Sunday, September 23, 2012

Invisible Bird Food in the Foliage

On a gorgeous end of summer day, I visited the wildflower garden of a local nature center with the intention to capture with my camera some of the wildlife, flower visitors, in particular. Unfortunately, I realized on arrival that I didn't feel well and needed to rest. So I stretched out on a bench under a gazebo, using my handbag as a pillow.

I rediscovered a simple truth: If you remain still and silent, nature comes to you and shows you things that you would have missed otherwise. A toad peeked from under the next bench, remaining in the moist coolness and shadows. Birds sang, flew, and dove into the foliage to emerge again, perhaps near me. A butterfly almost bumped onto my face.

Finally, one of those confusing fall warblers, a Wilson warbler perhaps, landed just ten feet from me. I am hopeless at identifying those drab olive and yellow little fellows. It proceeded to browse delicately from a jewelweed. I wondered what food it could find there. Some detective work was in order. I rested a little longer and then I got up to investigate.

I saw some holes on the leaves. Insects had been feeding; but they were long gone judging by the scar tissue around the wounds. Still the possibility remained that a similar leaf feeder was present when the bird landed. No way to know, though. Also, I couldn't guess whether the long-gone eater had been a caterpillar, sawfly or leaf beetle larva. My detective skills are severely limited in this respect.

Further observation led me to the mummified body of an aphid, not worthy of a bird's attention; but a clue nonetheless. Where there is one aphid, almost invariably there are more. It didn't take me long to find clusters of fat juicy green ones under the leaves of the jewelweed. I would have never noticed the well hidden aphids if the bird had not brought them to my attention.

Although I cannot be sure, I suspect that this was the morsel that the warbler was after. The insect life in the garden is rich and mostly out of sight. It feeds the birds, more skilled than us at spotting this nutritious resource. And thus, the web of life goes on.

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© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

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