Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Close Encounters


What a cool insect – looks like something from an alien movie doesn’t it? I’ve always liked praying mantises, they seem so cool and sophisticated.

Mantises are at the top of the insect food chain and will eat just about anything it can grab and hold with its powerful front legs. It didn’t take me long to realize why this particular praying mantis was stalking the area. Yes, it may be hard for some to comprehend (even myself), but these insects are capable of taking down a hummingbird if given the opportunity.


Hummingbirds passing through my area now are very active, franticly feeding and bulking up for their long journey south for the winter; but this large female praying mantis (above) has her own agenda. She will be laying eggs soon and could use the extra nutrition herself.

Out of curiosity I watched as a cautious hummingbird approached the feeder, while the mantis watched closely and tried to angle itself in a position to attack.


There are lots of species of mantis’s, but the one in these photos is the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis). It’s a non-native insect introduced to North America in the late 1800s to aid in pest control. The Chinese Mantis can grow to a length of more than 6 inches. Our native mantis’s are about half that size when fully grown making it easy to distinguish between the two.

Situations like this in nature don’t normally affect me, it’s just part of the circle of life and the way nature balances itself out. However, this particular insect is non-native, and it’s also stalking a man provided food source that's been put out for the birds. Under those circumstances, I feel as if I’m somewhat responsible for the birds safety. I guess one could argue that it’s no different than hawks that stalk backyard birdfeeders, but in the hummingbirds case, it’s just a matter of relocating the feeder to a safer location. And that’s what I did.

Just remember to always keep an eye out on your feeders to ensure that they’re in a safe location for the birds. Things will happen beyond our control but at a minimum we can at least eliminate the obvious dangers.

There’s an article on the Birdwatchers Digest Site titled “Praying Mantis Makes Meal of a Hummer”, along with photos. If your not too sensitive to such things like this be sure to check it out!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Surviving Irene

After experiencing a couple hurricanes and a few more close calls in my lifetime, the anticipation of Hurricane Irene wasn't a welcomed one. I wasn’t that worried about the storm itself, but more so the dreaded aftermath that such a storm can leave behind. Experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, I know the kind of damage that these winds and rains can bring.

Although not entirely the event that the news media made it out to be in our area, Irene was a storm to be reckoned with that flooded many low-lying areas and unfortunately took several lives. Damage in our area was mostly due to falling trees, which as a result, kept us in the dark for 5 days. Being without electricity definitely makes you realize the little things that we often take for granted. But I’m thankful nevertheless, it could have been much worse. With the exception of some minor siding damage to the house, and being without power for a few days, I’m pleased to report all is well with me and my family.

Here’s one of the many downed trees in our area –


This unfortunate family had one tree fall on their house, causing major damage, and to add insult to injury, a second one (shown below) fell across their front yard knocking down power lines that fell into the street and blocked the entrance/exit of their driveway.


For many, the rain from Irene was a welcome site. Normally this isn’t the type of rain that you would wish for, but for many local farmers who have been dealing with below normal rainfall for the last couple of summers welcomed it. Better yet, the rainfall from hurricane Irene contained most of the forest fire in the Great Dismal Swamp that has been gagging everyone in the area for a good part of the summer.

DS Fire

If interested, more Dismal Swamp fire photos are available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Northeast Flickr account:

Believe it or not, there are still a few smoldering areas in the swamp, but hopefully the latest rains we’ve been getting this week (remnants of hurricane Lee) will help put an end to the remaining flare ups.

If you’re a hard core birdwatcher, hurricanes can offer one the opportunity to see some rare birds, especially along the coast. Strong winds blow many pelagic birds off their course, driving them closer to the coast, offering opportunities to spot them in areas that they normally wouldn’t be. You can read about some of the cool birds that were seen as a result of hurricane Irene here.

Here’s a quick photo (below) I took of a house finch (sorry for the poor quality) taking cover during the storm on our back porch up next to the house. A pair of house finches hung out most of the day there surviving the storm. Birds are very sensitive to changes in air pressure and know instinctively to take shelter. A sharp drop in barometric pressure alerts them that a big storm is on the way. This photo kind of gives you an idea what a lot of these little birds go through in times like these – not only do birds have to deal with the harsh heat of summer and freezing winters, but events like hurricanes can be costly to small birds. Read more about the effects of hurricanes on birds here:

House Finch during Hurricane Irene

And while we’re talking birds and hurricanes, check out this really cool video about a bird that got caught up in the middle of hurricane Irene and survived: