Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Camouflaged Loopers

This is a perennial favorite of mine, Camouflaged Looper, the larva stage of the Wavy-Lined Emerald Moth.  There are two caterpillars in the photo, one to each side of the central disk.  Camouflaged Loopers commonly feed on the disk flowers of species in the Aster family, so spend much time exposed to view.  In order to look less like a tasty morsel to passing predators, this caterpillar adorns its body with bits of the plant on which it is feeding.  To the casual eye, it looks just like a part of the plant.

At Blue Jay Barrens, Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida, seems to be the plant of choice for this species.  I encourage a large patch of Orange Coneflower to grow outside the front door of my house, so I can enjoy the Camouflaged Loopers through their entire season.

This looper was cleaning its mouth or doing some similar facial area grooming.  I gave it high marks for doing what I thought was a superb Godzilla impersonation.

The above video shows some typical Camouflaged Looper behavior.  If you turn your sound on, you will notice the chatter and buzz of Hummingbirds passing over my head.  My Hummingbird feeders are only about eight feet from me.  I posted a longer version of this film to YouTube which you can view by clicking HERE.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Solitary Sandpiper

Blue Jay Barrens is an excellent example of a xeric environment, meaning that the shallow, well drained soils cause the ground to be exceedingly dry.  It’s always a treat to see a visiting shorebird, since no shores occur here in a typical summer.  Solitary Sandpipers occasionally stop here, but this is the first time I’ve ever been in position to photograph one of these birds.

The flood of July 6 is responsible for a trace of the pond to still be present in early August.  It’s not much more than a large puddle, but it is the type of place a Solitary Sandpiper will go to forage for food. 

The bird seemed to be finding plenty to eat in the shallow water.  Most of what it caught was tiny, but a couple items were large enough that I could discern a dark form disappearing into the bird’s mouth.

Above is one of the videos I shot.  I spent about 20 minutes watching this bird.  Not once during that time did it give any indication that it was concerned with my presence.  About ten seconds into the video, the bird turns a quick 180 in response to a Mourning Dove winging just a few feet over its head. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Silvery Checkerspots

I usually don’t see more than a half dozen Silvery Checkerspot butterflies at Blue Jay Barrens in any one year.  This has been a constant situation for over 30 years, even though we have an abundance of Wingstem, the Silvery Checkerspot’s host plant.  For some reason, Silvery Checkerspots are everywhere this year, and I am enjoying the spectacle.

A couple of days ago, I sat beside a patch of Orange Coneflower that was being visited by about a dozen of the small black and orange butterflies.  I just watched the show for quite a while before turning on the camera.  I had never had any luck getting a good photo of this species, but I knew that was about to change.

After a few minutes, the butterflies resumed their nectaring and chasing activities as though I was just another part of the landscape.  That’s one of the neat things about many animals.  Their brains don’t interpret inanimate objects as threats, so if you can get yourself situated without scaring them away, the animal will soon continue with its normal activities.

The above video shows an interesting behavior associated with nectaring on the coneflowers.  The butterfly would pivot atop the flower head and probe each open floret as it went.  Some butterflies turned clockwise, while others turned the opposite direction.  Individual butterflies that I followed from flower to flower, each turned in the same direction as it had on the previous flower.  My sample size wasn’t large enough to make any valid statistical conclusions, but I began to wonder if butterflies could be right-handed or left-handed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Pulling Teasel

In an effort to eliminate invasive Teasel from my fields, I have taken time each summer during the past several years to remove the ripe seed heads from the Teasel plant.  Results have been positive.  The Teasel population is notably diminished over what it was just three years ago.  Instead of large Teasel patches, I now just have individual plants scattered around the field.  The problem with this control method is that the timing for Teasel seed head removal is critical.  Ideally, the activity should begin when the most mature seed heads are just a couple of days away from dropping their seed.  Beginning too late allows mature Teasel seeds to be lost during the collection process, giving rise to another crop of mature plants in two years.  Beginning too early allows for the possibility that the plants will produce new flowers that will mature before the end of the season and scatter new seed in the field. 

I was determining the progress of Teasel seed production and found most plants to be about a week away from releasing mature seed.  As I looked at the plants, I began to wonder how easily a Teasel plant would pull from the ground.  If I pulled the plant, I would not have to worry about it producing any new flowers.  Pulling would also allow me to begin work earlier in the year and increase my collection window from a few days to a few weeks.  I figured that pulling was worth a try, so I headed for the barn for a pair of heavy work gloves, an absolute necessity if you are going to grapple with a spiny Teasel stalk.

Despite its impressive root system, Teasel turned out to be fairly easy to pull.  There were a few that held tight, so I cut these off at ground level.  I’m betting that the root system won’t be able to produce a new mature plant before cold weather sets in.

The work of plant pulling went much more rapidly than seed head collection ever did and piles of Teasel plants began to line the field edges.  I spent eight hours at the task and searched an area of about 12 acres.  Only about five of those acres actually yielded any Teasel plants.  I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any infestations that I had not yet discovered.

I learned one trick that came in handy, especially in the tall grass areas.  I left one tall Teasel standing in the area that I worked and piled pulled plants at its base.  I then moved on to the next section and did the same thing.  The standing plant allowed me to easily find my cut pile when I was ready to haul the plants out of the field.

This group of ten plants represented a new infestation.  Just beyond the trees in the background is the township road.  A culvert crosses the road at this point and dumps runoff water into the field.  Along with the trash and debris from the road are often a few weed seeds.

All of the collected plants were consolidated into a single pile.  The pile is located at the field edge next to my vegetable garden and is used as a depository for any noxious plants that may drop viable seed.  I pass this pile several times a week and will destroy any undesirable plants that try to grow here.

Even the most developed seed was not near maturity.  The seed shown here has shriveled considerably since the plant was pulled two days ago and may not be viable.

Several of the plants had played host to some type of stem borer.  The borer doesn’t seem capable of killing the plant before seed matures, so it is not likely to be valuable as a control method.

Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were especially numerous in the field.  I scared dozens from the Teasel as I worked.  Fortunately, there are plenty of native wildflowers that the butterflies like just as well.  Pulling Teasel and removing the entire plant turned out to be much quicker and easier than collecting seed heads.  I’ll definitely continue this practice in the future.  At least until I run out of Teasel.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Flood 2017 - Creek Impacts

The July 6 flood certainly had an impact on the creek.  Some sections lost all lose material right down to the bedrock.

Other sections accumulated material brought down from upstream.

Deposition of stone in the creek channel was due to the formation of debris dams that temporarily slowed the speed of the water.  As the water slowed, it lost the energy necessary to carry heavy objects and the gravel dropped out into the creek bed.

Water diverted out of the creek channel carried its sediment load along with it.  A number of sand bars were formed well away from the creek. 

Where the creek left its bed with more momentum, gravel bars were left behind.

There were even a few large flat rocks left stranded far from the creek.

At one bend in the creek the flood water cleaned the face of this bedrock arch.  This feature has never been so easy to view.

Water was deep enough that the meanders in the creek had little effect on the direction of flow.  The current went straight down hill, passing cleanly over every bend and curve in the creek channel.

It was not hard to tell in what direction the water was flowing.  I don’t think a steam roller could have laid these plants down any more than this.  This particular area typically has a nice floral display in late July.  I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

In the broad, flat areas, water depth peaked at between two and three feet.  It’s going to take a couple of years before the visual effects of this flood event begin to disappear.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Flood 2017 - The Storm

Last month I was describing the drought conditions currently being experienced at Blue Jay Barrens. I believe it’s safe to say that that particular period of drought has come to an end. On July 6, Blue Jay Barrens was the recipient of 6+ inches of rain in a period of less than 12 hours. The resulting flood conditions far surpassed anything we have ever experienced here in the past.

The rain began around 1:30 AM and continued until 8:30 AM. During that time approximately 3 ½ inches of rain fell. Our dry soils were able to accommodate most of that water and very little runoff occurred. The weather was clear for the next few hours, until a storm formed over the area around 12:20 PM. During the next hour, 2 ½ inches of rain was added atop soils which had nearly reached their saturation point. Runoff began immediately and the majority of that 2 ½ inches of water flowed overland across the landscape. The video above shows the runoff from a watershed only a few acres in size as it crosses the driveway in front of our house. The video begins during the most intense part of the storm and ends about five minutes after the rain stopped.

Even though I was dismayed at the magnitude of the disaster unfolding before me, I got some pleasure at viewing the scene shown in the photo above. The clear water coming in from the left is flowing from my field that has been managed for the past 30 years as tallgrass prairie. The muddy water to the right comes from neighboring properties and the Township road. When I first bought this property, all of that runoff water would’ve been muddy. It’s nice to see that my management efforts are having some positive effects.

The former access road, now grassed over, carries the excess floodwater past the prairie display garden and dumps it over the bank into the pond. Water from a more normal runoff event would all have gone through the shrubbery to the right.

With the pond’s primary spillway overloaded, water overtops the dam. This is something that has not occurred since I moved here.

During a year with more typical rainfall, the pond would currently be down to just a puddle and raccoons would be devouring the last of the tadpoles. Gray Treefrog tadpoles generally have a poor time of it in the pond. They breed later than most of the other frogs and the tadpoles generally don’t have time to fully develop before the water disappears. This flood event has been a boon to the Gray Treefrog population.

Thanks to all this water, I’ll be seeing many more of these newly morphed Gray Treefrogs during the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wasps and Other Mud Puddle Visitors

During early afternoon on the day before the Toad Pool went dry, I spent a couple of hours photographing visitors to the rapidly shrinking puddle. During this session I concentrated more on short videos than on stills.

A single, newly morphed toad is a couple weeks behind the hoard that emerged from the pool a few weeks ago. This little guy has only been a land dweller for a short time, but it already displays the mannerisms of an adult.  Click HERE for YouTube version.

The most noticeable visitors to the pool were wasps loading up on water. The wasps were light enough to ride the surface tension of the water as they drank.

Several species of paper wasps took advantage of this dwindling water supply. A few mud wasps also flew in, but they all left with only water.  Click HERE for YouTube version.

The paper wasp in this video doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the beetle larva attacking it from the rear. It’s probably a good thing the larva couldn’t get hold of the wasp, or it might’ve been pulled right out of the water.  Click HERE for YouTube version.

A small wolf spider stalked the mud flats.  It was particularly interested in the movement of what appeared to be a small insect near the edge of the pool. What wasn’t immediately obvious was the fact that the small insect was held in the jaws of a much larger aquatic beetle larva.

The spider finally attempts an attack on the small insect, but is driven back when the beetle larva begins to thrash its head. Immediately after the head thrashing, the beetle larva scoops a small bit of mud into his breathing snorkel, located just to the right of the thrashing head, and shoots a mud ball at the place the spider had just been.  An interesting defense mechanism.  Click HERE for YouTube version.

Several butterflies took advantage of the wet mud to imbibe some mineral laden water. The most persistent of these was a common Buckeye.

The temperature at the time this video was made was 93°F and there was a strong wind blowing. You can see the puddling butterfly occasionally buffeted by the wind. I was pretty much baked all the way through by the time I called an end to this photography session.  Click HERE for YouTube version.