It’s the most wonderful post of the year! It’s longer than ever, chock-full of feathers, and some things with big eeeeears!!
It’s the hap-happiest posting of all! There are wee ones a-creeping, one that is sleeping, some big and some smaaaaaall!
Here we are again, at my end-of-the-year post, the one in which I feature the new, best, and/or once-in-our-lifetime critter encounters we had in the last year. Not only that, I spend way too much time combing the ‘net to come up with a Fresh Fun Fact™ (FFF™) to accompany each photo. In years past, I’ve only included the name, the state(s) in which they were espied, and the FFF™. I’m feeling a bit more chatty this time and I may include a Fresh Fun Opinion™ here or there.
2021’s compilation is bigger than previous Round-ups for a few reasons. Many of them were espied during our travels east of the Mississippi, where we will not be traveling much in the future and not by RV at all again, most likely. Critters that can only be found there were obvious choices for this year’s collection, and birds are the majority. Also weighing heavy in the selection process was the fact that it’s looking like it will be a long stretch before we return to the southwest again after this winter, so much of that fauna I’d not previously highlighted begged to be included.
I also always have to consider the possibility of us ever spotting some critters even if we think we’ll be in their territory again and even if they’re common. Espying a critter is one thing. Getting a good (enough) photo of it? That’s a whole ‘nother animal.
Now, here’s a whole bunch of other animals!
FFF™ White Ibis chicks have straight bills until about two weeks of age. We saw many Ibis families, mostly in Florida, the young ones mottled brown and white. The above photo is my favorite of the Ibis, though, with its snow-white plumage, pink bill and legs, and baby-blue eye.
Many backyard birders know that Baltimore Orioles will flock to an offering of grape jelly, but why is grape so popular with them? It’s because FFF™ these flashy orange and black beauties seek out the darkest, reddest, most purple fruits — they may turn their beaks up at light-colored sweets, even if they’re ripe.
Our bison sightings in ND weren’t our first by any means, but coincidentally, ND was the first place I ever saw bison, and for now, it’s the last. FFF™ the bison’s hump is made of pure muscle which is the driving force when they turn themselves into beefy snowplows to forage in the winter.
Such a pretty, happy sound they make but don’t be fooled! FFF™ That “tinkling bells” song is made between cranky males who are not happy with one another at all. I fully concede that my use of the words “cranky” and “happy” are anthropomorphic. So sue me.
My scraggly-looking specimen, while it sang a beautiful lark song, is not a lark at all. FFF™ It’s a blackbird that’s also, obviously, not black. Taxonomists are silly, aren’t they?
Feisty and territorial, these striking little warblers FFF™ behave more like nuthatches with their upside-down and all-around bark-creeping, which is made easier by use of their extra-long hind claws.
As cool-looking as they are, they’re FFF™ widely considered pests that do great damage to food crops of all sorts. They don’t damage vehicles, thankfully!
Ruby-throated Hummingbird WI
Of all our great luck in photographing iridescent hummingbirds over the years, we never did get any shots of their brilliant gorgets. Truth be told, I never would’ve named them “ruby,” since their color tends toward the orange range. If I had been consulted, I would’ve named them Vermilion (and the flycatchers with that name Ruby.) FFF™ They can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans cannot do, so perhaps to themselves, they’re ruby after all!
If TBG hadn’t encouraged me to set out a larger watering trough at our campsite feeding station, I might never have seen this specimen so clearly. FFF™ unless you entice them in, which isn’t difficult to do in their relatively small U.S. range, they can be difficult to spot clearly in their brushy habitats.
No sooner had someone stopped me along the trail — those conspicuous birding binoculars! — to ask if I’d seen any Canyon Towhees, this one showed up at our campsite. FFF™ Mitochondrial DNA tracing established this bird as a separate species from the California Towhee. Sometimes I think they do that just so birders can say they’ve bagged more sightings.
Desert and Eastern Cottontail Rabbits AZ WI
FFF™ a group of wild rabbits is called a Fluffle. When a kerfuffle breaks out in a Fluffle, you may hear growling. Growling in a Fluffle! I could end this post right here and be happy forever.
The symbol of many eastern bird organizations’ logos, FFF™ this gorgeous woodpecker sports small, fine nostril feathers that keep wood dust out while it does what it’s named for.
Unlike many other wrens, their song is not melodious at all and has been equated to the sound of a car that won’t start. Also unlike many other birds, FFF™ they use their nests — those twiggy clumps so often seen in the cholla cacti — as year-round roosting places, not just for raising young.
This is one of those critters that FFF™ although it is widespread across every country in North America, the chances of spotting one again or being able to photograph it are slim. Moths are, generally, night creatures, and we are, generally, not.
It was the wrong time of year for us to espy any chubby plover chicks, but those of the Snowy FFF™ can forage on their own a mere three hours after hatching!
Such a thrill when we spotted (ha!) not one, but two of these bright cuties, as FFF™ they are only this color and terrestrial in their juvenile stage when they are called efts. Before and after this stage, they are solely aquatic, and they eat mosquitoes then. What’s not to love about them?!
Noisy and abundant, it sure took me a long time to finally see one of these warblers. FFF™ They are named for their ground nests, made of one integrated piece by the females, resembling a Dutch oven
This is one of those critters that is common and widespread in all our future destinations, but it is being included now because another will almost certainly never pose so nicely for me as did this one. FFF™ The bill of the Wilson’s Snipe has a flexible tip, allowing it to open and extract prey from the mud without having to open their entire bill.
FFF™ Did you know that horses cannot breathe through their mouths? Well, they can’t. They also can’t burp or vomit, which is what makes certain plants/feed dangerous for them. And, no, that little one in the dirt didn’t eat something toxic, he was just napping while the mares stood watch.
A poor photograph, but the best I have to showcase this bird. Because they are so similar to and, indeed, used to be classified as the same species with the Spotted Towhee, the only way I knew this was an Eastern when I espied it was where we were. FFF™ the distinction between the Spotted (west) and the Eastern is a common evolutionary pattern seen in North American birds. When the continent was divided down the middle during the Ice Age, it also split bird populations that then developed into new species, which sometimes still interbreed along the healed divide.
FFF™ it is the only North American sandpiper that lays its eggs in a tree nest instead of on the ground, and those nests are the old ones of other species, not ones they build themselves. Way to re-use and recycle!
Over the summer at the Northern Great Lakes VC where we helped with the Monarch incubating, I learned more about them than ever. The one pictured above is one I personally got to transport out into the world by hand, its grippy little feet causing a delightful sensation on the pads of my finger. FFF™ They’re doing pretty good in the east, but the western population was struggling mightily until — still inexplicable to scientists — their numbers have rebounded dramatically in the last year. Maybe it was the resurgence in gardening brought on by folks staying home (my personal theory,) but whatever it was, hooray for the Monarchs!
Another bird that I will surely see many times in the future but one that is notoriously hard to photograph well. FFF™ adorable and musical, they are also vicious, even to others of their own kind by piercing eggs and nestlings in order to maintain their territory.
Bottlenose Dolphins FL
FFF™ They are the only mammal to give birth to their young tail (feet) first, and they name them in their squeaky language. Then they call and recognize one another by name!
FFF™ The first-ever banded bird in North America was an Eastern Phoebe, and it was done by John James Audubon himself using a silver thread.
FFF™ a.k.a. The Pawpaw Butterfly for their preference as caterpillars to eat the leaves of the pawpaw and retain their toxins as a predator deterrent once they’re butterflies.
Many people know that the Loggerhead Shrike is sometimes referred to as a “butcher bird” due to its habit of impaling its prey on sharp objects. FFF™ but not only does it do that, it will leave noxious prey (see above FFF™!) like certain butterflies and toads impaled up to three days to allow their toxins to break down before consumption.
FFF™ The largest species of rattlesnack in the world, the Eastern Diamondback is the one featured on the Gadsden Flag along with the very wise advice not to tread on it!
In our travels, I think we have seen at least one Cardinal in every state where they live. They are the state bird of my home state (Ohio,) and although I was used to seeing their cheery color throughout many a long winter, I never knew until recently that FFF™ they don’t migrate at all.
Think you want to espy one of these? Be mindful of nesting season FFF™ when they have been known to so aggressively defend their nests, they have struck people and dogs hard enough to draw blood!
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail VA
It may look like I’ve included a Black Swallowtail here, but nay! She is a female Eastern which frequently FFF™ come in an elegant black morph.
FFF™ They have been spotted dropping dried cow pies in midair, then swooping to re-catch them. Playing or practicing? I say both because it’s my blog, and I say what I want.
Herbivores? Uhhh, mostly. FFF™ they will, however, opportunistically feed on nesting songbirds and field mice.
FFF™ The tips of their long tongues are barbed, and their spit is sticky which makes extracting nummies from deep crevices a cinch!
Call them what you like — ladybug, ladybird, ladybeetle — they are the delight of gardeners for their dietary choice of pesky insects like aphids. Not as ladylike, FFF™ they will “bleed” hemolymph from their “knees” when threatened.
They’re not hard to find, but if you’re having trouble, FFF™ make a “pishing” sound, and they might come to see what’s up!
American Mink WI
Another of those critters that will not be uncommon in the areas of our future travels, but one not often spotted easily. Although it seemed at the time that I had ample opportunity to get good shots of this one, it — obviously– was difficult as it was in constant motion. Lucky for me, it stayed above water, but FFF™ minks can stay submerged for just over five minutes!
These adorable little plovers are endangered but they are also FFF™ masters of disguise. Hmmmmm…
I’ve seen these dapper birds many times, but I don’t recall their song. Apparently, I’ve really missed out because FFF™ they’re said to sound like happy robins that have had opera training or are drunk!
Moose ID WY
FFF™ A full-grown bull moose can weigh up to 1600 lbs., 100 of which can be the contents of their stomachs!
FFF™ These crested little cuties line their nest cavities with animal hair, often plucked from living animals — even humans!
So stern-looking! My FFF™ is really my FFO™ which is that these mean-muggers have just about the prettiest song in the Sonoran Desert.
Now it’s time for me to close the critters’ gates for the last time in 2021. There are monumental changes ahead in 2022 for us Dirt Chasers, but I’m going to make you wait awhile longer before I delve into all of that. Here’s hoping the new year sees a minimum of growling in your Fluffles and an abundance of seed in your feeders.
HOPPY GNU DEER!