Soft

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Huge black bees are bumbling everywhere from my neighbour’s tiny corn field to the pond’s edge. I think they are Southern Carpenter Bees. This one was visiting a flower I really like. The leaves are huge and look like canna lilies. The flowers which tower over my head are pink and white. The stems make interesting zigzag patterns. I am not at all certain I have the correct name in mind but I think this plant is Thalia dealbata. Go ahead and use the official scientific name if you prefer but I think the common name “Powdery Alligator-Flag” is a keeper.

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Thalia dealbata?

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in the early evening

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resting bee

The green herons at the pond seem to be doing really well this year. I have seen quite a few juveniles in the area. I’m a bit worried about one adult who keeps hanging out with the junky pigeons and ducks though. Stay away from the white bread my friend.

I know the families who give their children bread to throw at birds mean well but … (you know the rest)

Soft feathers ….

DSCN2420In flight

DSCN2426More soft stuff …

Thoreau said the keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams. I guess that means that honey is liquid sunshine.

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Bee glow below. What beautiful wings and bodies they have.

 

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I am still madly in love with ‘our’ bees but I think the world’s most beautiful spider lives in my backyard. I tried and tried to capture its image but the camera (haha ok, the photographer) just couldn’t get it right. Does this mean the spider put a glamour on me? That nothing I saw was real? It was all an illusion? Arachnophobes, you are dismissed. Spider pictures coming up next.

Here you can see the delicate web and the thin spun glass like quality of her legs. Both the web and the spider sparkled like water in sunlight.

 

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Horribly out of focus but this photo almost shows the silver sparks.

 

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These next pictures hint at how her body was kind of like an opal. The colours kept shifting. I wonder if I was looking at reflections of colour notes in the surrounding environment. Reds, blues, yellows, greens …

 

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All the unwanted attention eventually wore her out. She sought refuge at the corner of her web. She looks so much more solid against the wood. Weird. Wonderfully so.

But I had overstayed my welcome. Message received.

 

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Basically, the spider I saw was nothing like any of these photos! Quite a magical experience. I am sorry I couldn’t properly share it with you but maybe you have enough clues to construct her beauty in your imagination.

This is what people must mean when they say the whole is other than the sum of its parts.

And finally: rest in peace Burt. Thanks for loving the bees while you were here.

Wildlife Wednesday: July 2015

Before I begin: please don’t forget to check out Tina’s My Gardener Says, the source blog for the Wildlife Wednesday meme. Wildlife Wednesday is now one year old. Happy Anniversary!

The month of June delivered a wonderful surprise. Someone finally moved into the squirrel box we hung up about 18 months ago. Though I’ve seen various potential tenants check it out I never saw anyone actually move in. Until now …

At a glance and from a distance I thought it was mold …

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When the mold seemed to move I had to take a closer look. That was no mold; those are feral honey bees! I am now officially a bee have-er!

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There is an Old English rhyme about this kind of thing: “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.” For me, bees are so much more: priceless, really.

These honey bees likely broke off from a nearby hive. Isn’t the swarming process a beautiful thing? When it is time to split a hive and the bees swarm out of their old home, scouts look all over for The Best Place. The Best Place can’t be too far away because the queen really has a hard time flying. The Best Place has to be relatively safe from predators. It will need to be dark, dry and have enough room to build comb. Scouts search and search. The situation is urgent. If the scouts can’t find a site within three days the defenceless hive will probably die: if not from predation than from hunger. If a scout finds a nice looking place she flies back as quickly as possible to share her discovery with the group. The group listens to and considers all the information the scouts bring back. When 80% or more of the bees agree about where they ought to go the swarm will fly off as one to begin their new life.

I feel honoured they chose to live near us. I realize though that the squirrel box is far from perfect. That big hole in the centre will be difficult to defend against predators and I know bee predators do visit here: raccoons, skunks, opossums, robber flies, lizards, birds, moths, beetles ….

It scares me to see them guarding that huge opening with their bodies. How brave. In most of the pictures I have taken the bees seem to face outward. I imagine they are using their wings to try to fan and cool that huge opening. And like secret service agents they are looking outward for potential threats instead of allowing themselves to be mesmerized by the main event going on inside.

In the picture above you can kind of see how the bees are using the thin ventilation space at the top of the box as an entrance. Normally, entrances are placed at the bottom of a hive. The constant traffic of bees passing through helps dry up the inevitable condensation that forms and falls from living things. So I worry about foulbrood developing. Mostly, I worry that the box is much too small.

The plus sides? The box is a good ten feet up in an oak tree behind a very tall evergreen hedge. No human is going to accidentally bump into them or even see them. The entrance faces east rather than south which may help the bees stay cool as the summer begins to heat up.

Here’s a crummy shot but it is the best I have showing some of the hexagons they are constructing. If you imagine the circle as a clock look toward the four o’clock position. Clicking on the image will make them even easier to see.

honey combHere’s another shot I am not pleased with except that it shows a lot of what I think might be wax or capped comb at the nine o’clock position. Is it possible for the bees to patch up/close off the big opening with propolis? Maybe that would require too many resources.

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I am absolutely thrilled about sharing our space with these beautiful bees. But, I wonder about how I can be a responsible have-er of bees.

I love the idea of feral bees. There is a lot to be said for freedom these days. Yes, it is more dangerous for them but … freedom. Does freedom really need justification? If so, I will say that feral bees provide an opportunity for genetic diversity. Maybe feral bee colonies will develop immunities or other characteristics that can help the species as a whole to survive in these bad times.

Yet. There are other considerations such as by-laws against unmanaged hives. Maybe our neighbours will fear them. And the word feral means these animals came from a domesticated source. Domestication implies that they may need human assistance to keep them safe. It might be a cruelty to fail to provide assistance.

So dear reader, what do you think I ought to do?

 

And here’s a shout out to Austin Bee Helpers, one of the most beautifully written blogs I have had the pleasure of reading. The author is Jack Bresette-Mills, a man so gentle he doesn’t even need to wear much gear when he handles his bees. He has a book coming out soon called Sensitive Beekeeping to be published by Steiner Books. I look forward to reading it.

one of OUR bees

Not just any anonymous bee. This is one of my neighbours checking out the Russian Sage!!!!!!!

Butterfly Bucket: Bordered Patch Butterfly

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Chlosyne lacinia

Thanks to The Transmutational Gardener for hosting the Butterfly Bucket List, a new wildlife blogging event all about butterflies I am looking forward to learning a lot. A lot — because I am starting pretty much from zero here.

In fact, I was feeling a little hesitant about contributing because not only do I know so little about butterflies but I really struggle with photographing them. (Therefore: turn away now if you are looking for reliable information or great photos!)

Bordered Patch Butterfly aka Sunflower Patch Butterfly

The Bordered Patch Butterfly is a really common butterfly around here. Since the caterpillars eat the leaves of daisies, sunflowers and ragweed which are all plants that literally grow everywhere like weeds, they rarely go hungry. The imagos have multiple flights throughout the year meaning one can even see them in the winter if the temperatures have been mild.

But you know: it is an orange butterfly. There are more than 200 species of orange butterflies just in Texas alone. Learning to identify butterflies feels a bit daunting. How can I tell this is a bordered patch butterfly and not something else?

I suspect there is a special circle of hell where nature lovers who have been naughty go when they die. In that place they are surrounded by orange butterflies, little brown birds and yellow composite daisies. Every day there is a high stakes exam testing them on their identification skills.

Scenario: Subject is tied to uncomfortable plastic lawn chair.

Demon: Look closely at the photo. Identify the butterfly. You have 5 seconds to respond.
Poor Unfortunate Soul (bead of sweat forming at the brow): Is it a Checkerspot Butterfly?
Demon: Bah. Idiot! Your punishment is to listen to Rush Limbaugh for one hour. You will wear the high definition headphones to better appreciate the spittle.

So colour will be an inadequate clue. It gets worse. Some species, like this one, are known to be wildly variable. So here’s what I learned:

Step one: Skip over the blob around the thorax that looks vaguely like a Rorschach test item. Step two: Look for white spots. The white spots running along the wing edge and along the orange bits could possibly be used as a kind of field mark or start point. The only other butterflies I know of that have white spots like that (and yeah, I realize that isn’t saying much) are the checkerspots I’ve seen. Checkerspots and the bordered patch butterfly belong to the same genus — Chlosyne — for my purposes that is close enough and an ok place to begin.

So note to self: look for a border of white spots. Ah. Maybe that is how it got the name ‘bordered’ patch. The spots border the orange patches.

Nymphalinae

As I learned all this lovely nerd lore and contemplated my eventual fate I also found out that the bordered patch butterfly is a member of the True Brush-foot (Nymphalinae) group of butterflies. A large group — it includes pretty much all of the butterflies I can name.

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bordered patch butterfly

If you look at these butterflies sideways it kind of looks like they only have four legs because their forelegs are tiny. Picture T-Rex arms and you’ll get the idea. Those front legs are used as sense organs — probably for smelling and tasting things. That lovely characteristic makes them easier than some other butterflies to see and photograph. After they land on a flower they have a tendency to rotate in a circle as they do whatever it is they are doing. Eating, laying eggs, independently inventing the calculus, plotting world domination …. I do not actually know.

I do know that I am grateful for those moments — otherwise I’d never get any pictures at all.