October 25, 2021 ~ Coral fungus…I thought

If you  missed my Pixlist EXTRA posting, you can find directions to pre-order “A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise” here.


I’ve just learned from a friend—a mycologist, that it is NOT a Coral fungus. It’s a shame to begin with a retraction, but when the shoe fits.… I may have more by next week.

After the morel season has passed I tend to forget about fungi. I might as well forget about them too because I am one of those people who are  blind to them.  By Early fall, they have disappeared in the leafy shrub layer, but then as fall advances, even the small ones, as in last week’s photo, are more easily seen.  But there is no missing some of them.

This Honey Locust log has been laying here for nearly 30 years, now and  for the most part it is quietly disintegrating, but every once it has a party.  Noted by an eruption of its considerable population of microbes.  And they build enormous towers.  These may seem small, but the log is at least 18” in diameter, and the builders of this colossus are microscopic — ants would seem enormous to them.  But it is built in a matter of days and in two weeks it has largely collapsed in on itself.  Of course it is a spore distributing celebration. But the edifice doesn’t seem to have much character.  Reliably, one just needs to look closer.

Who’da thought?  It looks like the flowstone one finds in caves, but incredibly detailed.  Such stunning beauty.  I wonder how it works?  And where are the spores released?

18oct ~ Gilled fungus on Honeylocust log

The log is huge. It came down during a storm in 1993 and has provided a major resource for fungi of various types who send up their fruiting bodies when they reach some triggering stimulus.  I never quite know what will be next.  

I was drawn to the log again, this time by a large mass of coral fungi (for another day) and found these tiny gilled fungi huddled in this small cleft  (OK, not really huddled, but it seemed that way.)  The gills on a mushroom are the ultimate in delicate frailty, and in transience.  It is hard to pass up a pair like this. Even in the low light and having to lay on the wet ground to get this angle and to brace the camera for the slow shutter speed.

Once on screen these fungi—only an inch in diameter—show those intriguing gradations as the lower gills slip into darkness, and the translucence of the cap, picks up some skylight that further delineates that the gills as distinct from a very thin cap

PixList Extra:

You’ve seen the front of this dust jacket before (in July).  Now it is soon to become an actual book.  It has a Pinocchio feel to it—the real boy, not the nose thing.  On December 8th, I expect to take delivery of 400 copies. That’s what the press tells me, and they have been remarkably precise about such things.

Here are the details:   Hardcover in linen with embossed title, and dust jacket (above.)  10 x 10.25” (matching my Galapagos book).  252 pages ± 280 images. The List Price is $75.  I can provide it for $51.00 (+ tax) with free shipping (to the contiguous states).  That should be equivalent to Amazon according my calculations.

Bottom Line?   $55.00 Autographed on request, inscribed on request. 

Sadly, no gift wrapping.

Ordering Copies:    December 8th is uncomfortably close to the Holidays.  I think I can still get them there on time, but it will take some planning.  That means pre-orders — intent, without payment.  A pre-order will reserve a place in the mailing order.  PixList subscribers get the first opportunity to Pre-order.

Here’s what I need to know for a pre-order: Email me at: john@brawleycreek.com


                Email address,   

                Phone number   

                Number of copies I should reserve for you.

By mid-November, I will send you an email, then you can:

               1) Finalize your Pre-order—confirm (or change),

               2) provide mailing addresses

               3) request autograph/inscription,

               4) Make payment.


11oct ~ Silver-spotted Skipper

Note:  I expect my copies of A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise to arrive here at Brawley Creek December 8th

Later this week, I’ll send an email explaining how you can get a copy, as soon as they are available to me, at a discounted price.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skippers can be recognized by the hooked tip of their antennae.  They are powerful flyers compared to the larger butterflies that seem to float as much as they fly.  The large cluster of silvery scales on the hindwing of the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) make the identification of this easy compared to the rest of the group, many of whom look much like this one but without the silver spot.

They are twitchy. Their flight, though powerful is never straight line. You could call that is twitchy, I suppose, But I’m referring to their reluctance to being approached.  That makes this a more difficult shot that it would seem. It came about because I was really close on a bumble bee working this same thistle flower, when she took off and the skipper immediately plopped into that place in the frame.  I was already stationary and focused on this spot, so I had only to release the shutter. And he stayed for awhile, so I could get closer.  

I’ve never quite gotten over learning that Lepidoptera translates scale wing— one of the tinier traumas of my college life.  I remember thinking, “What scales?”  Well there are all kinds of scales, and somehow I’d never quite supposed that the colors on butterflies were due to colored shingles unlike the colors on beetles and bugs, and even on the abdomen as seen here—sometimes lost among the hairs (that I learned were actually bristles) on the body.

When does a long narrow scale become a bristle?

04oct ~ Duds

Just look at that rich, robust green—what a vigorous plant.  I’ll bet when those flower buds pop, it’s going to be something special.  It is growing here at Brawley Creek, commonly enough that I felt like I should know it—I was just waiting for the flowers so I could key it out.  The next thing I knew they were setting seed, Dang!  Missed them again this year.  I supposed that they were like dandelions; both are composites, their buds are somewhat alike, about 3/4” long, and when Dandelions open to a flower it is really striking, then it closes, and re-opens when the seeds are ready to fly.

After several years of no flowers— yes, it took that long—my suspicions were aroused—all those buds and all those seeds, but no flowers…hmm.  The plant is often 6 or 7 feet tall, so you have to look closely, but there it is at the tip, the whole flower in its maximum splendor, looking like a broad sharpie.  Who’s going to pollinate that???  (Answer: wasps and Honey Bees, although I’ve never seen any pollinators at the flowers, another reason it took me so long to figure this one out.

The second image shows that the flower parts remain as the “bud” splits open to reveal the pappuses (aka fuzz) that will disperse the seeds.  Pappi is also proper, both are distinct from papooses, although there is an intriguing commonality.

The plant is Fireweed (Erechtites heiracifolius) called Fireweed, or American Burnweed, so named because it is a great disperser as you might expect, and often common after fires. (Wikipedia spells it incorrectly with an extra “i” heiraciifolius.)

I learned that Fireweed was Chamerion angustifolium—  the beautiful pink flowers of the West, also common after fires, but that doesn’t occur in Missouri.  Wikipedia suggests Pilewort as another common name for this one — I’ll stick with Fireweed.

27sep ~ Tiptoe, through the thistles,

The Tall Thistles (Circium altissimum) are gorgeous about August 30, when this photo was taken (with an iPhone12), and there are lots of thistles, so it was unlikely that I would notice the bee on this one, which was off the trail a short distance.  But he wasn’t moving, which was uncharacteristic, and his position was odd, so we took a look, and quickly found the crab spider who killed it and was in the process of draining it’s calories and nutrients.  I didn’t find the critter on the left side—bee or fly, probably a bee— until I had the image on the screen, and consequence of paying strict attention to focal plane and the subject.

At first, I thought the bee in the spiders grasp must have been a fly—a Bumble Bee mimic.  That would allow the spider to sink its fangs into that particular part of the body right next to the stinger, but on enlargement, I see bee-like eyes and bee-like mouthparts, so even if I can’t be sure of whether there are two or four wings, I’ve got to give some credit to a risk taking crab spider.

Crab spider’s usual tactics are to wait IN the flower, and the bee’s usual approach is to burrow headfirst into the dense array of florets, so I suspect that the encounter took place inside the flower although I don’t see how there was room for either of them, but I can imagine that the bee encountered the spider and turned to escape, but that is little more than wild speculation.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a feeding crab spider from this angle and it intrigues me.  He is entirely crab-like from this angle as well.

Seeing those spines on the thistle from this angle and at this magnification it is easy to see how they would prevent any insect —particularly any soft-bodied caterpillar—from gnawing on them, and perhaps prevent any insects of a particular size from climbing the stem to get at the flower.

 20sep ~ There’s a hole in the bottom of the tree, …

Errata:  I mis-identified the Hummingbird Moth. It is Hemaris diffinis, a Snowberry Clearwing, not Hemaris thysbe the Hummingbird ClearwingBoth qualify as Hummingbird Moths.

Now back to the hole in the tree.

A little literary license, in the subject line.  In truth it is a Treefrog “in a hole, and it is not really in the bottom of the tree”.  If this is nonsense to you it extracted from a little sing-along ditty (Ohhhhh, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea”that just might be colloquial to children in southern Ohio.  In grad school it concerned me that there are no marine amphibians, so what is the frog doing in a hole in he bottom of the sea?—Myth buster:  It couldn’t happen, but I got over it…mostly…  OK, really, just disregard this nonsense.

This is a treefrog — an Eastern Gray Treefrog (Dryophytes versicolor), or Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Dryophytes chrysoscelis.)  I can’t tell them apart.  Both species used to be in the genus Hyla if that rings a bell.  

While there is some difference between their calls, it requires an expert with a thermometer to tell the difference— or another frog.  They are virtually identical in appearance, but the Eastern species is tetraploid (4N with 48 chromosomes) and Cope’s Treefrog is diploid (2N at 24).  With a little thought it becomes clear that different species look different so they can tell themselves apart.  But if their sensory mechanism is not primarily visual, there is not reason why they should appear different to us.  Clearly not just for out benefit.  

Hybrids are not competitive and so the adults constitute isolated gene pools, and that makes them separate species by definition.  They were one a common form, so if they are going to appear different, some force must push them, and if they produce duds every time they cross that’s a push.  The hybrid would be 3N, a triploid, which are often sterile across the spectrum.  Clearly the treefrogs need to find a way to tell themselves apart, even without MAGA hats.  They are doing it by altering their song as other frog species have done before.  It just isn’t helping us to see any difference.

Treefrogs call (sing) in the trees, males only I presume.  That behavior is a risk and an expense, in which I see no benefit.  They do it for reasons that I’ve never had explained to me, but they still do it, and they are really hard to locate while they sing.  We have one that likes to sing inside of the downspouts — singin’ in the shower.  But his one is in a cavity just off the deck in a redbud—the cavity was excavated this spring by a pair of Black-capped Chickadees, who then abandoned it.

He has an emperor’s view of the arena before him.  And a fine singing platform that is spacious, shaded, out of the wind, and relatively safe.  And an audience, if only of humans.

06sep ~ Slurpee

The Ironweed flower it isn’t colored quite like any slurpee on the Seven-Eleven website but in 2019 they released a Nerds Candy-Flavored Slurpee that is supposed to be a mix of grape and strawberry.  It was for only a limited time (darn… that opportunity has expired and now it is lost to all of us.)  Anyway it was nowhere near as brilliant is the colors seen here.

This is one of those images (most of them seem to be) that I have to give up something—either context or detail—without a second image, so here are two images again, the first showing a moth that has a body one-inch long (you can calculate the enlargement on your screen if you are curious.) The second image is enlarged only 3 times over the first, but it reveals so much more.

 Ironweed is now passing its peak, and the moth is the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe).  He/she is gathering nectar with a proboscis, that is unbelievably long and flexible. And it rolls up into a coil like some sort of tiny mainspring, yet it is controllable to its tip.  It reminds me of a cat’s tail that can twitch just its last few caudal vertebrae without moving any of the rest.

For some reason this image want to stretch vertically 😕 a click on the image will correct the problem.

With only 3X greater magnification, you can see detail on the antenna, and looking at the blur on the proboscis, I see it as moving the tip up and down, quickly, probing first one nectar well, and then the next.  The legs are steady and come into contact with the flower. That is a really shaggy coat of bristles, (hair is a mammalian thing) and they use their tail bristles aerodynamically like the spread tail-feathers of a hummingbird.  With those colors, one might expect that the moth is something of a Bumble Bee mimic.

30aug ~ Widow Skimmer

We’ve got a bunch of these hawking over the floodplain grasses, and this one has taken a position on a dried thistle head, as an observation post.  At first I though it was a Common whitetail, a.k.a. Long-tailed Skimmer (Plathemis lydia), but their “tail” is whiter, and they don’t have any white in the wings.  This is a Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), and it is a male, as indicated by the gorgeous white coloration in the otherwise transparent wings. 

They come by that name because after mating, males of this species abandon the females rather than assist them with their egg-laying.  That is common enough, but somehow when this species does it, it makes the female a widow. Maybe it is uncommon in this group of dragonflies, I don’t know, but it is a tedious chore for females to lay eggs in the water while airborne, and in some species, the male is clasps her behind the neck, providing aerial support, while she does it, or guards her while she is egg-laying—not from predators, you understand but from other males.  And he may abandon her if a promising, female happens by.  If you watch some movies you see it happen all the time, although not in dragonflies.  Females mate frequently, but each subsequent male removes the sperm of the previous male, replacing it with his own–the eggs aren’t actually fertilized until they are deposited, so … last one  into the pool is the winner.

The lower image shows what I can see, but often doesn’t get shared.  Stunning venation that looks all-over-the -place, to us, is meticulously arranged and embedded in a tough, flexible, membrane that appears crystalline.  It is truly ancient—not much changed for the last 200 million years.  The double spars on the leading edges of the wings function to increase lift.

But really, it is just here because it is beautiful.

23aug ~ Superficially mirror images

Most pictures have several pictures in them that speak to different parts of us.  I like to mix informational and aesthetic parts together, but usually I had to favor one of the other with a single PixList posting. These two images center on those two facets.

We’ve got a LOT of Monarchs this year— I don’t know that that says about the dismal national census, but we’re doing our part.  And this year we’ve seen a lot of mated pairs in flight, with the male flying and the female dangling from the point of union.  This pair came to rest on an Ironweed.  I don’t know how long the insemination takes, nor why they need to fly about flaunting their sexual union, It clearly doesn’t have to do with dispersing eggs, since those parts are tied up at the moment, but I’m glad they do, or we’d likely not ever see it.

The second photo is for aesthetics, the dazzling kaleidoscope of spots and stripes, lifted from the same image, is treat enough without elaboration. I could mention the scales now visible on the wings that create that gorgeous mosaic, the the missing scales on the wings of the dangling female that could be the consequence of being dragged cross-country, but I won’t because that would interfere with the aesthetic focus.  So “the jury will disregard that information.”