I saw my first butterfly of the year today. I know there are generally some out even earlier than this, but this is the first I’ve spotted. I’m pretty sure it’s an azure (Celastrina sp.) but the various species are difficult to tell apart and I’m not even going to try to figure out which it is. It’s a pretty, little thing, with a wingspan of only a little over an inch. This is a small butterfly and it took a bit of patience to get close enough to get this photo. Still, it was nice to see and the harbinger of things to come. As you know, if you’ve followed my work for any length of time, flowers and insects are two of my favorite subjects for photography and we’re coming into the best time for both.
I stopped at the park on the east side of Lake Needwood this afternoon. It was a beautiful, warm day, although not as warm as it’s been. I heard and then saw a few turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) a short walk from where I stopped and I headed in their direction. They had moved up into the trees by the time I got close but I also happened to see two red tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) as I walked nearer. I got a few pictures of them but they were taken through the branches and didn’t turn out all that well. I got a nice pictures of this turkey vulture with its wings outspread, but that picture, too, had branches in the way. This one, of the vulture as he took off from his perch on the tree stump is my favorite. The next frame, taken a fraction of a second later, is actually better of the bird, but he’s just starting to go behind another tree trunk, which sort of ruins the effect.
Solomon is our pet red-lored amazon parrot (Amazona autumnalis) and he just turned 33 years old last month. We don’t know specifically when he was hatched but he was about nine months old when we got him in October, 1986, so we figure January of that year is close enough. Since it’s now February, we know that’s past. He’s a pretty thing but fairly timid and is not really what you’d call a talker. He says a few things that you can almost understand but that’s about it. He also doesn’t chew on toys or anything else we put in his cage, so we don’t bother any more. He obviously eats but he’s not interested in chewing other things. He needs his beak and nails trimmed but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape. You can see in this photo that he has new feathers coming in, which is always a good sign.
I worked from home this morning and a little before 1:00 PM Dorothy called me and said there were two red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in our back yard. At first they were a little hard to get a straight view of, because they were off to the side, but then they moved across to the middle of the yard. This one stopped and sat, while the other walked right along beside the fence. Eventually, this one joined the other and they sat in a sunny spot in the bushes at the bottom of the garden. It was a cool day, just above freezing, and fairly windy, but out of the wind and in the sun, I imagine it was fairly pleasant for anyone or anything wearing a fox coat.
When we are at the beach, Cathy like to look for shells and coral. She is especially fond of coral, and probably collects more of that than all types of shells combined. There is a small bowl in our bathroom with some of her finds, which, as you can see, have included some pretty nice coral samples. I don’t really know a lot about the corals found in the western Atlantic so I’d just be making a totally uninformed guess if I were to venture an opinion on genus or even family. I’d be interested if anyone who knows about these things were to offer more information. I’m more a shell gatherer, partly because I haven’t the patience to look for coral, although I’ve found a piece or two over the years. The two pointy shells here are from snails and the one between them is a bivalve, but that’s as specific as I’m going to get. For anyone interested, this Marine Species Identification Portal looks pretty helpful.
One of the things in my in-laws house that we didn’t get rid of was this butterfly collection. It’s a box about 15 by 20 inches that opens up like a book to twice that size. Each side has butterflies mounted between cotton backing and a glass plate. They are quite lovely and varied. Not shown here is a very large butterfly that is bright blue on its underside (which is the visible side in the collection). The other side, the upper sides of the wings are brown. In this way, it blends in with the the earth from above and with the sky from below.
I met Cathy outside my building briefly today because we had come together and she needed to go out briefly so needed the keys to the car. I brought my camera with me and took a few pictures while I was out. There are porcelain berries (Ampelopis brevipedunculata) out and I took a few pictures of those. Then I noticed a really spectacular web glinting in the sun. This spider was sitting near the middle of that web and I was able to get quite close for some pretty nice pictures. I didn’t have my tripod with me but it was pretty bright out. I’ve asked for some help in identifying it and if I hear about that I’ll post its name here.
Update: I have confirmed that this is a lattice orbweaver (Araneus thaddeus).
I decided to take a bit of a detour on the way home, stopping at Upper Rock Creek Park along the east bank of Lake Needwood. I find it very frustrating that the powers that be they have put up barricades on Needwood Road that make it impossible to park there and enjoy that end of the lake. I don’t really understand that decision. It’s obviously something that was thought out and specifically decided, as some of the guard rails are not protecting anything except places that one might otherwise park their car. Anyway, I drove through the park and ended up parking at the south end of the lake. As I was walking I startled a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and was just able to get one somewhat blurry photo before it flew out of range.
Cathy called me around the south end of the house late this afternoon to take pictures of this male carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) on the buddleia growing there. Carpenter bees are nice to photograph because they don’t mind you getting fairly close to them. Also, the males like this one, identified by the white or pale yellow patch on their face, don’t sting and in fact are unable to do so. I don’t find many bees to be particularly aggressive, though, and I know some people are quite afraid of them. For me, as long as I move slowly and carefully, I’ve never had a problem. I’m not particularly allergic, either, which is important.
The funnel weaver spiders are out in huge numbers at this point of the summer. Especially on damp mornings, when the dew is heavy on the ground, their webs are obvious (but they can be seen pretty well at all times). Outside our front door is a concrete bench (that we call The Stone Table) on which Cathy has various and sundry potted plants and various ornaments. This spider has built a fairly elaborate web along the side of a blue pot. I’ve had a hard time getting a good photo that shows the funnel in their web but I think this one does it pretty well.
As we left our AirBnB this morning, heading for home, we passed this little cemetery and saw a flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) among the grave markers. We stopped and took some time to walk around the cemetery a little and enjoy the quiet, as well as the birds. As I walked across the top of the cemetery, they moved slowly towards and then through an opening in the fence behind them. We used to see turkeys a lot more often than we do now. In Pennsylvania we would see them somewhat regularly and also ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus, the common pheasant of Asia, introduced into North America in the late 18th century). We almost never see them any more, so this was a treat for us.
We had a good day with Dorothy and a few of her friends today. We went to church and then to lunch. It was nice to spend some time with Jonathan (who lived with us the summer before last) and Andrew (the other half of Kindsman), as well as Taylor and Rachel.
We hung out with Dorothy at her dorm for a while and I went out into the woods next to it to take mushroom pictures. When I got back, Dorothy called me over to get some pictures of this beautiful, red dragonfly. I haven’t had a chance to identify it yet, but I’ll probably start with red skimmer and go from there.
I had a short break in the usual busyness at work today so was able to get out to take a few pictures. I got a few of a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) and a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I was able to get photos of both of them in flight but they were both pretty far away and they pictures aren’t all that great.
Before I came back inside I walked past some buddleia growing in a flower bed in the front of my building. There were a few monarch butterflies ((Danaus plexippus) flitting around on them. Although the garden was in the shade of the building, there was enough light to get some pretty reasonable photos.
I took pictures in the yard this evening. I started with pictures of this butterfly, a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) on the buddleia just into our back yard. It was moving about, skipping from one flower cluster to another but I was able to get a few nice shots from the side (head-on photos of butterflies aren’t very satisfying). I took some pictures of an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), also on the buddleia. I took pictures of two different purslanes growing in a hanging basket by the back patio.
As you walk through a lawn, chances are there are insects jumping away from you much of the time. We often walk through life not noticing things like that. Many of the insects are too small to be of any note. Slightly larger insects, like this cricket, might catch our eye but still not attract much attention. I went out today specifically looking at the little creatures all around and was able to get fairly close to this one before it hopped away. I haven’t had a chance to look it up to get any sort of identification beyond “cricket” but that’s probably good enough for now.
It was dark and raining this morning and into the early afternoon but by 5:00 PM or so the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I wouldn’t actually have minded the clouds staying around because our air conditioner has called it quits and a little less direct sun would have been welcome. Still, it was nice to get out and look for insects to photograph. This little fellow, a Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius), was on some blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in the front garden. I also got some pictures of an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) but they weren’t very sharp. Quite shy, those little blues.
Apparently my great Uncle Charles was good at finding sharks’ teeth. We found a box of them in my mom’s basement and she said he had found them and given them to her either at one time or at various times over the years. She said they mostly came from southern Maryland or from North Carolina but we don’t really know that with any certainty. They vary quite a bit in size and there are some considerably larger than the one on the right here. Those are not complete and they are quite worn, though. The one in the middle is one of the best in terms of having a sharp edge. In the box was also a stone arrowhead, which I assume was also found by him.
I stopped at the commuter parking lot on Georgia Avenue where it crosses the Intercounty Connector today and took some pictures of insects on wildflowers growing on the hillside above the parking lot. I had originally stopped because there were beautiful clouds to the northwest but by the time I got there the sky was pretty much a uniform grey. There were goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) all over the goldenrod (which makes a lot of sense) and there were quite a few types of bees. I followed this little butterfly around a while until I was able to get close enough for a few decent photographs. The one taken after this is considerably closer but not as sharp, unfortunately. The dwindling light from the heavy overcast was makign it hard. But I enjoyed being out in the wind and with insects all around.
It’s funnel weaver time in the yard. They build webs in the grass and in the garden where the plants aren’t too tall. When it’s humid and the dew settles on the grass, they are particularly easy to find because of the beads of water on the webs. I believe that this is a grass spider (genus Agelenopsis). They generally disappear into the funnel at the side of there web when I get too close but with a bit of patience they can be seen. While I’m not a fan of having spiders crawling on me or having spider webs in my face, I like them for what they eat, so I left them be, for the most part.
This little green, caramic frog is sitting on our piano. I’m not sure exactly where it came from. Cathy probably knows but I haven’t bothered to ask. It probably showed up in a box at her mom’s house sometime in the last nine months. I don’t remember when it appeared on the piano, but there it is. As you may be able to see, it’s front left leg has been broken. It doesn’t affect the frogs ability to hop, though. That’s mostly because ceramic frogs don’t move very much, I suppose.
The afternoon sun was lighting up three or four prominent spider webs today. Spider webs can be tricky to photograph. In particular, you can pretty much forget about auto-focus, unless there is something substantial caught in the web (or if the spider is there, which is sometimes enough). Another thing is that you want them to show up against whatever background is available. If the web is lit by the sun, as this one is, then you want a relatively dark background. This is an old web, not obviously inhabited any more. One of the others I photographed had a spider on it, although she scurried for cover when I got close. I did get one picture of an orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) on her web, though.
In a rare turn for late August, it was very pleasant outside today. The high probably wasn’t over about 82°F and it wasn’t humid at all. In the shade it was quite comfortable. To capitalize on such a nice day, Cathy and I met and took a walk around our company campus. Almost immediately when I went outside, I spotted this dragonfly, which I believe to be a wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), one of the skimmers. That ID may be wrong, but nevertheless, it’s a beautiful thing, with its dark yellow markings and striking red eyes.
I got a few nice arthropod photos today, one spider (a Basilica Orbweaver (Mecynogea lemniscata) and a few bees. My post for today came down to a choice between this monarch and a photo of a Philanthus gibbosus, one of the thirty-some species of beewolves in our area. It’s a pretty little bee with pitted chitin and a distinctive pattern of yellow and black. I photographed it on a black-eyed Susan, which went well with its coloration. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go with this rather nice photo of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Oddly, most people who dislike insects don’t really mind butterflies. It’s true that they are pretty harmless to humans but then, so are a lot of other, more easily despised insects. Maybe it’s because they are so colorful and pretty, but frankly, I think wasps are pretty, so there.
It’s spider time in Maryland. There are spiders around all year long, of course. It’s said that you are never more than six feet from a spider*. Nevertheless, they are much more noticeable in the heat of late summer. We have quite a few living in the garden and yard and I have no problem with that. They eat things I like less than spiders. This one is just outside our living room window on a fairly impressive web. Getting into a good position to photograph it was a bit tricky, as I didn’t want to disturb it or ruin its web. I know I have a few followers who aren’t crazy about my spider photos (or other creepy-crawly things) but I think they are beautiful, in their own way. This is, I believe, a cobweb spider in the genus Parasteatoda.
* There are probably exceptions to this, for instance if you are floating in the ocean (without a boat), you may be more than six feet from a spider.
As I’ve mentioned before, the garden is somewhat overrun with Rudbekia (a.k.a. black-eyed Susan) flowers. The bees don’t mind. There are, actually, other things in bloom, but none nearly as obvious. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), for instance, is very popular with the bees of all sorts. But their flowers are much less showy. This afternoon I took a bunch of pictures of various bees on the black-eye Susan flowers. This one is a western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Contrary to popular belief, they are in no real danger of all dying out. You can, to a large degree, thank capitalism for that, although I think the danger was considerably exagerated, in any case.
After work I met my mom at her house and we emptied the garage. I have a few pictures of it, showing how it’s leaning, particularly at the back. We loaded trash into her van to take to the county transfer station and I took a few things to give away or otherwise deal with. When I got home and was unloading my van I noticed this praying mantis on the roof of Margaret’s car. I believe but am not sure that it is a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis). I think it is not fully grown, as it was only about two inches long. Like true bugs, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and crickets (to name a few), the mantises undergo what is known as incomplete metamorphosis. That is, instead of larval and pupal stages, the emerge from their eggs as nymphs and grow through a series of instars, where they shed their exoskeletons as they grow.
I know that for many people, the phrase, “one of my favorite spiders” is not even a thing. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite spiders. The Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes) is quite large. Nothing like a tarantula and only hairy at the leg joints, but still pretty good sized. The body of females grow up to almost 2 inches. This on is about an inch and a half. The male, seen at the top of the picture, is considerably smaller. North Carolina is about as far north as this spider is found but it is fairly common in the marshy woods here. Because of their size, they are fairly easy to spot. That’s just as well because you probably won’t be happy when you walk into the web as you go through the woods.
The silk from this spider is a golden color. Scientists have analyzed the dragline silk of this spider’s web and attempted to reproduce its proteins artificially for use in high-strength fabrics.
We went swimming early this afternoon and then I dug in the sand and made a drip castle. After showering, Cathy and I walked on the beach. I was surprised that the castle was still there. The tide hadn’t come in yet but no one had stepped on it. On our walk we saw a few common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) just above the surf pulling up clams after each wave. It’s not really surprising that they’ve learned to enjoy clams. It’s just that we don’t think of grackles as shore birds, skipping around at the top of the surf along with willets and sand pipers.
We had a bit of rain this morning but it cleared up later and we went swimming. Late in the day I went for a little drive to find somewhere to take pictures. On the mainland near the east end of the island is a boat ramp. There used to be a ferry across to the island there and it’s a pretty place. I took some pictures of marsh grass growing on the banks of the channel and also got a nice photo of a tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). From there I drove to the Shallotte River inlet and took some pictures of this brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) perched on a pole out in the water.
Dorothy thought she had to work from 4:00 to 9:00 PM today but she got a text just after 11:00 saying she was on from 11:00 to 4:00. Fortunately, we were just driving through campus as she got that, so we were there within minutes. Cathy and I enjoyed a walk around Coy Pond and I took a bunch of pictures, including of water lilies, a great blue heron, and this dragonfly. Later we went to the garden at Long Hall and I took more pictures. That was a nice garden with an interesting collection of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Recommended. We had dinner at La Victoria, a trendy but decent taco place just off of Cabot Street in Beverly.
The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) in our yard tend to get eaten up by insects of one sort or another. I’m not sure who the culprit actually is, but they eat holes in the ray florets (the petals around the central group of disc florets), making the flowers a bit less attractive for photography. The bees aren’t bothered, of course, and this bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). The generic name Echinacea comes from the Greek word meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin, which references the spiny center of the flower. The name Bombus for bumble bees comes from the Latin (which took it from the Greek) for “booming, buzzing, humming.”
Along our back fence, the garden has really gotten out of control. With the work we’ve been doing on our mom’s houses, we haven’t really had time to give it half the attention it needs and deserves. Consequently, it’s got goldenrod, poke weed, and thistles growing in abundance. Three of our planted perennials are doing quite well, however, including the bee balm (Monarda didyma, also known as Oswego tea or bergamot) and the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) shown here. The other, not yet in bloom, is obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). All three are native to the area and extremely tough. The bees love them and I followed this common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) for a while as he moved from flower to flower.
The gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) is in bloom and that generally means I have an opportunity to photograph common eastern bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) like this one. I don’t recommend planting loosestrife unless you really enjoy digging up plants where they appear throughout your garden. It can easily get ahead of you. We sometimes joke about planting two aggressive plants in a container and waiting to see which comes out on top. This has got to be a contender. It does have nice flowers, though, and its attractiveness to bees speaks well of it. Nevertheless, if I could get rid of all we had, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
Cathy and I went for a walk along the C&O Canal today after church. We each brought a change of clothes because it was much too hot for even casual church clothes today. We walked west (upstream) on the tow path and enjoyed the fact that it’s pretty shady. With a temperature above 95°F in the shade, we certainly didn’t need to be out in the sun. We’re neither mad dogs nor Englishmen.
As you would expect, I brought my camera with me and we saw a little wildlife. First was this dragonfly. The female and the immature male of the eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) are an emerald green. The adult male, however, transitions to a dark, powder blue, as seen here.
I got some nice photos of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a flowering shrub native to the area. It’s a member of the coffee family, Rubiaceae and it has very interesting, spherical florets.
At the turning basin just above the aqueduct we saw a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) although the way it was lit and because it was pretty far away, I wasn’t sure that’s what it was. Of course, there aren’t a lot of birds that size around here. A little further on we saw a black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). I had stopped to take a picture of a family of ducks in the canal, which was full of duck weed. That meant I was ready when the heron flew past and I was able to get this shot.
I stopped on the way home today to take a short walk on Rock Creek Trail. I went over to the creek, where I had been a few weeks ago when the water was so high. There were quite a few insects about this time, including a lot of these pretty little damselflies. This is a male ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata). The females have a conspicuous, white spot near the end of their wings (the “spot” on this one is a reflection, not really a spot). The photo is not as sharp as I would have liked but they don’t appreciate close approach and it’s the best I was able to get. One thing I really like about this picture, though, is that you can see the edge of the leaf through the damselfly’s wings.
I took a little walk at lunch time today, around my building and then into the woods. There is a tree that fell across the stream a year and a half ago and I’m still able to get across on that. One of these days it’s going to collapse under me, but so far, it’s been alright. There are a few drainage ponds on the upper part of the property and they have water in them now, even though our April was dryer than normal. I saw a bird across the pond and as if flew off I was able to get two pictures of it. Judging by its size and shape and with only a very brief glance at it, I had thought it was a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). Once I saw the picture, though, I knew that was wrong. After a little searching, I decided it was a solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), migrating to its summer breeding grounds in the far north (entirely north of the USA/Canada border). As usual when it comes to identifying birds, I checked with George to see if he thought I was right. He did.
It was a beautiful day and Cathy and decided to take a short walk in nearby Rock Creek Park. With her ankle problems we didn’t want to overdo it, so this seemed like a good way to get out, at least a little. Before we had even gotten as far as the bike trail that runs along the creek we spotted this piliated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), who landed on a tree not too far from us. We also saw a few white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (White-tailed Deer), including one that was seriously not bothered by our presence. We saw a small flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). There was also a nice assortment of wildflowers including star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), a pretty, little, white, star-shaped flower.
It’s that time of year again. That time when all the rabbits appear. They’ve come out in pretty significant numbers and are ravenously eating our lawn and garden. I don’t mind when they eat the grass, that’s going to be cut anyway (eventually, once we can get to our lawn mower in the crowded garage). But eating the garden plants is another thing. That purple hyacinth that I posted a picture of recently is gone. They have eaten the tops off a few others, as well. I haven’t done anything to fight the rabbits for a long time but this time of year, I’m always tempted.
I took my camera with me to a meeting across campus and then spent a little time taking pictures on the way back. The Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is starting to leaf out and in spite of the fact that it’s quite likely that we’ll have another freeze, it’s not at all bothered. It’s pretty well suited for cold and a light freeze or two isn’t going to do it any harm. This little insect, however, may be jumping the gun a bit. I don’t know, really. Perhaps it, too, has ways to deal with late freezes. I know some of my followers think it a bit funny that I try to identify all the plants and animals in my posts with their Latin names. You’ll be happy to know that I have no idea what sort of insect this is and I’m going to leave it at that.
As I mentioned yesterday, Dorothy is home for spring break and brought four friends with her. Today we drove out to our friends farm in the outskirts of Poolesville. The chicken’s are not really a featured attraction and visitors are not supposed to wander out into the field with the animals. One advantage of being friends with the owners, however, is a little more latitude when it comes to where we are allowed. The kids (and I’m counting Cathy among them) enjoyed catching chickens and putting them back inside the enclosure. Here are John, Cathy, and Grace, each with a chicken.
With a specific name like Turdus migratorius, you might thing the American robin is only here part of the year. After all, migratorius implies it migrates. Well, it does. Nevertheless, for the overwhelming part of the 48 contiguous states, the robin is a year-round fixture. Their summer breeding grounds extend from the southern states (and include the mountains of central Mexico) to cover all but the most arctic portions of Canada. In the winter they move south, with their northern limit right around the U.S.-Canadian border. So, if you live in Canada, their arrival is a sure sign of spring. The birds we see in the summer may not be the birds we see in the winter but frankly, they all look pretty much alike. We often see them eating berries on the holly in our front yard. This time of year, as it begins to warm up, they are active pulling up worms, as this one was doing before being so rudely interrupted by me.
Cathy’s brother is in town and we’ve begun to work on their mom’s house today. It’s going to be a longish process and there will be parts of the process that are going to be quite difficult. Today we were just beginning to scratch the surface of 50 years of things, some of which brought back happy memories for them and some less so. In one drawer I came across a plastic grocery bag full of parrot feathers. The cleaning lady would collect them and make them into crafts. None of us are particularly fond of the crafts, although we appreciated the sentiment. The parrots are gone (Red and then Roscoe have past on to that great bird cage in the sky. Caesar is living with dozens of other birds and apparently now is palling around with two toucans (fourcans?). These feathers went into to the trash.
It rained overnight but was mostly clear today and quite warm for mid-February. After a meeting that ran from 11:30 to just before noon, I walked a bit in the woods and upland area next to my office. First, I walked down into the woods above the drainage pond where a fair sized flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were bouncing around in the underbrush. If I had a tripod and a longer lens I think I could get some pretty good photos in that area. As it is, this is good enough for identification purposes but it isn’t going to win any awards. Still, it was nice to be out with the birds in 60°F weather in the middle of winter.
I had a dentist appointment this morning and that meant that I got to work a little later than normal. It was cool out but sunny and bright. As I Parked the car at work I saw a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) fly past and land on a tree across the parking lot. I got my camera out and walked towards it. I got one picture from a fairly large distance but for the most part it kept to the far side of the tree it was on and eventually it flew away. I spotted this white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and managed to get quite a bit closer. It’s a cheerful little bird, and quite pretty with its yellow patch (and of course its white throat).
I was up before sunrise this morning and wasn’t really looking outside until after Cathy got up. When she came down and went into the kitchen, she called me (quietly) and said there was a fox on our back patio. She had put some old sunflower seeds out on the ground, thinking they would be eaten by squirrels and birds, but the fox was happily eating them. After a while it moved away to the back of the yard and then curled up in the grass for a while. Unfortunately it did that in a spot mostly hidden by a tree. I didn’t want to go outside, as that would surely have scared it off. Eventually it got up and walked around a little before taking off for parts unknown. I suppose if we had a small dog I’d be more worried about seeing the fox, but as it is, it made us glad.
After a meeting across campus today, I stopped to take some pictures of the ice around the drainage control pond next to my building. With the rain on Thursday and Friday, the water had been high. As it drained, the temperature dropped and it froze, but the water level continued to drop, leaving lots of ice around the banks of the pond. As I walked down through the middy area leading to the pond, this great blue heron (Ardea herodias), took off and flew a little further away from me. After that, he waded around and I was able to get a few more pictures, both from this side (where he is back lit) and from the other, with the sun shining on him from over my shoulders. Without more than a 100mm lens, this is the best I could do.
Back on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 I posted a photo titled “Lectern Eagle’s Talons” which was a portion of a wooden lectern carved in the shape of an eagle. This is the head of the eagle, which unfortunately has a chipped beak. There is also a large crack across the breast of the bird, but that adds character more than anything. Otherwise, it’s in pretty good shape. There was, at one time, a brass plaque (I’m assuming brass) which probably said who paid for the lectern or something of that sort. There really needs to be a small set of steps behind this, so you can get up high enough to read from it, as the whole things is well over six feel tall.
We had a light snowfall overnight. The forecast is for clear or mostly clear skies for a while so we aren’t likely to get more but the forecast is also for relatively cool temperatures for the next week or so, probably below 20°F for the duration and getting well down into the single digits. I’ll probably need to wear a sweater one or two days this week. These footprints are on the back step, just outside our kitchen door. We have a birdbath with a heater in it that keeps the water from freezing, so birds are never in short supply this time of year, particularly when it gets to cold.
It was a gloriously beautiful day today and I had a little time for lunch so I went out into the empty lot next to my building and lay on my back in a patch of dry grass. The sky was a beautiful blue. The sun was warm but the air was cool, so it was perfectly comfortable. While I was sitting, this little bug flew up and landed on a blade of grass right in front of me. I was able to get a handful of pictures, although they are not as sharp as I’d like. I had to take it from a slightly awkward sitting position. When I tried to lie down to get a better position, I scared it off.
I was outside for a little while today and took a few pictures. Most of them were of trees reflected in the windows on the outside of my office building. They are not as colorful as in some years but with the blue sky behind them and the slight distortions of the not-quite-flat glass, they made for interesting pictures. Then I noticed a vulture land in this tree. I took two pictures of the tree in reflection and then turned around to get a couple directly. There are three birds in the tree and just after I snapped one picture, a fourth turkey vulture flew through the frame and I grabbed one more shot. Actually, I’m not sure they are all turkey vultures. At least one may be a black vulture (Coragyps atratus).
The buddleia in the back and side yards is going to be done blooming soon but while there are still flowers on it, the butterflies are making the most of the time they have left. There were dozens of painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) in the yard today, as well as a handful of monarchs (Danaus plexippus). I got a few pictures of both together but since I’ve posted monarch pictures recently and it’s been a few years since I featured a painted lady, I decided to go with this one, which I think shows it off pretty well.
I went out back to see what I could find to photograph this evening. There was a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly on the Buddleia and I got some reasonable but not great pictures of that. Then I noticed this large, yellow and brown wasp on the steps. This is a large wasp, about 2cm in length. Not as big as the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) but still a pretty good size. As the common name implies, these are native to Eurasia. They were introduced to eastern North America in the 1800s. They are one of the many wasps to build paper nests out of chewed wood pulp.
IN general I try not to post pictures of the same thing close together and especially not two days in a row. However, needs must. I only took a few pictures today and the only pictures worth sharing from today are of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in our back yard. This one doesn’t have the orange flower complimenting the butterfly but it’s still pretty nice, I think. These are here in pretty good numbers right now, and I’m really enjoying them on the Buddleia and (like this one) the Verbena bonariensis.
We had a short visit from Dorothy this weekend. She flew down to Richmond late Thursday evening and came up here this morning for a less-than-24-hour visit. We went out to the Glenn’s farm (properly known as Rocklands Farm) and while we were there I got some pictures of a monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Anna’s flowers. We enjoyed being outdoors although truth be told, it was a bit warmer than is my preference. Still, a beautiful day.
I managed to get outdoors for a little while today but had a hard time finding anything interesting to photograph. It’s been very dry and with dryness and the somewhat cooler weather we’ve been having, there are fewer insects about. I took some pictures of the sumac that is starting to turn a brilliant red but even those pictures don’t really thrill me. As I got back to my office parking lot, I picked up a black walnut and smelled it. I love the smell of fresh walnut husks. This one was black on one side and clearly soft. I squeezed it a bit and it split open, revealing a mass of some sort of fly larvae feasting on the flesh inside. I have no idea what they are (or even if they are flies, to be honest). But I though they would make a good picture (for some definition of ‘good’).
I stopped at Upper Rock Creek Park (a.k.a. Lake Needwood) today on the way home from work. I like to do that now and then, especially in the spring when new things are coming up or in the fall when the leaves are so lovely. But neither of those are true right now, so I’m not entirely sure why I did. But I did. As I walked down through the woods I saw a great blue heron fly across the lake and land in a dead tree on a point just a little way ahead. I knew there was a path out onto that point so I made my way there, walking as quietly as I could. The path goes steeply down the hill at the end, right under the tree the bird was in and I was only able to get three pictures as it flew off, almost directly into the sun. So, it’s not necessarily what I was hoping for but it’s probably better then I should have expected.
I decided to take some pictures of plants on the driveway this evening. One that I got pictures of is an elephant ear, otherwise known as taro and more precisely called Colocasia esculenta. After that I started taking some pictures of the pale pink flowers on an autumn flowering stonecrop, probably ‘Autumn Joy’, also known as ‘Herbstfreude’. Although these are often referred to as sedum, they have been reclassified as a Hylotelephium species. As I was taking the pictures, this eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) came and gave me another point of interest.
The light was really pretty this afternoon, shining on the Physostegia virginiana (a.k.a. obedient plant, but that’s not nearly as fun to say). I took some pictures of the flowers by themselves but really what I was looking for was a picture with a bee or wasp or something. There was actually quite a lot of activity, mostly from eastern carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) but getting a good picture proved elusive. They kept moving, for one thing, and most of the pictures I got are not in focus. They also spent most of their time with their heads buried in the flowers which meant all I could see was their backs.
The skippers are a constant source of attraction pretty much all summer and into the fall in our yard. They may have their favorites but they are generally everywhere, from the black-eye Susans (Rudbekia) as seen here, to the Verbena bonariensis, the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), and the Buddleia. They are everywhere and it pretty huge numbers. If you walk along the edge of the black-eyed Susans, they fly off en masse and alight again, further along or behind you. It’s enjoyable just to watch them flitting about, sometimes two or even three on a flower, but not usually for long, as they are so often on the move.
I had a meeting in one of the other buildings on campus this afternoon. I took my camera with me, as I often do, and went into the woods between the buildings on my way back. Below the pond there is a stream and to the side of that, an old settling pond that’s almost completely silted up. The water isn’t more than six inches deep although I wouldn’t be surprised if the soft mud is another foot deep below that. I walked along the side of that and took a few pictures of a red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ) before spotting this little spider, and orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta). I managed to get down onto the ground without getting too wet and got a few pictures, although a tripod would have been a big help. These are pretty little things and of course they eat things that I don’t particularly like. So they’re my friends.
I didn’t really get outside today except to go to and come home from work. As the passed, I realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures today so shortly before 10:00 PM I started taking a few pictures of the fish in my main fish tank. I say ‘main fish tank’ because I currently have two, a largish, 70 gallon tank in the breakfast room (the ‘main’ one) and a smaller, 30 gallon tank in the family room. As of today, however, there are no fish in the smaller tank. There were only two, a fairly good size fresh water angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and this kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii). Catching them in the other tank was a bit tricky but I finally managed it. The loach was particularly hard, as it kept Darting under things. Finally I took everything out of the tank (the rocks, etc. so there were fewer places to hide. Those rocks have been moved, along with the fish, into the larger tank, and they seem to be doing fine so far. The plecostomus that’s been in the tank seemed happy to have more places to hide, as well, and has claimed the largest spot under the rocks for himself. This loach is the last remaining fish that I took from our friend Hannah when she went off to college a little more than four years ago. Sadly the others are all gone, but this little guy, who we actually hardly ever see, seems perfectly content.
I managed to get outdoors for a little while today and into the woods and upland next to my office building. It was warm but not hot and I enjoyed the break in an otherwise busy day. I got some pictures of a lady beetle on the same stand of yellow ironweed where I took the picture of the leaf-footed bug last Thursday (see Thursday, September 7, 2017). Then when I got out into the sun I was able to get reasonably close to this dragonfly, which I haven’t had time to identify yet. It’s a pretty thing and I particularly like the eyes.
Cathy and I went for a walk to and along a stretch of the Northwest Branch of Rock Creek late this afternoon. We made it as far as where the creek goes under Muncaster Mill Road and then followed the road back to our neighborhood and home. It was a nice walk and warm without being hot. As we were walking up Muncaster Mill, Cathy spotted this spider along the edge of the trees. It is probably a species in the genus Neoscona, the spotted orbweavers. Light was fairly low and this isn’t nearly as sharp as I’d have liked. Also, without seeing the dorsal view, it’s not really possible to make a good identification.
It was a cool day today, felling much more like October than September. I suspect we’ll get a bit more summer before it’s done but today was absolutely lovely. The maple tree in the back yard is starting to show some color and it felt very autumnal. In the late afternoon I went out back and took some pictures of hosta flowers. It was a smallish hosta and I got down on the patio to take pictures. The warm concrete of the patio and the cool air was really nice. I noticed this little blue-winged wasp (Scolia dubia) and was able to get one reasonably decent picture (and a bunch of not-very-good pictures) of it before it flew off. This is one of my favorite wasps but they’re a challenge to get close to, so I was pleased.
It was a beautiful day and I decided to go out into the woods today. Just after I crossed the creek on the fallen tree trunk I looked to see what insects I could find in the little stand of yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and the first thing I found was this leaf-footed bug, one of probably two species in the genus Piezogaster. After that I took some pictures of the crab apples on the edge of what I call the uplands. There are both red and yellow apples and they’re quite pretty but then, they’ll be there when I come back in a day or two and I don’t know if I’ll see another bug like this for a while.
I went for a hike with a friend and his four lovely kids today. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and a perfect day to get a little bit lost. We were never really truly lost but we did miss a turn and ended up further from the car than we had originally planned. We enjoyed the woods and the kids in particular enjoyed kicking over mushrooms (after letting me get down on the ground to get a few pictures first). We also saw a slug and I got some nice pictures of that, if pictures of a slug can ever really be considered nice. This picture is a red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), one of four subspecies of Limenitis arthemis. This is a very distinctive butterfly and quite a pretty thing. Yes, I know that it looks more blue than purple. It’s been mentioned. The ‘red’ spots (which are orange. I know, right?) are on the lower hind wings (i.e., the other side).
I went out back today after work and found this little wasp on the mountain mint. I was only able to get a few half decent pictures of it before it flew off but they are good enough that I’m pretty sure it is a four-toothed mason wasp (Monobia quadridens). Like the potter wasp in yesterday’s picture, the nests of the four-toothed mason wasp are provisioned with caterpillars. The cells of nests are separated by mud partitions, which is why they are called masons. At least I think that’s why. Maybe they are members of the fraternal organization of a similar name.
I went out into the back yard this evening to see what I could find. There was a serious buzz around the flowers with dozens (or possibly hundreds, I really don’t know) of bees, wasps, skippers, and flies all moving about. After getting a few pictures of a wasp on the mountain mint, most of which are pretty blurry, I went to see what was happening at the buddleia near the gate. This potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) flew up to the top branches but I could see it was carrying something. Turns out it has a caterpillar. The female potter wasp lays eggs in a mud nest and then provisions it with small caterpillars, as food for the larva.
I went outside a little before 1:00 PM today and it was quite warm and very muggy. I took a few pictures of wildflowers but it looked like I was not going to get any insect pictures. There were plenty about but they were all moving quite a lot, which makes it hard. I also didn’t feel like hanging out in the hot sun any longer than necessary. As I was leaving, this female common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) landed on the ragweed just ahead of me. I got a few pictures from where I was and then very slowly moved closer until I was able to get this one and a few like it before she flew away.
I don’t know what sort of wasp this is and I’m sort of doubtful that I could identify it from this or the two other photos I took of it as it moved around the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) this afternoon. It was a sort of lazy afternoon and I hung out with the wasps again, as I tend to do. If I’m going to be out on a day above 90°F, especially if I’m going to be in the sun on such a day, there’s a good chance it’s because I’m hanging with my insect friends. Otherwise, I head for the shade at the very least, if not for the air-conditioned indoors.
This little, dark butterfly was flitting about the black-eyed Susans this afternoon. It’s been quite warm and today was especially so, but the hot sun seems to be exactly what the little flying critters love. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), the black-eyed Susans, (Rudbekia species), the tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and what’s left of the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) were all thick with bees, wasps, flies, skippers, and butterflies. It was nice just to be there with them, hearing the faint buzz and seeing all the movement. This little fellow, one of the spread-wing skippers, took a little stalking to get pictures, but I think it was worth the effort. UPDATE: This has been identified as a wild indigo duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae).
I came across another new bug today (new to me, that is). This is the twice-stabbed stink bug (Cosmopepla lintneriana), so called because of the two red ‘wounds’ the apex of the scutellum. There were at least three of them on the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) in our back garden, including the two shown here. I had a hard time photographing them because they kept crawling around to the underside of the branches and under the bunches of purple berries. My camera, with a 100mm macro lens and two off camera flashes is a little unwieldy and takes two hands to manage properly. So, I’d use one hand to scare the bugs onto the upper side of the branch and then let go to get the picture. By the time I had found them again through the viewfinder and focused on them, they were half way back to the underside of the branch.
We have had a relatively mild August this year. I don’t know if it’s any sort of record or where it stands in comparison to averages but it has definitely been on the cool side. Today, however, it was hot. I went out into the empty lot this afternoon and had trouble because there was standing water in a few places. Once I made my way to one of the drainage ponds I sat in the shade and watched the dragonflies darting around over the shallow water. I happened to see this little rice stink bug (Oebalus pugnax) on a blade of grass and got two photos before he flew away. This species has characteristic spikes at the front corners of their pronotum (sort of at the ‘shoulders’).
The funnel weavers are out in force again. They appear about this time each year. Actually, they are a little earlier than usual this year, probably because of the uncommonly mild weather and the relatively large amount of rain we’ve had. They are really cool spiders, building horizontal, non-sticky webs. When an insect lands on the web, the spider rushes out and bites it and the takes it back into her funnel, an tube-like web structure. This is, I believe, a grass spider (Agelenopsis species), one of the funnel weavers in the family Agelenidae. These spiders are really shy and not at all aggressive. And they eat insects. What’s not to like?
When I took this picture I assumed it was a wasp. Evan after going to BugGuide.net for identification that’s what I thought. I mean, it has that wasp-waisted look. But I wasn’t able to find any wasps that matched. That’s because it isn’t a wasp, it’s a fly, a thick-headed fly (Family Conopidae) to be precise. I think it is probably Physocephala tibialis, but I’m not completely sure. Anyway, it’s a pretty little thing and I’m pretty happy with this picture, especially as it’s the first thick-headed fly I’ve seen (at least knowingly).
I haven’t had a chance to look up this bee and I’m not sure this picture is good enough for a positive identification, in any case. There are a lot of little bees that look somewhat like this. This is the best of the pictures I got and it is still not very sharp. It’s a pretty little bee and I’m happy with the picture overall, though. I love the bright orange of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It generally makes a nice contrast to the dark colors of bees. I didn’t take a lot of pictures today, though, so there were not a lot to choose from.
A bunch of us went to Brookgreen Gardens today. Seth, Iris, and Tsai-Hong stayed until about 1:00 before moving on to the lowcountry zoon and then headed back to the beach. Cathy, Dorothy, Jonathan, Dot, and I had lunch and then did a bit more walking in the gardens before hitting the zoo. I took a lot of pictures of sculpture and a few of dragonflies and grasshoppers (the huge eastern lubber grasshopper, Romalea microptera). I really enjoy both the sculpture and the setting. It was hot today but not really hot by South Carolina in August standards. In the shade it was actually pretty pleasant. This first picture is of my favorite tree at Brookgreen gardens. It is in the corner of the Palmetto Garden and really is part of the Live Oak Allée that’s just across the wall. I think it’s magnificent.
Of course we also went to the lowcountry zoo where we saw black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) as well as a few egrets and an ibis. The otters were very active and we enjoyed watching them swim around for a while. It was actually feeding time at the alligator pond but the alligator we saw must be well fed because he was pretty blasé about the whole thing.
After leaving Brookgreen, we drove to Murrill’s Inlet for an early dinner at Nance’s. Dorothy, Jonathan, and I shared a half bushel of steamed oysters while mom had soft-shell crab and Cathy had a crab cake.
It was a hot but beautiful day and I went out into the lot next to my office this afternoon. I saw and photographed a young white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas), an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), and an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). As I sat next to a dried up drainage pond I watched grasshoppers moving around. I was able to get close enough to this one to get a pretty good photograph. This is one of over 260 Melanoplus species, which are spur-throated grasshoppers, subfamily Melanoplinae of the short-horned grasshoppers, family Acrididae. After I came back to my parking lot, I walked down to the pond and saw a pair of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) and got a pictures of one that’s good enough to confirm the sighting but not much better than that.
I got a few insect photos today, including a few of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on buddleia flowers, an eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) on a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and some sort of longlegged fly (family Dolichopodidae). Finally, I got some of this blow fly (family Calliphoridae) on scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma). It’s not my favorite insect. In fact, I’d have to rank it in the bottom half rather than the top. I don’t mind wasps and bees in general but flies and particular what I consider to be the ‘annoying flies’ are in the negative side of the scale, along with mosquitoes and horse and deer flies. But their metallic green bodies are pretty cool, in spite of that.
I went out to the empty lot next to my building this afternoon. I started by going through the woods on the lower part but then crossed the stream on a tree that conveniently fell across it. That saves me a bit of underbrush getting to the open, higher ground of the northeastern part of the lot. This part has only a few trees, so far, and is mostly filled with a thick covering of ragweed with milkweed and goldenrod scattered throughout. I happened to see this little moth, mostly white with a little orange on the leading edge of its wings. It is a delicate cycnia (Cycnia tenera) and is fairly shy. In the other two Cycnia species found in North America the orange or yellow on the wings is either absent (C. oregonensis) or is darker but doesnot extend to apex (C. collaris).
I went out to the woods next to my building this afternoon, towards the end of the day. After wandering around there a while without finding much of interest, I went down towards the tiny pond on the other side of the building and came across this white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and great blue heron (Ardea herodias) sharing the watering hole together. The picture isn’t great but I’m happy I was able to get a picture of both of them before the both decided I had ruined the party and they left.
The skippers are out in force these days. I got one picture with three of them on a single bunch of flowers. They move around a lot, making it a little harder to get a good picture but there are so many of them you can almost pick a flower and wait for one to land on it. They are somewhat plain as butterflies go. The butterflies and skippers are grouped together in the superfamily Papilionoidea under the order Lepidoptera. The other superfamilies (there are quite a few) are all moths.
I was off work yesterday and today, getting ready for the gathering coming up tomorrow. I still took a break each day to get pictures. Before I had gotten very far into the backyard this afternoon I spotted this transverse flower fly (Eristalis tranversa) on a black-eyed Susan Rudbekia sp.). It’s a pretty little fly and the color pattern on its abdomen is quite distinctive. They especially seem to like the black-eyed Susans with which they match quite well. I didn’t have very good lighting for most of the pictures I took but managed to get a few (including this one) with a single on-camera flash that turned out a bit better.
I went out to take pictures of a carpenter bee this afternoon but before I got to where she was, I saw this moth, a squash vine borer (Melittia cucurbitae), on the Herrenhausen oregano (Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’). It’s not a terribly good specimen. Much of the orange on its abdomen has been rubbed off, but it’s a pretty distinctive little clearwing moth (family Sesiidae). I got some good photos of the carpenter bee, as well, but since I’m almost certain to have more photos of those I decided to post this one instead.
The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is in bloom and it’s a lovely, orange accent in the back of the garden. I’d be happy to have more of this, either the standard orange or the lovely, yellow variety. I’d also like to get some Asclepias curassavica, known as blood flower, although that’s not winter hardy anywhere near this far north. It can, apparently, be grown easily as an annual from seed. I might also try to get some Asclepias purpurascens, commonly called purple milkweed. It’s a native and I am pretty sure I’ve seen it at the farm, so I could dig some up there or get some seeds.
The large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is a common visitor to butterfly weed (one of the milkweed family) and is particularly well suited for hiding among the flowers of A. tuberosa.
This little butterfly, an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) is a fairly common visitor to our garden and can be seen throughout the region. It’s not the easiest butterfly to photograph, partly because of it’s diminutive size (it’s small) and partly because it’s a fairly shy critter and doesn’t like being approached. But this one let me get close enough for a pretty good shot. It was late enough in the day that the light wasn’t as good as I’d have liked and this was taken with the aid of the camera’s on-board flash. It isn’t the best lighting for small subjects but in this case it worked out reasonably well.
Once the buddleia comes into bloom, which has happened in the last week or so, it’s a rare day when there isn’t at least one tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) fluttering around the yard. They aren’t anywhere as near as common and the many skippers (family Hesperiidae) that we have by the dozens or even as the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), but pretty common. And of course they are much more striking. I particularly like then when the sun is on them or even shining through them and they are against a clear, blue afternoon sky, as this one is. The color on the upper side of the hindwings identifies this as a female, just in the act of taking off from the flower.
After taking the picture of the lady beetle larva in the woods, I crossed the stream on a fallen tree trunk. I worked my way from there through a fairly dense area of brambles and small trees to the slope that leads to what I call the uplands part of the empty lot. This is about 30 feet higher than the lowlands across the stream and it is mostly clear of trees. It is filled with ragweed and milkweed with a few empty spots that are almost barren, with just bare clay which sometimes holds standing water and other times is baked into a cracked, hard surface. In one of those empty spots, I followed this wasp, which is Cerceris fumipennis, an apoid wasp (Apoidea) in the family Crabronidae. It landed and disappeared into this little hole in the ground. I figured it would eventually come out again so I got down and waited. I was rewarded for my patience when he appeared at the entrance and was able to get a half dozen shots off before he flew off into the distance.
It was a beautiful, if somewhat hot afternoon today and I went out into the woods next to my building. As I walked through the underbrush under the sycamore, tulip poplar, redbud, walnut, and black cherry trees, I noticed this little creature on a leaf. This is the larva of a lady beetle. The family Coccinellidae, the lady beetles, has about 6,000 species in 360 genera worldwide and nearly 500 in eastern North America. I have no idea to which of those this larva belongs and I’m not even going to try to figure it out. The adults are generally easier to narrow down but to me, anyway, the larva are just too much alike. I found a key to the larva of North American lady beetles but it starts out as follows. Tell me how helpful this is to you:
Mandible with digitiform teeth, retinaculum absent; terga with scoli, sometimes with parascoli; frontoclypeal suture complete; antenna long, 3 or more times as long as wide, of nearly uniform diameter.
I didn’t get out of the office today to go take pictures. Most of the day it was raining and then I just didn’t have time in the afternoon. I was a little busy but actually more frustrated than anything else, so going out would have been nice. Nevertheless, when I got home I took some pictures of a common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on one of the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) outside our dining room window. I like bumble bees and they are out in pretty good numbers right now. In prior years it seemed that they were outnumbered by carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). This year I’m seeing a lot more bumblebees. That’s just anecdotal evidence, of course but that’s the way it seems to me.
It was a slightly less warm but every bit as humid day today. I went to eat my lunch in the empty lot next to my building, sitting on the edge of a now-dry drainage pond. This pond rarely has more than a few inches of water in it but the water is gone and the mud has cracked and is only damp. I had expected to see more insects there but I suppose it’s dry enough that even they have moved to somewhere with a bit more water. I took some pictures of the flowers of some softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) and this Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) came and landed right in front of me. I was able to get four quick shots before it flew away. In this, the last of the four, its wings are just starting to open.
It was a fairly quiet day at work, with a lot of people off for a four day weekend. I went into the woods next to my building, across the streem and up to the higher and more open area, filled mostly with ragweed and milkweed. There were a few butterflies and I tried to get some pictures of them. Then I saw this female eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and I slowly move it to get a good picture. She would fly away but then would come back to the same perch, so I would move a little closer each time until I was able to get this one.
I was out taking pictures in the yard again this afternoon and happened to look at the same flower on which I took the picture of the Scudderia nymph two days ago (see: Friday, June 30, 2017 ). The outer ray florets, the ‘petals’ of the coneflower, were all tattered and eaten into. The culprit was this little beetle (well, a bunch of them, actually). It is a leaf beetle (family Chrysomelidae), probably in the subfamily Eumolpinae. If I get a more definitive identification, I’ll update this post. It’s a little beetle, less than 5mm long so I wasn’t able to get a close as necessary to really get a good picture, but this one turned out well enough to use.
I went out to take some pictures of flowers this afternoon and that’s what I did at first. Well, first I got a few pictures of a rabbit (an eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus). Then I took a few flower pictures but I noticed this little fellow on a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). It is the nymph of a Scudderia, a genus of eight species in our area comprising the bush katydids. This is just a small portion of the larger group of all katydids, of which there are nearly 250 species in 49 genera in eastern North America. Anyway, I think this is a cute little guy and I took quite a few pictures. Enjoy.
I’ve been able to get a fair number of flower pictures so far this year but the insects are not out in all their force yet. I’ve seen many around but haven’t been able to photograph many of them. This is my first bumble bee of the summer. It isn’t the best bumble bee picture I’ve ever taken but it makes me happy, with the brightness of the bee balm (Monarda didyma) contrasting with the black of the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). I’m sure there will be many more to come. As for the title of this post, it’s the sort of thing that shows up in crossword puzzles fairly often, two words or phrases that overlap in the middle. Bumble Bee and Bee Balm.
I know many of my followers are less than thrilled with my spider photos. Nevertheless, at the risk of chasing off either of them (my followers, that is), I’m going to post another. I went for a short walk early this afternoon. There is a section of the road behind my building that has a well along the sidewalk, above a stream. Growing on that wall are Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), wild grape (Vitis species), porcelain berry (Ampelopsis glandulosa), and of course, the ever present poison ivy, (Toxicodendron radicans). I stopped to take a few pictures of bumble bees on the Virginia creeper flowers and then noticed this little jumping spider on the underside a leaf. Kind of cute, I think.
Cathy did a bunch of work in a small garden this morning, clearing out the overgrown sedum and making room for annuals that have been waiting to be planted. She said I should come out with my camera to take some pictures of this little spider that was doing really well gathering the small insects that are present in our lawn by the thousands. It is a Gea heptagon, one of the orb weavers (family Araneidae) and I think it’s a really cool little spider. The abdomen is painted with red, yellow, and pale spots that are quite pretty, especially in the sun. I’ve photographed this species before, with posts on Monday, September 05, 2016 and Saturday, August 20, 2016.
We have a fair amount of Verbena bonariensis growing around the yard. It’s somewhat of a weed but for the most part, we let it go, just keeping it barely within bounds. There are a few reasons for us letting it go. First, of course, is that it’s pretty on its own. I mean, the purple adds a bit of contrast to all the green in the early summer and it’s generally still in bloom when the black-eyed Susans really start to go crazy. But I think the main reason is that the American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) really seem to like it. Usually I’ve been unable to get close enough to get even a poor photo of them before they fly away but this afternoon I got a reasonable picture showing three finches. They are such lovely birds and we enjoy watching them bounce around on the tall stems of the Verbina.
I drove down to Lake Needwood on the way home today and stopped to take a few pictures. I followed a pair of fritillaries for a while and got a few half decent pictures. I also went after a great blue heron but wasn’t able to get anything worth while there. This is a great spangled fritillary and apparently there are at least 7 subspecies (and depending on who you ask, more than that). I naively assumed they were distinguished by variations in the patterns on their wings but apparently they are identified by distribution. Who knew? This was identified by the good people of BugGuide.net as subspecies S. c. cybele. Note: the red in the background is my car. I tried to get pictures without that but for this one, which turned out the best of the butterfly, it was unavoidable. Oh, well.
As I drove into the parking lot at work this morning I saw out of the corner of my eye that there was a heron on the pond between my building and the rest of the campus. Before I went inside, then, I decided to see if I could get a picture or two. I happened to have my 75-300mm lens this morning, so I was able to get a few reasonable shots. It let me take them, continuing to fish for a little while (I even got pictures of it with a fish in its beak). Then if flew away and I was able to snap one picture as it headed off. It is not as sharp as I’d like and I’d prefer a background that is more different to the color of the bird, but I’m fairly pleased with the composition overall.
I sat on the patio for a while this afternoon, just enjoying being in the sun. It was actually a little hot for my taste, but still nice for all of that. Also, the light is better for macro photography in the sun, when you want as much depth of field and as fast a shutter speed as possible. I was watching the insects around the potted flowers on the patio and got a few pictures of this skipper (family Hesperiidae) on a coreopsis (a.k.a. tickseed) flower. The insects aren’t around it the huge numbers we’ll have in a few weeks, particularly when the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) starts to bloom, but they are certainly here and I really enjoy them.
I was out in the yard taking pictures this evening and after taking a few of the rose I just posted, I noticed that there were a lot of little insects moving around in the grass. When I say little, I’m talking about insects in the 2 to 3mm range. As I walked around, they leapt away from me. I got down on the ground but when they were not moving, they were hard to find. What I did find, however, was this exuviae, the exoskeleton of some small insect that left it behind on a blade of grass. It’s about 5mm long and appears to be from some sort of grasshopper or cricket. The word exuviae is Latin and means ‘things stripped from a body.’
Because there are a lot of them about, I’m guessing that this is a wing from a Riley’s 13-year cicada (Magicicada tredecim) like the one whose picture I posted ten days ago (see: Saturday, May 20, 2017). I think it’s a beautiful thing. It’s also quite sturdy. This one was separated from its owner and has little droplets of water on it. Even handling it to get it into position for a photo didn’t dislodge them. Interestingly, the wings of the clanger cicada (Psaltoda claripennis, also known as the clear wing cicada), a species found in eastern Australia, has a physical structure of ‘nanopillars’ that kill bacteria that settle on them. Pretty cool.
I don’t know that I’d call this a serious pest but it certainly does make our garden look worse this time of year. This little bug has been here in pretty good numbers in recent years and they suck the juices out of some of our plants, making their leaves brown and desiccated. It generally doesn’t do the plant irreparable harm but it doesn’t do it much good, either. In past years I spray them and cut them off before they do their worst. This year I never got around to it and the damage is pretty well done at this point. They’re pretty, little things, I admit. But pests, nonetheless.
Rabbits. We’ve got rabbits. Eastern cottontail rabbits, to be precise (Sylvilagus floridanus). Apparently they have been multiplying like, well, rabbits. It’s not uncommon this spring to see four or five in the back yard at once. And there will be others in the front yard, as well. Mostly they are eating clover and not causing too much trouble with our garden so we put up with them. This many of them, though, and I’m starting to wonder how the local fox population is doing. Either there aren’t enough foxes to take care of the rabbits or they are simply not keeping up.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that this is not the year for the huge brood of 17-year cicadas. I also said that there were, nevertheless, a noticeable number of cicadas about, mostly obvious from their exuviae (their shed exoskeletons) on small plants all around the yard. Well, I got a pretty good picture of an adult cicada today and I’m pretty sure this is a Riley’s 13-year cicada (Magicicada tredecim). It is identified as a periodical cicada by its red or orange eyes (the annual cicadas have black eyes). The orange patch between the eye and the wing identifies it as Magicicada tredecim.
The last time we had the huge brood of 17 year cicadas was in 2004. Well, that was 13 years ago. That means that this admittedly smaller brood of 13-year cicadas happened to coincide with that larger brood, making 2004 an especially huge event, more than either of them would be on their own. So, in four more years, the 17-year cicadas shouldn’t be as bad as they were in 2004. That’s good to know.
By the way, if you are of a mind to try one, they don’t taste like much. Just saying.
I went out into the yard after work today and took some pictures. I started with some yellow irises that have started to bloom. From there I moved on to take a few rose pictures, the multiflora rose, ‘Blush Noisette’, and my newest, ‘Cutie Pie’. The cicadas are out in significant numbers. This isn’t the year of the largest local brood, which isn’t due until 2021. But there are still quite a few of them. Finally, I took some pictures of this small spider web in the dying Colorado spruce in our front yard. It’s not as sharp as I would have liked, having been taken in somewhat dim light and without the aid of a tripod (and the branch was moving a bit int he breeze.
I went out into the woods next to my building late this morning. There wasn’t a lot that I found interesting but I took a few pictures. Before I went back inside, though, I thought I’d walk over to the pond on the other side of the building and see if the ducklings were still there. They were not but this great blue heron (Ardea herodias) was and I was able to get a few decent pictures before he flew off. I also watched a couple tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) fluttering around and getting water from the mud at the pond’s edge. All in all, a nice, relaxing outing to break up an otherwise uneventful day at the office.
I know, I know. There are those among you who would be happier if I would just stop taking pictures of spiders all together. I’m sorry, but I think they are fascinating and beautiful creatures and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. This one, which I think is a dwarf spider (subfamily Erigoninae), is quite safe to be around. Her body is probably 3 to 4 mm long and her jaws are not likely strong enough even to break your skin. So, no problems here. And don’t forget what spiders eat. If you don’t like flying insects, then spiders are your friend. I get not wanting them all around in your house but in the garden, please let them be.
Cathy and I went out for a later afternoon walk today. We just walked around my building a few times but I brought my camera, as I usually do. There were some ducks and ducklings on the pond but today’s picture is this spider, a Castianeira species of some sort. Castianeira is a genus of spiders with about 26 species in North America. They are members of the Corinnidae, the antmimics and ground sac spiders. This isn’t a particularly good picture, having been taken hand-held at 1/60 second in somewhat dim light in a parking lot. Still, it’s a new spider for me and one I’ll look for again when I have more time to get a good picture.
I follow a bunch of folks on Instagram who specialize in pictures of birds. These folks take amazing pictures and I’m a little embarrassed to post this picture which compared to theirs is pretty pathetic. To get good pictures of birds, the first requirement is a good telephoto lens, a tripod, and a significant commitment of time. Today I was in the woods next to my office with none of those things. I had a 100mm lens, hand held, and only a short time to grab a few pictures. I wasn’t thinking of bird pictures when I went out. But I wasn’t in the woods long when I noticed more than one Baltimore oriole flitting around among the trees. This is the best shot I was able to get and even this is only adequate to identify this as an oriole. Maybe one day I’ll get some of the fabulous photos of birds that I enjoy from others. But this is not that day.
It was a beautiful, warm day today and after church and lunch we decided to go to Fehr’s Nursery in Burtonsville. They have a nice selection of plants including the annuals that Cathy’s been planting in a small area at the front of our yard the last few years. I bring my camera and spend most of my time taking pictures of flowers. This year I also bought a miniature rose called ‘Cutie Pie’ but that’s not what this photo is. This is a flower of Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium species) with a syrphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus) perched on it. These are quite ubiquitous, little creatures in the area and they don’t cause any bother at all. I think they’re kind of pretty, as well.
We spent a fair amount of time with Dorothy today. We drove into Salem for a while but it was cold and wet so we didn’t stay out as long as we might have done. We did see this loon in the water next to Derby Wharf. I only had my 100mm lens so couldn’t get as close as I would have liked but at least you can tell what it is. Dorothy went to dinner with some friends so Cathy and I were on our own. We had a very nice meal in a place called Toscana Bar Italiano. The food was quite good and I think we were a bit lucky to get a table without waiting. It’s a smallish place so it can easily fill up. The rain probably helped us a bit this evening.
Cathy and I went for a walk in the early afternoon. You might think that working at the same company we’d see a lot of each other during the day but in fact, we don’t. We work in different buildings, for one thing, on a campus that isn’t exactly sprawling but which includes six buildings. Mine if on the north end of the campus, separated from the others by a pond. We walked across West Montgomery Avenue to a larger pond today and that’s where I took this photo, of a Canada goose (Branta canadensis).
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Cathy’s niece Maggie is in town. We don’t see her nearly enough so we wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. She helped her grandma fold bulletins at church in the morning and then we left early and spent the afternoon with her. It was a wonderful, spring day with a beautiful, clear, blue sky, cool but not cold. We drove out to our friends’ farm and visited with our friends and some of their animals.
We spent the most time with the chickens (of which there are something on the order of 1,000). I sat for a while in the midst of them and got a few nice pictures, including this one from ground level. A little later Cathy and I helped Anna collect eggs from the laying boxes in the chicken-coop-bus. So, in this case, the chickens came before the eggs.
I made chicken panang curry for dinner. No relation to this chicken, as far as I know.
I went to BWI airport this afternoon to pick up Maggie, who was coming for a short visit during her spring break. As usual when I go to BWI, I bring my camera. It isn’t the most photogenic airport you’ll come across but it has some interesting spots. Of course most of the time I spend there is waiting around the baggage carousels, which is about the least interesting part of the whole place. Coming across the westernmost sky bridge from the top of the parking garage, which is the end of the terminal that Southwest uses, there is a large, stained glass, Atlantic blue crab sculpture in a case. It’s a bit tricky to get a picture of something like this and having it in a glass case certainly doesn’t help. It is what it is.
Other than that, my visit was fairly uneventful. Maggie arrive, we got her bag, and we left. We did go to G&M to buy crab cakes for those of us who eat such things. I fixed surf and turf for dinner, with two crab cakes and two large, very thick t-bone steaks. I’d say it was a success, at least in part thanks to the Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.
It was a beautiful day today. It’s fairly warm and the snow is melting. I had a meeting across campus early this afternoon and on the way back I walked around my building and took a few pictures. The melting snow was raising the level of the pond next to my building and I walked down to it, over a thin layer of very soft, wet snow. This little spider was there, as well. I believe it is some sort of wolf spider (family Lycosidae) and will update the post if I figure out (or more likely am told) which one. I know spiders are not favorite subjects of many (or should I say either) of my followers. They come right ahead of deer ticks, I’d say. But they’re neat little things and I love to watch them. This is a small spider, not much more than one centimeter long including its legs.
UPDATE: Identified as being in the genus Pardosa, the thinlegged wolf spiders.
It was as pretty a spring day as you could hope for today, warm but not hot, mostly clear with a little breeze. Cathy and I went for a walk and I took my camera along. We walked to a pong that has a beaver lodge but didn’t see any activity. There was a pair of geese nearby and I got some pictures of them. Then as we left the area and headed back up towards the road I managed to get a few pictures of this cabbage butterfly that was flitting around looking for early flowers.
Our dear friend Susan gave me a present this morning. It was beautifully presented in a hot pink gift bag. What was it? It was this insect which she wondered if I could identify. At a glance I said it was a beetle of some sort but beyond that I needed to look at it under some magnification. It’s between 5 and 6 millimeters long, so on the small side and my first thought was some sort of carpet beetle. Then I saw from the side that it had something of a snout. That led to the fungus weevils of family Anthribidae and I tracked it down to Toxonotus cornutus. Not particularly rare but so small that you are likely to miss it much of the time. Not a big pest, either, and happily nothing like a bed bug or other really nasty creature. Thanks, Susan. Now I really know you care.
P.S. The shiny metal thing under it is a pin on which the little creature is skewered.
February is generally the deepest part of the winter around here but it’s been relatively mild so far this year. We’ve still got enough time for cold weather to come but today was really spring like. There were birds all over our back yard, including robins, starlings, sparrows, blue jays, and juncos. I waited at the kitchen door and took some pictures of the birds on the bird bath on the back patio. We keep it free from ice all winter and the birds really like that, although this year there has not been more than a week together when free water was frozen. Still, they were on the bath in fairly high numbers all morning.
It was cool and cloudy today but not so cold that we wouldn’t go out (actually, I didn’t even need a jacket). We drove to Meadowside Nature Center and walked on the trails around it, going south west to the edge of the lake and then north to where there are some log cabins. This photo of a feather was taken on a fallen log. I’m not sure what sort of bird the feather came from but I assume it was taken up onto the log to be eaten, either by another bird or by a mammal of some sort.
I’m no sort of expert on these things so I really don’t know what sort of bird has feathers that look like this. I know there are woodpeckers with dark feathers with white spots running up both sides. There are also owls with this sort of pattern. The feathers were not terribly long, so my guess was one of the small local woodpeckers, such as the downy (Picoides pubescens) or hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). I’d be happy to have someone who is more knowledgeable set me straight. This was in the woods behind my building.
I’ve said before that my goal is to take at least one photo every day and post it here. I’d be overjoyed if they were all fabulous but the reality is that some of them are quite lame. I’ve had some pretty bad pictures in the last six years, although I think a few of them have been quite nice. Today’s is a poorly executed photograph, although the subject is interesting enough. I was out in the back yard with my camera and I could here a woodpecker tap, tap, tapping on the tree. After I while I found him and was able to take a few pictures but none of them are really any good. I was shooting through intervening branches and at a bit more distance than my 100mm lens was really suitable for. But it’s a picture.
In the evening, generally in the hour or so before sunset, there is a steady stream of crows, always flying in a generally southward direction. We often see them from our back yard in relatively small but significant numbers. As I was driving home this evening, enjoying the faint coloring of the eastern sky ahead of me, there were a lot of crows flying from left to right (north to south) across the road as I neared the bridge over Rock Creek. It’s hard to get a photograph of a flock of birds that is as impressive as the flock, unless there really are a lot of them, so this photo may not look like much. I was sitting in traffic and they just kept coming, at about this volume, the whole time I watched. I wonder where they go to roost. I’m glad it isn’t in my back yard.
Cathy and I went for a nice walk this afternoon. It’s been a very rainy couple of days and we took advantage of a short non-raining period to walk. It started up again just as we got home, but we didn’t get too wet. Our shoes were quite muddy and we met a very friendly dog, so our trousers had to go into the wash but it was nice to be out. We saw this buck, along with about a half dozen more shortly after we turned onto Sunfish trail. A minute or two later we came across the group of almost a dozen does. It was getting dark and there was no way this one was going to let me get any closer, but I’m reasonably happy with this photo.
I took some more photos of my fish this evening and this is, I think, the best of them. This is a brilliant rasbora, (Rasbora einthovenii) and they are a good fish to have in a community aquarium. These are about three inches long and quite lively, especially at feeding time. Getting a good picture is made more difficult by their almost constant movement from one end of the tank to the other. I got this one while he (or she, I really don’t know) was making his u-turn at this end of the tank, above the brick that is the only decoration. I really need to get a bit more stuff in there for them to swim around.
Update: I initially labeled this picture as a brilliant rasbora but looking at it again, that’s wrong. There are rasboras in the tank but they are smaller and have red at the base of their tail fins. This is a Siamese algae eater, Crossocheilus oblongus. Sorry for the confusion.
It’s been a while since I posted a photo of Solomon, our parrot. He is a red-lored Amazon (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis) and he turns 31 this month. So, in honor of his birthday, here’s a closeup of his eye. I really love the texture of the feathers around his eyes and on the front of his head. They are small and wonderfully colored. Most of them are a single color, being all red or yellow or green, but where they transition from one color to the next, some of them are a mix of colors. This is particularly true on top of his head, where the green and blue is mixed (although those don’t show up all that well in this image). In case you’re curious about the name common name of the species, the lore is the area between the eye and upper beak of birds. It’s red on this species.
For quite a few weeks I’ve been meaning to go to the fish store and get a few more fish for my smaller aquarium. The 30 gallon tank has a fairly large angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and a kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii) who spends much of the time hiding under a rock. I bought some Chinese algae eaters (Gyrinocheilos aymonieri) and a bunch of these green tiger barbs (Puntius tetrazona). I really like their color and it’s nice to have the tank with more than just a couple fish in it.
I love days when I get sunrise pictures. Sunset pictures are nice but I can’t rely on their being a good sunset. Once I have pictures of the sunrise, though, I don’t have to worry about getting a picture later in the day. If there turns out to be no sunset, they I’ve missed the daylight. But if there’s no sunrise to photograph, I still have the whole day ahead of me.
So, after getting a nice sunrise pictures this morning, I was happy to take some pictures of birds in the back yard. This is an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) along the edge of the back patio. Goldfinches lose their bright yellow color in the winter, but they’re still pretty little birds. I really enjoyed watching them sit on the thin stems.
We had a quiet day after the busy day yesterday. Busy is good but it’s especially good when followed by not-busy. Cathy and I have Stephen and Maya’s dog, Dargo, and we took him for a longish walk today (about 3 miles). We walked along the near side of Lake Frank and I took a few pictures. I got two of a kingfisher, although I couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to make that picture worth sharing. I was able to get closer to these geese, although still only close enough for a group shot. Any closer and they would have moved away.
I fixed some coffee and was making breakfast when Cathy came down and saw this white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in our back yard. It appears to be a young one, not fully grown but I don’t really know enough about deer to say for sure. It was just lying there and would look at me, then turn to the side. I went outside and took a few more pictures before it got up and trotted to the back corner of the yard, where it stayed for a while. When I checked back 20 minutes later it was gone.
It’s gotten cold suddenly and today was quite cold. I went out for a little while to take pictures and by the time I came back in, my right hand was quite numb from the cold (I can put my left hand into my pocket but I hold the camera with my right hand). I took pictures of a sycamore leaf in the woods and then walked down to the pond next to my building. It’s only just gotten cold so there was still open water but there was ice along the edge. In what had recently been mud by the stream were raccoon footprints.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I was in an international market. In general, while I get many of my staples in Safeway or Giant, I much prefer the international markets for meats, produce, and seafood. There is a small Brazilian market where I go for chouriço and morcilla as well as some cheeses. There are a bunch of Asian markets where the produce is generally fresher and always more varied than the big chains. That’s where the bok choy picture from yesterday was taken. Today’s picture is of something from the same store but taken this evening as I fixed myself dinner of Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), lightly breaded and cooked in butter. Really good.
I happened to have a chat with a coworker today about taking pictures of birds and other small, skittish creatures. I have a 70-300mm zoom with image stabilization that should be quite good for that but it has one annoying limitation and a quite serious flaw. The annoying limitation is its lack of close focusing. Even at 300mm, to get a full frame image of a bird, you have to get fairly close. Having to add an extension tube to focus that close is an issue. The serious flaw is that the way Canon designed this lens, the internal connector that controls the aperture becomes damaged or disconnected and on occasion the lens fails to operate properly and no picture is taken. Because of that, I cannot recommend this lens. What I’d really like is Canon’s 400mm f/5.6 (well, I’d like the f/2.8 but who are we kidding?).
Anyway, I happened to go out a little later and was able to get this Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) in the bushes with my lowly 100mm f/2.8 macro. Not bad.
It was another beautiful, fall day today and Cathy and I took a walk in the neighborhood. I took some pictures of trees with flaming red and orange leaves but I’ve decided to post this picture of a pretty good sized paper wasp nest instead. Trees with brightly colored leaves are pretty much everywhere now (although many have lost all their leaves) but wasp nests are not so common. This one is about 20 feet up in a tree a few blocks from our house. You might be glad to know that most paper wasps die during the winter. Obviously not all. Most notably the new queens survive the winter by nesting in protected places.
There are not nearly as many flowers left in the yard as we approach the end of October. We’ll still have some warm days (today was in the 80s!) but in general, plants are switching into autumn mode. Annuals, of course, don’t have the luxury of going dormant so they can overwinter and start up again in the sprint. So, some of them bloom until the cold kills them once and for all. Marigolds (Tagetes species and cultivars) are a good example. This is one that Cathy planted in a small bed where a dead tree was removed. The bees, of course, are still active and looking for anything they can get. This is an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).
I didn’t expect to see any more monarch butterflies this late in the year but this afternoon there was on on the buddleia in the back yard. I got a few good pictures of him (you can see the scent-scale patches on his hindwings, identifying this as a male). I also took a few pictures of one buddleia flower panicle with four huge carpenter bees all clustered together, getting the last of this years harvest before the cold days to come. We’ve had one pretty good frost and a few light frosts this year but are supposed to have a warm spell by the end of the week.
I had a meeting in a different building this afternoon and decided to take my camera with me. After the meeting, I walked back ‘the long way’ which is actually a straighter line than the normal route but it goes through the woods and crosses a creek without a bridge, so it takes a bit longer. It takes longer still if you are on the lookout for things to photograph and stop whenever you find something. First I got some shots of bright crimson barberry leaves and fruit (Berberis species). Then I took some pictures of the deep green leaves and bright red fruit on an Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). Both were reasonable pictures but not exactly exciting.
Then, in the woods, I caught a glimpse of something small and orange flying past. It landed on a weed and I got down low and found this little, bright orange assassin bug, Pselliopus barberi crawling up the stem. The first pictures were not very good because of the low light. I popped up the flash and was able to get a few pictures that made identification easy. This is a little fellow, only a little over a centimeter in length. In the last shot I got, it took off just as I pressed the shutter. I thought I missed it entirely, but I captured it flying out of the frame (and out of my life). I went back and forth over which of these photos to post—the one that shows it well or the one with the action—and finally decided to post them both.
Cathy and I went for a short walk early this afternoon, going around the upper half of the large block where our two office buildings stand. We met between the buildings, near a drainage pond and while I waited a few minutes for her to get there, I happened to see a small group of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) working on a nest in a small tree. It was at a very good height to get a picture. So, naturally, I took a few. The European paper wasp was first seen in North American near Boston in 1978 but it is now present pretty much throughout the United States and Canada. It is often mistaken for a yellow jacket but is the only species of Vespidae that has mostly orange antennae, which makes it easy to identify (if you are willing to get close enough).
I spent a good while out back trying to get some butterfly pictures this afternoon. This buckeye was the largest of those out on the verbena bonariensis but I also got some pictures of a few others, including cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice, and what I’m pretty sure was a little checkered-skipper (Genus Pyrgus). I also got a few pictures of a tiny metallic green bee (genus Agapostemon) but that was a tough little critter to catch.
Update: The skipper has been identified as a Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis).
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.