I thought of my friends who never take walks...
"for there was nothing to see."
I was amazed and grieved at their blindness.
I longed to open their eyes to the wonders around them;
to persuade people to love and cherish nature.
-- Margaret Morse Nice (1937)
Prickly Pear Cactus
On Saturday I co-led a field trip for The Nature Conservancy’s "50th Anniversary in Wisconsin" at Spring Green Prairie, where the uncommon and unusual is the norm. Whenever I visit this particular natural area I expect to be dazzled by an array of grassland birds, colorful wildflowers, and fascinating insects, but seeing a female Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus) was a highlight I won’t soon forget.
Northern Black Widow
Having never encountered this species in the wild before, I felt a little apprehensive bringing my macro camera lens within a few inches away from her. My apprehension grew to fearful skittishness (I used to have arachnophobia) when a field trip participant tried to get a better glimpse by moving grass out of the way. Unfortunately, it was a clump that a part of the widow's web was anchored to; she scampered for cover eerily quicker than I thought possible!
It was overcast most of the day, but after lunch I saw a break in the clouds and returned to capture some of the prairie's gems during fragmented moments of sunlight. The break didn't last as long as I would have liked, but I managed to get some nice images of a few grassland sparrows and wildflowers.
I don't think I've ever been to another prairie where Grasshopper Sparrows are more plentiful; their insect-like trills and jumble of closing notes were ubiquitous throughout the day. Many sparrows perched on bare sticks or posts with caterpillars dangling from their beaks, uttering voices of concern for what's concealed in the grass below, while other birds protected territories with song.
Lark Sparrows can be counted on for stunning bird portraiture and Saturday was no exception. Visually and behaviorally, I find them to be the most showy and dazzling sparrow of the prairie.
Any guesses on identification of this wildflower? I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but I admit being thrown off at first glance. The unusual is the norm!
What species is it?
All images © 2010 Mike McDowell