25 October 2011

Oleander Aphids

Well, we're at a new house and just finished planting a lot of plants (mainly natives) to attract birds and butterflies.  One of our favorites is the Mexican Bloodflower in the milkweed family.  In Arizona, these were magnets for Queen butterflies and their caterpillars.  My posts on the subject have been some of the most popular of this site.
Mexican Bloodflower (Milkweed)
Mexican Bloodflower close-up

Anyway, the milkweed family also (and more famously) attracts Monarchs.  So, I've been checking frequently to see if any migrating monarchs have stopped to lay eggs.  So far, none have been seen, but I was surprised to see a mass of little yellow "eggs" on the stems.

Upon taking a closer look, I noticed they were moving - not very egg like.  And they seemed to have tiny legs.  Grabbing my macro lens, I decided to get a closer look:

Oleander Aphids on Milkweed

Yes, these tiny bugs did have legs.  And upon researching, they are Oleander Aphids, Aphis nerii, found only on Oleanders and Milkweeds.  They are believed to be introduced from the Mediterranean region, and have spread across much of North America.

They can occur in huge numbers, though from what I've read, are not a danger to the health of the plant.  They can produce a 'honeydew' substance that can look bad, but it seems most gardeners let the aphids take their course.   Often, predators or parasites (such as parasitic wasps) will wipe them out in short order.  Note, however, that the list of predators is small for the same reasons why Monarchs have few predators - the aphids are pick up toxic chemicals from the milkweed!

19 October 2011

Altamira Oriole

Last summer I had the pleasure of taking a trip to south Texas (the Rio Grande Valley) in search of birds and wildlife.  I came away with a number of new bird and butterfly species seen and photographed, and look forward to sharing some of the highlights over the coming months.

One highlight was the Altamira Oriole and nest seen at Estero Llano Grande State Park.  The Altamira Oriole is only found in the Rio Grande Valley in the USA, and this conspicuous nest made for an easy sighting:
Altamira Oriole Nest

The bird itself was a  bit harder to photograph.  It made a couple of brief stops on the wire and then flew off.  As a result, I only ended up with a few blurry shots, but it is enough to see its vibrant orange coloring, extending to its median coverts, along with the black facial markings.
Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

While the photos were not spectacular, the bird certainly is!

06 October 2011

A New Home, Charleston Slough, and American White Pelicans

It has been awhile since I've posted - what can I say?  Life got in the way.  A new baby, a new job, and a new home in a new state tend to disrupt hobbies.

I'm now in the Bay Area, and excited to explore the local flora and fauna.  I'm lucky enough to work very near a birding hotspot - Shoreline Park at Mountain View.  And that of course places me close to Palo Alto Baylands and not too far from the Alviso birding hot spot.

I've already made three or four trips over to Shoreline, and have some good material and photos to post.

I'll post more about the area in the near future, but I'm excited to post some photos.  One of my walks to Shoreline took me across the park to Charleston Slough, which borders Palo Alto and Mountain View.  Charleston Slough is affected by tides, making it an excellent shorebird spot or duck/grebe spot depending on the tides.

This time of year, American White Pelicans congregate in great numbers, drawing the attention of birders and non-birders alike.  I've seen American White Pelicans in Nebraska, Arizona, and even in Yellowstone, but never anywhere close to the numbers that occur at Charleston Slough.  I'd conservatively estimate a count of 200 the evening I stopped by in mid/late September.

American White Pelican Flock
 Pelicans are one of the easier birds to get nice flight photos of.  Their white/black contrast make it easy for auto focus, as does their size.

American White Pelican Flight