Mating Wheels

I’ve learned to expect the unexpected during late summer excursions to wetlands and sluggish waters. A recent trip in search of large subjects like snapping turtles and beavers resulted in just the opposite: macro photography of insects in the order Odonata. Conspicuous dragonfly and damselfly activity caught my attention and the discovery of mating pairs in the characteristic “mating wheel” formation was a nice surprise.

Territorial fighting among breeding males is fierce. The tattered wing of this Common Pondhawk may be battle scars.

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Common Pondhawk defending its mating territory

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Mating pair of Common Pondhawk dragonflies 

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Mating pair of damselflies

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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Pond Life

Small, warm-water ponds are a nice change of pace and delightful mid-summer escape.

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Adult merganser and snapping turtle at rest… young mergansers might be a meal for this snapper!

Last week I was invited to a private woodland pond to observe and photograph a family of beavers. There was plenty of time to spare in between beaver sightings and I soon became entranced with the cold blooded creatures hunting the shoreline and shallow waters. Most prominent were the bullfrogs. Dozens dove into the pond from the weedy bank as I scouted the water.  Soon after I had taken a seat and steadied the camera, they began to pop up to the surface, bulging eyes announcing their presence.

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Huge dragonflies were patrolling the waters with grace and beauty. This one stopped on a dime and hovered in front of me, seemingly to show off its amazing flying skills and pose for documentation.

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An adult beaver finally appeared on a far bank. It had been foraging in a thicket above the water line and would soon be heading back to the lodge with a freshly cut tree branch to feed its young.

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A conversation about beaver and the aquatic habitats that they create is incomplete without mention of the Red-spotted Newt. Two of the three stages of the complex life cycle of this salamander are dependent on clean, quiet waters like beaver ponds. The middle stage, an immature adult (“Red Eft”), is terrestrial. They inhabit the moist, shaded habitat of the forest floor and can be found wandering around at any time of the day or night.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Patrolling the Airways

The dragonflies of late summer. We patrol the same meadow trails and fields and have frequent encounters. I plod along in search of a good image, while they perform what appear to be impossible aerial maneuvers as they forage on mosquitoes and other tiny insects.

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer at rest

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Aquatic Habitats in Summer

Late July in Central New York is usually hot and dry and this year is no exception. Water levels in wetlands and surface waters are at a seasonal low, exposing habitats and life processes not visible at other times.

Dragonflies like this male Widow Skimmer are extremely active, foraging on the wing for tiny insects.

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Avian predators – shorebirds, herons and kingfishers – capitalize on the availability of prey in exposed mud flats and shallow waters.

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“Soft Landing”

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Another avian predator can be seen hunting for prey above the water’s surface rather than below it. Clouds of tiny mayflies (“Tricos”, short for the genus Tricorythodes), pulsating over the riffles of cool, alkaline streams, are fair game for small flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

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A “Trico” trapped in a spider web during the morning hatch; the Trico body is 3-4 mm long

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Tricos in a web

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“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond the point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”   – Sandra Postel

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Meadowhawks

Patrolling the airways with uncanny maneuverability and precision, foraging dragonflies provide entertaining insights into the world of insect predation throughout the summer and early fall.

Warm, sunny afternoons in August and September are prime time for Meadowhawk (Sympetrum spp.) activity. This one, perched on the tip of a blackberry cane, darted away so quickly that I couldn’t follow its flight. In a second or two it returned to the perch, munching on a tiny winged insect – in all likelihood a mosquito.

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Summer’s End

Some memories of late summer, fresh and vivid as ever; memories of fields, forests, streams … and precious friends along the way.

An Anglewing butterfly, Eastern Comma, on Panicled Aster

Eastern Chipmunk perched high up in a wild apple tree

Wild apples; a bumper crop with limbs bending, and sometimes breaking, under the load

Perching dragonfly (Meadowhawk), highlighted by a background of New England Aster blossoms

Thistle in a slight breeze

Monarch butterfly visiting New England Aster

A mountain stream, dead for decades from coal mine acid pollution, now with a heart beat due to massive, long-term clean-up efforts.

Cow elk, part of a family group of 4 (excluding the rutting, 7 x 7 heard bull that is keeping an eye on them); Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd.

“Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”   – Pope Francis

“Pennsylvania Wilds”

Ralph Harrison 1928-2015: forester, conservationist, forest historian; the father of the Pennsylvania elk herd; a friend and mentor for 43 years. ……………..   In loving memory.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.