30 July 2016

Calm before the storm

These summer days just continue to roll on by; sometimes faster than you want, sometimes slower.  It seems like the slowest days are hot, quiet, and muggy... funny how that works.  Missouri IS a hot and humid place for this northern boy... although I suppose people who grow up here are used to it.  Though some of the afternoons are unpleasant away from air conditioning, that still leaves the early morning to be out-and-about.

Lately, the mornings have been quite nice with even a touch of coolness to the air (if you can call 66 degrees cool!).  The sunrises have been nice too, sometimes with that foggy ground layer hovering over the damp grass:
Trying to make the most of the cool times of day, I often head out for a drive-about.  Yesterday I ventured westward to Mark Twain Lake.  This severely under-birded reservoir sits in two counties, Ralls and Monroe (which might make listing a bit complicated).  There is a giant spillway below the dam (Clarence Cannon Dam), as you would expect from this man-made lake.  I'm certain it will host a number of gulls come winter but for now, it's a rather tranquil spot early in the morning before all the fishermen show up:
Currently, the spillway is attracting mainly GREAT BLUE HERONS to gobble up dead or dying fish, nesting CLIFF SWALLOWS, and a whole hoard of bored TURKEY VULTURES:
The vultures and herons weren't the only large birds with a hankerin' for some dead fish though; this adult BALD EAGLE did its best to give a regal fly-by:
Elsewhere on Mark Twain Lake, the 7th largest lake in Missouri, I've been exploring lately to find a few access spots.  I'll say it again... this lake will absolutely host a nice variety of birds later in the fall/winter and I'm looking forward to the days of ducks, loons, and grebes.  For now, though, this flock of RING-BILLED GULLS was about the most exciting thing happening:
Mixed in with the gulls have been a couple of FORSTER'S and CASPIAN TERNS.  I imagine later in the fall we'll see things like Franklin's and Bonaparte's gulls.

Anyway, once it warmed up that day, the butterflies came out in force including this WILD INDIGO DUSKYWING:
Now I just wish I could find this species back on the property... it would be a new species there.

There was also this bright orange skipper darting about, I'm pretty sure it's another DELAWARE SKIPPER:
Yet another skipper from Mark Twain Lake, this one being on the other end of the brightness scale, was this COMMON SOOTYWING catching some warming rays:
This is a species I would see in Iowa and Nebraska when I lived there from 2008-2011.  However, I have seen few, if any, since those years so it was fun to see them again.

Back on the property, butterflies are some of the only interesting things flying around these days.  They range from this tiny LITTLE YELLOW:
... to this behemoth known as a GIANT SWALLOWTAIL:
Somewhere in between is this crisp, black-and-orange SILVERY CHECKERSPOT performing well in nice light:
However, the most interesting butterfly I've seen lately is this bright orange monster.  Look familiar to anyone?
This new species for the property is a GOATWEED LEAFWING, so named because when it closes its wings, it's very reminiscent of a leaf.  They're very fast flyers though so it took me a bit of work before I caught sight of where it landed.  Interestingly (for me, at least), I think this is the first time I've seen one since 2008 when I lived in Kansas.

Ok, fine, let's not leave out the dragonflies completely. Here's a WIDOW SKIMMER (Libellula luctuosa) looking pretty sharp out along the field edge:
Just today I headed east to Lock & Dam 22 on the Mississippi River.  This dam sits only 10 miles east of us (as the Fish Crow flies).  Yes indeed, FISH CROWS are findable here; here's one perched near the dam:
Sometimes they literally use the dam.  Here you can see that not only can these crows read, they obey signs:
But seriously, it's neat having this smaller species of crow around (I'm sure some of you are thinking "Woah, I didn't even know there was more than one kind!).  This species is found up the East Coast, through the south along the Gulf Coast, and then up the Mississippi River Basin as far as Missouri.  They've colonized areas farther north as well but Hannibal is pretty close to the northern normal limit of their range.  Speaking of the Mississippi, here she is on a sultry, summer morning.  You're looking northeast and the land on the right/far side is Illinois:
Anyway, so this is the calm before the storm, you ask?  Indeed, I'll be venturing to South America within the week... very unlike this train that was venturing through Hannibal:

24 July 2016

Home on the range

Ashley and I just returned from a quick trip to north-central Kansas to visit family.  "Whereabouts," you ask?  Well, here's a Google map of where Glen Elder is relative to the rest of Kansas:
Ash has a side of the family that dates back to this part of Kansas several generations.  It's such a treat to be able to visit and step back in time, spending time in a farmhouse that is about 100 years old.

Elsewhere on the property, the fascinating remnants of the farmstead abound.  This shed has stayed standing thanks in part to the tree it leans up against: 
I can't fully wrap my head around how wonderful it would be to live somewhere that you can step out of the door and see the deep blues of a darkened summer sky contrasting with the golden wheat fields.  I would so gladly live here, it's not even funny:
Knowing me, you can figure I tied birds into this visit.  I hadn't birded in Mitchell County before and so it was a lot of fun to explore the property (albeit minimally).  With the heat index topping 110 degrees though, my ventures outside were often brief!

One of the most easily-detected species were the pugnacious EASTERN KINGBIRDS, constantly sputtering about.  Here's one that got all regal for me:
In my explorations around the house, I'd say I saw 1 Western Kingbird for every 5 Easterns.

Kingbirds weren't the only flycatchers though.  There were several family groups of EASTERN PHOEBES seeking shade alongside me.  Here are two youngsters that had just fledged recently:
All in all, I tallied about 40 species of birds despite the heat and it being the lull of summer.  Some of the "highlights" included:

Northern Bobwhite (singing incessantly)
Green Heron (~4th eBird record for the county)
American Golden-Plover (flew over the house, calling.  Pretty rare at this time of year)
Common Nighthawk (the open prairie states have an abundance of these, often easily visible)
Red-headed Woodpecker (common, which is always nice)
Yellow-breasted Chat

There was an abundance of other, more common species like House Wren, Baltimore Oriole, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Blue Jay, Warbling Vireo, and Mourning Dove.

I didn't have a chance to see many butterflies.  One that I did manage a photo of looks to be a SUMMER AZURE, a fairly common species over much of the east:
Making up for my failure of butterflies was this tiger-beetle:
I know very little about tiger-beetles but with some Google sleuthing, I've come to the conclusion that this is a Punctured Tiger-Beetle (Cicindela punctulata).  In terms of abundance of this species, I read things like "dreadfully abundant."  Ok, so... I guess it's abundant... but hey, it was still new for me!

Anyway, before long, we had to venture back to Missouri.  We hadn't been on the road long when, just west of the town of Beloit (Mitchell County), we found a recently-cut hay field.  The newly accessible tasty-goods down in the grass clearly were attracting a lot of avian attention.  The one field had about 20 UPLAND SANDPIPERS and twice as many KILLDEER.  There was even a PEREGRINE FALCON chillin' in the field, probably eyeing the many shorebirds.

Farther down the road, we stopped at a few more spots that looked interesting via eBird.  For example, we stopped at some sewage lagoons.  Hmmm, yummy, poopy ponds!  Most of my readers probably know that sewage lagoons are often hotspots for birds... but for those who didn't know that... well, consider yourself enlightened (in truth, most sewage lagoons are just settling ponds and they don't stink at all).

In a dry landscape with very little water, it doesn't take much imagination to see why these sewage ponds are hotbeds for avian activity.  Take a look at the Linn sewage lagoons from above:
The Linn Sewage Lagoons were actually rather pleasant.  We tallied half a dozen shorebird species including:

Upland Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Oh, there were plenty of swallows too!  African or European?  Hmm... well, this is a Barn Swallow:
The sewage lagoon had other flying creatures too.  Ashley spotted this minuscule skipper on the path.  Luckily for us, it's boldly patterned and quite distinctive; it's a NYSA ROADSIDE-SKIPPER:
Although I've seen a few of these before (Kansas, Arizona, etc), I always enjoy seeing them.  Anyway, all in all, you can see that sewage lagoon checklist here.

Just down the road we spotted a few SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS.  Although they aren't rare in that part of Kansas, I pulled over and snapped a quick photo anyway:

Anyway, now that I'm back I can look at my eBird numbers and I'm embarrassed to say that I somehow scored 13 state birds for Kansas!  Ha.  I have to remember that I didn't use eBird when I lived there and so I consider my dataset inadequate!  Cheers.

21 July 2016

Flies (like butter and dragons)

I was a bit surprised to see that my previous post here on SYAS was more than a week ago.  Augh, what have I been doing?!  I better get back to it.

This post will be a bit of a monster though (don't worry, it'll be mostly photos.... spoken like a true 10 year old).  Let's start with birds.

Ever feel like you're being watched?  Both this RED-TAILED HAWK and I had that sensation the other day.  It heard my camera firing off shots and gave me some stink-eye before flying overhead:
Keeping in the raptor theme, this lanky bird of prey is a MISSISSIPPI KITE.  I've never actually lived where they were somewhat findable (a few in Iowa, I suppose).  However, northeast Missouri has a fair few of them and Ashley and I spotted this one during an afternoon hike here in Hannibal:
It turns out this MIKI was the first eBird record ever for Marion County, Missouri.  But remember, that doesn't really mean much in a place where no one uses it.  :-(

These two dudes aren't raptors... but it kinda looks like they're looking at one!  Actually, these are young EASTERN KINGBIRDS that hatched this summer and they were actively begging from a nearby parent:
There are a ton of PURPLE MARTINS along the river (yeah, the big one) in Hannibal.  Just walk up to any martin house down there along the Mississippi and you'll be face-to-face with the biggest swallow species in North America.  Ever notice how it's hard to really capture the deep shade of purple?
Back on "the ranch", so to speak, we've had HENSLOW'S SPARROWS singing from a field on the property.  Although it doesn't look like much in this photo, this uncommon sparrow has endured massive declines due to a loss in grassland habitat through much of its range.  Here's one that was singing not too far from the driveway:
Moving on to dragonflies, it's a great season to be out looking for these (but best get an early start before it gets too hot!).  Here are a few species I've photographed lately.  It starts out with a female EASTERN PONDHAWK, a pretty common species around here:
Even more common is the COMMON WHITETAIL.  Here's a male:
However, the highlight in the dragonfly world came the other day when I photographed this female EASTERN RINGTAIL in the front yard.  It belongs in a fun family of odes (Gomphidae) usually referred to as clubtails.  This particular species was a lifer so imagine my satisfaction of bumping into it and grabbing some decent photos with the evening light:
I've tricked you... I didn't mention anything in the title about MOTHS.  But get a load of this thing.. it's a unique moth species that's been frequenting the property.  It's a Hummingbird Clearwing.  Yes, check out the wings... they have clear patches!  And yes, it hovers around like a hummingbird:

And then just yesterday, I was at the SAME patch of flowers when lo-and-behold... it was BACK:
Wait... or was it?  See the differences in the patterning on the abdomen?  I wonder if this is a different species, the Snowberry Clearwing?  Or maybe these show sexual dimorphism?  I'm no expert with these things but I'm finding them really interesting!

Yay, this post has finally gotten around to butterflies!  Again, summer has a lot more going on than you might think.  Although it's not very large yet, I've started keeping a detailed list of all the butterflies I've seen here on the property.  We've only reached 40 species so far but I'll continue to work on it.  Here are some photos of a few from this past week... I'll progress in taxonomic order.

First up, the swallowtails.  Here's a sharp PIPEVINE SWALLOWTAIL.  Although they aren't abundant here on the property, I've seen a couple lately:
Next up we have the Great Eastern Yellow Blob.  Kidding.  This is called a SLEEPY ORANGE and I've only seen this species once on the prop so far:
This sharp butterfly being photobombed by some grass is a GRAY HAIRSTREAK:
This is by far the most common and familiar hairstreak in the US.  The thing is... today was the first day I had actually seen one here.

I was surprised to see this comma on the driveway the other morning.  I actually expected it to be an Eastern Comma but after I got indoors and started looking at photos, I realized it was the less common GRAY COMMA, a species I had seen before only a handful of times.
 The underside of commas are way cool.  Do you think it looks like bark?  They hope you do.
We've been seeing a bunch of HACKBERRY EMPERORS lately (they like to perch up high on the house, windows, and things like that).  They're a pretty sharp looking species especially when you note the eyespots below:
Here are a couple of AMERICAN SNOUTS; note the drastic variation in patterning on the hindwing below:

I guess there has to be an end to all this butterfly madness and, well, it may as well be with the skippers.  Although I'm guessing many of you are not generally interested in these tiny butterflies, I find them fun to chase around and ID.

I'll start things out with a spread-wing type of skipper, a HORACE'S DUSKYWING:
But after that, we're moving on to skippers that DON'T land with wings open flat.  First up is a fairly common species in the yard, the PECK'S SKIPPER:
Compare the subtleties of the yellow/brown patterning on the wings to this following skipper; do they look the same to you?
Hopefully you see some differences because, yes, they're different species completely.  The latter is a ZABULON SKIPPER, a species that was described by French naturalists Jean Baptiste Boisduval and John Eatton Le Conte.

A bit less flashy is this SACHEM, another type of grass skipper.  It may be somewhat plain but it was still a new species for the yard:
I just found this yesterday, another first for the yard.  Even though they're abundant other places, I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to find LEAST SKIPPER for the yard:
Ok, a confession... here's the dullest skipper you'll find on my blog today.  Sorry bud.  NORTHERN BROKEN-DASH:
Let's move on from that to perhaps the brightest skipper!  I just snagged a pic or two of this DELAWARE SKIPPER yesterday:
It so happens that this was only my second one ever, my first being in Virginia 6 years ago!  It's a pretty plain, bright orange skipper but note the black veining in the following pic, a good field mark:
One of my favorite parts of summer in the Midwest are the thunderstorms.  If you've never lived somewhere lacking these, you'd probably wonder what the heck I'm talking about.  However, these storms, sometimes with crazy winds, can do a number on your garden crops!  Here is some corn in the garden showing pretty clearly the wind direction:
But, thankfully, that didn't stop the garden from producing some pretty alarmingly large vegetables!
But seriously, the summer evenings can be a beautiful time to be out and about.  The heat finally diminishes a little, the light gets low, fireflies come out, Eastern Whip-poor-wills start singing, and there are plenty of colorful sunsets:
Here's another view at dusk to close out the post.  Enjoy: