Butterflies of the Night

Large Maple Spanworm moth

Large Maple Spanworm Moth (Prochoerodes lineola), from my yard

This summer I started paying much closer attention to moths than ever before. Most of us don’t think about these critters unless we’re swatting them away from the porch light so they don’t get into our houses. We rarely stop to look at them, much less to think about their role in the ecosystem. But they’re often just as pretty as their daytime counterparts, the butterflies, and just as important.

Along with being a popular food for birds, moths serve the same purpose as butterflies and many other insects: to pollinate plants. But most of them do this important work under cover of darkness, while we’re snug in our beds.  One easy way to enter the world of night-flying moths is to leave your porch lights on and study the insects that come to rest on the walls or windows. It’s also popular these days to shine a black light on a  white sheet, or even put out moth bait, to attract a wider variety of species.

Bronzy Macrochilo moth - I think (5)

This tiny guy might be a Bronzy Macrochilo (Macrochilo orciferalis)

I’ve put out my black light a few times this year (without too much success), but have also found lots of different moths just by walking around in my yard and seeing what flies out of the vegetation around me.  For example, I found this plume moth while mowing the yard just a week ago:

Plume moth - my yard w sig

These little “fighter jets” with their rolled-up wings are fairly common in my yard, and I can never resist trying for a better photo of them. There are almost 150 species of plume moths in North America, and I can’t identify this one.

Single-dotted Wave moth

I think this is a Single-dotted Wave Moth (Idaea dimidiata)

Moth identification involves a steep learning curve, even when you’re equipped with good resources, as I think I am. My primary print source is the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America, by David Beadle & Seabrooke Leckie. Online I use the North American Moth Photographers’ Group at Mississippi State University. I also belong to a Facebook group called “Mothing Ohio,” where I can ask for help when needed.

Imagine finding something like this and having to flip through photos of thousands of similar brown moths:

Large Yellow Underwing moth - on my front door (Noctua pronuba)

Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), on my front porch

It’s one thing if the moth is relatively “fresh” and unworn, so the markings are still clear. It gets much more difficult when they’re faded and tattered.

Some moths are diurnal, or daytime feeders. And so far, it seems that the diurnal moths are generally easier to identify. For instance, here’s one I found feeding on mums in my yard in late October:

Corn Earworm Moth - Helicoverpa zea w sig

This is a Corn Earworm Moth (Helicoverpa zea), clearly in a very worn and faded state near the end of its life. You can still see faint markings on the tattered wings, vague remnants of its earlier beauty.

Another daytime-feeder I really like is the Yellow-collared Scape Moth shown here:

Yellow-collared Scape moth on asters w sig

Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

And here’s the similar-looking Virginia Ctenucha moth:

Another daytime-feeding moth

Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica)

This Ailanthus Webworm moth is diurnal too, and not native to this part of the country but now fairly common here.

Ailanthus webworm moth (6)

Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea)

I’ll save some of my other moths for another time, but I just have to share these photos of a spectacular moth I just photographed for the first time yesterday. This is the Buck Moth, a daytime flyer with bold markings of black, white, and orange.  On my first outing to see this species a few days earlier, I’d seen dozens of them flying erratically around a meadow, sometimes bumping clumsily into branches and tall grasses. But we couldn’t find any resting ones to take photos of on that day.

Buck moth dorsal view of spread wings with antennae

But this time we got there early enough that some of them weren’t  yet flying, and we found this one still roosting on a small sapling where it was easy to photograph from inches away. We spent a good five minutes taking shots of this gorgeous male before he finally woke up and flew off to join the other males in search of females.  The adult moths don’t have functional mouth parts and cannot feed. Their only task is to reproduce and then die, leaving their eggs to overwinter so the caterpillars can emerge the following spring.

Buck moth on branch - side view

Buck moth with arrow to tiny feet

After this one flew off, we were able to net a couple other individuals. I was captivated as I got to hold one in my hand and feel his furry little body as he gently walked up my arm. He almost made it up to my shoulder before suddenly taking flight and zigzagging back out on his mating mission.

All of the moths in these photos were found in Lucas County in northwestern Ohio, either in my yard or in the various metroparks and nature preserves.  There’s such diversity represented here already, and I know there are a gazillion more species out there just waiting for me to find them and show them to you!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Insects, Ohio | Tagged , | 2 Comments

30 Minutes Under an Elm Tree

The other day I went out into my yard to look for any interesting insects I could find so I could practice my macro photography techniques. I was focused primarily on my big American Elm tree and the lawn beneath it, and was reminded of the time several years ago when I wrote about my experiment with “one-tree birding.” This time I wasn’t birding, but wanted to see how many critters I could find living on or near my elm tree.

It didn’t take long for the fun to begin. First there were a couple of dead leaves with empty insect egg cases on them. I wish I knew which type of insects hatched from these, because there were a lot of them.

Insect egg cases on dead elm leaf

This cluster of empty egg casings was only an inch across

Most of the branches of the elm tree are too high for me to inspect, but at one point I saw a ladybug crawling on a leaf several feet above my head. I couldn’t photograph that one, but a few minutes later I found this larval form of a ladybug and decided that he looked like a minuscule black and orange alligator.

Lady beetle larva - my yard (4)

I was paying close attention to every little spot on each leaf,  hoping that some of them might turn out to be insects — and some of them did. To my naked eye, this one looked like a gray dot no bigger than the fine point on a pencil. But when I enlarged the photo, I could see that it was the larva of some kind of insect. I can see eyes and wings, but not enough to even guess the type of creature it will become.  And by the way, how often do you get a view of the cells in a leaf? That illustrates just how much this photo is cropped.

Tiny tiny insect larva to ID - on elm leaf

Eastern Harvestman aka Daddy Longlegs - not a spider (2)

Harvestman, aka daddy longlegs (#NotASpider)

As I was taking pics of that teeny tiny critter, something dropped onto the back of my neck from above. It turned out to be this beautiful harvestman, also known as a daddy longlegs. Many people consider these to be spiders, but they aren’t. They’re arachnids, to be sure, but not spiders.

And I learned something very interesting as I read about this species. Their second pair of legs is extra long, and is specialized for smelling and touching things as they search for food. A daddy longlegs can survive the loss of one (or more) of its regular legs, but if it loses those two specialized legs, it’s doomed because it can’t feed.

All the while I was creeping around in the grass, dozens of these teeny tiny leafhoppers were leaping all around me. They move fast and are about the size of a small splinter you might pull from your finger, so I’m amazed I even got a halfway decent photo of this one.

Teeny tiny leafhopper (3)

The tiniest little leafhopper — see how huge the blades of grass are in comparison?

And…drum roll please…I’ve saved the best discovery for last. Until about a week ago I had never heard of a Handsome Trig, aka Red-headed Bush Cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). When one was pointed out to me on a recent outing at a nature preserve, I was able to get the photo you see below.

Red-headed Bush Cricket aka Handsome Trig - female

But when I got home I regretted that I hadn’t tried to take video of the little female, because she has the most adorable little black “paddles” on the front of her face, which she waves up and down as she walks along in her search for a meal.

Well, much to my surprise, I found another one in my own yard! And I took video this time so I could share the action of the magic dancing paddles with you. I didn’t have time to get my tripod, so it’s a little bit shaky, but I think it’s still worth watching. The first ten seconds are the best part, and then she runs under the leaves and disappears back into her little world.  Enjoy!

It’s amazing how much life you can find in a small area when you pay attention, isn’t it? And each new discovery is an opportunity to understand one more piece of the intricate web of life — I just love that!

Posted in Insects, Ohio, Photography, Toledo, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Gentian Trifecta

I’ve mentioned that this spring and summer have been a time of flower exploration for me. Whereas in past years I  might travel to find certain bird species, this year I traveled around northern Ohio to see our various wildflowers as they bloomed.  I was enthralled by the early spring woodland flowers like Dutchman’s Breeches and White Trillium. Then I was kept busy by the abundance of summer blooms in both woods and meadows — things like the milkweeds, ironweed, coneflowers, and countless others.

And now, as we somehow find ourselves already near the end of September (how did that happen?), I’m pleased to discover that there’s still a surprising variety of fall-blooming flowers. The asters and goldenrods are the most obvious and abundant, often blanketing entire meadows. But there are other late-bloomers out there that I’d never even heard of before this year.

Goldenrod and asters in evening sun

Goldenrod and asters in evening sunlight at the Toledo Botanical Garden

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day exploring some of our Lucas County nature preserves with a botanist friend. Our primary goal was to find and photograph three species of gentians — Bottle Gentian, Fringed Gentian, and the state-endangered Soapwort Gentian.

I’d seen photographs of these beauties but had never seen any of them in person, so was eager to go on this quest.  And oh what a rewarding day this turned out to be, as we found all three species — thus my Gentian Trifecta!

I’ll start with my favorite, the Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis virgata). Thoreau also found them lovely, comparing the blue of these flowers to that on the back of a male bluebird. These stunning flowers only open when the sun is shining, and will remain tightly closed on a cloudy day. When we found this plant it was early enough in the morning that it wasn’t fully opened yet. But when we passed it again about an hour later, it was wide open so we could better photograph the beautiful interior structures and patterns.

Gentianopsis virgata - Fringed Gentian - Irwin Prairie (8)

Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis virgata)

Gentianopsis virgata - Fringed Gentian - Irwin Prairie w sig

Notice those blue lines on the interior of the flower? Those are basically a sign telling bees that “the pollen is this way!”

The second species found on this expedition was the Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). This species keeps its petals tightly closed at all times. So, I know you’re wondering how it can be pollinated if it doesn’t open up, right? Well, it’s usually only pollinated by the big bumblebee, who is strong enough to pry the top of the flower open and slip inside.

Bottle Gentian - Irwin Prairie (3)

Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii)

Bottle Gentian - Irwin Prairie (5)

The delicate reproductive organs inside the  gentian

The final species we wanted to find this day was the endangered Soapwort Gentian (Gentiana saponaria). This one was a bit more difficult to find, but once we found the first one we looked around and noticed dozens of them hidden among the taller plants in the meadow, a secret treasure trove.

Soapwort Gentian - Gentiana saponaria - for blog (841x1024)

Soapwort Gentian (Gentiana saponaria)

As with the Bottle Gentian, this one keeps its petals closed as well, forcing a pollinator to either pry it open at the top, or chew through from the outside. We did find one or two flowers with holes in the sides, evidence that someone had done exactly that. (Several people have posted videos on YouTube showing bees going inside the closed gentians — here’s one of them.)

We found many more fascinating life forms on this outing, including caterpillars, spiders, and other types of flowers. But since blue was the theme of this day, we were pleased to finish up in a meadow teeming with the stunning Blue-faced Meadowhawks, some of whom were quite easily photographed as they perched on Knotted Rush (Juncus nodosus).

Blue-faced Meadowhawk (10) w sig - on knotted rush, Juncus nodosus

Blue-faced Meadowhawk on knotted rush - Juncus nodosus - w sig

I’m already feeling wistful about the end of this amazing summer, but am reminded that every season brings something different to explore and celebrate in the natural world. And I have a feeling that the predominant color in my next post might be gold or red, as the trees are already beginning their autumn show.

Posted in Insects, native plants, wildflowers | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Day at the Beach

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you won’t be misled by that title. But if you’re new around here and are expecting photos of people swimming…well, sorry about that.

Magee beach view - Sept 16 2017 (800x600)

Beach view at Magee Marsh, east of Toledo, Ohio

I did spend a couple hours at the beach on the shore of Lake Erie yesterday, but I was hunting for insects to photograph. Just prior to this solo outing, I had spent a day with a friend who’s an expert botanist and photographer, and he gave me lots of tips that reinvigorated my interest in learning to use my camera better. So this time I wanted to go out on my own to see what kind of results I could get.

All the photos in this post were taken in an area about 50 yards wide, less than 30 yards from the lake edge. I barely had to move at all to discover a whole world at my feet.

Sumacs at Magee for blog post Sept 2017 (640x480)

Armed with my new secret power — finding the insects by examining their food plants — I planned to start by investigating a small stand of young Staghorn Sumacs. But as I walked toward them, I almost walked right into this:

Green Darner female - Anax junius (7) (800x612)

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

It’s a Common Green Darner resting on a dead milkweed stem. I think it’s a teneral stage, meaning that it’s in the first day of life since it emerged from its exuvia. When they first emerge, they have to give their wings time to “inflate” before they can perform the aerial maneuvers for which they’re known. This relative immobility made it easy for me to kneel very close to it and take a few shots with my 100mm macro lens. Notice that “bullseye” mark on the front of the head? I love that. Here’s a closer view of that part:

Green Darner female - Anax junius (3)

The bullseye mark is an easy way to distinguish a Green Darner from the very similar Comet Darner

After I backed up from the dragonfly, I immediately noticed a couple caterpillars feeding on the sumac. I took some photos of them and then noticed that there were at least a dozen of this same species of caterpillar feeding all around me.

Spotted Datana caterpillar curled up (800x533)

Spotted Datana caterpillar underside view (800x533)

This guy is at the end of a branch after all the leaves have been eaten. He had to turn around and find another branch.

These are the larvae of the Spotted Datana moth (Datana perspicua), and sumac is one of their primary food plants. See how this works? You find their food source and you find the insects.  See, I told you it was a secret power.

And by the way, my favorite field guide for caterpillars is Caterpillars of Eastern North America, by David Wagner. It includes an index to the plants as well as the insects, so you can look up a plant and see which caterpillars use it as a food source. And even if you aren’t going to go hunting for caterpillars, you can have your mind blown just by flipping through this book to see the incredible variety of camouflage techniques and other defensive adaptations that have evolved in these critters.

Spotted Datana caterpillar burrowing underground to pupate (2)I watched the cats for a while, hoping to see one of them begin to pupate into its chrysalis form. I saw one begin to dangle from a fine filament and curl up into a ring shape, and I quickly set up to shoot some video. But I got about two seconds of video before he dropped to the ground. Disappointed, I went looking for another possible target. I saw another one drop to the ground, and this time I continued watching it. Some caterpillars burrow into the ground instead of making a hanging chrysalis on a plant. And sure enough, this guy began digging into the soil beneath the sumacs and within about 90 seconds he was gone.

It’s incredible how much more you can learn when you spend more time watching them go about their lives, rather than just shooting a few photos and going in search of something else. I must have spent a half hour watching the Datanas on those sumacs, and it was hard to pull myself away from them.

But eventually I wandered slowly along the sandy path and found quite a few more interesting specimens.

Common Buckeye butterfly - Junonia coenia (2)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Then I saw this female Field Cricket who was missing one of her rear legs. When she didn’t hop away, I realized she was dead. But a dead insect is much easier to photograph, so there’s that, I guess. I found a few more dead crickets near her, so I’m not sure what happened there. Some sort of cricket apocalypse, I guess.

Field cricket female

As I walked on the beach next to the water, I spotted this small and fast-moving character, who turns out to be a Webworm Moth larva.

Hyphantria cunea - fall webworm caterpillar (4) (800x457)

Fall Webworm Moth caterpillar (Hyphantria cunea)

You may have seen these critters living in big groups in large webby “tents” that cover the ends of tree branches. They make the tree look messy, but from what I’ve read, they aren’t generally a severe threat to the health of the tree.

I went back to the sumacs once more and took a video of one of the Datanas eating leaves (that video is at the bottom of this post). But while there, I heard a katydid singing from inside the sumacs. I believe most katydids are nocturnal singers, but this species is a daytime singer. Meet the cutest little katydid you’ll ever see:

Black-legged Meadow Katydid singing on Sumac (8) w sig

Black-legged Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum nigripes)

He sat still for me for about five seconds, and then he quickly hid behind a thick stem. I kept trying to get as close as possible for photos, and he would peek around one side of the stem, see me, then move to the other side. We played a little game of peek-a-boo for a minute or so, and then I backed off and left him in peace.

I also like how these photos show the hairs on the young stems of the sumac that gave it the name Staghorn, because of the resemblance to a deer’s antlers when they’re covered in velvet.

Black-legged Meadow Katydid singing on Sumac (2) w sig

Playing peek-a-boo with a katydid

There were lots of interesting creatures out and about on the beach that day, and I had a fantastic time playing detective in the sand.  And I’m really happy with the results I’m getting with my photography now too. I can’t wait to get back out there!

Oh, before I go, here’s the video of the Spotted Datana eating a sumac leaf:

 

Posted in Insects, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Going Native in Toledo

Swamp milkweed for blog

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – valuable host plant for Monarch butterflies

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time around people who are knowledgeable about various aspects of the natural world: ornithologists, entomologists, and botanists — both professional and amateur.  Like me, most of my friends are passionate about their interests in birds, insects, or plants.  Our idea of a good time is heading out into a nature preserve with binoculars and a camera to investigate and document what’s currently blooming or breeding.

We contribute to citizen-science projects, sometimes obsessively. We go birding and enter our bird counts into eBird. We find dragonflies or wildflowers and enter them in iNaturalist.  Sounds sort of geeky, doesn’t it?  Yeah, it is.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Ironweed for blog

Silver-spotted Skipper on Ironweed

And I love how much richer my life has become since I’ve begun paying closer attention to the natural world. Being a nature geek is a badge I wear proudly.

Bringing Nature Home - cover imageI’ve begun to think of it as earning “merit badges” in natural history. I’ve got my birder badge, and I’m working on badges for wildflowers, butterflies, and dragonflies. I think my writing on this blog probably qualifies me for some type of badge too, maybe for helping to share what I’ve learned with other people.  (Hey, I like this idea of inventing new badges to award myself!)

I’m about to begin work on my next merit badge as an amateur naturalist: Native Plant Gardener. Ever since I read “Bringing Nature Home” (by Doug Tallamy) several years ago, I’ve yearned for a garden where I could begin experimenting with native plants. And now I finally have the perfect opportunity, so I’m going for it.

Boneset for blog

Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) – it has a  delicate, sweet fragrance

In North America, native plants are defined as plants that existed in a particular area prior to European settlement of this continent. These plants evolved to thrive in local growing conditions, and are therefore much easier to grow – they need less water, fewer pesticides, and less tending in general. So they save the gardener time and money, for starters. And, just as important, they are food sources for our native insects, so they are an integral part of the web of life.

I’m still studying this, but I’ve learned that the specific chemical composition of each plant makes it edible by specific species of insects. The ability of an insect to digest a particular plant is something that evolved over thousands of years, and if the insect’s food source disappears, the insect will soon follow because it often cannot eat the non-native plants that have taken the place of the native plants.

beetles - Pennsylvania Leatherwing on Boneset - eupatorium perfoliatum (2).jpg

Common Boneset hosting a Viceroy butterfly and quite a few Pennsylvania Leatherwing beetles.

In this first phase of my project, I’ve started making an inventory of all the trees, shrubs, and flowers that are already growing in my garden. I’m researching them all to find out which ones are natives and which are non-natives, and starting to compile a list of the native plants I’d like to grow here.

My goals are to provide host plants for important pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths. (Fun fact: Did you know that moths pollinate flowers at night in the same way that butterflies and bees do in the daytime? It’s true.) I’ll try to choose plants that are hosts for the insect larvae as well as providing nectar for the adult insects.

Blue lupines v3 (1) (1280x853)

Wild Lupines (Lupinus perennis) – I have one surviving in my yard now, and will add more.

In the next few weeks I’ll be removing some undesirable plants, and over the coming winter I’ll be making plans for my first native plant bed. I’m trying hard to restrain my enthusiasm at first, because I don’t want to get in over my head and not be able to handle it all.  It’s tempting to go around the yard digging up everything non-native, but that would be the wrong way to go about this. And it would look awful too.

I’ve joined the local chapter of Wild Ones, a nonprofit association with the mission of promoting “environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities.” I’m excited to be attending my first meeting soon and I hope my membership in Wild Ones will accelerate my learning process. The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there still is to learn.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to daydream about the beautiful Ohio prairie flowers that will soon be growing in my yard, and all the interesting insects who will come to live here with them.

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod - for blog

Monarch on Goldenrod

Resources: I highly recommend Doug Tallamy’s book, shown above (click the book cover to go to Amazon). But if you want a clickable source of more information about why native plants are important, check out this article on the Audubon website (“Why Native Plants Matter”). It includes a video clip of Doug Tallamy, as well as a searchable database that will give you a list of plants that are native to your particular zip code.

Posted in Flowers and Gardening, Insects, native plants | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Asters are Blooming, and You Know What That Means

White Wood Aster - Eurybia divaricatus - Wildwood Preserve

White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata)

This morning, as I often do, I went for a walk at my favorite metropark. There was an unusual but welcome chill in the air, so I put on long pants instead of shorts. And instead of my usual walk through the woods, I decided to start on the prairie and meadow trails so I could enjoy the sun and avoid the need for a jacket.

My purpose for this particular walk was exercise rather than nature exploration, so I wanted to keep up a rather brisk pace. It’s always a bit frustrating for me to walk without my camera, but when I’m trying to exercise I force myself to leave it behind. But I always have my cell phone with me, so I can still take some types of photos.

Today I was rewarded with quite a few blooming species that were near enough to the trails that I could get cell pics of them. So I stopped a few times to snap quick photos, but still tried to keep up a decent pace. I ended up doing three miles in just over an hour, so I think that’s still respectable in terms of a workout.

Rough Blazing Star aka Liatris aspera

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) – also a member of the aster family

When I got home I immediately began the process of identifying the flowers I’d photographed. That’s always fun for me because I inevitably learn something new as I thumb through my various wildflower field guides and books. Today I learned that the aster family is one of the largest flower families in the world, with over 20,000 species. Several of the species I’m showing you today are in the aster family.

Cutleaf Coneflower - Rudbeckia laciniata - Wildwood

Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), another member of the aster family

In this part of the world, asters are classic signs of autumn. Despite the cooler temperatures, I’ve been in denial about summer coming to an end soon. But when I found White Wood Aster today, I had to face reality. True, this is one of the earliest asters to bloom, but nevertheless, it’s a sure sign of the impending change of seasons.

In case you didn’t notice in that first picture at the top, some of the White Wood Asters are yellow in the centers while others are pink. The yellow ones are younger blooms, and the pink ones are older.  I think they’re so beautiful and dainty.  I like them so much that I think I’ll put them on my list of plants to put in my garden as I remove the non-native species.

New England Aster - Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (1024x683)

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), not yet in bloom here but coming soon

My summer has been so full and interesting this year that I get a bit melancholy when I think of it ending soon. Of course I’ll still be hiking in the fall and winter, but there won’t be as many opportunities to photograph flowers or insects again until next spring.

But maybe it’s good to have a season off from exploring so much–I’ve got a big backlog of photos to sort through, after all. I can see myself spending some very pleasant time with a cup of tea by the wood stove, doing research and writing about things I learned this summer as I explored various facets of the natural world in northwest Ohio.

Evening Primrose I think

Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) – NOT a member of the aster family, by the way

I’m glad I was in the park early enough to see this lovely primrose with open blooms. The flowers bloom at night and usually close by mid-day.  Now if only I could manage to get into the park at night to see the hawk moths that come to pollinate this beauty.

Speaking of moths, I’ve found a few of them recently too, so I hope to show you some of their understated–and underappreciated–beauty in a separate post very soon. Now I’ve got to go toss a rotten banana on my patio and sprinkle it with brown sugar…moths will eat that up…literally. 🙂

Note: As always, if you think I’ve misidentified any plants or animals here, I would be grateful if you’d let me know.

 

Posted in wildflowers | 6 Comments

Maine Realized

It’s been a long-time dream of mine to visit Maine, but for some reason it kept getting pushed aside in favor of other destinations.  I finally decided it was time to just do it. I realized that I didn’t want to look back later and regret that I’d never seen Maine.

Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick for blog (640x423)

Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick, Maine

When you think of Maine, what comes to mind? Lobsters. Blueberries. Whales. Lighthouses. Yep, I get it. But my romanticized vision of the state was one of rocky shores with waves of icy Atlantic water crashing against them, so that’s what I wanted to see.

Acadia Wonderland Trail sign (602x640)

A beautiful but crowded spot that felt more like a kids’ playground

I also wanted to hike in Acadia National Park, and had made notes about a few trails I thought I’d like to walk. I wanted to avoid, as much as possible, the most popular (aka crowded) trails. I’d hoped to have some quiet time away from people, time to enjoy the scenery and just do some thinking.

My first two days weren’t what I’d hoped, because I’d made the mistake of booking a hotel in the tourist mecca of Bar Harbor. That was the exact opposite of what I wanted this trip to be about. Within 10 minutes of arriving in town, I made a decision to avoid Bar Harbor as much as possible. I just don’t understand why that sort of place is enjoyable to people. Or maybe everyone just tolerates the “tourist-trappiness” of it because it’s the gateway to Acadia National Park.

Typical scene along Maine coast - boats pier flowersBut it didn’t take me much longer to turn things around, thankfully. I had a really wonderful few hours on a day that I drove north of the island to search for dragonflies. A friend had given me directions to a small river where he’d seen some species that would be new ones for me. So I drove out a dead-end gravel road alongside a pretty little river near a town called Amherst, and spent some time sitting on rocks watching the babbling water and the butterflies and dragonflies. I didn’t see another human for hours, a surprisingly rare experience anywhere these days. (Seriously, can you remember the last time you didn’t see another human for hours at a time?) I found two species I’d never seen before, but my photos weren’t as good as I’d hoped. My favorite was the Dragonhunter, just because it’s got a reputation as a fierce hunter of other dragons. Lots of odonates have interesting names, but “Dragonhunter” is one of the most intimidating.

Dragonhunter - confirmed by Rick

The feared Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus) – he eats other dragonflies!

Bass Harbor lighthouse tourists (640x427)

Hordes of humans, with Bass Harbor Light in the background, sort of

The absolute best part of my visit to Maine, though, was the day I discovered Otter Point. I’d been driving along the coast in Acadia National Park, stopping periodically to climb out on the granite cliffs with hundreds of other people. I was thrilled with the landscapes I was seeing, but still in search of a place without hordes of humans.

And then I found it. I’d gotten out of the car to climb out on the rocks once again, expecting to see other people already out there. But there was no one.  I had a big expanse of rocky coastline all to myself. Well, I was sharing it with some Common Eiders and Double-crested Cormorants, but there weren’t any people. I couldn’t believe my luck. And it got even better than that.

Cormorant drying its wings

Cormorant drying its wings

As I sat on a large chunk of granite watching the sea birds, I noticed fog starting to drift over the shoreline to the north of my position. It was starting to feel cooler, so I went to the car to grab a fleece pullover. As I closed my car door, another car pulled up and a man leaned out and asked me if there was anything to see down there. I had to think fast to get rid of him, so I said, “No, just a few ducks, if you’re into that sort of thing.” Haha, he spoke to his wife and they left. Victory! I reclaimed my spot on my rocks and felt my breathing get deeper and slower as the fog eventually arrived to moisten my cheeks.

Common Eiders on kelp-covered rock (640x314)

Common Eiders on kelp-covered rocks, before the fog swallowed them up

The eiders were just below me on the kelp-covered rocks, but soon they were no more than blurry shapes. There was a buoy bell ringing in the distance. I only knew that sound from movies, and had never realized how relaxing it could be. I went googling so I could share the sound with you, and found this 10-hour long recording of buoy bells meant to lull you to sleep. That’s so great! I’m listening to that as I type this, and am smiling from ear to ear with the memories of that day.

Sailboat in the fog w sig resized for blog

Sailboat in the fog at Otter Point

You won’t be surprised to know that I visited Otter Point multiple times during my remaining time in Maine. I felt something there that I’ve never felt anywhere else in the 13 countries I’ve visited so far. I’m still not sure why I felt such a connection with that spot, and why it brought me so much peace.  I loved the solitude, and the enormity of the landscape, and the smell of the ocean, and the feel of the air….  But I guess I don’t need to completely understand it, as long as I recognize and appreciate it. That first day I spent alone on the rocks with the fog cooling my skin was an experience I’ll not soon forget. I think I could do that every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.Yellow flowers and rocks at Otter Point

Fog rolling in at Otter Point w sig resized

My spot on Otter Point, with tiny people in the distance for scale

Oh, I almost forgot. This is Spoon, a humpback whale I saw in the Gulf of Maine. Maybe I can tell you more about her next time. 🙂
Humpback whale Spoon for blog (640x325)

Posted in Ecotherapy, Travel | 9 Comments

Life Goes On…But Should It?

People sometimes deal with adversity by saying, “What can you do? Life goes on.” It’s a way of trying to compartmentalize the bad events so that we can continue to live our lives in some semblance of normalcy.

I’m not usually good at doing this, but the events of recent months have forced me to either get better at it or just curl up in a ball under the kitchen table. I guess I’ve found a sort of balance: Some days I just ignore the latest outrage from Washington and go hunting for dragonflies; other days I curl up in a ball under the table and wait for it to be over.

Peace and Love from Flickr Creative CommonsIn less than a year, I’ve watched my country evolve first into a laughingstock for the rest of the world, and then into something almost incomprehensible. In 2017, America is no longer respected as a global leader, but is instead seen as a nation being overtaken by hate and anger. We’ve lost our way, and those who should be leading us are failing miserably.

And if our leaders won’t lead, then it’s up to us to lead ourselves. And we can start by treating our fellow citizens with respect and love. And we need to let the rest of the world know, without a doubt, that this is not acceptable. And that most Americans are decent people, many of whom are horrified and scared, especially after the events of last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’ve been struggling with how to react to the daily assaults on decency and freedom that have become our new “normal” in America. For the most part, I’ve kept my opinions to myself in public. But I can’t do that any longer. I know I run the risk of losing followers who would prefer that I stick to posting about butterflies or dragonflies. I will get back to writing about my nature escapades, but this is important.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

I worry that keeping silent is almost as bad as approving of what’s happening in our national nightmare.  So I just want to go on record: This. Is. Not. Normal. The American government has been overtaken by a terrifying mixture of immoral and hateful racist sympathizers that do not represent the majority of people who live in this country.

The most despicable elements of our society have been encouraged to crawl from beneath their rocks. They are emboldened by the words of a president who either doesn’t understand the enormity of the damage being done by his words, or even worse, is trying to tear our society apart at the seams.

Peace sign child's hand - Flickr Creative CommonsI don’t have answers to the many difficult problems facing this nation. But I do know that we have to be able to talk about what’s happening here. We can’t just allow ourselves to become numb or to stop paying attention to what’s going on. And we are doomed unless we learn how to have civil conversations without resorting to canned talking points fed to us by the right- and left-wing media stations. There’s far too much shouting and far too little real conversation about important issues.

I’ll continue to live my life as normally as I can in these trying times, but it’s getting to the point that I wonder if that’s a mistake. Maybe we all need to pull our heads out of the sand and start speaking out.

Because as long as we’re silent, we’re complicit in the downfall of a once-respected nation.

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Note: images for this post via Flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in A Dose of Politics | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

A Butterfly Kind of Day

Monarch on swamp milkweed w sig

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

There’s a nature preserve a few miles from my house that has quickly become one of my favorite places to explore. It’s called Irwin Prairie State Nature Preserve. It’s a couple hundred acres of wet prairie, sedge meadow, shrub swamp, grass meadow, and swamp forest.  Now I don’t pretend to understand the botanical nuances of each of those habitats, but I get the general idea. The life forms that live in each part of the preserve depend on the soil and water conditions.

Even though I visit Irwin Prairie often, each time I find new and interesting things to learn about. My computer has a folder with hundreds of photos from this amazing place — wildflowers, birds, dragon- and damselflies, beetles, snakes, frogs, turtles, and much more. I’m planning to share many of those soon, but today I just want to do a quick post about the butterflies I saw there this afternoon.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly w sig

Spicebush Swallowtail ( Papilio troilus)

I’d actually gone over there hoping to find some more dragonflies, but the odonata were scarce on this beautiful but windy day.  The butterflies, on the other hand, were plentiful and cooperative. I saw at least a half dozen Monarchs, always a welcome sight considering the declining numbers of this important species in recent years.

This little guy was a new species for me — a Bronze Copper. I first thought he was one of the Blues, since I’d recently seen my first Tailed Blue and this one had very similar patterns on the underwing. But when I saw the other side of the wings, I knew it had to be something else.

Bronze Copper - Lycaena hyllus w sig

Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus)

This next species kept landing on the boardwalk in front of me, seemingly asking to have his portrait made. So I obliged. This is a Common Buckeye. I love the “eyes” on his wings, and the pretty combination of brown and orange.

Common Buckeye butterfly w sig

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

And last but not least were several beautiful and elegant Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. And for once, they gave me some great photo opportunities as well!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on swamp milkweed w sig

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Did you notice that several of these butterflies are feeding on the same plant? Yep, that’s Swamp Milkweed, which serves as a host plant and/or nectar source for so many species of butterflies. I’ve got to get some of that for my new garden!

I’m heading off to Maine this week for a long-awaited visit to Acadia National Park. I’m going to search for dragonflies and birds that we don’t have here in Ohio, so I hope to have some good photos to share with you when I get back home in a couple weeks.

Before I go, here’s a short video of the grasses blowing in the wind at Irwin Prairie today. I think it looks like ocean waves. What a beautiful day this was!

Posted in Insects, Ohio | 2 Comments

Amateur Backyard Entomology

Crane Fly stuck in spider web on screen - my yard

Stuck to a spider web….temporarily

If you ever find yourself bored at home, I have a suggestion: Go into your yard or garden with a magnifying glass and/or a macro lens on your camera. Get down on the ground and spend some time investigating who’s crawling around among the blades of grass or under the bark of the tree. I guarantee you won’t be bored for long.

A few weeks ago, for example, I noticed this insect stuck in a spider web on the outside of my kitchen window.

I gently freed him, and he immediately spread his wings and gave me this great photo opportunity. This is a type of crane fly, of which there are many hundreds of species in North America alone. My amateur entomologist status doesn’t even begin to qualify me to attempt a more specific identification of this guy…or gal.

Crane Fly on my window - after I released him from spider web resized w sig

Adult crane flies only live a few days, just long enough to pass along their genes to the next generation. They’re completely harmless to humans — they can’t bite and they don’t even eat anything, despite their colloquial nickname of “mosquito eaters.” (Their larvae, on the other hand, can do some damage to your lawn–if you care about such things.)

I was in the yard the other day playing with my macro lens, and I found this common house fly. I watched him for a couple minutes while he fed on something too tiny for me to identify. I took some video, but of course as soon as I turned on the video, he stopped moving. So I got video of a completely motionless fly–aka, a photograph. The joke was on me that time, I guess.

House Fly in my garden v2 w sig

Isn’t it fascinating to see the minute parts of an insect like this? I didn’t even use a tripod for this shot, but you can still see the hairs, the antennae, and the veins in the fly’s wings. By the way, if you really want to have your mind blown by macro photos of insects, I suggest you check out Mark Berkery’s blog.

Box Elder Bug nymph (Boisea trivittata) w sig

After the fly flew (haha), I noticed quite a few of these little Boxelder Bug nymphs crawling around on the dying yucca plants. (I’m killing the yuccas on purpose because, well, they’re hideous.) These bugs don’t cause any damage that I’m aware of, and they’re pretty, so they can stay. I really don’t like to kill any insects unless they’re doing major damage that’s going to cost me a significant sum of money.  I do make an exception for mosquitoes though. I feel absolutely no remorse after slapping a mosquito on my arm. They. Must. Die.

Meal moth - in my house - uh oh - w sig

That being said, I just discovered somebody unwelcome inside my house. Yep, this is a Meal Moth, on my living room wall. Before I figured out what species he was, I was excited because he’s so pretty. But now I have to worry that my pantry might have more of them. I think I need to do some reading about them before I decide if I have a problem or not. But isn’t he pretty? He’s only about 3/4 of an inch across. I’m not sure why, but it seems weird to see him facing downward instead of upward. I don’t suppose it makes that much difference to him whether he’s facing the floor or ceiling, but it feels wrong to me. In fact, I almost rotated this picture before posting it, just so I wouldn’t be bugged by it. But then I realized that sometimes you just have to step away and let nature do what nature wants to do, so I left him upside down. 🙂

Ladybug pupa - not larva

Lady beetle pupa — it will grow up to eat many aphids in my garden. 🙂

Posted in Insects, Ohio | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments