Here is one of the interesting visitors I had to my black lights at Hawn State Park this summer. Bolitotherus cornutus, or horned fungus beetle is in the darkling beetle family, Tenebrionidae. I wish I knew of their preference for polypore fungi as larvae and adults so that I could have photographed them on more suitable substrate.
This series was taken on the joint outing of the WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups at Council Bluff Lake. Here we have eastern black carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) feeding on a freshly dead ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus).
With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees. The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days. There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with. So, I decided to give some attention to the Lindera benzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails. My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.
One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly. This is my best guess on identification. This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.
Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).
The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.
I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen. This is what I figure was going on in the image below. Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source. I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.
Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae. These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.
Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male. Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper. In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate. In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.
At least one species has taken this system a step further. The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”. The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names. Another overlooked beneficial fly. Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.
I’ll leave you with one final image. This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer. What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall. This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush. Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.
Until next time…
A wonderful post about the Bald Eagle and the photographer’s experience!
American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Lock & Dam 14.
Lock and Dam 14:
Located in the city of Le Claire, IA. Hailed as one of the better bald eagle viewing opportunities in the continental US, each winter hundreds of eagles congregate along the flyway of the sometimes frozen Mississippi River to catch fish that get stunned as they travel through the cascading water passing through the lock.
Hands downs, Lock and Dam 14 is my favorite because it provides closer views of the eagles from the viewing platform. The best light is in the afternoon, although I’ve still gotten some great images in the morning. Get there early to find a good spot on the platform as it gets crowded later in the day (especially on weekends).
While in Le Claire, plan a visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum, or a boat ride with the Riverboat Twilight Tour cruising…
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American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), fly-by
Most birders who have had the opportunity to travel will know about High Island, a small township along the gulf coast that is among the most famous of birding locations in the country. This relatively small plot of land, along with other spots within a few minutes drive, can boast bird lists higher than many states, if not whole geographic regions of the country. What surprised me during our visit last May was the diversity in habitat. High Island is mostly famous for its potential for massive fallout during spring migration – migrating songbirds either traveling up the coast or flying directly over the gulf will stop here for a drink of fresh water and to fill up on grub before continuing north to nesting grounds. We realized we were going to miss most of the migration at the end of May, but still wanted to pay a visit. The place is so popular that there is bleacher seating around key ponds to allow for visitors to watch as birds by the hundreds land for a drink and forage through the live oaks.
The numbers and diversity of songbirds across the Houston/Galveston coastal areas we visited were even sparser than we anticipated, but on arriving pre-dawn at the rookery we were quite surprised. Every bit of vegetation on this relatively small island was being used by wading birds. We were in awe by the numbers of Neotropical Cormorants and Roseate Spoonbills that filled the branches as well as the skies.
Lighting was quite challenging – what little light available at this time of the morning was often coming from behind the subject. Evening may have been better photographically but we had lots of ground to cover. One of the sights that had me the most excited was a nesting Great-Egret. These are birds that are routinely found during the warmer months in Missouri, but finding one feeding chicks was a real treat.
Early in the dawn hours we were treated a Common Gallinule (Moorhead) hen bringing her chicks down to the water for a drink.
Prehistoric looking Spoonbills would sometimes fly right overhead.
I hope to visit High Island some spring during a nice fallout period one day, but I will be just as excited to watch and photograph at the rookery once more.
You can see more photos from the High Island rookery and the Texas Gulf Coast by visiting me on Flickr.
Until next time…
- Weidensaul, Scott. Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
- Dunne, Pete. Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.
Until next time…