Blackbirds and Woolly-Worms

The sun has begun drifting south, and we are past the autumnal equinox. The monarch butterflies appeared for a few weeks, then faded away as the first wave continued on south. The hawthorn haws have shifted from green to blazing orange, and will soon attract the attention of hordes of robins (“a robination”), forcing me to change parking places for a while. The Tri-State Fair triggered a major cold front, with highs in the 60s and strong north winds, lows in the 40s.

And the wooly worms have started crossing the road.

Once you turn off the county road onto the drive to the school, native grasses line the route, aside from the dirt marking where development construction is supposed to start. One of the fallow fields has been planted with milo for waterfowl, and if you ignore the bare ground, you definitely get a sense of rural. S thick stand of native sunflowers has held on in a bar-ditch, sticking a middle-petal up at the developer.

I had to come back to school after an errand earlier this past week. As I pulled onto our little road, I saw a sleek black bird with a flash of red on its wing. I slowed down and a small murmuration rose from some scrub cottonwoods, wheeled over the road and settled onto the sunflowers. The red-wing blackbirds are on their way south, and the sunflowers will give them a boost. And I’d much rather see a red-wing blackbird than the usual grackles and starlings that have thrived all too well in the past four or five years.

Red-winged blackbird, taken from Fair-use under Creative Commons, click photo for link.

Blackbirds in Texas. Photo by Matthew Sim at Creative Commons use, click image for link.

The day after the first wave of cold air passed through, more black birds, these with yellow wings, found the milo and sunflowers. They are probably yellow-headed blackbirds, also moving through.*

Woolly bears (also called woolly worms) are woolly but not bears. They are caterpillars, in this case black, that crawl across roads on their way from here to there. Too many of them makes the pavement slicker than frozen pig-poo (which I can tell you from experience is worse than buttered glass to drive on.) But one or two can be dodged, traffic permitting. They do not linger on the pave the way snakes do. They are the caterpillar phase of the Giant Leopard Moth. In some places, the ratio of red to black on their bristles tells you how hard winter will be. Since they can sting, I did not stop and get out of the truck to investigate.

In New Mexico, tarantulas also migrate in fall, and I intensely dislike driving back roads when the giant, hairy beggars are making their eight-legged way across the asphalt. Ick, ick, ick.

*The Cornell Ornithology Lab website is a dreadful time sink. You will learn all about all sorts of birds, and it is almost as bad as TV Trop-Oh, look at that one!


15 thoughts on “Blackbirds and Woolly-Worms

  1. McChuck, maybe. A bit north over the line, and the lore involves the striping on wooly bears. Heavy striping means mild, solid color means severe. Last time I saw solid brown or black was ’14, we had snow into April.

    • Psychokitteh – That year, they were solid black. Huh.

      I always wait to see what the Old Farmer’s Almanac has to say about the weather. Their long range predictions average over 80% correct.

  2. I spotted numerous blackbirds today, but they were either models, prints, paintings. About a half mile away were some more, parked inside the nice, climate-controlled hangars across the runway from where the reproduction WWI fighters (full-sized and RC “miniatures”, at separate times) were dogfighting and performing aerobatics. Ah, the fun of the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous – especially since it has the good sense not to actually start well after dawn. Having the occasional C-17 flying nearby at the same time made for some strange, anachronistic views.

      • Alas, yes, it was this past Saturday and Sunday, but there wasn’t much different from 2016, they’re planning to do another one next year. Actually, I though the lectures in 2016 were better. One of the book/memorabilia dealers this year had a (signed!) Eddie Rickenbacker autobiography, which I tore myself away from without either purchasing – or drooling over.

  3. Many years ago, I was driving toward Wichita Falls one night, and I saw two red dots on the road ahead. I slowed down, and my 6Volt headlights picked up a tarantula.

    • That’s another reason I am not fond of them when they wander. They also wander into the school, leading to shrieks, chaos, hand-waving, and the usual follies of tweenagers meeting large insects.

  4. Woolyworms can sting? As kids, we always used to pick them up and encourage them to crawl on us, the better to look at the bands and make calculations! Never heard of anybody getting stung. They must be very patient or very curious.

    (checks the internet) — Oooooh, WCPO says the ones we have are Isabella Tiger Moths, which don’t sting. Some people get dermatitis from handling them, which I’m sure is embarrassing to explain to a doctor. They do have the exciting ability to go dormant and live through temperatures as cold as -90 F.

    Down in Cincinnati, they have white woolyworms, which are actually a couple of different species of moths again. Man, Cincy has all the weird urban-indigenous critters.

    I haven’t seen any woolyworms this year, yet. Soon, probably.

    • In Virginia, some of the wooly worms will blister you if you so much as brush against them lightly, so I avoid all like the plague. No idea what they grow up to be though. On the other hand, did just learn that some of my favorite moths are the fully fledged form of the tomato hornworms I have been murdering in job lots all my life. Not that I am all that likely to stop, they are murder on my planter boxes.

  5. Darn it, and you had to include the link to Cornell Ornithology? I did use an hour last night, listening to various species’ calls. I started with the rufous breasted nuth as tch and went from there …

  6. “In New Mexico, tarantulas also migrate in fall, and I intensely dislike driving back roads when the giant, hairy beggars are making their eight-legged way across the asphalt. Ick, ick, ick.”

    About 1974 or so, we had conditions in Glasscock County ( a coupe hundred miles south of you) that were just right for a boom in tarantulas. That fall, there were several wrecks during that 3-4 day period they were swarming all over the place. FM 33 was totally back in spots…….

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