Category Archives: wildlife

Costa Rica wildlife

If I were maintaining this blog for fame or fortune, I’d be in the gutter by now!  But since it’s just for me (and a few of mine), I will randomly post a list of the birds we saw in Costa Rica back in 2016.

Beth, Bill and I took several lovely walks near their house, which was nestled in the side of a hill and looked out over a thickly wooded ridge (they’ve since moved).  Sitting on the deck, we had a great view of all kinds of birds.  We also walked up to the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, and took another walk near their previous house, through a small village and through the woods.  However, it was very windy the couple days that I was there, so we didn’t see quite as many birds as we might have.

Here’s a list, along with pictures that are mostly not from me.

Scarlet-thighed dacnisdacnis

and my far less good picture

toucanet (emerald)  – this is such a classic tropical bird that it was very exciting to see it!


lance-billed hummingbird (thanks to the birdcraft website for this one because we were peering and following it but never got this close a look)

sulfur-winged parakeets (thanks, Sherms Photos)

turkey vultures (we all know what they look like)

Baltimore oriole (ditto)

Squirrel cuckoo

Bug of the day

mason wasp

Just spotted this today and luckily got an ID right away since it’s so distinctive.  (Thanks to for the image.)

This is the four-toothed mason wasp, a solitary wasp that uses existing holes for its nest.  Mine was eating the pollen on the clethra.  It’s looking a little weedy here, but the scent is divine.  You will just have to imagine the wasp cradling one of these blossoms.clethra Find out more at this informative site.


For the Birds?

Over the last few years, the supposedly squirrel-proof feeder I had became less and less satisfactory.  old feederIt was a good one from Droll Yankee, but it never really worked all that well.  First of all, the squirrels quickly figured out how to work around the baffle and helped themselves. See the bite marks on the edges of the baffle?!

Next, it attracted only some of the birds and I wanted to expand my scope.  Finally, I had an old hummingbird feeder from Dad that was hard to clean and had lost a few parts that I had to tape on.  Time to move forward!

The young guy at Roxbury Mills recommended two feeders, one for thistle seed and the other for sunflower seed and supposed to be squirrel-proof.  I also picked up a simple hummingbird feeder.  The results have been great, despite a few bumps in the road.

Here are the thistle and seed feeders, hanging from a new shepherd’s hook.feeders

You can see that the goldfinches have found it!  Also the house finches.  Here’s a close-up of them actually feeding.feeders2

So far the visitors have included Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, Mr. and Mrs. Housefinch, chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and  a nuthatch that swoops in from climbing upside down on the oak tree.  On the ground below I’ve seen mourning doves, a brown thrasher, robins, and white-throated sparrows.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but such fun to watch.

However, I have also managed to attract two pests, squirrels and cats. The perch on the sunflower feeder closes up if enough weight is on it, theoretically deterring squirrels. It took the damn squirrels less than a week to figure out how to put all their weight on the pole so that they can get to the sunflower seeds.  I try to shoo them away but it’s really useless unless I want to sit there all day with a BB gun on my lap.

The cats are my neighbor’s free-range cats.  More than once I’ve noticed an ominous silence and when I’ve looked the window have spotted the orange and white cat sitting patiently below the feeder, waiting for a SNACK.  Not on your life, buddy.  I plan to invest in a spritzer and stand ready to spritz him with water the next time I see him.  Yes, I know this is a losing venture, but it might give me some satisfaction.

On a happier note, the hummingbirds have found my new hummingbird feeder!  I can see it right out of my kitchen window and have had lots of fun watching them.  Unlike the feeder’s on Kristi’s deck in Vermont (seen here sans hummingbirds, but what a view!)

hummingbird magnet

hummingbird magnet

my feeder attracts only one at a time.  In typical fashion he (sometimes) or she will zip in, sip either while fluttering or, something I didn’t expect, perch and sip.  Here are a few pictures thanks to the burst feature on my camera.hummingbird3

This is the Mrs., without the ruby throat, hovering until she can find the right spot.DSC07087

And here she is feeding.  I’ve also seen her husband, whose brilliant ruby throat is visible for a fraction of a second as he flies away.  I have my camera right by the kitchen window in hopes of getting a better picture.

I’ve also bought a second, window-mounted hummingbird feeder, but it may be poorly sited.  I’ll play with its placement a little and see if I can get some good close-ups once they find it.

This has been a ridiculous amount of fun, despite the swearing at pests.  I may just add to the feeders until the place looks like a scene out of The Birds.

Justifying its existence

The akebia vine just sits there most of the year, putting out tendrils that want to conquer new territory but never quite getting there.  By February it is looking ratty, and then the transformation happens.  New leaves appear, it looks happy and healthy and, best of all, the tiny flowers bloom and release a heavenly scent.DSC06850

Today, the bees were enraptured, in particular this hovering variety.  Look at the middle of the frame…

I wish you could turn on your Smell-o-vision and experience it the way the bees and I do.  The birds like it, too, and I think the wrens may nest there.  Whether they appreciate the scent as much as I do is an open question.

Spring Ephemerals


Searching for spring ephemerals the day before St. Patrick’s Day was a great idea, but in reality the weather was hot and humid in this weird spring.  Nevertheless, we did spot a few joys, thanks to Ann’s sharp eyes.

Are these oyster mushrooms?


Bluebells just emerging, and leaves of trout lilies promise flowers later.


I think this is some kind of spurge (euphorbia), of which there are about a zillion varieties.


A true ephemeral, claytonia virginica, aka spring beauty.  You can just make out the helpful lines on the petals so that pollinators can find what they’re looking for.


I kept calling this witch hazel, but I think it is actually spicebush.

Ann knew what this was, though it’s hard to make out in this picture.  Shadbush is also called shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, or just sarvis, wild pear, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum or wild-plum, and chuckley pear, according to Wikipedia.


No walk is complete without wildlife.  We admired this shiny fellow along the path.

DSC06842Oh, and the turtles sunning themselves (top) are probably Eastern River Cooters, according to this site.  Unless they are Eastern Painted Turtles…

What I saw in the garden…

the other day was a wasp with brightly colored antennae.  No picture of my own, but here is someone else’s.

Spider Wasp:  Entypus unifasciatus

Thanks, What’s that bug , for this photo identifying the spider wasp, Entypus unifasciatus.

I was really struck by the antennae – bright orange, long, and waving about.  Apparently their sting is incredibly painful, so I’m glad I didn’t get any closer than I did.

They are also great hunters, as you can see in the video from this fascinating blog post about tracking a spider wasp dragging a paralyzed wolf spider.  So cool!

A few more critters

I’ve seen these on the roads in the last few days.  My first thought was June bugs, but they must be cicadas.DSC04147I found this one on the back lawn.

I saw two beautiful spiders in the garden this morning, but when I got close they ran away and/or curled up into a ball.  One was orange and the other wasn’t.  This is as close as I could come.DSC04152My other fail at photography has to do with hummingbirds.  This morning I saw one fly away from the morning glory (yes, one tiny vine has persisted even though I tried to root it out) and rush to the cardinal climber vine.  It was followed by either three baby hummingbirds or three big bugs that can fly really fast.  Wow, do I fail at nature.  Here’s what attracted them.DSC04156Not many flowers, but what there is, is choice.  Plus beautifully cut leaves.

Flying things

Yesterday I saw this perched on a plant, either the datura or the day lilies in the sunny side garden.eastern pondhawk  There’s no pond nearby, but everything else I found about this dragonfly matches up with what I saw.  Based on some Googling, I’d call this a female eastern pondhawk.  Gorgeous!

Thanks,  bugguide, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, for the information and the photo. (The remaining photos are mine.)

Other flying creatures include a hummingbird, which apparently avoids its own special feeder but loves the little red zinnias that have self-sowed in the vegetable bed, and also likes the bronze fennel although its flower is yellow.DSC04092


The butterfly hunt has resulted in yet another Silver-spotted Skipper.  I had hoped it was something more exotic, but it’s still pretty and kindly stayed in one place so I could take its picture.DSC04049  Like everyone else, it seems to love the verbena bonariensis, which has self-sowed everywhere.

The Goldilocks tree

For the last couple of years, I’ve planned to take out the butterfly bush that anchors the northern end of the sunny border and replace it with the perfect small tree or shrub.  It can be tall but can’t be too wide lest it impinge on the neighbors’ driveway, which they are very proud of and guard jealously. Ideally, it would be a native that supports lots of wildlife AND has at least two-season interest.

Well, perfect is the enemy of the good, as we all know, and I’ve been paralyzed.  Here are just a few of the possibilities.

The first is probably too big:

yaupon_hollyIlex vomitoria commonly known as Yaupon is native to a variety of areas including sandy woods, dunes, open fields, forest edges and wet swamps, often along the coastal plain and maritime forests, from Virginia to Florida, Arkansas and Texas. This is a thicket-forming, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows in an upright, irregularly branched form to 10-20’ tall and to 10’ wide, but may grow taller in optimum conditions. Elliptic to ovate-oblong, leathery, glossy, evergreen, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) have toothed margins. Small greenish-white flowers appear on male and female plants in spring (April). Flowers are fragrant but generally inconspicuous. Pollinated flowers on female plants give way to berry-like red (infrequently yellow) fruits 1/4” diameter) which ripen in fall and persist into winter. Birds are attracted to the fruit.  -Missouri Botanical Garden

The second is one that Anne Little had recommended for the back garden:


Magnolia virginiana, commonly called sweet bay magnolia, is native to the southeastern United States north along the Atlantic coast to New York. In the northern part of its cultivated growing range, it typically grows as either a 15-20′ tall tree with a spreading, rounded crown or as a shorter, suckering, open, multi-stemmed shrub. In the deep South, it is apt to be more tree-like, sometimes growing to 60′ tall. Features cup-shaped, sweetly fragrant (lemony), 9-12 petaled, creamy white, waxy flowers (2-3″ diameter) which appear in mid-spring and sometimes continue sporadically throughout the summer. Oblong-lanceolate shiny green foliage is silvery beneath. Foliage is evergreen to semi-evergreen in the South, but generally deciduous in the St. Louis area. Cone-like fruits with bright red seeds mature in fall and can be showy. See also Magnolia virginiana var. australis which primarily differs from the species by being somewhat taller, having more fragrant flowers and being more likely to be evergreen. -Missouri Botanical Garden

It’s said to prefer moist soils but everyone claims that once it’s established it would be fine through a Virginia summer.  But does it have more than spring interest?  And, 60 feet tall??  Though I’ve also read that it’s easily pruned.

Doug Tallamy recommends the native black cherry because it is a host plant for so much “vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife.”  However, a Dave’s Garden poster says:

In the garden or small property, I give this thumbs-down. It does not make an ornamental specimen, even in full bloom. The flowers are tiny and I don’t find them at all showy. I also find them mildly malodorous. The foliage is consistently troubled by tent caterpillars and webworms, and the twigs are commonly disfigured by black knot.

Like most cherries, it has thirsty, competitive roots. It self-sows weedily and aggressively. The wood is brittle and presents a hazard when it breaks. And the cherries stain everything black when they fall, those that the birds leave. Read more:

Too bad…

Tallamy also recommends a river  birch,  but they suck up all the water and get too big for my space.

Now, I do love crabapples, and he says that the non-native species seem to attract just as many creatures as the natives do, so maybe that’s the way to go.  Maybe Michael Dirr can recommend a small variety.

At least I have a silver (?) maple and a white oak, which both host myriad species.  I have yet to see a moth on the oak tree, but on the other hand I’ve only just started looking.




Capturing wildlife

Actually, just trying to photograph insects in hopes of identifying them later.  It’s much harder than it seems when you see a bee sitting tight and gorging itself on pollen (or is it gorging on nectar?  see, I really need a book), ready for its close-up.  First you have to get it in focus, then you have to take several pictures in rapid succession (I used the burst feature on my camera), then you look at them on the computer and realize that most of them are either sans bee or out of focus.

I got to the bees through this book, Butterflies_through_binocularswhich I’m enjoying despite its 1999 copyright and outdated info on taking photos.  Glassberg is an expert and an enthusiast, and it shows.  The introductory material on how and where to see butterflies and how to pay attention to them is quite illuminating.  Since butterflies come to life in sunshine, it’s mid-morning here before they are active in the front garden.  I think I’ll need to make note of the most common ones and start there.  Lots of skippers, in other words.

The butterfly book inevitably led me to need a similar book on moths and one on bees.  There’s a new bee book that I have my eye on, and here’s why. DSC03791

DSC03780 DSC03767





















I can tell that these is bees, but that’s all I know.  Hence the need for this book:bumble bees of north america






It is even now winging its way to me.  As it were.  As for moths, there’s a newish Peterson guide, but it covers northeastern America – not sure if that matters here in the southeast or not.  In the meantime, I’ve place the Covell guide on hold from the library.

All of this led me back to Douglas Tallamy’s inspiring book, Bringing Nature Home, which I now own in the revised edition.  As I was noticing the bees on the hostas, achillea, hyssop, and echinops, I also realized that I never see them on the daylilies (native to Eurasia), or the spirea (though Wikipedia tells me this is a food source for many larvae).  What I really want to do is to match my plants with the insects that feed on them, in hopes of identifying more insects.  A project for another day.