Wednesday, July 29, 2015

red-banded hairstreak ~~ stalking butterflies at the conservancy

Several species of the gossamer-wing butterflies can be found in the area. They are about the size of your thumb nail or smaller, but each is striking in appearance. The tiny butterflies which generally flutter around closer to the ground looking like crazy flashes of blue are the more common azures and tailed-blues. One of their less common cousins surprised me at my front door yesterday -- a red-banded hairstreak.

The rarer juniper hairstreak has been reported at the Mount Pleasant section of the Howard County Conservancy. Some members of our butterfly survey group met there last Saturday to look for butterflies, and we counted dragonflies, too, as part of a county survey of those insects being held that day. We didn't see any juniper hairstreaks, but we found another gossamer-wing, the American copper. Much more abundant were the larger butterflies, especially the swallowtails -- very encouraging to see after concerns about lower numbers. The group counter 35 tiger swallowtails. A much lower count for monarchs was made -- 7 in all -- but that's a few more than the one I have seen in Town Center so far this summer.

I took a lot of photos of the Conservancy walk, including some scenery and a couple of the few dragonflies spotted there. Here is a link to an album on Flickr: Butterfly and Dragonfly Walk

Friday, July 24, 2015

today's phreaky photo

I went looking for butterflies, but I found a wheel bug instead.

You really don't want one of these bugs biting you. They rarely bite people, but if they happen to land on you and bite, the very painful wound takes a long time to heal. The "biting" appendage is usually used on prey, which can include butterflies and caterpillars. Wheel bugs are still a beneficial part of the ecosystem because of some of the other insects they attack. I've been told that they go after stink bugs, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

recent butterflies with a compact camera

Counting for the county butterfly survey continues, but I don't always feel like walking around in hot and humid weather with the strap of a weighty camera around my neck. Often I head out for a walk and carry my older compact Canon ELPH in my hand or pocket, just in case I see something interesting. Photos in this post and several recent posts were taken with this camera. It doesn't have the zoom of my newer Canon SX60, but butterflies that are feeding or puddling are easy to approach closely, and the limited zoom of the ELPH still helps. It is even possible to get too close and get an image that looks great in the viewer but turns out to be out of focus on the desktop. I imagine that images like this are quite possible with many cell phone cameras, and newer compact or sub-compact cameras have more zoom than mine.

In addition to subjects that are concentrating on a flower or other source of nutrition, I've found that some active butterflies aren't going far, often flying crazy circles around me, and eventually settle down more or less within range of my little camera. That's what the spicebush swallowtail in these first two photos was doing one evening last week on the path around Lake Kittamaqundi. The second photo is a little too close, and the wings were in motion, but it's good for documentation and identification. (Not quite clear in these photos, but the missing spot in the row of orange spots on the hind wing indicated spicebush while I was observing.)  

Least skipper. A nervous little creature, it still lingered around these flowers and allowed a few shots. No zoom used for this one. Just off the path around the lake. I try to avoid letting my shadow fall across a spot where a subject is feeding or brushing against even just the edge of the clump of flowers.

A red admiral at the wetland area I've been watching near the lake.

Boom cranes are easy subjects, too. This one has been at the lake for a while, and I have reported it to the bird club. (They have not answered yet.)

Tiger swallowtail on the purple coneflowers at the library in Town Center. Top photo has been cropped. For the bottom photo, I was able to get closer with the camera -- and again it's possible to get too close and get an unfocused image.

I didn't want to link my preceding post with the butterfly survey tag, so I'm drawing attention to the photos in it showing monarchs in the Natural History Museum's butterfly garden in DC.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunday on the National Mall

In DC yesterday to see the Caillebotte and Wtewael exhibits at the National Gallery of Art. Both run until October 4, and I hope to have a second look while they are still here. No photography is allowed in special exhibits. Here are some views from my trip, not all at the NGA....

The butterfly garden along one side of the Natural History Museum is a fine display of flowers recommended for attracting butterflies. Yesterday was the first time I personally saw any butterflies there -- two monarchs! This was a nice surprise in the middle of the city, when we have noted a scarcity of that species this summer.

The National Construction Equipment Museum?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Belmont Manor

Belmont Manor Historic Park in the eastern part of Howard County. Here are a few images taken on a first visit on Friday, then a few from Saturday's dragonfly and damselfly follow. On Friday, I walked around the formal garden behind the house freely, but on Saturday the garden was locked up. There is a link for the park on the Howard County Conservancy site listed in the side bar nature and wildlife links.

Saturday morning's dragonfly event, led by two experts from the Howard County Bird Club, was rained out almost. We had an indoor presentation, then after the rain stopped we hiked down to the pond in the field below the house. As the sun came out and the air warmed up, the odonates came out and warmed up, too. (Photos here are of scenes. Conditions did not allow getting images of the dragonflies.)

For the time being, the only road access to Belmont is on the original mile-long, one-lane drive. There are a few pull-off spaces on either side of the drive to allow oncoming vehicles to pass.

The Carriage House, which houses the nature center.

The nature center adopted this screech owl after it was hit by a car and treated at a wildlife rehabilitation center. It's damage wing prevent it from being released. Here, it is perched on the hand of the Conservancy director, now very busy with the management of both the Mount Pleasant and Belmont locations.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Neighborhood Buck ~~ new nature links

I'm sure I've seen this same buck up on Vantage Point Road a couple of times. Yesterday, I was walking through this nearby natural area, trying to find butterflies for the county survey. This time, I spotted more deer than butterflies. I spooked two fawns hiding in the grass, then as I walked up and down the area, I spotted their daddy spotting me.

This and my other recent photos of deer speak to local ecological issues: All my photos of the deer also show at least one invasive plant species, sometimes surrounding the subject. In this photo, I see the triangular leaves of mile-a-minute vine in the foreground shadow. Some of the grass might be either wavyleaf basketgrass or stilt grass or both. The deer can't eat the invasive plants, which take up space normally occupied by native plants. What small pockets of native plants remain are more quickly decimated by foraging deer. Too many deer in a small area like this leads to other problems, such as inbreeding within the local deer population and the resultant health problems.

I only touch on the issues here, as they are more complicated and there are other issues. There's hope, however. More people have become interested in nature and are more aware of the problems. Howard County is home to several organizations that monitor and help to preserve local wildlife. They sponsor events: Some are purely for spotting and learning about various species, such as the free dragonfly and damselfly walk being led by two expert members of the Howard County Bird Club this Saturday morning (July 18, 10:00am) at the new Belmont area of the Howard County Conservancy. Other events involve active participation in countering the ill effects of some of these issues, such as pulling up invasive plants in the new Emy's Meadow at Centennial Park, organized by the county's natural resources technician.

(I joined a group of volunteers to do some weeding in the meadow one morning this week, but it is an ongoing effort. The idea is to create a preserve of native wildflowers to attract pollinators and to try to control the non-native weeds there without the use of chemicals.)

While this blog has been mainly a photography blog with links to music and arts, I have added a block for nature and wildlife links in one of the sidebars to the right. I will be adding to it as I find more relevant websites.

Monday, July 13, 2015

weekend butterfly counting continued

Before I begin photos for Sunday's counting, here are some bonuses from this morning. First, the photo above is a fun capture with my compact camera of one of the "black" swallowtails (spicebush?) feeding on gladiolus in a neighborhood garden. Then I stopped at the edge of the lake near a park bench on my walk and found three tiger swallowtails on this bush. The third photo here has all three in view. That's a good count on one bush for a species of large butterfly in Town Center this year.

[Edited for plant and butterfly species confirmed by experts in the survey. See brackets. The butterfly above is a spicebush swallowtail -- orange spot missing from the row on the hind wing.]

This is a bush I'd like to identify, as it seems to attract more butterflies than some others. Is it native or not? Did it spring up here from seed naturally, or was it planted? I see it growing right on the shore of the lake. Also see another species at the end of this post which attracts butterflies.

[The shrub here is common buttonbush, native to North America.]

See my preceding post for photos from late last week. Continuing with Sunday here:

On the purple coneflowers at the little park on Vantage Point Road, I found a monarch feeding.

Butterfly bush on the margin of the Kittamaqundi Community Church parking lot: An unidentified skipper (Zabulon male?) and a silver-spotted skipper. Until now, I had seen only cabbage whites on the ornamental butterfly bushes in my neighborhood this year.

Following photos are from the wetland and sewer line easement area off the north end of Lake Kittamaqundi:

I usually see one or two red admirals during one of my counting walks. Today, I saw five in this area.

What butterfly enthusiasts call an LBJ -- hard-to-identify Little Brown Job. I'm guessing a species of duskywing. [wild indigo duskywing]

There were a few pearl crescents around. (I have a more exact number on my survey form for the month.)

Another eastern tiger swallowtail!


A more elusive red admiral. As I returned along the track, I had another chance at this one (below).

A viceroy which has seen some action. (I saw another large orange butterfly here, but it could have been either monarch or viceroy.)

The red admiral settled down. On the invasive wavy basket grass, which is all over the place in this area.

Eastern tailed blue with wings open while resting.

And what kind of a skipper is this one? It was smaller than the other grass skippers I've been seeing, but I don't think it's a least skipper. (I hope to add confirmed identifications after the survey leaders have looked at these photos.) [Yes, it is a least skipper.]

Finally, some pollinators in the garden of Oakland Manor:


I'd like to find out what type of bush this is. It's flowers draw the butterflies like flies. There is another planting of it at the lake which I have been photographing. [bottlebrush buckeye, native to southeastern United States -- identified in Maryland Biodiversity Project online]