New Birds and Bugs

In my quest to document all the wild species that appear here on our farm, I am always excited to identify a new species.  So far this year, I have gotten two new bird species, bringing our total up to 96, and a new dragonfly species, bringing us up to 20.  (And I really need to update my species pages.)

In January we had flocks of Common Grackles move through, as they do for a day or two each year.  There are usually about 1000 birds in the flock, and they swarm like schools of fish, settling for a few minutes, but then swirling up in like volcanic clouds of ash. This year, mixed among them were about a dozen Red-Winged Blackbird females.

Common Grackles, a regular sight in January.

One grackle, with some Red-winged Blackbird females.

Red-winged Blackbirds.

I have gotten pictures of these birds in past years, but as is often the case, I wasn’t able to figure out their identity.  I thought they were sparrows or finches, so I was looking in the wrong sections of the guide books.  Also, when there is a whole group of birds that look alike, I never remember that I could be looking at a group of female birds.  So that was our species #95.

Here is a photo I took back in 2012! I am glad I finally figured out this mystery.

Just a few days ago, I found species #96, this little Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  In this case, this is a common bird and I am sure it has been here all along, but if I saw one flitting through the bushes, I probably dismissed it as a Tufted Titmouse.  Small birds in muted colors are easy for me to overlook.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher waiting for a bug, possibly a little moth.

Here I have circled the bug.

The gnatcatcher “gnabs” the bug.

A tasty snack.

I know there are other species that should be here as well, like the White-eyed Vireo, but I have yet to spot one.  If I ever manage to get our bird list up to 100 species, I think it will be by noticing and identifying more small birds like this.

My “new” dragonfly, though, is one that I have not seen here before.  I love its dramatic red and umber coloring, and its textile-related name, Calico Pennant!

Calico Pennant dragonfly.

Another angle.

A close-up of the dramatic patterning.

This is another new insect, not quite so pretty.  I thought it might be a fly, but otherwise had no idea.  The wonderful volunteers at identified it as a tachnid fly, Archytus marmoratus.

A parasitic fly.

Kaufman’s Guide says that “the gray thorax and contrasting black abdomen help identify them instantly.”

According to the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, these are parasitic flies, whose larva feed inside a host caterpillar or larva.  “Many female tachinids lay eggs directly on the host insect, or forcibly inject them, but some ‘broadcast’ hundreds of tiny eggs on foliage.  The ova hatch only if they are consumed (with foliage) by a caterpillar.” (p.308)  The BugGuide page says that adults may be seen getting nectar from flowers.

I am always happy to add to our lists!