Posts Tagged 'Virginia'

Enter The Dragons

A trip a few states south results in a preview of the shape of Odonata to come. Emerging adult dragonflies in a small pond. There were about a dozen. Eastern Pondhawks, I think. Once they wiggle out of the husks of their larval forms, they need to harden off, develop their color, stiffen their wings. I’d never seen this in action. It’s slow-going…Meanwhile, in a piney wood a few counties away, a female Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata) is already up and at ’em. A new species for me. Did not see the male. Often, males dragonflies and damselflies will stake-out and patrol their territories, usually water bodies, while the females are in the distance, only approaching when they’re ready to mate.Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) glorious in the sun.Immature Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) male above and mature male below.


An Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) that liked this log so much we saw it going out and coming back on this path in Virginia.I least I think it’s the same specimen: the lighting, distance, and angle causing the color variation here. These critters perch hunt, meaning they sit and wait for something (“wood-boring beetles, ground beetles, leaf beetles, weevils, click beetles, rove beetles, blow flies, stink bugs, leafhoppers, ants, moths, short-horned grasshoppers, longhorned grasshoppers, roaches, spiders, millipedes, and snails”) to amble by — which is another reason I think it’s the same animal.One of the spiny scaled lizards… They get as as far north as southern New Jersey (dry piney woods are their favorite habitat).

Tern Tern Tern

Time for a Tern challenge? Post-breeding terns lose their summer plumage quickly. So what do we have here? (These pictures were all taken two weeks ago in tidewater Virginia.)



Yes, that bill is broken. Th bird was grooming, but I wonder how long it can survive this way?

(Note that I won’t be able to access the internet for at least a week, so your answers won’t get posted until then.)

Raptor Wednesday

A Bald Eagle coasts across Beaverdam Park in Gloucester County, VA. We only spotted one of these enormous birds this trip; in April we had 22. But the Osprey didn’t disappoint. Counted 17 on the way back, mostly at the Frances Scott Key and Potomac Bridges. Post-breeding season, many still perch on nest sites.

As of this writing for those keeping track at home, I have had 378 raptor sightings this year. Summer locally saw a marked reduction of sightings. There’s breeding, of course, when half the birds at any given time are sitting on eggs. And it’s summer, so the curtains are drawn for much of the day against the sun; the roar of the fans cancels out external noises (a Kestrel sighting, for instance, often starts with a hearing). We’re off to a major migratory choke-point soon, so I should come back with some news of exotic raptors, if not pictures.

On the Button

The deciduous shrub known as Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) for its round flower heads is a fantastic pollinator-magnet. The plant loves its feet (roots) wet, and, as we discovered recently at the edge of Beaverdam Reservoir in Virginia, it also attracts hummingbirds. Who knew? Well, everybody in the pollination biz, but it was a lovely discovery for us. This Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris) was supping at the last remaining flower head.

Massing Toads

Can you see it?Everywhere, underfoot, tiny. We were in Beaverdam Park in Gloucester Co., VA, last week. It was fiendishly humid. We kept running into these very small toads that scurried more than jumped. At first I thought the movement was some kind of beetle. But no, they were toads. Upon further research, they turned out to be Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri). The American Toad (A. americanus) and the Fowler’s are somewhat similar looking and overlapping in range. They can be distinguished by the number of warts in the dark spots; American have 1-2; Fowler’s have 2 or more. Some of these Beaverdam juveniles were less than 3/4ths of an inch long.Here’s a mature adult, the only such seen, about 2.5″ long. (I used a flash here in the lovely gloom of the woods, which gives a warmer color to the skin.) And one more of the wee ones.

And continuing the theme of tiny amphibians. Parked along a country road in Virginia, we heard what we thought were sheep. But the sound was coming from the puddled ditches along both sides of the road. It turns out there is an Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis) that sounds like a bleating sheep. They’re microhylid frogs from 1-1.5″ long and supposedly blend in very well with muck. We certainly didn’t see any, but the sound was fascinating.


In case I spoiled your breakfast with the carnivorous devouring of an adult Monarch’s brain, here’s the famous caterpillar stage of Danaus plexippus. Spotted in Virginia recently.Although the Yellow Bear caterpillar is named Spilosoma virginica, this one was spotted in Westerchester Co., NY. It’s a Tribble! And it looks like it might have some mites on it. The moth of this species is resolutely unspectacular, but the caterpillars are, in David L. Wagner’s words, “exceedingly variable in coloration, ranging from beige or yellow to dark red-brown or nearly black.” The very long hairs are key to ID. Here’s an example from Staten Island. Another from Prospect Park.Insert exclamation point. This is the Redhumped Caterpillar (Schizura concinna). Nothing else looks like it in these parts. The raised rear end is a defensive posture, one of a number of which-end-is-which caterpillar strategies . Such flamboyant patterns (check out Wagner’s book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, for an excellent guide to the amazing world of caterpillars) are warnings. Or fake-outs. This specimen was found on the same property as the Yellow Bear.


These are fossilized shells of extinct scallops found on the Piankatank River in Virginia. They’re in the genus Chesapecten, all of whose members no longer live upon this earth. Such mineralized remains are dated from the early Miocene period to the early Pleistocene.

Here’s more detail about the rich fossil world of the Chesapeake.

Trump yearns for an FBI to go after journalists. Secretary of Corruption (formerly Commerce) Wilbur Ross praises the lack of protests in the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. A reporter was arrested when he tried to question Secretary of Death (formerly Health) Tom Price. Meanwhile, the Trump regime has been rather shameless about Turkish gestapo tactics in the heart of Washington D.C., because pretty clearly they want to be able to emulate them. After all, they cite the murderous kleptocracy of Putin’s Russia as a model.

Those who are against our best traditions are not patriots. They are, in fact, traitors. Never, ever, let supporters of Trump get away with claims of patriotism again.

Raptor Wednesday

A pair of Bald Eagles immediately after mating.We heard them before we saw them.Haliaeetus leucocephalus make some very un-eagle-like sounds. (That’s because they are usually dubbed over with the calls of Red-tailed Hawks in the professional bullshit business of entertainment.) The sound that alerted us to their presence is described on the Cornell sound page as unlike any other in nature, and it sure puzzled us.This was on Jamestown Island, which has a loop drive around it.
Backyard and Beyond highly recommends this route.
Another Bald Eagle spotted from the road, but rather further away. This is a second year bird.

Is the emperor, in fact, naked? Corey Robin thinks we should stop believing Trump’s bullshit.

Turning Tern

Do you have as much difficulty with terns as I do?This is a Forster’s (Sterna forsteri) in (mostly) non-breeding plumage. A good field mark is that dark mask and pale nape. Also most helpful: not moving for a good long view.

The Anatomy of Liberal Melancholy is food for thought, as is this appreciation of Benjamin Barber, a great cosmopolitan.


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