Tipulariadiscolor, or the ‘cranefly orchid,’ was first collected in Missouri in 1988 and new discoveries across the Midwest in recent decades suggest it is actively expanding its range. Similar to the puttyroot orchid (Aplectrum hyemale), this orchid blooms in the summer without the presence of any leaves. Leaves emerge in autumn and are usually completely withered by May. Both the common and genus names come from the apparent resemblance of the open flowers to that of crane flies in the genus Tipula. Moths in the family Noctuidae are the primary pollinators and use their proboscises to collect nectar from the long nectar spurs of the flowers.
This is the only species in the genus to be found in the Americas. Casey and I found these plants in Stoddard County on August 1st of this year.
As usual, I am woefully behind on processing images this year, probably worse than usual actually. I’ve also not put much work into birds this year, a general trend over the past few years. Too much I’m interested in and not enough time. Anyway, here is some avian miscellany from 2020 so far.
My quest is to get the perfect Cerulean Warbler shot. These are not it, but getting closer. Better luck next year.
This pair of Blue-grey Gnatcatchers were also photographed this spring at Weldon Spring Conservation Area.
A pair of Louisiana Waterthrush were usually easy to find in a territory that the trail ran through.
This Horned Lark was found back in March at Riverlands.
I was happy to fins this Hairy Woodpecker nest this past spring, but, unfortunately, the parents never got used to my presence so I didn’t spend much time here.
Back in April, Casey and I visited a hotspot for the small population of Swainson’s Hawks in Greene County. These hawks are rare in Missouri and nesting pairs are limited to the southwestern portion of the state.
While waiting for more interesting subjects, Killdeer can sometimes get close enough to make it worthwhile. This one was strutting in some pretty good light.
Finally, this Red-winged Blackbird was captured establishing his territory outside the Audubon Center in early spring.
The habitat this featured orchid was found was quite interesting – a wet, fen-like area with many pea-gravel rivulets to walk down. All this was set under a thick overstory that allowed little light on the cloudy day Casey and I visited. Often forced to hunch as we searched for other plants, lighting for photography was challenging, but we got what we came for.
As you can see below, this is a dainty and sweet orchid that has a large primary leaf and a secondary, bract-like leaf.
After looking for a few years, I finally found a patch of black trumpets this year in Jefferson County, MO. They are reported to be one of the finest wild mushrooms and I agree – they (I picked and ate the ones pictured here) are definitely in my top three!
Today I’m sharing a couple of plants that Casey introduced me to that have a preference for growing in dry, sandy places. The first is a monarda that I did not know existed and has since become my favorite of the beebalms for certain.
Next up is Callirhoe triangulata, the clustered poppymallow. This supremely saturated flower strongly prefers, dry sandy soils. A stunner of a plant! We looked for compositions that allowed us to feature not only the flower, but the triangular-shaped leaf as well, which is indicative of this species. This species is very rare to possibly extirpated in Missouri.
We found this equally striking Rufous-banded Crambid moth (Mimoschinia rufofascialis) on an open flower. This moth uses these mallows as a host plant, feeding on the immature seeds. I’m not sure, but I doubt the adults feed; this one was likely just using the flower for shelter.
Going to the archives to try and wrap up 2019, I want to share a few more birds taken in eastern North Carolina.
For me, the highlight of visiting Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was visiting the Least Tern nesting colony. They put up a barricade to make sure you do not get to close to the nests and chicks, but it soon became obvious that the birds do a pretty good job at dissuading anyone from getting too close.
It was terrifying watching these birds react defensively, strafing and defecating until I moved back to a point they felt comfortable with. I remember I still had some of their ammunition on my camera body for at least six months before finally cleaning it off.
You have to look really close towards the center of their nesting arena to spot the chicks – the reason for their territorial behaviors.
During a walk along the interior, marsh portion of the refuge, this beautiful Common Tern flew by.
A real treat were my first looks and photographs of Red Knot.
During the same trip, I was fortunate to visit a nice longleaf pine forest habitat at TNC’s Calloway Forest Preserve in Hoke County, NC. Here, along with the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, I got to find one of my southern favorites, the Bachman’s Sparrow.
From the few short trips I’ve been, North Carolina seems to be quite a place for birds and nature.
A few weeks ago Ev, Yvonne, Dave and I traveled south to try and find the first state record of the Brown Booby that was on the Current River just outside of Doniphan. Unfortunately, we were a day late and missed the bird. However, through the patient and educated eyes of Yvonne, we found several insects that made the trip worthwhile.
One of these that I was able to get some photos of was this striking great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans). This is one of the largest of the skimmers and while not necessarily rare, it isn’t one you’ll come across very often in the St. Louis area.
We made a stop in Carter County before heading home to look for orchids. The orchids were a no-show, but Yvonne found her target species of the day – this gemmed satyr (Cyllopsis gemma) that we all had nice looks and photo opportunities with.
Although we missed out on our prized Booby, I’d say the Booby Prizes were well worth our time.
Maybe I owe those of generation Y and the Millennials a bit of a silent apology. I too have been on a mission to ‘collecting them all.’ In my case, however, I think the objects of my search are far more brilliant, fascinating and mysterious than anything in the Pokemon universe could ever dream of being. For about the past four years, I have been occupied in late August to late September with finding all the slug moth caterpillars that can be found, or at least expected, in the state of Missouri.
Many thanks to Kyran Leeker for pointing me to a couple of hot spots she had found that contained some of the last species of slug moth caterpillar I needed to find and photograph – the spun glass slug moth, or Beutenmueller’s slug moth (Isochaetes beutenmuelleri). After hearing this, Sarah and I hit these locations soon after. My radar for these creatures was definitely in need of a re-calibration. I did not find a single slug moth caterpillar but Sarah found three, including this I. beutenmuelleri and two smaller parasa (Parasa chloris) – a species I had found before, but only had photographed with my cell phone. This was an exciting day indeed!
Although not as colorful or spiny as some of its more flamboyant relatives, the smaller parasa (Parasa chloris) is quite an interesting slug moth in its own right. Individuals can vary a lot in their patterns and are warmly toned with tans, oranges and pinks. I can’t get enough of looking at these guys.
Sarah found the following poor creature. Although you can’t help but feel sorry for it, I was glad to capture this natural history story. This little one was gregariously parasitized by approximately 15 braconid wasps, likely from the Microgastrinae subfamily.
These wasps were definitely in the process of preparing for their next stage of life. I have come across lots of caterpillars in the past that were parasitized by wasps like this, but always after the larvae had emerged and spun their cocoons and often after the wasps had cut the tops off and exited. This was very special indeed, finding them in this process. This was taking place much quicker than I had anticipated. It was plain to see the movement of the wasps and observe their progress. I had to take some video to capture this. I have sped the footage up by 1.5X to better showcase this activity.
Before I finish, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite Darwin quotes. Watching this footage a few times, I couldn’t help but agree with his reasoning.
In a letter to his friend and botanist, Asa Gray, Darwin wrote…
“With respect to the theological view of the question: This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically, but I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars …” -Charles Darwin
Early April, 2020, Casey and I head to the southwest corner of the state looking for multiple subjects. Our primary target of this trip was to check for caterpillars of a rare subspecies of the Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton ozarkae). This subspecies occurs primarily in the Arkansas Ozarks, but can be found in extreme southern Missouri.
The main distinction that separates this purported subspecies is habitat and host plant preference. The primary habitat for E. phaeton phaeton is marshy wetlands, while E. phaeton ozarkeaprefers oak woodlands. The primary host plant for E. phaeton phaeton are the turtleheads (Chelone sp.) while E. phaeton ozarkea primarily uses false foxglove (Aureolaria grandiflora). These animals will overwinter as caterpillars and then will often find new host plant species the following year – as shown in these photographs, they are using lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis). They will then pupate in May to June of their second year.
Browsing the literature, there seems to be some who question the legitimacy of the subspecific status of of E. phaeton ozarkae. Is this simply a case of an opportunistic generalist finding new ways to make a living in varying habitats, or is there a concrete genetic distinction between these two? From what I’ve been able to tell, there does not seem to be a consensus. If you are aware of any newer literature that might shed light here, please let me know.
March 2020 seems so long ago. Back at the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, when we were all getting used to social distancing, I remember watching this nest with a few other photographers. I only made it to the park on a few days and unfortunately did not cover much of the course of the two chicks’ development. But what little time I did have with them I managed to capture a lot of interesting behavior. I’m sorry if this one is a little long, but I had a hard time cutting things out. Scenes where mom and the chicks are looking horizontally or up and mom is giving her best defensive display was in response to a pair of Canada Geese that would sometimes buzz the nest, apparently interested in potentially taking over that prized knot hole for their own nest. Then there is another sinister enemy that I won’t spoil for you… 😉
I hope you will find this as entertaining as I do.