This is a Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful little bird that you only get a to see once a year–as they migrate through your territory. (Unless, of course, you live where they do.) I presume that they are named for their sleek appearance–in some lights, they don’t really look as though they have individual feathers. They are berry eaters, and they, together with an influx of American Robins here for the breeding season, stripped the holly tree outside our window of all its berries in a day and half, and it was loaded down with fruit!
These are not my photos, but I got them from the public domain. I thought it would be more interesting with visuals (though robins are doubtless one of the more seen and recognized birds). I feel that I have never properly appreciated robins before, because I used to live where they were omnipresent. They are actually quite the songbirds, and hearing them sing is a comfort and a joy.
The nutria is, as you may already have guessed, a rodent. It has adapted to life in the water–in fact, its nipples, rather than being on its stomach, are on its flanks so that babies can ride around on momma’s back and nurse without drowning. They are originally from South America, and were introduced in the States for their fur. They are now considered a pest species in this part of the world, and you can receive money for handing in a nutria carcass, which makes me sad but which I also understand. The reason why is that they can be very detrimental to wetlands, which are a famously fragile ecosystem already imperiled by human development.
Many people who pass them by exclaim over them thinking that they are beavers, despite signs on the trails around the stream explaining their name and origin. While they do look rather beaverish, they have long, thin tails like rats, and do not build dams of any kind. Rather, they appear to dwell in holes up under the bank, hidden away from predators, but whether they dig them themselves, possibly expanding on bank swallows’ excavations, I don’t know. They have also been mistaken for otters, but unlike the fish-loving otter, nutria exist solely on greenery. They love being thrown things like lettuce (though only romaine or iceberg–bitter spring greens are shunned by them!), bits of fruit, and bread. Some are fairly fearless, and if you have food, they will come right up to you and may even take it from you with their little hands. I have more than once been startled by feeling a wet little paw on my foot when I didn’t realize a nutria had approached me, hoping to get closer to the food I was holding. They have bright orange teeth, again rather like a beaver’s, which are rather alarming, but I have never seen a nutria behave aggressively. It’s as well to still steer clear of their mouths, though.
Many turtles live in the creek by which we like to take our ‘daily constitutional’–they’ll come up for bits of bread thrown for the ducks and lettuce thrown for the nutria (but more about those creatures in another post). Young turtles eat a lot of meat, but the older a turtle gets, the more vegetarian it becomes. Also, the older a turtle gets, the bigger it gets, and after a certain point it doesn’t really have any natural enemies (unless you count humans, who often remove turtles from the wild to become pets). Before they get too big to swallow, however, the herons, who seem to have snake-like throats, will eat small turtles. There are many ducks on this creek, and the ducks and turtles pretty much leave each other alone, except when the ducks have their babies–yes, it’s sad but true, turtles really go for a mouthful of baby bird. They also look out for a sunny, quiet day and a surface, preferably surrounded by water for safety’s sake, where they can climb out of the water and just bask for awhile. If you stop and stare, they’ll slide off the log, or rock–plip! plop–in the blink of an eye, hence the name Slider for some species (the Red-eared Slider is common here). I’ve never seen turtles fight with each other, the way ducks do, and they seem to share their logs in a quite neighborly fashion.
(In case you were wondering, credit for this picture and those below goes to Draconis.)
Behold the great blue heron, which we followed to one of its favorite spots. We’ve never seen it hunt here, but it often lands here in the evening to relax. It stands incredibly still and gazes down the length of the creek. Curiously, it rests and even flies with its right foot curled up. nor is this behavior unique to this bird.