Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Wildflowers and Some Bugs (of course!)

Now that summer is in full swing, I wanted to post a list of what was in bloom. There are lots of bigger, showier flowers growing in the sunny, open areas of the preserve and smaller, yet just as beautiful flowers thriving in the cool and dark woods. Wildlife watching opportunities abound around these flowering buffets. And not just of the insect kind! Hummingbirds and other avians are frequent visitors. Amphibians and reptiles can be a surprise find too, whether it is a small spring peeper or gray tree frog hiding on a leaf or a quick leopard frog darting through the grass. Enjoy this photo montage of flora and fauna and check out the "in bloom" list at the bottom of the post!

Queen Ann's Lace


 Swamp Milkweed


Obedient Plant

Purple Coneflower

False Sunflower

Sweet-scented Water Lily

Next up is the wildlife!

This isn't an insect, it's an arachnid! A Six-spotted Fishing Spider to be precise. These are really cool animals; they can dive under water to catch a yummy fish to eat.

 Here is a small spring peeper resting on a Monarda leaf.

 Check out this beautiful baby Milk Snake we found! We gave him his "close up", then let him go.

You didn't think I was going to let you get away without a couple of insect photos, did you? 

 A small native bee working hard at collecting pollen and nectar on the Monarda. If you look closely at the picture you may notice the white glob of pollen on the last leg.

 Here is a Slender Spreadwing Damselfly, Lestes rectangularis. Note the incredibly blue eyes.

Flowers currently in bloom... 
Sweet-scented Joy-pye Weed
Lizard's Tail
Orange Milkweed
Sweet-scented Water Lily
White and Blue Vervain
Swamp Milkweed
False Sunflower
Obedient Plant
Horse Balm
Enchanter's Nightshade
Hog Peanut
Naked-flowered Tick Trefoil
Common Milkweed
White Sweet Clover
Trumpet Creeper
Queen Ann's Lace
Purple Coneflower

Sunday, July 6, 2014

175 Square Feet

Today's post is going to focus on our butterfly nectar garden out in front of the Nature Center.

This space was created back in 2003 and planted with native prairie species of wildflowers. Over time, the composition has changed a bit and other species of plants have made their home here as well. Currently, there are at least (but probably more) 30 different species of plants growing within this space. The garden only measures about 8 feet by 22 feet. Not a huge space. Also, it is not isolated. As you can see in the above picture, it connects to historic plantings near the Nature Center.

Here are a couple of pictures during its construction:

One of the plants included in the seed mix was Thin-leaved Coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba. For the first few years, this plant became one of the dominant plants in the garden.

Here is a closer look at the flower. It is a composite just like a daisy or purple coneflower and attracts lots of great bees, flies and other pollinators.

As other plants came into their own, a more balanced composition emerged.  There are wonderful flowers in the garden including Monarda sp., Purple Coneflower, False Sunflower, Orange Butterflyweed, Wild Petunia, Ironweed, and several Silphium sp. such as Whorled Rosinweed. The star of the the garden may be the Royal Cathcfly.

Does all of this bloom in profusion every year? Well, no. It depends on what the deer choose to eat each year. One year, they ate most of the Monarda. The past couple of years they've eaten much of the purple coneflowers and the cup plants. But, there are still plenty of things that boom and attract a wide variety of animal life....besides the deer.

All this diversity equals a diverse animal component. Let's take a look at some of the really cool stuff we can find just in this 175 square feet of space.

A Daddy Long-legs delicately perches on top of the Bee Balm. While related to spiders this creature is not a spider himself. He only has one body part, is incapable of making silk, and does not possess venom.

Beetles can be pollinators too. This beetle is very small, only a few millimeters. I was not able to figure out what family this beetle belongs to. There were several out there. Beetles have chewing mouthparts and some feed on pollen and nectar. Not sure if this is the case with this particular beetle.

Flies can be effective pollinators. Many kinds of flies are bee and wasp mimics. This fly is in the family Sarcophagidae. This family has many different kinds of niches, but adults commonly feed on nectar and other sweet sources of food.

This little habitat created by these garden plantings not only provide food sources but supplies for nest building. The leaves on this grape vine have been heavily foraged by leaf-cutter bees. These solitary native bees cut nearly circular pieces of leaves to use in the construction of nest chambers for their young. 

Here is a classic scene - a native bumble bee foraging for nectar at the Monarda.

Other animals take advantage of the rich food supply for others and lay in wait to catch and eat them! This true bug is hiding well. He may get a good meal today.

This habitat also provides resting places for animals. There were several lightening bugs (actually beetles) just hanging out in the foliage.

Here is another cool fly. This is a flower fly belonging to the family Syrphidea. I believe this one is the common oblique syrphid, Allograpta obliqua. These flies feed on pollen and nectar as adults and are one of the most common kinds of flies that can be found on flowers.

Composite flowers such as this False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides make for excellent sources of pollen and nectar. Here we see the aforementioned unidentified beetle along with a native solitary bee.

Taking a rest and warming up in the sun, is this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly.

Here is a small short-winged grasshopper, family Acrididae, blending in oh so well with his surroundings.

This ambush bug, subfamily Phymantinae, will do just as his name says to catch food. This one is sitting on a fleabane flower.

Much more familiar to us are the colorful butterflies that visit flowers to drink nectar. Here is a fresh great spangled fritillary on the Monarda. These butterflies require violets as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Another common visitor to summer wildflowers is this silvery spotted skipper. One of the larger skippers this one is pretty easy to identify due to the large white or silvery spot on the hind wing. Look for caterpillars of this butterfly on locust and other legumes.

I hope you enjoyed this little foray in our nectar garden. I want you all to know that all the pictures of creatures were taken over just two days. I spent about an hour and a half total to find all these amazing creatures. Also, each and every one of the animals showcased here were actually in the confines of the nectar garden. So much diversity! As the garden continues to produce more flowers as the season progresses, there will be even more cool stuff to find in just 175 square feet of nature.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rhododendron in Bloom!

The beautiful native rhododendron is finally in bloom. Big, white blossoms with just a tinge of pink before they open make these flowers particularly appealing. Although there are not a huge amount of blooms this year, there are enough to make your day. Come on out and see them before they wilt away!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Small, Green, Orchid

Our next orchid in bloom is not one I have been able to share with you before. There are a couple of reasons. One, the place where is grows has been too far off the trail to have visitors take a look at it. Also, it is so small that until this year I was unable to photograph it. Now, we have the wonderful 100mm macro lens for our camera and the part of the Casa Burro trail that was moved got us closer to the orchids. Yea! So, what orchid are we talking about?

Adder's Mouth Orchid, Malaxis unifolia. This orchid is very small, very green, and very hard to see. And, like many of our native orchids, if you're not really into them, you may find it hard to appreciate this one!

They have just started to bloom, so you should have some time to see them. Just ask one of us Naturalists for directions on where to find them. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dragons and Damsels

Happy first full day of Summer! Let's celebrate by taking a closer look at some amazing creatures....Odonates! Odo-what? Odonata is the order of dragonflies and damselflies. These incredible insects are colorful, interesting, and fascinating. They have amazing adaptations for catching their food, securing mates, and avoiding predators. Let's start by looking at the differences between dragonflies and damselflies.

Left: male eastern pondhawk Erythemis simplicicollis

Right: male Violet Dancer Argia fumipennis violacea

On the left is a dragonfly. Note the thicker body and outstretched wings. The damselfly is on the right. This guy has a very slender body and the wings are held folded over the top of the body. These are general ways to tell the difference between them. Also, in general dragonflies will be larger than their cousins. Of course, there are exceptions.

This is a female elegant spreadwing damselfly Lestes inaequalis. As you can see it holds its wings out flat like a dragonfly. These are also some of the largest damselflies you may encounter. This particular species can range in length from 1.8 inches to 2.3 inches.

Sometimes identification can be challenging especially when looking at an immature adult. Upon emerging from the water as an adult, the dragon or damsel may not have the full flush of color that it will eventually get when ready to mate. A good example of this is with the common whitetail dragonfly Libellula lydia. Take a look at the next three pictures.

The top photo is of a mature male common whitetail. The middle photo is of the immature male, and the bottom picture is female whitetail. 

Next up we have two of our most common damselflies. The topmost picture is of a male fragile forktail, Ischnura posita. Note his "exclamation point" on the top of his thorax. 

 Next up is his cousin the eastern forktail, Ischnura verticalis. This is a male also and I apologize for the blurry picture. I tried and tried to find another to photograph, but no luck! This guy has solid green stripes on his thorax and a blue spot at the end of the abdomen.

Also an eastern forktail this beauty is an immature female. Too bad she doesn't stay this color!

She ends up a powdery blue. Not bad, but I like the orange better! (side note: the mature female fragile forktail looks very similar and the ID on this pic is really just my best guess.)

One species of damselfly really outshines all the rest, at least here at Wahkeena. Ebony jewelwings, Calopteryx maculata can be seen fluttering along the woodland edges near the old garden and near the parking lot. What better way to enter the preserve! The top photo is of the male and the bottom photo is of the female. Note the white dots on the top edge of her wings. This area of the wing is call the stigma, and the color of it can be helpful in identifying dragons and damsels.

The last damselfly I have a picture of is a male skimming bluet, Enallagma geminatum. There are many different kinds of bluet species and as a group can be difficult to tell apart. Luckily, this species has a distinct marking near the thorax that makes the ID easier.  All Odonates are fierce predators and if you happen to be a mosquito, watch out!

 Heading back to the bigger and often more colorful dragonflies, next is a female black saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. These are large, handsome dragonflies and you can see how they got their name.

Another large and conspicuous dragonfly is the slaty skimmer, Libellula incesta. Pictured is a male. These are fairly easy to photograph as they tend to come back to the same perch after making the rounds of their territory.

I would have to say that this dragonfly is the most common one we see flying along the edges of the pond during the summer. This is a male blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis. Although smaller that the slatey skimmer, they too are good perchers and make for easy photography subjects. 

When in flight, this next species could be confused with the dasher we just looked at. This guy is the eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. I tend to notice the females and immature males of this species more than the mature male like the one pictured below.

This is an immature male eastern pondhawk. The females look similar.

One of the earliest dragonflies to be on the wing in the spring is the common baskettail, Epitheca cynosaura. When they first emerge I often see them in sunny spots in the woods. 

Lastly, here is a male and female spangled skimmer, Libellula cyanea. Both of them are quite striking, especially sporting those bright white stigmas.  The male is reminiscent of the slaty skimmer but a little lighter blue and again the white stigmas are very obvious even in flight.
This female is adorned with yellow and black on here abdomen and the tips of her wing look like they were dipped in ink!

I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of Odonata. If this has peaked your interest at all in these amazing creatures join us on July 12 for a Dragonfly and Damselfly workshop hosted by Bob Glotzhober. Reservations are required and you can find out additional information about the workshop by clicking here.