Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Above the Caves

Although I still love birding and photographing birds, we have become interested in watching butterflies and other insects this summer. Diamond Caverns has a wonderful butterfly garden in front of their building. Dick just planted a butterfly garden in our yard, and it is encouraging to see all our plants growing in this established garden. His research will pay off in beauty. Not only are there butterflies of all sizes, but Clearwing Moths looking like a cross between a giant bee and small hummingbird. They dart so quickly that I cannot get a clear photo of one.

Like birds, butterflies can be large or small, brightly colored or drab in hue. Little Brown Butterflies are just as hard to identify as Little Brown Birds. The challenge is to notice the small distinctions in markings, habitat and behavior to find them in a field guide. They do tend to land a little closer to people though, when they land at all! The skills learned identifying birds are equally valuable with butterflies. Many of the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies seem injured. How can they fly with big chunks ripped out of their wings? A friend says many butterflies have "eyes" and bold patterns near their tails to fool predators into attacking the wrong end of the insect. A torn tail on a swallowtail is the mark of a survivor!

The Cicada Killer Wasp specializes in catching and killing cicadas. At 1 1/2," cicada killers are the largest wasps found in Kentucky. They are commonly seen in late summer as they hunt for cicadas which they use to provision their eggs in underground burrows. Isn't it amazing how plants and animals have developed such specializations? Their life cycle revolves around one prey - the cicada.

Our daughter's fiance earned a family reputation on his first hike in the woods with us. He is now the Deer Caller. Every time he wondered if there were deer, we saw more of them. The rangers came by all the picnic tables warning us about not feeding the animals. Surely not bears, we thought. We never expected to see any wildlife, but the deer at Mammoth Cave are not very afraid of people at all. We saw a buck just strolling down the trail, like a tourist without a camera. How do you describe the points on a mature male? This one has three points on each antler and still shows the soft velvet covering. Apparently even a yearling can support six points by the fall. Another male whose antlers were just beginning to grow wasn't quite so bold and hid among the trees. A little later, we ran across a doe and her twin fawns on a hillside. Finally, a single fawn grazed in the grass along the parking lot.

Small toads, no larger than the fingernail on your little finger hopped from the path into the plants, while Five Lined Skinks with blue tails left their sunning spots on a tree stump as we approached. "Shhh," we warned another family, pushing a stroller on the trail. "There are deer right off the path. If you are quiet you can see them." They thought we were crazy. Nature is endlessly fascinating if you stop to look, listen and appreciate it. If you only want to talk loudly, why not stay at the picnic tables?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a way to relive the day. thanks for the notes and descriptions.