Wednesday, April 15, 2020

First Sign of Spring: Cellophane Bees!

Here they are, and spring is here!



Note the downward-slanting, heart-shaped face, and the large tongue--all signs of this species of "Cellophane Bee," a native, ground-nesting, solitary-nesting bee. 

This one is Colletes inaequalis, the "Unequal Cellophane Bee."

Cellophane Bees overwinter as larvae and then emerge as adults on the first warm days of spring.   Here are some that appeared on a gravel bar next to my chair on a warm April day as I sat by McDowell Creek.  


They come out early and feed on redbud, one of the first trees to bloom.   

The males live only long enough to mate.  The mated females dig burrows and furnish brood cells with pollen and nectar.   They close off the brood cells with waterproof "cellophane," which they produce from a gland in their abdomens, sealing it with an anti-fungal liquid from another gland near their tongues.   

I'm not sure what these little guys were doing licking the stones on the gravel bar.   Take a look and leave a comment if you want to tell me what you think!   Enjoy!    
                                                                --Margy Stewart














Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Against the Odds: Arachnid Resilience!


The plums were full of Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) egg sacs this winter!


Here are three of them from the plums along the Creek Field:













But by the end of February, some were ripped open by predators:



The sacs were ripped open turning the spiderlings inside into lunch for a hungry raccoon, bird, or possum.

So many eggs sacs had been preyed upon, I began to worry we wouldn't have beautiful black-and-yellow garden spiders in the summer.  

The internal mesh had been dragged out....



...with little white things caught in it.


Were these egg shells left over from the spiders' hatching?

Or were they exoskeletons from an early molt?  





Wanting to answer that question, I took some of the mesh home to put under a microscope.  This is what it looked like magnified:  


Meanwhile, my entomologist friend Dick Beeman confirmed that the white fragments are egg shells.  Black-and-Yellow Garden Spiders hatch inside their egg sacs in the fall and do not feed or molt.

I marveled at the magnified textures in my lens, when, to my astonishment, some of the mesh started to move!  More of it twitched, and then some of it started to crawl--by golly, on eight legs!  Under magnification, the dragged out mesh was full of life!  

This is what my phone recorded:

These little hatchlings had been dragged out, scrutinized by a predator, and exposed to wind and cold.   Still they are with us, sporting the beginnings of beautiful markings on their backs.  

Following Dick's advice, I put them back in their damaged sac, back on their plum branch, to continue their march toward adulthood.   Here they are, back outside: 
  
Good luck, little guys!  You are role models of resilience.  

I look forward to seeing beautiful adult Black-and-Yellow Garden Spiders this summer.   When I do, it will be with profound respect.   Their road isn't easy and the ones who reach adulthood have traveled it well!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Winter Tones

There is nothing quite as moving as the shades of winter in the Flint Hills:


A plum thicket and tall grasses in the "toe" of the Creek Field
(All photos by Margy Stewart at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, an AOK Legacy Sanctuary)

From the creek buffer, looking west toward home.  



The seed pods of Common Milkweed

Asclepias syriaca in the toe of the Creek Field




















McDowell Creek, looking west



Bee Balm Inflorescence



Ratibida Pinnata has fed some birds.

















Indian Grass has fed birds and rodents.














Purple Top Seedheads on the edge of McDowell Creek.




The rabbit tracks end where the wings came down.


Echinacea purpurea

Hairy Aster


Gaillardia pulchella


Sweet Everlasting



Front to back:  Foxtails, Purple Top, Trees along creek



Perennials and annuals mix in the restoration
Road Field prairie restoration, looking west

Many thanks to the winter prairie for harboring so much life and offering so much beauty.  I will miss you and look forward to your return.  We will both be different when we see each other again!


















  

Monday, January 20, 2020

Juneteenth Celebration: Cook-out and Wildflower Walk, June 16, 2019

The Juneteenth season came to a close in Geary County with a cook-out and wildflower walk at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, on June 16, 2019.   The event was co-sponsored by Audubon of Kansas, Flint Hills Prairie Bison Reserve (which donated the bison-burgers), Junction City Juneteenth Community Association,  McDowell Creek Community Association, and Prairie Heritage, Inc.    Audubon of Kansas's sanctuaries preserve and restore native ecosystems.  They are intended to be people-friendly, as well as wildlife-friendly.  The Audubon of Kansas Sanctuaries Initiative is designed to create an archipelago of sanctuaries across the state of Kansas, so that Kansans will have a nearby location where they can experience their local ecosystem.  "Every child should have a chance to play in a creek," according to board chair Margy Stewart.   AOK is off to a good start at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, a legacy sanctuary in Geary County.   Here are some photos from recent events:













 





 



Sunday, January 12, 2020

Winter Plums, Winter Wildlife: Part I (Birds)


Winter comes to the Road Field.
Looking west, toward home.
Winter is not the end of the "growing season."  It's just a different kind of growing.

The plum thickets, for example, have a lot to say about LIFE.



Twenty years ago we planted two kinds of native plums in the riparian buffer along McDowell Creek, American Plums and Sandhill Plums.  


Sandhill Plums on the edge of the creek.















Now they have formed thickets.   














Birds newly arrived from the tundra are drawn to the plums.




There are Harris's Sparrows:






 Tree Sparrows:








An occasional Lincoln's Sparrow:




And a Song Sparrow:

For all these birds the thickets provide protection from the cold--
and from predators.   

For example, this female Merlin is sitting above the thicket, waiting for a sparrow to venture out.   (Thank you to Tom Ewert for confirming the ID.)    



She would love to grab a sparrow-meal!  

But if she succeeds occasionally, the remaining sparrows are still numerous.  As night falls they crowd into the thickets and strike up quite a chorus of cheeps and whistles.  The long whistles are coming from the Harris's Sparrows.    But all the species are chiming in!
Overwintering sparrows 
settle in to roost in this thicket of American Plums.  
These plums were planted by our neighbor, Al Alspach.
To me these vocalizations are among the loveliest and most touching sounds of a winter dusk.


Many thanks to Tom Ewert for confirming bird identifications!   All photos and videos are by Margy Stewart and were taken in the Creek Field, a bottomland prairie restoration along McDowell Creek, at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, in Geary County, Kansas, December 2019-January 2020.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Winter Plums, Winter Wildlife: Part 2 (Invertebrates)


Once the leaves have fallen, so many signs of life appear!
(All photos were taken at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge in the Creek Field, an on-going restoration of bottomland tall grass prairie.)





Here is the egg sac of a Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), suspended from plum twigs.



The tiny spiderlings inside are waiting out the winter.


A neighboring Garden Spider was even more prolific.  She produced two batches of A. aurantia: 


A. Aurantia egg sacs, attached to plum twigs and leaves.


While some spiderlings grow strong inside their egg sacs, others turn into food for predators.  Here is the egg sac of a Garden Spider ripped open by some hungry bird, possum, or raccoon (thank you, Betsy Betros, for explaining the scenario):

A preyed-upon Garden Spider egg sac attached to plums.

The oothecas of Chinese Mantises also appear in the plums:

The ootheca of a Chinese Mantis 
(Tenodera sinesis) on a plum twig.

But woodpeckers love to snack on the eggs and nymphs of Chinese Mantises.   Here is the tell-tale hole drilled by a woodpecker:  


And here is a Downy Woodpecker drilling one of those holes:  
...while another Downy poses by her hoped-for lunch-bucket:




An occasional bagworm appears on the plums...


...along with the cocoon of a Tussock Moth (thanks to bugguide.net for the ID):

The cocoon is carefully wrapped in a plum leaf, just like a cigar, and firmly attached by silk to the end of a plum twig.    

This rather tattered cocoon attached to a plum twig and leaf might have been made by a Polyphemus Moth, according to entomologist Dick Beeman (thank you, Dick! ):

But other signs of invertebrate life are harder to identify.  I found the following in the plums and submitted photos to my expert friends, Kansas Arthropods, and bugguide, but so far no one has confirmed an ID.  If viewers of this blog can help, your assistance would be welcome!

Among the mysteries were various combinations of silk and leaf attached to plum twigs:







And there was a strange, disk-shaped egg case, smaller than a dime and deposited on a plum twig, that sported three yellow eggs on the surface:
An egg sac on a plum twig with three yellow eggs on the surface.

Was this the product of one species or two?

For the moment, these invertebrate signs remain unidentified--perhaps to declare themselves at a later time.

Even when encased in ice, the plums are interacting with winter wildlife--both the kinds that are familiar to us and the kinds that are still mysterious.  

Powerful life processes continue in the thickets of winter plums.

All photos by Margy Stewart