Friday, December 4, 2015

Harris' Sparrows--One Question Answered

I do love these Harris' Sparrows!

They reconcile me to the arrival of winter.   As stems die  & leaves fall, the bare branches bloom with birds.

My bird book says Harris' Sparrows have calls that go "tseep" and "wink."  It says their song includes long whistles, often on the  same pitch.

Those whistles are unmistakable--among the most beautiful of nature's sounds.

Yet for weeks now, in addition to the expected vocalizations,  I have been hearing bubbly burbles--not tseeps, winks, or whistles.   Were these songs coming from other winter birds--perhaps the Tree Sparrows or Juncoes?    For a long time I could not get close enough to tell.    But tonight I focused my camera on a singing Harris' Sparrow, and sure enough, out of the opened bill came the bubbly burble!  Nearby birds were whistling, but this one was burbling!    

I was able to get audio to go with the video (below).   It was exhilarating to find an answer to my question--to finally connect a singer with the song!

Sparkly Sparrows, Bubbly Birds!

I can't get over our good fortune, here in the Flint Hills: Harris's Sparrows choose OUR AREA to be their winter home!

They do this every year.

This year they arrived  on October 16.  I heard their lovely whistles before I saw their actual selves.  

They perch in the deep grass and thickets of our Creek Field and cluster in the plums along the driveway.

Their cheeps & whistles & bubbly burbles keep me company every day at twilight as I walk the mile-long loop around the Creek Field.

I tried for weeks to get photos of these beautiful birds.

At first, they simply fled into the grass when they saw me coming.    Then they sat  up on branches but bolted the instant I raised my camera.   Next, they stayed still (if blurry) as I looked through the viewfinder--but flew if I sharpened the image.    I swear they could feel themselves coming into focus--& they didn't like it.

But today they let me get close.

They gathered in bushes & on small trees and conversed sweetly while I pressed the shutter.   Perhaps I blended in to the gathering darkness.  

Maybe I myself was comfortingly blurry.

The light wasn't the best for photography--but it was good for proximity.

Welcome, winter neighbors.   May you find shelter & delicious seeds in the Creek Field.

 I am so glad you're here!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


It  amazes me  how many non-human residents use the Oak Road!   

Always a dirt road, the Oak Road was a public road in the 19th century.   Now it's just an old ranch road through our property.

When Ron & I walk on it, we never see any of these guys.   But as soon as we're not there, there they are!

These are trail cam clips from late October, early November, 2015.   They are from a camera in a single location on the north end of the road. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Slow Changing of the Guard!

Harris Sparrows arrived in our Creek Field on October 16, 2015--one month ago today.

But the katydids are still trilling today, November 16, 2016.  

It's a slow changing of the guard this season!

The new guards are here; the old ones are here--all the guards, milling about!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Crown Vetch Attacks!!

 Ironically, just after posting  about keeping Crown Vetch out of the Creek Field, I found an island of Crown Vetch in the Creek Field!  It didn't spread from the riparian buffer--it hop-scotched in!   Luckily, it was a warm day with no wind, so I was able to spot-spray it immediately.   But where there's one....
I photographed & magnified a leaflet to make sure
it was Crown Vetch, and not Canada Milkvetch.  No
hairs here!  Hopefully, no errors, either!
This tangled mat of green is Crown
Vetch, in the SE corner of the Creek
Normally, a sprawling, tangled mat means Crown Vetch, while erect,
individually distinguishable plants mean Canada Milkvetch.
But if individuals were invariable, there would be no
Crown Vetch is supposed to sprawl, while Canada Milkvetch is supposed to stand up straight.  But on occasion, I have seen individuals in each species do the opposite.

For a beginner like me, whether it's birds, or insects, or plants, or mammals--the trick is learning how much variation is likely within a given species.   

Luckily, husband Ron & I balance each other out.   He's always thinking something different is something new--whereas I'm always trying to fit strange encounters into the existing categories of my known world.   

This photo (looking northwest) shows the patch of Crown Vetch (2nd green patch in;
1st is late-blooming Canada Goldenrod) in relation to the loop-path
that separates the Creek Field from the riparian buffer.    The bare, compacted soil of the path
 is visible in the lower right-hand corner.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Controlling Crown Vetch, Promoting Canada Milkvetch

Agricultural "experts" imported Crown Vetch from the Mediterranean, other "experts" recommended it for erosion control, and it's been an invasive in North American landscapes ever since.
Once established, Crown Vetch
forms a tangled mat.   

One of those know-it-alls told Bird Runner's previous owner to plant it along McDowell Creek--so we've had to battle it ever since 1999, when we created a 4.7-acre native-plant riparian buffer between our Creek Field and the creek.

Therefore, for 16 years we've been locked in struggle with Crown Vetch (along with other exotic invasives, such as Poison Hemlock & Garlic Mustard).  
Golden Alexanders claim territory on the riparian buffer 
  from which Crown Vetch has been removed.   
That's  a Gorgone Checkerspot nectaring on the blossom.  
But look what's lurking in the background!  
The Crown Vetch has retreated into a thicket, just waiting to
expand again.   

Native plants are claiming more and more of the  riparian buffer, so every year there's less & less uprooting or spot-spraying of exotic invasives that needs to be done.

But the invasives are still there, and they're still ambitious!

Since we re-seeded the entire Creek Field back to native in 2013, we've been determined to keep the invasives on the riparian buffer from ever getting into the Creek Field!

In that effort, as always, our greatest allies have been the native plants themselves.

In particular, we've had help from a native vetch, Canada Milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis).  
Here are the lovely white blossoms of Canada Milkvetch, in
front of two blooming yellow Plains Coreopsis.
 Canada Milkvetch does not form a mat as does Crown Vetch.
With Canada Milkvetch, you can always distinguish one
individual plant from another.  Also, the leaves have a blue-
green cast (but not always) unlike the bright-green of Crown

Who can get rid of a bad guy with roots?   A good guy with roots!

Canada Milkvetch germinated the first year, multiplied the second year, and this year has even spread from the Creek Field into the riparian buffer!

But now we human helpers of native plants have a new problem:  how to tell the sprouts of Crown Vetch from those of Canada Milkvetch. We don't want to destroy the latter when we're after the former!
The seedpods of Canada Milkvetch
are unmistakeable.

In maturity, the species are easy to tell apart.

 But when they first come up, either species can be erect or sprawling, and both have similarly shaped leaves with odd-numbered leaflets.
Canada Milkvetch Leaf
Crown Vetch Leaves
(Plant Bug, Lygus sp., upper left)

To the rescue:  Mike Haddock's marvelous book, Kansas Wildflowers & Weeds.   From his book I learned that Canada Milkvetch, unlike Crown Vetch, has tiny hairs pressed into the surface of the leaflets.
Under magnification, the tiny hairs are visible on the leaflets of Canada Milkvetch.

At first I couldn't see this feature with the naked eye--but now that I have photographed the leaves of both species, and magnified the photos, I know what to look for.

Now that I have seen them in photos,  I can see those hairs in the field, even with eyes unaided.

Thank you, Mike!

Your book is helping the native plants re-take the field.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Missing, Savoring Blossom Time

Bee on Redbud April 2015
Creek Field Riparian Buffer
Here it is, almost the last day of October, and I am missing spring.  I am missing the blooms & pollinators.   I am wild to learn more, and the growing, buzzing time is the best school.   I learned to identify a few bumble bees and look-alike carpenter bees & false bumble bees this past spring & summer--but still I cannot say right off what genus & species the bee on the redbud on the left belongs to. I can hardly wait for Spring 2016.

Still, these long autumn nights allow me to do what I couldn't do during the outside-all-day-long spring & summer time, and that is linger over my photos from the past season, ponder the information, review, relearn, & doublecheck.
Grapevine Epimenis (Psychomorpha epimenis) on Redbud, April 2015
Creek Field Riparian Buffer
Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge

Psychomorpha epimenis on Redbud, April 2015
 For, example, when I came across the next three photos--they are of a Grapevine Epimenis, aka  Psychomorpha epimenis, nectaring on a redbud--my first thought was "I had forgotten about that butterfly!"  But upon review I remembered that the Grapevine Epimenis is a moth-- brightly colored & gorgeous but still a moth.   And I was able to go to & study photos of P. epimenis larvae:  they are ringed with black & white stripes with orange patches at both ends.  Their host plants are grapevines (surprise, surprise) of which we have many.  In fact, the redbud this moth is nectaring on is just a few feet away from the banks of McDowell Creek--home to large numbers of wild grapes.  Now I know what caterpillars to look for and where to look for them.   I will be ready for next spring!

Grapevine Epimenis on Redbud, April 2015
Creek Field Riparian Buffer
along McDowell Creek
Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Creek Field: Frequent Companions in Late September, Early October, 2015

Green Lace Wing on Goldenrod
Creek Field, 9/29/15
Family Chrysopidae
Order Neuroptera
Walking through the Creek Field is never a lonely experience.

But these days I have clouds of companions, especially right around sunset--fluttery mists of insects rising up around me in response to the disturbance of my steps.       

Prominent among my fellow patrons of the Creek Field are Green Lace Wings.   They disappear into the darkness so quickly it took a flash to get this photo.  

As adults, Green Lace Wings are creatures of dawn, dusk, or nighttime, feeding on nectar, pollen, & occasional small insects.

As larvae, they are carnivorous.   They devour aphids!!!!

I hope they'll come around next year when hordes of aphids attack the beautiful blossoms of Swamp Milkweed!  
Accompanying every step as well is an explosion of "black" 
Snout Moth
Family Crambidae
on truck window by pole barn
October 1, 2015
moths--at least they look black to me in the gathering dusk.  They zig-zag so rapidly & blend back in with the foliage so quickly that it's hard to get a good look.  It wasn't until one landed on my truck window that I was able to take a photo.   

The photo at left showed me that this moth is not black at all but a remarkable combination of brown & tan.   Magnifying the photo showed that, though its colors are subtle, its wings are decorated lavishly with ridges, bumps, & lacy trim.   

And check out that two-part "nose"!!  
Truly an amazing appendage that not every creature can boast!  

Thanks to Eva Zurek, K-State Insect Diagnostician extraordinaire, I learned that this is a Snout Moth of the family Crambidae.  That name should be easy to remember!  

Also thanks to Dr. Zurek for helping me learn about Lace Wings!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ferruginous Spider Wasps Battle Over Spider, Burrow

Here two female Ferruginous Spider Wasps (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) battle over two prizes--an excellent burrow site in the concrete foundation of our back porch and a paralyzed spider.

Off camera, the loser flies away & sits under my truck.   On camera, the winner carries the spider a few feet along the foundation.   After grooming herself extensively, she checks out her burrow, retrieves the spider, and disappears into her nest site.   Meanwhile, a fourth character, never quite clear, follows behind & even enters the burrow.   My superhero Dr. Bugman (aka Ph.D. entomologist Dick Beeman) suggests that the shadowy figure could be the mate of the doomed spider--following her pheromone trail.    The smaller wasp at the end could be the mate of our leading lady.  Indeed, the males of this species are smaller than the females.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Copperheads at Night: Doing The "Combat Dance!"

This was a thrill!   Not only did I not get bitten by these copperheads, but I was privileged to observe their "combat dance."  This is a mating-season ritual engaged in by males in competition for a female.
In Amphibians & Reptiles in Kansas, Joe Collins wrote that copperheads engage in combat dances "infrequently."  Because they do so at night, they are even more infrequently observed.

But I got to see it!

I was coming down from the Prairie Top shortly after dark.   The two copperheads were in the left lane of the Oak Road, just before the Old Barn.    They were lit up by the headlights of my truck.  My cell phone camera was the only one I had with me, but thank goodness I had at least that!

Imperfect as the video is, it catches some of the ghostly presence that was animated and urgent and came looming out of the dark as I drove down the road.  As I got out of the truck, I was super-charged with adrenalin.   I was so excited I was thinking but not-thinking.   I was careful not to get too close to the combatants, at the same time that I completely forgot to watch out for the third copperhead--the female that was no doubt close by and that had caused the duel in the first place.  

But if I was within striking range, she let me go my oblivious way.   The two males did not appear to notice me.   I had to make them notice me after awhile, though, as there was no room to drive around them.   I jumped up & down & waved tree branches.   Finally, they uncoiled.   One slipped away uphill, the other went downhill.  

I do not know if the issue between them had been resolved or if they had to reconvene once my truck went by.

The video was taken September 8, 2015, ca. 8:30 p.m., along the Oak Road that runs through the gallery forest along McDowell Creek, here at Bird Runner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015




5 Golden Rod Sodier Beetles
(Chauliognathius pennsylvanicus)

1 Dark Flower Beetle
(Euphoria sepulcralis)

1 Tall Thistle
(Cirsium altissimum)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On Swamp Milkweed, The Wild-Joy Beetle!

A Dark Flower Beetle, Euphoria sepulcralis, feeding on Swamp Milkweed, August 29, 2015
in Cattail Wetland at
Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge
Margy Stewart photo
Here, in the Cattail Wetland, on the effusive pink flowers of Swamp Milkweed, is a scarab beetle.  

 Scarab beetles are rich in lore.

The sacred beetle of the Egyptians was a scarab, as was, supposedly, the fictional "Gold Bug" of Poe's short story.  

My little gem is named  "Dark Flower Beetle," or Euphoria sepulcralis.   Look at the linking of opposites in those names--"dark" & "flower," "euphoria" & "sepulchral"!     

Natural selection has made flowers bright to attract pollinators; they are not "dark."   And what is euphoric about a sepulchre, or a tomb?  

But the fusion of opposites is the stuff of myth, to say nothing of life itself.   Mystical experience--the apprehension of ultimate reality--is characterized by paradox: life and death, here and there, lost and saved.   It's never either-or.    

The sacred Egyptian scarab was a dung beetle, while in more cultures than not, the carrion-eating vulture appears as angelic or divine.   Poe's Gold Bug was linked to both a skull--a death's head--and a fabulous treasure.    

The scarab beetle Euphoria sepulcralis
feeding on the flowers of  Swamp Milkweed,
Asclepias incarnata., August 29, 2015.
Margy Stewart photo.
Therefore, why shouldn't my pink-blossom-loving beetle be linked to darkness?  Why shouldn't the wild joy of his name be linked to death?

Somewhere at the paradoxical heart of life, "waste" is transformed into treasure, and the defunct do shape-change into life.  The lowest become highest and the last become first--a deep reality about which I, for one, am wildly joyful!

My mythogenetic beetle, feeding on pollen, is nowhere else but at the heart of life.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Larva of the Clouded Crimson moth,
Schinia gauraeFound on the Lower McDowell Rd.
right-of-way, on Gaura mollis
 Finally!!!   Let it be known that on August 29, 2015, I finally found a Clouded Crimson caterpillar on a Gaura plant on the road right-of-way, next to our mailbox.   Shortly thereafter, I found a second, smaller caterpillar on a second plant a few feet away.   
Excitedly, I started searching the Gaura plants along the Creek Field driveway.

What I found was the caterpillar pictured to the left.  Is he an early version of the Clouded Crimson larva (he was maybe half the size of the caterpillar pictured above)?

Or is he the larva of a different species altogether?  

John & Jane Balaban of confirm:  The little guy is an early instar of S. gaurae.   Wonderful!!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

9.) Restoring Bottomland Prairie 9: Pollinators in the Wetland, July 21, 2015

Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) 
on Sawtooth Sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus)
Instead of hosting shorebirds, the "wetland" now hosts pollinators.

Here are several that appeared on July 21, 2015:

Dirt-Colored Seed Bug , Nysius sp., Lygaeidae family.
on Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).
Foxtail is in foreground (Setaria sp.)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) 
on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiana) 
on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Gaura mollis along the Creek Field
driveway, 8-26-2015

Every summer, I look for the pretty little larvae of the Clouded Crimson Moth, to be found on plants in the genus Gaura.   

Last summer, I grew anxious because I couldn't find these delicate little green-and-black caterpillars.   I looked and looked--the first week in August,  the second,  the third--no caterpillars.

What I did see, were translucent little "flies," hovering around the Gaura blossoms.   I wondered what they were, but briefly, impatiently.   I wanted caterpillars.

Finally, at the beginning of September I found one Clouded Crimson caterpillar.   Later in the month I found 4 or 5 more--a paltry few!   The paucity was perhaps due to our parched summer--the third drought summer in a row.

This summer we've had regular rains & an explosion of Velvet Gaura, aka Gaura mollis.  

Stilt Bugs on Gaura mollis in the Creek Field
I started my hunt for caterpillars as usual at the beginning of August.   There were those same "flies" again, perching & hovering, just like the year before.   This time they got my attention.   I learned they were "Stilt Bugs,"  not flies at all but true bugs in the family Berytidae.   Probably they are of the genus Jalysus, as Jalysus species can have a special affinity for plants in the Primrose family, such as Gaura.    Gaura affinity & Gaura fidelity--that's what my Stilt Bugs have!

Stilt Bugs (Jalysus sp.) on Gaura in the Creek Field

Stilt Bugs mating on Gaura mollis
in the Creek Field.
These photos of Stilt Bugs were taken Aug. 10.

No caterpillars yet!!


 Now it is August 26, 2015, and still no Clouded Crimson larvae.   To make matters worse, the Stilt Bugs, which had been like a feathery cloud around the Gaura, are mostly gone.

But the Gaura leaves only appear to be empty.   Well camouflaged in their midst is the impressive caterpillar of the White-Lined Sphinx Moth!

Hyles lineata on Velvet
Gaura, Aug. 26, 2015

White-lined Sphinx Moth on Velvet Gaura
August 26, 2015

I found a caterpillar, all right!

And he's a beauty!

Clouded Crimsons?  I am still waiting..

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Travels with Charlotte

 A Golden Garden Spider (Argiope sp.) decided to build a beautiful web behind the front seat of the "Bad Boy Buggy," the four-wheel-drive golf-cart that I drive around every day.  

For several days we kept each other company.
My Garden Spider, ready to travel

One day our lab Deci, riding on the front seat with me, snapped at the spider.   The spider dodged, and Deci came up with a mouthful of web.   I scolded her.   I didn't want her, and through her, me, to be the cause of a wasteful death.    After that, Deci left our eight-legged passenger alone.
Charlotte on the Buggy
I called this spider "Charlotte."    She was of a species different from the one made famous by E. B. White in Charlotte's Web (his Charlotte is a Barn Spider, Araneus cavaticus).   But my spider made me ponder the same mystery White probes in his "children's" book.  (We are all children in the face of mystery!)  The mystery is the fact of predation--that we kill to live--combined with our feelings about it.  The fact takes on a mantle of mystery when it arrives hand-in-hand with our desire to be good, loyal, and kind--our desire to be reciprocally benevolent members of a community.   

I have long held dear two visions of "community."

The first is the Christian goal of the "Beloved Community."

The second is the ecological construct of the "Land Community."

But are these two visions compatible?

The "Beloved Community," a term first coined by theologian Josiah Royce, was described by Martin Luther King, Jr. as the goal to which all people of good will should strive--a society without war, poverty, racism, or exploitation, a society endowed with spiritual riches surpassing its material possessions.

The "Land Community," made popular in Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, is the foundational concept of  contemporary ecology.    In this view, nature's components--plants, animals, soils, stones, air, water--are in constant interaction with each other, creating a whole that affects the parts and vice versa.   We humans should not hold ourselves apart from this community but should take our place within it.    And our citizenship should be benevolent.   It is the well-being of the community  that determines the rightness or wrongness of human actions.  Thus, the Land Community gives rise to a Land Ethic:   Humans  have a chance to be part of a community and at the same time good.   

Leopold certainly understood the importance of predation in an ecosystem--just look at his essay, "Thinking Like a Mountain," in which he bemoans the killing of wolves which led to overpopulation of deer and then over-browsing of vegetation.

But did he really explore the implications of predation for "community?"   Sometimes he wrote about the "land community" as if it were a liberal democracy--a place of universal rights and mutual respect--equal citizenship for all!

But what kind of "community" is it where some citizens are busy eating other citizens?

Charlotte's lunch
When I first saw my Charlotte on the buggy, she had a grasshopper in her web, already wrapped up and partially processed.   She busied herself around her web but frequently returned to her bundle for a little snack.   Because the grasshopper was already dead,  I could watch the spider with interest--I did not have to feel torn between a hungry predator and a frantic prey.

But the emotions of prey-empathy are always there, under the surface, ready to be tapped.   That's just what E. B. White does in Charlotte's Web.    Spring-pig Wilbur is scheduled to be slaughtered in the fall so humans can eat him.  Charlotte the spider, out of the sheer goodness of her heart, sets out to save him.   Her kindness finds an answering kindness in the heart of every reader, old or young.   Yes!!!   SAVE WILBUR!!

Charlotte eating her lunch.
And yet Charlotte herself is a predator.   She makes Wilbur uncomfortable by describing the "deliciousness" of flies and how she "drinks" her prey.   "I love blood," she says.

Watching my Charlotte enjoy her lunch, I think about how she and her life are a metaphor for me and mine.  

My husband and I are about to take delivery of half a hog.   By the time we see him, he will be in parts, wrapped up in paper and freezer-ready.  

Our neighbors raised him humanely and he had a good life.    I like thinking about his life.   He had intelligence and a personality--his name was Bruce.   Oh, dear--too much thinking.   I don't like thinking about his death.

No one saved Bruce!

The only way not to feel bad about it is not to think.    But thinking is what we do.   We are Homo sapiens--not wise humans, but thinking humans.

E. B. White's "Charlotte" catches not only flies in her web but two aspects of our experience:  We live by killing but we hate slaughter.

So will we humans, in the midst of abundance, always feel some aversion for ourselves?   Some shame?

Will the Beloved Community ever come into being and will it and the Land Community ever be one and the same?

Charlotte!   You've taken me to Question-Land.    Now tell me:  Where do we cross the border into Answer-Land?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Green Stink Bug (Acrosternum hilare) on
Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) August 11, 2015
This Green Stink Bug looks purposeful! Here he is, crawling up a Wild Cucumber vine in the riparian buffer--a strip planted back to native between the Creek Field & McDowell Creek. He is a plant-feeder, and I am told he is a terrible pest on soybeans. However, I am also told that he actually perfers wild plants & only moves to crop fields when the wild plants run out. My wish for you, little guy: May your wild plants never run out!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

8. Restoring Bottomland Prairie 8: Creek Field, Summer 2015

Eastern Gammagrass
(Tripsacum dactyloides)

How exciting it is to see perennials emerging in the Creek Field!

Eastern Gammagrass may have sent up leaves last year, but it didn't bloom.   This year it bloomed by the dozens!

Sawtooth Sunflower bloomed last year but the season was almost over before I learned to tell it apart from other sunflowers.   This year I'm doing better, learning to spot the tell-tale details of leaf & bract.   Now it leaps out at me, even from afar:  A kind of windblown appearance (as pictured in the photo below), even on a still day, as if always caught in a high wind.
Sawtooth Sunflower
(Helianthus grosseserratus)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Disappeared photos have reappeared!!

Celebration!!   I have been able to re-post earlier photos of the Creek Field restoration.   So cancel the "bummer" described below!!
Bummer!   My blog photos were mediated by, my previous email provider.   When had to cease its operations, my photos lost their ability to materialize before our eyes.  

Knowing this loss was a possibility, I had switched my blog entries to a new blog supported by my gmail.    But apparently, their fatal link to was switched along with them.

I am especially sad about the loss of photo documentation of the restoration of the Creek Field.   I will try to re-document as much as possible and update with new photos.

The Creek Field is amazing!!   Strange powers are at work!!   I'll get to work to re-tell and tell anew as much of the story as possible.