Thursday, April 29, 2010

Muddlety stuff

Yesterday, our particular little expedition - part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival - went to a boondock place we call Muddlety. Lots of neat stuff was seen, both big and small.

Lest I forget, I really want to offer up a thousand thanks to the organizers of this fine event. It's a personal highlight of the year and this corner of West Virginia ranks high among the world's coolest places. Major kudos to Dave and Lynne Pollard, Geoff Heeter, Keith Richardson, and everyone who pulls the NRBNF together. Maybe YOU can make it next year.

Looming large above the lesser members of the forest canopy is one of Muddlety's most famous residents. It is a gargantuan Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, the largest in all of West Virginia.

We of course stopped by to pay homage. This is a big tree.

Your narrator and five friends ring the tree, sort of hug it if you will. I guess this makes us tree-huggers, but we do show the girth of this giant. It's hard to imagine a time, not all that long ago, when such sylvan behemoths dominated our forests, and would have been mundane. We've cut nearly all of the monster timber down and made it into houses, boxes, paper, and a myriad other things. This Tulip Tree was around when you were a kid, your mother was a kid, her mother was a kid, her mother was a kid...

At the other end of the size scale and dancing nearly in the shadows of that tulip were these - Pipevine Swallowtails puddling at a patch of nutrient-rich mud. Orange, blue, and black, when the sunlight glints off one you'll stop in your tracks. Scads of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were coursing about as well. As Tulip Tree is a host plant for the latter, it's likely that our state champ in the preceding photos has fostered countless thousands of tigers over the centuries.

Another piece of magical mud was jampacked with dozens of Pearl Crescents. Crescents are truly Lilliputian. I'd be it would take at least 4.3 billion of them to equal the mass of that Tulip Tree.

An obliging chap, this Comma. It boldly dashed out and lit on one of our people's arm. Made for great photo ops, and you can see the silvery comma-shaped arc on the underwing that gives this species its name. When perched on tree bark or on a branch, they blend with their surroundings extraordinarily well. When they fan those wings, the upper surface is a tawny-golden palette of dots and dashes.

We were delighted to spot this thumbnail-sized bit of loveliness lurking in the shadows. It is a Red-banded Hairstreak, one of the showiest of its ilk. This tiny butterfly demonstrates the value of looking closely at things.

Impossibly ornamented in a nearly unfathomable fashion, the hairstreak's antennae and legs are striped in zebraesque barber pole. Why on earth would such a scarcely noticable creature be so elaborately marked? Who knows, but I'm sure the girl hairstreaks are mightily impressed by this stud. But at a glance, this gem would be no more than a fleeting dark shadow that would scarcely register on the senses. It's only when one takes the time to investigate that all of the fantastic details come into focus.


Janet Creamer said...

Very nice post, Mr. Jim! And I am glad to see you are keeping up with your monthly "Lilliputian quota". :)

Nature ID said...

Great pics! Love the mud-puddling.

Jana said...

I enjoy reading about and seeing the photos of all your discoveries in West Virginia. I had no idea that WV harbored such treasures. Thanks for the eye-opener.

Vickster said...

Count me in as a tree hugger too. Especially for the rare giants. Beautiful photos.