Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Butterflies Love Milkweed!

At Silver Sands State Park this morning, I walked past a long stretch of Common Milkweed in full bloom, and I could not believe the variety of butterflies visiting the flowers! (Not to mention bees, and beetles, and more....) Here's a sampling of some of these fancy winged creatures I encountered, all within a few minutes and in a big patch of gorgeously fragrant milkweed blossoms!

Monarchs are always linked to milkweed in my mind, and these big butterflies were around in force:

Are those some gorgeous velvety wings or what? And how about those spots!

A Black Swallowtail was showing off its large wings from above:

And below:

I'm not exactly sure what species of Sulphur this is (genus Colias, either a Clouded or Orange Sulphur), but either way, it's very pretty:

This Common Buckeye was quite dazzling, flashing those big eyespots:

But it became much more demure when it closed its wings:

This Painted Lady, on the other hand, was pretty enough with its wings open:

But my goodness, I cannot get over the fantastic intricacy of this creature's wings when they're closed:

So now I know that when I have a house someday, I will have to make sure there's milkweed all around!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Really Weird (and Less Weird) Bugs

There have been some really strange insects showing up in our yard recently. And by "strange" I mean creatures that I can't immediately put a name to, not even a really broad family name like "bee" or "fly." Take this bug that I found on our front porch this afternoon, for instance:

What in the world is that?! With that long body and those long shiny wings, it looked a lot like a big wasp. It even moved like a wasp, cleaning itself with quick, graceful motions, and starting up at me menacingly when I got too close:

But what are those hard shells in the middle of its back? And those aren't a wasp's antennae, nor is that a wasp's face...

It was actually those square-shaped shells that tipped me off as to what type of insect this creature might be, and pointed me in the right direction toward identifying it. Those shells are elytra, the hardened forewings of beetles that usually cover their entire abdomen. And searching for "beetle with short elytra" led me to the rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) and the probable identification of this creature as the species Platydracus maculosus. It's a beetle! Totally weird!

Another bug that I didn't have even a general name for has shown up in the garden a few times this year, and I spotted it again today:

I don't remember seeing anything like this before, and the body shape seems utterly strange to me. But those long hind legs suggest something in the grasshopper family, and indeed, with some looking around, this turns out to be a nymph (juvenile) of some sort of tree cricket (possibly Neoxabea bipunctata).

Tree crickets are supposed to live, well, up in the trees, so I'm not sure what this little guy is doing in my garden. Maybe it'll stick around as it grows up, and then I can see what an adult tree cricket looks like.

I'd seen a Fishfly (genus Chauliodes) last summer, otherwise I would have also been stumped by this individual who came to our porch lights last week -- what a monster!

And although very familiar to me by now (since there are always a few hunting in my garden), Robber Flies do still bring a certain weirdness factor, especially the big ones:

Finally, I wouldn't call these last bugs "weird" (at least, not in the same sense as all the previous creatures in this post), but their bright colors make them pretty unusual compared to most other insects around here. I like these fancy leafhoppers a lot, so I was happy to see them in the process of making more leafhoppers!

Just when you think you have a handle on bugs, there are always crazy new creatures waiting to appear!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Soggy Day Song Sparrow

Today has been full of rain, rain, and more rain -- it's quite a nice change, actually, from the scorching hot weather of a few days ago. During a brief break in the clouds this afternoon, I took a quick trip out to Southford Falls State Park to take a look around. By the time I got there, the thunder was already sounding again, so I didn't get too far.... But I did get to hang out with this Song Sparrow, who was taking advantage of the momentarily dry weather to come out and explore, just like me:

I will never get tired of seeing these birds -- I think they are just the cutest. And this one seemed particularly sweet, hopping around in the rain-brightened moss and surrounded by spangly grass stalks:

Now it's raining again and we're all safe back in our homes. It's nice to know that even with just a few minutes to spend outside, it's still possible to find interesting things to see. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brown Creatures That Hide in Tall Grass

**Fair warning: I got kind of picture-happy in this post.... This is what happens when I run into two interesting, active creatures I'm not likely to see again anytime soon!**

Have you ever seen a rail? That is, the bird? Clapper Rails are apparently quite common around here, and I've heard them calling several times in the beach-side marshes of Silver Sands State Park. But I'd never actually seen one until this morning:

This Clapper Rail wandered out from under the boardwalk at Silver Sands, right where I happened to be standing, and began an intensive grooming routine:

(Look at those lovely stripey feathers, all puffed out!)

I'm not at all surprised that I've never seen one of these birds before, because their habitat of choice is among tall, thick marsh grass, where they can wander around and eat and breed and stay completely concealed. Their short, dumpy shape and cryptic brown coloring certainly helps them hide!

And for being such a (supposedly) common bird, this creature was drawing quite a bit of attention -- I heard several comments of "What is that bird? I've never seen a bird like that before!" from people passing by. At least I'm not alone!

After a little more fluffing and grooming, the rail started moving off into the marsh, but only after a few good stretches. Streeeetch, you stretchy bird!

With its wings held carefully out like that, I feel like this bird was displaying for its admirers:

(I don't actually know why it was holding its wings that way, but it didn't seem to be injured, so I'll just have to assume it's some quirky rail behavior.) Yes, I know, you're gorgeous:

In the marshes on the other end of the park, a female White-tailed Deer was wandering along:

I've seen deer in this marsh before, but something was different this time.... Is that a tail sticking up out of the grass? And a little wriggling body? OMG, nursing deer baby!

The baby was wandering along with its mother, sticking close and staying remarkably well hidden (for the most part) in the tall grass -- was it taking lessons from the rail?

These deer were very close to the path along the beach, but Mom seemed to know that none of the passing people posed a threat -- she was alert, but confident in their safety:

At one point, Mom spotted me as well, but apparently I wasn't too scary, either:

I cannot get over the cuteness of this baby!

When I left, Mom and Baby were still grazing contentedly. Keep that baby safe!

OK, I'll close this post with one last picture. I saw this scene and just couldn't resist! (No, I don't actually know the people-family... I hope they don't mind playing counterpoint to the Great Egrets!)

Everybody likes the beach. :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Feather-legged Orb Weaver

While I was in the garden the other day, taking pictures of bugs, I noticed a small spider web tucked away under a leaf. Hanging in the center of the web was what looked at first glance like a dried leaf, or possibly a stray bit of bark:

On closer inspection, that "leaf" turned out to be two things: a female Feather-legged Orb Weaver (Uloborus glomosus), and her marvelously constructed egg sack. This spider is totally awesome, and I love her stealthy camouflage skills! Posed carefully like that, I don't think I would have looked at her twice if I hadn't already been in the habit of examining little things closely. (I also love her feathery boots!)

After a few minutes of watching her, a small fly flew into her web, and my new spider friend broke her cover to quickly dash over and wrap up her catch:

When I accidentally bumped the web's supports, though, she immediately snapped back into dead-leaf-mode. Nope, no spider here!

But she soon got bold again (or the fly was too tempting), and turned back into a spider to carry the bug to her earlier resting place and finish wrapping it up:

And now she could relax and keep watch over her brood while also munching on a snack:

Ah, that's the life!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Garden Bugs Up Close

Well, the garden's up and thriving, which means that there will (hopefully) be yummy food in our future. It also means that there's a whole jungle of amazing tiny creatures right outside our door! I've been taking my macro lens out into the garden for the past few days to put it through its paces (and try to learn how to really use it), and I've seen some very cool bugs in the process. Here's a sampling!

Long-legged Flies (family Dolichopodidae) are very common in our garden -- small hunters zooming around and sporting iridescent costumes in green or orange. The hunting must be good here, because so many of these creatures were munching on smaller bugs when I saw them, including this one:

This next Long-legged Fly seems to me to be striking a heroic pose -- off on an adventure, are we? (I admit that I'm probably crazy for thinking this.)

Another winged hunter, this larger Robber Fly (family Asilidae) paused on a sunny rock between flights:

And a small pretty beetle (species unknown) watched me from its mint-leaf platform:

Do you want to see an aphid up close?

We have Flea Beetles on our potato plants, but thankfully not enough to do any serious damage -- they just leave a few tiny pin holes in the leaves and pose for dramatic pictures:

This little Potter Wasp (possibly Parancistrocerus perennis) was inspecting the area:

And a leafhopper (family Cicadellidae) tried to hide behind a stem:

Speaking of leafhoppers, this Red-banded Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) was absolutely the fanciest thing around:

I love that we have these gorgeous little creatures here -- they look like they should be somewhere tropical, not in my back yard:

This individual was very patient with me, and eventually I left it in peace in its nice hiding spot beneath the potato buds (where it seemed to practically glow in the shade):

I had to go back to a regular lens to take a picture of this last creature -- a lovely big Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), a type of damselfly, and identifiable as a female because of those white spots on her wings:

I've been seeing one of these creatures in the garden for several days in a row now -- could it be the same individual? Perhaps she's also finding the garden to be a good place to hunt. Such a pretty girl:

I have one more garden bug (well, spider) to share, but she's just too cool and so will need her own post. Stay tuned!