Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Assassin Assassinated

This is  an assassin bug called Pselliopus cinctus. Only small but rather nicely coloured. And for an assassin bug not what you'd particularly call camouflaged. I took this pic last September.

And yes this is Pselliopus cinctus too only this one is an assassinated bug. 

After hurricane Irene, I went to check on the Argiopes spider in the rosemary bush. She has moved not long before the storm into a spot with more room to spread out and I wondered how this more open spot had faired in the 60-70 mph winds on Saturday. Well when I looked on Sunday I couldn't see any sign and thought she'd probably been blown all the way up to Maine. But I checked again Tuesday and there she was, having taken shelter for the duration and only lately re-emerged.

As I took this one, there was a flurry of activity as our Pselliopus flew into  the top left quadrant of the web and its fate was sealed in seconds. The assassin just isnt in the same league as Argiopes

Ever more species of grasshopper around the place though again I'll have to go to BugGuide for IDs. So many species and so many different forms as the species mature.
Short-winged Green Grasshopper - Dichromorpha viridis. Also short legged, as in short of one leg.
A female nymph of a Meadow Katydid, probably Orchelimum (or so I'm told by those who know far better than I)

I took the 2 huge pots of Basil inside over the weekend and now I've taken them back out they are proving to be very popular nectaring flowers especially with the smallest butterflies, the blues and the hairstreaks. Neither of these are bigger than my little finger nail.

This is a new shot of the Red banded Hairstreak that I ID'ed in the yard for the first time in June.

And this a nice upper wing of the Eastern Tailed Blue.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back Again (What was all the fuss about?)

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Thankfully, here at Chez Banished at least, Hurricane Irene proved anticlimactic. We've had more and worse winds and rain from Nor'Easters in the last couple of years. The main drag with this one was that it was moving so slowly. It took about 16 hours to move through from start to finish. It passed us as a Cat. 1 Hurricane but all the hurricane force winds were on seaward side and our winds likely topped out at steady 60 gusting 70s. And it rained for 12 hours or so but it was hardly ever what youd call torrential. We didnt even lose power except for around 5 minutes Saturday morning.

I have to say I was much cheered when the mailman came at about 3 P.M. Whilst "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is not the official motto of the postal service, its cribbed from Heroditus and was carved on the facade of a New York Post Office, they certainly didnt let a hurricane mess with their appointed rounds yesterday. I'll have to take back all the rude things I said when postcards from Maine got to the U.K. before they got home. Sorry chaps!

So I can get back to normal posts. It's not that there wasnt anything to see last week, I was just a little busy.

That beautiful thing at the top of the page is a Zebra Swallowtail. I have to admit a slight cheat there as it was taken in the new butterfly house at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. However it is a local species, its just not local to my yard. I have to find some Paw Paw to plant. I've snapped them before around Williamsburg and I'm told they are all over the place in Chesapeake. But apparently  nobody is growing PawPaw anywhere around me.

I was dead-heading the Basil on the deck, well actually snipping the flower stalks out altogether, before vacation. But it flowered freely while we were away and it seems that while everyone knows Goldfinches love thistle seeds they are also very fond of Basil seeds too. This one has been around most mornings. Maybe he has some Italian back in his family tree.

Regulars know of my growing interest in the huge range of grasshoppers to be found round and about. But that stretches to include the Katydids. I don't have a species on this one yet but its some member of the genus Scudderia.

And remember our mystery object of a couple of weeks ago? The Southern Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen davisi) larval  skin? Well thats another one on the left.  Question is what the hell is that one on the right? I've found 3 of those giants recently. Maybe they are the ones that really do sound like overworked circular saws.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Black Swallowtails...THATS what I'm talking about! That and Hurricanes... oh and Earthquakes.

UPDATED 08/24/11 12:00

After a summer of frustration, missing pretty much every single emergence of  a swallowtail, this morning it all went right.

As of Saturday there were 7 pupae perfectly placed for photography. There had been 8 but I missed one early Saturday by 10 minutes as usual. I expected this last batch to do their thing Sunday morning and was out there waiting bright and early. And of course...not a one of them emerged. So this morning, Monday, I was up with the sun and out on the deck and ready. If I didn't get them this morning it really was a blow-out for the year.
And just for once it worked out. 5 of the 7 emerged before I left for work this morning. There are still 2 remaining. I shall leave them in peace in the morning and have a sleep in.

That whole thing took less than a minute. The drying and expansion of wings took around 10 minutes more and away they went.

 Now Sunday we took another trip to the Botanical Gardens but that can wait until tomorrow. I spoil you as it is.

And talking of rain to help put out the Great Dismal fire... looks like we have it coming. Its called Hurricane Irene and looks likely to be passing awfully close by, some time on Saturday afternoon.

Make that passing right over the top of us Sunday morning as a category 1 hurricane. Or not...who knows. It might yet curve out further east and miss the coast entirely or it might not curve as far east as now expected and pass in-land of us to the west.  But as of 11:00 update its straight down the middle.

AND AT 13:55.
Well its one of those weeks isn't it? We just had a 5.8 Richter earthquake too. Bit of a bugger that.


Once again there is a shift and it does seem to be creeping slowly more eastward in its path. Weather Underground, the weather website we use to track storms  and rain here at work for sample gathering purposes, has the storm centre slipping by on the eastern side somewhat out to sea. It would still be tropical storm windy if thats right and we will get a serious soaking but its a lot better than a Cat 2/3 hurricane right through the area. Now the National Hurricane Center is still tracking a little further east and clipping the coast and giving us a  major hurricane but they too are very slowly nudging it eastwards. We shall see but for myself I hope Weather Underground is as good as usual.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Swamp Is On Fire

For Martin at Martin's Moths and others who asked here is just a word on the wildfire at the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge.

The fire was started  a couple of weeks ago by lightening strikes.  Everything is very dry thanks to our being at least 6 inches under on our rainfall for the year  So now there are thousands of acres of brush and peat burning. Its the peat that really keeps this thing going. Brush burns out quickly but the peat will burn pretty much underground for months. 

Its certainly generating a lot of smoke. Where that goes changes day to day with the wind, but often its drifting north over us. We are about 50 miles north and some days, like last Sunday and this morning  its pretty thick outside. The  pic below was a day with the smoke blowing out to sea but you can see the size of the plume. Thats it streaming eastward in the middle of the image. When that plume is headed north it extends way up into the northern part of the state and is probably giving them some interesting sunsets and red moons as far as DC.

As it is a naturally occuring fire then it is being allowed to burn with firefighting efforts just aimed at keeping it safe and  in the park. Fires like this will happen naturally and it is all a part of the renewal cycle of the unique environment. Its what stops the swamp just turning into forest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Mantis

This one just looked good perched on the Ginger Lily.

And this Ramburs Forktail is a nice colour change from all those blues and greens.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dog Day Early Evening

I left off last time with  a question. What was this thing sitting on my finger?
Well its whats left after one of these...

 is finished emerging from it's larval form. The thing on my finger is the abandoned dried out husk, the last larval skin of a Southern Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen davisi). You find these things on tree trunks, fence posts and in this case Banished Jr's swing set. They usually emerge only once the sun has gone down. But this one chose dusk and close enough to the deck to be seen moving.  
These hot August days we find a dozen or so fresh cast-offs every morning. And the 'song'  isn't that gentle sussuration  recalled from southern Europe. These things sound like over worked powertools in the trees as the temperature rises. 

We also had a couple of our less frequent dragonfly visitors in the garden today.

This is a female Widow Skimmer. I snapped a male in July at Hoffler Creek.

And this very striking deep blue dragon is a male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta ).

 The Spangled Skimmer is very similar but they can be told apart by the stigma on the wings. These are the dark bars on the leading edges of each wing. They vary from species to species and are sometimes an important ID point. Here they are long and wholly dark. The Spangled  has a long stigma too but its half dark and half white.

And this Eastern Pond Hawk just looks good.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back In Our Own Backyard

Before vacation we had around 20 Black Swallowtail caterpillars that we knew would pupate before we returned. On our return we found a whole new bunch. This time there are around 50 and they have pretty much wiped out all the food plants on the deck. Right now they are reduced to eating stems and stalks. Its always the same this time of year. Its a race against time to pupate before the food runs out entirely but already we know where half a dozen have tucked themselve away so there is still hope to get some more shots of emerging butterflies

Meanwhile the little spider residing in the rosemary bush is still there and has grown considerably. Her true yellow and black coluration is showing now and I suspect shes actually going to have to make a move soon. The space the web occupies now isnt going to be big enough for much longer.

On the trip north we took a break at a rest-stop in Maryland where I saw the biggest Argiopes I've ever seen. She had built a web across the windows of the information centre and it couldn't be reached or disturbed because of flower beds and shrubs. Alas she couldn't be photograped easily either. Which is a shame as the web was close to 5 feet across. 

Not all our spiders are such giants. This little jumping spider is only about 5mm long but one of the pleasures of macrophotography is that you can see how handsome the little beast is, close to.

Not all our Swallowtails are black. The state butterfly of Virginia is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). This one was in the front yard on Wednesday resting its 4+ inch wingspan in a tree.

It appears to be a male
as the female would have far more blue on the edge of the hind wing. The male has just these little spots. 

Talking of State flora and fauna reminded me of Brit's discovery over at Think of England of the existance of the state crustacean of Oregon. Its good to see that the Oregon State legislature is so gainfully employed. Just as an aside I personally think its unfair that 7 states get to pick the cardinal as their avian image. First come first served I say. Once one has been taken go find your own. Its only fair that some of the ugly birds get a chance.

And I'm reminded of my age again by The Old Batsman who writes splendidly as ever, this time on Geoffrey Boycott. The occassion is the 34th anniversary of his 100th first class century made on his home ground of Headingley against the old enemy Australia. I remember it so well. It was the summer of my  'A'  levels. A note to my american readers, this refers to cricket which I know is an ineffable mystery to you all. But please do read his piece, its the sort of sports writing thats sadly absent here in the USA where people care far too much about just winning. The British can play one game of cricket for 5 days and not mind at all if it ends in a draw. That mindset makes for contemplative and considered journalism.
Especially priceless is a quote from the late great John Arlott, the epitome of 'a gentleman and a scholar'.  He observed of Boycott's slow but ever so sure style and his supposed 'selishness';

‘No man is an island, but he has batted as though he is a particularly long peninsula.’

 And finally today...

Whats this?

Its sitting on my finger. And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow