Round Trip to Boston

Delaware Memorial Bridge

Delaware Memorial Bridge

I made a round trip to Boston today, taking Dorothy to school. She’s keeping the car with her but understandably didn’t want to do that long drive by herself. So I went with her and then flew home late in the evening. The drive itself was relatively uneventful. We were on the road by 6:30 and crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge before 8:30. Traffic was slow getting onto the George Washington Bridge as I suspect it is except for in the middle of the night (and possibly even then). Traffic remained heavy across the upper part of Manhattan Island and then off and on through the Bronx and most of the way across southern Connecticut, especially around New Haven and New London. We stopped for a long lunch in Mystic, just before getting to Rhode Island. Arriving in Boston after 4:00 PM on Friday, it was no surprise that we got into very slow traffic in the parking lots that pass for tunnels but we needed to get to Logan Airport and there are only so many ways to get there. My flight wasn’t until just before 9:00 PM, so we were not really in any rush.

Dorothy continued on to school from there and I got home without incident. That is, unless you count the mouse that was running around the departure lounge. I didn’t know about it until a lady screamed and jumped up onto the chairs.

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Monobia quadridens (Four-toothed Mason Wasp)

Monobia quadridens (Four-toothed Mason Wasp)

Monobia quadridens (Four-toothed Mason Wasp)

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.

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Eumenes fraternus (Potter Wasp)

Eumenes fraternus (Potter Wasp)

Eumenes fraternus (Potter Wasp)

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.

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Plathemis lydia (Common Whitetail)

Plathemis lydia (Common Whitetail)

Plathemis lydia (Common Whitetail)

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.

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Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last month or so, there was a total solar eclipse across the middle of the lower 48 states today. The area of totality was far enough south of us that I didn’t feel any great need to visit Dana or Alan, cousins in Nashville, TN and Columbia, SC respectively. We would have something to watch here, even if it wasn’t as spectacular as what they’d get. I made two pinhole cameras, one to leave with Dorothy and the other to take with me to work. Cathy and I went out and watched with a lot of other folk from work, some with eclipse glasses, others with their own pinhole box cameras, and some looking at the image in my box, which was rigged up on the ground and was easily viewed. That made it easy to track the progress of the eclipse.

Nature's Pinhole Camera

Nature’s Pinhole Camera

The first image here was taken at 2:38, about four minutes before it reached its maximum obscuration of just over 80%. There were clouds moving past for the next six or seven minutes, so this was the best I got. I know it isn’t anywhere near as good as what some folks will get, but I’m pretty pleased with it.

The second picture is the shade thrown by a walnut tree by the side of the parking lot. As you can see, each place where light comes through the leaves acts like a pinhole camera, projecting a crescent image on the ground.

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Wasp

Wasp

Wasp

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.

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Duskywing

Duskywing

Duskywing

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).

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Cosmopepla lintneriana (Twice-stabbed Stink Bug)

Cosmopepla lintneriana (Twice-stabbed Stink Bug)

Cosmopepla lintneriana (Twice-stabbed Stink Bug)

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.

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Ginkgo biloba Leaf

<em>Ginkgo biloba</em> Leaf

Ginkgo biloba Leaf

From the Missouri Botanical Garden:

Ginkgo biloba is a deciduous conifer (a true gymnosperm) that matures to 100′ tall. It is the only surviving member of a group of ancient plants believed to have inhabited the earth up to 150 million years ago. It features distinctive two-lobed, somewhat leathery, fan-shaped, rich green leaves with diverging (almost parallel) veins. Leaves turn bright yellow in fall. Ginkgo trees are commonly called maidenhair trees in reference to the resemblance of their fan-shaped leaves to maidenhair fern leaflets (pinnae). Ginkgos are dioecious (separate male and female trees). Nurseries typically sell only male trees (fruitless), because female trees produce seeds encased in fleshy, fruit-like coverings which, at maturity in autumn, are messy and emit a noxious, foul odor upon falling to the ground and splitting open.

This one is in my mom’s front yard. It’s a tree that dad planted many years ago but which has grown very slowly. It appears to finally be starting to grow taller.

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Oebalus pugnax (Rice Stink Bug)

Oebalus pugnax (Rice Stink Bug)

Oebalus pugnax (Rice Stink Bug)

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’).

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Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis

I only took a handful of pictures today and not until about 7:30, when the best light was gone. We had quite heavy rain today throughout the morning. It cleared up later but I was pretty busy and didn’t get a chance to go out. I’ve posted pictures of the Verbena bonariensis (tall verbena) growing in our yard before but I thought I’d do it again. I do love this color combination, the purple of the verbena against the yellow of the black-eyed Susans behind and below it.

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Mont. Co. Agricultural Fair

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables

Cathy, Dorothy, Jonathan, and I went to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair this afternoon. I got a moderate thrill being a VIP of sorts, with my four free passes, won last year in a photo contest. That saved us $52 ($12 per person plus $10 for parking). We enjoyed the food and wondering around the barns, especially the rabbits and chickens. We made it up to the craft and photo buildings and looked at the produce and flowers that had been entered this year. I love the intense colors of the fruits and vegetables in this basket. Note that they may all look like vegetables to you, as that’s how most of these items are used, but technically, these are all fruits except the beets and onions.

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Grass Spider (Agelenopsis species)

Grass Spider (Agelenopsis species)

Grass Spider (Agelenopsis species)

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?

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Thick-headed Fly

Thick-headed Fly

Thick-headed Fly

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).

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Bee on Asclepias

Bee on Asclepias

Bee on Asclepias

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.

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Raindrops On A Pond

Raindrops On A Pond

Raindrops On A Pond

It continues to be quite busy at work but today was something of a turning point in the project I’m working on. I made a lot of progress and it’s starting to come together. There is still plenty more to do, but I’m a little less panicked now. At about 4:30 I decided to take a short break and go outside to take a few pictures. I got a few that I think are nice but as I was heading back to my office it started to sprinkle a little. There is a drainage pond near the sidewalk, just through the trees, and I made my way to it and took this picture of the raindrops softly landing on the surface of the pond.

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Lobelia siphilitica (Blue Cardinal Flower)

Lobelia siphilitica (Blue Cardinal Flower)

Lobelia siphilitica (Blue Cardinal Flower)

After being off a week, it’s shaping up to be a very busy week at work. We’re three days in and I’m definitely ready for the weekend. But I’m sure I’ll make it through, as I usually do. After work I went out back and chased a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) for a while. He wouldn’t let me get close enough for any decent sort of picture. So, I moved on to the blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica) growing in the back bed. That didn’t have any problem with my presence and I got a few nice pictures. Then I noticed that the monarch was back and I managed to get a few pictures, but the die was cast and I’m going with the Lobelia picture.

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Cathy and Black-eyed Susans

Cathy and Black-eyed Susans

Cathy and Black-eyed Susans

Cathy and I relaxed in the back yard this evening and I took a few pictures of her with the black-eyed Susans that are having the time of their lives this year. Actually, this year is nothing special, as they are pretty spectacular every year. In fact, I’m not convinced we wouldn’t have the entire yard full of them if we allowed them to spread uncontrolled. The goose-necked loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) would give them a good fight and might actually win out, as it spreads considerably more quickly. But the black-eye susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) spreads fairly readily.

You could argue that our garden doesn’t have enough variety and you might have a point. On the other hand, the parts of the garden that do have variety tend ultimately to be dominated by whatever plant is the most vigorous. Either that or nothing is vigorous enough and the weeds take over. I have plenty of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), American burnweed (Erechtites hieracifolia), and goldenrod (Solidago species) to deal with (just to name a few). But where the black-eye susans are growing well, very few weeds have a chance to get started. That’s pretty nice. And, they’re pretty.

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Oak Leaf Skeleton

Oak Leaf Skeleton

Oak Leaf Skeleton

A few years ago I planted a few fastigiate English oaks. The English oak, Quercus robur is a handsome tree with beautiful, gracefully lobed leaves, similar to the white oak, Quercus alba of North America. The trees I bought were a cultivar that grows very narrow and upright (which is what fastigiate means). I bought a bunch of small trees and planted planted them in various places around the yard, assuming some would not live but hoping at least one would. There is one growing to the north of the house and another in the back of the back yard. This leaf is on the second tree, in the back, and something has been eating the bulk of the leaf, leaving a skeleton and actually one surface of the leaf intact. I think it’s kind of beautiful, in spite of the fact that this is insect damage. There are enough untouched leaves that I’m not worried for the tree.

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Ariana and Kyle

Ariana and Kyle

Ariana and Kyle

Kyle is a pastoral intern at our church’s mother church and he came to preach today, covering the fairly well known story of Daniel during the reign of Darius the Persian. Kyle’s message was good and it was also wonderful to meet his new bride, Ariana. After church, as we do the first Sunday of most months, we had a fellowship meal together. The weather was so wonderful we went outside and ate in the shade of the large trees around the Senior Center. After the long drive yesterday, this was a relatively relaxing way to spend the early afternoon. Certainly more relaxing than Daniel’s day with the lions (spoiler alert…that turned out alright, as well).

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