Sunday, May 1, 2011

Butterflies and bees and flowers

Paul went with me to the woods this morning, where we saw turtles basking and water snakes slithering, and other fun things. The most photogenic creatures we found, however, were small and delicately winged (i.e., insects).

These two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, for instance, were dancing in the sun on a sandy spit of land jutting out into the lake:

The two butterflies were flitting around and probing the wet sand with their proboscises, a behavior that the internet tells me is called "puddling." Apparently, adult butterflies -- especially males -- suck up nutrients (salts, amino acids, etc.) from wet patches on the ground, and they sometimes congregate in groups while doing this. These are the first swallowtails I've seen this year, and since Tiger Swallowtails hibernate as chrysalises (the internet teaches me so many new things), I'm wondering if these are newly-emerged butterflies. They look so crisp and fresh, and maybe this is their way of stocking up on nutrients before the mating season begins (and before many flowers are open). Such beautiful creatures!

This bumble bee (I don't know the exact species) was dancing around on the forest floor not far away (this photo is courtesy of Paul):

If you look closely at this picture (click to zoom in), you can see that this bee's proboscis is out and active, too -- this little fellow appears to be doing the same thing as the butterflies, dabbing up liquid and nutrients from the damp ground. Is this something that bees usually do?

Strangely enough, both Paul and I were perfectly at ease taking pictures of the bee while it was on the ground, but as soon as it took off into the air and started buzzing around, we jumped back and quickly moved along. I don't think this bee would've hurt us -- or paid any attention to us at all, really -- but I guess we've thoroughly absorbed the idea that we should be as far away as possible from flying, stinging insects. I'm just proud of myself for getting as close to this creature as I did, since I used to be desperately afraid of bees when I was little. Go, me. :P

On the wildflower front, this pretty pale purple/blue violet was blooming in a wet area next to the path. As I've mentioned before, violets can be quite tricky to identify, so with that in mind, my best guess here is that this is a Marsh Blue Violet. This flower doesn't look quite like a normal Common Blue Violet to me, and certainly not like the varieties that grow in my yard. The lighter color and the very tall stems are both characteristics of a Marsh Blue Violet, but apparently the only way to make a sure identification is to look closely at the tiny hairs at the base of the petals, which I didn't do. If this flower is still blooming when I'm in the woods again, I'll take another look at it, but for now I'll just have to stick with my tentative guess.

I took a picture of these white flowers in order to identify them, and it turns out that they're Garlic Mustard, a highly invasive plant introduced from Europe. I'm currently very conflicted about how to interact with invasive plants. I've seen several patches of these plants in the woods, as well as other dangerously invasive species like Japanese Knotweed, and I know that these are plants that grow quickly and crowd out native plants, and that there are initiatives to get rid of them. I feel fairly confident in identifying these plants, but somehow, as much as I'd want to, I'd feel strange pulling them up on state land without permission.... I'm going to look into this further.

On a not-so-exciting note, today was the first day since I found the Great Horned Owl nest three weeks ago that I didn't see the baby owl and/or one of its parents hanging around in the trees. Perhaps the baby's big enough that it doesn't need to stay in one place anymore (especially now that the nest's gone), and maybe the family has moved deeper into the woods. Be well, baby owl -- it was great fun watching you grow up!

UPDATE 5/2/11: I looked more closely at this violet today, and yes, it is a Marsh Blue Violet -- the tiny hairs at the base of its petals are blunt and "club-shaped", which is the distinguishing feature of this flower (other species of violets have pointed hairs, if any at all).

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