"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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A Closer Look
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

It is strange, somehow, the way seemingly insignificant physical and characteristics escape us when we are setting out such things for identification purposes. But they still crop up now and then. 

Take, for example, the cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedroruym), one of our most distinctively marked and beautiful birds. It, for all practical purposes, has always been to me a feeder on winged insects and small fruits and berries (primarily possum grapes and bittersweet). I have watched them at a distance many times, their identifying habits and coloration always a foregone conclusion in my mind. I thought I knew how they looked and acted.

The yellow band at the end of the tail, and the beautiful black of the cedar’s head always identified the bird for me. And their on-wing feeding on small insects was as sure a thing as death, taxes, and gas prices.

However, last Saturday my eyes were opened to the fact that another identifying mark is  inch-long, parallel, thin white stripes in the middle of the back (close-range observations), and the habit of feeding on small insects on the under side of leaves.

I had been clearing brush away from my stairway to White River (time for repairs), and had taken respite on the top deck overlooking the ancient old river, over which the flycatchers often practiced their winged feeding habits. (It always reminded me of the old, Packman electronic games where the little egg-type good guys simply caught and devoured their prey.)

My sedentary activities soon erased the wariness of several species of birds and critters, and I was treated to a phalanx of wild critters marching across my top deck stage. Even the wary bluejay came in his gaudy arrogance. It was a thing to behold as the deck, proper, the railings, and close limbs came to life before my very eyes.

At waters’ edge stood a box elder tree whose seeds always seemed a magnet for birds and animals, its crown on an upper deck level. Now, however the tree was dead (no seed whirligigs), but a possum grape vine had taken over and drew much wildlife to the dead tree. The possum grape’s blue fruits make a wonderful wine or jelly but the critters beat me to them.

The episode was, in short, not a thing I soon would forget.

GAME FEED– The Department of Natural Resources’ “Taste of the Wild” free feed was staged at the DNR Building at the State Fair last Saturday for the sixteenth consecutive year and we hear it was again a resounding affair for the state’s outdoor folks. This is something you should not have missed, but if you did you should earmark it for next year’s fair on the first Saturday at 11 a.m.

Attendance figures stop the turning wheel at about 2,000 patrons.

NOT WOODSY – This won’t be considered too woodsy, but the tomato hornworms, very similar to the tobacco hornworm, are making their ’08 debut now on tomato plants everywhere. The two cohabit areas at times. A good bug killer dusting is in order. They strip foliage of plants and wreck green tomatoes. Their moths, of which they are the larvae, are beautiful but squishy, like the worms. In the tobacco species, the rear horn is reddish, the tomato dark.

Green Japanese beetles, smallish June bug types, are busy on weeds now . . . Look out beans. Best thing that can happen to them is also a good dose of bug killer.

tob1.jpg (67635 bytes)
The tobacco hornworm exhibits a reddish rear horn.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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