Monday, August 26, 2019

Odonates Abounding

I went to the Sackville Waterfowl Park on Sunday morning for a walk.  It is definitely a favourite spot for me to take a walk, immerse myself in nature, and enjoy some quiet time.  I also like to take the camera along to record any interesting birds, bees or butterflies, and any other critters I see.  This time, it was definitely a day for odonates, meaning dragonflies (darners, meadowhawks, etc.) and damselflies (bluets, spreadwings, and others).  I spent quite a lot of time watching them and snapping pictures when I could.  Many of them don't settle for long, so it can be really difficult to take their pictures.  I thought I'd share some of the pictures I took. It's a bit of a picture-heavy post, but they really are beautiful creatures.

There was a lot of odonate love in the air....they really do contort into amazing positions for procreation.  I believe these are familiar bluets (Enallagma civile).

See how they make a sort of sideways heart shape?  I think that's kind of cute.

This is another bluet, but I'm not sure which species.  They can be very tricky to identify because they have very similar markings.  There are tiny differences in the tail appendages but this shot isn't clear enough to show those.

This is a band-winged meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum).  It is easier to identify because of the brown tinge in the wings.

Here, just for some variety, is a tri-coloured bumble bee (Bombus ternarius) on goldenrod. 

This is another meadowhawk, but I can't identify it because there are several that look similar to this.  It is probably either the cherry-faced or white-faced meadowhawk (S. internum or S. obtrusum).  I love this picture because of the shadows of the wings - it makes it look like it has 8 wings instead of 4.

Here are a couple more bluets, but these are less acrobatic at this point.  They fly around stuck to each other like this.  Fascinating.

This is one of the big dragonfly species - a darner.  I can't tell which one because I couldn't get a side view shot of it, and the side markings are how you identify these critters.  Still, I love this shot of its eyes.  They are simply amazing to look at.

This is almost certainly a white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum).

This bluet posed nicely for me.  Probably a familiar bluet.

This is a male slender spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis).  Look at those blue eyes!

This is a spotted spreadwing (Lestes congener), which an expert helpfully identified for me.  I post many of my sightings to iNaturalist, which is a great place for citizen science.  Experts can help identify all forms of life that are posted there.  You can post pictures of plants, insects, animals and birds, even fungi and lichen!

The white-faced meadowhawks were busy ensuring the future survival of their species as well. 

They look like a two-headed creature in this shot!  Who does the driving?!

I took some other insect pictures, including this mud dauber wasp.  What a weird conformation - look at how the abdomen is connected to the thorax with such a thin strip.  I love the stripey legs!

Here's a regular ol' two-striped grasshopper, hopping in the grass.

And here, one of the strangest things I saw on my walk, is what I initially thought was an interesting fungus growing on a branch.  Turns out that it isn't fungus at all.  It's a species of aphid called the cottony alder psyllid (Psylla floccosa).  The nymph stage produces this weird-looking cottony "fluff" on alder branches.  Definitely a new find for me.  You just never know what you'll see on a walk in the park.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Polyphemus Moth

I recently had an up-close-and-personal experience with a beautiful polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and wanted to share some of the photographs I took. As you can see, this is a very large moth, with a wingspan of about 6 inches.  It's the largest moth that I have had visit my screened porch moth lights.

Those beautiful spots on its hindwings earned it the polyphemus name, after the Greek cyclops of myth, whose name was the same.

It has marvellous antennae that look like small ferns growing out of its head.  This specimen is a male.  The female antennae are less glamorous.

As you can see, it has a 'furry' appearance on its head and body, although those are really just scales that will rub off if they are touched too much. 

The larvae of this moth eat maple, oak, willow and birch, among other deciduous tree species.  In fact, the caterpillars eat 86,000 times their own weight in about 2 months before they transform into the moth form. Amazing!

The moth uses its feet to hold on very tightly, even though one doesn't really feel the grip.  I could turn it completely upside-down. 

He is also wearing marvellously "furry" trousers.

Those eye spots on the wings help camouflage the moth and can confuse potential predators.  I hope to have more visits from this beautiful species in future, but having this nearly perfect one visit me this year was such a treat!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Moulting Blue Jay

I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but I can't help but imagine this blue jay feeling pretty embarrassed at its current condition.  Are the other birds staring at it?

Blue jays moult, just like my chickens and other birds.  Sometimes, their head and neck feathers fall out almost all at once, and they have to go more-or-less bald for a few days until the new feathers grow in.  In my area, that is most likely to happen in August.

There are other blue jays around who are not having this type of moult, so it doesn't seem to happen to all of them, and many seem to moult in a more gradual way, so you barely notice anything happening at all.  But not for this one!

I put some peanuts out to give this jay something to be excited about in the midst of its indignity. I think it was pretty happy about that.  

You can see the new feathers are coming in already, so it will only be a few days before this bird looks totally normal again.

The peanuts have lots of protein to help that process along.  Don't worry little jay, I still think you're beautiful!