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Posts Tagged ‘Slaty Skimmer Dragonfly’

It’s so hot and humid here right now my camera lenses fog up the minute I take them from the dry, cool air of the car into the jungle humid air outside. If there’s one thing that can destroy a camera it is condensation so I’ve put together another “Things I’ve seen” post using all the photos that didn’t fit in other blog posts. Ten years ago I had never seen a Luna moth but on the day I took the  photo above there must have been at least 8 of them on a white painted block wall where I work. These moths are big and easy to see and I’ve read that Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

Another moth I’ve never seen is this one. Until this year that is; now I’m seeing them everywhere. They’re relatively large as moths go and you would think they’d be easy to identify but I haven’t had much luck so far. I can picture it landing on a tree and disappearing completely.

I was told it was a sphinx moth and I think that’s accurate, but if you Google “sphinx moth with blue eyes on its hind wing you get the eyed hawk moth, but that one only lives in Europe and the U.K., so that can’t be it. But it really doesn’t matter. I just wanted you to see it and to see this view of it, which reminds me of a blue eyed baboon face. I’m guessing it might scare away a bird.

Long time readers of this blog know that I don’t “do” birds and insects because of colorblindness but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing and hearing them and trying to get photos of them to show you. My identification skills aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be when it comes to insects especially, but I think this dragonfly might be a slaty skimmer. It has a dark blue body that looks gray to me, and a black head. Females and juveniles are said to have a dark stripe down their backs so I’m assuming this must be a male. If I’m wrong I hope you’ll let me know, because I’m seeing lots of them right now.

I’m also seeing damselflies and this one landed right in front of me one morning, so I had to take its photo. Though I don’t see any blue I think it might be a blue tailed damselfly because of its other markings. The chances of being correct with my identification are vey slim however, so again I hope you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.

When I was a boy we called this foamy stuff on plant stems “snake spit,” but of course it isn’t any such thing. Instead it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. There’s no telling where a boy’s imagination might take him, but quite often the real story is even more amazing than the imagined one.

One rainy morning a bumblebee hid under a leaf to keep dry, but it wasn’t working.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, spring starts on the forest floor and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa,) which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just a few weeks ago.

Timothy grass (Phleum pretense) was brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began promoting cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720 and the grass has carried his name ever since.

If you happen to be a nature lover and not watching for flowering grasses you’re missing a big chunk of the beauty that nature has to offer. Timothy grass flowers from June until September and is noted for its cold and drought resistance. It’s an excellent hay crop for horses. Each tall flower head is filled with tiny florets, each one with three purple stamens and two wispy white stigmas. The flower heads often look purple when they are flowering.

I saw this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) growing in a local garden. Native to eastern Asia, these ferns often display hints of silver, blue and red on their stems and leaflets and their common name comes from the way they look like the colors have been painted on.  

I think, in the almost nine years I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to show you the red fruit of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) and that’s because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen. Why they 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’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I often see them looking that way. From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy but I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) have just started appearing, pushing up through the forest litter. They’re not mushrooms but they like dark forests and plenty of moisture just like mushrooms, so when I go mushroom hunting I usually find them as well. These plants slowly turn their single bell shaped flower from looking at the ground to looking straight up to the sky, and that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. From then on they will turn brown as the spores ripen. They are also called ghost plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked.

I found a cluster of what I believe are resinous polypores (Ischnoderma resinosum) growing on a dying tree. The sharp eyed will notice that they’re in full sunshine. That might seem strange because everyone knows that mushrooms like to grow in deep shade, but what not everybody knows is how almost everything growing in a forest will get its moment in the sun, even if it is just a single shaft of sunlight falling on it for a few minutes at the end of the day. On this day I just happened to come along while these fungi were having their moment in the sun.  

The whitish underside of this mushroom will quickly turn brown if bruised, but these were pristine. Polypores get their name from the pores on their undersides. The pores are actually tubes where the spores are produced, and they are the fungi’s way of increasing the spore bearing surfaces. More surface area means more spores produced, and it’s always about the continuation of the species. The life force; the will to live, is strong in all living things and billions of spores ensure that there will be more resinous polypores.

One of the odd things about these particular example of resinous polypores were how they grew on a standing tree. The tree was close to dead but this fungus usually grows on recently fallen hard or softwood log, where it causes white rot that separates the annual rings in the wood. Though it often appears in summer another name is the late fall polypore.  Drops of a reddish brown liquid often appear on it in rainy weather, as this photo shows. Resinous polypores are considered edible but once again I’m not a mycologist and don’t have a microscope, so if you are going to eat this mushroom you should learn how to identify it from an expert.

Chocolate tube slime molds get their common name from their long brown sporangia, which stand at the top of thin black, horsehair like stalks. They typically grow in clusters on rotting wood and are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They are also called “pipe cleaner slime molds” or “tree hair.” There are thought to be about 18 species which can only be accurately identified with a microscope. Some can be quite long and look like sea anemones, but these examples were short; about a half inch long. They start life as a white plasmodial mass before becoming a cluster of small yellow bumps, and they in turn grow into what you see here. They do remind me of undersea coral.

In this photo you can see why chocolate tube slime mold is also called “tree hair.” The wiry black stalks do indeed look like horsehair.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on last year’s leaves. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here’s a closer look at a smaller version of the slime mold in the previous photo, which was on the same leaf. Science seems to think that slime molds have a limited intelligence, and that thought opens doors that I didn’t know existed.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

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As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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I think since March we’ve had one completely dry week and that was last week. Other than that we’ve had at least one rainy day every week, and sometimes as much as 4 inches of rain has fallen in that one day. Parts of the state have seen flooding and roads have been washed away, but so far in this part of the state we seem to be weathering the storms quite well. All that water means waves in the Ashuelot River though, so I was able to practice my wave photography skills. I try to catch them just as they curl, as this one was.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) blossomed along the Ashuelot. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

All the rain means a great mushroom season is upon us. The American Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) starts out bright orangey red and then turns to orange or yellow. Its flesh is white and its gills are bright yellow. It is said to be the American version of the European Caesar mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) which got its common name by being a favorite food of early Roman rulers. This mushroom is closely related to the toxic fly agaric and the deadly death cap and destroying angel mushrooms, so great care should be taken with identification before it is eaten.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails. I wish I had taken a photo of the undersides of these as well because it is supposed to be a beautiful lilac purple color and that’s something I’ve never noticed before. I see this pretty fungus rarely enough to always forget to peek underneath.

Elderberry flowers have been successfully pollinated and are slowly becoming berries, but at this stage the big flower heads look like star charts.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on a fallen branch. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here is another form that shape shifting slime molds can take. I believe this is the plasmodium stage of egg shell slime mold (Leocarpus fragilis.) In one stage of their life cycle these slime molds have a brittle outer shell that cracks and fractures like an eggshell. They will mature and become dry and turn first brown, and then gray. Blackish spores will be produced. Eggshell slime molds like to hang out on pine needles logs, stumps, and sometimes will even appear on living plants.

Spotting slime molds from a distance isn’t that hard if you know what to look for and where to look. It’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist. I look for what look to me like white or colored smudges. The closer you get to the smudge the easier it is to see detail, as this photo from about 3 feet away shows.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. I think it might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.) Most good mushroom books will include a section on slime molds that can help identify some of the most common ones, but uncommon slime molds can be very hard to identify.

A juvenile male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a grass seed head for a few seconds. I think it’s a juvenile male because the females don’t have white wing markings and adult males have a whitish blue body.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe.

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies, like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  Butterflies can absorb minerals and salts from the soil and I think that’s what this one was doing. It’s called puddling.

This eastern tiger swallowtail found a tasty heal all plant (Prunella vulgaris) to snack on.

I thought that this stunning creature was a butterfly when I first saw it on the grass in a lawn but after some research I found that it was a virgin tiger moth (Grammia virgo.) It is a large, butterfly sized moth and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants, which is apparently why I found it in a lawn. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I’ve been checking milkweed plants for signs of monarch butterflies but so far all I’ve seen are red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus.) These beetles eat milkweed plants and absorb its toxins much like monarch butterflies do and this and their red color keeps predators away. I’ve read that milkweed beetles squeak when they’re feeding on milkweed, but I saw hundreds and didn’t hear a single peep out of any of them. The ancient Greeks called this insect four eyes because of the way their antennae bisect and seem to grow out of their eyes.

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. This one wasn’t showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas. Flowering grasses can be very beautiful and I hope more people will stop and take a look at them.

If you want purple in your grass it’s hard to beat purple top grass (Tridens flavus cupreus.) This is a perennial grass that can get 3-5 feet tall. It likes to grow in disturbed soil and I see it along field and forest edges. I’ve tried for several years to get the camera to see what I see when I look at purple grasses but the photos were never accurate until I discovered the secret just recently, and that is taking the photo just after sunset when the light is still bright but there is no direct sunlight on the grass heads. There is also less wind to blow them around at that time of day as well.

I actually learned the secret of purple grasses last year when I was taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis,) but it didn’t click in my mind until this year. As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

When the tiny green flowers of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have been pollinated they become fuzzy red berries, but before that they go through a fuzzy purple stage, as can be seen in the above photo. I’ve never seen this before this year, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Native Americans made a kind of lemonade from these berries and they can also be dried and ground to be used as a lemony flavored spice.

The black willows (Salix nigra) along the Ashuelot River have gone to seed. Willows have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks made willow bark tea to ease the pain of stiff joints and headaches and to reduce fevers, and Native Americans used the plant in the same way. Willows are so useful for pain relief because they contain a compound called salicylic acid. The acetylsalicylic acid found in aspirin is a synthetic version of it. Willows like wet feet and usually grow on the banks of ponds and rivers.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

What I believe is a male slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) is easily one of the most beautiful dragonflies I’ve seen. Its deep indigo blue color isn’t seen often in nature, but the blue bead lily berries do come close. I actually thought this dragonfly was black when I was taking its photo from several feet away and didn’t realize it had such a beautiful color until I saw the photo.  Nature is full of surprises, and that’s one reason I’m outside as often as possible. I just love seeing things like this that I’ve never seen.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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