Butterfly Ears and Other Surprises

January 7, 2020

I was looking back over my pictures from these last few years and was amazed at all the things I’ve seen, all the things I’ve learned, and all the things that have totally surprised me.

I was surprised to learn that only male painted turtles have these incredibly long nails!
They are used to grab on tight to the female during mating!

I’m not sure yet what my biggest surprise has been, but yesterday morning a memory popped up on my Facebook page from January of 2018 that started me thinking.

It was a very cold and snowy January day and I had been walking tentatively through deep snow across a semi-frozen creek near my home when I happened upon a Great Blue Heron! It was standing rigidly and alone in a large expanse of snow like a one-legged sentry keeping watch over the manor. Of all the things I expected to see that day, a Great Blue Heron was not one of them! I had assumed they had all left for the winter and were basking in the sun some place far south of here.

Great Blue Heron standing sentry in the snow

When I finished my picture walk that day, I immediately went to my computer to research ‘great blue herons in the snow’. I found out that they can, indeed, be here in Michigan in January, but “generally move away from the northern edge of their breeding range in winter.” Smart birds! If they do stay, Great Blue Herons will find patches of open water to feed on small fish or crustaceans that are hanging out along the edges. But, when the fish aren’t available, herons will eat mice, voles, and small birds. “One hungry heron was seen chowing down a litter of feral kittens.” Oh my.

I was surprised to find out that dragonflies and damselflies could have mites, or parasites on their bodies– sometimes dozens of them! (Look for the small red dots on the underside of this dragonfly near its legs.)

Another thing that has surprised me over the years is how many different dragonflies and damselflies there are, how many different colors they display, and what unusual mating practices they engage in!

According to my research, there are about 5,000 species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) worldwide; here in Michigan, there are about 162! I don’t know how many actual colors they come in, but I’ve seen green, blue, brown, black, white, red, pink, gold, yellow, orange and purple! Who knew?

During mating, the male dragonfly (or damselfly) grasps the female at the back of the head and the she curls her abdomen under his body to pick up sperm from the male’s secondary genitalia at the front of his abdomen, forming the “heart” or “wheel” posture. It’s a rather peculiar set up, I thought!

Another insect that surprised me was the butterfly. I didn’t know that they had taste receptors in their feet or ears in their wings!! “The ears consist of membranes that are stretched taut over oval holes, and that vibrate when incoming sounds hit them.” Before 1912, scientists thought all butterflies were deaf, but discovered that these insects respond to the human voice and to the sounds of birds during flight. The receptors, scientists discovered, were in the butterfly’s wings! What a handy skill to have if you didn’t want to be somebody’s lunch!

I was also amused to learn that a group of butterflies is called a ‘flutter” and that a group of butterflies gathered together to drink from a mud puddle is called a ‘puddle club’! Too funny!

One more surprise came while I was out taking pictures and came across a Black-capped Chickadee that looked as if it was injured. But, when I moved closer to see if I could help, the bird quickly flew away. My little chickadee was apparently engaged in a behavior called ‘sunning’ and did not need any help from me!

Black-capped Chickadee ‘sunning’ itself

“Bird sunning is the act of spreading out in full sunshine to expose plumage and skin to direct sunlight.” The main reason birds do this is to maintain the health of their feathers.  Sunning can dislodge parasites. If birds don’t rid themselves of these parasites, they can infect the bird’s  feathers and cause problems for flight, insulation, and appearance– all of which impact survival. Hundreds of different bird species engage in ‘sunning’ behaviors!

Every time I go for a ‘picture walk’, I learn something new!

Heat Wave

July 21, 2019

It’s been a hot and steamy week with periodic bouts of rain, but I still managed to squeeze in a picture walk every day except Friday. It was just too hot to enjoy much of anything that day! The temperature peaked at 93 degrees and the heat index, or how it really felt outside, topped 100 degrees!  I expect even the birds and the bees thought twice about expending any extra energy flitting about in that heat!

Sunday July 14, 2019

Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI

The Kalamazoo Nature Center is one of my favorite places to go for a picture walk. There are so many different habitats to visit and more than 14 miles of hiking trails. For today’s picture walk, I spent all my time in the Tall Grass Prairie looking primarily for birds but finding mostly flowers, butterflies and dragonflies.

Silver Spotted Skipper on Bee Balm
1/1000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 500
Coneflower
1/1000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 500
Twelve Spotted Skimmer, female
1/800 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400

Monday July 15, 2019

Al Sabo Land Preserve, 6310 Texas Drive, Kalamazoo MI

Ten days ago when Mel and I last visited the Al Sabo Preserve, we were blown away by how many different dragonflies there were: Blue Dashers, Calico Pennants, Common Whitetails, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Eastern Pondhawks, Halloween Pennants, Spangled Skimmers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Widow Skimmers. That may not seem like enough to blow us away, but the male and female dragonflies of each type look totally different from each another so it always seems as if there are twice as many different types!

Dot-tailed Whiteface Dragonfly
1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800
Spangled Skimmer
1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 800

There are apparently over 5000 different dragonflies and damselflies worldwide and about 162 different species in Michigan. I’ve found a wide variety of them, but nowhere near the state total!

Twelve Spotted Skimmer, male
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Widow Skimmer, male
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640

Today, though, when I walked the bike trail that skirts the woods and the meadows of Al Sabo preserve, there didn’t seem to be the same abundance of dragonflies as there had been a little over a week ago, but I still enjoyed my walk and was pleased to find an Eastern Comma butterfly, which I rarely see

Eastern Comma Butterfly
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000

Tuesday July 16

Western Michigan University, Business Technology and Research Park, Intersection of Drake and Parkview Rd., Kalamazoo, MI

I particularly love this little ‘park’ –partly because it’s right next door and partly because I’m guaranteed to find something interesting –- Great Blue Herons and Swans, Barn Swallows and Tree swallows, Killdeer and ‘regular’ Deer, Frogs, Turtles, Geese and Goldfinches, and once upon a time, an elusive Green Heron. Even though it is not a ‘park’ in the strictest sense of the word, the green spaces around all the different buildings have been so well designed with an abundance of wildflowers and several ponds that it is a definite haven for a wide variety of birds, butterflies, amphibians and mammals.

Barn Swallow
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Cedar Waxwing
1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640
Local deer giving me the raspberries!
1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500
Mute Swan
1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800

Wednesday July 17

Kensington Metro Park Nature Center, 4570 Huron River Parkway
Milford, MI 48380

Kensington Metro Park is about 2 hours from our home, but since it is on the way to visiting our grandson, I make a point of stopping in for a picture walk every time I travel to that side of the state. It’s a unique environment with an active heron rookery, friendly Sandhill Cranes, fearless Songbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Woodpeckers who eagerly pester you to feed them out of hand, and an elusive white deer! I always find something of interest to photograph at Kensington.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1/1000 sec, f/6, ISO 640
Great Blue Heron high up in the Rookery
1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500
Thistle
1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500

Thursday July 18

Asylum Lake Preserve, Intersection of Drake and Parkview Rd., Kalamazoo, MI

The Asylum Lake Preserve, like the WMU Business Technology and Research Park is within walking distance from my home.  Unlike the business park, though, the Asylum Lake Preserve is an undeveloped tract of land made up of prairies and woods and a small lake. I enjoy walking the trails through the tall grasses looking for new or unusual insects or looking up in the surrounding trees for a bird I haven’t seen before. On one very rare occasion,  I saw a Black-billed Cuckoo. Up until that day, I didn’t even know we had cuckoos in Michigan! Today I managed to capture a rarely seen hummingbird moth, a never seen Northern Pearly-eye butterfly and my very first Spicebush Swallowtail for the season.

Hummingbird Moth
1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800
Hummingbird Moth
1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000
Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly
(shot with a flash)
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
1/1250 sec., f/6, ISO 800
Common Whitetail, male
1/640 sec, f/9, ISO 640
Slaty Skimmer, female
1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1250

Friday July 19, 2019

The heat index topped 100 degrees today! I never went out to take pictures!

Saturday July 20, 2019

Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo, MI

Mel and I both went out for a picture walk early this morning before it got beastly hot. It still got hot, but not beastly so. Both of us had been hoping to find some of the beautiful Swallowtail butterflies like we had seen this time last year at the Nature Center. But, it was either too early in the day or too early in the season to find them, because we never spotted a single one. Last year at this time, there were dozens of Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails flitting around here and there over all the beautiful wildflowers along the entry road. What we found instead was a Ruby-throated hummingbird, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, a House Wren, an Eastern Phoebe and a few Cedar Waxwings. I’ll have to go back in a few days to see if I can catch the butterflies again!

House Wren
1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 640
Ruby-throated Hummingbird taking a rest high in a tree
1/1000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800