November 7, 2009

backyard diversions

Though my undergrad degree was Biology, it was weighted heavily towards field biology, especially botany. So I can never stray very far from the outdoors, even while pursuing my MD. That's a bit of a challenge in the suburbs of the 4th largest city in the US. But I've taken great care in my selection of plants for my yard. It doesn't always look the best but it serves one of its primary purposes - to provide me with endless distractions courtesy of the natural world. It's a helluva lot better than TV. My son found this. We were sitting outside one afternoon and he noticed a monarch butterfly acting strangely. Our first thought was it just emerged from its coccoon so it's wings hadn't hardened yet. Upon closer inspection, we spied a praying mantis ruthlessly devouring the monarch's head, upside down no less (that's some danged good peristalsis and sphincter control).
It did not seem amused at our attention. If you click on the picture to get the larger one, the mantid's head looks a bit freaky. For an even cooler picture, check out this one from another blog with obviously a much better camera and more talented person behind the lens.
I deliberately planted this member of the legume family (Cassia corymbosa, or Senna corymbosa depending on whom you ask) to be a host plant for various species of sulfur butterflies. I'm rewarded with tons of butterflies ranging from pale yellow to almost orange, especially in the fall.
It's a Where's Waldo with birds, though this yellow breasted chat isn't trying very hard. A great example of Zahavi's Handicap Principle if I ever saw one. I must confess that I had to have help id'ing this one from Plantwoman as A) I'm not much of a birder and B) this guy has never shown up in my yard before.
This hawk was also a new visitor. He's either a Cooper's or a Sharp shinned hawk. I can't tell, but either way, birds of prey are always wickedly cool. At first, I had no clue what he was doing on my fence. I live in a new subdivision where I think me and 2 other people have bothered to plant anything, so there's not a lot of habitat potential going on. But I do believe that I have a family of small field mice that are eeking out a living in my garden. I saw the hawk pay close attention several times to where the I suspect the mice live. He even jumped down off the fence once to make a strike but came up empty.

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