Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Spot-winged Glider: New yard insect

A Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) perches on a dead twig in my front yard serviceberry. The stout dragonfly made occasional patrols over my front garden, which is how I first saw it. If you didn't see it rocket into the serviceberry and this perch, good luck ever spotting it.

I made a short early morning foray to photograph a really interesting - and photogenic - plant, the Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera). They were in absolutely peak bloom, and some specimens towered to two feet. I'll post more on these orchids later. Upon return to the homestead, I saw this dragonfly hunting above the garden, and knew what it was. As Spot-winged Gliders seldom seem to land, at least where a photographer can get at them, I didn't have much hope of making photos. And was pleasantly surprised when it did perch in an accessible spot.

As the animal was fairly high in the treelet, and gliders can be quite wary, I pulled out the 800mm lens, mounted it on a tripod, and worked the bug that way. It was still there when I went inside, and likely hunted the yard the rest of the day. This is an oft-adopted perching posture for Spot-winged Gliders: abdomen tip curved upwards.

Rainpool gliders in the genus Pantala are great wanderers and very nomadic, staging large and conspicuous migrations. They are sometimes in mixed swarms of other migratory dragons such as Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacera), Common Green Darners (Anax junius), and Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens).

Spot-winged Glider on the wing, as they are usually seen. I shot this one, bizarrely enough, exactly one year ago today: June 28, 2022, at Kankakee Sands in northwestern Indiana. As described above, it was in a mixed species swarm feeding over a diverse prairie.

My dragonfly list for the yard is pretty robust and I'm sure I've missed many species that have visited. All of the native flora in the yard produces good insect crops, and this means plenty of aerial prey for the dragonflies.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

House Wren production in the yard


A House Wren peeks from its nest box. Their abode hangs ten feet from my kitchen window. 

When I placed this box early this spring, I had high hopes that the local wrens would select it. As always, the male returned in mid-April about a week ahead of the female, and busily began ferreting out potential nest cavities. He quickly became - to my eye - especially interested in this box.

Male House Wrens create several dummy nests - aggregations of twigs and other material in potentially suitable cavities. When the female arrives, she sets about investigating these dummy nests, while the male, presumably nervously, looks on. If she likes one, she selects it and then takes over finishing the construction.

Before long, it was clear that the nest box was her choice and she busily set about completing the nest. All manner of vegetable matter was brought in, and once all is done and the wrens are gone, I look forward to seeing inside the box. Apparently, it should be a fairly massive cave-like structure with a den cavity towards the back. The final stages of nest construction are done by the female, as is incubation of the eggs.

After a few weeks of relative calm as the female wren incubated the eggs, the nestling hatched. The onset of this stage was obvious, as both birds began busily harvesting all manner of food items and bringing them in. This one has a spider. Arachnids are a common prey item.

This wren brings the chicks a de-legged daddy longlegs. Other items include moths, caterpillars, beetles, earwigs, and various small insects that I cannot identify. When the pair is on a roll, they're returning with perhaps two meals every five minutes. This continues to this day, but the chicks will soon leave the nest.

What goes in must come out and a wren departs the nest with a fecal sac. They are fastidious about removing these to far-flung places, often apparently sticking them to a branch high in a tree.

It's been about two weeks since the eggs hatched. While I still have not seen any chicks at the nest box entrance, they have clearly moved nearer to the hole. While the adults used to disappear into the box with food, now they just poke their heads inside - the chicks are that close to the entrance. This means that VERY soon they'll make their inaugural flight from the box, and I hope that I am here to see it. If I had to bet, it'll be tomorrow, or at the latest, Thursday.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Fawns, reunited!

Back on May 22, I glanced into the front garden and lo and behold, a tiny face was peeking at me from the plants. A few day old White-tailed Deer fawn! This is an annual event around here but one I never tire of. My yard, because of its abundant plant life, is used as a fawnery by local does.

A young fawn stands in my neighbor's much more neatly manicured backyard yesterday. This may well be the one in the previous photo.

I've seen this fawn (or perhaps another) a few times over the last week or so, with the doe.

The fawn nurses. Fawns as young as this tend to stay in close proximity to mom, although by now they are very curious about the world around them, although still intimidated by new things.

As I watched from an upstairs window, out came the other fawn! Well, I did not know there was another, for sure, until this moment but does often do have two offspring. I was able to run downstairs, grab a camera, dash out and peek around the corner of the garage for some unobstructed photos. The doe still made me and stared bullets at the big round lens (she couldn't see me).

The youngsters remained oblivious and cavorted about. Fawns are very playful and often filled with the "zoomies". They'll run at and chase one another like romping puppies. It's hard not to like and appreciate a fawn.

For the first few weeks of life, the doe keeps the fawns (if she has two) in separate locales. They may not be very far apart, but they won't be together. After two weeks or so, she reunites them (they were born together). I'd say this was one of their first days back together, if not the first.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Blue Grosbeak


A male Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) atop his singing perch, a sprig of Yellow Sweet Clover. This impossibly good-looking bird is much easier to find in Ohio than it once was. During Ohio's first breeding bird atlas (1982-87) this was a rare bird found sparingly in our southernmost counties. Since then, the population has grown by nearly 12% annually and Blue Grosbeaks can be found routinely to Lake Erie. A colorful Exhibit A of a recent range expansion of a southern species. This one was in Franklin County, and I photographed it on June 4, 2023. I'm going to soon write a more in-depth piece on Blue Grosbeaks and their continuing northward range expansion for my Columbus Dispatch newspaper column and will post that here after it runs.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Moth talk June 13, 7 pm, with Black Swamp Bird Observatory - webinar

I'm giving an online talk about the mysterious and wonderful world of moths on Tuesday, June 13 at 7 pm, sponsored by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). It is free if you are a BSBO member or Ohio Young Birders Club member, and a mere $5.00 if not. And that five-spot will go to support BSBO's multi-pronged avian outreach work.

Following is the talk description and GO HERE to register.

Mysterious Moths: Growing the Darker Side of Butterflies
Presented by: Jim McCormac
Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Presentation takes place on Zoom

Our enchantment with butterflies isn’t surprising. These daytime flyers are easily observed and collectively encompass a rainbow palette of colors punctuated with ornate patterns. However, their close relatives the moths overwhelm butterflies in species diversity and sheer numbers. Most moths are nocturnal and largely out of sight and mind. Nonetheless, they are one of the most important animal groups. Moths are inextricably intertwined with native plants, bats, birds, and the whole of the eastern deciduous forest ecosystem. They play an enormous role in the pollination of native plants. In addition, they are often far more interesting than butterflies, both visually and behaviorally. This talk will be a pictorial journey into an intriguing and little-known world that unfolds all around us. We can greatly benefit the ecosystem around us by “moth-gardening” in our yards.​

Again, CLICK HERE to register.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

A smattering of flies

I spent yesterday morning afield in Crawford County, Ohio, casing field trip sites with Chelsea Gottfried for the upcoming Ohio Odonata Society's annual meeting. We found some notable dragons, including two sites for Emerald Spreadwing (Lestes dryas) and a new site for the state-listed Dusky Clubtail (Gomphus spicatus).

As usual, there were distractions, not the least of which were flies. The Dipteran family is massive and endlessly fascinating, with some 125,000 species thus far described worldwide. Some authorities believe there could be one million species. It is for sure that we know far less about flies than we might think we do.

As macro subjects, flies deliver. While many species are so small as to not warrant notice - at least to many people - the macro lens can pull in elaborate details in all their glory. I present four fly species from yesterday's trek. All were shot with the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens (a MAJOR workhorse for me), the Canon R5 and Canon 600 Speedlite.

A horsefly in the genus Hybomitra hovers in a woodland glade. Several of its comrades hovered nearby. They would hover in the same spot for extended periods, occasionally dashing towards another fly that impinged on its air space. This hovering behavior is part of the male courtship display, and apparently Hybomitra horseflies typically do this in the early morning hours, which is when we made this observation. Note the crazy eyes! Many horseflies have brilliantly colored eyes, and in general this group is very showy. People, trite and superficial as we can be, mostly malign horseflies due to the handful of species that can deliver punishing bites to us. The biters are female, males such as the one in my photo do not bite/suck blood from mammals. The Tabanidae (horsefly family) is an ancient lineage and so far, nearly 4,500 species have been found worldwide.

A fly in the genus Eutrichota grooms itself. When I first saw this one, I thought it was a tachinid fly due to the conspicuous bristles. But no, if I've got the genus right (I have no idea as to species), it is one of the root-maggot flies. Apparently, the adults use rodent burrows as nest sites, at least with some species.

A marsh fly in the genus Tetanocera shows off its utterly bizarre head and face. It appears to be wearing a gas mask. Marsh flies, as larvae, are parasites of snails and in some case, slugs.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a Golden Dung Fly (Scaphiophus stercoraria). It's a fairly large species and resplendent in its coat of golden-yellow fur. The common name stems from the larva's bailiwick: dung. From this ignominious beginning springs the beauty above. While I was passingly familiar with Golden Dung Flies, I did not know that adults are predators of other fly species. The one in the image has dispatched and is sucking the contents from some unknown fly victim.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Northeast Ohio Pollinator Festival: Conneaut, Ohio, June 10


Click the image to expand

If you're in or around northeast Ohio and our largest county, Ashtabula, on June 10, here is an event that might interest you. Click the image above to expand it and see all of the details. Those details can also be found RIGHT HERE.

My job at the festival is promoting moths, and their value as pollinators and vital cogs in the big picture of food webs and ecology. Hope you can make it!