Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Wildlife Sightings

I don't get the best photos of wildlife in my garden with my point-and-click camera but I'm nonetheless always pleased when I capture an image, regardless of its quality.  Yesterday, in the late afternoon as I was trying to get in some needed garden clean-up, I disturbed a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).  Luckily, I had my camera with me and the butterfly didn't flit far.



The Mourning Cloak is an uncommon sighting here as butterflies go.  Sulphur butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries, and even Monarchs are more common.  I understand that the adults feed on the sap of oak and willow trees.  Peppermint willows (Agonis flexuosa) weren't specifically named but perhaps those trees, which have a prominent place in my landscape, were the attraction.

I understand that it's Mourning Cloak mating season and males will hang out in sunny open areas to wait for receptive females


Last week, I also had a couple sightings of a bird I didn't recognize.  In the first instance, I saw it locked in an apparent standoff with a crow as I carried out some trash.  (Crows are remarkably large!)  I assumed that the crow was after the smaller bird and clapped my hands to send it off but the smaller bird took off after it, lunging at it several times while the two birds were still within my sight.  The next day, I caught a couple of photos of the same bird at the backyard fountain.



Aided by a photo-key to local birds picked up when I was in the wild bird food store recently, I determined that these were Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos).  I read that they're notorious for harassing other birds in defense of their territories.  They also mimic the calls of other birds.

He does look fierce, despite his size


These aren't my only wildlife sightings, just the ones I was able to photograph.  Monday morning I looked out the window and saw a coyote skulking down the dirt path behind my backyard border.  I banged on the window a few times and it disappeared, presumably exiting down the back slope into the canyon area.  Although I'm well aware that coyotes are in the area, this was a little too close for comfort.  My cat, Pipig, is no longer allowed to roam each morning when I clean out her box.  Needless to say, she isn't pleased.


For other Wednesday vignettes, visit our host, Anna of Flutter & Hum.


All material © 2012-2016 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

38 comments:

  1. One of our 'Desert Museum' palo verdes is in full bloom and it's covered with carpenter bees. They're huuuge!!! I don't think I've ever gotten a good photo of them though. I'm not a critter photographer either :-).

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    1. I understand that carpenter bees also build nests in bamboo. Between bamboo and the Palos Verdes blooms, I expect the bees feel they have it made at your place, Gerhard!

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  2. I had to look up coyote. Yikes. Pipig is safer indoors. I suppose there's no chance they would take a raccoon?

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    1. Cats and small dogs are among the coyotes favorite snacks. When I lived in Santa Monica, in a very densely populated area, half-eaten pets were a common discovery and I was always careful to keep my cat inside the fence. One night soon after we moved here, when the south side yard was still a thicket, I heard absolutely horrible noises coming from that area. It sounded like a mortal battle and, for whatever reason, my suspicion at the time is that it involved a raccoon and a coyote but raccoons are pretty big and could be a challenge for a coyote. For the most part, they appear to steer clear of one another.

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  3. I don't think I've ever seen a Mourning Cloak butterfly - congratulations on the siting and getting a couple of shots too!
    That looks like a Mockingbird to me; we had them in the Midwest and occasionally I see them here in Arizona though, unfortunately, not in our yard. Often when they fly there is a very visible white patch on the wings.

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    1. "Sighting" not "siting"... :/

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    2. I don't remember seeing mockingbirds here before but, as I previously didn't have a name to peg to them, perhaps that just fell into the very large "unclassified" bird category for me. They're probably nesting nearby - I'm seeing them regularly now.

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  4. Lucky you to get a Mourning Cloak picture....mine wouldn't stand still...great shots!

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    1. I was surprised that the Mourning Cloak hung around long enough for me to take 6 photos, Donna. Perhaps his mate was in the area.

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  5. Mockingbirds and blue jays are usually the birds that hassle crows and hawks. They have a lot of moxie. That said, our resident mockingbirds don't usually go after our red-shouldered hawks because the hawks are around so much (most years the hawks nest near the house). The mockingbirds are aggressive toward anything threatening their nest or babies though! They've never bombed me, I think because I'm around so much, but I've seen them go after our cats!

    The Mourning Cloak is a beautiful butterfly.

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    1. At my old house, the hummingbirds occasionally dive-bombed both me and my cat - just another indication that size doesn't matter, I guess! I honestly thought that mockingbird (before I knew its name) was about to become the crow's prey but, when I saw him on the offensive, I guessed there might be a nest in the area he was defending.

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  6. In our youth Nymphalis antiopa were the most common butterfly around. I remember them and their caterpillar form very well. Over the past 5 years I have seen only a few.

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    1. Well, I remembered the Mourning Cloak well enough to recognize it on sight (although I did check my ID on -line to make sure I wasn't mistaken).

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  7. What a beautiful butterfly. Have never seen one. I adore your water feature and I see the birds love it too. And yes, the mockingbird is the policeman of the bird world. That is, until a hawk swoops in and puts it in its place. A lucky escape but scared it into hiding for a whole day.

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    1. We have red-tailed hawks in the area - I see them often circling the harbor area but they seldom land in the garden. On the rare occasions they do, all the small birds seem to go into hiding.

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  8. Great shot of the butterfly!

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  9. Perhaps the coyote will help with the racoon issue you've had? And I agree, a great shot of the butterfly!

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    1. My personal theory is that the raccoons and the coyotes have a deal dividing up the neighborhood. Other than auditory evidence of a possible skirmish between the two species shortly after we moved (as described above in my response to Rusty Duck), this is the first time I've actually seen a coyote on our property. Unfortunately, the raccoons are regular visitors.

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  10. Wonderful shot of the butterfly! There is nothing more pleasing to me than to discover new creatures big and small in my garden. I especially love it when I lose track of time admiring pretty butterflies and birds.

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    1. I love the birds and the butterflies, Jennifer, but I could do without the raccoons, skunks and - yikes! - coyote.

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  11. I love the Mourning Cloaks - although I have only seen very few in my life, they are one of my favorites. Wonderful shots! The Latin name for the mocking bird made me laugh - "polyglottos"... Quite the linguist, I understand, and probably well prepared to police the various bird cultures!

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    1. I laughed at the Latin name when I saw it too, Anna. Now, I'm wondering if I have as many backyard birds as I thought I did, or maybe just one very vocal linguist!

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  12. The butterfly is stunning, not one we have here. I don't have much luck capturing the swift moving wildlife either. I've never seen a mocking bird either, in fact I may have thought it was fictitious.

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    1. If I hadn't witnessed the mockingbird's conflict with the crow, he may not have registered when I saw him later, Christina; however, now that I know more about his vocal habits, I think the species may account for some of the odd bird song I've heard in the past.

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  13. Lucky sighting of the Mourning Cloak butterfly--that's new to me. A nice bit of happenstance. We have lots of mockingbirds here and enjoy them. Around the country they've adapted to modern noises and can be heard mimicking car door beeps, chain saws, etc.

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    1. I read that the mockingbird's vocalizations can extend to "modern" urban noise and now I think the species may account for a very odd call I've heard in spring the last couple of years, Susie. It sounds like a cuckoo-clock rendition of the sound a car's electronic locking and unlocking device makes, repeated over and over and over again.

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  14. Grateful that defending our cats from coyote (or caracal here) is not one of my tasks!

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    1. It's amazing how widespread coyotes are here, Diana. They were present in a densely populated area my husband and I lived in as students too. I was concerned they might be present here and asked the real estate agent representing the seller about them during our home inspection but was told there were none in the area. He lied. They have a high profile here and regularly pick off pets who are left unattended, even during the day. (They're considered nocturnal but they clearly adjust their schedules based on their needs.)

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  15. Coyotes have adapted well to suburban settings, just like fox and raccoon. A wily trio if there ever was one. Glad Pipig is safe, even if he doesn't know it is for his own good. Mockingbirds are almost as annoying, sometimes even calling at night! But if they learned to mimic some good songbirds, it may be enjoyable. :)

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    1. Pipig actually growled at me this morning when I unceremoniously picked her up and tucked her back into her screened (and reinforced) porch. She's managed a few disappearing acts since we moved here and each time I was in fear that she'd become dinner (or breakfast) for some coyote.

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    2. I know that fear - I lost a kitty to their jaws (presumably). My two are now indoor kitties, safe and sound.

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  16. Will your mockingbird mimic any noise? It could be fun to find out! The mourning cloak is exquisite. I have never seen one of those before. Good luck with keeping your cat in. I have never seen a coyote anywhere but a zoo.

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    1. I don't know if mockingbirds are trainable, Sarah - they seem to have their own purpose in the songs they choose to mimic. However, I've been curious to try running talk radio in the garden overnight in an effort to put off the raccoons (some people swear this works) - wouldn't it be funny if I ended up with a mockingbird imitating Donald Trump? He's getting a lot of coverage here as you might imagine and he's very repetitive!

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  17. That Mourning Cloak is a beauty! If you do train a Mockingbird that sounds like The Trump I hope you won't regret it...they often sing day and night when looking for a mate and nonstop Trumping might be a lot more than you bargained for. : )

    Mockingbirds are quite territorial. If you have a nest nearby you'll be seeing (and hearing!) a lot more of these vocal visitors.

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    1. I suspect there is a nest nearby given the earlier conflict I witnessed between the mockingbird and the crow outside our garage. No, I won't encourage the bird to mimic Mr. Trump - the daily news broadcasts are already more than I can take.

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  18. Interesting--the Mourning Cloaks were so common when I was growing up in Gardena--it was the only butterfly we would ever see. I see them every once in a while here.

    A couple days ago I went out for the mail and there was half a rabbit...fresh bloody mess. I went and got a shovel and bag to clean up, and when I came back it was already gone. The coyotes are around constantly, and are so good at hiding. I'm glad you take good care of Pipig.

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    1. My brother made a similar comment about Mourning Cloaks. As the adults like oak tree sap, I wonder if the sudden oak death epidemic is affecting their numbers.

      I guess we should both be happy that coyotes remain fearful of humans, or at least adult humans. They don't seem to be nocturnal predators anymore. The drought is probably making their lives more difficult too.

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