SULLIVAN'S Landscaping of Alexandria, VA.
SULLIVAN'S Landscaping of Alexandria, VA. SULLIVAN'S Landscaping of Alexandria, VA.
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Critters

Here is a collection of nature’s friends we’ve encountered in the landscape:

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Northern Flicker

Mantis (Mantid or ‘Praying Mantis’)So named for its bent forelegs, a posture it keeps when at rest ... these serrated legs will extend to grab prey ... they can be a lime green or brown or both ... its camouflage is its security blanket ... you may be able to grasp one but it will opt to scurry away ... it eats insects and hummingbirds ... its main adversary is the bat; ... it eats beetles, spiders and crickets ... it is a beneficial farming insect.

MosquitoFeeds on flower nectar, while only the female sucks the blood from birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, including us ... the female requires protein in the blood for its egg development ... the insect evolved in South America ... a mosquito bite can breed malaria and West Nile virus ... to retard mosquito populations, eliminate any standing water ... the female mosquito is attracted to the carbon dioxide in our exhaled breath and our perspiration ... it targets overweight males, especially those with Type ‘O’ blood.

ChipmunkAlso called ground squirrels or red squirrels, they have a white stripe under and over the eye and a pattern of black and white stripes down the center of the back ... they store food in cheek pouches and hoard food for winter in soil burrows ... they eat nuts, bird eggs, insects, berries, mushrooms and seeds ... the rodent mates in spring and fall but hibernates during late fall and winter ... not known to carry rabies, their bites can still cause infection ... they are 5-6 inches long and weigh three ounces.

GrasshopperTheir hind legs are longer and stronger than the front legs ... when stationary, the hind legs from an upside-down ‘V’. ... the female is larger than the male and lays between 400-500 eggs in a clutch ... she lays them in soil surrounded by a foamy substance which keeps them incubated ... she lays eggs in pods one-to-two inches underground, where they stay until the first hatchling crawls up to the soil surface in spring ... if the hind legs were stretched out, they would be longer than the grasshopper’s body ... Wikipedia says grasshoppers are eaten in Korea for protein

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Red Fox      Photo: Barry Dunn

Monarch ButterflyA fluttering stained-glass window, the Monarch is orange with black veins ... the female has thicker veins while the male has a spot in the center of each hind wing ... on the perimeter of its four wings, there are dotted patterns ... from August to October, the butterfly migrates to the southern United States, Cuba and Mexico and returns in spring ... they live only 6-8 weeks ... the female Monarch lays her eggs on the
underside of the milkweed leaf, whose milky substance is food for the larvae ... Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus gave the perennial its Latin name, Asclepias, after the Greek god, for its healing ability due to folklore medicinal uses.

SkinkPart of the Scincidae family, the largest in the lizard world with 1,200 species ... eight inches long with no neck and short legs ... tends to move like a snake, crawling and slithering ... their long, tapering tails are shed, then regenerated or voluntarily broken off through muscle contraction when attacked by prey or mishandled.

Box TurtleNot a common sighting but you’ll see them on the road, golf course or in the woods ... live up to 100 years ... the young feed near water, adults on land ... typically charcoal with yellow-to-orange markings ... nesting period is from May to July ... incubation lasts about three months ... can be a dangerous food, since the turtle eats poisonous mushrooms and this can linger in their tissues ... omnivore.

FrogIf the soil is moist or water is nearby, you may meet one of these leapers. We recently saw a two-inch frog in Alexandria and a four-inch frog in Potomac, Maryland. A toad’s signature markings are brown, pebbly skin and short hind legs. The brownish color is camouflage since it lives on land. A toad walks while the frog hops. The frog I held had a yellowish-olive belly with black swirls. A frog’s eyes actually bulge above the head. When they breathe, their throats puff out and then deflate. While croaking is the common call, the frog in Maryland chirped softly like a bird while in my hand. Pick one up between your thumb and forefinger and you’ll feel the softness of its abdomen. Wait a moment and you’ll feel their strength as they push out their elbows and hind legs to get free. Keep an eye on a frog and he’ll blink his eyes. The frog has three layers of eyelid membranes. One is transparent for underwater protection while the other two are translucent to opaque. According to “Wikipedia,” the frog is an amphibian of the order Anura, from the Greek, ‘an,’ and ‘oura’ meaning tail-less. The frog was formerly referred to as Salienta, from the Latin, ‘salfare,’ meaning to jump.

BIRDS

Below are some of the many flyers we’ve seen, some more visible than others.

CardinalBoth the male and female sing but are not migratory. Late in the afternoon, you will hear a “chip,” signaling the mate or as an alarm. Another call is “wacheer.” The male is larger and its black mask encircles the eyes and bill. The female’s mask is an arc just above her bill. Mate feeding will occur during breeding season, which is from March to September. The cardinal is the most common state (seven) bird in the United States: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. The Meadowlark is next, with six.

Blue JayIf you collect bird feathers like we do, this is the most common plume you’ll find. The turquoise and black-striped feather comes from the lower back, wings and tail. Its’ call is common in our area. A screech-like, ‘jayer,” call, resembling a rusty gate slowly closing, is heard daily. This high-pitched  “jayer” call is sounded to warn a mate of a predator, such as a Cooper’s Hawk, another common flyer in our area. Like the cardinal, the blue jay is found mainly in the central and eastern United States and southern Canada. Jays are not aerodynamic in flight but are aggressive to other birds and predators, especially cats.

MockingbirdIts feather is commonly found on the ground as well. It’s identifiable with its charcoal and white-striping. White patches on the wing are seen in flight or when the male struts while spreading and stretching his wings during territorial displays. The 11-inch long bird mimics other birds and machines (even car alarms) with its repetitions. Its Latin name, Mimus polyglottos, means many-tongued mimic. The non-migratory bird lives in the warmer climates of the United States, except for New England. It will swoop down on passersby or snoopers coming too close to its nest or territory. Research claims its middle-of-the-night call comes from an unmated male, especially during a full moon or mating season.

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This baby Robin was rescued from a window well.       Photo by: Nery Lopez

RobinLike the Catbird, this thrush will hop along freshly excavated soil in search of earthworms ... unlike male birds which sing when identifying territory or courting a mate, the male robin sings to announce the birth of its newborn ... the male has a black head while the female’s is pale gray ... the male’s breast is a deeper red ... both sexes have a white eyeliner broken on the sides and a yellow bill ... its call is a “cheery-up,” a fragile but happy melody ... the eggs are a distinctive greenish-blue up to seven in one clutch ... Robins live only two years and only 25 percent survive their first summerfemales build a cup-like nest lined on the inside with mud.

CatbirdSlate gray with a black cap, this bird imitates a crying cat ... when confronted by a predator, it will flash its wings and may attack ... in our line of work, the Catbird is a friend not a foe and will wait nearby as the earth is turned to pursue a meal of insects and spiders ... up to 9 inches long and has a rust spot underneath its tail ... it has a matching black bill and eyes ... like the Mockingbird, it will mimic other birds’ calls as well as machinery.

FlickerFew birds in the landscape have unique markings like the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, a 13-inch-long member of the woodpecker family ... it has an ivory and beige breast with prominent black circles, a black (smile-like) necklace, beige back with black flecks and a red patch on the back of the neck ... the tail is dark on top and the rump is white, best seen in flight ... its’ call is a “kee-kee-kee” and “woika” during courtship ... half of its diet is ants ... state bird of Alabama.

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Barred Owl

Barred OwlThe one and only time I came "face to face" with this creature was in Fairfax Station. We were ready to leave a job site when I returned to the back yard to see if any tools were left behind. As I dipped under a low-branching Dogwood, a swooping sound knocked me to the ground. When I looked up from my knees, I saw the largest bird ever flapping its way to a large Oak tree. I was hoping it would stay and it did, roosting on a branch 15 feet from the ground before turning around and staring at me. Very eerie. It was about16 inches long and fat. Its brown eyes matched the dark brown stripes on its chest. Supposedly nocturnal, this creature was out for an early appetizer. It made no sound, just starred at me while it dipped its head down to survey the ground.

 

Sullivan’s Landscaping, Inc.
Alexandria, Va.