May 9th, 2010


The Insect Eaters

With the spotting of a Great Crested Flycatcher today (a name which really ought to go to a more impressive bird–the GCF is pretty enough, in an olive-and-rust-and-yellow sort of way, but if you’re gonna saddle something with “Great Crested Flycatcher” they ought to be a foot tall, chartreuse and vermilion and shocking pink, with anime-style haircuts.) the list of yardbirds hits forty species, and I didn’t even count the vultures and the geese and swallows and whatnot that go by overhead.

Actually the total is at least 41 species, but as I have no idea what that one thing hopping around in the rain gutter was–something in the general flycatcher-peewee-pheobe spectrum, a hopeless ID to attempt before breakfast–we shall go with forty.

The flycatcher, as the name suggests, is a voracious predator, probably stopping in to investigate the insect menu. The other insect predator I have noticed recently in my garden is a bit more subtle, but just as welcome.

I have three water sources in the front yard. Two are standard birdbaths. The third is an in-ground watering hole, made by the simple expedient of digging a hole in the clay, popping in a plastic pot from Lowes, backfilling partway with the clay and sticking a large rock in it so stuff could climb out. It is as low-tech as this sort of thing gets. Insomuch as I was thinking anything, it was that some of the non-flighted members of the animal kingdom might like a chance to wet their feet, and perhaps one of the many toads that lurk in the yard might enjoy a swim now and again.

I refill it every couple of days with the hose, to replace whatever’s evaporated, and to kill off any mosquito larvae that might be lurking, since we have all been told that any standing water will lead to the entire neighborhood dying of West Nile virus within the week. But an interesting thing has occurred…there aren’t any.

I’ve got larvae in the other two birdbaths, which are summarily executed with the hose during regular watering. But this much deeper watering hole is mosquito larvae free.

What it DOES have are dragonfly larvae.

Dragonfly larvae are little swimming dark bits, and they eat mosquito larvae for lunch…and breakfast, and dinner, and afternoon tea.  The birdbaths are not deep enough to tempt them, but my crude little watering hole apparently is.  (No idea what species, would need a magnifying glass–probably the common whitetails that are all over the yard, at a guess.) I don’t know that it’s a large enough environment for one to actually eat enough to become a full-grown dragonfly, but certainly they’re keeping the mosquito population completely under control.

This is the sort of thing you only get by not using insecticides (and probably not being close enough to any neighbors for THEM to use insecticides) and I don’t know that I’d rely on them as mosquito control in an urban area, unless you had a ton of dragonflies in the area already as indicators of environmental quality…but damn, it’s kinda cool to see even such a terribly simple food chain in action.

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.


….and then the grosbeak.

Female blue grosbeak (which is not even remotely blue, but rich brown) on the feeder.

“There’s something on the feeder.”

“It’s a cowbird.”

“It’s not a cowbird, it’s not dark enough and it’s wagging its tail and those are chesnut wing bars!”

“To the internet!”

I set up a platform feeder a few days ago, and dude, I should have done that years ago, it’s bringin’ ‘em in like crazy. I’ve only seen one other blue grosbeak in my life, and not in this yard. Who knew?

ETA: And there’s the male!

This makes me happy, because A) he’s just an unbelievably gorgeous bird, and B) it means I was actually right on my ID of the female, which, though I was pretty confident, isn’t the easiest ID in the world to make.

Another decade or two, and I might actually get good at this bird thing!

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.