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.”

16aug ~ Lotus coming and going

     Note: with the book off my desk and spending more time
      afield than at a computer, I will from time to time use this
     double image format.  If the images are too large or
      otherwise this email is not a good experience, please drop
      me a line 

Often, when I take a picture… 

When I take a picture, I never know what I’ll get—its sort of like having a fish on the line—its tugging, but you don’t know what it is. You know a lot of what it won’t be.

The first image is one of those.  The flower was too tall to look into, and too far into the pond—besides, the bottom is slippery and I’ve been in this pond before, unintentionally, so using a 105mm macro lens, and the wild abandon of not having to buy film, I held the camera high over my head (like the paparazzi), aimed it in the general direction of the flower, and after a few shots that I could never have immediately accessed with a film camera, I zeroed in on this one.  Mu humility doesn’t keep me from thinking that this is a powerful image.

The internal structure was completely new to me.  I’ve seen lots of pictures of lotus, but not just at the opening to see the receptacle—and never one that looks down at the receptacle. Individual ova. each with its own stigma that sit right on the ovum—no style between them for the germinating pollen to navigate.

There are hundreds of pollen-bearing anthers on hidden filaments, the anthers looking like they have been crimped around the edge, like an pie crust.  If you look at last week’s photo, one stamen, both anther and filament is hanging from the lowest petal of the flower.

What a difference a couple of days make. About 2 or 3 days after the picture I posted on Aug 9th — the one that make me think of Carol Channing’s hair— this is how that same flower head looked, wearing a chic mosquito on her periphery. Only two petals remain, shriveled, faded and behind the plane of focus. And not a trace of the male parts. All of those 15 seeds will eventually separate from the receptacle, rattle around in the sockets, fall out, and be eaten by a duck.  Well, the ducks only get a few of them, but that is the most probable explanation as to how the lotus arrived in our isolated little pond in the first place.

The mosquito is one of those more typical surprises that I find when I get the image on the screen.  You’d think I would have noticed it, but my attention is entirely on focal plane.

09aug ~ American Lotus II

Note: The book that belongs to the cover I posted on July 12th is now at the printers. I’ll advise you all about the details in a couple of months when I get word that it has shipped. I was so taken with this image that I put it the book just before uploading, it has a page to itself facing the dedication.

This is that same bud two days later as it flowers. It looks windblown—even tousled—as it tries to unlimber those leggy petals. They look floppy but they are fairly stiff and apparently not easily deployed. The little curly-cue on the lowest petal is a filament tipped with an anther—one of the hundreds of  that crowd around the swollen receptacle and are soon shed along with the leaves.

It is a unique flower placed in the Nelumbonaceae. a family constructed just for it and the Sacred Lotus of Asia (Nelumbo nucifera).  And it is suddenly the showiest flower at Brawley Creek.  As suggested by its unique taxonomic status, the flower is really unusual, so we’ll take a look at that next week, but then reluctantly move off to something else that I find compelling, and those are beginning to stack up.

02aug ~ American Lotus bud

This our first Lotus bud—American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), a congeneric of the sacred Lotus of the Far East, although those are pink. Apparently it is more closely related to Sycamores than to water lilies.

We have a small pond, just one-tenth of an acre.  I’ve seen some Lotus in ponds a few miles from here, and I’ve admired them since I first saw them in Southern Illinois in the Pine Hills oxbow. I half-way thought about introducing them into the pond, but I was afraid they might cover the entire surface in a few years, so I’ve not taken any steps. 

But a few years ago I saw the first pads.  The seeds are large, and edible, and apparently transported by ducks, who don’t really seem to like our little pond, but clearly somebody had a fling a few years ago.  This is the first year of its sexual maturity and its first flower, that opened the next day.

It’s beautiful—such delicate colors against rich greens, even when lighted only by skylight as it is here. The opened flower is even better, but I’ll save that for next week, when things have lightened up for me.

26jul ~ parry, lunge, thrust…

Double click to see larger image

“Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!”

Well, he’s still at it, and he’s got a nose that would make Cyrano blush, and more energy to spend that any bird should. I suppose we enable that by making food a non-issue over winter. At any rate he has plenty of energy to devote to his passion, which is narrowly focused.

The exposure was at 1/125 second. The wings and tail are a long way from being stopped, and that creates a mix of colors that is pleasing, particularly in the wing on the left. I haven’t seen that complex of shape and color since photographing Roseate Spoonbills in South Florida. It’s worth a posting on that note alone. 

No telling when he will lose interest, or the noise he makes and his fluttering red flags will catch the eye of a Sharp-shin.  Will no one rid me of this meddlesome Cardinal?—or something like that.

19jul ~ Angry Birds

Probably everybody has seen birds interacting with their images in windows and shiny hubcaps, back when there were shiny hubcaps.  This Cardinal is currently consumed by a long-running feud and he is passionate about it.  Here he is giving the stink-eye to his reflection—or me—but I think it is the reflection.

Here’s the story.  This bird began attacking our north windows about last November.  We could hear the erratic bumping and pecking down a floor, but we figured, Hey—it isn’t even breeding season, he’ll run out of steam soon.  He didn’t.  So I covered up the double window with some cheap plywood scraps.  He moved 30 feet to the next double window, and even expanded his attacks into the tiny (and not very clean) windows in window wells, one of which was under what can best be described as a crawl space that extended four feet out from the sunken window.  He eventually quit for a few months (probably feeding with the rest of them at our south, window feeder) but he started up in May.  I’m pretty sure it is the same bird, because I’ve never seen such dedication before. Ever.

This year he has added the south and east windows to his patrol zone, and he favors this one, by the breakfast nook, where he can sit on the empty feeder and glare at himself face-to-face, fly at the window, and otherwise indulge his fantasy.  

I think I can make out “MAGA” on his forehead. Can you see it? No?  Probably just my imagination.

12jul ~ Book cover

July 12, 2021 ~ Book cover

Please note my new email address:  hess3779@gmail.com

The image shows a hover fly, a pollenivore, lifting pollen grains from the stigmas of a Chicory flower.  Yum?

The images I have been posting, for over 15 years now have been, well, fun for me. Much of the time between posts I’ve been writing a book about this place. It’s both intimate and comprehensive, written for the general reader with an absolute minimum of jargon. I began working on this book in 2012—I am persistent. As the subtitle says, it is about a how life happens here at Brawley Creek, a place so very ordinary that it could be any place, but like every place, it is filled with beautiful things that live according to a few simple but profound rules.

Now the book is done. This is the cover, finalized just a few days ago.  It is roughly 10×10 inches, andI hope to have the book available by mid-September. Its 250 pages hold lots of images—275 by my last count. The press I’m using does high quality printing. Mid-September, is a little late to catch the book reviewers prior to the holidays, but what can you do. I’ll advise you all when it becomes available.

That was a word from our sponsor. Next week I’ll get back to my usual fare.