Eastern Tigers

This dramatic Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was everywhere early this summer, to my delight. On honeysuckle:

swallowtail on honeysuckel

or milkweed:

Eastern Swallowtail

In a previous incarnation, it was a large green caterpillar, with fake “eye” markings to deceive predators; the actual head is the reddish section to the extreme left:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

When threatened, it coils in its front end to create a very convincing – looking face, and those flaps even make its feet look big.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 

They curl up a leaf with silk threads, creating a little woven silken pad to which they can anchor themselves to rest. I watched this one for days, and it never moved (unless I touched it gently), and then one morning  it was gone, leaving its bed behind:

Had it gone off to pupate, or had something swooped down and eaten it?? We will never know.

Turkey tussle


Early one morning, a tent that we had pitched in the back yard was lurching drunkenly from side to side. The cause: two young male turkeys, locked together in combat. They appeared to be stuck in an intimate embrace, each one eating the other’s beak:

Turkeys fighting

They took turns in being the dominant one, the winner forcing the loser’s head right back as if at any moment a cervical vertebra would dislocate.

The overall impression was of a strange unfamiliar beast with two eyes, one above the other, two necks and two bodies. The locking mechanism was pretty similar to this Bollywood screen kiss, each actor mouthing the other’s lip:

Clearly, though, these turkeys were not in love, but at war. At first I thought they were unable to extricate themselves, but eventually I realized that was wrong. Like a pair of Siamese twins they skidded around the grass, bumping into the tent and nearby chairs, all in total silence. (The two videos below do not seem to be playing reliably, so I apologize if you have trouble.)

They kept it up for about ten minutes, then separated, and returned to feeding, apparently none the worse for wear. My reading suggests this behavior is quite common in mating season, but this was mid-June, some time after mating season was over, so I suspect they were young birds, sparring.

Those wrestlers on TV might be able to learn a trick or two.


This post would make suitable source material for a sci-fi movie or a Stephen King novel. Those of you with weak stomachs look away.

Some wasps lead a rather unsavory lifestyle.

Feeding your young is always a challenge, which these parasitic wasps solve by paralyzing a caterpillar, and laying their eggs in its living body.  The larvae feed on the still living victim, then build these silken cocoons within which they pupate, to eventually emerge as wasps.


When it is time to emerge, they cut around the top of the cocoon with elegant precision, creating a tiny lid. It reminds me of Hercule Poirot preparing to eat his boiled egg.


When I tried to ID this specific wasp, BugGuide initially said “Unidentified parasitic Apocrita”, which seems a rather appropriate name for an insect which ends the life of its host apocryphally. But my wonderful friendly expert Brandon Woo said it was in the family Braconidae, and then Charley Eiseman updated the BugGuide ID, confirming this, and telling me it was in the sub-family Microgastrinae, more specifically in the genus Microplitis.  The internet is a wonderful thing, generous experts at your fingertips.

Moose quest

5.30am, early morning, in Kokadjo, near Moosehead Lake in Northern Maine, 60 miles from the Canadian border:

A phoebe in the early morning mist:

We canoed across the lake towards an elegant hummock:

and then into an ever-narrowing bay-let:

One moose in the far distance, , that slowly turned and strolled away. So we stopped for breakfast, attracting a Gray Jay (aka Canada Jay), well-known hangers on at campsites:

And then just as we were leaving, the guide pointed out a mother and calf ahead. The calf scarpered (and neither of us even saw it), but the mother lingered:

We have moose where we live in south-western Maine; you see droppings, but the population is small, and I have only ever seen 4 or 5, in nearly 40 years. All told, we saw five moose that morning, all cows, and the one calf. Thankyou Mark Patterson.

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