You Don’t Find This in Just Any Ditch

This large-flowered beardtongue, Pentistoma grandiflora, is blooming in the roadside ditch next to our house tonight.



This is a tallgrass prairie plant, native to the state, but probably in the ditch because of integrated roadside management programs that plant natives in the roadside ditches.



This plant has a spectacular large flower.  Up the road a bit is its smaller cousin, foxglove beardtongue, or P. digitalis.



You may have seen similar posts to this one from me in the past–the plants bloom here every year, and I am always amazed by their simple beauty.

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Hypothetical Butterflies

People who know me know that I like butterflies.  As a result I get a lot of hypothetical butterflies–birthday cards and other things with representations of butterflies.  They don’t reflect reality–just some abstract concept of a butterfly.  My mother used to give this kind of thing to me often, and here is one I got from a co-worker.

This one is solar powered, and flutters in the sunlight.  It has a base unit and a very fine wire to the “butterfly.”

All those things are fine, and I am entertained by them.  But I am not a big fan of the hypothetical.  I like my butterflies with warts.

Butterflies are attracted to tree sap, rotten fruit, and dung.

Yesterday we visited cemeteries, in keeping with the Memorial Day weekend.  We had our little bouquets of flowers.  The one for my Mother’s grave stone had a couple of hypothetical butterflies.

At one cemetery I noticed a red admiral fluttering around the base of a stone.  On the base was a dead baby songbird, covered with flies.  The red admiral landed, and sipped minerals from the carrion.


I had my camera in the car, and I really wanted to take pictures.  But there were other people there, and I did not wish to unintentionally insult anyone there.  So the camera stayed in its case in the car.

Mom would have enjoyed watching me make a fool of myself, but the living might not have.

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Six Species of Frogs (or maybe seven, or eight, or even nine)

Our little pond has attracted at least six species of frogs.  Pond might be a stretch–puddle is probably closer to the truth.  The pond is not very deep and dries out in more years than not.  But it is great for frogs, dragonflies, and a host of other types of wildlife.

I have recognized the calls of chorus frogs, cricket frogs, American toads, gray tree frogs (we could have only one of the two species or both–eastern gray tree frog and Cope’s gray tree frog), and the northern leopard frog.  I have photos of all of them except the chorus frog–somehow they always elude me.  The two gray tree frogs are not visually distinguishable–they can be identified by the calls, but I have not been able to distinguish the calls.  I think I may have heard spring peepers on a few occasions, but I am not sure of that, either.

The plains leopard frog might be found here, but I have not found one yet.

Just the other day I found a bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus, in the pond.   That makes six species for sure.


Of course, bullfrogs have a tendency to eat the other species when they have the chance, so the numbers might go down.

Or up if I can identify other species.

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Up Close and Personal

This red admiral let me get within a few inches so I could take its picture.



The photo was reduced in size but not cropped.  I did get that close.   I could have caught him with my fingers.

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An Oddly-colored Butterfly

I photographed this butterfly near my small reconstructed prairie this morning.


The morning was a little cool and this individual was reluctant to fly, so I was able to pull some of the grass stems near it to get a better view.


Seems to be a female pearl crescent, Phyciodes tharos, although the color and pattern is unusual for the species.  Very unusual.

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A Fine Day at The Ledges

Iowa has a nice state park called The Ledges.  It is a hilly canyon with rocks and a fairly clean stream (Iowa has lots of streams, but most are polluted from agriculture) running through it.  The park also has a nice wooded area with good spring vegetation.  I spent a lot of time watching redbud trees, looking (unsuccessfully) for a butterfly called Henry’s elfin.  Here is a redbud tree, and the large leafy plants in the background are called May apples.


But I can’t help myself.  Mostly what I pay attention to is the small stuff, like this beefly, probably Bombylius major.


This is a charming little furry insect that can hover in place.

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Hard to See

The red admiral is a spectacularly beautiful butterfly that can be difficult to see, especially when it is on the dead leaves found on the forest floor.


Lots of bright colors, yet somehow it still blends in.

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I wanted to be somewhere else today.  The Jackson County Conservation Commission is sponsoring a bioblitz today, and I had planned on attending.  However, I have an unresolved health issue (hopefully nothing major but it is kicking my butt right now) that prevented me from going.

I was going to look at terrestrial snails.  Being unable to go there I spent some time photographing snails from my back yard.


This one seems to be Euchemotrema fraternum.  


This is a view of the underside of the same species–maybe not the same individual, though.


This is Zonitoides arboreus.


This is a Gastrocopta species.  Positive identification requires closer identification of the shell opening than I was able to do with the live specimen.

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Chasing a Frustration Butterfly

I like to photograph butterflies.  I have a pretty good file of photos I have taken of butterflies.  Some are common, some are rare.  I have a special category for some that I call “frustration butterflies.”

Frustration butterflies are those that I have spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to locate and photograph.  They may or may not be particularly rare, but they usually have a short flight time and behaviors that make them difficult to locate.

Henry’s elfin is one of those butterflies.  It is a small hairstreak that only flies for a few weeks in April or May in Iowa.  It is associated with redbud in Iowa, and apparently mostly with wild-growing native redbuds, not so much with those that have been planted in the cities.  I have searched for this butterfly unsuccessfully for several years now.  I always have a hard time getting time to be in the outdoors in April or May, let alone in a time when the weather cooperates.

I saw a recent posting on bugguide of this species found at Cordova Park in Iowa.  The only other Iowa record on bugguide was at Elk Rock Park.  Those parks are on opposite sides of a river impoundment called Lake Red Rock, and are about an hour’s drive away for me.

Today was warm but rainy.  I figured if the sun came out I might be able to see some.  I quickly located some redbuds at Cordova, along a road.  Unfortunately, they were in some heavy brush and down a steep hill, so I knew that if I saw the butterfly I would have a difficult time photographing it.


Redbud has a pretty little purple flower which sort of looks like a bean or a pea flower.  One way to know that you have found redbud is that you can find the flowers growing out from the barky stems of the trees–kind of a unique feature that is not seen on most local trees.


I spent a lot of time trying to find a better stand of redbuds without success.  I did take time to climb the observation tower in the park–an old water tower that was retrofitted for the new purpose.  I was not familiar with either park, and I thought the high view would help.   But I ended up back at the original spot, looking for the butterfly.

As I watched, I saw a small dark figure flying high up around the tree.  I did not get a good look, but I thought I had my butterfly.  So I got a lawn chair out of my car and just sat and watched with binoculars.   I ended up seeing a total of four, all high up and far away in the trees.

Here is a photo I got with my short telephoto macro lens.


See it?  I thought not.  I had three similar photos, and this was as close as I came.  So I examined the photos at high magnification.  It took me a while to locate the butterfly, but here it is, heavily cropped.

Henrys elfin

Since I knew it was on redbud, and it was in fact, the butterfly I was looking for, the scalloped edge of the forewing identifies it as Henry’s elfin.  One of the other photos shows both antenna, and the butterfly is in slightly different positions in each.  I can now say with a high degree of confidence that I have seen Henry’s elfin, and have a photograph of it.

Now I just need to get a good photograph of one.

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Death and Lichens

We found the remains of a deer a few years back.  We kept its skull and have it on a table outside.


I noticed that there were lichens growing on it, and took this photo of some dried lichens in the eye socket.


But it has rained for a few days, and the lichens have swelled up and gotten more colorful.



Maybe when I die, instead of locking me in a box and burying it underground, or burning my body to ashes, someone will transport my skull to a wild place.  It will set there on the ground for a few years growing lichens.


A few decades more and it will all be soil, nourishing the critters.

Dust to dust…



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