Sunday, July 20, 2014
I found myself chained to my desk today, writing, writing, writing. Come nightfall, I took a break to see if any interesting lepidopterans had stopped in at the porch lights. Sure enough, the little oddity above was camped out on the wall. I was quite pleased, and rushed to get the camera. Lesser Grapevine Loopers are common, but I had no good photos of one, and here was the opportunity to remedy that!
Shooting moths at night is always a challenge. Flash is essential, and it must be set properly for best results. For these shots, I used my Canon 5D Mark III, set on full manual, with the following settings: f/11, shutter speed of 1/200, and ISO at 100. Most importantly, the Canon Twin Lite flashes were mounted at the end of the 100 mm macro lens. The flash was set to ETTL mode, which it allows it to "talk" to the camera and meter the perfect amount of light.
No matter what your rig, as long as you can control the camera's settings manually, you can improve your nighttime shots. Find out what the camera's sync speed is - the fastest shutter speed that it will shoot at while using the flash. If you exceed the sync speed, the resultant photo will be partially blacked out or the camera won't shoot at all. Set the camera to f/11 (maybe f/8 on some point & shoots), ISO to 100, and the flash (built-n or external) to ETTL mode. Voila! You should end up with nicely exposed images, although some tweaking may be required.
I've written about the value of grapes and their kin RIGHT HERE.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
As spring progresses, and rolls into summer, the frogs become much less conspicuous. One occasionally encounters a Wood Frog by sheer happenstance, as we did in this case.
Monday, July 14, 2014
I approached the powers-that-be, and cajoled them into allowing us to work with Bob Kehres and Ohio Prairie Nursery to plant the one-third acre grass-scape to prairie. We did so in May 2013, and Voila! I took the photo above today, of the prairie in its second growing season. An incredible transformation has taken place, and the prairie will only grow better with age, like a fine wine.
The cast of new characters is already lengthy: moths, butterflies, hemipterans, beetles, bees, wasps, flower flies, and much more. We have even had a male Indigo Bunting hanging around the prairie this summer, a first summering record for our 22-acre complex. As he regularly sings from the boughs of a Honey Locust on the prairie's border, I assume that our new planting has created a good enough food source to keep him happy. Hopefully he'll eventually find a mate.
Today's brief foray was noteworthy for the number of dragonflies and damselflies that I observed. There were Widow Skimmers, Eastern Forktails, Common Whitetails, Halloween Pennants, Common Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, and others that I'm probably forgetting. I don't even know where all of these dragons and damsels are coming from. We have two small wetlands elsewhere on the complex, but I doubt they are producing all of the insects that I saw today.
In the above photo, a beautiful Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile, makes mincemeat out of some tiny victim. It was one of many bluets hunting the prairie today.
Amberwings do reproduce in the wetlands on our complex, but they require surrounding buffer meadows to truly flourish. After mating and laying eggs, many female dragonflies leave the wetlands and the ruthless pursuit of the males that gather in such places. Providing an insect-rich prairie nearby is sure to lure lots of predatorial dragonflies, and my short trip into this prairie today provided ample proof of this.
If you plant it, they will come. I look forward to seeing that other wondrous beasts turn up in our prairie as the season progresses.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
The Midwest Native Plant Society was formed to run our upcoming Midwest Native Plant Conference, now in its sixth year. We try to put on one or two other special events annually under the MNPS banner, and the Butterfly Workshop was one of those.
Major thanks go to everyone who made this event possible. Chief among them is Kathy McDonald, who oversaw all of the logistics in one form or another. Others who played key roles were Debi Wolterman, Yvonne Dunphey, Judy Ganance, and Sue Metheny. Jim Davidson, Sandy Belth and all of our speakers helped with leading field trips, and Mary Anne Barnett brought along a bunch of cool caterpillars for everyone to see. If I am forgetting anyone I apologize!
An event like this would be nothing without good presenters, and we had four topnotch ones: Jaret Daniels (author of Butterflies of Ohio), Jeff Belth (author of Butterflies of Indiana), Cheryl Harner, and Scott Hogsten. Thanks to all of them for informing and educating the group.
Natives in Harmony nursery. She sold a ton of good plants to people, including a boatload of milkweeds (go Monarchs!).
This group is wandering a large meadow full of native prairie plants, and dotted with two wetlands. Linda Romine and I led one group through here, and Jaret Daniels had another. Collectively, we found lots of cool stuff, and as is usually the case, the trips became natural history free-for-alls. We prioritized butterflies, but nothing was ignored. A definite highlight for many was an amazingly cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat that kept teeing up in plain sight and singing his odd series of hoots, squawks, grunts, and whistles. Chats can mimic well, and this one regularly performed a perfect rendition of the nearby Willow Flycatcher's soft whistled Whit! call notes.
Nothing spikes diversity like a good wetland, and we found all sorts of interesting animals around and in these wetlands. The Corps of Engineers created these wetlands back in the 1990's, and have also planted lots of prairie species in the surrounding meadows. Today, we can enjoy the fruits of their labors, as this meadow is full of interesting animals.
McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity. We're fortunate that he likes Ohio; he's been up here a number of times in the past decade to help out with events like this one, and share his vast knowledge.
Thanks to everyone who came out, and I'm sure we'll be doing more such events in the future.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Sorry for the less than stellar image, but I was unwilling to shoot bright flash into their alcove, which would have made for a crisper photo.
Tricolored Bats were formerly known as Eastern Pipistrelles, and they are the smallest of Ohio's regularly occurring bat species. A big one might weigh 10 grams; a dinky one maybe 4-5 grams. To me, they resemble little golden mice with wings.
In 2006, a strange malady affecting bats was noted in a New York State cave, and eventually branded as White-nose Syndrome, which is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. It is suspected the fungus, which is native to Europe, was transported to the cave by a spelunker(s) who had recently been caving in Europe. Infected bats show whitish fungal crusting on their faces, hence the name.
The disease spread rapidly, and today has been recorded in 22 states and 5 Canadian provinces. WNS fungus, which thrives in damp cool places such as caves and mines, has had disastrous impacts on cave-dwelling bats such as the Tricolored Bat. In some cases, 95% of an impacted colony can be wiped out - worst case scenarios, complete mortality - and to date millions of bats have perished. Ironically, as is the case with so many introduced pests, the fungus apparently has no discernible impact on bats in its native range.
Bats play an incredibly important role in our ecosystems, especially forested areas in this part of the world. Collectively, they harvest untold millions of insects on their nocturnal forays, and are estimated to provide billions of dollars in pest control value annually in North America.
This colony of bats has been returning to this exact spot and breeding for nineteen years. Our escort and source of information about these Tricolored Bats was Kim Baker, ranger and interpretative guide with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kim and her colleagues have kept close tabs on these bats for years, and take pains to protect the colony. That's undoubtedly why they have been returning here for so long, even though their home is an artificial structure.
As Tricolored Bats are one of the species effected by White-nose Syndrome, Kim and company cross their fingers and hope for the best each spring, when the bats are slated to return. So far, so good, and their numbers have remained fairly constant. Let's hope this colony of bats manages to dodge the White-nose Syndrome bullet.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The last weekend in June saw the epic Mothapalooza conference take over Burr Oak State Park's lodge with 150 avid moth-ers. A definite highlight was the nocturnal field trips. Both Friday and Saturday night involved heavy duty mothing, with trips departing shortly after nightfall, and many attendees did not return until 2 or 3 am.
We had five mothing stations (illuminated sheets) scattered about, all within a few miles of the lodge. Each of the stations recorded lots of moths, but Diane Platco Brooks' Brookside Haven property was the standout. She kindly allowed dozens and dozens of people to invade her property each night, and swarm excitedly around the sheets ogling all manner of cool moths. Pretty awesome.
Following is a gallery of select moths that we recorded during Mothapalooza. Many of these photos were made at Diane's place. This is but a sampling; Mothapaloozians recorded many, many more species than what I have shown here.
We are already scheming to make Mothapalooza III better than ever, and hope to square the venue and dates within the nest few weeks. You'll definitely want to get tickets.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
As with real hummingbirds, these moths are quick and darty, and beat their wings at incredible speed. To freeze the action, more or less, one must use an extremely fast shutter speed. I made this image and the next with my Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 250, no flash, f/3.2, and a shutter speed of 1/4000. Even though I probably got some technically better images showing the entire animal in sharper focus, I like this one, as it illustrates the incessant speed of the moth as it moves around the flowers. Just remember to always focus on the eye - if that feature is sharp the rest of the image will usually fall into place.
All camera settings were the same for this shot as the previous, except I bumped up the shutter speed to 1/5000. Even that wasn't enough to fully arrest the movement of the wings, but the body of the insect is more or less tack sharp. For this shot, I made a conscious effort to shoot the animal from the side, so as to get better clarity of focus throughout its body. Setting up on feeding clearwing moths is made easier by their habit of systematically circling the flower heads of the wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, upon which they love to feed. The photographer can just kneel by the flower, and wait for the moth to work its way around and into good position for photos.