Nature’s Jewels

Sometimes I have to stop and reorient myself to the magic of nature in front of me. Is it a human tendency to not see what’s obvious? Are we always looking for the grand and glorious without actually realizing the magic right in front of us? I’m not sure what the answer is to that one. I just know sometimes I have to stop. Slow down. And bring back that inner wonder of a 4-year old child that really does see it.

On a hike this past week, the sunlight landed just perfectly on an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly. Now wait…before you close this blog or have your eyes glaze over at the mention of an insect, just take a look at this one. It’s something I’ve not seen till now.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen plenty of Ebony Jewelwings. The one in this photo is a female and is generally described as having brown colored wings with white spots at the tips. But on this day, the sunlight caught this creature and made me truly see why it is called a “jewelwing.” The metallic sheen to the thorax, the look of almost gold threads decorating its wings. Exquisite.

The males are also colorful in their own way with jet black wings and an almost metallic blue abdomen. How did nature create such beautiful colors in such a delicate package? Amazing what we see when we look.

Nature’s jewels come in all colors, whether one is talking about insects or flowers. This one caught my eye as well; I think because the contrasting color combination is so dramatic. Surprising that this little flower fly is only about a half inch long. It’s a Margined Calligrapher – also known as a hover fly. It seeks nectar and pollen. It’s a bee mimic and gains protection from would-be predators as a result. It not only helps pollinate flowers, it also eats aphids from those flowers. A true jewel of nature in many aspects!

And with more flowers coming out in bloom right now, so do more bees. Like this little one. It’s from the genus Melissodes (long-horned bees) but unfortunately this photo isn’t good enough for a species ID. As you can tell by the photo, they’re pretty good pollinators. Only females collect pollen; males do not.

I’m always mesmerized by the coloring of bees, like this Two-Spotted Bumblebee I found on my flowers this week. Dramatic contrast against the vivid purple of the flowers, don’t you think? Ohio has about 10 different species of bumblebees, with the most widespread being the Eastern Common. I’m always thrilled when I find a species that isn’t quite so prolific. Not sure why…guess it’s just recognizing it’s something out of the ordinary.

And, as usual, sometimes when you take photographs you manage to capture more than what your eye originally saw, like in the photo below. I took the photo to capture the bumblebee, not seeing it had a sidekick friend.

The tiny bee to the left could be an Osmia in the genus Agapostemon because it appears to be bright green metallic and carrying pollen on its abdomen. But there are also some cuckoo wasps which look somewhat similar. Just guessing on this one; the photo isn’t clear enough to determine. But still a thrill to catch two bees on this Purple Coneflower.

Sometimes you never know what you might find on flowers, like on this Yellow Pond Lily which was a true surprise upon closer inspection. I saw the bee enter the flower from a distance away and zoomed in to see what it might be, but the damselfly on the edge and the two below on the stem were a true surprise. I do appreciate the zoom on my FZ300!

And speaking of catching a photo of something you weren’t expecting…It took me a while to realize what was happening in this photo. This female Eastern Pondhawk flew off with what looked like a twig in it’s clutches. Curious behavior. Until I looked closer at the photo and realized that “twig” was (unfortunately for the damselfly) lunch for the dragonfly.

Golden hues abound in the summer and catch ones eye. We’re fortunate to be near a very successful breeding ground for Prothonotary warblers. This flooded woody area offers many nest boxes mounted to trees just above the water. Food is plentiful there for them and their young. Catching sight of this winged wonder always makes me smile.

As does this dainty little Summer Azure butterfly. A delicate pale blue with a wingspan of just one inch, it’s a tiny little thing that flits about very quickly. Its size is more apparent when seen on this piece of clover that is commonly found in most yards. Such a delicate little butterfly.

Nature’s jewels…all of them. And they’re all around us if we only take the time to stop. Slow down. And really see what’s in front of us. There’s so many jewels of nature out there that can bring a smile to the face, a lightness to the heart, and yes, even a spring to your step.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close. I hope you find some jewels of nature that bring you joy.

A Hidden Gem

Have you noticed how many people are out and about lately? Running. Walking. Biking. Pushing strollers with kids (or dogs, yes – not kidding). It’s a good thing, but it makes social distancing more of a challenge, which is why I’m always looking for interesting places to go to get my “nature fix” without joining the crowds.

This past week it was Chadwick Arboretum North.

I went on a Tuesday morning, and I saw five people in the two hours I was there. It’s truly a hidden gem in the middle of Columbus. Chadwick is a little nature oasis on The Ohio State campus, just off SR 315 and Lane Avenue (2235 Fred Taylor Drive). It boasts a 3.5 acre Research lake which allows fishing (catch and release) and lots of pollinator habitat, not to mention more dragonflies and damselflies than I could begin to count (or photograph).

I always have a camera in hand, hoping to catch that next great photo or find that particular camera angle that makes a scene eye-catching. I’m not so sure I’ve achieved that, but I do have a few that you might enjoy.

I always learn something new when I’m out in nature. That’s a given. On this day I found an Allegheny Monkeyflower that was on the edge of the lake. It’s a beautiful flower that looks a bit like a snapdragon but isn’t.

It gets its name because the bloom is supposed to look like a monkeys face – but I couldn’t see it no matter how I tried. It’s native and grows near water. It was about three feet tall and it spreads by both seeds and rhizomes. It attracts butterflies and is a larval host for the Common Buckeye and Baltimore Checkerspots. It’s a perennial and blooms June to September. It’s an endangered species in Maine.

I’ve been taking online pollinator classes this past spring and summer through the Ohio State University extension service, so this blog will be filled with a number of “critters” on flowers. It expands my education to not only identify what I’m seeing, but also understand a bit of its behavior and preferred environment. Plus, it’s just fun to do.

On this day the Brown-belted bumble bees (Bombus Griseocollis) were favoring the Coneflowers and Wild Bergamot/Bee Balm. Brown-belted bumble bees are recognizable (at least for me) for the brown belt that is on the T2 area of their back, which can be seen in the photo below.

BROWN-BELTED BUMBLE BEE

Of the bumble bees in Ohio, it is estimated that 19% are Brown-belted. The most common bumble bee (69%) is the Eastern Common bumble bee (Bombus Impatiens).

The Arboretum also had a number of Hibiscus flowers lining the lake. They had big, beautiful pink flowers that were filled with insects and bees, like this Hibiscus Turret bee (Ptilothrix bombiformus). It’s a solitary ground nesting bee. This one is has a bit of pollen on it, and I believe it’s a male that is waiting for a female to arrive for mating purposes.

Wasps were also enjoying the flowers. This may be a Metric Paper wasp (Polistes metricus) but am unsure of that identification. Due to the red coloration, it may be a female, but don’t quote me.

Here’s a cute little guy (a Western honey bee I believe but the photo isn’t good enough to confirm that). But what intrigued me was actually the flower that it was on – a Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus). A reed like wetland plant growing at the pond edge. They spread by rhizomes and can grow to four feet tall. While the flower is very pretty, it is an invasive plant in Ohio.

As mentioned earlier, there were a number of dragonflies and damselflies all around the pond area. Many dragonflies were doing great sweeping flights around the lake, but were too much for my poor camera to capture. I had to wait for those that would land on something. But a few did cooperate. Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies did quite a bit of posing that day. They’re pretty impressive due to size and color.

MALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY
FEMALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY

There were a couple of pennant dragonflies that were very colorful – the Halloween pennant and the Calico pennant. Both bright vivid bits of color that attract the eye.

HALLOWEEN PENNANT DRAGONFLY
CALICO PENNANT DRAGONFLY

And finally, here’s a male Twelve-spotted skimmer missing a wing, poor little thing. Most likely due to a close encounter with a predator. I’ve read that even with a damaged or missing wing they can still fly and find food. Obviously he wouldn’t be able to fly as well as an undamaged dragonfly.

And finally one last dragonfly I always find beautiful, the male Widow skimmer. Dramatically beautiful.

MALE WIDOW SKIMMER DRAGONFLY

I would be quite remiss if I didn’t give you one last look at Chadwick Arboretum North and encourage you to go for a visit. It’s a beautiful, peaceful area right in the middle of Columbus. And it always provides new nature wonders to explore.

CHADWICK ARBORETUM NORTH

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Hanging around a pond…

As Covid continues to drag on with ever increasing numbers throughout the country, it’s cause for concern. It’s also a cause to find ways to give yourself a much-needed break from the news. Restoring your inner peace and balance is more important now than ever. I believe we need to fill our worlds with positive things – things that make you smile.

For me, that’s turning to nature and looking at the miraculous wonders that abound all around us. And asking questions, just like a three-year old, so we more fully see and understand what is right in front of us.

I visited a local pond not too long ago and came away with a new appreciation for dragonflies. Their colors are so amazing. Like the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) below. The exquisiteness of those delicate wings. And the amazing compound eyes!

Dragonflies have huge eyes that are multi-faceted and allows them to see in all directions at the same time (except directly behind them). They have the largest compound eyes of any insect. And their legs have small spines which keep prey from struggling free once caught. And they’re very strong flyers with speeds some say up to 30 mph.

Dragonflies come in a multitude of colors, blue, green brown, orange, black and more. Here are a few more colorful ones. There’s a Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) in the photo directly below. The green one is an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis┬ásimplicicollis). The orange and black one is a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). The black and white one is a male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) and the brown one is a female Widow Skimmer. As in nature, the females tend to have more muted colors.

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) dragonfly

Dragonflies aren’t the only things found hanging around ponds. Frogs have been pretty prolific this year. Here’s a big guy (who seemed to think he was well hidden) that was hanging out at the pond by our house, and another one blending in with the pond. (Not sure if that’s duckweed on the pond surface.) Our little pond has hosted quite a number of Northern Green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota), Eastern Gray Tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) and American Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) this year so far. It’s quite a chorus at night.

Preserves are great places to spot nature at its best. There’s a terrific little one that’s called Boyer Nature Preserve in Westerville. It’s surrounded by houses and you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you look for it. It has three parking spots and a small gravel path leading to it. It’s more like a bog rather than a lake, but it does offer a bit of a boardwalk to get closer to the water. If you’re lucky to live nearby, it’s worth the visit.

Something totally unexpected here was the Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree. It’s near the back of the park, and easily identified (at least for me) by the cypress “knees” around it’s base. I always thought those were to help the tree get more oxygen when in water, but I’ve read that may not be the case. Some conjecture it could be for better stabilization in water, but it’s true purpose is unknown.

The Bald cypress tree is a deciduous conifer and loses its needle-like leaves in the fall, thus the “bald” name. It can live up to 600 years or more.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen the nut-like female cones of the tree. Each of the scales have four to five seeds. They do rather look like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Like I mentioned earlier, you never quite know what you’ll see when you’re hanging around a pond.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.