Clarity

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Typical scenery in Costa Rica – gorgeous mountain views

Do you find that you go through phases in life where your interests change suddenly? I  do, and I’m moving into another one of those now. I think my recent trip to Costa Rica helped clarify things for me — traveling always helps to get my brain out of a rut. More about the trip below, but first a bit about those changing passions of life.

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Resplendent Quetzal

I spent the first decade of this century immersed in the knitting world, spending hours each day creating sweaters, socks, and hats. I went to knitting conventions, took classes, and bought lots of yarn.  I loved it so much I started a knitting design business. I sold my patterns nationwide and had a blast doing the marketing and all the other facets of running a business. And then one day I just lost interest in it all.  I think it was because I’d made my hobby into my job, and that sucked the joy out of it.

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Boat-billed Herons

After the knitting phase, I developed an intense interest in birdwatching, and left my knitting needles to gather dust as I ran around the woods and meadows looking for new species to add to my growing bird list. I joined my local Audubon chapter, attended birding events, and made lots of nature-loving friends. And then I took a job in the birding world. And very quickly after that I discovered that my passion for birding was waning. (More confirmation that it’s often not a good idea to turn a hobby into a job.)

So as I mentioned, I just spent a week at a birding lodge in Costa Rica and was surprised to realize that my enthusiasm for finding new birds had evaporated. I’m sure part of the reason was that it was very humid and muddy, and as much as I like to tell myself that I’m okay with that, I’m not. (I hate to sweat so much that I’ve often wished I could do my workouts in the shower so the sweat would wash off immediately. You think I’m joking about that? Nope.) I think I’m suddenly at a point in my life where I’m no longer willing to traipse around on muddy mountain roads getting attacked by mosquitoes while trying to get a brief glimpse of a bird I won’t even remember in two months.

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Golden-olive Woodpecker

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve just written that, actually, but I think it’s true. I still love birds, but I can’t see myself traveling internationally again for the sole purpose of adding new species to my list. I’d rather spend quality time with birds closer to home. Two years ago, when I went to Panama, I was totally geeked about the birds. But it’s different now. I just didn’t feel it on this trip.

Even when I stood on the balcony at the lodge watching dozens of hummingbirds swarming around a half dozen feeders, I couldn’t summon the interest to try and identify the various species. It’s not that I didn’t get enjoyment from sitting there watching them, but I had no desire to identify every one of them just in case it was a new name to add to a list. I was content to know the names of a half dozen species, and after that I didn’t really care. I know the hardcore birders out there will revoke my “real birder” badge now, but that’s okay. I willingly surrender it.

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Fiery-throated Hummingbird
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One Fiery-throated Hummer and two Lesser Violetears

trio-of-brahma-cows-on-a-hillI do still enjoy trying to get a nice photo of a bird though, and that’s why I’m sharing a few in this post. But you’ll also notice some non-bird photos from this trip. I really loved those Brahma cows standing on the steep hillsides. Talk about picturesque…. (Here’s my Flickr album from the Costa Rica trip, with more pics being added in the next few days.)

Despite this waning passion for the sporting aspect of birding, I did have enthusiasm for some of the birds on this trip. Along with the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird, I was hoping to see some more woodpecker species on this trip. There’s something about woodpeckers that I find irresistible. In fact, if given a choice to watch hummingbirds or woodies, I believe I would choose the woodpeckers. I’ve written a bit about woodpeckers here before.

Cinnamon Woodpecker male
Cinnamon Woodpecker (Panama)

Here at home we have quite a few beautiful species of woodpeckers: Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, Pileated, Northern Flickers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. (Here’s a link to my Flickr photos of woodpeckers in Michigan and Ohio.) And when I was in Panama a couple  years ago, I saw the beautiful Cinnamon Woodpecker, the Crimson-crested, the Black-cheeked, Red-crowned,  and the Lineated Woodpecker.

In Costa Rica I saw a few more types, including the Golden-olive Woodpecker and my favorite, the Acorn Woodpecker. We stopped at a feeding station on one of our day trips, and as we walked toward it we saw a small group of Acorn Woodpeckers (aka clown-faced woodpeckers) fly up into the trees.  I didn’t  recall ever seeing woodpeckers in groups before, but I was so busy trying to get photos of them and all the other birds that day that I didn’t think too much about that interesting tidbit. So imagine my delight when I sorted my mail once I returned home and found that the new issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest has an article about Acorn Woodpeckers! (“The Clown-faced Woodpecker with an Obsession,” by Steve Shunk.)

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Acorn Woodpecker (female)

In this article I learned some fascinating facts about these birds. They often live in small family groups consisting of a mated pair and their offspring from past years. Hmm, that could explain why there were so many together that day in Costa Rica. And in addition to the obvious acorns, which they prefer to eat when they’re fresh in the last summer and fall, these woodpeckers actually catch insects on the wing in much the same way as the typical flycatchers do.

I wish we’d had time to stay and watch them for a while longer, but that’s not how things work on these group birding trips, so it was back into the van and on to the next stop….

I’ve been feeling rather unsettled these past couple months. I thought it was mostly because I’d quit my job and wasn’t sure what I would do next. But writing this has helped me clarify what’s actually going on, and now I know that I’m moving into another stage of my life with exciting new interests. And leaving that job was what enabled me to get some much-needed distance from the intensity of the birding world. I’m sure birds will still be an important part of the way I connect with nature, but now I’m free to explore some of the other things I’ve been keeping on the back burner in recent years. I’m suddenly feeling quite optimistic and purposeful, and I think that’s a very good way to enter the new year.

Here’s hoping you have something to look forward to in 2017 as well.

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Cattle Egret on a cow…match made in heaven, lol

 

 

 

 

Cannibal Encounter at Creek Bend Farm

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Meadow path at Creek Bend Farm
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Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Here in northwest Ohio we’re enjoying some very comfortable fall-like weather lately. After spending most of the summer with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, I’m very grateful for this change that makes me want to be outside all the time. I’ve been riding my bike a couple times a week, and going for more nature walks too. Today I had a bit of a false start when I drove an hour to one of the Toledo metroparks and hardly found any wildlife activity at all. Very few birds or butterflies, and far too many people. (I should have expected the people on this holiday weekend…oops.)

So after putting in a good effort for about 90 minutes, I headed back toward home feeling a bit frustrated. Then I decided to stop at Creek Bend Farm, a place that’s become one of my favorite local birding spots in the year since I moved here. I walked out through the meadow, moving slowly to lessen the chances of scaring off any interesting insects or birds.

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Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae)

I saw quite a few dragonflies but none of them landed anywhere so I couldn’t get photos. The butterflies were more cooperative though, and I saw a Silver-spotted Skipper, some Pearl Crescents, lots of Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, and a nice Viceroy. And I think I saw a Monarch too, but it was too fast for me to confirm that.

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Viceroy butterfly (Limenitus archippus) 

There was a big flock of Tree Swallows moving over the meadow, and a couple times the flock came down low and swarmed all around me. It was a glorious experience!  I took a short video of the wildflowers blowing in the breeze — I think this will help you imagine what it felt like out there today:

Oh, so you’re probably curious about my cannibal encounter, aren’t you? Okay, so the meadow paths eventually wrap around and intersect the path that borders the creek. This is the path I was walking on:

Path at Creek Bend Farm with coneflowers (800x533)

Soon after I turned onto the creek path, I heard the unmistakable buzz and squeak of a hummingbird. I turned around just in time to see this little one fly into a tree and begin a preening session.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I’m assuming this is a female, but it could be a young male. (At this time of year it’s hard to differentiate the two because the juvenile male won’t have his red throat yet.) I always get a thrill when I see a hummer out in “the wild” like this, away from a feeder. So I watched her for a few minutes, snapping photos as best I could manage through the leaves. I thought you might like to see this one because it shows her using her foot to scratch her throat, in a way that reminds me of how cats and dogs do it. I hope you can see it here…the photo isn’t the greatest.

Ruby-throated hummingbird preening with foot

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I started to move on down the path but only got three steps away from the hummingbird’s location when I heard another loud buzzing. I looked up and saw a large insect land in a tree beside me. My first impression was that it was a cicada.

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But as I grabbed my binoculars for a closer look, I saw that it was one of the coolest insects ever, a Red-footed Cannibal Fly. And it had a victim already clasped in its legs, a large bee. It had already begun injecting enzymes into the bee to liquify the insides so they could be sucked out. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?

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This is a type of Robber Fly in the genus Promachus. I’m not positive of the species, but it has red legs so that seems like it fits the Red-footed Cannibal Fly (Promachus rufipes). I was so excited to see this, but I had a heck of a time trying to get a photo in the depths of shade under the tree. Then the fly moved to another branch with better light and I got this one that shows more detail of this creature’s interesting body.

Robber Fly - maybe Red-footed Cannibal Fly - promachus genus (800x547)

My first encounter with this fascinating insect was at Blue Heron Reserve last fall, where I took this photo of two of them resting on a boardwalk:

Red-footed Cannibal Fly - 2 of them (800x535)

They’re a couple of inches long and very intimidating. Especially if you’re a smaller insect! And I discovered that these predators have been known to prey on…wait for it….hummingbirds! So I guess the little hummer in the next tree was very lucky this hungry killer had already found a victim.

Okay, this has been long already, but I don’t want to leave you with visions of gut-sucking cannibals, so here are some pretty dogwood berries. I hope that makes up for it. 🙂

Either Gray Dogwood or Red Osier Dogwood
Dogwood berries