Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Interesting moths and cats of late


A gorgeous Trumpet Vine Sphinx, Paratraea plebeja, rests atop a flower of its host plant, Trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans. Occasionally I'll throw up a mercury vapor light and UV (black light) in the backyard to see what comes in. This one did a few nights ago. The plants that nourished its caterpillar were only about ten feet from the lights that attracted the moth, so I moved it over to the host plant for better photo ops.

I've probably spent more time afield nocturnally this summer than diurnally. Most of those efforts have gone towards moths, and increasingly, caterpillars. In general, the latter group gets better as summer turns to fall, and peak caterpillar season around here is from late August into early/mid September. Some recent finds are shared here.

The same night that the Trumpet Vine Sphinx came in, so did this interesting moth, the Large Paectes, Paectes abrostoloides. Check out that amazing abdomen, which it holds upright when at rest. It is a mirror image of a broken off twig, and undoubtedly provides great disruptive camouflage when the moth is at rest on branches during the day. This species is a Sweet Gum specialist. And wouldn't you know, I have a fine specimen of Liquidambar styraciflua at the back of the yard. Plant it and they shall come, as is often said. A point of interest, to me at least, is that I live a good 50 miles north of the native northern limits of Sweet Gum, which is a southern tree. So, to split hairs, it is not native here in Worthington, Ohio. But this showy tree is commonly planted well to the north of its indigenous range and this moth has probably expanded its range as a result.

On a recent mothing excursion in Crawford County, Kyle Bailey located this stunning caterpillar, the Fawn Sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae. It's an ash specialist, and that's what this one is feeding on. In my opinion, this is one of the prettiest caterpillars in this neck of the woods. Fawn Sphinx cats almost appear luminescent, as if lit by some inner light, and the oblique slashes and little blue-peppered tail add additional interest.

Here is what the caterpillar above becomes, if all goes well. And as is often the case, the moth goes by a different name: Laurel Sphinx. At least some people call it that, although some people call the caterpillar the same, but others call the moth Fawn Sphinx. Insect common names are not standardized by a governing body, as are bird names. But in this case, it can always be called Sphinx kalmiae which is unambiguous.

While the moth looks cool, I would press the case that the caterpillar outshines it. Such reverse ugly duckism is not uncommon in this world. The larvae often look better than the adult moths that they morph into.

Some of us had an epic mothing night last Friday in a very isolated locale in Pike County. Some interesting caterpillars turned up, including this one. It was spotted by nine year old Quinn Pohlar, who must have bionic vision and certainly abounds with intellectual curiosity. Her father Tim works for the Arc of Appalachia, and the Arc has a conservation easement on the property we were on.

Anyway, this is a truly tiny Pawpaw Sphinx, Dolba hyloeus. It has just completed molting from its first instar (small shed with black horn on left) to its second instar. Even the larger freshly molted version is only about 5mm or so in length. I'm guessing first to second instar based on the still tiny size.

Caterpillars grow through a series of molts, and each stage is termed an instar. A great many of our species go through five instars before growth ends, and the changes from 1st to 5th instars are remarkable. Right after chewing from the egg, the cat is so small you'd likely never see it. By the time it's in its last instar, the caterpillar might be hundreds (thousands?) of times more massive, and look quite different than when its life as a tubular eating machine began.

This stunning bag of goo was found the same night as the previous caterpillar. It is a Brown-hooded Owlet Moth caterpillar, Cucullia convexipennis. Cucullia caterpillars are among our showiest lepidopteran larvae. This species stands out even amongst its fellow Cuculloids. It is as if the animal was hand-painted by an artist with eclectic tastes, then glazed to create a glistening sheen.

One might think that such a beauty surely requires some fancy plant as fodder for growth. Not. Brown-hooded Owlet cats specialize on goldenrods, and sometimes asters. This one was eating our most common goldenrod, Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima.

I made this photo a week or so prior at another site. It is the Brown-hooded Owlet Moth, the ultimate phase of the preceding caterpillar. While the moth is nowhere near as showy as its larva, the winged form is still of great interest. It is a fantastic twig or bark mimic, and if ensconced on woody vegetation, your chances of seeing it would be about nil if you didn't know it was there.

Here is a very similar moth to the preceding one, and a close relative. This one came into our Pike County lights, and I moved it off the stark white sheet and onto a twig. I have noticed that if you can coax one of these bark mimic moths onto your finger, then offer it a natural perch such as this twig, it will usually scuttle quickly onto the perch and nestle right in.

This one is fancifully named The Asteroid, Cucullia asteroides, and as you may have guessed, its caterpillar is quite the beauty.


And here it is, the amazing Asteroid caterpillar. Like the Brown-hooded Owlet it is a specialist of asters and goldenrods, although I personally have seen more of these on asters in the genus Symphyotrichum, and Brown-hooded Owlet cats more frequently on goldenrods. But this one has chosen a goldenrod, and a special one at that.

I photographed this Asteroid a few years back in a Ross County (Ohio) fen. It's eating the Buckeye State's namesake - and rare - Ohio Goldenrod, Solidago ohioensis. This caterpillar also reinforces the reverse ugly duckling tale so common to the world of moths and their larvae.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Nature: Rare glimpse at kingfishers offers insight into species

A juvenile belted kingfisher peers from its nest burrow/Jim McCormac

Nature: Rare glimpse at kingfishers offers insight into species

August 2, 2020

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Living the fishy life is probably a tranquil existence. Quiet waters buffer the scaly crowd from the noisy hubbub of the terrestrial world. Softly filtered golden light illuminates the bubbly aquatic realm of fishes, which glide about in semi-weightless bliss.

Until POW! The water explodes as if a grenade went off, and a big mass of blue and white feathers plunges into the depths. Before a hapless piscine prey can react, a stiletto-like bill snaps into it like an ornithological mousetrap.

The unlucky victim is promptly airlifted from the water and flown to a nearby branch. There it is mercilessly pounded against the wood until thoroughly stunned and then gulped down whole by the monster that snared it.

Meet the belted kingfisher. These aquatic fish-eaters are fixtures along most of our local waterways, ponds, and lakes. Chunky and block-headed, the kingfisher is steely-blue above and white below. A blue band stretches like a strap across its chest. Females possess an additional rufous breast band – a rare case of a female bird being more colorful than the male.

Interlopers usually hear a kingfisher before seeing it. Highly territorial and utterly intolerant of turf invasions, the bird will loudly rattle at all comers, people included. This holds true with members of their own species, even the opposite sex, for most of the year.

Kingfishers are virulently antisocial and pairs form for only as long as it takes to produce a crop of youngsters. During the brief courtship, the normally unsocial male becomes a sweetheart, wooing his mate with fish offerings.

I was fortunate to glimpse briefly into the life of nesting kingfishers last June. Laura and David Hughes had found an active nest along a stream in southeast Ohio, and I was able to spend time observing and photographing it.

In keeping with the overall weirdness of kingfishers, the nest is anything but typical. The pair excavates a burrow high in an earthen bank along a stream. The nest’s entrance shaft extends back about three feet, sloping slightly upward. An enlarged nesting chamber terminates the tunnel.

By the time of my arrival, the five chicks were nearly adult-sized and already had plumage similar to their parents. An adult would occasionally appear with a fish, crayfish or some other aquatic treat which would be seized by a youngster and dragged into the burrow’s depths. In between feedings, the youngsters created a noisy barrage of rattles. Sometimes a chick would sit at the burrow’s entrance, calling incessantly like a machine gun with a stuck trigger.

As waste products produced by fish-heavy diets produces foul guano, we wondered how the birds dealt with the excreta in the tight confines of their burrow. It turns out that the chicks blast jets of the malodorous effluvia against the walls of the nest chamber. They then scratch up dirt and hurl it over the waste, covering it. And in the process enlarge the chamber to better facilitate their growth.

Two days after my visit, Laura observed the young kingfishers make their inaugural flight from the nest. She and Dave saw them on occasion afterward, gaining firsthand experience in the fine art of aerial plunge-dive fishing, kingfisher style.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

American Woodcock, and Willow Flycatcher

As this blog's title does have birds in it, and the feathered crowd has been absentee here for some time, I thought it high time to rectify that situation.

Mainly, though, I just wanted to go out and try to photograph (I was going to say "shoot", but I've had people take that the wrong way :-) ) birds. They are still probably my favorite part of the natural world, my entrée into biology, and are almost always challenging and rewarding subjects to photograph.

So, this morning at the crack of dawn, I headed to a nearby metro park, Glacier Ridge, and spent a few hours birding/photographing. This time of year, at least on a clear sunny day like today, it's best to be out REALLY early. By 9 am or so, the light is already getting rather harsh and constrasty.

An American Woodcock, Scolopax minor, poses in a bed of Water-purslane, Ludwigia palustris, in a boggy opening on the edge of a marsh. There were three, a family unit no doubt. And a woodcock that's just sitting and preening - and at close range to boot - is decidedly not a difficult subject to shoot.

This trio is quite tame and utterly unintimidated by the myriad walkers that pass by nearly overhead on an elevated wooden boardwalk. A Virginia Rail was nearby, also at rest, but it was directly in line with the bright sun. I just admired it, rather than take photos that I'd just later delete.

For me, watching birds is as much fun as shooting them. This is undoubtedly due to my history as a hardcore birder LONG before getting serious about trying to capture bird images. I've been watching and learning about birds since I was probably 6-7 years old and for the majority of my life I just watched (and listened). Trying to make serious bird images has increased my knowledge of these subjects tremendously though - especially in regards to behavior. While I've always been more of a watcher than a listing ticker, sitting in one spot sometimes for hours, awaiting a good situation to unfold, forces the observer/photographer to notice in great detail the bird's actions and behavior, as well as that of many other incidental animals.

A Willow Flycatcher, Empidonax traillii, sneezes out its snappy little song while living up to its name. The bird sings from atop a willow, Salix ssp. Until 1973, it was called Traill's Flycatcher, but long before that people had noticed two important things about "Traill's" Flycatcher. There was a distinct partitioning of habitat within the "species", with one group favoring willow-dominated wetlands and low-lying ground, and the other more northerly group inhabiting very wet alder-dominated wetlands. And their songs and calls differed distinctly. Roger Tory Peterson was among those that discerned these differences early on.

In 1973, "Traill's" Flycatcher was split into two species: this one, and the Alder Flycatcher, E. alnorum. While Thomas Traill - a friend of John James Audubon and for whom Audubon named the bird - lost his honorific, the bird was correctly cleaved into two. I've become quite familiar with these species, as I see/hear scores of Willow Flycatchers throughout the Midwest every year. My regular late spring trips to northern Michigan, where Alder Flycatcher rules, have given me a good understanding of that species. In addition to habitat preferences, the songs are quite different. The Willow delivers a sneezy Fitz-BEW! as its primary song. The Alder gives a distinctive Free-beer! with a descending pattern. Once one is familiar with these songs, it's easy to tell them apart. Alder Flycatcher actually reminds me more of a small Olive-sided Flycatcher, and even gives pip-pip call notes similar to that larger species. It also often has richer olive tones reminiscent of the Olive-sided.

PHOTOGRAPHIC NOTE: On this excursion, I took my Canon 400 f/2.8 II (and 5DIV body) as I expected to mostly be working in pretty close range to my subjects. In my backpack were the Canon 1.4x III and 2x III teleconverters. So, in short order I could shoot with a 400mm, 560mm, or 800mm. The Willow Flycatcher was fairly far and atop a 20-foot willow, favoring a singing perch that he constantly returned to. The image above was made using the 2x teleconverter. This lens is one of few that I can consistently get good results with the 2x. It hardly seems to slow focus acquisition, locks on target instantly, and produces a very sharp image. 2x teleconverters cause the loss of two stops, but since the lens is an f/2.8, adding the converter only drops it to an f/5.6 lens. I generally want to shoot birds stopped down to at least f/5.6 anyway, and at smaller apertures if light permits. While adding a 2x teleconverter may seem like a relatively inexpensive way to double the magnification of your lens, I would try one out before buying. I've had unsatisfying results with most lens. This 400mm is the only one I've used where the 2x really shines and I have no qualms about using it with this lens. I also have Canon's neat little 300mm f/4 lens, and the 2x works pretty well on that, but the lens becomes an f/8 minimum aperture, and the teleconverter definitely slows focus on what is already a fairly slow to focus lens. For wildlife photographers able and willing to shell out a chunk of money, I'd highly recommend the 400mm f/2.8 II (I understand the new version III is even better). Because it pairs so well with Canon teleconverters, the lens offers tremendous diversity.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

An incredible mothing night: Part II

Picking up where I left off in the last post - mothing at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary in Highland County, Ohio - here's another apparent dead leaf mimic, the White-dotted Prominent, Nadata gibbosa. As a caterpillar it is an oak feeder, and when the moth is perched on old oak leaf litter, as this animal is, it blends quite well.

A Holy Grail moth, and one we were excited to see. This bizarre oddity is a Harris's Three-spot, Harrisimemna trisignata. From certain angles it appears quite spider-like, as does its REALLY bizarre caterpillar. Not one, not two, but FOUR of these creatures came into the sheets. I'm normally doing well to see one a season.

This is the same three-spot photographed from the rear view. As someone suggested, it looks like a weird Dracula, cape outspread.

When there are several thousand moth species wafting around the state, it isn't hard to see a "life" moth. This is the Oystershell Metrea Moth, Cliniodes ostreonalis, and it was new to me. There are only two records for Ohio in iNaturalist, so apparently it's scarce in this region.

One of our most beautiful sphinx moths - and that's saying something! - the Hydrangea Sphinx, Darapsa versicolor. In my experience, it's not very frequent. Caterpillars feed on our (Ohio's) only native hydrangea, Wild Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens. Plenty of host plants were close at hand at this site.

Sphinx moths are excellent photographic fodder. This is a Pandorus Sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus, looking rather alienlike. It is a specialist on members of the grape family (Vitaceae). Grape and creeper species are keystone species in that they produce a large number of specialist moths, and are a pivotal part of food chains.

John Howard deployed his moth-wrangling skills, and created a sphinx wall of fame. From bottom left, clockwise, we have Ash Sphinx, Manduca jasminearum, Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Darapsa myron, Hydrangea Sphinx, Darapsa versicolor, Elm Sphinx, Ceratomia amyntor, and Azalea Sphinx, Darapsa choerilus.

As with the spinx moths, it was a red letter night for royal silkworm moths. This family is full of beauty, and its species are probably the biggest crowd-pleasers. This is a male Io Moth, Automeris io. We had many, but all were male. I rarely see females, for whatever reason. Maybe they just aren't attracted to lights very much. Ios are characterized by those huge eye spots. At rest, the moth folds its forewings in concealing the spots. Touch it, and the moth quickly flicks its wings open, and Voila! Big scary eyes. Probably an effective visual deterrent to small songbirds and other would-be predators.

This is usually the most frequent of the silkmoths, the Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda. This night was no exception. Probably 15-20 came in. They are irresistible photo subjects.

While lacking the bright colors of the previous subject, the Tuliptree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera, is no less spectacular. This is a big one, the size of a small bat.

While walking between sheets and searching for caterpillars, Kim Banks found the caterpillar of another tuliptree feeder, the Tuliptree-beauty, Epimecis hortaria. This stout inchworm is noticeably thickened around the head. The moth that it becomes is an absolute master of bark mimicry. See THIS POST for an example.

Finally, towards the end of our night, John created yet another wall of fame, this one of four silkmoth species. We had no choice but to wait until late into the night to pose these moths. Silkmoths often do not appear until the wee hours. This night, the majority materialized between 1:30am and 3:30am, when we finally packed up.

From bottom left, clockwise: Tuliptree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera, Regal Moth, Citheronia regalis, Luna, Actias luna, and Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis.

Moths are an excellent barometer of ecosystem health. When a night of mothing yields a haul such as documented in this post and the last (and there were scores of other species), the surrounding ecosystems are diverse, largely free of toxins, and supporting robust ecological webs. At this site, the conservation heavy lifting has been done by the Arc of Appalachia. This amazingly productive organization has now conserved about 7,000 acres of Ohio's richest wildlands. Read more about their work RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

An incredible mothing night

An extremely productive moth sheet hangs from the side of a barn in Highland County, Ohio. The purplish light to the left is a UV (blacklight), and the big one towards the center of the sheet is a Mercury Vapor light. An excellent combo for maximizing moth attraction. John Howard, Kim Banks, and I were out running sheets into the wee hours on the night of July 17-18 (packed up around 3:30 am!), and experienced some of the best mothing in recent memory. Thanks to Nancy Stranahan, director of the Arc of Appalachia, for allowing us to survey an interesting swath of their property.

Native plants and the diversity thereof drive moth numbers and diversity. The Arc property that we surveyed is incredibly rich in floristic diversity. Thus: Plants = caterpillars = moths.

I am going to make this a two-part series, as I have so many cool moths to share. And if this blog seems heavy on insects of late, it probably is. Three big projects - two books, and a photography project - have cut my field time WAY down. Mostly it's been nocturnal mothing forays.
Non-moths often visit illuminated sheets, especially if water features are nearby. In this case, Rocky Fork with its exceptionally clean water is not far off. Because of this, a stunning number of huge Dobsonflies, Corydalus cornutus, came to the sheets. The larvae are called Hellgrammites, and are strictly aquatic. After multiple years in the water, the larvae transform to these amazing winged adults, which can approach a half-foot in length. The long-mandibled male (L) lives about three days; the female about 12 days. We lured probably 20 Dobsonflies.

As everyone who sees a male Dobsonfly wants to know, no - they cannot pinch. Formidable as those mandibles appear, the insect cannot generate any force with them. I know, having stuck my finger in there to affirm this for myself. It apparently uses the mandibles to joust with other males, sort of like an entomological elk.

A gorgeous Rose Hooktip, Oreta rosea. I personally do not see many of these showy moths. They are said to feed on birch as caterpillars, but I have only seen the cats on viburnum, specifically Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum. The caterpillar is interesting in that it hides in plain sight atop a leaf during the day, looking much like a bit of plant debris.

The Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia, always a crowd-pleaser. We probably saw 15-20, maybe more. This species is very much the generalist, its caterpillars consuming a wide array of often weedy plants.

A trio of Clymene Moths, Haploa clymene. +This is another moth that always attracts attention and elicits comments. People often notice them, as they are prone to resting in exposed areas atop leaves during the day.

The Badwing (that's really its name), Dyspteris abortivaria, stares menacingly at the camera. The tiny moth could fit comfortably on a quarter. Note the reddish mite affixed to its abdomen under a wing. Mites are not uncommon on moths. Indeed, there is a specialized group of mites that only inhabits moths' ear canals (the mite in this photo is not one of these). But only one of the two ear canals. To congest both canals would affect the moth's ability to detect the echolocation of incoming bats (big moth predators). In fact, there is a book devoted to this arcane subject: Mites of Moths and Butterflies (Asher Treat, 1975).

A personal favorite, the Black-waved Flannel Moth, Megalopyge crispata. The moths are extremely photogenic. It is a very common species, and the caterpillars eat a wide array of plants. The cats also pack a punishing sting due to their venomous spines.

Some moth species are quite easy to work with, from a photographic perspective. In general, the fuzzier they are, the easier they can be handled and moved around. Also, in general the larger the moth, the more easy it is to manipulate. So, we can move such species to substrates more favorable than the stark white, brightly illuminated sheet that attracted them in the first place.

A showy species with a less than showy name: Tufted Bird Dropping Mimic Moth, Cerma cerintha. There are many species of moths (and other organisms) that ape the appearance of bird droppings. This allows them to hide in plain sight during the day. Apparently very few things want to eat bird droppings.

The Smaller Parasa, Parasa chloris, is without doubt one of our coolest moths. It's another personal fav. The brown and lime color scheme isn't common, and maybe that's why it generally holds appeal to all who cast eyes on one. The caterpillar, seen and photographed from the right angle, looks like a Hippopotamus. It's one of the slug moths, which are named for the mode of locomotion of the caterpillars. All of them are showy, and dozens of many slug moth species came to our lights on this night.

We were quite pleased to have numerous Spun-glass Slug Moths, Isochaetes beutenmuelleri, appear. The tiny moth is rather ornate, and I'm sure it's all but invisible when resting on senescent foliage or leaf litter during the day. The caterpillar is what the name stems from, and it looks like a Swarovski crystal. A photo of one is in THIS POST.

Two consummate dead leaf mimic moths, doing their thing: looking like dead leaves, on dead leaves. Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta (L) and a pair of Angel Moths, Olceclostera angelica. A great many moth species have evolved coloration and patterning that blends with abundant forest leaf litter. These two species - which are larger moths - would be nearly impossible to spot on the forest floor. Note how the Apatelodes even curls its abdomen upward to create disruptive patterning and rendering itself even more unrecognizable.

The next post will cover another swath of moths from this expedition, including some rarities and huge jaw-droppers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Nature: Hellgrammites, dobsonflies both fearful, fascinating

A male dobsonfly displays its formidable mandibles/Jim McCormac
(additional image at end of column)

July 19, 2020

NATURE
Jim McCormac

One of our strangest insects begins life in largish, powdery-white masses of eggs pasted to structures overhanging streams. They might adorn rocks, logs or even bridges. This spring, I saw dozens glued to the underside of a bridge traversing a Scioto County stream.

Eventually, odd-looking larvae bust from these natal enclosures and drop into the stream below. Known as hellgrammites, the predatory larvae will grow to formidable size. For up to three years these gilled, strictly aquatic juveniles will lurk among the stream cobble, snapping up and eating lesser beasts.

Ultimately, a hellgrammite can reach 3 inches in length. It resembles a centipede, and the business end is capped with formidable pincers. A big one, mishandled, can give an attention-getting nip.

Fierce as they are, some fish have a sweet tooth for hellgrammites and snap them up. Wily fishermen willing to work for their bait use this knowledge to their advantage.

When triggered by some reproductive cue, the hellgrammite emerges from the water and seeks a sheltered spot to form its pupal chamber. This will most likely be in moist soil under a log or rock.

After three or four weeks of undergoing a major reorganization of tissues, an utterly different looking insect will emerge.

The adult stage is known as a dobsonfly, and what a bug it is. Its body is 2 inches or more in length, and the outstretched wings might span 5 inches. Long segmented antennae wave from the head like chitinous bullwhips. The female has short but brutishly powerful pincers that can give a nip to rival the juvenile hellgrammite form.

But the male dobsonfly is truly the stuff of nightmares for the entomophobe. Its greatly elongated mandibles are about an 1½ inches in length. These scimitar-shaped appendages look like they could slice your finger off, if not eviscerate you.

It’s a male dobsonfly pictured with this column. A group of us were engaged in nocturnal field work at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary in Highland County on June 26. We had set up a series of brightly illuminated sheets that are effective at luring moths.

Many other insects are attracted to the lights, including dobsonflies. We were pleased to have the male stop by, as they are seen far less than females — probably because the males live for only three days or so, while females might live to the ripe old age of 10 days.

To test the male’s pinching abilities, I stuck my finger between its mandibles. Yawn. It did clamp down, but the long flimsy mandibles can’t generate much pressure and there was little pain. Several female dobsonflies had also come to our lights, but I didn’t try the pinch test with them. I’ll take others’ word that the girls pack a punch.

Dobsonflies tell an environmental story, and their presence can only be considered a positive. The larval-stage hellgrammites are quite sensitive to water-quality degradation. Thus, they occur in healthier streams, and good water quality is a plus for everyone.

Cool as dobsonflies are, I suppose for many people its best that they stay out of sight and out of mind.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.


Male (L) and female dobsonfly/Jim McCormac

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hedge-bindweed, Calystegia sepium

Often derided as a "weed", the gorgeous Hedge-bindweed, Calystegia sepium, is a showy member of the Morning-glory family (Convolvulaceae). It grows in local profusion on my backyard fence. I finally took some time this morning to make some images of this plant. In addition to its aesthetics, I like the fact that it plays host to two species of tortoise beetles. Hopefully I can run one or both down and make some images. They are exceptional insects.

This is a complex "species" that ranges widely in North America and Eurasia. A number of subspecies have been described, and one American species has been split from it: C. silvatica. Apparently Eurasian plants are now in the New World, adding to the issue. Not everyone accepts all of this taxonomic carving, and for now I will remain a lumper.

Read on if you're interested in wonky photography notes...

Sorry for this crude iPhone shot, and I see I apparently must wipe off its camera lens. But it shows the impromptu studio I set up to make the prior shot. As the bindweed will and does locally spread to the point of requiring limited control measures, I had no compunction about collecting a piece and bringing it into the living room. I would not recommend this method for uncommon or rarer natives, and the same system can easily be set up outside and in situ. Shooting plants where they grow, without disturbance, is always best. Breezes do make it a challenge, though. If wind is non-existent, one can use similar set-ups on outdoor plants using multi-second shutter speeds.

Anyway, I hung the vine from a flexible clamp attached to a chair, and put black draping behind the subject. The camera (Canon 5DSR) is tripod-mounted and rigged with Canon's 100mm f/2.8L macro lens, and twin-lite flashes. The camera's settings were ISO 200 and f/16. Given the dim light, the shutter speed was 2.5 seconds. I shot in Live View, so that the mirror was locked up and doesn't move and used the 2-second timer delay which eliminates the possibility of slight movement while physically actuating the shutter button. I had the flashes on, and set to back curtain flash so they fired at the end of the exposure. Flash power was muted by three stops to provide very mild fill light. Even at low levels, flash can imbue the image with slight yellow tones, but that's easily corrected in post-processing. I made an identical image without flash (making necessary exposure adjustments), and preferred this one as it created better illumination on the flower.

Interesting moths and cats of late

A gorgeous Trumpet Vine Sphinx, Paratraea plebeja , rests atop a flower of its host plant, Trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans . Occasionally ...