Silk Crossing

The katydid crept cautiously.

She was scaling our home’s vinyl siding. Slowly and deliberately, she would lift a leg. Sometimes, she waved it in the air. Then her foot patted the siding several times before committing to a landing spot. She seemed to be checking for obstacles like a sight-impaired person might use a cane to survey the sidewalk.

I peered closer. Then I saw the reason for her wary walking.

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Spin, Spin, Spin

I never cared much for spiders.

This summer was no exception. Our house is in the woods, and I’ve become accustomed to seeing webs draped here, there, and everywhere. But this year’s spider season seemed over the top, especially when measured by the quantity of spider poop I scrubbed—repeatedly and begrudgingly—off the siding.

Then, one little silk spinner made me reconsider my arachnid animus.

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More than a Mustache

Whiskers!

We’ve all seen them on our pets’ faces and on squirrels and other rodents, rabbits, beavers, walruses, and some other mammals. Until recently, I didn’t give whiskers much thought. Then I learned they’re not just facial hair… and they’re not always on faces.

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When an Eagle’s Gotta Go

I was in awe of the eagle’s mighty…

poop.

I was never particularly enthralled by bird poop. I mean, ick. On the car. On the lawn chairs. And once, years ago, on my shoulder. Besides the occasional irritation at a windshield splat, I never gave bird droppings any serious thought.

That is, until yesterday. I happened to be filming when a young Bald Eagle lifted his tail.

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Fumble and Search

Score!

The young woodpecker made a proud show of his loot.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are well equipped to forage. Their bills are built to chisel, hammer, and drill. They have long, sticky tongues with barbed tips—perfect for reaching into crevices and pulling out prey.

These birds are omnivores, happy to eat seeds, nuts, fruit, and meat. They’re both aggressive and tenacious. A few months ago, I filmed a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounding the life out of a bat before flying it away for consumption. At feeders, these woodpeckers will swipe peanuts from under squirrels’ noses. And when they find a hard-shelled seed or nut, they know exactly what to do: Wedge it into a tree crevice and hammer. They’ll catch the pieces with a cupped wing or trap them in belly and breast feathers pressed into the tree.

So, when the immature woodpecker leaned into a crevice with a nut in his bill, I expected to see a speedy pound-and-swallow maneuver.

Instead, I saw a fumble.

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Mystery of the Moth

A giant moth landed in our swimming pool.

It couldn’t swim, but not for lack of trying. The moth pushed and pulled its wings, as though doing the breaststroke. Bert pulled the creature from the water.  The soaked moth flapped its wings, turning quarter circles on the pool deck.

But the hot concrete was scorching my bare feet. I thought the insect might fry before it had a chance to dry out and fly.

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Food for Courage

An all-caterpillar diet does not have to be boring.

That’s what I concluded as I watched Baltimore Oriole parents feed their nestlings during my recent nest-watch. They brought wiggly larvae in all colors, sizes, shapes, and textures: green, white, black, skinny, plump, smooth, striped, bumpy, and hairy. Aside from the occasional dragonfly and moth, the nestlings’ diet seemed pretty predictable.

Until they were about four days old.

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Watching and Wondering

Watching a bird incubate is not very exciting.

Lady Baltimore spends most of her time in the nest. So, I spend most of mine watching her sit. Or rather, watching her tail, which is mostly all that I see. By my calculations, it’s about time for her babies to start hatching, one per day for four or five days. And a cowbird, too, if the interloper I caught scoping out the nest managed to lay an egg inside.

So, I’m watching that unexciting nest closely, looking for any movement that might suggest hatchlings within.

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Hanging by a Thread

The Baltimore Oriole poked and pulled on her growing web of thread.

I was fascinated by her nest-building technique. Her work seemed somewhat random, yet over just a few days, the tangled thread evolved from loose and flat to a tightly woven, multi-layered pouch. Her construction project took about eleven days to complete. I marveled at how a bird’s instinct could guide such intricate weaving.

But Lady Baltimore’s work was not without drama.

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In a Terrible Tangle

The male Baltimore Oriole hopped onto the nest-in-process.

I was watching the early days of oriole nest construction. The male stopped by periodically, but not to weave, because the female does all the work. He would hop in, poke his beak at a few strings, and hop out. Cornell’s Birds of the World explains that when the male visits the nest, it’s usually to inspect his mate’s handiwork. And based on what I saw, he often messed it up, yanking out stitches as he fumbled in the tangled web of string.

But one day—the third day of construction—I watched in horror as the male, dubbed Lord Baltimore, didn’t just tug on the stringy nest material.

He got himself stuck.

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