Our Resident Woodpecker

A pileated woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is not migratory.

Have you wondered, “What is ‘pileated’ about a Pileated Woodpecker? The Latin word Latin pileatus means capped, so the adjective refers to the red “cap” the bird wears. Pileated Woodpeckers mmainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated woodpeckers often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant colonies. They also lap up ants by reaching with their long tongues into crevices. They may forage around the sides of human homes or even cars and can be observed feeding at suet-type feeders, as you can see below.

Our Resident Pileated Woodpecker enjoying a suet meal one spring evening

Usually, pileated woodpeckers excavate their large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a pileated woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised, the birds abandon the hole and do not use it the next year. When abandoned, these holes—made similarly by all woodpeckers—provide good homes in future years for many forest songbirds and a wide variety of other animals. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the wellbeing of many other bird species. The pileated woodpecker also nests in boxes about 4.6 m (15 ft) off the ground. The large cavities made by pileated woodpeckers during their nesting process not only serve as a home for the birds but also play an essential role in the forest ecosystem by contributing to nutrient cycling. Woodpecker cavities can lead to increased soil nutrient levels and microbial activity, providing a nutrient-rich environment for other plants to grow.

A pileated woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is not migratory. They defend the territory in all seasons but tolerate floaters during the winter. Drumming is most common during courtship and to proclaim a territory. Hollow trees are often used to make the most resonant sound possible. The pattern is typically a fairly slow, deep rolling that lasts about three seconds.

Pileated woodpeckers have been observed to move to another site if any eggs have fallen out of the nest—a rare habit in birds. The cavity is unlined except for wood chips. Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 12 to 16 days. The average clutch size is four per nest. The young may take a month to fledge. The oldest known pileated woodpecker was 12 years and 11 months old. Predators at the nest can include American and Pacific martens, weasels, squirrels, rat snakes, and gray foxes. Free-flying adults have fewer predators but can be taken in some numbers by Cooper’s hawks, northern goshawks, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, bald eagles, golden eagles and barred owls.

Reference: “Pileated Woodpecker” Wikipedia

Images and Video Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Cagey Character

On a splayed perch

A Great Blue Heron spotted from Bear Trail during a family hike, perched on a splayed root of a tree undercut by flooding, fallen into Buttermilk Creek bed.

A heron recurves its long neck while perched. Adult herons have few natural predators and are rarely preyed upon due to their large size and sharp beak, but bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are known to attack great blue herons at every stage of their lifecycle from in the egg to adulthood.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Not a Bee

…and an edible plant

Bombylius major (commonly named the large bee-fly, the dark-edged bee-fly or the greater bee fly) is a parasitic bee mimic fly. Bombylius major is the most common type of fly within the Bombylius genus. The fly derives its name from its close resemblance to bumblebees and are often mistaken for them.

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Bombylius major exhibits a unique flight behavior known as “yawing” and plays a role in general pollination, without preference of flower types. The fly does not bite, sting, or spread disease. However, the fly uses this mimicry of bumblebees to its own advantage, allowing close access to host solitary bee and wasp nests to deposit its eggs. After hatching, the larvae find their way into the nests to parasitically feed on the grubs.


It has been discovered that the fly is capable of a unique behavior, which was discovered with the use of a high speed camera. In this behavior, the flies are seen to rotate around a vertical axis as they fly (this action is known as “yawing”). However, it is still unknown what can cause this behavior to be triggered and what purpose it serves, but a proposed explanation includes mating habits. Here is an illustration of “Yaw” in the context of an airplane…substitute the fly body with head facing forward (to left).

ZeroOne, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pollinator Role

The Bombylius major bee-fly is a common, generalist floral pollinator, meaning that it does not give preference to one flower over another, instead pollinating a wide variety of plant families and species. The fly uses its proboscis to carry and transfer the pollen. The species is a dominant pollinator within its community, sometimes even pollinating up to two thirds of the local flowers. In addition, Bombylius major will visit and pollinate plants that attract few other species. Some types of flowers, for example Pulmonaria officinalis, will be almost exclusively pollinated by Bombylius major, with other species contributing a negligible amount to that plants pollination. Some flower species, such as Delphinium tricorne, are even specifically adapted to the fly in terms of color, shape, and form. If given the choice, Bombylius major will have a consistency in plant choice.

Flower Attraction

Long distance floral attraction is governed by optical sense, with color being the most important factor. The flies are typically more attracted to blue and violet colors, and occasionally yellow, over orange and pink. However, short distance floral attraction is based on the fly’s olfactory sense.

Sunbathing Activity

The fly is mostly active during day hours when the weather conditions are warm and sunny. Bombylius major is attracted to sunnier places and is more likely to pollinate these areas, with a larger average of flower visits in areas of higher amounts of sunshine. The fly will hide in the trees during the night and usually dart away from a cast shadow and occasionally hide in clean washing brought in fresh from the washing line and fly out causing unsettled behavior in the discoverer.

Flower Description

Claytonia caroliniana is a flowering, woodland perennial herb. It grows from March though June and is one of the earliest spring ephemerals. The plant grows from spherical underground tubers in light humus. They sprout and bloom before the tree canopy develops. Once the area is shaded, the plants whither leaving only the tuberous roots underground.

The plant is edible, but its usability is limited due to difficulty harvesting and the small quantities each plant produces. Its tuberous roots are edible and rich in starch and can be cooked or eaten raw. The leaves can be eaten as well. The tuberous roots are eaten by eastern chipmunks and white-footed mice.

Source: Wikipedia “Bombylius major ” and “Claytonia caroliniana. Direct quotations are in italics.

Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

On Torr Road

Facing Views and History

A grand view presents itself throughout the roll down Torcorr into Coolranny townland. Loughan is a shallow bay along the North Channel of the Irish Sea, a rocky sand beach is accessible via a slope shallower than the cliffs on either side. This access is a reason for the tiny rural community on the slope above, now a site of ruined cottages, abandoned during the emigration from Ireland, a flight continuing into the Twentieth Century.

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See this post for a description of wildflowers flowering here in the month of June.

This photograph from the bottom of the Torr Road hill takes in Coolranny Townland. a slice of land running from the ridge to Loughan Bay. We see a number of hawthorne trees in flower, yellow flowering Whin Bush, houses and the Roman Catholic church Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea.

Tor in Irish is a steep rocky height. Likewise, Corr means odd, uneven, rounder, convex, curved, peaked, projecting, smooth. Combined Torcorr is the townland where we stopped on the Torr Road, halted by our wonder at this sight. In the distance, Torr Head projects into North Channel, the closest land to Scotland. Following the coast, the cliffs in front of Torr Head is home to numerous sea birds. The curved bay is named Loughan, the rocky sand beach are ruins of cottages emptied by Irish emigration. The white building is Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church. County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The photograph of the header, taken by Pam, is from either Coolranny or Loughan Townland, looking across a sheep pasture, the North Channel of the Irish Sea toward the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland just twelve miles distant.

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Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Home to Birds and Trees

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary / Renwick Wood

This large sign found along the Cayuga Waterfront Trial at the entrance to Renwick Woods. It provides the origin story (floodplain, delta of Fall Creek), how it came to be conserved and the importance of the place to birds.

The original entrance to the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary, now called Renwick Wood, was marked by this arch, designed by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, dedicated June 10, 1917.

The professor was born February 7, 1874, at Ithaca, the son of Prof. Estevan Antonio and Mary Stone (Perry) Fuertes. He was graduated by Cornell with the degree of A.B., in 1897, and married Margaret F. Sumner of Ithaca, in 1904. Since 1898 he had been a painter of birds.

Professor Fuentes illustrated such volumes as “Birding on a Broncho,” “Citizen Bird,” Song Birds and “Water Fowls.” His permanent work included habitat groups in the American Museum of Natural History; 25 decorative panels for F.M. Brewster, at New Haven, Conn., birds of New York at the State Museum, Albany; murals in the Flamingo Hotel, at Miami, Fla., paintings for the New York Zoological Society, Bronx. (Source: Find a Grave)

Misshapen tree trunk on the shore of Fall Creek, Renwick Woods

The flowers of this small shrub identify it as a member of the Rose family. The berries I captured in the following photograph are edible (non-poisonous), though astringent. Autumn time, the leaves turn red. It is native to eastern North America. I found these berrys along the Renwick Wood trail.

A pair of Mallard ducks foraging along a Fall Creek bayou on the edge of Renwick Woods where Stewart Park begins.

Ithaca Fire Department was training at their facility on Pier Road, next to Newman Golf Course, and across Fall Creek from Renwick Woods.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

When Moon Dined from a Stellar Manger

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition. Over millennia, […]

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition.

Over millennia, stars along the path of the planets and sun through the sky held a special place for careful observers. Twelve patterns were imagined, each a named constellation. The word “constellation” means “to know from the stars.” Indeed, we can know much from the constellations. For example, it is winter in the northern hemisphere when the constellation “Cancer” (The Crab) is high in the night sky.

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Click photograph for my OnLine Galleries. Clicking the other photographs in this post will yield a larger image.

On the evening of January 20/21, 2019 the full moon climbed from the horizon (Click this link for the first post of this series “Total Lunar Eclipse of 2019…”) to a point high overhead were it appeared to float among the stars of Cancer, the crab. On the way, the disk darkened as its orbital path brought it into the earth’s shadow. The surrounding stars emerged from the darkening full moon glow. I captured the sight using a Canon dslr, the Canon EF 24 mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on a tripod by setting the ISO to 3200 to reduce the exposure to 1.3 second and placing the auto exposure area (a feature of the dslr/lens combination) away from the full moon.

Additionally, the moon is overexposed on the original image, for the following I used Photoshop to cut and paste the moon from the last photograph of this blog, reduced it to the approximate angular diameter of the moon and pasted it over the overexposed disk. There are better astrophotography images of this event, this image is mine to use and adequate for this purpose.

The Moon on the Crab’s back

Cancer is difficult to trace, the constituent stars are all dim. Hint: click on any of the following photographs and a new page will open with a larger resolution image. What is striking in the following photograph are the number of apparently paired stars. Our sun is an exception, it is not part of a star system; even so, most of these pairings are line of sight, not physical star systems. For example, starting from the “red” moon there is a faint star, “Delta” of Cancer. Trace an imaginary line between the moon and Delta, in your mind move the line down and a little to the right to a pair of dim stars, “Nu” and “Gamma” of Cancer (left to right). The two are not a system, being 390 and 181 light years away. Each is a multiple star system in itself as is Delta. The three are on the back of Cancer, with two stars on the upper right being “Alpha” and “Beta”.

A most interesting object of this photograph, well worth the price of binoculars, is between Nu and Gamma and a little higher, towards the moon. It was what I saw the first time viewing this photograph: a cluster of stars called “The Beehive.” This was how I identified the location of the moon on the back of this crab.

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Click photograph for a higher resolution version
Total Lunar Eclipse and Surrounding Sky with labels for primary element of the Cancer constellation

For the following photograph I cut/pasted/enlarged a square with the (enhanced) Moon, Delta. Nu and Gamma, below, with the Beehive between them. See that the stars, though “fuzzy”, have colors. Delta is a orange giant, also known as the “Southern Donkey”. Gamma, the “Northern Donkey,” and NU are white. The back of the Crab holds a two donkeys eating from a manger, a Galactic Stellar Cluster name “The Beehive.” This night the moon joined the feast.

Click photograph for a higher resolution image
“Beehive” with Total Lunar Eclipse with labels for primary elements of Cancer Constellation

The Beehive

With binoculars (or telescope with a wide field eyepiece), the Beehive is a glorious spectacle of 1,000 gravitationally bound stars, a mixture of colors from blue to red. It was one of the first objects Galileo viewed through the telescope, picking out 40 stars. In later years it was here we found the first planets orbiting sun-like (i.e. having the characteristics of our yellow star) stars within a stellar cluster. In spite of being 600+ light years distant the Beehive was known since ancient times, being visible without a telescope in clear, dark skies.

The Total Eclipse

A glorious moon at full totality is captured in the following two photographs. I used the dslr at 3200 ISO with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L lens at 300 mm. Setting the exposure area to the Moon, the exposure was 3.2 seconds.

In the first photograph, I especially enjoy the effect modeling of the shadows does to make the disk appear round. The field of view does not include Delta, Gamma, Nu or the Beehive. At this time I was not aware how close the Beehive was, or even that the Moon was in Cancer. The beauty of the moon floating among the stars is apparent.

Click photograph for larger image
Click photograph for larger image

Click link for the first post of this series 

Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

One of Three

Red, White and……Black

Up Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, about two miles from the entrance, we came to the parking area for Wild Bird Trail Head where I spent an hour or so admiring the sights. This Mangrove sprouting from brackish water is one of three known to grow here.

I’d say it is a Black Mangrove from the color of the bark. “Unlike other mangrove species, it does not grow on prop roots, but possesses pneumatophores that allow its roots to breathe even when submerged. It is a hardy species and expels absorbed salt mainly from its leathery leaves.”

The text in quotes is from the Black Mangrove wikipedia article.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

On High

this heron stalks its prey

Up Blackpoint Wildlife Drive about two miles from the entrance we came to the parking area for Wild Bird Trail Head where I spent a hour or so admiring the sights.

This Tricolor Heron taking advantage of a perch provided by Black Mangrove growing from the brackish water. I assume it is resting as this heron stalks its prey in shallow or deeper water, often running as it does so. It eats fish, amphibians, crustaceans, gastropods, leeches, worms, spiders, reptiles, and insects.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Snake Bird

AKA “devil bird” or “snake bird”

This series of wading shorebirds are from a mash alongside Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

This Anhinga basked on a marsh bush just off Blackpoint Wildlife Drive on a January morning. Soaking in sunlight is most important for this waterbird as Anhinga features are not waterproof, after a session of diving, the bird is soaked through to the skin and need to warm up and dry off.

“The Anhinga sometimes called snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas. The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means “devil bird” or “snake bird”. The origin of the name is apparent when swimming: only the neck appears above water, so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. They do not have external nares (nostrils) and breathe solely through their epiglottis. Anhinga species are found all over the world in warm shallow waters.”

The American anhinga has been subdivided into two subspecies, Anhinga anhinga anhinga and Anhinga anhinga lleucogaster, based on their location. Anhinga anhinga anhinga can be found mainly east of the Andes in South America and also the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Anhinga anhinga lleucogaster can be found in the southern United States, Mexico, Cuba, and Grenada.

“A kettle of Anhingas often migrate with other birds and have been described as resembling black paper gliders.”

The text in quotes is from the Anhinga wikipedia article.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Common Gallinule Feeding (video)

This video of a Common gallinule feeding was taken from Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

The family Rallidae (aka rails) includes crakes, coots, and this member of the gallinules. Found worldwide, this species, Gallinula galeata, was recognized in 2011 as separate from the closely related “Old World” Moorhens.

Here it is in a favored habitat, feeding on underwater vegetation of the Florida marsh in sight of rockets launching from Kennedy Space Center. The exceptional lighting, bright reflective water, are created by the low winter sun and southern exposure of the location just north of the road.

The taxonomic Order is derived from the Latin word Gallinula meaning a small hen or chicken that, since the 13th century at least, as revealed in the names “Moorhen,” “Waterhen,” and “Swamp Chicken.”

The spread of Gallinula is attributed to breeding habits. “Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in Northern hemisphere temperate regions. About 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; a brood later in the year usually has only 5–8 or fewer eggs. Nests may be re-used by different females. Incubation lasts about three weeks. Both parents incubate and feed the young. These fledge after 40–50 days, become independent usually a few weeks thereafter, and may raise their first brood the next spring. When threatened, the young may cling to the parents’ body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety, carrying their offspring with them.”

The text in quotes is from the Wikipedia article for “Common Moorhen.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved