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In Our Own Backyard...Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees

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This hot weather hasn't only been affecting us two-legged critters, but a lot of others as well.

One day last weekend, I happened to glance out my kitchen window and noticed a Fritillary butterfly on my hummingbird feeder. I thought it looked pretty cool, so I decided to grab my camera and go out on the front deck to try to grab a few photos.

The butterfly must have been desperate for a quick sugar "fix," or maybe it just craved something wet in the blazing heat of the day, because it totally ignored the flowering plants nearby and hit straight for the good stuff.

I stopped at a discreet distance, set up my camera and zoomed in on the butterfly. It was amazing to watch through the anonymity of my lens as the butterfly uncoiled its proboscis to sip the liquid nectar and then coiled it back up again into a delicate spiral. The butterfly seemed either unaware of, or unperturbed by, my presence and it stayed on even as I took a few steps forward.

I snapped a random photo here and there, but mostly I just enjoyed watching the butterfly as it drank and rested, drank and rested. I was somewhat startled when a hornet flew into the focal field of my camera lens. I knew that bees and hornets had been plaguing the hummingbirds for days as both rallied 'round the nectar feeders, usually reaching what seemed to be an irreconcilable standoff. I was intrigued to see what, if any, effect the interloper would have on the languishing butterfly.

The hornet circled around the feeder a time or two before landing and crawling cautiously toward the butterfly. He made a couple of passes right past her, but she calmly held her ground by "her" nectar port. The hornet took flight once again and buzzed furiously overhead in a spate of frenzied anger. Still, the butterfly held her ground.

I was just trying to capture the two of them in the lens of my camera when yet another thirsty party came upon the scene. A juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird flitted in, expecting to quench its thirst and sate its appetite at the nectar feeder. It made a quick in-air evasive move as it discovered that it had company. It buzzed upward, downward and even backward as it made an aggressive "pipping" sound, showing it was not happy to have to share the feeder with so motley a crew. As familiar adversaries, the hornet and the hummingbird sparred briefly before the hornet settled in at one of the nectar ports on the other side of the feeder.

The enraged hummingbird darted over to the side where the butterfly sat and dive-bombed the delicate creature within a fraction of an inch of its wings. But rather than yield its ground, the butterfly quivered its wings in a rapid motion, and the hummingbird posted a hasty retreat. The scenario was repeated for several minutes. The hummingbird would make a pass at the butterfly and the butterfly waggled its wings and scared the tiny bird off. It seemed incredulous, since the razor-sharp beak of the hummingbird could easily have skewered the fragile body of the butterfly. There must have been something vaguely threatening about the body language of the butterfly that told the others to keep their distance. And in the end, it was the butterfly that won out!

Nature served up a few other surprises over the past week of steamy weather. One day I had a muskrat with a mouthful of pond grass surface right next to my kayak. For one brief moment our startled gazes met -- and then he dove beneath my kayak, came up on the other side and swam away!

Late one afternoon, my husband and I were kayaking on our little lake and we heard an owl hooting in full daylight, in the heat of the day. And one evening when we were out on the pontoon boat to escape the heat, we heard the wild cries of several loons flying overhead right at dusk. There were three or four of them in the group, and as they passed over the lake one of them separated from the others and made a right angle turn, as though to land. When he discovered the others had flown on, however, he suddenly pulled up and flew after them. As he disappeared, we heard a single wail from further down the lake and noticed a loon floating by itself on the water. Not more than a minute passed before one of the loons that flew over came flying back, staged himself for a landing, and cruised in right next to the swimming loon. Maybe it was the heat that caused us to giggle, or maybe there was really some truth behind it, but it seemed to us that the other half of our resident loon pair had just returned from a night out with the boys!