Thursday, July 23, 2009

Halloween has come already...

As I write this, I can hear the dog-day cicadas outside my window, a sure sign of mid-summer. As I walk through the field, I can smell the Monarda, the milkweed, and the goldenrod, which has just begun to bloom. I love the sound of the meadow katydids, clicking and buzzing, somewhat reminiscent of grassland sparrows.

While walking through the field the other day, I came across a colorful dragonfly...

Halloween Pennant

...the Halloween Pennant. I love the butterfly-like flight of these guys, as well as the way they sit, never completely opening their wings.

I have not had a lot of time to go birding during the past few mornings, but I have seen some birds around the house. Lots of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have been in the apple trees. The other day, there was even a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the fruit trees, a rare bird in the summer. Post-breeding Dispersal ;)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Backyard wanders and wonders

This afternoon, my dad and I took a stroll through the field on our property. We were both armed with cameras and macro lenses. My dad was more interested in the blooming wildflowers like black-eyed susans and milkweeds, while I was trying to photograph the numerous insects flying through the grass.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

While stalking a great spangled fritillary, I ventured off the mowed path into the field filled with wild bergamot and goldenrod, neither of which have bloomed yet. After a failed attempt at photographing the butterfly, I continued through the meadow. About two steps from the mowed path, I almost fell over from trying not to step on a plant I had just noticed. I rested my knee on the ground to get a better look at the plant, which upon inspection was an orchid. The head of flowers, all of which were white with wiry looking petals hanging downward, identified this as a fringed orchid, or fringed orchis as some say.

Ragged Fringed Orchid

When I reached the house, I opened up my trusty Plants of Pennsylvania to find that my special flower was a Ragged Fringed Orchid, a plant of wet meadows much like where I had found it. This awesome plant is the second orchid on my property. The first, helleborine, is a common woodland orchid, which is native to Europe.

After spending 14 years here in Kunkletown, this place still manages to amaze me...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monarch caterpillars!

At my home, I found a couple of Monarch caterpillars on common milkweed. I have seen several adults flying around, but these are the first larvae that I have been able to find this year.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Regal Fritillary

Here are some photos from today's Regal Fritillary tour at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

Regal Fritillary

The Regal Fritillary, a butterfly of open prairies, has experienced an extremely sharp decline in the past century. It used to inhabit most of the north eastern and north-central United States. With the loss of habitat, as a result of building and reforestation, this butterfly has left almost all of its original range. It now lives in the Great Plains and in a few places in the east. Fort Indiantown Gap is one of these rare places, the only one of its kind in PA.

Regal Fritillaries use violets for their larval foodplant. In Pennsylvania, the fritillaries use mainly Arrow-leaved Violets (Viola sagittata). Across the country, these butterflies use many species of violets including Birdsfoot Violet (Viola pedata). While rearing caterpillars, experts have discovered that that the caterpillars will also eat close relatives to the host plants such as Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) and Pansies. Although these plants can be used in a controlled environment, the female butterflies in the wild will never lay their eggs on these plants.

Fort Indiantown Gap is also home to many other grassland organisms, such as this Grasshopper Sparrow and Purple Milkweed:

Grasshopper Sparrow

Purple Milkweed

Fort Indiantown Gap is a National Guard training facility, so it is not open to the public. To see these butterflies, butterfly enthusiasts must go on special guided tours.


I also saw some other butterflies at the gap, including American Copper, Great Spangled Fritillary, Aphrodite Fritillary, Monarch, and a bunch of other butterflies. What an interesting and incredible place.