Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hepatica and Brown Creepers

 The beginning of real spring is here when the Hepatica start to bloom.  They are the first wildflowers to bloom in my backyard along with the Bloodroot.  Most early spring wildflowers have large blossoms that provide significant nectar return on the energy early pollinators use up when getting around in the colder spring weather.

But Hepatica are different.  They have tiny flowers.  Mine measured only 3/8 of an inch across.  But somehow they make it worth a pollinator's effort.  There were a couple of flies nearby when I took these pictures yesterday, but none landed on the flowers while I was there.

It sure is nice to see these pretty flowers after the long winter in Minnesota.

 Brown Creepers are not a sign of spring, since they stay here through the winter.  This one was mixed in with a large group of Yellow-rumped Warblers yesterday, and they were a nice sign of spring.

Brown Creepers are strange and fairly uncommon little birds that act like nuthatches but are more closely related to wrens.

They fly to the base of a  large tree and creep up the bark while spiraling around the tree trunk until they reach the top, then fly to another tree and do the same.

They find tiny bugs under the bark using their curved bill to fit into tiny crevices.

According to one source I found, they only use up 4 calories per day, on average, while climbing hundreds of trees  And eating one little spider gives them enough energy to make it 200 feet up a tree.  Their weight of 8-9 grams is a little less than that of an average Black Capped Chickadee.

As can be seen in the picture they have long toes with long claws for gripping bark. 

Brown Creepers also have long tails 
 One of the reasons Brown Creepers are seldom seen is because they are very hard to see.  Their natural coloring camouflages them extremely well when they are moving up the tree trunk looking for bugs. 

I have enhanced the colors of this picture, but it still blends in very well.  Their camouflage is so effective that the auto focus on the camera has trouble finding a focus point, so the majority of the pictures I took of this little bird yesterday have the bark in focus instead of the feathers on the back of the bird.

The feathers on the top of the back of the bird are perfectly in focus here, but still look blurry. These birds are good at hiding even when in plain sight!

Notice the long tail and see the picture below.
 Brown Creepers have long, stiff,  pointed tails to use as a brace when pulling bugs from under the bark. 

Brown Creepers have 12 tail feathers, so 6 come to a point on one side, and another 6 on the other, making a stiff and very effective brace.

With its solid color, the tail is one of the easiest parts to see on this tiny bird, at least in a picture.

When you actually see one of these interesting birds they never stop moving, so are hard to observe for more than a second or two in one spot.

This picture shows the forked tail, and the long leg, toes, and claws, as well as the brown mottling colors that are typical of Brown Creepers.  The black curved beak is a little harder to see at the top of the picture.

The picture also shows the little midge fly in the lower right.  These had just emerged and were flying in clouds of thousands all around the area where I took these pictures yesterday.  Many of these may have been on the tree bark, and might have been part of a late lunch for this Brown Creeper.