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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Caption Contest Winner!

Well, it's official, we've selected a winner for the Caption Contest. Habitat gardening should be fun, and that's why we tried to encourage everyone to think silly, if only for a moment. In the end, the decision was easy.

Ellen Honeycutt, you're the winner! Congratulations and thank you for participating. We chose your entry because you're the only person to respond who wasn't related to me (or a local friend)! It's nice to know my family takes interest in my hobbies, but even nicer when someone I've never met does too! I know I'm usually full of sarcasm and silliness, but seriously, thank you! The prize was a subscription to this blog, but since you're already a follower, I guess that's a bit redundant.

Honorable mention goes to Clovis and Temperance B. Rennan for thinking outside the box, and to Man Behind the Curtain for being really esoteric.

This was so much fun, we might have to do it again, maybe we'll even have a real prize next time.

More proof that we're just a couple of goofballs that love what we do and see the silly in everything...

The Happiest Leaf in the Roanoke Valley

(This leaf was found this way, completely unaltered by human hands.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Velvet Ants and Nighthawks

   Either you've never heard of Velvet Ants or Nighthawks, or you have heard of them, maybe even seen one or the other, and you're wondering what the heck they have in common with each other. Well, the link is we saw both this week. Two fairly uncommon creatures and we saw both!

 
   Both are extremely difficult to photograph, constantly moving. One is tiny and close, the other large and far away.


   The Velvet Ant isn't even an ant! It's a wasp! The males have wings, the females don't. Velvet Ants are famous for their horribly painful sting, for which one species is nicknamed the Cow Killer. Thankfully I have not experienced this firsthand. They also don't live in colonies like ants, they are solitary. That helped us in determining that this was not an ant. We only saw this one individual, and we saw her on the same plant, multiple days. There are dozens of species, some more hairy, some less. We identified this one as Dasymutilla bioculata.


   Thanks goes out to Jeff and his dedication in trying to get a photo of this thing to document our sighting.

   Which brings me to the Nighthawks...of which we don't have a photo of our own, but I thought you birders out there might be interested in our sighting. Autumn is officially on its way when the Nighthawks pass through. We saw a few hundred of them between 7:30 and 8:00pm Thursday evening dipping and diving over the parking lots of Lewis-Gale Hospital, Ridgewood Farms, and Hidden Valley golf course. Haven't seen any since.

*By the way, we haven't picked a winner yet in Fridays Caption Contest, entries are still coming in and there's some good ones, feel free to keep sending them in. Thanks to all who have participated!

*Also, this is still the same blog, as you can see I'm experimenting with the layout and appearance.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Blogger: Caption Contest!

*****GUEST BLOGGER*****


     Hey Man, Looka Here...

     I had just finished a quick 35 mile run and stopped to water the crabapple tree. Oh wait, I looked at my watch wrong...it was 3.5 miles. Anyhoo, as I passed the truck on the way to the water barrel, I saw this abomination taking place on the wheel/tire. Two Wheel bugs, sex, and a snack! Whereupon I channeled the immortal words of Cal Naughton Jr., "That   just   happened!".
     I made the picture, now it's up to you casual and loyal readers to supply the caption or story to go with it. Be nice, keep it reasonably clean, and for heaven's sake get involved! We are asking for your participation (lurkers-you know I'm talking to you). The winner will receive a 1 year free subscription to A Suburban Wilderness blog! A virtual $49.95 value for free!
     So good luck and get to it! 

                                Love Yawl

                                                     Jeff

P.S. I'm guest blogging today because Julie is so terribly upset. She missed the earthquake and now it looks like Irene's much needed rain will pass us by.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some of Our Mammal Friends

   Jeff and I have many mammal friends that call our two habitats home. Since our home only sits on a half of an acre, other than chipmunks and squirrels, they don't actually live here but do pass through on their regular milk runs. At Dean, a property consisting of approximately a hundred acres, they actually are residents. We have squirrels, chipmunks, deer, raccoons, grey foxes, and groundhogs all making regular appearances on the property, day and night. We began putting out supplemental food (deer corn) during times of environmental stress like heavy prolonged snow cover or extreme drought, but suckers like we are, we now put out food regularly. We realize some folks may disagree with this practice. Anyway, we couldn't resist putting out our new mobile critter cam to see who and how many come by for a snack. The camera has been helpful in assisting us to document the species we have, the family groups, the time of day they come by, and how many babies they have.
   Here's an assortment of some of the best photos recently, as you can see, everybody seems to get along well:

 A buck, a doe, a groundhog and a squirrel walk into a bar...
(the thing that looks like a rock in the foreground is actually an all natural mineral lick)
Is the groundhog smiling?

Four bucks, a groundhog, and a squirrel
 "No elbows on the table!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Week in Review...

   It's been quite a while since I posted last, and I feel bad about it. Time has flown by so quick, I hate that. Wednesday we went to a concert (Gillian Welch, awesome!) and Thursday was a certain 12 year old's birthday. I don't even remember Monday and Tuesday. I've been so busy, I haven't even looked at any of the photos I've taken this week, which is unusual for me. When I sat down to start typing, I was unsure of what today's topic would be. I checked my photo card to remind myself what I had seen this week and decided to share some of my best finds.

I saw several Monarchs in our yard this week, the first ones since spring. I haven't found any eggs yet though.

This one was quite worn, I can only imagine how far it has travelled.

video
This is a video Jeff took with his iPhone, unfortunately the actual incident of note was not captured, he got there too late. The story goes like this...Jeff heard a couple of Tufted Titmice and a Nuthatch making a fuss, looked out the window, and saw them circling over something on the ground. Turns out it was a baby green snake, and one of the Titmice proceeded to GRAB IT AND LIFT IT OFF THE GROUND! I so wish I was there to see it, they eventually flew off and Jeff could only get video of the snake as it retreated. 

 Writing Spiders (Argiope sp.) are one of my favorite spiders. I hadn't seen any in our yard in several years, but this year we've found four already. Maybe we're doing something right! The center for most insect activity is a patch of Agastache along our front sidewalk, and these two smart spiders built their web right in the middle. Needless to say they are dining well and often. The large one is the female, the smaller one is the male.


I love Joe-Pye, and so do the insects...
Just down from the Agastache is a patch of Eupatorium "Little Joe" in full bloom that's literally covered in skippers of various types. We seem to have had a skipper explosion, I've never seen so many at once.

Six skippers plus half a dozen or so different bees.

That's all for now, don't forget to click on the pictures above to view larger.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: Dragonflies!

   Dragonflies are another one of those insects which virtually everyone has an affinity for. Have you ever heard of someone who didn't like dragonflies? They capture our imagination, like butterflies, with their bright colors and delicate, graceful flight. They don't bite or sting. They tease us, sitting still just long enough for us to get close, then they fly away at the last second. In various cultures around the world, the dragonfly is associated with magic, spirits, or fairies. Their metamorphosis is just as fascinating as the butterflies, beginning as swimmers and emerging to become fliers. 

   Dragonflies have been very difficult to photograph, our only opportunities seem to be immediately after they've emerged from the water and they're sitting on a perch to dry out before flying away. Here are our top shots...


Green Clearwing (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) male

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) female

 Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) male

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) likely a male

 Closer shot of a Halloween Pennant, they love our faux prairie

A couple of Dragonfly "skins", shed after crawling out of the water

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: True Bugs!

When is an insect not a bug?

Well, that depends. Believe it or not, all bugs are insects but all insects are not bugs.

Huh?

We throw around the word "bug" too loosely, like kleenex or google. Bugs are actually a specific order in the class of insects: Hemiptera, meaning half wings. Most of them have what looks like a shield on their backs, that helps me to visually separate them from other insects like beetles. Sometimes, people or books will also include the order Homoptera in the True Bugs category, which includes cicadas, aphids, and others.

Although you probably won't go looking for it, they also have a rather sophisticated proboscis, which they use to suck plant juices. That's why the most infamous member, the Stink Bug, smells kinda cabbagey when it's squished. There are actually dozens of different kinds of Stink Bugs, not just the brown ones invading our homes lately.

Here's a collection of Bugs we've seen recently:

Wheel Bug nymph
(took us forever to identify, finally found it in the Kaufman guide)

Wheel Bug Adult, from my deceased found bugs collection
(yes, I collect bugs, only if they're already dead and in good condition)

unidentified Stink Bug

 Leaf Footed Bug (Acanthocephala sp.)

Stink Bugs and nymphs

*As always, don't hesitate to correct me on something I may have misidentified, I'm at the mercy of my Id books, currently Kaufman's, Audobon's, and NWF.

*Also don't forget you can click on the above photos to enlarge, if your browser allows.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: Butterflies!

   Gentle and colorful, the butterfly is probably the first insect we fell in love with as a child. How can you not appreciate them for their metamorphosis, their beauty, and their migrations.

   Here's a sampling of our most common visitors this summer, and the flowers they love. Note that two of the plants are non native invasives, Buddliea and an unidentified mint. While some of my best sightings lately have come from these plants, I do not recommend planting them in your yard, there are plenty of native alternatives that are just as desirable to the butterflies, any of the dozen or so Agastaches, native mints, Monarda, Echinachea, and Rudbeckia are just a few.

This Northern Cloudywing may look drab, but it's really kinda smokey and mysterious
(on Catnip) edit: or maybe it's a Duskywing!

Red Banded Hairstreak, has a jumpy flight pattern like a moth 
(on Echinachea)

Spicebush Swallowtail on Agastache "Blue Blazes"

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, female black form on Agastache "Blue Blazes"

Tiny and beautiful Pearl Crescent on mint along the river

Zabulon Skipper on Agastache "Ava"

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail at the Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden

unidentified skipper on mint down by the river

hard to tell, but likely a Clouded Sulfur, on Ironweed 

 Buckeye on mint along the river

Not a butterfly yet, Black Swallowtail, munching on dill

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: Wasps!

   Wasps are one of the most feared members of the insect world. They can sting us just like bees, but they're skinny and menacing, whereas bees are plump and slow and make honey. It's silly really, in fact many don't sting at all and they're no more of a threat to us humans than any of the other insects. What most people don't realize is many of them feed on nectar and are wonderful pollinators. Just like bees, many have incredibly sophisticated social skills, next time you find a paper wasp nest watch them for a little while and notice their subtle communication maneuvers.

Here's a sampling of wasps we've seen recently:

 Digger Wasp (Scolia dubia)

 Eremnophila aureonotata, the only species in its genus in North America, no common name known

Double Banded Scoliid (Scolia bicinta) needs a more creative name

Beewolf (Philanthus sp.) not Beowolf

Beewolf (Philanthus sp.)

No mention of wasps would be complete without the Ichneumon Wasp

video

This is a video taken with Jeff's iPhone of a bunch of wasps on some Rudbeckia over at Dean, they seem to really love this plant, along with the bees. Not the greatest video quality, but hopefully you get the idea.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: Flies!

   Oh boy! Flies!

   Everybody has a favorite insect, but I doubt many people would admit they love flies. Mosquitos, gnats, and no-see-ums are all Dipterans (the fly order) and they're all fairly well disliked. However many fly species play important roles in our world. Some are decomposers who play an important role in forensic science. Some are important pollinators. Some play a role in genetic engineering. Unfortunately, what they're known for is spreading diseases like malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis. Love 'em or hate' em, they are important participants in our ecosystem.

   I don't have many pictures of flies, even though I see them all the time. Here's the best of what I have...

 Green Bottle Fly (above and below)



                                                          Robber Fly

                                               Green Bottle Fly on Redbud leaf      

A fly next to one of its favorite foods, bird poop!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Celebrating Insect Diversity Week: Bees!

   Here's a collection of the 5 most common bees from our yard over the past month, and their favorite flowers for pollen and nectar. It's so important to provide a lot of different of plants to suit each bees needs. Some bees have short tongues and prefer the smaller flowers, like coreopsis and nepeta. Others like the Golden Northern Bumblebee have long tongues so they can feed from plants with longer flower tubes, like the monardas and some agastache. Don't forget to also provide plants with staggered bloom times, so you always have a few things blooming all season long.

Remember...No Bees = No Food

Want to learn more about why bees are so important and what you can do to help? Check out these websites: Pollinator Partnership & Xerces Society.


 Agapostemon Sweat Bee on Sunflower

   Golden Northern Bumblebee aka Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus) on Spotted Knapweed

 Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on Gaillardia "Oranges & Lemons"

 Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on Monarda "Raspberry Wine"

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) on Agastache "Blue Blazes"

*click on photos to enlarge