Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cascara Berries are for the Birds; Mine are for Cedar Waxwings

When I planted four Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana) trees in my yard several years ago, my yard didn't have much to offer the wildlife.  So I couldn't wait for my new trees to mature enough to produce lots of berries, which would hopefully bring in lots of native birds during the summer months.

Berries of the Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana)

Cascara berries start out green, then change to red, then black as they ripen.  They are edible, but I'm told they're bitter.  Wikipedia says that the fruit "has a laxative effect. The food industry sometimes uses cascara as a flavoring agent for liquors, soft drinks, ice cream, and baked goods."

My trees have finally grown to a fairly good size over the past year or two, and the wildlife has definitely taken note. Bees and other pollinators seem to love the tiny spring blooms, and flocks of Bushtits come to search for insects among the leaves.

As for the berries, I'm a little sad to say that most of them get eaten by European Starlings.  I know, I know... European Starlings have been around a long time now, and some people find them attractive.  I think they're just a little too pushy and voracious, hogging all the food which could support more native birds.

Recently though, I have seen Northern Flickers eating the berries.  And just the other day, I finally saw the bird that I've been hoping to see for 5 years now... the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)!  Cedar Waxwings have to be one of the most beautiful birds in Oregon, with their silky smooth feathers - which look like they've been carved from wood and sanded to a perfect finish.  Their elegant black masks, their yellow-tipped tail feathers, and the little red wax tips on their wing feathers give these birds a lot of flare.

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) (Drawn by my father, Jerry Nenninger)

Before seeing the Waxwings in my yard, the only other place I've gotten a close look at them was at Elk Rock Island, in Milwaukie. Since seeing them in my yard, I've also seen them on Rocky Butte, and now that I know their calls, I've heard them at Mount Scott Park.

Here's a little photo and video montage I put together.  The Cedar Waxwings in this video look a little scruffy because it was raining lightly at the time.  It shows both adult and juvenile birds.

Friday, July 26, 2013

When a Cricket is not a Cricket: Cicadas in Oregon

I love the sound of crickets in the evening.  They always remind me of summers where I grew up in North Carolina.  It seems like we had more crickets there, and where my grandparents lived in the mid-west, than we do here in western Oregon (or should I say HEAR in western Oregon?). I don't know if that's true, but it seems like that to me.

Late last summer I had a tree cricket in my yard, happily chirping his little tune every night.  I was glad to have him move in because I've never heard a cricket right here in my yard, which is in a fairly urban area.  I sat on the patio many evenings over several weeks listening to his song, which was eventually joined by another.

So I was excited when I heard chirping again yesterday afternoon, but I thought it was a little early in the day for a tree cricket to be singing.  I went in search of the chirping's source, which was pretty high up in a Cascara tree, and found... a cicada?! 

Cicada (probably Okanagana rimosa) in a Cascara tree
 I've seen cicadas by the thousands when visiting my grandparents in Illinois and Missouri, but they were bigger and greener.  And I've never seen or heard one in Oregon. 

Cicada (probably Okanagana rimosa) in a Cascara tree
Having spent my fair share of time outdoors in Western and Central Oregon, I probably would have said we don't have cicadas here.  That's why I grabbed my camera as fast as I could, and snapped these pictures.  They're not great because it was about 10 feet up the tree, and this was the only angle I could get.

After I got the photos I sat down to do a little research, to see if there really were cicadas in Oregon, or if this was just a wayward traveler blown in by some freak wind.  I was somewhat surprised to read that there really are cicadas in Oregon.

A local biologist, named Max, wrote on his blog (Apartment Biology) that the cicadas found in Oregon "are smaller, emerge in lower densities, and are not as loud as the ones found in the southern and eastern parts of the country."  He reported hearing many cicadas - most likely of the genus Okanagana - at Shute Park in Hillsboro.  He also found their exuvia (shed exoskelotons) on the trunks of the conifers in the park.

I looked around for my visitor's exoskeleton, but didn't find anything.  I think he must have flown into my yard.  And soon enough after I took the photos, he flew away - probably in search of a better cicada social scene.

While researching cicadas in Oregon, I ran across a great site called Cicada Mania.  Everything you've ever wanted to know about cicadas, plus lots of photos, videos and even sound clips of different cicada songs.  After tweeting a photo of my cicada to their Twitter account (@cicadamania), I learned that we have 32 species of cicadas in Oregon, all belonging to the Okanagana, Platypedia, or Neoplatypedia genus.  Judging from the limited view of my cicada, they thought it was probably Okanagana rimosa, sometimes called Say's Cicada.  

Here are some interesting cicada facts, from Wikipedia:

  • Cicadas are insects in the order Hemiptera.
  • About 2,500 species of cicada have been described, and many remain to be described. 
  • Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs, but NOT locusts.
  • Cicadas do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person's arm or other part of their body for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed (only if allowed to rest on a person's body for an extended amount of time.)
  • Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas. 
  • Cicadas have three small eyes, or ocelli, located on the top of the head between the two large eyes.
  • The male cicada has loud noisemakers called "tymbals", their song is not created by structures rubbing together, as in crickets.
  • Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB- loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans should the cicada sing just outside the listener's ear. 
  • Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, emerging in the final nymphal instar, and molting one last time to become adults.
  • After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow.
  • Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles.
Wikipedia has much more cicada information, including cicada symbolism and culinary use, and even a time-lapse clip of an adult cicada emerging from its molted exoskeleton.

So how about it - has anyone else seen cicadas in Portland or other parts of Oregon?

Real Time Analytics