Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vau-album)

Like its angle wing cousins, the Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vau-album) overwinters as an adult and is one of our earliest spring butterflies. Some other butterflies apt to be encountered on warm late winter and early spring days while there is still snow on the ground are ...

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Butterflies often frequent mud puddles, sipping on the water for trace chemicals. After pursuing this subject from one puddle to another for about half an hour without acquiring so much as a single photo, it discovered us – like many butterflies, it was attracted to the scent of human perspiration. This is the insect fueling up its energy reserves by sucking the sweat from my friend's boot.

A lateral shot, it's still on his boot. The undersides of the wings are wonderfully camouflaged, bearing an almost perfect resemblance to bark, with ragged edges to accentuate the effect.

The Compton Tortoiseshell lapping up perspiration from my right hand ... it sure was fun trying to take a photo left handed ...

... and now it's on my left hand, the butterfly just kept following us around and landing on us. I practically had to swat it to get it to leave me alone.

A lateral view of the butterfly on my finger, again showing the irregular profiles of the wings – another aid in fooling potential predators into thinking the insect is a piece of bark. I had picked and crushed a Balsam Poplar bud a few minutes earlier and now the insect is attracted to the fragrant scent of the sap.

A closeup of the butterfly's proboscis.

An oblique view of the proboscis – I never thought to make a video, it was in constant motion as the butterfly was eating.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why did the Muskrat cross the Road?

For the usual reason ... to get to the other side. Presumably he or she happened to wander into town in the course of travelling to another wetland habitat, searching for new territory and/or a mate. This semi-aquatic rodent isn't really a rat, it's related to voles.

When I first saw this guy he was sitting near the stairs by the Municipal Office, but by the time I got home and returned with my camera he had retreated to the relative saftey of a nearby window well. I prefer my subjects in more a natural setting, but my camera, a Canon PowerShot A530, can't take pictures of animals at even a short distance, so I took the opportunity to acquire whatever photos I could of Ondatra zibethicus.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dessins du Jour

As a rule I post only nature photos on this blog, but once in a while a change of pace can be fun. The following sketches are drawn on the sandwich board at the By the Way Café in Tweed, and I create a new drawing from scratch each day (hence the name, Dessins du Jour).

It's challenging to see how much one can accomplish with limited tools ... the drawing area is only about a foot in height, it's quite rough, and it's next to impossible to blend different colors. The first few drawings were done with coloured chalk.

Lady's Slippers

Clown Triggerfish – definitely not a species indigenous to our area, this sketch is based on photos found on the Internet.

A Cat in the Garden ... there are some rather egregious mistakes in this sketch, but as it was –15°C outside it proved impossible to use water to erase any undesirable lines or colors.

Frog on a Lilypad

A local sign painter gave me some chalk pastels to experiment with ... this is the same frog, but the colors are so much more vibrant.

Turtle on a Log ... it was threatening to rain and erase my efforts, so I didn't bother adding much detail to this one.

Meet Dexter, an engaging little canine clown. The drawing is based on a photo by his owner, Monika Cosway. It's a shame the lighter yellowish parts of his head appear stippled, but I found that once there's a layer of chalk on the board it's impossible to add and blend another color. (The substrate isn't slate, it's matte black paint.)

A closeup of Professor Dexter

Mallard Drake ... another quick sketch for a rainy day.

Off to the depths of outer space – perhaps this is how we might see Uranus from its largest moon, Titania?

The Clouded Leopard of southeast Asia – after a photograph by Vincent J. Musi, published in the December 2011 issue of National Geographic. The article profiled the world's eight big cats.

A closeup of the Clouded Leopard sketch ... drawing on the rough, painted surface of the signboard is like working on canvas.

After another photo by Vincent J. Musi from the December 2011 issue of National Geographic. I love the way he's captured his subject, with one of the tiger's eyes looking at the camera, the other almost hidden in shadow.

A Gypsy Vanner – so I'm told, I don't know anything about horses.

An unfinished drawing of a Bighorn Sheep ... too bad there was no time to finesse the highlights, shadows and colors. This is after a watercolor sketch in a booklet titled "Mammals in Profile", illustrated by Canadian artist Glen Loates. For anyone who wishes to see more of his work, here's a link to his website – The Art of Glen Loates.

Bloodroot – themed after a weekend photo expedition. Nothing fancy, just the basic forms, colors, highlights and shadows, as it was threatening to rain and wash my artistic efforts away ...

Yellow-spotted Salamander

Stream Cruiser

There seems to be a population explosion of Red Admirals in my area, I counted at least fifty of these butterflies within about three-quarters of an hour.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ghost of Winter Past ...

... epitomized by the skeletal remains of a leaf lying on melting ice.

For the benefit of the skywatchers among us, there's an eye-catching conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the western sky at dusk. These two planets, the brightest in our skies, will be within about 3° of each other on March 12th to 13th. If you have a good view of the horizon you can catch a glimpse of Mercury, and Mars and Saturn will rise a little later in the east, so you can see all five planets visible to the naked eye ... what a show!

Harbingers of spring – the emerging flowers of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) photographed at the Stoco Fen. These are the hoods or spathes and they're not quite open yet. In about another week or so the spathes will unfurl a bit further to expose the spadix with its tiny flowers. This amazing plant's flowers get a head start on spring growth by actually melting their way through frozen ground, their metabolism produces enough heat to warm them 15°C to 35°C above the ambient temperature.

March 11th – an open spathe – my first flower photos of 2012!

A closeup of the spadix and flowers.

A look at the spadix ... I try not to interfere with or damage whatever I am photographing, and I didn't destroy the spathe just to get this picture. I found it this way, broken by an animal, probably a raccoon, they are common in this area.

The Stoco Fen in late winter (March 11th).

The catkins of Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) are another familiar early spring sight in our local wetlands. When the male catkins are fully mature and ready to release pollen they will turn yellow.

The melting ice and snow has exposed the lichens on an old stone fence along the Moira River near Stoco. The lichen in the first photo is probably a Rim Lichen (Lecanora spp.), the colorful orange lichen is likely Xanthoria spp., possibly X. parietina.