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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bugs & Stuff

Songbirds have already begun migrating south, however, the last couple of times I went exploring in Prospect Park I ended up spending my time looking at insects.

I've found three very productive areas in the park for butterflies and other insects. The first is a small wildflower meadow near the baseball fields at the path into the Ravine. For the last couple of weeks Wild Bergamot has dominated the field. There are also some clusters of Jerusalem Artichoke. Bergamot is an interesting flower in that the flower head isn't covered by simple petals. The terminal head is covered by many irregular, two-lipped, tubular corolla. Based on all the insect activity, the fragrant flowers contain an abundance of nectar. I observed lots of different bees, skippers and hoverflies. One species of bee that was a first for me was the small, Golden Northern Bumblebee. I noticed lots of Green June Beetles mating on the fence that surrounds the meadow. They may be a pest insect, but I found these scarab beetles to be very beautiful. By far, my favorite sighting in this area was of Hummingbird Clearwing moths. They are interesting on many levels; First, unlike most moths, they are diurnal. Second, they can hover in place while drinking nectar, third, look at them. How cool is their disguise?! While visiting my mother in Upstate New York a few years back I pointed one out that was feeding on her Garden Phlox. She thought I was pulling her leg when I called it a moth because she was so convinced that it was a real hummingbird. There is another, similar species of clearwing called the Bumblebee Clearwing, which is black and yellow.

Another good spot for insects is a small stretch of grass behind the Audubon Nature Center at the boathouse. There's a patch of coneflowers which has been attracting, mostly, bees, but is now at the end of its season. A few yards to the south of the coneflowers are some Sweet Pepper Bushes and a few other incredibly fragrant wildflowers (that's my not-so-subtle way of saying I haven't been able to identify them yet). What amazed me about this area was the abundance of wasps. I always think of wasps as being predatory insects, but they also feed on nectar. The shrubs behind the boathouse are primarily loaded with wasps. I guess the other insects know to steer clear of these scary guys. There were several different species of thread-waisted wasps, one of which was the largest that I've ever seen. This dark blue giant was even larger than a Cicada Killer that was feeding in the same shrub. The most common wasp seemed to be the Great Golden Digger Wasp. All of these wasps can sting and, except for the Cicada Killer, the stings can be extremely painful. I'm not afraid of wasps and since I wasn't near their nest (or harassing them), felt that it was safe to photograph them. It was interesting to note that the largest species seemed to be the most skittish and took off whenever I tried to get close with my camera.

The third location is the Butterfly Meadow on top of Lookout Hill. It is the only place in the park where I've been able to find Buddlea shrubs. I'm not sure why the parks department doesn't plant more of these flowering shrubs in the park because it attracts a wide range of insects and birds. On a recent visit I spotted a Hummingbird Clearwing feeding on the purple flowers. It was moving around a lot and I was having a difficult time taking a photo. At one point it disappeared, then popped up near the top of the shrub. I said out loud, "There you are", then realized that it was actually a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. There were also a lot of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails on the Butterfly bush on Lookout Hill.

As I was scanning the flowers within the main, fenced off meadow I recognized a butterfly that I'd only seen a couple of times - a Great Spangled Fritillary. Even if it were the most drab butterfly in existence, it has a pretty cool name. It sounds almost patriotic.

The Butterfly Meadow is also dotted with sunflowers. The towering, yellow flowering plants are a mix of Jerusalem Artichoke and Cup Plants. The mass of stalks and leaves create a virtually impenetrable forest crushed up against the enclosing, red snow fencing. I noticed dozens of spider webs stretched between the plants and fence. One of the most common spider in this location appeared to be an Venusta Orchard. I haven't had very good luck photographing these tiny orbweavers, mainly because of my camera's limitations. This is the best shot, so far.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Great shots! Love those very interesting wasp sps.

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