along well. First let’s see America’s Most Famous Mallard, Honey, in a formal portrait. She has been with her four ducklings for several weeks now, after a satanic drake drove her away from her brood for about two weeks (they had to take care of themselves, but we made sure they were fed). For some reason that drake left, there was a grand reunion, and now they’re back to being a family again.

Honey smiling:

Honey swimming:

Honey’s four scruffy teenagers:

Honey, her drake Shmuley, and one of their offspring, who in this photo is getting up there with tail feathers and a rudimentary speculum.

A video of Honey and her four getting out of the main pond (one has a bit of trouble) and crossing the sidewalk to get to the channel on the other side.

Here’s Dorothy, who had 11 ducklings originally. We lost one, and she expelled another (the “Peepster”) from the brood). The Peepster was alone and sad, chased around a lot by other ducks, and peeped a lot, but we fed him well and he’s managed to bring himself up to nearly a full-sized duck. He’s going to be fine, despite his status as a pariah.

I’ll show the photos as Dorothy’s babies grow up. Newborns:

Dorthy’s brood as it ages. Here she is sitting on them on a chilly day.

On warmer days they huddle together but don’t need Mom to sit on them for warmth. But ducks are social creatures and the broods stay together until they get older and fully feathered.

The brood slightly older, starting to grow feathers:

The feathers start as “epaulets” on the rudimentary wings, and then on the tail, and then grow backwards and forwards to meet.

Look at these ugly ducklings!

Dorothy’s brood just yesterday—fully feathered but without large primary feathers on the wings, so they won’t be flying for about a week or so. Dorothy is in the foreground, right—attentive as always.

Here’s the Peepster about two weeks ago, looking sad and scruffy as his feathers begin coming in. No other duck likes him—he’s the lowest duck in the pecking order. Despite that, he’s developing just like his sibs and will be fine.

Here’s Dorothy’s Armada flapping, diving and splashing after their lunch the other day. Notice that their wings are larger, but still not full sized. (Video by Jean Greenberg)

Shirley Rose crossing the path with her brood of 12. We lost two of these, but since then she’s been stable at ten. Make way for ducklings! Note the baby having a sip from a muddy puddle.

Courtship of the turtles.  These are red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), of which the pond harbors several dozen. Greg told me that the small one is a male, and he has special large claws on his forelegs that he uses to stroke the female’s face during courtship. He then goes behind her in a mating ritual. We’re too far north for this species to breed, but they still try. (These turtles undoubtedly descend from pets that were put into the pond. They can thrive here, but it’s too cold for them to nest and breed.