Monday, September 03, 2007

Circus of the Spineless Rides Again

If it's the end of another month, then it's time for the circus, Circus of the Spineless, a monthly collection of the best of invertebrate blogging from around the world. The latest edition (the 24th!) is graciously hosted by Demented Pixie of Naturalist Notebook. Check it out!

Next month the circus will appear at The Annotated Budak.

Who Flipped Rocks?

International Rock-flipping Day (IRFD) really was international. The following is a list of blog posts and links to a couple of image sites (courtesy of via negativa), reporting/revealing what went on, what was found, etc. Note, especially, that Fragments From Floyd took the prize for a photo of a non-human rock flipper. Check out also the small but deadly (?) discovery Pablo made at Roundrock.

The Flickr photo pool continues to grow, along with Bev’s Pbase gallery. Blogger-participants so far include:

Windywillow (Ireland)

Heraclitean Fire (London, England)

Sheep Days (Illinois, USA)

Earth, Wind & Water (somewhere in the Caribbean)

Pocahontas County Fare (West Virginia, USA)

chatoyance (Austin, Texas)

Fragments from Floyd (Virginia, USA) - GRAND PRIZE WINNER

Watermark (Montana, USA)

pohanginapete (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

Fate, Felicity, or Fluke (Oregon, USA)

Thomasburg Walks (Ontario, Canada)

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Woman (Queensland, Australia)

The Transplantable Rose (Austin, Texas)

Nature Woman (New York State, USA)

Marja-Leena Rathje (British Columbia, Canada)

A Blog Around the Clock (North Carolina, USA)

Busy Dingbat’s Sphere (West Virginia, USA)

Hoarded Ordinaries (New Hampshire, USA)

Congo Days (Kinshasa, Congo)

this too (London, England)

Roundrock Journal (Missouri, USA)

Wanderin’ Weeta (British Columbia, Canada)

Blaugustine (London, England)

A Honey of an Anklet (Virginia, USA)

Looking Up (Ohio, USA)

Ontario Wanderer (Ontario, Canada)

Bug Safari (California, USA)

Riverside Rambles (Missouri, USA)

Pure Florida (Florida, USA)

Burning Silo (Ontario, Canada)

More links, added Tuesday, September 4:

Musings from Myopia (Texas, USA)

Cicero Sings (British Columbia, Canada)

Joan (Missouri, USA)

Nature Remains (Kentucky, USA)

prairie point (north Texas)

Still more, September, 5: (Florida, USA) - VIDEO

Walking Prescott (Prescott, Arizona)

Dave at via negativa will be continuing to update the list on this post as new reports come in--so check in there. Also see his first IRFD post here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

International Rock-flipping Day

The day started well. I was out in the yard looking for the noisy Blue Jay family I could hear in the elms when I saw some other birds flitting to and fro--turned out to be a couple of Scarlet Tanagers in winter plumage, or young of the year or both. Not entirely unknown in the yard during the migration, but always a pleasure to see them. I moved down the lawn watching them and listening to a Pileated Woodpecker who had started to call. Then the Woodpecker flew by me heading east, followed almost immediately by a rabbit running in the other direction. Meantime a couple of warblers (of the confusing fall variety) turned up in the Maple by the house, and then I remembered: Today is International Rock-flipping Day!

So after breakfast I headed out across the scrape, intending to go into the cedar bush and the sometime swamp in its midst. I haven't been there for a while because of mosquitoes, but the morning was cool and its getting late in the season. Once I got to the scrape, considering rocks all along the way, I saw a small raptor in the top a dead tree and was distracted. It flew off as I moved towards it, so I didn't get a good look, but I suspect it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, given the few features I could make out, and the time of year and location. But back to the rocks. Near the edge of the cedar bush I saw a rather attractive rock--might be a good first candidate. I took this picture of it, as they do on CSI, document the scene before disturbing it. Then, as I bent down to move it, I noticed that it was not alone. On a very small milkweed plant leaning over the right-hand side of the rock there was quite a substantial Monarch caterpillar munching away. So, another photo, and then I moved on: on to the cedar bush.

We had a very dry June here, a nice rainy July and then an exceedingly dry August. The wetland in the midst of the cedar bush was not merely dry, but incredibly overgrown. Elderberries, Clematis, Joe Pye Weed, Jewelweed, Goldenrod, and lots I couldn't identify were tall and densely massed. The landmarks of winter and spring were gone, and I was lost in a few metres. I had pictured finding some rocks that I know are there, that have water running over them in the spring, and would still have dampness underneath them now, but I couldn't even being to look for them. The margins of the spring stream were completely covered up. So I moved into the cedar bush to look for a prospect there. And found this can--in front of a rock, which as you can probably tell was a little too big for flipping without a backhoe. I looked under the can, but found nothing.

Meantime I myself had been found: A couple of chickadees had turned up to give me hell for being back there. I watched them for a while, even pished back, then just as they were getting bored with me a small flock of warblers came on the scene. Some of the "confusing" variety, a pair of American Redstarts, and what I am pretty sure was a Blue-winged Warbler. This last one is always of interest to me, even as a migrant, because of the role it plays as parent to the hybrid Brewster's Warbler, of which I've written often (here, for example, or here). So I spent some very pleasant moments peering up into the cedars, trying to see the warblers before they too moved off. Then I decided to take my quest to the Far Field (that is, the young forest on the western side of my regular walk).

Now this was an interesting rock. It was in the sun and the area around it was relatively dry, but this rock was wet. I could tell that it had been in this spot for sometime when I looked underneath it, but I couldn't help thinking that someone or something had just turned this rock over and left it in place upside down....Who? Why? Underneath it there was a very large cricket that fled immediately and a colony of very shiny, small black ants, including one winged one. Ants are the invertebrates found most often under the rocks around here. I know a little something now about moths and butterflies, I know some of the spider families and a few species, I even know a few true bugs, and other insects, but of ants all I know is that there are many, many species represented around here and I don't know the names of any of them. Under any rock I might see a species I've never seen before, as was the case here, I believe. Still, it was good to finally find a happening rock.

I continued down the Far Field, noticing the beautiful purple asters of fall, and yes, peering into them for flower crab spiders. Of course I found one, not Misumena vatia, but a crab spider nonetheless. You can see it just going over the edge, being camera shy.

At the north end of the Far Field, in a small area that has been bulldozed some, there is a rockpile around the base of a small tree. This is where another year a very vocal groundhog screamed at me without ever showing itself. Nobody took any notice of me today as I peered into the pile and moved a rock or two. I knew that there could be something interesting in there anyway, snake perhaps. But I didn't want to take the pile apart, and then be stuck with trying to figure out how to put it back together again, so I photographed it and left it, capturing one of the more interesting of the yellow butterflies that were so numerous this morning; there were maybe three quite similar species flitting around, too quickly to get a fix on.

Okay, I looked at birds, I looked at butterflies, I looked at flower spiders, but I flipped a couple of things, and better I found that thinking about rocks broadened my attention to include more of the features of the land. In short, it was a good time. Thanks to Dave for proposing it. And watch here for a list of links to the other participants in the event we call International Rock-flipping day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flip Some Rocks on September 2

Dave of Via Negativa has called for September 2 to be designated International Rock-flipping Day:
a day for everybody to go outside — go as far as you have to — and flip over a rock (or two, or three). We could bring our cameras and take photos, film, sketch, paint, or write descriptions of whatever we find. It could be fun for the whole family!
I've spent so much time this year looking into flowers for spiders, looking at butterflies, looking into foliage for caterpillars and yet I haven't looked under a rock even once. So I'll be there, September 2, looking under some rocks. And apparently there is even a prize being offered:
The grand prize goes to anyone who can get a picture of a non-human critter, such as a bear or a raccoon, flipping a rock on September 2. (I don’t know what the grand prize will be yet, but trust me, it’ll be good.)
Bear-flipped rock

I found this flipped rock last year, so it won't qualify. Oh yeah, and the bear had already gone when I snapped the picture. But I'll be on the lookout.

To find out more about International Rock-flipping day click here. Or read Bev's post at Burning Silo, here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Giant Swallowtail in Thomasburg

I first saw this butterfly on a couple of occasions a couple of weeks ago--"what a big swallowtail that is," I thought to myself, "Not a tiger swallowtail either, and look at that strange yellow body..." Surely such a big swallowtail must be a Giant Swallowtail. But the Giant is a southern species, not known, I thought, in Canada, beyond the Carolinian region. I didn't get a photo then, but I checked the guides, and wrote to the Eastern Ontario Nature List. The Giant in the guides looked like my butterfly I thought, but I wanted to see it again to be sure. And the response I got from the List was that there were records for Prince Edward County (well, sure, that's pretty Carolinian in its way), and for Belleville (Belleville is a mere 25 km south of Thomasburg, and aside from being on the shores of Lake Ontario, not terribly different zone wise). Another post to the list this morning reported many sightings of Giant Swallowtails this past weekend on the south shore of Prince Edward County.
Finally, today, another giant swallowtail, again at mid-day, again on my mother's beautiful buddleia (beloved of butterflies). And this big butterfly was indeed the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Papilio cresphontes on Buddleia

Food plants for the larvae of this butterfly include Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) and Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum). We have a couple of specimen plantings of Common Hoptree (aka Wafer Ash), a species at risk in the small range of Ontario where it occurs naturally (here's a range map). We are growing it outside of its range here--but so far, so good. In more southern regions the Giant Swallowtail larva feeds on citrus, and is known as the Orange Dog, not well-loved by citrus growers. The leaves of the hoptree are said to have a citrusy smell when crushed. (I'll have to go check when I'm done here.) The Prickly Ash is very "citrusy" in a number of ways. They both come by it honestly, being members of the Rue family (Rutaceae) along with oranges and lemons etc.

Fruit of the Prickly Ash

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Hornworm

I found this on a baseball cap that was lying on the floor on the porch. On disturbance it started motoring along the concrete floor towards the wall of the house. That didn't seem good, so I encouraged it to climb onto a maple leaf also lying there and moved it into the garden. Then I went into the house to try to find out what it was--it was gone when I returned.

Hemaris diffinis
Pretty caterpillar, on a leaf not of its own choosing

I knew on sight that it was a hornworm, but what kind? I consulted, of course, and scanned through the hornworms there. Turns out, it is most likely a Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) larva, not entirely of the brown form, nor of the regular green (see this page showing different colour phases of this caterpillar). It has the yellow at the base of the horn, and around the "neck," and the black dots that seem to define this species. Interesting because I've never been sure whether I've seen diffinis, or whether all the clearwings I've seen have been the very similar Hemaris thysbe. And now I have good reason to believe that the Snowberry does come around here.

Join us on the Friday Ark!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Birder's Blog Meme

This week John (of New Jersey) of A DC Birding Blog tagged me with a birder's meme (originated by Cogresha of Earth House Hold, a new blog to me, and worth checking out). The form is simple, just seven easy birder questions:

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?

This is the question that grabbed me. Not so easy when I started to think about it. The coolest bird. When I'd been in Thomasburg for just a short while, before I'd gotten involved in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Project, and got serious about the birds, I was sitting on the front porch when an Indigo Bunting flew in to perch briefly on a house plant on the porch with me, not much more than a metre away. I'd never seen such a stunning bird at such close range. The sun was hitting it just right--the blue of it was amazing. The coolest?

During the Great Gray Owl irruption of 2005 I got to see crows roust one of these magnificent birds out of a dead tree at the back of the yard. Not a great look at the bird (I did get a good look that winter, described here) but what a sight to see that impossibly tall owl lift off and fly away. Pretty darn cool.

But what about the Northern Shrike that came and landed in the snowball bush at the front of the house one winter afternoon--to the great consternation of the feeder birds? The Northern Harrier that perched in a dead tree at the back and let me walk up to within about 20 feet? The annual late-summer flyover of the Nighthawks?

Then there was the visit by a flock of Pine Grosbeaks, never before seen here by me, never before seen so far south by me. Very cool.

But no, the very coolest bird is none of these. It's the Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Vireos of all kinds pass through here regularly in the spring, and the fall often brings one or two to the yard, but this year was different. I noticed in the spring that I was hearing a Red-eyed sing rather more than I was used to, day after day, on and on. And call too, that strange scree. (There were days that I thought I'd go mad.) Gradually I realized that there was a nesting pair here. And then I noticed that there was another pair--two nesting pairs where I'd never seen even one before. The Red-eyed vireo is a very common denizen of mixed and deciduous forests (in this range), but what was it doing here, in this yard?

I've been here ten years now, and in that time the trees in the yard, some mature when I came, some just babies, and the shrubs, have all grown, until finally this year I realized, with the help of the vireos, it is quite a different place. It's a forest now. Sure, there are a couple of fields around that are mowed, but the yard, and the hamlet itself is much more forest than not compared to what it was when I first saw it. And the far field? I'll have to start capitalizing that: Far Field, a place name, no longer a description of that place that used to be a field with a partial cover of a planting of young conifers. Now its a young forest, as willows and poplars (for the most part) have filled in between the conifers, and grown into real trees. This year I finally noticed that when I stand in the spot now where I stood six years ago at the north end of the far field and watched a bear bound into the cedar bush at the south end, all I see is green, a screen of trees, no distant vista at all.

So, gradually this place has been turning into a very different kind of place, and the Red-eyed Vireo made me see it. What could be cooler than that?

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favorite list and why?

The only real listing I've done is data collection for the Breeding Atlas and Christmas Bird Counts. Of those the Breeding Atlas is my favourite, because it was an accumulation of breeding evidence over five years, a growing picture of the area. I do wish I kept a yard list though--I just can't seem to make myself really do it.

3. What sparked your interest in birds?

My first interest in the natural world, one of my earliest interests, was fostered by my mother and my paternal grandfather, laying the groundwork for a life-long study. The attention it's received has waxed and waned depending on where I was living, and what I else I was doing. Why birds? Birds are the vertebrates that are most accessible, which is why I enjoy them so much. Unlike mammals, most of them they live much of their lives in daylight, right out where you can watch. The Breeding Atlas experience gave me the structure I needed to take my knowledge of the birds to a whole new level.

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life where would it be and why?

It would be right here. There is so much more to learn. And now that I have a heightened sense of habitat change, thanks to the vireo, even more than I used to appreciate. I like birding places I know well. I like birding the breeding season, the season when one can return to a good spot and be reasonably assured that one will learn something more about birds already noted. I like birding successive seasons in the same spot, so I can ask myself questions such as, "Why no Kingbirds nesting here this year?" And come up with an answer: "Because it's not a field anymore."

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?

The Snowy Owl jumps to mind, but really if I were willing to go to it (i.e., travel roughly 75 km to the known good spot some winter day), I'd probably have seen one by now. I want one to come to me. (See answer to question 4) If I'd been asked before this summer I might have said the Ovenbird, so often heard, and yet never seen, by me. But this season one popped up very kindly and let me have a good look. I guess I'll have to get a new one.

6. Who is your favorite birder? and why?

Not sure how to answer this. Like John I usually go out alone, but I have enjoyed the people I went out with on all the Christmas Bird Counts I've done. And I was helped a great deal by some very experienced birders I met through the Breeding Atlas, particularly John Blaney, with whom I spent a very productive morning in Vanderwater Conservation Area a few years ago. Then there's Terry Sprague; I haven't been out with him, but have gotten lots of help from him over the years in narrowing down identifications, etc.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder? What do they say to you when they find out?

I don't know that I've said to anyone that I am a birder. But lots of people know, one way and another, at least that I watch the birds. When it comes up, they either say little or nothing, "Oh, yes?" Or they ask me about a bird they've seen.

Thanks, John (and Cogresha). Good questions--got me to try to articulate some of the things I've been thinking about lately. So now to tag: Crafty Gardener, Duncan, and Granny J. I really want to know what the coolest bird you've ever seen from home is, and why.

Earth House Hold is keeping a list of links to everyone who catches this meme.

But also, be sure to check out the 56th Edition of I and the Bird, over at Big Spring Birds for more birder talk, bird stories, and to get ready for summer's end.

I and the Bird

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Spider

Now that the goldenrod is blooming I've been looking for a yellow goldenrod crab spider doing what its name suggests it should. This morning I found one, mature, yellow and working the goldenrod--just in time to board the Friday Ark.

Misumena vatia and prey
If it hadn't been for the fly in her jaws I probably wouldn't have seen her.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sphinx Moth!

I was out in the backyard the other night with a flashlight in my hand when a really big moth flew by in front of me and landed on the edge of a garden bed. Early in the season I saw a big sphinx moth of some kind (judging by the shape of the wings) feeding on petunias in hanging baskets on the front porch on several occasions, but I never had a flashlight handy (kept forgetting about it until I saw it again), so never got a good look. This time, by sheer accident, I was all set.

Pandorus Sphinx

The moth buzzed its wings as it lay on the ground for a bit, then quieted, letting me get a very good look, and take this not so good picture. The moth wasn't in either of my mickey-mouse guides, and a search of the web didn't turn it up, or at least produced lists of images of possibilities so long that I didn't have the patience to wait for each to load so that I could compare them. So once again I turned to the BugGuide. And I wasn't disappointed. Within the hour I had my answer: Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus).

This is a very beautiful moth, with a quite stunning caterpillar. There are better images at the Moth Photographers Group here. The caterpillar feeds on Wild Grape and Virginia Creeper, which we have in abundance around here--grape for ever, and Virginia Creeper starting to catch up (because of the warmer winters perhaps). Another caterpillar to keep my eyes open for.

The moth was motionless on the ground when I left it, and gone by morning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Walkingstick

This pretty creature visited the porch the other day, and happily walked all over my hands. If only macro shots of my hands were more flattering I'd post one here. Instead, here it is walking on the edge of the arm of a Muskoka chair (called south of the 49th parallel an Adirondack chair).

Much more delicate than the brown Northern Walkingsticks (Diapheromera femorata) I posted about last year (Walking Stick Love), when I coaxed this one into some foliage in the front garden it disappeared into it, its colour and shape being such excellent camouflage. Not so much a walkingstick as a walking blade of new grass, or walking stem.

Based on this page at BugGuide, I think this is probably an immature Diapheromera femorata. Based on that and on the fact that there aren't very many species of walkingstick this far north, and this is the most common. Interesting the difference in colour between this and the adult form--suggests to me the possibility that diet changes as life progresses, taking the insect into different habitats.

I hope its cryptic colouration will keep it safe on the Friday Ark.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My First Butterfly

Everyone seemed to be doing it this year, so I gave it a try. I collected a couple of Monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus), and a few eggs and brought them in to watch them develop, and take them out of the predator-rich world. The largest of the ones collected turned out to be in its final stage as a caterpillar, and after a few days of rather voracious eating formed a chrysalis.

By sheer luck I got to see it turn from caterpillar to chrysalis. After a quiet period of about a day in the "J" formation, where the caterpillar hangs from its chosen spot (attached to the screening over the container where it spent its final days as a caterpillar) looking like a J, there was some vigorous wiggling, then the skin burst, and rolled up to reveal the chrysalis beneath. The skin soon dropped off--movement ceased, and within a few hours the gold necklace and spots appeared on the chyrsalis. That was the morning of July 25. On the morning of August 5 the chrysalis was transparent and the butterfly within was clearly visible. Then, when my back was turned, the butterfly emerged.

As soon as I noticed I took the container outside and watched the butterfly pump up its wings for a while. Then took the screen off and hung it up on the patio so it could rest relatively safely, and leave at will.

Getting ready

The whole process, from eclosing to flying free took about two hours. It spent the entire time preparing for flight on the screen, first clinging on right by (or on) the shell of the chrysalis, then later walking about a bit. I missed the takeoff, saw a Monarch flitting about the garden by the patio, then noticed that my new butterfly was gone. It was a great relief to me that it all worked out--I'm pretty ambivalent about taking critters out of the wild, being a let-nature-take-its-course kind of nature watcher, but this has been very interesting. I just have two more. One formed a chrysalis on Aug 2, and the other is sitting in a "J" as I write.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Traffic and the American Dagger Moth

A few weeks ago there was big news (something about a client list) in the DC Madam case--a legal case involving a woman of a different name who ran an escort agency with the rather familiar name of Pamela Martin & Associates. Everytime something happens in the case I get a lot of visitors--oddly enough to the post Happy Birthday, PZ Myers!!

Well, I haven't posted for a while, and nothing new has broken in the case, and usually when that happens my traffic drops off. But not this time. Why? The page ranking tells the tale. Hits on American Dagger Moth have exceeded hits on the homepage for days and days. Once again, I learn something from the searchers--look for American Dagger Moth caterpillars. I've actually only seen one so far this year, but elsewhere in North America these caterpillars must be legion--or at least touching peoples' lives in a whole new way. I've had a couple of recent requests for info on the post--and have responded by email as best I could. No, not poisonous. And, I don't know what can be done for an injured caterpillar but let nature take its course. Meantime, enjoy a jigsaw puzzle: Dagger Moth Caterpillar Jigsaw Puzzle.

Since I know that there are caterpillar fans dropping by, let me suggest that when you move on, move on to Words and Pictures for the most recent staging of the Circus of the Spineless, the blog carnival dedicated to invertebrates. Caterpillars, yes, but so much more!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I and the Bird--Second Anniversary Edition

I'm with Clare on this--where does the time go? Another great year of I and the Bird has passed--another year of great collections every two weeks of the best of bird and birder blogging, hosted by different members of the bird blogging community, a community that is still growing by leaps and bounds. The Anniversary Edition, #53, is up at the home of I and the Bird: 10,000 Birds, hosted by the founder, Mike. And it does not disappoint--check it out.

I started Thomasburg Walks in order to familiarize myself with Blogger because I'd been hired to help someone customize her Blogger blog format. The theme for my blog came naturally--it filled a need I had to memorialize some of what I was learning about this little bit of the world. In my first few months of blogging I wandered through the blogosphere reading political blogs, and the occasional teenaged-angst blog, wondering why there seemed to be no nature blogs. Then gradually I began to find them (I think the first was Living the Scientific Life), and soon I came across 10,000 birds, learned of Mike's then newborn blog carnival, I and the Bird, and contributed (Little Brown Birds--Part 2) to a blog carnival for the first time: I and the Bird #2. Since then I've found a wealth of bird and nature blogs (many of which are listed in my blogroll), been a contributor to other carnivals, and learned an enormous amount through sharing observations across the nature blogging community.

Thanks, Mike, for I and the Bird.
Happy Anniversary, and may there be many more!

I and the Bird

Three Crab Spiders

After a quiet period there's been quite a bit of singing lately as the birds who nest again started getting ready. So I was determined to get out for a bit of birdwatching. I did, and saw lots, but everyone looked so big! A common yellowthroat, really? It looks the size of a finch. And gradually I realized that it's the spider eyes. I am learning to pick out spider types by GISS, pulling me into tiny world.

In the far field I saw these three. Two on milkweed, one on brown-eyed susan. One was Misumena vatia (Goldenrod Crab Spider), but the other two?

Misumena vatia
Goldenrod Crab Spider on Milkweed

One was clearly something quite different, the other just a little different.

A spider of another colour

Not M. vatia, I think, but something related

I did some research, in part by checking out Bev's (Burning Silo) Crab Spider Gallery, but couldn't find a match I had any confidence in. Looking at a recent post of Bev's, possibly the last one is Misumenops asperatus.

Lovely spiders whoever they are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday Butterfly: Red Admiral

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria) common butterfly around here, I believe, but this year there have been more than usual.

This one looked and acted like today was its first as a butterfly.

More from Rugosa World

A July bioblitz of the Rosa rugosa alba in the yard would take hours and hours, and could be done every day and produce new results each day. And this rose bush, about 2 metres high and almost as wide, is mere steps from the front door.

I've been watching a number of Misumena vatia over the past few weeks (inspired by Spider WebWatch). These spiders, ambush predators, stay in one spot for extended periods, making them excellent subjects for long observation. I can see what they're eating, how fast they're growing, and even guess as to when they're pregnant, and then eventually see their egg cases. There's one on the Rugosa now I've been watching for some time that has a prodigious appetite. She moves occasionally as blooms come and go and I can usually find her again by looking for the sucked-dry rose chaffers she's dropped onto the leaves below her chosen spot. This morning she has a moth, and twice now she's had a small bumblebee, which surprised me: small, but not compared to her.

Misumena vatia at Lunch

So there I am, staring at the rose bush, looking for spiders, and now that I'm developing an eye for them I'm seeing that there are many other spiders (and many other critters all together) living there. I was startled by the one below because of its white abdomen. Most of the M. vatia I find on the bush are white, so that's what I look for in a scan, but this little one was no crab spider.

What long, spindly legs you have

The spider is sitting just below a developing rose hip (not an apple), and in the upper left of the picture you can see the leg of the rose chaffer it was wrapping up when I first spotted it, which gives an idea of how small this spider is.

I couldn't see a web, just a few random strands of webbing, and the obvious silk production and webbish behaviour of wrapping prey. I hunted around for an ID, gave up and sent an image to BugGuide. In very short order I had a response (click on the link to see just how short). Take a look at Enoplognatha ovata, a member of the cobweb spider family. I did, and I think they got it!

I really think it is Enoplognatha ovata

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Hairstreak

I'm pretty sure that this is the Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica). I would be absolutely sure except that the underside of the wings of this butterfly look more light brown than grey (a feature of the Acadian) to me. Pretty butterfly in any case--and to identify a hairstreak at all is new for this novice butterfly watcher.

Like so many other critters, this butterfly was found feeding on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is just now coming into bloom. In Ontario common milkweed is one of twenty-four species on the noxious weed list--a kind of hit list. The Ministry has this to say:
Milkweeds are an important component of the native and naturalized vegetation communities of Ontario as they are an important nectaring plant for many species of Lepidoptera, such as the Monarch butterfly. (From Milkweed Species in Ontario)

Then on their FAQ page they add this:
Why is Milkweed on the List of Noxious Weeds in Ontario?

Common milkweed can be a very difficult weed to control in many field crops thereby causing significant reductions in crop yield and quality. This can have a considerable negative impact to a grower's net economic return. In the last 10 years, new herbicide technologies have greatly improved the control of common milkweed in field crops. However control of common milkweed around field borders is essential as it minimizes seed spread into fields and therefore reduces the reliance on herbicides for "in field" control.

Common milkweed when consumed in large quantities is poisonous to livestock. Therefore minimizing populations in actively pastured land will greatly reduce the chance of any adverse health affects to livestock.

For more information on Milkweed and the Weed Control Act, refer to the article entitled: "Milkweed Species in Ontario".

Which is yet another example of us humans getting hold of the wrong end of the stick it seems to me. Especially in the current climate in which we are engaged in international efforts to protect the Monarch Butterfly, which depends on milkweed as the foodplant for its larvae.

Here's what they have to say about Monarch protection at the Royal Ontario Museum's Species at Risk site:
Protection: There is no formal protection for this species in Ontario. Three key management strategies have been identified to protect the Monarch Butterfly. Milkweeds, the larval foodplant, should be taken out of the noxious weed acts in Canada; native wildflower habitat should be protected and encouraged; and migration stopover sites should be protected from disturbance.

Meantime I'm sending this butterfly to board the Friday Ark

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Circus is Back in Town

Circus of the Spineless #22, now up at Burning Silo. Be sure to stop by and take a look; it's a gorgeous collection of the best of last month's invertebrate posts from around the blogosphere.

But before you go, enjoy the Northern Cloudywing Butterfly (Thorybes pylades), another triumph of Internet-assisted invertebrate identification.

Northern Cloudywing

And look for next month's edition at Words and Pictures. Send your submissions to Roger (roger.butterfield AT by July 30.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Misumena vatia

One of the ambassador spiders at Spider Web Watch is the Misumena vatia, or goldenrod crab spider. So far, I've observed ten different individuals of this lovely species, seven of which are living in the front garden. Below a sampling. The first two are spiders I found at the near edge of the far field. The rest, garden dwellers, in a sequence: small, smaller, smallest.

In the late afternoon sun, having a snack

Tiny, brave, on a buttercup

Waiting on a shasta daisy

Enjoying a fly on a shasta daisy

Just a white speck, snacking on a dark speck, that turned out to be a tiny fly

Some of the juveniles (i.e., photos 1, 2, 4, and 5) might be Misumena formosipes. Take a look at the page at Spider WebWatch (and this discussion) to see the diffculties involved in distinguishing these from vatia.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Birder Blogging News

First, it's that time again, I and the Bird #52 is up at The Wandering Tattler. another splendid collection of the best of recent bird and birder blogging: the completely non-geeky edition. Check it out.

The next edition, the second anniversary edition, will be hosted by the father of I and the Bird, Mike of 10,000 Birds, as Mike says:
Believe it or not, the next edition of I and the Bird is our second anniversary! Since the first I and the Bird back in July 2005, the nature blogosphere has burgeoned, blossomed, and bloomed. Today, hundreds of impassioned authors write about wild birds and birding, straining the capacity of even the fastest web surfer. Because there are just so many amazing nature blogs out there and just not enough time to frequent more than a fraction of them, I'm adding a twist to our anniversary edition of IATB. When you submit your contribution to me [by July 10], our next host, I'd like you to also sell your blog to readers with a brief but pointed summary of what your blog is about. This tagline, slogan, or teaser should be 20 words or fewer, something like "The best darn birding blog on the planet Earth" or "Monitoring the avifauna of Oshkosh so you don't have to" or even "Birding, blogging, bombast" though that last one clearly needs work...
I and the Bird

In other news, Mike of 10,000 birds has joined forces with Charlie of Charlie's Bird Blog and Corey of lovely dark and deep to make 10,000 Birds a Group Blog! More posts, more voices, more continents, more great photos.

Jumping Spiders

Last week I was alerted by a message Bev of Burning Silo sent to the Eastern Ontario Naturelist to look for the Brilliant Jumping Spider (Phidippus clarus) on milkweed. (Here's a link to one of her photos of this spider, click next at the site to get another view)I went to look and almost immediately found one. My success at finding these guys is running about one in ten milkweeds, and better than that in some patches.

These are quite beautiful spiders, as jumping spiders are, and big enough that you can spot them from a few feet away. I've been trying to get a photo of one, but they are quick and wary. I haven't yet been successful.

When I was scouting around some milkweed today I found, on three plants in one small area (and one on a lawn chair), another jumping spider. Very plain, brown (cryptic) with a quite bright white mask over the eyes.

Jumping spider on milkweed

I've been doing some searching around, and the best guess I have so far is that this is a member of the genus Ghelna, the only trouble being that this is a genus of ground-dwellers, which means both that one wouldn't expect to find them living up in the milkweeds, and that there aren't as many pictures of them as there are of other jumpers. So, I don't really know, and the picture isn't great (these too are wary and quick). The spider is about the same size as the Brilliant jumper, but very plain except for the mask, and give the impression of dark brown or dark grey and fuzzier than the Brilliant. This one was in a little folded leaf shelter--the others I saw were free-ranging on the leaves of the plants.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Moths (and a butterfly)

Recently I had an exchange with Bev of Burning Silo in the comments on a post of hers about what was in her garden. She mentioned a number of species around in good numbers, and gave some tips and links for identifying them. We're more or less in the same region, so when she is seeing something, it's worth my while to go out and look for it, and vice versa.

So I did, and I found lots. I just hope I've got them sorted out.

First the Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica). This morning I saw many, many of these moths in the far field, as well as another, similar moth with bright yellow antennae that I haven't found an identity for. A couple of days ago I photographed what I thought might be one, but discovered on closer inspection that it is most likely the Yellow-collared Scape moth (Cisseps fulvicollis), another that Bev mentioned.

Yellow-collared Scape enjoying the spirea

She also mentioned the Toothed Somberwing (Euclidea cuspidea) as a moth around in good numbers. It's a pretty little brown moth, too generic for a newby like me to take in. But after photographing the Yellow-collared Scape (and the hairy flower scarab I posted about yesterday) I turned around and saw a pretty little brown moth resting in the grass, and snapped a picture. Later inspection revealed that it was a Toothed Somberwing!

Finally, here's a butterfly common around here that posed for me as it warmed its wings in the sun.

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela) on a chilly morning last week

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A bee or not a bee? That is the question.

I saw this critter feeding in the spirea yesterday (now in full bloom, and drawing quite a crowd).

I thought is must be some weird kind of bee. Look at the fluff, look at the feet. But this ain't no bee. Look at the wings. This is a scarab beetle. A member of the genus Trichiotinus, a hairy flower scarab. (Possibly Trichiotinus assimilis?) And I know that now thanks to the good people at I just hope that every day, in every way I'm getting better at looking at insects.

Riparia riparia

The name makes me think of the old song, Corinna, Corinna. And it's got this bit about birds (in Bob Dylan's version):
I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
But I ain' a-got Corrina,
Life don't mean a thing.
But this isn't a story about a bird that whistles, or a bird that really sings. Riparia riparia is also known as the Bank Swallow or sand martin. I've been noticing a chittering swallow in the sky in the last day or so--leading me to think I'd forgotten what a tree swallow sounds like. Of course I hadn't. This was the bank swallow, as I discovered this morning.

This time of year in this place it's full daylight at 5:30 in the morning. So this morning I took advantage and headed out for a walk. As I approached the scrape (the area where topsoil is harvested) I noticed the air was full of some bird or other. Nearer, swallows. But what kind? As I rounded a berm and the recent topsoil pile came into view I noticed a great deal of activity on it. I walked over and realized that these were bank swallows, flying around, chittering, and excavating nesting holes in the newly piled topsoil (this is actually what you might call clean fill--very sandy, would be a big disappointment to a gardener).

Bank Swallows
Coming and going, digging and guarding.

Two faces of the pile are pretty nearly vertical, parts of the west and north sides, and these were being excavated by at least 10, maybe 20 pairs of swallows (it's very hard to count these quick, busy birds).

North side nesting holes--I count 13. West side, maybe 6.

I wasn't back there yesterday, but I could hear the equipment working away. And I could see that these nesting holes were being constructed this morning--some as I watched. I don't know what will happen Monday morning. Sometimes the sifted piles (which these appear to be) are left for a season, sometimes they're trucked out right away. I'm looking around this morning to see if there are any resources for preventing the destruction of nesting sites of these birds. If not...I guess I'll leave a note on the bulldozer sitting in front of the pile asking for consideration for them.

Bad enough when a single pair of birds is induced to nest in a hopeless spot as a result of human activity (if you build it they will come--then you can blow it up). Sickening to think of a whole colony getting their hopes dashed at once.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Bee Blogging

The more I look at bumblebees the more apparently different species I find. Amazing! Below are three more I've managed to get photos of recently.

Bumblebee on raspberry flowers last week

Bumblebee on Rosa rugosa alba today--they love this rose!

Bumblebee on the wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).

I think the last one is the same species as a couple that turned up in the house earlier in the season. Big, biggest of the three, all yellow back, noisy, scary. I've been trying to get a picture of one of these bees for days. Couldn't get a good shot of the back, but am publishing anyway!

And preparing to board the Friday Ark. Drop by to see who else made it on board.