Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer!

Today at 12:16 local time, the sun hit its northern-most point, thus officially beginning summer 2011. Or more accurately, the sun didn't do anything out of the ordinary, if you consider the sun's daily activities of creating enough energy by nuclear fusion to power our planet as a side job, and anchoring the solar system, etc., ordinary... but the earth, in its annual tilted orbit, hit the point when the north pole was tilted as much toward the sun as it gets. That makes this the longest day of the year for this particular location, and any other northern one.

Since we're traveling to Scotland (EXCITING!!!), we'll get some longer days... also some computer-free days, so expect another absence, followed by some prolific blogging...

Happy Solstice!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Vertebrates of Devil's Lake

The nine group camp sites at Devil's Lake form a semi-circle. In the center of the circle, next to the shower'bath house facilities, is a stand of pine trees that, for as long as I remember, is home to a great blue heron rookery. I've no idea how many birds nest there, but they are constantly coming and going. Their warbles and cackles are the white noise of the sites, and their occasional screams pierce the air in a most disconcerting way. It keeps things from being dull, that's for sure.

This little fellow decided to fledge a bit early. It wasn't injured, as far as we could tell, but it managed to wander itself right into the bathroom complex. And it was ferocious. Though not even close to its full adult size, its feet and beak, overlarge for its stature, may have been their size. And even if not, they were imposing. It made a racket when someone approached, both by calling and by clicking its beak. Chris did manage to rescue it and return it to the grove of pines where the nests are, and when we went to check on it, it was gone. I hope that it survived...
In addition to herons, we saw these Sandhills several times. They seemed to inhabit a farm field near the park, and enjoy wading in this pond which was across the road. At one point, we actually ran across -- though happily not over -- the pair in the road. Here, we saw them dancing in the water right close to us... but by the time I was picture-ready, they had moved across the pond.
Fox snake getting ready to strike (right in the middle).
This turtle is burying eggs (or,digging in preparation to lay them). We saw another crossing the road, probably to find a nest site, and we saw a HUGE snapper moving away from the water, presumably for the same reason.
Little red squirrel. They are so much cuter and feistier and chirpier than the grey ones we see here. I just love them.

Plants of Devil's Lake (and a Fungi)

Obviously, I saw thousands of plants in five days. And many, many of them were doing something phenologically interesting. I limit, therefore, my reporting, to a few that are new to me, or special, or just pretty.
This pale corydalis was new to me, and not the easiest to identify, either. Its leaves are similar to Dutchman's breeches -- feathery -- and its irregular flowers have striking color changes, though, which gave it away once I figured it out. It seems to prefer growing in rocky areas.
Native honeysuckles, of which we saw a few, including this hairy honeysuckle, are always exciting. They provide a nice contrast to the evil invasive things that out-compete native trees and shrubs that we usually refer to when talking about honeysuckles.
I did get to see my hoary puccoon at the Shack after all... just a month later.
I did not know that the foxglove beardtongue, quite common and blooming all over right now, had a native sibling, the large-flowered beardtongue -- Penstemon grandiflorus. The pale purple flowers are really very lovely, and I want one badly. Next native plant purchasing season, this will be my quest. They will look lovely in our side yard, which is next year's major project...
The squawroot or cancerroot was a mystery plant last year (see entry on May 21) and I was happy to remember it and its habits this year... though I did have to look up its name again!
These fungi had such a neat purple color...

See people? I really edited myself on the plants.
Next: Vertebrates, and then we're done with the trip!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creepy Crawlies of Devil's Lake

During five days spent at Devil's Lake and the surrounding areas, I encountered many fascinating arthropods. Happily for the reader, many of them moved way too quickly for me to capture with my camera, so you are spared the details of clubtails and saddlebags and bluets and many varieties of odonata. With lepidoptera, my camera and I did a little bit better. The swallowtails pictured above must have found some sort of desirable mineral deposits, because they clustered at the water's edge, and allowed me to get close enough to see the wing scales that give their order their name. Eventually, our proximity did alarm them, and a cloud of yellow butterflies fluttered in every direction around us, which nearly made me laugh out loud...
I also captured on film this pearl crescent and, from very far away, this luna moth.
Despite much trying, I was unable to get a picture of a black butterfly, 2-3 inches, with blue in its lower wings, possibly an admiral? We also found a fat-bodied, pink-winged cecropia moth, hanging out under the lights of the campsite bathroom (silly me, I didn't think to bring my camera to the toilet at night. Now I know.) (And of course, we saw a number of sulphurs and skippers and plain moths that didn't get their picture taken.)

By far the most common insect we saw were the larval form... caterpillars were everywhere. Smooshed on the trails because you couldn't avoid them, hitchhiking rides on our shirts because we accidentally walked into them as they hung from silken strands, and slowly munching their way through leaves galore. The tent caterpillars (eastern and forest, respectively) were the most common.
But we did see a lot of these, which I will call inchworms because that's what we called them as kids. I guess it's really a geometer. Whatever. That sounds like a tool for measuring shapes, or something. Inchworm sounds like a charming song, like childhood. Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds, seems to me you'd stop and see how beautiful they are...
This delicious-looking (think like a bird, dear readers... it's chubby and not at all hairy... yum...) specimen remains unidentified. It was removed from its host plant by a child who was carrying it in her pocket and proudly showing it off to hikers traveling in the other direction, which means my hopes of ID are pretty much shot.

One last larva -- a saw fly chewing up Solomon's seal.

Some other notable insects...
to the left is a fat fuzzy bumble bee snacking on a legume of some sort. To the right is a beetle, which I have absolutely no hope of identifying, but which I initially passed, thinking, "There's a bee on the trail," and then, "wait a minute, that's not a bee..."

This spider was HUGE. Chris described it as the size of a saucer. That may be a slight exaggeration. But only slight.

A centipede crawls around on the wet rocks.

And there ends the bug tour of Sauk County. I should have taken a picture of the deer tick that was on me. It was the smallest darn thing, very creepy.

Up next: Plants.