Perfect weather for the first day of fall! And a perfect day to preview some nature walks I'm due to lead along the shore of Moreau Lake this coming week.
I'll save the flower photos for when I report on the walks, except to post now these two photos of Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza). This tiny native orchid is so small and so well-camouflaged against the forest floor, I may not find it again, even though I marked its location with some pink pipecleaner. I doubt very much I would have seen this one, if a beam of sunlight had not lit it up against the dark shade of the woods.
Sometimes this orchid doesn't bother to put forth any petals, but one of the four specimens I found today had pod-like florets adorned with a single, ruffly, purple-dotted white petal.
Another notable find today was a Speckled Alder shrub with a few of its branches hosting colonies of Wooly Alder Aphids (Prociphilus tessellatus). I hope they are still around when I lead my walks later this week (one on Tuesday and a second on Thursday), for this is a very interesting insect.
I noted that there were two distinct groups of aphids on each branch, the lower groups still wingless and covered with the white waxy filamentous stuff they exude to protect themselves against both weather and predators while they spend the summer feeding on alder sap. This wingless group got started when a single winged female aphid landed here and produced a wingless clone of herself. That clone produced clones who produced clones who produced clones, etc., etc, until a considerable colony formed on the branch, every one of them a wingless female clone of the first winged female individual that landed here.
Higher up on the branches, I found the latest generation of clones, only these were individuals with WINGS! And chances are good that there might be a male or two among them. (How can female aphids clone males? That's a good question! Can anyone answer it?)
As soon as they lose some of the sticky fluff that still clings to their wings, they will take to the air and fly off to find some male mates from another clonal colony. Thus they will produce fertile eggs for a new generation, laying these eggs on the bark of Silver Maples, where winged female aphids will emerge next spring to start the cycle all over again.
It won't be long before we start seeing tiny puffs of pale-blue fuzz wafting around, one of the delights to be found in autumn. Another name for the Wooly Alder Aphid, when it takes flight, is Fairy Fly. Here are a few that look as if they might be almost ready to take to the air.
I had one more wonderful insect-related delight today, when I came upon a large group of Monarch Butterflies all vigorously feeding on a patch of goldenrods. I'm thinking they might be part of a migrating group. I counted about 10 of them, but managed to fit only these four within the frame of my photo. (A blurry photo, but hey, they were fluttering fast!) How fortunate that the sunlight illuminated these lovely creatures from behind, the better to show off their glorious stained-glass wings!