Monday, April 27, 2015

Carapace Camo

A male fiddler crab in the pluff mud at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. He's only about the size of a quarter. What caught my eye was the mirror image pattern on the back of his shell (the carapace). What evolutionary process "designed" that pattern and color, especially those leafy looking bits on the left and right? They are so obvious and prominent, they can't just be some accident of evolution. They have to serve a purpose.

My theory? They mimic the look of the the buzzillion bristle worms (see inset) found in the same mud flats the crab inhabits. On top of the carapace, they aren't going to be highly visible to other crabs, so they probably don't serve any reproductive purpose. Anyway, it's all about the size of that claw when it comes to fiddler crab romance. They only other purpose those little patterns might serve would be camouflage and possibly defense. Bristle worms are nasty little little critters. Their bristles can break off and get stuck in human skin and possibly the tongues and mouth bits of crab eaters like birds and fish, causing pain and inflammation. It wouldn't be the only example of an animal that borrowed the look of another poisonous or unpleasant tasting creature as a defense.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, April 24, 2015


A Great Egret at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, about to enjoy a large lunch. The fish, obviously having a bad day, is a Menhaden. It is one of the most important fish species in US Atlantic fisheries. There are active conservation bodies from Maine to Florida ensuring Menhaden populations are healthy and not over fished. Why? Because Menhaden are the forage base for striped bass, bluefish, cod, sea trout, bonito, tuna, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, king mackerel, summer flounder and numerous other predator species to the point that renowned 19th-century ichthyologist G. Brown Goode stated that people eating Atlantic saltwater fish consume "nothing but menhaden." Menhaden are used to bait crab and lobster pots, "reduced" (boiled, dried and ground) to make fertilizer, turned into feed for chicken, pigs and cattle and made into fish oil supplements. They are a significant factor in nearly any human diet.

Obviously, Egrets like them too. I had never watched an Egret "work" up close like this before. I can now say Egrets are ruthlessly efficient assassins. Standing motionless with it's back to the sun, the fish below did not see the ominous neck, head, and stiletto beak looming above them. Even the bird's neck and head being narrower left to right than front to back, decreased it's front profile, making it even more difficult to see from under water. Built into that bird brain, an instinctive, or at least well practiced, ability to compensate for the refractive offset caused by the fish being under water and the bird's eyes being in the air. In a flash a fish would be stabbed or grabbed and pulled from the water. Then a few beak maneuvers and it would be swallowed head first and still very much alive. I could see them wriggling and wiggling in that long throat all the way down into the bird's body. Eeewwwwwwwwwwwww!

Every time the Egret swallowed a fish, it would dip it's bill into the water and seemed to be grabbing a little drink to wash it down with. But it was a salt marsh, so maybe it was getting a little seasoning for the fish instead!

Update - 06-17-2015 - Having watched other egrets and a Great Blue Heron do the dip and swish after swallowing a catch, I think they are de-sliming their beaks. A slimy beak is a slippery beak that could allow a fish to escape. A clean beak is a deadly efficient weapon.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dark-eyed Junco, Gray-headed Race

Common in the Colorado high country, they seem to prefer feeding on the ground in small groups. Even when food is available in a feeder, I see them on the ground picking up the fallen seeds rather than getting an easy meal directly from the source.

Their name is "Dark-eyed," but when hit by bright sunlight, their irises are really red.

Tom Bradley  ©  2014

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Yur in my space, man."

Gulls seem to have a sense of personal space when they are hanging out on the beach. These four are so evenly spaced, it's like they have a minimum distance requirement. Their spindly legs are kinda humorous too.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Snake in the pine needles

In the 50-some years I had been spending summers at my cabin in the Colorado Rockies, I had never seen a snake or reptile of any kind. Doesn't mean they weren't there, I just never saw them... until last September. In fact, I wouldn't have seen this one were it not for the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel doing some sort of war dance in front of it.

I had never seen a Ground Squirrel move the way that one did; kinda wiggling, kinda patting/stamping his feet. He was totally focused on the snake which was all stretched out, getting up to operating temperature in the morning sun.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More Male Broad-tails

I never tire of looking at those iridescent throat feathers.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015


Whiskers. Lots of them.

That is all.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chipmunk Noir

Chipster on high alert for possible threat from above. I saw a hawk swoop in on one of these guys, but the hawk came away, taloned. For a small rodent he casts a very long shadow.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bad Squirrel

Continuing to bring out the dark side of fuzzy woodland creatures. Pine squirrels love to get up in a branch above your head and unleash a torrent of rodential vituperation. They just can't have primates in their space. Sometimes they just go off for no apparent reason. Like some people I know. The little buggers even look pissed off.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bad Bird

A Mountain Chickadee looking kinda scary.

 I accidentally underexposed this photograph. I pushed the darkness further in post until this image emerged. This is not how I usually see these cute and very friendly birds.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015