Friday, August 22, 2008

The Gloom of Night

I write this blog from Owings Mills, Maryland, a beautiful tree filled suburb of Baltimore. I am indeed fortunate to have been put in contact with Donna and Henry, my hosts, who are putting me up in their gorgeous house overshadowed with towering Tulip Trees. I'll be speaking at the nearby Irvine Nature Center's annual Native Plant Conference tomorrow morning. They've been doing this event for some twenty years, and always attract a good crowd. I'm looking forward to that, and being on the same slate with Doug Tallamy and William Cullina. Hard acts to follow.

Since the incomparable Cape May, New Jersey is only about three hours off to the east, I'm planning on going there Sunday. If it works out, I'll have some cool stuff to share, I'm sure.

Anyway, I just got some really cool stuff for my camera. They are mega-macro lenses, and are awesome! It's like shooting photos through a microscope. A bit of a learning curve to figuring out light settings, apertures, and that sort of thing, but I had my first self-taught lesson last night. A few photos follow...This tiny little beast is one of the treehoppers, and several dozen of them could pack onto a quarter. During the day, they often wedge into the axle of a leaf, blending remarkably well with the plant. At night, they become more free-ranging, although when spooked by giants with flashing lights, still tend to retreat to the junction of a leaf and stem, where they at first blush look remarkably like a stipule.

This tiny cricket is a Say's Trig, I believe. It is a quarter-inch or so in length. You've heard trigs. They produce low trills that are an oft-present background noise. This species makes a musical, silvery trill that carries well, considering the miniscule size of the musician.
As you can imagine - or may not be able to imagine - I was quite pleased to find this big katydid. It produces an interesting and very distinctive song that sounds a bit like a raspy frog - ree-dip! It's an Oblong-winged Katydid, and like the rest of their ilk, can be very hard to find. Nearly impossible during the day, when they sit around in the foliage looking just like leaves. I heard this one, and finally located him sitting low on the leaf of a Giant Ragweed. Like nearly all katydids, they are nocturnal and sing at night. Keen of senses, they'll clam up when a person draws near, increasing the challenge of finding the songster.

A closer view of its upper body. We know it's a male, one, because it was singing, and two, because of that traingular brownish patch. That is the stridulatory area; the parts that he scrapes together to produce his song. These raspy melodies are known as stridulations. Katydids are beautiful and fascinating insects, but certainly underappreciated. Few people ever see them!

A closer view of the base of the Oblong-winged Katydid's wings. These insects are essentially doing what male birds do - singing to attract mates. The singing insects start to come on strong just about the time that our breeding birds are waning, having already fledged their young. For birders, learning the insect vocalizations can be terrific practice for keeping one's ears in tune. From mid-July til frost, you'll have a bounty of challenging new subjects to learn.

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