Thursday, May 31, 2012

Looking, but not always seeing ...

"Look – to look at something for a reason, with an intention."

"See – anyone who is not blind can see, to see means to perceive anything in general. Seeing is not intentional, you see something because you can perceive it with your eyes."

Which brings us to one of my favorite odonate hunting spots on the north shore of Stoco Lake, where I look – with intention – not only for dragonflies and damselflies but species of any and all kinds that are new to me. Yet despite having surveyed this small area intensively for the past four years, I managed to overlook this small flower. It is by no means rare, there are dozens growing along the wet shoreline.

The shape and venation of the leaves ...

... and overall aspect of the flower spike suggest these little gems, only a few inches in height, might be orchids. In fact they are orchids – they're Wide-leaved Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida). The different kinds of Ladies' Tresses can be difficult to separate but the yellow insides of the flowers are a distinguishing characteristic of this species.

Last spring at the Stoco Fen I came across what I assumed were Small Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum). But having recently re-visited the fen I'm not so sure, and good science demands that in the light of new evidence it's necessary to re-examine this conclusion.

First, a few images of some Yellow Lady's Slippers found in the fen. The sepals and petals are definitly maroon and bit of red is just visible near the lip of the pouch in the second photo. Also looking at the habitat and their association with other Lady's Slippers that are already in full bloom, these are likely Cypripedium parviflorum.

Taking into consideration as a whole their size, habitat, the color of the petals and sepals, and the red spotting around the pouch, the orchids in the next photo are Cypripedium parviflorum in their prime. But there's one thing I didn't take note of (I didn't know this at the time) – Small Yellow Lady's Slippers have a definite scent. Not all perception happens with the eyes ...

The Lady's Slippers in the next three images were encountered growing in shady woods. And much to my chagrin (unless this is their first year of bloom, which I doubt) I've been walking past these large, showy flowers for the past four years. Looking and not seeing ... again ...

The flowers are larger and the plants as a whole taller than the Lady's Slippers growing in the fen. The petals and sepals are distinctly green and there are no red markings in evidence around the pouch. Nor did these flowers have any scent – I'm learning slowly, but I am learning. So it's reasonable to conclude that we're looking at Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens var. pubescens).

Found in association with the orchids above, the petals and sepals of this Large Yellow Lady's Slipper bear some broken reddish stripes and a few pale spots around the pouch, but it's nowhere near as boldly colored as the Small Yellow Lady's Slippers in the fen.

And the Lady's Slipper that I photographed at the fen last year? With the exception of habitat, it otherwise conforms to the description for the Large Yellow Lady's Slipper. So be it ...

Last year I took two pictures of another plant that I've found growing only in the vicinity of the fen, but photos of only the flowers and stem leaves proved to be insufficient to identify it.

The flowers are in bloom again, and this time I thought to capture images of the entire panicle, the phyllaries and the basal leaves. Plants in the wild can appear quite different than the perfect specimens found in field guides, but looking at all the variables as a whole – flowers, leaves, stem, habitat and range – it seems that my mystery plant is Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tmarus angulatus and Xysticus alboniger

This is definitely one of the funkiest spiders I've ever chanced upon – it's a Crab Spider, genus Tmarus, and according to the distribution given for this species at BugGuide.Net, it's probably Tmarus angulatus.

A dorsal view of the spider – this is a female, and she's about 8 mm long.

Nice camouflage ... the spider's size, shape, color and posture all conspire to make it resemble a sedge flowerhead.

A shot of the spider's abdomen and spinnerets.

Ventral views of Tmarus angulatus.

It's been a good couple of days for finding "new" species of spiders, but I was lucky indeed to spot this lttle male Ground Crab Spider – Xysticus alboniger – as he's only about 3 mm in length.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ah yes ... Oneness, Identity and Unity with Mother Nature ... Singularity, Sameness and Solidarity with the Swallowtails ...

Maybe it's the relatively warm winter and spring weather we've had, or perhaps it's due to other factors, but there's a real bumper crop of butterflies this year. In addition to the recent population explosion of Red Admirals there's also an abundance of other species ... Question Marks, Mourning Cloaks, Baltimores, and – relative newcomers to our area – Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes).

Butterflies can often be seen sipping at mud puddles, bird droppings, rotten fruit or carrion, looking for minerals and amino acids.

They can become so absorbed in their business that they barely notice what's happening around them, and this Giant Swallowtail didn't take flight when I held up it's wing to take a photo of the underside.

The insect shows no fear of me whatsoever as I move my hand closer ...

... and closer ...

I was able to pick this normally skittish and difficult to approach insect up off the sand, and it continued to contentedly imbibe the moisture and perspiration from my fingers.

Butterflies are often attracted to perspiration, and in the past few years I have had many of our local lepidoptera taste test me on warm, sunny days, like the Compton Tortoiseshell back in mid-March. But some butterflies aren't so easily tempted, and I was able to make close contact with this Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) not because it fell for my charming personality or sweet scent, but because it was stunned due to a misadventure with a passing car.

There were over a dozen Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) sharing the beach with the Giant Swallowtails. It seems that their instincts for survival are better honed than those of their larger cousins, because, alas, I was unable to "tame" any of these butterflies ...

A digital capture of the essence of late spring and the beauty of the world around us – a Giant Swallowtail nectaring at Viburnum triloba, more commonly known as Highbush Cranberry.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Bouquet

The rush of spring bloom is in full swing, and no matter how many times I walk the same paths it seems like there's always something new that I've overlooked in past years. But it's impossible to patrol all of the habitats all the time, and, since the leaves develop after flowering, it looks like I missed out on seeing Round-lobed Hepatica (Anemone americana) in bloom this spring. Oh well, maybe next year ...

Although it's hard to see any similarity by a casual glance at its tiny flowers, Early Meadrowrue (Thalictrum dioicum) belongs to the same family – Ranunculaceae – as the familiar Meadow Buttercup.

A closeup of the flowers.

Red Baneberry, another member of the Buttercup family.

An unusual pale-flowered version of the well-known Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) stands out among the other deep red trilliums on the woodland floor.

Members of the Saxifrage family, Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) are just coming into bloom.

Closeups of the blossoms ...

... and the leaves.

Growing along the river shore at the Price Conservation Area, a group of Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) were so well hidden by rocks and a fallen tree that I almost passed them by.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial, producing flowers and seeds in its second year of growth. Introduced from the Old World, it is considered to be a noxious weed.

The flowers of Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) are very similar to those of its much larger cousin, the Garlic Mustard, and bear the four petals typical of the mustards, family Brassicaceae or Cruciferae.

In addition to the difference in size, the leaves are quite different. This is the basal rosette ...

... a closeup of a basal leaf ...

... and a stem leaf.

It's not fully open yet, but I think this flower is White Avens (Geum canadense) – the leaves look correct for this species.

What a show! The next four species of flowers were growing within a few paces of one another. Scattered among the litter of the woodland floor were hundreds of these delicate, and aptly named, Starflowers (Trientalis borealis).

Judging by their numbers, Bluebead Lily or Yellow Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) are hardly inconspicuous or uncommon. Yet, until I literally walked into this group, I was unaware that these small lilies existed.

And another "new" flower ... Fringed Polygala or Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia).

The Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a member of the Dogwood family, Cornaceae. This one is still immature, the four greenish bracts surrounding the flowers in the center will turn white in time.

Last but not least – Twining Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica) – a botanical burst of floral fireworks to let us know that spring is really here.