Jan 152017
 

Lest anyone wonder about global climate change, the warming is quite real, and is manifesting itself in earlier and earlier bloom times for spring flowers around the world.  Still, it was a bit of a surprise to see my backyard maple tree coming into bloom — and aswarm with pollinating flies — in the middle of January.  I took these photographs about a dozen steps from my back door, using my iPhone (and, for three of the four, my Ztylus macro lens).  It took a wee bit of patience to find a cooperative bee mimic fly; the task was made more difficult by the fact that nearly every branch was well above my head.  My efforts were, at last, rewarded with a couple of images.

 

 

 

Jan 102017
 

Today brings another collection of images from my time in Utah in October.  These feature the geologic landscapes of Snow Canyon State Park, outside St. George.  I was most struck by a hillside in the park that evoked Checkerboard Mesa in nearby Zion National Park.  The geometric pattern in the rock is most likely the result of both bedding planes in the desert sandstone and perpendicular expansion joints caused by removal of overlying rock (through erosion) and freeze-thaw events caused by water getting into the rock.

 

 

 

Jan 092017
 

There is something soothing about viewing ancient petroglyphs after a stressful day of racing about.  So here are some images from my October trip to St. George, Utah.  These petroglyphs are found in and around a couple of slot canyons in Snow Canyon State Park, just outside the lovely community of St. George.

 

 

 

 

Jan 062017
 

As we prepare for snow here in Georgia (and I eagerly await a photography outing to capture the southern landscape robed with white), I will pause to share another set of images from late 2016, on my same trip out to St. George, Utah as the images from yesterday. These are from the desert of far southern Nevada,

It was to protect the petroglyphs at this Nevada site (just a few miles from the edge of the Arizona Strip) that Gold Butte National Monument was established by President Obama just one week ago.  Back in October, when my brother and I went hiking there, the site was just a much-visited patch of BLM land, home to the mysterious Falling Man petroglyph along with many others.

 

 

 

 

Jan 052017
 

There is a belt of nearly empty land in northern Arizona called the Strip (not to be confused with the far more commercialized one a bit to the north, in Nevada).  Running from the southeastern Utah border, it spans the space between Utah to the north and the Grand Canyon to the south. Few paved roads traverse it, though it is riddled with four-wheel-drive routes and gravel roads that verge on four-wheel-drive.  With my brother, I ventured from St. George, Utah into the Strip in mid-October, 2016.  The journey ultimately claimed a car tire (via a slow leak that took multiple efforts to diagnose, a leak that ran like a vein across many future outings, including a grand venture to the Grand Canyon, North Rim) but provided both a rigorous hike (that ended most precipitously in a steep descent down a scree slope covered in thorny and spiky desert plants, when the trail vanished and left us stranded quite a few hundred feet above and a mile away from our car).  On the way back home, just shy of the Utah line, we visited a petroglyph site.  Little Black Mountain, situated on BLM land, encompasses a number of boulders etched with various images and designs strewn along the bottom of a small mesa; some of the petroglyphs there date back 6,000 years.  In case you find yourself on the Arizona Strip someday (or lodging in St. George and having a spare tire in your car), here is a link to further information about the site:  https://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/cultural/lil-blk-mtn.html.

 

 

 

 

Sep 172014
 

This post is from my second visit to Piney Woods Church Road today.  My first was hurried, squeezed in between rising and an errand in Atlanta.  On my second outing, with dogs in tow, I photographed a neighbor’s horse pasture illuminated by an orange glow a few minutes before sunset.

 

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Sep 092014
 

On this afternoon’s walk, I encountered quite an array of invertebrates — insects and spiders — as I wandered from plant to plant along the edge of Piney Woods Church Road.  Rather than highlight just one, I am offering this post as an exploration of the rich diversity of a modest country lane in the Georgia Piedmont.  I saw, and photographed, even more than these on my wandering, in fact.  Most of the critters below are new to my blog, except for the Rough Stink Bug, who easily makes up in charisma what it lacks in novelty.

The first critter, hiding on the underside of a leaf while dining on an aphid (I think) was a tiny jumping spider, only about a quarter-inch across.  I am fairly confident it was a female Bronze Jumper (Eris militaris).  I love this image with all of those eyes gazing out furtively from her hiding spot.

 

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Across the road, on the unopened blossom of American Burnweed (Erechtites hieraciifolia), was a half-inch crab spider, most likely a female Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia), frozen with front legs outstretched, waiting for a would-be pollinator or nectar thief to wander by.

 

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Down the road a short way, I saw a Rough Stink Bug (Brochymena quadripustulata) repeatedly tapping its proboscis against an oak leaf.  A red orb near its eye is probably a mite of some kind.

 

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I continued until I arrived at the Mountain Mint, which amazingly enough still bore a few blossoms.  Lurking nearby was a Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina), hanging upside-down and waiting for prey to amble near.  With all these spiders and mantids out there, it must be rough to be an herbivorous insect….

 

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Close by, on the Mountain Mint blossoms, an inch-long wasp was feeding enthusiastically on nectar. She (most likely a female) had an abdomen with distinctive yellow and red markings.  I am fairly certain she was a Digger Wasp (Scolia dubia), a solitary wasp that paralyzes June beetle grubs and lays eggs on them.  The larvae feed on the grub, but adults dine on nectar instead.  Unless disturbed, Digger Wasps will not sting humans.

 

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Aug 122014
 

It was another incredibly muggy, rather gray afternoon in the midst of the August dog days, and I languidly and drippingly made my way down Piney Woods Church Road.  I was not expecting drama or excitement, but was hoping not to fall back on another image of a leaf illuminated by the Sun (assuming sufficient sunlight in the first place) or a second day photographing a caterpillar that looks like bird poop. I was delighted to find a black winged insect with a yellow-and-black striped body dashing about, pollinating a nondescript low shrub with clusters of small white flowers along the roadside. (The shrubby plant was later identified as Pycnanthemum incanum, Hoary Mountainmint or White Horsemint.)  I enthusiastically took many photographs, settling on the three below as I fell short of “the perfect photo” of the creature.  Having guessed a few weeks ago that an insect was a wasp only to find out it was, in fact, a hover fly (see “Party Time at the Cleyera” for that story), I naturally assumed it was a hover fly again.  Someone at Facebook’s Bug Guide kindly set me right.  This time, I had a pair of solitary wasps in my sights:  Monobia quadridens, a species of potter’s wasp that feeds on a mixed diet of caterpillars and pollen (top photo); and Scolia bicincta, the Double-Banded Scoliid Wasp (bottom two photos, which feeds on nectar and lays its eggs on immobilized scarab beetle grubs.

 

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Jul 062014
 

One of my first sights, upon entering a patch of woods adjacent to the wetlands at Newman Wetlands Center, was of an adult five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus), a common species of lizard that is quite abundant on our back patio this time of year.

 

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Along the first stretch of boardwalk, I encountered this red ant resting on the railing.

 

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Continuing down the same stretch of boardwalk, I found a popular trailside perching area for Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis), a dragonfly species common in the Eastern United States.

 

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I try to be an equal-opportunity photographer, including a mix of good, bad, and ugly.  When it comes to flies, though, I often hesitate.  I am proud to say that I photographed this fly and added it to this blog, all the time thinking it was a vicious deer fly.  Now I have to revise my opinion of this creature.  According to folks at BugGuide on Facebook, it is actually a member of the family Bombyliidae, or bee flies. It is quite possibly Xenox tigrinus, or another member of that genus.

 

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Further along, my next discovery was of another Blue Dasher willing to be photographed (the dragonflies were everywhere, but most darted too quickly from spot to spot, and/or had perches that were out of my camera’s macro range).  This is my favorite dragonfly portrait of this particular outing.  But I will be back again soon.

 

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Stepping onto terra firma once again, we immediately saw this female Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) in the path ahead.  Valerie estimates her age at 75 to 100 years, and suspects that she may have been in search of a suitable location for laying eggs.

 

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A short side spur led up the ridge, gaining about twenty feet in elevation and offering a view out over the wetland.  In a tree hollow near the top, I glimpsed this insect, which was reluctant to be photographed.  It is probably a Brown Lacewing (family Hermerobiidae).

 

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After so many photographs of insects (particularly dozens of dragonfly shots, nearly all Blue Dashers), I paused to take a couple of wetland plant photographs.  The first one, I admit, I took because of all the Least Skippers feeding on it.  The white globe of tiny flowers turns out to belong to the Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  Now that I have a name for the flower, and appreciate how unusual it is, I ought to go back and photograph it properly!

 

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At last, a photograph simply in appreciation of the late afternoon sunlight shining through the underside of a leaf — in this instance, Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).

 

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On one such Arrowleaf, an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) was perched.  Although these damselflies are often quite timid, this one allowed me to get quite close with my macro lens.

 

 

 

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On a couple of occasions, the damselfly opened its wings for just a moment.  I caught this once, but my 1/30-second exposure was too slow to avoid some blur to the wings.

 

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Nearing trails’ end, I paused to enjoy the reflection of wetland plants and dead branches in a pool.

 

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Just before the final section of boardwalk on the main loop trail, I saw an Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)doing a bit of late-day feeding.

 

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My ramble through Newman Wetlands took over two hours.  In addition to the main loop, I also walked a few of the upland trails.  There, wildlife was less abundant (or, at least, much less readily apparent).  However, the sunlight through the trees afforded several stunning forest landscape photographs.  These will be included in a Part Three post later today.

Jun 302014
 

After a spell of near-monsoonal rain this afternoon, I set out on another expedition with my Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 optic.  This time, instead of the 8 cm macro converter from yesterday, I used a 16 mm one.  That translated into still more close-up  photographs than the ones I took yesterday.  I spent over an hour wandering Piney Woods Church Road, a goodly part of it trying to focus on water droplets.  I discovered (no great surprise here) that the water droplet comes into focus twice:  once the exterior surface is in focus, and at a different point when the central reflection was more or less in focus.

On my way back home, I also casually snapped this shot of a goatsbeard (I think), its bloom finished, but still retaining beauty and mystery.

 

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