Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shutterbug Explorations: April 12, 2014

Saturday afternoon, 12 April 2014, in Wildwood Park, Radford, Virginia. Clyde Kessler writes:

It was a very warm afternoon in Wildwood Park. Conditions were fantastic for our first Blue Ridge Expeditions outing. We’re calling them Shutterbug Explorations in Wildwood . Nancy Kent and I were curious as to how many folks would show up, since there are so many events happening locally almost every weekend in spring and summer.


We were delighted when nine folks showed up. We talked a little while at the Outdoor Classroom, then we walked the trail on the west side of the park, and indulged in the wildflower show. Dutchman’s Breeches were in full bloom, carpeting the hillside from the edge of the trail up to a small cliff.

                                            Bloodroot also tried to steal the show.  

Other flowers that were in bloom or starting to bloom included: Spring Beauty, Large-flowered Bellwort, Trout Lily, Yellow Mandarin, and Coltsfoot. Spicebush was still in prime bloom.


We saw a few species of bees at the flowers, and we saw Carpenter Bees patrolling the area by the Outdoor Classroom.  We saw only a few species of butterflies: Cabbage White, Summer Azure, a Mourning Cloak that posed for us a while. It was found by Elizabeth when it was sunning on the side of a buckeye tree. Some of us briefly saw a species of Polygonia, either an Eastern Comma or a Question Mark.

Almost everyone that came on the hike had a camera or camera-phone. So we had lots of pictures of flowers. And we had some fine sketches of flowers too. Elizabeth's art explained the difference between Coltsfoot and Dandelions:

                                  Zora created her own version of a Wildwood scene as Dad watched:

Some of the group (Elizabeth and her twin brother Gardner) decided to indulge in a little rock hopping in Connelly’s Run.


It was such a fun time, I couldn’t believe how fast two hours went by, seemed like minutes. We’ll definitely try this again soon. Definitely, adds Nancy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Year-round Resident of Wildwood

One of the loveliest residents of Wildwood is the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), a member of the Thrush family. In the spring, they like to nest in boxes at the Park Road entrance. In winter, they are easier to see in the trees and on power lines at the Wetland. However, they enjoy a wide range in the park.
One morning in late January, as I approached the north bridge, I caught sight of bright blue wings flitting over the creek. Because there were no leaves, I could easily see small birds perched on bare limbs. Off came my gloves and out came my camera. I aimed toward the trees and hoped for the best. (Remember that my small camera does not have a long range for birding.) At first, it was a game of hide-and-seek!


Then one small bird ventured into the open. A dusting of snow lingered on the ground as the small female posed for me.

                                            Soon I saw a male perched on another tree.

               He fluffed out his feathers and tucked down his beak to resist the cold wind.

A few days later, as I approached the Grand Staircase from the upper west trail, I saw several Bluebirds in the trees in the woods. They were too busy to stop for photos. However, as I watched and waited, one finally stopped to rest. I had to shoot toward the setting sun which isn't good for pictures. However, the images turned out okay!


                                       And the birdie even turned to face the camera!

A Winter Resident

While walking through Wildwood Park on a bright but cold day in January, I heard a flutter in the brush beside the bike path. As I s-l-o-w-l-y walked toward the flutter, I could see a bird hopping from limb to limb. Pulling my gloves off, I began snapping pictures.

I stood as still as I could. It was very cold, but I tried not to shiver inside my down coat. The bird hopped to a tangle of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) brambles and began to occasionally peck at the rose hips (berries or fruits) lingering on the thorny twigs.

I could see its white throat speckled with dark dots and decided that it probably was a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus). Although my hands had begun to ache from the cold wind, I continued to squeeze a few more shots from my camera. Opportunities such a this do not come often for me and my camera.

I was very eager to return home and view the images on my computer. My small camera does not have a long range so I do not often get successful bird photos. I was very pleased to see that yes, I had gotten several clear pictures and that yes, I was correct with the identification of the bird's species.

This Hermit Thrush probably was spending the winter in Wildwood before flying off to mate and breed in states north of Virginia or perhaps in Canada. However, according to Radford's resident bird expert, it may go only as far as the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians to nearby Glen Alton in Giles County. In summer, it will feed on insects that it finds by scratching under dried leaves. However, it seemed content to find these berries on a cold day.

There is a feeling of satisfaction when all elements of a fine photo come together: light (just enough, but not too much to cause a glare), distance (a subject that allows me to get close enough), and steady hands - a simple and profound joy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Fancy Worm

Before I "discovered" Wildwood Park with my camera, I took lots of pictures of critters that I found in my yard as I tended my flowers. One day in July of 2008, I found an interesting "worm" that was well-camouflaged on a yellow yarrow (Archillea millefoliurm) flower. I snapped several pictures and later began to try to find out the worm's species. I didn't know very much about the Internet so I asked several people what it was. No one could give me its name.

Two years later, someone suggested that I email an image of the yellow "worm" to Bug Guide, a website sponsored by Iowa State University. I did that in May of 2010 and waited until December of that year to receive an identification - it was a Wavy-lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata) caterpillar, not a worm! I also read in the Guide that "the caterpillar adorns its body with plant fragments, usually flowers petals, to camouflage it as it feeds." No wonder it had such a great camo outfit - it could use small petals of its favorite food! There were illustrations showing brown, lavender, and orange ones. I had also gotten a photo of my critter on a yarrow leaf.

I had to wait two more years - another lesson in patience - before I saw a Wavy-lined Emerald moth. In December of 2012, I found one resting on the restroom wall in Wildwood (Bug Guide provided the identification.). 

Bug Guide has become one of my favorite and most useful websites. Experts from all over the United States and Canada identify and provide other interesting information about bugs, spider, butterflies, and moths. The tiny yellow caterpillar was identified by John and Jane Balaban who live in Skokie, Illinois. During the past three years, they have identified many more critters for me. Scroll down to the previous article to learn about this interesting couple.


Citizen Scientists

In October, my husband and I drove up to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to visit our grandchildren. About a week or so before we left, I had sent a critter to Bug Guide to find out what it was. The identity had been sent to me by John and Jane Balaban who live in Illinois and who have sent me much information during the three  years that I have been using the website. When I emailed a “thank you” to the Balabans, I mentioned that we would be driving through Chicago, and they invited us to stop by.

The Balabans live in the village of Skokie which is on the edge of Chicago. They are also about five minutes from the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve where they volunteer as Stewards who guide groups and work with them to care for the natural areas. My husband and I were surprised to see protected recreational and natural areas in the middle of such a large densely urban area. They welcomed us into their home and then drove us to the Forest Preserve.

As we walked along the path, Jane asked to take photos of our visit. Ah, yes, someone else who knows the value of documenting fun and interesting events! Perhaps she had read my mind?

                          We spent a few minutes making sure that each of us was in a photo.

Jane pointed out Fringed Gentian  (Gentianopsis crinita) flowers tucked in the tall grasses. I had never seen that specie of gentian before and was impressed with its gently ragged petals.

We also looked up into a tree to see a honeysuckle species that had bright red fruit and lovely round leaves.   "Round-leaved Honeysuckle (Lambertia orbifolia)", said Jane.

Next, John showed us adult treehoppers, Enchenopa and their egg masses on branches of Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata). Dr. Cote has also seen similar treehoppers in Wildwood. The eggs look like a white crust.These tiny critters have only a single name, the genus, because scientists have not yet decided what to name the specie. 

As we walked through the tall grass, John pointed out a Chinese Mantis resting in an open spot. It was a cool day, and the critter was not easily startled so I picked it up carefully and put it on John’s hand so I could get a closer shot of it as it posed in the bright sunlight.


                                                    What a cheerful, welcoming face!

As the Balabans and I shared our interests in preserving the beauty and usefulness of nature around us in our respective geographic areas and our interests in learning as much as possible about all living things, we decided that we had one trait in common - we are all Citizen Scientists.