Life Bird

Just got back from taking Emily to school. She goes to Wells, just south of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped there in the morning before heading down to the college and got a big surprise!

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes

Surely didn’t expect such a thing. Here is their range map from Cornell:

Sandhill Crane Range Map from Cornell
Since I live in Western New York, and Montezuma is east of me, I did not expect to see this bird! (Click the map to go to the Cornell site and learn about this beautiful bird.)

Wildflowers Worth Knowing

Wildflowers Worth Knowing is the title of a book by Neltje Blanchan.  Emily found a copy in the camp library and brought it home to show me.  The original copyright appears to be 1917.  This edition was adapted by Asa Don Dickinson and published by Doubleday, Page & Company in 1925.  I searched the Internet to see if it is still in print and found that there is no longer a copyright for the book in the US and that you can download it from several sites.  (Here, for example.)

With that in mind, I simply must share with you a passage from the book that just makes me giggle.

Indian Pipe; Ice-plant; Ghost-flower; Corpse-plant

Monotropa uniflora

Flowers:  Solitary, smooth, waxy, white (rarely pink), oblong bell-shaped, nodding from the tip of a fleshy, white, scaly scape 4 to 10 in. tall. Calyx of 2 to 4 early-falling white sepals; 4 or 5 oblong, scale-like petals; 8 or 10 tawny, hairy stamens; a 5-celled, egg-shaped ovary, narrowed into the short, thick style.

Leaves:  None.

Roots:  A mass of brittle fibres, from which usually a cluster of several white scapes arises.

Fruit:  A 5-valved, many-seeded, erect capsule.

Preferred Habitat:  Heavily shaded, moist, rich woods, especially under oak and pine trees.

Flowering Season:  June-August.

Distribution:  Almost throughout temperate North America.

Indian PipesColorless in every part, waxy, cold, and clammy, Indian pipes rise like a company of wraiths in the dim forest that suits them well. Ghoulish parasites, uncanny saprophytes, for their matted roots prey either on the juices of living plants or on the decaying matter of dead ones, how weirdly beautiful and decorative they are! The strange plant grows also in Japan, and one can readily imagine how fascinated the native artists must be by its chaste charms.

Yet to one who can read the faces of flowers, as it were, it stands a branded sinner. Doubtless its ancestors were industrious, honest creatures, seeking their food in the soil, and digesting it with the help of leaves filled with good green matter (chlorophyll) on which virtuous Indian Pipevegetable life depends; but some ancestral knave elected to live by piracy, to drain the already digested food of its neighbors; so the Indian Pipe gradually lost the use of parts for which it has need no longer, until we find it to-day without color and its leaves degenerated into mere scaly bracts. Nature had manifold ways of illustrating the parable of the ten pieces of money. Spiritual law is natural law: “From him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away.” Among plants as among souls, there are all degrees of backsliders. The foxglove, which is guilty of only sly, petty larceny, wears not the equivalent of the striped suit and the shaved head; nor does the mistletoe, which steals crude food from the tree, but still digests it itself, and is therefore only a dingy yellowish green. Such plants, however, as the broom-rape, Pine Sap, beech-drops, the Indian Pipe, and the dodder–which marks the lowest stage of degradation of them all–appear among their race branded with the mark of crime as surely as was Cain.

No wonder this degenerate hangs its head; no wonder it grows black with shame on being picked, as if its wickedness were only just then discovered! To think that a plant related on one side to many of the loveliest flowers in Nature’s garden–the azaleas, laurels, rhododendrons, and the bonny heather–and on the other side to the modest but no less charming wintergreen tribe, should have fallen from grace to such a depth! Indian Pipe SeedheadsIts scientific name, meaning a flower once turned, describes it during only a part of its career. When the minute, innumerable seeds begin to form, it proudly raises its head erect, as if conscious that it had performed the one righteous act of its life.

Is that some wonderful writing, or what?  I can’t wait to read some of the other accounts!

McCrea Point Boat Landing

It’s not that far from my house and I drive by it frequently.  For some reason, I rarely stop…  Last Sunday, though, I had an itch to continue practicing with my new lens, so I decided to see if there were some gulls or ducks that I could reach with 400mm. I was not disappointed!


Two Ducks

Mallard w Reflection

I was also quite delighted to see gorgous Fragrant Water Lilies open in the morning sun:

Water Lily

Water Lily

And of course, Purple Loosestrife:

Purple Loosestrife 2

McCrea Point is an excellent place to launch a canoe or kayak… Head upstream toward Chautauqua Lake and you are apt to see all  manner of wildlife…  herons, dragonflies, turtles, frogs…  You’ll also see old, grown-over slips where the steamers used to dock… history and natural history abound.

Learn More:


BladderwortBladderwort. What a weird name. What is it?

It’s a floating, carnivorous plant found in waterways throughout North America.

Come to Audubon in July and August and you may see our ponds be-speckled with the snapdragon-like yellow flowers produced by this plant.

Floating?  Yup.  It doesn’t put roots into soil.  Most of the plant is an underwater and stays near the bottom of the pond until summer when it floats up to the surface, produces a whorl of fleshy leaves and a bright yellow flower.

Carnivorous?  Yup.  The underwater network of leaf-like stems contain tiny bladders.  Here’s the best explanation I found for how the bladders work, from the US Forest Service site listed below:

Hairs at the opening of the bladder serve as triggers, and when contacted, mechanically cause the trap to spring open, drawing in water and organisms like a vacuum. Enzymes and /or bacteria inside the traps aid in digestion.

Ain’t nature cool?

Bladderwort and Duckweed

Learn more:

Summer Wildflowers

Blue Vervain      Blue Vervain
Blue Vervain (aka Swamp Vervain)
Verbena hastata

Canadian Burnet     Canadian Burnet
Canadian Burnet (aka Canada Burnet)
Sanguisorba canadensis

Bull Thistle     Canada Thistle
Left: Bull Thistle (aka Common Thistle), Cirsium vulgare
Right:  Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense

Meadowsweet     Meadowsweet
Meadow-sweet, Spiraea latifolia

Argiope Season

I’ve never been a big fan of spiders.  I find them a bit creepy…  When I was a child, I couldn’t even look at a picture of a spider without getting scared.  With time fears fade.  I used to feel similarly about bees; the other day I stood surrounded by them as I took butterfly pictures and they didn’t bother me at all… not one little bit.

Spiders still startle me when I see them, but my heart calms quickly and I will stand and watch without fear.  One of the first photos I took with my new Canon Rebel XT back in August of 2006 was this one:

 Garden Spider

It was a lucky find and a lucky shot since I knew next to nothing about my camera or photography at the time.  As I’ve learned more about my camera, I’ve hoped to find such an opportunity again come August…  Yes, I’ve actually hoped to see a spider!  My, I’ve come a long way, haven’t I?

While walking the trails at Audubon the other day, I did happen upon another Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia).

Garden Spider   Garden Spider

Because this one has a less spectacular web, and a smaller abdomen, I wonder if it a male?  The accounts I have read indicate the the male is smaller and his web is not as big or elaborate…  I’ve also read that his web is usually built nearby a female, but this is the only one I noticed.

Of all the things I’ve read about Argiopes, the fact that amazed me most comes from the “Red Planet” link below.  The zig zag thing down the middle of the web is called a stabilimenta.  A web with a stabilimenta catches 34% fewer insects, but is less likely to be damaged by a bird flying through it.

I think I’ll keep my eye open for more of these… Would be fun to find a female and male web close by each other and observe for a while.  Does she really eat her web and reconstruct daily?  Does she really eat her mate?  So many things that would be fun to observe first hand… In the meantime, I’ll keep reading…

Read More about Argiopes:

Great Spangled Fritillary

How do you pronounce it?  With the accent on the first syllable or the second?  Either way, it is a gorgeous butterfly.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Milkweed

This giant beauty often tricks the kids into thinking it’s a monarch because of its size and similar coloration. Monarch Sips from Joe Pye WeedBut when you pay attention, you see the markings are completely different. Fritillaries love to sip nectar from a wide variety of plants from late June through early September. Three months. Maybe a little bit more. That’s it. Hmm…

Whenever I see a butterfly or moth, I get curious about its life cycle.  Oh, I know they all start as an egg that hatches to become a caterpillar.  A butterfly caterpillar will pupate as a chrysalis, a moth in a cocoon.  Then the adult emerges, mates and lays more eggs.  We all learned that in grade school.

What I get curious about is how they spend the whole year… especially… what do they do in winter?

The Great Spangled Fritillary lays eggs singly on or near violets in late August or early September. The larva hatches in two to three weeks and eats a portion of its own egg case. Then, without eating another thing, it burrows down into the leaf litter and enters a state of diapause. This is how it will spend the winter.

When spring comes, the larva will make its way to munch on violet leaves and flowers – but only at night. During the day it burrows back under the leaf litter, away from the host plant.

Caterpillar by Tom Murray
Caterpillar by Tom Murray – click photo to go to source

The caterpillar will attach itself under a rock or log and pupate; the adult will emerge in late June after two or three weeks.

Now do you know what I’m curious about?  I learned all this by reading books and articles on the Internet.  I want to know – who figured this out, and how? Monarchs are so “public” in all stages of their life cycle. As caterpillars they munch boldly in broad daylight. They pupate right before our eyes dangling in plain sight from a stem. They emerge and nectar and migrate and lay eggs – all as if it is a show for our pleasure.

But the Fritillary – public only in its nectaring… lays eggs close to the ground… I’ve never seen that. The caterpillar munches secretively – at night – then disappears during the day… Who discovered that? The chrysalis – hidden under a log or rock… Who thought to look there?

In my next life, I want to be that scientist.

Learn more:

Visiting Camp

Now that Maddie can drive, I don’t get to visit Camp Timbercrest as often.  But I have been down a couple of times to pick up Emily on evenings when Maddie has to stay.  Last night, I went straight to camp after work hoping for some good evening light…  Clouds confounded me much of the time … but I got a couple of shots that aren’t too bad:

American Goldfinch
It was really fun to watch several American Goldfinches flitting around in the grasses. They really seemed to like the Timothy Grass best. It always amazes me how they can perch on a stalk of grass and it doesn’t bend to the ground; they weigh so little.  There must have been nests nearby, but I couldn’t find one.  (Goldfinches are the last bird to breed in our region.)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
This Twelve-Spotted Skimmer kept flying just out of reach, or behind some grasses. Finally I got a clear shot. In the field, I thought it was a female. But when I got it home on the computer, I can see the white spots starting to come in, so now I think it is a male teneral.

Song Sparrows and Indigo Buntings refused to come out into the light, or close enough, or sit still… But they were fun to watch.