Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Good Day for Orchids and Insects

This summer has NOT been good for outdoor adventures.  First came the daily thunderstorms, with slashing lightning and pounding rain for weeks on end.  Then came the days-long heatwave, with searing sun and heavy air that made walking a sweat-drenched torment.  Then I had houseguests that kept me at home with hostessing duties.  Then we traveled east to visit the in-laws for several days.  Finally, after all these impediments that kept me out of the woods for far too long, I got outdoors to some of my favorite haunts today.  And a good day it was, a day of beautiful orchids and amazing bugs.  And it even cooled off a bit.  And only rained a little.

The Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa was my first destination, following up on a friend's report that the rather rare Goodyera repens might be blooming there.  Turns out it wasn't (or at least I couldn't find it), but I was pleased to find another small white orchid -- Goodyera tesselata -- that looks enough like G. repens that the two could be easily confused.

If I felt any disappointment, it was quickly assuaged by the sweet song of a Hermit Thrush that accompanied me the entire time I was there.  Then, too, there were dozens of pretty Pearl Crescent butterflies fluttering about the shore of the pond, and one of them actually sat very still with wings wide open while I took a photo.

Well, I thought, if Goodyera are blooming, I'll bet the Purple Fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) are blooming, too.  So I next headed north to Lake Luzerne, where I know of an island where these spectacular orchids will sometimes grow thick as dandelions.  Last summer I found 20 perfect blooms on a patch of grass about the size of an average living-room rug.   Today I found five.  There may be more not yet in bud still hiding in the grass, but not that I could find.  Of the five I found today, this one was the most fully in bloom and looking truly exquisite silhouetted against the dark water of the rushing stream.

On my way back to Saratoga, I made a detour to Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, hoping I might catch a glimpse of the moose that I heard had been sighted there.  Mud Pond seemed ideal moose habitat to me, but apparently not to the moose, at least not today while I was there.  No matter, there were lots of other delights to be found, including this beautiful Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) just opening its raspberry-sherbet buds.

As I bent to admire the bi-color florets, I noticed a big furry-bodied tachinid fly dangling there.  Oh dear, I thought, the milkweed's pollen bundles have trapped another pollinator,  as milkweeds are known to do, when an insect's leg slips into a slot in the flower's pistil and can't work itself free.  I turned the floret over to see if perhaps I could help the fly escape, only to discover that the fly was  way beyond my help.  And I also discovered the real cause of the fly's demise, and it wasn't death by pollinia.  Do you see that pale greenish creature with its Popeye-enormous forearms and bulging eyes and its mouthparts sucking away at the fly's underbelly?

Yes, the Jagged Ambush Bug strikes again!   Neither of my photos shows the lance-like organ this insect uses to both stab its prey and, after injecting a substance to liquefy its victim's innards, suck it dry.  That's because it's currently stuck deep inside the fly.

Ah well, all God's chillen gotta eat!  And here's another predator, a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, perched on a blade of grass while he surveys the scene for small insects to snag and devour.  This carnivore is a little prettier than that Jagged Ambush Bug, with his lacy wings, powder-blue thorax and abdomen, big black eyes, and bright-green face.

Hey buddy, I'm too big to eat!  This Eastern Pondhawk just would not leave me alone and kept returning to perch on my knee again and again, even after I shooed him away.

This gave me the chance to get a good look at his colorful visage.  I doubt you would call that big emerald-green schnoz a "nose," but it certainly had the look of one, the way he kept bobbing it up and down and especially with that dark fringe of whiskers that looks just like a moustache.

Woo hoo!  Why, look at that!  He even gave me a smile!


June said...

You DO get around, and I'm so glad that you do.
The pretty multi-toned milkweed! The dragonfly!
For a few seconds I wondered what it would be like to have dragonflies the size of small planes buzzing around with their beautiful colors...
I wonder if he thought your white shorts would make his prey more visible?

The Furry Gnome said...

Boy, you sure know the places to go to find the interesting plants! And those dragonfly pictures are amazing!

suep said...

haha that dragonfly just went "LOL" in that last photo !
amazing shot though, never knew they had whiskers

The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

Just wonderful. Thank you .

Virginia said...

Love the flower photos, the insects not so much :)