View from the Porch

It is great to live in the country.  Here was the view from my front porch tonight.

The deer wondered around the yard then went across the road.  I watched for four or five minutes before it moved on.  It never saw me at all.

But it might have had friends that I never saw, but who saw me.

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World Robber Fly Day

Don’t ask me why, but apparently today is “world robberfly day.”

This one is Laphria flavicollis.

And this is Holcocephala fusca.

Just another reason to drink beer.

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Adapting to Conditions

For several weeks I had been planning on taking three days off and doing some trips to look for some of Iowa’s rarer butterflies, and just to get out in nature in general.  So I took Wednesday through Friday off from work.  But the weather did not cooperate.

On Wednesday the forecast for here was rain and 50’s.  I saw a forecast for the Keokuk area that gave a high of 60, so I took a chance and drove down to the Shimek State Forest near there.   The sun never came out, and the temperature never went above 52.  No butterflies.  But I did see some interesting galls in the trees around the trail.

I emailed John Pearson with the Iowa DNR about the galls.  I was particularly interested in the fact that lichens and even some variety of moss were growing on the tree.

The galls seem to be on shingle oak, and John suggested that it might be “gouty oak gall” caused by cynipid wasps.  There is information about it here.  He also identified the lichen as Gray Rosette Lichen (Physcia aipolia).

I thought it was interesting that the lichens seemed to be quicker to colonize the gall than the bark on the stem adjacent to the gall.

As with nature in general, there always seem to be more questions than there are answers.  And the questions are a lot more fun.

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Because it’s Earth Day…

…or maybe because it was a beautiful day and I could, I took a bunch of pictures today.  And I got earth on the knees of my jeans as I did.  And I got earth on my elbows as I crawled closer for a better photo.  And I got earth on the back of my jeans as I slid down the hill to the ditch because the slope was too steep to climb.

This vegetative shoot of equisetum still had the morning dew.

This is a small carpenter bee–Ceratina calcarata I believe.

This bee fly, Bombylius major, was visiting violets.

These are the nasty spines of greenbriar.

This moss covers an elm tree stump by the driveway.

And of course, the apple trees are blooming.

Happy earth day.

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View from the Mud

I took some photos today in the yard and in the ditch.

A couple of different mosses.

You might know what this is if you have had any basic botany classes, or even introductory biology classes.  I will let you tell me.

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Backyard Butterfly Tonight

There was a red admiral flying around the back yard tonight.  It would fly around and land on a small stump left over from when we cut down a pear tree last fall.  Then it would fly again, and land in a different spot.  But it would alternate between three or four locations, and sooner or later it would get back to its starting point.

The sun was going down, and its wings lit up from behind.  Often, when I take photos of butterflies, I use a fill flash.  It shows the colors well, and lights up the eye.

That makes a pretty good photo, but it wasn’t what I saw.  Without the flash you can see the effects of the directional light from the sun.

The eye doesn’t show up so well, but the blue and green on the upper wings (near the head) shows up a little better.  Still, it does not seem quite so bright in this photo as it did in real life.

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Arkansas Butterflies

Last week my coworkers and I left a cold, rainy Iowa and drove to Arkansas to take some classes.  It was warm and sunny down there, and after the classes were over we had a little time to ourselves.  Others went for walks or runs, and I found a small patch of woods and took pictures.

We did not have good butterfly weather here.  Arkansas is probably three weeks ahead of us on the season.  They have some of the same butterflies we have, like this silvery checkerspot.

The gemmed satyr is not found in Iowa, and this was a totally new butterfly for me–a “lifer” in terms the birders use.

We do have little wood satyrs, and they were thick while I was trying to find another individual of the gemmed satyrs.

Goatweed leafwings are occasional visitors to Iowa.  Prior to this trip, I had seen exactly one.  They were fairly common in the woods I visited.

But the butterfly I was most excited to see was the falcate orangetip.  This is a small white butterfly, sort of a mottled gray underneath.  The males have bright orange on the wing tips.  They are only out for a couple of weeks in the spring, and they are notoriously difficult to photograph.  I got a good look at this one, and several poor photos.  I continued to search for it after I lost this one, but to no avail.

It is difficult to maintain a visual image of an inch wide butterfly from fifty or a hundred feet away, while walking through the forest full of fallen branches, rocks, and holes.  You look directly at the butterfly, and navigate with peripheral vision.  With luck you do not break a leg.

But even though I did not get a good photo, this was another “lifer” for me.  What a thrill.


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Why are There so Many Mosses?

I traveled a little this week and found myself in Arkansas.  I was able to get away after my classes and wandered around in the woods with my camera.  Today I went to the Ledges here in Iowa and was able to do the same.  I found my attention drawn to some of the mosses.

This one covered major portions of tree trunks in the woods of Arkansas.  I am not sure we don’t have it here in Iowa, but I don’t remember seeing it here.

This one was also fairly common down there.  It grew on the soft forest floor.

This was back here in Iowa.

Here it is up close.

Mosses have such a spectacular diversity of shapes and forms.  I find them quite magical.

Perhaps you will find yourself sometime in a place with a soft mattress of green leaves and stalks with their capsules that stand several inches above the ground, as tall as small woodland wildflowers.  I found this Polytrichum species in Wisconsin.


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Out for a Stroll

I photographed some moss on a stump earlier today, and accidentally photographed some springtails out for a stroll.  I did not see them while I took the picture, only when I saw the photo on my computer screen.

I don’t know the species of either the moss or the springtails.

I photographed another type of moss in the mud along the ditch.

This moss seems to be Plagiomnium ciliare.  If any of you know better, let me know.

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The Ninth Annual Day of Insects

Yesterday and Friday I went to the Ninth Annual Day of Insects, hosted by Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa.

I have posted about this event in the past, but it keeps getting better and better.  This event is about insect enthusiasts, conservationists, and naturalists all getting together and sharing their work.  There are some professional entomologists in the group (a very small percentage), but most people are only hobbyists.  Some are photographers, some manage urban or rural habitats on private property, some manage habitats on public property.  Many are educators in schools or in conservation organizations.  Some raise insects–collecting galls on plants to see what comes out, for example.

“Day” of insects might be a little bit misleading, because it has turned into at least a day and a half for people who are so inclined.  The main event consists of different insect enthusiasts  giving 15 minute talks about subjects that interest them.  Friday this year we had some longer workshops, and they were all good.  Here, M.J. and Anita are talking to us about how to raise insects.

Elieen and Lloyd gave a workshop about spiders and harvestmen.

This year there were about 150 people in attendance.   Think about it–150 people willing to pay a small fee to attend talks about insects.  Not “how to get rid of insects,” but how to conserve them.

I totally enjoyed myself, and I think most people there did also.  This is a very special event.  Thanks to all who helped to organize it, but especially Nathan, M.J., and Anita.  You folks are awesome.

Of course, while there I had the opportunity to tour the butterfly wing.  Since it was cloudy and rainy outside there was not as much activity inside as there could have been.

This atlas moth was magnificent.

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