We went to the farm park for a short visit today. I got a few photos of bluebirds, both male and female (Sialia sialis), a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), and a sparrow or other small bird that I can’t identify. I decided to go with this shot of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), though. Taking photos of birds on the wing is challenging at the best of times. With my long—150–600mm—lens, it’s even more challenging. The lens is quite heavy and getting it aimed at the bird, much less focused is pretty hit or miss. Mostly miss. This one turned out pretty well and I got a few more just about the same, so I’m please with that.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
I took a short walk in the woods today, feeling like I really should get outdoors a bit more. When I’m working from home, I take one or two breaks during the day and walk around the yard a bit. When I’m in the office, however, I tend to put my head down and work straight through. That’s not quite true, because my day is often broken up by meetings, but I don’t make it a habit to get out. I probably should, especially when the weather is so nice. Just after getting into the woods today I came across this deer skull. I took a few photos and then on the way back out I picked it up to put in the yard. I’m not sure why but we seem to have a bone collection in the back yard.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
We took a walk along the shore of Lake Needwood today, starting from near the beaver dam, we walked north and crossed Needwood Road. Near the end, where Rock Creek flows into the lake we saw this cute, little bird flitting around in the trees and shrubs. I was able to get four photos of it, none of which were great. It didn’t sit in one place very long and the long lens is fairly cumbersome, especially when zoomed all the way out. Still, they were good enough to identify it as a blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea), which is not a bird I’ve seen before (at least not knowingly). I guess if I were keeping a life list, this would now go on it.
C&O Canal – Flowers and Birds
Cathy and I went out to Poolesville to drop off a publication that we’ve had since I was in college. I had forgotten that the person we were taking it to was a classmate of mine since elementary school. From there we went to the C&O Canal at Riley’s Lock, where Seneca Creek empties into the Potomac River. We parked on the other side of the creek from the lock and lock house, near the old, ruined stone mill. It’s a shame it’s defaced by so much graffiti, but I suppose that’s something that’s just going to happen. When we got onto the towpath we walked west for a little over a mile. We didn’t expect to see much but I brought my long lens, just in case. Towards the end of the walk we spotted that particular green of the leaves of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). It’s a little early for them to be in full bloom but they were starting to open and I got a few nice photos. We love bluebells.
In addition to the bluebells, there were spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), cutleaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), and Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). There were Trillium leaves but they were not in bloom yet. In the turning basin there was a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) on the far shore and two pairs of hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus). These are lovely birds and I never get tired of seeing them. The females are a bit less noticeable but are also pretty birds. The turtles were also out in numbers, at least in a few spots. What a beautiful day for a walk.
Dorothy and Dodgy
It was a busy day today. Dorothy and a friend of hers came and we helped Yvette move two things out of her parents’ condo. We got a sleep sofa into the van and put a bookcase on the roof rack. Getting the sofa through the doors was a tight fit but we managed. Then I went to the office for a few meetings and for the retirement party for my boss’s boss, Marsha. I took pictures there but thought I’d post this one, instead, taken in the evening of Dorothy and Dodgy. I’m not actually sure how they spell the dog’s name. It’s really ‘doggy’ as mispronounced by their young daughter.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Cathy and I decided to go to Meadowside for a walk this afternoon. We walked back along the entrance road because we heard a barred owl (Strix varia) hoot. We didn’t find it and it stopped calling. I got a few photos of a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) and then we walked down to the creak and back downstream to where the eagle’s nest is. One of the adult bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was perched on a tree near the nest and I got quite a few photos of it, although they were at a fairly steep angle up, so not as good as I’d like. Still, it’s nice to have a bald eagle in our neighborhood.
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Cathy and I have walked many stretches of the C&O Canal together. We haven’t been to the stretch above Little Falls together. We both hiked—separately—from Georgetown back in the 1970 but decided to go there today. We saw a few turtles including this painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) and quite a few red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). I got one photo of a turtle I don’t recognize. I’m working on identifying that one. I got a few pictures of a Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), also. It was a lovely day and it’s always good to be outdoors.
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Cathy, Dorothy, and I walked around Lake Needwood today, starting from (and ending at) Needwood Mansion and walking clockwise. I carried my long lens (and monopod) and at first didn’t think I’d see much. There were a lot of folks out so any little birds that might normally be near the trail were few and far between. On the north side of the lake, however, we passed a man with a long lens similar to mine. I asked if he was photographing birds and he said he was, that he had just seen a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). It wasn’t visible from right there but a little further along I could hear it’s call. We actually saw two of them and I got one photo with both in it, but I was shooting through branches and it isn’t worth sharing. Most of the shots, in fact, were not all that good, either blurry or with intervening branches. Even this one has a branch with stems in front of the bird, but they are small the bird is reasonably sharp. Not as good as I’d like, but pretty clear what it is. We also saw mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), and a ruby-crowned kinglet (Corthylio calendula).
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
I’m still learning when it pays to carry my long (and heavy) lens and when it’s better to take my ‘standard’ lens. The long lens weights 2.1 kg (4 pounds 10 ounces) while the other two lenses I generally use weigh between 531 and 610 grams (1 pound 2.7 ounces and 1 pound 5.5 ounces, respectively). Add to that the need for support with the long lens and it’s quite cumbersome as well as heavy. Anyway, yesterday I didn’t carry the long lens and I had some really good opportunities to get blue bird photos. Today Cathy, Dorothy, and I walked on a trail at the Agricultural History Farm Park and between the talking and faster walking, we didn’t really see any birds at all. I still took a few photos on our walk, but it wasn’t until we came back to the car that I had an opportunity to get a couple shots of this female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) on a fence post. What I really need to do is go out alone so I can sit somewhere and not feel like there are people waiting for me. But I’m pretty happy with this picture. The girls walked around the old farm house and then watched the chickens. They were nice enough to let me wait for at least one bluebird picture.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
We walked in the park around Lake Frank today, hoping to get a glimpse of one of our resident bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There wasn’t anything visible in the nest but as we continued we met a man walking the other way who said that if we continued along to a particular spot and turned to face away from the lake we might see one near the top of the tallest tree in the area. Sure enough, when we got there, the bird was perched where the man had said. Being very high in the tree I could only get a view looking sharply upwards. It was also difficult to find a view that wasn’t obscured by branches. Still, I think this one does the eagle justice.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Cathy and I went to Croyden Creek Nature Center for a while today. I sat on a bench and took some photos of birds at the feeders, getting pretty shots of male and female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), a downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens), a not quite as good shot of a black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), a slightly blurred shot of a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). This show, of a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) was taken from near the same place but the bird is not, as you can see, on the feeders. We walked down the remains of Avery Road and did the loop up Croyden Creek. Then we walked around in Rockville Cemetery before returning home.
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
I went out to visit Dorothy today and help her a little with some brush clearing that she’s doing. I cut some small trees and helped her pull out some greenbrier (Smilax species). My back was bothering me a bit so I took a few breaks and on one of those I took three photos of this northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). They are quite gregarious birds and not nearly as shy as many other birds, which makes them a little easier to photograph. Nevertheless, I think I could do better than this with a little more patience and possibly a more comfortable position for my camera.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
We went to Great Falls today and walked downstream on the towpath. We went out to the overlook and enjoyed the roaring water, which was considerably higher than the last time we were at the river. I got a few photos of two immature bald eagles flying overhead. Then further along the towpath we got a really nice view of this great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in the canal. There was, apparently, another down at wide-water, but we decided we had walked far enough and headed back. This one was catching what appear to be crayfish or some other sort of fresh water crustacean. He (or she) didn’t seem to mind the attention from the shore and let a lot of folks get photos.
Wild Turkeys in Rockville
I went to the office a little early this morning. When I got there, there was a car partially pulled into a parking space, which I thought was a little odd. I parked and then went to get my camera bag from my trunk. The car pulled out and was about to leave when the driver stopped and told me there were a pair of wild turkeys just into the woods. I got my long lens and, as quietly as I could, headed into the woods. They were a little shy of my presence and I wasn’t able to get close to them, but I got two photos that at least show that they are, indeed, turkeys. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen wild turkeys in Montgomery County. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen them in Rockville. This isn’t really a good photo, but it’s all I was able to get through the underbrush. I circled around to get them from the other side, but they were gone before I could get there.
Spider, Flower, and Bird
After church today we went to the Agricultural History Farm Park for a little while. It was a beautiful fall day and a great day to be outdoors. We didn’t really feel like taking a long walk, though. We started, as we so often do, by walking around the shade garden next to (and part of) the fenced Master Gardeners demonstration garden. This spider, a marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) was there, sitting in the middle of her web (I don’t actually know this is a female). I know not everyone is enamoured of spiders but you have to admit, this little creature is quite beautiful in its own way.
For those of you who prefer flowers or birds to spiders, I’m posting two more photos. In the shade garden not far from the spider was the toad lily (Tricyrtis) seen in the second photograph. I’m a big fan of anything blooming in November, but I’ve never had much success getting this to grow in our garden. Seeing it here made me want to try once more, because it’s really very lovely.
We walked around the demonstration garden and I took a few more photographs there. Then Cathy walked over towards the barn and house and I moved the car there. I sat under a tree and took a few photos of birds and the third photo here—an eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)—is the best (I think) of those. Even with my long lens zoomed all the way out I had to crop this photo a bit. I’m hoping to do better but thought I’d share this one now, anyway.
Pseudemys rubriventris (Northern Red-bellied Cooter)
Cathy and I walked on the canal today, heading northwest (upstream) from Pennyfield Lock, getting near Blockhouse Point. We saw a Great Blue Heron and I got a few photos of that but thought this photo of a northern red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris) deserved to be seen. These are large basking turtles and are fairly common along the canal, along with the smaller eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta). Often, and especially from a distance, the color pattern on these turtles isn’t easily seen. This one, however, was particularly vivid and with the help of my long lens (zoomed to 531mm, according to the exif data), I was able to get quite close.
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)
It was a busy day today, starting with a church picnic and service at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg. We had to leave that early, though, to get to Poolesville for the memorial service for a long-time, family friend. It was a really nice service, in spite of the heat in the tiny church. We went to the family home and visited with folks for a while. When we left there, we stopped at McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area and walked a little while. I only took a few photos but I think this one of an eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens), a small flycatcher, is pretty nice.
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
We were back at the Ag. History Farm Park today. I mostly took photos of butterflies and managed to get a pretty good shot of this sulphur. They tend not to stay in one place very long but this one gave me a pretty good opportunity. I’m not sure which species of sulphur this is and there are quite a few that are fairly similar. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a species of Colias, but I’m really not sure. In any case, it was a beautiful day, not as hot as it’s been, and we were very happy to be outdoors.
Update: it’s been identified as an orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme).
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Cathy and I went to the Montgomery County Agricultural History Farm Park this afternoon and enjoyed the butterflies on the flowers. After being really overgrown during ‘the summer of covid’ it’s back in good shape this year and really lovely now. There were lots of skippers and I saw what I suspect was a fritillary but I really didn’t get a good enough look at it. It was the right color and size, though. There were both ‘standard’ and the dark-morph females. There was also a monarch flitting around but never let me get very close. The sulphurs and whites were likewise fairly skittish. So, I was pleased to get this one.
Sphinx Moth (Hemaris sp.)
We happened to see this sphinx moth (Hemaris sp.) in our front garden this evening. The light was low so I wasn’t able to get as much depth of field as I’d have liked. I prefer not to use the built-in flash on my camera but sometimes it’s the only way to get a decent photo and I think this one turned out well enough. They are especially hard to photograph while flying and in low light but it was nice enough to land for me. These are fairly common visitors to our garden. Not like swallowtails and skippers, but something we see often enough. They are most commonly drawn to the buddleia bushes. This one, however, had been on the Verbena bonariensis.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
There’s a golf course a little way towards South Carolina from where we stay at the beach that has a pond we call Alligator Pond. There is a pull-off and a boardwalk that overlooks the pond, although there’s so much growing up between the boardwalk and the pond it’s mostly a lost cause. But there is a small opening in the bushes and we often see alligators there. As we pulled in I looked up and saw a bald eagle flying away from the pond. It was gone long before I could get to my camera. There were, however, two ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) that circled for quite a while and I was able to get one pretty decent photo. We also did see an alligator and around the pond were both egrets and wood storks.
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
Since the last time we were at the beach, the town of Shallotte has created a small park called Shallotte Riverwalk. Cathy and I decided to check it out in the hopes of seeing some water birds. I think going at low tide would be better but it was still worth a visit. We saw an egret and a great blue heron but both a fair way off, so no pictures of those. The only bird I was able to get a good photo of was this tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) in a tree.
Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata)
Cathy and I walked west on the beach this morning and I stopped to take a few pictures, including pictures of two different crabs. This one is an Atlantic ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata), which is generally nocturnal. They burrow down as much as four feet into the sand to stay out of the hot sun, but occasionally they come out and can be seen. The other crab we saw was some species of spider crab. I also got pictures of a jellyfish on the sand, a grackle with a piece of crab in it’s beak, and some brown pelicans flying overhead.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
We did a few different things today. Late in the morning, Cathy, Dot, Tsai-Hong, and I took Silas and Eloise to the new playground near the island’s town center. They enjoyed climbing, sliding, and the playing in the fountain. A little later, Cathy and I went to the old ferry landing near the eastern end of the island and I photographed some wading birds. The tide was all the way in and most of them were far enough away that I wasn’t able to get many great photos, but we did see a bunch of different herons and egrets as well as a pair of wood storks. This shot of a snowy egret (Egretta thula) is really the only close-up shot I got, except one of a laughing gull on a post.
I’m not sure a medical rehab facility is a place you want to see vultures but that’s where this one is. They are, apparently, drawn to the fresh water and we’ve seen there here a few times. It’s both disconcerting and humorous at the same time. Of course, there’s no real connection between the vultures and the patients, which allows it to be funny. And we like birds, so we actually enjoyed seeing them. The first time we saw them there were five or more. This time, when I happened to have my camera, there was only the one, unfortunately. And I didn’t have a long enough lens to really get a good photo of the bird.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Cathy and I walked at Meadowside Nature Center this afternoon, down to Lake Frank and then up Rock Creek a ways before returning to the nature center. I took my new, long lens but only took a handful of shots with it. I got a nice closeup view of the eagles’ nest but we didn’t see any of the eagles. We did hear one call a few times from a distance, somewhere other than in the nest. I got this photo of a northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and that’s basically the best I could do. It flew away right after I got this one, so that’s all folks.
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
As mentioned in my previous post, we saw three types of heron on our walk on the C&O Canal. We were along the turning basin just northwest of the Seneca Creek aqueduct. We saw both immature and adult black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), at least two great blue herons (Ardea herodias), and at least two green herons (Butorides virescens), including this one. This is the first time we’ve seen green herons here, so that was quite exciting and I was particularly glad to have my new telephoto. As you can imagine, I’m going to be enjoying this on bird hikes, although it really is quite heavy. I’m also not sure I’m going to be able to get anything worthwhile with it of birds actually flying. It’s simply too much lens for that, at least until I’ve had a lot of practice.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
We took another trip to the C&O Canal today after stopping at Mary’s indigo dyeing event today. We parked at the end of Tschiffley Mill Road, on the west bank of Seneca Creek where it empties into the Potomac River. From there we walked a little ways behind the turning basin but decided we’d do better on the tow path. We saw three different types of heron. We saw both immature and adult black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), at least two green herons (Butorides virescens), and at least two great blue herons (Ardea herodias), including this one on a log along with a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). Once again, this was taken with my new telephoto lens, zoomed out to 600mm (which with an APS-C sensor, makes this the equivalent of a 960mm lens with 35mm film).
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
A month or two ago I happened to pull out a small Tupperware type container that had cash in it from when I was selling cards and matted photographs. It’s been quite a few years since I did that and at this point, I’m not going to do it any more. There was quite a bit there and I decided I’d use it to buy a telephoto lens, which is something I’ve wanted for quite some time now. I bought a Sigma 150-600mm zoom lens and today was my first outing with it. It’s quite heavy and I had it mounted on a monopod. That isn’t quite as good as a tripod but without that it would have been very difficult to get anything worthwhile. We walked to Blockhouse Point and then drove around to Pennyfield Lock on the C&O Canal. As we were walking back from a nice walk along the canal, I got four photos of this indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea). While it may not an award winning shot, it’s certainly better than anything I’ve been able to get with my other lenses. In the past I’d have to crop quite aggressively to get anything close to this and then it wouldn’t be nearly so sharp. This picture is the full frame. Hopefully there will be more and better bird pictures coming soon.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
As mentioned in the previous post, we see eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in our neighborhood. When I was writing up that post I had forgotten that I had a bluebird photo taken a little later the same day, also at the Agricultural History Farm Park. This isn’t full frame, because all I had was a 100mm lens, but it’s one of the better bluebird photos I’ve taken. They are often back lit, which makes exposure tricky, but this one was let more easily.
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
After church Cathy and I went to the Agricultural History Farm Park and walked around a bit. We expected the shade garden to be past it’s prime and although it’s not at its peak, it was still quite nice. We were sitting on a bench and this little fellow (or lass) came and went a few times, bring things to his (or her) young in the nesting box. The Master Gardeners’ exhibition garden was also quite nice, coming into its own as the summer heats up. The dahlias are coming up, as well, and promise a wonderful display a bit later on.
We have wrens in our yard and generally have a pair raising two or more broods each spring in a ceramic nesting ‘box’ (it’s ceramic and spherical, so I hesitate to call it a box, but whatever). Some people get tired of these noisy little birds but we love them. We also have bluebirds in the neighborhood, although we see them in other people’s yards more than in our own.
Silas and Two Goats
We went up to Pennsylvania today along with the rest of the family. Some had gone up the day before and spent the night, which was nice although the youngest apparently woke up in the middle of the night and cried a bit, making sleep a little rough for the rest. It was a very hot day but always good to be there. Mom and I finished putting the new screen up on the porch and Dorothy did a good bit of weeding in the flower bed in front of the cabin. Other than that, we mostly just sat around, ate, and talked. Standard fare for a day at ‘the farm’. We walked over to our neighbors’ house to see their goats. There were a few young kids that could get through the fence quite easily and although we tried to keep them in, they’d simply come out again. I took advantage of the situation and took a few photographs, including this one of Silas with two goats.
Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent)
Dorothy, Cathy, and I went to Great Falls today. The river was quite high and the bridges to Olmsted Island were closed but we enjoyed seeing the raging rapids anyway. We walked down the canal to widewater. There were more herons about that we’ve seen on a single outing any time we could remember. We saw a black snake, a few ducks and a family of geese. We saw a fairly large snapping turtle, as well. This butterfly, a pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos) was on a leaf by the side of the tow path and I was able to get quite close before it flew off.
Nerodia sipedon (Northern Watersnake)
A little further along Rock Creek from where we saw the azaleas in bloom, we happened to go down onto a stony area along the creek. Cathy was turning over rocks looking for interesting colors (and she’s hoping to find garnets). She turned over a rock that looked promising, started screaming, and ran past me jumping up and down. There was a snake under the rock, enjoying the residual warmth that the stone had collected during the warmer part of the day. This is a northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). Kind of cool, actually, but Cathy wasn’t convinced.
Cathy Visits the Ponies
One more post for today. After our wandering around the western part of the county and visit to Susanna Farm Nursery, we came back to where Dorothy was staying and took the dog for a longish walk. It was warm but really pretty out. There is an abandoned house at the back of the property and there were two black vultures in the upstairs and they weren’t happy when we came close. We didn’t go inside. After we got back, Cathy spent some time grooming a couple of the ponies. I enjoyed sitting on the porch and chatting with Dorothy. All in all, a very pleasant day.
Coragyps atratus (Black Vulture)
I had a dentist appointment this morning, finally getting around to that after a long hiatus kicked off by all the changes made by the Wuhan Virus Crisis. After the appointment I went to the Lancaster County Dutch Market to buy some meat. I really like the selection they have and their prices are reasonable. In particular, they have very good bacon, both plain and with black pepper. They also have cured pork chops that are terrific. I happened to drive around the back of the shopping center and there were some black vultures (Coragyps atratus) in the parking lot. This one let me get quite close without flying away. They are not the prettiest birds you’ll see, but hey, they are what they are. And they help deal with dead animals. That’s not actually a bad thing.
It’s been a good year for bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sightings. A little under a month ago (see Sunday, February 27, 2022) I got a photo of one of the nesting eagles flying over the nest. Today one of them flew right over our heads and then landed in a tree on our side of Lake Frank. I wasn’t able to get an unimpeded view but I was able to get relatively close. I’d still be happy to have a longer lens but I think this is pretty nice. Of course we’d see these on a daily basis in Juneau, but around hear, this sort of sighting is still somewhat rare and exciting.
We went to the C&O Canal today, walking southeast from Pennyfield Lock. We took a detour out to the river and saw quite a few different songbirds, enjoying them flitting about in the trees. Shortly after we returned to the towpath I spotted this raccoon at the top of a hollow tree. It went up the tree and into the hole and we didn’t expect to see it again. Then it popped its head back out and looked around before climbing around and generally putting on a nice show for us. I’ve seen raccoons before but this is the first I’ve seen on the canal. What fun.
Red Tailed Hawk
I went into the office today. We had planned to start coming back to the office originally last fall and then at the new year, but each time it got pushed back. Starting March 1, however, it actually happened. I came in on March 1 and again today. In the early afternoon I went outside for a short break, walking through the empty lot next to my office. I saw this red-tailed hawk (em>Buteo jamaicensis) and was quick enough to get a pretty nice photograph. I’ve been thinking for some time about getting a longer lens for this sort of thing, but so far, the longest I have is 100mm.
Cathy and I took a walk to Lake Frank this afternoon. We walked along the shore of the lake towards the northeast end. We saw a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), which was nice. Then we rounded the point and had a good look at the bald eagle’s nest, which you can see in the trees here. As we were looking, one of the adult bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew off the nest and I was able to get a reasonable photo. We see these birds reasonably often and it’s good to be reminded of how big, majestic, and beautiful they are. We’re really privileged to have this pair nesting here year after year.
We were out at Rocklands today and walked over to see the ram. He was just chillin’ in the sun. We also visited the chickens and a little later Dorothy came and we went in to see the kittens. They leave this week for their new home, so it was our last chance for a while. It’s good to get outside, even in the winter when it’s cold. We’ve found it especially important the last two years, as we don’t commute to work. For me, in particular, with my office in the basement, I need to get out once in a while and see the sun and the sky.
One of Two Kittens
Dorothy had two kittens for a couple weeks. They were named Stevie and Brian, although I’m not sure which this is. They are not identical and if they are next to each other I can tell them apart but they’re similar enough that it’s not simple when they are separate. They live in the ‘red house’ at the farm, or at least they did when I took this photo. They’ve been placed in a permanent home and have move on by the time I’m writing this. But Dorothy should be able to visit them from time to time. Personally, I’m not a cat person, although I don’t really mind them. Except for the mild allergy, that is.
Abba and Josh flew down today to spend a long weekend here. Sadly Cathy had to work late this evening but Dorothy, Josh, Abba, and I drove out to Rocklands. Abba’s been there before but Josh had not. They were closed but since Dorothy is on the payroll (and is almost family) we went to see the animals. Dorothy isn’t crazy about the pigs, at least not when there isn’t a fence between her and them, but I’m a little more bold, as you can see from where I’m taking this photo. We also enjoyed a beautiful Poolesville sunset before heading back home.
We went for a walk in the woods towards Lake Frank this evening. I took a few pictures but nothing very special. As we were coming down the old road into the park a family ahead of us had stopped to see this millipede on the pavement. They laughed about the fact that they felt a need to take a picture of it. Obviously I understood completely and after they were gone I got down on the ground to get a few of my own. In the evening light I wasn’t able to get a lot of depth of field so most of them are only partially in focus but this one turned out pretty well. I’m not sure which of the many genera and species of millipede this is.
For our first day of bumming around, we headed east to Newburyport, Massachusetts, just across the border from New Hampshire on the south bank of the Merrimack River. We bought lunch at Joppa Fine Foods, where Dorothy worked for the first six months of Covid but sadly didn’t get to meet her boss, who wasn’t there today. Then we drove out onto Plum Island. At our first stop on the island we saw quite a few common sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos) in the shallows on the inland side of the island. There were also swans, but quite a bit further away. The last time we were on Plum Island it was in the upper 90s and really humid. Today was warm for the first week of October but still considerably nicer than the previous time.
Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary)
I spent the morning at Rocklands Farm today, taking pictures of some wine-making activities as well as quite a few of Greg’s cattle. I helped him separating the cattle into two groups and then herd one group to the upper end of the pasture. I took quite a few photos of ripe grapes, as well, although the anticipated harvest activities was put off so I didn’t get that. As is common, I also took pictures in Janis’ garden and got this pretty nice photo of a variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) on the zinnias. All in all, it was a lovely morning.
Melanoplus differentialis (Differential Grasshopper)
We had to drive out to Quince Orchard this morning and since we were already out that way we figured we might as well go somewhere and enjoy being outdoors. We continued out Rt. 28 and then turned onto White Ground Road. We stopped at the Boyds Negro School (1896–1936), across from the Edward Taylor Elementary School. Then we stopped again at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and Cemetery. After walking around the cemetery a while, we decided to see what the Hoyles Mill Trail was like from where it meets White Ground Road (just across from the Methodist Church) to Little Seneca Lake in Black Hills Regional Park. It was a nice walk, not at all difficult with both woods and some open country, alongside corn fields (which have been harvested). I saw this grasshopper, a differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) and was able to get close enough for a pretty good photo.
Busy As A…
Cathy and I went to Stadler Nursery late this morning. I bought a ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) called ‘Fireside’. It has very dark leaves which are a really lovely red early in the year and darken until they are nearly black in the late summer and fall. As usual I also took some flower photos. Getting an insect on the wing is not something I’ve had much success doing but this one turned out pretty well. It’s a common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) leaving a Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ flower. We have a lot of Rudbeckia in our yard but most of it is one variety that is quite invasive. I wouldn’t mind thinning that out and replacing some with different types and this one is pretty nice.
Moth and Eagle
We had some out of town guest this weekend but they were here mostly to do the D.C. tourist thing. Late this morning the headed downtown to hit the museums and Cathy and I decided to go to the C&O Canal, walking northwest from Pennyfield Lock. It was a beautiful day, warmer than I prefer but only by a little. In the shade and particularly when there was a breeze it was lovely. We saw lots of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) and quite a few wildflowers. For today’s post I’m putting up two photos. The first is an ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) on a sunflower (Helianthus) of some sort. The larvae live in communal webs on their host trees. Interestingly, while they are thought to be native to South Florida, the ailanthus for which they are named (Ailanthus altissima, Tree of Heaven), is native to Northern China. It is believed that their original larval host was the paradise tree (Simarouba glauca) and Simarouba amara. It started moving north around the 1850s when introduced Ailanthus altissima contacted the moth’s native range.
The second photo is, as you have probably surmised, a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Cathy had walked a little further along and I waited in the shade at a pretty spot to take a few photos of the wildflowers there. While I was waiting for her to return I looked up and saw the eagle. I was able to point him out to a few others walking or biking on the canal but it was gone before Cathy returned. This isn’t the sharpest photo but it’s pretty clear what it is. The dark spot in the lower right is another bird. There were quite a few, flying fairly high in the sky.
Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent)
We were out at Rocklands again today. They were having a picnic for their Cellar Club and asked if I’d come to take pictures. Since many of the pictures were of people but people that I don’t really know, I decided to post this one. It’s a pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) and it was in Janis’ garden. This is a fairly common little butterfly but you do sometimes have to pay attention to see them. They aren’t particularly flashy. I also took pictures of a few flowers and a nice shot of a soldier beetle.
Scolia dubia dubia (Two-spotted Scoliid Wasp)
From McKee-Beshers we went to Rocklands Farm. We were greeted by Janis who took us to her garden and gave us tomatoes and eggplants. I photographed these two-spotted scoliid wasps (Scolia dubia dubia) on the Eryngium in her garden. There were probably a dozen of them on the small plant with a lot of movement. There were a few other wasps but most were this very distinctive subspecies of blue-winged wasp. We bought burgers and Brussels sprout from the Boxcar Burgers truck and a bottle of wine from Rocklands and enjoyed a warm but beautiful evening sitting by the barn. A nice way to spend a summer evening.
Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle)
Cathy’s brother arrived from the Chicago area today and in the evening we all went to the Agricultural Farm Park. In the dahlia garden, we spotted this spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on a beautiful magenta dahlia. It’s not peak season for the dahlias quite yet, but there are enough blooms to make it worth visiting, if you’re in the area. The demonstration garden ‘next door’ is in fine fettle and also worth walking through. It’s in a lot better shape this summer than last year, when I suspect getting people to work on it was a bit harder.
A month ago (see Sunday, July 04, 2021) I had a photo of one of two fawns that were in our back yard. Exactly one month later, the fawns are still roaming the neighborhood and we saw them in our yard again. They were slightly more alarmed by my presence than they had been a month ago but I was still able to get fairly close to them before they took off. As you can see, they are still spotted but the spots are less well defined and obvious. We’re slightly amazed that they’ve lived this long, being so close to a busy road with all its traffic. It’s nice to see them, but then, of course, they’re here eating our garden, which isn’t so nice.
Eurytides marcellus (Zebra Swallowtail)
After spending a few hours at McKee-Beshers, we stopped at Rocklands Farm for a little while. It was closing soon and we didn’t stay long but I took a few pictures, including this zebra swallowtail Eurytides marcellus on Janis’ buddleia. I’m pretty sure this is the first of them that I’ve seen and definitely the first I’ve photographed. It’s really a striking butterfly, with the bright red on the underside of it’s wings. I was really happy to get this photo. As for the rain that had been coming down fairly heavily when we left home, the roads were drying up by the time we got out here and by the evening the sky was totally clear.
I’m not 100% certain of the species of this dragonfly. I think it may be a riverine clubtail (Stylurus amnicola) but I’m not sure. This was taken on the Monocacy River aqueduct just over the line in Frederick county. It was a hot afternoon and we were glad to be in the shade on the towpath. There is fruit on some of the larger pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) but they are a little way from being ripe. We also enjoyed watching the swifts (Chaetura pelagica) that were flying out from a ledge on the face of the aqueduct to catch insects.
It wasn’t quite so hot this evening so Cathy and I decided to walk in the woods around Lake Frank. It was still warm and quite humid, so I ended up pretty much drenched in sweat, but it doesn’t take a lot for me to get that way. We happened to see this American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) on the trail. It’s one of only two species of toad native to our area, so identification isn’t all that difficult. He’s a handsome fellow, don’t you think? Don’t let the frown fool you. This is ideal toad weather, especially now, with all the insects being about.
Arilus cristatus (Wheel Bug)
I happened to notice this insect on my car this morning. I’d an immature wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) and I’ve always found them to be kind of cool. The adult wheel bug has a cog-like projection on its back, which is where it gets its common name. The wheel bug preys on caterpillars, aphids, bees, sawflies, etc. so they’re actually good to have around. They do bite, if mishandled (or sometimes just handled) and their bite can be quite painful. So, I’d avoid messing with them, if you have the choice. Just leave them alone and let them eat what they eat.
We had two white-tailed deer fawns in our back yard today. As I post this two weeks after the fact, we’ve seen them together a few times, so as of yesterday (July 17) they were both still alive. With a busy road not too far away, we’re a little surprised, to be honest. When I first saw them and grabbed my camera, I figured I’d get a picture of them just before they ran away. When I opened the kitchen door to get the shot, however, they didn’t move, so I went outside and took another. Then as I walked out onto the patio, they actually came closer and got without about 15 feet before deciding that was close enough.
Tiger Swallowtail on Milkweed
I stopped at the Croyden Creak Nature Center again this afternoon. I took a picture of Joe Pye weed here two weeks ago (see Wednesday, June 16, 2021) and wanted to see if it had started to bloom. It really hadn’t but it’s getting close. I walked around and took a few pictures, anyway, including a few of this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) enjoying the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). There was also a nice buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) in bloom. It has spherical clusters of tiny flowers that like little pincushions.
Lightning Bugs (a.k.a. Fireflies)
I’m not sure how well this will show up unless it’s viewed on a largish screen. Anyway, I decided to try taking long exposures to capture the flashing lights of lightning bugs, otherwise known as fireflies. They didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked, because when I used a long enough exposure to get a lot of flashes, parts of the picture were so bright that it looked like day time. That was mostly due to electric lights from our neighbors. If I get a chance, I may try to find a darker spot and see what I can do. The trails of lights are generally made by individual insects, flying along flashing as they go.
This was taken on June 3, almost two weeks ago as I’m posting it. That was just about the peak of the so-called Brood X cicada swarm. It really was quite noisy. In the past I would sometimes go outside if I was on the phone. Not only is reception better, but I can avoid the parrot noise that sometimes interrupts phone calls. But with the cicadas, it really wasn’t practical. It’s interesting how variable it is throughout the neighborhood and the woods. Some places you’d expect it to be bad seem to have very few. They are pretty thick right around us, though.
Celithemis elisa (Calico Pennant)
We went up to Pennsylvania today just to hang out. It was probably what will turn out to be the most pleasant day of the summer. Cool, clear, breazy and absolutely lovely. We met our new neighbors, who invited us over to see their goats, which everyone enjoyed, especially Kaien and Silas. Dorothy had a few friend with her and they cut down a few trees that I had marked for clearing. And of course we cooked burgers and hot dogs on the fire. I took a few pictures, including this one of a calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa).
We went for a walk in the park late this afternoon. We went to see if the cicada noise was louder there and were surprised to find that there were parts of the woods where we could barely hear them. Other parts were about the same as in our yard. There was plenty of evidence of cicadas throughout the woods, with the tell-tall holes in the ground where they emerged and their shed exoskeletons on leaves, branches, and trunks. I like this one, back lit by the late afternoon sun.
Peony ‘Coral Sunset’
It’s peony time here. I love peonies and it’s a little surprising I haven’t planted more than I have. We have a few on the south end of the house that were here when we moved in. This one, planted in our back garden near the fence, is the only other one we have and I planted three of them in 2014. One thing about peonies is they take a while to really get established. Once they do, of course, they are hard to beat. Even a small plant like these, which only produce one or two blooms each, are pretty amazing, though. I really like this one, called ‘Coral Sunset’. I also love the fact that I caught a little potter or mason wasp hovering near it.
The Cicadas Emerge
The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming. There are two, large red oak trees in our front yard, both on the county right of way and planted when the neighborhood was built at the end of the 1960s. One of them has less than a dozen cicadas on it, the other has hundreds. This is on the second and is one of a few cicadas currently exiting their exoskeleton and transitioning to adulthood. They’re kind of creepy at this stage, all white and maggot-like. Of course, they’re nymphs for 17 years, and they are king of creepy that whole time, so I guess that’s not so surprising.
Cupido comyntas (Eastern Tailed-Blue)
Cathy and I went back to the Agricultural Farm Part today after church. There’s a trail we hadn’t been on and wanted to see what it was like. It heads off from the driveway up along the eastern side of Rock Creek. It had recently been mowed and was in very nice shape up as far as a small side stream with a small wooden bridge across it. I guess they couldn’t get the large mowers across that and the trail was a bit overgrown after that. It was quite warm but nice in the shade and we had an enjoyable walk. On the way back up to the car I saw this little eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas). It’s one of my favorite little butterflies.
Cicada on Blue-eyed Grass
The cicadas (Magicicada species) of Brood X are beginning to emerge from their 17-year subterranean sojourn. Interestingly, this one, near the base of a large oak tree, is one of only a few at this site. Another oak tree at the other end of the yard is absolutely covered with them. I suspect I’ll have a few more photos before their visit comes to an end but I thought for at least one photo I’d include some flowers to brighten what is otherwise a sort of ugly bug. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) is something of a weed around our yard, but it’s at least a pretty weed.
Glen With A Duckling
It was duckling rental pick-up day where Dorothy works and we went out to help. Mostly I took pictures but I did help with the actual process for a bit. Cathy did more than I did. But having pictures is nice, of course. This is Luke, nephew of the farmer, and all around cute kid. He and his sister posed for me a few times with ducklings.
The weather was beautiful and we had a great time being out on the farm. It was well organized and went very smoothly, although the place got a little busier when the winery opened. We really enjoyed visiting with folks, especially Glen’s parents and grandparents, and while we were tired by the end of the day, it was a day well spent. Chick rental is coming up, followed by turkey rental. It’s amazing to see how much they grow in a week. Educational and fun. And the kids enjoy it, too!
Josh, Julia, and Lupin
We visited our friends, Josh and Julia today and met their new dog, Lupin. They’ve moved into a nice house and it was great to see them getting settled in. They also helped us with some furniture moving, which was really nice. We’re trying to get a few things moved out of a storage unit and they got a couple other guys and provided the muscle (to go along with my brains?). Seriously, it’s really a lot easier when you have more people. Coming up on their third anniversary (and it’s already past by the time I’m actually posting this). Happy new house, kids!
Cathy, Dorothy, Abba, and I went for a bit of a hike this afternoon. We want to walk to a place we call Bluebell Island, although it doesn’t actually have a name. It’s an island and it’s covered with Virginia bluebells, though, so the name seems fitting. The trail we took was quite overgrown, though, with roses, briars, and all sorts of other things. We had brought clippers but between the weeds and the wet, we eventually gave up. We came back by a slightly different route and were just coming out of the woods when we happened to come across this black snake. I’ve never seen this before, but he ‘rattled’ his tail as though he were a rattlesnake. Apparently that’s something they do sometimes. It was a bit freaky. Dorothy and I especially enjoyed Cathy and Abba’s reactions. Let’s just say that they were not big fans.
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
We met some friends at Violet’s Lock on the C&O Canal and went for a walk with them, heading southeast on the towpath. It was a cool day, mostly overcast, but it was really good to be outdoors. We didn’t seem herons as we have recently but did get a pretty good view of this black vulture (Coragyps atratus) flying overhead. This outing was mostly to visit with our friends, and I only took a few photos but I’m pretty happy with this one. Vultures are not most peoples’ favorite bird but they have a beauty of their own.
When I looked out the back door this morning I saw this trio of eastern white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the yard. The appeared to have been there some while and were quite comfortable. They were only marginally concerned when I came up to the door and there were even pretty cool when I opened the door a little to get a photo without the glass of the door involved. When I stepped outside they stood up but I was half way across the patio before they calmly and quietly wondered off. They’re much too comfortable for my liking.
Eastern White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
In the preceding post, dated February 10, I said that we like to seem wildlife in our yard. Then I made an exception for deer. Today, we had a few eastern white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the yard. I can’t tell you how much I’d love to get out my bow and arrow and shoot them. But I won’t, because that would be illegal. I actually know someone who once did that, shooting from his upstairs bathroom window. He didn’t have neighbors behind his house, backing on a park. Wrong, but pretty awesome at the same time.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
This isn’t a great photo but since I’m not taking a photo a day, I have fewer to post than I did for the last ten years. The photo was taken through the glass of our kitchen door and with a mere 100mm lens, so it’s less sharp than it might be. Still, it was a nice view of the bird and we always enjoy wildlife in our yard. Well, almost always. We’re less excited about deer, which can be fairly destructive. And rabbits. Once it gets a bit warmer we’ll have lots of rabbits. But we love birds of pretty much all kinds and are especially happy to see foxes (and even more so if they eat the rabbits).
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
We walked on the C&O Canal again this afternoon, returning to Pennyfield Lock but walking southeast instead of northwest. We saw three herons including one in a tree over the canal and this one, wading in the water. It seems like a good time of year for them and it’s particularly nice to see them as close as this. The trees are all bare, of course, which makes things in the trees easier to see. It was cool out today but not cols, so a really nice day for a walk.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
We went for a walk on the C&O Canal this afternoon, heading northwest from Pennyfield Lock. We saw a few great blue herons Great (Ardea herodias), including this one who posed for us very nicely. It was a lovely day and really good to be outdoors. The canal is nice, especially a little ways out from Great Falls Tavern, because it’s open and there aren’t a lot of people. More people than on some trails but not so many it’s a pain, trying to keep our distance from everyone.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
We went to the Tridelphia Reservoir this afternoon to two different parking areas and walked out and back along trails from both. The first wasn’t as nice as we had hoped, although we saw two types of clubmoss, Diphasiastrum digitatum (fan clubmoss) and Dendrolycopodium obscurum (ground pine). The walk from the second parking area was really nice. It was an easy walk except for a few places where there was mud on the trail but it wasn’t hard to get around. We were about to turn around when Cathy spotted this great blue heron (Ardea herodias), who let us get quite close. We just stood and watched it for quite a while.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Cathy and I went for a walk on the western side of Lake Needwood this afternoon, parking at Needwood Mansion. It’s a trail we haven’t walked on before, although Cathy ran at least one cross country meet here when she was in high school. We saw quite a few eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and some of them were even close enough that I was able to get a reasonable picture or two. I really would like a longer lens for this sort of thing. Relying on the 100mm lens I have leaves me a little disappointed, but this one is pretty good, if I say so myself.
Smartweed and Mosquito
Cathy and I walked to the park today and I took a few pictures. This is a very common weed in our area, called Pennsylvania smartweed (Persicaria pensylvanica). I got a bonus in this photograph, of an Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). I’m not really a big fan of either, I’ afraid. Weeds are a common problem in our garden and this one shows up without fail. And I don’t know many fans of mosquitoes of any kind. Nevertheless, they both have a sort of beauty that cannot be denied.
Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye)
Just a few days ago I mentioned that we were seeing fewer butterflies in the garden. Then I saw and photographed a painted lady (Vanessa cardui), a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a monarch (Danaus plexippus), and today a common buckeye (Junonia coenia), all within just over two weeks. So, the summer is going out strong in terms of butterflies. The common buckeye is not particularly rare here, but we haven’t seen a lot of them this year. It’s a pretty butterfly and quite distinctively marked. Like the recently photographed painted lady and monarch, this one is on the Verbena bonariensis.
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
The late afternoon sun was shining on the hawthorn berries and I took some pictures of them before spotting this monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) flitting around the tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). She flew off for a while but I waited and she came back and I was able to get some pretty nice photos. I figured I can get pictures of the hawthorn again tomorrow. The butterflies are getting to be fewer and fewer, so I want to capture them while I can. We’ve had a pretty steady presence of monarchs this summer, although rarely more than one at a time. This one is in particularly fine shape.
Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral)
This is the first red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) I’ve seen in the yard this year. It’s wings are pretty ragged but it was fluttering around well enough. We’re seeing fewer butterflies lately, now that it’s cooled off so much, but once in a while we get a treat like this. This one is resting on a rose trellis on the end of our house that used to have a huge, climbing rose on it. That rose died to the ground a while back but it’s finally starting to get up onto the trellis again. Hopefully in a few more years it will be back to its former glory.
The red admiral is cousin to the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) whose picture I posted just over a week ago.
Harmonia axyridis (Asian Lady Beetle)
I went out this morning to bring the recycle bins back from the curb and happened to notice this little Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) on the hood of my car. So, it’s not a terribly natural setting and I’ve have loved to be able to photograph it on a flower or something, but I’m keeping it real and telling it like it is (or was). These are quite common in our area and can be found pretty much throughout the United States and southern Canada. They are native to eastern Asia from the Altai Mountains to the east coast and Japan. Their spot pattern and colors are extremely variable, including the black spots on an orange base, as seen here, but also black on red, red, orange, or yellow on black, and even solid with no spots.
Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady)
I’ve posted photos of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) before, but not this year. Each of the others show the underside of the wings, which are often folded up when the butterfly is on a flower. I spent quite a while following this one around and managed to get a pretty good shot of the upper wing surface. It’s a pretty, mid-sized butterfly that’s found in five of the seven continents (all but South America and Antarctica). This is the first I’ve seen this year, so I was excited to be able to get some good pictures.
Honey Bee on Aster
Cathy and I took a walk along Croyden Creek early this afternoon. It has turned cool, although with the humidity in the woods and the steep nature of the trail, I was fairly warm. It was nice to get out, of course, and we only saw a few other people. We walked from the Croyden Creek Nature Center down stream almost to where it joins Rock Creek. Coming back, we turned up a side valley and came out between the two main parts of Rockville Cemetery. Back and the nature center, I took this photo of a western honey bee (Apis mellifera) on an aster of some sort.
I’m pretty sure this is a wolf spider (Family Lycosidae) but with about 240 species in North America, and with this not being all that great of a photograph, I’m not really going to try to narrow it down any more than that. It was in the grass near our car and I could only get at it from behind without moving the car, and that would have scared it off. There are a lot of spiders in our yard. I’d be surprised if there were not a lot in your yard, too. Most are small and totally harmless to humans. They also eat things we generally don’t like. So, thank a apider.
Underneath one of the buddleias in our back garden I found the remains of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Just last Friday I had photos of a monarch caterpillar (see Friday, September 11). This is the other end of the life cycle, the death of an adult butterfly. Monarchs are quite widespread, being found throughout much of North and South America (and apparently have been introduced in Australia). The color on the wings of a butterfly are made up of very small scales. In the full size version of this image, they are visible, especially in the orange areas.
Paper Wasp (Polistes Sp.)
I’m not at all sure what this wasp is but I’m going to guess it’s a Polistes species, possibly P. fuscatus, the northern paper wasp. I like this head-on shot, although I’d like to have a bit more depth of field. The wasps and bees were thick in the mountain mint and buddleia this afternoon. Autumn is arriving, though, and it’s been cooler, so the insects are not quite so nemerous except in the heat of mid-day. I also got a few pictures of a beewolf (Philanthus gibbosus).
We have some white swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’) in a frequently wet part of the lawn. It bloomed for a nice, ling time this summer and as it gets more established I expect it to do even better. Yesterday Cathy noticed a caterpillar on it and I took some photos. I took a few more today. This is a monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus). Although I generally don’t encourage insects that eat the leaves on our plants, I make an exception for these little guys. We really enjoy the monarchs in our yard and so we put up with the feeding habits of their young.
Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle)
I was down on the ground taking some photos of a skipper on some blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) when I noticed this spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) just to my right. I got a handful of photos of it before it flew away and I actually got a fairly good one of it just taking off. I think this is a better picture, overall, though, so I thought I’d use it. This is a destructive insect and really I should have squashed it, but it flew away before I had the chance. They do significant damage to many field crops “including cucumbers and other squashes, corn, soy.”
Limenitis arthemis astyanax (Red-spotted Purple)
We took an outing today to Rocklands Farm and Winery and had a lovely visit with Janis. She and Anna took us to see Anna’s flowers and then we circled back around behind the winery. The grape must that had spilled on the ground outside the work area had attracted quite a few butterflies, including this red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax). To me, it looks more like an orange-spotted blue, but what do I know. Their colors are a bit variable, anyway. Nevertheless, this is a pretty distinctive butterfly and always a treat to see.
Dorothy asked if we’d host a dinner for the Fourth Fellows this evening and we did, with all but one of them coming. I made a pretty large batch of spaghetti sauce and we all ate out on the back patio. The plan was for them to stay outside but when the rain started we had them move indoors. Sarah asked if she could bring her dog with her and we said yes. This is Vulcan. He’s a large but relatively gentle creature with a face that reminds me a bit of Scooby-Doo.
Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (Goldenrod Soldier Beetle)
This goldenrod soldier beetle, (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) is well camouflaged against the petals of the black-eyed Susan in our back yard. Often when looking for insects, it’s a matter of looking for motion, because they blend in so well with the background. I spotted this on after taking a few photos of a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), also on the black-eyed Susans. They are starting to fade, but there will still be plenty of color for a while yet. One interesting thing about this beetle is that the species epithet, pensylvanicus, is the correct spelling and the version with a double n (i.e. pennsylvanicus) is incorrect.
We went to Northern Virginia this evening to have dinner with our good friend, Jean. While we were there, eating in her car port, there was a huge downpour followed by a rainbow. It was actually really nice to be sitting outside but under cover during that. Then, I happened to spot this moth, which landed on the gate to the back yard. It’s a moth in the genus Xanthotype. There are five species in our area but, according to BugGuide, “adults of all species in this genus are, for practical purposes, externally indistinguishable from one another” so we’ll just leave it at that.
This little bee is absolutely loaded with pollen. (Side question: if pollen is spelled with an ‘e’, why does pollinator have an ‘i’ in its place?) Anyway, Cathy and I went to Meadowside Nature Center this afternoon and walked around a pond and through the woods. In addition to this little bee, I got a pretty good photo of a common whitetail (Plathemis lydia), a fairly common dragonfly. But I thought I’d go with the bright yellow of this photo instead. I’m also partial to bees, of course.
Monobia quadridens (Four-toothed Mason Wasp)
The mountain mint is really buzzing these days. The height of summer is really great for seeing bees and wasps and I really enjoy seeing them in the afternoon. The sun beating down it a bit much so I can only take it for short stretches but it’s worth it to see the variety of stinging things buzzing around. This is, I believe, a four-toothed mason wasp (Monobia quadridens). The larvae feed on leaf-rolling caterpillars so are generally considered good to have around. Their sting is something you want to avoid but like most hornets and wasps, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
I’m pretty sure this is a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus). There are three dark swallowtails that we see somewhat regularly. Most of them are dark form females of the eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). This is, in my experience, the second most common. Then there are the black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes). They all look pretty similar and they all have a bit of variation in their coloration. Since I’m really not an expert, I could be wrong about this one. I’ll just leave it at that. It’s a pretty butterfly, in any case, and is enjoying the blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica ) in our front garden.
I noticed this bright green katydid nymph on the canna lily this morning. It is one of the Scudderia species. It let me get pretty close, as you can see and it actually stayed there for a few days and ate a good amount of the petals on this flower. Generally I’m not a fan of flower-eating insects but this one was pretty enough and eating slowly enough that I let it be. I like the green against the orange of the petals and even though it’s a small thing, I could see it clearly from our kitchen door, which was nice.
Megachile sculpturalis (Sculptured Resin Bee)
I’m pretty sure this is a sculptured resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis), a fairly common, solitary bee in the Megachilidae family (the leafcutter, mason, and resin bees, and allies). We see them on a variety of flowers in our yard. This one is on the Verbena bonariensis (tall verbena or Brazilian vervain) and that seems to be a favorite for these bees. Like most bees, they are not at all agresive and much more likely to fly away from you than bother you in any way. I think they’re quite pretty, with their furry thorax and sculptured abdomen.
Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak)
This is a pretty little butterfly that I don’t see too often in our yard. It is, I believe, a red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops). It was moving about amongst the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) and that made it hard to get a clear photo of it, but this one turned out pretty well. The hairstreaks are a subfamily (and considered as a tribe) under the Lycaenidae, the Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks, and Harvesters. They are smallish butterflies and their “eye spots” at the far end of their hind wings presumably fool prediters into thinking that’s their head enough to improve their chance of survival.
I’m not actually 100% sure of the identification of this sulphur. It may be an orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme) but it’s hard to tell for sure from the underside of the wings. It’s a sulphur, anyway, subfamily Coliadinae. I’ve had a hard time getting a good photograph of one, as they are quite shy and often don’t land when I’m near by. So, I was pleased to get this photo and a few others today. It’s a pretty little butterfly and I love seeing them on the flowers in the yard.
Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
We have a lot of tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) in our yard. The particularly like the butterfly bush (Buddleia) but we see them on other flowers, as well. They are often quite ragged, with torn wings and sometimes with less than half remaining. Nevertheless, they seem to get around alright. Most of them are the standard yellow striped with black but we have a significant number of the dark form, which is restricted to females of the species. This is a pretty nice one, with her wings mostly intact. As you can see, she is on a tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis).
Oncometopia orbona (Broad-headed Sharpshooter)
I took some photos of flowers today as well as a few of tiger swallowtails. But then I saw this little insect. It’s a leafhopper and they aren’t very big. I got two decent photos of it, one with the head and eyes in focus (this one) and the other with the body in focus but the head blurred. Nevertheless, it was enough to let it be identified as a Broad-headed Sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona). There are four species of Oncometopia in the U.S.A. but this is the only one that’s known to be present here, so I’m pretty sure that’s right. It’s a pretty little critter.
Monarch on Butterfly Weed
The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is one of the prettiest butterflies we get. They don’t show up in nearly as great numbers as do the tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) and maybe that’s what makes their appearance more exciting. This one was on a tender butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica) that it in a container on our back patio. I took this one photo from the lawn side of the patio before trying to get around to the other side. Just as well because it flew off after that and I got no more. I did take some more photos of the tiger swallowtails but I’m sure I’ll get more of them this summer.
Polites peckius (Peck’s Skipper)
The skippers are here in their great numbers. They aren’t flashy like the swallowtails and they don’t buzz like the bees, but they are everywhere. They especially like the black-eyed Susan flowers (as seen here) and the Verbena bonariensis but they can also be seen on other plants. This is, I believe, a Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius), also known as the yellow patch or yellow spotted skipper. The larvae feed on grasses while the adults take nectar from flowers. They are widespread across much of North America.
This is a sand wasp, Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus I believe. It’s fairly common although nothing like the western honey bee or the bumble or carpenter bee, but I see them quite a bit on the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), as this one is. If I go out in the heat of the day, with the sun beating down on the mountain mint, it’s an absolute hive of activity (and I mean that in the most literal sense). There are myriad bees and wasps buzzing around with an occasional skipper sneaking in. The buddleia above has mostly bumble and carpenter bees as well as butterflies. Now and then I spot a true bug of one sort or another. It’s really wonderful, unless of course you are allergic or simply afraid of stinging things. It’s also very hot so I don’t generally stay out too long, but I love it.
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta americana)
Cathy called me up from the basement this morning because she thought I might like to see this caterpillar on our back patio. It was crawling along the hose but then moved off onto some leaves and sticks, which looks a bit more natural. It is an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta americana). They feed on the leaves of various deciduous trees so I really shouldn’t have let it live, but I did. Apparently the hairs can cause skin irritation, so it’s something you probably don’t want to handle. I didn’t, so I cannot say whether or not it’s a serious problem.
Sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’)
Cathy bought a few perennials over the weekend and I planted this one yesterday. It’s a sneezeweed called ‘Mardi Gras’ and it’s really nice. The flowers have a similar look to black-eyed Susans but it’s a different genus (Helenium). I happened to catch it with a little, green-sweat bee on it, which is a bonus. It prefers somewhat barren ground and isn’t supposed to do well in heavy clay, which is probably why I haven’t seen it around here. That’s really all we have. But hopefully it will survive, even if it doesn’t thrive too well.
Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)
After we got home from visiting mom this afternoon we were sitting in the front yard. The evenings have been warm but so much nicer than it’s been during the heat of the day. Because my work setup is in the basement, I feel like I need to get outdoors some each day so I’m going out front after work to read. Today wasn’t a work day, but I sat out anyway. I had just taken a photo of the tiger lily buds when we spotted this snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) on the Verbena bonariensis. I didn’t really have great light for taking pictures of a moth on the wing (and these rarely land, preferring to hover). But this one turned out pretty well, I think.
Popillia japonica (Japanese Beetle)
I am definitely not a fan of the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica), a native of (unsurprisingly) Japan, and instroduced into North America in the early 20th century (first found in the United States in 1916 near Riverton, New Jersey). They are quite destructive of a wide variety of plants, including both ornamental plants (like roses, which they love) and agricultural crops (soybeans, stone fruits, etc.). Their larvae damage lawns, feeding on the roots of grasses. They are, of course, pretty if you can disassociate them from the destruction they cause. But that’s hard for me to do and I don’t really have a lot of sympathy for them. This one is on a rose of Sharon (a.k.a. shrub althea, Hibiscus syriacus).
Resin Bee on Coneflower
I wasn’t happy with most of the pictures I took today, but this one isn’t too bad. I’m pretty sure this is a sculptured resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis), although there are a few other Megachile species it could be (e.g. the flat-tailed leaf-cutter bee, Megachile mendica, which is more common). Regardless, it’s a nice, quiet little bee and it was moving among the coneflowers, along with a few other solitary bees and an occasional honey bee (Apis mellifera). I know that some folks are not fond of bees and don’t like to have them around. With the exception of a few aggressive hornets and wasps, I like having them around. They really rarely sting unless provoked and they are quite pretty to watch on flowers.
I was out with my macro on a 25mm extension tube this evening and got a few decent photos of this green bee. I labeled it a cuckoo wasp at first, but now I’m thinking it’s a green-sweat bee (Tribe Augochlorini). But don’t hold me to that. If I get a better identification, I’ll update this post. For now, all I can say for sure is that it’s a bee (Anthophila). I can also say that it’s quite pretty. It was moving around quit a bit and this was the best I could do at ISO 800, f/8, 1/100 second.
Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is starting to bloom. I won’t claim it’s a hive of activity yet, but there’s certainly a bit of a buzz. Mostly I’m seeing honey bees (Apis mellifera) on them so far, but the mountain mint is very attractive to a wide variety of insect life from small beetles and bugs to bees and wasps, and some butterflies. The buddleia next to this tends to get more butterflies, though. It loves the sun and the insects are out in the most fierce in the heat of the day. Not my favorite time to sit there with my camera but it’s sometimes worth the effort.
Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens)
Pretty much all the flowers in our garden are attractive to insects. I suppose that makes sense, because that’s what flowers are supposed to do, in order to get the insects to (inadvertently) pollinate the flowers. It’s interesting to me, though, that some flowers are attractive to many different insects but some seem to attract a specific subset. Yesterday, I was looking at the Monarda (bee balm) and noticed that the large bees were almost exclusively carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). Today I was looking at the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) shown here and the large bees were exclusively common eastern bumble bees (Bombus impatiens). Just interesting, that’s all.
On a mostly unrelated note, I really, really don’t recommend you plant any Lysimachia species in your garden. The bees love it, but there are other things they like that aren’t so overwhelming.
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
After work, except on days when it’s raining, I’ve been trying to sit in the yard to read. It’s started to get warm lately but I’ve still gone out, sitting in the shade after 5:00 PM, when it’s not quite so bad. I take my camera with me and look around for something to photograph. While I was reading, this gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) came and sat on the stake holding up our new hawthorn tree. It looked around for a little while and then flew off. There are quite a few of them around and since they are insect eaters, I’m quite happy to have them.
Western Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)
We took a drive to Lewis Orchard to buy peaches today. It was very hot and being out in the sun with masks on was not really all that nice but we managed and bought enough to make a cobbler and have plenty left over to eat simply cut up with whipped cream. From there we stopped at our friends’ farm. The last time we were there Greg said I should stop to see the bees but we left the other direction so didn’t. This time we stopped and I got a few pictures of the honey bees (Apis mellifera). I also happened to get stung on my nasal septum, which wasn’t the most fun, but a honey bee sting is, thankfully, not that bad.
American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis)
There are some birds, notably the American robin (Turdus migratorius), that doesn’t really compare favorably with its European counterpart (Erithacus rubecula. While the European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is a lovely bird, I think our American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is quite beautiful. This is a female (on the left) and male (on the right). They really love the Verbena bonariensis and it’s fun to watch them as they land and the stems bend under their tremendous weight. I enjoyed this couple for quite a while this morning.
Cicindela sexguttata (Six-spotted Tiger Beetle)
Cathy and I went on a new trail today. I don’t know if the trail is actually new but it was new to us. We walked in the Rock Creek valley between Muncaster and Muncaster Mill Roads. As the crow flies, it’s probably a mile from end to end. The trail winds quite a bit and there’s a bit of up and down and based on a map we found, it’s more like 2.5 each way. So, about five miles. It was pretty hot and very humid, but we really enjoyed the green and also the birds that were supplying the background chorus most of the way. We saw quite a few of these six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) as well as ebony jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata), a damselfly with black wings (except for on females there is a conspicuous white spot at the end of the wings.
White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)
I was sitting outside this morning, taking a break from doing some yard work, when I noticed this caterpillar on the tire of my car. I moved it to a plant, figuring it would be shown to better effect there than on the black tire, and then I got my camera and took a few photos. It is a white-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma), a species native to our region. Interestingly, the adult females are wingless and therefore flightless. If you find one of these, you’ll want to avoid handling it with your bare hands. Its hair is known to cause allergic reactions, especially in areas of the body with sensitive skin. I let it crawl onto a leaf to move it, so as to avoid any issues.
Syrphid Fly on Marigold
I went out to take some pictures of flowers today. There are a few sitting on a table that I set up for Cathy to work on and that seemed like a nice place to sit and take pictures. I took some of a coral bells plant (Heuchera x ‘Blondie’) and then I noticed this syrphid file (Family Syrphidae) on a marigold blossom. There’s only so close I can get with my 100mm macro and I’d like some way to get closer. I’ve thought about buying a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 lens that gives magnifications of 1 to 5 times, basically picking up where my current lens leaves off. It’s manual focus, but at that close range, focus is as much a matter of moving the camera closer or further away from the subject.
Bumble Bee on Lavender
I sat in the middle of the front garden this afternoon and took a few pictures. There were some bumble bees (Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee) moving from flower to flower and I waited for one to land on the lavender (this is a variety of Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas called ‘Anouk Supreme’). I only got four photos and none of them are quite what I was hoping for but this one isn’t too bad. When I’m in the yard, especially when it’s hot, I generally favor the shade but if I’m looking for photos, especially insect photos, the sun is the place to be.
Plant Bug on Feverfew
I was taking pictures of the feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) growing in the back of our garden when I happened to notice this little plant bug. I don’t know what type it is and I’m not sure the photos I got are good enough for more than a general identification, so I’ll just leave it as a plant bug (Family Miridae). We’re in the in-between phase when there are fewer things in bloom. The flush of spring ephemerals is well past and most of them have already lost their leaves for the summer. The roses have finished their first flush but those that repeat will be with us off an on all summer. The Asiatic lilies and a few smaller things are the only sources of blooms right now. I’m not complaining, mind you, just saying.
Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
We had our first sighting of a tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) today and it was nice enough to perch on the Asiatic lilies growing in our front garden. I’ve actually seen a few butterflies around but haven’t had a chance to get any photos. Soon we’ll have them in abundance, especially when the Buddleia starts to bloom. These Asiatic lilies are surrounded by tiger lily plants (Lilium lancifolium), which are considerably taller and I’m not sure these can get the attention they deserve. On the other hand, this makes them harder for the deer to get to, which is a plus.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Cathy and I took a walk in the neighborhood this evening. It was quite warm and humid but it’s still good to get out from time to time. I took some pictures of a purple clematis on a mailbox that turned out pretty well but I thought I’d share this photo of an eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis). It’s not as sharp as I’d like, but all things considered, it’s not too bad. These can be seen year round in our area and it’s always a treat. Maybe we’ll put up a bluebird box in the yard next year. It would be wonderful to have them in the yard.
Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)
I took some photos of some yellow flowering sedum this afternoon but they didn’t turn out very well. You’d be stuck with them except I happened to see this Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) on a stem and got down on the ground to get a few photos of it. This plant has a flower cluster similar to Queen Anne’s lace but that’s not what it is. It’s a very aggressive weed that we picked up somewhere along the way and we really need to do something about it. But it made for a nice photograph, in this case. It may be Chaerophyllum aromaticum but I really don’t know. Whatever it is, you really don’t want any.
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
I was out front sitting in a lawn chair taking photos of the spiderword (Tradescantia virginiana) when one of our house wrens flew up and landed briefly in the small apple tree growing near by. Then it flew to the nesting box (for lack of a better term—it’s a ceramic bottle, basically) and posed for me before disappearing inside. The other was around, as well, singing up a storm. These are very vocal little birds with a lot of volume relative to their size and we love having them. They are a lot easier to hear than to see, as small as they are.
I haven’t included the specific name for this lady beetle in my title because I’m not entirely sure what it is. My guess would be that it’s an Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), though as they are quite common and this certainly looks right. But I’m no expert. I got one photo of this on a leaf before it flew away so although it isn’t as sharp a picture as I’d like, it’s all I have. These are, of course, insects that we like to have in our garden, as they eat aphids. I haven’t seen aphids in great numbers in the garden yet this year but they’ll be along before too long, have no fear. That and Japanese beetles are the two insect pests I see the most in the summer months.
Vespa crabro (European Hornet)
This is a European hornet (Vespa crabro). It’s also dead. I found it on the floor of the basement when I stepped on it in my bare feet, which worried me a little. It was mostly dead before I stepped on it and completely dead after that. Since I didn’t get stung, I’m over it. They are predatory on other insects so in general (and outside my basement), I have no problem with them being around. They are similar in size to the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) but are quite different in appearance. As large as they are, the European hornet is smaller than the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia, sometimes referred to as murder hornets), which can be 30% to 50% larger.
Necrophila americana (American Carrion Beetle)
We took a walk near Lake Frank today and had a really nice time. We saw one adult and one juvenile bald eagle next to and on the nest across the lake. It’s too far, really, to get a good picture but I did take a few, anyway, just to record the fact. We happened to come across this pile of American carrion beetles (Necrophila americana), presumably on a piece of carrion. They were definitely there for a reason. It’s fine to get grossed out by them, but then, without them, the rotting meat would stick around a lot longer, so in my book, they’re doing us a service.
Squirrel on a Cow Skull
Cathy and I were out in the back yard and we heard a scratching noise. We’re used to quite a bit of noise from birds and occasional tree frogs, but this was quite different and we didn’t recognize it. We finally noticed this squirrel on the cow skull that’s hanging on our back fence. The squirrel, in typical rodent fashion, was gnawing on the top of the skull. I assume it’s gnawing on the bone to get calcium and other nutrients. Anyway, it’s one of the reasons you only find relatively fresh bones in the wild. They don’t last long unless they get buried (and probably even then).
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
One of the most common birds in our area, winter or summer, is the American robin (Turdus migratorius). They are always around, in the lawn, in trees, singing and making a racket throughout the day. They aren’t anywhere near as cute as the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), which is classified as an Old World flycatcher (family Muscicapidae) rather than a thrush (family Turdidae), which is where the American robin stands. Although they are migratory (as their specific epithet suggests), their winter and summer ranges overlap and they can be seen year round through nearly all of the contiguous 48 states.
Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)
You can pretty much be sure that if there are things blooming, there are at least a few insects about. Insects aren’t the only pollinators, of course but they do the lion’s share of the work. Nevertheless, they are not out in numbers that we’ll see later in the year. I saw and photographed two different insects today. This one is an eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) and the other was a syrphid flies (Syrphidae, probably Toxomerus geminatus). So, the insect season is getting underway.
Bombylius major (Greater Bee Fly)
I went out to take pictures last this morning, taking a short break from work. I had expected to take pictures of flowers of one sort or another but I happened to see this greater bee fly (Bombylius major) and was able to get pretty close to it and got a reasonable photo. It’s a fairly distinctive looking fly, with a hairy body. Differentiating flies from bees is generally easy if you can count their wings. The order Diptera, which is the flies, is so named because they have two wings (i.e. a single pair) instead of the normal insect wing count of four (two pairs).
Squirrel Chewing on Antlers
We have some antlers, collected over the years. A few of them Dorothy had hanging in her room for a while. Other have been out back on the side of the patio, along with some sea shells. We also have a beaver skull that showed up in our yard a while back. We have no idea where it came from, as it was very clean and dry, although relatively full and intact otherwise. This morning Cathy looked out the kitchen door and saw this squirrel chewing on the antlers. They’re a good source of calcium and that’s where they generally go in the wild as part of the cycle of life. It’s not the sharpest photo you’ll ever see, having been taken at a sharp angle through the regular glass of the kitchen door.
Spring really feels like it’s here. The first half of March is too early to be too sure we’re completely done with winter and we’ve had big snow storms later than this, but it’s really feeling like spring this week and I think a lot of folks are hoping it’s for real. The pears are starting to bloom and I’ve seen cherries and magnolias in bloom. I went out early this afternoon and wandered around a bit looking for things to photograph and came across this feather, probably a Canada goose feather, down by a drainage pond near my building.
Cathy and I took a walk in the park this afternoon, going about four miles in all, including a wrong turn that added a half mile or so to it. I took a bit of a fall early on, when the somewhat muddy path and the moss covering it allowed my foot to move sideways suddenly. I ended up on my back, having rolled to protect my camera and I laid there long enough for Cathy to get a photo of me. We saw that the bald eagle nest is occupied again this year, which is nice to see, even if it was too far away to get a reasonable photo. During our off-trail bit, after taking the wrong path and trying to take a short cut back we happened to see two white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), including this one, quite close but through the undergrowth.
I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist this afternoon so left work a little early to go to that. When I was done, I would have gone straight home but I had two errands to run first. I went to the Kentlands shopping center, first to the Giant and then to Lowe’s. As I was coming out of Giant I glanced up into the small sycamore tree by the parking lot and saw this hawk. I nonchalantly walked by and got my camera out of my trunk. I got one photo of the hawk as it flew off but it landed again only a few trees over. I don’t think this is as good a photo as yesterday’s hawk picture, but it’s not bad. I think this one is a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), the smaller cousin to yesterday’s Cooper’s.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and didn’t get to work until about 11:30. As I turned into the parking lot, I glanced to my right and sitting on a fallen tree limb was this hawk. I pulled into the space facing the bird but my camera was in the trunk and I knew if I opened my door, the bird would fly off. There is a small opening in the middle of the back seat that lets me get into the trunk, however, and I very quietly lowered my seat, reached through and got my camera. I took the first photo through the windscreen, which turned out reasonably well. I then lowered my window and leaned out and was able to get a few photos before he (or she) flew off into the woods. I believe it’s a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) rather than a sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus), based on its size. Interestingly, both species are reverse size dimorphic, that is, the females are larger than the males.
Solomon at 34
We don’t actually know his precise birth (or hatch) date, but when we got him in October, 1986, we were told he was nine months old. So, we assume his birth date is January, 1986. That makes him 34 this month. Parrots live a good, long while and he wouldn’t be considered an old bird yet. Perhaps middle aged. He seems to be healthy enough. His beak and nails need trimming and he really doesn’t get as much exercise as would probably be good for him. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to keep him around for more than 33 years, so we must be doing something right. Solomon, despite the wisdom implied by his name, is not much of a sage. He says a few things and those a bit poorly. He can make a pretty good racket, when he wants to, however.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of our prime pet, Solomon. Since I’ve just posted photos of Cathy and of myself, I thought I’d round out the collection. If Dorothy were home I’d post a photo of her, but she’s not (but will be soon, if all goes to plan). Solomon will be 34 years old in January. Although he was hatched in California, he spent most of his first two years in Juneau, Alaska. From there he flew (with some help) to Chicago, where he lived with Cathy’s brother. After our trip of 1988, he returned to us on the east coast and has been here ever since. He lived in the kitchen in our first house and then in the family room here until he moved to the breakfast room a couple years ago. It’s great unless you want to have a phone conversation in the kitchen, when he really gets animated and makes it pretty difficult.
Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent)
I sent outside for a little while today and took some pictures of butterflies. I was down near the storm management pond next to my building and saw pearl crescents (Phyciodes tharos) as seen here as well as cabbage whites (Pieris rapae). There were also bees around, but not so many as there were only a few weeks ago. Getting good photographs of butterflies is challenging but it’s something I enjoy. This is a mid-sized butterfly, considerably smaller than the swallowtails or monarch but larger then the blue, featured recently. They are fairly common and easily spotted but as with most butterflies, difficult to get too close to.
Eupeodes americanus (American Hover Fly)
Cathy and I worked in the yard this afternoon. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot to be done in the yard but I think we’ve made progress, at least. I took a break and took some pictures in the back yard. There are some bracket fungi on the ground above where there used to be a silver maple. They come up every year as the roots rot. I also took some pictures of some butterflies on the flowers around the patio. Then I saw this American hover fly (Eupeodes americanus) on the begonias growing in a pot on the patio. I was able to get some pretty decent photos of it as it moved from flower to flower.
Cupido comyntas (Eastern Tailed-Blue)
I went outside today and walked around a bit in the lot next to my office. The weather was fine and it was nice to be out in the sunshine. I startled a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) as I walked towards a vernal drainage pond. It’s often completely dry by this time of year but it had more water in it than in previous years and it hasn’t all evaporated yet. Above it, I was able to get close enough to get a pretty good photograph of this eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas). They are pretty common but easily missed, as they are fairly small and flit around near the ground. They’re worth looking out for, I think.
I took pictures of insects on aster flowers this evening. There was a bumble bee covered with little white dots that I’m pretty sure were eggs of some kind and didn’t bode well for the little critter. There was also a beautiful, metallic green, sweat bee (family Halictidae) and I got a picture of it as it lifted off the flower, which would have been amazing if it had been in better focus. The light was relatively low and I was using a flash with a white reflector for these pictures, which helped considerably. I also had a 25mm extension tube behind my 100mm macro lens, which helped me get that much closer.
I happened to look out my window this afternoon and saw this stink bug on the outside of the glass. Actually, it’s not unusual to see them inside the building. My guess is that this is a brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) but I’m not entirely sure and I’m not going to bother looking harder at it. The banded antennae are distinctive, along with the mottled color, but again, that’s just a guess and it’s good enough for me. I also took some pictures this evening of a hardy begonia that’s growing outside our front door. Those are probably prettier than this, being pink and yellow instead of tan (and buggy). But they weren’t as good as I’d like and I can always try to get better pictures, when the light is a bit stronger.
I went on a short outing this afternoon to the Agricultural Farm Park today and spent a little time wandering around the Master Gardener’s display garden. Mostly I photographed insects (and a few flowers). It was a pretty productive outing as far as insect photos go.
- Danaus plexippus (Monarch) Caterpillar
- Murgantia histrionica (Harlequin Bug)
- Papilio polyxenes asterius (Black Swallowtail)
- Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary)
- Allograpta obliqua (Common Oblique Syrphid)
- Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle)
I’m particularly happy with the oblique syrphid fly, as that’s the first one I’ve photographed. The black swallowtail is one we don’t see nearly as often as the eastern tiger swallowtail. I’ve seen harlequin bugs on occasion but not all that often. The same is true of the cucumber beetle.
Harmonia axyridis (Asian Lady Beetle)
This is the “many-named ladybird”. It has been called ‘multicolored’ (or ‘multicoloured’ in Britain), ‘multivariate’, ‘southern’, ‘Japanese’, ‘Asian’, ‘Halloween’, ‘harlequin’ and ‘pumpkin’ ladybird/ladybug/ladybeetle. I’m going with the simple ‘Asian’ and sticking to beetle, because it’s in the order Coleoptera. It’s a largish lady beetle and this particular species is immensely variable. The “standard” is red to red-orange with 18 spots, but as you can see, this one only has 12 (six on each side). The background ranges from a slightly orangy yellow to red and there are even versions with red spots on a black background.
Carpenter Ant (Camponotus castaneus)
I came across this carpenter ant (Camponotus castaneus) in the yard today. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get an identification on this ant. BugGuide.net says, about carpenter ants (Genus Camponotus), “This is one of the most species-rich ant genera, with perhaps 1000 species World-wide.” Nevertheless, it was identified. These are pests, of course, if they get into structures or valuable trees but they are fairly ubiquitous on almost the entire globe (only excluding the polar regions). They’re pretty things, like most insects, however.
Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumble Bee)
Who doesn’t love the humble bumble bee? They are everywhere and like many of us, they are not particularly flashy or flamboyant. Nevertheless, they busily go about their business. I like them quite a bit and enjoy watching them move from flower to flower. In this case, a common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) is on wingstem, also known as yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia). There were also honey bees (Apis mellifera) and ailanthus webworm moths (Atteva aurea) on the same group of flowers. It had become quite hot again, with temperatures in the low 90s, and I’m starting to look forward to autumn.
Cosmopepla lintneriana (Twice-stabbed Stink Bug)
I was out photographing flowers this evening. The light was fading and I didn’t think I could realistically get any photos of bees, wasps, or other flying insects. I was down on the ground to get some pictures of obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, and I happened to notice this little fellow. I went in and got my flash, so I could get pictures that were worth something and I’m pretty happy with the results. This little bug (a true bug in the Heteroptera suborder) is only two or three millimeters long and if I hadn’t been down on the ground and very close, I never would have seen it. It is a twice-stabbed stink bug, Cosmopepla lintneriana. This one happens to be a nymph (an immature) and when adult will be mostly black with two red patches (the two “stab” marks of its common name).
Aphids and Lady Beetle Larva
I mentioned the aphids on the Asclepias curassavica (scarlet milkweed) when I posted the photo of the large milkweed bug a few days ago. Here’s a picture of the aphids. It was fairly dark when I took this (7:45 in the evening) and I used a flash to light them, which allowed me to get reasonable depth of field. I used a flashlight give me enough light to focus, with the camera on a tripod (which I definitely should use more often). As I was taking the pictures, I realized the aphids were not alone. There is a larva of a lady beetle of some sort (probably an Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis), feeding on the aphids. Unfortunately, there are too many aphids for this lone predator, and I’m going to need to take care of them myself.
There are a few paper wasps that are very difficult to distinguish and some that are impossible without examining them at the microscopic level. A number of them are quite variable, as well, adding to the difficulty. I think this is a northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) but I’m nowhere near sure. It’s a beautiful creature, whatever it is. This was taken with my 100mm lens with the addition of a 25mm extension tube in bright evening sunlight. As you can see, I was able to get fairly close and I’m pleased by how sharp this turned out. You might also notice the aphids on the underside of the leaf the wasp is on. I took some photos of those, as well, but haven’t identified them yet (beyond the generic “aphid”).
Oncopeltus fasciatus (Large Milkweed Bug)
It’s milkweed bug time in the garden. Cathy and I are both big fans of pretty much any species of Asclepias. This one is Asclepias curassavica, often known as scarlet milkweed. It’s growing in a container on our back patio and it really attracts the insects. I had a photo of a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on it recently and today’s photo is of the aptly named large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). We also have a good colony of oleander aphids (Aphis nerii) and I may publish a photo of those, unless we get around to taking care of them before I do that. Like many insects that feed on milkweed, these bugs accumulate toxins from the plants which can “potentially sicken any predators foolish enough to ignore the bright colors which warn of their toxicity.” (bugguide.net)
Eumenes fraternus (Potter Wasp)
This potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) is one of my favorite wasps (doesn’t everyone have favorite wasps?). There’s fairly common around here. While they are particularly drawn to the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), they are also found regularly on the black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia) and painter’s palette (a.k.a. knotweed, Persicaria virginiana). I think it’s their clean lines that I like. They’re difficult to photograph well and I’m not really happy with this photo, although it’s the best I was able to get. They don’t really stop moving and unless the light is very strong, it’s hard to get both adequate depth of field and a short enough exposure to stop their motion.
Danaus plexippus (Monarch)
The butterfly weed (Asclepias) growing in a container outside our back door is very attractive to insects but particularly so to monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Lately we’ve had two of them on it at once and occasionally three. I got a few pictures of the two today but I think this is a better portrait of this handsome butterfly. I really enjoyed sitting and watching them flutter around the flowers, stopping occasionally at other plants but generally preferring the butterfly weed.
Pachydiplax longipennis (Blue Dasher)
I’ve been meaning to get out of the office for a short walk to the empty lot next to my building for over a week now. The upper part, where it was mostly mugwort, milkweed, and goldenrod has been mowed and it looks very different. I don’t know if this is a prelude to actual building plans coming to fruition. Plans to develop it started at least 25 years ago and the top soil was scraped up into a large mound that now has mid-size trees on it. There are a few drainage ponds and they are all abuzz with insects and birds. I saw a green heron when I first got there and then photographed a few dragonflies, including this blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).
Tumbling Flower Beetle
I didn’t get any really good pictures today. It was after 6:00 when I went out and there wasn’t much insect activity this evening, for some reason. I did come across this little beetle, about 5mm long, on the petal of a black-eyed Susan. I think it’s a Tumbling Flower Beetle in Family Mordellidae (possibly in Genus Mordellistena, but I am really unsure). It’s a cute little thing and I was only able to get a few pictures before it flew off.
Sphex nudus (Katydid Wasp)
The bees and wasps are out in force these days. I spent a little time around the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) this afternoon and enjoyed the variety of buzzing insects (most of them are basically silent, actually). The most numerous are the bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) and the large but gentle carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica). The wasps are pretty well represented, though, and today I saw a handful of these katydid wasps (Sphex nudus) as well as some potter wasps (Eumenes fraternus). I got a few photos of that last one, but they weren’t as good as I would have liked. I’ll keep trying.
Boloria bellona (Meadow Fritillary)
What an absolutely beautiful day it was today. The high was in the 70s and in August, that’s a rare and joyous thing. I worked on the car today, gluing the rear-view mirror back on in one van and replacing the struts that hold open the rear hatch on the other. Cathy and I also did a fair amount of yard work, pulling up weeds and beginning the process of clearing out some of the central bed in the back yard. There were two trees where that bed is, a medium sized red maple and a fairly large silver maple. They’ve been down since the spring of 2013 and as the roots have rotted, a few holes have opened up and need to be filled. The whole bed needs quite a bit of work, to be honest, including digging out some particularly tenacious weeds. I took a break to take pictures of some of the many butterflies that were out today, including this meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona), a pretty medium sized brush-footed butterfly.
Tiny Crab Spider
I came across this spider on the head of a black-eyed Susan this evening. It was pretty hard to photograph, being really small (a couple millimeters long at most, and the wind was moving the flower slightly. It was also late enough in the day that the light was starting to fade. This particular shot is reasonably sharp. This is the sort of spider that you could easily walk past and not see, it’s so small. There’s no way it could bite you if it wanted to, because it simply wouldn’t have the strength to break your skin. I find it amazing that spiders as little as this can survive but there are lots of very small insects, as well, for them to live on.
I took a few wasp pictures again today but they were too blurry to use. One was clear enough to get a good idea what it was, but nothing to write home about. Then I went out to the middle of the back yard and took some photos of the berries on the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). They’re starting to turn pale purple and it’s easy to see where the shrub gets its common name. This skipper landed on the berries and I was able to get close enough for a pretty good portrait before it skipped away. I’ve only occasionally gone to the trouble to identify individual skipper species. With some notable exceptions they are all pretty similar and I just never get around to it.
Dolichovespula maculata (Bald-faced Hornet)
The pollinators are quite busy in the yard these days. Especially in the afternoon, when the sun is hammering down on the flowers, the bees, wasps, moths, and butterflies are to be seen in great numbers. The mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is literally a buzz with them. The skippers seem to favor the black-eyed Susans. The butterflies, not surprisingly, go for the butterfly bush (Buddleia). That being said, this large hornet was coming back again and again to the buddleia. I’m not as happy with it as I might be but it’s a decent photo. These wasps are social and build large paper enclosed nests. I’m a little surprised to only see one of them, but there are surely more around the area.
Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
We had another day at Shady Grove Hospital today but before I went I took a few pictures in the back yard. There was a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and I had hoped to get a picture of that. I would have, except I had taken the memory card out of the camera and when I put it back in the write protection switch had been pushed into the off position and the camera would not take a picture. By the time I got it reset the butterfly was gone. I was able to get this photo of a western honey bee (Apis mellifera), instead.
Megachile mendica (Flat-tailed Leaf-cutter Bee)
I have yet another “insect on a black-eyed Susan” photo today. These are by far the most numerous flowers in our yard this time of year. They aren’t necessarily the insects’ favorite flower but most pollinators are fairly broad minded and visit lots of different plants. The Buddleia bushes are the clear favorites with the butterflies and the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is probably the most popular with the bees and wasps, but they all visit the black-eyed Susans, as well.
I was a little worried about sitting through church this morning but my back tolerated sitting for long enough that it wasn’t a problem. We were happy to see some friends that visited the church a few weeks ago come back again today. After church we walked to the Stadtman Preserve next door to see what was going on there. They’ve been renovating the mid-century modern house that the Stadtmans build and lived in and it’s nice to see the progress. There were naked lady’s (Amaryllis belladonna) in bloom and I got a few photos of this little brown and white caterpillar. I have no idea what sort of creature it is. I’m going to guess a moth but I won’t go any farther than that.
Atteva aurea (Ailanthus Webworm Moth)
I took some butterfly pictures this afternoon, as well as some flower pictures. While sitting in the chair that Cathy was in when I took the picture for a few days ago I could get pretty close to a few flowers without having to strain my back. Then walking around I saw this prettily colored ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) on a black-eyed Susan. It took me a while to get down on the ground to get the pictures but I think it was worth the effort. Although it’s named for and feeds on a non-native tree, the Ailanthus webworm moth is actually a North American native from Florida, where its original host was the Simarouba glauca (paradise tree) and Simarouba amara.
Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye)
I chased down some butterflies in the back yard today, including this common buckeye (Junonia coenia). They are resident year round in the south as far north as North Carolina and they move north over the course of the summer. Because of that we tend to have them later in the year than other butterflies and I’ve only just started to see them. They are pretty easy to identify and are very different to the other species that we have. This one, obviously was interested in the black-eyed Susan flowers that are in such abundance in our yard right now.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Cathy and I took a walk on the beach this morning, heading east. We stopped for a while to enjoy the tail end of the church service on the beach and then continued as far as the pier. On our way back, as we neared out cottage, we saw a bird circling over the water and occasionally diving for fish. As we got closer we were able to identify it as an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and I was able to get a few pretty nice pictures, considering I only had a 100mm lens. I had thought about the possibility of renting a longer lens for this trip but decided against it. Birds are fine to photograph but really, this trip is not about wildlife photography, so I decided to put it off for another trip.
Eristalis transversa (Transverse Flower Fly)
I was taking photos of the black-eyed Susan flowers this evening when I spotted this little fly, a transverse flower fly (Eristalis transversa) visiting them. It wouldn’t stay still for very long and I had a hard time getting a good picture. Ideally it would be on top of the dark eye in the flower, but I wasn’t able to get that. I like the combination of colors that matches the flowers. These are pretty little flies and easily spotted in the garden. As flies go, I enjoy these about as much as any.
Tiger Swallowtail and Tiger Lily
The tigers are out in force. We have tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) blooming in a few areas in the yard. They are especially spectacular in the morning when the sun is on them. We also have tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) in pretty good numbers. They are mostly on the tiger lilies and on the buddleia bushes and we’ve counted more than ten together on one buddleia bush. Most of them are the standard yellow and black but about ten percent are the darker version that I photographed a few days ago.
Micrathena gracilis (Spiny Micrathena)
A few days ago I had a picture of a spider web, taken in Rock Creek Park (see Thursday, July 18, 2019). I mentioned that it belonged to a spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) but the spider wasn’t in the picture. Today we had a little time before church so we walked in the Stadtman Preserve for a little and I saw another spined Micrathena and got this picture of her. It frankly isn’t a great picture but you can see where it gets its “spined” appellation. Sorry I have nothing better for today. Maybe tomorrow.
I stopped and walked into Rock Creek Park on the way home today. It’s a nice, wooded area and generally away from traffic, so I like being there. It’s definitely high summer now and the underbrush is about at it’s deepest but I’m happy to leave the bike path and walk the short distance through the brush to the creek itself. I passed a few spider webs, which isn’t unusual this time of year, but it wasn’t until I got to this one that I stopped. This one had the sun shining on it and that made it a lot easier to photograph. This was made by a spined Micrathena (Micrathena gracilis), one of the orb weavers (family Araneidae).
Northern Flatid Planthopper (Flatormenis proxima)
I took a few pictures of butterfly weed flowers this evening and I might have posted one of them. A little later I noticed this white leafhopper and got a few pictures of it, including this reasonably sharp image. Getting a good picture was made more difficult by the breeze, which was moving the stem the planthopper was on, but this one turned out pretty well. It was sharp enough for it to be identified as a northern flatid planthopper (Flatormenis proxima), one of our more common planthoppers. They do little damage and I left him alone to get what he needed from this plant.
Polygonia interrogationis (Question Mark)
I stopped at Lake Needwood this afternoon to see what I could see. It’s gotten quite hot, with the forecast for hotter still by the end of the week. The butterflies and dragonflies like that sort of weather, and they were out in pretty good numbers. I happened to spot this question mark (Polygonia interrogationis), so called because of a roughly question mark shaped mark on the underside of their hindwings. I got one photo of the butterfly on a shrub and then if flew and landed on my thigh, thus the blue denim of my jeans. I was able to get a few pretty good photos, including this one. I also got one showing the question mark, but I think this is prettier.
Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)
This is a dark-morph (and thus a female) eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on the buddleia outside our kitchen door. The tiger swallowtails are the most numerous, large butterflies in our garden, followed by monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Otherwise, we only have occasional visitors. There are a lot of smaller butterflies and skippers, particularly small skippers. But the large, gaudy swallowtails are fun to watch and among my favorites.
Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper)
As we were getting ready to leave for work this morning, running a bit late, as we often do, I paused to take a few pictures of butterflies and skippers on the goose neck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing by the driveway. This is a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), one of the larger skippers we see regularly in our garden, with a wingspan up to about five centimeters. It is common through most of North America and certainly common for us. They’re easily identified by the large, silvery-white irregular spot on their hind wings.
I went out to photograph flowers this evening but came across this metallic wood boring beetle (family Buprestidae) on a black-eyed Susan. There are twelve dozen species of Acmaeodera in our area and one of the experts at BugGuide.net identified it as Acmaeodera pulchella, sometimes known as the flat-headed bald cypress borer. We’re not really in bald cypress country but they feed on a pretty wide variety of trees, so that’s not really an issue.
Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)
I know I’ve posted a picture of a similar dragonfly recently, but I didn’t get a lot of great pictures today so this is what I have. This is also, I think, a better picture than the one previously posted. I had originally labeled that one as a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa) but I’ve rethought that and have relabeled it as a Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina), the same as this one. It’s a handsome dragonfly, whatever it is. I had tough time getting close enough for this picture, so I’m relatively pleased with it.
The American robins (Turdus migratorius) nesting outside our front door are back to raise a second clutch. There were three in the first batch and another three now, although this photo only shows one. I don’t stay out to take pictures for very long, as that tends to keep the parents away. On the other hand, they built a next in a high traffic area and we’re not going to stop using our front door for them. They grow quite quickly and we watched the last set fledge and these three will be out before you know it. I’m thinking about doing putting something on this ledge to keep them from building another nest here next year, though. There are plenty of other nesting sites for them to use.
Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)
I went out to the vacant lot next to my office today. It was quite warm but the weather patterns promise hotter weather ahead. I got a few pictures of an orbweaver spider (Leucauge venusta) but since I posted one of those recently, I’ve decided to go with this pennant, probably a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa). I also got one, not so good photo of a tailed blue, but I’m holding out for a better picture before I post one of those.
Note: I labeled this as a calico pennant (Celithemis elisa) without paying close attention to detail. I’m relabeling it as a Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina).
Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)
After helping Jean pack up all the paraphernalia from yesterday’s wedding and reception and then a quick trip into town for breakfast (since the resort punted on supplying the complementary breakfast they had promised), Cathy, Dorothy and I went for a walk to some stone ruins on the property. When we got to the ruins, Cathy (I think) said something about it being a good place for snakes. Sure enough, there was a mid-sized eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) sunning itself in a crack in the wall. A few minutes later, when Cathy screamed, Dorothy and I assumed it was another snake but it was this eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), just a little closer than Cathy had been prepared for. I was able to get a few good pictures before it darted away. This is a male, evidenced by the blue patch just visible on the lower part of the neck. It also has a pretty significant infestation of orange mites or some other sort of pathogen.
This firefly, a beetle in family Lampyridae, probably in the genus Photinus, was on a weed in the back of our garden this evening. According to BugGuide.net there are 34 described species in this genus and identification of a single specimen by morphology alone is often impossible. So, I’m not even going to try. It’s a firefly and that’s good enough. One interesting fact about fireflies is that females in the genus Photuris are known to lure in males of Photinus species and eat them in order to obtain a defensive, steroid-like compound that they contain.
Eastern Bumble Bee
I went out looking for pictures as usual this afternoon, when I got home from work. There is Campanula in bloom in the yard, and I took some pictures of those flowers. They don’t tend to come out the same color in photographs as they are in real life. Not entirely sure why. Then I moved over to the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), which is a real attraction to the bees. It’s quite invasive and I really would recommend against planting it in the strongest language, but if you already have it, you might as well enjoy the bees. There were a few honey bees but mostly it was the common eastern bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) that were moving quickly from flower to flower.
I was in the back yard photographing a few different insects this afternoon. I started with a little, green sweat bee on a weed by the patio, but those didn’t turn out very well. Simply not enough light to get a short enough exposure. Then I got down on the ground and took a bunch of pictures of some little leaf hoppers (Family Cicadellidae). Those turned out well enough, although the little critters are pretty small so it’s hard to get a good, sharp photo with the equipment that I have. Also, they were somewhat back lit, so getting the proper exposure was tricky.
Then Dorothy and I were over near the gooseberry bush and while Dorothy was picking gooseberries for some individual pies for dessert, I was able to get close to this little, baby eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). It’s hard to get the scale from this picture but the little bunny could easily fit on the palm of my hand. At first he was underneath the leaves of the wild violets that are everywhere in the yard. Then slowly he came out and I was able to get a bunch of good pictures from fairly close range.
I took some pictures of flowers and plants in the back yard this evening. I had gotten down onto the ground to see if I could get a good picture of a syrphid fly on an allium flower. I got a few pictures but they weren’t as sharp as I would have liked. Then I noticed this ant on another allium and got a handful of pictures of it. They aren’t all that sharp, either, but will have to do, because I didn’t really get anything better. I’m pretty happy with the framing of this picture and the exposure, but the focus isn’t that great. In my defense, this little fellow was moving around quite a bit and the light was starting to wane a little.
A little over four years ago, Dorothy was preparing for an exhibit at a small gallery in Richmond. It was a somewhat varied exhibit and included quite a few ink drawings that were drawn from her sketch-book journals. There were a few water colors, which I liked very well. There were also a few painted bones, including this cow skull. Where did she get a cow skull? You very well might ask. She happened to ask our good friend Janis (don’t spell it Janice, there’s no ‘nice’ in Janis) if she had any animal skulls around their farm. She said she had a few and Dorothy was welcome to them. That’s where it came from. Since the show in the winter of 2015 it’s been hanging in Dorothy’s bedroom. She decided this week that she wouldn’t mind getting rid of it but she didn’t want to simply throw it away. So, it’s now hanging on the fence in our back yard. I like it. Yes, we’re those people.
I wen out again today to see what I could see. The sky was overcast so the sun wasn’t so hot. The dragonflies were also not about in such great numbers. I did get a few pictures,though, including some of this beetle that I think is a rove beetle, Family Staphylinidae, the first or second largest animal family, with somewhere around 56,000 species in 3500 genera. Only the ichneumon wasps, family Ichneumonidae is larger, with an estimated 60,000 species. Anyway, there are some 4,400 species of rove beetle in our area. You’d think you’d see them a lot more often.
Orchard Spider (Leucauge venusta)
We’re moving from the flowers-of-spring period into the insects-of-summer. Along with the insects come those creatures that prey on them, most notably the spiders and related creatures. Of course, birds, bats, and even other insects prey on insects, but I have a special fascination with spiders. They are not, I am led to believe, universally admired. I suppose I understand that. Nevertheless, I think they are quite beautiful, at least some of them are. This is Leucauge venusta, the orchard orbweaver, and a common resident in our area. It’s so delicate and looks like it could be made of glass. It’s been said that you are never more then six feet from a spider. Even if that’s not literally true, it’s probably mostly true. Sleep well.
Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)
I stopped at Lake Needwood on the way home today. It was a beautiful afternoon, although a bit warm for my taste. I walked around to a point point eastern shore near where there is an old beaver dam. There is no evidence that there are any beavers around any more, although the dam is in reasonable shape, considering. It’s been there since before the aerial photos used in Google’s map were taken. I got some nice photos of this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus). I tried to get pictures of the swallows flying over the water but they were moving too fast and I really wasn’t set up for that sort of photography. I got some pictures of dragonflies, as well, and one that was good enough to use to identify a female common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas).
Molothrus ater (Brown-headed Cowbird)
This isn’t as sharp a picture as I’d like but it’s what I was able to get today. Actually, I got pictures of three different birds today. This one, of a brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) in the birdbath, a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). The wren picture is sharper but I thought I had a better chance of re-photographing the wren, so I went with this one. The lack of sharpness is partially due to the low light and the fact that I had to crop the image to get this close, but a small part is due to the movement of the bird. As you can see by the water droplets in the air all around the bird, it is shaking water off of itself, taking a bath.
After church Cathy and I went to Stadler Nursury in Laytonsville. On the way we happened to pass the Montgomery County Agricultural Farm Park. There were three large birds walking across the grass a little way in from the entrance and it was three female turkeys. I pulled in but they had moved into the deep grass before I was able to get my camera out and get a picture of them. They would have been small in the picture, anyway. When we went to turn around a little further in this male tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) was sitting on the sign just outside Cathy’s window. I got the camera ready and was able to get two pictures before he flew off. What a pretty little bird.
About a month ago a pair of American robins (Turdus migratorius) built a next under our front porch. I tried to discourage them, but they kept at it. I realized it was pointless to resist and they are almost done with it now, in any case. They flew off whenever we went in or out of the house, of course, but now the chicks are about two weeks old and ready to fledge. In fact, I took this picture in the morning with all three chicks in the nest. When I came home later today there was one standing on the edge of the nest and the other two had flown. Later in the evening the third was gone, as well, and the next has been abandoned, having served its purpose.
I walked across Rt 28 today, wanting to be outdoors for a little while. On the slope leading down to a fairly large drainage pond there were little clumps of yellow flowers, most likely American wintercress (Barbarea orthoceras). I sat next to one such clump and took a handful of pictures. I thought about trying to get a photo of the swallows that were patrolling the pond and presumably helping keep the bug population under control. I didn’t really have the right equipment for that and it’s pretty tough, in any case, as they are really moving fast and are not very big. I settled for photographing this little damselfly instead.
Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
We have foxes in our neighborhood. We also have dogs in the neighborhood, including the escape artist next door. So, you’d think we’d have fewer rabbits (i.e. Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus). I haven’t seen four or five at once this year, as I have some springs. I have seen three in the yard at once and it’s still early. This one startled me as I was walking around taking pictures in the rain this afternoon. I worked at home today so I was able to get out earlier than I normally do. The rain meant it was darker than normal for this time of day (3:35 PM) but I was able to get pretty close and get a reasonable shot of this fellow. Don’t tell him that Mr. McGregor is coming.
Azure (Celastrina sp.)
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.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
I stopped at the park on the east side of Lake Needwood this afternoon. It was a beautiful, warm day, although not as warm as it’s been. I heard and then saw a few turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) a short walk from where I stopped and I headed in their direction. They had moved up into the trees by the time I got close but I also happened to see two red tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) as I walked nearer. I got a few pictures of them but they were taken through the branches and didn’t turn out all that well. I got a nice picture of this turkey vulture with its wings outspread, but that picture, too, had branches in the way. This one, of the vulture as he took off from his perch on the tree stump is my favorite. The next frame, taken a fraction of a second later, is actually better of the bird, but he’s just starting to go behind another tree trunk, which sort of ruins the effect.
Solomon is our pet red-lored amazon parrot (Amazona autumnalis) and he just turned 33 years old last month. We don’t know specifically when he was hatched but he was about nine months old when we got him in October, 1986, so we figure January of that year is close enough. Since it’s now February, we know that’s past. He’s a pretty thing but fairly timid and is not really what you’d call a talker. He says a few things that you can almost understand but that’s about it. He also doesn’t chew on toys or anything else we put in his cage, so we don’t bother any more. He obviously eats but he’s not interested in chewing other things. He needs his beak and nails trimmed but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape. You can see in this photo that he has new feathers coming in, which is always a good sign.
I worked from home this morning and a little before 1:00 PM Dorothy called me and said there were two red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in our back yard. At first they were a little hard to get a straight view of, because they were off to the side, but then they moved across to the middle of the yard. This one stopped and sat, while the other walked right along beside the fence. Eventually, this one joined the other and they sat in a sunny spot in the bushes at the bottom of the garden. It was a cool day, just above freezing, and fairly windy, but out of the wind and in the sun, I imagine it was fairly pleasant for anyone or anything wearing a fox coat.
Coral and Shells
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).
Great Blue Heron
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.
Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)
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.
Funnel Weaver (genus Agelenopsis)
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.
Turkeys in a Cemetery
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.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
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.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
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.
Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius)
It was dark and raining this morning an