One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.
With the help of a friend, over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get a good start at finding and photographing as many of the 35 +/- orchids that can be found in Missouri. The yellow-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) is known from only a handful of threatened locations in the state. I was really thankful to be shown these in full bloom where they reside in acidic seeps in St. Francois County.
I had seen rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) before, as its wonderful evergreen leaves stand out during winter hikes. This was the first time I’ve seen them in bloom. Photographed in Ste. Genevieve County.
Not the greatest photo of the greatest specimen, but this seemed to be the absolute last grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) to be found in bloom for the season at this location in St. Francois County.
Members of WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups met on June 24th, 2017 to see what interesting insects could be found. In this post I am sharing a few of the more interesting that I was able to get photographs of during the day. The find of the day had to be the Cerambycid pictured above that was, by no surprise, found by Ted MacRae.
We found that blooms were a great way to find beetles. It is easy to see how the delta flower scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) got its name.
Cerambicids like this flower longhorn can readily be found on blooms.
The banded netwing beetle (Calopteron reticulatum) are easy to find, often located in the open atop vegetation. They rely on aposematic coloration to advertise that they carry aboard chemical compounds that make them a distasteful meal.
The Hymenoptera were well represented on blooms of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Queen Ann’s lace (Daucus carota) and as pictured above, fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). I find the native bees to be tricky to identify by photographs, but I believe this can be placed in the genus Agopostemon. These bees nest in the ground and to promote them, leave patches of soil exposed somewhere in your yard.
This cleptoparasitic Coelioxys exclusively parasitizes the nests of bees in the Megachile genus.
Besides being a bizarre little pollinator, this scaly bee fly is a cleptoparasite of cabronid wasps.
Not to leave out the Leps, this double-toothed prominent moth larvae was found. These guys have developed very effective camouflage that allows them to blend in and resemble the toothed, wavy margins of their elm (Ulmus) host plants.
During our search for insects at Council Bluff Lake, the WGNSS Nature Photography Group stumbled upon this cooperative and gravid female northern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthus). She allowed our close inspection as she attempted to bask and warm herself on a rock.
Along with finding the typical rarities that everyone looks for during spring migration, I will not count spring as arriving until I lay eyes on a male Blackburnian Warbler. This past Saturday, not only did Miguel and I find my prize at Carondelet Park, but I got my best photos to date of this tree-top dwelling, piece of greased lighting.
With a throat this bright and luminous, a song that is so high-pitch that dogs aren’t safe for blocks and a never resting habit, more than one birder has assumed these guys must be powered by a battery. Seriously, there’s a reason these guys eat all day long. They have to!
Well, hopefully I might have another before the season has completed springing. If not, I’ll always have something to look forward to next year.
Miguel Acosta and I decided, along with many other birders and bird photographers, to head to Tower Grove Park to check out the latest migrant action. Although the migrant songbirds were overall pretty disappointing, the morning was surely not a bust for me as I was able to photograph my 282nd species in Missouri and contiguous states – the Veery.
This guy’s polyphonic vocalizations have been among my favorite of bird songs for a long time. On the rare occasion these guys sound off during migration, the songs come from a deep thicket and I rarely get to lay eyes on the songster. The beauty of migrant traps like Tower Grove and Carondelet Park in the heart of the city is being able to get great looks at these northern nesters.
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 Linderabenzoin (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.
“The Pinnacles are not easy to reach but a visit to the site is worth a considerable amount of time and effort. Differential weathering of vertically fractured pink porphyry created a sheer bluff cresting a hundred feet above the bed of the Little St. Francis River. Individual columns rising as monoliths above the bluff are responsible for the name, but the bluff per se is even more spectacular than the pinnacles. The site could be compared to the Palisades of the Hudson and merits photography but defies the lazy or poor planner.”
Thomas R. Beveridge Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri
Eight different pinnacles are listed in the Legacy that Dr. Beveridge left this state. This particular pinnacles, along with associated geological features, is located in the St. Francois Mountains, just a stone’s throw away from a number of other classic destinations of this area. Steve and I had been discussing our potential route for this excursion for quite some time. We had tried once for an overland route but could not find or did not wish to aproach the private property owners and so decided that a water route was the best option for us. This past November, with leaves being mostly fallen and temperatures being much warmer than average, was the perfect opportunity to try out our designed route.
This destination lies on a stretch of the Little St. Francis River (LSF) approximately 1.5 – 2.0 miles upstream from its confluence with the St. Francis River. We knew that water levels were on the low side but we were completely uncertain what this would mean for traveling upstream into the LSF. Would there be any navigable water at all? If not, would it be possible to navigate within its bed by foot? Facing the possibility of failure, we decided to give it a shot. We loaded the canoe onto the powerful, symmetrical all wheel drive Subaru Forester and hit the road.
We dropped off Steve’s truck at our takeout – the Cedar Bottom Creek bridge and put into the St. Francis at Silver Mines Recreation Area. With the sun directly in our eyes (as almost always seems to be the case), it was a pleasant and short paddle downstream to its confluence with the LSF. See the following map for the highlighted route that we took that day.
Arriving at the confluence, our spirits were lifted. We were forced to push a little to get over a sandbar, but the route upstream was slow and just deep enough to allow for paddling most of the way. We portaged a few times, but we expected worse.
After taking in the initial views of the bluffs, we were naturally drawn to see the pinnacles themselves up close. A quick lung-burning climb and we were there.
Although not the tallest of these spires, this monolith was the more picturesque. I have other photography plans in mind for this guy if I can ever visit again. See below to see Steve in the frame for scale.
The views from atop the bluff were quite nice. The primary hill that faces south was Tin Mill Mountain and Pine Mountain lies to the north. Here is an example of the rhyolite porphyry that composes the majority of this bluff.
This place reminded us a lot of Lee’s Bluff, which was not surprising due to how close these locations are to one another. However, the pinnacles here brought a bit more visual interest. Here Steve poses with a small, but likely ancient cedar, clutched within a crack that is probably older than the human species.
To conclude, here I captured Steve doing a belly crawl to the edge of the bluff. As I say so often, I long for another visit here. It seems the LSF has several other features to share. I hope we can one day float the entire ~15 miles with a couple or more feet of water. There are apparently a couple of stretches of shut-ins that shouldn’t be missed.