Mating Moth Flies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Dunno why I’m choosing this one exactly, but I really love moth flies and was thrilled to see a pair of them together:

moth flies mating

Moth flies mating

How cute are these flies?  And they’re making more, which makes me happy.  That means I’ll have plenty more to photograph in the future.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dragonflies in December

It has been incredibly warm along the east coast of the US until just a few days ago. My birthday is in mid-December and I spent part of that day outside collecting insects in the pond with a group of high schoolers who are doing a research project with me.  We had been worried it was going to be very cold, but it was a gorgeous 75 degrees!  And, I saw DRAGONFLIES on my birthday.  Not just one dragonfly, either.  No, I saw more than one individual and TWO species!  That’s never happened before, so I was thrilled beyond belief.  Thank you  El Niño!

I saw 6 of these dragonflies on my birthday:

Autumn meadowhawk female

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) female

That’s an autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), a dragonfly species that flies at the very tail end of the season.  If someone told me they’d seen a dragonfly in December, this is the one I’d think they saw because they fly later than most other dragonflies in the US. Though they’re not commonly reported so late, people do occasionally see them in December, even January in some years.  I saw dozens of them throughout November and up until the 18th of December.  There were so many out this year!

I saw most of the autumn meadowhawks resting on the wooden platforms we use for teaching classes near the pond or on bare patches of dirt on the ground:

Autumn meadowhawk  (Sympetrum vicinum) male

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) male

This particular species is not as inclined to spend all their time around the water as other species, preferring to perch away from the shore.  I did see a few fly out over the water briefly while I watched, but most were sitting on the platforms or the ground. Not surprisingly, they were all sitting in the full sun and with their bodies positioned so that they could soak up as much sun as possible. While it was very warm on my birthday and a few other days on either side, there were some cooler days mixed in too. The autumn meadowhawks were flying even on those days, but tended to make short flights from a warm sunny patch to another warm sunny patch rather than taking longer flights. They also let me get really close before they flew away.  They apparently didn’t want to fly more than necessary on the chilly days.

I’ll write more about the biology of this species at a future date because this is very interesting.  Autumn meadowhawks are rather strange dragonflies!  However, it was not the only species I saw on my birthday this year.  I also saw one of these:

Darner on big leaf magnolia

Common green darner (Anax junius)

A December sighting of a common green darner is definitely abnormal!  In the past four falls, the latest I’ve seen a green darner at the pond was September 26.  Seeing one in December was therefore shocking.  I have to wonder where it came from.  Was it passing through, a hugely late migrant that was headed south for the winter? Or did the warm weather trick a nymph in the pond into thinking it was spring so it emerged? Either way, I was very surprised to see this dragonfly in December.  It unfortunately whizzed past me at speed and I got just enough of a look at it to identify it.  It didn’t stick around to pose for photos…

North Carolina is certainly not the only place that has been seeing dragonflies far later in the year than normal this year.  I’ve heard reports and seen photos of autumn meadowhawks from places like Massachusetts and Maryland from December and a few from Canada in late November.  The warm weather seems to be prolonging their season so that people all up and down the east coast have made unusual spottings.  For this dragonfly lover, it makes me happy to see dragonflies so late in the year.  And, it’s only 4 months until the dragonflies start to come back in the spring in my area.  That’s not too bad of a wait.  Not too bad at all.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dragonfly Woman’s Best Photos of 2015

I like to look back at the end of the year each year to see what I’ve accomplished photographically.  I took over 27,000 photos in 2015!  Most of them are never posted on my blog, so this year, rather than focusing on the photos I have already posted in my year-in-review post, I’m going to share some new ones you haven’t seen before in approximately chronological order.  Let’s start with the spring…

Spring Aquatics

For whatever reason, I didn’t get nearly as many aquatics shots this year as I have in the past couple of years, but I did get some.  I shared some of my favorite photos of the snails I spent a few happy weeks watching every evening earlier this year.  Those were pouch (sometimes called bladder) snails.  This is a ramshorn snail:

Ramshorn snail

Ramshorn snail

This snail’s shell was about half an inch across and it spent most of its time zooming around the aquarium scraping algae off things.  A beautiful animal!  I also love the way these look:

Notonecta

Backswimmer

I’ve shared this photo with you already, but I love the way the woody stem reflects off the air bubble wrapped around this backswimmer’s back.  Plus, this species has an iridescent blue face!  I never knew that, one of many things I’ve discovered because I’ve taken a macro photo of an insect and noticed something when I reviewed my shots later.  I love learning new things from photos!

Another favorite for the year (I shared this one before too):

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug

That’s a creeping water bug.  They’re fairly shy and like to hide under things, but they’ve got a powerful bite.  I don’t pick these up.

Moving on to a little later in the year…

Teaching Teachers in April

One of the best parts of my job at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is teaching teachers how to do citizen science projects so they can get their students involved.  This year, a coworker and I put on a 3-day workshop and it was a ton of fun!  We blacklighted both nights, and this rosy maple moth was one of the moths that showed up at the sheet:

Rosy Maple Moth

Rosy maple moth

My favorite insect of the weekend was a fishfly female and I did get some photos, but none of them were very good.  I took her home to get some better shots of her in my whitebox, but she chewed her way out of the container and escaped into my house when I wasn’t looking just a few moments after I got home.  Whoops!  Sorry, I let a giant insect loose in the house, honey!

A GREAT Butterfly Year!

Last year, the butterfly population in my part of North Carolina seemed WAY down.  Some of the very common species had a decent season and we had more monarchs than usual, but a lot of things were conspicuously absent in 2014.  This year, the butterfly population absolutely exploded!  There were so, so many butterflies and they lasted well into the fall.  One of my favorites shots for the year was this pipevine swallowtail:

Pipevine swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail

You barely even have to work to make a pipevine swallowtail look good – they’re simply gorgeous.  I also came across two butterflies that aren’t uncommon, but I’d never seen before.  This is a question mark:

Question mark

Question mark

And this is a viceroy:

Viceroy

Viceroy

Viceroys are obviously a part of the monarch-viceroy-queen butterfly mimicry complex.  I found it fairly easy to tell them apart based on how they flew and their size, both of which seemed quite different from the monarchs, but they also have a diagonal black line across the hind wings that monarchs don’t have.  If you get a good look at one, it’s simple to tell them apart.

This is not an especially great photo, but I am sharing it anyway:

intern with monarch

My intern with monarch

This is my fall intern, Kylie.  We spent a few weeks tagging monarchs during their migration and she was spectacularly unsuccessful at catching them at first.  This photo commemorates the moment she released the first monarch she managed to catch and tag herself, a moment she was very proud of.  She got really good at catching them by the end of the season!  Kylie was an amazing intern and very eager to learn, so I felt the need to share this, even if it’s just a snapshot taken with an iPhone.  It’s one of my favorite shots of the year.

Moving on to another group of insects that were also very abundant in 2015:

Obsessed with Dragonflies

I wrote a post back in January about my Christmas present from my husband last year, a Canon Powershot SX60 superzoom camera.  I stand by that review of the camera and I still think it produces what I consider rather low quality photos – they’re just so grainy!  However, the amazing zoom capabilities meant I could photograph birds and dragonflies from quite far away, which opened up a whole new world of photographic possibilities for me.  I started carrying my camera around with me everywhere, and I’ll admit that I went a little nuts photographing dragonflies.  However, how can you resist photographing something like this eastern pondhawk female (you may recognize this one – it doesn’t have a Santa hat here!):

Eastern pondhawk female

Eastern pondhawk female

Or this slaty skimmer:

Slaty skimmer dragonfly

Slaty skimmer

Dragonflies are beautiful, but I miss a lot of shots with my DSLR and 300mm lens because I scare things off when I approach.  With my superzoom, I can shoot a dragonfly from 20 feet away!  The resulting photos may be less crisp than I’d like, but I was able to document a ton of behaviors and some new-to-the-field-station species.  That made the graininess totally worth it for me.

I also photographed a lot of small things very close up this year…

Adventures in Blacklighting

2015 was an awesome blacklighting year for me!  I ended up blacklighting almost every night for three months this summer, starting with National Moth Week in July.  About 40-50% of the insects I photographed were things I’d never seen in my yard before, so I was very excited.  Some of my favorites of the several thousand blacklight/porch light shots I got this year included this dot-lined white moth:

Dot-lined White Moth

Dot-lined White Moth

SOOOOO fuzzy!  I also loved this barklouse:

Barklouse

Barklouse

I don’t see a whole lot of them, so it’s always exciting when they decide to show up.  A lot of aquatics show up at my lights too, like this white miller caddisfly:

White miller caddisfly

White miller caddisfly

I live about a quarter of a mile from a major river and there’s a small lake and a retention pond in my neighborhood.  It’s very obvious there’s water nearby given the number of aquatic insects that show up at my lights almost every night.

Now I know this is an insect blog, but thanks to my superzoom camera, I got a lot of shots of other things as well…

Non-Insects

The whole reason I wanted the superzoom in the first place was because I was unhappy with the bird photos I took with my DSLR.  The 300mm lens is lovely for some things, but not long enough to get good bird shots.  I don’t have $10,000+ lying around to spend on an ultra long lens, so the superzoom was far cheaper way to get the shots I wanted.   Again, the photos are grainy, but I figure getting a slightly grainy shot is better than not getting the shot at all!  I took tons and tons of bird photos this year, and some of my favorites included this white-breasted nuthatch:

white breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

And this purple martin:

purple martin

Purple martin

The nuthatches are one of my favorite birds, but they move around constantly.  This is the best shot I’ve managed so far.  The martins really caught my attention this year because my camera allowed me to see what they were bringing back to feed their babies.  Purple martins eat a ton of dragonflies!  I love this martin photo best, though, because of the position of the bird.  She’s really looking down at another bird that landed on the gourd below it, but I would think she was being coy if I didn’t know better.

I also became obsessed with photographing frogs and turtles this year.  My favorite herp photo this year:

bullfrog

Bullfrog

It’s just a bullfrog, but I still can’t get over the fact that bullfrogs actually belong in North Carolina.  They are horribly invasive in Arizona and there are major eradication efforts underway to try to control them.  But here, they’re native, so I don’t have to feel guilty for liking them.  I probably took 1000 or more bullfrog photos this year, but I also got shots of cricket frogs, Fowler’s toads, green and squirrel tree frogs, several turtle species, and a variety of snakes.  I’m still terrified of snakes, but after the initial little fluttering of my heart when I see one, I pull out my camera and start snapping away.  Cameras are remarkable for making me less fearful of things that I find scary!

Closing Thoughts

So I’ll admit: I don’t think most of the photos I took this year are as good as the ones I took last year.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that over half of the photos I took in 2015 were taken with my superzoom and the quality of the images just isn’t that amazing.  It also doesn’t take excellent macro shots, so I didn’t get nearly as many close up photos this year as I have in the past.  Sigh…  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going a little backwards with your photo quality, but what can you do?

But even if not all of my photos this year were stellar, I feel like I documented nature very effectively.  I came across so many new-to-me species this year!  Because I lugged my behemoth of a superzoom around with me almost everywhere I went, I got photographic evidence of nearly all of them.  I documented behaviors and cool things I saw and things that surprised me and things that amazed me and things I thought were stunningly beautiful.  And ultimately, that’s why I take photos.  I care about improving my skills quite a bit, but getting a shot of something so I remember it is far more important to me than getting a good shot of it.  For example, this is the best shot of a groundhog I’ve gotten so far:

groundhog

Groundhog

It is not a great photo.  However, because I took this photo, I can remember the exact circumstances in which I came across this groundhog, how I had been driving the golf cart to the back gate at the field station to lock up for the evening and I saw two juvenile groundhogs on the trail between the red shed and the fan boats the state aquatic weed guy stores on the grounds.  This groundhog’s sibling ran as soon as I came around the corner, but this one stood and stared at me for a few seconds before running off too.  It’s not a great photo, but it has memories attached to it.

And with that, I am signing off for 2015.  See you in 2016!  If you’d like to see my collection of 50 best photos of the year, which includes all but a few of the photos I’ve shared here, you can see them on Flickr.  There are a lot more birds in that collection, plus some plants and a really awesome endangered salamander species I got to see this year.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Tagging Monarchs (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!!  I know I’ve been offline for ages, but things are finally slowing down at work enough that I can get back into blogging at least semi-regularly.  It’s been so long since I last posted that I have a massive backlog of photos.  It was hard to choose just one today!  But here’s what I decided to share:

Monarch with tag

Monarch with tag

We tag monarchs for Monarch Watch at work and this was the last one we tagged this year.  I got many people involved in the tagging this year and we had a fun couple of months chasing monarchs around the grounds with nets.  However,  this is serious work too as the tags we put on the wings give monarch researchers an amazing ability to track individual monarchs during their migration and see how many actually make it to Mexico.  I won’t be able to look him up for a while and see how far he got (there’s unfortunately a big lag between when you submit data and when you can see the data for your butterflies on the website), but I hope little UMT 654 makes it to the Mexican mountains!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Plague of Midges (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last weekend I went to an environmental education conference.  Apparently there had been a mass emergence of midges shortly before we arrived because the whole place looked like this:

Masses of Midges

Masses of midges

So, SO many midges!  On the other hand, the massive all you can eat buffet of flies made for some good reptile and amphibian sightings.  I got to watch a green tree frog sitting under a light absolutely gorging himself, which was awfully cute.  There were more spiders out and about than I’d ever seen too.  Pretty darned cool!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

The Smudge on the Wall (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I’ve been seeing this little brown smudge on the side of my house when I’ve gone out to check my blacklight recently.  I thought it was just some crud on my siding, maybe a stain.  I caught it out of the corner of my eye tonight and noticed it was a completely different color – AND it was moving!  Had to stand on my toes, reach my camera up as far as I could, and hope for the best with the focus since this lens doesn’t autofocus.  This is what I captured:

Caterpillars

Caterpillars

Turns out that the little “stain” was actually a cluster of moth eggs!  Lots of little caterpillars are running about on my wall tonight.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Photobomber (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

A couple of weekends ago, I went to the mountains of North Carolina to look for hellbenders.  For those of you unfamiliar with these magnificent creatures, they’re HUGE salamanders, as in foot-long salamanders!  I learned they lived in NC shortly after I moved here and wanted to see them in the wild, so I finally went to look for them.  Saw one too!  SO exciting.

Knowing I was going to be hanging around mountain rivers for two days, I brought along one of my little glass aquaria so I could get some aquatic insects-in-water shots.  I was having troubles with silty water and streaks on the outside of the container while attempting to photograph a juvenile green frog and was getting frustrated.  I had finally lined up what I expected to be a decent shot, when this happened:

Green frog with photobombing stonefly

Green frog with photobombing stonefly

A stonefly totally photobombed the frog! Gah!  The frog jerked and stirred everything up again, so I never did get a good photo of my frog.    Thanks a lot, stonefly…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth