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.

Meadow Macros

Flower Spider (Goldenrod Spider, Red-spotted Crab Spider) on Knapweed

Sulphur on Chicory

Red-tailed Bumble Bee on Goldenrod

Wood Nymph on Knapweed

Jewelweed (Touch-me-not)

Sulphur on Goldenrod

Cucumber Beetle on Aster

Viceroy on Goldenrod

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Hunting Quiet Waters

Earlier this summer I was walking the towpath of a small canal, wondering what I might discover in the heat of the late morning sun.

A young couple and their dog on a seldom used section of towpath trail – one of my favorite places

Nothing caught my fancy so I plopped down on a massive stone abutment, the remains of a 19th century aqueduct. The quiet, spring-fed canal water a few feet below soon showcased some of its many treasures. Miniature predators roamed the duckweed, lily pads and surface film. The activity was unpredictable and, at times chaotic – several species flying, darting, swimming, skating and swirling in all directions, in and out of sunshine and shadow.

Bluets are “pond damsels” and are common around still, sluggish waters and wetlands. They perch horizontally and hunt on the wing. Mosquitoes are fair game.

Damselfly (Bluet) at rest on a lily pad

Damselfly (female Bluet) laying eggs on aquatic vegetation

I once discovered a Water Strider while leading a group of 4th graders on a nature walk and paused to ask if anyone knew what it was. Water Strider!!! They all knew it immediately – a large group of 10-year-old kids, common knowledge. Inhabitants of still waters throughout North America, these fascinating insects dart around on the surface film with amazing speed, feeding on tiny aquatic organisms like mosquito larvae.

Water Strider (and reflection) on the surface film

Other common names include “Skaters” and “Jesus Bugs” (of course — walk on water!).

Water Strider on the surface film in bright, reflected light – underexposed for special effects

Oval, blackish Whirligig Beetles motor around on the surface film like wind-up toys on steroids. Compound eyes allow them to see above and below the film, a nifty adaptation for finding prey and avoiding head-on collisions with obstacles.

Whirligig Beetle (bottom center) pausing briefly on the surface film above a lily pad

A whirling Whirligig Beetle causing concentric circles in the surface film

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Mid Summer Nectaring

Fritillaries on Milkweed

Fritillary on Milkweed

Fritillary on Monarda

Tiger Swallowtail on Day Lily

Tiger Swallowtail on Day Lily

Photos by NB Hunter 20July2015. All Rights Reserved.

Wildflowers: Summer Pinks

Early summer walks invariably lead me to summer pink: pinkish wildflowers in full bloom. Many are alien and occur in abundance along roadsides and waste places, but some are native, with specialized site requirements.

Herb-Robert; a native Geranium; moist, rocky woodland sites

Everlasting Pea; alien; roadsides

Wild Basil

Swamp Milkweed; locally common around wetland habitats

Swamp Milkweed

Musk Mallow; common weed

Queen-of-the-Prairie on the edge of a cattail marsh; a rare occurrence in the Northeast; native to the central and east-central part of the U.S.; wetlands; threatened or endangered status in 6 states where native.

Tiger Swallowtail on Knapweed

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wetlands: Like a Box of Chocolates

My early summer haunts are mostly wetlands: swampy places, vernal pools, undeveloped canals and small ponds.

Cattails, lilies and swarming insects at the edge of a Leland Pond swamp

These habitats are indeed like a box of chocolates. I never know for sure what I’ll find, and each experience is uniquely rewarding.

One of the more common predators in wetlands and sluggish waters: the Snapping Turtle. This one was foraging in the quiet, weed-choked waters of the Chenango Canal and is heading for shallow water near shore (and me).

A snapper basking in the midday sun along the edge of a farm pond; MSC Equine Rehabilitation Center

Family of Wood Ducks, adult female and young; Chenango Canal

I travel light and walk and stalk a lot, but also stop and get comfortable when things are slow. Detailed landscapes in the foreground then become the center of attention.

Fragrant Water Lily and damselfly (Bluet)

Green Frog in a tiny, seasonal pool

Swamp Milkweed on the edge of a cattail marsh

Following up on a tip from a former student, a midday excursion to a small pond at the Morrisville State College Equine Rehabilitation Center provided me with a rare opportunity to observe the foraging behavior of a Green Heron. Small fish, frogs and tadpoles are dietary staples; in this instance, tadpoles (probably Bull Frog) were the main target.

A happy heron, with fresh tadpole for lunch

Common Elderberry, approaching full bloom; thrives in open, moist habitats

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Swallowtail Delight

It wasn’t all that long ago that I walked late summer meadows, mesmerized by the colorful show of monarch orange on goldenrod yellow. The event was predictable, and I took it for granted. The monarchs are mostly gone now, the curtain nearly closed. In later years, I read of the threatened status of Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies in a more southern state but, this time around, I did not take my frequent personal encounters with the species for granted. I captured everything – food plants, caterpillars, perching adults, feeding adults, and mating adults. A lesson had been learned. Butterflies are indicators of environmental health, particularly habitat degradation and loss, and many species are vulnerable. I now feel a sense of urgency when observing butterflies, and am compelled to seize the moment with a visual recording.

Currently, Tiger Swallowtails, a common butterfly in areas with deciduous trees and shrubs, are actively feeding on the nectar of Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee that has become very prominent and widespread in natural areas. I searched the bloom for butterfly activity in mid to late morning (prime time), trying to capture elements of the erratic, fluttering flight pattern and vibrant coloration of these beautiful butterflies.

Click on an image and let’s go nectaring!!!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Spring Highlights, 2015

This post is for the eye specialists of Central New York, the surgeons and their wonderful supporting cast who I have gotten to know all too well over the past 6 months. I must be nice to them, because our journey isn’t over yet.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)

The month of June began with Dave and I disconnecting from the outside world, tent camping and fly fishing for trout in a “dead zone” in the mountains. We’ve been doing this for a long time. The destination, campsite and length of stay haven’t changed, but the journal entries are never redundant and each trip is better than the last.

Destination: a freestone trout stream in a mountainous, forested watershed

Camp life is a trip treat in and of itself, but the main objective of these adventures is to float a fake bug high and dry so it drifts, bobs and skitters with the current, drag-free….and fools a trout. Fly fishing is a repetitive process, a fluid continuum of false casting, presentation, catch and release (on the good days). The rod becomes an extension of the arm, and the stream an endless source of pleasant sights, sounds and expectation.

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Green Drake mayfly (Ephemera guttulata) drifting along on the surface film; a favorite in the diet of trout

A parachute dry fly, one of many imitations of the Green Drake. To the human eye, an insult to the fragile beauty of the real thing. But, it works, seriously.

We fish for hours on end, especially when the trout are “looking up” and can be tricked into taking one of our flies. However, there are also windows of opportunity for exploring and photographing.

In this part of the world, Wild Columbine thrives in the moist soils and partial sunlight along forested mountain roads. Rocky woodlands, rock outcrops and ledges are also suitable habitat.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Late spring marks the onset of butterfly season, and in these extensive deciduous forests the activity can lead to a sensory overload. Virtually everything in bloom is visited by nectaring butterflies, and swarms of puddling butterflies are a common sight. Damp, sunlit sites with exposed mineral soil – such as roadside mud puddles – sometimes attract dozens of butterflies. Swallowtails are the featured attraction, but a half dozen or more species may be involved. The visitors are mostly males, searching for soil minerals that might enhance reproductive success.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) nectaring on Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Tiger Swallowtails (and other butterfly species) puddling on on a muddy site

A Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) searching for a suitable place to puddle. The iridescent hindwing and spoon-shaped tails are diagnostic.

Spicebush Swallowtail probing damp soil for minerals

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fleabane (Erigeron)