Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Fun with Fleeting Visitors

Two special guests visited the yard today: a green tiger beetle and a little blue heron. Best of all, both let me photograph them!

I was heading to the house for a water break when I saw the tiger beetle. It was one of the gorgeous, irridescent green ones, although this one seemed to have had an accident with one of its elytra.

True to tiger beetle natures, as soon as this one realized that I was paying attention to it, it sashayed away...amazingly rapidly, considering its size...and considering the fact that it didn't look like it was hurrying at all. By kneeling down and "hiding" behind the camera, though, I was able to sneak up on him. I think he's a sixspotted tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata. (You've gotta love that species name!) Apparently individuals in the Great Plains population of this species, like this one, often don't have the six spots that are mentioned in the name. They are common, though, and often found on dirt trails, as well as sidewalks and gravel or paved roads.

Sixspotted tiger beetles hunt small insects and other arthropods such as spiders, ants, and caterpillars. (Tiger beetles, as a group, are known as fierce predators.) They lay their eggs in sandy soil, and the newly hatched larvae burrow into the ground where they lie in wait to jump out and capture their prey. These beetles seem quite long-lived to me: they are reported to stay in larval form for a year, and to live for as much as 5 years. I guess it's not surprising, then, that this one's elytron is mangled - a lot can happen to a little insect in 5 years.

The second visitor, the little blue heron, Egretta caerulea, was camped out in our sewage lagoon, busily hunting down frogs, I suspect. I wasn't close enough to see exactly what he was eating, but he was having great success finding some sort of small, fast moving animal to eat.

Prairiewolf saw him first, while I was busy trying to get the tiger beetle to pause charismatically for a photograph. Prairiewolf hissed to come over to the other end of the front garden, quickly but quietly. I tried to ignore him, but he was pretty insistent, so I gave up on the tiger beetle and went slinking over to see what he had found. Our experience is that little blues are pretty spooky, but I was able to hide behind a pine tree and later the compost bin to get a series of enjoyable photos.

After 10 minutes or so of photographing this guy, I finally noticed a pair of red-winged blackbirds flying distractedly back and forth, calling. Watching their behavior a bit, I realized they had a nest in the bunch of cattails next to where the heron was fishing. They were NOT happy to have this giant predator nearby, although I never saw any sign of the heron noticing them, let alone looking for their nest and nestlings. If you look at the right-hand edge of the catttails, you can see Papa Red-wing pointedly watching the heron's every movement.

I think half the reason I garden is because it gets me outside so that I can notice all of the cool events happening right under my nose. Fascinating, real life drama - served up every time I take the time and effort to spend an hour or so outdoors. It amazes me that more people don't take the time to notice this wonderful, ongoing saga.

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