Missouri Orchids – Aplectrum hyemale (Adam & Eve Orchid)

Aplectrum hymale (puttyroot orchid)

Aplectrum hymale is a relatively common orchid in Missouri, preferring rich mesic forests, particularly along stream and river banks. It is known by two common names that are both widely used. “Adam and Eve Orchid” is used due to the presence of twin underground corms. The leaf of the current year is connected to the youngest corm (Eve), and is an offshoot of the previous corm (Adam).

Aplectrum hymale (Adam & Eve orchid)

The other common name, “puttyroot orchid”, is given to this species due to the putty-like consistency of the corms that were sometimes eaten, most likely for medicinal purposes.

Aplectrum hymale in early stages of flower development.

A. hymale is unusual in that it exhibits an alternate vegetative cycle. Leaves of this plant (one leaf per plant) develop in the autumn and overwinter. The leaves begin to senesce  in the spring and have almost completely withered by the time the plants are in full bloom, or shortly after. In the preceding photo you can see the leaves at the time of flower shoot formation.

Aplectrum hymale with senescing leaves and flowers just shy of blooming

These plants typically bloom in early to mid-May in Missouri. By the time June  rolls around the leaves will most likely be completely deteriorated and the only sign of the plant over the summer is the flowering stem (raceme) and developing fruit capsules.

Aplectrum hymale closeup of individual flower.

Thank you for visiting!

-OZB

The interesting and important Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Until this spring, I assumed that spring ephemerals, like Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) and others that begin flowering in early spring, did not provide much sustenance for early season pollinators. For no reason in particular, I assumed that most of these plants preferred selfing versus providing the resources to attract insect pollinators.

After taking a closer look at the blankets of C. virginica that lie on the slopes of Beckemeier Conservation Area near our house, my eyes were opened. I found pollinators everywhere on multiple trips during this long and cool spring. Unfortunately many species were so quick that they eluded me and my camera. However, I managed to nab a few of the more cooperative and with some help of those smart folks at BugGuide.Net, I got as close to the right identifications as I could.

Andrena erigenidae, the spring beauty bee

Have you heard of oligolecty? Until doing this research, I had not either. Oligolectic is a term that describes certain bees species that have specialized preference to pollen from only specific plant groups – plants from a small group of genera, a single genus, or in this case, one single species.

Andrena erigenidae reaching for its nectar reward

The spring beauty bee (Andrena erigenidae) is a mining bee (Andrenidae) that feeds exclusively on the pollen and nectar of C. virginica. In fact, the larvae of this species cannot grow optimally on any other pollen source. So, it may not come as a surprise that this was the most common bee I found foraging on the fields of spring beauty.

Andrena erigenidae female with pollen-laden legs

These mining bees will take the pollen during a flight run that may last up to more than an hour and then bring it back to their self-constructed nursery hole in the ground. There they will turn the pollen into cakes and lay a single egg on each. This will be all the material needed for an individual larvae to develop into an adult.

Andrena erigenidae making another stop

The next pollinator is a bee from the same genus, Adrena. This is a huge genus, comprised of more than 450 species in the U.S. Most often they are impossible to identify to species without having the bee in-hand and available for close inspection.

A beautiful Andrena bee

This beautiful and hairy ginger was considerably larger than the previous Andrena. I estimate this bee was about two-thirds the size of the domesticated honeybee.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

I’m not sure if this individual was a male, or if it was only interested in getting nectar, but I never saw this species actively collecting pollen from C. virginica.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

The long tongue on this one will allow for it to collect nectar from a larger variety of flowers, while the hairs on this bee definitely help it meet its pollinator status.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

I found a couple cuckoo bees foraging amoung the C. virginica as well. This “nomad cuckoo” pictured below is a cleptoparasite, meaning the female will lay its egg inside the nest of a different host species. The cleptoparisitc larvae will hatch first and will often kill the eggs or larvae of its host and then use the pollen provisions the host mother left to complete its development. This particular genus, the Nomada, is known to primarily use species in the above discussed Andrena genus as its host.

Cuckoo bee (Nomada sp.) nectaring on spring beauty

The cuckoo wasp, like this metalic green beauty in the Chrysididae family are also cleptoparasites that likely will use Adrena bees as hosts.

Cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae) on spring beauty

Bees and wasps were not the only pollinators I found on spring beauty. I also found a couple species of ants (not pictured because they never stand still long enough) and a couple of dipteran species, like this tachinid fly.

Tachinid fly (Gonia sp.) on spring beauty

I now want to introduce what was probably the most interesting thing I learned about spring beauty this year. Having been able to work on Asian Soybean Rust for a couple years during my career, I have since been very interested in the complex life-cycles of plant rusts. I suppose due to the dense population of C. virginica at this location and the cool and wet spring we have had, I found that many plants were infected with spring beauty plant rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae). With just taking a cursory estimation of the hillsides, I think that as many as 50% of this population was infected with this rust. When I took the succeeding photo ( I so wish I had taken more and better photos of this), little did I know that my investigation would take me into a complex relationship that not only involved this plant host and rust relationship, but would also involve slugs (yes slugs) and the very pollinators that enticed me to bend the knee in the first place.

Spring beauty plant rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae) aecia (a type of spore forming legion) on the abaxial (lower) leaf surface of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)

I am sure that anyone who has taken the time to appreciate spring beauty more than during one season and/or place has noticed the variability in flower parts coloration.  The majority of what is to follow here comes from an intriguing bit of work by Frank Frey (2004). C. virginica can vary from almost completely white to being mostly colored with pink to mauve to crimson stripes and other floral parts. Frank describes that plants that with higher levels of theses reddish pigments are preferred by pollinators and therefore, “…floral redness was associated with higher percentage fruit set.”  Well then, this should beg the question, if this is the case why are there still plenty of individuals and populations of the less-fecund whitish pigmented flowers? Shouldn’t selection have taken care of this by now?

Here is where the slugs and rust comes into the story. These two, surprisingly, affect opposing selective forces on the coloration of C. virginica flowers. Plants with more white-colored flowers hold up better against predation by slugs due to the anti-herbivore properties of the flavonol pigments that produce the white coloration in these plants. In addition, for reasons that are not completely understood, the rust pathogen does better at infecting and propagating new spores on plants with redder-colored flowers. This was eye-opening for me to learn that something besides pollinator preference was manifesting a selective force on floral morphologies.

This is a highly simplified summary of the story this paper holds. I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself by following the link below.

An aberrant spring beauty flower. Typical spring beauty flowers have five petals. This plant may be infected by virus or have a genetic mutation that caused the increase in petal numbers seen here.

I love the never ending stories that can be learned from a single, common and seemingly simple spring ephemeral wildflower. I’m sure that spring beauty still has a number of stories to tell. I wish I had taken more photos of the rust and I will try and see if I can find plants with telia, the next form of spore-producing legion by this rust. It occurs later in the lifecycle of the plant. I just hope I’m not too late to get it this season.

Thanks for the visit!

-OZB

Citations

Frey, Frank M. 2004. Opposing natural selection from herbivores and pathogens may maintain floral-color variation in Claytonia virginica (Portulacaceae). Evolution, 58: 2426-2437.

An Owl Trio

Here are a few from last year’s archives.

Great Grey Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/200 sec., ISO-4000, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

First up is the Great Grey Owl that Miguel, Dave and I found on our trip to northern Minnesota in late December, 2019.

Great Grey Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN. Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO-1250, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.
Great Grey Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN. Camera settings: f/4, 1/200 sec., ISO-800, 800 mm focal length equivalent.
Northern Hawk Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
Camera settings: f/10, 1/640 sec., ISO-320, 1600 mm focal length equivalent.

Next is the Northern Hawk Owl photographed on the same trip. We really enjoyed watching these guys as they hunted in broad daylight from their high perches. You never knew when they would take off in a powered flight after a prey.

Northern Hawk Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/250 sec., ISO-640, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.
Eastern Screech Owl, Grafton IL. Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/200 sec., ISO-1600, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

Last of all is this gorgeous red-phase Eastern Screech Owl. Whether it is the same owl, or multiple birds using the same hole in this tree, this species has been observed using this cavity for at least the past three winter seasons at the Visitor’s Center in Grafton, IL.

Eastern Screech Owl, Grafton IL. Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-1250, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid

Scudderia furcata on Sumac (Rhus sp.) fruit
Camera settings: f/11, 1/25 sec., ISO-640, 234 mm focal length equivalent.

I was so glad to get this guy identified. Thanks goes to the folks on BugGuide. I had a pretty decent field guide, but still couldn’t get to the species. It turns out this species is known for having populations that are predominantly pink, red, or brown in color, which is unusual in the katydid family. Casey and I found three individuals that were this color in a sand prairie/savanna in southeastern Missouri last September.

Scudderia furcata
Camera settings: f/14, 1/100 sec., ISO-640, 234 mm focal length equivalent.

 

Hummingbird Clearwing

Camera settings: f/7.1, 1/1600 sec., ISO-640, 520mm focal length equivalent.

From a WGNSS Nature Photography Group outing from last July at Shaw Nature Reserve, here are some images of a Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) as it foraged among blooming Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata).

Camera settings: f/8, 1/1250 sec., ISO-640, 520mm focal length equivalent.
Camera settings: f/8, 1/1250 sec., ISO-640, 520mm focal length equivalent.
Camera settings: f/8, 1/1250 sec., ISO-640, 520mm focal length equivalent.

More from the 2019 Rut

I was mostly pleased with the images made from my first real attempt at photographing the white-tailed deer rut last year. Here are a few more I thought worthy of sharing.

Late in the day, with the sun below the horizon, this buck finally crossed the field and wound up incredibly close to where I was hidden.
This forky is checking the morning air, likely trying to tell if a receptive female is nearby.
This spike buck followed the larger buck, attempting to spar.
Mom with her two fawns. Miguel and I were happy to be able to fool this attentive doe. The does are always the ones who discover us first.
I was not hidden during this one, just walking about and found these three browsing on a hillside.
We haven’t been able to get close enough to the really large and older bucks, like this ‘wide – 8’. Hopefully next year.
We were hitting the estrus bleats so well that bucks were lining up to get a look at us. However, these two were not in an optimal shooting lane.
I would really like to know this guy’s breeding success rate. A large-bodied buck with a relatively small rack.
This guy was seriously trying to find the source of the bleating doe, running back and forth in front of our position. Sucker.
This young spike buck was one of our first targets of the season.
A better look at the buck in the neighborhood who I shot from my back patio.

Great Grey Owl – The Hunt

GGOW – Locked on target.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 445 mm focal length equivalent

During December of 2019, Miguel, Dave and I were fortunate to have this Great Grey Owl successfully hunt and ingest a vole along the roadside in the Sax-Zim Bog. Here is what portions of the sequence I was able to capture.

GGOW – Locked on target.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 445 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Immediately after capture.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 640 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – With prey.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Check out feathered legs.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Always head first.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Down the hatch.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Down the hatch.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Down the hatch.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – All gone.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 278 mm focal length equivalent
GGOW – Back to the hunt.
f/5.6, 1/320 sec., ISO-2000, 480 mm focal length equivalent

 

Photographing the White-tailed Deer Rut

This post is a modified article that was originally published in the Webster Groves Nature Study Society’s journal, Nature Notes (February, 2020, Vol. 92, No. 2).

The alarm on the phone sounds off at 4:00 am. You have a quick, light breakfast but no coffee. Making moves required during the act of recycling that coffee would be detrimental to your goals this morning. You’ve packed the car the night before, so you simply need to wash your face and throw on the required number of layers it will take to stay warm enough during your several hours sit. This requires some critical thought as morning temperatures during the rut can often be in the teens or twenties.

You arrive at the site by 5:30 am and are under cover at your pre-scouted location by 6:15 am — first light. Sunrise and the golden-hour will come in about 30 minutes. You picked this location due to heavy deer traffic signified by sign such as tracks and scat, scrapes and rubs. You put your back to the rising sun to take advantage of the beautiful golden-hour light that will be splashed across the scene. You also considered the potential background for your photos. You made sure there is plenty of space between your subjects and a natural, potentially autumn-colored background to get that creamy, out of focus quality that helps your magnificent subject stand out. Remember, the key to improving your nature photography is to make the photo, not simply take the photo. Previsualization and planning are often critical!

Arriving prior to first light brings the best potential for being unnoticed in your blind. However, deer are often just as active at night and sometimes you may find your spot is already occupied by your subjects! Don’t worry too much; you may spook those deer out of the area, but there are plenty of others who will likely visit these hangouts before the morning is over. Where you choose to photograph will be important in this respect. Take advantage of photographing in areas that are closed to hunting, like parks and sanctuaries. Here the deer are very accustomed to people and our scents, showing little fear. Often, during the rut, younger bucks may be curious and will move closer to you. You will typically need to work harder to get closer to the wearier does and old, veteran bucks who have been around the block a few times. In non-hunting areas, you can often get close enough to your subjects to make meaningful photographs by simply having an early-morning walk around with a longer telephoto lens (e.g. 300-600 mm focal length).

Like clockwork, at 6:30 am every morning, large flocks of blackbirds move overhead from the west, chasing the rising sun in search of feeding grounds. Photographing the rut is very similar to hunting. Deer hunters in our area typically use tree stands. This higher elevation provides advantages in being able to see greater distances, being out of direct eye-line of the deer and aids in dispersing your scent, which is frequently a give away of the pursuer. When hunting with a camera and lens, you need to stay on level ground and shoot the deer at eye level or lower.

A method Miguel Acosta and I like to use is hiding in a blind (we like the portability of ‘throw-blinds’) along well-established deer trail or nearby communal rub or scrape areas. This will require using camouflage, blinds or similar methods to break up the human form. In the types of areas described above, you need not worry too much about your scent. Deer have very strong sense of smell and in the middle of an unpopulated forest, your odors can very easily give you away. But, in areas like parks where people and deer are often found in close proximity, your own scent is less likely to alarm the deer and thereby allow you to get much closer.

Around mid-morning a Red-shouldered Hawk, perched above our location, vocalizes and a mixed-species flock of songbirds moves into our copse of trees. Since we have our large lenses, we try our hands at photographing Chickadees and Titmouse. Although scent and wind direction may not play an important role in this setting, being quiet is important for getting those close and intimate shots. I recommend doing everything you can to keep your noise to a minimum. Try and chose gear without Velcro or other noisy fasteners. Keep your voices to a minimum and try not to move frequently. If available on your camera, choose the “silent shutter” setting. Many dSLR cameras have this setting that lowers the volume of the mirror flapping. Consequently, this will lower the frame rate of the camera, but this is preferable to spooking your subjects before you get your shots. New mirrorless cameras lack the mirror box of their older brethren and can shoot very quietly at high frame rates.

Later in the morning I awake from a nap to the sound of Wild Turkeys vocalizing. I quickly realize that a small flock have wandered near our location and Miguel is offering them some verbal enticement to come a little closer to our shooting lane. It didn’t work, but the fact they were within ten yards of our location offers further proof that our blinds and technique work to get us closer to wild animals. Until recently, I had never given our North American game species much thought as a subject of natural history study. I’m sure that not growing up as a hunter or outdoorsman has had an influence on this. Over the past couple of years, I have fallen hook, line and sinker into learning everything I can about white-tailed deer and finding ways to best capture them with the camera. Miguel and I have much to learn and we are eager in making more photographs, capturing their different behaviors and at different times of the year.

For recommended reading about the rut and other aspects of the lives of white-tailed deer, I recommend reading any books you can find by authors Leonard Lee Rue III and Mark Raycroft.

For those just getting into photographing the rut, grabbing your camera and walking around the right park can yield some satisfying results. Photo by Bill Duncan.
It was once believed that spike bucks were always the young bucks of the year. Now most believe that genetics and nutrition play major roles in antler development. Photo by Miguel Acosta.
Most of the bucks that came near our blind were likely 1.5-years old. This bruiser, despite his relatively weak rack is likely older than this. Photo by Miguel Acosta.
A cleared patch of ground known as a ‘scrape.’ Urinating and depositing materials from different scent glands, deer use these as informational signposts. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Antler rubs are also important means of communication by bucks. Setting up near active rubs and scrapes can be very productive when hunting deer with camera or weapon. Photo by Bill Duncan.
This inquisitive buck, that I have taken to calling “Bright Eyes”, is often available for posing for our cameras. Here you can see him using his most important sensory organ, trying to figure out the strange scents coming from our direction. Photo by Miguel Acosta.
During the rut, bucks will often increase their typical home range. In mid-November, this buck was found just outside the author’s back door. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Even the little guys get worked up during the rut, trying at every opportunity. This doe, however, wants nothing to do with this pathetic creature. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Photographing in a blind can be a great way at getting much closer to your subject. At times we wondered if the deer might walk over top of us! Photo by Bill Duncan.
Whether you hunt with a weapon or camera, all hunters are looking for their own particular trophy. Photo by Bill Duncan.