Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Second Look--September 17, 2014

What can I say? The weather has been wonderful with cool mornings and warm days. The kind of days where you wear a sweater to work, but forget to bring it home because it's warm when you leave. (Don't ask me how many sweaters I have at work right now.) While I am still seeing plenty of critters, I am seeing fewer of them. I don't know if they've gone south, or they're off preparing for the impending winter.
But I did notice something that totally fascinated me this week. I saw a skipper butterfly roll up its proboscis. One minute it had it extended and collecting pollen and the next minute, it was rolling it up and hiding it. It was just like one of those party noise makers that unrolls when you blow into it and then rolls back up when you stop. Now if I were like millions of others out there, I would have had my smart phone ready and have a good video to show you. However, I don't have a smart phone and the video on my camera doesn't work right. So you'll just have to take my word for it when you see the pictures below. It was really neat. :)

Here are a few things I saw this week during a Second Look.

Dogwood tree. Notice the buds for next spring's blooms next to the berries from this year's blooms.

Sternbergia lutea

A few of the Lily of the Valley berries have been snatched.

Skipper butterfly on sedum. If you look closely, you can see it had its proboscis out in the first picture. In the second picture, you can't see it.

Faithful flowers that have been blooming all summer and are still hanging on.

Saddleback Caterpillar. It turns out that this colorful caterpillar has venomous barbs. Not only will they sting you skin, they can also make you sick. I'm glad I was wearing gloves when I found him.

Female hummingbird.  Male hummingbirds leave a few weeks before the females. I don't know if all of the males are gone, but I've only seen females at the feeder.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Star Spangled Banner, 200th Anniversary

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Here is a post I wrote a couple of years ago after visiting Fort McHenry where the event took place.

A History Lesson

My history education hasn't been very good—both from my schooling and my own initiation. So, I have vague ideas about a lot of things but don't understand much completely. This was evident during my recent visit with Ward to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. I knew that Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner there while he was watching bombs bursting in air, supposedly to the tune of an old English drinking song. But I never knew the rest of the story.

A replica of Key's Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry
Picture it. September 1814 during the War of 1812. The British have just burned the Nation's Capital and the people of Baltimore are frightened. The British Navy is amassing in the Chesapeake Bay and they are coming for Baltimore next if they can get by Fort McHenry. Meanwhile, Francis Scott Key, a young Georgetown lawyer, has taken a ship out among the British to negotiate for the release of Dr. William Beanes, who is a prisoner of war. 

The British start bombing the fort and the Americans return their fire. Francis is forced to stay among the British ships and can do nothing but watch the massive battle. For twenty five hours the exchange goes on. The firing finally stops and the battle has been won. But by whom? He anxiously awaits to see which flag will be flying over the fort: the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes. When dawn brakes, it is a tremendous relief for him to see the Star Spangled Banner still flying. Francis Scott Key, overcome with emotion, is inspired to capture the feelings of the experience by penning the Star Spangled Banner.

There are many more details, that I can't quite remember, but the words of our National Anthem now have more meaning for me.

"Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Thankful Sunday--September 13, 2014

I am thankful for rain.

I thought we were going to have sunshine. Instead we had a gentle, cool rain all day long. Because of that, I slowed down and enjoyed the day. No rushing outside to mow the grass and weed the beds. Instead a day inside of reading and watching the birds through the window. For that I am thankful.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Praying Mantis Grooming

Recently Ward and I were outside doing a bit of work when I spotted a praying mantis. The first thing I noticed was that it blended perfectly with the plant it was on. It even had a bit of red on its head to match the red on the leaves. As we were marveling at that, it started to do something that we hadn't seen before. It started to groom itself. At least that's what it looked like. It was biting up and down it's legs and looked just like our cats do sometimes when they are cleaning their legs. And then, ever so cat like, it rubbed it's clean leg over it's head--just like our cats do. We were fascinated.

We had never thought about an insect grooming itself, but that is certainly what it looked like. A quick look on the internet revealed, that yes, indeed, praying mantises do groom themselves. In fact, when I widened the search to include all insects, I found out that grooming is something that many insects do. Who knew? I certainly didn't. From a brief skimming of the articles, it looks like the antennae are what are groomed the most because these are very important in transmitting sensory information. Cock roaches have had several studies done about them in this area.

I don't know if you can make out much from these pictures below, but trust me, it was very interesting to watch. Now I'm going to be on the lookout to see if I can observe grooming in other insects. Do you ever wonder how you can have lived so long and not know anything about something that is very common? It seems to happen a lot to me. I'm not sure what that implies, but I do know that it keeps life interesting.

When you first look, it's hard to see, but notice the praying mantis' triangular head is in the bend of its raised leg. This was part of its leg cleaning.

Notice the praying mantis is biting its leg. It did this all up and down it's leg.

Annie grooming her head and ears. This kind of grooming I'm familiar with.

Want to explore further?

Insects Groom to Improve Their Sense of Smell

Praying Mantis Grooming Video

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Second Look--September 10, 2014

It's going to be hot and steamy today, but we've had beautiful weather the last couple of days--just like fall should be. And speaking of fall, the first of the fall flowers has bloomed--the Autumn Joy Sedum. Even though we haven't seen as many butterflies this year, the skipper butterflies seem to be flocking to it. The mums, the classic flower of fall, are budding but haven't bloomed yet. However, there must be several other things flowering because everyone's fall allergies are starting to act up.

Here are a few things a saw this week during 

Skipper butterfly on newly blooming sedum.

This spider has caught a lot in its web. It's hard to see, but look carefully at the bottom of the "mess".

Most of the coneflowers have faded or gone to seed. However, here's one that is still hanging on.

Another skipper butterfly. (There are many different kinds of skippers, and also the name of this flower escapes me at the moment.)

The black walnuts are starting to fall making it tricky to walk sometimes.

Coltsfoot seeds (At least, I think that's what these are.)