Last Sunday we were in the garden doing YardWork again, pulling unwanted grasses out by the roots while the ground was still soft from recent rains, when CD suddenly called me over to where she was working and said that she’d just seen a spider hurry along close by and disappear under a small fallen leaf. Not wanting to miss a sudden opportunity, I decided against taking the time to set up my Nikon DSLR, close-up lens, and a low tripod, in favor of hand-holding my Pentax compact, with which I thought I could approach both less obviously and more closely. I was right. I gently lifted the little pin oak leaf and found her waiting patiently for me. I was able to make a dozen shots or so, resting the camera on the ground only a couple of inches from her, both with and without the help of the six LED lights that surround the lens. I believe she’s a young wolf spider, family Lycosidae, and I’m very pleased indeed to have made her brief acquaintance.
I’ve been having a discussion with my good photo friend Adrian Lewis about bringing great memories back to life through photography, and I mentioned that some of my best memories of my days in veterinary practice are intimately related to the eyes of some of the animals that I’ve helped through the years. One in particular stands out—a gorgeous snowy owl that had an injured wing and was unable to fly. It tolerated my gentle examination with great patience and calmness. No bones were broken, and after careful treatment of a wound in one of the wings and about ten days of rest, I was able to release it back into the wild and watch it fly into the woods with full regained strength. It had the deepest, yellow-est eyes I think I have ever seen, and it watched my every move with intense scrutiny and interest. I’ll never forget them.
(This is a rarity here, a photo that I did not make; I set up the camera and one of my assistants made the shot.)
For the past few days, I have been enjoying the emergence and maturation of a new crop of blossoms in our garden. And—no great surprise here—it seems that the closer I look, the more I see. I have a friend (Margot) up in Minneapolis who is an entomologist, and she has been, on several occasions, invaluable in helping me to give accurate names to some of my subjects. I sent her copies of these images, and I have her to thank for the taxonomic information.
My first was a truly tiny insect that I observed resting on a petal of our flowering crabapple tree. I thought it might be a kind of winged aphid, but Margot tells me that it’s a lace bug, family Tingidae.
For my last two offerings, while I was having a close look at the many blossoms from our mainly weed-ish ground cover of false (or mock) strawberry (Duchesnia indica), I noticed that tiny insects had taken up positions in about 20-25% of the blossoms. Margot informs me that they are likely male and female midges (Chironomidae).
She goes on to say that males have plumose antennae, which provide more surface area to pick up the female pheromones. They are non-biting, with a short proboscis, and are often mistaken for mosquitoes; some species are much larger than these and are lighter in color, and the antennae are usually much more feathery than those of mosquitoes, but overall, the species have the same general appearance. There are over 100 genera & at least 2000 species in North America; new ones are discovered frequently. They occupy many different aquatic habitats and can be found in marine littoral zones, mountain streams, arctic bogs, mangrove swamps and deep lakes, as well as polluted waters. They are considered the most widely adapted of all aquatic insects. Adults often emerge in very large swarms and are important as fish and bird food.
Ever since CD and I have been enjoying bell peppers, over the course of many decades, we have found great delight in some of the forms that can develop within. Sometimes they can resemble geese or swans, sometimes something out of an alien movie, sometimes a nose or a hand—the possibilities seem limitless. One came to light during dinner prep- aration yesterday. Whatever form they may take, we have taken to calling them embryos.
Luck favors the bold, and if spiders like to pose for portraits, luck was certainly with this one a few days ago. Shortly after my last Webnesday post, while studying the nooks and crannies in our little rock wall behind the house, hoping for more of the newly-hatched Platycryptus undatus spiderlings, I spotted a small movement nearby, that was made by a much larger and far more impressive salticid (jumping spider), and I patiently stalked her at comfortable intervals over the next several days, until I was finally able to get close enough with my tripod and remote release for this portrait shot. She’s a Phidippus audax, commonly known as a bold jumper or daring jumper. Squiddy helped with the final identification, and she let me know that this particular one is very high on her own wish list, and that she’s been hoping for a chance to see one for many years. I feel so privileged! (Click on the photo for a higher-resolution image.)
Our teeter-totter weather is continuing its crazy fluctuations, but at last it’s tempting to say that the cold may finally be behind us. My still-hesitant confidence is bolstered by the fact that, although it was only three degrees (F) above freezing just three days ago, our thermometers actually hit 100 (38°C) today. Our river birch trees have put out their lovely catkins and they’re in full flower now. When the sky is clear, they fairly glow among the tender new leaves, and they live up to their common names very well, resembling so closely the long tails of little kittens.
I’d like to dedicate this post to CD on the festive occasion of our 41st wedding anniversary!
One of the latest of our garden’s cast of characters to flower out in this crazy spring is our Fothergilla, whose leaves fairly burn with fiery intensity in the autumn. But in spring, its budding new tips blossom into delicate, pastel bottle-brushes.
It apparently has waited until it was fairly certain that the warmer weather had set in, and we hope it’s not been fooled—our temperature dropped nearly to the freezing mark once more last night, and we’re both wearing our under-layer of warm woollies again.
Then again, we’re secure in the knowledge that we’ve got our love to keep us warm, too!