More Time in the Prairie

I spent some time at Medora Prairie in Warren County today, photographing butterflies, getting my head on straight, and scratching my legs on the raspberries.

I got a good look at a little yellow as I went in.

These common wood nymphs were trying to become more common.  The flash distorts reality a little bit here–these butterflies appear to be almost completely black as they fly around in the grass.

There were regal fritillaries.  I chased them around a lot and took quite a few photos but never got quite close enough with an unobstructed view to get the picture I wanted.

Butterfly milkweed was abundant, as was black-eyed Susan.

The lead plant was in full bloom as well.

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Fourth of July Butterfly Irruption

We have had a strange combination of dry weather followed by very heavy rains here in Iowa.  We are also in the midst of an irruption (an extreme increase in the population size) of painted lady butterflies.  After the rains, the butterflies are attracted to the moisture that remains in the soil and on the gravel on roads.  So our gravel roads can be covered with butterflies.

I have seen both phenomena before, but I have not seen them come together in quite the way they did today.  I drove to Marietta Sand Prairie today and my car flushed up butterflies all along the way.  It was especially noticeable on the few miles of gravel roads that I drove, but there were even good numbers of butterflies sitting on the blacktop roads, attempting to get a little moisture from the surface.

This photo has eleven painted ladies and two red admirals.  There were plenty of places along my trip that had concentrations similar to this.

The purpose of my trip was to photograph butterflies, and I was not disappointed.

Gorgone checkerspots are considerably less common than painted ladies, but there were some at the prairie.  Like the other butterflies, they were attracted to the wet gravel.

The prairie was in bloom, and even though the painted ladies are quite common they are also quite beautiful.  I found myself taking many photos of them.

This butterfly is common the world over.

Other creatures were out, too.  This is a marsh fly, apparently in the genus Helophilus.

This is a white form female of the orange sulfur.

I only got a short look at this robber fly.  When I spooked him, he flew a few feet away and landed facing in my direction.  It sure seemed like he was watching me.

This question mark butterfly spent some time on a common milkweed.

With all the milkweed in bloom, I kept a sharp eye out for hairstreaks, which seem to love this flower.  Unfortunately, I only saw one, this banded hairstreak.  I was lucky enough to get several photos of it though.


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A Better Day for Butterflies

I have been a little disappointed this year with my butterfly photography.  To get good butterfly photographs you have to have a good habitat for them.  I moved this spring, and I have had a hard time finding some good places close to home.  I know some terrific habitats that are a long drive away, but have struggled a little bit finding some close-by places.

I went to Swede Point Park this morning–it is only about a ten minute drive away.  I have been there in the past, but was not under the impression that it was good butterfly habitat.  In fact, none were out this morning because it was cool and rainy, but I saw some good stands of common milkweed and dogbane.

This afternoon was a different story.  The sun came up and it got hot.  And I did find butterflies.

Red admirals were everywhere.  The common milkweed and the dogbane were loaded with them.

This American lady was on the dogbane.

Silver-spotted skippers will visit flowers in the conventional butterfly manner–walking around on top of the flower.  They will also land on the side of or underneath the flowers, and seem comfortable in any position.

The reconstructed prairie was full of blooming foxglove beardtongue.  This flower is not really a good butterfly flower.  It is pollinated mostly by bees, which have to force their way up into the flower to get the nectar.  I saw this silver-spotted skipper visit two different flowers, although it was obviously a difficult task for it.  With effort, the butterfly seemed to be getting rewarded.

This little wood satyr was near the wooded area, but would flit around in the grasses and poison ivy.

Paths were mowed through the prairie, and this meadow fritillary settled on a clover flower there.

A large stand of butterfly milkweed was fenced off and noted with a sign near the edge of the prairie.  Several great-spangled fritillaries were visiting the plant.

Flowers help a lot, but after a rain butterflies can often be found getting moisture and minerals from the wet ground, particularly along gravel roads.  This is a hackberry emperor.

The butterflies are out.  Now is a good time to see them.

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A Long Trip to Photograph Bugs

Yesterday I drove most of the way across the state to visit Bixby State Preserve.  I did it mostly because I wanted some time outside, which I feel like I haven’t had enough of lately.  Plus, this preserve is a very special place.

One unexpected surprise was that there were several limestone blocks, roughly the size of coffee tables, that had been placed at a road turnoff.  Those blocks had been there for some time, and are covered with mosses.  I noticed that six-spotted tiger beetles, Cicindela sexguttata used the tops of these blocks to hunt and probably also to establish dominance, as they would chase each other off of the rock.

C. sexguttata is a widespread species, named for six white spots that the beetles found in Iowa never seem to have.

I also found this lovely creature with seductive colorful eyes.  This is a species of deer fly.  Deer flies have a painful bite, but they usually sit and think about biting before they do.  This lovely lady did not bite me, but she might have had I given her the chance.

I also found this nice crane fly.

If I lived close enough to the preserve to visit it every day, I would bet that I could find something new and exciting every time I would visit.

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A Short Walk in the Woods

I  went to The Ledges today to get a little bit of time out in nature.  The trails are wet because we have had so much rain lately, and the gnats are pretty nasty.  Still, it was good to get out.

This painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, was enjoying the little sun that popped out from the clouds.

This snail was climbing on one of the trees near the pool the turtle was in.  I am not sure of the species, but it looks a little like a juvenile Euchemotrema fraternum.

I bought myself a nice book for my birthday, Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America by Jeffrey H. Skevington and Michelle M. Locke, with other authors.  So now my attempts to identify syrphid flies are a little less frustrating than before.

This one seems to be Toxomerus marginatus.

This one seems to be Toxomerus germinatus.

There were lots of butterflies flying, but most at The Ledges were red admirals.

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Ring of Life

I was putting my trash dumpster back under my deck this afternoon and saw what I thought was a small plastic ring on the ground, surrounding some moss that was strangely lush and green.

But it wasn’t a ring, it was a lid.  Maybe off of a gallon jug of some drink or a household liquid.

It was lush and green because it held a small amount of water, while the nearby mosses were drained by the soil.

The moss was the same as those growing on the shady ground near to it.

Meanwhile, I checked out the only tree in my yard, a crab apple.  I found several honeybees and a single red admiral visiting.

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I love to take my camera out into the wild and take pictures–mostly closeups of bugs and such.  I find it refreshes me mentally and physically.  So it is therapy.  Since I am taking photos, I call it phototherapy.

Yesterday I took a vacation day from work and had an all day phototherapy session.

I started at Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve near Marshalltown, Iowa.  There is a small sand blowout area where I found tiger beetle.  I believe it is the festive tiger beetle, Cicindela scutellaris.  In order to get good photos of insects on the ground, I approach the insect, then get down on my knees or my belly, resting my elbows on the sand.  Then I slowly inchworm my way forward until I am close enough to fill the frame on my camera with the insect.  In this case, it was about 8 inches away from the lens.  Tiger beetles spook easily, so it took a lot of stalking and crawling to get photos of this guy.

Tiger beetles are ferocious predators which impale their prey on their hooked jaws.

I spent about an hour and a half at Marietta–although the insect life is diverse there, the weather was a little cool and windy for much activity.  I mostly only saw the tiger beetles, although there were a few wasps and a small number of common butterflies–red admirals and painted ladies.

Then I went down to Elk Rock State Park in Marion County, Iowa.  This is the middle of the short flight of Henry’s elfin, and I was hoping to see some.  They are known to occur at this park and I have photographed them there in the past.

A short walk down the equestrian path I found them in higher numbers than I expected.  There must have been close to two dozen altogether in the time I was there.  I have spent many hours on fruitless searches for this species.  There were more here than I have seen at any one time.

Most were basking along the trail, but a few were working the flowers–spring beauty and gooseberry.

I also saw this spring azure working the same flowers.  I will add the caveat that it could be the spring form of summer azure–I am not sure I understand all of the subtle differences.

There were beeflies all over.  I think this one is Bombylius major.

The therapy session worked.  I went back to my car a little tired, but mentally refreshed, though I smelled a little like a healthy horse.

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Finding Nature Where You Find It

I have recently moved from an apartment complex to a house in the small town of Woodward, Iowa.  The house is a great improvement over the cramped apartment I was living in.  I have a yard, but it is a mostly typical yard with little biological diversity.  I have one small tree and a flower bed with bleeding hearts and some kind of mint that I can’t identify yet.  But I also have a few yard weeds–dandelion, violets, and creeping Charlie.

I understand that people hate creeping Charlie, and I understand why.  But if you look at it closely you will see a very spectacular flower.

I found a few butterflies getting nectar from the dandelions.  There were several painted ladies the other day.

Yeah, I have red admirals too…

I found a small syrphid fly.

And a bee–possibly in the Eucerini.

I hope to add some native flowers in order to make my yard a better habitat.  I need to start somewhere.

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First of the Year

I have a bunch of things I “should” be doing, but instead I headed to The Ledges State Park with my camera.  I wanted to see some butterflies, some wildflowers, and get some fresh air.

The first wildflower I saw was a little surprising–a spring beauty.  It was definitely early for the species and this bloom was the only one I saw.

Snow trillium and hepatica were also blooming.

I really love hepatica.

I saw some microleps and some small sawflies flying.  If I had more time I might have gotten some photos of them.

I walked along a path as it was starting to spit a little bit of rain.  There were some very dark clouds nearly overhead, so I started to head back up the hill.  I saw a small garter snake in the path that I had been on earlier, and tried to get some photos without spooking it.

There were two attractive young women walking up the path, nearly to where I was.  I walked in front of them, slowly so as not to frighten the snake.  They walked on by, but I got the feeling I might have violated their personal space.  Neither one saw the snake, as nearly as I could tell.  I did snap a couple of pictures of this colorful animal just as the rain picked up.

I made it back to the car without getting too wet, but the rain poured down on my drive home.


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So I moved into a new house and I took some photos…

There is a rock in the flower bed on the north side of the house, and it has lichens on it.

This is the same rock.

There is a little bit of moss under the deck.

The light on the garage has a bird’s nest.

Were you expecting something different from me?  You should know better.

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