Sunday, July 25, 2010

Good Old Summer Dragonflies

Widow Skimmer
It's a typical summer day in the Ohio Valley. One of those 90-90 days, where the temperature and the humidity levels are both at 90. What sounds like the most fun thing you could do on a day like this? Swimming? Sailing at the lake? Sit in the shade with an icy glass of tea? Or, best yet, just stay inside with the air conditioning?
Common Whitetail Female
We chose option E: None of the Above, and went hunting for dragonflies at Blackacre Nature Preserve instead. A biologist from the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission led about 10 sweating enthusiasts down to the sunny pond to hunt for dragonflies and damselflies. The Nature Preserves Commission works to preserve areas of biodiversity in the state, and Blackacre is one of their partners. The dragonflies love bright sunshine, so let's hurry before it clouds over, he urged.
Green Darter
Although I listened to his discussion, I was so busy trying to photograph these insect raptors, I didn't always catch his identifications. Or, I couldn't see the insect at all in the first place. So if anyone sees any errors here, let me know. This Green Darter is in the "obelisk" position. By raising its tail into a vertical position, it reduces the amount of heat being absorbed from the sunlight. Pretty smart, isn't it?
Slaty Skimmer
Some dragonflies are perch potatoes, while others zoom around so fast I can hardly see them, let alone identify them. These Slaty Skimmers stayed perched on one branch for many minutes. We saw a Wandering Glider, which can sometimes be found hundreds of miles at sea. They migrate north to breed, then the young migrate back south again.
Halloween Pennant
The Halloween Pennant likes to "tee up" on the tips of grasses or cattails. It has really cool little red spots called "stigma" on its wings.
Green Darner Female
As in birds, the female may bear very little resemblance to the male of the species. In fact, the males are so determined to mate with every female they can as often as possible, we learned that the females sometimes have to go hide in the bushes to get away from them. In some species the male can remove the sperm of the previous male to breed with the female, so he has to guard her carefully while she lays her eggs to be assured of fatherhood.
Ebony Neon Damselfly
Damselflies are quite a bit smaller and less active than the dragonflies we saw. The male Ebony Neon is just that - ebony wings and a blue/green iridescent body. The female has white tips on her black wings, and her body isn't as shiny. I knew the damselfly folds its wings when it lands, but I always thought they only had two wings to begin with. Now I know they have four wings of the same size that overlap when folded.
Ebony Neon Damselfly Female
Blue Dasher
The dragonfly scientists only started giving common names recently, but the descriptions are so accurate most of the time. Dashers, Dancers, Skimmers, Gliders, Cruisers, Darners - lots of names with verbs in them. Or else they wanted to compete with Santa's reindeer!
We found one empty shell called an "exuviae" left behind when the larvae emerges as an adult. Unlike butterflies, these dragonflies will molt and shed their exoskeletons 8 to 17 times before reaching adulthood.
At least the dragonflies were large enough to see easily. This little damselfly was only about an inch long, and just about invisible with its wings folded.
We enjoyed the mid-summer flowers as we hiked back to the pond. Queen Anne's Lace attracted this ant too.
And the iron weed is starting to bloom, while the Bob Whites called from the meadow. When we finished with dragonflies, we started to go for them, but when they didn't respond to my whistles, we decided we were too hot and thirsty to hunt for them this afternoon. Maybe another time....

By the way, have any of you bloggers out there started using the new templates, etc offered by Blogger? I looked at some of it and didn't see an option to upload pictures from my hard drive, only from Picasa or a URL. The template designs looked pretty nice though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Flowers and Orchids?

Once again, our friend Richard Lyons, a volunteer at the Falls of the Ohio, led us on an Indiana adventure. We visited Charletown State Park, just down the road from the Falls, and then drove over to the Nature Conservancy's Chelsea Flatwoods in neighboring Jefferson County, IN. Richard had gone to both sites to case out the plants which would be visible, and gave us a list ahead of time. Richard always takes us outside our comfort zone, and today was no different. We forged into the wetlands, careful to avoid twisting our ankles on the mud towers of crayfish, hidden in the green stems, while not falling into stickers and needles of blackberry, greenbriar, and multiflora rose. Meanwhile the sedges with edges grabbed at my pants, wanting to impede my progress towards the road. Honestly, I felt like Katherine Hepburn in the African Queen!
Some flowers, such as this teasel, are common and we saw them almost every time we turned our heads. I learned a new word today - "extirpated." Botanists thought the Creeping Cucumber was completely destroyed in Indiana, (extirpated), but have now discovered several spots of it, included the one we saw at Charlestown State Park. In fact, it looked pretty darn healthy, spreading like crazy where we were.
Square Stemmed Monkey Flower
This Screw Stem popped up in the middle of some Club Moss, and was very hard to focus my camera on since it is short, and has only a narrow stem with almost invisible flowers. It was one of the target plants for the day though. Richard found a fossil of some Club Moss that lived 65 million years ago, when it looked like a large tree. Now it resembles a forest, but one which is no more than 5-6 inches tall! We saw familiar flowers such as this Chickory, and Heal All... ... right next to one unknown to us, the Blackberry Lily, a confused flower if ever there was one. The blossom does resemble something in the lily family, while the leaves look like iris. The seed pod breaks open with, you guessed it, something resembling a blackberry.
I did not test this Purple Headed Sneeze Weed to see if, in fact, it makes you sneeze. I was having enough trouble with all the little seeds that attached themselves to my sweaty arms.
Maryland Meadow Beauty
When I think of orchids, I envision a hot steamy jungle, or a hot steamy hot house, certainly not open meadows in Indiana. We found Ladies Tresses, a small white orchid with blossoms twisting up the stem...
...and the exquisite Fringeless Purple Orchid growing in the open sunshine. Of course, it did feel rather steamy today, but not as much as one would find in the jungle! These small purple orchids look like little angels. When Richard looked earlier, he found one plant blooming, but by today, we saw them every few steps in the easement under the power lines.
Someone's sharp eyes found this scary looking caterpilar. I looked but have been unable to identify it. Any ideas out there? If I were a bird, I'd be reluctant to eat either the end with the sharp looking horn, or those huge eyes. The eyes are at the rear, of course, and the horn is neither sharp nor hard.
We also saw two deer running through the field, away from us, we assumed. But they neared as we watched. The fawn seemed to run just for the joy of it, while his mother tried to bring him back under control. When the fawn saw us, he stopped and called back to Mom to find out what to do next. She, of course, directed him into the nearby brush, where they quickly disappeared from sight.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

I Can FLY Part II

I have seen two of the fledglings together on several occasions. This morning, while eating breakfast, I heard them calling in the back yard and went to take a look. They were at the creek again... ...only this time I saw THREE of them together, jumping into the water to take a bath!
Then another one called from above, waiting his turn in the pool! I quietly slipped out the door, hoping not to spook them, and like any proud Grandma started to take home movies of her darlings!

Tomorrow I'll ask Dick to run the sprinkler hose in the morning. One year another fledgling liked to play in the water from the hose.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I Can FLY!

During the last week of June, we noticed four birds flying from the Cooper's Hawk nest tree. The chicks have fledged!
The gray eyes and vertical stripes on the breast identify these as first year birds. The yearlings will have golden yellow eyes, while the adults have red eyes.
How regal they look, even when they are only a few months old.
Calling is one of their favorite activies. Are they looking for Mom with food or for one of the other siblings?
Flying also lets you drop in for a drink and quick bath in the creek.
I'm always amazed with the miracle of flight. How does these youngsters learn so quickly? Of course, they land and leave without notice so it will be hard to photograph them actually flying. Ah, and the little Ruby Throated Hummingbird came to sip from the Royal Catchfly we planted just for her!