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.

Wet Meadows in Early Summer

Seasoned wet meadow habitats are usually a tangle of shrubs and herbaceous plants in a mosaic of thickets and openings. They’re transitional habitats, evolving from grassy, weedy meadows to woodlands. A dominant, overstory tree canopy is absent, although increasing numbers of young trees forecast a very different landscape in the decades to come. Wet meadows are places where one is likely to get wet or muddy feet, even when it hasn’t rained for awhile. They’re also places that support rich wetland communities of plant and animal life, all begging to be observed and photographed!

These images were all captured last week while exploring  just a few acres of wet meadow habitats.

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Baltimore Checkerspot on Birdsfoot Trefoil; the primary host plant for caterpillars is Turtlehead, a wetland wildflower

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Virginia Ctenuchid moth on dogwood; Silky and Red-osier Dogwood are dominant shrubs in aging wet meadows and important wildlife habitat

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The Browns or Satyrs are signature butterfly species in wetlands; adults feed at bird droppings and sap flows – not flowers

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer, a common hunter in open habitats

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Swamp Milkweed, a popular source of nectar in wetlands

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Northern Pearly-eye, resting on a favorite tree in the transitional zone between wet meadow and forested swamp.

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Baltimore Checkerspot

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Blue Dashers

Dragonflies have much in common with birds, including flight, insect predation and sexual dimorphism. This post illustrates the latter. The male and female Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) are so different in their markings and coloration that they can easily be mistaken for separate species (I can’t go public with the number of times I’ve done that!).

I posted an image of the male yesterday and will include another, along with a female, to provide a striking example of sexual dimorphism.

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Blue Dasher, female

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Blue Dasher, male

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.