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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Continuous Bloom for Butterflies

When the cool nights and shorter days of late summer arrive, priorities shift dramatically to subjects like white-tailed deer and preparation for winter. Aside from the occasional Monarch flitting about in fields of asters and goldenrods, butterfly photography is an afterthought.

A recent field trip and opportunity to observe butterflies in a cultivated landscape reminded me that there’s still a lot going on in butterfly world! And, most important, a landscape with continuous bloom into late summer can attract and nourish a wide variety of insects at a critical time. The host plants in this post are Sedum (‘Autumn Joy’) and Butterfly Bush.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Sedum (1 of 2)

 

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Red-spotted Purple on Sedum (the red spots are on the underside of the wing)

 

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Sulphur butterfly in a sea of plenty

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Battle-worn Black Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush

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Fritillary on Butterfly Bush

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Monarch on Sedum

Photos by NB Hunter (August 26-27, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

August Colors and Details

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Sub-adult Wood Frog out and about on a rainy day

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White-tail fawn foraging in cultivated fields

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Bumblebee feasting on Touch-me-not (Jewelweed)

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Teasel at ground level, the 6-foot stalk flattened by flood waters 

 

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Clearwing Hummingbird Moth on Phlox (1 of 2)

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Small pool of spring water that has quenched the thirst of 3 dogs during 30 years of trail walking

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White Admiral, wings upright and showing its true colors

Photos by NB Hunter (August, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Meadowhawk Dragonflies

Foraging and perching dragonflies are an entertaining – and valuable – component of wetland landscapes in summer. Meadowhawks like this one (Sympetrum spp.) are smallish and very common, but a male under magnification is a thing of beauty. The mosquito population has exploded during this wet summer, so I hope to see lots of plump, well-fed dragonflies in my travels!

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Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Tree Frogs

Months of unusually wet weather have favored our frog populations. A deafening chorus of slow trills engulfed and entertained me in early June as I fished a favorite trout stream in twilight. They were Gray Treefrogs, breeding males, more abundant and vocal in forested wetlands this year than I can ever remember. Pond edges are now lined with bullfrogs and immature wood frogs are underfoot, even in moist, shaded lawn habitats.

This story centers on the Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) because it’s not well known, is rarely seen, and has the chameleon-like ability to camouflage itself, changing color to match its substrate.

A friend milks his cows on two shifts, the second shift in the dark of the night. The old, neglected milk house (benign neglect of course) is surrounded by weedy shrubs and covered in creeper vines. A small, broken window bridges the exterior jungle with the humid, cave-like environs within. A small stream and wetland habitats are within a stone’s throw of the barn. Textbook frog habitat!

One night a flip of the milk house calendar from July to August exposed a tiny, dark-colored treefrog clinging to August. A Gray Treefrog in typical, drab colors had been exposed!

Days later, I got the call I was hoping for: a green treefrog had been captured in the milk house for me to identify and photograph. It was actually a Gray Treefrog in green camouflage – something I had never seen. Before returning the tiny frog (less than 3 cm long) to the milk house thicket, we placed it on an old wooden silo for portraits. In just a few minutes its feet and lower legs were silo gray! This fascinating little frog is a ninja survivor of the highest order!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fields, Knapweed and Insect Visitors

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Old fields, forest edges and road corridors harbor an impressive variety of summer flowers, many of them alien. Knapweed is one that I have grown to appreciate due to the tremendous insect activity associated with its flowers.  On a hot, muggy summer afternoon it is possible to hear a field of knapweed in full bloom before you see it….bees! I liken the sound to that of the faint hum of traffic on a distant highway.

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I appreciate the importance of this bloom as a food source for bees, and couldn’t walk away from a serving of knapweed honey. However, the main reason I trudge through the matted, thigh-high tangles of knapweed in the mid day heat is butterflies.

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Skipper

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Fritillary

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Painted Lady

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Tiger Swallowtail

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Viceroy

Photos by NB Hunter (late July, 2017). ©All Rights Reserved.

Snakes Around the House

I enjoy working on the house and property in mid summer, when the weather is warm and friendly. And, I’m not alone in my fondness for warm weather. Seventeen species of snakes are endemic to New York State. At least three of them – all nonpoisonous and harmless – live around the house (stone foundation; compost pile; deep, leafy mulch; loose stone walls, etc.). July is their month to see and be seen!

I’m tripping over garter snakes, and every so often get a glimpse of the beautiful, but secretive, milk snake.

They’re in the lawn…

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The firewood pile…

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The blueberry patch…

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And, just this morning, inside the cellar ….. at eye level!

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This milk snake, a young adult about two feet long, was investigating a shelf in the stone foundation of the cellar where sawdust had accumulated during the installation of a furnace vent. Rodents are a dietary staple, so I’m hoping it eats well (and stays in the stone foundation)!

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“The Essence of Wildlife Photography” by Mike Biggs, IN “Whitetail Rites of Autumn” by Charles Alsheimer:

“Wildlife photography consists of a series of repeated attempts by a crazed individual to obtain impossible photos of unpredictable subjects performing unlikely behaviors under outrageous circumstances.”

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.