Saturday, August 29, 2009

Confused Flower

Don't really feel up to writing very much today, so I will just post this photo of a confused coneflower. It has flower stalks growing out of the center of the flower and petals that are green on the underside, with a flush of pink on the top.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ambushed!

This week the Jagged Ambush Bugs (genus Phymata) came out on the Blackeyed Susans and Coneflowers. They are small little critters (less than 1/2 inch) with lots of attitude.

The one below was posing with its lobster claw-like modified forelegs held at the ready. These modifed legs are characteristic of all ambush bugs and differentiate them from assassin bugs and other true bugs. The club-like antennae also separate them from the assassin bugs.


This individual is resting on its modified forelegs (reminds me of Popeye's forearms). This perspective gives you an idea of how small the heads are relative to the rest of their bodies. This one has its antennae swept back.


Here you can see how flared the abdomen is. It is wider than the little stubby wings are. And again - look at that little head with the simple eyes.


As I was assembling these shots and inserting the commentary, I asked Dennis if I should finish with the image of a mating pair or meal-time. His reply was "In my observation and experience, you should always feed them first." ;-) Hearing the universal truth in his reasoning, I have put a shot of an individual (probably a female) eating a small beetle below. Its right foreleg is grasping one of the beetle's legs and its rostrum has pierced the beetle's abdomen. It liquifies the innards and slurps out the resulting smoothie. Yum ...


The final shot shows a mating pair. The male is much darker than the female, but they are similar in size. Both have salmon-pink eyes, although the eye color shows in better contrast against the male's darker coloring.

These are facinating little bugs. I like that they sit still waiting for prey, which makes the photography much easier. The hardest part about photographing them is their small size; even with the autofocus on my camera set for center, they are too small to focus on accurately. Out of every 10 shots, I probably kept just 1. Another reason to love digital; I use that "erase" button frequently.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Two-Second Accident of Timing

A short post today that covers a total of 2 seconds of time. I was taking some pictures of Gallardia flowers in our wildflower garden. I took the standard head on, dead-center shots and decided to try a three quarter profile. This first shot (pretty nice, I thought) was with the ISO set at 800, f9, and 1/25 sec exposure time. Since this was hand-held, I planned to take a couple of shots to insure that neither I nor the flower wobbled in at a least 1 shot.
:-) I didn't even notice that JD was in the background.


According to the time stamp, this next shot was 2 seconds after the first shot. During that 2 seconds, JD walked into the center of the frame to see why I wasn't paying attention to him. He sniffed the flower, pushing it toward the right as I snapped the picture. And -- it was IN FOCUS!

This has to be the sweetest picture I have ever taken and I felt compelled to share it (i.e., inflict on the blogosphere).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"How much is that Froggie in the Window?" and "Going Batty"

OK, I admit it. I stole this idea of photographing the frog from inside the window and juxtaposing it with the same frog photographed from the outside from MidMarsh John who recently showed a seven spot ladybird photographed this way on his blog (http://midmarsh.blogspot.com/2009/08/3-thanks-and-7-spots.html). This is a little tree frog of some kind. It was sitting on the window next to our front door a couple of nights ago.



That was an exciting night. It started with Jazmin sniffing the vent that is the air intake on our fireplace insert. The vent is connected to the chimney. We couldn't tell why she was sniffing, but in about 3/4 hour we knew -- we heard the chittering of a bat as it crawled out of the vent, with Jazmin only inches away, waiting to grab it. Instead I grabbed Jazmin, Dennis grabbed a dish towel, we crashed into each other as I was heading away from the bat and he was heading toward it. I got the cats shut into the bedroom and Dennis got the bat into the dish towel. But before he could get to the front door to put the bat out, the bat got out of the towel and began swooping around the house.

Oddly, our house doesn't have too many doors; the den (where the fireplace is), kitchen, diningroom, livingroom, and foyer are all contiguous. So for the next hour we tried to get the bat to fly out any of the 5 windows we had opened for that purpose. We both really like bats, and would never kill one by intent, but since some are known to carry rabies in this part of the country, we proceeded with due caution. Finally the bat flew into the laundry room, which fortunately does have a door and a window. Dennis went into the laundry room long enough to take the screen off the window and open the window and then shut the door behind him as he exited. Then we left the bat to its own devices. As we checked around the house to see if there were any other domestic-minded bats, Dennis noticed the frog on the window.


Well, that prompted me to get my camera out and I took the two photos of the frog. I really like the suction cup toes. As I took photos from the inside and outside I remembered MidMarch John's ladybird composite photo and tried to reproduce it for frog.


While I had the camera out, I took a couple of pictures of the bat. By this time, it was hanging from the ceiling. I couldn't get a good POV because its head was pretty close to the wall and I was a little more timid than usual (probably a good thing, I often throw caution to the winds) because a colleague of mine is currently going through rabies vaccination shots after getting bit on the head while he was in the wilderness of Wisconsin. The vast majority of bats do not have rabies, however, if you are bitten, you really need to have the vaccinations and also get gamma globulin injections. My colleague says the gamma globulin injects are very painful. With that on my mind, I did not get the step stool so I could get the camera to within 18 inches of the bat. Instead I stayed at least 4 feet away! ;-) I'm afraid that is as much caution as I can muster. In the picture below you can see the bat has one wing partially stretched out with what I seem to recall is its little finger equivalent hooked onto the ceiling.

These bats, called little brown bats, are quite small, only about 3-4 inches long. Their wings make them appear much larger when they are flying. I got a little closer in the next photo by standing on a sturdy plastic box (and I also cropped the photo severely). You can make out an ear toward the bottom left; its "tail" is at the top of the picture.

The bat was still there when it was time to go to bed, so we just left the window open and the door closed in hopes it would fly out during the night and not invite all its buddies to this new place it found to hang out in. Luck was with us and the next morning it was gone.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Things with Wings

No time to get out and take more photos or even enjoy being outside for any significant length of time while there is daylight. So I have gone back into the recent archives searching for "things with wings" as the theme.

Some birds have such recognizable and distinct profiles that you can ID them from afar. That is certainly the case for this Great Blue Heron that I snapped quickly as it soared overhead along the other side of the Zumbro River in early July. We have no other herons of this size in Minnesota, and the way herons fly with their legs stretched out and their necks tucked in shows clearly even in this tiny silhouette.



And many birds have such distinct plumage that you can ID them from a single feather. Here is some clear evidence that a wild turkey is nearby. Let's see where they can be ...


Ahh ... here they are. These are the half-grown chicks having at the birdseed I put on the ground for them.

And here is one of the hens with a couple of the other chicks in the flower bed I just planted. They let me get to within about 7 feet of them. I think they must feel fairly safe when I am on the patio and they are above me on the ground. She and the chicks are keeping a sharp eye on me, never-the-less.

The next pics are of insects, some of them I know and some of them I don't know. Even if I don't know their common or scientific name, I can usually tell which Order of Insecta they are in. Of course this is what I am remembering from my undergraduate classes many years ago, so my knowledge is not current (or easily retrieved from my the dim recesses of my brain). This will at least get me started on keying them out.


Even I can tell you that these are honey bees. Now whether they are the Africanized bees or straight domestic bees is beyond me. They weren't aggressive, which is a behavior characteristic of the Africanized ones. Regardless, they are in the Order Hymenoptera along with the wasps and ants.

Coleoptera, the beetles. More insects are in the Colecoptera Order than in any other order. Was it Darwin who said that God must have a special fondness for beetles? It seems that this particular beetle has a special fondness for yarrow...


Pretty sure this is a leafhopper,which puts it in the Order Homoptera. I think this one looks like a clown car.


This one is probably a planthopper, also in the Order Homoptera with the leafhoppers. But I'm not certain. It is a real comical looking creature, isn't it? Click on it to have a closer look at its little red button eyes and cabbage leaf wings.

Like the honey bees above, this wasp is in the Order Hymenoptera. I love the contrast between the green thorax and head and the deep yellow of its back legs. At first I had assumed that the yellow was pollen that had collected as the wasp had been feeding, but upon a closer look it seems that the yellow is hair on the legs. Click on it to see the details and let me know what you think.
Today, I looked at the coneflowers and they are beginning to fade pretty rapidly. Tomorrow I may cut back the oldest. Sometimes that encourages another round of flowers, although the second round is usually smaller. The days are definitely getting shorter and signs of fall are all around; the white snakeroot is in full bloom, the apples are turning red, and the yellow jackets are getting more active.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jazmin Climbs a Tree and Other Photos

You may recall me mentioning Jazmin, our newest cat that we found starving and injured back in March. She is healing pretty well and has gained a lot of weight. She is incredibly active and agile, and she jumps up onto the top of kitchen wall cabinets, about 7 ft above the floor, and bounds around the upper reaches of the kitchen. We decided to keep her as a mostly indoor cat, with only brief, supervised, excursions to the out-of-doors. I took her out today for a bit and she chased a female cardinal all the way up a tree. Below is the picture I took of her 25 feet up the tree, looking somewhat concerned about where she wound up and how to get down. She managed a controlled crash to get back down on her own.




I had a comment that my previous "spider at meal" post was a little "gruesome". It was, wasn't it? So that readers don't get the wrong idea about me, I have some prettier, less gory , shots below. ;-)
A couple of weeks ago, I took some pictures of bumblebees in the garden. This one, and many of its friends and relatives, were feeding on the pink monardas and purple coneflowers. It is a real stretch for them to reach the nectar in the monarda, but it must be an abundance of the good stuff because they sure do go after it.
No problem reaching the goodies in the coneflower, but they move so quickly from floret to floret that the amounts of nectar at each must be miniscule.
I need help ID'ing this butterfly that I shot on the Zumbro River path. It is a Fritillary, but which one - the Great Spangled, Aphrodite, or Atlantis? All three are found here. I don't think it is the Atlantis because it is lacking the black band at the edge of the hindwing. I'm leaning toward the Great Spangled, but can't really tell for sure. Help appreciated!
It was very cooperative and let me take its picture from above and below before it flew off. The "below" shots meant I was belly down in the brambles beside the path. I did get some strange looks from joggers passing by. They aren't the only ones to whom "no pain, no gain" applies. ;-)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Spider at meal

Fair warning to Arachnophobes - the next 4 shots (after this first one) are up close and personal with a spider enjoying its meal; you may want to skip this post! I just put in this pretty flower picture so that the spider wouldn't show up in the snapshot of this blog. ;-) Plus, I really like the way this daylily looks from the back side with the dark, brick-red streaks against the brighter apricot color.




OK - for those of you still with me, I shot this series of a spider dining on a red and black true bug. This is the same bug that had laid its eggs on the Columbine canadensis that I showed at the beginning of July.



The spider held perfectly still as I took the photos, but as soon as I turned my back it would shift the bug to a new position.



The spider didn't seem to use its front legs to hold onto the bug.



If you click to enlarge the photos, you can almost see the pedipalps grabbing hold of one of the bug's legs to keep it in position.

This last picture was taken more than 2 hours after the first one. I guess it takes some time to liquify bug innards enough to suck them out of the carapace ...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dandelion and Poppy

Today I have 2 series of photos that I took during July. One is of the seedhead of a dandelion and the other of poppies. The dandelion flower is not at all remarkable; I didn't even bother to photograph it. But the seedheads of this particular dandelion species are beautiful. Below you can see how the distal ends of each individual seed (called an achene, I looked it up) are gathered at the top end and held in place by part of the dried up flower. The ends escape one by one and the parachutes of each seed are free to open up.





A lovely, long, and slender (and cooperative), bug was taking it easy on this seedhead.


Ordinarily, the parachutes open up, flatten out into a disk, and push each other apart, so that ultimately a parachute ball is formed. I think this happens either as the day warms or as the dew dries because on the cool, wet, day I was taking these photos, no spherical parachute ball was in sight. The picture below is as close to a ball is it got that day.




If you click on these pictures, you can see how the parachute spines refract the sunlight into rainbow colors.




The parachute structure is incredibly delicate.



These red poppies are almost surreal in their saturated color. A little hoverfly was visiting this newly opened poppy.


The stamens and anthers form a ring around the stigmatic disc that is a defining characteristic of poppy flowers.


The stigmatic disc looks like the lid to a jewel box. If you click to enlarge this photo, you can see pollen grains that have landed on the stigma.


The stigmatic disc remains on the seed capsule as it matures.



I'll leave you with this photo of a poppy flower and seed capsule that to me epitomizes a midsummer garden afternoon. Although I'm not too sure that the little fly under the seed capsule is still enjoying the afternoon so much. ;-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wildlife on the Patio

So, we built the patio to replace the rotting deck and are looking forward to spending more time outside enjoying the Minnesota summer and (early) fall. We had no idea what an attraction the patio would be to wildlife. If we had known, we would have built it years ago! Below is a sampling of what we have seen.
First up is a collage of the wild turkey extended family. This is a group of 3 hens with merged offspring. They started with at least 18 young, but I think a couple have been lost along the way. They are preyed upon by coyotes (which we hear howling almost nightly) and owls (there are least 3 Great Horned Owls that we hear calling back and forth in the woods behind the house). They have been exploring the patio during each stage of construction and are happy to see the birdseed has reappeared. One year we watched all summer long as 11 chicks (or is it "poults" for turkeys?) matured and were excited to see such a large number survive, only to come home from work one day to find little lifeless turkey bodies strewn across the road where they had been wiped out by a vehicle. That was a very sad day. It is a successful breeding season when a handful survive to the next year. We will keep our fingers crossed for this bunch.


This tattered butterfly was attracted to the sun-warmed, damp soil that had been delivered for the new flowerbeds. I was not able to get very close to it, so this photo is severely cropped and of fairly low resolution. JD was "helping" me with this shot. ;-)

Another butterfly first for me was this Red Admiral (I think) that was sipping water from between the patio pavers. You can also see the birdseed between the pavers.
This wasp stayed on the window screen while I pulled a patio chair over to stand on to get closer to it. The light was rather dim and I didn't have the camera flash set (duh!), so the picture is a little blurry due to the long, hand held exposure while I was standing balanced in the chair.
The last set of photos is a series of little muddy pawprints on the retaining wall. Raccoons had actually made mudpies on the patio in the early morning hours after a torrential rainfall during the night. I didn't think to photograph the mudpies before I hosed them off, but the pawprints were still there when I got home from work. You can clearly see how hand-like their paws are.
They are very endearing creatures and amazingly smart; with those opossable thumbs, they also have a lot of destructive potential. A number of years ago, we saw a mother raccoon showing her 6 little young the very sophisticated birdfeeder that had 5 tubes for different seeds that we had hanging over the bench on the deck. I looked out a little later and, no lie, saw the little ones making a pyramid of 3,2,1 on the bench so that the top one could reach the bottom of the birdfeeder. The next morning, we discovered the birdfeeder disassembled. We were not able to figure out how to put it back together. I left it out hoping the raccoons would reassemble it, but nothing doing. ;-)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Of two minds ...

Another quick post today, as I have a deadline looming and need to be writing on that rather than this. I did take a few pictures today and have a couple from several days ago of what I think may be figwort; at least it looks like what Rambling Rob identified on his blog (http://wightrambler.blogspot.com/2009/08/down-vicarage-lane.html) as figwort. What do you think, Rob? I didn't see any flights from wasp airlines, though.



The only other photo I want to show is of JD, my geriatric 17 year old cat, enjoying catnip al fresco.
I tell myself as I read other blogs, write this blog, and wander through the garden with my camera that these activities free my unconscious mind to be composing the document with the looming deadline. That is my story and I'm sticking with it! ;-) The strategy does seem to work because I have made progress throughout the day when I sit down to write. Now back to work -- how much more did my unconscious mind manage while the rest of me was posting this?