Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)
August 1-2, 2007

We made a circle through Missouri, picking up my photo exhibit from the Green Center in University City near St. Louis and bringing it to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Springfield Nature Center. While in Springfield, we spent 2 days at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, one of my favorite places to find butterflies in Missouri. There were literally thousands of Hackberry Emperors – at one point, while trying to take photos, I actually brushed a few butterflies off of my shirt because there were so many they were distracting me. Wilson’s Creek allows horse riding on at least some of the trails, and the droppings prove irresistible for many butterflies. As we’d walk past a pile of dung on the trail, masses of butterflies would rise up. Laying on the ground next to it for photos was fairly unpleasant. Species highlights included Gemmed Satyr (Cyllopsis gemma) and Hoary Edge (Achalarus lyciades).

Most Chalcid wasps are parasites in pupae of either flies, butterflies or moths. This one was at a bagworm.
July 15 - 21, 2007

We headed to the Austin area for a week after managing to get a reservation for one of Bat Conservation International’s members night to watch millions of Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarada brasiliensis) fly out of Bracken Cave. This was definitely one of the most amazing experiences ever. We arrived at the cave entrance at about 6:30 pm on July 21st; quite a few bats were milling around just inside the cave. At about 8:15, we were standing on the roof of the sinkhole cave when the bats began pouring out of the opening and passed right over our heads on their way out for a night of hunting moths. When we left at 9:30, the stream of bats exiting the cave hadn’t slowed down yet – it takes a while for 20 million bats to leave. While waiting for the bats to exit, I enjoyed watching a pair of Giant Walking Sticks (Megaphasma dentricus).

The bats capped off a week spent hiking trails and watching insects. We saw lots of butterflies, including Texan Crescent and Pipevine Swallowtail. Other visitors at Pedernales State Park thought it was odd when I was in the bathroom taking photos of a moth on the wall, but they were impressed when they got a look at the Painted Lichen Moth before I released it onto a nearby tree trunk.

I saw my first ever Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center a day or so after her funeral. Unfortunately, I missed getting a photo. I did get a few exciting dragonfly and damselfly photos -- particularly these shots of Green Darners. A female Green Darner was ovipositing in water plants in a concrete pool near the LBJ Wildflower Center entrance when a male swooped over, grabbed her and flew off with her. We also saw Desert Firetail (Telebasis salva), Rambur’s Forktail (Ichnura ramburii), and Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens), and Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis)at the Botanical Garden in Zilker Park, and an as yet unidentified Setwing (Dythemis sp.) at Wild Basin Nature Center. Several pairs of damselflies were mating and ovipositing at the top of the waterfall in Wild Basin. Most of these species were also at other sites we visited including Hamilton Pool and Enchanted Rock. I spent about half an hour watching an actively hunting damselfly nymph in an ephemeral pond at the base of Enchanted Rock, even getting to see it grab and devour a tiny insect. Quite a few people stopped to ask what the heck I was photographing while sitting on the ground next to a tiny pool of water with my camera a couple of inches from the water surface.

A family with 3 young boys stopped to watch me take photos of these leaf-cutter ants. The middle boy seemed particularly intrigued with the idea that a person could grow up and, instead of having a real job, spend all day taking photos of insects.

Despite the fact that I don’t really like to be too close to lizards and related animals, I couldn’t resist trying to get photos of these young Greater Earless Lizards (Cophosaurus texanus) at Pedernales State Park. In a nod to my irrational fear, I put a tele-extender on my 180mm lens. I guess I did a pretty good job of sneaking up and putting the lizard, at least, at ease, because while he was running around on the rocks hunting, he ended up running at me once. So I’ve got a full frame image of this lizard, and all of a sudden I see through the lens that it is running towards me. Given the terrain, I’m lucky I didn’t fall over in my haste to escape this “dangerous” 2-inch long baby lizard!