Archive for March, 2014

Common Five-lined Skink (juvenile)

March 30, 2014

The following gallery features photos of a Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 27 September 2013. The species name fasciatus

… is derived from the Latin word fascia meaning “stripe” and the Latin suffix -inus meaning “pertaining to.” Source Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society.

This individual is a juvenile as indicated by its dark brown color and bright blue tail.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of lizards commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Broad-headed Skinks; and Common Five-lined Skinks. Next post: “Common Five-lined Skink (adult male).”

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Angry Bees!

March 28, 2014

Angry Bees, you know, like “Angry Birds.” Technically, these insects are wasps, not bees. Fortunately, they weren’t angry although they looked scary! Specifically, the following photos show Paper Wasps (Polistes sp.) building a nest on Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris). I photographed the wasp nest during photowalks through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 15-16 October 2013.

15 October 2013

15 October 2013

Thanks to Kim Phillips, Small Wonders and member of the BugGuide group on Facebook, for identifying the unknown insects as Paper Wasps. Two other members of the BugGuide group made the following species-specific comments.

Hi, the wasps appear to be Polistes metricus. The second picture [shown below] seems to show the distended 2nd tergite of the wasp on the center-right of the nest. Source Credit: Ian The Notsogreat, member of the BugGuide group on Facebook.

Polistes metricus or P. parametricus would be a good bet. There may be other “cryptic” species. In any event, very difficult to diagnose from images alone. Source Credit: Eric Eaton, member of the BugGuide group on Facebook.

16 October 2013

16 October 2013

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar

March 26, 2014

The following photos show a couple of Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillars (Acronicta oblinita), a type of stinging caterpillar, spotted on 06 September 2013 during a photowalk along the boardwalk that goes through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park.

Stinging caterpillars use poison-filled bristles to defend themselves from predators. If you touch a stinging caterpillar, you’ll know it by the burning, itching … Source Credit: Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar.

Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita)

Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita)

Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita)

Thanks to Mike Powell, fellow wildlife photographer and blogger, for identifying this unusual caterpillar.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The last two …

March 24, 2014

The following Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) was spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 15 October 2013. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

The next day I saw several Blue-faced Meadowhawk males, all very skittish. I was able to shoot one photo (shown below) of the last individual I spotted before it flew up and away into the sunset. True story, straight from a made-for-TV movie.

Not my best work, but the photo preserves a record of the last Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly spotted during Fall 2013. 16 October 2013 currently stands as the latest date Blue-faces have been observed at Huntley Meadows Park, extending the old record of 12 October set in Fall 2012.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More animal tracks

March 22, 2014

The following photograph shows tracks made by a juvenile Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park, spotted during a photowalk on 20 December 2013. The bird hopped onto the boardwalk from the marsh, and walked from right-to-left.

Great Blue Heron tracks

Here is the same photo rotated from landscape- to portrait view. In this orientation, the heron walked from bottom-to-top (relative to the photo).

Great Blue Heron tracks

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Animal tracks

March 20, 2014

The boardwalk through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park is a great laboratory for studying animal tracks, such as the following tracks made by a couple of common mid-size mammals whose muddy feet left prints on the recycled plastic boards. Many animals, such as raccoon and fox, use the boardwalk to navigate the hemi-marsh when they are either hunting for prey or escaping from predators.

The first photo shows raccoon (Procyon lotor lotor) tracks.

Raccoon tracks

The next three photos show fox tracks, probably red fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva), the more common of two confirmed species of fox found at Huntley Meadows Park.

Fox tracks

Fox tracks

Fox tracks

Thanks to Meagan Keefe, Program Manager at Huntley Meadows Park, for kindly verifying my tentative field identification of animal tracks spotted during a photowalk on 27 December 2013. Raccoon tracks are relatively easy to identify. Most of my uncertainty arose from the fact that the fox tracks shown in the Purdue University Track Identification Guide look a little different on a hard surface (such as the boardwalk) versus a soft surface (such as mud). It’s reassuring to know my thinking was on the right track. (Ugh, BAD pun intended!)

Related Resources: Mike Powell, fellow wildlife photographer and blogger, is an early-riser who has spotted many of the animals at Huntley Meadows Park that tend to be more active at night. Mike’s good fortune is the result of an intense drive that takes him often to the right spot at the right time.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (females)

March 18, 2014

An excerpt from “The wheel goes around and ’round,” posted on 12 November 2013, summarizes the story of one amazing day hunting for females and mating pairs of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 November 2013.

I witnessed what can be described appropriately as an orgy of mating Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 November 2013. While standing in the same spot for an hour-or-so, I photographed six (6) mating pairs “in wheel” and seven (7) mating pairs “in tandem,” in addition to several other mating pairs I was unable to photograph. Also, I shot photos of eight (8) individual females — an unusually high number to see perching near the water! That’s a personal best and may be an all-time record for the species.

This post features unpublished photos of Female 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Females 5 and 6 may be the same individual photographed at two nearby locations along the boardwalk. Photos of “Female 7” were published on 10 November 2013 in the post entitled, “Windshield wipers.”

Female 1

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 2

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 3

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 4

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 5

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 6

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Female 8

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Recipe for success

March 16, 2014

Combine one beautiful subject with equal parts of good light and extraordinary fall color — that’s my recipe for tasty photo treats!

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

Three male- and one female Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) were spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 30 September 2013. These two individuals are males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

Editor’s Note: There is only one more post in the pipeline featuring my photos of Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies from Fall 2013. Counseling will be available for those readers who fear they may experience withdrawal symptoms when the weekly “fix” of photos dries up.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gall

March 14, 2014

The dictionary widget in Apple OS X defines “gall” as …

gall 3 |gôl|
noun
an abnormal growth formed on plants and trees, esp. oaks, in response to the presence of insect larvae, mites, or fungi.
• [ as modifier ] denoting insects or mites that produce such growths: gall flies.

The following photos show an unknown insect gall on Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) spotted during a photowalk through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 November 2013.

Unknown insect gall

Closer view.

Unknown insect gall

Wider view.

Charley Eiseman, widely regarded as the go-to gall guy, said “It is likely a Diplolepis sp. gall.” Diplolepis is a genus of gall wasp in the Family Cynipidae.

Thanks to Joshua Stuart Rose for providing a detailed answer to my questions, “What is the typical timeline for development of a gall like this one (including the life cycle of the insects living inside the gall), and what is the role of the “host” plant?”

Charley can correct me if I’m wrong, but the host plant is both protection and food for the gall inhabitant. The insect somehow incites growth of the gall, sometimes by bringing along a pathogenic fungus or virus, other times by releasing hormones or even segments of genetic material. The insect then eats what is growing in the gall’s interior. Meanwhile, the plant’s bark or skin, already adapted to protect the interior tissues of the plant, protects the insect right along with. The timeline is tough to figure without knowing the species, but if there’s anything overwintering in there, I would bet on its emerging from the gall in April or May. That’s assuming that it did not already emerge in the autumn to overwinter as an adult somewhere, or else emerged even further back in time so it could mate and overwinter as eggs, waiting to form their own galls after they hatch in the spring. Source Credit: Joshua Stuart Rose, member of the BugGuide group on Facebook.

Charley Eiseman added the following comment:

That all sounds right to me. I don’t see exit holes so I’m guessing there is still something inside. Also, it seems to be the case that stem swelling type galls overwinter. Source Credit: Charley Eiseman, member of the BugGuide group on Facebook.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Color conundrum

March 12, 2014

What’s orange and black but actually called a “bluet?” The Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum), of course!

The word “bluet” refers to a type of damselfly rather than the color blue, specifically species of damselflies in the Genus Enallagma (American Bluets). Most bluets are primarily blue in color, as you might expect; three other smaller groups of bluets are mostly black, yellow-to-red, and mostly violet.

In the mid-Atlantic [USA] and for most of the United States, there are only three families of damselflies: Broad-winged (Calopterygidae), Spreadwings (Lestidae), and Pond Damsels (Coenagrionidae). Only out west along the extreme southern border you might encounter something from the two other recorded families. Everyone should start by learning the families.

Broad-wings include the showy and relatively large jewelwings and rubyspots who indeed have broad, densely-veined wings that are often obviously marked with black, brown, amber, or red.
Spreadwings perch with their wings slightly spread, the bases of the wings are narrow and look stalk-like and spreadwing stigmas are longer than they are wide.
Pond Damsels are our largest family and include the bluets [American Bluets], dancers, forktails, sprites, etc., in other words, practically everything else. They also have wings that are narrowly stalked at the base but the stigmas are short, about equal in width and length.

Source Credit: Personal communication from Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

The following photo shows an Orange Bluet damselfly spotted during a photowalk around Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA on 23 August 2013. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

I visited the bay side of Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge on 16 August 2013. There were zillions of damselflies on the wing but almost no dragonflies. Very odd.

Thanks to Mr. Chris Hobson, Natural Areas Zoologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, for identifying the following orange-form female Orange Bluet damselfly that I spotted along the shore of Accotink Bay.

Orange Bluet damselfly (female)

I read somewhere that it’s possible to catch damselflies without a net, using only your thumb and index finger to grab them by their wings. Louisa Craven, my good friend and photowalking buddy, and I decided to test the technique during a photowalk at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge on 24 September 2012. After a few misses, Louisa proved it can be done by catching a male Orange Bluet damselfly!

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

The following photos show the same individual perching on Louisa’s hand and my index finger, respectively.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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