Tuesday, December 24, 2013

White-throated Sparrow with Snowflakes...

Watercolor painting by Kelly Riccetti of a White-crowned Sparrow at night among snowflakes.
I think our little White-throated Sparrow has just settled himself for a long winter's nap.
(...or maybe he's watching for Santa!)

Wishing you the happiest of holidays
filled with love and cheer. 

Merry Christmas...and a Happy New Year! 

Winter Birds
White-throated Sparrows are one of our first winter birds to arrive in our back yard each autumn. Rick and I watch for them, along with White-crowned Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos as soon as the leaves start to turn colors and a chill hangs in the air. These sweet birds leave their nesting grounds up north and head south to live with us during the winter. They are special guests, and their musical calls and beautiful plumage brighten dull gray winter days. It's always exciting to spy the first to arrive for the season. This year, Dark-eyed Juncos won the contest, showing up on October 21. White-throated Sparrows were right on their heals, making their appearance on October 23. White-crowned Sparrows sometimes skip our yard altogether, but this year, they dropped in on November 14. We're still waiting for our musical little American Tree Sparrows to show. They usually blow in with a winter storm in January. With all the snow we've had in December, however, we were hoping they would show up sooner. We will keep watching. Maybe they will hitch a ride with Santa, and we will see them at the feeders Christmas morn...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gray Dogwood is for the birds, too...

Just like the Staghorn Sumac berries (drupes) from the previous post, Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) berries are very important to the birds too! The nutritional content between the fruit of the two species is different, however, and the birds eat the fruit for different reasons. Staghorn Sumac drupes are low in fat and high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and tannins, which creates fruit that is hard and lasts long into the winter season. The drupes, which are ignored until all the "tasty" berries have been stripped from the trees, help birds survive the harsh, cold winter and early spring. Gray Dogwood berries are the opposite...the creamy white drupes of the dogwood are high in fat, which makes them soft and highly palatable to the birds. Gray Dogwood drupes are meant to be eaten through the fall and early winter to help fuel migrating songbirds (especially catbirds and thrushes) on their energy-expending flights south...

Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) berries
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) berries (drupes) are high in fat. Migrating birds need these high-fat calorie-dense drupes to build up their fat stores so they have enough energy to make it to their wintering grounds.

This stand of Gray Dogwood was located along the trail near the visitor's center at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge right next to the Staghorn Sumac from the previous post. Gray Dogwood has white berries, bright red pedicels (the stalks the fruit grows on), and red stems on newer growth but gray bark on the older branches. The gray bark is how the plant gets its name...

Gray Dogwood is distinguished by the gray bark that appears on older branches. The bright red shows on newer stems and the fruit pedicels.
Gray Dogwood and Staghorn Sumac grow side by side along the trail near the visitor's center at Ottawa NWR near Toledo. In addition to the fruit benefiting the birds, thickets of Gray Dogwood provide cover and habitat for birds.

Gray Dogwood berries are creamy white on red fruit stalks.
The white berries of the Gray Dogwood start to ripen in late August and early September. By the beginning of November the soft drupes are already showing wear. 

Pioneer woody plants help tip a prairie or abandoned field toward forest succession.
White berries on bright red pedicels. You can see the birds have been busy eating the fruit while the eating is good! Gray Dogwood drupes are a fall fuel treat for migrating songbirds and are not meant to last through the winter.

...only one berry remains on this Gray Dogwood pedicel. Although the drupes will be gone soon, the bright red color of the fruit stalks lasts through the winter.

Gray Dogwoods as pioneer woody shrubs...
Gray Dogwoods are one of the first shrubs to move into a prairie if it is left un-mowed or unburned, making it a "pioneer woody plant" that moves a prairie or abandoned field toward succession. Click here for an article by the Ohio Prairie Association detailing how Gray Dogwoods overtake and shade out prairies and how to manage prairies to prevent it. A good example of a meadow being overtaken by Gray Dogwoods is the Voice of America (VOA) Metro Park's high meadow. It was left untended for years, and Gray Dogwood pioneers had definitely set up camp. This spring the park service started prairie restoration in several places. I need to head back and see how it's progressing.

Flowering Dogwoods are for the birds, also...
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) trees also have fruit high in fat, and migrating songbirds love the tree's red berries. For a post on a Flowering Dogwood tree I photographed last autumn in Greenbo Lake State Park in KY (click here). 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Staghorn Sumac is for the birds...

In early November when we headed up to Toledo for a little birding, we spent one morning at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, my favorite trails were closed, but we still were able to see three American Bald Eagles from a distance and numerous other birds and ducks. We walked the small trail and boardwalk near the visitor's center and saw lots of berry-producing plants. I especially liked the color showing on the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)...

The branches of Staghorn Sumac are furry like a stag's antlers when in velvet.
It's easy to see how Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) gets its name. Its furry and velvety stems and branches resemble a stag's antlers in the "velvet" stage of development. 
A little about antlers and velvet...
Male deer grow new antlers every year. They shed them in late winter, and new antler growth begins in late March or early April. Antlers are bone, not horn, and the growing bone is fed by blood vessels in the sensitive skin that covers the bone, which looks like and is called "velvet." Antlers grow quickly, and by late summer the levels of the reproductive hormone testosterone increase, signaling the bone to start to harden. Up until then, the antlers were soft, spongy, and even delicate. Eventually, a ring at the base of the antler (the burr) cuts off the blood supply to the velvet, which dries up and falls off. The hard antlers remain on the stag through the height of the breeding season. As testosterone levels start to fall after the rut, the antlers eventually fall off. For a more detailed explanation of the growth of a deer's antlers, click here for an article by the University of Missouri that also contains photos of deer antlers in velvet. Click here for a similar article that explains how antlers grow by The Izaak Walton league of America. For a beautiful photo of a white-tailed deer in velvet, click hereFor a photo of a white-tailed deer losing his velvet, click here.

Incredible color of autumn is easily found on a Staghorn Sumac tree.
You can't beat the color of Staghorn Sumac in the autumn. 
A little about Staghorn Sumac, winter, and the birds...
Staghorn Sumac is native to the United States and is part of the cashew family. I love the bright red and orange color of the leaves in autumn, and a few years ago I added a few plants to my yard. They have multiplied and have already started a small colony, but even though I love the fall color, I love the fruit Staghorn Sumacs produce for the birds even more. Staghorn Sumac fruit helps birds get through the dead of winter. When all the other softer and more desirable berries of late summer and fall have been consumed, and the bushes and trees are all stripped bare, Staghorn Sumac fruit is still viable. The fuzzy fruit becomes an important source of food in the late winter and early spring for overwintering birds such as wild turkeys, Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Mockingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, Brown Thrashers, Cedar Waxwings, Bobwhite Quail, grouses, and Hermit Thrushes. Staghorn Sumac "berries" are technically called "drupes" (a drupe is a fleshy fruit that surrounds a single seed in a shell; e.g., a cherry or a plum), and the conical cluster of drupes is called a "bob."

Vibrant red leaflets stand out against the dull background.
Staghorn Sumac leaves are compound and are made up of nine to 31 leaflets. The leaflets are between two and five inches long. They have toothed edges and hang opposite each another.

Staghorn Sumac is not Poison Sumac
I've heard people mention they don't like Staghorn Sumac, because they thought it was Poison Sumac. It's not. Staghorn Sumac has red berries, furry stems, and jagged (toothed) leaves. It's also common and grows at forest edges, clearings, and hillsides. Poison Sumac has white berries, smooth stems, and smooth leaves. It's not as common and grows in wetlands. Poison Sumac is not your friend. I read on the TrekOhio blog that it is the most toxic plant in the United States! For photos and more discussion of urushiol (the resin in the plant that causes the allergic reactions in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac), click here. In Ohio, Poison Sumac is mostly found in the northeast and in boggy areas in the south. Urushiol doesn't bother the birds, and just like Staghorn Sumac fruit, birds like Poison Sumac berries.

Click here for more information on Staghorn Sumac from The Ohio State University's Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crane-berries, Thanksgiving, and Sandhill Cranes...

Cranberries...people either love them or hate them. I'm one that loves them, so earlier this week while thinking about the big feast, I decided to research how cranberries were grown. I knew they were native berries that grew in bogs, etc., but I didn't really know the mechanics of it. Before learning about their cultivation, however, I stumbled across a history of the berry and was delighted to learn cranberries were named after one of my favorite birds, the Sandhill Crane...

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) blossoms watercolor painting
Pilgrims and other early European settlers thought the tiny cranberry blossom resembled a Sandhill Crane and soon took to calling them crane-berries. Over the years, the name of the sweet and tangy native fruit was shortened to cranberry.
With the long slender stem, the pink-white petals that curve back forming a head, the red on at the top of the stamen creating a "forehead," which then curves down to a long tapered "bill," it's easy to see how a cranberry blossom would make people think of a Sandhill Crane...

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) watercolor painting
A long slender neck, a whitish head, a rosy red forehead, and a long bill....yep, looks like a cranberry blossom to me! 
Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native to North America. They are unique and grow only in acid peat soil with a supply of fresh water, sand and a long growing season (April to November, which makes them the perfect Thanksgiving treat!). They also require dormancy and cold temps in winter to complete their life cycle. Cranberries grow on vines in beds made up of layers of sand, peat, gravel and clay. Mother Nature created the original "bogs" from glacial deposits. Man continues to refine the process today:

Click here for "Cranberries 101" - an introduction to how cranberries grow from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association

Click here for a history of cranberries from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association

Click here for a description of cranberry crop pollination by bees

Click here for the heath benefits of cranberries

Happy Thanksgiving!
(...and yeah! for the crane berry.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

White-tailed Deer grazing along the boardwalk...

If you're walking the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park in Toledo, OH, you're bound to see a few White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the woods. We saw a doe with her fawn several time while we were there...

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) - a young male fawn, or button buck
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn along the boardwalk at Maumee Bay. 
The vibrissae (feelers or whiskers) around a deer's eyes look like giant eye lashes. A deer does have upper eyelashes, but not lower eyelashes; however, the beautiful vibrissae extend three to four inches from above and below the eye. They function, just like in cats and dogs, as feelers to help the animal feel its way around by warning it that something is near its face. Deer have vibrissae on the chin and by the nose as well. Vibrissae are embedded deep in the skin and are surrounded by sensitive touch neurons. In addition to warning the animal of an object's proximity, vibrissae seem to help with identifying objects.

A male fawn (six months old or younger) is called a button buck. If you look in front of his ears, you'll notice a "button" on each side. These are where his antlers will grow next year.

The boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park and Lodge. Deer can be spotted near the boardwalk as you stroll through the woods. 

Mama deer sees me while her button buck continues to graze.
While reading about White-tailed Deer, I learned the White-tailed Deer is the state animal of Ohio. It was designated our official animal in 1988. For all of the state symbols, click here.

A White-tailed Deer fawn and doe graze in the afternoon sun.

Camouflage and a little grass bed kept this doe out of view. I only saw her because the Golden-crowned Kinglet I was photographing (in the photo below) dove down into the grasses by the deer's hiding spot. 
If I had not been following this tiny kinglet I never would have seen the deer. When I lost sight of bird, I moved the lens to the right, and the deer from the previous photo popped into view!

White-tailed Deer Grazing from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

I took these photos on Nov 4, 2013.

For more information:

Deer Facts
Click here for "How to Tell a Doe From a Button Buck," by Jane Maggitt
Click here for "White-tailed Wonders," by W.H. (Chip) Gross, ODNR

Click here for an excellent source that explains "Vibrissal behavior and function," by Tony J. Prescott.
Click here for a more simplified description of vibrissae in an article in Psychology Today titled, "Why do Dogs Have Whiskers?" by Stanley Coren, PH.D.
Click here for an even more simplified description of "How do whiskers work?" by Steve Harris at Discover Wildlife.

Deer Vision
Click here for a description of a visual capabilities study at the University of Georgia, "Investigation of Visual Abilities of White-tailed Deer."
Click here for "Ask the Deer Biologist" for an answer to the question, "What colors of light can whitetails see?"(Pennsylvania Game Commission)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ring-billed Gulls at Maumee Bay State Park

Ring-billed Gulls ruled the roost at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge while we were there the first week in November. Other gulls and terns were present too, such as large numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls, Herring Gulls, and few Caspian and Common Terns, but Ring-billed Gulls were everywhere.  The handsome birds had become habituated to humans and almost seemed to pose for the camera...

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) standing in the grass at the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge in Toledo, OH
Ring-billed Gull at Maumee Bay State Park in Toledo, Ohio (adult, non-breeding)

The pale yellow eye and the complete ring around the bill are great field marks to look for when identifying Ring-billed Gulls.

Ring-billed Gulls have pale yellow eyes rimmed in black. They also have pale yellow legs.
From a distance, a Ring-billed Gull might look bland, but their pale yellow eyes rimmed in black are striking. During breeding season, the orbital ring is red.

Black-tipped primaries are easily seen on Ring-billed Gulls.
The tips of the primaries on the wings are black...another field mark to look for.

It's easy to see the black-tipped primaries in flight. 

First and second-year Ring-billed Gulls do not look like adult Ring-bills. Click here for an article with photos by Cornell on how to identify young Ring-billed Gulls. How long can Ring-billed Gulls live? According to John Eastman in his book Birds of Field and Shore, if Ring-billed Gulls live beyond their second year, they have a good chance of making it 20 years or more (Eastman, pg 89)!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Golden-crowned Kinglets at the Cox Arboretum Metropark in Dayton

Rick and I visited the Cox Arboretum MetroPark in Dayton, OH Sunday afternoon. It was our first time there, and I'm glad we went. We didn't know anything about the park, so after looking at the trail map, we decided to take the 1.8 mile "yellow" trail. According to the map, it wound through a mature deciduous forest interspersed with cedar groves. It promised to be birdy, and after only a few minutes, a Brown Creeper started his high-pitched peeping, and we soon saw him spiraling up a tree just off the path. Within seconds of our "ooohhing" and "ahhhhing" over the creeper, a little band of Golden-crowned Kinglets dropped in on us. The intrepid little birds came in so close I was amazed and wondered if they would try to land on us. They were scouring the branches in a flurry of movement, snapping up tiny insects right and left. It was exciting (and very deja vu Maumee Bay)...

Clear view of the yellow crest on a Golden-crowned Kinglet
A Golden-crowned Kinglet zipped in beside us...so close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet
...sweet little kinglet with the golden crown.

kinglet nabbing an insect
Look closely between her bill. She has a tiny insect!

The golden light of late afternoon washes over this little kinglet.

...sweet little kinglet is definitely playing peek-a-boo!
I see you!

The Cox Arboretum MetroPark was lovely. I definitely want to go back this spring and summer to photograph butterflies. The wetland and bird blind looked interesting as well. 

I will pick back up with the Maumee Bay posts, but these little kinglets were so cute I had to post them right away!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

We struck gold at Maumee Bay State Park...

I just returned from an exciting mini birding trip to Maumee Bay State Park in Toledo, Ohio. I went up with my parents, aunt and cousin, and we really had fun (Rick had to work, but he's coming next year!). There is nothing like big water, fall migration, autumn color, and brisk, cool temperatures to create a little adventure.  A beautiful boardwalk picks up on the grounds of the park just east of the Maumee Bay Lodge where we stayed. The boardwalk wound through a swamp forest thick with golden maple leaves and opened into a wetland marsh washed in golds and yellows. Gold was definitely the color of the day, and even the first bird we saw on the boardwalk was golden...

A Golden-crowned Kinglet greeted us as we walked on the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park. 

 This female was part of a flock of five Golden-crowned Kinglets. They were twittering back and forth to each other, making a tiny ruckus among the gold leaves along the boardwalk. They came in so close, and stayed around us so long, it was like they were welcoming us to Lake Erie, the Great Black Swamp, and all things north! 

...the bright yellows and golds along the boardwalk set a festive mood, and the swish of leaves as we waded through them added to the fun. Rosy cheeks, cold noses and flannel...I love the celebration of autumn. 

...our little band of kinglets followed us around. Love her sweet golden crown!

...the temps were biting just a bit when the wind kicked up. Nothing like the sight of a kinglet puffed up to keep out the cold!

I already miss the boardwalk, the crisp leaves crunching underfoot, and the sound of gulls and terns along Lake Erie...and the fun I had with my family. We will be back next year for fall migration again...(and for the great food at the lodge restaurant...yum!) 

For an older post with more info on kinglets and photos that show a male displaying his tangerine beret, click here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Japanese White-eyes in Maui

These little birds are cute -- cute faces, cute voices, cute antics, and they are everywhere on Maui. Unfortunately, Japanese White-eyes (Zosterops japonicus) aren't native to the Hawaiian islands, and they are causing problems for native birds. These cheerful little birds were introduced to O'ahu in 1929 and Hawaii in 1937 to help with bug control. Since then they have become invasive and are now one of the most abundant birds in the Hawaiian Islands...

Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus) in a plumeria tree.
Japanese White-eyes are also called by their Japanese name, Mejiro. 

...that white eye ring stands out against the yellow and olive-green feathers!
A cute bird in a beautiful plumeria tree...
If you visit Maui, you'll see one of these sweet birds. They live in all environments, wet, dry, urban, suburban, rural, and even on the way up the volcano! 

Click here for more information on White-eyes in Hawaii, including one positive benefit of their presence...Japanese White-eyes might be able to be "replacement pollinators" for certain plants that used to be pollinated by native species of birds that have become extinct.

I photographed this bird on 6-28-2013 on Maui.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Cornish Rex Halloween Cat
...there is nothing like a Cornish Rex kitty to give you a Halloween fright!
Bip may look scary, but he's as sweet as can be, and he's always the perfect Halloween cat. 
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Northern Brown Snake at Fort Ancient

Rick and I took advantage of the sunny skies and crisp temperatures on Sunday and headed up to Fort Ancient for a little birding. We walked the meadow near the visitor's center and then took the Mound Trail. The birds were wonderful...lots of yellow-rumped warblers, eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, downies, chickadees, and titmice, to name a few. At one point, while we were sitting down listening for brown creepers, a beautiful red-shouldered hawk swept across the gorge, landing on a branch on the other side briefly before taking off again. On our way back, as we neared the little bridge that leads back to the trailhead, Rick looked down just in time to avoid stepping on a Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi)...

Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi)
A Northern Brown Snake (Storia dekayi dekayi) suns himself in the leaf litter along the trail. He was very cold and barely moving. Kudos to Rick and his iPhone! It's a great camera in a pinch. I decided not to bring my camera on this trip because I just wanted to relax and enjoy the birds. That'll teach me to slack off. I'm glad Rick was able to pick up the slack for me and capture this wonderful image with his cell phone!

Can a snake be any more camouflaged? He looked like a stick among the leaves. Glad Rick spotted him! 

In Ohio, Northern Brown Snakes and Midland Brown Snakes share territory. According to the books, both snakes look similar and have two rows of dark spots running down their backs. Midland Brown Snakes have a line that connects the spots and creates a ladder pattern. Since I don't see any "rungs" going across from the spots, I'm deducing this is a Northern Brown Snake.

Brown snakes are not large. This guy was probably full grown. He was about 12-13 inches long. 

Brown snakes don't bite. They are gentle. This guy didn't musk either. He was very docile, probably because he was cold. I picked him up so we could see his belly. Brown snakes have plain, light-colored bellies, usually a light pinkish tan or beige. 

I did a little reading in my favorite reptile book, Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana, by Sherman A. Minton, Jr., and learned brown snakes are "most often found abroad during the mild days of Indian summer in October and early November." (Minton, pg 283) No wonder we found this fellow. He was right on schedule!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawk in the rain...and on our deck...

I love walking into our kitchen and seeing a Red-shouldered Hawk on the other side of the backdoor...

This Saturday a Red-shouldered Hawk dropped in to use the railing on our backyard deck to survey the yard for prey. 
It was drizzling out and cold, but I still had my side kitchen window open so I could listen to the birds as I worked in the house. I thought I had heard a hawk a little earlier but had dismissed it as a Blue Jay playing tricks. I'm sort of glad I hadn't paid closer attention, because there is nothing better than walking into the kitchen and being surprised by a sharp-taloned bird of prey right on the other side of the door! It doesn't matter how many times that happens, I'm still awestruck every time a hawk decides to use our deck railing as a hunting perch. This fellow was definitely in hunting mode. He was sitting exceptionally still staring at the ground between the ash and mulberry trees. I've seen voles and chipmunks running back and forth in that area often, so I assumed he had one of those furry little creatures in his sights. His glare was intense, and his concentration and posture suggested he was about to strike, but then he relaxed. I guess he decided it was all a false alarm and nothing tasty was about. He kept looking in that direction, though, so I decided to back out of the room and grab the camera.  

A Red-shouldered Hawk hunting in the rain.
Unfortunately, camera clicks don't impress hawks, so he quickly flew away nonplussed and emty-taloned. I felt guilty for disturbing him, but, you know...he was right on the other side of the kitchen door...and he was a Red-shouldered Hawk!

Our gorgeous Red-shouldered Hawk flew off in a huff to find another hunting perch. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Katydid...Katydidn't in the Great Smoky Mountains

Last week Rick, Matty and I, my parents, and my brother, sis-in-law and niece all headed down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. It was our annual fall trip, and we were looking for a little adventure. Unfortunately, the park was closed due to the government shutdown, but we still had fun and saw many beautiful sights in other locations. Our cabin was high on a mountain in the woods, and the view alone was worth the trip. One afternoon I was sitting on the deck reading, when I looked up and directly in front of me was a katydid. The sunlight was backlighting her, so I went in to grab my camera. She stuck around, and I was able to get a few photos...

Katydids have very long and thin antenna. It's one way to tell the difference between a grasshopper (which has a much shorter antenna) and a katydid. The katydid's long antenna size is why it's called a "long-horned grasshopper." Click here to see the shorter antennas of a grasshopper.
Before writing this post, I didn't know much about katydids. A green bug that looked like a leaf and had a song that sounded like its name was all that would come to mind. So after looking at my photos, I had to get out my favorite insect books to learn a little more. "The Songs of Insects" by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger has fantastic photos that are great for ID. I've learned a lot from it, and it focuses on crickets, katydids and grasshoppers, so I took it out. The next book I grabbed is called "The Grasshopper Book" by Wilfrid S. Bronson. Published in 1943, Bronson wrote the book for children and did all of the illustrations himself. I love the older language, the detailed drawings, and the humor he inserted throughout the text. I also got out my favorite all-around insect book, the "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America," by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman. After going through these books, I quickly learned there's more to katydids than just their green leaf-like wings!

Katydids are chewers and have powerful mouth parts to eat leaves. They can even bite into little berries. Chewing insects use maxilla (located on each side of the face) to help manipulate food. When an insect lowers them and starts moving them around, they look like tiny robot arms gathering up food. It's very cool to watch. Additionally, because katydids have powerful mandibles and mouthparts, they can bite (Bronson, pg 79)! 

Katydid "chewing" on wood post from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo. You can see her moving her maxilla around searching for food.

Female katydids have an ovipositor (or egg placer). The size and shape of the ovipositor is a good way to identify different species. Due to the curved shape and darker color of this female's ovipositor, I think this is a Fork-tailed Bush Katydid. This species is very common and found throughout the United States (Elliot and Hershberger, pg 159).
Ovipositors are specialized for each species of katydid, and different species use them in different ways. While reading "The Grasshopper Book," I learned female Fork-tailed Bush Katydids chew off a small part of the edge of a leaf, and then use their mouthparts to guide the ovipositor to the chewed-off edge to slice through the two layers of epidermis and deposit super-thin, flat eggs (Bronson, pg 85). What? How is that possible...leaves are so thin! I wondered if there was a photo of that on the web, so I did a quick search.  Sure enough, I found a photo...and even a video. Click here to go to "The Smaller Majority" blog and see how a female bush katydid deposits her eggs (ovipositing) between the two layers of epidermis in a leaf.

The little hole on each of the katydid's front legs is the katydid's ear (tympanum).
Where do you find a katydid's ears? Don't look on their heads, try their forelegs instead!  When I was looking at a few of the close-up photos I took of the katydid, I noticed a small hole or slit on each front leg. It looked like a tiny scar, and I wondered what it was. Once again, Bronson came to the rescue by mentioning that the "slit in each front shin" contains the katydid's hearing apparatus (Bronson, pg 79). If you want to learn more about the katydid's ear structure, which is very similar to mammals, click here.   

One more thing...katydids got their name because their song often sounds like "katydid...katydidn't," but not all species of katydids get to sing out their name. The Fork-tailed Bush Katydid in this post has a "tsip" song or a high-pitched tick (Elliot and Hershberger, 158). There is always something new to learn about nature. It seems every time I lift my camera and focus, Mother Nature sends me another surprise!