The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is starting to bloom. I won’t claim it’s a hive of activity yet, but there’s certainly a bit of a buzz. Mostly I’m seeing honey bees (Apis mellifera) on them so far, but the mountain mint is very attractive to a wide variety of insect life from small beetles and bugs to bees and wasps, and some butterflies. The buddleia next to this tends to get more butterflies, though. It loves the sun and the insects are out in the most force in the heat of the day. Not my favorite time to sit there with my camera but it’s sometimes worth the effort.
Pretty much all the flowers in our garden are attractive to insects. I suppose that makes sense, because that’s what flowers are supposed to do, in order to get the insects to (inadvertently) pollinate the flowers. It’s interesting to me, though, that some flowers are attractive to many different insects but some seem to attract a specific subset. Yesterday, I was looking at the Monarda (bee balm) and noticed that the large bees were almost exclusively carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). Today I was looking at the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) shown here and the large bees were exclusively common eastern bumble bees (Bombus impatiens). Just interesting, that’s all.
On a mostly unrelated note, I really, really don’t recommend you plant any Lysimachia species in your garden. The bees love it, but there are other things they like that aren’t so overwhelming.
After work, except on days when it’s raining, I’ve been trying to sit in the yard to read. It’s started to get warm lately but I’ve still gone out, sitting in the shade after 5:00 PM, when it’s not quite so bad. I take my camera with me and look around for something to photograph. While I was reading, this gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) came and sat on the stake holding up our new hawthorn tree. It looked around for a little while and then flew off. There are quite a few of them around and since they are insect eaters, I’m quite happy to have them.
We took a drive to Lewis Orchard to buy peaches today. It was very hot and being out in the sun with masks on was not really all that nice but we managed and bought enough to make a cobbler and have plenty left over to eat simply cut up with whipped cream. From there we stopped at our friends’ farm. The last time we were there Greg said I should stop to see the bees but we left the other direction so didn’t. This time we stopped and I got a few pictures of the honey bees (Apis mellifera). I also happened to get stung on my nasal septum, which wasn’t the most fun, but a honey bee sting is, thankfully, not that bad.
There are some birds, notably the American robin (Turdus migratorius), that doesn’t really compare favorably with its European counterpart (Erithacus rubecula. While the European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is a lovely bird, I think our American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is quite beautiful. This is a female (on the left) and male (on the right). They really love the Verbena bonariensis and it’s fun to watch them as they land and the stems bend under their tremendous weight. I enjoyed this couple for quite a while this morning.
Cathy and I went on a new trail today. I don’t know if the trail is actually new but it was new to us. We walked in the Rock Creek valley between Muncaster and Muncaster Mill Roads. As the crow flies, it’s probably a mile from end to end. The trail winds quite a bit and there’s a bit of up and down and based on a map we found, it’s more like 2.5 each way. So, about five miles. It was pretty hot and very humid, but we really enjoyed the green and also the birds that were supplying the background chorus most of the way. We saw quite a few of these six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) as well as ebony jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata), a damselfly with black wings (except for on females there is a conspicuous white spot at the end of the wings.
I was sitting outside this morning, taking a break from doing some yard work, when I noticed this caterpillar on the tire of my car. I moved it to a plant, figuring it would be shown to better effect there than on the black tire, and then I got my camera and took a few photos. It is a white-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma), a species native to our region. Interestingly, the adult females are wingless and therefore flightless. If you find one of these, you’ll want to avoid handling it with your bare hands. Its hair is known to cause allergic reactions, especially in areas of the body with sensitive skin. I let it crawl onto a leaf to move it, so as to avoid any issues.
I went out to take some pictures of flowers today. There are a few sitting on a table that I set up for Cathy to work on and that seemed like a nice place to sit and take pictures. I took some of a coral bells plant (Heuchera x ‘Blondie’) and then I noticed this syrphid file (Family Syrphidae) on a marigold blossom. There’s only so close I can get with my 100mm macro and I’d like some way to get closer. I’ve thought about buying a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 lens that gives magnifications of 1 to 5 times, basically picking up where my current lens leaves off. It’s manual focus, but at that close range, focus is as much a matter of moving the camera closer or further away from the subject.
I sat in the middle of the front garden this afternoon and took a few pictures. There were some bumble bees (Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee) moving from flower to flower and I waited for one to land on the lavender (this is a variety of Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas called ‘Anouk Supreme’). I only got four photos and none of them are quite what I was hoping for but this one isn’t too bad. When I’m in the yard, especially when it’s hot, I generally favor the shade but if I’m looking for photos, especially insect photos, the sun is the place to be.
I was taking pictures of the feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) growing in the back of our garden when I happened to notice this little plant bug. I don’t know what type it is and I’m not sure the photos I got are good enough for more than a general identification, so I’ll just leave it as a plant bug (Family Miridae). We’re in the in-between phase when there are fewer things in bloom. The flush of spring ephemerals is well past and most of them have already lost their leaves for the summer. The roses have finished their first flush but those that repeat will be with us off an on all summer. The Asiatic lilies and a few smaller things are the only sources of blooms right now. I’m not complaining, mind you, just saying.
We had our first sighting of a tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) today and it was nice enough to perch on the Asiatic lilies growing in our front garden. I’ve actually seen a few butterflies around but haven’t had a chance to get any photos. Soon we’ll have them in abundance, especially when the Buddleia starts to bloom. These Asiatic lilies are surrounded by tiger lily plants (Lilium lancifolium), which are considerably taller and I’m not sure these can get the attention they deserve. On the other hand, this makes them harder for the deer to get to, which is a plus.
Cathy and I took a walk in the neighborhood this evening. It was quite warm and humid but it’s still good to get out from time to time. I took some pictures of a purple clematis on a mailbox that turned out pretty well but I thought I’d share this photo of an eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis). It’s not as sharp as I’d like, but all things considered, it’s not too bad. These can be seen year round in our area and it’s always a treat. Maybe we’ll put up a bluebird box in the yard next year. It would be wonderful to have them in the yard.
I took some photos of some yellow flowering sedum this afternoon but they didn’t turn out very well. You’d be stuck with them except I happened to see this Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) on a stem and got down on the ground to get a few photos of it. This plant has a flower cluster similar to Queen Anne’s lace but that’s not what it is. It’s a very aggressive weed that we picked up somewhere along the way and we really need to do something about it. But it made for a nice photograph, in this case. It may be Chaerophyllum aromaticum but I really don’t know. Whatever it is, you really don’t want any.
I was out front sitting in a lawn chair taking photos of the spiderword (Tradescantia virginiana) when one of our house wrens flew up and landed briefly in the small apple tree growing near by. Then it flew to the nesting box (for lack of a better term—it’s a ceramic bottle, basically) and posed for me before disappearing inside. The other was around, as well, singing up a storm. These are very vocal little birds with a lot of volume relative to their size and we love having them. They are a lot easier to hear than to see, as small as they are.
I haven’t included the specific name for this lady beetle in my title because I’m not entirely sure what it is. My guess would be that it’s an Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), though as they are quite common and this certainly looks right. But I’m no expert. I got one photo of this on a leaf before it flew away so although it isn’t as sharp a picture as I’d like, it’s all I have. These are, of course, insects that we like to have in our garden, as they eat aphids. I haven’t seen aphids in great numbers in the garden yet this year but they’ll be along before too long, have no fear. That and Japanese beetles are the two insect pests I see the most in the summer months.
This is a European hornet (Vespa crabro). It’s also dead. I found it on the floor of the basement when I stepped on it in my bare feet, which worried me a little. It was mostly dead before I stepped on it and completely dead after that. Since I didn’t get stung, I’m over it. They are predatory on other insects so in general (and outside my basement), I have no problem with them being around. They are similar in size to the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) but are quite different in appearance. As large as they are, the European hornet is smaller than the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia, sometimes referred to as murder hornets), which can be 30% to 50% larger.
We took a walk near Lake Frank today and had a really nice time. We saw one adult and one juvenile bald eagle next to and on the nest across the lake. It’s too far, really, to get a good picture but I did take a few, anyway, just to record the fact. We happened to come across this pile of American carrion beetles (Necrophila americana), presumably on a piece of carrion. They were definitely there for a reason. It’s fine to get grossed out by them, but then, without them, the rotting meat would stick around a lot longer, so in my book, they’re doing us a service.
Cathy and I were out in the back yard and we heard a scratching noise. We’re used to quite a bit of noise from birds and occasional tree frogs, but this was quite different and we didn’t recognize it. We finally noticed this squirrel on the cow skull that’s hanging on our back fence. The squirrel, in typical rodent fashion, was gnawing on the top of the skull. I assume it’s gnawing on the bone to get calcium and other nutrients. Anyway, it’s one of the reasons you only find relatively fresh bones in the wild. They don’t last long unless they get buried (and probably even then).
One of the most common birds in our area, winter or summer, is the American robin (Turdus migratorius). They are always around, in the lawn, in trees, singing and making a racket throughout the day. They aren’t anywhere near as cute as the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), which is classified as an Old World flycatcher (family Muscicapidae) rather than a thrush (family Turdidae), which is where the American robin stands. Although they are migratory (as their specific epithet suggests), their winter and summer ranges overlap and they can be seen year round through nearly all of the contiguous 48 states.
You can pretty much be sure that if there are things blooming, there are at least a few insects about. Insects aren’t the only pollinators, of course but they do the lion’s share of the work. Nevertheless, they are not out in numbers that we’ll see later in the year. I saw and photographed two different insects today. This one is an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) and the other was a syrphid flies (Syrphidae, probably Toxomerus geminatus). So, the insect season is getting underway.
I went out to take pictures last this morning, taking a short break from work. I had expected to take pictures of flowers of one sort or another but I happened to see this greater bee fly (Bombylius major) and was able to get pretty close to it and got a reasonable photo. It’s a fairly distinctive looking fly, with a hairy body. Differentiating flies from bees is generally easy if you can count their wings. The order Diptera, which is the flies, is so named because they have two wings (i.e. a single pair) instead of the normal insect wing count of four (two pairs).
We have some antlers, collected over the years. A few of them Dorothy had hanging in her room for a while. Other have been out back on the side of the patio, along with some sea shells. We also have a beaver skull that showed up in our yard a while back. We have no idea where it came from, as it was very clean and dry, although relatively full and intact otherwise. This morning Cathy looked out the kitchen door and saw this squirrel chewing on the antlers. They’re a good source of calcium and that’s where they generally go in the wild as part of the cycle of life. It’s not the sharpest photo you’ll ever see, having been taken at a sharp angle through the regular glass of the kitchen door.
Spring really feels like it’s here. The first half of March is too early to be too sure we’re completely done with winter and we’ve had big snow storms later than this, but it’s really feeling like spring this week and I think a lot of folks are hoping it’s for real. The pears are starting to bloom and I’ve seen cherries and magnolias in bloom. I went out early this afternoon and wandered around a bit looking for things to photograph and came across this feather, probably a Canada goose feather, down by a drainage pond near my building.
Cathy and I took a walk in the park this afternoon, going about four miles in all, including a wrong turn that added a half mile or so to it. I took a bit of a fall early on, when the somewhat muddy path and the moss covering it allowed my foot to move sideways suddenly. I ended up on my back, having rolled to protect my camera and I laid there long enough for Cathy to get a photo of me. We saw that the bald eagle nest is occupied again this year, which is nice to see, even if it was too far away to get a reasonable photo. During our off-trail bit, after taking the wrong path and trying to take a short cut back we happened to see two white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), including this one, quite close but through the undergrowth.
I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist this afternoon so left work a little early to go to that. When I was done, I would have gone straight home but I had two errands to run first. I went to the Kentlands shopping center, first to the Giant and then to Lowe’s. As I was coming out of Giant I glanced up into the small sycamore tree by the parking lot and saw this hawk. I nonchalantly walked by and got my camera out of my trunk. I got one photo of the hawk as it flew off but it landed again only a few trees over. I don’t think this is as good a photo as yesterday’s hawk picture, but it’s not bad. I think this one is a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), the smaller cousin to yesterday’s Cooper’s.
I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and didn’t get to work until about 11:30. As I turned into the parking lot, I glanced to my right and sitting on a fallen tree limb was this hawk. I pulled into the space facing the bird but my camera was in the trunk and I knew if I opened my door, the bird would fly off. There is a small opening in the middle of the back seat that lets me get into the trunk, however, and I very quietly lowered my seat, reached through and got my camera. I took the first photo through the windscreen, which turned out reasonably well. I then lowered my window and leaned out and was able to get a few photos before he (or she) flew off into the woods. I believe it’s a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) rather than a sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus), based on its size. Interestingly, both species are reverse size dimorphic, that is, the females are larger than the males.
We don’t actually know his precise birth (or hatch) date, but when we got him in October, 1986, we were told he was nine months old. So, we assume his birth date is January, 1986. That makes him 34 this month. Parrots live a good, long while and he wouldn’t be considered an old bird yet. Perhaps middle aged. He seems to be healthy enough. His beak and nails need trimming and he really doesn’t get as much exercise as would probably be good for him. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to keep him around for more than 33 years, so we must be doing something right. Solomon, despite the wisdom implied by his name, is not much of a sage. He says a few things and those a bit poorly. He can make a pretty good racket, when he wants to, however.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of our prime pet, Solomon. Since I’ve just posted photos of Cathy and of myself, I thought I’d round out the collection. If Dorothy were home I’d post a photo of her, but she’s not (but will be soon, if all goes to plan). Solomon will be 34 years old in January. Although he was hatched in California, he spent most of his first two years in Juneau, Alaska. From there he flew (with some help) to Chicago, where he lived with Cathy’s brother. After our trip of 1988, he returned to us on the east coast and has been here ever since. He lived in the kitchen in our first house and then in the family room here until he moved to the breakfast room a couple years ago. It’s great unless you want to have a phone conversation in the kitchen, when he really gets animated and makes it pretty difficult.
I sent outside for a little while today and took some pictures of butterflies. I was down near the storm management pond next to my building and saw pearl crescents (Phyciodes tharos) as seen here as well as cabbage whites (Pieris rapae). There were also bees around, but not so many as there were only a few weeks ago. Getting good photographs of butterflies is challenging but it’s something I enjoy. This is a mid-sized butterfly, considerably smaller than the swallowtails or monarch but larger then the blue, featured recently. They are fairly common and easily spotted but as with most butterflies, difficult to get too close to.
Cathy and I worked in the yard this afternoon. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot to be done in the yard but I think we’ve made progress, at least. I took a break and took some pictures in the back yard. There are some bracket fungi on the ground above where there used to be a silver maple. They come up every year as the roots rot. I also took some pictures of some butterflies on the flowers around the patio. Then I saw this American hover fly (Eupeodes americanus) on the begonias growing in a pot on the patio. I was able to get some pretty decent photos of it as it moved from flower to flower.
I went outside today and walked around a bit in the lot next to my office. The weather was fine and it was nice to be out in the sunshine. I startled a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) as I walked towards a vernal drainage pond. It’s often completely dry by this time of year but it had more water in it than in previous years and it hasn’t all evaporated yet. Above it, I was able to get close enough to get a pretty good photograph of this eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas). They are pretty common but easily missed, as they are fairly small and flit around near the ground. They’re worth looking out for, I think.
I took pictures of insects on aster flowers this evening. There was a bumble bee covered with little white dots that I’m pretty sure were eggs of some kind and didn’t bode well for the little critter. There was also a beautiful, metallic green, sweat bee (family Halictidae) and I got a picture of it as it lifted off the flower, which would have been amazing if it had been in better focus. The light was relatively low and I was using a flash with a white reflector for these pictures, which helped considerably. I also had a 25mm extension tube behind my 100mm macro lens, which helped me get that much closer.
I happened to look out my window this afternoon and saw this stink bug on the outside of the glass. Actually, it’s not unusual to see them inside the building. My guess is that this is a brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) but I’m not entirely sure and I’m not going to bother looking harder at it. The banded antennae are distinctive, along with the mottled color, but again, that’s just a guess and it’s good enough for me. I also took some pictures this evening of a hardy begonia that’s growing outside our front door. Those are probably prettier than this, being pink and yellow instead of tan (and buggy). But they weren’t as good as I’d like and I can always try to get better pictures, when the light is a bit stronger.
I went on a short outing this afternoon to the Agricultural Farm Park today and spent a little time wandering around the Master Gardener’s display garden. Mostly I photographed insects (and a few flowers). It was a pretty productive outing as far as insect photos go.
- Danaus plexippus (Monarch) Caterpillar
- Murgantia histrionica (Harlequin Bug)
- Papilio polyxenes asterius (Black Swallowtail)
- Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary)
- Allograpta obliqua (Common Oblique Syrphid)
- Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle)
I’m particularly happy with the oblique syrphid fly, as that’s the first one I’ve photographed. The black swallowtail is one we don’t see nearly as often as the eastern tiger swallowtail. I’ve seen harlequin bugs on occasion but not all that often. The same is true of the cucumber beetle.
This is the “many-named ladybird”. It has been called ‘multicolored’ (or ‘multicoloured’ in Britain), ‘multivariate’, ‘southern’, ‘Japanese’, ‘Asian’, ‘Halloween’, ‘harlequin’ and ‘pumpkin’ ladybird/ladybug/ladybeetle. I’m going with the simple ‘Asian’ and sticking to beetle, because it’s in the order Coleoptera. It’s a largish lady beetle and this particular species is immensely variable. The “standard” is red to red-orange with 18 spots, but as you can see, this one only has 12 (six on each side). The background ranges from a slightly orangy yellow to red and there are even versions with red spots on a black background.
I came across this carpenter ant (Camponotus castaneus) in the yard today. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get an identification on this ant. BugGuide.net says, about carpenter ants (Genus Camponotus), “This is one of the most species-rich ant genera, with perhaps 1000 species World-wide.” Nevertheless, it was identified. These are pests, of course, if they get into structures or valuable trees but they are fairly ubiquitous on almost the entire globe (only excluding the polar regions). They’re pretty things, like most insects, however.
Who doesn’t love the humble bumble bee? They are everywhere and like many of us, they are not particularly flashy or flamboyant. Nevertheless, they busily go about their business. I like them quite a bit and enjoy watching them move from flower to flower. In this case, a common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) is on wingstem, also known as yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia). There were also honey bees (Apis mellifera) and ailanthus webworm moths (Atteva aurea) on the same group of flowers. It had become quite hot again, with temperatures in the low 90s, and I’m starting to look forward to autumn.
I was out photographing flowers this evening. The light was fading and I didn’t think I could realistically get any photos of bees, wasps, or other flying insects. I was down on the ground to get some pictures of obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, and I happened to notice this little fellow. I went in and got my flash, so I could get pictures that were worth something and I’m pretty happy with the results. This little bug (a true bug in the Heteroptera suborder) is only two or three millimeters long and if I hadn’t been down on the ground and very close, I never would have seen it. It is a twice-stabbed stink bug, Cosmopepla lintneriana. This one happens to be a nymph (an immature) and when adult will be mostly black with two red patches (the two “stab” marks of its common name).
I mentioned the aphids on the Asclepias curassavica (scarlet milkweed) when I posted the photo of the large milkweed bug a few days ago. Here’s a picture of the aphids. It was fairly dark when I took this (7:45 in the evening) and I used a flash to light them, which allowed me to get reasonable depth of field. I used a flashlight give me enough light to focus, with the camera on a tripod (which I definitely should use more often). As I was taking the pictures, I realized the aphids were not alone. There is a larva of a lady beetle of some sort (probably an Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis), feeding on the aphids. Unfortunately, there are too many aphids for this lone predator, and I’m going to need to take care of them myself.
There are a few paper wasps that are very difficult to distinguish and some that are impossible without examining them at the microscopic level. A number of them are quite variable, as well, adding to the difficulty. I think this is a northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) but I’m nowhere near sure. It’s a beautiful creature, whatever it is. This was taken with my 100mm lens with the addition of a 25mm extension tube in bright evening sunlight. As you can see, I was able to get fairly close and I’m pleased by how sharp this turned out. You might also notice the aphids on the underside of the leaf the wasp is on. I took some photos of those, as well, but haven’t identified them yet (beyond the generic “aphid”).
It’s milkweed bug time in the garden. Cathy and I are both big fans of pretty much any species of Asclepias. This one is Asclepias curassavica, often known as scarlet milkweed. It’s growing in a container on our back patio and it really attracts the insects. I had a photo of a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on it recently and today’s photo is of the aptly named large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). We also have a good colony of oleander aphids (Aphis nerii) and I may publish a photo of those, unless we get around to taking care of them before I do that. Like many insects that feed on milkweed, these bugs accumulate toxins from the plants which can “potentially sicken any predators foolish enough to ignore the bright colors which warn of their toxicity.” (bugguide.net)
This potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) is one of my favorite wasps (doesn’t everyone have favorite wasps?). There’s fairly common around here. While they are particularly drawn to the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), they are also found regularly on the black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia) and painter’s palette (a.k.a. knotweed, Persicaria virginiana). I think it’s their clean lines that I like. They’re difficult to photograph well and I’m not really happy with this photo, although it’s the best I was able to get. They don’t really stop moving and unless the light is very strong, it’s hard to get both adequate depth of field and a short enough exposure to stop their motion.
The butterfly weed (Asclepias) growing in a container outside our back door is very attractive to insects but particularly so to monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Lately we’ve had two of them on it at once and occasionally three. I got a few pictures of the two today but I think this is a better portrait of this handsome butterfly. I really enjoyed sitting and watching them flutter around the flowers, stopping occasionally at other plants but generally preferring the butterfly weed.
I’ve been meaning to get out of the office for a short walk to the empty lot next to my building for over a week now. The upper part, where it was mostly mugwort, milkweed, and goldenrod has been mowed and it looks very different. I don’t know if this is a prelude to actual building plans coming to fruition. Plans to develop it started at least 25 years ago and the top soil was scraped up into a large mound that now has mid-size trees on it. There are a few drainage ponds and they are all abuzz with insects and birds. I saw a green heron when I first got there and then photographed a few dragonflies, including this blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).
I didn’t get any really good pictures today. It was after 6:00 when I went out and there wasn’t much insect activity this evening, for some reason. I did come across this little beetle, about 5mm long, on the petal of a black-eyed Susan. I think it’s a Tumbling Flower Beetle in Family Mordellidae (possibly in Genus Mordellistena, but I am really unsure). It’s a cute little thing and I was only able to get a few pictures before it flew off.
The bees and wasps are out in force these days. I spent a little time around the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) this afternoon and enjoyed the variety of buzzing insects (most of them are basically silent, actually). The most numerous are the bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) and the large but gentle carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). The wasps are pretty well represented, though, and today I saw a handful of these katydid wasps (Sphex nudus) as well as some potter wasps (Eumenes fraternus). I got a few photos of that last one, but they weren’t as good as I would have liked. I’ll keep trying.
What an absolutely beautiful day it was today. The high was in the 70s and in August, that’s a rare and joyous thing. I worked on the car today, gluing the rear-view mirror back on in one van and replacing the struts that hold open the rear hatch on the other. Cathy and I also did a fair amount of yard work, pulling up weeds and beginning the process of clearing out some of the central bed in the back yard. There were two trees where that bed is, a medium sized red maple and a fairly large silver maple. They’ve been down since the spring of 2013 and as the roots have rotted, a few holes have opened up and need to be filled. The whole bed needs quite a bit of work, to be honest, including digging out some particularly tenacious weeds. I took a break to take pictures of some of the many butterflies that were out today, including this meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona), a pretty medium sized brush-footed butterfly.
I came across this spider on the head of a black-eyed Susan this evening. It was pretty hard to photograph, being really small (a couple millimeters long at most, and the wind was moving the flower slightly. It was also late enough in the day that the light was starting to fade. This particular shot is reasonably sharp. This is the sort of spider that you could easily walk past and not see, it’s so small. There’s no way it could bite you if it wanted to, because it simply wouldn’t have the strength to break your skin. I find it amazing that spiders as little as this can survive but there are lots of very small insects, as well, for them to live on.
I took a few wasp pictures again today but they were too blurry to use. One was clear enough to get a good idea what it was, but nothing to write home about. Then I went out to the middle of the back yard and took some photos of the berries on the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). They’re starting to turn pale purple and it’s easy to see where the shrub gets its common name. This skipper landed on the berries and I was able to get close enough for a pretty good portrait before it skipped away. I’ve only occasionally gone to the trouble to identify individual skipper species. With some notable exceptions they are all pretty similar and I just never get around to it.
The pollinators are quite busy in the yard these days. Especially in the afternoon, when the sun is hammering down on the flowers, the bees, wasps, moths, and butterflies are to be seen in great numbers. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is literally a buzz with them. The skippers seem to favor the black-eyed Susans. The butterflies, not surprisingly, go for the butterfly bush (Buddleia). That being said, this large hornet was coming back again and again to the buddleia. I’m not as happy with it as I might be but it’s a decent photo. These wasps are social and build large paper enclosed nests. I’m a little surprised to only see one of them, but there are surely more around the area.
We had another day at Shady Grove Hospital today but before I went I took a few pictures in the back yard. There was a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and I had hoped to get a picture of that. I would have, except I had taken the memory card out of the camera and when I put it back in the write protection switch had been pushed into the off position and the camera would not take a picture. By the time I got it reset the butterfly was gone. I was able to get this photo of a western honey bee (Apis mellifera), instead.
I have yet another “insect on a black-eyed Susan” photo today. These are by far the most numerous flowers in our yard this time of year. They aren’t necessarily the insects’ favorite flower but most pollinators are fairly broad minded and visit lots of different plants. The Buddleia bushes are the clear favorites with the butterflies and the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is probably the most popular with the bees and wasps, but they all visit the black-eyed Susans, as well.
I was a little worried about sitting through church this morning but my back tolerated sitting for long enough that it wasn’t a problem. We were happy to see some friends that visited the church a few weeks ago come back again today. After church we walked to the Stadtman Preserve next door to see what was going on there. They’ve been renovating the mid-century modern house that the Stadtmans build and lived in and it’s nice to see the progress. There were naked lady’s (Amaryllis belladonna) in bloom and I got a few photos of this little brown and white caterpillar. I have no idea what sort of creature it is. I’m going to guess a moth but I won’t go any farther than that.
I took some butterfly pictures this afternoon, as well as some flower pictures. While sitting in the chair that Cathy was in when I took the picture for a few days ago I could get pretty close to a few flowers without having to strain my back. Then walking around I saw this prettily colored ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) on a black-eyed Susan. It took me a while to get down on the ground to get the pictures but I think it was worth the effort. Although it’s named for and feeds on a non-native tree, the Ailanthus webworm moth is actually a North American native from Florida, where its original host was the Simarouba glauca (paradise tree) and Simarouba amara.
I chased down some butterflies in the back yard today, including this common buckeye (Junonia coenia). They are resident year round in the south as far north as North Carolina and they move north over the course of the summer. Because of that we tend to have them later in the year than other butterflies and I’ve only just started to see them. They are pretty easy to identify and are very different to the other species that we have. This one, obviously was interested in the black-eyed Susan flowers that are in such abundance in our yard right now.
Cathy and I took a walk on the beach this morning, heading east. We stopped for a while to enjoy the tail end of the church service on the beach and then continued as far as the pier. On our way back, as we neared out cottage, we saw a bird circling over the water and occasionally diving for fish. As we got closer we were able to identify it as an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and I was able to get a few pretty nice pictures, considering I only had a 100mm lens. I had thought about the possibility of renting a longer lens for this trip but decided against it. Birds are fine to photograph but really, this trip is not about wildlife photography, so I decided to put it off for another trip.
I was taking photos of the black-eyed Susan flowers this evening when I spotted this little fly, a transverse flower fly (Eristalis transversa) visiting them. It wouldn’t stay still for very long and I had a hard time getting a good picture. Ideally it would be on top of the dark eye in the flower, but I wasn’t able to get that. I like the combination of colors that matches the flowers. These are pretty little flies and easily spotted in the garden. As flies go, I enjoy these about as much as any.
The tigers are out in force. We have tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) blooming in a few areas in the yard. They are especially spectacular in the morning when the sun is on them. We also have tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) in pretty good numbers. They are mostly on the tiger lilies and on the buddleia bushes and we’ve counted more than ten together on one buddleia bush. Most of them are the standard yellow and black but about ten percent are the darker version that I photographed a few days ago.
A few days ago I had a picture of a spider web, taken in Rock Creek Park (see Thursday, July 18, 2019). I mentioned that it belonged to a spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) but the spider wasn’t in the picture. Today we had a little time before church so we walked in the Stadtman Preserve for a little and I saw another spined Micrathena and got this picture of her. It frankly isn’t a great picture but you can see where it gets its “spined” appellation. Sorry I have nothing better for today. Maybe tomorrow.
I stopped and walked into Rock Creek Park on the way home today. It’s a nice, wooded area and generally away from traffic, so I like being there. It’s definitely high summer now and the underbrush is about at it’s deepest but I’m happy to leave the bike path and walk the short distance through the brush to the creek itself. I passed a few spider webs, which isn’t unusual this time of year, but it wasn’t until I got to this one that I stopped. This one had the sun shining on it and that made it a lot easier to photograph. This was made by a spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis), one of the orb weavers (family Araneidae).
I took a few pictures of butterfly weed flowers this evening and I might have posted one of them. A little later I noticed this white leafhopper and got a few pictures of it, including this reasonably sharp image. Getting a good picture was made more difficult by the breeze, which was moving the stem the planthopper was on, but this one turned out pretty well. It was sharp enough for it to be identified as a northern flatid planthopper (Flatormenis proxima), one of our more common planthoppers. They do little damage and I left him alone to get what he needed from this plant.
I stopped at Lake Needwood this afternoon to see what I could see. It’s gotten quite hot, with the forecast for hotter still by the end of the week. The butterflies and dragonflies like that sort of weather, and they were out in pretty good numbers. I happened to spot this question mark (Polygonia interrogationis), so called because of a roughly question mark shaped mark on the underside of their hindwings. I got one photo of the butterfly on a shrub and then if flew and landed on my thigh, thus the blue denim of my jeans. I was able to get a few pretty good photos, including this one. I also got one showing the question mark, but I think this is prettier.
This is a dark-morph (and thus a female) eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on the buddleia outside our kitchen door. The tiger swallowtails are the most numerous, large butterflies in our garden, followed by monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Otherwise, we only have occasional visitors. There are a lot of smaller butterflies and skippers, particularly small skippers. But the large, gaudy swallowtails are fun to watch and among my favorites.
As we were getting ready to leave for work this morning, running a bit late, as we often do, I paused to take a few pictures of butterflies and skippers on the goose neck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing by the driveway. This is a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), one of the larger skippers we see regularly in our garden, with a wingspan up to about five centimeters. It is common through most of North America and certainly common for us. They’re easily identified by the large, silvery-white irregular spot on their hind wings.
I went out to photograph flowers this evening but came across this metallic wood boring beetle (family Buprestidae) on a black-eyed Susan. There are twelve dozen species of Acmaeodera in our area and one of the experts at BugGuide.net identified it as Acmaeodera pulchella, sometimes known as the flat-headed bald cypress borer. We’re not really in bald cypress country but they feed on a pretty wide variety of trees, so that’s not really an issue.
I know I’ve posted a picture of a similar dragonfly recently, but I didn’t get a lot of great pictures today so this is what I have. This is also, I think, a better picture than the one previously posted. I had originally labeled that one as a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa) but I’ve rethought that and have relabeled it as a Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina), the same as this one. It’s a handsome dragonfly, whatever it is. I had tough time getting close enough for this picture, so I’m relatively pleased with it.
The American robins (Turdus migratorius) nesting outside our front door are back to raise a second clutch. There were three in the first batch and another three now, although this photo only shows one. I don’t stay out to take pictures for very long, as that tends to keep the parents away. On the other hand, they built a next in a high traffic area and we’re not going to stop using our front door for them. They grow quite quickly and we watched the last set fledge and these three will be out before you know it. I’m thinking about doing putting something on this ledge to keep them from building another nest here next year, though. There are plenty of other nesting sites for them to use.
I went out to the vacant lot next to my office today. It was quite warm but the weather patterns promise hotter weather ahead. I got a few pictures of an orbweaver spider (Leucauge venusta) but since I posted one of those recently, I’ve decided to go with this pennant, probably a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa). I also got one, not so good photo of a tailed blue, but I’m holding out for a better picture before I post one of those.
Note: I labeled this as a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa) without paying close attention to detail. I’m relabeling it as a Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina).
After helping Jean pack up all the paraphernalia from yesterday’s wedding and reception and then a quick trip into town for breakfast (since the resort punted on supplying the complementary breakfast they had promised), Cathy, Dorothy and I went for a walk to some stone ruins on the property. When we got to the ruins, Cathy (I think) said something about it being a good place for snakes. Sure enough, there was a mid-sized eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) sunning itself in a crack in the wall. A few minutes later, when Cathy screamed, Dorothy and I assumed it was another snake but it was this eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), just a little closer than Cathy had been prepared for. I was able to get a few good pictures before it darted away. This is a male, evidenced by the blue patch just visible on the lower part of the neck. It also has a pretty significant infestation of orange mites or some other sort of pathogen.
This firefly, a beetle in family Lampyridae, probably in the genus Photinus, was on a weed in the back of our garden this evening. According to BugGuide.net there are 34 described species in this genus and identification of a single specimen by morphology alone is often impossible. So, I’m not even going to try. It’s a firefly and that’s good enough. One interesting fact about fireflies is that females in the genus Photuris are known to lure in males of Photinus species and eat them in order to obtain a defensive, steroid-like compound that they contain.
I went out looking for pictures as usual this afternoon, when I got home from work. There is Campanula in bloom in the yard, and I took some pictures of those flowers. They don’t tend to come out the same color in photographs as they are in real life. Not entirely sure why. Then I moved over to the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), which is a real attraction to the bees. It’s quite invasive and I really would recommend against planting it in the strongest language, but if you already have it, you might as well enjoy the bees. There were a few honey bees but mostly it was the common eastern bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) that were moving quickly from flower to flower.
I was in the back yard photographing a few different insects this afternoon. I started with a little, green sweat bee on a weed by the patio, but those didn’t turn out very well. Simply not enough light to get a short enough exposure. Then I got down on the ground and took a bunch of pictures of some little leaf hoppers (Family Cicadellidae). Those turned out well enough, although the little critters are pretty small so it’s hard to get a good, sharp photo with the equipment that I have. Also, they were somewhat back lit, so getting the proper exposure was tricky.
Then Dorothy and I were over near the gooseberry bush and while Dorothy was picking gooseberries for some individual pies for dessert, I was able to get close to this little, baby eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). It’s hard to get the scale from this picture but the little bunny could easily fit on the palm of my hand. At first he was underneath the leaves of the wild violets that are everywhere in the yard. Then slowly he came out and I was able to get a bunch of good pictures from fairly close range.
I took some pictures of flowers and plants in the back yard this evening. I had gotten down onto the ground to see if I could get a good picture of a syrphid fly on an allium flower. I got a few pictures but they weren’t as sharp as I would have liked. Then I noticed this ant on another allium and got a handful of pictures of it. They aren’t all that sharp, either, but will have to do, because I didn’t really get anything better. I’m pretty happy with the framing of this picture and the exposure, but the focus isn’t that great. In my defense, this little fellow was moving around quite a bit and the light was starting to wane a little.
A little over four years ago, Dorothy was preparing for an exhibit at a small gallery in Richmond. It was a somewhat varied exhibit and included quite a few ink drawings that were drawn from her sketch-book journals. There were a few water colors, which I liked very well. There were also a few painted bones, including this cow skull. Where did she get a cow skull? You very well might ask. She happened to ask our good friend Janis (don’t spell it Janice, there’s no ‘nice’ in Janis) if she had any animal skulls around their farm. She said she had a few and Dorothy was welcome to them. That’s where it came from. Since the show in the winter of 2015 it’s been hanging in Dorothy’s bedroom. She decided this week that she wouldn’t mind getting rid of it but she didn’t want to simply throw it away. So, it’s now hanging on the fence in our back yard. I like it. Yes, we’re those people.
I wen out again today to see what I could see. The sky was overcast so the sun wasn’t so hot. The dragonflies were also not about in such great numbers. I did get a few pictures,though, including some of this beetle that I think is a rove beetle, Family Staphylinidae, the first or second largest animal family, with somewhere around 56,000 species in 3500 genera. Only the ichneumon wasps, family Ichneumonidae is larger, with an estimated 60,000 species. Anyway, there are some 4,400 species of rove beetle in our area. You’d think you’d see them a lot more often.
We’re moving from the flowers-of-spring period into the insects-of-summer. Along with the insects come those creatures that prey on them, most notably the spiders and related creatures. Of course, birds, bats, and even other insects prey on insects, but I have a special fascination with spiders. They are not, I am led to believe, universally admired. I suppose I understand that. Nevertheless, I think they are quite beautiful, at least some of them are. This is Leucauge venusta, the orchard orbweaver, and a common resident in our area. It’s so delicate and looks like it could be made of glass. It’s been said that you are never more then six feet from a spider. Even if that’s not literally true, it’s probably mostly true. Sleep well.
I stopped at Lake Needwood on the way home today. It was a beautiful afternoon, although a bit warm for my taste. I walked around to a point point eastern shore near where there is an old beaver dam. There is no evidence that there are any beavers around any more, although the dam is in reasonable shape, considering. It’s been there since before the aerial photos used in Google’s map were taken. I got some nice photos of this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus). I tried to get pictures of the swallows flying over the water but they were moving too fast and I really wasn’t set up for that sort of photography. I got some pictures of dragonflies, as well, and one that was good enough to use to identify a female common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas).
This isn’t as sharp a picture as I’d like but it’s what I was able to get today. Actually, I got pictures of three different birds today. This one, of a brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) in the birdbath, a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). The wren picture is sharper but I thought I had a better chance of re-photographing the wren, so I went with this one. The lack of sharpness is partially due to the low light and the fact that I had to crop the image to get this close, but a small part is due to the movement of the bird. As you can see by the water droplets in the air all around the bird, it is shaking water off of itself, taking a bath.
After church Cathy and I went to Stadler Nursury in Laytonsville. On the way we happened to pass the Montgomery County Agricultural Farm Park. There were three large birds walking across the grass a little way in from the entrance and it was three female turkeys. I pulled in but they had moved into the deep grass before I was able to get my camera out and get a picture of them. They would have been small in the picture, anyway. When we went to turn around a little further in this male tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) was sitting on the sign just outside Cathy’s window. I got the camera ready and was able to get two pictures before he flew off. What a pretty little bird.
About a month ago a pair of American robins (Turdus migratorius) built a next under our front porch. I tried to discourage them, but they kept at it. I realized it was pointless to resist and they are almost done with it now, in any case. They flew off whenever we went in or out of the house, of course, but now the chicks are about two weeks old and ready to fledge. In fact, I took this picture in the morning with all three chicks in the nest. When I came home later today there was one standing on the edge of the nest and the other two had flown. Later in the evening the third was gone, as well, and the next has been abandoned, having served its purpose.
I walked across Rt 28 today, wanting to be outdoors for a little while. On the slope leading down to a fairly large drainage pond there were little clumps of yellow flowers, most likely American wintercress (Barbarea orthoceras). I sat next to one such clump and took a handful of pictures. I thought about trying to get a photo of the swallows that were patrolling the pond and presumably helping keep the bug population under control. I didn’t really have the right equipment for that and it’s pretty tough, in any case, as they are really moving fast and are not very big. I settled for photographing this little damselfly instead.
We have foxes in our neighborhood. We also have dogs in the neighborhood, including the escape artist next door. So, you’d think we’d have fewer rabbits (i.e. Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus). I haven’t seen four or five at once this year, as I have some springs. I have seen three in the yard at once and it’s still early. This one startled me as I was walking around taking pictures in the rain this afternoon. I worked at home today so I was able to get out earlier than I normally do. The rain meant it was darker than normal for this time of day (3:35 PM) but I was able to get pretty close and get a reasonable shot of this fellow. Don’t tell him that Mr. McGregor is coming.
I saw my first butterfly of the year today. I know there are generally some out even earlier than this, but this is the first I’ve spotted. I’m pretty sure it’s an azure (Celastrina sp.) but the various species are difficult to tell apart and I’m not even going to try to figure out which it is. It’s a pretty, little thing, with a wingspan of only a little over an inch. This is a small butterfly and it took a bit of patience to get close enough to get this photo. Still, it was nice to see and the harbinger of things to come. As you know, if you’ve followed my work for any length of time, flowers and insects are two of my favorite subjects for photography and we’re coming into the best time for both.
I stopped at the park on the east side of Lake Needwood this afternoon. It was a beautiful, warm day, although not as warm as it’s been. I heard and then saw a few turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) a short walk from where I stopped and I headed in their direction. They had moved up into the trees by the time I got close but I also happened to see two red tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) as I walked nearer. I got a few pictures of them but they were taken through the branches and didn’t turn out all that well. I got a nice picture of this turkey vulture with its wings outspread, but that picture, too, had branches in the way. This one, of the vulture as he took off from his perch on the tree stump is my favorite. The next frame, taken a fraction of a second later, is actually better of the bird, but he’s just starting to go behind another tree trunk, which sort of ruins the effect.
Solomon is our pet red-lored amazon parrot (Amazona autumnalis) and he just turned 33 years old last month. We don’t know specifically when he was hatched but he was about nine months old when we got him in October, 1986, so we figure January of that year is close enough. Since it’s now February, we know that’s past. He’s a pretty thing but fairly timid and is not really what you’d call a talker. He says a few things that you can almost understand but that’s about it. He also doesn’t chew on toys or anything else we put in his cage, so we don’t bother any more. He obviously eats but he’s not interested in chewing other things. He needs his beak and nails trimmed but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape. You can see in this photo that he has new feathers coming in, which is always a good sign.
I worked from home this morning and a little before 1:00 PM Dorothy called me and said there were two red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in our back yard. At first they were a little hard to get a straight view of, because they were off to the side, but then they moved across to the middle of the yard. This one stopped and sat, while the other walked right along beside the fence. Eventually, this one joined the other and they sat in a sunny spot in the bushes at the bottom of the garden. It was a cool day, just above freezing, and fairly windy, but out of the wind and in the sun, I imagine it was fairly pleasant for anyone or anything wearing a fox coat.
When we are at the beach, Cathy like to look for shells and coral. She is especially fond of coral, and probably collects more of that than all types of shells combined. There is a small bowl in our bathroom with some of her finds, which, as you can see, have included some pretty nice coral samples. I don’t really know a lot about the corals found in the western Atlantic so I’d just be making a totally uninformed guess if I were to venture an opinion on genus or even family. I’d be interested if anyone who knows about these things were to offer more information. I’m more a shell gatherer, partly because I haven’t the patience to look for coral, although I’ve found a piece or two over the years. The two pointy shells here are from snails and the one between them is a bivalve, but that’s as specific as I’m going to get. For anyone interested, this Marine Species Identification Portal looks pretty helpful.
One of the things in my in-laws house that we didn’t get rid of was this butterfly collection. It’s a box about 15 by 20 inches that opens up like a book to twice that size. Each side has butterflies mounted between cotton backing and a glass plate. They are quite lovely and varied. Not shown here is a very large butterfly that is bright blue on its underside (which is the visible side in the collection). The other side, the upper sides of the wings are brown. In this way, it blends in with the the earth from above and with the sky from below.
I met Cathy outside my building briefly today because we had come together and she needed to go out briefly so needed the keys to the car. I brought my camera with me and took a few pictures while I was out. There are porcelain berries (Ampelopis brevipedunculata) out and I took a few pictures of those. Then I noticed a really spectacular web glinting in the sun. This spider was sitting near the middle of that web and I was able to get quite close for some pretty nice pictures. I didn’t have my tripod with me but it was pretty bright out. I’ve asked for some help in identifying it and if I hear about that I’ll post its name here.
Update: I have confirmed that this is a lattice orbweaver (Araneus thaddeus).
I decided to take a bit of a detour on the way home, stopping at Upper Rock Creek Park along the east bank of Lake Needwood. I find it very frustrating that the powers that be they have put up barricades on Needwood Road that make it impossible to park there and enjoy that end of the lake. I don’t really understand that decision. It’s obviously something that was thought out and specifically decided, as some of the guard rails are not protecting anything except places that one might otherwise park their car. Anyway, I drove through the park and ended up parking at the south end of the lake. As I was walking I startled a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and was just able to get one somewhat blurry photo before it flew out of range.
Cathy called me around the south end of the house late this afternoon to take pictures of this male carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) on the buddleia growing there. Carpenter bees are nice to photograph because they don’t mind you getting fairly close to them. Also, the males like this one, identified by the white or pale yellow patch on their face, don’t sting and in fact are unable to do so. I don’t find many bees to be particularly aggressive, though, and I know some people are quite afraid of them. For me, as long as I move slowly and carefully, I’ve never had a problem. I’m not particularly allergic, either, which is important.
The funnel weaver spiders are out in huge numbers at this point of the summer. Especially on damp mornings, when the dew is heavy on the ground, their webs are obvious (but they can be seen pretty well at all times). Outside our front door is a concrete bench (that we call The Stone Table) on which Cathy has various and sundry potted plants and various ornaments. This spider has built a fairly elaborate web along the side of a blue pot. I’ve had a hard time getting a good photo that shows the funnel in their web but I think this one does it pretty well.
As we left our AirBnB this morning, heading for home, we passed this little cemetery and saw a flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) among the grave markers. We stopped and took some time to walk around the cemetery a little and enjoy the quiet, as well as the birds. As I walked across the top of the cemetery, they moved slowly towards and then through an opening in the fence behind them. We used to see turkeys a lot more often than we do now. In Pennsylvania we would see them somewhat regularly and also ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus, the common pheasant of Asia, introduced into North America in the late 18th century). We almost never see them any more, so this was a treat for us.
We had a good day with Dorothy and a few of her friends today. We went to church and then to lunch. It was nice to spend some time with Jonathan (who lived with us the summer before last) and Andrew (the other half of Kindsman), as well as Taylor and Rachel.
We hung out with Dorothy at her dorm for a while and I went out into the woods next to it to take mushroom pictures. When I got back, Dorothy called me over to get some pictures of this beautiful, red dragonfly. I haven’t had a chance to identify it yet, but I’ll probably start with red skimmer and go from there.
I had a short break in the usual busyness at work today so was able to get out to take a few pictures. I got a few of a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) and a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I was able to get photos of both of them in flight but they were both pretty far away and they pictures aren’t all that great.
Before I came back inside I walked past some buddleia growing in a flower bed in the front of my building. There were a few monarch butterflies ((Danaus plexippus) flitting around on them. Although the garden was in the shade of the building, there was enough light to get some pretty reasonable photos.
I took pictures in the yard this evening. I started with pictures of this butterfly, a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) on the buddleia just into our back yard. It was moving about, skipping from one flower cluster to another but I was able to get a few nice shots from the side (head-on photos of butterflies aren’t very satisfying). I took some pictures of an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), also on the buddleia. I took pictures of two different purslanes growing in a hanging basket by the back patio.
As you walk through a lawn, chances are there are insects jumping away from you much of the time. We often walk through life not noticing things like that. Many of the insects are too small to be of any note. Slightly larger insects, like this cricket, might catch our eye but still not attract much attention. I went out today specifically looking at the little creatures all around and was able to get fairly close to this one before it hopped away. I haven’t had a chance to look it up to get any sort of identification beyond “cricket” but that’s probably good enough for now.
It was dark and raining this morning and into the early afternoon but by 5:00 PM or so the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I wouldn’t actually have minded the clouds staying around because our air conditioner has called it quits and a little less direct sun would have been welcome. Still, it was nice to get out and look for insects to photograph. This little fellow, a Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius), was on some blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in the front garden. I also got some pictures of an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) but they weren’t very sharp. Quite shy, those little blues.
Apparently my great Uncle Charles was good at finding sharks’ teeth. We found a box of them in my mom’s basement and she said he had found them and given them to her either at one time or at various times over the years. She said they mostly came from southern Maryland or from North Carolina but we don’t really know that with any certainty. They vary quite a bit in size and there are some considerably larger than the one on the right here. Those are not complete and they are quite worn, though. The one in the middle is one of the best in terms of having a sharp edge. In the box was also a stone arrowhead, which I assume was also found by him.
I stopped at the commuter parking lot on Georgia Avenue where it crosses the Intercounty Connector today and took some pictures of insects on wildflowers growing on the hillside above the parking lot. I had originally stopped because there were beautiful clouds to the northwest but by the time I got there the sky was pretty much a uniform grey. There were goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) all over the goldenrod (which makes a lot of sense) and there were quite a few types of bees. I followed this little butterfly around a while until I was able to get close enough for a few decent photographs. The one taken after this is considerably closer but not as sharp, unfortunately. The dwindling light from the heavy overcast was makign it hard. But I enjoyed being out in the wind and with insects all around.
It’s funnel weaver time in the yard. They build webs in the grass and in the garden where the plants aren’t too tall. When it’s humid and the dew settles on the grass, they are particularly easy to find because of the beads of water on the webs. I believe that this is a grass spider (genus Agelenopsis). They generally disappear into the funnel at the side of there web when I get too close but with a bit of patience they can be seen. While I’m not a fan of having spiders crawling on me or having spider webs in my face, I like them for what they eat, so I left them be, for the most part.
This little green, caramic frog is sitting on our piano. I’m not sure exactly where it came from. Cathy probably knows but I haven’t bothered to ask. It probably showed up in a box at her mom’s house sometime in the last nine months. I don’t remember when it appeared on the piano, but there it is. As you may be able to see, it’s front left leg has been broken. It doesn’t affect the frogs ability to hop, though. That’s mostly because ceramic frogs don’t move very much, I suppose.
The afternoon sun was lighting up three or four prominent spider webs today. Spider webs can be tricky to photograph. In particular, you can pretty much forget about auto-focus, unless there is something substantial caught in the web (or if the spider is there, which is sometimes enough). Another thing is that you want them to show up against whatever background is available. If the web is lit by the sun, as this one is, then you want a relatively dark background. This is an old web, not obviously inhabited any more. One of the others I photographed had a spider on it, although she scurried for cover when I got close. I did get one picture of an orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) on her web, though.
In a rare turn for late August, it was very pleasant outside today. The high probably wasn’t over about 82°F and it wasn’t humid at all. In the shade it was quite comfortable. To capitalize on such a nice day, Cathy and I met and took a walk around our company campus. Almost immediately when I went outside, I spotted this dragonfly, which I believe to be a wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), one of the skimmers. That ID may be wrong, but nevertheless, it’s a beautiful thing, with its dark yellow markings and striking red eyes.
I got a few nice arthropod photos today, one spider (a Basilica Orbweaver (Mecynogea lemniscata) and a few bees. My post for today came down to a choice between this monarch and a photo of a Philanthus gibbosus, one of the thirty-some species of beewolves in our area. It’s a pretty little bee with pitted chitin and a distinctive pattern of yellow and black. I photographed it on a black-eyed Susan, which went well with its coloration. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go with this rather nice photo of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Oddly, most people who dislike insects don’t really mind butterflies. It’s true that they are pretty harmless to humans but then, so are a lot of other, more easily despised insects. Maybe it’s because they are so colorful and pretty, but frankly, I think wasps are pretty, so there.
It’s spider time in Maryland. There are spiders around all year long, of course. It’s said that you are never more than six feet from a spider*. Nevertheless, they are much more noticeable in the heat of late summer. We have quite a few living in the garden and yard and I have no problem with that. They eat things I like less than spiders. This one is just outside our living room window on a fairly impressive web. Getting into a good position to photograph it was a bit tricky, as I didn’t want to disturb it or ruin its web. I know I have a few followers who aren’t crazy about my spider photos (or other creepy-crawly things) but I think they are beautiful, in their own way. This is, I believe, a cobweb spider in the genus Parasteatoda.
* There are probably exceptions to this, for instance if you are floating in the ocean (without a boat), you may be more than six feet from a spider.
As I’ve mentioned before, the garden is somewhat overrun with Rudbekia (a.k.a. black-eyed Susan) flowers. The bees don’t mind. There are, actually, other things in bloom, but none nearly as obvious. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), for instance, is very popular with the bees of all sorts. But their flowers are much less showy. This afternoon I took a bunch of pictures of various bees on the black-eye Susan flowers. This one is a western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Contrary to popular belief, they are in no real danger of all dying out. You can, to a large degree, thank capitalism for that, although I think the danger was considerably exagerated, in any case.
After work I met my mom at her house and we emptied the garage. I have a few pictures of it, showing how it’s leaning, particularly at the back. We loaded trash into her van to take to the county transfer station and I took a few things to give away or otherwise deal with. When I got home and was unloading my van I noticed this praying mantis on the roof of Margaret’s car. I believe but am not sure that it is a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis). I think it is not fully grown, as it was only about two inches long. Like true bugs, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and crickets (to name a few), the mantises undergo what is known as incomplete metamorphosis. That is, instead of larval and pupal stages, the emerge from their eggs as nymphs and grow through a series of instars, where they shed their exoskeletons as they grow.
I know that for many people, the phrase, “one of my favorite spiders” is not even a thing. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite spiders. The Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes) is quite large. Nothing like a tarantula and only hairy at the leg joints, but still pretty good sized. The body of females grow up to almost 2 inches. This on is about an inch and a half. The male, seen at the top of the picture, is considerably smaller. North Carolina is about as far north as this spider is found but it is fairly common in the marshy woods here. Because of their size, they are fairly easy to spot. That’s just as well because you probably won’t be happy when you walk into the web as you go through the woods.
The silk from this spider is a golden color. Scientists have analyzed the dragline silk of this spider’s web and attempted to reproduce its proteins artificially for use in high-strength fabrics.
We went swimming early this afternoon and then I dug in the sand and made a drip castle. After showering, Cathy and I walked on the beach. I was surprised that the castle was still there. The tide hadn’t come in yet but no one had stepped on it. On our walk we saw a few common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) just above the surf pulling up clams after each wave. It’s not really surprising that they’ve learned to enjoy clams. It’s just that we don’t think of grackles as shore birds, skipping around at the top of the surf along with willets and sand pipers.
We had a bit of rain this morning but it cleared up later and we went swimming. Late in the day I went for a little drive to find somewhere to take pictures. On the mainland near the east end of the island is a boat ramp. There used to be a ferry across to the island there and it’s a pretty place. I took some pictures of marsh grass growing on the banks of the channel and also got a nice photo of a tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). From there I drove to the Shallotte River inlet and took some pictures of this brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) perched on a pole out in the water.
Dorothy thought she had to work from 4:00 to 9:00 PM today but she got a text just after 11:00 saying she was on from 11:00 to 4:00. Fortunately, we were just driving through campus as she got that, so we were there within minutes. Cathy and I enjoyed a walk around Coy Pond and I took a bunch of pictures, including of water lilies, a great blue heron, and this dragonfly. Later we went to the garden at Long Hall and I took more pictures. That was a nice garden with an interesting collection of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Recommended. We had dinner at La Victoria, a trendy but decent taco place just off of Cabot Street in Beverly.
The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) in our yard tend to get eaten up by insects of one sort or another. I’m not sure who the culprit actually is, but they eat holes in the ray florets (the petals around the central group of disc florets), making the flowers a bit less attractive for photography. The bees aren’t bothered, of course, and this bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). The generic name Echinacea comes from the Greek word meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin, which references the spiny center of the flower. The name Bombus for bumble bees comes from the Latin (which took it from the Greek) for “booming, buzzing, humming.”
Along our back fence, the garden has really gotten out of control. With the work we’ve been doing on our mom’s houses, we haven’t really had time to give it half the attention it needs and deserves. Consequently, it’s got goldenrod, poke weed, and thistles growing in abundance. Three of our planted perennials are doing quite well, however, including the bee balm (Monarda didyma, also known as Oswego tea or bergamot) and the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) shown here. The other, not yet in bloom, is obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). All three are native to the area and extremely tough. The bees love them and I followed this common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) for a while as he moved from flower to flower.
The gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) is in bloom and that generally means I have an opportunity to photograph common eastern bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) like this one. I don’t recommend planting loosestrife unless you really enjoy digging up plants where they appear throughout your garden. It can easily get ahead of you. We sometimes joke about planting two aggressive plants in a container and waiting to see which comes out on top. This has got to be a contender. It does have nice flowers, though, and its attractiveness to bees speaks well of it. Nevertheless, if I could get rid of all we had, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
Cathy and I went for a walk along the C&O Canal today after church. We each brought a change of clothes because it was much too hot for even casual church clothes today. We walked west (upstream) on the tow path and enjoyed the fact that it’s pretty shady. With a temperature above 95°F in the shade, we certainly didn’t need to be out in the sun. We’re neither mad dogs nor Englishmen.
As you would expect, I brought my camera with me and we saw a little wildlife. First was this dragonfly. The female and the immature male of the eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) are an emerald green. The adult male, however, transitions to a dark, powder blue, as seen here.
I got some nice photos of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a flowering shrub native to the area. It’s a member of the coffee family, Rubiaceae and it has very interesting, spherical florets.
At the turning basin just above the aqueduct we saw a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) although the way it was lit and because it was pretty far away, I wasn’t sure that’s what it was. Of course, there aren’t a lot of birds that size around here. A little further on we saw a black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). I had stopped to take a picture of a family of ducks in the canal, which was full of duck weed. That meant I was ready when the heron flew past and I was able to get this shot.
I stopped on the way home today to take a short walk on Rock Creek Trail. I went over to the creek, where I had been a few weeks ago when the water was so high. There were quite a few insects about this time, including a lot of these pretty little damselflies. This is a male ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata). The females have a conspicuous, white spot near the end of their wings (the “spot” on this one is a reflection, not really a spot). The photo is not as sharp as I would have liked but they don’t appreciate close approach and it’s the best I was able to get. One thing I really like about this picture, though, is that you can see the edge of the leaf through the damselfly’s wings.
I took a little walk at lunch time today, around my building and then into the woods. There is a tree that fell across the stream a year and a half ago and I’m still able to get across on that. One of these days it’s going to collapse under me, but so far, it’s been alright. There are a few drainage ponds on the upper part of the property and they have water in them now, even though our April was dryer than normal. I saw a bird across the pond and as if flew off I was able to get two pictures of it. Judging by its size and shape and with only a very brief glance at it, I had thought it was a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). Once I saw the picture, though, I knew that was wrong. After a little searching, I decided it was a solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), migrating to its summer breeding grounds in the far north (entirely north of the USA/Canada border). As usual when it comes to identifying birds, I checked with George to see if he thought I was right. He did.
It was a beautiful day and Cathy and decided to take a short walk in nearby Rock Creek Park. With her ankle problems we didn’t want to overdo it, so this seemed like a good way to get out, at least a little. Before we had even gotten as far as the bike trail that runs along the creek we spotted this piliated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), who landed on a tree not too far from us. We also saw a few white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (White-tailed Deer), including one that was seriously not bothered by our presence. We saw a small flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). There was also a nice assortment of wildflowers including star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), a pretty, little, white, star-shaped flower.
It’s that time of year again. That time when all the rabbits appear. They’ve come out in pretty significant numbers and are ravenously eating our lawn and garden. I don’t mind when they eat the grass, that’s going to be cut anyway (eventually, once we can get to our lawn mower in the crowded garage). But eating the garden plants is another thing. That purple hyacinth that I posted a picture of recently is gone. They have eaten the tops off a few others, as well. I haven’t done anything to fight the rabbits for a long time but this time of year, I’m always tempted.
I took my camera with me to a meeting across campus and then spent a little time taking pictures on the way back. The Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is starting to leaf out and in spite of the fact that it’s quite likely that we’ll have another freeze, it’s not at all bothered. It’s pretty well suited for cold and a light freeze or two isn’t going to do it any harm. This little insect, however, may be jumping the gun a bit. I don’t know, really. Perhaps it, too, has ways to deal with late freezes. I know some of my followers think it a bit funny that I try to identify all the plants and animals in my posts with their Latin names. You’ll be happy to know that I have no idea what sort of insect this is and I’m going to leave it at that.
As I mentioned yesterday, Dorothy is home for spring break and brought four friends with her. Today we drove out to our friends farm in the outskirts of Poolesville. The chicken’s are not really a featured attraction and visitors are not supposed to wander out into the field with the animals. One advantage of being friends with the owners, however, is a little more latitude when it comes to where we are allowed. The kids (and I’m counting Cathy among them) enjoyed catching chickens and putting them back inside the enclosure. Here are John, Cathy, and Grace, each with a chicken.
With a specific name like Turdus migratorius, you might thing the American robin is only here part of the year. After all, migratorius implies it migrates. Well, it does. Nevertheless, for the overwhelming part of the 48 contiguous states, the robin is a year-round fixture. Their summer breeding grounds extend from the southern states (and include the mountains of central Mexico) to cover all but the most arctic portions of Canada. In the winter they move south, with their northern limit right around the U.S.-Canadian border. So, if you live in Canada, their arrival is a sure sign of spring. The birds we see in the summer may not be the birds we see in the winter but frankly, they all look pretty much alike. We often see them eating berries on the holly in our front yard. This time of year, as it begins to warm up, they are active pulling up worms, as this one was doing before being so rudely interrupted by me.
Cathy’s brother is in town and we’ve begun to work on their mom’s house today. It’s going to be a longish process and there will be parts of the process that are going to be quite difficult. Today we were just beginning to scratch the surface of 50 years of things, some of which brought back happy memories for them and some less so. In one drawer I came across a plastic grocery bag full of parrot feathers. The cleaning lady would collect them and make them into crafts. None of us are particularly fond of the crafts, although we appreciated the sentiment. The parrots are gone (Red and then Roscoe have past on to that great bird cage in the sky. Caesar is living with dozens of other birds and apparently now is palling around with two toucans (fourcans?). These feathers went into to the trash.
It rained overnight but was mostly clear today and quite warm for mid-February. After a meeting that ran from 11:30 to just before noon, I walked a bit in the woods and upland area next to my office. First, I walked down into the woods above the drainage pond where a fair sized flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were bouncing around in the underbrush. If I had a tripod and a longer lens I think I could get some pretty good photos in that area. As it is, this is good enough for identification purposes but it isn’t going to win any awards. Still, it was nice to be out with the birds in 60°F weather in the middle of winter.
I had a dentist appointment this morning and that meant that I got to work a little later than normal. It was cool out but sunny and bright. As I Parked the car at work I saw a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) fly past and land on a tree across the parking lot. I got my camera out and walked towards it. I got one picture from a fairly large distance but for the most part it kept to the far side of the tree it was on and eventually it flew away. I spotted this white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and managed to get quite a bit closer. It’s a cheerful little bird, and quite pretty with its yellow patch (and of course its white throat).
I was up before sunrise this morning and wasn’t really looking outside until after Cathy got up. When she came down and went into the kitchen, she called me (quietly) and said there was a fox on our back patio. She had put some old sunflower seeds out on the ground, thinking they would be eaten by squirrels and birds, but the fox was happily eating them. After a while it moved away to the back of the yard and then curled up in the grass for a while. Unfortunately it did that in a spot mostly hidden by a tree. I didn’t want to go outside, as that would surely have scared it off. Eventually it got up and walked around a little before taking off for parts unknown. I suppose if we had a small dog I’d be more worried about seeing the fox, but as it is, it made us glad.
After a meeting across campus today, I stopped to take some pictures of the ice around the drainage control pond next to my building. With the rain on Thursday and Friday, the water had been high. As it drained, the temperature dropped and it froze, but the water level continued to drop, leaving lots of ice around the banks of the pond. As I walked down through the middy area leading to the pond, this great blue heron (Ardea herodias), took off and flew a little further away from me. After that, he waded around and I was able to get a few more pictures, both from this side (where he is back lit) and from the other, with the sun shining on him from over my shoulders. Without more than a 100mm lens, this is the best I could do.
Back on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 I posted a photo titled “Lectern Eagle’s Talons” which was a portion of a wooden lectern carved in the shape of an eagle. This is the head of the eagle, which unfortunately has a chipped beak. There is also a large crack across the breast of the bird, but that adds character more than anything. Otherwise, it’s in pretty good shape. There was, at one time, a brass plaque (I’m assuming brass) which probably said who paid for the lectern or something of that sort. There really needs to be a small set of steps behind this, so you can get up high enough to read from it, as the whole things is well over six feel tall.
We had a light snowfall overnight. The forecast is for clear or mostly clear skies for a while so we aren’t likely to get more but the forecast is also for relatively cool temperatures for the next week or so, probably below 20°F for the duration and getting well down into the single digits. I’ll probably need to wear a sweater one or two days this week. These footprints are on the back step, just outside our kitchen door. We have a birdbath with a heater in it that keeps the water from freezing, so birds are never in short supply this time of year, particularly when it gets to cold.
It was a gloriously beautiful day today and I had a little time for lunch so I went out into the empty lot next to my building and lay on my back in a patch of dry grass. The sky was a beautiful blue. The sun was warm but the air was cool, so it was perfectly comfortable. While I was sitting, this little bug flew up and landed on a blade of grass right in front of me. I was able to get a handful of pictures, although they are not as sharp as I’d like. I had to take it from a slightly awkward sitting position. When I tried to lie down to get a better position, I scared it off.
I was outside for a little while today and took a few pictures. Most of them were of trees reflected in the windows on the outside of my office building. They are not as colorful as in some years but with the blue sky behind them and the slight distortions of the not-quite-flat glass, they made for interesting pictures. Then I noticed a vulture land in this tree. I took two pictures of the tree in reflection and then turned around to get a couple directly. There are three birds in the tree and just after I snapped one picture, a fourth turkey vulture flew through the frame and I grabbed one more shot. Actually, I’m not sure they are all turkey vultures. At least one may be a black vulture (Coragyps atratus).
The buddleia in the back and side yards is going to be done blooming soon but while there are still flowers on it, the butterflies are making the most of the time they have left. There were dozens of painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) in the yard today, as well as a handful of monarchs (Danaus plexippus). I got a few pictures of both together but since I’ve posted monarch pictures recently and it’s been a few years since I featured a painted lady, I decided to go with this one, which I think shows it off pretty well.
I went out back to see what I could find to photograph this evening. There was a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly on the Buddleia and I got some reasonable but not great pictures of that. Then I noticed this large, yellow and brown wasp on the steps. This is a large wasp, about 2cm in length. Not as big as the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) but still a pretty good size. As the common name implies, these are native to Eurasia. They were introduced to eastern North America in the 1800s. They are one of the many wasps to build paper nests out of chewed wood pulp.
IN general I try not to post pictures of the same thing close together and especially not two days in a row. However, needs must. I only took a few pictures today and the only pictures worth sharing from today are of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in our back yard. This one doesn’t have the orange flower complimenting the butterfly but it’s still pretty nice, I think. These are here in pretty good numbers right now, and I’m really enjoying them on the Buddleia and (like this one) the Verbena bonariensis.
We had a short visit from Dorothy this weekend. She flew down to Richmond late Thursday evening and came up here this morning for a less-than-24-hour visit. We went out to the Glenn’s farm (properly known as Rocklands Farm) and while we were there I got some pictures of a monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Anna’s flowers. We enjoyed being outdoors although truth be told, it was a bit warmer than is my preference. Still, a beautiful day.
I managed to get outdoors for a little while today but had a hard time finding anything interesting to photograph. It’s been very dry and with dryness and the somewhat cooler weather we’ve been having, there are fewer insects about. I took some pictures of the sumac that is starting to turn a brilliant red but even those pictures don’t really thrill me. As I got back to my office parking lot, I picked up a black walnut and smelled it. I love the smell of fresh walnut husks. This one was black on one side and clearly soft. I squeezed it a bit and it split open, revealing a mass of some sort of fly larvae feasting on the flesh inside. I have no idea what they are (or even if they are flies, to be honest). But I though they would make a good picture (for some definition of ‘good’).
I stopped at Upper Rock Creek Park (a.k.a. Lake Needwood) today on the way home from work. I like to do that now and then, especially in the spring when new things are coming up or in the fall when the leaves are so lovely. But neither of those are true right now, so I’m not entirely sure why I did. But I did. As I walked down through the woods I saw a great blue heron fly across the lake and land in a dead tree on a point just a little way ahead. I knew there was a path out onto that point so I made my way there, walking as quietly as I could. The path goes steeply down the hill at the end, right under the tree the bird was in and I was only able to get three pictures as it flew off, almost directly into the sun. So, it’s not necessarily what I was hoping for but it’s probably better then I should have expected.
I decided to take some pictures of plants on the driveway this evening. One that I got pictures of is an elephant ear, otherwise known as taro and more precisely called Colocasia esculenta. After that I started taking some pictures of the pale pink flowers on an autumn flowering stonecrop, probably ‘Autumn Joy’, also known as ‘Herbstfreude’. Although these are often referred to as sedum, they have been reclassified as a Hylotelephium species. As I was taking the pictures, this eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) came and gave me another point of interest.
The light was really pretty this afternoon, shining on the Physostegia virginiana (a.k.a. obedient plant, but that’s not nearly as fun to say). I took some pictures of the flowers by themselves but really what I was looking for was a picture with a bee or wasp or something. There was actually quite a lot of activity, mostly from eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) but getting a good picture proved elusive. They kept moving, for one thing, and most of the pictures I got are not in focus. They also spent most of their time with their heads buried in the flowers which meant all I could see was their backs.
The skippers are a constant source of attraction pretty much all summer and into the fall in our yard. They may have their favorites but they are generally everywhere, from the black-eye Susans (Rudbekia) as seen here, to the Verbena bonariensis, the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), and the Buddleia. They are everywhere and it pretty huge numbers. If you walk along the edge of the black-eyed Susans, they fly off en masse and alight again, further along or behind you. It’s enjoyable just to watch them flitting about, sometimes two or even three on a flower, but not usually for long, as they are so often on the move.
I had a meeting in one of the other buildings on campus this afternoon. I took my camera with me, as I often do, and went into the woods between the buildings on my way back. Below the pond there is a stream and to the side of that, an old settling pond that’s almost completely silted up. The water isn’t more than six inches deep although I wouldn’t be surprised if the soft mud is another foot deep below that. I walked along the side of that and took a few pictures of a red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ) before spotting this little spider, and orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta). I managed to get down onto the ground without getting too wet and got a few pictures, although a tripod would have been a big help. These are pretty little things and of course they eat things that I don’t particularly like. So they’re my friends.
I didn’t really get outside today except to go to and come home from work. As the passed, I realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures today so shortly before 10:00 PM I started taking a few pictures of the fish in my main fish tank. I say ‘main fish tank’ because I currently have two, a largish, 70 gallon tank in the breakfast room (the ‘main’ one) and a smaller, 30 gallon tank in the family room. As of today, however, there are no fish in the smaller tank. There were only two, a fairly good size fresh water angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and this kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii). Catching them in the other tank was a bit tricky but I finally managed it. The loach was particularly hard, as it kept Darting under things. Finally I took everything out of the tank (the rocks, etc. so there were fewer places to hide. Those rocks have been moved, along with the fish, into the larger tank, and they seem to be doing fine so far. The plecostomus that’s been in the tank seemed happy to have more places to hide, as well, and has claimed the largest spot under the rocks for himself. This loach is the last remaining fish that I took from our friend Hannah when she went off to college a little more than four years ago. Sadly the others are all gone, but this little guy, who we actually hardly ever see, seems perfectly content.
I managed to get outdoors for a little while today and into the woods and upland next to my office building. It was warm but not hot and I enjoyed the break in an otherwise busy day. I got some pictures of a lady beetle on the same stand of yellow ironweed where I took the picture of the leaf-footed bug last Thursday (see Thursday, September 7, 2017). Then when I got out into the sun I was able to get reasonably close to this dragonfly, which I haven’t had time to identify yet. It’s a pretty thing and I particularly like the eyes.
Cathy and I went for a walk to and along a stretch of the Northwest Branch of Rock Creek late this afternoon. We made it as far as where the creek goes under Muncaster Mill Road and then followed the road back to our neighborhood and home. It was a nice walk and warm without being hot. As we were walking up Muncaster Mill, Cathy spotted this spider along the edge of the trees. It is probably a species in the genus Neoscona, the spotted orbweavers. Light was fairly low and this isn’t nearly as sharp as I’d have liked. Also, without seeing the dorsal view, it’s not really possible to make a good identification.
It was a cool day today, felling much more like October than September. I suspect we’ll get a bit more summer before it’s done but today was absolutely lovely. The maple tree in the back yard is starting to show some color and it felt very autumnal. In the late afternoon I went out back and took some pictures of hosta flowers. It was a smallish hosta and I got down on the patio to take pictures. The warm concrete of the patio and the cool air was really nice. I noticed this little blue-winged wasp (Scolia dubia) and was able to get one reasonably decent picture (and a bunch of not-very-good pictures) of it before it flew off. This is one of my favorite wasps but they’re a challenge to get close to, so I was pleased.
It was a beautiful day and I decided to go out into the woods today. Just after I crossed the creek on the fallen tree trunk I looked to see what insects I could find in the little stand of yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and the first thing I found was this leaf-footed bug, one of probably two species in the genus Piezogaster. After that I took some pictures of the crab apples on the edge of what I call the uplands. There are both red and yellow apples and they’re quite pretty but then, they’ll be there when I come back in a day or two and I don’t know if I’ll see another bug like this for a while.
I went for a hike with a friend and his four lovely kids today. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and a perfect day to get a little bit lost. We were never really truly lost but we did miss a turn and ended up further from the car than we had originally planned. We enjoyed the woods and the kids in particular enjoyed kicking over mushrooms (after letting me get down on the ground to get a few pictures first). We also saw a slug and I got some nice pictures of that, if pictures of a slug can ever really be considered nice. This picture is a red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), one of four subspecies of Limenitis arthemis. This is a very distinctive butterfly and quite a pretty thing. Yes, I know that it looks more blue than purple. It’s been mentioned. The ‘red’ spots (which are orange. I know, right?) are on the lower hind wings (i.e., the other side).
I went out back today after work and found this little wasp on the mountain mint. I was only able to get a few half decent pictures of it before it flew off but they are good enough that I’m pretty sure it is a four-toothed mason wasp (Monobia quadridens). Like the potter wasp in yesterday’s picture, the nests of the four-toothed mason wasp are provisioned with caterpillars. The cells of nests are separated by mud partitions, which is why they are called masons. At least I think that’s why. Maybe they are members of the fraternal organization of a similar name.
I went out into the back yard this evening to see what I could find. There was a serious buzz around the flowers with dozens (or possibly hundreds, I really don’t know) of bees, wasps, skippers, and flies all moving about. After getting a few pictures of a wasp on the mountain mint, most of which are pretty blurry, I went to see what was happening at the buddleia near the gate. This potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) flew up to the top branches but I could see it was carrying something. Turns out it has a caterpillar. The female potter wasp lays eggs in a mud nest and then provisions it with small caterpillars, as food for the larva.
I went outside a little before 1:00 PM today and it was quite warm and very muggy. I took a few pictures of wildflowers but it looked like I was not going to get any insect pictures. There were plenty about but they were all moving quite a lot, which makes it hard. I also didn’t feel like hanging out in the hot sun any longer than necessary. As I was leaving, this female common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) landed on the ragweed just ahead of me. I got a few pictures from where I was and then very slowly moved closer until I was able to get this one and a few like it before she flew away.
I don’t know what sort of wasp this is and I’m sort of doubtful that I could identify it from this or the two other photos I took of it as it moved around the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) this afternoon. It was a sort of lazy afternoon and I hung out with the wasps again, as I tend to do. If I’m going to be out on a day above 90°F, especially if I’m going to be in the sun on such a day, there’s a good chance it’s because I’m hanging with my insect friends. Otherwise, I head for the shade at the very least, if not for the air-conditioned indoors.
This little, dark butterfly was flitting about the black-eyed Susans this afternoon. It’s been quite warm and today was especially so, but the hot sun seems to be exactly what the little flying critters love. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), the black-eyed Susans, (Rudbekia species), the tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and what’s left of the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) were all thick with bees, wasps, flies, skippers, and butterflies. It was nice just to be there with them, hearing the faint buzz and seeing all the movement. This little fellow, one of the spread-wing skippers, took a little stalking to get pictures, but I think it was worth the effort. UPDATE: This has been identified as a wild indigo duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae).
I came across another new bug today (new to me, that is). This is the twice-stabbed stink bug (Cosmopepla lintneriana), so called because of the two red ‘wounds’ the apex of the scutellum. There were at least three of them on the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) in our back garden, including the two shown here. I had a hard time photographing them because they kept crawling around to the underside of the branches and under the bunches of purple berries. My camera, with a 100mm macro lens and two off camera flashes is a little unwieldy and takes two hands to manage properly. So, I’d use one hand to scare the bugs onto the upper side of the branch and then let go to get the picture. By the time I had found them again through the viewfinder and focused on them, they were half way back to the underside of the branch.
We have had a relatively mild August this year. I don’t know if it’s any sort of record or where it stands in comparison to averages but it has definitely been on the cool side. Today, however, it was hot. I went out into the empty lot this afternoon and had trouble because there was standing water in a few places. Once I made my way to one of the drainage ponds I sat in the shade and watched the dragonflies darting around over the shallow water. I happened to see this little rice stink bug (Oebalus pugnax) on a blade of grass and got two photos before he flew away. This species has characteristic spikes at the front corners of their pronotum (sort of at the ‘shoulders’).
The funnel weavers are out in force again. They appear about this time each year. Actually, they are a little earlier than usual this year, probably because of the uncommonly mild weather and the relatively large amount of rain we’ve had. They are really cool spiders, building horizontal, non-sticky webs. When an insect lands on the web, the spider rushes out and bites it and the takes it back into her funnel, an tube-like web structure. This is, I believe, a grass spider (Agelenopsis species), one of the funnel weavers in the family Agelenidae. These spiders are really shy and not at all aggressive. And they eat insects. What’s not to like?
When I took this picture I assumed it was a wasp. Evan after going to BugGuide.net for identification that’s what I thought. I mean, it has that wasp-waisted look. But I wasn’t able to find any wasps that matched. That’s because it isn’t a wasp, it’s a fly, a thick-headed fly (Family Conopidae) to be precise. I think it is probably Physocephala tibialis, but I’m not completely sure. Anyway, it’s a pretty little thing and I’m pretty happy with this picture, especially as it’s the first thick-headed fly I’ve seen (at least knowingly).
I haven’t had a chance to look up this bee and I’m not sure this picture is good enough for a positive identification, in any case. There are a lot of little bees that look somewhat like this. This is the best of the pictures I got and it is still not very sharp. It’s a pretty little bee and I’m happy with the picture overall, though. I love the bright orange of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It generally makes a nice contrast to the dark colors of bees. I didn’t take a lot of pictures today, though, so there were not a lot to choose from.
A bunch of us went to Brookgreen Gardens today. Seth, Iris, and Tsai-Hong stayed until about 1:00 before moving on to the lowcountry zoon and then headed back to the beach. Cathy, Dorothy, Jonathan, Dot, and I had lunch and then did a bit more walking in the gardens before hitting the zoo. I took a lot of pictures of sculpture and a few of dragonflies and grasshoppers (the huge eastern lubber grasshopper, Romalea microptera). I really enjoy both the sculpture and the setting. It was hot today but not really hot by South Carolina in August standards. In the shade it was actually pretty pleasant. This first picture is of my favorite tree at Brookgreen gardens. It is in the corner of the Palmetto Garden and really is part of the Live Oak Allée that’s just across the wall. I think it’s magnificent.
Of course we also went to the lowcountry zoo where we saw black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) as well as a few egrets and an ibis. The otters were very active and we enjoyed watching them swim around for a while. It was actually feeding time at the alligator pond but the alligator we saw must be well fed because he was pretty blasé about the whole thing.
After leaving Brookgreen, we drove to Murrill’s Inlet for an early dinner at Nance’s. Dorothy, Jonathan, and I shared a half bushel of steamed oysters while mom had soft-shell crab and Cathy had a crab cake.
It was a hot but beautiful day and I went out into the lot next to my office this afternoon. I saw and photographed a young white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas), an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), and an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). As I sat next to a dried up drainage pond I watched grasshoppers moving around. I was able to get close enough to this one to get a pretty good photograph. This is one of over 260 Melanoplus species, which are spur-throated grasshoppers, subfamily Melanoplinae of the short-horned grasshoppers, family Acrididae. After I came back to my parking lot, I walked down to the pond and saw a pair of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) and got a pictures of one that’s good enough to confirm the sighting but not much better than that.
I got a few insect photos today, including a few of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on buddleia flowers, an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) on a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and some sort of longlegged fly (family Dolichopodidae). Finally, I got some of this blow fly (family Calliphoridae) on scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma). It’s not my favorite insect. In fact, I’d have to rank it in the bottom half rather than the top. I don’t mind wasps and bees in general but flies and particular what I consider to be the ‘annoying flies’ are in the negative side of the scale, along with mosquitoes and horse and deer flies. But their metallic green bodies are pretty cool, in spite of that.
I went out to the empty lot next to my building this afternoon. I started by going through the woods on the lower part but then crossed the stream on a tree that conveniently fell across it. That saves me a bit of underbrush getting to the open, higher ground of the northeastern part of the lot. This part has only a few trees, so far, and is mostly filled with a thick covering of ragweed with milkweed and goldenrod scattered throughout. I happened to see this little moth, mostly white with a little orange on the leading edge of its wings. It is a delicate cycnia (Cycnia tenera) and is fairly shy. In the other two Cycnia species found in North America the orange or yellow on the wings is either absent (C. oregonensis) or is darker but doesnot extend to apex (C. collaris).
I went out to the woods next to my building this afternoon, towards the end of the day. After wandering around there a while without finding much of interest, I went down towards the tiny pond on the other side of the building and came across this white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and great blue heron (Ardea herodias) sharing the watering hole together. The picture isn’t great but I’m happy I was able to get a picture of both of them before the both decided I had ruined the party and they left.
The skippers are out in force these days. I got one picture with three of them on a single bunch of flowers. They move around a lot, making it a little harder to get a good picture but there are so many of them you can almost pick a flower and wait for one to land on it. They are somewhat plain as butterflies go. The butterflies and skippers are grouped together in the superfamily Papilionoidea under the order Lepidoptera. The other superfamilies (there are quite a few) are all moths.
I was off work yesterday and today, getting ready for the gathering coming up tomorrow. I still took a break each day to get pictures. Before I had gotten very far into the backyard this afternoon I spotted this transverse flower fly (Eristalis tranversa) on a black-eyed Susan Rudbekia sp.). It’s a pretty little fly and the color pattern on its abdomen is quite distinctive. They especially seem to like the black-eyed Susans with which they match quite well. I didn’t have very good lighting for most of the pictures I took but managed to get a few (including this one) with a single on-camera flash that turned out a bit better.
I went out to take pictures of a carpenter bee this afternoon but before I got to where she was, I saw this moth, a squash vine borer (Melittia cucurbitae), on the Herrenhausen oregano (Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’). It’s not a terribly good specimen. Much of the orange on its abdomen has been rubbed off, but it’s a pretty distinctive little clearwing moth (family Sesiidae). I got some good photos of the carpenter bee, as well, but since I’m almost certain to have more photos of those I decided to post this one instead.
The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is in bloom and it’s a lovely, orange accent in the back of the garden. I’d be happy to have more of this, either the standard orange or the lovely, yellow variety. I’d also like to get some Asclepias curassavica, known as blood flower, although that’s not winter hardy anywhere near this far north. It can, apparently, be grown easily as an annual from seed. I might also try to get some Asclepias purpurascens, commonly called purple milkweed. It’s a native and I am pretty sure I’ve seen it at the farm, so I could dig some up there or get some seeds.
The large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is a common visitor to butterfly weed (one of the milkweed family) and is particularly well suited for hiding among the flowers of A. tuberosa.
This little butterfly, an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) is a fairly common visitor to our garden and can be seen throughout the region. It’s not the easiest butterfly to photograph, partly because of it’s diminutive size (it’s small) and partly because it’s a fairly shy critter and doesn’t like being approached. But this one let me get close enough for a pretty good shot. It was late enough in the day that the light wasn’t as good as I’d have liked and this was taken with the aid of the camera’s on-board flash. It isn’t the best lighting for small subjects but in this case it worked out reasonably well.
Once the buddleia comes into bloom, which has happened in the last week or so, it’s a rare day when there isn’t at least one tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) fluttering around the yard. They aren’t anywhere as near as common and the many skippers (family Hesperiidae) that we have by the dozens or even as the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), but pretty common. And of course they are much more striking. I particularly like then when the sun is on them or even shining through them and they are against a clear, blue afternoon sky, as this one is. The color on the upper side of the hindwings identifies this as a female, just in the act of taking off from the flower.
After taking the picture of the lady beetle larva in the woods, I crossed the stream on a fallen tree trunk. I worked my way from there through a fairly dense area of brambles and small trees to the slope that leads to what I call the uplands part of the empty lot. This is about 30 feet higher than the lowlands across the stream and it is mostly clear of trees. It is filled with ragweed and milkweed with a few empty spots that are almost barren, with just bare clay which sometimes holds standing water and other times is baked into a cracked, hard surface. In one of those empty spots, I followed this wasp, which is Cerceris fumipennis, an apoid wasp (Apoidea) in the family Crabronidae. It landed and disappeared into this little hole in the ground. I figured it would eventually come out again so I got down and waited. I was rewarded for my patience when he appeared at the entrance and was able to get a half dozen shots off before he flew off into the distance.
It was a beautiful, if somewhat hot afternoon today and I went out into the woods next to my building. As I walked through the underbrush under the sycamore, tulip poplar, redbud, walnut, and black cherry trees, I noticed this little creature on a leaf. This is the larva of a lady beetle. The family Coccinellidae, the lady beetles, has about 6,000 species in 360 genera worldwide and nearly 500 in eastern North America. I have no idea to which of those this larva belongs and I’m not even going to try to figure it out. The adults are generally easier to narrow down but to me, anyway, the larva are just too much alike. I found a key to the larva of North American lady beetles but it starts out as follows. Tell me how helpful this is to you:
Mandible with digitiform teeth, retinaculum absent; terga with scoli, sometimes with parascoli; frontoclypeal suture complete; antenna long, 3 or more times as long as wide, of nearly uniform diameter.
I didn’t get out of the office today to go take pictures. Most of the day it was raining and then I just didn’t have time in the afternoon. I was a little busy but actually more frustrated than anything else, so going out would have been nice. Nevertheless, when I got home I took some pictures of a common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on one of the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) outside our dining room window. I like bumble bees and they are out in pretty good numbers right now. In prior years it seemed that they were outnumbered by carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). This year I’m seeing a lot more bumblebees. That’s just anecdotal evidence, of course but that’s the way it seems to me.
It was a slightly less warm but every bit as humid day today. I went to eat my lunch in the empty lot next to my building, sitting on the edge of a now-dry drainage pond. This pond rarely has more than a few inches of water in it but the water is gone and the mud has cracked and is only damp. I had expected to see more insects there but I suppose it’s dry enough that even they have moved to somewhere with a bit more water. I took some pictures of the flowers of some softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) and this Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) came and landed right in front of me. I was able to get four quick shots before it flew away. In this, the last of the four, its wings are just starting to open.
It was a fairly quiet day at work, with a lot of people off for a four day weekend. I went into the woods next to my building, across the streem and up to the higher and more open area, filled mostly with ragweed and milkweed. There were a few butterflies and I tried to get some pictures of them. Then I saw this female eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and I slowly move it to get a good picture. She would fly away but then would come back to the same perch, so I would move a little closer each time until I was able to get this one.
I was out taking pictures in the yard again this afternoon and happened to look at the same flower on which I took the picture of the Scudderia nymph two days ago (see: Friday, June 30, 2017 ). The outer ray florets, the ‘petals’ of the coneflower, were all tattered and eaten into. The culprit was this little beetle (well, a bunch of them, actually). It is a leaf beetle (family Chrysomelidae), probably in the subfamily Eumolpinae. If I get a more definitive identification, I’ll update this post. It’s a little beetle, less than 5mm long so I wasn’t able to get a close as necessary to really get a good picture, but this one turned out well enough to use.
I went out to take some pictures of flowers this afternoon and that’s what I did at first. Well, first I got a few pictures of a rabbit (an eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus). Then I took a few flower pictures but I noticed this little fellow on a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). It is the nymph of a Scudderia, a genus of eight species in our area comprising the bush katydids. This is just a small portion of the larger group of all katydids, of which there are nearly 250 species in 49 genera in eastern North America. Anyway, I think this is a cute little guy and I took quite a few pictures. Enjoy.
I’ve been able to get a fair number of flower pictures so far this year but the insects are not out in all their force yet. I’ve seen many around but haven’t been able to photograph many of them. This is my first bumble bee of the summer. It isn’t the best bumble bee picture I’ve ever taken but it makes me happy, with the brightness of the bee balm (Monarda didyma) contrasting with the black of the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). I’m sure there will be many more to come. As for the title of this post, it’s the sort of thing that shows up in crossword puzzles fairly often, two words or phrases that overlap in the middle. Bumble Bee and Bee Balm.
I know many of my followers are less than thrilled with my spider photos. Nevertheless, at the risk of chasing off either of them (my followers, that is), I’m going to post another. I went for a short walk early this afternoon. There is a section of the road behind my building that has a well along the sidewalk, above a stream. Growing on that wall are Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), wild grape (Vitis species), porcelain berry (Ampelopsis glandulosa), and of course, the ever present poison ivy, (Toxicodendron radicans). I stopped to take a few pictures of bumble bees on the Virginia creeper flowers and then noticed this little jumping spider on the underside a leaf. Kind of cute, I think.
Cathy did a bunch of work in a small garden this morning, clearing out the overgrown sedum and making room for annuals that have been waiting to be planted. She said I should come out with my camera to take some pictures of this little spider that was doing really well gathering the small insects that are present in our lawn by the thousands. It is a Gea heptagon, one of the orb weavers (family Araneidae) and I think it’s a really cool little spider. The abdomen is painted with red, yellow, and pale spots that are quite pretty, especially in the sun. I’ve photographed this species before, with posts on Monday, September 05, 2016 and Saturday, August 20, 2016.
We have a fair amount of Verbena bonariensis growing around the yard. It’s somewhat of a weed but for the most part, we let it go, just keeping it barely within bounds. There are a few reasons for us letting it go. First, of course, is that it’s pretty on its own. I mean, the purple adds a bit of contrast to all the green in the early summer and it’s generally still in bloom when the black-eyed Susans really start to go crazy. But I think the main reason is that the American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) really seem to like it. Usually I’ve been unable to get close enough to get even a poor photo of them before they fly away but this afternoon I got a reasonable picture showing three finches. They are such lovely birds and we enjoy watching them bounce around on the tall stems of the Verbina.
I drove down to Lake Needwood on the way home today and stopped to take a few pictures. I followed a pair of fritillaries for a while and got a few half decent pictures. I also went after a great blue heron but wasn’t able to get anything worth while there. This is a great spangled fritillary and apparently there are at least 7 subspecies (and depending on who you ask, more than that). I naively assumed they were distinguished by variations in the patterns on their wings but apparently they are identified by distribution. Who knew? This was identified by the good people of BugGuide.net as subspecies S. c. cybele. Note: the red in the background is my car. I tried to get pictures without that but for this one, which turned out the best of the butterfly, it was unavoidable. Oh, well.
As I drove into the parking lot at work this morning I saw out of the corner of my eye that there was a heron on the pond between my building and the rest of the campus. Before I went inside, then, I decided to see if I could get a picture or two. I happened to have my 75-300mm lens this morning, so I was able to get a few reasonable shots. It let me take them, continuing to fish for a little while (I even got pictures of it with a fish in its beak). Then if flew away and I was able to snap one picture as it headed off. It is not as sharp as I’d like and I’d prefer a background that is more different to the color of the bird, but I’m fairly pleased with the composition overall.
I sat on the patio for a while this afternoon, just enjoying being in the sun. It was actually a little hot for my taste, but still nice for all of that. Also, the light is better for macro photography in the sun, when you want as much depth of field and as fast a shutter speed as possible. I was watching the insects around the potted flowers on the patio and got a few pictures of this skipper (family Hesperiidae) on a coreopsis (a.k.a. tickseed) flower. The insects aren’t around it the huge numbers we’ll have in a few weeks, particularly when the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) starts to bloom, but they are certainly here and I really enjoy them.
I was out in the yard taking pictures this evening and after taking a few of the rose I just posted, I noticed that there were a lot of little insects moving around in the grass. When I say little, I’m talking about insects in the 2 to 3mm range. As I walked around, they leapt away from me. I got down on the ground but when they were not moving, they were hard to find. What I did find, however, was this exuviae, the exoskeleton of some small insect that left it behind on a blade of grass. It’s about 5mm long and appears to be from some sort of grasshopper or cricket. The word exuviae is Latin and means ‘things stripped from a body.’
Because there are a lot of them about, I’m guessing that this is a wing from a Riley’s 13-year cicada (Magicicada tredecim) like the one whose picture I posted ten days ago (see: Saturday, May 20, 2017). I think it’s a beautiful thing. It’s also quite sturdy. This one was separated from its owner and has little droplets of water on it. Even handling it to get it into position for a photo didn’t dislodge them. Interestingly, the wings of the clanger cicada (Psaltoda claripennis, also known as the clear wing cicada), a species found in eastern Australia, has a physical structure of ‘nanopillars’ that kill bacteria that settle on them. Pretty cool.
I don’t know that I’d call this a serious pest but it certainly does make our garden look worse this time of year. This little bug has been here in pretty good numbers in recent years and they suck the juices out of some of our plants, making their leaves brown and desiccated. It generally doesn’t do the plant irreparable harm but it doesn’t do it much good, either. In past years I spray them and cut them off before they do their worst. This year I never got around to it and the damage is pretty well done at this point. They’re pretty, little things, I admit. But pests, nonetheless.
Rabbits. We’ve got rabbits. Eastern cottontail rabbits, to be precise (Sylvilagus floridanus). Apparently they have been multiplying like, well, rabbits. It’s not uncommon this spring to see four or five in the back yard at once. And there will be others in the front yard, as well. Mostly they are eating clover and not causing too much trouble with our garden so we put up with them. This many of them, though, and I’m starting to wonder how the local fox population is doing. Either there aren’t enough foxes to take care of the rabbits or they are simply not keeping up.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that this is not the year for the huge brood of 17-year cicadas. I also said that there were, nevertheless, a noticeable number of cicadas about, mostly obvious from their exuviae (their shed exoskeletons) on small plants all around the yard. Well, I got a pretty good picture of an adult cicada today and I’m pretty sure this is a Riley’s 13-year cicada (Magicicada tredecim). It is identified as a periodical cicada by its red or orange eyes (the annual cicadas have black eyes). The orange patch between the eye and the wing identifies it as Magicicada tredecim.
The last time we had the huge brood of 17 year cicadas was in 2004. Well, that was 13 years ago. That means that this admittedly smaller brood of 13-year cicadas happened to coincide with that larger brood, making 2004 an especially huge event, more than either of them would be on their own. So, in four more years, the 17-year cicadas shouldn’t be as bad as they were in 2004. That’s good to know.
By the way, if you are of a mind to try one, they don’t taste like much. Just saying.
I went out into the yard after work today and took some pictures. I started with some yellow irises that have started to bloom. From there I moved on to take a few rose pictures, the multiflora rose, ‘Blush Noisette’, and my newest, ‘Cutie Pie’. The cicadas are out in significant numbers. This isn’t the year of the largest local brood, which isn’t due until 2021. But there are still quite a few of them. Finally, I took some pictures of this small spider web in the dying Colorado spruce in our front yard. It’s not as sharp as I would have liked, having been taken in somewhat dim light and without the aid of a tripod (and the branch was moving a bit int he breeze.
I went out into the woods next to my building late this morning. There wasn’t a lot that I found interesting but I took a few pictures. Before I went back inside, though, I thought I’d walk over to the pond on the other side of the building and see if the ducklings were still there. They were not but this great blue heron (Ardea herodias) was and I was able to get a few decent pictures before he flew off. I also watched a couple tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) fluttering around and getting water from the mud at the pond’s edge. All in all, a nice, relaxing outing to break up an otherwise uneventful day at the office.
I know, I know. There are those among you who would be happier if I would just stop taking pictures of spiders all together. I’m sorry, but I think they are fascinating and beautiful creatures and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. This one, which I think is a dwarf spider (subfamily Erigoninae), is quite safe to be around. Her body is probably 3 to 4 mm long and her jaws are not likely strong enough even to break your skin. So, no problems here. And don’t forget what spiders eat. If you don’t like flying insects, then spiders are your friend. I get not wanting them all around in your house but in the garden, please let them be.
Cathy and I went out for a later afternoon walk today. We just walked around my building a few times but I brought my camera, as I usually do. There were some ducks and ducklings on the pond but today’s picture is this spider, a Castianeira species of some sort. Castianeira is a genus of spiders with about 26 species in North America. They are members of the Corinnidae, the antmimics and ground sac spiders. This isn’t a particularly good picture, having been taken hand-held at 1/60 second in somewhat dim light in a parking lot. Still, it’s a new spider for me and one I’ll look for again when I have more time to get a good picture.
I follow a bunch of folks on Instagram who specialize in pictures of birds. These folks take amazing pictures and I’m a little embarrassed to post this picture which compared to theirs is pretty pathetic. To get good pictures of birds, the first requirement is a good telephoto lens, a tripod, and a significant commitment of time. Today I was in the woods next to my office with none of those things. I had a 100mm lens, hand held, and only a short time to grab a few pictures. I wasn’t thinking of bird pictures when I went out. But I wasn’t in the woods long when I noticed more than one Baltimore oriole flitting around among the trees. This is the best shot I was able to get and even this is only adequate to identify this as an oriole. Maybe one day I’ll get some of the fabulous photos of birds that I enjoy from others. But this is not that day.
It was a beautiful, warm day today and after church and lunch we decided to go to Fehr’s Nursery in Burtonsville. They have a nice selection of plants including the annuals that Cathy’s been planting in a small area at the front of our yard the last few years. I bring my camera and spend most of my time taking pictures of flowers. This year I also bought a miniature rose called ‘Cutie Pie’ but that’s not what this photo is. This is a flower of Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium species) with a syrphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus) perched on it. These are quite ubiquitous, little creatures in the area and they don’t cause any bother at all. I think they’re kind of pretty, as well.
We spent a fair amount of time with Dorothy today. We drove into Salem for a while but it was cold and wet so we didn’t stay out as long as we might have done. We did see this loon in the water next to Derby Wharf. I only had my 100mm lens so couldn’t get as close as I would have liked but at least you can tell what it is. Dorothy went to dinner with some friends so Cathy and I were on our own. We had a very nice meal in a place called Toscana Bar Italiano. The food was quite good and I think we were a bit lucky to get a table without waiting. It’s a smallish place so it can easily fill up. The rain probably helped us a bit this evening.
Cathy and I went for a walk in the early afternoon. You might think that working at the same company we’d see a lot of each other during the day but in fact, we don’t. We work in different buildings, for one thing, on a campus that isn’t exactly sprawling but which includes six buildings. Mine if on the north end of the campus, separated from the others by a pond. We walked across West Montgomery Avenue to a larger pond today and that’s where I took this photo, of a Canada goose (Branta canadensis).
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Cathy’s niece Maggie is in town. We don’t see her nearly enough so we wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. She helped her grandma fold bulletins at church in the morning and then we left early and spent the afternoon with her. It was a wonderful, spring day with a beautiful, clear, blue sky, cool but not cold. We drove out to our friends’ farm and visited with our friends and some of their animals.
We spent the most time with the chickens (of which there are something on the order of 1,000). I sat for a while in the midst of them and got a few nice pictures, including this one from ground level. A little later Cathy and I helped Anna collect eggs from the laying boxes in the chicken-coop-bus. So, in this case, the chickens came before the eggs.
I made chicken panang curry for dinner. No relation to this chicken, as far as I know.
I went to BWI airport this afternoon to pick up Maggie, who was coming for a short visit during her spring break. As usual when I go to BWI, I bring my camera. It isn’t the most photogenic airport you’ll come across but it has some interesting spots. Of course most of the time I spend there is waiting around the baggage carousels, which is about the least interesting part of the whole place. Coming across the westernmost sky bridge from the top of the parking garage, which is the end of the terminal that Southwest uses, there is a large, stained glass, Atlantic blue crab sculpture in a case. It’s a bit tricky to get a picture of something like this and having it in a glass case certainly doesn’t help. It is what it is.
Other than that, my visit was fairly uneventful. Maggie arrive, we got her bag, and we left. We did go to G&M to buy crab cakes for those of us who eat such things. I fixed surf and turf for dinner, with two crab cakes and two large, very thick t-bone steaks. I’d say it was a success, at least in part thanks to the Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.
It was a beautiful day today. It’s fairly warm and the snow is melting. I had a meeting across campus early this afternoon and on the way back I walked around my building and took a few pictures. The melting snow was raising the level of the pond next to my building and I walked down to it, over a thin layer of very soft, wet snow. This little spider was there, as well. I believe it is some sort of wolf spider (family Lycosidae) and will update the post if I figure out (or more likely am told) which one. I know spiders are not favorite subjects of many (or should I say either) of my followers. They come right ahead of deer ticks, I’d say. But they’re neat little things and I love to watch them. This is a small spider, not much more than one centimeter long including its legs.
UPDATE: Identified as being in the genus Pardosa, the thinlegged wolf spiders.
It was as pretty a spring day as you could hope for today, warm but not hot, mostly clear with a little breeze. Cathy and I went for a walk and I took my camera along. We walked to a pong that has a beaver lodge but didn’t see any activity. There was a pair of geese nearby and I got some pictures of them. Then as we left the area and headed back up towards the road I managed to get a few pictures of this cabbage butterfly that was flitting around looking for early flowers.
Our dear friend Susan gave me a present this morning. It was beautifully presented in a hot pink gift bag. What was it? It was this insect which she wondered if I could identify. At a glance I said it was a beetle of some sort but beyond that I needed to look at it under some magnification. It’s between 5 and 6 millimeters long, so on the small side and my first thought was some sort of carpet beetle. Then I saw from the side that it had something of a snout. That led to the fungus weevils of family Anthribidae and I tracked it down to Toxonotus cornutus. Not particularly rare but so small that you are likely to miss it much of the time. Not a big pest, either, and happily nothing like a bed bug or other really nasty creature. Thanks, Susan. Now I really know you care.
P.S. The shiny metal thing under it is a pin on which the little creature is skewered.
February is generally the deepest part of the winter around here but it’s been relatively mild so far this year. We’ve still got enough time for cold weather to come but today was really spring like. There were birds all over our back yard, including robins, starlings, sparrows, blue jays, and juncos. I waited at the kitchen door and took some pictures of the birds on the bird bath on the back patio. We keep it free from ice all winter and the birds really like that, although this year there has not been more than a week together when free water was frozen. Still, they were on the bath in fairly high numbers all morning.
It was cool and cloudy today but not so cold that we wouldn’t go out (actually, I didn’t even need a jacket). We drove to Meadowside Nature Center and walked on the trails around it, going south west to the edge of the lake and then north to where there are some log cabins. This photo of a feather was taken on a fallen log. I’m not sure what sort of bird the feather came from but I assume it was taken up onto the log to be eaten, either by another bird or by a mammal of some sort.
I’m no sort of expert on these things so I really don’t know what sort of bird has feathers that look like this. I know there are woodpeckers with dark feathers with white spots running up both sides. There are also owls with this sort of pattern. The feathers were not terribly long, so my guess was one of the small local woodpeckers, such as the downy (Picoides pubescens) or hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). I’d be happy to have someone who is more knowledgeable set me straight. This was in the woods behind my building.
I’ve said before that my goal is to take at least one photo every day and post it here. I’d be overjoyed if they were all fabulous but the reality is that some of them are quite lame. I’ve had some pretty bad pictures in the last six years, although I think a few of them have been quite nice. Today’s is a poorly executed photograph, although the subject is interesting enough. I was out in the back yard with my camera and I could here a woodpecker tap, tap, tapping on the tree. After I while I found him and was able to take a few pictures but none of them are really any good. I was shooting through intervening branches and at a bit more distance than my 100mm lens was really suitable for. But it’s a picture.
In the evening, generally in the hour or so before sunset, there is a steady stream of crows, always flying in a generally southward direction. We often see them from our back yard in relatively small but significant numbers. As I was driving home this evening, enjoying the faint coloring of the eastern sky ahead of me, there were a lot of crows flying from left to right (north to south) across the road as I neared the bridge over Rock Creek. It’s hard to get a photograph of a flock of birds that is as impressive as the flock, unless there really are a lot of them, so this photo may not look like much. I was sitting in traffic and they just kept coming, at about this volume, the whole time I watched. I wonder where they go to roost. I’m glad it isn’t in my back yard.
Cathy and I went for a nice walk this afternoon. It’s been a very rainy couple of days and we took advantage of a short non-raining period to walk. It started up again just as we got home, but we didn’t get too wet. Our shoes were quite muddy and we met a very friendly dog, so our trousers had to go into the wash but it was nice to be out. We saw this buck, along with about a half dozen more shortly after we turned onto Sunfish trail. A minute or two later we came across the group of almost a dozen does. It was getting dark and there was no way this one was going to let me get any closer, but I’m reasonably happy with this photo.
I took some more photos of my fish this evening and this is, I think, the best of them. This is a brilliant rasbora, (Rasbora einthovenii) and they are a good fish to have in a community aquarium. These are about three inches long and quite lively, especially at feeding time. Getting a good picture is made more difficult by their almost constant movement from one end of the tank to the other. I got this one while he (or she, I really don’t know) was making his u-turn at this end of the tank, above the brick that is the only decoration. I really need to get a bit more stuff in there for them to swim around.
Update: I initially labeled this picture as a brilliant rasbora but looking at it again, that’s wrong. There are rasboras in the tank but they are smaller and have red at the base of their tail fins. This is a Siamese algae eater, Crossocheilus oblongus. Sorry for the confusion.
It’s been a while since I posted a photo of Solomon, our parrot. He is a red-lored Amazon (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis) and he turns 31 this month. So, in honor of his birthday, here’s a closeup of his eye. I really love the texture of the feathers around his eyes and on the front of his head. They are small and wonderfully colored. Most of them are a single color, being all red or yellow or green, but where they transition from one color to the next, some of them are a mix of colors. This is particularly true on top of his head, where the green and blue is mixed (although those don’t show up all that well in this image). In case you’re curious about the name common name of the species, the lore is the area between the eye and upper beak of birds. It’s red on this species.
For quite a few weeks I’ve been meaning to go to the fish store and get a few more fish for my smaller aquarium. The 30 gallon tank has a fairly large angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and a kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii) who spends much of the time hiding under a rock. I bought some Chinese algae eaters (Gyrinocheilos aymonieri) and a bunch of these green tiger barbs (Puntius tetrazona). I really like their color and it’s nice to have the tank with more than just a couple fish in it.
I love days when I get sunrise pictures. Sunset pictures are nice but I can’t rely on their being a good sunset. Once I have pictures of the sunrise, though, I don’t have to worry about getting a picture later in the day. If there turns out to be no sunset, they I’ve missed the daylight. But if there’s no sunrise to photograph, I still have the whole day ahead of me.
So, after getting a nice sunrise pictures this morning, I was happy to take some pictures of birds in the back yard. This is an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) along the edge of the back patio. Goldfinches lose their bright yellow color in the winter, but they’re still pretty little birds. I really enjoyed watching them sit on the thin stems.
We had a quiet day after the busy day yesterday. Busy is good but it’s especially good when followed by not-busy. Cathy and I have Stephen and Maya’s dog, Dargo, and we took him for a longish walk today (about 3 miles). We walked along the near side of Lake Frank and I took a few pictures. I got two of a kingfisher, although I couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to make that picture worth sharing. I was able to get closer to these geese, although still only close enough for a group shot. Any closer and they would have moved away.
I fixed some coffee and was making breakfast when Cathy came down and saw this white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in our back yard. It appears to be a young one, not fully grown but I don’t really know enough about deer to say for sure. It was just lying there and would look at me, then turn to the side. I went outside and took a few more pictures before it got up and trotted to the back corner of the yard, where it stayed for a while. When I checked back 20 minutes later it was gone.
It’s gotten cold suddenly and today was quite cold. I went out for a little while to take pictures and by the time I came back in, my right hand was quite numb from the cold (I can put my left hand into my pocket but I hold the camera with my right hand). I took pictures of a sycamore leaf in the woods and then walked down to the pond next to my building. It’s only just gotten cold so there was still open water but there was ice along the edge. In what had recently been mud by the stream were raccoon footprints.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I was in an international market. In general, while I get many of my staples in Safeway or Giant, I much prefer the international markets for meats, produce, and seafood. There is a small Brazilian market where I go for chouriço and morcilla as well as some cheeses. There are a bunch of Asian markets where the produce is generally fresher and always more varied than the big chains. That’s where the bok choy picture from yesterday was taken. Today’s picture is of something from the same store but taken this evening as I fixed myself dinner of Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), lightly breaded and cooked in butter. Really good.
I happened to have a chat with a coworker today about taking pictures of birds and other small, skittish creatures. I have a 70-300mm zoom with image stabilization that should be quite good for that but it has one annoying limitation and a quite serious flaw. The annoying limitation is its lack of close focusing. Even at 300mm, to get a full frame image of a bird, you have to get fairly close. Having to add an extension tube to focus that close is an issue. The serious flaw is that the way Canon designed this lens, the internal connector that controls the aperture becomes damaged or disconnected and on occasion the lens fails to operate properly and no picture is taken. Because of that, I cannot recommend this lens. What I’d really like is Canon’s 400mm f/5.6 (well, I’d like the f/2.8 but who are we kidding?).
Anyway, I happened to go out a little later and was able to get this Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) in the bushes with my lowly 100mm f/2.8 macro. Not bad.
It was another beautiful, fall day today and Cathy and I took a walk in the neighborhood. I took some pictures of trees with flaming red and orange leaves but I’ve decided to post this picture of a pretty good sized paper wasp nest instead. Trees with brightly colored leaves are pretty much everywhere now (although many have lost all their leaves) but wasp nests are not so common. This one is about 20 feet up in a tree a few blocks from our house. You might be glad to know that most paper wasps die during the winter. Obviously not all. Most notably the new queens survive the winter by nesting in protected places.
There are not nearly as many flowers left in the yard as we approach the end of October. We’ll still have some warm days (today was in the 80s!) but in general, plants are switching into autumn mode. Annuals, of course, don’t have the luxury of going dormant so they can overwinter and start up again in the sprint. So, some of them bloom until the cold kills them once and for all. Marigolds (Tagetes species and cultivars) are a good example. This is one that Cathy planted in a small bed where a dead tree was removed. The bees, of course, are still active and looking for anything they can get. This is an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).
I didn’t expect to see any more monarch butterflies this late in the year but this afternoon there was on on the buddleia in the back yard. I got a few good pictures of him (you can see the scent-scale patches on his hindwings, identifying this as a male). I also took a few pictures of one buddleia flower panicle with four huge carpenter bees all clustered together, getting the last of this years harvest before the cold days to come. We’ve had one pretty good frost and a few light frosts this year but are supposed to have a warm spell by the end of the week.
I had a meeting in a different building this afternoon and decided to take my camera with me. After the meeting, I walked back ‘the long way’ which is actually a straighter line than the normal route but it goes through the woods and crosses a creek without a bridge, so it takes a bit longer. It takes longer still if you are on the lookout for things to photograph and stop whenever you find something. First I got some shots of bright crimson barberry leaves and fruit (Berberis species). Then I took some pictures of the deep green leaves and bright red fruit on an Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). Both were reasonable pictures but not exactly exciting.
Then, in the woods, I caught a glimpse of something small and orange flying past. It landed on a weed and I got down low and found this little, bright orange assassin bug, Pselliopus barberi crawling up the stem. The first pictures were not very good because of the low light. I popped up the flash and was able to get a few pictures that made identification easy. This is a little fellow, only a little over a centimeter in length. In the last shot I got, it took off just as I pressed the shutter. I thought I missed it entirely, but I captured it flying out of the frame (and out of my life). I went back and forth over which of these photos to post—the one that shows it well or the one with the action—and finally decided to post them both.
Cathy and I went for a short walk early this afternoon, going around the upper half of the large block where our two office buildings stand. We met between the buildings, near a drainage pond and while I waited a few minutes for her to get there, I happened to see a small group of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) working on a nest in a small tree. It was at a very good height to get a picture. So, naturally, I took a few. The European paper wasp was first seen in North American near Boston in 1978 but it is now present pretty much throughout the United States and Canada. It is often mistaken for a yellow jacket but is the only species of Vespidae that has mostly orange antennae, which makes it easy to identify (if you are willing to get close enough).
I spent a good while out back trying to get some butterfly pictures this afternoon. This buckeye was the largest of those out on the verbena bonariensis but I also got some pictures of a few others, including cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice, and what I’m pretty sure was a little checkered-skipper (Genus Pyrgus). I also got a few pictures of a tiny metallic green bee (genus Agapostemon) but that was a tough little critter to catch.
Update: The skipper has been identified as a Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis).