Category: nature

Photography challenge day 14: the hairy caterpillar; which moth will it turn out to be? Tune in to 2021 to find out…..

So this weekend, when I put up the umbrella on the patio table I noticed that there was a rather large caterpillar slowly crawling around on it.

Hairy caterpillar on the patio umbrella

I managed to get one or pictures of it, and noticed that it was extremely fuzzy and had a distinct alternating series of bristles. Since these types of caterpillars usually have nettle hairs (that usually are hidden)—and can causes rashes if they come into contact with skin.

Still truckin’ along

I’ve noticed over the years that my skin has gotten a little more sensitive to certain things and that it doesn’t take much for me to break out in a rash (luckily the rash disappears within a couple of hours)—therefore I just let this particular caterpillar make its own way off the umbrella.

Hairy caterpillar making its way through the shadows

Since there are quite a few different species of moths and possibly a few butterflies that have hairy caterpillars—I can’t say for certain what the ‘adult’ version of this caterpillar is. Though it probably is a member of the Lymantriinae subfamily of moths (belonging to the family Erebidae). These are large moths, and while the adults don’t feed (they only breed and then die), the caterpillars are known to be pests and are considered pests as they have a broad range of host plants (including trees and shrubs to vines, herbs, and grasses).

It will be interesting to see in the spring what type of large moths I see around the yard and if I can then match a picture of the moth to those online and hopefully also match it to caterpillar. But since it is late in the year—I’m going to hazard a guess that this is the caterpillar of the pale tiger (or banded tussock) moth.

No Comments insectsmothsnaturePhotographyScience

Photography Challenge Day 13: Ruby-throated hummingbird

So the winner of today’s photography challenge is the ruby-throated hummingbird.

I’ve always been intrigued by hummingbirds—they’re small, quick, and they beat their wings constantly.

Lately, I’ve also been trying to remember that when I was younger I felt a little like a hummingbird.

In that I could dive into a subject, immerse myself, learns as much as I could and then move on.

Ruby-throated hummingbird at the rose-of-Sharon

I did this for class projects: there was the paper over the Culture of India (and I covered everything from architecture to music to philosophy), to diving into the history of Peru (though I don’t think I ever wrote a paper over this—so that may be something to go back to) and medieval England.

I’ve always been fascinated with birds—I have quite a few bird encyclopedias in my storage unit, plus numerous articles that I had clipped out of the papers as I was growing up to make a scrap book on them.

So what does fascination with birds, culture and history of other countries, and everything else have to do with hummingbirds?

Ruby-throated hummingbird at another rose-of-Sharon

When I had taken the Clifton Strength Assessment test back in both 2017 and 2019, my top strength was learner.

This trait fits people who have a love of learning (though they have to be drawn to the topic), love digging into new things, love researching topics and ideas and gathering information.

These individual have been likened to hummingbirds in that they will deeply investigate on subject before moving on to another—similarly how hummingbirds will investigate flowers for their nectar before going to the next flower.

Until I took the test and saw the top strength as learner—I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed learning, reading, investigating, and putting the information together in some format.

Getting my undergraduate degrees took awhile—because I was ‘bouncing’ between ‘flowers’ (aka different subjects)—but I did manage to get my two degrees and minor (though now looking back, I should have taken that last six hours of sociology to get that minor as well).

Graduate school, allowed me to dive deeply into a subject that was still fairly new and I was learning different techniques and systems. The first postdoc was where the love of learning started to dwindle—while the topic was slightly different from grad school—what I was being taught really wasn’t, and therefore I got bored (only realizing now, exactly why I was getting bored so early—if I had realized it then, things might have gone differently had I asked for either another project or figured out a way to strike up a collaboration with another lab).

The second postdoc allowed me to dive into another system and I learned quite a bit—though I didn’t like being told to read up on other things in my spare time. I learned in both staff positions—more so in the first (only because I was working with undergrads in several different labs on several different projects) than the second. It has taken about ten months of self-reflection to realize that one of the problems that I had with the last position—I was bored; while I had been told I could ‘collaborate’ with other labs on projects, the only labs I could think of would have required me doing experiments and those aren’t something that you can schedule to only take 1 to 2 hours a day.

As I now move forward—I have to remember that I’m like a hummingbird, where there needs to be ample ‘flowers’ around for me to sample; I may hang around one or two longer than others, but at least I won’t get bored.

This is something that I will keep in the forefront as I start looking towards either my industry transition or freelancing/working for myself–I need variety to keep busy–so for me (at least mentally) it is better to be both a jack-of-all-trades and a ‘specialist’.

Have you taken the Clifton Strength Assessment Test? What was your top strength?

No Comments bird watchingcareerflowersnaturePersonal DevelopmentPhotographyprofessional developmentReflections

Daring jumping spider: winner of the photography challenge-Day 12

The winner of today’s photography challenge is a little jumping spider that I noticed around the pond this summer.

I had decided last year, that I was going to try and branch out in photography subjects—therefore not just photographing birds, but looking for the smaller things as well.

In this case, it was a little jumping spider that was moving around the leaves of the decorative grass.

Jumping spider on the decorative grass

Now I’m not really a insect/arachnid/snake type of person (and I just realized I put the phrases of the things that I ‘avoid’ down—since I don’t mind butterflies, turtles, or lizards (can’t think of an arachnid that I ‘like’).

But I do find the smaller spiders to be somewhat cute—especially when I’m far enough away from them that I know we won’t be getting in close contact with each other.

It’s got an orange spot on its back

So this spider is the bold (or daring) jumping spider, and is found throughout the United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico, and introduced to Hawaii. I assume its name came from the fact that jumping spiders hunt their prey—running them down & if needed ‘jumping’ on them. This is a juvenile spider since the spots are tinted orange/red—as the adults usually have white spots.

So it’s nice to know that there are ‘nice’ spiders in the backyard trying to keep the insect pests in check—though, yes I know that if it bit me I could get a rash/welt. But, I’m never going to get that close to any spider to have it be able to bite me.

While I don’t like spiders–I wonder how many other types I can (or have already) gotten a picture of? Are you a spider person? If you are–which spider is your favorite?

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Photography Challenge Day 10–Great Blue Heron in a Tree

So the winner of today’s photography challenge is the great blue heron. Usually these birds are wading in the lake, or perched on logs waiting for their prey—occasionally though, you can get a picture of one perched in a tree.

Now I almost missed seeing this one—if I hadn’t been looking for the songbird that flew into the upper branches of the tree on the other side, I would never have noticed the heron perched on the branch.

Great Blue Heron in a tree

I managed to also see another couple of herons on the short walk, and as I was heading back home—this guy/gal was still sitting in the tree, obviously waiting for a fish or something to swim around so it could have a morning snack.

The heron was still there as I headed home.

These guys are year round residents in the area, and they actually nest in trees, though I have yet to find the area where I would be seeing the nests—I think I know the area, but I’m not up to going that far back into slightly swampy areas just to try to get a picture or two.

They are considered to be symbols of wisdom, good luck, and patience in numerous different cultures. I like to think that when I see them on the walk—they’re reminding me to be patient working towards my transition into either industry or freelancing. I have strengths to lean into, and in terms of my weaknesses—I can work to improve them, or I can find someone who has those as strengths and ask for a helping hand.

No Comments bird watchingnaturePhotography

Update–realizing I’m procrastinating & catching up on the photography challenge: cormorants flying overhead

So I’m running a few days late with the photography challenge. Why? I think I bit off a little more than I could chew this week—I’m trying to complete two little challenges; one is a LinkedIn challenge (creating content, commenting on people’s posts, and connecting). Needless to say I’m a little behind on the challenge—I’m petrified of posting on the site (see my previous post), and trying to overcome that as well. The second challenge is a free 5-day challenge on Facebook (dealing with health/nutrition).

So the procrastination bug has bitten me hard the past couple of days—I sit staring at the computer, and then I end up going to sit outside for the afternoon, and try to get a numerous things done before bed.

Cormorants flying overhead

That now brings me to the winner of the photography challenge—which were some migratory birds flying overhead. On Sunday, I decided to take a mask and my camera and head up to Boomer Lake for a while.

While I decided to make it a semi-short walk

(round trip just over an hour walking), I knew that I should hopefully see one or two birds that may or may not be Canada geese or mallards.

As I was walking, I noticed that there was a large group of birds flying overhead. I stopped, looked up, and managed to get a good number of pictures of the birds. I had to wait until I got home and download the pictures to determine if the birds were ducks or cormorants (some that just migrate through, and others that winter in the area).

It turns out that the birds flying overhead were cormorants. Now are they the neotropical or double-crested? I would have to say that I’m not sure—the neotropical migrate through and the double-crested winter in the area. Since they’re so far overhead—I couldn’t tell the facial features (which are some of the best ways to differentiate between the two species).

Seeing these birds served as a reminder that I need to keep moving forward towards my goals—they move as needed between the seasons, locations, and so forth. Staying stationary isn’t beneficial in the long run.

No Comments bird watchingnaturePhotography

The bee on the chive flower: Photography challenge day 8

So I’m basically going to be a day behind in the photography challenge, unless I manage to do a double photography post at some point.

The winner for today’s entry is the honeybee on the chive flowers.

Honeybee on the chive flowers

The honeybee (and actually all of the bee clade) is actually only native to Eurasia, but humans took them to four other continents (Africa, Australia, South & North America).

In terms of recognition—there are eight species recognized, but with a total of 43 subspecies. These subspecies are populations of bees that living in different areas and have different morphological characteristics. Out of those species—two have been domesticated for honey production and/or crop pollination—the eastern & western honeybees. Other bees may also produce & store honey—but not to the extent that the eastern & western honeybees manage.

Honeybee on the chive flowers

One way to help these insects is to plant bushes, flowers, veggies, herbs, and other plants that are native to the area (or at least not totally invasive) that can attract the bees and help them survive.

We have numerous bushes in the yard that flower (crepe myrtles, rose-of-Sharon, wisteria, clematis, flowering quints, and others), in addition we also have various herbs planted, though the only one that really flowers is the chive.

Chives are a flowering plant that produces edible leaves and flowers (though we leave the flowers alone so that the bees, wasps, and butterflies have something to also feed on). They are also related to common onions, garlic, shallot, leek, scallion, and the Chinese onion. These are one herb that once you plant; they will come back up for a couple of years (unless there is a really cold snap, and I’d guess less than 0 degrees).

This year I’ve managed to get the picture of bees, flies, butterflies, and wasps all resting/feeding on the chive flowers. A new goal for next year—record and see how many of which species land on the flowers.

Do you like chives? If so–what is your favorite recipe for them? Another thought–maybe once I have my own place, I can become a part time beekeeper. Are you (or someone you know) a beekeeper? Have you ever thought of becoming one??

No Comments flowersinsectsnaturePhotography

Running behind on the photography challenge: Day 7-the downy woodpecker

Well, I’m a day late with the photography challenge. So the winner for yesterday’s installment of the photography challenge is the Downy woodpecker. I think this one comes in at number three in terms of which bird has the most pictures taken of it this summer (number one is the ruby-throated hummingbird, and number two is the red-bellied woodpecker).

This is the smallest woodpecker in North America, and can be found throughout the continent, where it’s range stretches from Alaska down through Canada and into the lower 48 states. There are only portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where they may be considered uncommon birds.

Male downy woodpecker at the small suet feeder

The diet of downy woodpeckers consists of mostly insects that it forages for along the branches and trunk of trees (including beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars), along with berries, acorns, grains, and being seen at suet feeders in people’s backyards.

Since they’re small in size (basically the size of a nuthatch), it isn’t uncommon to

see them also feeding in a mix group of birds. Unlike the red-bellied woodpecker that really doesn’t like other birds being on the suet feeder at the same time—the downy woodpecker doesn’t really care.

Female downy woodpecker at the small suet feeder

In terms of their coloring and markings, they are rocking the black-and-white checkered feather/back look. The males also have a small red patch on the back of their heads. When looking at them at either feeders or in the wild, they can be confused with the hairy woodpecker (who is larger then the downy)—but they aren’t that closely related (the two woodpeckers split off from a common ancestor about six million years ago). These two species look similar, but that is just a matter of convergent evolution (which is the independent evolution of similar features in species of different periods or epochs in time).

Photography goal: Get a picture of a hairy woodpecker, and if possible a picture of both at a feeder (that way I can work on trying to distinguish between them).

Do you have a favorite woodpecker species??

No Comments bird watchingnaturePhotography

It’s a wasp week: photography challenge day 6: the yellow jacket

Today’s winner for the photography challenge is the yellow jacket wasp, also just known as the yellow jacket.

This is a predatory social wasp that is common to North America. These wasps live in a colony that contains worker wasps, queens, and drones; the colony is annual with only fertilized queens survives the winter and starts a new colony the coming spring/summer.

This queen will then spend the spring and through the summer into the autumn the queen spends the time laying eggs within the nest. Depending on where the queen builds the nest, the size of the colony can range from ~4000 members to larger numbers (upward of say 10,000 members and numerous eggs cells).

yellow jacket wasp flying around the hummingbird feeder

The diet of the yellow jacket wasp varies depending on either the stage of life or the position within the nest. The larval diet consists of proteins derived from insects, fish, and meats. The workers (drones) collect, chew, and basically regurgitate the food before feeding it to the larvae. The larvae feed the workers by secreting a sugary substance, and when there aren’t as many insects to feed to the larvae—the workers will go foraging for sugar sources outside the nest. The diet of the adult yellow jacket wasp consists of fruits, flower nectar and tree sap—plus the sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Yellow jacket wasp feeding at the hummingbird feeder

Sometimes the nest/colony of yellow jacket wasps are very noticeable, other times they aren’t (as some are built behind/below steps and logs—hidden from sight). I actually remember one summer, when on vacation my dog found a yellow jacket nest—it was built behind a wooden step going down to the lake (after that—she totally hated any small flying insect that came near her—she had gotten stung several times in the snout).

Yellow jacket wasp hanging around the hummingbird feeder

I notice the yellow jackets coming out in the late summer (usually end of July through mid-September) at times feeding at the hummingbird feeder. Usually we don’t have that many issues with them—unless they keep flying around the patio table.

Unlike other insects—I don’t think I want to figure out where the yellow jacket nest is (not willing to risk getting stung); these are insects that I’m not scared of and realize that they are beneficial to have (as they do hunt other insects)—but I’m also not sorry if I don’t see them either.

Have you or your pets ever been stung by a yellow jacket wasp?

No Comments insectsnaturePhotographyScience

Photography Challenge Day 5: The mighty cicada killer

Today’s entry into the photography challenge is the cicada killer. This is a large wasp that hunts cicadas—though they don’t eat them (the adults feed on nectar and sap)—the female will lay her eggs on a paralyzed cicadas allowing the wasp grub to feed on the cicada as it goes through several larval stages.

Cicada killer looking to dig a nest

Within the US they’re found in the throughout the country (divided between being the Eastern cicada killer and the Western cicada killer)—and since OK is almost central, I’m going with just cicada killer, and then south into Mexico and Central America.

In terms of size—the female cicada killers are larger than the males, only because they cart their ‘prizes’ off to their nests. I have no idea if this one is a male or a female—I’m going to guess female.

These wasps are actually burrow wasps—the female will dig her nest in the ground, and will have ‘egg cells’ off the main burrow. Within each cell the female will deposit one or more paralyzed cicadas and then lay an egg on the cicada. When the female lays a male egg—it goes on top of a single cicada; if the egg is female there may an addition cicada in the cell as well. Each cell is then closed off with dirt, and the female will continue digging cells as needed.

Once the eggs hatch, and after they go through their larval stages, the young will winter in the pupa stage underground and emerge the follow spring. There is only one generation per year.

I think a new photography goal will be trying to get a picture of a cicada killer carrying a cicada off to her nest, or possibly getting a picture of a cicada killer emerging from the nest in the spring.

I’ve never really been afraid of cicada killers—I always seem to have to ‘remind’ them that I’m not a cicada—as they seem to have really weird flight patterns. But we do get quite a few of these around the backyard in the summer.

Question: which would you prefer seeing a lot of during the summer—cicadas or cicada killers?

No Comments insectsnaturePhotographyScience

Photography Challenge Day 4: Which is it: the silvery checkerspot or pearl crescent butterfly?

Today’s entry into the photography challenge is the Silvery Checkerspot (or the Pearl Crescent) butterfly. I am not an entomologist by any stretch of the imagination (actually more often than not—I’ll send a picture of a bug to my cousin [who is an entomologist] for identification purposes. Though I am slowly branching out from doing straight bird photography and trying to get pictures of butterflies and other insects as well. As I get better at photography and slowly expand what I’m taking pictures of, I’m find the names of some of the animals interesting.

Either the silvery checkerspot or pearl crescent butterfly landed by the pond.

Take this butterfly for example—it’s an orange and black butterfly, and is either the silvery checkerspot or the pearl crescent butterfly. I’m assuming that the name is coming from the whitish edges and the bar pattern on their antennae. The pearl crescent should be a little smaller and lack the white dots (and since this one didn’t show any white dots—hard to tell; as some checkerspots might not have large white dots).

Right before it decided to turn around…..

We’ve had quite a few of these butterflies through the backyard this summer. As with all butterflies and moths, these butterflies go through their lifecycle near their host plants. Their range (either the silvery checkerspot or the pearl crescent) stretches from Canada downwards towards Mexico (though not seen in the western part of the country), and then eastward.

With its wings closed…..still not sure which species it is…….

Since the pandemic and self-isolation started I’ve realized that I do turn to taking the camera out to the backyard and looking at things through a different lens. One photography goal now is to try to see how many different butterfly/moth caterpillars I can get a photograph of during the spring/summer/fall months starting in 2021.

What’s your favorite butterfly/moth species?

No Comments butterfliesnaturePhotography