Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bald-faced Hornet

Catching wasps and hornets in my banding nets is not my favorite occupation. These insects tend to make knots out of the net. They are never happy. On 22 May 2016, I captured this Bald-faced Hornet, a type of yellowjacket. These aggressive wasps construct the giant paper nests that you occasionally see in trees. They fiercely defend these nests (King, pers. comm.). They repeatedly sting trespassers.

Bald-faced Hornets are found across the United States and southern Canada. The wasp in the photo is probably a worker. Queens lack “hair.” Workers are males and are produced by unfertilized eggs. Females have two sets of chromosomes. Queens control the number of workers by the number of unfertilized eggs they lay. If too many workers are produced, the queen kills the surplus male offspring (Wikipedia).

Friday, May 27, 2016

Four-spotted Skimmer

About a half-dozen Four-spotted Skimmers invaded Erika’s garden yesterday afternoon. These dragonflies are found in the Northern Hemisphere, across North America, Asia, and Europe. As this species matures, it is often found away from water. The migrations of European populations have not been documented in North America (Paulson). I do not know if our skimmers were migrants or wandering immatures. In either event, their amber wings sparkled in the sunlight.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Florida Herons

During our 23 March 2016 visit to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, we saw about a half-dozen species of herons and egrets. Among them were these three, a Tricolored Heron (first photo), a Little Blue Heron (middle photo), and a Snowy Egret. The Tricolored Heron is recognized by its white belly. The Little Blue is uniformly dark—unless it is in its white, juvenile plumage, which tends to complicate matters. Finally, the Snowy Egret has a black, needle-like bill and yellow toes. I have linked the names of these herons to a few of my previous posts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Common Whitetail Male

Since Saturday, Erika’s garden has been filling with Common Whitetails, Plathemis lydia. Females first appeared. Yesterday males, like this immature, showed up. As they matures, their abdomens will become bluish-white.

Who was Lydia? Dru Drury described this dragonfly in 1877. My best GUESS is Lydia Bowen, who was famous for coloring many of Audubon's plates, and was probably known by Drury. Lydia was sought after by many printers and artists of the day (Leach 2013). Do any of you know any better?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Common Whitetail

On Saturday, I found Common Whitetails in the Carleton College arboretum and in Erika’s Garden. This dragonfly is a female in the arb. Yesterday, I took the second photo of yet another whitetail in the garden. This is the second Minnesota species I listed this spring, the first being Common Green Darners. The darners did not stop long enough for a photo.

In this blog, I have previously written about Common Whitetails.  Their name describes their abundance across much of North America. This dragonfly is an important component of many aquatic ecosystems. They can occur, however, some distance from water.

Monday, May 23, 2016

American Alligator

One thing you have to remember, while walking in the Florida Panhandle’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, is to watch your step. Total absorption in birds and dragonflies is not advised.

According to Wikipedia, “As humans encroach into their habitat, attacks are few but not unknown. Alligators, unlike the large crocodiles, do not immediately regard a human upon encounter as prey, but may still attack in self-defense if provoked.”  This source also assures us that feeding alligators in Florida is illegal. In 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans ruled that, for catholics, alligator meat is considered to be fish. See my previous alligator post for a few more tidbits of information on these reptiles.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Marsh Wren

Last Wednesday, 17 May 2016, John Holden and I drove over to the 180th Street Marsh in nearby Dakota County. We encountered these territorial Marsh Wrens. Most territorial defense occurs in early spring. Males chase intruders, often singing vigorously. These squabbles can last for hours. When humans approach nests, however, females are more responsive. Then they call intensely, while the males appear to ignore the intruders (Kroodsma and Verner 2014).

I suspect these wrens are males, but there is no way of telling for sure. In any event, the wren in the bottom photo is one angry bird. This singing bird almost stood on its head, pointed its tail at us, and let us know what it thought of our being in its territory. Alternatively, this wren may have been upset at the presence of the Marsh Wren in the first photo.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Daphne Odes

My patience paid off during Erika's and my short walk from our hotel in Daphne, Alabama, on 22 March 2016. To my surprise, when I worked on my photos, I had two species—the Common Baskettail in the first photo, and the Variegated Meadowhawk in the second. I have many records of both species, both in Minnesota and elsewhere during our travels.

Common Baskettails make short forays and often land on the underside of twigs, as in my photo. The Variegated Meadowhawk is a migrant dragonfly. Unlike the baskettail, they usually perch horizontally on twigs. See my 2011 post for information on their migrations.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Carolina Saddlebags

One reason that Erika and I decided to stop for the night, of 22 March 2016, at a hotel next to I-10 in Daphne, Alabama, was that, last year, I found several dragonflies on a nearby dead-end road. The roadsides were sparsely forested. We walked about a quarter mile, with the interstate on one side and a golf course on the other. As we turned to return to the hotel, suddenly we became aware of dozens of flying dragonflies. Erika continued walking as I hoped a few might pose for photographs.

Most were small and dark. An exceptionally large one, bright red, landed nearby. I knew this might be a Carolina Saddlebags. Little did I know how difficult identifying this dragonfly would prove. Basically the black rings at the end of the abdomen are not as wide as those on a Red Saddlebags. The large red patches on the hind wings are unicolored, whereas in a Red Saddlebags tend to have clear windows within their patches. I hallucinated a purplish color on the top of the thorax, which is a diagnostic field mark. Beaton, writing of nearby Georgia, warns, despite the Red Saddlebag’s being very rare in the region, the two species are “probably not always safely separable in the field, and [the Red Saddlebags is] likely overlooked.” I was relieved when Odonata Central vetted my identification.

The Carolina Saddlebags was the only new dragonfly for me this day. I did get photos of the two smaller dragonflies flying over the roadside. To my surprise, when I worked on my photos, I found that I saw two additional species. These dragonflies are on my next post.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Violet Wood Sorrel

We found patches of Violet Wood Sorrel in the Village Point Park Preserve near Daphne, Alabama, last March. The plants’ shamrock-shaped leaves, not visible in this photo, indicated this plant belonged to the genus Oxalis. Violet Wood Sorrels are found across much of central and eastern North America.

Wikipedia, source of all human knowledge, informs us that all parts of this plant are edible, but advises “It should not be eaten in large quantities due to a high concentration of oxalic acid, …which can be poisonous.” Nevertheless, Oxalis was a food source for a number of Native American peoples.