Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's the season when the preying mantises come in from the cold

Suddenly there they are, hanging out on the window frames all over the house, before it's so cool that the windows are closed up tight. I'm happy to see them, numerous and healthy, though I wish they'd stay out in the garden. But they can catch the flies on the windowsills if they wish.

This is a male, with a narrow abdomen; the females I really wish would lay their egg capsules out in the roses.

Unusually among insects, they are large enough to see us and pay attention to our movements. Looking out for predators, I assume.

Some years ago, when I had several former feral cats, for whom hunting bugs was serious business, it was very hazardous for them to come near the lights in the summer. When the balcony light was on, they'd be clinging to the shingles above the balcony, hunting - except for the ones the cats dismembered.

And the ecology class rumor about their lifestyle is correct, sometimes the female beheads the male before mating. (In captive lines, the males can become reluctant to mate, (no surprise), so the biologist takes their heads off, and sets them down beside a female.) Without the inhibiting signals from the brain, the lower nerve ganglion, which has only one thing on its mind, is in control. They climb on and mate. Guys.

This photo was taken on 9/26/08. 

Oh, by the way, the commoner name is praying mantis. But they are certainly major predators, so I like preying mantis.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The night the vultures dropped in

First, in the very late afternoon, lying out on the lawn chairs, Larry & I saw them way up high, circling. Many of them, maybe 18 or 2 dozen, so high & small we could barely see they were birds, and they were grey against the sky, not black. We guessed turkey vultures, because we couldn't think of what else would be in such a large group, soaring, circling in a "kettle".

Then, without my seeing their actual arrival, they were dropping into the large Ponderosa pines south of the house, slightly downhill. It was still just light enough to try to get a few photos that night. This one was taken the next morning, Sept 26, 2007. I waited a couple of hours and took the later bus to school, hoping to get a shot of them as they flew.

Instead, they sat in the trees in sunny spots, or flew to the large black oak to the east of the house and stretched their wings out in the sun. I could just hear them saying "Mornin' Joe. Cup of coffee?" as they woke up slowly.

Meanwhile, out from under the same pine trees came a flock of wild turkeys, a dozen or so, industriously scratching for their breakfasts. I can see why Benjamin Franklin admired them.

Even by the time I had to catch the bus to school at 9:30, they had not left, still waiting for their thermal. As the bus pulled out, I could see just the first few rising slowly.*

That afternoon when I got home from school, I went straight to the window, but unfortunately without the camera. There they were, 2 dozen of them, circling down just above the treetops, deciding if they were coming here again. A breathtaking sight.

*My Young Wilderness Professional book-club friend tells me that they migrate that way, by rising very high on a thermal, then gliding down to the next one. And I guess this south slope makes a good one.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I saw the owl killing a rabbit

Well, not quite. Coming up the hill towards the ditch, just before 8:00 pm, when it was still quite light, I heard the screaming. As I crossed the ditch, the screaming stopped, and as I turned into the trail, the owl flew up from just beside me. The terrified rabbit was still alive, twitching and trying to jump, but not able to get up and run away. All I could do was to go by as quickly as possible, so the owl could come back and kill it.

I've seen more wildlife here than I ever did at our cabin in Northern Idaho, at the north end of Priest Lake, where we spent all our summers, growing up. This was one I'd rather have missed. Now I know what probably happened to several of my cats, over the years.

*I've seen the owl several times at the turn in the trail. The neighbors say the owl we've heard on the hillside is a great horned owl. This was the first picture I've gotten, on Sept 17th, 2009, a few weeks after the day it killed the rabbit (Aug 24). If it's a great horned, it has its "horn" feathers lowered. But it's big enough to kill a jackrabbit.

Labels: , ,