Saturday, April 19, 2014

Northern Flicker: A Colorful Woodpecker

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The Northern Flicker is a medium-sized bird. A member of the woodpecker family, it finds most of its food on the ground, but they are also so fast they can catch insects in flight. I was thrilled the first time I saw one in my yard. From a distance, I thought it was a woodpecker, and as I grew close I realized it was a wonderful little creature I had never seen before.  

Later that week I saw the bird again, this time with my husband and our pack of dogs. From a distance I thought it might be one of the local hawks, but then I realized it was much too small. Northern Flickers are large for woodpeckers, though. 

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Apparently this lovely creature has decided to take up residence in our neighborhood because I see him often now. I wasn't surprised to learn that he is in the woodpecker family as the original reason I believed he was a woodpecker was because of his behavior--he appeared to be pecking at the tree trunk, which is a defensive behavior. 

Their primary diet consists of ants and beetles, but I always have a dog or two (or three) by my side so I'm certain it starts out on the ground digging for dinner and we frighten it up into the trees. They have curved bills, which probably come in handy when digging for their nightly meal! The tongue of a Northern Flicker can dart out as far as two inches to snag a bug! That's talent! They also eat berries and seeds, though, which makes sense for a bird. I mean, when you're hungry, you're hungry! 

Northern Flicker, Darla Sue Dollman. 

It's also possible that I am seeing more than one Northern Flicker. They are not rare birds for this area, nor are they endangered. Most Northern Flickers migrate long distances, which is uncommon for woodpeckers, but some stick around in their favorite areas. 

They truly are remarkably beautiful birds. I would love to see them year round. They are considered brown, though in fact they have all kinds of colors and spots on their bodies. An interesting detail I discovered when researching the bird--if you live in the east, and you watch the Northern Flicker in flight, you will probably see a flash of yellow in the wings. If you live in the west, you may notice a flash of white on their rumps. They were originally considered two different species of birds according to All About Birds, but are now considered to have a variety of hybridized versions that may collect in different areas from the Texas Panhandle to Alaska.

Northern Flicker. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Northern Flickers generally nest in trees. Both sexes will help dig the hole in a dead tree. They lay five to eight eggs that incubate for two weeks. The nestlings stay in the nest for two months, but one interesting behavior they have is they will quickly start clinging to the side of the inside of the tree instead of sitting in the center of the nest. They eventually grow to be 12 inches long with a wingspan of 20 inches, so they're not small birds. As you can see in the photos, they are flashy and colorful and a blessing to have in your garden, especially in the Southwest where they eat those biting ants! 

In the A to Z Challenge, N is for Northern Flicker! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Madagascar's Favorite Fur Balls: Ring-Tailed Lemurs

Ring-tailed Lemurs forming a fur ball at the Oakland Zoo. 
Photo taken in October, 2006 by Treehgr

The Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta), popularized in the animated film series Madagascar and the Animal Planet film series Lemur Kingdom, is a fun-loving primate that lives on the island of Madagascar.

Ring-Tailed Lemur. Photo by Rvb, public domain.

In reality, the future of the lovable Ring-Tailed Lemur is threatened by habitat destruction, drought, and use as pets and food, but unlike other animals, it both reproduces, and survives, in captivity.

Anatomy of the Ring-Tailed Lemur

Ring-Tailed Lemurs are considered large strepsirrhine primates, though they are not as big as they look in pictures. In fact, they generally weigh 6 1/2 pounds, the same size as an average house cat. They have a gray outer coat and thin, white, underbelly. Their front legs are shorter than their hind legs. They have long, slender fingers and fingernails that resemble those of humans.

Ring-Tailed Lemur showing off its classic long, striped tail. 
Photo, in public domain, was taken by Barbary lion

The Ring-Tailed Lemur's most distinguishing physical characteristic is their exceptionally long, bushy, black and white ringed tail, which is used for both balance and communication with other troop members. Their muzzle is dark gray and their eyes are bright yellow or orange surrounded by black patches of fur. They are one of the more vocal primates, calling to each other with loud meows, screeches, purrs, and other sounds depending on the situation. They are also capable of using tools and believed to be capable of understanding basic mathematics.


Ring-Tailed Lemurs are diurnal, which means they are most active during the day. They eat fruit, flowers, occasional insects, herbs, and favor the Tamarind Tree. They spend most of their time on the ground in groups, called "troops," of 20 to 30. The troop has a female hierarchy. The females are dominant and related to each other and stay with their relatives their entire lives. Males in the group are either unrelated or youngsters who have not yet reached sexual maturity.

Ring-Tailed Lemur in Berenty, Madagascar. Photo by Hans Bernhard (Schnobby). 

The females share child care duties, provide food for each other and sleep huddled tight together with their tails flung across each other to form a giant fur ball, or "Lemur Ball." Since they are all facing inward, this sleeping technique protects them very well from bad weather. Males sleep separately. On warm, sunny days, Ring-Tailed Lemurs spend their afternoons lying on the beach on their backs with their arms spread wide, sunbathing.

In the Family Way

When a male Ring-Tailed Lemur reaches sexual maturity at two to three years of age, he leaves the troop in search of another. According to the Ring-Tailed Lemurs Species Survival Plan website, young males challenge dominant males for breeding rights through "stink fighting"--they rub their tails across scent glands between their legs and on their arms then fling their tails over their heads and shake them at rival males.

A family of Ring-Tailed Lemurs in Madagascar.

These encounters can also become violent as the males leap into the air, throw themselves at each other and slash at each other with their sharp teeth. Defeated males will often leave the troop in search of another troop. Females mature at three years old. Mating begins in Madagascar in mid-April and lasts a few weeks. Gestation is 135 days and single or twin births are most common. Babies cling to their mother's bellies for the first few weeks, then to their mother's backs for two more weeks.

Threats to Survival and Conservation Efforts

Threats to the Ring-Tailed Lemur include the Fossa, which is a cat-like native animal, raptors, civets, boas, and feral cats and dogs. However, pollution and loss of habitat are also affecting the survival of the Ring-Tailed Lemur and there are many organizations working to protect the animal habitats of Madagascar.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs in Berenty, Madagascar. Photo by David Dennis in public domain.

For instance, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) provides accreditation to organizations that certify forest production to prevent illegally farmed wood and encourage ecologically friendly products, thereby protecting the habitats of creatures like the Ring-Tailed Lemur. The Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG), an organization of zoos and other animal-focused institutions, educates local residents on the importance of the survival of these magnificent creatures as well as teaching sustainable agricultural practices to help protect the habitats of Ring-Tailed Lemurs.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs in Popular Culture

In 1996, Nature filmed a documentary titled A Lemur's Tale, filmed at Berenty Reserve, a privately-owned reserve and tourist attraction in Madagascar. The documentary followed a troop of Ring-Tailed Lemurs in a way similar to the popular Meerkat Manor. The 1997 John Cleese film Fierce Creatures also featured Ring-Tailed Lemurs. One of the Lemurs in Fierce Creatures is named after Cleese's character, Rollo. In 1998, Cleese hosted the BBC documentary In The Wild: Operation Lemur.

Ring-Tailed Lemurs in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar, 2009. 
Photo by Alex Dunkel (Visionholder).

Following the popular film series Madagascar, Ring-Tailed Lemurs once again became minor celebrities. Oxford Scientific Films produced two series--Lemur Kingdom shown in the United States and Lemur Street shown in Great Britain--for Animal Planet starting in November of 2007. Both shows also followed a troop of Ring-Tailed Lemurs.


  • "Primate Fact Sheet: Ring-Tailed Lemurs." Primate Info Net. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  • "The Natural History of Ring-Tailed Lemurs." Ring-Tailed Lemurs Species Survival Plan. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge M is for Madagascar's Ring-Tailed Lemurs!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lizards in Pictures: A Letter for Keller

Lizard in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. This little fella lives beneath our rock wall. He is so small he just slides into cracks and disappears when the big birds come near so they won't eat him.

This is a lizard letter for my grandson, Keller Elway, from Mam Mam. Your mommy told me you like lizards. Well, Mam Mam loves lizards, too, and here's a few  pictures of her favorite lizards that she wants to share with you...

This is a funny story you might like to hear! I was walking to the park with your cousins, Layla and Eli Lou, and I told them that I wished they could visit Texas, where you live with your mommy and daddy, or New Mexico, where I live now, so they could see lizards, and while we were talking and walking down the sidewalk I looked at the sidewalk in front of us then stopped walking and said, "Oh my goodness! I think that is a lizard on the sidewalk!" So we walked up to it very slowly and it held still for a long time so I could take pictures.

So, I took his picture, and he moved around a bit and I took more pictures. He watched us watching him and held very still. Then after awhile I think he became bored and walked away. 

This lizard looks like a dinosaur, but he is just a different kind of lizard. He was lying in the sun working on his suntan in Texas. Mam Mam used to live in Texas when you were a baby. We had lots of lizards around our house and birds called Road Runners that liked to eat them. 


This is a Road Runner at my house in New Mexico. He likes my house because we have so many lizards and small birds. Road Runners are the fastest birds I've ever seen, but lizards are pretty fast, too! This Road Runner is young and still learning how to hunt. 

This is the lizard in Colorado again! My goodness he likes to have his picture taken! He just keeps popping in here, showing off! I think he must like us. 

This is a lizard sitting on a block of granite in Texas. Granite is a type of pink stone that is all over the part of Texas where Mam Mam used to live called The Hill Country.  Lizards like to lie on rocks in the sunshine to keep their bellies warm. They are fast, but they're kind of lazy, too, sometimes. Sometimes they like to just lie around and watch things. 

These are my neighbors. I did not show their faces because I did not ask their mommies. I told my neighbors that you like lizards, so every week they bring me lizards in cups. Lots and lots and lots of lizards. I tell them thank you very much, they are so kind. Then I take the lizards to my backyard and release them into my plants. 

I think it is nice of them to think of you, but there is no way I can send you lizards in the mail. They will not fit in an envelope, and  even if they did fit in an envelope, if the lizard started jumping in the envelope it might frighten the mailman and he would run down the street shouting  "EEK!" So, I let them go find their mommies again and they have a happy life in my backyard eating bugs. 

This lizard fell in my pond in Texas. He was upside down and grey, but I had a feeling he was still alive, so I held in my hands in the sunshine for a long time and pressed very gently on his tummy to try and press the water out--very, very gently--and after about an hour he started moving, so I set him on a rock and worked on my garden. The next time I checked on him he was walking around and finally crawled beneath the rocks by the pond. I think he had a house there with his mommy and daddy and brothers and sisters. 

I was having a garage sale in New Mexico, sitting in a chair, talking to a little girl when suddenly this lizard ran up my leg and onto my arm. It just sat there for a long time and all the little children in the neighborhood came to look at the lizard on my arm. Then one of the mommies took its picture for me. 

After we took his picture  I picked him up and placed him in the rocks by my feet because I think that's where he came from, so his family was probably looking for him. Sometimes those baby lizards like to explore, but they need their homes. 

This lizard lives at my neighbor's house. I walk my dogs every day and every time I walk past my neighbor's house, this lizard is lying in the sun, sleeping. When he hears my dogs he raises his head to make sure they are on leashes, then he goes back to sleep. 

Like I said before, I think they are very lazy. Fast, buy lazy. Or maybe they pretend to be lazy and hold really still so the bugs don't see them, then when the bugs aren't looking they jump on them and eat them up! Lizards like bugs. Yum. 

These next three pictures are of a beautiful lizard that lives on he side of my house. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but she is actually rather big. She has a lot of color on her. She's pretty. I like to look at her. She doesn't run away when she sees me. She may have eggs in her belly in this picture--her belly is kind of big. 

One time, s e let me pick her up and hold her for awhile. It felt funny. Her claws stuck to my hands. She held very still and stared up at me, then I put her back on the wall. 

Sometimes when I talk to lizards in a soft, quiet voice it turns its  head as if it is listening and it doesn't run away. You should try it sometime. In Texas, lizards used to come in our house all the time. 

One time our cat was chasing a lizard in my bedroom and grabbed its tail. The lizard's tail came right off! Lizards can grow new tails though, sometimes in only three or four months depending on the type of lizard. 

I caught that lizard before the cat did and held him in my hands. I talked to him real soft so he wouldn't try to run away and get hurt again and he looked at me sideways and held really still until I got him outside and let him go so he could find his mommy and daddy. 

Guess who this is? Yes, it is my neighbor's lazy lizard again. He looks a different color because he's on a different color of rock so he looks darker, but it's him. He lives between the three rocks--two pink ones and this big brown rock. 

On this day, when I walked by with my dogs, he didn't even raise his head to see who we were. He opened one eye and looked at us, then went right back to sleep! Silly lizard! 

This is a mommy and daddy lizard. The mommy might be the bigger lizard. It's just that way with some lizards. 

One time I was digging in my garden and I found a bunch of little white balls. I didn't know what they were at first, then I realized they were eggs! I quickly buried them back in the dirt and watched them for a few days to make sure no other creatures tried to dig them up because in nature, animals eat other animals. 

That is just the way God made them. So, I watched the eggs, then one day I saw the dirt moving and the eggs moving and the eggs cracked open and a bunch of baby lizards were stretching their legs and walking around my little garden. I ran inside to get Grampa Steve so he could watch, too. It was fun. 

Well, this is me, your Mam Mam! I've shown you lots of lizards, but I have many more pictures and when I find them I will send them to you. Uncle Aaron keeps my pictures at his house in case I lose them, so I will search through his pictures to find more for you. I love you so much! Love, Mam Mam

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge L is for Lizard! 
All photos property of Darla Sue Dollman. Do not use without permission. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kestrals: Beauty in the Sky

American Kestral (Falco Sparvius) at The Desert Museum in Tuscon, Arizona. Photo by government employee in public domain. 

Of all the birds of prey I see in the American Southwest I think my favorite is the little Kestral, a member of the falcon family that is often called a "Sparrowhawk." I have seen some with such intense colors they are stunning. I see them the most in Colorado, and it is said that their numbers are low, but I see them often, especially in Larimer County. In Fact, I had close to a hundred photographs of them when I accidentally dropped and smashed my computer and lost every last one. It was a great loss, too, because they photograph very well! 

A Small Bird With a lot of Power! 

The first time I saw a Kestral I thought I was looking at a parakeet with its blue wings and small beak, then I came closer in my truck and realized it was much too large for a parakeet. I pulled over to watch the bird, which was also watching me. Or so I thought. Seconds later it was off the telephone post and on the ground with a mouse in its talons. They are swift, effective hunters!

American Kestral at The Desert Museum in Tuscon, Arizona on the hand of a docent. Photo by government employee in public domain. 

Hunting Habits

As a devout vegetarian it sometimes feels odd to admire the hunting skills of animals, but this is the natural state of the predator--to hunt--and their unique styles and behaviors are admirable! 

"Run away! Run away!" My garden mouse that climbs the shrub and eats the bird seeds. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think its funny when Westerns show Turkey Vultures circling around a dying man, not that it's amusing to think of a man dying, but Turkey Vultures eat vegetarian animals and avoid human carcasses. It circles because it likes to play on the warm updrafts of air.

Turkey Vulture watching me from a tree in Utah. My neighbors in Texas used to call me "Vulture Food" because they thought it was amusing that I am a vegetarian (and for some odd reason, the vultures liked to hang out at my house!) This vulture is actually spreading its wings because it's taking a sun bath. It most likely just finished eating and is spreading its wings so the air dries the food particles on its feathers and the food drops off to the ground. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The America Kestral's unique hunting behavior involves hovering with rapid wing beats that somehow remind me of hummingbirds. The Kestral will keep its head motionless, scanning the ground for its prey. It will also perch on places like telephone poles--which is where I generally see these birds--then pounce on its prey when it appears beneath it. Their favorite foods are mice and small mammals, birds, insects, earthworms, reptiles and amphibians. 

"Honey, dinner is here!" Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When Kestrals are feeding a brood they will often store food in homes abandoned by woodpeckers, or in rock crevices, on river banks, and sometimes on top of buildings, in tree roots, tree limbs--pretty much any place they can find a crack or crevice.  

It was a two for one dinner special. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

How could an earthworm feed a bird of prey? Well, Kestrals are actually the smallest falcons in North America. They are 8 1/2 inches tall with a wingspan of 21 inches. 

A male American Kestral at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy, Canada. Photo by Vince Maidens.

American Kestrals are also unique in their nesting style. They do not create huge stick nests like hawks and eagles, they use cavities in trees like owls and because of their small size they do not require a large space. If you've ever seen an eagle's nest, you know what I mean!

American Kestral (Falco sparverius) at the Louisville Zoo. Photo by Ltshears.

So here's to the American Kestral, my favorite bird of prey, and thank you to all of the photographers who posted their photos online for the use of others. 

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge K is for Kestral!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jack Rabbits: Faster Than the Speed of Light

Jack Rabbit at rest. Photo by government employee/public domain.

When my husband and I moved our chocolate lab pups, Buddy and Holly, to 35 acres on the border of Colorado and Wyoming we had no idea the land came with non-stop doggy entertainment. There were more Jack Rabbits on that land than I ever imagined existed, but the fun was in watching the silly antics of the puppies as they tried to chase these masters of speed.

Buddy and Holly are a bit older now, but they still enjoy sitting on the porch, watching the animals that come out at dusk, including the bunnies! 

However, as they now share their home with a domestic rabbit, Layla Lou (that's her above, she gets jealous if I don't post her photo on a regular basis) they no longer chase bunnies through the fields. We have "de-bunnied" them. 

 We rescued the dogs from outside of a grocery store and were told they are a mix of chocolate and black lab. They look like chocolates, but each weighs around 100 pounds and they are fast! They are intelligent, and apparently used as hunting dogs, (though I would never hunt an animal.) 

Yucca plant. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Apparently this behavior is instinctive because the dogs had a hunting game they loved to play in our hills. Holly would check beneath the yucca plants for a bunny, then she'd point. She held very still, but lifted one paw and held her nose forward, staring. As soon as Buddy noticed she was still he would run to her side. That's when the rabbit would dart out from beneath the yucca plant. 

Yucca flowers at sunset. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Once the rabbit was on the move, Buddy would howl like a hound and start chasing the rabbit. If it was a cottontail it was usually close to its hole and the chase ended quickly. However, if it was a Jack Rabbit, that's when the real fun would begin! My husband and I would sit on our chairs on the front porch and watch them for hours--Jack Rabbit Television! 

Holly giving Buddy a bath. (He is SO spoiled! She tracks his food, chases his food, runs it into exhaustion and delivers it at his feet and he still eats kibbles then lies down for an ear-cleaning!) 

First, Buddy would start the chase, then Holly, realizing her brother was much too slow, would join in. Holly often came right up on their tail, but Buddy always reached a point where he grew tired of the chase, so he watched Holly chase the rabbit down the road, knowing she would turn it around back toward our house. 

Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit. Photo in public domain, taken by US Government employee.

When Holly and the rabbit came close, Buddy would join in the chase for a few minutes, then sit down and wait for Holly and the rabbit to reach the first hill where she would guide the rabbit back toward the house. When she came close again, Buddy once again joined in the fun until it became just too exhausting for his lazy nature.  The Jack Rabbit would trot in a zig zag pattern, throwing a hop or two in between. We assumed these maneuvers were intentional, to allow the dogs to think they were actually making progress. When the dogs came too close, the Jack Rabbits kicked into hyper-drive and darted across the fields and into the tall grass.

I spotted this beauty at the Veteran's Park in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. I am not skilled with identifying rabbits, but the long ears trimmed with black have left me with the thought that this might be a Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus californicus), or as we call them here in New Mexico, a Black Jack, or American Desert Hare, the only Jack Rabbit that inhabits all four Southwestern deserts. Of course, there are many rabbit species in New Mexico so it's difficult to say.

Black Jack Rabbit in the desert outside Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Above and below are photographs of an adult Black Jack. They are smaller than other Jack Rabbits, but super-fast, so they are difficult to photograph. However, they often make their appearance at dusk, darting across the road. I sometimes think they are sitting in the sagebrush with their teenage siblings playing chicken. "Okay, next time a truck comes by, wait as long as you can then run across the street!" You can tell this is a Black Jack by the black on the tail. 

Black Jack Rabbit in the desert outside Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge J is for Jack Rabbit!