Sunday, July 30, 2023

Long-tailed Skimmer Dragonflies


There’s a public garden near me where patches of wildflowers are surrounded by rings of cobblestones. The stones are favorite perching spots for dragonflies. A few days ago, the place was a-flutter with long-tailed skimmer dragonflies. This one is a female. Note the three brown spots on each wing and rows of triangular spots on the side of the abdomen. Click to enlarge.

Here’s an immature male of the same species. It has a different wing pattern – one wide dark stripe on each wing. Long-tailed skimmers, also called common whitetails, are found across North America.

This is a mature male. Easy to why it's called a whitetail, right? The white mark is not actual color, it’s an accumulation of waxy particles that give the tail a frosted dusty look. These males are territorial, defending an area of marsh, pond, or river by driving off other males and mating with females that choose to lay eggs there. That tail is a signal to all that a white-tail-slinging dragonfly male is on the job. 

Hot summer, but the dragonflies seem to be enjoying it. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Summer Wasps


Yesterday I took my camera into the garden to look for interesting insects. I was rewarded with two elegant orange-and-black wasps. This is a female great golden digger wasp, looking every bit a grand as her title. Click to enlarge.

This is a male Ammophila, a member of the thread-waisted wasp family, who seems to give new meaning to the term. Note the little patch of orange on his abdomen.

This one was moving quickly through the leaves of a mountain mint plant. She may have been hunting for food for future offspring. When a female great golden digger wasp is ready to lay eggs, she finds a small insect, stings it to paralyze it, picks it up and carries it away. She has previously prepared some small tunnels in the ground. She deposits the insect in a tunnel, lays an egg on it, seals the entrance and... repeats. When the wasp egg hatches, it feeds on the paralyzed insect. Despite that, and despite its dramatic appearance, this wasp is not aggressive towards humans.

This fellow won't be torturing any small insects, though females of his kind also catch and paralyze insects to provision burrow nests in the ground. Do you see the little spotted insect near the wasp's front feet? It's a tumbling flower beetle, so-called for its evasive maneuvers when disturbed or captured. I don't know if thread-waisted wasps fancy feeding tumbling flower beetles to their children, but I can't help feeling a little relieved on its behalf that it's next to a male thread-waisted wasp.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Cherry Muffins

Have you ever had a cherry muffin? I like them better than blueberry muffins. They are made with sour cherries, tangy and fruity. Click to enlarge.

I picked sour cherries in June as I usually do. They are my favorite fruit to pick for their sheer beauty. Don't they look like candy?
Here's a tree full of them just waiting to be picked and made into something delicious. Sour cherries are also called pie cherries and, indeed, they make great pies.

Every year I preserve cherry pie filling and cherry jam, which are both a bit of work. But there is something much easier to make from cherries...

Cherry muffins!  Here's how:

Cherry Muffins

Dry Ingredients:               

 1 1/2 cup flour                  

1/2 white sugar                   

3/4 tsp salt                         

1 tsp baking powder            

1/2 tsp baking soda

 Wet Ingredients:

  1 egg 

 1/2 cup milk

 1/4 cup corn oil

1 tsp vanilla extract


2 cups pitted sour cherries

a little brown sugar to sprinkle on top

Heat the oven to 400 F. Whisk the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls until completely mixed. Rinse the cherries in water until it runs clear. Drain the cherries and add them to the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring to coat them. Add the wet ingredients and stir just enough to combine. Minimal mixing at this stage keeps the muffins light and fluffy. Scoop the batter into a muffin pan lined with cupcake papers. (I use an ice cream scoop for this and all the muffins come out the same size.) Sprinkle the top of each with a generous pinch of brown sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn them out of the pan after 5 minutes to prevent sogginess and continue to cool on a rack -- except for the ones that you slather with butter and eat right away.


Sunday, July 9, 2023

Japanese Beetle


THIS is why people don’t like Japanese beetles. This one is “skeletonizing” a leaf on my grapevine, that is, eating the soft parts between the veins and leaving behind a big lacy hole. They do this to a wide variety of plants that range from linden trees to roses. Click here for the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center’s entry about them.      Click the photo to enlarge.

Adult Japanese beetles are easy to recognize. They are shiny metallic green scarabs about one-half inch long with bronze-colored wings. Five pairs of white hair tufts project from under the wing covers on each side of the body and another pair decorate the rear end of the abdomen. Kind of pretty.

Just get off my grapevine, eh? And stop looking at the linden tree.