What happens in the woods...stays in the woods.
Early last Thursday, 6-18-20, I was having breakfast when I spied some movement on a small oak. We had visitors! The Barred Owl pair were perched together on a short branch. They were sharing some tidbit, preening and generally staying pretty well-hidden from Blue Jays and American Crows.
It had been five years since I had taken a photo of them in that spot, on 4-6-15. The "cuddlin' branch" was one of their favorite perches back then. They've probably come in during the night at times to use it, but it was an honor to see them on it again, in morning light. It seemed that they felt safe here and stayed a while before moving to an even more secluded area. Sanctuary!
Nesting species are still busy with young birds. The Northern Cardinal pair seem to be nearly finished with their first brood. The female now comes fairly often to drink. The male was foraging in a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) for a meal.
The primary food for 96% of our terrestrial birds is caterpillars of moths and butterflies, all belonging to the order of insects called Lepidoptera. I've seen the beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail in our garden every year, nectaring on many different flowers. This is a male on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and resting on our 'fish-feeding' rock. The third photo is of a female, resting on Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
This plant is a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) which is the host plant for which the butterfly is named. We have at least six of these plants, but I have never been able to find a caterpillar on one, until this last week. Can you spot it in the photo? Ah, that's not really fair without a clue. Look for a folded leaf.
Here is a photo from last year when a female laid eggs on this plant. I've seen a female patrolling the woods this spring, so it must have laid eggs. Butterflies and moths lay hundreds of eggs, and they do that to ensure that some will survive to maturity. Many, if not most will become food for birds. "After all, no caterpillars, no baby birds! It takes 6,000-9,000 caterpillars (or Leps), to raise one brood of Carolina Chickadees!"
Credit: Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy
After the Barred Owls left, I went out to fill the feeders. I felt like a kid again when I discovered this tiny Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar on a leaf! It eats part of the leaf, then lays down a mat of silk that it folds over onto itself for protection from predators, i.e. birds! The hungry little caterpillar spends some time during the day leaving its protected area and eating more of the leaf before returning. In this way, the host plant takes the energy from the sun, and gives it to the caterpillar through the leaves that are eaten.
I looked at my other Spicebushes, hoping to find more caterpillars, but all I found were empty leaves. Hungry little caterpillars are vulnerable. I hoped to see all the instar stages of the little one I had found. It's a very interesting insect!
Let's take another look for the caterpillar's leaf. Did you spot it this time?
On Monday, 6-22-20, the hungry little caterpillar had shed its skin, and then was out and about on a lower leaf, chomping away. When I checked an hour later, it was back in its leafy bed. I spent some time writing pen pal letters to our grandsons.
Thought to check one more time about 2 hours later, and the caterpillar had disappeared. Had it become a meal for a hungry little bird, like this fledgling Northern Cardinal? Probably. What happens in the woods, stays in the woods.
A young Eastern Phoebe was looking for a meal around the pond a few days ago. Dan had put up a small fence to deter the doe because it loves to eat waterlilies.That gave this bird another perching place. It spotted an insect on the viburnum in the background and nabbed it on the fly. That's what flycatchers do. One way we can tell this is a young bird is that its gape is still visible, though not as bright in color now. This bird must find its own food, not beg from an adult any more.
The doe and fawn are still being seen as they forage on jewelweed, hydrangeas and Solomon's seal, or look for a shady spot in the heat.
Besides the birds and wildlife, I'll be spending time looking for more pollinators, specifically, our native bees. Our garden is part of the ShutterBee Study, co-sponsored by St. Louis University's Billiken Bee Lab and Webster University. Here are a few of the subjects found so far and contributed to the project through iNaturalist.
Brown-belted Bumble Bee on Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) and on Purple Coneflower(Echinacea purpurea).
Hylaeus species or Masked Bee on Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and Augochlorine Sweat Bee on Smooth Hydrangea cultivar (Hydrangea arborescens x 'White Dome').
Leafcutter, Mortar and Resin Bee species on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Stay cool, stay safe and well!