Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cape Poge

Way out at the end of Chappaquiddick on Martha's Vineyard is Cape Poge- a long sand spit interrupted by a few high spots with clumps of trees. Oh, yes, there's a lighthouse as well. We went out there on Friday. It's home to lots of fish, crabs, and bird life- and little else. It was a wonderful day.

The famous bridge in Chappaquiddick

You get there via a really funky ferry. It's essentially a small barge that holds 3 cars. Once on the island, you cross a famous bridge. Once across, the vehicle's tires are deflated to 12-15 psi. The trip involves four-wheeling across a lot of sand.

The funky ferry

Dunes along the four-wheeling track

We spent the whole day out there. There were plenty of birds, bugs, and marine life to keep our interest. My favorites were the oystercatchers, a species I've never seen before. I finally managed to get a good picture of a seaside grasshopper.

American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus)

Seaside Grasshopper (Trimerotropis maritima)

Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata)

It was the kind of day where time slows delightfully. We flew kites, swam (a bit) caught minnows and other sea creatures, took picures, read, walked and sat in the sun. Mostly we enjoyed the good food, company and scenery. A great Italian dinner was about the only thing that could lure us back into civilization from this paradise.

Cape Poge Light

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Martha's Vineyard

Herring gull on the navigational equipment.
Ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard

Greetings from Martha’s Vineyard. The trip to New England is going splendidly. On Monday, Leon and I visited New Hampshire. We drove up to the southern White Mountains on a brilliantly sunny day. I was surprised at the paucity of insect life, but the views were amazing. The high point of the day was stopping in to meet Will and Fritz and see their new house. The house is spectacular. Will and Fritz are both really grat guys. We had a delicious dinner at a local restaurant, and conversation that spanned a diverse array of topics. It was one of those evenings that end too soon.

Will and Fritz' place

Me and Will

On Wednesday we joined David, my BIL, and drove down to Cape Cod to catch the ferry boat to Martha’s Vineyard. As we entered the Cape, we noticed that the ends of the branches of the oak trees were all dead. It’s cicada damage. I did not realize that this was the emergence year for the 17-year cicadas in this part of the world. I’m glad to see them, some of the web sites that I was checking out during last year’s Chicago emergence said that the southeast Massachusetts population was extinct. Not hardly. The damage was far more extensive than anything I saw in Illinois. Fortunately, all but the youngest trees will recover from the damage. Unfortunately, I failed to take a photo (dumb move).

Woods Hole

Vineyard Haven

We have been staying in a cottage in Chilmark with the Chilmark Girl, the BIL, and the nephew. The cottage sits in a big field wurrounded by oak/pine scrub. It’s very beautiful. Thursday was the nephew’s 13th birthday. I gave him a black light. We were all very dissapointed in how little insect life came to the light.

Scallops in lemon pesto

Salmon with mascarpone and capers.
Chilmark Girl has outdone herself.

The weather has been gorgeous- clear and mild, more like September than August. The nights have actually been chilly. We’ve been eating extremely well. Chilmark Girl iis an awesome cook. I’ve found some interesting insect life in the dunes just up the street- hairy necked tiger beetles and seaside grasshoppers. I haven’t managed to get decent pictures yet, but there will be ample opportunities today when we go four wheeling to Cape Poge.

The beach with cool insects.
Pictures (I hope) later.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Gizzy Rock

Big Agassiz Rock

I'm home in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, spending time with my dad in the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea where I grew up. It's been quite a few years since I've been here at the height of summer, and Leon and I have never been here together at this time of year.

Little Agassiz Rock

Today, we walked up to Agassiz rock. It's just off of a route that we traveled regularly when I was a kid, and our family name for this spot was "The Gizzy Rock." It's not one, but two huge glacial erratic boulders, Big Agassiz Rock and Little Agassiz Rock. They are named for Louis Agassiz, Harvard geologist (and creationist) who first postulated that the large boulders that litter the landscape in this part of the country were brought here by the glaciers. The sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) was in bloom, it's cloying odor wafting through the woods as we began our walk.

The trail through the woods

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

The hike up to the boulders is short, no more than about 15 minutes, and leads through some beautiful hemlock/maple woodland, the ecosystem of my childhood. It was great to see some familiar species from back then- things like Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora), the plant that taught me the word saprophyte (a plant that produces no chlorophyll, but gets it's nutrients from the decaying vegetation that it grows in). I showed Leon the maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium). It was a big favorite when I was a kid, because the leaves turn a fairly vivid purple in the fall.

Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora)

Maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)
These leaves will turn bright purple in the fall.

There were some nice species that I never noticed as a child. An unusual aster with whorled leaves caught my eye. On a whim, I Googled whorled aster after I got home. Yes, indeed, it's woodland whorled aster (Aster acuminoides). I love the Internet- make an educated guess, get an ID!

Woodland whorled aster (Aster acuminoides)
Another of my interests has changed since the last time I was at home during the summer. My entomological interests have expanded way beyond butterflies. The area around Little Agassiz Rock is a large expanse of granite with thin soil. Drought-tolerant plants like bearberry and lowbush blueberries grow there. It's a fairly common habitat type on Cape Ann. It turns out, this is a tiger beetle spot. I only saw one, but I got some nice photos. Better yet, it's a particular subspecies of the eastern red-bellied tiger beetle (Cicindela rufiventris hentzi). It's very narrowly endemic to the area right around Boston, including my home town. Whatt a great species to have as the very forst tiger beetle that I've ever found in New England.

Eastern red-bellied tiger beetle (Cicindela rufiventris hentzi)
Endemic to the Boston area

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Prairie Clouds

Bluff Spring Fen, Elgin, Illinois - August 9, 2008

Tomorrow I leave for a week in Massachusetts. I'll be staying with my dad on Cape Ann and then staying at a cottage my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew are renting on Martha's Vineyard. I have tentative plans to visit Will in New Hampshire. I should have internet access for most of the time I'm away, so I'll be in touch.

By the time I return, the blazing stars (purple flowers in the foreground) will be just about done for the year.

Skywatch is, as always, brought to you by Wom Tigley.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

The Lichen Grasshopper

Leuronotina ritensis - The Lichen Grasshopper

Two years ago, as a brand new blogger, I posted about the Invertebrates in Captivity Conference. In it, I mentioned that I had an adventure in the Santa Rita Mountains during an unsuccessful quest for an endemic grasshopper. Although I did not find the grasshopper, I did have an unexpected encounter with a bear (and not in a good way). Each of us startled the other. I began yelling and throwing rocks at the bear while trying to look bigger than I am by waving my butterfly net over my head. The bear was looking very puzzled about this bizarre human behavior, and climbed a tree to further ponder the strangeness of the situation. I took advantage and did not run away, but walked purposefully down the trail.

Last year, I wanted to go back (this time with a companion for safety) to try to find the grasshopper. It poured buckets in a monsoon thunderstorm that day. I really wanted to see this grashopper, in part because they have very exacting requirements. They live on bare rock that is covered with lichens, on which they are well camouflaged.

This year, I returned yet again. Although we had a fine day, the lichen grasshopper did not show up. I left vowing to try again next year. Imagine my surprise when I later found a population in a completely different mountain range.

Leuronotina ritensis habitat in the Atascosas Mountains.
The grasshoppers were on the bare patch of rock that is visible in the center of the photo.

Leuronotina ritensis is described in Otte's The North American Grasshoppers as "[p]resently known only from between 5,000 and 8,000 feet on the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona and from Sierra de los Ajos, at the head of Canyon de Evans, Sonora, Mexico." The book was published nearly 25 years ago, and I have no idea how many other locations it has turned up in in the intervening years. Still, when I find something outside of a reported range from a group that I do not have personal expertise in, I'm reluctant to make the call on my own.

What to do? Easy. Post my photo to BugGuide.net and wait for noted grasshopper expert David Ferguson to weigh in on the matter. David expressed a lack of surprise that it would turn up where it did.

So where did I find my lichen grasshopper? Right off of Ruby Road between Peña Blanca Lake and Sycamore Canyon. As I wrote in my initial post at BugGuide:

These have beautiful dark orange hindwings. They perched on bare, lichen-coverd rocks, on which they are well camouflaged. They were reluctant to move when disturbed. Their habitat and appearance remind me of descriptions of Leuronotina ritensis...

A mounted specimen of Leuronotina ritensis showing the dark orange hindwings

David confirmed that they indeed were Leuronotina ritensis and said that he expected that these would turn up on some of the other mountain "sky islands" of southeast Arizona. He is no doubt correct. They may well have already been reported from the Atascosas where I took mine. The exact spot where I got them was not 100 yards from the road. They probably aren't particularly rare. Still, the opportunity to observe something endemic to a part of the world that I truly love is always special. The fact that I've been looking for 2 years just made finding it that much sweeter.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Rounding out the Conference

Sunset Over Tucson

I've been negligent in my blogging about the remainder of my trip to Arizona. On Tuesdaty of last week, the conference began. We arrived at Rio Rico around lunch time. John joined Nancy, who was co-presenting a workshop with him. They ran off to prepare. Vincent and I registered and headed out Ruby Road for some more collecting. We got a some nice aquatic insects for live displays at the Museum. I also found a really interesting grasshopper. It lived on bare rock, and the color pattern blended in beautifully. It's obvious that it relies on its camouflage, because it's very reluctant to fly. This made it easy to take specimens. More about this species later.

Lichen Grasshopper

Tuesday night, I went out blacklighting with Mark from St. Louis and Ken from Florida. A fun evening, and I got a nice photo of the impressive ichneumon wasp that showed up.

Ichneumon Wasp

Some people
have recently expressed concern about ichnuemons that they have encountered. Screaming like a girl has figured in the discussion. Here. let me put my hand right up next to this one as a size comparison.

Wednesday was field trip day. We went back put to the Santa Ritas looking at butterflies. I got nice pictures of an Empress Leilia (not to be confused with Princess Leia) butterfly. Once again this year, I couldn't believe how green the desert was. It looked like I was back east.

Empress Leilia

A very green desert near Box Canyon

Thurdsay was my talk, which went OK. I did an evening black lighting trip to Box Canyon. Mark's mercury vapor lamp pulled in HUGE numbers of moths and beetles. I don't think I've ever seen so much on the sheet at one time. Species diversity was not as good as the quantity would have led me to expect. Still a good time.

Very heavy visitation to the sheet. When the bugs are this thick, they are going down your shirt, in your ears and up your nose. Still, it's lots of fun.

Friday was time around the conference, talking to colleagues and listening to talks. I stayed up too late watching friends play Texas Hold 'em. Much fun. Saturday night, I went up to Tucson for dinner with Homer. That's where the sunset photo was taken. Homer is a great guy, we had lots of fun talking about many subjects. On his blog (where there's a photo of us taken just before the cops kicked us out of Signal Mountain Park), he claims that we were gossiping about other bloggers. I would NEVER gossip about other bloggers because gossip is the lowest form of human discourse. Bonus points to whoever can tell me what movie that line comes from.

French Joe Canyon

Not much was happening on Sunday, so John and I went out for more collecting and photography. We stopped by French Joe Canyon near Sierra Vista (Hi, Cobban) and saw arroyo grasshoppers. I was glad to see them, because they had vanished last year. Monday, alas, was time to depart. We had a bit of time to kill on the way to the airport, so we drove the length of Sahuarita Road (Hi, Kathie). Some of the desert there was blooming like it was springtime. John caught a species of metallic wood boring beetle that neither of us has seen before. We only found that one. I still don't want to talk about it.

April in August along Sahuarita road

Pleasing Fungus Beetle (Gibbifer californicus) photographed in San Rafael Valley

It was another great conference. It is always good to see friends and colleagues. Many of these people I only get to see at the conference. Plus they always spark new plans. I'll probably be visiting Seattle and Portland in September to view breeding facilities for the Oregon Silverspot butterfly. Too much fun!

Check out the rest of Skywatch.

Storm update: Things are back to normal. I was without power for a bit over 24 hours. The tree blocking my street took about 2 days to remove. Thanks to all who expressed concern. We're just fine.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

About Last Night...

I'm back from Arizona. I'll be posting some more about my adventures out that way, but I've had a few adventures here on the home front. My flight home from Tucson was yesterday afternoon. My flight was scheduled to have a connection in Dallas/Ft. Worth. When I checked my bag, the agent asked if I'd like to switch to the direct flight, which would get me in about 3 1/2 hours earlier. Of course I would! I boarded the plane feeling very lucky. Little did I know.

As we were crossing the Mississippi River, I saw a truly impressive (and huge) thunderstorm out the left side of the plane. I remember thinking that I hoped it was still far enough to the west that we would be able to land. We landed, I got my bag, and was out at remote parking where Leon picked me up in very short time. We would go grocery shopping and head home for dinner.

As we drove west, the sky grew very ominous. Quickly, we started seeing a lot of very close ground strokes of lighning. As the sky grew very green, we decided to forgo shopping and go directly home. Things deteriorated quickly. Traffic signals were out, and downed limbs began appearing and blocking the route home. An overhead wire arced alarmingly. Although we could not hear it at the time, the tornado sirens were sounding. I had to go completely around the block to get to my driveway because a large tree had fallen in my street, taking the power lines with it.

Chicago is still reeling from the aftermath of the storm. Wind gusts to 94 mph were recorded and Elgin recorded a 75 mph gust. I feel very fortunate. We had no damage to the house- or to ourselves. If my original flight plan had held, I probably would not have gotten home at all last night. At the very least, I would have been delayed. The storm held off just long enough that my checked luggage was able to be unloaded promptly. They won't do that if there is lightning near the airport. We did not buy groceries, which is also lucky because my power may be out for several days. It was a wild night, and very uncomfortable sleeping with no fan.

The street in front of my house at 5:30 this morning.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Thunderstorm Approaches Willcox Playa

Willcox Playa, Arizona

More Skywatch here.

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