Things that Fly, Flutter, and Leap

You know how great it feels when your day off coincides with a fantastic weather forecast? Well that’s what happened for me on Monday this week, and I took full advantage of it to get outdoors and poke around to see what I could find. I was particularly grateful for this day because I’d spent the previous day in bed with a migraine that lasted for 19 hours. Yep, that’s right, 19 hours.  After losing an entire day, it’s no surprise that I was eager to reclaim my life the next morning. I usually feel like I’ve been reborn on the day after a migraine, and am reminded to be thankful for every pain-free day I have.Lotus flowers in bloom at Meadowbrook v2

So on this glorious day I decided to visit one of the locations on the Lake Erie Birding Trail (LEBT). The Ohio LEBT Guidebook, published by the Ohio Division of Wildlife just a couple years ago, is a compilation of 88 birding locations along the Lake Erie shore of Ohio. It’s a really handy book that I often keep in my car in case I feel like exploring someplace new. So far I’ve visited 21 of the sites on the “trail” — and I also happen to work at one of them (#73, Black Swamp Bird Observatory).  Today my  destination was Meadowbrook Marsh, a property of 190 acres that includes a large marsh and meadows surrounded by tall trees. As you can see in the photo above, the gorgeous lotus flowers are in full bloom now.

Pearl Crescent butterfly -Phycoides tharos v2
There were hundreds of these Pearl Crescents fluttering in the grass (Phyciodes tharos)

As I started walking the grass path alongside the big meadow, I noticed that the ground was dancing beneath my feet. There were hundreds of little Pearl Crescent butterflies feeding on clover and other flowers — it was really something to see. I tried to get a video that would convey the magic of it all, but wasn’t able to get anything I felt was worth sharing here. So just close your eyes and imagine walking slowly in the grass,  watching dozens of butterflies taking flight in front of you with each step. It was so pretty — they’d flutter a few feet away and alight on their next food source. I felt like I was in some sort of fairy land! And so it was that my walk started off with a big smile.

Common Checkered Skipper best shot (800x663)
Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Mixed in with all those Pearl Crescents, I found a little butterfly that I’d never seen before. It was about the same size, maybe an inch and a half across, but the wings were black with whitish spots, and the body had a bluish tint to it. It turned out to be a Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis). I love discovering something I’ve never seen before because each discovery makes me appreciate the diversity of life that’s around me every day. So much of the natural world goes unnoticed in our busy lives, doesn’t it?

House Wren
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)

A few minutes later I heard the unmistakable chattering of a House Wren and was able to quickly find him moving through the trees beside me. There were several of them in a mixed group that included Common Yellowthroats (a type of warbler) and Indigo Buntings. All three species were agitated by my presence, and I saw quite a few curious juveniles who were apparently being scolded by their parents to get away from the human!

Common Yellowthroat - fall immature male
Common Yellowthroat, a type of warbler. This is a young inquisitive male.

I continued walking and came upon another pocket of bird activity. This one had young Brown Thrashers and several Great Crested Flycatchers, and a single tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher buzzing around the treetops and flicking his long tail.

Brown Thrasher (800x701)
A young Brown Thrasher

One of my favorite birds was this pretty female Cape May Warbler, who posed nicely for me:

Cape May Warbler fall female v2 (800x629)
Female Cape May Warbler

Grasshoppers are always hard to photograph because they leap so fast and far at the slightest movement. But I managed to get a couple shots of this one, at least. I think it’s a Red-legged Grasshopper.

Red-legged Grasshopper - I think (712x800)
Red-legged Grasshopper (at least I think that’s the right species)

And take a look at this close crop of his leg joints on the hind legs. It’s clear that they’re very specialized to allow him to leap tall buildings in a single bound. (Oh wait, that’s Superman, isn’t it?)

Grasshopper showing back leg specialized joints (717x635)
Close-up of semi-lunar processes on grasshopper’s hind legs

Those joints are called the semi-lunar processes. I found a website that explains how they function, and it even includes slow-motion video to show the mechanics of the spring motion. If you’re curious, it’s here.

There weren’t too many dragonflies around on this day, but I did manage to get a photo of an Eastern Amberwing, one of our smaller dragonflies:

Eastern Amberwing - close crop
Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

Before I realized it, I’d spent two hours at Meadowbrook and the sun was starting to get a bit too intense. So I reluctantly ended my walk after having seen 27 species of birds, about a half dozen types of butterflies (including a couple Monarchs), and lots of other insects that I haven’t identified yet.

I just find these quiet walks in natural places to be so life-affirming and renewing. So today I’m grateful for those “Things that Fly, Flutter, and Leap,” for all the ways they enrich my experience of life on this beautiful planet.

There’s This Place I Like to Go…

Boardwalk at Blue Heron Reserve (800x600)This week marked the one-year anniversary of my move to northwest Ohio. And although I don’t have as much time as I used to for exploring and being in nature, I have managed to find one spot that has become my nearest “go to” place when I need to get away. It’s called Blue Heron Reserve, and it’s a 160-acre park with meadows, fens, and woods. The best part is that it’s only 18 minutes away from my home and I’ve been able to find all sorts of interesting plants and creatures there over the past 12 months.

Cabbage White butterfly on clover flower at Blue Heron Reserve (2) (800x644)
Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)

A recent visit turned up this Cabbage White butterfly feeding on a clover flower. This highly-cropped version shows the pretty green eyes and the long proboscis that he uses to sip nectar from the flower.

Wasps to ID (800x516)I also found quite a few of these wasps crawling on the ground. I haven’t been able to identify them yet, but I think they’re really pretty, don’t you? I like the combination of that rich brown with the gold rings on the body. Hopefully I’ll be able to find them in one of my insect field guides soon so I can read more about them. (Update: I think they’re Northern Paper Wasps, a very common native wasp in Ohio.)

Tiger Bee Fly (1) (800x645)
Tiger Bee Fly (Xenox tigrinus)

I also found a fly that I don’t remember ever seeing before — this is a Tiger Bee Fly. I think the wing markings are really pretty. This fly was large, probably an inch long. I found one of these hanging around on our mailbox at the office the next day, and was excited that I knew what it was right away.  I learned that this fly is a parasitoid of carpenter bees. That means that it lays its eggs at the entrance to carpenter bee nests, and the larvae eat the carpenter bee larvae. A parasitoid is different than a parasite because a parasite doesn’t necessarily kill its host, whereas a parasitoid does actually kill the host (prey?) animal. Interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Mink at Blue Heron Reserve (2) (800x592)Oh, and look who ran across the path in front of me! This little mink was too fast for me to get a good photo, as he hesitated for only about a second before disappearing into the meadow. I’ve only seen a few mink in my life, so it’s always a thrill to catch a glimpse of these elusive mammals.

Summer Azure butterfly - Celastrina neglecta (1) (800x727)
Summer Azure butterfly (Celastrina neglecta)

Another butterfly, a Summer Azure. I stood there with the camera focused on this one for several minutes, hoping to get a shot of the pretty lavender wings opened. Alas, I didn’t get that shot, but I’m pleased just to get any shot at all because these little purple creatures don’t often sit still for me.

Blue Heron Reserve meadow v2 7-31-2016 (800x594)

More of the one-mile long recycled plastic boardwalk around the meadow. It looks like the park maintenance crew might have been overzealous in killing vegetation along the edges…not sure that’s really necessary in an area like this, but I can’t be sure of what their reasons might be for this.

Bullfrog in water (2) (800x597)
Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

On this day I found several bullfrogs in the small spring-fed pond inside the meadow loop. I’ve always been unsure of my ability to differentiate between Green Frogs and Bullfrogs–until now. This is a Bullfrog because the glandular fold wraps around the tympanum (that’s the round spot on the side of its head that functions as a sort of external eardrum). On a Green Frog the glandular fold would continue in a straight line down the back. That makes it really easy for me to tell them apart now. Cool. Here’s another larger Bullfrog:

Bullfrog in water v2

Blue Heron Reserve signI took lots of photos of wildflowers too, hoping to identify some of them later. Maybe I’ll share some of them in another post. The bird activity was slow on my recent visit (because the temperature was in the 90s), but I still saw a couple beautiful male Indigo Buntings singing, and lots of Tree Swallows lined up on the power lines. The swallows are beginning to “stage” for migration now, which means that it’s common to see larger numbers of them gathered together, waiting for some signal that it’s time to head south. It’s

Indigo Bunting male singing (6)
Indigo Bunting singing

always bittersweet when the birds start to show signs of leaving us for the winter. It was just a few short months ago that we so eagerly anticipated their return for the breeding season, and now they’re finished with that important business and getting ready to go again. But fall migration is a long process, so there are months of excitement ahead as various groups of birds come back through here on their way down from Canada….the shorebirds are showing up here already, the warblers are coming, and it won’t be long before it’s November and we have ducks galore.

Sometimes I think I’d like to live in a more moderate climate, someplace where it’s always 70 degrees and sunny, you know? The extremes of hot and cold in this part of the country are a challenge to deal with sometimes. But then again, without our four distinct seasons we wouldn’t have the constantly changing plant and animal life that makes the natural world so interesting. So I suppose it’s a fair trade. 🙂

Swallows staging for migration (800x281)
Tree Swallows staging for fall migration