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Everybody is doing something

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Katydids did. Crickets chirp, Chickadees dee dee, doves coo, squirrels chatter, chipmunks cluck, butterflies flash color, bees probe flowers, aphids cluster, ants carry things, moles tunnel, fish splash, and snakes sun. 

We look for excuses to be outside. My skateboarding days are over. Climbing the big pine outback is a memory of days past but I saw a porcupine choose to climb the white pine I once scaled to the top. The prickly mammal was trying to catch some daytime sleep near the trunk but crows objected and announced his presence. 

Every creature is doing something. This year’s fourth generation of Harvester butterflies appeared in mid-August. I thought there were only two generations each year. After adults’ mate and lay eggs, caterpillars hatch to feed on clustered wooly aphids. When grown, they pupate to transform into gorgeous winged insects. 

Each species seeks special nature niche locations to spend days and nights. In a location we refer to as the woodcock circle, the Harvester searches for mates and chases intruders. This past week, one rapidly flew back and forth near sunlit branches. Soon a second arrived and the two tumbled through the air before separating. I wondered if they were two males hoping to chase the other away or if one was female and they would mate. 

One left and the other landed on a leaf where I could observe it had recently emerged from a chrysalis. Bright white circles were on shades of tan and brown wings giving evidence for its newness to the air. After days on the wing, its pattern dulls as it busies itself “doing something.” During its brief adulthood, I take pleasure watching its erratic flight. Without great effort on my part, the caterpillar remains unseen. It spends its childhood camouflaged among wooly aphids on speckled alder. It is hidden from me and the aphids it eats.

A downy woodpecker has taken a fancy to the hummingbird sugar water feeder. The hummers seem to have left the yard after nesting was complete. Where they went to “do something” is unknown. 

Katydids are beginning to tune their wing instrument as they strum their lower and upper wings together but they wait for the privacy of darkness to begin tuning up. These grasshoppers blend well in field vegetation during the day. Unlike butterflies and other insects with straw-like mouth parts, they have chewing mandibles like beetles. They feed on plants. Many beetles are busy seeking insects on plants or in the ground to chew. 

Much of an individual’s life is spent eating a specialized food choice. Food preparation is important. Mud dauber wasps build tubes of mud under overhangs where they will stash a spider paralyzed with a sting. An egg will be laid on the paralyzed meal that the adult will never eat. It is the young that will hatch to feed on the immobile spider in the dark protection of the mud tube.

Most mammals work the night shift. We seldom see their activities. After a day’s rest, they become active in the crepuscular hours of dusk or linger into the dawn. Squirrels and chipmunks choose daylight to scurry through the neighborhood. 

It is always rewarding to canoe or kayak a stream to encounter a multitude of active animals. Belted kingfishers take pause from hunting minnows and small fish when we drift into their hunting grounds. They keep moving downstream ahead of us instead of immediately flying overhead to an upstream location. 

On rare occasions, we see one capture food. Food preparation is a big event. They tenderize fish to eat. I have watched one land on a branch with its minnow and proceed to beat it against the branch for 10 or 15 minutes before swallowing it. 

Any creature encountered will entertain us while “doing something.” Enjoy observing something new each time you “do the something” of watching amazing activities in nature.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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