Category Archives: Critters

The Real Light Show

After more than half a century, Lenox Square announced that it will discontinue its 4th of July fireworks show. [12]   Since it’s about as close as we get to tradition, we will miss it.  Goodbye Lenox Square – it’s been fun.

So now what are you going to do on the 4th?

A suggestion is to enjoy a free light show in your own back yard without all the noise and pyrotechnics.  Beginning in late May through the end of July fireflies (lightning bugs) will visit your yard if the conditions are right.  Turn out the yard lights, sit quietly and watch.  It’s quite a show.  There have been nights in mid June where our trees, shrubbery and lawn were flashing with hundreds of them.

Fireflies in south Georgia – photo: Jud McCranie

You know this – you used to collect them in a glass jar with air holes poked in the lid and a bit of moist paper towel in the bottom  to keep them safe until you released them.  It’s much more fun than a bazillion dollar fireworks show and it lasts a lot longer than 15 minutes.

Georgia has more firefly species (56!) than any other state, each having its own distinct flash. Males flash while flying; wingless females sit on vegetation and emit their own light signals, which the males cue on. [6]  They prefer warm, fairly wet weather, and in this part of the country they tend to appear in May, June or July.  [7]

Photo Wikimedia Commons: NEUROtiker

Fireflies hibernate in winter during the larval stage, some species for several years.  Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring.  Help keep them safe: no pesticides on your lawn and please don’t spray for mosquitoes.

Learn a little more about fireflies including synchronous fireflies (hundreds flash in unison) by checking out the links below.

Mysterious and little known organisms lie within walking distance of where you sit.  Splendor awaits in minute proportions. – E. O. Wilson

References and Additional Information

[1]  Silent Sparks – The Wonderous World of Fireflies – Sarah Lewis, Princeton University Press
[2]  Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs – Lynn Frierson Faust, UGA Press
[3]  Georgia DNR – Out My Back Door:  Fireflies Create Sparkling Backyard Wonderlands
[4]  National Park Service: Synchronous Fireflies
[5]  The Smokey Mountain Hiking Blog: The Synchronous Fireflies of Elkmont
[6]  AJC – Charles Seabrook:  Blinking fireflies are icons of Georgia summer nights
[7]  Firefly.org Fifty Questions
[8]  Smithsonian Magazine: 14 Fun Facts About Fireflies
[9]  [Boston] Museum of Science:  Firefly Watch
[10]  Wikipedia: Firefly
[11]  Wikipedia: Elkmont, Tennessee
[12]  AJC – May 3, 2017
[13]  National Park Service – Congaree National Park: Synchronized Fireflies at Congaree

Monthly Journal – January, 2017

January was an unseasonably warm month.  Lots of bird activity with many of the usual suspects and one unexpected rare appearance by a Wilson’s Warbler (see our recent January 14 post).  In addition to the photos below we had visits from a Great Blue Heron and a Red-tailed Hawk.  The Northern Flickers in the photo below were engaged in a territorial fencing display, which we have seen one other time.

Monthly Journal – December, 2016

Neighbors and friends contributed great photos of wildlife in December:  Sandhill Cranes flying south over Peachtree Park,  a possum looking for birdseed, a Cooper’s Hawk hunting in a parking deck at Lenox mall and an owl box newly mounted way up high at owl-height.  Credits and photo descriptions are at the bottom of the post.  Thank you all and Happy New Year!

Photo Credits

[1]  Greg Thomas heard the unmistakable sound of Sandhill Cranes flying high over Peachtree Park on December 22 and snapped this great photo with his iPhone.
[2]  Stella and Jack Wissner have a guest living in their back yard.  Stella took two great photos their resident possum looking for food under their bird feeder and resting in a tree.
[3]  Cindy Mayer convinced somebody to mount her Barred Owl box very high in a pine; we reckon somewhere between 30 and 40 feet judging from the photo.  See our post: Here’s Looking at You for more on Cindy’s Barred owls.
[4]  Jan Kuttnauer sent us a photo of a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on an automobile as she was coming back to her car from an exercise session at Lenox mall.  Think he’s hunting for rodents?

Protecting Our Amphibians

 

American Toad

American Toad on moss

Just a few nights ago we heard American Toads calling.  It’s a happy sound, usually a harbinger of spring and unusual for this time of year.  But we have heard them occasionally when there is a slight bump up in temperature, and they’ve been calling this month.  One of our past blogs, Frogs in the City, was about frogs in urban areas and frogs that we have here in Peachtree Park.  And, we’re really lucky to have them.

Frogs and salamanders are amphibians, which are an indicator species  of ecological health –  ‘canaries in the coal mine.’  Unfortunately, they are vanishing globally at an alarming rate.

There’s a new organization in Atlanta dedicated to creating and implementing long-term solutions to this crisis.  It’s called The Amphibian Foundation and was started recently by Mark and Crystal Mandica.

image_3-fort_stewart

Mark Mandica during Flatwoods Salamander surveys at Fort Stewart, GA

It’s located close by at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve with state-of-the-art research labs.  There’s also a ‘metamorphosis meadow’, an outdoor area that will hold dozens of ‘mesocosms’ where native species will be bred.  (A mesocosm enables scientists to study the natural environment under controlled conditions.)

It’s an ambitious project with a primary goal of involving our local community in amphibian conservation.  They have volunteers and interns, and hold workshops to help identify Atlanta’s urban species.

Spotted Salamander - Ambystoma maculatum

Spotted Salamander – Ambystoma maculatum

They also created the Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program (MAAMP) with 30 sites that are monitored monthly by citizen scientists.  If you are interested, you can attend a training workshop to help with monitoring activities.  The MAAMP website is a terrific resource for amphibian identification, including the calls of frogs and toads.

Check out The Amphibian Foundation’s website and visit them at Blue Heron Nature Preserve.  Maybe the next time you hear a frog calling or see a salamander in the leaf litter you’ll know who they are!

 

Blue Heron Nature Preserve

Blue Heron Nature Preserve

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Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring

References and Additional Information

[1]  The Amphibian Foundation
[2]  Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program
[3]  Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program: Frog Calls
[4]  Blue Heron Nature Preserve
[5]  Blue Heron Nature Preserve: November 2016 Newsletter
[6]  The Intown Hawk:  Frogs in the City – 2 New Studies
[7]  Wikipedia: mesocosm
[8]  Encyclopedia of Life:  What is an Indicator Species?
[9]  National Geographic: Amphibians

Monthly Journal – July, 2016

July has been full of birds. We think our yard has never been as full of birds as this past month.  A cake of suet lasts about a day and a half and we’re filling large feeders every 4 days. Catbirds are everywhere, and we are getting up at sunrise to beat them and the robins to our ripening figs.

Birds are still fledging, and some bird houses up and down the street and on the Nature Trail are hosting their third brood of this season.  Two of the photos below, shot through our window, are of a baby catbird who wasn’t quite quite ready to fly and wound up in boxwood for a few hours.  His parents continued to feed him and eventually he got his wings and left.

What’s missing are butterflies and dragonflies.  They were everywhere this time last year and this year we are seeing very few.  Maybe the birds are eating the larvae.  We are hoping that mosquito spraying is not involved in their disappearance.

The last photo is of the newly resurfaced Nature Trail.  If you are in the neighborhood, you should go see it.

Will You Walk Into my Parlor?

Zipper Spider aka Garden Orb-weaver

Zipper Spider aka Garden Orb-weaver

… said the Spider to the Fly.  This opening line of Mary Howitt’s poem written in 1829 is one of the most quoted first lines in all of English verse.  The poem is really about using flattery to achieve your objective.  We think you should invite spiders to set up their parlor in your yard and garden.

Friends on the north end of the neighborhood called to tell us about three beautiful Garden Orb-weaver Spiders in their garden.  They were most pleased to have them, and for good reason.  Each one was busy trapping insects its beautiful Orb-weaver style web.  Thanks to the birds and spiders, the vegetables in this insecticide-free garden were beautiful, and almost completely free of pests.

Cocooned Prey

We realized how little we know about spiders and as a result pulled together a Spiders page.  It has descriptions and pictures for Georgia spiders along with information on the difference between a spider and an insect, spider webs and silk, and the benefits of spiders.  Check it out.

Monthly Journal – June, 2016

June was hot and dry.  Everybody’s looking for shade and water.  As a follow up to our last post, Bruce Hallett sent us three great photos of one of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawks enjoying his birdbath, which are below.  There is still nesting going on and the birdhouse on the Nature Trail closest to the garden area has a brood of Carolina Wren chicks.  They are keeping their parents busy and making so much noise you can hear them 25 feet away.  Remember there are those who are just beginning to nest, such as American Goldfinches ( see our blog from July last year Late Starters).