Beauty with Wings

Beauty comes in many forms. Nature has a whole pallet of colors, sizes and shapes to capture the eye and the imagination. For me this week, beauty came in on wings.

I’m seeing more green sweat bees (Augochloropsis) right now, though I can’t identify the species beyond the genus. They’re a brilliant metallic looking bee with about 140 different species. I’m working on bee identification, but it’s been a slow process.

An Andrena mining bee also favored the ox-eye daisies (see photo below). Andrena‘s are ground nesting solitary bees. In the past, I thought any bee nesting in the ground was a hornet/yellow jacket and out to sting me. Not so. Actually about 70% of our wild bees are ground nesting and most are not aggressive at all.

The bee life cycle is actually pretty interesting and is similar to the four stages of the monarch butterfly – egg, larva, pupa, adult.

Ground nesting bees emerge from their pupae in the spring, mate and then look for appropriate nesting burrows, preferring a sandy soil. They will create a small tunnel which will contain several individual nest cells which are sealed off from each other. How they are sealed off varies depending upon the type of bee. Mason bees (Osmia) seal with mud. Leaf-cutter bees (Megachile) use round pieces of leaves. Cellophane/polyester bees (Colletes) create their own cellophane-like material to seal the nest cell.

Each cell will contain a small ball of pollen and nectar upon which the bee will lay one egg. The egg will develop into a larva usually a few days after being laid. The larva feeds from the pollen/nectar ball, and after about five molts (instars), they enter a prepupal stage which could last all summer and winter before emerging as an adult bee. This is a generalization of the bee life cycle; there are always exceptions.

[The above information about bees came predominantly from The Bees In Your Backyard, Joseph S Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carrill. This book is an excellent reference filled with remarkable photos and fascinating facts about bees. I highly recommend it!]

On some of my hikes, I’ve had the good luck of capturing a few photos of damselflies. They’re colorful little insects that move rather rapidly, making photography quite a challenge. But I always admire their beauty. The photo below is of a male Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis). This little guy was sitting on the edge of a wooden planter. The board it is sitting on is about an inch wide.

Here’s a pretty little Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans) below. Bluets are a very difficult damselfly to identify down to species level. And they’re small – less than 1.5 inches long. Bluets tend to stay near the edges of water and hide in grasses to avoid being eaten by larger damselflies, dragonflies or birds. If you walk slowly by, they will move and better enable you to spot them. I’ve read that female Bluets can be blue, orange or green.

Last evening I wandered by our little pond on the off chance of seeing a damselfly and I hit the mother load! There were probably a couple dozen on the edge of the pond and several were engaged with females which were laying eggs in the water. The two damselflies in the photo below are Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile). The female was just about to deposit eggs within the plant stem just below the surface of the water. Their shadows were reflected in the water. I’m afraid I didn’t have a fast enough camera speed to capture the moving wings of the male (the blue one).

The photo below shows a female depositing eggs while other males are nearby. There were quite a few Bluets all around this area with at least three females depositing eggs.

I’ve not had much luck photographing dragonflies, which have much larger, stouter looking bodies and eyes that nearly touch. Dragonflies extend their wings at rest and make for great photographs (while damselflies fold their wings back over their bodies). The Midland Clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus) dragonfly in the photo below is a little more than 2 inches long, with green/yellow coloring. Midland Clubtails are known to be strong flyers and good hunters.

And speaking of good hunters, I encountered an American Robin which was viciously shaking something white. I thought at first it was a piece of trash, but realized later it was a white moth – probably lunch for the bird. The food cycle continues.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

A Little Bit of Everything

I love writing this blog. I strive to have eye-catching photos with interesting facts about nature you may not have heard before. Or if you did know it, it still brings a smile to the face and some sunshine to your world.

My hikes and walk abouts have been numerous lately. I’ve visited creeks, trails and woodlands – all within the general vicinity, but little patches of paradise none the less.

I’m taking a course on pollinators in Ohio, so I’m always on the lookout for wild bees (non-honey bees). Ohio has about 500 species of wild bees and about 70% of those are ground nesting solitary bees. And predominantly non-aggressive. Here’s a cute little green metallic sweat bee which I believe may be Augochlora in the Halictidae family. It’s photographed on fleabane so you get an idea of how small it really is.

I’m learning to appreciate the intricacies of dragonflies and damselflies. They’re amazingly beautiful. Look at this female Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia). These dragonflies fly over ponds, marshes, and slow-moving rivers looking for insects. Lucky for me they like to land on objects near the water and sit with wings outstretched. Makes for a better photo.

I’ve been seeing a tremendous number of Ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) damselflies. They can be found near streams and in wet areas but also further away from water. They are the most common type of damselfly you will see in the area. On a recent hike, I saw more than two dozen in a relatively small area by a stream. Males are an almost metallic blue with black wings. Very striking. Females are more brown with a white spot at the end of their wings. Just look at those eyes…aren’t they beautiful?

They eat bugs and gnats and (according to Wikipedia) they also eat six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) – those metallic green bugs you may have seen flying around or crawling on dirt paths and trails (shown pictured below). I’ve read their color and preference for certain types of ecosystems make them popular for ecological studies (ref: Indiana Department of Natural Resources).

Sometimes you find things you don’t expect to see. I was photographing a purple rocket (Iodanthus pinnatifidus) blossom when I noticed the photo contained more than just the petals of the flower. I’m not a spider person, but this one was pretty cool looking. It’s in the Tetragnatha family and is sometimes called a stretch spider. It’s usually found near water and can hide very well in plain sight as this photo shows. It’s also called a longjawed orbweaver.

Along with the creepy, crawly things I’ve encountered, I’ve also had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time to capture some poses of a Prothonotary warbler. It loves being near the water and nests in dead trees and nest boxes. We’re lucky here to have one of the best viewing sights for Prothonotary warblers in central Ohio. This warbler has been banded, though I’m not sure of the significance of this specific blue band as the photo isn’t clear enough to determine letters and/or numbers for identification.

With all the rain we’ve had recently, it’s brought out fungi. I have a tough time identifying some of it, and these photos are no exception. But this one reminds me of the old-fashioned pleated skirt I used to wear as a kid. And that makes me smile, so that’s why it’s included here.

And finally, I would be remiss if I wrote a blog that talked about being near water and didn’t include one of my favorites – the Great Blue Heron. This week I happened upon six of them playing in the stream. A couple of them kept a close eye on me, while the others continued fishing and splashing, content to allow me to observe from a distance…sharing the beauty of nature together. Peacefully. And that’s rather nice.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close. And spread kindness.

A Walk About

I find myself doing lots of walks these days, camera in hand and in search of some natural area that can show me new things of interest. I’m very lucky to have the Big Walnut Creek close by. It’s a quiet little stream fishermen like, but I usually go well beyond the convenient “fishing holes” when I explore. It’s a beautiful little piece of nature.

Birds love it here. It’s common to hear Yellow warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and the raucous sounds of Great Blue Herons (when they’re disturbed). Plenty of dead trees offer cavities providing feeding and nesting opportunities for woodpeckers like this Red-bellied.

I was fortunate enough to get a photo of a Myrtle warbler, a subspecies of the Yellow-rumped warbler. Warblers are difficult to get photos of unless you have a good birding camera (and sometimes even then it’s tough). My Lumix FZ300 fits my basic needs, but unfortunately doesn’t make for really crisp bird pics. While warblers may not pose for me, American Robins and Gray Catbirds aren’t nearly so camera shy.

One of the flowering blooms I’m seeing almost everywhere is Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronlis). It’s quite beautiful with purple, lavender and white blooms – some even striped. It grows to about 1.5 to 3 feet tall, has four petals and alternate leaves. Some people confuse this plant with Phlox, which has five petals and opposite leaves. Dame’s Rocket is actually not a wildflower and is an invasive plant in Ohio. It’s considered a biennial, is a native of Eurasia and produces seeds prolifically. One of the photos below sports an insect (of undetermined type).

One invasive plant that is blooming profusely right now is bush honeysuckle. It can grow up to 20+ feet tall and smothers out wildflowers and native plants. There are many types of bush honeysuckles, but the most common invasive ones in Ohio are Amur (Lonicera maacki), Morrow’s (Lonicera morrowi) and Tartarian (Lonicera tatarica) honeysuckle. Tartarian typically has a pink to deep red bloom while the others are white to a creamy yellow.

While the blooms can be beautiful, invasive honeysuckle is a very difficult plant to eradicate. It can be pulled by its roots when very small. If it’s a larger plant, unfortunately it almost always requires some type of herbicide.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is also a very invasive bush that is blooming right now. The blooms are very sweet smelling. It has a leaf that has a silvery looking underside. This invasive can grow to 20 feet tall and also smothers out native plants and wildflowers.

Now it’s time to move onto a beautiful blooming plant that is NOT invasive – the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra). It’s a member of the Horse Chestnut family. It’s greenish yellow blooms are beautiful right now. And when you look at the blooms up close, the colors are amazing. This plant can grow up to 70 feet tall and prefers moist wet soil like what is found in ravines. It’s one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. And it produces the buckeyes we use to make Buckeye necklaces. O-H-I-O!

And now I just had to include a photo of a Meadow Fritillary (Boloria bellona) just because it’s one of the first butterflies I’ve had the opportunity to photograph this spring. This one is pretty small, as that purple flower beside it is a violet.

Hopefully we will see more sunny days that will encourage these beautiful winged wonders to come out and play.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close. And stay safe.