Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cedar Waxwings

It was a dark and stormy night....just kidding!  It was actually a cold, overcast morning (March 1, 2013) when a whole flock of cedar waxwings mobbed the Museum grounds in search of food.  I observed them eating a variety of berries:  holly berries, viburnum berries, hawthorn berries, winterberries.  I could definitely see why they're considered "frugivores" or fruit-eaters!  (But they are also known to eat a lot of insects in warmer months.)  Armed with my Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 18-300mm lens I carefully stalked the flock, consisting of about 40-50 individuals.  They were very skittish and would quickly sweep back into the treetops if anyone got too close.  At one point I planted myself behind our waterfall rock outcropping with just the barrel on my lens peeking over the top of the rocks to get a view of these gorgeous birds.  Here they're stripping dark blue viburnum berries off the twigs at a frighteningly fast pace:
I watched them hover and pluck a berry without landing on the twig, and also they'd hang upside down from a twig and pluck berries!  They are known to become "intoxicated" on berries that have fermented (and consequently have a high alcohol content) but I didn't see any of them appear to be "drunk."  Mostly I watched them pluck berries off plants with quick precision and ease--they gave one swift tug on a berry then swallowed it whole.
I love how cedar waxwings have a such complex coloring:  a blend of subtle soft grays on the wings, back and tail blending to a pale "cinnamon" brown dusting the head and shoulders--sometimes their crest is up, but most of the birds I saw had their crest lay almost flat back on the head.  A soft lemon-yellow blush on the lower belly contrasts with the almost neon yellow tail tips and the strikingly brilliant "waxy" red tips of their secondary wing feathers--these are acquired as a bird gets older.  The sharp black mask on the face is lined with crisp white edges, and their dark eyes glint within this mask--sparkling a deep blackish brown.
What a spectacular treat--I was very glad to have my camera with me that day!  So, here's looking at you....
More off the beaten path in two weeks!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reptile Weekend 2013 Part 2

In my last post, I showcased some marvelous reptiles from Clyde Peeling's Reptiland that were graciously loaned for our annual Reptile Weekend event (every President's Day weekend.)  Other exhibitors included Iguana FIRST headed by Jimmy Kuhn and his crew, and the always enthusiastic folks from VIIPER (Virginians Interested In Protecting Every Reptile) who allowed us to see critters we normally don't have on exhibit--what a treat!  So here's a few more photos I wanted to share in my favorite "guess who" format--so let's guess who has these amazing body coverings:
Okay, the last one is pretty weird looking....perhaps you need another clue?:
And speaking of eyes, here's another beautiful eye:
Most of the photos above belong to reptiles--but there are a couple of amphibians, too!  The first reptilian skin belongs to a lovely juvenile African Dwarf Crocodile.  They're native to swampy ponds and rainforest rivers in West and Central Africa.  The two crocs loaned by Reptiland were only a bit over one foot from snout to tip of the tail (really cute!)  As adults, the largest dwarf crocs will only get up to about 5 feet in length.  They do have gorgeous eyes...and nice teeth!:
The second mystery photo was of a splendid looking green iguana--these veggie eaters have brilliant scales and amazing looking faces.  Hard to spot, but maybe you can make out it's "third eye" that sort of looks like a blister on top of her head:
The third scaly photo was of a bearded dragon, a lizard native to Australia, with incredible spiky scales:
The scaly carapace belongs to the African Spurred Tortoise native to the southern Sahara Desert.  It is the third largest tortoise species in the world, with males reaching 30 inches long and weighing over 100 pounds.  Can you see why they are called "spurred" tortoises?  Take a look at these formidable spiky scales on their front legs:
With a lifespan often longer than 100 years, these amazing giants are herbivores--they love their veggies!
Lip-smacking good!...Thanks Cindy for sharing your wonderful tortoises!
The last two marvelous beasts are amphibians--the first is a cane toad, originally native to Central and South America, but were introduced in many countries to help control agricultural pests.  In many places, they unfortunately became pests themselves!  As invasive species, these animals breed prolifically and do not really have any predators to keep their populations in check.  They can secrete a highly toxic poison from large (paratoid) glands located right behind their eyes as well as their skin being toxic, too!  In the photo below, do you see the large lumpy triangular gland?
Finally, I truly enjoyed this squat looking amphibian--it reminded me of "Jabba the Hut" of Star Wars fame!--but are in fact Waxy Monkey Tree Frogs native to many parts of South America.
Well, that's all for now....of course, more "off the beaten path" in two weeks...