Monday, June 19, 2006

ENV: Funny Critter Week Special

It's been a week of cool critter experiences. It was the first week of my summer wildlife classes, and with a dozen intense kids running through the woods and sloshing around the edges of ponds we were bound to find some neat stuff. So here goes:

First, off the ranch, i was at Holly's yesterday at Canyon Springs just east of Hunt. Now i've been picking up Eastern Hercules Beetles (Dynastes tityus) there for the last month and a half -- all seemingly drawn to the lights. Down at the Youth Ranch on the other hand, about six miles further east, i've been raking in the Southwestern Ox Beetles (Strategus aloeus), also coming to the lights. But there's been no crossover. While i was checking the garden at Holly’s yesterday though i saw a large dead brown beetle and immediately thought i'd crossed that line -- a Strategus at Canyon Springs. But when i picked it up it felt heavy, and looked both large and oddly shaped for an Ox Beetle. The more i looked the more odd i thought it was. When i got back to the office i examined it more closely and found that it has shadow spots like a Dynastes though it is dark brown like Strategus. I guess i'll be posting a link to this to Texas Ento and asking for opinions as to whether something is awry here, whether it's a dark Dynastes, is perhaps melanistic, or perhaps is a hybrid. I don't know of other possibilities, but surely someone will suggest some. Anyway here's some pics, with obvious flash to try to bring out the spots.

UPDATE: Mike Quinn and John Abbott have both weighed in that this is Dynastes tityus. Johnsays females often darken up like this.

Speaking of melanos, one of the adult Red-shouldered Hawks that just fledged two young from a nest about 50 yards from my cabin here on the ranch is melanistic. I’m trying to get pictures but without luck so far. It is a dark chocolate brown, except for the tail which looks normally banded blackish gray and white. Here’s the nest. Arrow points to the barely visible head of downy chick back on May 21.

TexBirds has been alive in the last couple of weeks with stories of summering and nesting Cooper’s Hawks in Texas. My own experience has been that they’re somewhat scizophrenic. Birds nesting in remote canyons of the Trans-Pecos go vocally nuts when you get near a nest. And yet a pair nested directly over my cabin full of kids for several summers at a summer camp in Trinity County in east Texas. Reminded of all that by the presence of a bird here at the Ranch a couple of days ago. Haven’t found a nest, and it’s possible that the bird is an early migrant. Kerr County usually has a couple of Coop nests and one is being reported from in town in Kerrrville. A few summers ago had a Sharp-shinned Hawk several times in June – that would be by far the rarer nesting of the two common Accipiters in Texas, if indeed it had set up house.

Then there was the porcupine that the kids stumbled across while weeding the garden. Not that porcupines are particularly rare in these parts, but this one was as ragged as they come. I suspect it is a very old individual. See below for yourself.

Here’s a look at an Armadillo that was doing some “gardening” of his own when i interrupted dinner the other night.

Here’s an Eastern Hognose Snake we kept for a week and then released.

And the proud newest inhabitants of the local aviary, a pair of Green Honeycreepers, which, post-breeding, aren’t getting along real well. Hopefully we’ll get one more nest out of them this season.

Returned three fawns to moms last week alone. We’re working with abandoned kids here and they just can’t leave alone a baby they think has been abandoned. You got to have a heart for these guys.

Finally, i looked up yesterday at work to see what hummers were using my feeders (about a dozen Black-chins right now – the last Ruby-throats left about a week ago, plenty late – and i had at least a male, and probably a female Calliope until last week also). Anyway, there was a yearling doe feeding right under the tree where my feeders are hung. She looked up but seemed none too bothered by me and went right on feeding.

Then another doe came ambling up the hill. I should mention that the yearling had a bag and was ribby so she was probably feeding a fawn somewhere close. The larger doe ambling up the hill was very tubby and will probably drop a fawn this week. As the larger doe came up behind the youngster the smaller doe turned on its heels, stood up and lashed out at the larger one. Well, i’d been taking some pictures of the first, but had set my camera down. I scrambled for it while the other doe also went straight up and started boxing. By the time my camera was ready they had moved down the slope below my office a ways but were still boxing and jousting,

until finally the older deer seemed to get the better of the disagreement and chased the smaller doe into the woods. Not thirty minutes later both, plus a young buck and a third doe were standing under the feeders feeding peacefully. And that, in these pictures, was my Disney moment of the week.

Sayonara . . .

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