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Posts Tagged ‘Eyed Click Beetle’

Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

Thanks for coming by.

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With the moderate drought we’re in I haven’t expected to see any fungi so I was surprised to see these little beauties popping up out of an old hay bale. From what I’ve read I believe they are wooly ink cap fungi (Coprinus lagopus.)

The wooly part of the name comes from the way the fungus is covered in “wool” as it comes out of the ground and because of the fuzzy stem, which can be seen here. The stem is hollow and very fragile, seeming to disappear at the slightest pressure from fingers. I love the color of the cap and gills but they seem, from what I saw these examples do, to change color as they age. And they age fast; this little mushroom goes through its entire above ground life cycle in just a day. By the end of this day these were black.

These mushrooms seem to just melt away as their spore bearing gills turn to “ink.” I’m not sure why this one looked so wet, because it was a dry day. Maybe the whole thing was turning to liquid.

The next day more mushrooms appeared from the same bale of hay, but this time they were wearing black and white. I wonder if the early morning, shaded light had something to do with the colors seen in the first three photos. This one was taken in full sun. I’ve seen them in both colors in online photos.

I saw a big bolete which had grown out of the side of an embankment, only to have gravity pull it downward. I think it might be the ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) but there are many that look alike and I’m not a mushroom expert.  Had I checked to see if it turned blue when it was bruised I would have known for sure but I didn’t want to eat it, I just wanted to admire it.

I’ve heard from quite a few sources that hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) growth seems to be exploding this year, for reasons unknown. People are seeing them everywhere and as this hemlock log shows, so am I. It is closely related to the Reishi mushroom found in China. That mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. I’m guessing this could be a valuable log; I stopped counting mushrooms at ten, and some were quite big.

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

Wooly oak galls are created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and are about the size of a ping pong ball, but “felt covered” like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. They are a great help when searching for white oak trees. We have mostly red oaks here so I don’t see many of these.

I’m always amazed by the colors on the inner bark of trees. I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, and even blue. This photo shows the inner bark of an old gray birch, which had fallen off. I liked the patterns as well as the colors. Things like this always make me wonder why the most beautiful parts of a tree are sometimes hidden away where nobody can see them.

I also liked the pattern the leaves of this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) made. I often see this beautiful little fern in gardens.

Meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda) has plenty of new growth so I’m guessing it doesn’t mind dryness, even though I’ve read that it prefers moist soil. Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing which is native to the eastern and midwestern U.S. but its cousins grow all over the world in every continent except Antarctica. The acorn in the upper right will give some idea of scale.

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

The red fruits of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) are usually hard to find because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, but for the first time I found a bush full of them. Why the birds left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I saw a little brown bird dancing on the rocks at the river. It would hop from one to the other and back again, staring at me the entire time. It was easy to love and I wished I could have it land in my hand. I’ve had gray squirrels eat from my hand but not birds. Not yet.

I think the bird was a song sparrow but I’m not sure of that. Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a bird person due to colorblindness, so maybe someone out there better versed in birds knows for sure. Whatever its name it was a cute little thing that seemed to be smiling. It also seemed to be trying to distract me with its cute hopping back and forth and I wondered if it might have a nest nearby that it was hoping I didn’t see.

A mother turtle, which I believe is a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) was laying eggs on a lawn, quite a while after the snapping turtles had finished. She pulled her head into her shell when she saw me, but didn’t move. Snapping turtles can’t pull their head in as far as painted turtles but they do have long necks and can surprise people when they suddenly extend them.

One day I went to the shore of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock and found the entire shoreline moving with what I thought were dark colored insects; crickets maybe, but when I looked closer I found that they were tiny baby toads, so small that one of them could fit on the nail of my little finger with room to spare. Many thousands of them swarmed over the shoreline but that isn’t the strangest part of the story; the same thing is happening in other places. Saratoga Springs New York for instance, has seen the same thing happen and you can see excellent photos and even a video at the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, by clicking here. I can’t guess what caused such a mass hatching of toads, maybe it happens regularly, but in any event I would guess that fish, snapping turtles and herons will be eating well this year.

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me and let me take a few photos. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the deep coloration of this one suffered some in this shot because of the harsh sunlight.

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

I felt something hit me in the back and when I saw what it was I could hardly believe my eyes, because it had really big eyes. Actually the eyed click beetle’s (Alaus oculatus) “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. They certainly had me mesmerized for a bit. This unusual insect can snap a spine hidden under its thorax and make a clicking sound. It can also use that spine to launch itself into the air, which is apparently what it did before it hit me in the back. In this photo it has hidden its legs and antennae under its body. At about an inch and a half long it may be a mid-size beetle but it has quite a big bag of tricks.

Here we are looking at the eyed click beetle’s eye spots. If I was a predator I’d think twice, and by the time I had made a decision this bug would have most likely clicked its spine and would be sailing through the air, getting away. What a great gift is this life we live; from dust to dust nothing but wonders and miracles. How sad I feel sometimes for those who don’t see them.  

Though I think this was a calico pennant dragonfly it’s a little hard to tell because of the way the sky was reflected in its wings early on this morning. Its wings could have been wet but what interests me more than the dragonfly is the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, on the stem just above it. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind, and that’s what the strange husks are. 

But my question, since I actually measured one of the husks, is how do you pack all that dragonfly into a 3/4 inch long exoskeleton? As it turns out it isn’t all that much dragonfly; after searching for the length of a calico pennant I find that their maximum length seems to be 1-3 to 1.5 inches. Still, that’s twice the length of the exoskeleton that I measured. I’ve read that, though the dragonfly is fully formed when it emerges from the husk, it is not fully shaped.

The dragonfly is all folded up in its exoskeleton and that’s how so much dragonfly can fit inside what seems such a small package. Once it comes out of its exoskeleton it unfolds itself, begins pumping bodily fluids to all its parts, and warms itself in the sunshine. Finally, it is ready to fly and it reminds me of a quote by Jodi Livon: Fill yourself up with light and fly! Now if I could only get a shot of a dragonfly actually emerging from its exoskeleton. I’d be very thankful to have seen such a wonder.

Just a feather hanging on a stalk of grass. I’m guessing most people would think “big deal” and walk on, if they even noticed it. But this feather was special. First it was quite big; easily as big as a hen’s egg. And second I’ve never seen one like it, and third it was pretty and I thought the bird it came from would be even prettier. I wondered about hawks. Owls? Eagles? The brown banding must be a good clue, so I tried to match this photo with something I might find online. Identifying feathers is not easy when they aren’t from common birds, and I gave up after a few hours of searching. The closest I could come was a great horned owl, but it wasn’t quite right. In the end all I can do is show you its beauty and hope that is enough. Maybe it will take you on the same wonder filled journey it has taken me on. I learned many things I didn’t know about birds, all because of this feather.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Once again I have to apologize for the length of this post but I do like you to see all of the wonders that I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping in, and have a safe and happy 4th.

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