Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wild child

I recall receiving a greeting card at my high school graduation, with the introduction, "For someone outstanding in their field," only to open it and find a sketch of a small person standing neck deep in grass under a wide sky. How I chuckled.
But, I find myself out, standing in my field, a lot these days--as the summer brings on the next wave of wildlife--the moths and butterflies.

While not too many insects can tolerate the toxic and sticky latex of the milkweed, caterpillars of the Milkweed Tussock moth have made a meal of it. These social eaters move from leaf to leaf as a group, leaving nothing but the skeletonized remains.

In days, they'll begin to resemble these tufted black and orange caterpillars of last summer.

Such a wild child, slipping into the unnoticed life of a drab adult--a silvery brown moth I've never seen.

So many others become more striking.

Common Buckeye

Little Wood-Satyr

Spicebush Swallowtail

Great Spangled Fritillary

Silver-Spotted Skipper

I never realized, years ago, how much truth was hidden behind the humor in that verse.
How, almost every day, it would be there, that my greatest satisfaction would be found.
Out, standing in my field.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Click photos to enlarge

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The weatherman's forecast is written in bold, sizzling red letters--HOT.
I'm thankful that the woods have grown dense.
Within, they are still and cool.

We glide quietly upon water.
Far beyond the sunny beaches and the boaters.
Past thickets of horsetails.
Until the vines grow everywhere and it looks as if we should stop.

It is there, in the stillness of a shady bank, they rest.
Ebony jewelwings--bright bodies below black.
Cool and lovely.

American Lotus

Horsetails along bank

Cowan Lake backwater

Ebony Jewelwing

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Bees aren't the only ones

It frustrates me when I cannot identify what I see.
I have an ever-growing collection of field guides at my fingertips, from a life spent walking, watching and wondering. And access to internet resources that nicely bridge the gap between the curious watcher and one who is the technically proficient scientist.

But, still, from time to time I encounter the unidentifiable.
Something which is odd enough to escape my naming it;
interesting enough to not be forgotten until I do.

I found these “caterpillars” on a Black Walnut leaf last week, and watched and wondered over them for a day before returning them to the tree in the yard—unidentified. My photo library left holding an image labeled simply, “fuzzy white.”
I could only hope to encounter them again, perhaps by then, looking more like a photo from my butterfly guide.

Several days later, these small, red-eyed, bushy-tailed creatures, not much larger than a breadcrumb perched on the bent stem of Queen Anne’s lace in the grassy field.

According to my guide, Planthopper nymphs, their tails formed of waxy filaments much like the residue left at their feeding sites and sometimes covering the adults’ wings as a waxy bloom. They feed in groups on sap of many woody shrubs and trees, different stages head to tail along the tender stalks.

Flatid Planthoppers

Just this weekend, while hiking an hour from here, we stopped on a steep grade to catch our breath—taking in the scenery, while taking in more air.
The ground beneath our feet was hard and dotted with finger-sized holes. How these woods must have rung weeks ago with the song of cicadas, emerging after feeding for 17 years beneath the earth, to breed in the large trees above us.
Beside me, I noticed what seemed to be a thickening on the slender gray branches of a young Beech.

A denseness that looked rough and lumpy.
And movement--as thousands of small white cottony pom-poms waved in a rolling order from the tip of the branch, as I touched it, to the trunk.

Too tiny to see in the dimness of the woods, but revealed in photos taken, colonies of woolly aphids—the summer generation, wingless.
The cottony substance, once again, wax. Secreted from small pores into threadlike strands adorning each one.

And as I scrolled past images of planthoppers, scale insects and aphids in my attempt to name these interesting insects I’d found-- there they were.
My “fuzzy whites.”

Butternut Woollyworms, the larval stage of a Sawfly. Not a caterpillar at all.
The white filaments covering his soft body?
Yes, wax.

Click photos to enlarge.
More information about woolly aphids can be found here.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008


The field is still.
The coolness that settled in last night lingers.

And all slumber beneath a heavy blanket of dew.

I love a morning like this--before the grasses start to sing and the trees ring with cicadas.
For what I hope to find is still here, resting in the quiet of the field.

Common Green Darner

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Dog-day Cicada

It's almost as if they've been charmed.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008


There's a pest in my garden, though I never see him.

He leaves me subtle reminders that he's there.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008


I like teasel, though I probably should not.
Its spiny stem and tall spiked heads stand in our field year ‘round—turning woody and brown as summer fades.
Rising head and shoulders above all others, its form, a constant and easily recognized silhouette.

Brought here from Europe in the 1700s, teasel is now considered invasive in North America, often displacing the other native field flowers and growing in large, dense stands.
But the wildlife it draws to its unusual character I love—from the nectaring butterflies of summer to the seed-eating birds of fall and winter.

A band of tiny light purple flowers opens around the center of each spiked oval head, then spreads in a wave outward, as new flowers open toward the top and bottom, creating 2 rings.
They paint a lavender haze over the rising green tips of goldenrod.
And catch the heavy heads of Queen Anne.

Yes, I like teasel quite a lot.
It seems I'm not the only one.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hit and Run

Summer grasses grow tall at the edge of our single-lane road. Their faded heads, heavy with seeds, lean gracefully toward the pavement. The path is narrow, and much of it is winding, with sharp curves that demand a slower speed. But, on the straight and open stretches, cars fly.
The homes here are set back from the road.
And what surrounds them has grown wild and free.

I stood nose to nose with a pick-up truck at the stop sign on the corner yesterday. He turned onto our lane and sped off, ahead of me, until I could no longer see him.
I’m sure he didn’t have time to stop, if he saw her at all.
For, I found her fluttering on the pavement just seconds later.
A Brown Thrasher, like one of the pair I’d seen earlier that morning on our lawn, down the road, near the woods’ edge.

I lifted her with cupped hands and folded them around her--quieting her wings, shielding her face from what I knew must be horribly frightening, though I knew it would not help.
Moments later, within the darkness of my hands, she lay still.

She rests, now, with tall grasses around her.
Where the pavement ends and her world begins.

It would seem, a life lived wild and free deserves, at the very least, that.

Moth Mullein against Chicory

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