Saturday, September 18, 2010

August Potpourri

Some odds and ends of photos and wildlife moments drifted by during August without making it into my diary, so here's a potpourri of photos, just for the sake of it!

This year has been a very poor year for Painted Ladies and this individual, which I found taking salts out on the sands at Two-mile Beach, was only the third I had seen all year. Some years there are big invasions if this species from the south but 2010 will go donw as a quiet year for them, at least at Cape May. Notice the four, blue-centred eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.

For direct comparison with the Painted Lady above, this is an American Lady. Note that the eyespots on the underside of the hindwing are bigger, but there are only two of them. This female was egg-laying on one of the species favourite larval food plants - Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium). Indeed, she was so engrossed in her duties that I was able to move the plant around to get better light while she stayed onboard!

A Hackberry tree at Higbee's Beach has a wound in the trunk that has been leaking sap for some time now. Several butterfly species have been feeding on this sap, including this Tawny Emperor, a high-flying species which until now I had not photographed. The rich orange colour distinguishes it from the Hackberry Emperor that I featured earlier in the year.

While on the subject of butterflies, this Common Sootywing visited our new butterfly garden on August 27th and was a new species for our garden list. I have heard that these seem to be very scarce this year so it was nice to spot this one in our own garden.

I put this picture in as an example of how you always need to keep your eye in when looking for wildlife experiences. Megan and I were cycling along Sunset Boulevard one evening when I spotted this strangely hairy willow leaf as we whizzed by. Going back to check, I found it wasn't all that it might seem!

Here's what I found on the back side of the leaf - the larva of the White-marked Tussock, an unremarkable moth but a very smart caterpillar!

On August 19th, the recent rains after a prolonged hot, dry spell had a predictable effect on the local ant colonies - the emergence of thousands of winged ants, scattering to the four winds to spread their kind across the face of the earth. With the ants came birds to eat them and this gathering of hungry Laughing Gulls was an amazing sight over Bayshore Road.

Other insects during the month included this giant of a wasp - a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) which had set up a home in our front lawn. This species digs a hole in the ground, then furnishes side chambers with crickets and grasshoppers. The prey items are captured and stung, the stung paralysing but not killing them; each paralised insect is placed in a side chamber and becomes food for the wasps young. This female was always aware of my presence when I was photographing her and she often stopped what she was doing to turn and watch me; but she never showed any sign of aggression towards me.

Nor for the squeamish this one!! Greenhouse Camel Crickets are abundant insects in basements and outhouses in New Jersey - and the Northwood Centre is no exception!! Numbers of these insects explode late summer and it can be kind of creepy having to pass a wall full of them to get to the stock room!!

Another high summer speciality is the Fence Lizard which can be found rather sparingly along the dunes and other hot, sandy places around Cape May. This species is relatively easy to creep up to and with care can be watched at close range as it hunts small insects.

One of the great things about having visitors to stay is that you get round to doing some of the touristy things that go on close to home; those things that normally you just wouldn't get round to. So, after a year of living at Cape May, we finally got round to going up the famous lighthouse at Cape May Point. The view from the top was amazing as the local area is so flat and you can see for miles. I took a complete 360 degree panorama from the top, but here's a couple of shots of the State Park to whet your appetite - first up, a view of Lighthouse Pond....

....and here, the famous Hawkwatch Platform (foreground), Bunker Pond just beyond and, off in the distance, Cove Bay and 2nd Avenue Jetty.

Yes, there were birds in Cape May in August, with a trickle of early migrants noted on most dates. This Yellow-billed Cucko was a nice find for me in a Black Walnut tree near Higbee's Dike.

A light passage of small parties of Glossy Ibises added a different perspective to birding in the UK! This youngster was feeding quite happily in the main channel at Cape May State Park and wasn't too bothered by me taking photos.

Much maligned and often used inappropriately for boring lawns, grasses are actually fabulous plants and exhibit great diversity in colour and form. When viewed in close-up, the flowers of Indian-grass are really quite complex and fascinating. A wonderful field of this native tall-grass prairie species can be seen at The Beanery.

Indian-grass against the light with the flower heads standing out like silver beacons.

Low light at sunset and a fine stand of Satmarsh Cockspur-grass at the Migratory Bird Refuge makes an ideal combination for working on arty colour and form pictures.