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).
On Thursday I posted a picture of Grace, on of Dorothy’s two friends who came home with her for the mid-term break. I think it only fair that I also post a picture of Bobby, the other friend. He really liked Solomon and wanted to hold him but Solomon is a bit timid. Nevertheless, with a little coaxing, we were able to get them together.
Yesterday, as planned, the three kids went to Richmond for the day so it was a regular work day for me. Today, we drove out to Rocklands Farm (http://www.rocklandsfarmmd.com/) and had a really nice morning visiting with Janis and Greg. The kids also really enjoyed the animals. Funny, as I write that I picture these three kids as kindergartner at a petting zoo, but of course they are all about 20. Actually, they acted a little more like kindergartners than 20 year olds, but it was fun.
We got home and they packed their car, leaving to head back to school at about 3:45 and getting there at about 1:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. We enjoyed seeing them but it was too brief a visit.
It’s midterm time at Gordon and Dorothy drove down late Wednesday (yesterday) with two friends. They actually got here early this morning but pretty much went straight to bed. This evening, we had one of our Thursday Night Dinners, eating at our house rather than going out. We had a pretty good crowd and it’s easier with that many to avoid big restaurant tables. We god dinner from Bombay Bistro and enjoyed it in the living room. Iris brought her dog, Bean, and this is Grace, one of Dorothy’s two friends, holding him.
Cathy took the day off work and she went with Dorothy, Grace, and Bobby (the other friend) to Great Falls and spent a long while climbing on Rocky Islands, below the falls, and then ended up near the end of the Billy Goat Trail. Tomorrow the three young folk plan to drive down to Richmond for the day. Then we’ll spend Saturday morning with them and they’ll head back to Boston Saturday afternoon.
I know a lot of my followers are not crazy about all my creepy crawly pictures but I’m pretty happy with this one. This is the full frame, not cropped, meaning I was able to get pretty close to this paper wasp (Polistes sp.) as it crawled around on some goldenrod growing in our back garden. Generally I wouldn’t want goldenrod but most things have finished blooming at this point and a touch of yellow is nice, even if it’s from a weed. There are still a few roses on the bush by our front door and the verbena bonariensis and buddleia still have some blooms, but the black-eyed Susans are all done, and that leaves the back yard with a lot less color. There were a half dozen wasps of at least two different species of Polistes on this goldenrod plant and I was able to get in close with my macro and flash.
Today was one of those ‘didn’t find a lot to photograph’ days. I went out back and took some pictures of seeds on the Iris domestica (blackberry lily) and even got some more with our friend the spotted cucumber beetle. Then I went around front and tried to get good pictures of a large spider in the middle of an impressive web near our driveway. The spider wasn’t cooperating, though. She sat in the middle of the web, which was nice, but pulled her legs in so she appeared to be a slightly hairy blob. Not very interesting. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw this little fellow. He darted in and out of the ground cover by the driveway and I caught him on one of those excursions. I don’t really know but I assume this is an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus).
We had some trees taken out a few years ago and their roots are rotting. They are underground and out of site but the mushrooms are a pretty good sign that the wood is being broken down. The mushrooms are quite happy and are scattered through the area around where the trees were growing. I got down on the ground to take some pictures of them and after a while I noticed this spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on the underside of one of the mushrooms. Getting a picture looking up at the underside of the mushroom was a bit tricky, but I managed it and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
This time of the year the spiders are quite think in the lawn and garden around our house. I’m not sure why we only see them this time of year but in the morning when there is dew on the ground we look out and see their webs all over. There must be three or four dozen of them in our backyard alone. This picture is looking down on the spider from directly overhead as she stood on her bejeweled web out in the grass in our backyard. This was in the evening, as the day cooled and the webs began to collect water droplets for the night.
It was a beautiful fall day today and I went up to the farm with Ralph, Tsai-Hong, Iris, and Seth. We had a great time just hanging out and enjoying the cool day and a nice fire where we cooked lunch. I took some pictures, of course, and this is one of them. Actually, when I saw the goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and noticed lots of small creatures on the flowers, I assumed they would be goldenrod soldier beetles (goldenrod soldier beetle). They were not. There were dozens of these pretty little moths, the ailanthus webworm (Atteva aurea).
In addition to quite a few photos of the ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) I’ve already posted (I posted them in the wrong order, but they are sorted by date and time taken, so this one shows up first, the other is here: Saturday, September 24, 2016 ), I saw this little grasshopper and managed to get a few good pictures. It is very well camouflaged and extremely difficult to see when it isn’t moving or if you haven’t kept good track of where it landed. This is one of the many short-horned grasshoppers (Family Acrididae) and is quite interesting to look at. I was also able to get a few shots in profile, which also turned out nicely. You have to get down in the grass more if you want to see these things, and seeing them is its own reward.
Don’t be alarmed. Although there isn’t anything to give you a sense of scale, I assure you that this is a tiny little spider, less than one centimeter in length. It’s pretty ferocious looking but it’s not going to attack you. There are a lot of spiders and even among the jumping spiders (Family Salticidae) there are a lot this could be. My suspicion is Platycryptus undatus but I’m no expert. I’ll report back here if someone from BugGuide.net can nail it down. As you might have guessed, the red background is the fender of our car. This was taken with the 100mm macro and 25mm extension tube, focused nearly all the way in.
Cathy and I were out in the back yard after work this evening. She noticed a dead cabbage white on the patio and I took a few pictures of that. They are hard to get close enough to when they are alive but they aren’t as interesting when dead, of course. Then I was lying in the grass and we were chatting as she pulled weeds when I noticed this cricket. I had my 100mm macro lens and a 25mm extension tube, along with a bean bag to set my camera on. I managed to get pretty close. At first I was only able to get the little fellow on the other side of a blade of grass but then he moved around and was looking at me. I’m fairly pleased with the results. I don’t know which of the many species of true crickets (family Gryllidae) this is, but I think it’s most likely a field cricket (subfamily Gryllinae).
As I was about to leave for work this morning I noticed this moth by the front door. I picked up my camera and took a dozen or so pictures before shooing it out the door and then leaving myself. It is an armyworm moth (Mythimna unipuncta) and I suspect I probably should have squashed it instead of letting it loose, but them’s the breaks, as they say. It’s a mid-sized moth, about 2cm long and looking at it up close it seems to be quite hairy. Note that the ‘hair’ on moths is really the same as the tiny scales on butterfly wings, only larger and more hair like. In both cases, the scales are made of chitin, which (to quote from Wikipedia), “is a long-chain polymer of an N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose, and is found in many places throughout the natural world. It is a characteristic component of the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans (e.g., crabs, lobsters and shrimps) and insects, the radulae of molluscs, and the beaks and internal shells of cephalopods, including squid and octopuses and on the scales and other soft tissues of fish and lissamphibians.”
Here’s another in my dead insect series, taken on the window sill of my office with the white balance then corrected to offset the blue cast given by the northern exposure of my window. This is an annual cicada, not one of the 13- or 17-year species. The most obvious distinction is that the periodical cicadas have bright red eyes. That eliminated about 5 species and leaves about 165 annual species (some of which actually spend two or three years in the larval stage). Anyway, I don’t know which of those this is and I’m unlikely to find out. I found it in the parking lot of my office when I got to work and I brought it in for a portrait.
After a hot week and an absolutely boiling day yesterday, today was wonderful. It made it up into the low to mid 80s and although my ideal outdoor temperature is more like 68°F, compared to nearly 100°F it felt cool by comparison. Cathy and I went out in the afternoon and had a nice walk in the woods. I found a few interesting things to photograph, including some flowers and a few different insects. This is a yellow-collared scape moth and it quite a pretty little thing, especially when seen against the bright yellow flowers of yellow ironweed (a.k.a. wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia).
I was out looking for things to photograph today and happened to see a small, pink moth. It was only about 9mm long and I managed to get some reasonable pictures of it. I believe it’s a Pyrausta inornatalis, although the literature doesn’t mention it being here in Maryland. I’ve posted a picture to BugGuide to check my identification. In the meantime, here’s one I can identify. While I was down on the ground photographing the moth, I noticed this little beetle. it’s about the same length as the moth, under 10mm in length (not counting its antenae) but quite brightly colored. As the title of this post says, this is a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata). This is a major pest of many field crops including cucumbers and other squashes, corn, and soy.
I took a few pictures in the yard this evening and figured one of them would have to suffice for the day’s picture. Then later in the evening, as I was leaving the church office after meeting with the guys I saw this Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) on my car door. So, I grabbed my camera (most people carry their camera with them all the time, right?) and fitted the flash so I could take some mantid portraits. I got some that show the entire insect but I particularly like this one, which clearly shows the three occeli (simple eyes) in the center of the head, along with the two compound eye that we normally associate with insects.
This is the same sort of spider I photographed just over two weeks ago (see Saturday, August 20, 2016) and may, for all I know, be the same exact spider. I was out this morning, not having to be at work because it’s Labor Day, and I saw her with the sun shining on her brightly. I got down on the dewy ground and set up my camera on a bean bag, fitted with the 100mm macro and a 25mm extension tube so I could get nice and close. This was taken at f/11.3 for 1/13 second and it isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but it’s not bad. This is one of the prettier spiders around and one I haven’t seen before a couple weeks ago.
Due to a workstation crash (from which I’m still recovering backed up data) I’m a week behind in posting here. This is the psot from last Thursday, September 1. It was a beautiful day and finally has cooled off considerably. The high today was in the mid 80s and it was wonderful. After work, Cathy and I took a walk in the woods near Lake Frank. I didn’t get a lot of pictures, but by the abandoned parking lot overlooking the lake, there were lots of thistles blooming. I like this picture and like it all the more for the moth that I didn’t see while I was taking the picture. It is an ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea), and even out of focus as it is, it is quite distinctive with its pattern of orange, black, and white.
This moth took a little stalking before I could get a good picture. When I first saw it and got a picture the shutter speed was too slow and the first two pictures were not very good. I upped the ISO to 2,000 and got this one at 1/60 second at f/5.7. It still isn’t as good as I’d like. I went inside to get my twin flash macro bracket but when I came back out the moth was nowhere to be found. I did get a few images of a tiny fly (in the Family Lauxaniidae) but I thought most of my followers would appreciate a moth rather than a fly.
I took more pictures of skippers today and fully expected that I’d post one of those here. But there were two variegated fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) flitting around the yard (does that make them flitillaries?). For the most part I couldn’t get very close to them but once, as I was standing quite still, one landed within range and I got a half dozen shots in before it left. Most of them were not at an ideal angle but this one and one other turned out pretty well. The skippers are there all the time, so getting pictures of them can wait.
It was getting on for dusk when we arrived at Laurie and Dave’s house this evening but we took a little time to enjoy their front garden with them before the light really started to drop. I took some nice pictures of anemone flowers (which I assume were Chinese anemone, Anemone hupehensis). Then just as we were about to go back inside the hummingbirds came buzzing around. There were two and they came quite close to us. I was able to get a reasonably good shot of a female ruby-throated hummingbird at 1/400 second at f/2.8 at an ISO rating of 1000.
I’m not entirely happy with this image, as it isn’t nearly as sharp as it could be. This is a smallish spider and I’m pretty sure it is a Gea heptagon, the only Gea species listed for USA in the world spider catalog. She’s one of the many orb weavers and I think the web is quite nice. This one was down in the grass on the edge of the garden and considering the number of small flying and jumping insects in our lawn, I suspect she does very well for herself. I’ll try to get back with some additional lighting and see if I can do better, but for now, this image will have to suffice to keep you looking over your shoulder (and around your ankles).
As you probably know, there were more honey bees in the United States in 2015 than at any time in the preceding 20 years. The numbers have gone down a little in 2016 but we’re still in good shape. The number one colony stressor is the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor). In spite of the severe losses to the mites and to Colony Collapse Disorder, more honey bee colonies are being produced and there is no real danger of losing the producer of one of natures most wonderful substances (honey).
I got some nice wasp pictures today (as well as some reasonable but not great butterfly pictures. This is a beewolf. There are 31 species of beewolf in our area and about 140 worldwide. Although they are called beewolves because they prey on bees, their genus, Philanthus, means flower lover (phil = lover, anthus = flower). I find this to be a beautiful little wasp, with its shiny, dimpled, black and yellow exoskeleton. I love watching these fly around the mountain mint. I’d really be excited to see one capture a bee or other wasp to use as a host for her eggs but I’ve never seen that with this species.
Cathy and I went out into the tidal march on the back side of Ocean Island late this morning. It was quite hot in the sun but it’s a cool place to be and I think we were both glad we did it. Hats and sunscreen were a must, though. I took a few pictures of a common egret (Ardea alba) and a few other birds. Mostly, though, we saw fiddler crabs. Hundreds of them. They would scurry away as we approached, disappearing quickly down their holes. If you stop moving for a while (sometimes a few minutes) they would come out again, as this one did. Of course I was lying down waiting for this one. It made it easier to be still but I ended up all covered with sand. This is an Atlantic sand fiddler crab (Uca pugilator).
I’ve already posted a picture for today and I don’t doubt that it will be the more popular of the two, but I wanted to post this one because it’s a new beetle to me. I’m sure I’ve seen them before, as they are fairly plentiful on the beaches of North Carolina, but I either hadn’t noticed them or never bothered to get close enough to take a picture. This is an eastern beach tiger beetle, Habroscelimorpha dorsalis, and it’s a lovely little thing, even if not the most colorful insect around. They skittered away as Cathy and I walked out to the eastern end of the island this afternoon and this time I stopped, moved in slowly, and bent down to get a few good pictures.
In yesterday’s post I talked about going in the woods to the west of my office and that there is a boggy area. There is also a very old road bed that runs through the woods and at the south end of that, just before you reach the stream that runs betweem my building and the rest of the campus, there is a small, shallow pond. It is silting up but there is still a foot or two of water in it much of the time. It rained quite hard last nught so the water was high today (including in the creek, which I had a hard time crossing). I found a reasonably dry place to sit and took pictures of dragonflies for about half an hour. This is a Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis (thanks, Brady, for the identification, these dragonflies are too much for me), and a handsome thing he is, too.
With apologies to James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), I present Dem Bones. In this case, they are (I assume) deer bones that I came across in the woods behind my office building. While yesterday’s picture was taken in the large lot north of my building, these were in a narrow piece of bottom land along a stream, to the west. I go down there now and then but much of the time it’s too we to walk through. With the heat we’ve been having I expected it to be dry but no such luck. It was mostly a boggy mess. These were just up hill from that and are probably the remains of a deer that was struck by a car but not killed immediately. It managed to get into the woods before succumbing to its injuries. Of course, that’s only conjecture. But there are the bones, regardless.
I went out into the woods beside my building today. When I started working here this property (actually, three separate parcels totaling about 17 acres) was mostly a field with occasional trees. Even as recently as 2011, when I started taking a picture a day for my initial Project 365, there were more open areas than what I’d consider woods. Over the course of the last five years it’s really grown up into a young woodland. I came across a Micrathena spider today but had a hard time getting any pictures and none of them were particularly good. Then I saw this little lady beetle (commonly known as a lady bird or lady bug) and was happy to be able to get a few good pictures of it. I’m pretty sure this is a multicolored Asian lady beetle and that’s what I’ve put in the title. I’ll make a correction here if I discover he’s something else.
Just over a month ago (June 24, 2016) I posted a picture of a dead wasp that I found on the floor of my office hallway. I liked the fact that I could get very close and use a long exposure (because it wasn’t alive and trying to get away from me) to get more depth of field than is usually possible with a live wasp. Today I was walking back from a meeting in another building and saw this dead bumble bee on the path. So, naturally (we’ve all done this, right?) I picked it up and brought it back to my office to get the ‘dead bee treatment.’ This exposure was 0.8 seconds at f/32.
The buddleia is blooming and is attracting the fluttery insects in fairly substantial numbers. The most obvious, if not the most numerous, would have to be the eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). There is generally at least one and on occasion two or three on the little bush at any time. There are also lots of bees, of course and the carpenter and bumble bees seem particularly attracted. I saw a hummingbird the other day and we’ve seen the occasional sphinx moth from our kitchen window. A happy time of year for viewing insects.
I went out to photograph insects again this afternoon. It was hot out, but that’s when the bees, wasps, butterflies, and dragonflies are at their busy best. The first thing I saw was a four-toothed mason wasp (Monobia quadridens), a mostly black beast with very distinctive ivory markings. There was also a dragonfly out in the yard, which Brady identified for me as a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). But my favorite bee for the day is this sculptured resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis), which I think is quite pretty, in a stinging-insect sort of way. It is native to east Asia and was first reported in North Carolina in June, 1994 but has subsequently spread over the entire eastern half of the continental United States.
The bees and wasps are out in force and if it were not so hot, I’d be spending more time photographing them. I did go out a little early this evening and got a few pictures, including this one of a female eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). This was taken with available light, so it’s not as sharp as and has less depth of field than I’d like, but it’s not a bad picture. You can see the bee’s dorsal ocelli, the three simple (single lens) eyes in the center of her face, just above the two antennae. I happen to think that bees and many insects are among the most beautiful creatures in the world. Of course, the same can be said for fish, birds, mammals, and other classes, so maybe I just like animals. And plants.
We were over at Cathy’s mom’s this evening, doing a few things. Cathy planted some annuals in the pots on her driveway and I replaced the two buttons for her doorbell, neither of which was working. While Cathy finished up with the plants and before we went out for dinner, I took some pictures. While I was near the Nandina domestica (sometimes called heavenly bamboo for reasons that seem a bit tenuous to me) a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens, a common eastern bumble bee) came around, testing the flowers. This isn’t the sharpest picture of a bumble bee I’ve gotten but it’s the best of what I got on this occasion. I suspect there will be more bee and wasp pictures coming here in the weeks ahead. It’s that time of year.
I found this wasp on the hall floor of my office building and thought I’d take a closer look. It’s covered with dust but I photographed it pretty much as-is. I think perhaps it is a blue mud wasp (Chalybion californicum) which is a widespread species in North America. It is a beautiful, metallic blue color with hints of green, as well. Since the larvae feed on spiders, most people would consider it a beneficial insect, although spiders in their turn feed on other insects and are beneficial themselves.
I’d say that there are a lot of rabbits in our neighborhood but that would be understating it by considerable. This is an eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), one of the most common rabbit species in North America. According to AnimalDiversity.org it “has the widest distribution of any Sylvilagus. It is found from southern Manitoba and Quebec to Central and northwestern South America. In the contiguous United States, the eastern cottontail ranges from the east to the Great Plains in the west.” I came out the front door this evening with my camera just as Cathy got home. There were three rabbits in our front yard. We went for a walk and saw more. When we got home, there were not only three in the front yard but a couple in the back.
These are varied carpet beetles (Anthrenus verbasci) on some sort of wild parsnip relative (similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, but not that). These little beetles, measuring only about 3mm in length, are often found indoors and eat stored food products (e.g., biscuits, cakes, seeds, wheat, maize, oats, rice, cayenne pepper, cacao, and dried cheese). They also are considered to be the world’s most important pest of insect collections. The adults feed on pollen, and that’s what these little fellows (or ladies, I really don’t know) are up to.
We had a great day being out and about. It was nice to have Cathy’s brother, Jim here and we went to Rocklands Farm for a while. We enjoyed seeing the animals, including three-day-old piglets and lots of chickens. I got a great picture of Dorothy holding an iridescent, black chicken, probably a Black Australorp. We also relaxed a while in the barn and sampled a few wines and enjoyed some cheese. From the farm we went to Riley’s Lock on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, where Seneca Creek empties into the Potomac River. As we were heading back to the car we saw this dragonfly eating lunch. I don’t know what it is, for sure, but it is similar (at least to this untrained eye) to a cobra clubtail (Gomphus vastus).
From there we drove down to between Great Falls and Carderock and walked to the river near Hermit Island. This is along the Billy Goat Trail, Section B, but we didn’t actually go around the loop, just walking out to the river and back. On the way out we saw this eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) curled up beside a tree. I was able to get pretty close without spooking it and got what I think is a pretty nice portrait. After I got up the snake slithered into an opening in the tree and disappeared from sight. Not everyone’s favorite critter, I understand, but kind of elegant in its own way, I believe.
On Thursday, May 24, 2012 I posted a picture of a four-lined plant bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus). That was an adult of the species. This is the same thing (not the same one) but in its nymphal (i.e. immature) stage. The four-lined plant bug is a pest of both ornamental and crop plants, especially preferring members of the mint family. In our yard, they seem to be most attracted to the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.) but will feed on many other things, as well. They don’t do terrible harm but they disfigure the plants fairly severely and I will probably spray for them when the weather clears up a bit.
I’m pretty pleased with this picture, as these things are on the small side. This was taken with a 100mm macro lens focused as close as it would go and with an additional 25mm of extension added. It was lit by two small slave flashes that were sitting on the ground on either side of the camera and controlled by the on-camera flash, allowing the photograph to be taken at 1/160 of a second at f/16.
This morning I took some pictures of a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) at the birdbath. This evening, when I got home from work, there was an American robin (Turdus migratorius) there and I took its picture, as well. In both cases, the picture is through our kitchen door, with its two panes of glass, so it isn’t nearly as sharp as I’d like. Still, it’s not a bad portrait of this fairly gregarious little fellow. The robins are our companions through the winter in these parts and we are happy to have them looking for worms, eating berries off the holly trees, and washing in the birdbath throughout the year.
I was working outdoors early this evening and happened to swat a gnat. Generally gnats are a minor pest, annoying but not really a serious problem. This evening when I swatted it, I thought, hey, I could look at this under the microscope. That might be interesting. Of course, this is a transmitted light microscope rather than a reflected or incident light microscope, so it’s really only useful for looking at transparent or partially transparent items (or silhouettes). So, I decided to look at the wings. This is one of the two pairs of wings from the gnat, somewhat damaged by being disconnected from the body. The antennae were also kind of interesting, but I decided to go with the wings here.
Cathy called me this morning and said I should get my camera and come upstairs. The fox was back in our yard and was sitting in a spot of sunlight next to an azalea bush. By the time I got there, the fox had moved into the shade, into a hole where a tree used to be (when the tree roots rotted out, it left the hole and we’ve never bothered to fill it in. Shortly after I got there, the fox got up, walked through the sunlit spot again and back into the bushes at the back of the yard. I was able to get two quick shots through the somewhat dirty upstairs window before he was gone. So, it isn’t a great picture but it’s all I could get. Also, I think most folks who didn’t appreciate the deer tick picture yesterday will be more pleased with this one, even if it isn’t so sharp.
I know there are some of you who will not like this picture in the least. It is the head of the dreaded deer tick (Ixodes scapularis, the only known vector of Lyme disease. Cathy found this one in the back of her neck this morning and asked me to get it off. The tick came out cleanly but you can see here why they can be a little tough to get out. The proboscis (the tubular, sucking mouth) is not a smooth straw-like structure, but is quite well designed to stay in the skin when pulled upon. It had only been in her neck since yesterday, so there was no real chance of her getting Lyme from this one. Anyway, I put it under the microscope and took a look. Nasty.
Considering how often I’m complemented on identification of insects and flowers, I really should learn to identify these a bit better. This is a white, but I really don’t know for sure which one. It’s possible that it’s a cabbage white (Pieris rapae) with the black spot on the forewing hidden by the hindwing. My guess, though, is that it’s a West Virginia white (P. virginiensis). But that’s a guess. We’ll see if the experts at BugGuide.net can tell me for sure. The daffodil I’m sure of, however. It is a variety called ‘Actaea’, a poeticus daffodil (division 9), planted in the late fall of 2009.
It was another beautiful day today, cool but quite nice out. So, Cathy and I went for a walk hoping to see one or both of the bald eagles nesting not too far from our house. We had a nice walk and were rewarded with a pretty nice view of them. First we saw one flying towards us and landing in a tree just ahead. I was able to get some pictures of that one through the branches of the intervening trees. Then it flew back to the nest. I watched for a while and then saw both eagles on the nest. Finally, the other eagle got up and left, flying fairly close, landing on a dead tree about 50 yards away from us. This picture of the eagle slowing for its landing is still a little less sharp than I’d like but I’m fairly pleased with it, nonetheless.
This was in our powder room sink this morning and so naturally I took it’s picture. I posted a picture of one of these back on Wednesday, April 09, 2014 but I was able to get quite a bit closer this time. This is the head end and you can see the two black, compound eyes and the bases of the two antennae. As I mentioned last time, as much as most people would probably not be glad for these things around their house, they feed on cockroach nymphs, flies, moths, bedbugs, crickets, silverfish, earwigs, and small spiders. So, on balance, not bad house guests, really.
We went for a walk in the park around Lake Frank today. The ground is still quite wet and the trails are very muddy so we stuck to the paved sections, going from the abandoned parking lot to the dam and back. We saw quite a few birds, including Canada geese (Branta canadensis), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis), tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor), an eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) and a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I got some very poor pictures of most of them and two pictures, slightly better than the rest, of this white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
Our parrot, Solomon, has had his picture posted here a number of times. He is a red-lored amazon (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis), born in captivity in southern California. His ancestors came from the tropical forests of eastern Mexico. This is a close up of one of his flight feathers (technically known as remiges, from the Latin for “oarsman”). You can see the tiny barbules which interlock with each other to hold the barbs together. This photo, which covers an area about 4.5 by 3 millimeters, shows the region where the red fades into a small amount of green before transitioning again to black.
In mid-November I bought some fish for a 70 gallon take that we have in our breakfast room. I posted pictures of a Red Dwarf Gourami (Trichogaster lalius, Monday, November 23, 2015) and of a Green and Gold Cory Cat (Corydoras melanotaenia, Monday, November 30, 2015). Here is another fish that I got at the same time. This is a Koi Angel. There are three recognized species of freshwater angelfish. In the aquarium trade, Pterophyllum scalare is the most common and most of the varieties that are available are derived from that species. I think it’s pretty obvious where the common name for this variety comes from, having been bred to have the sort of markings usually associated with koi, ornamental varieties of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio).
Cathy and I went for a walk late this morning (and into the early afternoon) and really enjoyed the warmer weather. It was quite pleasant out, although very humid. The ground was pretty muddy and I admit I wore the wrong shoes for a walk in the woods. Early on we saw a small herd of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and I got a few pictures of them.
A little later Cathy said she had heard that there was an eagle nest nearby so we walked to the lake and found it. At first we could see the nest but not any birds. After a while, however, they stood up and we could see both adult bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
at about 150 yards, even with my 70-300mm zoom lens all the way out, I had to crop these to help you see the birds. In consequence, the pictures are fairly grainy (or more precisely noisy). But they are plenty clear enough to be able to identify the eagles. Naturally we were fairly excited. When one of the two birds took off, I was able to get a few pictures of it flying, although I had to pan across some intervening trees, which made it a bit harder. The bird is moving along the opposite shore, which angled toward us slightly, so he was not quite so far away now.
By the time the eagle landed it was just over 100 yards away. That’s still a long way for a 300mm lens, but the third picture here, of the adult bald eagle on a branch, is pretty nice, I think. I suppose we could have hoped for more, like a brilliant blue sky in the background, but we actually liked seeing the mist on the water, caused by the humid air condensing over the still frozen lake. It was quite beautiful. So, I was especially blessed today, to see both a red fox in our yard and two nesting bald eagles.
Note: This post was originally posted with the date set to February 22. These photos were taken on Sunday the 21st.
I mentioned a few days ago that we saw the fox in our yard again. Well, she was back this morning and I was able to get a few pictures of her before she wandered off. The pictures were taken through two panes of glass (regular window and storm window) so it’s a bit fuzzy but it isn’t terrible. Cathy saw a mangy fox in our yard a few years ago but this fox looks quite healthy, which is encouraging. Except for the big snow and a few cool days, it has been a reasonably mild winter so far, which I suppose makes life a little easier on the foxes and other woodland creatures.
Cathy and I were at her mom’s house today, doing various things around the house and in the yard. One thing was to cut up a largish branch that had come down in the minor snow storm we had on Monday. While I was out in the yard, I heard a hawk cry as it circled overhead.
When it landed in a tree in the back yard, I hurried to the car, put my 70-300mm zoom lens on my camera and managed to get five images before it took off again. The full frame images were horizontally oriented and this image is cropped from that, so it’s considerably less than the full frame, which accounts for softness of the image.
Brother George confirmed my identification of this as a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) and went on to say that it was a first-year juvenile. For those of you who make comments to me about my labeling of plants and animals, I want you to know that in general I get expert advice before labeling any bird picture (with a few easy exceptions). In the past that often meant dad and Albert. Now that all falls to George.
We continue to have a wide variety of birds (and small mammals) at our birdbath. They are also being drawn by the seed that we put out. Early this afternoon I photographed a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), an American robin (Turdus migratorius), a few house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus), mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), and two northern flickers (Colaptes auratus). Present in the yard but not photographed were at least three blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), a lot of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), and the ubiquitous house sparrow (Passer domesticus). I decided to post this picture of a flicker, because they are the species I see at the bird bath the least often.
Last week I posted a picture of a junco in this same spot. Before that I posted a picture of a song sparrow on the bird bath, which is just out of this picture to the left. As I mentioned when I posted the junco picture, I put some leftover seed out on the patio and that’s been attracting the birds and squirrels. This morning, in addition to the juncos and sparrows (both song and house), there were cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, and in the tree just into the yard, a downy woodpecker. Quite a little circus. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the more brightly colored male cardinal, but this is a pretty little thing, too.
We had some extra bird seed for Solomon that was starting to go bad. I ordered another bag and when it arrived, I put the old seed out back for whatever birds and squirrels wanted to eat it. Mostly the squirrels came but this morning there were a few dark-eyed juncos on the patio. They are cute little birds and quite common here this time of year. The large power cord behind the bird in this picture is the power to the bird bath de-icer.
We had one of our family birthday evenings today and it was very good to see everyone, have dinner, and then just hang out together. There were two dogs there, D’Argo and Bean. Luna didn’t come because she’d have had the other two for dinner, but these two get along well enough. I took a few pictures of everyone, as I usually do, but I thought I’d post this one of D’Argo, Steve and Maya’s corgi.
He’s been featured here before, back on September 01, 2013. This one was taken with the camera held down at my side while sitting on a chair, but it turned out reasonably well.
I walked over to the next building early this afternoon for a meeting that turned out to have been cancelled. That’s life. It did give me a chance to be outside, though, and that’s usually not a bad thing. It was quite chilly today with a fairly strong wind coming out of the northwest. As I walked back to my building, though, I noticed this wasp nest up in a tree. It’s coming apart, as you can see, but still quite interesting.
Better known simply as Solomon, our pet parrot turns 30 this month (more or less). We’ve had him since October, 1986, when he was something like nine months old so we consider his birthday sometime in January or that year. Hard to believe so many years have gone by. Solomon was born in California, lived with us in Alaska for about a year, then flew to Chicago to live with Cathy’s brother for a few years (and boy, where his wings tired). Sometime after our trip around the world in 1988, he came to live with us in Maryland and he’s been here ever since, first in our apartment in Gaithersburg, then in our first house and now in this house in Rockville. Happy birthday, you old bird, you.
After the snow we had Friday evening through late last night, you were probably expecting me to post another snow picture for today. The snow was 25 or 26 inches deeps in our yard (depending on where we measured and avoiding obvious drifts). That’s a pretty good snowfall for here and I’m getting old enough that a snow blower is starting to look very attractive. Still, we got dug out and went for a walk (well, we went for a walk yesterday while it was snowing, so, what would you expect?). On the way back, I hear this flock of geese calling as they flew overhead. The sky was beautiful all day today, an intense blue with occasional (but friendly) clouds.
I had occasion to walk over to the other building about midday today. On the way back to my office I noticed a heron down in the stream below the path. I had my camera bag with me so I was able to get some pictures. I set my bag down, switched to my longer lens and headed into the woods below the path. As I was taking them I heard an exasperated voice from the path, which said, “where in the world is your jacket?” It was a bit cool out today and if I had known I’d be stopping to take pictures I would have preferred to have a sweater on, or at least gloves, but I survived. I think this picture was worth it.
Last week I posted a picture of one of the new fish I got for a tank that’s in our breakfast room. That was a red dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius). Today’s picture is another fish, bought at the same time and for the same tank. This is one of three green and gold corydoras catfish (Corydoras melanotaenia) that I bought. The cory cats, as they are called, are in the Corydoradinae subfamily, the armored catfish, and are native to South America. They quickly ate the algae that had accumulated in the tank as I was getting it ready for the fish. Now I feed them algae wafers. They are peaceful little things and a bit shy, but a nice addition to the tank.
I got a few new fish this week, including this red dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius). The dwarf gourami is native to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh but are quite common aquarium fish. I’m pretty sure I remember dad saying that he bred them, back in the day. In addition to this fish (actually, I got two of them), I have three green and gold cory cats (Corydoras melanotaenia), white fin rosy tetras (Hyphessobrycon rosaceus), brilliant rasboras (Rasbora einthovenii), and a Koi Angel (Pterophyllum scalare).
Today we get a photo of some of our less desirable creature friends. These things suck. I mean, literally, they suck the juice out of plant stems, sometimes causing serious damage to the plant. In this case, there are few enough of them and it’s late enough in the year that they are not going to cause serious problems for this rose. It’s a large and very robust rose that was nearly killed by the last two winters, which were very hard on roses generally. But it’s coming back and unless this winter is equally bad, should be in reasonable shape by the end of next year. It is growing on a trellis on the south end of the house and the rose can cover the entire thing (which is pretty substantial).
I went out into the back yard again after work today and at first was thinking I wouldn’t see anything interesting to photograph. Then I noticed this little pearl crescent butterfly sitting on the seed head of a black-eyed Susan under our dining room window. He allowed me to get quite close and I took a lot of pictures but only a few where his wings were open. He would open his wings but as soon as my camera got very close, they would close up again. This is one of only three that I got showing the tops of his wings.
I happened to walk into the kitchen late this morning and look out the back door. Right in front of me, smack dab in the middle of the yard, was this young fox. I don’t know that it’s young, actually, but it was definitely smaller than the two we had in the yard February, March, and June of 2014. Mostly it was just sitting there scratching itself. Twice it stopped and looked right at me and both times I felt like it was saying, are you going to chase me off, or not? Both times it decided I was not and went back to scratching. Even in this picture, you can see its hind leg is slightly raised, about to start up again.
I had just returned from the grocery store and Cathy was in the front yard weeding. She called in to say that there was a largish dragonfly on the Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) by the driveway. I grabbed my camera, slapped on the macro lens and was able to get a half dozen photographs before he flew away. This is a male shadow darner (Aeshna umbrosa), identified by my sister-in-law with that confirmed later by bugguide.net.
I went out into the empty lot next to my building today. It’s getting fairly deeply overgrown and it’s harder to make my way through it. I did find a few pathways, probably made by deer, and that helped a bit. I came across this little grasshopper and was able to get close enough for a few photographs. I cannot say more than that I believe it is in family Acrididae. That narrows it down to about 620 species in North America (and 8,000 worldwide) and I’m not even 100% sure of that. So, we’ll just call it a grasshopper, shall we?
I took pictures today of a bumble bee, a carpenter bee, and a spider. I’ve posted pictures of all three this summer, so whatever I post, it’s going to be a repeat. While some like my spider pictures, they tend to be a little less popular for some reason, so I decided to go with the bumble bee. One of the characteristics that allows you to distinguish the bumble bee from the carpenter bee is the presence or absence of hairs on the abdomen. You can see them fairly clearly in this picture. A bald or nearly bald abdomen (the rear-most section of an insect—head, thorax, and abdomen) mean carpenter bee. Harry means bumble bee. They are actually quite different in terms of their eyes, as well, and the male carpenter bee has a big white patch on his face.
As a kid we knew anything that looked at all like one of these as roly-poly bugs or potato bugs. The more proper roly-poly, the pillbugs in family Armadillidiidae, are also known colloquially as armadillo bugs. They are mostly not native to North America but are fairly common, now. This is a common striped woodlouse, Philoscia muscorum, a genus and species also introduced from Europe. I was actually on the ground photographing a persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that had fallen from a tree, when this little fellow started crawling up onto the fruit. Compared to other woodlice, this is a speedy little thing and I kept having to turn him around so he wouldn’t get away. I didn’t bother him for long, though, and he went on his merry way.
Late in the summer, spider webs start to appear in pretty great numbers in the ground cover throughout our yard. For the most part, the spiders themselves are not seen, but once in a while, if you are patient, they will come out. This appears to be one of the funnel weavers or possibly a grass spider from the family Agelenidaea. It’s a largish spider and fairly menacing looking from the front. Their webs are horizontal and have a small funnel-like tube off to one side. They retreat into this ‘den’ when startled.
It was only last week, on September 11, 2015, that I posted a picture of a thread-waisted wasp in the genus Ammophila. Generally I try to avoid pictures of the same type of animal or plant in the same year. Sometimes they are different enough, like the nymphs and adult large milkweed bug pictures, posted on August 29, 2015 and earlier today. Nevertheless, I’m posting this because I think it’s a cool picture and it lets you see this wasp from a different angle. Besides, this is my blog and I can do what I want. If you don’t like it, no one is forcing you to come here and see my pictures. One of my favorite things about this picture is the pollen that is all over the wasps thorax.
On August 29, 2015 I posted a picture of nymphs of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). They quickly grow into adults, like this one. They are mostly gone now, off to wherever adult milkweed bugs go. I think they are really cool looking. I especially like that you can see one of its three simple eyes (the red dot above the larger, compound eye). Many insects have them, but usually we don’t get close enough to see them very well.
There were a lot of birds in the back yard this morning, coming down to the bird bath on the edge of our patio. They often fly to the lower branches of the nearest maple tree first, and then fly down to the edge of the bath. The goldfinches often land on a metal pole, even closer. Then there are the catbirds (grey catbirds, to be precise, Dumetella carolinensis). They land in and around the potted plants and often perch on this leaning garden ornament (which doesn’t light up any more, but we haven’t gotten around to removing it). I especially like watching the way birds stand on sloping and moving objects, with a sophisticated auto-balancing system that works wonderfully to keep them upright with little or no effort.
I’ve found a way to get a bit closer in. This photo of an eastern tailed-blue turned out nicely. It was bopping from flower to flower and let me get quite near, which was unusual, and I got a couple pretty clear shots. It’s a pretty little thing and the upper side of its wings are a lovely, metallic blue with the same orange spots, which are quite striking against that blue. But I wasn’t able to get any pictures with its wings open. Maybe next time.
This is one of a few species of Ammophila (the thread-waisted wasps), probably (but by no means certainly) Ammophila nigricans or Ammophila procera. They are difficult to identify, particularly from photographs and in this case, my photographs don’t show some of the distinguishing characteristics. In any case, this is one of only a few I’ve seen this summer. The wings are hiding the long, thread-like petiole, but it’s quite distinctive. I managed to get three decent pictures of this one before she flew away (I’m guessing on the sex—the orange is paler on the males but without them being side by side, it’s not always easy to tell).
I hope you aren’t too tired of insect photographs. It won’t be long and they will be a lot harder to find, so my photography will shift into autumnal mode, with colored leaves and such. For now, the insects are still going string. We were supposed to have heavy rain today and in Annapolis they got nearly 3¾″. We got enough to make the ground wet, but not under trees.
This is a common green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), also known as a sheep blow fly. While the larvae feed on flesh, they only eat partially decomposed tissue. They have actually been used to clean wounds, eating the necrotic tissue and leaving healthy tissue alone.
I came across a little stink bug this evening. It isn’t the “dreaded” brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) that made such a stink the last few years (if you’ll pardon the expression). The genus consists of about 20 species in our area and the darkish spot at the center of the scutellum (the triangular bit in the center of its back) and less obvious dark patches on the wings (not really visible in this angle) are distinguishing to the genus. It’s a little fellow and it was climbing around close to the ground on the leaves of blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum).
I took some wasp pictures this evening. I didn’t get anything spectacular, but since I don’t want to miss posting a picture for today, I have to post a less than perfect one. This is one of a few species of Augochlorella, a genus of sweat bees (family Halictidae). It’s a fairly small bee, as you can see by comparing its size to the central part of the black-eyed Susan on which it is feeding. I was only able to get two shots of it before it flew off and neither is really as sharp as I’d have liked.
It was a beautiful, if somewhat hot day. Summer has not really abated at all and it continues to be very dry. We thought it would be a nice day to visit the demonstration garden at the county’s agricultural farm park, so that’s what we did. It won’t come as any great surprise that I brought my camera and spent much of my time photographing both flowers and insects. The first of two images that I’m posting is of a variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), a smallish fritillary and one that is difficult to get close to, but I managed to get two pretty good shots of it with wings spread.
I’ve already posted the picture of the variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) taken at the demonstration garden at the county’s agricultural farm park. This picture won’t be so popular, because everyone loves butterflies, but I thought it was a pretty enough beetle to deserve a shot at fame. Actually, the locust borer (Megacyllene robiniae) is a pretty significant pest. The larvae live in and eat the wood from black locust trees. The adults eat pollen, particularly from goldenrod (Solidago species). This one is worn. The yellow bands that usually go all the way across the back of the thorax have been rubbed off in the middle. Most of the yellow on the abdomen is gone, as well. Still, it’s a handsome and distinctive horned beetle.
The autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) has started to bloom. This is a plant that Cathy dug up (with permission) from someone’s yard and planted. It’s finally reached a size that we need to keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t get out of control. It’s growing on the fence and over top of one of the many buddleia bushes that have come up in our yard. This particular buddleia was actually planted but it’s a good location for the clematis, as well. The new flowers attract new insects. This one appears to be a yellow-collared scape moth (Cisseps fulvicollis).
Cathy and I took a walk this evening, heading from our neighborhood park down Manor Run (the creek that runs through) to Sunfish Pond and eventually to North Branch Rock Creek. It was a pleasant evening, quite warm but nice out. There is quite a bit of yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) all through the woods and it seems quite happy, although even that is starting to notice the lack of rain. August was fairly dry, even for August and we haven’t had any rain in September so far. We really could use a nice, long, soaking rain.
We looped around and came up to Sunfish Pond via a different route. As we looked over the pond, a pair of green herons (Butorides virescens) took off and flew in a big loop around the pond, finally coming to rest at the far end. This one was on a fallen tree and the other was on a branch, a bit further away. I only had my 100mm lens, unfortunately, so this is cropped from the best picture I was able to get. A handsome bird.
I enjoy macro photography, partly because I enjoy small things. I like photographing insects because I find them so fascinating. Their small size and relative mobility makes them something of a challenge, of course. As I increase my skill at capturing them, the challenges continue to appear. As I get to the point where I believe I am able to photograph a bee or a butterfly quite handsomely, there are ever small and quicker insects that are just out of my reach. Take this little leaf hopper (Tylozygus bifidus). It is only about 5mm long and with my current set up, using a 100 mm lens that focuses to 1:1, I’m just not able to get close enough. There’s always something smaller, always another challenge.
The bumble bees and the carpenter bees look a bit alike, both being fairly large and a combination of black and yellow or orange. The bumble bees are in a separate subfamily from the carpenter bees, being in the subfamily Apinae along with the honey, Long-horned, Orchid, and Digger Bees. This one is considerably smaller than the carpenter bee I posted a photo of recently, probably being at most about two centimeters long.
Generally, I’m not very partial to insects that eat plants that I like. There are levels of dislike, of course. Those that simply suck on the sap aren’t as bad as those that eat leaves and stems which in turn are less of a problem than those that bore into plants, particularly woody plants. Still, they can be bad enough. This is particularly true early in the season, when even sucking insects can seriously stunt the growth of plants and prevent them from blooming. Blooms, after all, are why we grow many of these pants.
The large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is somewhere in the middle of this continuum. It doesn’t do significant damage to the plant on which it feeds, either in its nymphal or adult stage. It eats the seeds of milkweed plants. In this case, these large milkweed bugs are on Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed). They do cause damage, of course, because the eaten seeds will reduce the amount of self-seeding that the plants can do. But they don’t do any real harm to the plants themselves, which are fairly tough perennials. So, I let these alone. They are quite pretty, anyway.
It’s wings are in pretty bad shape, at this point but they seem to be over-engineered enough that it didn’t seem to have any trouble flying with them. This is a less common butterfly than the eastern tiger-swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) and even the monarchs (Danaus plexippus) that we see most often. It was moving between the black-eyed Susans and the buddleia. It’s a pretty butterfly, even with much of its hind wings missing. The orange spots are quite vivid and the pattern is unmistakable. Both sides of the wings, but in particular the upper surfaces (not seen here) show a decidedly iridescent blue color in bright sunlight. In certain light it can appear purple, which accounts for the common name, but red-spotted blue might be a more obvious name.
The bumble and carpenter bees were thick this afternoon. One nice thing about them is that they are much more slow moving than most of the other bees that are about and they allow me to get pretty much as close as my lens will focus. The fact that they are so large means that I can fill the frame with a bee and not need to crop it at all. This one turned out pretty well. The white face indicates that this is a male.
Almost two weeks ago, on August 13, I posted two pictures, one of which was of a basilica orbweaver spider (Mecynogea lemniscata). A few people on Facebook couldn’t actually make out what it was (and those who could were generally not excited by the picture, in any case). Well, today’s picture should be easier to identify (if not to actually appreciate). This is an orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta). They are not as closely related as I would have guessed, belonging to different families: the basilica orbweaver is a member of family Araneidae (Orb Weavers) while the orchard orbweaver is in family Tetragnathidae (Long-jawed Orb Weavers). This one was moving from the center of her web up into the relative protection of some leaves, because I got a bit too close.
There were a bunch of American goldfinches in the back yard this morning. I wouldn’t say there was a flock of them, but there were more than two. I would say “a family” but I have no idea if they were related in any way. I’m not nearly the birder that my brothers are, but I’m going to say that the bird higher up in this picture is a female rather than an immature bird. There is another, lower down, that I know is a male. They were, as you can see, in the black-eyed Susans, just on the edge of our patio, so fairly close. This was taken through the glass, kitchen door, though, which accounts for some of the softness in the image.
I went up to Pennsylvania with mom and Seth today. We spent a little while doing what amounts to heavy yard work but took a little time to relax and enjoy the quiet, as well. It was hot, particularly out in the sun, but otherwise a beautiful day. Before we left, I wandered off with my camera for a bit and chased little butterflies as they moved from flower to flower. They often have their wings folded when they are on flowers, but I wanted to get a picture with them open. Typically they will open and shut them at somewhat regular intervals and I managed to capture them mostly open in this picture.
Update: I originally titled this post “Fritillary” but that was wrong. It is a “Crescent,” probably a pearl crescent or something similar.
I was trying to see how close I could get to the tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) today. This one let me get pretty close and you can see the hairs on her body. I have a question for any botanist out there who happens to come across this page. It is my understanding that one of the three characteristics unique to mammals is hair. If that’s the case, then what are the hair like things on this butterfly? Is there some definition of “hair” that lets it include mammal hair but not the apparent hair on other animals? If so, please let me know.
This is one of the many (3,500 species worldwide, with 180 occurring north of Mexico) orbweaver spiders. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but a picture I got of her back shows me pretty conclusively that this is a Basilica Orbweaver (Mecynogea lemniscata). I came upon it in the woods next to my office. Fortunately I saw the web before I walked into it. I hate it when that happens, especially with spiders as large as this.
I was following this pretty, little butterfly around the back yard, trying to get close enough for a decent picture. When it finally let me get close enough, I got a bonus in the form of a small (but unidentified) spider. I’m pretty pleased with how this pictures turned out, although getting the spider in better focus would have been nice. This is one of a few hairstreaks that we see fairly often in the area, and is probably the most common.
So, two days in a row with two pictures posted for the day. Crazy. Of course, I don’t think anyone actually reads what I write. Most people see my pictures on Instagram or Facebook, which is fine, but they don’t see the text there, just a link to it here. I’d be surprised if anyone actually follows that link. If you do, and if you are reading this, well, thank you very much (and I’d be delighted if you let me know). Today’s second picture is a feather from a blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata). While the darkness of the woods made getting a clear picture of the butterfly difficult, it made the color in this feather all the more beautiful.
Cathy and I took a walk along Rock Creek between Lake Frank and where the creek goes under Muncaster Mill Road today. It was late in the afternoon and the light wasn’t very bright under the trees so this is the best I could do getting a picture of this butterfly, a southern pearly eye (Lethe portlandia). It’s a pretty little thing, flitting about around puddles in the dirt path.
I was out with my dual-flash macro bracket this afternoon and I got a few reasonably good pictures, including this katydid wasp (Sphex nudus). I got some more of the transverse flower fly (Eristalis transversa) featured in my post on Friday, July 31, 2015. I’m still trying to figure out how to control the light properly from the three flash heads (the on-camera flash and the two wireless slaves). In certain situations it seems to produce an overexposure no matter what I do. It seems to be related to how much dark background there is in the frame, which sort of makes sense. Always learning.
This is a female eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), by far the most common large butterfly that we have in our garden. The males and females are easily distinguished by the blue on their hindwings, as seen in this photo.
There was a little delay in getting this picture up on my server. I’ve been approaching capacity on the 3TB drive (which is really only 2.7TB) that has most of my photos on it and as I was uploading today’s batch of photos, I reached it. I ordered a new, 5TB drive (which is really only 4.4 TB). I installed it on Monday (8/10) and then spent about 24 hours copying everything to that. It’s now up and running (as I write this on 8/12) and I’m back in business.
This is one of the larger skippers and is quite conspicuous because of the bright, white streak on the hind wings, visible when it is at rest. It is a harder thing to get a picture of than the smaller skippers, being more shy to being approached. Even this picture isn’t everything I could have wanted, but I suppose it’s good enough. The bees on the mountain mint, all around where I was standing when I took this, were quite thick. I wish I could take a picture to show you how many of them there are, but to show the whole area, I need to get far enough away that the bees are too small. It’s the motion that I really love.
I have a feeling this isn’t going to be as popular a picture as some. Even the picture of the fly I posted recently (Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly) was popular because in spite of it being a fly, it’s a beautiful fly. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are pretty much universally disliked, however they look. I haven’t done much with identification of mosquitoes so I’m not sure which this is. At first glance, I think it may be Orthopodomyia signifera, but I wouldn’t place a great deal of confidence in that. The picture may not be sharp enough, really, to get a definitive ID, but I’ll see what I can find out from the experts at BugGuide.net.
I spent a little time in the back yard chasing butterflies today. In numbers, the various skippers are by far the most prevalent in our yard. The most noticeable are the tiger swallowtails. After that, I would have to say, come the cabbage whites. Most times you can see one or two flitting about. The are in the air a much higher percentage of the time than their more common cousins and they don’t like to be approached. That means finding a likely spot and waiting. Out of all the photos I took of this one, only two were in anything like decent focus. Even they were not perfect, and that, I’m afraid, is what you will get today. Pieris rapae, the Cabbage White, on Verbena bonariensis, purple vervain.
I saw a sphinx month today, which is always nice. They are such interesting things, not looking like what most people think of when the picture a moth. I got some pictures of that but decided to go with this one, a fly that I haven’t seen before today. It is a transverse flower fly, Eristalis transversa, and in this picture is on the center of a black-eyed Susan flower. I know flies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but some of them, like this one, are quite beautiful. I particularly like the way the yellow of the fly matches the yellow of the flower.
I got some pictures of grass skippers this afternoon. I don’t know which of them this is and there are quite a few to look through. I have identified Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius) in the past and it could easily be that, but I think I will simply leave it at that. There are quite a few skippers in the back yard right now, mostly on the Verbena bonariensis and the Buddleia. That and Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). I’m not sure how to attract a wider variety of Lepidoptera (a.k.a. the butterflies and moths).
I already posted a picture from our first day (evening, really, because we didn’t arrive until after 5:30) at the beach. Cathy and I walked on the beach for a little while before we had dinner. I took a few pictures and I’m pretty pleased with this one of a willet (Tringa semipalmata) that let me get reasonably close. It would have been better had he been facing the sun, to the left, but when I asked him to turn around, he just flew off. Temperamental bird.
There were a lot of American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) around this evening. Actually, the bird activity seemed higher than usual overall. I don’t know if it was because of the heat and the open water of our bird bath, but that seemed to be part of it. We had cardinals, goldfinches, a immature titmouse, and catbirds over the course of about 15 minutes. This isn’t the sharpest picture ever but we especially enjoy the goldfinches when they are on the Verbina bonariensis (purple vervain). The stems are generally strong enough to hold them up but they wobble back and forth as the birds move. Sometimes they are a little tough to spot because of the yellow black-eyed Susans behind them.
We have a lot of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) this time of year, mostly on the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) but also on the other flowers that are blooming right now: black-eyed Susan, Buddleia, Conoclinium coelestinum, purple coneflower, and Asclepias tuberosa, among others. Contrary to what you may have been hearing, the world population of honey bees is steady or growing. In the USA, “the number of honey-producing colonies has been generally steady for about two decades and has risen four of the last five years – including an increase of over 100,000 hives last year. The bee population is up nearly 13 percent since 2008, recovering after the initial findings of colony collapse disorder.” Many people also are under the false impression that only honey bees are suitable pollinators for food producing plants. This leads to the also false impression that without honey bees, the country would become a barren wasteland. Remember, there were no honey bees in North or South America until they were brought here by European colonists. Many other bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths pollinate flowers. Some of them are actually better pollinators than honey bees. Of course, they don’t have the significant fringe benefit of producing honey, and losing that would be a loss indeed.
The butterfly bush (Buddleia) plants that come up like weeds throughout our yard are in full bloom and are attracting the most common of the large butterflies in our area, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). This is a male, which can be distinguished from the female by the lack of blue near the trailing edge of its hindwings. Getting a good angle for a photograph is the trick, as they are generally well overhead, but this one turned out fairly well. I like the shadow of the flowers showing through his wings.
This bee (Xylocopa virginica, the eastern carpenter bee) was on our front walk when we came home and I thought I’d get down close for a picture, if it would let me. Turns out it didn’t have much say in the matter, as it wasn’t living. Why it had died is anybodies guess, but there you are. This picture turned out reasonably well. The eastern carpenter bee is extremely common and probably one of the two or three most prevalent bee species in our yard throughout most of the summer, certainly of the larger bees, anyway.
Update: I initially had this labeled as a common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), but that was wrong.
The blackberry lily, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, but now Iris domestica, has started to bloom. I collected seeds for this many years ago and I’ve had it growing around the yard ever since (and our previous yard before that). I gather the seeds each fall and spread them liberally and I’m pretty much happy to have them come up wherever they can. This one has a very tiny aphid on the stigma.
I haven’t taken the time to get a firm identification on this little bee, and the picture isn’t really good enough for a definitive ID in any case. I’m pretty sure, off the top of my head, that it is a leaf-cutter bee in the genus Megachile. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is at its peak (which lasts for a good long while, actually) and the bees are all over it, particularly when the sun is shining on it. That’s good for photographing them, of course, as the more light the easier it becomes, but it does mean I’m working in the bright, afternoon sun. Still, it’s one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday.
It’s high season for dragonflies and the pond next to my building is a good spot for finding them. Of course, taking pictures of them takes a little more than a camera and a good location. You also need a fair amount of patience. They tend to be shy and fly away when you get too close. Getting close is fairly important, though. I found a good spot, got reasonably comfortable, and waited. This female ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) landed nearby and then moved even closer. Close enough for a pretty near view.
The bees are starting to get quite active now. They start when things start blooming, of course, and are never really far. But in the heat of July, when the flowers of summer are at their densest, they are easiest to find. The monarda (the aptly named bee balm) seems particularly attractive to bumble bees. The flowers are a bit past in terms of their looking all pretty for photography but the bees don’t seem to mind. I went out this evening and spent a while chasing bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) from flower to flower. This shot turned out reasonably well—the body if fairly sharp while the wings are blurred with motion.
Generally I try not to post a picture of the same general subject two days in a row. If we’re travelling then I might, or if there is some multi-day event going on, but particularly in the when I’m just taking pictures in the back yard, I try not to. Well, for yesterday I posted a picture of a white-tail deer fawn. This evening there were two. How could I not go out and take pictures of them and post one of those? So, here are two white-tail deer fawns.
For the last few days we’ve had this white-tail deer fawn in our back yard. He seems to sleep in the center of the yard, under a tree in the middle of a bed of lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) but if disturbed he will run behind the roses along the back fence. Like most fawns he is safest if predators don’t see him, so he remained alert but still as I approached this morning. When I got too close, of course, he had no choice but to get up and move. Not that I’m a predator, exactly, but he doesn’t know that.
David was going to pick up his and Cathy’s mom later this morning so Cathy and I had a little free time. We drove to the botanic garden, which is part, along with the zoo, aquarium, and Tingley Beach, of the Albuquerque Biopark. It is a relatively green and lush oasis in the high New Mexico desert, close to the Rio Grande and near the heart of the city. We enjoyed pretty much each of the various gardens and the two conservatories. One of the two conservatories is dedicated to Mediterranean plants and is very lush and wet. One thing they have a lot of there are sedums, of which Cathy is very fond. I particularly like them in bloom and this first photo is of a couple sedum flowers.
Cathy posed next to a large container of sedum and fern (the sedum is the brownish colored plant). We enjoyed the well established portion of the rose garden. There is a new section that looks like it was only completed this spring and the plants are still quite small but should be very nice in a year or two. The Japanese garden is lovely, although the local, southwest plants predominated, the feel was still appropriate for the name. Wood ducks and a black-crowned night heron were a nice addition.
We walked out to the farthest garden area of the park, past Heritage Farm to the Cottonwood Gallery. This is a more natural setting with all native and naturalized plants, predominated by the local cottonwood tree. They were shedding their seeds, which are attached to cottony hairs, giving the trees their common name, and covering the ground with a cottony fur. We saw a cottontail rabbit, as well, and lots of dragon- and damselflies, including this blue damselfly.
We have a daisy like flower called feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) growing in various places around our yard. It’s a happy plant and although it self-seeds fairly liberally, it isn’t so invasive that it’s a real pest. I was taking pictures of the flowers today when I noticed this bug crawling from flower to flower. It is one of the plant bugs in the genus Tanacetum and I think it is T. parthenium, the clouded plant bug, although I’m not 100% sure of the species. They all look fairly similar. I’ll update this once I hear the expert opinion of This image at BugGuide.net.
I happened to send a text last week to our good friend Kristine and it turns out she was going to be in town this week with her son, Brandon. So, we had them over for dinner this evening. I don’t suppose many of you will be at all surprised that I took some pictures, particularly of Brandon. We went out into the back yard and I got pictures of him jumping and doing hand stands, as well as some of him just sitting in the grass. Those turned out pretty well.
Before they left, however, Solomon wanted to come out and get into some pictures. I have a few of Solomon sitting on Kristine’s shoulder but he really wanted to have his picture taken with Brandon. Brandon, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic about it, but he reluctantly agreed. Here is one of the pictures that I got of them. I think it’s pretty good, don’t you?
As I was going out to look for things to photograph this evening, Cathy mentioned a spider web above one of her patio pots. It was an orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta), a fairly common, outdoor spider in these parts. This will be my fifth orbweaver photo since I started the blog and my second this year, but never mind.
I know not everyone likes spiders but, particularly outdoors, they are quite good friends to have and I don’t mind them at all. This one is particularly beautiful, I think.
When I left to head to work this morning I noticed this little lad (or lass) on the tire of my car. I took a few pictures of it there before moving it down onto the pavement and taking a few more, including this one. It’s a fairly pretty little caterpillar, although the tussock moths are pests of trees and therefore not necessarily desirable visitors. Note that contact with hairs may cause an allergic reaction.
When I got home this evening I went out back to look for things to photograph. For quite some time now this whelk shell, which I believe is from a channeled whelk (Busycotypus canaliculatus), has been on our back patio. I’m not sure where it came from, whether it was found on one of our beach weeks, or if it’s something Cathy has had for a long time, or what. Anyway, I was looking at the spiral at the top end of the shell and thought it would make an interesting photograph. So, I set it on the table out back and set my camera down aimed at it. This is a 1/5 second exposure at f/16.
I was out in the yard this evening looking for things to photograph. We have a few things coming into bloom but I also noticed that there were more insects about than the last time I looked. I saw a dozen or so skippers, a few bees of one sort or another, and when I got down on the ground, quite a few very small insects. These are the things that you can easily overlook unless you pay close attention. This little fellow (or more likely lady, judging by the size) is only about 2mm long, sitting on the edge of a black-eyed Susan leaf. I was able to get fairly close but I’d love to get some extension tubes so I could get closer still. I think it turned out pretty well, though.
I went out into the back garden to take a few pictures this afternoon. I started with some deep, orange Coreopsis that has just started to bloom. From there I moved to one of the many Columbine (Aquilegia) plants that have come up from seed from the few that we brought with us to this house in 2006. I was lying on my back, looking up into the flowers when I saw this spider, an orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) one one of them. I got as close as my lens would take me and this is the result. Count me a big fan of spiders, particularly spiders in the garden, where they aren’t under foot and where they eat insects. This is one of my favorites.
Albert, Brady, mom, and I went for a nice bird watching walk this morning at Martin Luther King Recreational Park in Silver Spring. We went there for a reason, it wasn’t just random. It’s a good place to see Baltimore orioles. The birds, not the baseball players. We saw quite a few although getting good photographs of them is not all that easy. First, they tend to stay up towards the tops of trees so usually you’re looking up at them through all the leaves. It’s made harder by the fact that I really don’t have a suitable lens for the job. In addition to the orioles, we saw 25 other species of bird. My pictures of an eastern kingbird actually turned out pretty well, but I’m going with this oriole picture, anyway.
I was coming back into my building early this afternoon when I spotted something out of place. In the lower right corner, just inside the metal frame against the large plate of tinted glass, was a blob. That’s all it really looked like at first. When I got closer, though, I noticed that this blob was a frog. I’m pretty sure it’s a common or eastern gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor). There is another very similar frog, the Cope’s gray tree frog (H. chrysoscelis) so I cannot say for sure, but this seems like a reasonable guess and the yellow patch on its legs (which you cannot see in this photo) means it is one of those two.
I moved him off the door so I wouldn’t be lying on the ground right there, keeping others from going in or coming out. The frog was very compliant and let me get quite close, as you can see.
The rain that was coming down yesterday and this morning stopped and by the time I got home from work the grass was dry enough to lie down on to take pictures (I know because that’s what I did when I got home). After taking some of violets growing in our lawn (“it isn’t raining rain, you know, it’s raining violets”) I took a few of cherry blossoms. I noticed this visitor to some of the flowers and thought that would give it a bit of extra interest. So, a syrphid fly of the species Toxomerus marginatus. They are quite common but also fairly small (5 to 6mm in length) so they are easy to overlook. As Larvae they prey on aphids, thrips, and small caterpillars (i.e., plant pests).
What a beautiful day it was today. We’ve had a bit of rain this week, and as pretty as that is, it was nice to have such a lovely, sunny day today. I got to spend it in a really lovely way, too. I spent about two hours getting caught up with a good friend over coffee (thanks, Erin, for loaning me Dave for a while). Then, in the afternoon Cathy and I went for a walk in Rock Creek Park.
We saw a few members of the insect family (I guess it’s a class, actually). There were some small butterflies about, mostly from the family Lycaenidae (this time, it really is a family), the blues, coppers, hairstreaks, and harvesters. We also saw a few of these bright, metalic, green beetles. It is a six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) and twice I was able to get close enough for a reasonable photograph.
The flowers we saw the most of were the marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris). They were out in great profusion. There were also a few blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis) and spring beauties (Claytonia virginica). We saw a lot of leaves of the yellow trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) but this is the only one that actually had a bloom on it sow far. Withing a week there should be hundreds of them along the banks of Rock Creek.
The youth retreat was this weekend, starting Thursday evening because the county schools were closed today (end of the grading period, or some such). I went up today, joining the group already there. At lunch time, some of us walked from the main building down to the house by the road. In the woods on the way down, I happened to notice these two blue jay feathers (Cyanocitta cristata). The blue in blue jay feathers is not because of any blue pigment but rather because of the physical structure that refracts different wavelengths of light differently. Either way, though, they are quite beautiful.
Our good friends Brian and Lisa (and their two dogs, Goldie and Kippen, see Thursday, November 20, 2014) came for another short stay, spending all day Saturday and Sunday with us. It started out looking a bit gloomy this morning but cleared up and ended up being quite lovely out. We drove to our friends’ farm. We visited a little while with Greg and Anna and then wandered around a while. My first photo is of some cabbage plants that we all thought looked a bit like overdressed, Victorian ladies.
From the cabbage patch, we wandered up to the barn where the pigs are kept. We enjoyed watching the very young piglets, of which there were quite a few. From there we walked out to the area in the field where the chickens are. I got into their fenced enclosure and took quite a few photos.
The chickens were quite interested in me but getting them from very close range was tricky. The would turn away just as I took the picture, or would bend down and I’d just get the top of their head. This one turned out pretty well, I think.
After this, we walked to where the larger pigs are, out in the field and then down to the garden shed. When we came home, we rested up a bit and then capped off the day with a wonderful dinner at Bombay Bistro. It doesn’t get much better than that. What a beautiful day it turned out to be.
The second picture I have for today was also taken on the walk that Cathy and I enjoyed in our neighborhood. It was taken just a few minutes later, still within sight of the oak trees in the previous photo. There was a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) singing in the bushes in front of a house. As we walked by it flew up onto a telephone wire, fairly close to where I was. Of course, “close” is a relative term and this is, after all, a small bird. This image is cropped from the center of the frame, but it’s still reasonably good. I know that it isn’t a migratory bird and is here through the winter. Still, birds singing are such a treat after the cold and snow we’ve had this year and it certainly felt like spring this afternoon.
We were over at my brother’s today for an overdue celebration of mom’s birthday. We had a nice visit and of course a wonderful lunch. As we were getting ready to leave I noticed this hawk in the back yard. It is either a Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) hawk. I’m leaning towards the somewhat larger Cooper’s although I really am no expert. Ralph was able to get a good picture from a long way away but I was stuck with just my 100mm lens. The hawk was on its prey, so it let me get fairly close without flying away. This isn’t the full frame, but I think it turned out reasonably well. I didn’t get any closer and it seemed relieved when I turned and walked back to the front yard.
Later in the day I saw a cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) out back. It really stood out against all the whiteness so I went to get my camera. As I came back to the back door he flew down to the bird bath, which has a de-icer in it so it doesn’t start to freeze until it gets down under about 5°F. This picture has the cardinal as well as what I assume is a dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis). Not as good as what Albert would have gotten, but I’m pretty pleased with it. Just wait until I get a good 400mm lens.
Dorothy was home for the weekend with her friend, Katy (see the picture from last night). They wanted to go visit Rocklands Farm so we headed out there late in the morning. We had a great time with Janis who walked out to see the chickens, pigs, and cows. These, obviously, are the pigs. It was also wonderful to see Erin and her kids and get a bit of a visit in before we had to run. Thanks, Erin and Janis for being so willing to put up with us showing up unannounced and unplanned and welcoming us so warmly.
One problem with this whole ‘take and post a picture every day’ thing is that sometimes I take pictures but either none of them are any good or I take pictures of family or friends and don’t necessarily want to share them with the world. So, what do I do. Usually I post one anyway. Certainly there have been plenty of bad pictures posted. I’m sometimes a bit surprised by the responses to images that I don’t particularly think are any good. That’s gratifying, if a bit mystifying.
This isn’t one of those. This is more of the ‘I spent the evening with family and those are all the pictures I have’ type. I think it’s a pretty good picture, actually, as casual portraits go. This is Seth and because he is engaged to Iris, I guess he’s going to have to get used to the cameras in our family (and already seems to have, actually). He is holding their pet, Bean, whom they claim is a dog.
In the summer of 1993 Cathy and I took a trip to Newfoundland. We were mostly on the Avalon Peninsula but got as far “inland” as Terra Nova National Park. One thing we found interesting was their concern for “their Canada geese.” Apparently there were fewer of them than in the past, or something, we aren’t quite sure what the issues were. We found it a bit funny, though, because they are so numerous in our area and are something of a pest. In park land I don’t have a real problem with them, but they can be a bit of a nuisance. These are near my office building. Because there is an overgrown 12 (or so) acre lot next to my building and also because there is a small pond on the other side of my building, it’s actually a fairly attractive place for such wildlife as a suburban area as extensive as ours can provide.
I had a meeting this morning over in the next building. I took my camera with me and on the way back, wandered into the woods for a little while. There is a small drainage pond that has mostly silted up but, particularly during the wetter times of the year there is standing water there. It was unseasonably warm today, into the low 60s, and there were quite a few birds about. I watched this eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) fly from a branc near the pond and (I assume) catch insects just above the water. He’s fly down, hover briefly, and then return to the branch. Of course, I really need a longer lens, a tripod, and quite a bit more time if I’m going to get really good pictures of birds, but I like this one pretty well.
Those of you who didn’t like the photo of the millipede that I posted on November 4 probably won’t like this photo any better. I admit that I am a bit squeamish when it comes to spiders. Maybe that’s the wrong word, maybe chicken would be better. But I generally let them be, because they kill and eat things that I like even less. This one was on the floor at church and some of the kids were a bit freaked out that I was down on the floor taking pictures of instead of stepping on it. It’s the way I am. Sorry. This particular spider is a funnel weaver (family Agelenidae), one of 15 North American species in the genus Coras.
My go-to site for insect and spider identification, http://BugGuide.net/, is not responding this morning, so I had to identify this the old fashioned way, with my handy Peterson Field Guide to Beetles. I’ve identified this as a ground beetle (family Carabidae) and most likely a woodland ground beetle (tribe Pterostichini). Once BugGuide is back up, I’ll confirm that and try to get a genus and species. In any case, it’s a pretty beetle and not a pest to farms or gardens. I found it on the ground at church before youth group and put it in a paper cup in the fridge (to slow it down). Then I photographed it at home afterward, on a piece of white cloth on our dining room table. This is what Cathy puts up with. I released it into the front garden when I was done, none the worse for the ordeal, I believe.
This tiny millipede was crawling across our kitchen floor this evening. I grabbed my camera and got down with him (or her, I have no idea). There are a lot of millipedes and I don’t have any idea which tis one is. It’s very small, about two millimeters in diameter and about no more than four centimeters long. The thing tat made it hard to photograph was that it kept moving. Maybe if I put it in the fridge for a few minutes it would slow down, even when I took it back out. But I didn’t try. When I was done, I put it in the pot of one of my large house plants.
I had a meeting in the next building over today and decided to take my camera with me. After the meeting, I figure I could go through the woods and take some pictures. When the time came, I went a different route, though. There is a pond between our buildings and I normally would walk along the path that crosses the dam. This time, I went down the slope before crossing and walked up that side of the pond, crossing the stream at the top, instead. There are quite a few little aster-like flowers blooming in the sun. They aren’t particularly showy but nice enough, with their bright yellow centers. This one had the added interest of a green bee, possibly a cuckoo wasp. It’s hard to see in this picture but the wasp is a bright, metallic green when viewed in the right light. I did get a few that show it, but they didn’t have the flower, so, I went with this one.
This monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus, female) was flitting around our buddleia for a while this afternoon and I was able to get close enough for a few good pictures before she left. This late in the summer any butterflies we see are often a bit battered but this one is in remarkably good condition, with no bare patches on her wings.
I’m still a bit behind in posting photographs here, but I have just taken 10 days worth off the camera and will continue adding them as I can. Thanks for sticking around.
I’ve posted photographs of the orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) a few times before. This one was taken just outside our front door, but her web, fortunately, is not stretched across the walk. I noticed the web two days ago but was not home when there was enough light for a photo. Actually, that was true today, as well, but I took this with flash.
As spiders go, the orchard orbweaver is quite colorful and, to my way of thinking, beautiful. I love the green color and they have a great pattern on their abdomen, although it doesn’t really show up in this photograph. The fact that they eat all manner of small insects also helps endear them to me. And this is one spider that I see quite a lot but have never seen indoors.
It’s time for another spider. This is a bit of a creepy looking spider, too. It’s about the right size and build for a brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) but I’m happy to report that it is meerly a broad-faced sac spider (Trachelas tranquillus). This is a fairly common spider along the central east coast and as far west as Kansas and Minnesota. While most spiders are venomous, the bite of this spider will cause pain similar to a bee or wasp sting. They only bite when provoked, however, so live and let live.
I was out photographing things in the yard early this afternoon. There were some very small flies on buddleia leaves and I was trying to get pictures of them. Then I noticed this fellow, down on a black-eyed Susan flower. It was a bit dark and it’s a dark spider on a dark background, but still not too bad. It is a bold jumper (Phidippus audax), one of the many jumping spiders, family Salticidae.
I went out to get some coffee this morning and when I came back I found this fairly large beetle on the floor of my office. I took a few pictures of it on the floor before moving it up to the spider plant on my window ledge, where I took some more photos.
I like beetles. The beetles are the largest order in the animal kingdom, with more than 350,000 described species worldwide, representing about 40% of known insects (per http://bugguide.net/node/view/60).
I know that not everyone is particularly fond of spiders, so I apologize if this creeps you out. I actually don’t mind them in their place. Mind you, when walking through the woods, my face is decidedly not their place. But outdoors, eating other insects, they are good friends. They can also be quite beautiful and surprisingly colorful, to say nothing of the fabulous webs they often spin.
This is an orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta, with venusta being the Latin for beautiful), and they are quite common in our area (and I’ve never actually seen on indoors, which is just as well). This one is only about 8 inches off the ground, which made getting down under it for a photograph a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s turned out pretty well.
It was another sweltering day today. Summer seems to have arrived at last and at one point the thermometer out back read 98°F. In the afternoon we took a short outing to the Agricultural Farm Park to enjoy their garden. This little fellow, which I believe is a green frog (Lithobates clamitans) was in a little pond in the garden. While we were there, it started to rain lightly and shortly came down quite hard for a while. The temperature dropped more than 20°F, though, so the rain was more than welcome.
Dorothy and I went in to church early this morning because she was singing and needed to be there for practice. I forgot to bring my book, so I had some free time. There are two small islands in the parking lot planted with caryopteris, which is quite happy there and blooming quite profusely. That’s another good insect magnet and I decided to go see what I could find. I like the head-on pictures I took of a small skipper on the top of a caryopteris stem. It’s a little thing, only about 1.5cm across.
Update: I originally labeled the flower this skipper is on as Caryopteris. It’s not. Instead, it is Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). I often get those mixed up in my head, but fortunately, Cathy keeps them straight.
Dorothy and I went out the Rocklands Farm this afternoon. We were mostly there to pick up a few things from Janis, but as usual, I took the opportunity to take a few pictures. The first of them is this sphinx moth, a Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis). I’ve seen them many times, usually hovering around flowers and posted a picture of one back on July 07, 2013. This one was down in the grass on the edge of a field and I’m not sure how I even spotted it. I’m glad I did though, because I was able to get quite close. I took some of the entire moth but I like this close-up, that shows the details of the wing.
I had to go the the next building over this afternoon so I took my camera with me. Then, on the way back to my office I walked through the woods for a little while. I nearly walked into a spider web, which I don’t particularly enjoy, but stopped in time. Then I got some pictures of the little lady minding the web. Actually, I took about one and a half dozen pictures, but all of them are blurry or out of focus except two. First, it was fairly dark in the woods. Then, the web was moving back and forth a little in the breeze. Finally, I was standing on a fairly steep hillside, trying to avoid falling into the spider’s web. When I went around so that the sun was behind me and when the spider moved into a very small shaft of sunlight, I was able to get this picture, which I’m pretty pleased with.
The sun was hot today and the insect activity out back was intense. On the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) there were bees and wasps of all descriptions. Out in the middle of the yard, on the patch of purple vervain (Verbena bonariensis) there were dozens, if not hundreds of skippers and a handful of cabbage whites (Pieris rapae). This is a Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius) that let me get close enough for a pretty good portrait.
It was another beautiful day, a bit warmer than it’s been, but then it is August. I worked in the yard quite a bit this afternoon, doing a lot of weeding. It was mostly thistles and fleabane, ignoring the smaller weeds. I also cut a fair amount of dead wood out of a few of the roses. The pink multiflora rose was an absolute thicket of canes and my arms are a bit worse for the work, but the rose will be happier for it. When I had filled two barrels with yard waste (packed down quite a bit), I took a break and sat in the shade with a good book and a cold drink. I didn’t get very far in my reading, though.
I noticed a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the Verbena bonariensis growing in the middle of our back yard. I was able to get pretty close and picked this one as the best, partly because of the bright background of black-eyed Susans. While I was taking pictures of him (it’s a male) I noticed a fairly large bee. It’s about an inch long and is a Sculptured Resin Bee (Megachile sculpturalis). They were recently introduced to eastern north America from their native Japan and eastern China, having first been seen in North Carolina in 1994.
A week ago (August 11, 2014) I posted a photo of a large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). These are nymphs of the same thing, also on the Asclepias tuberosa in our backyard. They feed on the seeds of the milkweed but don’t seem to do any harm to the plants, so I don’t mind them. Also, they are quite pretty, in a creepy, crawly sort of way. The adult bug is fairly large, more than 2cm long. These nymphs are quite small, though, 3 or 4mm long.
The youth group had a pool party this afternoon and we couldn’t have had better weather. It was warm but not too hot, the sky was a beautiful blue with a few clouds, and the water was cool and refreshing. I took a lot of pictures but the one I’m going to share with you all is a butterfly. There was a little cloud of these, four or five, fluttering around an shady spot where water had been splashed onto the concrete around the pool. They are quite small, not much more than about one centimeter tall (about 3/8 of an inch).
With the fox that we had in our yard over the winter, I had hoped that we’d have fewer rabbits this summer. Cathy saw the fox this week, so it’s still around, but we’ve had as many rabbits as ever. Of course, for all I know, we’d have twice as many if the fox were not around. Anyway, this fellow (or lady, I don’t know) was sitting out in our back yard, happy as you please, this afternoon when I came home. The grass is lush this summer and they haven’t done as much damage to our garden as in some years, because of that, but I still wouldn’t mind having fewer of them.
They are cute, though. That’s something in their favor.
This is a large bug (using the term “bug” in its technical sense—this is one of the “true bugs,” order Hemiptera, suborder Heteroptera—and a hansome one, at that. Not surprisingly, I found this one on the Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed, one of the milkweeds. From BugGuide.net, “In the course of feeding these bugs accumulate toxins from the milkweed, which can potentially sicken any predators foolish enough to ignore the bright colors which warn of their toxicity.&x201d;
There is a fair amount of variation in their color intensity. This one is a fairly pale orange, but I’ve seen them much brighter and pictures of them that are more red than orange. This photo was taken with flash, which I should do more often when taking insect pictures, because it allows a smaller aperture and shorter exposure, giving a sharper image with greater depth of field.
When I took this, I assumed it was a cabbage white (Pieris rapae) but when I went to check just to be sure, I realized that it doesn’t have the tell-tale black spot. The wings are not as pure white, either, with all those brown marks and squiggles. So I had to look it up. It’s an azure and I’m pretty sure it’s a summer azure (Celastrina neglecta), which is one of the blues in the family Lycaenidae (the blues, coppers, hairstreaks, and harvesters). The cabbage white is in family Pieridae (the whites, sulphurs, and yellows). Pretty little thing, even if it isn’t as showy as the monarch or swallowtails.
I hope you aren’t getting tired of insect photographs. When I get home from work, going out back and watching the wasps is something I’ve come to enjoy, so I hope you don’t mind. I’ve seen this one, a wedge-shaped beetle (Macrosiagon limbata) once before and posted a picture on June 28, 2012. The feathery antennae on this one mean it’s a male. The female, as in the picture from 2012, has much simpler antennae.
Back on August 21, 2012 I took and posted a photo of a dogwood borer (Synanthedon scitula). This is an closely related species, the red maple borer (S. acerrubri). I found it feeding on the black-eyed Susans (obviously) and managed to get a few pretty good pictures of it. This one isn’t actually the best in terms of identification, but I like it the best as a photograph. The most obvious difference between the two species is that this one has a bright orange tuft at the end of it’s abdomen. It’s the larvae which damage maples, boring into branches. Apparently they prefer red and and sugar maples.
More butterfly pictures today. There were a couple eastern tiger swallowtails on the Verbena bonariensis although I had a bit of work to get close to them. Eventually I managed to do it, though, and I think the results were worth the effort. This butterfly was moving from one flower head to the next, sucking nectar through its long proboscis. Here you can see the “drinking straw” as it’s moved from one flower to another.
Cathy and I were out in the back yard late this afternoon. Normally, when I want to find wasps to photograph, I head for the mountain mint. Today, I was sitting at the table on the patio and noticed a few things on the black-eyed Susans on the other side of the gas grill. I put the camera on the lid of the grill and was able to get reasonably steady shots of this potter wasp. In 2012 and again in 2013 I took pictures of a potter wasp named Eumenes fraternus but this is the first time I’ve taken any of Zethus spinipes. It’s quite a beautiful little wasp, I think.
Well, we drove home from the beach today. Days mostly spent driving, especially when you’re more interested in trying to get home than see the scenery, are tough days photographically. It rained quite heavily as we left the beach and until about the time we got onto I-95. Then traffic was characteristically heavy all the way home, particularly on the stretch between Richmond and Washington. One of the worst routes in the country, I suspect.
Anyway, I did go out back when we got home, because the butterflies have appeared. I’ve seen a few before now this summer but this afternoon there were a couple swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) and a monarch (Danaus plexippus). They are surprisingly hard to photograph well, for a number of reasons. They don’t like to be approached too closely. Also, they are often overhead in the buddleia, putting them against a bright sky background. Finally, they hide on the other side of flowers and turn so that their wings are seen from the edge, instead of nicely displayed. This picture does a pretty good job of showing the pattern on the underside of the wings of this male monarch.
This isn’t a great picture, but I wanted to post it because I had never seen one of these before and I think it’s pretty cool looking. It’s a species of velvet ant (Family Mutillidae) called a cow killer (Dasymutilla occidentalis). They are called this because of the very painful sting they can give. They are technically wasps, but since they are seen on the ground and in many ways look more like ants, the are commonly called ants. They are quite large, almost 2cm long, bright orange and black, and hairy. This one was on the move and I had a hard time getting the image in focus as it moved along. This one, with it partially blocked by a blade of grass, was the best of a blurry lot.
I have a largish collection of pictures to post for today but I’m putting them in a single post, because they were all taken at the same place. When we were at the beach few years ago we went to the Green Swamp, north of Supply, North Carolina, because of an article I happened to see in Smithsonian magazine. The article was about Venus flytraps and this is one of the places to which they are native. We had a mostly good experience on that first visit, although we learned a few important lessons, not the least of which is that there are significant biting insects there. Hey, it’s a swamp, it’s going to have bugs.
Mostly we go for the plant life. The main attraction is the collection of carnivorous plants, including but no limited to the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). My first picture above is a meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica) and they are scattered around the swamp, particularly the first areas you walk through when leaving the small parking area on NC 211. After walking on a boardwalk through the first pocosin, a heavily wooded wetland area, into the next area of (higher and dryer) long-leaf pine savanna, there are Venus flytraps. The are a little hard to find until you’re found a couple and really know what to look for. Then you start to see them everywhere.
Back to the biting insects a bit. Many of the pitcher plants have a green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) living on or around them. Because the plants attract insects, it’s a particularly good place for a spider to live, especially one that doesn’t spin a web and hunts for insects “the old fashioned way.” This is the top of a pitcher plant, there is a piece of leaf called an operculum which acts as a hood to the pitcher. Apparently there isn’t a lynx spider on this one, or this mosquito would probably not have lasted so long. Usually I don’t let mosquitoes hang around without being swatted but this one posed for me very nicely. As long as it didn’t land on me, I decided I would let it live. (UPDATE—2014/08/14: This has been identified as a male Ochlerotatus atlanticus. I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to learn that.)
I did see lynx spiders, though. Both on pitcher plants and on this thistle bud. I like this picture for it’s color and simplicity. These spiders are quite ferocious looking up close, with spines all over their legs and their bright green color, which makes them a bit difficult to see sometimes, as they blend in with their leafy surroundings.
When I got my camera set up, this one moved around to the far side of the thistle bud. I few gentle movements with my finger convinced her to move around to the camera side, however. I did take a few closer pictures that show more detail of the spider but I thought I’d go with this longer view, showing the whole flower. We also saw them on pitcher plants and I took some pictures of that, as well, but they didn’t turn out as nicely as this one, I think.
Here’s a wide angle view of the long-leaf pine savanna we were walking through. In this area are the eponymous long-leaf pines, of course. The most common plant is grass and since we came early this year, it was still quite wet with dew. Our pant legs were soaked long before we got this far into the swamp. You cannot really see them well in this picture but the yellow pitcher plants are scattered through the grass, reaching up through it. The smaller purple pitcher plants are harder to find, because they only grow about six inches tall, at most. Their flower stalk is usually the first thing you see, being much taller than the pitchers.
On the way out of the swamp we stopped by the pond near the parking area to take pictures of pitcher plants. They grow in the very wet area right on the edge of the pond. They may grow in other areas of the swamp but this is the only place we’ve seen them. They are quite small and it really helps to know what you’re looking for. The leaves of this spoonleaf sundew (Drosera intermedia) are only about 5mm across and the whole plant not much more than 4cm. They have very small, white flower, as well, but I didn’t get any pictures of them this year.
While I was taking pictures of the sundew, the others were enjoying a blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) who kept landing on the same twig, making it fairly easy to get close enough for a good picture. After they all had their pictures, they let me have a turn and I got this one, which I like pretty well.
So, another trip to the Green Swamp of North Carolina. If you go, try to pick a cool day and go early, before the sun gets too hot (we were done by 9:30 and it was starting to heat up by then). Put on a lot of deet-based bug repellent and be ready to swat those that ignore it. I prefer long trousers and sleeves, even though it’s hot, because of the bug protection. But be sure to bring a camera, because there’s lots to see.
Here’s another bird photo. I’m not sure but I think this is an immature sanderling (Calidris alba). There are quite a few little sandpipers and they all look very much alike. When you throw in variations, it’s quite hard to tell them apart. Anyway, this is one of them. I love to watch them run around, avoiding the incoming waves, and then running back down where the sand is wet and soft, looking for things to eat.
I have a few pictures to post today and thought I’d spread them out a bit rather than putting them into one long post. They are someone disconnected, in any case. The first picture was of a sunrise, this next one, taken a bit after 2:00 PM, is of a willet (Tringa semipalmata), a fairly common shore bird in these parts. They can be seen pretty much anywhere along the beach and seem to be after the little sand crabs (in the genus Emerita). They aren’t the shyest birds on the beach but it’s hard to get very close to them, as they are always on the move and quite willing to fly away or around you if you get too close.
We went for a drive this morning, giving Dorothy a little driving time. We went a little way into South Carolina before turning around. On the way back we stopped at a pond between a golf course and the road. There is a wildlife viewing platform built there, although the bushes between it and the pond make it difficult to see much of anything. Just past the end of the platform there is an opening in the bushes and we saw a pair of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).
Cathy and I were out back this evening and she spotted this mantis on one of the chairs on our patio. I think (but I’m by no means sure) that it is a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), which were introduced here from China in 1896 to combat pests. This is a smallish one, only about two and a half inches long. It was getting a bit dark and the pictures I took by available light were not very good, so I turned on the flash and got a few pictures that are reasonably good, with the mantis standing out well against the dark background.
I had sautéd octopus for breakfast this morning and took pictures of that, but if history tells me anything, pictures of cooking octopus aren’t as popular as some others that I take. In the early evening I was going out to take pictures and there was a catbird in the rose bush just outside our front door. I took a few pictures before he (or she) flew away, and thought that might be more acceptable.
I only took a few photographs in the back yard today, including a few of black-eyed Susans and then some of this European paper wasp (Polistes dominula). They aren’t the friendliest of wasps and I have to admit to being a little nervous of him. In general, the bees at the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) are unmindful of me but there are a few that I take with are, regardless. I think if you’ve ever been stung by one of these, you’d feel the same way.
Did you know that since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16U.S.C. 703-712) it has been illegal for most people to collect most feathers. Unless you want to be a criminal, just let it lie. It’s a bit stupid, of course, and many people collect feathers without being indicted. It’s a good example of a “well meaning government” making life against the law and making criminals of all its citizens, in this case including (and especially) children.
Anyway, this is a feather. I think it’s pretty.
I went out to photograph bees on the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) and did get some, but the best pictures I got were of this male gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus). The light wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty good and with my camera on a tripod I was able to get as close as my macro lens will allow. I’ve posted a picture of a gray hairstreak once before (on Saturday, August 11, 2012) but I think this picture is a bit better. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching it move about on the flowers.
We often see goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) on the purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis) in our back yard. This morning he stayed long enough for me to get some pictures. Not terribly good pictures, but pictures, anyway. This was taken hand held with a not-very-sharp zoom lens at 300mm through a pane of ordinary glass in the back door. I guess this is all I could hope for. I’d really like to get something just a little longer and considerably sharper, but that’s going to have to just be on my wish list for now.
What a beautiful day. It’s the middle of July and it’s in the mid 60s in the morning, getting up only to about 80°F in the afternoon. For my money, it doesn’t get any nicer than this. I could take a little cooler, but it’s July, for crying out loud. The sky was blue with cottony, white clouds. After the heavy rain on Tuesday and the heavy hearts yesterday, this is what I needed.
I went to the car to drive to work and this is what I found on the roof. This is one of the Magicicada species, the 17-year periodical cicadas. It was actually only mostly dead. For the record, it doesn’t taste like chicken.
Update: Albert rightly pointed out that the periodical cicadas all have red eyes, so this is probably one of the many annual cicadas in the family Cicadidae but not in the genus Magicicada.
This is one of the wedge-shaped beetles (Family Ripiphoridae) but one without a particular common name. It’s Latin binomial Macrosiagon flavipennis comes from the Greek word for large jaw bone and the Latin for yellow wings. These beetles parasitize wasps and bees, by laying eggs on flowers. When the eggs hatch, the larva attach themselves to a visiting bee or wasp. It is then carried back to wasp nest where it burrows into a host larva.
There is a closely related and very similar species, M. dimidiata, but the “fin or cup-shaped tubercle on the posterior of the pronotum” (the plate between the head and the yellow of the wings), is indicative of this species.
Two pictures today for the price of one and hopefully worth the price of admission. I really like Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort). It’s a very vigorous grower but it doesn’t take over the garden. It’s very happy in our climate, not needing much in the way of special attention or soil conditions. And it blooms over a long period with deep, dark, slightly purple blue flowers. They open in the morning and in the evening are all closed up, only to be open again the next morning. I also love the the blue stamen hairs with the bright yellow anthers.
I went out to take pictures this morning and thought I’d get a view across the flowers, as in the first picture here. I think it turned out quite well and really shows the feathery stamen hairs well. They are unique, as far as I know, in that they change color to pink when when exposed to radiation. I don’t know how sensitive they are, so don’t know if they can act as a canary in a coal mine, but I think it’s a cool fact.
I also enjoyed watching a honey bee going from flower to flower, so figured I better get some pictures of that, as well, and I’m please with the results.
The other day I posted a picture of a catbird in my mom’s bird bath. Since then I’ve been enjoying birds in ours, which is in the back yard, just outside our kitchen door. When I got home this evening there were some grackles in it but they flew off when I came into the kitchen. A little while later there was a catbird there. I went and got my camera and took some pictures but waited a while. I got a female cardinal picking up seeds off the patio as well as this American robin who came for a drink.
This squirrel was eating seeds off of the back patio this morning and didn’t run away when I came up to the glass door, so I was able to get a few pictures. Unfortunately I had the camera set wrong so these pictures are a bit grainy, but I’m still reasonably happy with them. I’m not a huge fan of squirrels, which are basically furry tailed rats, but they can be fun to watch. This is the melanistic form of the grey squirrel, which is very common in our area.
Dorothy spent much of the day at my mom’s house today and I went there to get her after work. I took a few pictures around the yard, including some of a clematis that looks very much like the one I have here (and which I posted a picture of recently). There was a grey catbird in the birdbath in the back yard and I was able to get close enough for a few good pictures before it flew up into the camellia bushes.
These little flies are all around but are very easy to go unnoticed. They are quite small and don’t bother people much. I think they’re pretty cool looking. In particular, I like the pattern on the abdomen. I don’t know how much variation there is in that pattern, or if it is reliable for identification of the species. There are over species 800 in eastern North America, so making a reliable ID takes more knowledge than I have.
This is one of the Acanthocephala species, one of the leaf-footed bugs. I’m not sure which, although I’m leaning toward A. terminalis. It was on my pant leg but I wasn’t going to get a good picture of it while it was there, so I brushed it off into the grass. Then, of course, I got down on the ground and got as close to it as I could.
We’ve seen the fox a few times since the winter when I got pictures of two of them playing in the back yard. One of them, I’m pretty sure, was killed by a car. The other is still around and this morning was in our garden. From downstairs he (or she) could barely be seen. Cathy noticed him from upstairs. Occasionally he’d look around and I got a few pictures from the kitchen. After I had as good a picture as I was going to get, I went out the front door and slowly went around the side of the house. I was able to get a few pictures before I was seen. He looked right at me as I squeezed off two quick shots and then he was gone (like a shot).
According to Bugguide.net, the common name for this beetle listed by the Entomological Society of America is horned Passalus. The common name used by laypeople, however, is Bess Bug. This apparently comes from the French word, baiser, “to kiss.” That in turn probably refers to the sound it makes (stridulation), which sounds a bit like a squeaky “kissy” sound. They eat rotting wood, so it was no surprise this was found where it was, in an area that has a fair amount of wood for beetles to eat. This one is dead, as perhaps you can tell, which made it much easier to photograph, although because of that it lacks a certain something. Still, I think it’s a beautiful beetle. It looks to me like a quilter went over the elytra (the hardened forewings on its abdomen) an put neat rows of stitches down their length.
We had a late spring this year in the mid-Atlantic region with snow and sleet up to the end of March and cooler than normal well into April. Most plants have been about two weeks behind normal in terms of blooming and the roses are no exception. I have one bush in bloom (and it’s glorious) with the others just about ready to start. I visited Nick Weber’s rose garden this morning knowing ahead of time that there wouldn’t be a lot to see. Of course, 2% or 3% of Nick’s roses is still more than most people have, but the best is definitely yet to come. I got to see a few early bloomers, which was a treat, and I enjoyed this honey bee on a R. micrugosa bloom.
What a beautiful day we had today. Just as well that we had a lot of yard work to do, and we spent much of the day outside. Two of my roses (both Noisettes, ‘Crépuscule’ and ‘Jaune Desprez’) died over the winter. They were both climbers and were pretty good size and very well established but the combination of unusually cold weather and the repeated snow (but mostly the cold, I think) did them in. ‘Crépuscule’ in particular, was more than covering a 10 by 12 foot frame on the end of the house. I need something new for that spot.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with this picture, except Cathy was potting up some seedling lilies and we were moving potted plants around on the driveway. This metallic, green beetle, a six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata), was under one of the pots. I ran to get my camera but didn’t think it was all that urgent, because it appeared to be dead. After taking a half dozen pictures, though, it moved. I got three more, very quickly, and it flew away. The most impressive thing about this beetle, I think, are its serious mandibles. The eat small insects, spiders, and other arthropods, including other beetles, springtails, sawflies, caterpillars, flies, ants, and grasshoppers.
Luna came to stay with us for a long weekend, while Albert and Brady were out of town. As I post this on Monday, May 19, they are back and Luna is at home, but the evening the picture was taken, on the Ides of May, she was relaxing on our living room sofa. She’s an easy dog to care for, not being particularly excitable, except possibly by other dogs. We did have one “near incident” on a walk, when another largish dog came running towards us, not on a leash. Fortunately that dog was obedient and came as soon as his master called, although a dog that runs loose in the neighborhood is probably destined for a shorter than natural life. In this instance, all was well.
I saw two box turtles today, this one and another that was much more yellow. This one closed up a fair amount when I first found him (I think this is a male) but with a little patience, I was able to get a few pictures of him. I set my camera down on the ground fairly close and waited for him to open up again. I also saw a newt but didn’t have my camera with me at the time.
I dropped Dorothy off at school today for one of her finals (AP Literature, I think) and went in to visit briefly with a few of my friends in the lower school and office. On the way back to the car I heard a high-pitched chirping coming from the top of a small oak tree next to my van. This is the source, sitting high in the tree. I wasn’t sure what it was, partly because of the angle from which I was seeing it but mostly because I don’t know my birds nearly as well as I might. So, I did what any self-respecting person would do, I asked my brothers. Albert and George both thought it looked like a chipping sparrow (the dark line through the eye) and Albert asked if the song sounded like those presented at the All About Birds page for the chipping sparrow. Indeed it did. Quite recognizably.
I thought I’d post a second photograph from our walk on the Billy Goat Trail. This is an American giant millipede (Narceus americanus, also called an iron worm) and it really is quite large, about four inches long. We saw a few of them and they are fairly common.
These millipedes do not have venomous stingers or fangs and are not dangerous to humans. They can secrete bad-smelling and bad-tasting chemicals from pores in the sides of their bodies. These chemicals help keep many predators away.
This is an Easter picture that I took seven years ago, on April 8, 2007. We were at my in-laws’ house and had eaten our meal. At about 4:10, Cathy and Dorothy were in the yard when they heard a scream. It was clearly not human but they didn’t know, at first, what it was. When they saw that a hawk had attacked a rabbit, Dorothy came running into the house to get me. She said that she and her mom wanted me to do something. I’m not sure what, precisely, they wanted me to do but I’m pretty sure taking pictures was not it. That’s what I did, though. Did they really expect me to do anything else?
I took 85 pictures before the hawk flew away. When I first went out the rabbit had stopped making noises but was still alive. It’s fate was sealed, however, and I wasn’t going to deprive the hawk of its meal simply because it happened to pick the Easter bunny for its menu.
It was a cool day today but not really cold. I took a break shortly after noon and went out into the empty lot next to my office building. I say empty lot but really it isn’t empty, it simply hasn’t been built on. There are trees, shrubs, woody and herbaceous perennials, and annuals in abundance. There are also animals, although mostly I see birds and (especially later in the year) insects and spiders. It’s clear that there are deer there and I’ve seen them on rare occasions.
I came across one today, or what was left of one. There were a few leg bones and then I found the skull, half buried under some Japanese honeysuckle. The first picture if of the top of the deer’s skull, showing the intersection of the Coronal and Sagittal Sutures, where the frontal and two parietal bones all come together. It looks to me like a river, meandering through an arid waste. Or maybe not. The second picture shows the skull, as I found it.
I believe that this is either Bombus pensylvanicus (the American Bumble Bee) or Bombus auricomus (the Black-and-gold Bumble Bee). Either way, it was a friendly sort of fellow. My assumption is that this was a male, because the males cannot sting, and this one was not even trying. He didn’t seem able to fly, really, either. He seems determined to get up into Judah’s hair, and he had to be moved back onto Judah’s nose a few times.
Those of you freaked out by the thought of a bee walking on your face, I understand, believe me. But most insects, even bees, are really not all that dangerous. Some, like some hornets and wasps, need to be avoided or at the very least not aggravated. Taking pictures of them, though, is usually safe enough if you don’t move too quickly and don’t try to touch them (like Judah was clearly doing here).
I’ve seen these fairly often but I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to get a good picture before this evening. This is in the corner of a room and she is facing into the corner (having a “time out” I suspect). While this isn’t in our house, I have seen them there, as well. If your first impulse is to squash these when you see them, you should know that they eat pretty much exclusively things that you probably want around the house even less: cockroach nymphs, flies, moths, bedbugs, crickets, silverfish, earwigs, and small spiders.
As I walked out to the car this morning I heard a very happy sounding bird chirping at the top of the holly tree in our front yard. He was right up at the very top, happily calling out, “drink your teeeeea.” I was happy to have him stay where he was long enough for me to get a few pictures, even though at this low angle, it isn’t as good a picture as I’d like. The Eastern Towhee was, until recently, called the Rufous-sided Towhee and what is now called the Spotted Towhee was considered to be the same species. If you have an older bird guide, that’s where you will find this fine fellow.
The foxes were back this morning, cavorting in the snow. The back yard is filled with their tracks. It was still fairly dim light so I took this at ISO 3,200 and it was still a 1/15 of a second, which explains the softness of this picture. This was the second of three pictures I got of them. After the first one, they stopped and turned towards me. So, even through the glass of our kitchen door they heard the camera and it alerted them to my presence. After that they left for the day.
The snow is basically all gone. There are batches in shadier spots and wherever it was piled when shoveling or plowing but the lawn is basically clear of it. Yesterday there was standing water in parts of the yard but now most of that has drained or soaked into the already waterlogged soil. It’s still quite wet out, but that’s normal and good this time of year. I walked around the yard looking for things to photograph. There are the snow drops but I posted their picture yesterday, so I wanted something else. I was looking at last years fern leaves when this little fellow landed in the hedge and let me take his picture. This is a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), a friendly winter visitor, probably getting ready to head back to Canada for the summer.
Yesterday it was snowing and there was about an inch of new snow on the ground. We looked out the back window and saw two foxes playing in the back yard. I was going to post one of those pictures for yesterday but before getting it posted, today happened. Yesterday the pictures were taken through two panes of glass in an upstairs window with a 100mm lens. Today I had time to go down stairs, switch to the 75-300mm zoom lens, and take the picture through one pane of glass.
These two foxes are living in the area, obviously, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m looking forward to a rabbit free (or at least greatly diminished) spring and summer. That is unless some busybody decides that foxes aren’t safe to have around. Look, I understand that these are wile animals and not pets (or Narnians). But they aren’t going to attack and we aren’t raising chickens. They run away when I even just start to open the back door. Our neighbors have small kids but they also have a dog. The foxes aren’t going to hang around when he’s in the yard. Anyway, for now, I’m enjoying the foxes, long may they prosper. They may look like they are fighting in this picture, but they are playing.
What a beautiful day it was. The sky was mostly a clear blue, it wasn’t too cold, and it was a great day for a walk in the park. Everything is still very wet because the snow is melting and the ground is saturated, so we decided we’d take the paved route to Lake Frank and from there down to the Rock Creek Trail (or at least a spur of it). Well, that was a good idea but the paved route still had ice and snow on it for most of the way, so it wasn’t the easiest walking we could have chosen, but it was nice to get away from traffic and into the woods.
The lake is quite high, as you might expect with the snow melting and the rain we had. As you can see in the first picture, this little arm of the lake is up into the trees where there usually is just a little stream flowing. There is also still a layer of ice on the lake. These two ducks found some open water where it’s still possible for them to swim around a bit.
The second picture is of a sycamore leaf with water flowing over it. The water is so clear and makes the leaf look so clean and bright. I just love the texture of the water and of the leaf and the picture makes me happy.
I thought I’d post a second set of picture for today in addition to those I posted from downtown Richmond. After we walked around a little downtown, we drove out to Maymont. From Wikipedia:
Maymont is a 100 acre Victorian estate and public park in Richmond, Virginia. It contains Maymont Mansion, now a historic house museum, an arboretum, formal gardens, a carriage collection, native wildlife exhibits, a nature center, and Children’s Farm.
In 1893, Major James H. Dooley, a wealthy Richmond lawyer and philanthropist, and his wife, Sallie, completed their elaborate Gilded Age estate on a site high above the James River. According to their wishes, after their deaths Maymont was left to the people of Richmond. Over the next 75 years, additional attractions were added.
The first picture here is the mansion, up on the bluff overlooking the James River (as mentioned in Wikipedia). It really is beautifully situated and it’s a remarkably nice park. Many of the attractions are closed on Mondays, so we were not able to go into the mansion, for instance, but the grounds are open daily and that was enough for us.
We started by walking down past most of the animal exhibits to the Japanese garden. While this can’t be the best time of year to see the garden, we really enjoyed it and would recommend it highly. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you visit in the summer, when it is quite hot, getting from the Japanese garden back to the parking area is going to be a lot more tiring. There is a tram that runs, which would take care of that, but again, not on Mondays.
The other three pictures are of birds (obviously). The first two are in aviaries, the third was a wild mallard on one of the ponds in the Japanese garden. I also enjoyed the collection of trees on the property, including quite a few very large Lebanon cedars (Cedrus libani) and some pretty impressive bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). My favorite two tress, however, were a golden Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tetragona Aurea’) and a very large incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). I have three of the later planted along the fence in my back yard and it was nice to see such a big version of what they can become.
It was a little chilly out today but I went out for a bit because the snow was so pretty. I walked around my office building, looking for things to take pictures of. At one point I heard a tap, tap, tap sound and looked up to see this little downy woodpecker on a dead branch hanging on a tree. She was quite busy looking for things living in the branch and most of my pictures aren’t very good. She kept moving around the branch, and of course I was looking up at a fairly steep angle. This one turned out pretty nicely, though, when she looked over her shoulder.
When I was little I thought that the appearance of robins was a sign of spring. They do migrate and that even contributes to their Latin binomial. Turdus migratorius translates as migratory thrush. In our area, however, they are pretty much a year round feature. Those we have now probably travel to the north in summer, to be replaced by their sun-bird relatives coming up from Florida. The American Robin is not to be confused with the smaller, daintier, and in my mind prettier European robin, Erithacus rubecula.
I went over to Cathy’s mom’s this evening to work on her computer. Between doing things I took some pictures of the birds. This one of Caesar was taken through the bars, which is what makes the lower part of the image a little soft. The bars are about 3/4 inches apart, so I can’t just shoot between them. By keeping the depth of field low, I was able to mostly ignore them. I did take a few of Roscoe through the opened cage door, but didn’t risk it with Caesar.
Yes, squirrels are cute. They can be hugely fun to watch. They run around, up and down trees, leaping from branch to branch, and when it comes to getting food, particularly food left out for birds, they are ingenious. We have a bird feeder outside our dining room window. It’s a nice platform feeder with a glass top and really good for feeding birds when there is snow on the ground. Of course, the squirrels know about it and in fact, they end up eating most of whatever is left there. I’ve been meaning to rig up something to discourage the squirrels but haven’t gotten around to it yet. So, this morning I enjoyed watching a squirrel eat a few leftover wasabi peas. Yes, wasabi peas. They had gone a little soft from being left out and without the crunch of the dried pea, they just were not the same. This fellow, however, didn’t seem to mind at all. At least he didn’t actually complain. This is, of course, our own furry-tailed rat, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).
Outside our dining room window is a small garden bed that doesn’t get a lot of special care. It’s partially under the eaves so the back is fairly dry but that doesn’t seem to deter the things growing there. We have a clump of maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) that came from our old yard in Gaithersburg and before that from my parents’ house. There is a big clump of blackberry lily (Iris domestica) that blooms wonderfully through the middle of the summer. There is also a huge butterfly bush (Buddleja) seedling that would be nicer if it were not so huge. All the spare space in the bed is taken up by Virginia Knotweed (Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis ‘Painter’s Palette’). That has loads of very tiny red flowers followed by brown seeds (achenes, technically). Apparently, and I didn’t realize this, the birds love the seeds. I’ve noticed cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) and white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) on them a few times over the last few days and managed to get a few decent photographs through the dining room window. So far, only the female cardinal has sat high enough in the them to be clearly visible.
My apologies to those of you who are a bit squeemish. As I left work today, this is what I found on the sidewalk outside the back of my building. I’ve posted pictures a few times of the mirrored glass on the back of my building — January 31, April 02, and June 20, 2012. I have to assume this fellow (or lass) saw an ideal perch in a tree that was simply a reflection in that glass. I felt sad, of course, but that didn’t stop me from taking a few pictures. Have I been doing this too long, do you thing?
Update: I labeled this as a flicker without really stopping to think. It is, as Albert so quickly pointed out, a red-bellied woodpecker, not a flicker. Thanks, Albert. I hate it when I do that.
This woolly bear caterpillar was speeding across my driveway this afternoon. I got out my bean bag and got down at his (or her) level to take some pictures. He (or she) was moving so fast that the first few pictures were blurred! Seriously. I touched him and he stopped and played dead for about a minute. I was able to get a few close pictures and then he took off again. The woolly bear is the larva of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. According to folk lore, the wide brown strip on this little fellow indicates a mild winter ahead. Of course, what it actually means is that he inherited the trait for a wide brown stripe from his parents.
Today, our bird Solomon visited Angie’s kindergarten class for the second time (the first time was on Septermber 25, 2012). This year we got a little bolder and the children each got to pet him on the head. He’s a little shy and you have to approach him in just the right way or he screeches at you, but they were all very good, being quiet and moving slowly. We also took a class picture with all the children, Angie, and Solomon.
This is the same spider I had a picture of on September 13. At least it’s the same species. I don’t actually know if it’s the same one, but it certainly could be. This time it is in the back yard with its web between the flower stalks of Verbena bonariensis. I find that to be a much better place for a spider than across the entrance to my house. I tried to get pictures of it from the other side but it wouldn’t let me get close enough. Also, I was shooting into the sun from that side, which was difficult.
Yesterday Cathy noticed this spider out in front of our house. There are two pillars holding up our front porch and it was between one of those and the house, to the side of where we walked. Since it wasn’t bothering anyone and since in general I consider spiders a force for good, I left it alone. This morning as I came out I didn’t see it there where it had been yesterday. With the heavy rain we had last night (and it was still coming down this morning, off and on) I wasn’t too surprised to find it gone. As I walked out from under the porch, though, I found where it had moved when I got a face full of web. As much as I like spiders, I’m not a big fan of spider webs in my face, especially when they are patrolled by a spider as big as this one.
This is a common spider in the Neoscona genus, the Spotted Orbweavers.
I saw a new type of wasp today. Well, new to me, anyway. They’ve been around for a while. The genus Philanthus are known, collectively, as beewolves, because they prey on bees. The female hunts for bees, buries them in brood tunnels, and lays an egg on each. When the larvae hatch, they have a nice, readily available food supply.
This particular species, Philanthus gibbosus is the most common of the north American species. It’s not all that big, between 15 and 18mm in length but it’s brightly marked with yellow. You can see the three simple eyes (ocelli) on the top of the head, although if you didn’t know they were there, you might not notice them. This wasp, like many others in our yard, it particularly fond of the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum).
I didn’t get outside during the day today but I did get this picture from my office window. There were two fawns, actually, both along the side of the parking lot between our lot and the empty lot next door. I’ve seen deer in that empty lot a few times and have come across the bones of deer quite a few times. This is the first time I’ve seen them out in the open on our side of the fence (not that the fence is going to stop them — it’s low enough that I can step over it without any trouble).
We went over to my mom’s for dinner this evening. There wasn’t really any special occasion. She had been at a sort of mini-family reunion in Virginia and had made quite a bit of curry chicken salad and had a pretty good amount left over. It needed to be eaten so we obliged and ate some. It was nice to get together just for the fun of it and nice that Steve and Maya are in town now, which I sometimes don’t remember for some reason. They brought their not-quite-new-any-more corgi, D’Argo, with them and that’s who is in this photo. I’m not sure whose hand that is.