Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Milkweed Wait Is Rewarded

Back in May we finally got some Milkweed plants for the garden thanks to the Norfolk Botanical Garden plant sale to provide a place for Monarch butterflies to lay and for the caterpillars to feed. Well we have watched since then and seen...nothing at all.

To be fair Monarchs are usually a late summer visitor to our garden as feeders and will often be one to the last butterflies in the yard in the fall as they pass on their migration. But last Sunday I was sitting having coffee in the kitchen when I looked out big french doors and saw something fluttering around one of the plants. I dashed out with the camera but it (apparently she) didn't really stop for long enough to get a decent shot.  However when I looked the following morning I found what we had been hoping for, Monarch eggs. The Monarch clearly isn't a very abundant layer. Unlike the Black Swallowtail which will usually lay a dozen or more eggs on each paln she visits, the Monarch laid a grand total of 5 eggs on the plant. They were laid singly, dotted on leaves and flower buds. I suppose that this Milkweed species is a relatively small plant compared to the 4 foot  bushy Fennel that the Swallowtail gets to work with. Often a fennel will have 20 swallowtail caterpillars feeding and growing on it at one time. This is enough to decimate the plant in the short term. I imagine 4 or 5 caterpillars is all a Milkweed of this size can reasonably support. 

Egg shortly after laying at the weekend.

An egg photographed today, Thursday August 28th. Visibly developing, the dark area at the top is the developing head seen through the shell. It seems likely that hatching will be tomorrow .

All very exciting, although the timing could be better. We are out of here on vacation a week from Friday and so we wont be around to see the pupation or the emergence as we will be in the mountains of Maine. Ah well you can't win 'em all.

Banished Jr. returned to school this week and as his last day out he wanted to go back to Bennett's Creek park. There I found this Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) 

This is an interesting one. The sub species here in the south eastern US is Limenitis arthemis astyanax.  The upper wings looks like this 

In the northeast the butterfly is called the White Admiral and the wings look this this

They are regarded as the same species but are distinct subspecies. 
Why the difference? Well here in the south the Red Spotted Purple looks a lot like the Pipevine Swallowtail (less the swallowtail tails). The latter feeds as a caterpillar on the Pipevine and is unpalatable or toxic to many predators. So its in the interest of the Red Spotted Purple, which is not toxic, to mimic it's nastier neighbor. But why the difference in the north? The Pinevine Swallowtail doesn't occur that far north and so there is no survival advantage in looking like one!
Don't you just love natural selection?

And lastly a couple of flies to ID when I get the chance.
This first is sort sort of Hoverfly I'm fairly sure but I need to look deeper.

And this one looks like a predatory Robberfly.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Some Regulars and Some Not

Some pictures again from around my yard (mostly) in the past week.
Above is the Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia). I don't seem to have seen so many around the garden this year. Often the iris bed alone will have 3 or 4 at a time but this is the only one this year in front or back yard. But we have had the nesting wren this past month and wrens do seem to be fond of spiders considering how much web is included in the nest and how often I see wrens poking around in fence corners and angles where spiders are to be found. Perhaps she  made off with most of the others before they got to a large size?

This Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia) is an immature male and the abdomen is still to turn blue-white.

I'll have to get an ID on this ant. Very impressive antennae though!

ID's required too for these wasps. The first shouldn't be very difficult considering the distinctive markings.

And lastly a hold over from last week. I'm still trying to get a picture that give an impression of the sheer number of Fiddler Crabs to be seen on the mud as the tide recedes. I havent got one yet, but there are a good few here and this is no more than a couple of square feet of mud.

Monday, August 18, 2014

More Than Just Bacon

More interesting finds in Smithfield on Saturday. I've driven by St. Luke's church many times but really hadn't paid it much attention. Let's face it, churches here are 10 a penny most having their own so called 'bishop' thanks to some theological diploma mill 'college'. Half of these are little more than storefronts shoved in there between the pawnbroker and the takeout pizza place. But while St. Luke's isn't visible from the road it's a surprise tucked away above the river amongst it's old grave yard and large trees. It turns out that this is the oldest church of English foundation in the USA and the oldest gothic building in America .  The "Old Brick Church" as it's known was founded in 1632 and that's about as old as it gets over here.

And not forgetting this place, that's been for sale for at least 4 years. Mrs. B would buy it in a heartbeat if only we had the $750,000 or so it costs. Oh yes the top of the tower is clad in copper.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Not Sportswear

I hadn't given much thought to why Carrollton's Nike Park is so named. Banished Jr. and I have been there a few times this summer including Thursday when I photographed the Ant-lion there. I'd thought it was some sporty connection due to the soccer pitches, Baseball fields and skate park. But no. As I discovered today the name has it's origins in the height of the Cold War.

It seems the site was a ground-to-air missle installation from the mid 1950s to the early 60s. Site for 20 Nike Ajax missiles and the crew to launch them the place is going to warrant further investigation next time we are there.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Live From Where I Didn't Take My Camera

At the end of a long two-centre day of utterly failing to catch even ONE  Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab I closed the day out by failing to have the camera with me when I  stopped by the bathroom before we headed home and spotted this  Antlion perched on a wall. High as it was I don't think it came out too badly on the phone, standing on a cooler, at arms length. I'd thought it was a Dobsonfly but close up it's far too attractive. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bacon City USA

Out to Smithfield for the farmer's market. Real bread, pretzels, veggies and cake.
And stayed to walk around the bacon and ham capital of the USA if not the world. Very small town, very nice 18th and 19th century buildings and insane bacon themed items,

Bacon lollipops. "It's swirly and sweet. It tastes like cured meat !"
Bacon flavor jellybeans

Bacon band aids.
And last but not least...

And as Bill Fields used to say "...and fish fuck in it"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Familiarity Shouldn't Breed Contempt

I admit I'm guilty of always taking out the camera in the hope of something new and exotic. And lets face it there is a long long list of bugs out there that I've not seen yet and many of them, especially over here, are decidedly exotic.

But that shouldn't mean I overlook the things I see pretty much every day in the yard. A few examples here from the past couple of days. Beginning with the proverbially familiar damselfly, the Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile). I'm saying its that one but these are notoriously difficult to ID. But of all the half dozen or so almost identical, mid sized, local, blue and black pond Damsels its by far the most common and so most likely.

Among all those large and flashy Monarchs and Swallowtails its easy to overlook the Buckeye (Junonia coenia) until it turns up in such numbers that it can't be ignored anymore. And take the time to look and its a very attractive little butterfly with those orange forewing epaulettes and the subtly shaded hindwing eye spots (which remind me of the Peacock back in Europe).

As ever there are hordes of Skippers on the Lantana. This weeks commonest being the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) identifiable by the bright orange underwing with the multiple black spots.

Also familiar around the yard is the Carolina Wren. While Wrens here are a lot less secretive than the European version they do still like to nest securely. This one is nesting in Mrs. B's hanging basket Dahlia and has hatched 4 eggs in the past weekend. It took a while to realize she was even there as she burrowed under the potting soil and built a chamber among the roots lined and concealed with moss. We only really noticed when she flew out 3 night running when we watered the pot.

Awaiting positive ID though is this long horned katydid (?) in the Mallow on the opposite side of the front door from the wren.

Make that  insanely Long Horned !