9.19.2022

Days of Candy


No one could find you
Out on your own
All things I loved
But do not know
On Hopewall road

These days of candy
Live in your mind
Those violet lines
White fenced in miles
Across my eyes

A world inside you
No photograph
My natural one
The rising sun
Live in your mind

Just like that, it's gone
Just like that, it's gone
Just like that

I know it comes too soon
The universe is riding off with you
Hi o, out there, I know
A little bit of you, I keep it close to me

I know it comes too soon
The universe is riding off with you
I know it comes too soon
I know it stays for nobody
I want to know you there
The universe is riding off with you

Alex Kristian Scally/Victoria Garance Alixe Legrand

9.16.2022

Stowaway?

"Spiders are anti-social, keep pests under control, and mostly mind their own business, but they somehow summon fear in humans who are far more dangerous, deceitful and have hurt more people. Of the two I'm more suspicious about the latter."

― Donna Lynn Hope
I've been out of commission for the past couple of days with a late summer cold virus. Earlier today I noticed a visitor crawling near my bedroom window. Upon closer inspection I momentarily identified it as a jumping spider in the genus Phidippus. Since it was on my turf, I used it as a photography subject via capture. Oh, it wasn't so bad. I built a little studio out of a cardboard box and placed a piece of petrified wood for it to climb around on. I would never capture a wild critter from a natural area, bring it home just for the purpose of making it easier to get photographs. 
Spiders are welcome visitors to my apartment. At this moment I have a number of Cellar Spiders in my kitchen, bathroom, and living room, but any species can stay provided it isn't a rampant biter. Generally, they'll stick to their webs and catch any other small insects that happen to find their way indoors. Some arachnid species do fine in the confines of my apartment, while others are best liberated to the outdoors. 
A dorsal view is essential for identification. This is a female Apache Jumping Spider Phidippus apacheanus, the same species I recently photographed at Spring Green Preserve, which begs the question: Did I inadvertently bring home with me? This one has slightly different markings, but I can't rule out the stowaway hypothesis. Naturally, it might have gotten in from my patio garden which perhaps makes a little more sense. 
Lori Widmann and I consider ourselves old school when it comes to identifying wild critters ― we believe paper field guides make better learning tools than computer apps that identify things for you. Granted, sometimes you may find something uncommon or rare that isn't in a field guide and Bugguide.net is a great resource where experts can weigh in and help. One of the things I like about a paper field guide is that it forces one to page through a taxonomic tree to make comparisons with similar species; you're not only learning about a single critter ― it's interesting to see what else it's related to. Others prefer 21st Century instantaneous identification apps, which aren't completely reliable, as Lori and I well know from Wisconsin Naturalists on Facebook. 
Once satisfied with my photos, I carefully lifted up the cardboard studio, brought it outside to my patio, and gently coaxed the spider out to freedom. Perhaps it'll stay there and I'll bump into it again while watering my fading hummingbird flowers and plants. I've found only a couple of other jumping spiders inside my home over the years, but none as colorful as this one ― a welcome interlude from the doldrums of being stuck at home nursing a cold. 
All images © 2022 Mike McDowell

9.11.2022

For the Senses

"You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason."

― Ernest Hemingway
It's another overcast and rainy day here in southern Wisconsin. We had much nicer weather last weekend, so I birded the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor with Sylvia Marek both Sunday and Monday. We tallied nearly 20 warbler species including a couple of Black-throated Blue Warblers. Dottie Johnson has been visiting her mom in North Carolina since early August, so she's looking forward to returning to the corridor in about a week. There will still be decent songbird migration, though the diversity might be down a bit by that time. 
Though the woodland realm is still very lush and green at the present time, there are noteworthy cues that summer is drawing to a close. Naturally, the presence of various southbound warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes that are moving through right now are a harbinger of autumn. The waning photoperiod rendering patches of yellow, orange, red, and purple in the canopy ― a slight cool breeze prompting trees to release leaves. Sometimes a falling leaf resembles a warbler chasing down an insect, persuading me to bring my binoculars up to my eyes. 
Experiencing fall avian migration is rich in seasonal sights, sounds, and scents; the mix of late summer wildflowers, decaying vegetation, and pleasant harvest-type smells ― olfaction is linked with memory. The harmony of the morning avian chorus has been replaced with various chip, zeet, and tisp calls. I heard a Tennessee Warbler attempt to sing full-song, but it was fragmented and discordant ― still, I recognized it. For someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, the deep sensory mixture elicits a reminiscence that's a little melancholic, but also entirely delightful. But we all know what's coming; while that's also beautiful, it's hard to let go. There's still a solid month or so of ease and comfort before November's chill.  
Gorgeous scenes on trails ...
Late summer wildflowers (Gaura and New England Aster) ...
The tail-end of summer insecting ...
It's been a wonderful spring and summer with many interesting and fun experiences with Nature. Other naturalists have observed and commented on lower insect numbers. I agree it's true, especially with butterflies ― there haven't been as many, but I couldn't tell you exactly why. The tiger beetle season isn't quite over and I'm still contemplating trips for Cow Path and Twelve-spotted. Population-wise, the beetle numbers seemed pretty typical to me. Not having as many mosquitoes around has been nice, but they do provide other critters with energy ― what are they eating instead?
September 4th & 5th, 2022
Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor
56 Species

Wood Duck  
Mallard  
Mourning Dove  
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  
Great Blue Heron  
Turkey Vulture  
Cooper's Hawk  
Red-tailed Hawk  
Belted Kingfisher  
Red-bellied Woodpecker  
Downy Woodpecker  
Hairy Woodpecker  
Northern Flicker  
Eastern Wood-Pewee  
Yellow-throated Vireo  
Blue-headed Vireo  
Red-eyed Vireo  
Blue Jay  
American Crow  
Black-capped Chickadee  
Tufted Titmouse  
White-breasted Nuthatch  
House Wren  
Gray Catbird  
Brown Thrasher  
Gray-cheeked Thrush  
Swainson's Thrush  
Wood Thrush  
American Robin  
Cedar Waxwing  
House Finch  
American Goldfinch  
Baltimore Oriole  
Common Grackle  
Ovenbird  
Northern Waterthrush  
Golden-winged Warbler  
Blue-winged Warbler  
Black-and-white Warbler  
Tennessee Warbler  
Nashville Warbler  
Mourning Warbler  
Common Yellowthroat  
American Redstart  
Northern Parula  
Magnolia Warbler  
Bay-breasted Warbler  
Blackburnian Warbler  
Chestnut-sided Warbler  
Blackpoll Warbler  
Black-throated Blue Warbler  
Canada Warbler  
Wilson's Warbler  
Scarlet Tanager  
Northern Cardinal  
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  

All images © 2022 Mike McDowell

9.04.2022

Splendid Sixteen for Lori!

"Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it."

― Marcus Aurelius
Weather-wise, it's been another monochromatic weekend with pewter skies, both Saturday and Sunday. It rained a good part of the morning on Saturday and it's been overcast all day today. Thus, it was a very good thing I took the day off on Friday to help Lori Widmann get her 16th Wisconsin tiger beetle ― Splendid Tiger Beetle Cicindela splendida. The mission was a success and Lori is over the moon with her accomplishment. The day started a little rainy, but skies cleared by noon. After the bluff's rocky outcroppings were sufficiently warmed by the sun, the tiger beetles began to emerge ― one doesn't see where they come from, they're just suddenly present as if by teleportation. 
The colorful flat lichen-covered surfaces serve as hunting grounds for these magnificent beetles. An unsuspecting ant or other small insect attempting to traverse the rocks have virtually no chance making it from one side to the other without detection. As readers here know by now, tiger beetles are extremely quick and can cover the distance across the stone-scape in mere seconds. 
Here's a rare photograph of this blog's author (taken by Lori) contemplating the next composition and exposure:
The outcroppings provide excellent hides to conceal one's body, which makes approaching a tiger beetle somewhat easier. This also enables me to maintain a supported posture in order to capture low-angle close-up portraits. There's something about this particular habitat that makes me think of the rocky structures as apartment buildings for the beetles. 
It's impossible for me to pick a favorite tiger beetle, but Splendid is definitely in the upper half of Wisconsin's 16 species. So then, 2022 will go down as the year me, Lori, Mark, and Lester were all able to complete our Wisconsin Tiger Beetle Life Lists. Because of the Boreal Long-lipped mission in June, I stand a chance to get all sixteen for the 2022 season. I still don't know if I'll do so, as the remaining two species will require considerable drive time (Cowpath and Twelve-spotted). 
Time to photograph other things! There is quite a bit Cliffbrake on south-facing surfaces:
Since my visit last weekend, False Foxglove opened and Liatris seemed at peak.
And then there was this adorable little spider ...
This is Phidippus apacheanus, a type of Jumping Spider. 
The spider wasn't all the pleased with my photographic attempts ― adopting a defensive posture whenever I approached it with my macro lens. One doesn't want to be a bother to wild critters, so I limited my time with just to make sure I captured some nice portraits of it. 
Cool bit on this spider's reproductive behavior:

Phidippus apacheanus males have an elaborate courtship display. The male begins his display by holding the carapace very high, shifting the abdomen to one side, and raising the first pair of legs. In this position, he moves before the female, stopping after each few steps. The male advances in a zig-zag pathway, shifting his abdomen to the other side at the end of each oblique approach. Throughout, the dancing male flicks his forelegs up and down, holding them wide apart at first and bringing them closer and closer together as he nears the female. Phidippus apacheanus differs from other Phidippus species at this stage by moving his forelegs both closer and higher as he nears the female until the tips touch in a circle above his head. Then, with forelegs held almost parallel before him, he touches the female cautiously once or twice. Females of P. apacheanus are unusual in that they perform an acceptance dance just before the male touches them. With forelegs high and wide apart and abdomen bent to the side, the female sways before the male, sometimes with a few steps to one side and then the other. After this acceptance dance, the male climbs over her and uses the forelegs to help turn her abdomen to the side. When the genital pore, which lies on the ventral abdomen, is exposed the male inserts his palpus. After 2 to 3 minutes the male withdraws and turns the female's abdomen in the other direction and inserts the other pedipalp. This completes the transfer of sperm. (Chamberlin, Gertsch, 1929; Gardner, 1965)
It's almost over, pal!
No worse for wear, I let it be on its way ― what a nifty and beautiful creature!
Some shots from below the outcroppings ...
Here's a photograph Lori took while I was looking for Splendids, and also taking a bit of a gamble ― no, I'm not afraid of heights. Recall this spring while photographing Claybank Tiger Beetles a strong gust blew me off one of the outcroppings. Flank and shoulder injuries were harsh, but not severe, which was somewhat lucky. I instinctively curled into a ball and kept rolling another twenty feet or so before managing to stop. Again, I lost my prescription sunglasses and got a bit of Poison Ivy rash from the roll into the vegetation. 
The gusty bluffs can be dangerous. I don't know if anyone has fallen and died here like climbers occasionally do at Devil's Lake State Park ― at least there's a gradient here. Another potential danger is not fully appreciating how hot it can get at Spring Green's desert prairie. From experience, it's at least 5 to 10 degrees warmer than posted temperatures and though it's only a 4-mile roundtrip hike, one needs to bring plenty of water. This time we actually ran out of water before we got to the lower trail and paid for it. Given the humidity, I wouldn't be surprised if the heat index was over 100 degrees. Lori got a bit of heat exhaustion, but she was still thrilled to be able to complete her life list with Splendid. 
Here are a couple of Festive Tiger Beetles, which were present in astonishing numbers on the lower prairie trail. We also found a few Virginia Metallic, Punctured, and a single Big Sand Tiger Beetle. September is the last month of intense insect photography. Warm days in October can still render tiger beetle activity, but I'll likely be spending more time with birds in forthcoming outdoor excursions. Whether or not I score all 16 tiger beetle species in a single season, it will still go down as the most memorable of all the years I've been observing and photographing these amazing insects. 
Most images © 2022 Mike McDowell

8.28.2022

Sunless Saturday

"All shadows of clouds the sun cannot hide like the moon cannot stop oceanic tide; but a hidden star can still be smiling at night's black spell on darkness, beguiling."

― Munia Khan
And then it'll be sunny all week ... see:
Maybe I'll ask for Friday off. This is been the pattern for the past month or so ― sunny during the workweek, and cloudy (rainy) weekends. This is partly the reason I haven't has as many nature posts the past several weeks. I prefer conducting nature photography under sunlight, but I can kind of make things work on overcast days using a flash. There are photographers who excel doing so, but many of my subjects tend to remain hidden or in burrows unless the sun is out ― insects are always more active on sunny days. And digiscoping birds really needs to be done on sunny days for best results. 
My main reason for visiting Spring Green Prairie again was to check for Splendid Tiger Beetles atop the bluff, but they were not active ― not a single one. This was no surprise, really. There were many Punctured and Festive Tiger Beetles on the main trail, but once it started raining they retreated to whatever shelter they could find. Interestingly, a few Virginia Metallic Tiger Beetles came out when it got darker before the storm cell converged over the prairie ― they are a nocturnal species, after all. 
Overly optimistic, I kept thinking the skies my clear after each cell. While waiting I exploring the rocky outcroppings to see what non-tiger beetle things I could find. Wildflower-wise there were plenty of Liatris, lots of Upland White Goldenrod, and Grooved Yellow Flax. 
I found a cool Northern Crab Spider with fresh prey, but the best find of the day was a Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus):
This is the only the third or fourth time I've observed this arachnid species in Wisconsin ― they are venomous like other black widows and a bite can cause Latrodectism; pain, sweating, muscle rigidity, and vomiting. The symptoms one might get all depends on the amount of venom injected. Fortunately, around 75% of all black widow bites have localized pain and nothing more ― you might not even realize you've been bitten by one. However, if you ever find yourself in the other quarter, the first sign of potential trouble is goosebumps on the skin around the bite. 

Far more dangerous to me, though, is this stuff:
There are copious large patches of Poison Ivy at Spring Green Preserve this summer, but I'm more careful around it that I used to be ever since ending up with a rather severe case back in 2012. 
It started getting darker again. I could hear thunder approaching in the distance and fresh storm cells were beginning to develop. I decided to call it a day. The storms weren't especially large, but I didn't want to get struck by lightning. Before heading back down the bluff, I photographed a small rain shower south of Spring Green. Throughout my outing I had a few of these smaller cells pour on me, but I came prepared for it ― I have a super-nice Mammut rain jacket!
Ah well, so no new tiger beetle photographs this week. Hopefully the forecast for next weekend holds because I feel like I'm going through insect photography withdrawal! Also, I want to confirm that the Splendids have emerged so Lori can score her final Wisconsin lifer. But like any adventure at Spring Green Prairie, there's always something interesting to see even if you dip on target species. I got Splendids in the spring (April), but I'm still looking for Twelve-spotted and Cow Path to see if I can score all 16 in a single season. 

 

All images © 2022 Mike McDowell