Journal archives for August 2017

August 09, 2017

Prairie Days

Posted on August 09, 2017 04:03 by scottking scottking | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 24, 2017

Owlet Caterpillar

Inspecting the flowers in the front yard, I noticed a caterpillar at the center of one of the Brown-eyed Susan flowers. A dark and drab and overall rather nondescript caterpillar. The number of prolegs and their positions suggested it may be an owlet caterpillar, family Noctuidae. This prompted a look through the large and lavish guide book Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David Wagner and others (Princeton University Press, 2012), though without finding any species that looked remotely like this caterpillar.

Yesterday evening, a young man came to the door asking us to support Clean Water Action. I gave him some money to aid their fight against legislation afoot that aims to undermine current environmental protections and restrictions. Money to fight money. While there's no question as to where my loyalties fall, I often resent that money should be the measure of commitment to a cause. Having cared and worried and fretted about such issues for my entire adult life, I still hope the little I have left...words, a worn-out heart, a well-seasoned anger...helps.

Posted on August 24, 2017 03:51 by scottking scottking | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 23, 2017

Dragonfly Eggs

Posted on August 23, 2017 04:02 by scottking scottking | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 28, 2017

"Dancing Among the Wildflowers"

Posted on August 28, 2017 02:40 by scottking scottking | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 29, 2017

American Dagger

Posted on August 29, 2017 03:36 by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 30, 2017


Darner hunting---it's that time of year. These large dragonflies can be found patrolling above trails and over open fields. Earlier in the year Common Green Darners and Blue-eyed Darners held these airspaces along with a few Saddlebags and Gliders. But now the mosaic darners, of the genus Aeshna, have arrived on the scene. Like all darners, because they seldom land, they pose a real problem to the collector of either specimen or image. It's chancy with net or camera. Today I was using the latter.

The most common mosaic darner most years, at least here in Northfield, is the Lance-tipped Darner. It's formidable name comes from the harmless appendages on the female. This somewhat misleading name must be preferred to a common name based upon the scientific name, Aeshna constricta, which would translate to something like "pinched" darner, the adjective referring to the notch in the front thoracic stripe. Along an open and sunlit stretch of trail, I found a darner patrolling back and forth, much of the time on a level about equal with my eyes but also making great loops up among the tree tops but then returning to its usual back-and-forth patrol along the trail. Each time it passed by me I could see green thoracic stripes and blue, patterned abdomen. And I assumed it was a Lance-tipped Darner.

With the camera, I focused at the ground about six feet away then tilted the camera up. When the dragonfly flew by at about that distance, I pointed the camera and held down the shutter button, taking rapid fire digital images, hoping one might be in focus. Later, I'd dig through the hundred or so images for a usable shot. There were no guarantees, but I'd had some luck using this technique. What I found, when I looked at the photos, was not a Lance-tipped Darner like I'd expected, but another Green-striped Darner (I'd seen one near here the previous week).

Earlier in the day, I'd read the chapter on "buttonology" in Fredrik Sjoberg's memoir, The Fly Trap. A deprecatory term invented by August Strindberg to make fun of human beings who collect things. Think beer cans, Hummel figurines, thimbles, shot glasses, editions of Moby Dick, square nails, and...yes...insects, whether pinned specimens or digital photographs. Logging into my online storage site, I noticed it now held 11,301 photos. Absurd. Well within the range of satire. One winces at just what level of mania is involved here.

I add a couple more photos of a drone fly in Sjoberg honor.

Posted on August 30, 2017 03:14 by scottking scottking | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2017

Probing the Underworld

Posted on August 17, 2017 04:02 by scottking scottking | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 12, 2017


When John Clare, a nineteenth century farm worker and poet, wrote of the fields that brought him such enjoyment, he described the weeds in flower as "troubling the cornfields with destroying beauty."

Posted on August 12, 2017 04:14 by scottking scottking | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 26, 2017

Elusive Clubtail

On the downslope of summer, beneath a swirl of low gray clouds, against a cool presaging wind, I entered the Cowling Arboretum. Some middle school boys fished the pool downstream of the bridge and weir. They whooped and cheered as one of the boys held up a respectable Northern Pike.

I sauntered through the small meadow that had, until a few years ago, been the site of several tennis courts. Today, all the edges of the rectangular clearing were bright yellow with wide swathes of blooming goldenrod. Even in the absence of sun, the flowers attracted a lot of insects: Honey Bees, Jagged Ambush Bugs, Goldenrod Soldier Beetles, Black Blister Beetles, Beewolves, and various other bees and flies. The Five-banded Thynnid Wasps (moved recently from the Tiphiidae family) were especially prevalent, especially the large females.

After the goldenrod, I ambled riverside, enjoying the cool weather. A sparse rain fell at one point and then stopped after a few minutes. I walked to the turtle pond with the intent of looking for Saffron-winged Meadowhawks, which I've occasionally encountered near that pond in past years. Walking along the river, knowing September to be less than a week away, I reflected, wistfully, on not having seen a Riverine Clubtail this year. I'd missed seeing Plains Clubtails as well. These regrets faded as I began to encounter a number of darners along the trail, and they vanished completely when I happened upon Great Black Wasps and Great Golden Digger Wasps nectaring on the white blooms of Whorled Milkweed.

After inspecting the turtle pond, witnessing a few massive carp surge and shake up the shallows, hearing numerous frogs yelp as they launched themselves into the water, and finding no meadowhawks, I nearly turned back, but decided to push on to the river. A lucky decision. As I stood on the edge of the riverbank a black dragonfly lifted from the river, glided easily beneath my arm, and disappeared behind me. I comprehended, mid-turn, as I followed its flight, that it was a clubtail. Most likely, I thought it probably kept flying and landed someplace far off or high up. I searched the nearby grass anyway and saw it perched just over ten feet away. This late in the year it was probably a Riverine Clubtail, the very dragonfly I was lamenting not having seen earlier. Very cautiously I inched closer. This dragonfly was not one I'd seen before. Darker and marked differently than the Riverine Clubtail I'd expected it to be, it came in a flash that this was an Elusive Clubtail.

My first encounter with this species was in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in September 2010. That dragonfly, which I managed to capture by hand, had landed on the back of a bronze statue lion. A not-so-elusive Elusive Clubtail, I joked at the time. Since then I've found nymphs and exuviae in several rivers, including the Cannon River. Twice I've seen tenerals make their first flight to perches high in the treetops. But I have not had another good look at an adult since seeing that first one in South Dakota...until today. I've long suspected its presence in the Cannon River, having found nymphs several times (though never successfully rearing them). Ten years stalking the banks of this river for dragonflies and this was the first Elusive Clubtail I've seen here.

Posted on August 26, 2017 05:20 by scottking scottking | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 18, 2017

Bird's Nest Fungi

Emptying the compost bucket, I noticed a Giant Swallowtail, the first in years. After a dash inside to grab the camera and a subsequent data-card malfunction, I watched the butterfly flounce its way through the neighbor's yard, clear a backyard fence and pass out of sight. A little dejected to not get the photo but pleased to have seen this uncommon butterfly in our backyard, I returned to my original task of dumping a week's accumulation of coffee grounds and moldy vegetable and fruit peelings.

On the ground near the garden fence I noticed something even more uncommon than the butterfly, and if not more uncommon at least something I hadn't seen before, Bird's Nest Fungi. This unlikely-shaped fungi, common among woody debris in forests and the suburban equivalent of wood chip mulch, creates a scattering of tiny hollow cones, shaggy on the outside, opalescent on the inside. A spontaneous creation, these conical fruiting bodies, of the unseen mycelium connecting in the dark like brain cells.

Each fruiting body flared and fluted like a fancy glass vase. The "eggs" of each nest, after the recent heavy rains, were missing, dispersed by splashing water drops. The same method of spore dispersal evolved among the lichens and mosses as well. A saprophytic fungi, the Bird's Nest Fungi furthers the decomposition of organic matter in soils.

Posted on August 18, 2017 04:17 by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment