Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

The common eastern bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, with big yellow sacs of pollen on its legs. Click to enlarge. 

Bees, by Norman Rowland Gale
You voluble,
Vehement fellows
That play on your 
Flying and 
Musical cellos,
All goldenly
Girdled you 
Serenade clover, 
Each artist in 
Bass but a 
Bibulous rover! 
You passionate,
Pastoral bandits,
Who gave you your 
Roaming and 
Rollicking mandates?
Come out of my 
Foxglove; come
Out of my roses
You bees with the 
Plushy and 
Plausible noses!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Great Black Wasp

The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus
The great black wasp is my absolutely favorite wasp -- for two reasons. First, it is beautiful: jet-black with blue and purple reflections in its wings. Second, it is thrilling to see one because they are so big. I always have a moment before I recognize it, when my subconscious tells me to run away. I know they are not aggressive but it takes a few seconds to overcome my instinct.

They are called great because they are so big -- up to almost an inch and a half long. I see them in my Brooklyn neighborhood from July through October. I've written about them before (click here to read an earlier blog) but I saw the one in the photos today and was reminded how much I like them and how pleased I am to see them every summer.

Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Snow Geese

I don't remember ever feeling a chilly wind in the northeast in August until last night on my way home from work. August 15th! It reminded me of autumn, and that reminded me of snow geese.

My favorite place to see migrating snow geese is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway, New Jersey, where I took these pictures last year. The geese begin to arrive there in October. Their numbers peak from mid-November to med-December when the flocks are so large that the water and the sky are often white with them and the place is noisy with the sounds of honking geese.
Snow geese, Chen caerulescens. Click to enlarge.
Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
The bird on the left is wearing a collar band. It must be part of a scientific tracking study. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tufted Ducks

A pair of tufted ducks, Aythya fuligula, male left and female right. 
I photographed this pair of tufted ducks in a pond in a park in London where they are common. The male's eyes are bright yellow, his beak is blue with a black tip, and he has a conspicuous tuft of feathers on the back of his head from which the species gets its common name. Breeding season has passed and this male is changing into eclipse plumage; in a few weeks his white flanks will be brown. When breeding, his dark back and breast are black, his head has an even brighter purple and green gloss, and his white flanks are brilliant.

The female tufted duck is brown with yellow eyes and a dark bill. 
Tufted ducks are common throughout Eurasia. In winter, they sometimes show up on either coast of the United States and Canada. Rare bird alerts go out and birdwatchers rush to see them and check them off their life lists.

Click to enlarge.

"... ducks are soothy things

And lovely on the lake
When the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colors cool..."

from the poem DUCKS by 
Frederic William Harvey

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Fly in Bee's Clothing

The robber fly, Laphria flavicollis. Click to enlarge.
Looks like a bee, doesn't it? It's not.

Bees have two pairs of wings. See the yellow ball-on-a-stick just in front of the right wing? That's called a haltere organ; there is another one on the other side. Halteres are the modified remnants of an ancestral pair of wings. All flies have halteres but they are easier to see on big flies like this one that's just over half an inch long.

The antennae are all wrong, too. Look at the real bumblebee below for comparison. And, although this insect looks superficially like a bumblebee, it is sitting on a leaf. That's an unlikely pose for a bumblebee -- they rarely sit still for long.

Robber flies are predators that prey on insects -- beetles, flies, BEES, and even big things like damselflies. They can catch flying prey in the air, snatch them up, and carry them away to eat. Robber flies have strong beaks with piercing mouthparts that they jab into prey. They inject digesting enzymes that liquify the victim's insides. Then the fly drinks them up through its straw-like mouth.

And what is the point of looking like a bee? Maybe it puts bees off their guard and helps the robber flies catch dinner.
This is a bumblebee. If you see what seems to be a bumblebee sitting on a leaf, take a closer look. It might turn out to be a bee-like robber fly! Click to enlarge.